Long form. Multiple nonlinear timelines. Because relationships are complicated.
It’s after midnight. I text from the side of the road:
“Low-hung buttercream crescent moon over rows of houses in picture-book silhouettes that I couldn’t capture for you with a lens. So I do in words while Janis Joplin summer time-time-times in the background. In some simple moments I could die happy and none of my failures would count.”
I press send.
Wait, why am I texting romantic overtures like I’m the freaking guy?
And to the guy I dumped, no less. Or perhaps he dumped me. I don’t think either of us knows for sure who dumped whom.
Did I just offer him the moon? What the fuck.
I drive away from the deserted road where the moon had stopped me short.
The rock ‘n roll from earlier of a live nineties has-been band mixes potently with my blood, and probably with the glass of wine, microscopic electric eels flowing up and down my limbs, carrying a message and putting my entire body on attention for adventure. Has-been or not, the band had been tight, the singer’s energy imploding with kid-like passion, and the guitar licks taunting me. My brain delivers the message: You’re not old yet. Stir up some shit before your time’s up.
On the highway, I weave back and forth through all the slow, responsible drivers, and it feels smooth like I’m floating, even though it turns out I’m in third gear the whole time and didn’t hear the motor’s struggle over Janis mewling. I laugh at my own silliness. Then I get caught in the center of a speeding car cluster — the squashed-bug lambo, the over-waxed beamer, the hybrid, my semi-lemon with the loose bumper — with all of us democratically synced at 95 mph, and it’s sublime.
We’re a pack of wolf-birds in formation and I’m smooth once again.
So ends Day 1426.
Give or take a couple of days, it’s been 1540 days since I first met the Exceptionally Tall Man.
Day 1384 (August of the fourth year)
He moves out of our apartment after almost four years of living together. It’s been a long, grueling couple of months since we broke up but continued to live in the same space, a laboratory for cold-shouldering at its cruelest alternating with who out-hurts whom by staying away the most nights. So this evening is a relief, if not altogether celebratory, as I walk him downstairs to his car. Each of us carries a last armful of his belongings.
Before he drives off, he puts on a faux-chipper voice:
“Well, it’s been nice living with you. Maybe we’ll do it again sometime.”
It’s not until weeks later that I consider he might be joking.
Day 1328 (June of the fourth year)
I don’t know how to tell him I’m back on dating apps. Due to whatever renewed offense or hurt I feel because of him, I keep angry-swiping, mostly left — no, no, no, god no!, no — and sometimes a desperate swipe right in case someone could meet me for a drink at this very moment.
Swiping humanity into oblivion, it feels like. The thought makes me queasy.
The dating apps want to make money. So if you don’t pay, they withhold most of your appropriate matches. Instead you see guys waving a butcher knife, or posing in between two pole dancers, or shirtless, unnaturally-muscled and taking a mirror selfie with a raised toilet seat in the background. I’ve never seen such people walk around in real life. There must be a tiered selection going on, algorithmically sorting prospects while also sorting you. Do you end up risen with the cream or on the scrapey bottom? Probably somewhere in the vast middle. And why not. Someone’s middle is another person’s cream.
There are lovely people in the vast middle. And they blur into each other. Or maybe you don’t really want to be meeting new people but need to physicalize your anger. Swiping left isn’t all that different than a video game in which you obliterate digital characters. Except it’s representations of real humans that you wipe out of existence, at least on your phone screen.
Day 1330 (June of the fourth year)
When he tells me first that he’s back on dating apps, it gives me the opportunity to tell him too.
Will I help him take a better profile picture, he asks. Fuck no, I say, with a sweet smile, fighting my natural instinct to help him.
“But I don’t care if you use a good one I’ve taken of you in the past,” I say.
“Should we invite all our friends over for a breakup party?” he asks, a nod to how often I talked about throwing a party in our swanky apartment but never did.
“No, I don’t want to deal with the food prep.” But I fully intend to make a breakup video.
Then I share my discomfort about the brutality of swiping at its core. He says a swipe left is nothing more than a polite pass.
So why can’t there just be a “No, thank you” button?
How literal of me. Usually it’s his specialty to be literal, which I once found endearing. Now I don’t need to be reminded of all the ways I find him endearing. I am after all, compulsively looking for anyone but him.
