Ben and I break up a few months after the aliens arrive in America. During the first few days after their landing, we promise to stay together forever and that nothing will tear us apart. Actually, it’s him who says this. I don’t pay much attention because he’s not really saying it to me at all—he’s more singing along to a Hot Bitch song on the radio called “We Will Stay Together Forever and That Nothing Will Tear Us Apart”. I sing the refrain: “Yeah, baby, I promise, oh yeah foreva.” After the aliens land Ben and I listen to Hot Bitch for, like, two days straight, their lyrics become more meaningful.
I stop going to school shortly after the alien’s arrival and before Ben breaks up with me. At the club where I strip, the regular customers are unhappy that I’ve made this decision. It makes me pleased to know they care about my future but I say to Jack, an old sailor with gold teeth and an eye patch (for effect, I think), “Who do you, like, think you are, my sister?” He doesn’t answer, feels me up, and leaves with out tipping. Days go on and less of my regulars come around.
Then Marcy, the stage manager, tells me that most men feel uncomfortable having a stripper who is not putting herself through school strip for them. He tells me that he has seen strippers with great potential fall by the wayside because they stopped hitting the books. While he speaks, I wonder if, because he has so much chest hair, can he wear less layers in the winter?
At home, things are no better. Ben tells me that I have to clean the house everyday now that I am not in school. He says that it’s my life, but if I want to stay on that pole and become a crackwhore, because that’s what I’ll become, then it’s not going to happen when he’s around, which by the way he may not be; but until I get my act together I will clean the house everyday, by myself. I say, “Who do you, like, think you are, my mother?” He looks at me puzzled.
That whole day I clean the house and watch the news. The aliens have taken over three of the major network TV stations. Their language is similar to ours but they curse and laugh in the middle of sentences. They have changed the format of talk shows and the host now brings on his own family and confronts them. On one channel, the host is telling his sister that she didn’t have to fucking feel so fucking bad about stealing his fucking wife; that it was O.K. The two of them sit there crying, their features not different from ours, though noticeably smaller. I find myself kneeling in front of the television, crying as well.
Ben comes home at five, or six. He apologizes for the sissy fit he threw that morning and tells me the house looks good. We eat McScoundrel’s, our favorite, and listen to Hot Bitch’s new charity single for the Anti-Alien Relief Fund. Ben says that Hot Bitch is like Gandhi. I tell him that I agree but I kind of like the aliens. He asks me if I’m fucking nuts. I tell him I’m kidding, which I’m not, and we do it in the hallway.
Then one day, like out of the blue, Ben says: “Julie we need to break up, not take a break, you remember the difference, right?” When he lays this on me I’m in the middle of perfecting my idea for my invention of heatable ice cream for when it’s cold out. (I am not afraid of you stealing this because I’ve sent the plans of it to myself through the mail.) So I say: “Just because I dropped out of school doesn’t mean I don’t use my brain.” And then he tells me: “You never use your brain but this isn’t about that. I just don’t think I can stay with someone who’s dropped out of school and watches alien TV all day. They are terrorizing our freedom; even the president says so. And you sit here and watch and laugh and call them cute? You’re an alien lover!” He’s right. I have spent the last few weeks watching television where aliens either host or act in the shows. I find their comedy more comedic, their drama more dramatic, and their music more musical. After watching regular television for twenty-four years, I’ve become bored. Alien TV has expanded my horizons of what television can actually be. So I say: “Hot Bitch isn’t like Gandhi, Ben. Alien television is like Gandhi.” Ben looks at me dumbfounded, as if I’ve just broken some sacred bond between Gandhi, Hot Bitch, and comparisons. He is no fan of the aliens and has even taken to going out late, after I sleep, and destroying their tiny ultramodern homes over in what used to be the bad part of town. I can tell that this will be our last conversation. Then Ben yells louder than the time we had the ghost in our house trying to blackmail us: “Are you nuts? I’m outta here! I don’t even want any of my stuff! I never want to see you again! I’m joining the army or maybe moving to Canada where there’s no aliens? I hope you’re happy, you freak!” Ben leaves and takes the Hot Bitch box set. On his way out he says, “I wont let you take my tunes from me.” I sit for a while and think about all the happy times we spent together. I think and think until it hurts. After a while I decide not to let Ben’s departure depress me too much. I put on the television and my new favorite game show, “Who the Fuck Wants to Be a Fucking Millionaire”, has just begun. I play along and soon Ben’s leaving is a thing long ago.
