It started like any other day at the street fair. Jerry and I were holding hands, making our way through the stalls when something caught his eye. He let out a “whoa, nice” as his hand left mine and grabbed what he’d spied. He turned around and then I saw it: a hat with flames on it. Just flames on a black hat.
“Pretty cool,” he said. I said nothing, confident that he was just being ironic.
“How much?” he said to the visibly shocked vendor.
Still I said nothing. We’d been going out for eight months now. Maybe I didn’t know everything about him, but this had to be some kind of joke. Maybe he needed an outfit for some sort of themed party like a “bad hat party” or a “dress like you’re lame party.”
“I’ll take it,” Jerry said.
I could feel a thousand eyes turn slowly in our direction as he actually put the hat on his head rather than hiding it in a bag. I forced myself to grab the hand he offered me. For the rest of the day I couldn’t look at him, but he seemed content to look directly into the eyes of everyone we passed as if he was doing nothing wrong.
For a while pretended like nothing had happened. Sometimes I’d even forget that it was there. Then he’d make some subtle adjustment to it and it would suddenly be so awfully apparent. Jerry had been the funniest of men, but somehow the laughter now died on my lips.
I offered to “wash” it once. I threw it in with an open Tide stick and three pens but it proved indestructible.
Everything came to a head two weeks later. My company threw a party to celebrate its fifth anniversary and significant others were invited. “Dress is formal,” I told him, “so wear your suit.” He nodded and smiled.
That night I was talking to the president of our company when I felt a hand lightly touch the middle of my back. I turned around and saw Jerry in his suit. Wearing the hat. There were a few minutes of conversation, I’m sure, but I couldn’t hear anything except an enormous roaring sound. At some point Jerry asked me a question. I blurted out, “Shut up hat!” and stormed out.
Jerry and I broke up the next day. I immediately felt relieved, like I suddenly had more self-respect. In retrospect, I realize my only mistake was trying to make it work for as long as I did. When your boyfriend buys a hat with flames on it, there is nothing left worth salvaging.