The Ruiner of Things

by Daniel Wessler Riordan

My wife said that my existence strained credulity and then after she'd said that, some hours later, while I was out, she left and she took the dog and left me a note on the stairs that said she'd left and taken the dog, as if I wouldn't have noticed without the note. My existence strained credulity. An odd thing, I thought, for one person to say to another, but the words were slow and measured and I could only assume that she'd crafted them carefully, perhaps a good bit of time before she had finally decided to say them.

Several months later I sat in my car thinking about all of this.  It had become the thing I did, thinking about her leaving and the way it happened.  Sometimes, when thinking about it, I'd pretend that I would get her back and that I would one day hatch a plan, one that involved me bettering myself and taking control of myself and telling her that I had done all of these bettering things not for her benefit, but for mine, because I really, honestly cared about making myself better for myself, but it just so happens that I'd be better for her, too, a nice fringe benefit, and honestly, I hadn't done it just to win her back.  Honestly. I would do these things. I would say these things to her.  I would make it happen.  So far, I had not.

And so I was in my car and the engine was running but I wasn't going anywhere because the car was in the garage and the garage door was closed.  Fumes thickened.  And then my cell phone rang.  I was hoping it was her.  I hadn't heard from her in so long.  It had to be her.  It had to. But it wasn't, and why would it be? 

Instead, it was a buddy of mine asking me if I wanted to grab a pint at the neighborhood bar, and that sounded fine, sure, I guess, so I pressed the button on the garage door opener, just, instinctually, and then, just for a fleeting moment, just enough to absorb a glancing blow, I wondered where my wife was, just then, and how far along she was now, seven months? had it been that long? and why had I allowed it all, all of it, her, my life, to up and leave, and so on, and then, as the door went up and rolled back, the fumes in the garage, they left me, too.  It seemed if I would commit to nothing, then surely nothing would commit to me. 

And then at the bar, a bar that my wife and I used to go to together, I thought to myself, maybe she'll be here, but of course she wasn't, why would she be? because she's pregnant and pregnant women don't frequent places like these. 

People crowded in one on top of the other, all arms and legs and hair and perfume and clatter, begging to be tendered ten-dollar beers and watered-down drinks in small glasses.  There were girls, women, beautiful women, everywhere, and my friend pointed and said I should go talk to this one or that one or this one, no that one, no this one, over there.  I was reluctant.  I was terrified.  I became perfectly quiet, found a corner, smoked a cigarette outside in the alley.

Things thinned out.  It grew late. Defensively, I'd become terribly drunk. My friend was drunk, too, and anyone left in the place was no doubt in a similar state and that's when this girl, this young attractive girl, blond hair, nice boobs, white teeth, blah, blah, she came up to me and said I was sexy.  This confused me.  I pinched my eyes and inspected her closely. She wasn't so young.  Her hair wasn't so blond.  Her teeth, not so white.  Her boobs, the constant. 

Really, she said, I think you're sexy. 

Please, stop, I thought.  Please never say that again.  Or just keep saying it.  Or just keep saying it.  Say it louder.  No. No, stop.  Stop saying it.

I'm not sexy, I said.  She said that wasn't true.  I knew I was being lied to.  I'm not sexy; just ask my wife, who had left me.  And so this lady, gal, woman, with her boobs and off-white teeth, and the roots of her hair like they'd been yanked through the ground from the dirt, she came up to me and she said I was sexy. This is what she said to me. 

I really didn't have a clue what to do so I offered to buy her a drink and she said yes and my buddy followed me to the bar while I fetched it and I asked him what to do and he said without hesitation,  Fuck.  Her. And I said,  Yes.  Right. I was desperate for a woman to be in my bed again or maybe just to be in my bedroom, or really just in the house, anywhere in the house, just to know she was there.

