The whole thing all at once.

“They had been so much in love, remembering it made Peter almost physically sick with regret. Peter would always remember this one particular time, when he and Gina had first gotten together, when they were having sex, and they had looked into each other’s eyes and said “I love you,” which they had just started saying to each other—there was something about that one time, it was hard to explain. It was hard to explain because it was such a commonplace-sounding thing when you’re describing it, something predictable, that anyone could experience, that anyone could say. That’s one of the irritating things about being a person these days, is that love is a clichéd emotion, sadly, something used to sell stuff, and it’s hard to talk about it earnestly without sounding like somebody on daytime TV. But this feeling had happened to Peter exactly once in his life, then. It was a moment that, Peter felt, no matter if he and Gina stayed in love or not later on, would tie them together forever. He knew he might not have a moment like that ever again with anyone. In retrospect he was glad it had happened to him at least once. But by the time the thing with her friends from UIC happened, Peter had lost all agency in the relationship. At first it felt like they had been moving forward, together, at the same time, but by then, Gina was leading and Peter was tottering along behind her every step of the way. She decided when they would have sex and how, she decided what they ate, what they were going to do, what they were going to watch on TV. Sometimes she even walked a pace ahead of him on the street when they were out together. Peter had relinquished any control, and was now helpless, dependent. She removed the need for him to make decisions, she protected him, made him feel loved, safe, taken care of. And she had slid into nagginess, was always castigating him for something, snipping at his every fault, from his pitiful inability to ask his boss at the music store for more hours to what shirt he would wear, and whether or not he would button the collar. Once, when they were driving to a party, trying to follow some complicated, barely sensical directions a stoned friend had given them, Peter, who was at the wheel, had accidentally called Gina ‘Mom.’ But Peter loved her, even now. Since they broke up she had quit drinking and using on her own. She had never been as bad as he was. He saw her the last time he was in Chicago, a few months ago, during the couple of days he had free between rehab and the halfway house. They had lunch together. Lunch. The least intimate meal of the day. She had been impenetrably distant and polite. As if they were acquaintances, Gina hadn’t seemed happy or unhappy. She was just flat. Flat as the green line of a dead person’s heart monitor on a hospital show on TV. She wasn’t the same person anymore. It was totally Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when the aliens replace someone you love with an eerily disaffected doppelgänger, a person who looks exactly like the person you love but who you know just, just isn’t.”
Benjamin Hale, “The Minus World

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