Sunday Story (on a Friday): Take Me Back

“I’ve come to realize something about you,” Valerie said slowly and surely into her FaceTime camera, carefully holding the phone to ensure that she was showing the very best angle of her visage. She was beautiful, no doubt, but 33 wasn’t treating her as well as 28 had, and even in moments like these, she was careful to make sure that she presented herself as elegantly as possible.

Staring back at her through the single crack on the screen of her iPhone 7 was the plain but handsome, older but youthful face of a man who was desperately, hopelessly in love with her. She knew that what she was about to say—what she had rehearsed saying in her mind dozens of times since she had last seen him just 24 hours ago—was going to destroy him.

But so fucking what? Valerie had been destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again in the three years she and Paul had been together, and mostly by his doing. Through all of it, she had loved him. Defended him. Even protected him.

Paul had a bad habit of lying to protect her, but she could handle that. She knew that he needed to lie to her sometimes. Dating a man who traveled for a living and likely had a girl in every proverbial port before he met her…she didn’t want to know about all of that. But there was the one time he hadn’t lied, and that was the one she could never forgive him for. And that’s why she had to say what she was about to say.

“I’ve realized that while I will always love you—deeply, from the bottom of my heart—I’ve realized that I don’t love you romantically.”

There. She had said it. It was done.

Just saying it wasn’t enough, though. That’s why this call was a FaceTime. That’s why she had to see him break as she said it. Because if he was broken, she’d feel better about being broken.

And that’s why when Paul’s face cracked, ever so slightly, just long enough for a single tear to escape his eye, she finally felt the relief that had been missing from her life for so very long.

“Okay,” he said. Because what else could he say? He tried to smile, but that tear had betrayed him. “I understand.”

All the times they had been on and off, will they/won’t they, are they/aren’t they over the past three years, she had never been able to say that. But even in that moment, she wasn’t sure that it was true.

“I don’t understand why you two aren’t together,” Marie said as they sat down at the bar. “He loves you so much.”

It was a year before the breakup—the real breakup. Valerie and Paul were “just friends,” having parted ways officially a few weeks before. Of course, Paul was in town again, presumably on business, but he never really seemed to have much business to conduct when he was there. And he was staying with Valerie, sleeping in her bed with her every night. She wouldn’t let him make love to her, of course, but she was happy to sleep nearly naked next to him, feeling the warmth that made her so comfortable.

In the mornings, Valerie would set her alarm thirty minutes earlier than she needed to, just so she could roll over, place her head on his chest, and listen to him breathe. She loved hearing his breath quicken ever so slightly when he had awakened enough to realize she was there, and then feeling his arm gently pull her closer to him. Those silent mornings in her apartment were almost enough to help her forget.

“Baby,” Valerie whispered saucily to Marie, “I know he loves me. Maybe even more than you do.”

Marie laughed, mostly because Marie laughed at everything. She was silly, even playful in a way that made her seem at least a decade younger than her squarely millennial birthday that her driver’s license kept as a close secret. While Valerie had worn a deeply scooped, highly slit dress to the bar for their girls’ night, Marie had worn denim overalls and Chucks. Marie was always the Velma to Val’s Daphne, but it worked for both of them.

The two of them were inseparable, closer than sisters in most ways. There had never been a hint of anything romantic between them—despite what some friends said and many men wished—because it was deeper than that, in a way that none of the boorish, leering men at that bar could never have understood.

“Then why?” Marie moaned. “I would kill for a man to look at me the way he looks at you.” She waved her hand dismissively at the the other patrons of the bar. “These men? They just want to fuck us. You can get that anywhere. Paul wants to worship you. He does worship you. And he’s a good man, Val.”

Valerie knew all this to be true. She knew what Marie didn’t know, too—that Paul was still taking care of her, even after she had dumped him yet again. He had never stopped paying her rent, or sending her groceries via Instacart. And honestly, she needed the help.

It wasn’t like that, she reminded herself. I’m not sleeping with him or anything. He’s not my sugar daddy. I’m not using him. Right? Right.

“Something happened between us, Marie. I can’t talk about it, not yet.”

“My God, Val—did he hit you?” Marie’s tiny frame instantly became enraged, her voice rising to a shriek. “Did he force himself on you??”

“No, baby, shhhhh,” Valerie tried to shush her, lest any of the very interested men in the bar try to insert themselves into their conversation. “Marie…it’s nothing like that. You know he would never. I know he would never.”

“Then what is it?”

“I just can’t. It’s as much my fault as his, I know that. Please don’t hate him or anything, okay?”

Marie looked back with suspicion. “Okay, babe. I won’t.” She slurped down her margarita loudly. “Why are you here, anyway? I thought you’d cancel for sure when he came into town last minute.”

“Cancel on you? Never. You’re the love of my life.”