We don’t know yet that this isn’t our final breakup. It’s the second to last, an understudy to the one that finally sticks.
Nearly four years ago, I match with him on a dating app too. He is a long lean needle in crisp focus against a haystack blur.
Day 12 (October of the first year)
On Halloween night, it rains in my purse. It’s our fourth date. I have branches and vines in my hair and gold-speckled green on my face. I’m a wood nymph at a party with a man who is good for my posture because he’s exceptionally tall. We’re sitting in the courtyard of a bar with old-world charm among trees strung with lights. The drizzle in my purse doesn’t cause damage, so I think of it as poetic, because I have to romanticize everything from subway platforms to heartache.
I find this man with his jawline and chin cleft, his generous lips and gentle eyes, distractingly good-looking. The fact that he’s in his weather-worn forties like me brings me relief. I could finally grow old in peace the way I couldn’t with the last two firm-fleshed boys who were a generation younger than me.
Day 117 (February of the first year)
Before Valentine’s Day, we move in together.
Day 1273 (April of the fourth year)
It’s a few weeks before my birthday. We’re roommates now. Roommates who hug. Roommates who gaze into each other’s eyes and stroke one another’s cheeks for long periods, then take off separately, letting heart worms chew away our insides as we wonder what the other is up to. It is emotionally oppressive, this “roommateship,” impossible to sustain. But this is where we are.
Day 1301 (May of the fourth year)
We go to New York together for my birthday, forgetting we were going to be just roommates. It’s never that we actually want to break up. We just can’t seem to figure out how to sort through conflict. I need to dissect, analyze, talk it through, talk it through, and talk it through some more. He shrinks inside from the noise of processing. The time and space he needs to make sense of his feelings are scorpions and poison darts hurled my way. I writhe and thrash to survive their toxins. He coddles his confusion; the delay brings me pain.
It all makes for literally the worst combination of people to face conflict together.
“By the time one thought surfaces in my brain, your brain fires off dozens,” he says. “A storm of rockets shooting in every direction.” He looks horrified. I think, I get why you might like it quiet in there, but some of us don’t have a choice.
We’ve been “breaking up” every few months for two years.
Day 1 (October of the first year)
On the beach at night, he hula hoops with expertise in a velvet dinner jacket while a hipster faerie operates the hoop’s psychedelic lights by remote. Waves crash white in the distant. The moment is cinematic.
In the interest of disclosure he tells me that he’s “a moody bitch” and a “grandfather,” and I assume he’s brave, strong and incapable of lying, so I’m immediately won over. He is also strange and elusive — how is that not attractive?
Day 6 (October of the first year)
We’re supposed to go on our third date in the evening after my documentary class, but by late day I still haven’t heard from him. As I enter the lecture hall to take the midterm, my phone rings. It’s a collect call from county jail. He uses his one call to let me know he’ll be spending the night in a cell. The cops picked him up in a lot after running his plate while he was getting tacos. Something to do with an unresolved traffic incident and missed court dates.
Am I struck in the face by a huge red flag?
As I take my midterm, I’m hugely relieved he isn’t standing me up, but very worried about him in a godforsaken cell. I already love him, you see.
Day 125 (February of the first year)
There is nothing unfamiliar about him; even his strangeness is inviting. He is gentle and elegant, with artful hair and warm, elongated piano hands — magic hands, I call them. His smile is the widest, most beautiful I’ve ever seen. All I want to do is make him smile.
He is unduly attached to his beloved garbage basket from the 80’s with a random splatter of spray paint on one side and broken splinters on the other. You can fit a hand through its weaves, so it doesn’t even function as a trash bin without an ill-fitting shopping bag. I tell him straight out that one of these days I’ll get rid of it and replace it with a real garbage can. But I never have the heart to.
I give things up for him because they’d involve other men, however Platonic. A trip to Morocco. Cuba. Fiji. Salsa lessons with a different partner. Regular snowboarding trips.
I’m happy to give them up. He’s my love.
Day 164 (April of the first year)
A small window of bliss exists for us after he abolishes his thoughts along the lines of this girl is too good for me; I’m never going to get her; she’ll grow tired of me.
