Sometimes I wake up at night, listening to the wind, thinking back to when I was 15 or 16, I don't exactly remember which. I was in high school though, I remember that much. I was unsure where or if I fit in, or if I would ever fit in, or if I even wanted to fit in. I spent my time going to class and writing, ignoring the people around me, shutting myself off day by day, sending notes to the emotional power company which informed them I was reducing my use of their commodity and instructing them to adjust my monthly payments accordingly.
I had a few good friends but not nearly enough. There was one ... I called her almost every day. We talked on the phone for hours, discussing nothing and everything, laughing about classes we had, gossiping about people we knew ... it took a while for it all to sink in because I don't think I had ever known anyone like her before. It took even longer for me to realize one inescapable fact - I was rapidly falling in love with her. You know, love, the full-on, 'til death do us part emotion. As melodramatic as it sounds to say it, I couldn't eat or sleep for weeks. I kept trying to spit the words out and explain how I felt, but I just couldn't. Not enough courage I guess.
Eventually I managed to say it, as much to get it out of my system as anything else. I didn't have much hope that she felt the same, so I wasn't expecting reciprocation. I suppose I simply wanted to tell her how much she meant to me, exactly how special she was and why I felt that way about her. We didn't talk much for a few weeks after that. I tried to call her, but she was always busy with homework or cleaning or something like that. I didn't understand what was happening until years later when she told me she was giving me some time to get over her or recuperate. Something like that anyway.
While memory maintains some things as perfect, undamaged crystalline forms, easily accessible and reflecting every movement, every word, every everything, at other times it simply retains moments as fragmented images, broken by time and the events occurring between the memory and the time it is recalled. In the latter case, it doesn't matter whether the moments are remembered fondly, in which case they may be idealized, or whether they bring brief flashes of hurt with them, in which case they may have been colored by your emotional injuries - those crystals are shattered and the jagged shards protrude from your flesh and signal to everyone that the window to your heart has been broken, perhaps by a stray baseball, perhaps by a maliciously thrown rock. What all this means is I don't remember exactly what happened. I simply recall fragments - times when I was hurt and times when I hurt her.
Looking back on it all after several years have gone by, I think I had a chance at something more once. It was late at night on my twentieth birthday. I wasn't handling the age change well. At about 1 a.m. that morning I had been sitting by the side of a desolate highway about 30 miles outside of town, listening to Soul Asylum sing about chasing shadows on a wall. I wound up sitting there for about an hour, looking at the stars and singing "Happy Birthday" to myself. Then, later, she and I talked. I don't remember if I called her or if she called me and in retrospect, it doesn't seem to matter much.
We went to dinner together at about 10 p.m. We sat in a faux-Italian restaurant, laughing about fruit juices and knows what else. I don't remember it all, though I should have every single detail burned into my brain at a molecular level, visible on X-rays, CAT scans and the like, ready to recall at a moment's notice. As it is, I just remember looking into her eyes as we ate pasta, wondering what was going on. We sat there for some time, old friends talking about our lives and giggling, just like it used to be. We ended up at a local beach, listening to the surf. Somehow or another, for whatever reason, I started pouring sand into her hand. Maybe it was subconsciously symbolic of something. I don't know.
I remember making some joking comment which self-consciously called attention to what I was doing, probably something along the lines of "Feel free to tell me to knock it off." The way I remember it, she looked at me and said "It's your birthday. You can do whatever you want." I remember that comment like she said it one second ago, like she just finished saying it, because it stopped me cold. I suspect I remember it so precisely because I didn't do anything. I didn't want to do anything which might embarrass me or her, or make her feel uncomfortable, and I wasn't sure how to take her comment - what she meant by it in other words. I'll always guess at her intentions and I'll always wonder and I'll always know what I wanted to do in response, but I'll never know what might have happened.
Yeah, I wanted to kiss her. I always did. I wanted to taste her lips, I wanted to feel her blue eyes gazing at me with some emotion other than amused patience for the silly boy who loved her. I wanted her to wrap her arms around me just once in something other than the kind of hug friends give each other to say hello or goodbye or to express condolences, the type of hug which carries all the emotional attachment of one of those air kisses. I guess I always wanted something more than she was willing or able to give and therein lies my failure.