Time goes by and the aliens become less foreign to those of us who don’t move to Canada. The American Daytime Television Actors Union invites alien actors to merge with their existing union in order to show a collective spirit of unity. Some time after this “union of the unions”, as we came to call it, an alien child got stuck in a well on the outskirts of the city. Images of the child, dirty and cursing, aired two days straight on all television stations. The local rescue services join together with the more advanced alien rescue services to save the child. Although the child dies, although the technology used by the American team is now obsolete, the joining together of both people in one common cause becomes symbolic. Symbolic, at least, is the word the vice president uses, in a speech at the site of the well a few days later.
At work, my regular customers— the ones who felt guilty about my dropping out of school— never return. They are replaced with alien men and their wives. At first it is awkward having to dance, naked, with these guys’ wives sitting next to them. Soon I learn that stripping is considered a fine art where they are from. I spend time improving my act and my tips quadruple. Quickly, I go from being a college-dropout stripper to being a college-dropout stripper; nothing changes though now I am considered, as the aliens say, “a fucking princess.” Time moves on and I begin dating an alien regular from the club. Even though he is small, even though his manners aren’t considered proper, he is much more respectful than Ben. After our fourth date, he invites me back to his house and as I am adjusting my body to the dropped ceilings (three-and-a-half feet), he kisses me. For the first time, I am no longer the blonde with big tits that guys have taken me for: in 1722’s company I am a lady in the presence of a gentleman. We continue dating and soon 1722 moves in with me. Often I come home and he has dinner cooked, he tells me in a soothing voice: “Shit, honey, rest your fucking beautiful feet, shit.” For a while, at least, life seems serene.
I am telling each member of Hot Bitch—Jackie, the trendy, bisexual singer with Jackie-Life tattooed on her stomach; Ted, the English keyboardist who’s always depressed and cuts his arms; and Kayla, the D.J. who is always walking along a beach somewhere in their videos—that the aliens aren’t as bad as they think they are. We, the four of us, are having a group meeting and holding hands backstage before a big show. I am telling them about 1722, about how I didn’t know what love was before he came along, about how he inspired me to join the band, about how I wrote the latest single—the one that sold over a million copies on the first day of its release—“You Got Me Doin’ Double Takes” all about him. I can see on Jackie’s face that she knows she has been wrong, that the aliens aren’t much different than us. She opens her mouth to apologize and then the entire moment becomes disturbed by the sound of the telephone waking me.
On the other line I can hear cars honking and fuzzy reception. Immediately, I know it’s Ben calling from Canada. 1722 is not in the room. I think to myself, he’s probably left for his morning jog. I pretend to act aggravated, which I’m really not, and then say,” What do you want, Ben?” The other line doesn’t respond for what feels like minutes. Then, I hear Ben ask with some hesitation, “Are you alright?”
So I say: “Why, like, wouldn’t I fucking be alright? Because you left me for watching the fucking television?” I practiced this line many times, without the fucks, when Ben first left me. It wasn’t that I missed him—he was the type of guy who dated strippers for Christ sakes—but more that he had left on such irrational terms. After meeting 1722 I thought about Ben rarely but recently promised myself to send him a baby picture once the child was born. I was never one for revenge, but Ben deserved it.
Then Ben says: “You’re dating one, I can tell by the way you’re talking. Well, what are you gonna do now? What are you gonna do, huh?”
It was a Saturday morning and I had just dreamt the prettiest of dreams. I was in love for the first time and was expecting a child; two weeks before we conceived the child I experienced my first orgasm. Ben had not changed much since the day he left with the Hot Bitch box set and I didn’t need him getting me down. As I hung up the phone, I could still hear him laughing a mad laugh and asking honestly: “What are you gonna do now?”
Making my way downstairs I felt that the chapter of my life involving Ben was over. No longer would I strip, even for the most respectful of people. Finally, I thought, I was becoming the good person I’ve always thought I was supposed to be. In the new Formica-tiled kitchen, I found the note that 1722 left. The language was simple, all it said was: “Sorry, but we had to leave.” Confused, I made my way to the living room and put on the television. An image of the last night’s sky showed on the screen, the footage lasted for hours, like a forever firework show. On one channel, an American reporter kept saying, as if he were a child, lost: “What are we going to do now? What will we do?”