When he moves in, in quick succession, we contend with plague, pestilence and property loss — at least to my mind. It’s nothing more than medical issues that turn out to be minor, pest invasion, and both of our cars breaking down within days of each other in a city where it’s challenging to go about your life without driving. But in the midst of one problem after another, we learn how different our respective approaches are to conflict and the amount of friction that can cause. It effectively kills the honeymoon stage of our relationship.
Day 854 (February of the third year)
He likes baseball, so it’s appropriate to say our relationship continues into the 17th inning.
I take explosive offense to small instances of thoughtlessness, inconsideration and insignificant promises not kept. Something kicks in where I’m compelled to defend my own honor as a woman.
“You cannot be the kind of man who wants to go with the flow of the night and expect to be with a woman who refuses to feel overlooked.”
My one true demand of him is to keep respectable hours on the occasions I don’t go out with him.
Make a plan, inform me, stick to it.
“That leaves no room for spontaneity.” His voice is indignant, as if I’m holding out my hand for his testicles.
’Spontaneity’ is one tiny thing to give up for commitment when I’ve given up the actual world.
Somehow it’s too big an ask.
Day 635 (July of the second year)
I’m working at a casting studio. We’re auditioning rugged men for a truck commercial — firemen and cowboy types. I didn’t get a proper lunch so I’m eating at my desk in front of the men, many of whom are holding motorcycle helmets. I exchange the following texts with my boyfriend:
Me: “Many rugged men are surrounding me as I eat.”
Boyfriend (kidding): “They better not be getting fresh.”
Me (not kidding): “Guys are weird toward girls trapped behind desks or counters. Like I’m in a cage for their benefit. I will not miss this when I’m old.”
And I immediately realize I’m a dirty liar. Of course I’ll miss it.
Then I accidentally knock over a cupful of pens. Four men rush to get on their knees to pick them up.
When I’m inching toward you in my walker and dentures, remember, I once had a bunch of men fall at my feet.
Day 1208 (February of the fourth year)
He says he fights fire with fire. I say, I fight fire with a nuclear bomb! Neither of us stops to think fire is commonly fought with water.
I scroll through four thousand photos on my phone taken over the course of three years. There are pictures of me with friends, at events and on trips, conspicuously without him due to a fight. I’m struck by the sheer number of such occasions.
We say we’ll do better, but spend most of the time watching what the other person is doing to be better.
Day 831 (January of the fourth year)
I go on a women’s trip. Our young hostess introduces us to her husband. There’s a picture of us all — him looking at her with adoring eyes, and the rest of us forming a semi-circle around the love-blessed duo like a group of grinning aunts.
Day 161 (March of the first year)
I make a friendly, early evening visit to the home of the man I dated for a time before I met the Exceptionally Tall Man. The man offers to make us a light meal. In the middle of making it, his live-in girlfriend texts to let him know she’s on her way home earlier than expected. He quickly turns off the stove with the half-cooked meal, and in a panic, rushes me out.
I get back to my own place, knowing my man is out with his best girlfriend. He invites me to join them, but I stay home because I’m affected by the way my “friend” treated me like a dirty secret.
Two hours pass, and then three.
By the time my man returns home, I’m bawling. I adore his friend; it’s not because of her.
Nevertheless, it’s a sadistic formula:
My friend, who is the kind of guy who accommodates his girlfriend, kicks me out because she’s suddenly coming home, so I go home to sit alone while my boyfriend whom I chose over the first guy is out with a woman.
Day 1092 (October of the fourth year)
Another male friend I briefly dated invites me to his big birthday where his lovely new girlfriend weeps joyously while giving a speech about how wonderful he is to her.
My head making these comparisons to other couples is like taking a voluntarily dive into a vat of acid.
Day 814 (January of the third year)
I pitch an article called “Why I Won’t Marry the Man I Love” to a Harper’s Bazaar editor. She accepts it and sends back a few line edits, which I approve. The article goes live overnight without warning and before I have a chance to tell him about it. He never quite forgives me, mostly because of the headline — he is literal. In his mind, it’s a done deal: I will never marry him because the headline says so. And I’ve announced it to the world.
The article is published two years into our relationship and two years before we break up. It’s picked up by another popular website where six-hundred mostly-trolls descend on me in the comment section. I stay away from the comments, but my friends report back to me. Apparently the majority of the comments come from people who didn’t read the article, but are reacting to the headline and the picture chosen by Harper’s Bazaar of a couple who happens to be interracial.