But as she arrived back to her apartment at 2:20 that next morning, full of tequilla and introspection, Valerie wondered if the love of her life wasn’t the man who had unexpectedly cleaned her bathroom, taken out her trash, and ironed her work clothes for tomorrow. She stepped out of her shoes, unzipped her dress and let it fall gently to the floor as she moved silently under the sheets next to Paul, who had obviously tried to stay awake for her, his phone still playing Get Him to the Greek next to his slightly drooling mouth on his pillow.

“Baby,” she whispered, stroking his chest slightly. “Baby. I’m home. Kiss me.”

And even half asleep, Paul knew not to miss his opportunity to get her back. So he did.

It had now been nearly two years since the real breakup, the day when that single tear defined their entire relationship. And Valerie had never been doing better.

Paul had been holding her back, she realized that now. She had been too reliant upon him, too nervous about what would happen if he had stopped supporting her, but simultaneously too comfortable with accepting those PayPal transfers. Going cold turkey had been a struggle, and there were a few days where eating was more a concept than a reality, but she had done it, damnit.

She and Marie had gone into business together, and they were busier than they could ever have imagined they would be. Valerie had tried to date, had even moved in with a guy for a month or two, but she quickly realized that her goals and aspirations were too large for any one man to handle right then. It would be the Val and Marie show for now, and that’s all she needed to be happy.

Until that fucking voicemail.

Marie had managed to arrange a meeting with a really big potential client—one that was honestly too big for them to handle at this stage of their business, but what the hell? Of course Valerie had put her phone on silent and had buried it deeply into her Prada bag that Paul had bought her for her birthday two years ago. She had even gotten to the point where she stopped thinking of him when she wore it, a fact that she was simultaneously proud of and ashamed to admit. So she didn’t hear the buzzing when a number that she didn’t even recognize anymore rang at the bottom of that satchel.

The meeting had not gone particularly well, to be honest. It was nearly immediately obvious that the scope of the project was beyond their limited capabilities, and the client was more annoyed than Valerie felt he had a right to be. Marie wasn’t as perceptive as she was, and Valerie kept having to squeeze her leg under the table to get her to shut up.

“I’m sorry, my love,” Marie said to Valerie in the parking lot of the client’s office. “I fucked that one up, didn’t I?”

“It’s okay, really. We never lose, right? We win or we learn. And we sure as hell learned a lot today, babe.” Valerie did her very best to laugh it off. That could have been the deal that set them up for the rest of the year—maybe multiple years. “We just weren’t ready. We will be next time.”

They embraced each other as they always did upon parting ways, and Valerie fumbled to get her keys and her phone from her bag.

“Voicemail? Who leaves voicemails anymore?” Valerie held the phone up to her ear to listen to the three minute plus message that somebody had left her.

She sank to her knees like she had been shot.

Valerie!” Marie screamed. “What is it? What’s wrong?” She tried to pull Valerie to her feet, but couldn’t even budge her.

“It’s Paul. I think it’s Paul. I can’t tell for sure, he pocket dialed me. I don’t have his number saved anymore. But it’s the right area code. It sounds like he’s with some woman…and a baby.”

“A baby?” Marie was confused.

“Yeah, a baby. I can hear it crying.”

“What’s he doing with a baby?”

Valerie couldn’t speak. She just stayed there, rooted to the filthy blacktop of the industrial park’s lot. She listened to all three minutes, and then listened to it again. Marie was saying something, maybe even yelling something, but she didn’t hear it.

“Marie, I need you to take me home. I don’t think I can drive right now.”

“Val, I’m scared. What’s wrong? What’s wrong? For fuck’s sake, what is fucking wrong?”

“I’ll tell you as we drive. We need to go. Come on. ”

It took more than ten minutes of silence between the two of them. Marie driving her old, squeaky Nissan Versa with one eye on the road, and one eye on her best friend. Valerie, unable to even breathe properly.

Finally, she spoke.

“Marie,” Valerie began. “I…remember when I told you that something had happened between me and Paul that I couldn’t talk about?”

“Of course.”

“Well.” She measured the silence, unsure how to tell her very best friend something that she had never told anybody. “That something was an abortion.”

“Holy fuck, Val.” Marie narrowly avoided putting the Nissan into a median before swerving back into her lane. “An abortion? When? How did I not know this?”

“It was when we broke up for a little while, right before that girls’ night we had when we talked about it.” Valerie paused. “It was an accident, of course. I wasn’t on the pill, and he, well, you know…he finished.”

She paused again.

“That’s not entirely true. I asked him to finish. We had never done that. We had been together for almost two fucking years and he had never come inside me, not once. And I really wanted that. I wanted to feel like we were a couple. And I had just come off my period and I knew—okay, I thought I couldn’t get pregnant.

“It felt so good that I asked him to do it again that night. And again the next morning—don’t look at me like that. I already fucking told you, I just finished my period, that shit’s not supposed to happen, okay?”

