Some Fires Just Burn a Little Brighter

I’m a subscriber to love. I don’t believe there is one type, or a specific intensity. I don’t believe that young love is a myth. There’s a woman I fell for when I was fifteen years old that I still miss deeply and hope the best for. I do believe love can be foolish and reckless and selfish, especially when someone doesn’t have much experience with it, or with life. You can love young, and you should love when that feeling presses up against your heart and seeps into your lungs, but it doesn’t always mean it’s going to work out. Love is messy, and like tungsten carbide, it can be the strongest thing out there and still shatter with the right amount of pressure to the wrong spot.

You can probably guess where I’m going with this.

Seven years ago, I still fancied myself an actor. I love acting, to be honest, but though I have a small circle of friends who were always seated in the front row for my shows, I don’t think I was particularly good at it. Keep in mind I moved to Los Angeles a year later to try and actually do it for a living. It backfired spectacularly.

But this is before that. This is before I could enter an American bar. I got into acting late in high school. The first show I ever did was the Outsiders (Dallas Winston. My very first performance, I yelled out FUCK in front of the entire school when my gun got stuck in my coat pocket during my super emotional death scene), followed by Grease (Kenickie, because I’m a whore and a hickie from me is like a Hallmark card: when you care enough to give the very best).

I did some community shows afterwards, including playing a lead in a Halloween show about werewolves where I played a pastor (*cue laugh track*). That show was great. The uncut script was phenomenal, and though we had to trim it down for time, it still ended with my stage wife blowing me away with a rifle.

Strangely, I kept getting cast in musicals. I’m a terrible singer. I never did choir, I don’t sing in the shower. I don’t like my speaking voice, let alone my singing voice. Then there’s the dancing. I’m the clumsiest, least coordinated guy you could meet. Now I’ve got to master dance moves and sing and act and holy shit, how many scenes do I have in this thing? I was the Pirate King in a showing of Pirates of Penzance and though I look dashing in a goatee and a red coat, I felt like an asshole trying to co-lead that show.

Anyway. I did that Halloween show and she saw me perform, although I didn’t know that at the time. We would meet a few months later, during a musical (again) in which I had a mercifully minor role. The show was set in 1920s France and I was set in the most ridiculous costumes I’ve ever set eyes upon. We met for the first time during our first rehearsal. I think even then, there was a connection.

We talked. A lot. The girl I was dating at the time broke up with me over text, and I didn’t handle it very well. It hurt my feelings, and I was mopey. This beautiful actress, six years my senior (older women is my fetish. And younger women. And women my age, but at 20, hey, this older women thing was something new and different and flattering) did a lot to build my confidence back up. She made me feel handsome. She encouraged my writing. She made me feel talented, and through spending so much time talking to and being around me, she made me feel desirable during a time when I really held myself to being worth so little as to be a throwaway text.

The first night I went to her apartment wasn’t a graceful one for either of us. We had met up for food at the tavern about a block down from her place and she invited me back for drinks. Adele was playing from the CD player, Chasing Pavements, the first time I had heard the singer. Candles were lit. Glasses were pulled from the cabinets. We both had a little too much wine and, coupled with the pasta she had ordered earlier, the night ended with my holding her hair back while she let everything return from whence it had come. She was embarrassed, and she told me so then, and she told me so later. I wasn’t bothered. I held her until she fell asleep and then I made my way home.

I fell for her then, I think, in that moment. Not because she was puking. That’s not… I’m not into that. Maybe because she was vulnerable and she trusted me enough to hold her there. I remember her nestled against me, my arm hooked under black and full hair. I recall the light freckles on her olive skin and the way her chest rose in soft breaths, exhausted from what she had just been through with the food and drink.

We talked about it the next day and hung out soon after, and I think the fact the experience hadn’t turned me away or shaken the feelings I was having for her made an impression that lasted. Not long after, we began seeing each other in a fashion I guess I would best describe as being intensely passionate and equally torrid.

We couldn’t keep our hands off each other. Not during the show, not after the show wrapped. When we were around each other, the chemistry was unbelievable. Rarely have I looked so deeply into a woman’s eyes and found so much art and life waiting to rush back at me. I wrote poems for her. I wrote short stories. I’ve written about muses and love before, and I’ve left this woman out, I think in part because of how things ended, but she was a fire inside me for several months and she lingered in me for years after.