Day 1179 (January of the fourth year)
A year or so later, out of boredom or bravery, I dive into the comments for myself. The bulk of racist comments concerning the picture have been flagged and removed during the course of the year. What remain are the jabs toward me, so I find myself amused, but also dismayed at the illiteracy.
Then again, I’m in the middle of another fight with him, so the comments take on different meaning. What if the trolls are giving me actual life advice?
The following are a sampling, edited for punctuation, misspelling, conciseness and basic human decency:
“…Another self-absorbed liberal chick… Fast forward 10-15 years your man got tired of your weirdness and left you for someone that gets him…” You flatter me with your 10-15-year optimism, lady. (Also, if someone ‘gets’ him, bless them both.)
“I don’t care what either of your views are on marriage. If he’s meeting up with exes for late night drinks, your relationship is doomed.” Riight?!
“…Put the thesaurus down next time. If she thinks and speaks like she writes, she won’t have to worry about a partner wanting to marry her any time soon…” Troll isn’t wrong about the verbosity of the piece, truth be told.
“bet u anything shes a blonde” Hahaha. Don’t go to the horse races. Or Vegas.
“She sounds exhausting!” If you only knew, sister!
“I suppose trying to out-pretentious your partner is a goal…” Cool, we sound pretentious. I thought we sounded dirty and broke.
“Neither of you deserves [the sacrament of marriage].” Agreed — we deserve a pain-free life.
“If you want to not get married, have multiple partners, ride ponies, etc., you are allowed. That only took [one] sentence. The author’s realization took one page.” These fuckers will make a better writer out of me yet.
“Sounds like neither is emotionally mature. Commitment means nothing without the maturity to see it through.” Your mamma is emotionally immature, bud.
“He decides to move on to someone who is (a) lower maintenance and (b) OK with getting married. She decides to find that perfect, monogamous guy who can put up with her.” Duh to the last sentence.
“…What will you do when you’re middle-aged & your sex life isn’t so hot anymore & neither are you?” Already been here for ten or so years, dumbass, so joke’s on you. Wait…
“WOW, buddy…RUN… You will spend your entire life making sure she FEELS the way she thinks she should feel…” Et tu, person of my own gender? Did he put you up to this?!
“…The fact that he ignores your feelings…is unacceptable…” Tell me about it, lady. But don’t tell me all that other stuff.
I shake off the urge to both take a shower and pitch a follow-up article to Harper’s Bazaar.
Day 1437 (September of the fourth year)
“Why are you here,” the dating apps ask you to fill out in your profile. Not sure.
I won’t know what I want until I encounter it, I later write in my self-description.
In five months, I meet sixteen men in person for introductory dates. With each I have one fascinating sit-down conversation. It might be about singularity, quantum mechanics, corporate lawsuits, community development, or raves and drug culture. Every guy is kind and polite, and each interaction opens up an entire world for me — for the duration of the date.
When they invite me for a second date, I’m upfront: “I’m all over the place.”
Why are you here? I don’t want a hookup or a relationship, so wherever that leaves me. Not a single date gives me a hard time over this statement.
When later prospects ask what I’m looking for, I say, “I don’t have a goal. I just want to keep meeting interesting people.”
I explore my options for its own sake because one day I may not have any.
Why are you here? For distraction.
Why are you here? Because I’m pissed off at my ex-boyfriend.
Day 1319 (May of the fourth year)
The space he takes while processing conflict when I urgently need to talk it through, hurts me, so I detach and by default, he gets his space. After, I come home to small actions: the garbage is taken out, the fridge is full of groceries, the dishes are washed, his shoes are put away. I view it all as little love notes. We reach a truce without him ever addressing the conflict with verbal communication. It wears on me, and each conflict becomes worse than the last.
The deepest regret is allowing each other to see our ugliest sides. You end up seeing sides of yourself you didn’t even know existed.
“Do you think I’m a good person in the world?” I ask.
“Absolutely,” he says.
“Cool. Do you think I’m a good person as a girlfriend?”
He hesitates, then responds with a meh.
“If I’m ‘absolutely’ a good person in the world, then it follows I’m a good person in the house, as a girlfriend, anywhere, no?”
