The ‘Love Stinks’ Issue

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To All The Boys I Never Loved Before:

I’m calling all of you Kurt because I came of age in the ’90s and Cobain was everything. You are all Kurt in a way — long-haired, whiny, and unkempt and my God, the Doc Martens that made your legs look so interesting in your tattered shorts (Oh. So. Interesting.) when you grabbed the microphone and sang Love Will Tear Us Apart straight to me, but maybe to Emily and Sara and Sally and Elizabitch, too.

Kurt number one, you tried to kiss me on the mechanical pirate ship. You wrote me long letters in pencil full of misspelled words and complaints about Fort Mill, South Carolina. Twenty-five years later I drove past the rollercoasters off 77 South and wondered if you were still alive. You seemed like the type who wouldn’t be. It was there in the dark halos in your eyes. There have been a lot of you. After you kissed Sara and Sally and Elizabitch, too, and Kurt the second felt me up behind Emily’s garage, we said our goodbyes. On a gravel road, you told me I was a slut because I’d never let you put your hand under my shirt. I will never forget the way my shoes slid in those rocks, and the dust they kicked up when it hadn’t rained all summer.

It was the same story with you, Kurt the third and fourth. Desperate whispers of please and why not and I can’t take this anymore, all while I scribbled bad poetry in my notebooks, trying to be some kind of ’90s half-hippie, half-goth Sylvia Plath. The truth was I spent more time in my hunter green bedroom dreaming of you than actually making an effort to sit near you or touch you or dare to get in your cars.

I met you, Kurt the fifth, on Spring Break sophomore year. You called me “The Beth,” and said you worshipped me. Your hair was shorter, but wilder from salt air. I kissed you hard, but went back to playing Centipede, the one video game I could kill. You wrote me a letter sometime later saying you’d been hospitalized for depression. I wrote you a letter asking what it was like, if you sometimes wanted to die, if you thought you would get out, but I didn’t mail it. You never told me what hospital. For years, I looked for you when I visited Myrtle Beach. The summer I was there when my house half burned from lightning, I wanted to tell you most of all. You’d have liked how long my hair had grown.

Kurt the sixth, you and I were never really official, but we fooled around despite other Kurts and Elizabitch and Sally and Sara and Emily. I saw you get slashed in the face with half a pair of scissors. Blood spattered and older kids ran past me, one of them knocking me down. You overdosed in Texas when we were barely into our twenties. I still wonder where and if it was on purpose, but I won’t say it was love, not really. An understanding, maybe.

Kurt the seventh, you stapled yourself seventeen times in the chest in the middle of U.S. history when you thought I was mad at you. I only kissed you once. After you, I wrote Emily Dickinson poems in my notebook over and over until I’d memorized them and started wearing an oversized camouflage jacket and hanging out with the drama kids.

When things ended with you, Kurt the eighth (because I made out with Kurt the ninth, who happened to be your best friend), you made me a mixtape full of songs that echoed the sentiment of Kurt the first. How I could be a whore and a tease though was beyond my 17-year-old comprehension.

Kurt the tenth, you listened to and played hardcore. You told me you loved me before you ever kissed me. In the dark of my kitchen, you grabbed my hand and blurted it out like it was your last breath. Our tug of war lasted years. You thought I’d lost my virginity to Kurt the sixth and I let you go on thinking it way past smoky motel rooms.

So this issue is dedicated to you, Kurt, and all the turmoil you inflicted with your Doc Martens and that long hair and your goddamned guitars.

And to all you broken-hearted woebegone friends, to the dejected, to the skeptics and cynics, and the rest of the lonely hearts club band, welcome to The Love Stinks Issue. This Valentine’s Day, we hope you’ll come wallow with us. Mad thanks to Georgia Bellas for her help in putting together this amazing lineup.

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We begin the issue with “Ruffin’s Rule” by George Drew. If I could play a song for the boy in this poem, I’d play “Goddamn Lonely Love” by the Drive-By Truckers because my lord, we all know what it feels like to be “in that theatrical dark/wrapping myself around misery.”

