Fiction · 09/15/2010

How To Become An Optimist

1. Declare your intent to think positively. This is not the time to be tentative. Call your friends over and inform them that you will no longer expect the worst in all situations. When they offer alcohol as a token of solidarity, accept it. Take a deep breath, and repeat out loud: “I am an optimistic, hopeful, positive-thinking person. I am an optimistic, hopeful, positive-thinking person.”

2. When some negative thinking occurs, examine the facts. Be clear about what is known and what is assumed:

a. You and your boyfriend have been together for eight months. He moved in with you after two weeks of dating and when you first saw your toothbrushes side by side on the counter in their plastic frog-shaped holder, you knew that you were probably in love. This is a fact.

b. The lace panties you found in his snowboarding boot this morning are not yours. This is a fact. It is assumed that the panties are not his, either. It is also assumed that they do not belong to any of the three other men that took part in the no-girls-allowed snowboarding trip with him last week.

c. This is the only time lingerie has ever appeared in one of his boots. This is assumed, though it is a fact that this is the only time you’ve actually noticed. You did, however, find that tube of lipstick in his khakis a few months back, but he explained — quite convincingly, you thought — that it was a gag gift from his coworkers at Best Buy for being the biggest kiss-up in the Audio department.

d. Before the snowboarding trip, you noted that he was acting a little funny. When you asked about it, he claimed a rough work schedule, but you know for a fact that his hours have been cut. What you’re not certain about is why your question prompted him to shove you onto the bed and rip your clothes off with his teeth. You do know, however, that even though he ruined one of your favorite shirts, it was hot, and you dropped the subject after that.

3. Become very aware of your thinking. Notice when you think positively and congratulate yourself with a drink. Also notice when you think negatively and punish yourself with a drink. When your girlfriends start trash-talking your boyfriend, calling him a “cheating man-whore who’s only using you for rent and the occasional sexual favor,” try not to feel persuaded. They don’t know what he’s like behind closed doors. Didn’t he do dishes a few weeks ago, out of the blue, without any begging necessary? And when you met at Subway last night after your double shift at Banana Republic, didn’t he pick up the tab? Even though you splurged and got the footlong meatball with extra cheese? He even upgraded you to a combo with chips and a drink! These are positives. This is what you need to focus on right now.

4. When you find yourself jumping to a negative conclusion, take a step back and seek out alternative scenarios:

a. One of your neighbors across the alley broke into your apartment and planted the panties, knowing that you never close your curtains and he might catch a glimpse of one of your classic brawls, and later your riotous makeup sex.

b. He bought them for you. It was only when he returned home from the store that he realized they were four sizes too small, and though he knew he should return them so as to not offend you, he held out hope that perhaps one day you might fit into them. This is what was on his mind when he hinted that you might benefit from a trip to the gym after eating that meatball sub last night.

c. The panties are not new. They belonged to his ex-girlfriend — the one who dumped him just days before he met you — and he keeps them for sentimental reasons. But this shouldn’t worry you. He says he’s over her. Who would lie about such a thing?

d. A peddler was selling used panties on the side of the road, claiming their effectiveness in preventing athlete’s foot, and your boyfriend was just gullible enough to fall for it. After all, he believed you when you said you’d been taking your birth control pills these past few months, didn’t he? Again, who would lie about such a thing?

e. You know your relationship has gone stale, everyone knows your relationship has gone stale. What everyone doesn’t know is that you’ve been a little lax in taking your antipsychotics lately. Last week, you (the crazy you, not the sane you) purchased the lingerie yourself and set out to frame your boyfriend in a backward attempt to heat things up. Why else would you think to look in his snowboarding boots, anyway? If and when he catches on to what you’ve done (he’s not as gullible as you think he is), one of two things might happen:

1. You might engage in the fighting and makeup sex referred to in 4a, potentially impregnating yourself as mentioned in 4d, thus temporarily putting off the staleness touched upon in 4e, but worsening the weight problem alluded to in 4b. (Though let’s face it, this scenario is unlikely.)

2. He’ll go back to the ex-girlfriend that was introduced in 4c.

5. Before going to bed, take the time to reflect on everything good that has happened that day. Repeat this affirmation: “I am an optimistic, hopeful, positive-thinking person. I am an optimistic, hopeful, positive-thinking person.”

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T.L. Crum’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Southern California Review, The Ledge Poetry & Fiction Magazine, Short Story America, Fringe Magazine, and LITnIMAGE, among others. She lives in Fresno, California with her husband and son, and is currently revising her first novel.