He doesn’t want to continue the conversation.
Day 667 (August of the second year)
We move into our second place. It’s my dream apartment with 180º views and a daily sunrise and sunset in a 1920’s tower the falcons mistake for a mountain peak.
After thirteen years, I stop paying for storage in New York and ship my possessions to my new place. We combine our books, and one year into our relationship, it feels like our biggest act of commitment.
Day 1229 (March of the fourth year)
“I would really like to be with someone who doesn’t think my attempts at communication during a fight are acts of aggression or manipulation,” I say.
“Would you go out with someone just like yourself?” I ask.
He takes his customary pause and shakes his head “No.” Then he asks,
“Are you kidding me? Someone like myself? I would be thrilled!”
He looks at me like I’m crazy. Either because he thinks I’m immodest or impossible.
Day 1251 (March of the fourth year)
I want to live in two parallel universes at once. In one, the Exceptionally Tall Man and I grow old together. In the other, I stay single for life because there’s something beautiful and powerful when I envision myself with white hair, standing proud and alone in the wind, having lived exactly the life I wanted.
Not counting his marriage during his early-twenties, because for him it doesn’t count, this is his longest and first live-in relationship. I take credit for such an unusual occurrence in his midlife. Not because I’m so wonderful that no one can give me up, but because I actively connect with those I choose on levels others haven’t attempted with him. He’s a difficult man, prone to deep withdrawal. I happen to be expert at drawing out people and wrapping myself around their core, which they both love and hate about me.
Anything other than intense connectivity is a waste of my time, because my nature paradoxically tends toward solitude.
Day 1413 (September of the fourth year)
When we break up, I make sure to keep my dream apartment. It’s like an entity with open arms waiting for me, even if my bookshelves seem a little bare. Every time I come home, I stand in the middle of the living room surrounded by a peninsula of windows and do an internal Sound of Music twirl.
Day 1365 (July of the fourth year)
“Don’t you know I’m a softie?” I ask him.
“You’re soft, you’re hard and everything in between.”
Day 1339 (June of the fourth year)
We’re broken up, he hasn’t moved out, we aren’t talking to one another and we take turns sleeping in the living room.
I reach out to a man I haven’t seen for four and half years, one of the “firm-fleshed boys,” an Adonis who can retire before forty if he chooses. I have the softest of soft spots for him, possibly mad love if I dig through the protective layers of years. I stopped seeing him after the last time we were together due to a disagreement he should’ve handled differently.
When I text him now, I first ask about his relationship status because I don’t want to cross boundaries.
He greets me and asks how I’m doing.
“I’m all right.”
“Oh no, that doesn’t sound good.” It’s his single most intuitive, empathetic display I’ve personally witnessed.
“Yeah, I really need to get away.” I give no other details.
A few days later, the Exceptionally Tall Man hasn’t come home all night. I’m crying; hyperventilating. And in the middle of it, like a proper classical myth, Adonis sweeps in with an unexpected deus ex machina: a text letting me know he has booked tickets for our getaway.
At the airport, Adonis picks me up in a “chariot,” and on the trip, he treats me with such care and consideration that he becomes forever golden in my book.
Day 1416 (September of the fourth year)
It is the Exceptionally Tall Man’s birthday and he has moved out for a month.
“If you have a birthday gathering, please invite me.” I know I might break if he doesn’t. He does, but he isn’t comfortable about it — I haven’t given him enough time to “compartmentalize” and file me away.
The gathering takes place at the same lit-tree courtyard of our first Halloween date. He is surrounded by his friends, joyous, intoxicated, with an arm around everyone, and hugs for all. Except me. Even the busboy gets a friendly kiss on the neck from him when he appears with a shot and “happy birthday.”
Other than an initial stiff pat on my shoulder, he doesn’t meet my eyes for the entire night.
In later days I tell him he didn’t need to be so cold on his birthday. He nods and says he realizes it took “courage” for me to show up. I bristle at this.
When have I not shown courage?
At the end of the gathering I give a ride home to his best girlfriend — the one I adore — and she says, “You broke up with him, now give him the time to heal.”
“I just don’t know where to put my love for him. It’s choking me.” I cry and cry in her arms.
Day 1401 (August of the fourth year)
Do grief and physical pain come in waves because you’d die if they were constant?