“Okay, Val. Christ.”

“So of course I was late the next month. And I waited to tell him, because honestly we were a fucking mess at that time and I didn’t want to make him feel like he had to stay with me. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted him to stay with me. I always had this dream of you and I starting this business, and look, look—here we are, we are fucking doing it!”

“I know, Val, we are doing it. It’s working, despite that shitshow of a meeting we just had!” Marie managed to force a laugh.

“I know!” Valerie forced her own laugh in response. “And a kid? That wouldn’t have fit into my plans at all. So I just called him and told him that I wanted an abortion. He was out of town, of course, but he said that no, he would fly in the next morning and we would talk about it. I told him no, that I was going to go that next morning and get the RU486 or whatever, and that he needed to pay for it.

“I didn’t think that he actually would. But that motherfucker just said, ‘you’re right, we can’t keep it,’ and he fucking PayPaled me three hundred fucking dollars. Like, fucking immediately. He didn’t even think about it.

“So I knew I was making the right decision. I went to the clinic—actually, I called my mom and she took me. God, I’ve never seen her be more proud of me than she was in that moment, like she was so fucking happy that I was going to get an abortion. She told me how her generation had fought for my right to control my body, and that this was going to be ‘so great.'”

Tears started flowing from her eyes, despite her best efforts.

“I paid my money and I took the first dose of pills. The first dose starts it, you know, but you have to take the second dose before it actually does the job. So while I’m waiting the however many hours it was, Paul calls me. He says that he just landed at the airport and that he wants to see me.

“I know that it’s a mistake, right? But I meet up with him anyway. I go to his hotel, and we just start talking, and he’s crying his eyes out. Says that he shouldn’t have sent me the money, but that he just scared and that he didn’t know what to do, and that please, please, please, can I not take the second dose of pills, because he thinks he might want to have this baby with me?

“I just couldn’t believe it. Like, what was I supposed to do? Pretend like everything was okay? Pretend like he hadn’t ripped my entire heart out when he sent me that money without a second thought? But, Marie, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to forgive him, to start a family, to make everything okay. But I somehow knew that I couldn’t.

Valerie forced out a painful, barking laugh. “You won’t believe what my dumb ass did next. I felt so bad for him, sitting there crying. I actually fucked him. Right there on the hotel bed. And then I left without a word, went home, and took the second dose.”

Marie sat in silence. “So…then you weren’t pregnant anymore.”

“Right. But I didn’t react well to the pills. I guess a lot of women don’t. They don’t tell you that part. I bled, and I bled, and I bled. Had to go to the ER. My mom wasn’t nearly as proud to see me there, I can tell you that. I almost died, Marie.”

“Holy fuck, Val.”

“I know. I called him and told him that it was over, right there in the hospital bed. And then I swore I’d never talk to him again. But, baby, I loved him. I loved him so fucking much.”

Valerie couldn’t stop the tears anymore. Marie didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing, letting the aching sobs wash over her.

Valerie continued. “So I tried to forgive him. For a whole year, I tried. I tried to forgive myself, too.”

She shook her head.

“It didn’t work. They tell you that abortion is no big deal. They tell you to fucking ‘shout your abortion.’ But I could never get over it. I still can’t.

“And now, I just heard the man who paid for me to kill my baby playing with his own child.”

She swore she wouldn’t do it. But later that evening, Valerie, her body having been wracked with sobs all day, sat on the same bed where she had once laid so happily next to him, and pressed send on Paul’s number.

“Hello?” It was definitely him. Maybe a hair deeper, or a tad older. But it was Paul.

She froze.

“Um, I got a call from this number, I was just calling back.”

“Valerie, it’s Paul. I guess you deleted my number. I am so sorry, I’ve got a new phone, and it’s been randomly dialing people. I know it’s pretty pathetic…but I still have your number in my favorites. I must have pocket dialed you and…”

“Yeah, whatever,” she interrupted. “I’m really busy. Did you need something?”

“No,” he stammered. “It’s been a really long time though. I miss you.”

“Okay, thanks. Goodbye.”

Valerie pressed end, and realized that it was the last time that she’d ever hear Paul’s voice. It’s okay, Val, she thought. That’s done with. He’s happy. You’re happy. It’s for the best.

Wait a second, bitch, she thought again. For fuck’s sake, you don’t even know that it was his baby. You don’t know anything about him. You blocked him everywhere.

But not on the business Instagram. Social was Marie’s project—Valerie never even used it. She quickly logged into the business Instagram, and started to search for Paul. She didn’t have to search far.

Somehow Val had missed it. He was among the thousands of followers for their venture. Her heart quickened a beat or two as she realized that he had liked every single picture they had ever posted.

He had been cheering her on and supporting her every step of the way. And she had never noticed.

