Big Boys Don’t Cry
Words by Matt Gonzales Illustration by Eric Stine
He is standing in the kitchen of what up until that day had been their apartment. To kill the silence, he flips on the yellow Magnavox boom box resting on the top rung a nearby metal foldout stepladder. “Misunderstanding” by Genesis leaps out of the speakers. “How apropos,” he thinks.
But it is not apropos at all.
A day earlier he had sat on their yellow velour couch and gazed at her pitifully as she tried to cheer him up by improvising a tap dance. Her sweetness made him feel even guiltier than he already felt. He told her to sit down.
“I love someone else,” he said plainly. He expected her to begin sobbing or to explode in a rage of anger. She did neither.
“Please leave,” she said quietly.
“Look, I feel like we should talk—”
“Leave now, please.” She stared hard at the floor.
He left. He got into his car and drove directly to the home of the other woman. That night, he had sex with the other woman four consecutive times, allowing himself to be wholly consumed by the dopamine buzz that comes with first-time intercourse.
Late the next morning, he drove back to their apartment. As he drove, he rehearsed what he would say to her. “We grew apart.” “We both saw this coming.” “You have to admit you were unhappy, too.” When he arrived, she wasn’t there.
The places where her things had been were occupied by something that made him feel profoundly sad. Drawers hung half-open in the bedroom. The mattress was stripped of the bedspread and sheets. The artwork had been taken off the walls, leaving behind bare white rectangles, terrifying in their emptiness.
They had lived together for six years. Now, he realized, they didn’t.
He called her and got her voicemail. He called again and again, and got the same result. He dropped his phone, gripped by a strange panic he never saw coming.
He ran. He ran out of the apartment, down the stairs, through the foyer. He stopped running when he reached the sidewalk. He tried walking down the street, to nowhere in particular, like an ordinary person having an ordinary day. But the sidewalk swayed and buckled beneath him. He stopped walking for several minutes, waited out the wooziness, and went back to his apartment.
He went into the kitchen and turned on the radio. “Misunderstanding” by Genesis was playing. He looked around.
She had taken all of the dishes, exposing the floral wallpaper that lined the shelves inside the cabinets. She had taken the spice rack and the mustard-colored plastic containers that had held thee sugar, flour, and coffee. She had taken the wooden breadbox engraved with the word “Bread.” She had taken the microwave oven.
She had not taken the barbecue sauce jar. He had bought it for her at a thrift store as a gag gift a couple of years earlier. Barbecue sauce had been a lighthearted bone of contention between them. He loved it; she had no use for it.
The jar looked like a miniature brick barrel with a wooden lid. When you lifted the lid, a brush was attached to the bottom. “We use this to paint our food delicious,” he used to say to her.
Now he is holding the barbecue sauce jar in his hands. He is overcome by the reality of each discrete new moment. He is trying to use the power of his mind to make all of the missing things, including her, reappear and return to their rightful places.
“I’m Not In Love” by 10cc comes on the radio. He tries to isolate and separate the individual parts: the liquid synthesizer; the hazy smear of overlapping background vocals; the rich, disconsolate lead vocals. But they keep snapping back into place. “So beautiful,” he mouths silently.
He is sitting on the linoleum floor. He cradles the barbecue sauce jar in his arms. “I’m Not In Love” continues to play on the paint-splattered Magnavox boom box. It’s at the part where the English woman says, slowly and softly, “Big boys don’t cry, big boys don’t cry, big boys don’t cry.”
Matt Gonzales Like all self-respecting English majors, Matt graduated from college with no intention of getting a real job. Instead, he traveled to South Korea, where he taught English to kids for a couple of years. After returning to the states, Matt did time as a waiter and a fundraiser for Citizens Action Coalition before finally landing his first writing gig as an ad copywriter at a small firm in Muncie, Ind. In the following years, Matt attended graduate school to study digital storytelling at Ball State, wrote lots of music criticism for Popmatters.com and Indianapolismusic.net, and launched his own webzine, Hoosier Logic. In 2005, the Indianapolis Star hired Matt to write for INtake Weekly, where he became a columnist and a blog editor, and was recognized by the Society of Professional Journalism for his long-form writing. Matt stuck around at the Star just long enough to realize the newspaper business was dying a slow, grisly death, and, in 2008, he jumped ship to the advertising business. These days, Matt spends nearly all of his free time making a fuss over his new son, Oscar.