I take photographs of myself when I’m crying. I’m fascinated by this broken person that’s crept out, this wet, gasping, splattered person who’s at the same time stronger than me, maybe somehow holds her chin higher than me. All that water. How they lighten the eyes, like they’re either reflecting a fire or hiding it just behind the irises.
Nobody likes it when you openly love yourself.
They don’t recognize self-fascination as a product of self-detachment. They don’t realize you always live outside yourself like an unsheltered, unloved muskrat, stalking yourself — the pretty person who smiles a lot, but only around other people.
Day 1442 (September of the fourth year)
I shouldn’t like it so much when people tell me I’m beautiful. It sets me up for a bigger fall once I’m old. Speaking of falls, I faint and smash three of my front teeth on the marble floor of my apartment at 7:30 in the morning. It’s not pretty. I look like an old-lady six-year-old with rotting baby teeth and maybe a meth habit.
Once I realize I’m not dreaming, and after I call the dentist, I get in touch with the Exceptionally Tall Man, now my ex. I’m vulnerable and plead with him to come over in the evening, which he does.
He spends the night.
It’s the first time we kiss passionately in eighteen months. He must really love me, I think, he doesn’t care I’m toothless.
I feel the well in my chest his love used to fill, and big surprise, I cry in his arms, missing him bringing me to tears when missing teeth did not.
Day 1457 (October of the fifth year)
My ex-boyfriend and I end up matching each other — again — on one of the dating apps. He writes, “Lidia is right. We’re both idiots.” (Lidia is our mutual friend.)
Day 1522 (December of the fifth year)
We’re walking down the street.
“I need to get that motorcycle I’ve been talking about all my life before I hit fifty and get too cautious,” I say. “That way everyone can worry about me and I’ll feel loved.”
He looks at me and shakes his head in that calm, gentle way he does: “No, no, no.”
We’re already broken up, he has already moved out, I’ve already smashed my teeth and gotten them fixed. We refer to whatever it is we’re doing as the grey area.
I am now, in fact, the ex with whom he has late night drinks. The fucking irony.
Day 1474 (November of the fifth year)
While in the grey area together, he has the opportunity to sign a one-year lease for his new place. I expend a lot of energy guiding and encouraging him through the hurtles to make sure he’s approved.
I do not want us falling into the trap of living together again due to circumstance when it already failed due to love.
Day 1483 (November of the fifth year)
We are each other’s not-well-kept secret.
He can’t talk to anyone the way he does to me, he says.
“You ain’t never met a friend like me,” I burst into Baloo’s song in my head.
After years of our limbs not quite fitting because he is so tall and I’m not, we find ourselves in a perfect tangle, every curve of mine enclosed by a section of his body.
“You feel like home,” he says.
Each moment I spend with him feels euphoric. I’m overwhelmed with love in his presence and panicked at his absence.
I can’t breathe.
I have no one to say it to.
Day 1493 (November of the fifth year)
Don’t you better picture me as a free sort of person? I say in response to one of my dates who wants more.
Day 1488 (November of the fifth year)
I take a leave of absence, a leave of Los Angeles, a leave of life, for two months while dealing with dental work. I don’t spend more than a day and half with broken teeth because I get bonding on them, but there’s a lot of waiting involved when it comes to the final restorations.
I’m eager to show pictures of my jagged, nearly-toothless smile to anyone who’s willing to look, especially if there’s a romantic spark.
Still like me?
Day 1529 (December of the fifth year)
I meet a new, magic man. He has a special kind of power. When he talks about meditation and I talk about my obsessive thinking, he shows me with his hands — by churning them — how obsessive thoughts spin on themselves. And then he opens his hands and holds them out, releasing my imaginary thoughts. I never think of myself as suggestible, but the next day, I wake up no longer feeling dread, the darkness that invaded my mind the night before, now a powerless joke.
The Magic Man is vulnerable and has a brilliant intellect. His face and voice are beautiful. He’s a bit wild and chases snow around the world. I have a thing for snow and dream of a partner who feels the same. And he is emotionally available.
I am not.
I tell him I want to be free and float, but also continue getting to know him. He is not a fan of the idea and says I should call him when I sort myself out. I understand, I tell him. The following morning, I receive a text from him telling me he regrets cutting me off. It chokes me up. Why hasn’t the Exceptionally Tall Man told me this?