In the end, I lost everything, including her friendship. I suppose you could say I loved her too much. I knew she didn't feel the same, but I still loved her. I loved the way her hair glowed in the illumination from the amber streetlight outside her apartment complex. I remember the way she laughed and giggled when I did something goofy or stupid in my own gawky adolescent way. But most of all, I remember that night on the beach and the nearly paralyzing fear that crept over me. On the one night of my life when she might have let me kiss her, I didn't even try because I was simply too scared of how she might react. Would she laugh? Would she slap me? Would she have kissed me back? I'll never know because I was too afraid of the consequences of my actions. Although I'm not sure about this, I think I was also scared at having what seemed like an opportunity to do the one thing I most wanted to do - begin to spend the rest of my life with her.
Since then, I fell in love once. Some people I used to know argued that I fell in love with several people, but I contend there was only one and she reminded me of her. At the time, I rationalized it to myself by saying that perhaps that first love was a premonition of what was to come, future events intruding on present time to let me know what was to come so I would know when I met her. Now, that just seems like so much crap. I still loved her though. Earlier tonight, I tried to explain how I felt about her to someone and failed miserably. It seems like that's always the way it is. Words fail me when I most need them.
She came along at a point in my life when I had lost almost everything and was simply trying to get back on my feet. She gave me a reason to get up in the morning and helped me make sense of life with lengthy conversations over long distance lines. I guess you could say she gave me a new direction and started me on my way. We fell for each other fairly quickly, under somewhat unusual circumstances - we simply corresponded with each other and didn't meet face to face for several months. We wrote long letters to each other, talked on the phone for hours and it all made sense and seemed right. For once in my life, it felt like I had finally managed to find something good.
When we met ... from my end it was basically love at first sight. I had spent about six months getting to know her without the awkwardness of dates or worrying about sex and good-night kisses and appearances at any given moment. I knew about her pets, her job, her feelings, what she wanted from life, her past boyfriends, where she wanted to get married, the house she lived in when she was a child - in short, all the little details which make people fall in love.
I picked her up in Los Angeles on a Monday and dropped her off at a friend's house late Wednesday night. The intervening 60-odd hours were the best thing that happened to me in 1994. Somehow or another, it seemed like we always dozed off with our arms wrapped around each other, holding on like we never wanted to let go. In retrospect, I guess I interpreted it wrong. I could recount the drive on Saturday afternoon, heading into the setting sun at about 4:30 in the afternoon, stuck in traffic and listening to her explain why she wasn't falling in love with me, never mind every word that she said over long distance lines in the middle of those warm summer nights, but it doesn't seem to have much bearing on this tale.
We finally found a hotel and registered, then found a restaurant and sat in the parking lot, talking. Later, when we were in the hotel, I offered to sleep in the chair but she said she didn't want me to, that she wanted someone to be there with her and she suggested I sleep under the covers. So I stayed and I slept next to her for one last time, wrapping my arms around her and trying to hold on to some fleeting moments which were scattering like starlings before a winter storm.
So I'm writing this part in a crowded, noisy, smoky hotel watering hole. I know I'll type it into the computer later, but at the moment I'm writing on a legal-size pad of yellow paper. I've been standing here for some time, bellied up to the bar and drinking Stoli straight, just to try to get this written down. I had to leave my home and come back to the city where it all happened just to bring everything back and I'm still not sure I can find the words to express what happened, partly because it's embarrassing, partly because it just hurts to remember.
Right now I can't feel my lips, which means I'm about ready to write this. There are some 50-something guys standing next to me, drinking cognac and toasting "White people with dicks." I'm not sure what relevance that has, but I'm so disoriented and my brain is so fragmented at this moment that I don't care. I'm definitely going to have an aspirin nightcap before I go to sleep and I think I'm bound for a hangover regardless, but I need to maintain this state simply to get this on the page. I never meant for things to happen the way they did, but that's the way it went down and sooner or later, I have to face up to the truth. So anyway, here's the point ...