Valerie swallowed hard and clicked his name. There was no baby on his page. No girlfriend. Almost nothing since the day they had broken up. It was almost like his life had been paused indefinitely, just waiting for a reason to get started again.

She scrolled through his page and found the pictures from the time they had gone to Vegas. Chicago. Charlotte. NYC. London. She had deleted all of those. He never had.

God, can’t you just take me back to that day, she screamed inside her own head. Can’t you just somehow knock those pills out of my hand and fix this? She wanted to call him again, to tell him that she actually wasn’t busy at all, and that maybe he could come visit soon.

Then, without warning, she started laughing. Sort of ironically at first, and then longer and louder until it was a full blown giggle.

She picked up her phone again and blocked him from the business page. She blocked his number from her phone and deleted the voicemail. Then, she called Marie.

“Babe, it’s me,” she began. “I just wanted to say thanks for listening to all that bullshit today.”

“It wasn’t—”

“No, no, it was bullshit, and let me tell you why.

“What you and I are going to do is way, way bigger than some dipshit who wasn’t man enough to be there for me when I needed him. I don’t care if he has a baby, I don’t care if he misses me, and I sure as fuck don’t care if he still loves me. I love us, I love you, and I love me.”

Paul held the phone to his ear, frozen to the side of his face even though the call had disconnected several seconds earlier.

He had just heard the voice of the woman who had been the love of his life for the first time in almost two years. It had been so fast, less than twenty seconds total, but her words were burning in his ears.

He had been waiting for this moment for years, rehearsing what he might say if he ever got a chance to speak to her again. He had visualized the moment hundreds of times. In his mind’s eye, he always saw her saying that she missed him too, that maybe they could have lunch the next time he was in town.

And then they’d have lunch, and he’d tell her that he still loved her, and that he missed her every day. He’d sheepishly admit that he had never stopped following her business on social media, and that he watched her IG story every day, hoping to catch a glimpse of her smile or a note of her voice. She’d admit that she missed him too, and that she wondered about what he was doing.

Maybe they’d go for a walk, and his hand would somehow find its way into hers. She’d be nervous, he’d be scared…but they’d kiss each other. First briefly, and then deeply. And then everything would be just like it had always been, like no time had ever passed between them.

He’d give up being on the road and find something steady and safe in her city. They’d have a child, maybe two, enough to erase the pain of the time he had been too scared to be a father before. They’d grow old together, and they’d tell their love story to anybody who would listen.

But that’s not what happened. He had told her that he missed her, and she told him that she was busy.

“Is everything okay?” Paul’s sister, Lucy, bounced her baby on her hip, trying to keep the little one quiet for just a moment.

Paul took the phone down from his ear.


80 Replies to “Sunday Story (on a Friday): Take Me Back”

  1. stingray65

    Great story. Men are such as Paul are such pigs, and Valerie and her cats will be much happier without all his drama and demands intruding on their lives.

  2. hank chinaski

    Oof. Watching those happen in real time is like watching a car wreck.
    If there is one upside to the degnerate epidemic of e-thots is that most every young man knows what a ‘simp’ and ‘paypig’ are, and that to be one is the lowest of the low.


    So, Val and Marie’s business was an OnlyFans or related, amirite?

    • stingray65

      You might be right Hank, but I was picturing something more like Val and Marie’s Artisanal Organic Vegan Cat Treats available in 4 delicious flavors: Cucumber, Arugula, Spinach, and Cauliflower, and the big client they weren’t ready for was Petsmart because they were still baking them in Marie’s kitchen oven.

    • Bark M Post author

      That’s the fun thing about writing these sorts of short stories. It’s like the opposite of the SCCA rulebook—if it doesn’t say it, then you can make it whatever you want it to be.

    • stingray65

      Tom, Do you know how many bags of organic vegan cat treats you need to sell each month to lease a Genesis or Audi? Answer: A whole bunch, which is why Val is thinking about forgiving Paul and getting back to a “friends only” basis with him so he can buy their business an industrial grade mixer and oven for increased production and help make the lease payment on her Mercedes.

  3. Newbie Jeff

    Probably a little odd to disclose this on an open forum… but I suppose sharing is the point of a comments section, right?

    I am basically the male version of “Valerie”, at least in my approach towards very committed relationships. I like having girlfriends… companionship and intimacy… but when things turn serious, as they always do, I’ve just never been comfortable committing. Then begins a slow, drawn-out process to extricate myself from yet another relationship with a wonderful, intelligent, attractive woman… even I can recognize that this is a bit sick (like “Valerie”).

    What’s my deal? Maybe because my parents divorced, and then divorced again in second marriages… maybe because I’ve always been in careers that are very hard on marriages, with predictable results. Maybe because I see friends’ marriages that range from simply joyless to utterly miserable and destructive.

    …but those are secondary. When you really get down to it, I’m “Valerie”. I just always choose career, buddies, hobbies, and lifestyle. I don’t regret it in any way now… although I wonder if I will when I’m older.