Day 1535 (January of the fifth year)
The Exceptionally Tall Man is my fifth ex, if I’m counting mainly by cohabitation.
In New York I see my second ex. In San Francisco I stay with my third ex. Back in Los Angeles I go to a birthday brunch for my third ex’s sister. His mother and I hug. I plant a giant kiss on her cheek and she says,”If you had married my son, you’d be calling me ‘mom’ right now.”
“Can’t I call you ‘mom’ anyway, at this point?” She says I can. Her son and I haven’t been a couple for fifteen years.
Day 1540 (January of the fifth year)
To all the men I’ve loved and will love:
You’re gods and princes, and I’ll know you for life if you let me, whatever shape that takes. I’ll come to your aid whenever you need it.
But you should know, the way I love you, and how much, has more to do with who I am than who you are.
Day 1534 (December of the fifth year)
It is New Year’s Eve. I scramble to find new plans for my friends and myself after the Exceptionally Tall Man decides “the grey area” is too emotionally taxing, and “it’s not a good idea” for us all to go through with our original celebration plans.
Between travels, I’ve specifically made a stop in Los Angeles for the holidays so that he wouldn’t be alone for them — I have reverse abandonment issues. But two days before New Year’s Eve, we’re in a desperate embrace in the parking lot of a restaurant after he’s broken it to me that he can no longer do the grey zone dance with me.
“Didn’t you have in-love feelings these last times together?”
His face contorts in pain as he lies: “No.”
“Then why are you crying?” I’m calm. I can’t love a man who doesn’t love me.
“You have to compartmentalize.” I hate that word. People and feelings aren’t vials you tuck in an apothecary cabinet. Even if I tried, the vials would burst and bleed all over my life.
My heart hurts as I look into his eyes:
“What if we belong together?”
In response, he gets into his car and locks the door. I open a palm “goodbye” and walk away.
The New Year’s Eve dress I’ve chosen is floor-length and turquoise with an Egyptian neck. I inform my friends, one, the Exceptionally Tall Man and I are on the outs, two, I don’t know the address of the party he meant to take us, and three, instead I’d love to go watch a “psychedelic Spaghetti Western band” in Highland Park.
The three of them are lovely and agree.
I look forward to a peaceful evening with caring people, and I’m even on time. A good start. We settle in the cozy gig room around a table with our drinks. I’m probably burying a lot of sorrow, but more than anything, I’m grateful to be with these people. I tell them so. Just as I finish, someone walks up to me.
It takes me a few seconds to register it’s the Magic Man, the one who taught me how to brush away my obsessive thoughts, the one who told me to figure out my shit. I mentioned the band to him a few days before, but didn’t invite him, nor did I tell him him where I would be for New Year’s Eve.
“I’m happy you are — but why are you here?” I ask.
“Because I deleted all your information and knew it’s the only way I might find you.”
I’m breathing quickly and not quite able to process the situation, so I excuse myself to go order pizza from the other room, because food, protein, chewing, will ground me.
As I walk toward the bar to place the order, I notice the back of a very tall man.
No mistaking him.
My eyes widen and I do an immediate about face — I must warn that beautiful, vulnerable Magic Man who took such a chance. He needs to know my ex is here.
“So he cancels your New Year’s Eve plans together, but shows up to your new plans that don’t include him after he disinvited you from his own?” Exactly.
For all intents and purposes, I spend the evening with the Magic Man, and the Exceptionally Tall Man spends it with my friends, and some waitress in the next room. My ex and I do not exchange a single word or greeting, and I strategically remain in the back so he’s not forced to look at me with the Magic Man.
It’s all beyond awkward. And exciting.
The Magic Man has once again, inadvertently saved me. I dance with him. It’s divine. He tells me I handle stressful situations well. I shake my head in laughter — in mild hysterics, really.
Day 1536 (January of the fifth year)
I begin a text to the Exceptionally Tall Man:
I think about you constantly.
After a moment, I delete it without sending.
Instead I come here where I’ve always conducted my self-therapy. I put it all — pangs, longing, sadness, loss — in an apothecary drawer and seal it shut.
Then I get on a plane to Hawaii.