She made me a journal. The cover was custom designed, and the pages were sporadically filled with pictures of her, of us, of my favorite things. There was a picture of the Eiffel Tower from when we lay curled around each other, wistfully talking about running away to Paris together. I lost it a couple years later in a cab in Los Angeles. The thought still pisses me off.

She introduced me to the Woodshed, the karaoke bar that became a second home to me for many years, a place that has brought me some of my favorite stories and best friendships. She was the impetus for my throwing myself into a life of art, be it acting or writing. Jesus, I don’t know if I ever would have had the balls to actually move to Los Angeles if it hadn’t been for her, and though that move broke me in ways I don’t think I’ve ever fully recovered from, it still changed my life in a lot of great ways, too.

I felt confident with this woman. My creative synapses were like lightning around her. I’ve had very few physical relationships that were as full of intensity and aggression and expression as when she and I were together. Sexuality, emotion, inspiration ran together in a single, twisting, uproarious current.

Of course it didn’t last. In my experience, things like this rarely do.

See, here’s the rub: I fucking loved her, and I know she felt strongly about me, too. I don’t think it was love for her, and that’s fine. She wanted to be around me and with me, and often it was a companionship that vibrated with a whole different level of energy. But I was young. 20, 21. I liked to party, and party hard. I was dumb. I lacked the maturity that comes from tragedy and actual relationships and general life experience. She was in her mid-20s. She liked to party, too. She was deep in an art scene and fresh out of a relationship with her eyes on the world.

We were good. We were great. But there are other great people out there. And there are plenty of debilitating distractions.

We began to fight. I grew jealous. She was partying harder than ever, and I began to worry about her health. I expressed this by getting drunk and angry and yelling when she refused to listen to my concerns. I was a wreck. I was immature. She was merciless in her comebacks. It got bitter. We grew apart. We stopped seeing each other. We stopped talking to each other.

Years later, I had moved back to Alaska after two years of struggling to find myself in California and Washington. I was working at a jewelry store, a job I kind of really hated, and I wasn’t feeling too hot about myself either. A beautiful, familiar woman walked up to me while I was standing at the front of the store counting minutes. She said “Hey,” and flashed a smile. The smile, her smile,  the one I used to kiss hungrily, the one that left me weak in the knees, the one that made the words come quaking to my fingertips, begging to be unleashed upon the nearest parchment.

It was the smile I remembered looking up to from that fucking break-up text right before she told me things were going to be alright.

She apologized to me, saying she wasn’t in a great place back then. I told her she didn’t need to apologize, it was me that was in a bad place. We talked briefly. She’s married now. At the time, she had one kid. She has two now and is still happy, still in a good place.

I ran into her yesterday after watching the World Cup final. She was performing on stage, her voice as silky and lovely as I remembered. She came over to speak to me afterwards and we caught up. She dug up an old story I had written for her and e-mailed it to me. She seems happy, and I am so happy for her. She deserves it.

What’s funny to me is the timing. I don’t believe in fate. I’m not a believer in a divine plan. I do believe in chance, so maybe I just got lucky, but our paths crossed at a time in my life where I am hitting absolute rock bottom. I wake up in the morning feeling gutted, I’ve been bleeding money on bad decisions and intangible nonsense. Seeing her reminded me of some very positive things. A passionate love that, though tempered and tucked away in the art gallery of my heart, still remains. I was reminded of a woman I wanted to run away to France with, of a time when I saw the world in a woman’s eyes.

She found a good life, one full of art and passion and love and family. Maybe some day I’ll find something like that, too. She gave me one more gift, after all these years, after everything that’s happened: a little bit of hope.

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Red Lodge Part Three: The Town

The title of this post is a little inaccurate, as I also go over the rest of the house. After my last post, Tommy and I finished going through the upstairs drawers and closets. There were a few more letters, a few more pictures, but the big find of the day was a box containing hundreds of old pennies dating back as far as 1909. Maybe they’re worth something, maybe not, but we spent the bulk of the day separating them by year and mint mark. It… was not an easy task.

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Or rather,  it was easy enough but time-consuming. Tedious. It took several hours, but we finally did it, and we sorted them all into their own individual envelopes. The amount of glue I ingested sealing them probably wasn’t healthy, but those are concerns for tomorrow me.