    • Bark M Post author

      Hey, it’s all fair game here. I think I’ve been both Paul and Valerie at certain points in my life.

      Society encourages us all to be Valerie now. It’s why we’ve included “plant moms” in Mother’s Day celebrations. Huxley got things so much closer to the truth than Orwell did.

    • stingray65

      Do any of your “Pauls” pay your rent, help you with your food bills, and gladly pay for your birth control? Do any of your “Pauls” let you go out with friends, come home late drunk to a freshly cleaned apartment, and then let you have your way with her when you roll into bed and wake her up? Do any of your “Pauls” offer to support your idea for an organic vegan cat treats business? If so, you have a keeper.

        • stingray65

          Bark, feel free to use the cat treat business in your future adventures of Val and Marie and their comic relief sidekick Paul, but I want 5% of the movie version gross revenues.

        • hank chinaski

          C’mon man. Baking cat treats is *work*. Worse, it’s trad woman’s work. No way, even if ‘Velma’ is doing the heavy lifting and Val is marketing and sales.

          As for the Pauls, the answer is always: 1.ghost and then 2. burn everything.

          • stingray65

            You are right Hank, which is why V and M both voted for Biden so they can have access not only to unlimited and taxpayer funded abortions, but also to undocumented migrants from south of the border for the kitchen work. V and M are both “idea” people.

    • Ryan

      I don’t know how old you are, but you pretty much described my 20s. It’s hard to stick it through a rough spot when the next one is a few swipes away.

      It also doesn’t help that most people these days seem to build their whole personality around Netflix or their pets, neither of which are things that I can relate to. Few people seem to have real hobbies these days.

      Anyways, thanks Bark for your post. You guys always seem to hit home with these stories.

      • stingray65

        Its hard to have hobbies when you are glued to your iPhone all day. Dog owners take walks and spend the whole time looking at their screen and the only time they actually interact with their hound is to use their phone to take cut pet videos they can post on social media. Young mothers push baby buggies while constantly talking on or otherwise interacting with their phone – perhaps they are looking for their next sperm donor? Friends go out to dinner and sit around the table each looking at their phones – perhaps they are texting each other? Students attend university lectures where they watch cute pet videos on social media instead of listening to their very expensive lectures criticizing Western culture, denigrating US history, promoting Critical Race Theory and transgenderism, and blaming all the world’s problems on heterosexual men and white privilege. In other words, it is very hard for a real live human being (or pet), including a potential or actual mate, to compete with all the information and entertainment available on the screen in your hand.

        • Ryan

          You’re not wrong, but I think the problem is deeper than everyone having to be “connected” 24/7. That, if anything, is more of a symptom than anything else.

          What I see personally is that a lot of these women have bought into the meme that they need to be a #girlboss in order to feel fulfillment. Effectively, their lives revolve entirely upon their job and that’s why they have no real hobbies.

          The above is a really foreign concept to me and not something that I really picked up on until this past weekend. In contrast, most of my friends see their careers as a means to an end. We define ourselves by how we spend our weekends.

  4. Josh Johnson

    Bark, what a finely crafted short story. Very poignant in today’s world, having known people in similar positions (both sides!) as that story. As a longtime reader, I’ve always looked forward to and appreciate the “fictional” tales this site puts forth.

  5. CJinSD

    I definitely enjoyed this story, but I feel like my takeaway diverged from the crowd. As much time as I have to detest Paul, I think Valerie is an excellent example of a victim of feminism. She was shattered when she thought Paul achieved a traditional life in spite of himself. Her greatest accomplishment is his misery. Meanwhile, his defining flaw is being an invertebrate. He wanted her to keep the baby, but he caved at her first resistance, allowing himself to become the scapegoat for her inevitable life as a cipher. Feminism tells women they can have everything, so they should never be happy with anything that they have. Ultimately, most of them will end up with nothing as a result, or at least far less than they’d have had if they’d known when to turn off the red light.

    • stingray65

      CJ – you are forgetting that even when her looks fade away, her cat treat business goes belly up, and most of her friends are married and killing her with pictures and stories about their children and grandchildren or disappear from her life as bitter old maids, Val will always have her cats (unless she continues to feed them vegan Arugula flavored cat treats).

    • Newbie Jeff

      “Feminism tells women they can have everything, so they should never be happy with anything that they have”


      Describing my own shortcomings in relationships in my previous comment, I specifically avoided blaming my ex-gf’s… I knew who they all were, yet chose to pursue them. Thus, it’s not their fault that I decided to not get married. And they really were wonderful, decent women…

      But. There is another side of this that I didn’t get into… I think American women are the un-happiest women of any society for the reason CJ succinctly describes. With marriages that I’ve observed, and the directions of my own relationships, it’s never enough for American women. They’ve been told that they can be anything – astronauts, artists, actresses, scientists, CEO’S, president – most of which borders on unlikely to wildly unrealistic. At the same time, women are fed the American-feminism victim narrative that anything they fail to achieve is the result of sexism, systemic gender inequality, “toxic masculinity”, etc. Anything that is viewed as a “traditional” role for a woman is treated with hostile resentment… so American feminism told American women that they can be anything they want… except just normal women.