Earlier tonight, I was cabbing back to my room after going out with four people I had never met before and we rode past the deli where I dropped her off after the concert. It's supposedly fairly well-known in the L.A. area, so I won't mention it. We had just gone to a big punk show and spent our time listening to the music, hugging each other and kissing. At the time, she said she enjoyed the show, a sentiment she would later recant as she told me why my lifestyle wasn't one she wanted to take part in. As she said, she wanted those material comforts of life like fancy parties and a glitzy social life, not punk rock shows and walking on the beach in the middle of the night. In other words, she wanted the life it looked like her ex-boyfriend, the individual who picked her up from that deli, was beginning to lead. I should have guessed as much when I met him and saw how similar we looked. I should have figured it out then that I was just a substitute, someone to occupy her time.
I was thinking about all these things as I sat in the room with her, the lamps off, the lights and sounds from LAX streaming in through the window. I suppose that's when it started. We were talking about hopes and fears and dreams. I remember saying that one of my regrets was ... shit, even drunk I can't write this. I can't even face this moment of weakness when all of my inhibitions are gone. I'm probably going to wind up staggering out of this bar, struggling to fit my key in the lock and fail to finish this. I guess to do this right, I need to be alone, free from worrying about people reading over my shoulder. I need to think, to sit in a hot bath and sweat out the toxins ...
It's now 1:07 a.m. and it's time to do this. Shawn Colvin is singing about the heart of Saturday night on the television behind me. She always liked Shawn Colvin. I remember sending her a Shawn Colvin album and she said she had it playing while she was driving around under cloudy Texas skies, listening to the rain drum on the roof of her car ... Yeah, I'm pretty drunk at the moment. I can feel my face, but only when I slap myself. It just hurts too much to remember how needy I was, how much I wanted to be able to turn the clock back a few days when we kissed with all the apparent passion of lovebirds mating for life. I was actually somewhat afraid I might see her tonight while driving past her old stomping grounds. I also secretly hoped I might see her, but that's entirely beside the point now.
I mentioned one of my regrets was not being able to ... well, kiss her as much as I might like to and yes, that is a euphemism for something I'm usually too embarrassed to talk about but not too ashamed to admit when asked directly. She sighed and then ... oh hell, I don't remember. Maybe she pushed me or hit me in the shoulder or something, but I wound up between her legs, going down on her. She told me every time I tried to kiss her on the lips that she didn't want that, she didn't want me to kiss her or look at her or touch her, she just wanted me to ... fuck it, I can't finish this, even when I'm drunk. I just remember what it felt like to try to hold on to someone so desperately that I sacrificed my own self-esteem and self-respect simply to be near her one last time. I thought we might still be friends at least, but I guess I thought wrong. Glasses on the floor, Shawn Colvin on the TV. It's dark and it's late and I'm alone and going to sleep. You probably already know the rest.
So it's a few months later. I actually had the opportunity to talk to her again and find some sort of bitter closure. I realized that regardless of what I felt for her, she just didn't feel the same. She did realize that she still loves her ex-boyfriend though, which is nice for her. I'm okay with it now. I had a chance to talk to her one last time and find out specifically why she wasn't interested in talking to me again. According to her, it was a blunder she'd rather forget because she did a lot of things she wasn't proud of, such as mistaking loneliness and identifying with someone for love.
As far as I'm concerned, what happened is in the past. It's over with, almost like it never was. Anymore, it's like a familiar, faded sepia photograph hanging on the wall in a museum. The picture proves it happened, but it seems so distant that it might as well have been a dream or an overactive imagination envisioning ideal situations ... but enough about that. I have a new story to tell now.
I'm not sure why I sit here and spill my guts on the page. This isn't about catharsis now. It's something different, something deeper which I can't explain. I guess, for the first time in quite a few years, I'm trying to explain what I think and feel, why I think and feel that way, and how it all came to pass. Why? I don't know. Maybe I'm just trying to ward off the loneliness for a while longer. Maybe I'm just worried that I'll dream if I fall asleep now and rosy visions of the way things were might dance in and out of my REM sleep. Then I'll have to wake up, knowing it's all behind me, remembering all the little things that went wrong when everything started to fall apart, and face another bright, clear day with lovely blue skies. It hurts all the more because I can't stand beautiful things when I feel like this. I just want to shield my eyes and stare at the sidewalk under my feet.
