Really Tainted Love

By Mike Vinopal

A version of this story was first published in 2015 in a zine called Worst Breakup Ever (A Self-Publishers of Chicago Comp Zine; Edited/Created by Nicki Yowell). It has been edited and updated here.

I was 15 when I met her. I saw her on the after-school activities bus en route to the neighborhood we both called home. She was clearly older and clearly cooler with this fashion streak radiating from her core. I was mesmerized like Wayne was with Cassandra in Wayne's World, my thoughts whispering, "She will be mine, she will be mine." 

Her fiery red tendrils and pouty lips slowly wrapped me around her finger, and before long I was consumed as we often are, blind to the flaws of the partner we've chosen. Flaws so glaringly obvious to our closest friends who protest as they might. I gladly gave my V-card over to her skilled hands. After all, she was a nymphomaniac with a compulsory hunger for cock, which I would come to know in the most tragic of ways. 

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My first sexual conquests were wonderful. Playful animals exploring infinite possibilities. An adolescent bathed in instant gratification. Blissful ignorance can be joyful for a time but in the end it gets all twisted.

Then one evening, I received an anonymous phone call from an all too familiar voice, just out of my mind's grasp. Julie was doing something she shouldn't be. She was out on the town with another man. My blissful ignorance faltered and cracked. 

Confrontation eluded me. Why? Was I afraid? Afraid of what? Loneliness? Then another phone call, this time her best friend, Tracy. A betrayal? No, a conscience. She was hanging out with Julie and now Julie had gone to fuck some dude in her car, leaving Tracy to sit quietly as an accomplice to this reproachful act. But she called. And I'm grateful still. Nobody deserves that shit.

The blissful ignorance shattered, falling in billions of shards, dissolving into a fine powder. Ashen coals of rage fueled by pain. I confronted her at school the following morning after geometry in the upstairs hallway, as chaos swirled down the stairwells and through the corridors. 

 

I had anxiety nightmares, the kind that are so real you scare yourself awake.

 

What I said, I cannot recall, my memory awash in a red-out. All I can remember is that as I stormed off down the stairs to blow off some steam at lunch with my friends, I felt her history book whizz by my head from the floor above. Julie was out for blood. 

Mildly jarred from the nearly escaped head trauma, I joined my friends and walked to the pizza joint across the way from the school. I had worked out a deal with the owner, Gulo. Paid him for a spot since I wasn't allowed to park at the school yet. A typical lunch period, until we heard the tearing squeal of tire rubber burning with psychotic anger. Julie, with eyes ablaze, bared down on me in her navy blue Chevy Lumina.

My friends froze with panic as I dove out of the way. She slammed the car into park and came out swinging like a crazed Mike Tyson, ready to bite my ear off if given the opportunity. I channeled Sugar Ray Robinson—stick and move—finally pinning her arms down at her sides.  With that, she collapsed in exhaustion, crying the panicked tears of an highly unstable individual. She broke. Sure I was scared. But it was so sad.  

I wish I could say that it ended there. Sadly, she became increasingly erratic. An obvious breakup became tricky to navigate as she began to make threats of suicide. My now 16-year-old mind whirled with the thought of her blood on my hands. I had anxiety nightmares, the kind that are so real you scare yourself awake.  

I did what I could. I was resourceful. And I remained compassionate, despite all her transgressions. Her mom was never around and her relationship with her step-dad was weird, so I took her to a counselor she had agreed to. I was dealing with things far beyond the maturity level I had attained as a 16-year-old man.

After all she had done, I had tried one last time to help her get help. Then I washed my hands of it, wishing her well but asking for the mercy of being left alone. Eventually she did.

But first she visited my house when no one was there, constructing a makeshift candlelit altar from collected mementos of our love gone by. Twisted soap opera, suspense-thriller shit. Dried roses by the dozen, cards, photos, notes, ticket stubs, jewelry and more. I never saw it in person. My mom had gotten home before me and bagged it up. You could tell how deeply disturbed Mom was after that last bit. She seriously considering a restraining order. What a way to end my first real relationship.

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Julie visited me in a recurrent nightmare thereafter in which she arrived in a prom dress, makeup running down her face from unhinged bursts of sadness, two garbage bags in hand, brimming with the collections of our now lost love. A blade, concealed somewhere. Thankfully I would never get far enough in the dream for that, scaring myself awake.

But I felt it. 

My mom finally did get a restraining order against Julie. That can fuck a kid up, but I guess I turned out OK. Eventually.

Rumors circulated that Julie burned down her apartment, collected the insurance money, bought a motorcycle, then fled to Florida. Who the fuck knows, but I wouldn't put it past her. She had real demons and that can poison a person, as it did for the time I knew her.


You cross paths with some really messed people in your life, especially when you're a kid and don't know shit. It's best to remember the good times, learn from the lessons, and release the pain people cause you. You can't carry that garbage around. I do hope she found some peace with herself. I know it ain't easy.  

It took me a while to learn that I unconsciously chose girlfriends through my late teens and early twenties that were pretty unhealthy for me. Somewhere in my young idealist mind, I thought I could save them. It was an unhealthy pattern and once I realized it, I was able to change it. We can change.

But those types of intense emotional experiences stay with you. They shape you. Years later, some of those feelings still seep out and sometimes you recall overcoming that heartache proudly.

I'll leave you with one such poem of mine that seeped out over a decade after this mess. Enjoy.

Burning these effigies
Of broken love gone by
Paper as the kindling
Ancient bottled tears as the kerosene
See you later moon crater
Needed to look for a friend
Not try to be a saver
Epiphany & change are always greater when the self does the saving.