An old man with six fingers total saws lugubrious anthems of loss and love on a zither with a caved-in box and crooked plectrum. His only lyric: ¿por qué? repeated over and over like incantation. He sits on an old barber’s chair perched against a crumbling wall along one of the Zócalo walkways. He has breadcrumbs in his moustache, and the graffiti behind his sombrero’d head, reads, in Spanish: Fuck Your Mother. We drop a few sweaty coins into the empty yogurt dish at his feet. His eyes drop like bats feeding.

Vendors flash their wares. Leather wallets with big silver snaps. Purses of all sorts of hides bearing the ecstatic faces of the toothy gods, handbags made of tortoise shell and obsidian. Earrings of snail shells, snakeskin belts. Something about this commerce stirs in us a sly uneasiness, but admiration. This is a market without middleman, and the directness of it—the chance to place the pesos for a turtle purse into the durable hands of the man who, just last week, ripped the small wriggling body from the shell—is chilling, as it is alluring.

Like somnambulists, we zombify the market, wide-eyed and stiff-legged, not saying a word or looking at each other, Mexico City the only reaction shot we need. I want to know everything Louisa is thinking, if thoughts of Chicago evaporating like tea steam rush her with their thin whistle, if she is only in the moment or already forcing upon it reflection from some unknowable, but probable future. I want to know, but stare straight ahead until she speaks.

“I’d really like an agua fresca.

Her voice is like the hand that pulls me from the bottom of the pool, where I lost myself gathering pennies to the point of drowning; the same penchant for blind engrossment that caused me as a child to piss myself while watching Sesame Street. I suck air. It’s filthy and wonderful. All sewage and roasting corn.

“We have to find the kind that’s all fruit, or mixed with milk,” I say, “the ones mixed with water can hurt us.”

“It’s so tempting though,” she whines, gesturing to a stand mixing prickly pear drinks, cantaloupe, coconut, tamarind.

“Those are the water ones, baby,” I say, “Trust me, you don’t want to get sick.” And immediately I hate playing the role of reason, of lack of surrender, but I’ve been struck with parasites many times before; once, years ago in Mérida, Yucatán, when I couldn’t help but eat a guyaba berry rolled in chile powder, handed to me by a cloaked 100-year-old Mayan woman sitting streetside on a blue plastic crate. I paid for such surrender with high fever and higher intestinal duress for weeks, cut with no sleep and freezing cold sweats. It was only later that I found out that, in Taíno mythology, that the guyaba was typically reserved for opías, or the walking dead, who would parade the Ceiba forests and make of the berry the edible centerpiece for their night-feasts, taking the form of pale navel-less humans, or bats. In fact, according to the legend, the ruler of these dead bore the name of Maquetaurie Guayaba, Lord of Sweet Delight. The nectar of the berry was often used as the base of a black body paint used to evoke the nature of death in various rituals and rites. So, maybe that had something to do with it.

“Oh, I know,” Louisa croons as we pass the fruit drink stands, “but they look so good.”

Restraint, especially when it comes to ingestibles, when we’re traveling has thankfully never been our strong suit as a couple. But pass the stands we do. Soon, as if antidote, we’re looking to buy a knife from a short middle-aged man in a tank-top, serpentine scar tattoos adorning both of his shoulders, moustache guyaba berry-death paint-dark, straw sombrero ripped open at the top, exposing his wet knotted hair. Surely we need something sharp with which to excise our agua fresca loss. We make this transaction wordlessly. The scarred man shows us various knives—thick-bladed, thin-bladed, switch-bladed, stone. Bright knives inlayed with jewels, knives used and stained with old blood and rust. When we shake our heads, he retrieves a new one from its slumber on his crowded blanket. He is barefoot and his foot-tops bear old puncture wounds.