So let me share this with you and then I'll go to sleep. Earlier, I said I had fallen in love twice. When I began this issue, that was true, but in the middle of this, April 3, 1995 to be exact, I basically met the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I knew who she was, I had even talked to her, but on that day, we sat on a lawn at the college we both attend and talked for a few hours. After that, we drank a pitcher of beer together, she fixed me dinner and we went to see a really bad film. I called her a few weeks later on a lark. She called me back at about 9:45 p.m. on Sunday, April 23 and we talked for several hours. I didn't quite know what was going on at the time. I'm usually pretty clueless about these things, oblivious to the obvious, so I simply lay there on my bed in a dark room with Bob Pollard singing "Liar's Tale" over and over for the better part of five hours, listening to her soft voice, her sarcastic comments and the like. She figured out that I liked her that night. She just needed some time to figure out how she felt.
Wednesday, April 26. I was sitting at work at about 8 p.m. when the phone at my desk rang. "Hi, it's me," she said. "What are you doing?" I told her I wasn't doing much of anything and she asked me if I wanted to get some ice cream. We sat at a local ice cream parlor and talked until about 11 p.m., when we decided to go to Barstow, get a soft drink at Denny's, take pictures with the waitresses and drive back to San Diego. It seemed to make sense, especially since neither of us had to be anywhere until 8 a.m. Why not? So we hit the road, driving northeast through the dark, overcast night with the Clash on her stereo, listening to the wheels spin down the freeway while "Straight To Hell" dissipated in our wake.
We found out we had a lot in common, laughing about how Kiwi Strawberry was our favorite Snapple flavor. About an hour outside of San Diego, she started feeling sick so we turned around and headed back to her house. I wound up spending the night there, but nothing happened. I just lay there next to her, afraid I might do something wrong and kill everything before it got started. After a while she said "Give me your hand." I did, worried I might start sweating or something like that from sheer nervousness, but she just held onto me and it was all right. I made it to my first class the next day, but missed the rest. I went to lunch with her and asked her if she wanted to take off to Las Vegas on the spur of the moment. She called me on Friday morning and asked when I was picking her up.
So you see, this whole thing moved pretty fast. We took off for Vegas with a minor detour by the Denny's in Ontario, California. We drove through the pre-dawn hours on the 15, surrounded by tractor-trailer rigs while listening to Yo La Tengo, and when we rolled into Vegas just after dawn, tried to find a place to sleep. Every motel we went to wanted about $50 for less than six hours so we crashed in the back of my van, curled up under a sleeping bag, laughing about the absurdity of it all and how the blood seemed to be rushing to our heads since I parked on an incline. I told her a story about the guy working the night shift at the last somewhat seedy casino/hotel where we had inquired about room rates. He had slicked back hair that looked like it had been fixed in place with 10/40 motor oil, and wore a light tan sport shirt and dark brown Sansabelt slacks. There was another guy standing around, tobacco juice staining his unkempt beard, who was telling him a joke, something about a guy named Richard Head who had a daughter named Gimme. So we sat there, laughing about our plight and finally just gave up and ate at IHOP.
I joked about proposing marriage; hell, I even developed a scenario in which we played a practical joke on everyone. I would propose on the spur of the moment, she would accept and we would ask the waitress where the nearest wedding chapel was and leave. It was a perfect plan, but I couldn't execute it. I guess I was afraid she might say yes and really mean it. So the day went - we sat next to each other at slot machines, exchanging meaningful glances. She explained it to me thusly: "I'm just trying to figure out whether I should kiss you."
We wandered around and played video poker at cheap looking casinos, the kind attached to restaurants and motels on the wrong side of town. We were on the other side of the freeway from all the glitz, from The Strip, and it might as well have been a million miles away. The only indication that something different existed was across a vast expanse of concrete and cars. All things considered, it was a great day. Sure, after spending nearly 24 hours together, things could have been better, but walking around Circus Circus, holding hands ... and yes, she did finally kiss me.