But then I got to thinking, what if I took this girl home and she didn't need what I needed and she wanted something completely different, what if she wanted something else entirely? What if she stuck her hands down my pants and tried to stick her fingers in my asshole or something?  This had happened to me once, as a teenager.  I was making out with this girl and she unbuttoned my pants, which was wonderful, complete bliss, until, instead of grabbing for my penis, as some girls in that situation are wont to do, she tried to stick her fingers up inside of me. Whoa. I think I said.  I barely know you.  What's the matter with you?  So, what if this young gal wanted to try something like that?  And what if I had to refuse?  Or what if she wanted to do lord knows what else, role-playing, something with leather, something that required me to wear a mask, one of those ones with the zipper.  I can't wear a mask, I'd get claustrophobic.  So I'd turn her down, and then we'd both just end up embarrassed and I'd have to drive her home and the whole time there would be this terrible silence where all either of us are thinking about is her fingers and leather and how strange life can be.

Or worse, oh, galactically worse, what if we have the time of our lives, what if when we have sex, what if when I come, she comes too, at the same exact time, and what if we're coming and we embrace and we feel like our bodies have become one, that light and heat and time, they all mean nothing, and everything all at once, we are perfect joy, right there, in that moment, and what if I tell her I love her, or what if I do love her, what if I do love her, but what if I can't tell the difference?

I did know this: in the moments after I would come, I would most likely only feel shame. I would probably excuse myself to the bathroom and roll the condom off and watch it splash into the toilet and beg for it to go down on the first flush and I would invade her medicine cabinet and find her toothpaste and squeeze out a gob of it, directly into my mouth, and I would roll it around with my tongue and hope against hope that I would stop tasting her soon, please, soon. I would want to use her toothbrush, but that would be too personal. And then I would leave because I can't actually share sleep with this person.  I don't even know her.  She doesn't know me.  I have sleeping needs.  I have a dog at home that needs cuddling.  Or I did.  Before my wife took it, my wife who had left me.

You want to get out of here?  She asked this after we'd taken a shot each of something quite strong.

Yeah. Of course.  That'd be great.

I turned to my friend and shrugged my shoulders and he had this huge smile on his face and he gave me two big thumbs up. 

I followed her to her car, but it turns out she didn't have a car, and I'd just been blindly following her around the block.  I found this out as we turned the corner and she asked, So where are you parked?

I was following you.

I don't know where you're parked.  Why were you following me?  How could I possibly know where you're parked?

Well, you were walking in the lead, so I thought I'd just follow you to your car.

I don't have a car.

I'm sorry.

You're sorry that I don't have a car?  You know, not everyone has a car.  Some people like to take public transportation.  For the environment or they can't afford cars.  Are you an elitist or something? 

No. No.  I.  No.  I was...  I was apologizing for the miscommunication, I wasn't apologizing because you don't have a car.  I would never presume to judge the fact that you don't have a car.  I mean, you should see my car.  It's a real piece of shit.  I can't really afford to get a new car, either.

Really? Your car is a piece of shit?  What is it you said you do for a living?

I was getting cold at this point.  Cold all over. 

I'm, uh. I paused, and then, quietly, I mumbled what it is I do for a living: I'm sort of an artist.


And that's exactly how she said it.  "Oh." As if it were the word that would end all use of further words. 

I had said, "Oh," like that once.  My wife had just peed on a stick.  We were both in the bathroom. 

Two blue lines, she had said. 

"Oh," I had said.  I know now that this wasn't the preferred response to her statement.

I thought we both wanted this.      

We did. We do.

I'm not doing this alone.

Well, you know, in the end, we're all alone. 


I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to say that.  I just mean, when it comes down to it, you're the one having the baby and not me and I'll support you, of course, but you have to make the ultimate decision about what it is you want to do with your body. 

I thought this was a very feminist thing for me to say. 

You're such an asshole.  (She was still quite calm at this point.  She talked almost in a whisper.) What are you saying?  Are you saying we shouldn't have this baby?  Is that what you're saying?

I'm not saying that.

I think that's what you're saying.  I think that's exactly what you're saying, but you're too much of a chicken shit to just come out and say it. 

That's not what I'm saying.

You have no courage.  You really are such a coward.

I'd go with you to the clinic.

I guess chivalry isn't dead.  (She was getting louder.)  We've been planning this.  We've been actively trying to do this.  Am I in the Twilight Zone?  You're the one that started the fucking discussion in the first place.  You're the one that pushed this.

Ok. Valid points, all.  But I changed my mind.  I don't think we should anymore.  There.  I said it. I'll man up.  I don't want this anymore.  I'm really sorry.