After seven failed attempts, he retrieves a stunning obsidian knife with an Aztec design carved handle of green onyx. It is ancient-looking and beautiful, fresh from some painful sacrifice—agua fresca or otherwise. This is the one. The eyeballs convince us; carved into the handle, they bug-out at us, hypnotic enough for Louisa, continuing our opera of silence, to grab my unscarred shoulder. The man sees this, nods, and immediately wraps the knife in bubble-wrap and scotch tape. We pay him the 150 pesos (about twelve bucks) without bargaining, he touches our scalps as if blessing us, his tepid hands the texture of hessian, and we move on to the section of city on the other side of the Zócalo, where we have not yet been. Stone knife safely sheathed in packing material, we stroll the streets, teeming with life and neighborhood, dollies overloaded with wares of all kinds—carpets, jugs, cow heads, clothing—small cars honking, open flatbeds rattling, bicycles swerving, barely navigating the madness of street stand and pedestrian. We think of that man and his zither, can’t decide whether everything or nothing we see answers his endless question of Why? We barely navigate this madness ourselves, oblivious to the rules, the imbroglio of smell and sound, looking for anything alive to eat.

I am probably the most relationship-dysfunctional person on the planet. My tendencies to stay too long with the bad ones and screw up the good ones prematurely is borderline legendary. My crowning achievement was the eight years I spent with Brittany, who, as crazy people go, was their queen.

My friends have spent countless hours rehashing my old war stories with Brittany, telling tales of juice machines thrown through plate glass windows at Dunkin Donuts, or recounting the time I was pushed off a balcony. Nevertheless, Mark Twain said it best, “Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” I made it out, but sometimes I feel like a Holocaust survivor. That may be an extreme comparison, but if you’ve never found yourself on the run from another human being that is intent on killing you, then you really don’t know just how insane things can get.

I never used to tell these stories. In all honesty they were a bit embarrassing although anyone anywhere close to our relationship knew that it was anything but tame. Sometimes though, especially years later, it’s nice to clear out the closet. It’s therapy. Pulling out all the skeletons would be akin to unearthing the Killing Fields of Cambodia but there are a few stand-out moments that deserve to be dragged out into the sunlight. Every time I overhear some poor schmuck in a bar complaining about how crazy his current girlfriend is, I reflexively call him on it.

“All in!” I say. “What do you have?”

“She threw a glass at me last night.”

“Pussy,” I’d say, and then I would display one of my own scars. We might as well have been Quint and Hooper on the Orca.

One particular night, Brittany came home drunk at 3:00 in the morning. I had fallen asleep on the couch and was awakened by the sound of a key attempting to find a keyhole. After a few minutes she outsmarted the lock and came stumbling into the living room. Crazy is hard to deal with by itself; crazy and drunk is impossible. It was like her emotions were being driven by an Asian.

“Get out!” she growled.

We’d been together for years at this point and I knew that this wasn’t an argument I wanted to have. I slipped on my shoes and attempted to avoid the fight. “Fine,” I said.

“Where are you going?”

“What?!? You just said -”

“I fucking hate you!”

Anyone that has ever truly been with a crazy person will tell you that there is a definitive checklist of items that have to grab in the off chance that you are forced to leave suddenly. It’s a little survival kit that we keep handy. Many times, especially if I knew things were on the verge of getting out of hand, I would simply leave these items in my blue jeans: wallet, lighter, cigarettes, keys. I would then set my jeans on the floor in the ready position like a fireman. I wasn’t prepared that night, however.

“I said GET OUT!” she screamed as she pushed me.

I immediately started scrambling through the list and trying to locate what I needed. “Wallet, lighter, cigarettes, where are my cigarettes? They must be – Oh shit. She has a knife.”

To this day I cannot explain where the knife came from. She never went near the kitchen and I never took my eyes off of her. It appeared the way a dove appears in a magician’s hands. It just materialized. For all I know it popped out of the back of her hand like a bipolar X-Man. “Hi, my name is Wolverine and I’m an alcoholic.” SNIKT!

She was standing at the door with a steak knife in one hand and my fate in the other.

