My Girlfriend's Dead

Tyler and Heather had been involved in a blissful three-year relationship throughout most of high school, which made the whole ordeal seem that much more unreal when she broke up with him two weeks before graduation. Some days, not even one's lucky pair of Spongebob Squarepants boxers make a difference.

It was abrupt. He arrived at the table she sat at, kissed her on the forehead and said "Hey honey! You wanted to see me?" She replied "I can't go out with you any more."

There was a moment of silence in which Tyler's entire world ground to a screeching halt, and Heather continued "We're going to different schools and we each have different plans for our lives, and I think it's better if we don't drag this out any longer than it has to be."

She stood up, added an "I'm sorry" and a "Please forgive me" as afterthoughts, and left.

Of course, Tyler knew what she had meant. Either "I found someone else" or "I'll find someone else at college" or, worst of all, "I found someone else about three months ago." Regardless, the end result was the same. Tyler picked up the pieces of his life as well as he could and soldiered on through the remaining two weeks of school and the longest summer vacation of his life.

Since everyone in their town knew already, college was the first time somebody asked him about his relationship status. Her name was Beth, she was from New York City, and she liked digging for clams. This was all Tyler knew about her when she asked "Are you seeing anybody?"

The truth, that he had been seeing a girl for three years until she found someone else, was too much for him at the time, and so he fudged a little bit and told her "I had a girlfriend for three years, but then she died this May."

It worked like a charm. Beth immediately melted, pulled him close and gently said "Oh you poor thing, I'm so sorry! What happened?"

"Dog attack," Tyler answered through tears he called up. Heather had been afraid of dogs, after all.

It wasn't entirely untrue, in a poetic sense; Tyler hadn't seen her after those fatal words, so she was dead in his world, and thus he carried on with a mostly-clear conscience. He and Beth shared a nice three month relationship, which ended once Tyler realized the only thing they had in common was sympathy for his not-dead dead ex and an affinity for Samuel L. Jackson movies.

Still, he had his magic backstory, and the next girl he met, Laci, fell for him after hearing about "Heather, who died in a plane crash." After her, there was a continuous string of relationships all built around his deceased ex, who had perished from—

"—A fire."
"— Falling from the balcony of her apartment."
"— Being hit by a truck."
"— Bulimia."
"— Mistakenly drinking paint thinner."
"— A heart attack during The Ring Two."
"— Faunadestia."

Once, while studying abroad for a semester in Ireland, he screwed up. His then-girlfriend Kathryn believed that she was fatally allergic to nuts, and he had eaten an Almond Joy moments before seeing her one day. This was blown to Hell when he drunkenly told his friends at a pub how Heather "was skydiving, and her parachute was filled with fuckin' apples." The night, and the relationship, ended with a pint of Guinness poured over his head and a slap across his face, and then another five shots of Jameson.

Back in the States, Tyler settled on leukemia, which seemed to get the best reaction from girls, and it wasn't as far-fetched as most of the stories he had been coming up with lately. Apart from the obvious problem of keeping his stories straight, it had simply become too much work, having to continually find inventive, tragic ways for his ex-girlfriend to die every few months.

So he and leukemia kept constant through the remainder of college and into the real world, where he initially remained dateless for six months, pouring himself into his work.

It was his boss who first introduced him to his daughter Alice at the office Christmas party. They met over the crab cakes. Within fifteen minutes, they were engaged in deep conversation on the balcony overlooking the city.

Tyler knew it was true love when he got the gut feeling that he'd taken advantage of his poetically-dead ex-girlfriend's non-leukemia for the last time.

They began a beautiful courtship that lasted for a year and two months when Alice got the news. Sitting Tyler down in the kitchen of their apartment, she faced him and tearfully uttered the fatal words: "I've been diagnosed with leukemia."

Of course, nobody pointed out to him the grim irony of his having two serious relationships affected by cancer. Whether it was in the interest of good taste or it just being too apparent, it remained untouched. The first person to bring it up was Tyler's friend Jimmy from PR three hours after Alice had been laid in the ground.

Tyler stood by her headstone silently. Jimmy approached him from behind, a wreath clutched in one hand and the other placed gently on Tyler's right shoulder. "I'm really sorry, man. I mean, I can't even begin to imagine what you're going through, what with having to relive this same tragedy."

Maybe it was a sense of guilt that prompted Tyler to respond "Jimmy, I have a confession to make." He told him the whole story of how he simply made up Heather dying one day and kept using it because it worked.

Jimmy was disgusted. So was the rest of the office. And his social circles. And his boss and could've-been father-in-law, who called him up that night and said "Don't bother coming in tomorrow." Under other circumstances, he would've understood that this was a sympathetic gesture meant to give him some time to heal. It was the way he screamed it that told Tyler he was fired.

Within a week, Tyler was packed up and ready to move into an apartment back in his hometown. His reasoning was that he had come full circle, so why not begin again where it all started and not make the same mistakes?

Life was good back home; he spent a lot of time wandering the streets and reliving the best times with his friends, always sunnier, funnier and repeatable in the glow of nostalgia. It was inevitable, then, that his thoughts would turn back to Heather. There was a good chance that the guy she left him for had turned out to be abusive or a drug dealer or lax in his personal hygiene. Maybe there was still a chance, somehow.

He stopped in a diner that he and his friends had spent many long nights at just a few years ago. He had just sat down when his waitress approached him and they shared the same silent five-second-stare common to people seeing old acquaintances after years of forgetting the other existed. In this case, the woman he was staring at was unmistakably Heather's best friend Emily, pregnant but otherwise unchanged.

"Well look who finally turned up again!" she said with a wide smile. "You're looking good!"

"You too!" Tyler answered, completely at a loss for natural small talk to make. "So, a baby already?"

"Twins, actually, so that'll make three," Emily replied with a wistful smile. "What about you? You got a woman?"

"Actually, no," Tyler answered, thanking God for his opportunity to segue into what he was dying to ask about. "Speaking of girlfriends, I don't suppose you've heard anything from Heather lately?"

Emily's face went blank, then white, unhinging at the jaw and trembling in the cheeks and at the corners of her eyes.

"Tyler, do you know why she dumped you?"

"No. Why's that?"

"She didn't want you to have to watch her fade away. Seven months after we graduated, she died of leukemia."