Valentine

In the wake of tales of you
I root for you, I love you
You you you you

I met my first serious boyfriend when I was nineteen and roughing it in rehab. Relax. It’s not as dirty as it sounds. Nick was a southern gentleman from the outskirts of Atlanta. The first time he spoke to me, sandy at the beach beside a campfire in Dana Point, my thoughts were, oh brother. He had cracked a joke about penises, and penis jokes have never made me laugh. I didn’t write him off, though, accepting, enlightened, sober chick I was becoming. A friendship began to build between us over our months together in the house. We both loved comedy and knew every line from Chris Rock’s Bigger and Blacker. He loved watching sports, and I loved men who loved sports. I appreciated his southern roots, given my own lineage of down to earth and wholesome Texans. There’s a warmth there that is unmistakable. He was a decent, authentic, middle of the road sort of guy, and he treated me with the utmost respect. In fact, our connection and romance was so real and, by rehab standards exceptionally healthy, that even when the administration found out about it, they let it slide and let us do our thing.

We spent a year together, and a chunk of it was done long distance. I visited him in Georgia a couple of times, and he came back out to Los Angeles. Though his dad thought I was a whacky California liberal, he took quite a shine to me. Nick was six years older and ready to inherit the family business – not for a second was he considering living on the west coast. And not for a second did I consider moving to the south and wifing it up. Splitting was painful, because we loved each other, but our glittering stars were ever crossed. I was barely twenty. I had more relapses in me and school to finish. I was a California girl, through and through. Our parting wasn’t easy, but it was dignified and kind. It was a good place to start.

I stayed in Orange County and started school. I sobered up again after another horrific slip into drinking (and one of the worst nights of my life, which I won’t yet share here, but you can check out my maudlin poetry blog – the story’s somewhere in the scraps.) I knew one thing, as I began counting days again: I cannot be alone. 

When I first saw Matt at a meeting in Mission Viejo, he was wearing a grey bandana, Birkenstocks, and little silver hoop earrings for crying out loud. A Sierra Nevada t-shirt, which was a couple sizes too big, and some pair of ridiculous hippie pants that were a cross between cotton and nylon. Luckily, I didn’t let any of that get in the way of my attraction, and it was attraction of the magnetic swallow you whole variety, where I was pulled to him from out of the depths as if we were meant to intertwine in each others lives and create a big mess of love and sex. Which we did. There was something in his face that first time I saw him, an earnestness, a broken hearted visage, a drama king quality; it wasn’t all that sincere – truth was, he was a bit of a phony, even my dad saw that – but at the time, I wanted to know what it was all about.

I pursued him, and I did it quasi-desperately. I was coming off of Nick, and I couldn’t stand to feel the empty stretch of me. I did everything wrong (pursuing him for one) and we would go on to be together for three tumultuous, gobble you up, lie to your family when you get back together for the twentieth time years. 

Like any solid beginning, we texted each other back and forth, on LG Verizon flip phones circa 2005 no less, and we drove to the beach where he played “Sugar Magnolia” on the guitar (are you getting that he was from NorCal?), and he was upfront from the beginning about the fact that he was still halfway in love with his hippie dippy ex-girlfriend and would likely not be available for a relationship. But I didn’t hear that clearly, I only thought, yeah yeah, we’ll see. Then he kissed me, doo wop da dooby doo, and it was one of those glittery bubbly high as a kite time stops perfect tongue pink starbursts type kisses, and that was it. I was done for. That kiss and everything that came after would make me forgive every lie, cheat, betrayal, and transgression, every pit in my stomach the world is crashing down atop my head feeling for the next two and a half years. Until finally we admitted we were doomed, we had never built a foundation, and nothing could be created on such a smoking pile of rubble. It took me going back to drinking and drugs for a while to fully shake him off and look again to the horizon. 