      It’s a fatal combination, in my view… I think men are more “mission-focused” while also able to adapt to reality, which often means giving up on a “dream job” to find stable employment to provide for themselves or a family… because the “mission” changed. And I believe men find satisfaction, even happiness, in being a provider… even if the job isn’t glamorous or lucrative (note: considering the same feminists have been teaching American men, too, I realize this has probably changed significantly among millennial and later gens). I suspect it’s been this way for thousands of years. At the same time, I don’t think women are wired this way… they don’t seem to find satisfaction or value in “slugging it out” in some 9-5 that won’t get a lot IG hits…

      The point is, I feel like the shit isn’t that hard: the guy goes to work to provide a home, the girl makes it a home worth working for. American feminism has essentially destroyed this, and I’ve not integrated well with American feminists. This is at least partially causal to my reluctance to commit to my “modern era” relationships, and why – as I’ve said previously – I just don’t date American women anymore. So the other side of my admission that I’m a “Valerie” is that feminist influences on American women sort of made me a “Valerie”… I feel like I would have more or less assimilated in the older, more traditional American society.

      • stingray65

        The interesting thing is that American women not only have crazy delusions regarding their own abilities and attractiveness, but are also much more status oriented about the men in their lives. Some guy without a college degree driving an old truck with his paving/construction/plumbing business sign on the door won’t be good enough for most women with a $300K Ivy League Master of Fine Arts degree schlepping coffee at Starbucks. The guy might be a millionaire, have a great personality, but because he is “uneducated” and gets his hands dirty for a living he isn’t someone she will want to drag to cocktail parties with her artsy friends or brag about on social media. When 60% of college degrees (including near 100% of the lowest paid degrees) and well over 50% of graduate and professional degrees are held by women, it becomes a mathematical impossibility for most of them to marry up.

  6. Rick S

    I guess I’m a whack job. I see nothing wrong with Paul. He loved Val, and was able to put up with a lot of shit from her and still persevere with his love. He got a call out of the blue while on a business trip, acquiesced to his love’s demands in the moment, but soon realized his error and tried to correct it. Val spurned the correction.

    Exactly what did Paul do wrong but “love too much”?

    • Bark M Post author

      It’s tough in a short story format to paint an entire character profile. Based on what we see here, it’s hard to disagree with you. Paul loved her to a fault, no doubt. I get the feeling that he was always waiting for a better version of Val to surface.

      • Elcivicogrande

        And isn’t the real trick in relationships knowing who actually has a better version to evolve into (and who is willing to go through the effort to evolve)?

        The best part about this story (and I adore short stories) is there’s 100 percent a version where one of these conversations goes differently and they end up together, happy, and … most importantly … adults who can act rationally both independently and as a couple.

        But that’s a much less interesting story!

        Bark… hours later after my 5th reread, all I can say is Man, do you have talent. This one will stick with me for a while and I’m looking forward to figuring out why (other than the quality of the writing)!

        • Bark M Post author

          If you’ve enjoyed it, why not share it with your friends?

          That is a Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy quote, btw, not an actual LIKE SHARE AND SUBSCRIBE request.

          I’d like to think that there’s a version like the one you’ve described, maybe one where Val doesn’t take the pills. Or one where she listens to her friend. Or maybe one where Val never meets Marie at all, and gives that emotional availability to Paul, instead.

          • Elcivicogrande

            Haha I actually have shared it. With no context because it’s more fun that way. Thanks again for sharing this with all of us

    • stingray65

      What did Paul do wrong? I can tell you from painful personal experience that all Paul needed to do to get some positive attention from Val would be to ignore her. If Paul had used some vague excuse to cancel a rendezvous with Val at the last minute you can bet she would have been calling/texting/e-mailing him incessantly to find out what he was doing and whether she could join him. If Paul responded to Val’s “lets just be friends” phone call with a “you are so right, its probably time for each of us to explore our other options – after all neither of us is getting any younger” and then promptly taken away his financial support she would have been begging him to come back. And if Val had tried to track Paul down two years after she dumped him only to find no trace of him on her social media, but with lots of posts demonstrating activity, success, and fun without her on his social media she would have been crushed and desperate to get him back. The question is – do you really want to be in a relationship with a woman who craves abuse and neglect, and is repelled by love, support, and attention?

    • 98horn

      Paul was weak, Paul is a follower. Valerie brought all the masculine energy to the relationship. If you are not leading in your relationship as a man, your woman will seek that leadership elsewhere. Tell them no from time to time, it’s good for them.