Robert Perchan’s “On Bumping Into a Formerly Snaggle-Toothed Young Coed” ponders the “complication of wires and brackets” and the sharp misery of young women with braces.

In “63-Year-Old Bachelor,” Janelle Rainer offers a sad, but sweet portrait of one man’s new life on his own. Some of us are coupled for so long that when we find ourselves single, small moments can become triumphs.

I don’t have children myself, but I’ve often wondered what I would tell my daughter about love — about attraction — about danger and self-destruction and heartbreak, the crazy fever of it all. In her essay, “What I Will Say to My Daughter When She Meets a Boy Like You,” Rachel Tanner answers with fury.

In her poignant essay “Bright and Beautiful, Fast and Gone,” Michelle Boring delves into the terror and consequences of virginity and the loss of possibility.

In Chelsey Clammer’s hilarious “Dear You,” she gathers all the rage of the brokenhearted and shoots the culprit down with her verbal sawed-off. It’s the Bette Midler/Lil Wayne mash-up you didn’t know you needed, but trust us, you do.

In “Karen. Karen. Oh Karen,” Mason Cripple offers a vision of what it’s like to fool around with a sibling’s friend. If you had a sibling like I did, maybe your love life got a little messy downstairs at night when everyone else was sleeping.

A Prayer for the Motorcycle Girl” by Aparna Nandakumar shows the spectacular propensity we all have to fall for the ones who will never love us back. The girl who rides the motorcycle through the Wall of Death has the same shit heart as the rest of us, but we can all steel ourselves and find joy in the ride.

Justin Muschong’s “Light Speed” is cosplay gone awry. “He was Han Solo and she was Princess Leia.” If I need to tell you more, you are clearly in the wrong place.

A Dress You Don’t Recognize” by Annabel Graham offers a glimpse into wedding day blues and how a day you fantasized about since childhood can be “ill-fitting.”

Uncle Hilbert’s Cohens,” by Fred D. White, is a parable on paradox and love and trauma. Is there a place from whence a soul cannot return?

Matthew Paul’s “Pigs is Pigs” tells the story of a strong woman full of grit who takes a look around a dive bar with its “slouched bodies, stale beer, Tom Waits’ gravel-wail circling the air with tendrils of stubbed cigar smoke,” and figures she can make it there because her heart is “MIA, having dislodged and rolled away somewhere.”

In Steven Axelrod’s “Cheating, A Love Story,” Marriage Reconciliation Boot Camp works its magic on two bitter, unlikely lovers because, sometimes, it’s true that only a stranger can see “You’ve been standing on the brink for years.”

High-Test” by Tim Waldron delves into the wake of one young man’s heavy drinking as he pools into a puddle of self-loathing so deep he allows himself to be conned by an attractive pregnant dancer and her boyfriend.

We close the issue with a haunting story about the slow decay of love called “The Sinner and the Saint” by Amanda Miska. Her story will make you recognize aches you didn’t know were there with lines like, “Normally, he might have said something like, ‘You could be my dessert, eyeing me lasciviously, but that night he said, ‘I feel like pie. Want to share a slice?’” Miska had me at tortured subtext.

 

Photo By: wilB

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About Author

Beth Gilstrap’s work has appeared in Fwriction, Quiddity, Luna Luna Magazine, Superstition Review, The Minnesota Review, Kudzu House Quarterly, and Ambit, among others. She has attended residencies in Vermont and Oregon. She’s had stories nominated for The Pushcart Prize Anthology for 2015 and 2016 and also received a nomination for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology. She spends most of her time at home in Charlotte with her husband and enough rescue pets to make life interesting. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s usually cooking too much food for two people. Her debut story collection, I AM BARBARELLA, is now available from Twelve Winters Press. She tweets @BettySueBlue and her work can be found at her website.

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