We spent a lot of time together after that. We went to movies, shared meals, all the things a couple of crazy kids who like each other a lot do. Hell, I was in love with her. Maybe I still am. We'd sit there and listen to ambient music, laying in her bed in the middle of the night, touching each other. We'd fall sleep wrapped around each other, legs and arms all tangled up. And on May 6 of this year, I made love for the first time with her. Seems kind of crazy. I waited 22 years before I had sex, just to make sure it was with someone I really cared about. Almost seems archaic, obsolete, out-of-date. And the terms I use ... hell, I read an article recently which made fun of using the words "making love," but so what? I've been out of step with the world for my entire life and see no reason to change. I did love her, so the phrase was appropriate in my case. Maybe I still do.
It's now the end of July. We've been together, broken up, gotten back together and, as it stands right now, it's all over. Again. I guess the rocky parts just got too rocky. I was stubborn, she'd take out her frustrations on me. I didn't want to change the way I dressed or be more social, she wanted to change me even more and yelled at me when I wouldn't budge. I hated those conversations. She kept saying she wanted me to change because she thought I wanted to be a different person, that I was unhappy like I am.
Translated from relationships to English, that simply means she wanted me to be someone else. I suspect she wanted me to be more like her ex-fiancee. She's found herself a new boyfriend. I know all about him. She told me during a phone call in which I began to realize why most people don't stay friends after a relationship breaks up. She said she likes him so much that he makes her feel shy, that there's electricity in the air, that it must be chemistry and she never thought it would happen to her. And I ... well, I listened. I sat there, hearing her words and flashing back to things she said to me, conversations we once had when she said similar things about me.
It bothered me after I put the phone back on the hook. It bothered me that she found someone new so quickly because all it says to me is that I didn't mean as much to her as she did to me. It means I didn't mean as much to her as she said I did. And even though I don't exactly regret making love with her ... in some ways I feel used and discarded. She was, after all, the first person I had sex with and despite what I had hoped, the relationship didn't last that long. There's always going to be some kind of an emotional attachment there. I'll probably always wonder how I stack up to past and future boyfriends.
There's simply a whole host of problems accompanying sex that people almost never mention and that no one ever told me about, such as the insecurity following a relationship when you know the other person is going to meet someone new, maybe someone they like more than they liked you. And I guess that's what happened here. Neurotic, insecure ... yeah, I'll cop to it. I know that you can pretty much figure out what your former partner is saying about you based on what they said about the other people they were involved with. She wasn't especially complimentary about most of the people she chose as boyfriends and now I'm wondering when my ears are going to start burning. I'm not angry though. I may be hurt, but I'm not angry. I'm just realizing that sex makes things far more complicated.
Me? I accepted her as she was. The only change I wanted her to make was to stop yelling at me and stop taking her frustrations out on me, otherwise I just took it for granted that she was who she was. I'll never forget it though. When it was good, it was about as good as it's ever been for me. Now, it's late. I've been going to concerts lately, drowning out my thoughts in loud music, wondering how to connect with the people around me. Usually, I don't even have the faintest idea how to try. I've spent so long by myself that I don't have the slightest idea how to go about meeting people. I think about how I met my friends and there are only a few cases where I can point to one moment when the friendship started happening. I can't recreate them with other people; they were situations specific to a time and place. And so I sit here, pondering what to do next.
I wanted to call her earlier. I was sitting in front of the television at about 3 a.m., eating popcorn and drinking cream soda, and I felt like talking to her and shouldering all the blame myself, but I know it wasn't all my fault. Regardless, I wanted to call her and apologize, try to make amends for the times when I didn't notice she was tired, when I didn't pay as much attention to her as I could have. I wanted to wish her the best of luck with her new guy and express the hope that she'll be happier with him. And then I'd hang up the phone and disappear for a while, unreachable by phone or address, just to get my head straight and try to get over this.
I know why it's hard. I know it will take a while to recover from this one because, for the first time in my life, I was in love with someone and it worked out, if only for a little while, and I gave her something I can never give anyone again. I've already made a few decisions. I'm not going to get involved with anyone for a while, even if the opportunity presents itself. I need to clear my head and figure out what happened. I've already identified a few problems with the relationship, most of which resulted from a lack of experience in that field on my part and a lack of patience on hers. More importantly, it's going to be a while before I have sex again. It's just too ... complex. On a simple mechanical level, the interaction is very simple, but on an emotional and mental level ...