      • -Nate

        “Tell them no from time to time, it’s good for them.

        I have to say I agree .

        Few could handle my Sweet, I love her but only take so much shit .

        Why I don’t miss my ex wife – I let the B.S. go for some years and when I finally put a stop to it she got whacked out pissed off and left .

        Until recently she’d still call me whenever a problem cropped up, she’s still single, I’ve been single longer than we were married, she still wants to wear the pants, have at it I say

        Saying no doesn’t mean being an asshole .


  7. Tony LaHood

    I don’t know who in their right mind would want children. That said, I await the publication of Bark’s first novel.

    • stingray65

      Everyone who wants to retire with a pension or social security should want everyone to have lots of children, since most social security systems are Ponzi schemes that depend on ever higher numbers of workers paying taxes to support the retirees, while pensions are built on stock appreciation and bond markets that are in turn dependent on growing sales that are difficult to achieve with shrinking populations. A large part of the fertility problem that is bankrupting social security systems is that retirement has been disconnected from having children, because historically (and still the case in the developing world) your children were the ones who would take care of you when you get old, but now everyone’s children pay into social security to pay for everyone’s parents retirement, which creates free-rider problems when some choose to not have children to save money/headaches but still expect to get their social security paid for by someone else’s kids. When too many decide to rely on someone else’s kids for their retirement, the whole Ponzi scheme collapses. Feminism has done largely the same thing by demanding a welfare state that does not require women to be directly dependent on husbands for their welfare, so now women who don’t marry (and their kids if they have them) get government benefits that are paid for mostly by anonymous men.

      • Tony LaHood

        Your point is well taken, but in my opinion the cost-to-benefit ratio still doesn’t justify spawning.

      • anoone

        Feminism isn’t the only reason people are deciding not to have kids. For me and my partner, it’s the exploitative financial system. It would be nice if a parent could stay at home, but it’s no longer possible to afford to live like that for many people. Unemployment is so vicious, the job market is so tough, and housing prices are so high it creates a deep feeling of inherent instability in your life that disuades you from having children. Who wants to have a kid when they have to move every year or two to keep rent affordable? And when home prices are rising so fast you’ll never get on the ladder? And nobody in power speaks to these real issues or has an interest in solving them? Nobody, so it doesn’t feel like it will ever get better either. Kids represent a hope for the future that just doesn’t exist for many young couples today.

        • Bark M Post author

          All due respect, but this is nonsense. Nobody is ever ready to have kids. Nobody can ever afford them. You just make it work.

          • Elcivicogrande

            Father of 3 here. Was no more prepared for the third than I was for the first. Couldn’t be happier muddling through with all of them.

        • Newbie Jeff

          “…it’s the exploitative financial system”

          Sorry to butt in… but c’mon, man. What do you mean by, “unemployment is vicious”? The program isn’t lucrative enough? The “job market is so tough”? Every industry I personally come into contact with is short-staffed… the restaurants are hiring, the bars are hiring, the body shop is hiring, the Harley dealership is hiring, the police are hiring, the hospitals are hiring, the airlines are hiring… oh, and there’s always the military.

          Plenty of people in power are speaking to these issues… they’re just lying about the causes, because they mostly created them. That’s what politics is: getting re-elected by promising to “solve” the problems you created. Then again, every now and then there’s a newcomer who really tries to get things fixed… but voters are stupid and easily manipulated, and usually end up hating him.

          I’m not trying to be an ass, I’m just saying most of your points come across as excuses. It sounds like, more than anything else, you have a preferred lifestyle and children aren’t a priority. That’s completely fine, and maybe the best choice for you and your SO… it just doesn’t sound like you’re being exploited by the “system” (unless you live in California, then I’ll stand corrected)

          • stingray65

            I think a lot of younger people somehow have the impression that young adults of 40 or 50 or 60 years ago had lots of money to support kids and a luxurious lifestyle. I grew up during that period and my parents had one mediocre income through most of my childhood, drove 10 year old baseline Chevrolets (they bought their first new car when I was 36 years old), lived in small rental houses until I was 10 and I always shared a bedroom with my brother through high school, we ate restaurant meals no more than once per week (usually 15 cent burgers from McDonalds or cheap college town take-out pizza), and vacations were visits to the grandparents where the big attraction was the fact that they had a color TV. I never felt deprived, I get no sense that my parents would have ever dreamed of trading off parenthood for more luxurious child-free lifestyles, and they ended up having comfortable empty-nest lifestyles and retirement.

            But don’t worry, the Democrats will make sure to raise your taxes and energy prices high enough so you can continue to comfortably not afford children, while subsidizing single moms and illegal immigrants to provide a bright future and a secure source of future social security contributions to fund your pension.