It's a little fucking late to be sorry.  (She was loud, then.  Very loud.)

Look, you can go to the clinic today.  You can go down there and get the ball rolling and when you have to have the procedure, I'll be there for you.  I promise, I'll be there for you.  And before you know it, it'll be like this never happened.  And sometime, when we're actually ready, we can try again. Maybe this will even bring us closer. Everything happens for a reason.

There was a magazine sitting atop the toilet. Elle, Vanity Fair, something thick with Cate Blanchett on the cover - Cate Blanchett who eyeballed me rather disappointedly every time I took a piss.  My wife rolled the fashion tome up tight, making for a shockingly impressive weapon. She and Cate Blanchett's face came swinging after me, knocking me off balance; I stumbled into the bedroom.  My lip was cut.  A swipe across the head and I went down, out of pure shock, onto the carpet, dabbing my hand to my mouth and looking at my fingers as the blood came off onto the tips.

I showed her the blood, sure the sight of it would roust her from her state of madness. She would see she'd gone too far.

I'm bleeding.

Good. You fucker.

Whack. On the top of the head then.  On the back of my neck.  My hands up, wrapped around my face.  On my side, fetal position.  She kept swinging.

I was wondering where the dog was.  Why hadn't the dog sprinted to my aid? 

I started laughing.  This was all so absurd -- laughter, I thought, was a reasonable response.  She, apparently, did not.  She whacked me in the ear, a region that I had failed to adequately guard.  She hit me a few more times then stood up and seemed to run out of steam, though her body remained positively tremulous.  I noticed a certainty of purpose in her eyes and then she said:

What is wrong with you? 

I couldn't have answered even if I'd wanted to. So I said, What do you want from me? I'm an asshole.  You knew this when you married me.  I breathed heavy, in and out.

And then she paused, to measure her words very carefully.  And then she gave the most honest and articulate account of my person that anyone ever had:  Your existence strains credulity.

I had no answer for this.  Instead I might have asked about the whereabouts of the dog. 

My wife dropped the magazine in my lap and got up and walked away.  As she left she said that I really knew how to ruin things. I was in fact, a Ruiner.  Ruin personified. 

That's how I should have answered when the girl asked what I did for a living: I'm a Ruiner. A Ruiner of Things.

So what kind of art do you do?  Do you, like, paint or sculpt or something?

I'd been given a second opportunity and I decided to be more candid this time, for once in my life, I'd be completely honest with another human being and with myself, about just who it was that I was, before any possible attachments could be made; before I ruined myself or her or anyone orbiting her or any more than we all already were.

I'm a Ruiner.

A what? 

A Ruiner. A Ruiner of Things.

Is that, like, performance art?

Yes, I guess. It kind of is.  You see, I ruin things, professionally.  You give me a situation, and I ruin it.  You give me your confidence and I ruin it.  You give me trust and I ruin it.  You give me love and I ruin it.

Oh, she said again.  And then she, too, paused for a moment of reflection.

You're kind of a weirdo aren't you?

My existence strains credulity.

She laughed.  I had meant all of this as a notice of sincere and honest caution and she had found it a signifier of charm instead.

Look, she said.  I just wanted to sleep with someone tonight.  And you looked like a sure bet.

I just wanted you to know what you were in for with me, that's all.

What I'm in for is hopefully a half decent lay and maybe a cup of Starbucks on my nightstand in the morning.

I just thought…

What? That I'm going to get tangled all up in you?  Look at you. You're a fucking mess. You don't think I can see that?  You think I'd actually let someone like you anywhere near me in any real way?  I'm a grown woman, you idiot.  I don't need your warnings.  Christ, who the fuck do you think you are? 

I had no answer to this question.

Why don't I just keep my mouth shut? I said.  If only I had said that to my wife more often.  My wife who had left me. 

I really wish you would, she said.  And she lit a cigarette. So where's your car?

BIO: Daniel Wessler Riordan lives in University Heights OH with his brilliant academic wife and his 11-month-old who is addicted to purple sweet-potato power puffs. He has a chihuahua who protects him from both of them while he writes. He is a graduate fiction candidate at NEOMFA in Cleveland, OH and has fiction forthcoming in Indiana Review.