(My response to This Is How You Lose Her)
It took Hector all of twenty-seven times of asking Marlena to marry him until she finally said yes. He’d told himself he’d stop after tiempo number twenty-five. Hell, most people would’ve stopped at one, but Hector knew he would’ve kept on until infinity. What was wrong with asking? The worst she could do was say no. Again.
One time she threw the ring box at him. Around time 17 or 18, he’d seriously lost track at that point, but she’d flung the dammed thing at him and got him dead smack in the right eye. He’d almost given up at that point. Even stood in front of the mirror every morning for a good two weeks, muttering the words, “fuck that bitch.” and then feeling immediately guilty, like she could hear him somehow. But two weeks later, almost to the day, there he was again, slipping little notes under her apartment door asking simply, “Marry me?” In the small, uncertain script of a man hopelessly in love.
Everyone thought he was a fool. His boys stopped calling ages ago, back in high school when he first hooked up with Marlena, they knew he was doomed. In love, and shit. Anyone could see it a mile a way and Hector didn’t even have to say a thing. It was written all over his face.
A couple of his true friends still hung on, tried to hook up for blunt rides late at night or for parties on the weekends, but he always missed their calls or forgot to text them back. Too busy playing video games with Marlena to look at his phone even though everyone knew she was a button stomper galore.
Even now his boys only tried to hang here and there, made half-hearted attempts to chill but often cancelled at the last minute; things were different now, everyone had they own shit to deal with, and while Hector was the first to disappear, everyone, eventually, had their own set of problems to focus on.
It was on a random night, around time number twenty-two, that Hector found himself outside his apartment, having a cigarette with Sean, one of the few people who still hung out with Hector without giving him shit. Sean had his own problems to think about. He didn’t have room in his head on a day to day basis for Hector’s problems too. As they stood there, his most pressing thought was how he was going to explain to his girl that, yes, he was smoking cigarettes again, but only once in a while. No need to get too specific.
“I think I’m in an abusive relationship,” Hector mumbled casually, in the same tone a person would use to announce they were planning to get a bagel for breakfast in the morning instead of their usual muffin.
Sean chuckled, knowing there was more to this story. “She hit you?” he asked
“Only when she’s mad.” Hector replied and Sean laughed loudly at this, understanding the truth behind the comment.
Everyone knew Marlena never got mad. She was the quiet type, never really messed with anybody. Actually she was kind of easy to forget. A couple of times people tried to pick on her in middle school. A couple of girls were looking for someone to roll on, no reason, just something to do, and they happened to notice Marlena quietly writing numbers in or order on a piece of paper to pass the time.
“What you think that you’re smarter than everyone?” One of the girls snided. Marlena, who had never spoken to anyone like that, heard the words but kept on writing, sure that they were talking to someone else.
“Yo, she’s ignoring you,” One of the girls instigated.
“Hey, I’m talking to you,” the first girl said, much louder stepping inside Marlena’s bubble, effectively bursting it to bits, so that Marlena, bewildered, had to look up and realize what was going on. She looked up with the same expression on her face as someone who had woken up in a room that wasn’t theirs.
The leader of the pack, at this time didn’t need much more of an excuse and punched Marlena squarely on the nose. She didn’t break it, but for a good week and a half Marlena walked around with a bruise in the middle of her face so massive that a few people were afraid it was spreading instead of healing.
Marlena’s foster mother, a Christian woman who wore a bun in her hair so tight you could bounce quarters off her cranium, and a woman who didn’t put up with that kind of shit, visited the bullies homes one by one, and inspired their parents to dole out beatings so thoroughly skilled that to this day, a few of those girls still winced at the memory, and Marlena was never picked on again.
It didn’t help that for that week and a half Marlena walked around with the look of a person who still quite didn’t understand what happened. Marlena, who didn’t really understand the definition of senseless violence, kept wondering why would anyone just randomly walk up to a total stranger and just hit them. She watched the girls from afar, tried to remember if she’d done something wrong or if she’d offended them. A couple of times she left candy on their desks at school and waved hello shyly in the halls, and after that, it wouldn’t have been fun to pick on her anyways. Not if she kept trying to be your friend after you hit her.