Right now, I'm not especially optimistic. I have the Fear; that terrifying feeling that this was my last chance at happiness and that I'll never meet anyone that I'll like again, that I'll just be a husk of a human, a hollowed out shell. And if I allow the Fear to stick around, it will probably become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that's something I refuse to do. I'm tired of hamstringing myself, of creating imaginary problems to solve before Fate has a chance to throw some obstacles my way. Frankly, I do such a good job of hindering my own growth, it's a wonder anyone or anything else has a chance to do it.
So I'm drawing in on the end of my story about my pathetic love life. For me, it's always been about loving someone and not having it work out, for whatever reason. I'm getting used to it though, and each time it hurts less. Each time, it seems like the discomfort is filtered through another layer of gauze which will, in time, prevent any of it from getting through. I suppose by then I'll just be numb, but maybe that's not so bad.
By way of wrapping up these three tales in a neat package, here's where each stands at this moment, 3:41 a.m., August 5. I called the first woman I fell in love with. The other day I had a nightmare and she was in it. I had a feeling something was wrong so I gave her a call. I didn't hear back from her for over a day, so I woke up from a nap, debated whether to call or let it be, and started dialing. I finally got in touch with her. Turns out she was okay, doing great actually. She's been involved with a great guy for eight months, finally found a major and is supposed to get her degree in about a year. She also said she'd missed me. We had a falling out a few years ago because I was, in a word, a schmuck. I never stopped caring about her as a friend, I just stopped talking to her. Now, it looks like we may be able to rebuild the friendship.
Since I had that dream, I've wondered why it happened. Maybe my brain was just trying to tell me something. I think sometimes our subconscious minds hint at things we need or want and whether we choose to listen is our business. If I had to guess at the reasons why that dream happened (and yes, I believe it happened for a reason), one of them would be that I missed her. It also seems like most of my friends here have been moving lately, scattering across the northern and western states like tumbleweeds, rolling along the roads until the wind stops blowing them for a while. So I guess I was lonely. Since the last issue came out, I've gotten back in touch with four friends I haven't talked to in some years. I still feel lonely, but it's getting better.
As I already mentioned, I had a chance to talk to the second woman I fell in love with. She's doing well for herself and was working on getting back together with the guy she loved.
As for the third woman I fell in love with ... I went ahead and made that call, but it turned out very differently than I had expected. I was simply going to call her and try to begin being friends and figure out what kind of changes and transitions I needed to make to effect that change. So I called and made my apologies but didn't shoulder the blame. After all, it takes two people for a relationship to happen or fall apart. I wished her luck with her new guy and before I knew what happened, it was almost like old times. She was telling me what was wrong with me, how selfish I was, what was wrong with my clothes, why it wouldn't have worked, what I needed to do to fit in, why I needed to change and the like. She said she never understood why I fell for her, so I told her. Again.
I told her that I could talk to her, that even though I can feel alone when I'm surrounded by people, I didn't feel lonely when I was with her. I told her that she made me laugh, she made me smile and she said cool things. I don't know if she understood what I meant. We talked for about 30 minutes and by the end of the conversation she said that everyone at the place where we work would be laughing at her. The only conclusion I can draw from that is that apparently she thinks the people around us have so little respect for me that she'll be a laughingstock. She didn't mention anything about the good times. Just that people would be laughing at her. I quickly said goodbye and put the phone back on the hook.
And since I'm at the end of this, I'll confess to a few things. Yeah, I still do care about her. That's the hellish part of it all. I don't think it's not love anymore though. I think she's made a few too many cutting remarks, seemingly tailored to try to wound me for it to still be love. There's only so much abuse any one person can take before they throw in the towel and I think I've reached my limit. Even so, I still care about her. She's with another guy who she seems to have fallen in love with, and I still care about her. It's getting easier though.
The memories dissolve a bit more every day, the colors bleached by the summer sun. I still remember enough to correct her when she tries to pin the relationship on me and blame me for everything that happened though, as if it were such a bad thing, as if it were a catastrophic event which resulted in fallout poisoning the earth around us for decades to come. I still remember that I told her I liked her and she made all the moves. I still remember what it was like when she leaned over and kissed me for the first time, taking me by surprise ... and I still have that letter from her ... I still remember the way my stomach lurched when I read those three words ... I still remember her ...