From him, came the next, Kris with a K, but I wouldn’t call it love – I’d call it friendship with a little intimacy thrown in and mostly someone to drink and binge watch shows with, before binge-watching was even really a thing. (I had all the DVD’s of The Sopranos, The Office, and first three seasons of LOST. We also watched quite a bit of VH1 reality TV. We’re talking Bret Michaels Rock of Love here. Thanks, marijuana!) He had a dog that I came to truly love, and he helped me move back to Los Angeles to start at UCLA, and then after a year I broke up with him, because I was desperate to get clean again and desperate to be understood. Stop taking all those goddamn pills, then you’d feel better. He thought my need to sober up dramatic. I knew I had to go. And I had the perfect opportunity to start seeing Cal.

Cal, who had a few years clean under his belt – I heard it through the grapevine. His older brother was a part of this community of guys I knew from high school who were devoted to underground hiphop and performed around L.A. We connected via MySpace. Oh, youth. I thought I was going to marry him, in my naive twenty-three year old head, because we had this very innocent best friend type connection from the beginning, and when it all unraveled it was debilitating. He broke my heart, but I think I broke his first, however accidentally. He cooked me Valentine’s Day dinner, and I wouldn’t take a bite. That’s a whopper of a metaphor, if there ever was one.

So yes, without getting into a bunch of recovery babble, I was pretty screwed up, and he couldn’t fix me, and I had lost myself in brutal eating disorder territory which made me (literally) cold, shut-down, obsessed, and very un-frisky, and it was only a matter of time until he would call me and say, enough. (I was at UCLA when it happened, in blue jeans and a purple top, walking to my car from my favorite Shakespeare lecture, and I just nodded into the phone. I knew.) I loved him. I loved him so. There is no doubt about it. He used to write me these beautiful letters, and he was intelligent and handsome and “deep” like me, and I adored his family. We would sit and study together and listen to The Smiths and Velvet Underground, and we were sober and in some kind of love. It was an old souls comfort, it was you and me baby, but my tornado of addiction had yet to even gather dust. I had work to do. He had to leave.

In came the gut-wrench and fetal position. It took a good nine months to stand up straight and push my shoulders back, to stop looking for him or some kind of reconciliation. I watched him on Facebook date other women, and I had a few instances of soul-crushing humiliating begging for him back on the phone fiascos. I tried myself to go out with a couple of people – those collapsed faster than I could say, go away/don’t leave! When you still love someone and you’re with another, it’s a very sharpened sort of loneliness. And then – it lifted. You know how it goes with love and the death of love. You wake up one day, and it’s softer. He was eighty percent out of my system. And onto the next. Because, you know, I. couldn’t. be. alone. Bring on the tall drink of water from San Diego.

Taylor still weighs heavy on my heart, because we were near-perfect compatible, just totally kindred spirits, and he was my “type.” Tall, athletic, unfussy, masculine. He got my irreverence and snark and sass, and he was the least full of shit guy I’d ever known. We had this short lived, loving thing, but I missed Cal a lot of the time, I would feel homesick for him out of the blue, and it was difficult to grow to love someone new with that simmering in my stomach. Taylor couldn’t stay sober one bit, and I was still demolished within, despite appearances and my stellar GPA, and so it fizzled before we even lifted off the ground. And damn, could we have lifted off the ground.

What a romantic start we had. One of my best friends and I used to go to a meeting in Santa Monica and then to the Coffee Bean after to smoke and analyze the world, and he and his buddy Joe came by a few times to join in on the fun. My friend described the connection between us as “mega sparkle eyes.” We were exploring our exasperation and contempt toward the men who wore those deep V t-shirts, and Taylor, this sweetheart 6’3 volleyball-playing junkie stud looks at me and goes, all confident, “so you’re saying you want a cowboy.” I died. If that isn’t the pickup line of the century, I don’t know what is. (And yes, I did want a cowboy.) Then we all played pool, he asked me on a proper date, and the rest is history. He’d say, baby you’re the most.

We would go to the Starbucks by his apartment and drink lattes and play Gin Rummy. It remains one of my happiest memories. He drove me all the way to San Francisco to see some quack back doctor who invented a special machine that would “cure all chronic pain.” (I was desperado. It didn’t.) I never slept so well beside a boyfriend before. Not a snore to be heard, praise the lord. I met his folks, he met mine. It was the best ever, a whole new level, an ecstasy, a delicious dreamy sleep. And yet: I was a miserable, suffering, selfish, eating disorder-riddled, chronic pain-enduring twenty-four year old just starting graduate school and by most accounts, lost. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and I was too chicken to find out. How fascinating it is to have such gorgeous love inside a greater hell. The damn center cannot hold. When he called me and confessed he was drinking I left him, and I was cold about it and impulsive. I got scared. I don’t exactly regret it, because who knows where I’d be, but I wish I had handled it with more grace. I had been having my own thoughts of relapse for a while, and I knew if I stayed with him we’d be shacked up in a seedy motel in Mexico, smoking crack and playing with needles (such was his pattern.)