The only spots remaining to look through were the basement and the brown shed outside. The basement had a lot of boxes, a lot of empty suitcases. There were some old records (mostly Christian music, but also Barbara Streissand) and old books, but I didn’t root around too much. There were spider-webs everywhere, with spiders who wove them. I instantly began feeling things crawling all over my skin, paranoia out to get me. And yeah, har har, grown man scared of spiders, but they have black widows (not Scarlett Johanssen) and shit out here and homie don’t play that.

I would have taken pictures, but I left my phone upstairs to charge at the time and I’m not keen on going back down. There are probably some hidden treasures in those boxes. I’ll never know. I did make out with one thing though:

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Because, duh.

The shed outside was also probably filled with spiders, but it seemed safer. The contents of the house were pretty straightforward, though: loads and loads of old magazines and newspapers. Loads of them.

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I wouldn’t be able to save it all, and I didn’t know where to even start. I left it pretty much alone.

And that was that! The house has been pretty well sifted through. I found some knick knacks to keep, some to give to friends. I realized there was a cuckoo clock missing. It was a broken thing you had to reset by hand by adjusting the chains that hung below it; I was hoping I’d still be able to remember how, but no luck there. I found more personal memories and looks into the past than I think I had prepared myself for. It’s been a good journey. It was time to take to town itself.

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There are a few roads that cut through Red Lodge but most are more for residential zones. There’s one that cuts through the back and has a school, and a pool, a hardware store and a general store. Those two pictures there are Main Street, looking both ways. Most of the gift shops, stores, restaurants and the like are along this road, and you can get pretty much anywhere you need to be by walking. Plenty of people drive, of course, who don’t want to (or can’t) walk, tourists coming in and out, people leaving for other cities for work or coming home. Even so, the traffic isn’t bad, and the exercise is welcomed. Still, if I get tired, there are always free horse-drawn carriage

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rides from 7PM-9PM.

Now, it’s still early in the year, so when I passed the pool by, it wasn’t in great shape. It hasn’t been opened yet, so the water is the kind of green you want your ninja turtles to be and not much else. The diving board had been removed, probably so the heaps of winter snow didn’t wreck it. I took a picture anyway.

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When I vacationed here as a kid, I spent as much time in this pool as I could. I love swimming, love it, and I got to hang out with kids my age and flirt with the teenage lifeguards and pick up a tan. I look good with a tan. I also haven’t been tan in probably twelve years, so you would never know it.

Anyway, pool closed, I thought I would wander around and see what else I could find. Like, for example, a theater playing one movie. Which movie? Do you really need to ask?

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I found an antique store with helmets from WWII, guns from all eras, Native American artifacts, brothel tokens, badges, misfired bullets from Custer’s last stand, and so many skulls.

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Did I mention the jackalope? There was a jackalope.

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I continued on to the library. As a kid, I was always in there, reading every volume of the Hardy Boys mysteries I could find and re-reading the Indian in the Cupboard books. Remember the bathroom I showed a picture of in the last article? I opened up the medicine cabinet and there was – no shit – a plastic cowboy and Indian in there. They never came to life. Magic is bullshit.

I’m not bitter.

I’m a little bitter.

But I was stoked all over again when I found the Candy Emporium. This candy shop is ridiculous. Not only does it have all kinds of traditional candy bars and chewy snacks like 100 Grand and Starbursts, they have dozens of buckets filled with all kinds of taffy and hard candies and fruit candies. Grab a bag. It’s $7.99 a pound. I spent $43 fucking dollars and I don’t even feel a little bad.

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Once I was loaded up on diabetes fuel, I decided it was far past time for an ice cream sundae. I’ve talked about this before, but directly above the candy shop was an old-school ice cream parlor filled with tons of old photographs and Coca-Cola merchandise, a lever-action cash register and a machine that dispensed Coke in glass bottles, something I had never seen in Alaska. My grandfather and I used to go there all the time. I go outside and look for the staircase next to the candy shop that would take me up.

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What…what the hell?! They closed?! And I had given myself a hankering for ice cream that now was plaguing me. I was deeply dismayed. I wanted to sit on the little stools again and buy Coke in a glass bottle just for the hell of it and take a picture of the cash register.

I kicked at the street and headed back home. There was a shop called Scoops that sold ice cream, so I decided to head in there.