There are moments in our lives where we know that we have passed the point of no return; that we are committed to the insanity. There is no more negotiation. The switch has been flipped and the hostages aren’t going to make it out alive. Crazy people generally decide for us just exactly when that moment is going to be. There are signs: the glazed eyes, the vein popping out in the side of her neck, the backwards Latin. And when a man is confronted with such a situation, sometimes he decides that he is bigger than it is; that he can just “man up”. This was one of those situations.

Rather than run away or shoot straight for the door, I made the decision to disarm her. If this was a horror movie then I was the black guy running into the woods. I was the blonde scrambling up the stairs. I was going to die, and anyone watching would have seen it coming from a mile away. “Why would he do that?” they would ask. The only answer I could give them would be that at that particular second, I was a man.

A stupid man, but a man nonetheless.

It should be simple, really. All I had to do was get my right hand up, block the swinging arm with the knife, get to the deadbolt, unlock it, open the door with the other hand, continue to restrain her arm, pivot, shift my weight, and slip through into the night. It shouldn’t take more than a second or two if I’d done the calculations correctly. I was pretty confident that she wouldn’t follow through anyway. She wasn’t actually going to stab me.

Well write this down in a notebook somewhere. Crazy doesn’t bluff.

I lunged, and it was exactly how they say it is when you’re about to die. Everything slows down and scenes from your past flash before your eyes. A birthday cake, a bicycle, someone is pushing me on a swing set. Grandpa?

And then SLASH!

I felt the impact on my arm but no immediate pain. I remember thinking to myself that I should probably do something. I started to run, because somewhere I remember reading that that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’ve been stabbed and the person that stabbed you is trying to stab you again, but it was like running in a dream; the dream where you’re being chased and you have to get down a flight of stairs and your legs are all rubbery and God is laughing at you like Jason and the Argonauts.

My checklist had long since gone out the window. The only thought in my head was to get to my car at all costs. I would be safe there. I rounded the bottom of the staircase and stumble-stepped towards the parking lot, almost losing my footing several times in the loose gravel. The halogen glow of a street light illuminated my plight to anyone that wanted to watch, but no one did. I was alone. I turned the corner and slammed into my car. Thank God. I reached in my pockets looking for my keys – the keys I never managed to grab before I escaped. That’s why you have the checklist, Slade.

In the distance I heard our apartment door slam. She was coming to finish the job. I was wounded and she knew it. Water buffalo are supposed to die this way, not me. This isn’t the Serengeti and I’m not an antelope waiting for some predator to come and finish me. I’ll escape on foot if I have to. The dilemma I had was that I had expended every ounce of stamina I possessed getting this far. I was smoking almost three packs of Marlboros a day at the time and was pretty sure sprinting was out of the question. The best I was going to muster was going to be a “brisk walk”.

It was 3:30 am. There was no one to call, and even if there had been I didn’t have a cell phone. I kept moving, looking ahead at the longest, darkest, emptiest road I had ever seen in my life. I heard a truck engine rev in the distance and I knew that she was coming. A few seconds later I saw her headlights make the turn at the intersection. I knew they were hers because they smoldered with an evil red glow and one of them was dim and cracked from where she slammed into my car a few weeks earlier.

And then the realization started to sink in that this was how I was going to die. My life was being directed by John Woo.

She was screaming down the street by this point. My only hopes lay a block or two up the road. I remembered that there was a Catholic church and I convinced myself that if I could just make it there I would be safe. There obviously wouldn’t be anyone there to let me in, but if I could manage to get on the property then maybe the demons couldn’t follow me. It would be like Spiritual Base.

My legs were aching as I burst through the boundaries of the church’s courtyard. I stopped underneath a statue of Jesus. I lit up a cigarette and huddled there panting and bleeding from the arm. There was a small moment of relief when I heard her truck tires screeching in the parking lot and circling, but not stopping.