        • MD Streeter

          My wife and I decided when we first had our kids that she would stay home with them. Most of the jobs she looked at in our area would barely cover child care expenses so it made no sense to have someone else raising them (and besides, it’s better we’re with them than someone who may not share our values). Although I’ve never made much money we’re comfortable and happy. We don’t have expensive hobbies and to make our budget work we don’t go out to eat and haven’t been to the theater to watch a movie together since before our first child was born. Anyone can make a budget work. And you never know what you’re really capable of until you’re in a situation where you have to do something.

  8. Ronnie Schreiber

    He dodged a bullet. She narcissistically blamed him for her decision to abort their child. She would have made him miserable.

    • CJinSD

      I’m pretty sure she accomplished making him miserable. What I don’t get is that he was supposed to have been at the top of the dating pyramid when he met her. In my experience, it is harder to become a simp when you’re falling into bed with a variety of women. You hear them saying things about guys to take them more seriously than you do. You see them walking on guys who take them more seriously than you do. You don’t pretend the rules don’t apply to you just because you met a particularly pretty one who still exhibits all the signs of being a Bachelor-watching herd animal. How does a man go from having a woman in every town who wants to know when he’s around to voluntarily paying for sex he already had with a baby killer?

      • stingray65

        I’m sure Bark will provide spellbinding and logical answer to your questions in coming chapters. I know I’m looking forward to hearing more about Val’s cats and the organic vegan cat treat business, and whether Paul bought Val a vintage T-bird convertible or is paying for her AMG Mercedes Benz lease. I can’t wait for the movie version – I see Brad Pitt as Paul, and Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie as Val and Marie with Tarantino directing.

  9. -Nate

    Indeed a good read .

    Oddly, in spite of being a Blue Collar Mechanic I’ve never had any problems keeping my dance card full, including more than a few very rich women who wanted to pay my way through life (not ever gonna happen) .

    I see lots of fear of women here by those who simply can’t get laid .

    I do agree that lots of cats is the easiest red flag to spot and avoid .



    For some reason, reading that here made me wonder what the “Cookie”, “girlypants”, “Ralphie” and “P to the R to the G” types we knew during our respective misspent youths are up to these days? Did they take the path of “Valerie” or did they wise up? Reckon we’re better off not knowing.

    • Jack Baruth

      Well we know what happened to OG himself: he lived with Spike and Uck for years before overcoming agoraphobia to campaign for Glorious Leader Obama in 2008, at which point he became a POWERFUL VOICE FOR PROGRESSIVES before disappearing into the void in a cloud of Cheeto dust.

      • CJinSD

        I don’t have any idea what “Cookie”, “girlypants”, “Ralphie” and “P to the R to the G” refer to. Nor do I know of this OG, Spike, or Uck. Is there a primer somewhere for the culturally bereft? Google was no help.

  11. Ken


    Shouting aside… the two of you would make great collaborators.

    There’s enough automotive content, social commentary, parenting experience, and off the wall stories to fill a book.

    Do I need a petition? A Kickstarter? I’d be in for a couple hundred bucks for a signed copy.

  12. Dayhiker

    Bark, you perfectly captured so many layers in this story that hit home. Very thought provoking. I’ve enjoyed your work for years and hope there’s more of this coming.

  13. time flies

    Paul f’d up. He put a baby in the girl of his dreams then paid to kill it. Feminism may have made the girl a nightmare but his choice is to tame her or run. Instead he’s stuck in passive limbo and three lives are worse off. Maybe 4 counting Thelma.

  14. JMcG

    So get this. I was scrolling through the recommended sites on the British Cycle Supply website. I spied one called Vintage Tours. This guy has around 20 bikes from the seventies. It’s a collection, but he rents them out for group rides, which he leads. He has Triumphs, Guzzis, BMWs; all kinds of stuff. He charges around 90.00 a day per bike.
    How much fun would a Riverside Green vintage bike weekend be?
    He’s in SÉ PA. Most of his tours are regional, I think the Blue Ridge Parkway is the furthest away.
    Just an idea, but a few laughs would do me some good.
    I’m not affiliated in any way, what I am, is intrigued.

  15. JMcG

    Dang it, it’s called Retro Tours, not Vintage Tours. Now let me tell you about the time I went to the Met in NYC, specifically to see Starry Night in the flesh. I wandered happily, the guards assured me that it was in one of the nearby rooms. Only at the end of the day was I informed that Starry Night is, in fact, among the prized holdings of MOMA.
    An A for inspiration, an F for execution.

  16. Guns and Coffee

    Well this story gives a touch of plausibility to what happened when Molly McGreatlay rather suddenly turned into Molly McGone (Sorry, open plagiarism of Jack’s nick naming system for former relationships).

    I’d have stepped up, but what the hell? Apparently we each were destined to destroy other lives. That was a long damn time ago, but this story (however well written) brought up some deeply buried crap.

    Thanks, . . . I think.


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