I relapsed anyway, and down into the depths I swirled. Same charade. This isn’t about that.

When I came up for air again at the start of 2011, I intuitively knew the boys needed to be off the table for a while, and I had a hunch it was all going to removed from me anyway. I was right. Serial monogamy was completely blocking me from having any real relationship with myself and space to comprehend, who am I without a lover/boyfriend/constant companion? What happens when I try to be alone? Maybe I need to make some more female friends and start writing again… and that’s exactly what I did. And damn, did I learn how to be alone and make friends and start writing. I got extremely good at befriending myself, after the initial feeling of having no skin. I came to know peace, party of one. I. could. be. alone. It is one of the greatest things I have ever done, finding my own path without a boyfriend as the sole part of my identity. It transformed everything, and it gave me a raucous, gorgeous voice. It also taught me what I will never again put up with and how I will never again treat a partner.

And then, maybe I got a little too good at it. Because I just didn’t care anymore, and I was having too much fun focusing on my career and recovery and friendships and travel, that dating just wasn’t at the forefront. I had soul surgery to do, don’t you know, because my astrological chart is all water and earth and I’m not good at lightening up when it comes to meaning and purpose. But you know, we work with what we’ve got. (I hope you get my humor.)

I spent about four years mostly single, dating a bit here and there, summer flinging, the online turnstile. I noticed that actual dating and getting to know someone in a healthy, slow-paced, functional fashion seemed like a certain level of hell. I couldn’t stand the vulnerability and the lack of grabby addict-type connection. Without my previous armor and defenses, I was putty. I saw that a love addict/avoidant style was often at play in much of my relationships (but really, when is it not), and that I didn’t dig guys who weren’t alcoholics or some brand of screwy, and that shady narcissists were irresistible. So I got to practice with that. Dating jerks and saying bye. Seeing my patterns, my motives, my stories. Continuously unearthing the truth and what I really wanted, (while avoiding as needed the endless barrage of women and their weddings, full coverage courtesy of Facebook.)

So that brings me to the last valentine thus far, David, who I met on a dating app but soon discovered was a fellow sober drunk like me, a broke-ass comic (his words), and a hot (and I do mean hot) mess. I was like Edna in The Awakening having a physical and emotional Renaissance, being born again as a woman in the sea foam. On our first date we met at a hipster cafe, I was parked on some narrow street off Melrose, and a driver broke off half my side mirror; I thought, jeez what a sign. Maybe I’m still not seeing clearly. I watched him perform regularly at the Comedy Store and random places about town; I admired (and still admire) his courage and willingness to chase his artist dream. I rarely chased my own. He let me cry in front of him (which I did at least twice a day) without getting weird or telling me to calm down. He was with me when I was starting over and fumbling around, and we fumbled around together. He left every twenty minutes to suck on a Marlboro Red, and he liked the Marvel movies just a little too much, and he never spoke up, and he was thirty-one going on twenty, but it was love. And it was good. And we are still friends. There was nothing I hesitated to share with him, and I still tell him everything, and we still dance around our innate attraction to each other because the timing just isn’t right in terms of the whole Serious Relationship thing.

And there it is. The cascade of boyfriends. The story of, the glory of love. I was like Tori Amos – looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets – until it became white hot and startlingly clear that I had to save myself, fall in love with myself a bit (eye roll, oh I know) then hit the proverbial town. Nick is married with three beautiful children, and Matt passed away, and Cal got married, too, and I have no idea what happened to Kris, and I think Taylor is in San Diego still using, and David is my friend. I like being on my own and doing what I love, with or without you. And rooting for all my past loves. And future loves. And just, Love. The messier the better. 

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