I’ve never been the most religious person in the world but I was acutely aware that I was standing there beneath Jesus. Maybe I should talk to him. I wasn’t faring so well on my own, so what did I have to lose? This was unfamiliar territory however. I knew I was only talking to him because I needed something and that seemed a little unfair. I was uncomfortable, like I was approaching a girl in a bar for the first time.

“Look, I know you don’t know me, but… Geez, I’m no good at this. Can I buy you a drink? Never mind, you’re Jesus. You make your own.

Anyway, I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s a really crazy person out there in the parking lot and I’m pretty sure she wants to hurt me really bad. And please don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to point the finger or anything, but… you made her, you fix her. I’m really starting to understand why you hung out with twelve other guys. You have to do something. Can you kill her?

No? Why not?

Because the Antichrist doesn’t die until halfway through the Tribulation. That’s clever. Jesus is a comedian.

Well, can’t you throw a lightning bolt or something? I mean, you don’t even have to hit her; just come close. She’s drunk, she’ll walk into it. It wouldn’t even be your fault technically.

Whatever, I don’t care. Just give me a way out.”

And I swear Jesus winked at me.

Two weeks later I returned from a week at a comedy club in Boise, Idaho. She and I went to lunch, where she calmly informed me that she wanted to end things so that she could go out with a guy she had recently reconnected with from high school. I did want out, but I didn’t want out like that.

“I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth here, but really God? You created the entire world in six days, and this is the best you can come with?”

Still, it got the job done. It’s funny how life works sometimes. Eight years of my life over and done with because she decided to cheat. And after all the things I had tolerated, too. The more I thought about it though, the more I started to laugh. A few of my friends that knew the story were the first to want to round up a Wild West style posse and hunt the guy down.

“Let’s kick his ass!”

“No,” I would always reply.

“Oh, you mean no as in ‘wink wink’? Like you want us to take him out but you don’t want to know anything about it just in case the cops come asking?”

“No, I mean don’t do anything.”

“Well what are you going to do him then?”

“Nothing at all. I’m serious. I mean, I appreciate the gesture, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing you can do to him that compares with what he’s in for. I almost want to finance the relationship. I want to buy them a bottle of wine and a hotel room at the casino, and a notebook and a pen. ‘Keep a journal motherfucker. You’re writing my career.’ I have no desire to beat him up. I want him to have complete control of all his senses when he goes out with her, so he misses nothing.”

In hindsight I really am shocked that I stayed as long as I did. I certainly don’t regret any of it and I recognize how vital that time spent was in developing who I am today. Almost the same way prison time turns some people into brand new people, I know that I needed to let my own story run its course. There’s no moral to this, except maybe that some churches do keep the demons out for a little while, but whether you can run from them or face them down, in the end some demons just have to exorcise themselves.

She and I haven’t talked in years and in the rare moments we have it has honestly been more than pleasant. Still, I know the potential explosion that lies just below the surface. Someone somewhere is dealing with it, probably even as I write this. I remember getting a call on my cell a few months ago from a number I didn’t recognize, and when I answered the phone a strange male voice was on the other end.

“Is this Slade?” he asked.

“It is.”

He immediately followed up, “Did you used to date Brittany?”

I paused for a moment, and then asked my own question. “I knew this was coming. Who’d she kill?”

“Nothing like that, “he said. “I’m calling because I’m the guy that’s dating her now.”

There was a long pause while I digested that fact, and I fought back the urge to laugh out loud. Through my inner chuckles I managed to force out the question, “So how’s that working out for you?”

It was his turn to awkwardly pause. Finally he said, “Look, your name has come up a couple of times in conversation between me and her, and every time it does she refers to you as the one that got away, and I -.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! What did you just say?” I interrupted. “That’s not cool at all, man. You mean to tell me that after all our drama and history she still thinks of me like that?”

“No, no, no,” he said. “You actually got away. How’d you do it? I need help.”

And then his voice faded from my ear as I dropped the phone in uncontrollable peals of laughter.