Never read the comments. You learn this on your first day, after you receive your system password but before you are shown the location of the coffee machine. The senior editor imparts this wisdom, leaning over you in such a way that her gargantuan breast rests on your shoulder. You marvel at its heft and wonder if she must special-order bras. You cannot decide whether you are disgusted or aroused, and so you ask her to show you the coffee machine. You are impressed; the machine brews exactly one cup of coffee from a small plastic pot of your choice. As you deliberate between morning blend and French roast, the senior editor reiterates that you should never, ever read the comments.
Your inability to follow directions is well documented, from your first grade school report card up to and including your consistent failure to pay the rent on time. It is therefore unsurprising that you disregard the senior editor’s mandate and read the comments. Alone in your apartment at three o’clock in the morning, you find yourself agreeing: you are a stupid bitch; you can’t write worth shit; you should die in a fire.
What they don’t tell you is that the editorial team reads the comments. One writer is fired when a commenter posts a snapshot showing her in the vicinity of a joint. She insists the marijuana is not hers. The editorial team is unmoved by her tears; they watch like grim-faced executioners while she packs up her desk. Everyone else looks away.
You know it is only a matter of time before your own picture surfaces. While choosing between morning blend and French roast, you feel something akin to anticipation and wonder if today is the day. You find yourself mildly disappointed as each day passes with no sign of the picture.
And then, there it is. A commenter calling herself brooklynb!tch01 posts it in a comment on an article you have written about a girl who cross-stitches dirty words on pillows. This artist receives so many orders she must turn customers away, a fact you find truly amazing because you can’t fathom such a voracious market for profane pillows, but brooklynb!tch01 doesn’t care about this girl or her pillows or the larger societal implications of owning a pillow with the word cunnilingus cross-stitched on it in swirling pink letters. brooklynb!tch01 makes no substantive comment on the article; she just posts the picture and demands the editorial team explain its hiring of you, traitor to womankind that you are.
The editors see the comment first. They call you into a room, seat you at a round table. They are clustered around one side, a barrier of coffee mugs between them and you. The senior editor pushes a laptop across the table, and there you are: blindfolded, trussed, naked.
You find yourself transfixed by your own image. In contrast, the editorial team is studiously avoiding the picture, and most of them are also avoiding eye contact with you. They look into their cups of coffee, at each other, at the ceiling.
The senior editor says she wants to “open a dialogue” about the picture, but her definition of dialogue is closer to that of a monologue. You try to tell the editorial team about him, but you can see they will never understand. You cannot blame them; you can barely comprehend the depth of your emotion for him, and you were the one who spent seven months, two weeks, and five days with him.
You try to tell them about love in general, but they refuse to interpret the picture as an expression of love. The senior editor uses phrases like “rape culture” and “violence against women.” You explain that you were both consenting adults, and the fact that his future wife disseminated the picture in a fit of jealousy has nothing to do with the emotion that went into making in the picture.
The senior editor says that the editorial team has, after much discussion, found a way to “spin” this “scandal,” and you feel anger unfurling in your belly. You refuse to be turned into a cautionary tale, some lesson to be learned between articles on the best kind of shampoo for fine hair and the best yoga poses for relieving period distress. You tell them as much, adding in the word fucking to make your point abundantly clear, to show them that you are not messing around. All the women who were looking at their coffee cups have practically crawled inside them now, and the senior editor is looking at you like you are the one that is being unreasonable.
But you know that you are not being unreasonable, not even when you snatch the coffee mug from under the nose of one of the editors and hurl it against the wall behind her head. The cup explodes and the scent of vanilla-scented coffee fills the air. The woman emits a startled shriek, and you experience a fleeting sensation of guilt. You want to tell this woman that it had nothing to do with her, specifically, but that someone’s cup needed to be sacrificed to make a point and her was merely the closest to you. How could it have anything to do with her? She drinks vanilla-flavored coffee; she cannot possibly understand how much you loved him and the lengths to which you were willing to go to prove that love.
This almost-apology is never vocalized. The senior editor, who drinks espresso imported from a specialty roaster in Cobble Hill, tackles you, knocking you to the ground in such a way that you lose your breath. You sink your teeth into her, right where her immense breast meets her chest, and the room devolves into chaos.
You have no one else to call, and so you call him from the police station. His wife answers the phone and refuses to let you speak to him. She says she is glad the world will finally see you for the slut that you are. You explain that no one is supposed to read the comments. All you hear is the click of the line disconnecting, and then you are alone in the room with a cup of instant coffee.
*This story originally appeared on Luna Luna magazine.