You Tried to Break My Heart by Aaron H. Aceves
Your name is Charles Daniel Walker XIII. That’s right, the thirteenth. Your Texas-based, ancestral dynasty can trace that long line of CDWs all the way back to the Civil War and beyond. I, your now ex-girlfriend, never met your clan (calling it a family just seems wrong), but I felt the weight of their expectations whenever I was around you.
It may appear unfair for me to blame you for how I, your then-girlfriend, used to imagine your frowning mother every time you slid your hand up my thigh underneath the table at the impressive amount of impressively boring dinner parties you took me to during our five-month relationship, but you didn’t do much to assuage those thoughts.
You talked about them constantly. You mentioned the name to your professors at the Ivy League school we attended. You mentioned the name to the consulting firms you interviewed for senior year. You even mentioned it to the pizza delivery guy a few minutes before you mentioned I was gaining weight when I reached for my first slice.
You mentioned the name to a security guard at your dorm the night you lost your student ID card. He nodded, pretending he recognized it, his attitude a perfectly confectioned act he had crafted after years of dealing with privileged white boys like you. And then he let us in because it was safe for him to assume that if he didn’t, your father would do his best to get the poor man fired.
The ID would be located the next day at the house of the secret society you were tapped for sophomore year. The night before, you had attended their “sophisticated cocktail party,” which is what you and your friends called getting together to binge-drink and listen to hip-hop songs you don’t even come close to relating to.
It was at one of these parties that we met. My lab partner was a member of the society, and when I mentioned I wouldn’t mind “a small taste of some high-class elitism,” he laughed and promised to put my name on the list.
I arrived alone, for fear of having a friend denied entry at the door, and spent the first hour leaning against a wall with the other girls, mostly white, and wondering why no one was dancing. When a song came on that I loved, I couldn’t resist the urge to move, and I made my way to the center of the dance floor.
That’s when you saw me.
Before I knew what was happening, there was a tall, sweaty white man dancing next to me, awkwardly but confidently. Your lack of skill was endearing, and that, coupled with your ruffled copper hair and self-assured smile, broadcasted a boyish charisma so effusive I couldn’t escape it.
When we weren’t dancing, we were drinking and talking, and you appeared genuinely interested in what I had to say. You laughed at my jokes, even when you were the butt of them, and insisted on walking me home when I said I had to leave.
On the way to my dorm, I told you I didn’t understand how it could be so cold in April, and you took off your navy blue blazer and draped it over my shoulders.
“Just be careful,” you said. “It’s $3,000.”
You said it jokingly, but I couldn’t help feeling the weight of the blazer growing heavier with my unease. My parents have never even had $3,000 in their savings account.
It’s easy now to think that I was stupid for staying with you as long as I did, but if I try, I can remember why I didn’t leave, what it felt like to be with you. It wasn’t anything you did that kept me in the relationship; rather, it was the freedom I felt. For once in her life, this tiny, Peruvian woman didn’t have to worry about money or getting in trouble or being asked to leave.
The night you broke up with me, you took me out to a fancy restaurant for dinner. (Standard “I don’t want you to make a scene when I dump you” protocol.) I knew it was coming, but you thought I didn’t.
Didn’t you wonder why I ordered the lobster and the steak and the most expensive wine I could find on the menu? Usually I felt guilty that you were paying for me and got the cheapest dish and pretended it was what I wanted. But not this time.
The whole night you were nervous and shaky, and I watched you sweat and clear your throat compulsively as I lounged in my seat, a never-far-from-full wine glass in my hand.
You focused on the present.
“This bread is good.”
“I’m having fun.”
“The waiter sure takes his time.”
You paid with daddy’s credit card, and I asked for a bottle of Merlot to take home with me. You probably didn’t object because you thought, “I bet she’ll need it when I break her fragile, little heart.”
You waited until after you signed the receipt so that you could run out if things got ugly (despite your intricate planning). And then the moment you had been waiting for had come.
“Celeste, I don’t know how to say this…”
I decided to make you suffer.
“You want me to meet your family?” I asked excitedly.
The look on your face forced me to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing.
“No, I… I want… I want… I want you to know that I love you and—”
“I love you too, babe!”
I knew the guilt you felt about breaking things off grew stronger every time I interrupted you but so did my enjoyment of this situation.
Then, you finally said it.
“Babe, I don’t think this is working anymore.”
Didn’t that feel better? Wasn’t it a relief? To finally say it? To stop pretending?
You reached out and put your hand on mine. You looked deep into my eyes and asked with genuine sympathy, “I’m so sorry. Are you ok?”
Now, I’m not a complete monster. I had a slight affection for you, like the appreciation you have for a cloudy day after a month of only sun. You were being gentle and caring (I’m surprised you didn’t offer to pay for therapy), and there were times during our relationship when it was better to be with you than to be alone: the first time you kissed my neck, the Cape Cod trip, the brunch where I called your best friend a tool and frothy mimosa came spewing out of your nostrils, the second time you kissed my neck, that time you casually told me that you had started listening to my favorite band, the third time you kissed my neck, and the time you called me when you were high and said goodnight… at noon.