It was part of the reason why some people never really understood Hector’s ‘thing’ for Marlena. She was a chump, a cry baby, even. She couldn’t fight or throw a ball. She wasn’t even that pretty. Skinny in all the wrong places and hair that always looked like one missed conditioning treatment away from turning into raw straw.
But Hector had little chance. He fell in love with Marlena in the third grade, the moment he watched her tearfully bury a lizard one of the boys in her class had stomped on during recess. Hector was amazed that someone could feel so much for something so small, simply because it had once been alive.
He just couldn’t figure out why the hell she wouldn’t marry him.
He got his answer after time number twenty five. He was making a delivery outside of his route, his partner called out sick, and Hector suspected it was more like hung over, and didn’t like that he may have been lied to, so he almost missed catching Marlena on the street.
He saw her purely by chance; turned his head to the left while waiting for the light to turn green again when he saw Marlena sitting at the bus stop. He sat up quickly and almost immediately went to roll down the window to both yell at her and offer her a ride home. What was she doing at the bus stop anyways, when she knew he would take her anywhere she needed to go? But just as he was about to shout out, he realized that her lips were moving and she was actually talking to someone.
Confused he stopped. Marlena was talking fast, almost like she couldn’t get the words out fast enough, but she was staring off into the distance. It took him a second to realize that she was in fact, talking to the lady next to her, who looked disinterested in what Marlena was trying to say. Had Hector not been paying attention he would’ve missed it, but a quick glance in Marlena’s direction proved that, yes, the lady sitting next to Marlena was in fact listening, if only half-heartedly.
He had to leave, the light had already turned green and there were other cars honking at him. He didn’t feel right driving away, but to avoid having other things thrown at his other eye, he kept moving, a funny feeling in his stomach.
It hit him like a ton of bricks about twenty minutes later. The lady Marlena had been talking to was her mother. Not her foster mother, who had raised Marlena since the age of five like her won kid, but the mother who had been so strung out on crack cocaine that she forgot to give Marlena something to eat for days at a time.
He ran to her apartment. Didn’t even bother clocking out, fuck that shit, and when he got to her place and heard her sniffling softly through the door he knew he had been right.
He knocked softly. “Marlena, mama, its me.”
“Ma, I saw you at the bus stop, sweetheart. I know why you’re crying. Please let me in.”
He was sure she wouldn’t. When he’d almost decided to just walk away, she unlocked the door and opened it a crack to let him in.
He took one look at her it all fell into place: it wasn’t that she didn’t want to marry him. She was afraid that she would fail, that her parents, a drug addict and a thief, had somehow ruined her in a way that no one would ever want her. She wasn’t afraid of him, she was afraid of herself.
She told him everything: How she’d been looking for her mother for months, how her mother hadn’t even recognized her, didn’t care how her life turned out, how she’d only asked Marlena for money. She told him how she’d learned that she had other brothers and sisters too. How her father had also had children with other women, so that for all she knew some kid in her second grade classroom could be her sibling too.
She broke down into tears after that, soaked his shirt halfway through a finished off a box of klenex too. Then when she was done crying she mumbled in a half drunk sounding voice, “I’m not good enough for you, Hector.”
He sucked his teeth at that. Bullshit.
“Marlena, marry me.” He said again.
He took a deep breath. “Marlena,” he took her face in his hands and made her look up at him. She tried to shrug him off, too embarrassed because her face was swollen from crying, but he held on firm.
“Marlena, I love you, you massive pain in the ass. I can’t imagine life without you. Marry me, for fuck’s sake. You know I’m just going to keep asking.”
She smiled a little at that. “You sure?”
He blew out a breath. “Yes.”
Then after several beats. “Ok.”
She laghed. “Okay.”
And before she could change her mind for real, he slipped the ring on her finger and kissed her. They got married two days later. No point in taking chances.