There were booths and tables, but no stools. I saw the ice cream selection and got Cookies and Cream from the nice young lady working. Then I… I looked around a bit.

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They had stools after all! And Coke in glass bottles! And that cash register! It turned out they hadn’t closed, but simply relocated and a shock of childish glee coursed through me.

I took my candy home, and my ice cream, sat at the table for a while and listened to the thunder storm I had just missed being caught in (I love listening to the rolling thunder down here), and just relaxed. It was a good day.

After a while the weather calmed down. I started writing this. Now I’m on my way to take a young man up on a drinking contest at the bar. There will be live music and good times, and even though the sheriff side-eyed Tommy and me pretty hardcore our first night in there, it should be fine.

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I think I’m gonna buy me a t-shirt from this place, something I almost never do.

And finally, for putting up with my posts about little ol’ Red Lodge, a place with overwhelming family and personal history, here’s a red-breasted robin, singing spring/summer in and generally not giving a damn.

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Red Lodge Part One: Downstairs

Around 12AM today and for the first time in 14 or 15 years, my plane landed and I set foot on Montanan soil. I was in Billings, destined for Red Lodge, headed to my grandparents’ home, my grandfather’s childhood home, the house I would visit every summer for a month for several years.

Red Lodge is a small town about an hour, hour and a half outside of Billings. The road there is surrounded by collapsed and abandoned mines and fields full of cows. When the taxi service picked me up to drive me in, he almost hit a baby deer on our way in. It’s old country out here still. Not a lot of people, not a lot of noise. I like it.

The town has just over 2,000 people as permanent residents. It was founded in the late 1800s and had a riotous nature for many years due in large part to an excess of saloons and coal miners, and an uneasy truce with the Crow tribe of Native Americans. The first marshall had a nickname of “Liver-Eater”. It was that kind of place.

My grandfather was born in Red Lodge in December of 1921. That meant he lived through the Great Depression that devastated Red Lodge’s population by around two-thirds, miners packing up and leaving once their mines got shut down.

The population seems to have hovered around 2,000-3,000 ever since, and large chunks of the city remain in the past. Old houses, old furniture, old styles. It’s why I loved coming here as a kid. It was like traveling through time.

I got to the house around 4:30AM. Couldn’t sleep. Decided to walk around, grow familiar with this old building again.

Here’s the house from the outside, along with two sheds I’ve never been inside of, will probably never be inside of, and probably contain lots of cool, old stuff.

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That last picture is kind of awesome. The main door, the only one my uncle has a key for, pulls outwards. It’s  also got a big-ass tree growing in front of it. If anyone ever wants entry, they’ll have to cut the poor thing down and cut the padlock off of the double-doors next to it.

I entered the house and stepped into, uh, a closed veranda, would be the closest way to describe it.

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My uncle and aunt have already tossed or sold a bunch of stuff in the house. In the righr corner,  you can sort of make out some boxes that they’ve packed up. In the white cabinets, there wasn’t a whole lot left. I found a 10 cent novel installment from 1926 that was in excellent condition,  save for some tears at the creases, as well as a mint container from 1907 and holy shit? Prince Albert in a can? I get that joke now.

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I took my prizes (and my suitcase, natch) into the house, which opens up into the kitchen.

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Above the door in the second picture, you can see a little sign that says, “Welcome home, Dick and Jean”. They were married for 63 years.

On either side of the sign, you can see a black and white cow. My grandmother loved – specifically – black and white cows. Our house in Anchorage was lousy with them. Figurines. Plates. A cover for the lightswitch that always made me feel like I was flicking the poor animal in the udders.

There used to be a little table in this kitchen. We would always stock up on cereal. I had many a breakfasts here.

I turned to the right instead of going straight and walked into the dining room area.

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I never spent much time in this room, but my grandmother used to have people over sometimes and they would sit and chat for hours in here. The door you see in the top picture leads down to a basement. Since it’s probably dark and full of spiders (but also fossils), I’m thinking I’ll wait until Tommy gets here before trying to hear down. The little table next to the door used to have a rotary phone on it. My uncle must have tossed it once the phone service was disconnected. Too bad. I’m pretty sure some of my friends and readers have never seen one before.