But I had to drop my little act. I didn’t want you to think that I was devastated. Because I wasn’t.
“Charlie…” Yes, I called you that on purpose because I knew you hated it when people called you Charlie. “…I’m fine.”
“You don’t have to say that. Not for me. It’s ok.”
I paused for a moment.
“So if I wanted to cause a scene right now. If I wanted to flip this table and smash this really expensive bottle of wine on your head, that’d be ok?”
You looked at me as if I might be serious, and I laughed.
“Charlie, I’m fine. This had to end sometime. And this is as good a place as any. It’s not like I’ll be back here any time soon.”
You still didn’t look like you believed me. I was just about to give you some credit for trying to make sure that I wasn’t just putting up a front when you said it.
“How can you be ok with this?”
Your emphasis on that word gave me pause. Were you saying that you understood if any other girl had been content with the break-up but it was me in particular that should not have been? For the first time that night, I expressed the emotion burning in my chest: anger.
“Charlie, I’m not losing much.”
You were outraged to the point of disbelief. You couldn’t form a complete word for a full minute and stammered as if someone had cut out your tongue. During this lull in the conversation, I drained my glass of wine and put it on the table. I looked at you expectantly, and you delivered.
“I don’t think you know who you’re dealing with.”
You couldn’t be more cliché if you tried.
“Charles Daniels Walker, the thirteenth,” I said in a regal, British accent.
“It’s Daniel!” was all you could say.
This was too easy. I just wished there were more wine in my glass. I had the unopened bottle of Merlot that you so generously purchased for me, but I was saving that for a special occasion… like a Tuesday. You had some wine left in your glass, but my guess was we weren’t on a sharing basis anymore.
You were becoming flushed, the vein on the side of your temple an engorged little river overflowing its banks. I saw the waiter passing by and flagged him down. He tried to pretend that he didn’t see me, but I yelled, “Excuse me!” and he couldn’t pretend anymore. He quickly made his way over to us.
Madam instead of ma’am, fancy.
“Can you refill his water?” I asked.
“Of course, madam.”
“And please make sure it’s chilled.”
“Right away, madam.” And he left.
You stared at me with a look in your eyes that would have frightened me if it had been on any other man. You clenched your fists so tightly I thought your hands might disappear altogether.
“I don’t need any water,” you said through gritted teeth.
I think you were only saying the first thing that came to mind ever since I said our relationship had to end sometime. You couldn’t keep silent, but you couldn’t think straight. You felt powerless, which was new for you.
“I think you do,” I said, “Babe.”
And then, as if the entire night had been staged like a movie, the waiter came and refilled your glass. You jumped up from the table, threw your cloth napkin on your plate, and stormed out of the restaurant. Suddenly everyone was focused on me, and I could feel their thoughts penetrating my skull.
What did she do to make him so angry?
She had a lot of wine, maybe she said something uncouth…
He looked like a nice boy…
And then, as if I were performing a little show for them (their eyes were still fixed on me), I reached over to your side of the table, picked up your glass of wine and downed it in one, dignified gulp.
I faced where the camera would be if this were being filmed (it just so happened to be right where a handsome, middle-aged black man was staring at me, expressionless) and let out a Coke commercial worthy, “Ahhhhhhhh.”
The fine, black man smirked but tried to hide it. His white wife gaped at me disapprovingly next to him. I winked at the man before rising out of my chair, making sure to do so as sensuously as possible. He coughed into his napkin as his wife’s eyes fell on him.
I’ll admit that the wine had something to do with the way I acted that night, but mostly it was me. I knew my heart was going to be broken sooner or later, but not by you.
Seeing you storm out of that restaurant wasn’t the last time I saw you. We still went to the same school after all, and the dissolution of our relationship didn’t mean we stopped existing to each other, no matter how much you wished it would.
The last time I saw you, you didn’t see me. It was a misty morning about a week before graduation. You were strolling down the sidewalk, listening to music, and I was walking behind you on my way to get breakfast with a friend (the one you couldn’t stand because she couldn’t stand you). I wasn’t sure at first if it was you. I knew the back of you well, but there had been times before when I thought I saw you and it turned out to be just another boy.
Then I saw something that let me know it was you. You took out your phone, skipped through a couple of songs, and put it back in your pocket. I only saw it for a second, and to anyone else it would have been just a flash of green and blue, but I knew. You were listening to my favorite band.
I was scared that you would turn around, that we’d have to pretend that we didn’t recognize each other and keep walking, but you didn’t. I like to imagine that you looked back just as I took that left. I liked to imagine that you were always missing me.
What I liked to imagine most, though, was the look on your face when I told you that the wine was terrible. Don’t get me wrong, I finished the bottle, but that’s only because decent people don’t let alcohol go to waste.
Aaron H. Aceves is a Mexican-American writer born and raised in East Los Angeles. He graduated from Harvard in 2015 with a degree in psychology. He currently lives in La Puente, CA, with his mother, his sister, and his best friend/cat Minnie Meow-Aceves. You can follow him on Instagram at AaronAceves.