How to Get Over: a fictional story about moving on

This is a work of fiction: all incidents described are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual persons or events is coincidental.


Step 1:

There will be a time when will you have called your ex-boyfriend’s voicemail more times than your phone log can keep track of. He will still have the automated voicemail that came with his phone and no matter how many times you call it, it will not sound any different.  It won’t matter if you leave messages, or what the messages say, because he won’t reply either way. If you’re lucky, after a while the number will be disconnected. If not, you will need to find someone else to call.

Step 2:

Buy a police scanner. Better yet, get an app on your phone that does the same thing without making you look like a crazy person. Bring what you have bought home to your apartment, which, if you have not wasted too much time, will still have a carpet striped with the outline of moving boxes and a shower that smells like Dove Anti-Dandruff Shampoo for Men.

The scanner will work, but barely. Its job is to let you listen to people in different places talk to each other about minor and occasionally major tragedies and then try to solve them, and also to be a distraction. It will do both of these things poorly. For starters, the reception will be bad, so that the nighttime dispatcher, a woman with a sweet voice who chews Juicy Fruit gum very loudly next to the receiver, will have to ask someone to repeat themselves on almost every call. Most of the time, it will also be extremely boring.

Nonetheless, you will enjoy listening to police radio. It will feel illegal, voyeuristic, although in fact it is allowed and sometimes even encouraged. You will hear calls about stabbings and carjackings and also, because you live in a city that’s not too large and not too small, about people who’ve lost two dollars in change and want someone to complain to about it. Late at night, when most of the petty crime has gone to bed, you will also hear the dispatcher and her callers talk about their lives. This will be the best part.

Perhaps you always wanted to be a policeman, and perhaps you never wanted to know anything about policemen, but for some reason you will love hearing about the mundane troubles of ordinary people. A gash to the knee requiring sutures and a broken heart are not so different, after all. Neither one of them will kill you.

Step 3:

Manufacture a crime. You will need help for this. Ask a friend whom you trust and who will not mind spending a few days in jail if all of this goes wrong. The two of you will stand on a street corner and the friend will steal your bag from you, in plain sight of everyone on the street. Coolly, you will dial 911. The dispatcher will answer. You will tell her your situation, leaving out important details like your friend’s appearance and the fact that you made all of this up. She will take down your information and tell you there’s nothing much they can do. Ask for her name, and she may tell you. Hang up and allow yourself to be comforted by the middle-aged man in a banana-yellow polo shirt exiting the parking lot of the Del Taco across the street.

Step 4:

Repeat step 3. You will need to find a different friend.

Step 5:

If you have completed all of the previous steps correctly, you will eventually make a name for yourself as the woman who can’t keep her bag in her hand. The dispatcher will sound glad to hear you when you call, and will express her condolences for your misfortune in an increasingly unconvincing way. If you stay on the line, you may each learn something about the other’s childhood. One or both of you may find this unnerving, or exciting.

Keep up with the petty crime. Gradually, you will be able to walk past the movie theater your ex used to take you to without dry heaving. Reclaim it by having a friend steal your bag in the lobby.

Go to bed. Dream about elderly heart attack victims and cats left stuck in trees and a woman whose breath smells like Juicy Fruit gum. Wake up and realize you’ve been dreaming. Also realize that you haven’t had an imaginary argument with your ex in days. This will no longer be a painful thought.

The next time you call the dispatcher she may invite you to an all-department clambake on the first of the month. No one there will recognize you on sight, but as soon as you speak there will be choruses of “It’s the bag lady!” from across the room. At least one person will ask the dispatcher, who will look at least a bit like you’d imagined, if the two of you are a couple. What she says will be entirely up to her.

Eat one of the clams from the plate on the table. Feel it slide down your throat. If it’s any good, it will taste gritty, like salt water.

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