The cabinet seen in the last photo has a bunch of old, old dolls and some china. My grandmother used to collect all sorts of things like that. I also found a newspaper from 1918, right near the end of World War I, talking about the war. In the bottom of one of the glass dishes, I found a pair of matching matchbooks, one with my grandfather’s name on it, the other with my grandmother’s. I left them there. It seemed the right thing to do.

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This is the living room. The lights are burnt out currently, but my phone apparently has an amazing camera. You can see the piano that has long since been used (but still works and is in tune). The desk next to it with the photos on it used to have a box television with rabbit ears. I sat on that musty looking orange couch and fought against the static to watch the Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in 1998. Could have been 1997, but I’m pretty sure I recall it being Jordan’s sixth championship.

Lastly, this room, which connects both to the living room and the kitchen.

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That is, indeed, a toilet with a curtain around it. I felt awkward using it as a child and feel awkward about it still as an adult. I’ll stick to the upstairs one.

You can see the bed and the bookcase behind it. That’s where I really found some interesting things. A lot of the stuff on the bookcases were meticulous record-keeping logs. It looked as if my grandfather’s mother may have been a teacher at some point. His father may have been in charge of a store. There is a shop list of how much of a product  (corn, shelled; flour; coal, etc.) was going to which resident at what weight and for how much. There is a log of which residents have how many inches of water to pan from in the river. If you like shows like Deadwood, it’s incredibly interesting stuff.

I also found about a hundred, maybe two hundred old photographs. I mean photographs from the 1890s-1940s. They were in pristine condition. Absolutely stunning, but I began to feel incredibly invasive. Some of these photos were of family members I’ve never known or heard of, whom I would never know or hear of. Others were of… okay, did you know that people would get pictures taken and then put on postcards to send? Because it looks like that’s exactly what happened. I’m not even sure that people were sending postcards of themselves. It’s the equivalent of you going to a store, finding a postcard with a picture of the guy who mows your yard and sending it to your sister in another state with a completely unrelated message on the back.

Then you get cool little peeks into the past like this:

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That last was printed on what feels to be a thin copper sheet. Incredible stuff.

And you know, that’s just the beginning. This town has a lot of little memories. There’s still half a house for me to cover, but this is a lot already. I’ll save the rest for a couple more entries. Hope you’ve enjoyed a little peek at my childhood and the history around it.

I Fell In Love

I fell in love when I was 15. She was my best friend’s sister and I had his blessing. I worked at a comic shop then and she would call for him from California, where she was living at the time. We would chat, five to fifteen minutes at a time, before I finally handed the phone over. She was the beautiful mystery, I was her brother’s confidante.

When she moved back to Alaska, she came in to see my friend. I had never seen her before, with her auburn hair and wide smile, and when she asked for my friend, I felt a pang of disappointment. He brought her back to the counter a minute later and formally introduced us. That love was instant.

She asked if I was going to a mutual friend’s birthday party.

“Are you going to be there?” I asked.
“Yeah.”
“Then I’m going to be there.”

The birthday party was filled with liquor and poker and I was decent at partaking in both, even as young as I was. She asked if I wanted to check out her car. My friend looked at me and walked away.

She was 19 and the second person I ever had sex with. The backseat of the car was tight and messy and I didn’t give a shit because I was fully invested in this older woman, this manifestation of whatever fantasy I had concocted from her voice alone.

She didn’t believe me at first when I told her how old I was. She was appalled for precisely thirty seconds the next day when she called her brother to confirm it, then asked what I was doing that night. This went on, on and off, for several years. I forwent Thanksgiving dinner with my family to spend it with her and hers. We were very close.

I’m not sure what happened.

She got married, had a little girl, got divorced. We fell out of touch. It’s been a year or two since we’ve spoken, but every time we see each other, that spark is still there. That warmth. I will always love her.

I fell in love when I was 18. I had just, inexplicably, won prom king. I escaped from the dance and ended up at a house party with the valedictorian and several other academics and theater-types. I had become immersed in the drama world, but that party scene was a lot different than I was used to. Where I just grabbed whatever liquor was available and slammed it, these cats were practicing advanced mixology via printed instructions. I dug it. It was different.

Side note: I own a picture of the valedictorian from the 2006 graduating class of my high school on bended knee presenting me, crown on head, with a bottle of Goldschläger. It’s glorious. You’ll have to take my word for it.

