“A Break Up in Stages”


After three and a half months, which winds up being the halfway point in your relationship, this is the first time Mia wanted to break up with you.

Before that, while you were first dating, you’d continue past her driveway when it was about time to drop her off just so you could hold her hand longer because that was a new thing. You were gentle, like you were trying to warm up a hatchling. You’d circle around and trace these streets three times before goodnight.

Mia would tell you about how she wanted to go on these road trips, how she’d want to stop at random locations and stand or sit there for a moment. She’d call them anywhere spaces because no one else could occupy them, and she wanted to be the only person existing there and knew no one else could choose to stop at that exact spot. Then she’d yawn and tell you how bored she was at college, at the same time saying how inspired she was and how she dreamed to be like certain lead singers. But Mia couldn’t fall asleep at night, so she’d doubt having the energy to do anything right.

That’s when you still thought about the value of hands. That’s when you’d tell her to think about all the things that made her tired while she was up. To only think about silence and pretend that her mind was a white room. Pretend it’s an anywhere space. She’d squeeze your fingers at that, and you’d tell her something cheesy like you can’t be a dreamer if you stay up all night.

That first time Mia wanted to break up she texted you. That’s when you drove over to her apartment real fast and practically begged her to buzz you in. Your boys would’ve told you, “It ain’t worth it,” and you will never mention that night to them. You punched her apartment number on the intercom and got her voicemail, called her phone, texted her on repeat, let people actually going up go past you and didn’t accept their offer to let you in. Even your voice sounded like it was on its knees, words coming out hard against the ground. She eventually let you up and that’s when you told her all this dark, honest shit like how you hate people in general and have a hard time talking to anyone because you’ve never really talked to your parents, and can’t anymore since they moved back to their home country, or been close with anyone for a long time ­– but her. You pinched your runny nose to make it stop and could smell the metal buttons on your fingers through snot.

That night, she mounted you as you sat upright on her bed, and you just held her, imagining that together you and Mia were a giant boulder that could stay in place forever.

The second time you didn’t even know about it because all she did was change her Facebook relationship status to single. Your boys probably noticed before you did but never brought it up. Much later they tell you they knew something was up. When you questioned Mia, she just shrugged. Her shoulders were pebbles rolling over.

But before that you’d smell her hair by her neck so she could feel you doing it. You’d grab a handful and pour it across your face, telling her that it felt like it was protecting you even though you read that shit in a book. You’d drum on her body to whatever song was playing on your computer. Sometimes you started up a new beat and asked her what song you were playing, thinking that your minds were on the same channel to this rhythm on her bongo-ass set. When she went to the bathroom to clean up, you’d lay out her clothes on your bed as if her body disappeared while she was lying there. The improvised solos always made her laugh.

After you talked your way over the second time, everything proceeded like normal. You drummed less and pretended you were blind while you just stroked the length of her, as if you were writing with all your fingers, “I still love all of you.” You laid out her clothes.

But when Mia was really not in the mood to talk to you, she put on her headphones during drives, always the same singer, even though you were already playing music. You asked her why she was doing that and she told you that she wanted to listen to her own stuff. You released and squeezed the steering wheel, both your hands left on the whole way. Sometimes, you let go and watched the wheel turn. Even when you were driving and there was music and she didn’t have headphones in, nothing was quieter – a silence that could put you to sleep if you thought about it.

You stopped laying out her clothes. There was no beat. Sometimes she just looked out the window. You wanted to leave her at an anywhere space. You braked hard once and she didn’t say goodnight when she left.


The third time is the last time. Before that it got harder to talk to Mia. You saw her eavesdropping on the conversation happening at the table near you. She kept doing this on date night. You watched her stare and you wondered if there was ever a time that your conversations were worthy for someone else to listen in on.

For the last time that it happens, Mia calls you, leaves a long voicemail, texts enough to amount to everything she decided not to say to your face, and changes her status. It all plays out like a ballad telling a story that you already knew the ending to.

She asks you, “Jonah, do you have…anything to say?” In that pause you could tell that she was waiting for you to convince her otherwise. Only you two could exist in and trace the lines of that space, heavy, and there you saw a vision of a fourth time, of empty clothes, of two songs playing simultaneously.

And you have nothing to say back because your mind is covered by single sheets of paper, each one bearing memories that are slowly turning over on their own to show the blank side. This is your answer as you begin to create the walls of your white room.

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About Joseph Han

Joseph Han was born in Seoul, Korea and raised in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. His fiction and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Mascara Literary Review, Bamboo Ridge Press, Word Riot, CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art & Action, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and Eclectica Magazine. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English at University of Hawaiʻi-Mānoa, where he won the 2015 Academy of American Poet’s Prize.