I connected with her, the girl, the woman. We had known each other for six years at that point but had never had any sort of romantic undercurrent to our relationship. That night was different.

We talked for hours. I gave her a back massage. The party persisted around us but we kept attention on each other. We never kissed. We didn’t have sex. We fell asleep together on the couch. When I woke, she was gone.

There wasn’t much school left but I resolved to ask her out. She got super busy with college applications and end-of-the-year testing. It came off to me as avoidance, which I confessed to a mutual friend. At a party a year or so after graduation, that friend brought it up to her. She reached out to me to let me know that, had I asked, she would have said yes.

We became very close in the years following graduation. She moved overseas, sang opera in Italian theaters, dated a girl who did mission work in Africa, made me a mixed CD with music to get me through tough times, complete with a couple tracks she sang herself.

She called me one night and asked for my advice. She had been seeing a guy and it became serious. She thought she might be in love and she was terrified at the prospect of deep commitment. What if it wasn’t real? What if he didn’t feel the same way? What if it didn’t work out? She wanted to run.

As much as I hated doing it, I convinced her that trying and (maybe) failing was better than never knowing. I think they may still be together. Maybe even engaged.

We saw Hitchcock in theaters together a couple years ago. Got dinner. She held my hand and told me she just wanted me to be happy. I almost cried. I will always love her.

I fell in love when I was 19. She worked at a burger joint in the same mall I worked in. “Jered with an e” is how she remembered me and daily lunches turned into the occasional party on the sly and late night texts. I moved from the comic shop to a bank job for a while. She came in, kissed me over the counter and texted me, “We should have sex soon.”

Well, alright.

After a failed, fumbling fool-around in the parking lot of a lake-centric park during which no less than the police politely asked me to get the fuck out, she wound up at my house. We fucked and later we made love. We slept deep and we slept late and then I bitched out later and became super distant. I loved her then as I love her now, but I was worried about what my friends would think about me dating a younger girl. So I…didn’t.

We kept in touch occasionally over the years. A month or so after my grandmother passed away, we had sushi and caught up. She spent the night at my place a week or so after and everything fell into place. For a few months, we had passion, we had love, we had laughter.

It was perfect, until it wasn’t. She grew distant. She got into an emotionally abusive relationship with a kid I went to school with who I hate unfathomably. Then my grandfather got sick. Love and romance aside, I needed someone to be there for me as a friend and she promised me she would be. She abandoned me completely.

It took me a long time to forgive her. We’ve spoken a few times since and briefly tried to be friends before I decided maybe it would be healthier just to remove her from my life completely. She’s dating someone now who makes her feel happier and complete in ways I never could. They do pottery and shit.

I will always love her.

I fell in love when I was 21. I had just moved to Los Angeles from Anchorage and I was broke and stressed. I got a job working at an electronic retailer, one of the big ones, and I was stationed in the front lanes (the checkout aisle). I met her there, a pretty girl with an infectious laugh. She looked exotic to me and we got along well. She invited me to Thanksgiving dinner with her family because she knew I was all alone in L.A.

I went and we had a grand time. She was Puerto Rican-Jewish and her mom, who spoke little English, called me Geraldo and invited me to temple with them. I went. I felt much more welcomed there than any other religious experience.

She and I dated a while. We were good for each other except when we were terrible for each other. She cheated on me early. I never trusted her fully afterwards. I was short-tempered and paranoid, worried about money and I drank too much. The sex was good, the long evenings where we held each other almost better. But man, we sniped at each other all the time. She kept things professional at work. In my youthful naivete, I took it as her not caring.

I decided to move to Alaska again for the summer to get my shit together. Lose weight, save money. We talked for a while. Things were good again. Three months in, she told me that she had decided we wouldn’t be getting back together. It was for the best. We weren’t meant to be. We were a toxic relationship.

It broke my heart. I will always love her.

I am no stranger to love. I’m not very good at it, though. I love love, but I’m scared of it. I’m scared of getting burned by it or worse, fucking it up myself. But I also miss that feeling and that companionship. I miss those memories, and the fingers interlocking and the hair that gets stuck in my mouth when I’m trying to kiss the back of her neck and the steady rise and fall as she’s sleeping and the way her feet are way too fucking cold, get them away.

It’s been a while since I’ve been in love and the last one didn’t end so well for me. But I miss it. And I love it. I love even the memories.