Read in Denver

There are crazy kinds of love. The lava-hot kind of love that steals breath and rubberizes knees. The kind that rushes in like a bullet train and turns common sense into metaphors (just like this). It’s the kind of love that can start at the sight of a sign in the middle of the sidewalk at nearly four in the morning.

You know, Auburn and Gabby’s kind of love.

Read in Denver is the story of small-town, increasingly introverted Auburn Parks, a moderately successful romance novelist who desperately wants to publish science-fiction. It’s the story of Gabriella Baker, an energetic but private artist strick through with wanderlust, searching for her place in the world by taking life day by day. This is the story of two hearts colliding, two minds exciting, that crazy kind of love.

And everything that goes with it.”

About a year ago, I got the idea for Read in Denver while writing an emotional farewell letter to someone I cared deeply about. Around ten months ago, unable to shake it, I set aside the science fiction novel I was working on and set about trying my hand at my first-ever long form love story. I wouldn’t call it a romance, though there are romantic details. It’s more simply just a story about art and love and messiness.

I’ve said to people before that this the most honest piece of fiction I’ve ever put to paper, and so it was difficult for me to push through and finish it. I invested a lot of real things that were said or done, overheard and felt, injecting a fictional narrative with what I hope comes across as authenticity.

I messed with narrative structure. I inserted a couple odd touches and made sure to play with callbacks and mirrors. I put together a soundtrack with and few suggestions but no real directions on how and when to listen to it.

In the end, I’m not sure what I got. Less a book, perhaps, and more an experience. Hopefully a good one.

You can find it for the Nook here: Read in Denver

You can find it for the Kindle here: Read in Denver
Or you can order paperback copies here: Read in Denver
If you decide to take a chance on the book, I genuinely hope you enjoy it. If you enjoy it, I hope you share it with your loved ones. Cheers.

Read in Denver Disclaimer

​I’ve been working on a love story. Inevitable, I suppose, because I’m really good at falling into it. It’s also an eensy bit ridiculous, because once I fall, I never really know what to do. Since the book’s release is only a few weeks out, and since it has (so far) been met with a ton of support and enthusiasm, I thought you might at least like to know where my fourth novel came from.

First, as I said, this is a story about love but it isn’t a PG one. There is swearing and awkwardness and the occasional sex because love is messy and intimate and frustrating. If you can’t handle the word “fuck”, this book won’t be for you.

Secondly, I’ve said that this love story, this book I’ve never planned on writing, is probably the most honest piece of fiction I’ve ever written. The idea came after I met someone that I thought, given the right time, place or circumstances, had all the potential in the world to be The One. Maybe not. I’m crazy and get attached way too easily and too intensely, but for a while, things were easy in a way I didn’t know they could be and I felt ways about myself that I had long forgotten I could feel.

It didn’t last, of course. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, unless Timing and Distance want to swing by and have a word. She and I are still friends, but we’re distant now, texting each other every once in a while instead of calling each other twice a day.

I wrote a letter that was supposed to act as closure. I have a hard time processing emotions, especially negative ones, and I tend to try and cut things off completely when I think I’m going to hit a dark place. The letter was a positive one. It was all my thoughts and feelings about this woman, about how grateful I was to have met her, and how much she had given back to me. How I would always be around, and that if I ever wrote of her, it would always be fondly. It was a letter I wanted to surprise her with. Tucked into a book for her to find on the plane, with the envelope labeled so that she would wait to read it once she had reached her destination.

And I thought, “Read in Denver”? That would make for a fucking GREAT title, and my mind ran with it and sort of developed this largely unrelated fictional outline.

That woman and I spent one last night together. I don’t want to say it was passionless; we stayed prim and proper but we were both overflowing with emotion. There was red velvet wine. Green apple sake. I had tried to make it a romantic thing, this last meeting between us, or at least something that would be remembered. Something that counted.

I didn’t get to sneak that letter into a book. It was Christmas, her visit, and she had become full up with gifts and purchases. So I pulled that letter out and I read it to her in person. She slid over into my arms while I did, and she fell asleep with her head on my chest and a smile on her face.

We got separated in the night, and I got pretty drunk on what was left of the sake, and I sat and I thought and I hurt and I watched the rise and fall of her chest and I knew that I would never forget it once she had walked out of my front door for the last time. In the morning we shared one last, long embrace and one last, final kiss.

I set about to write a book. Not for her. Not about her. Absolutely because of her, because of the things I felt about her, the things she made me feel about myself, and the way she reminded me how much I wanted to write.

But I found as I was writing it that she wasn’t the only person to inspire the novel. There’s a woman I counted as a muse, who was my best friend for two years and, when I had a bipolar breakdown, who dropped me from her life 200% and hasn’t spoken to me since. But she inspired me more than anyone. She was my best friend. And she said one of the most devastating things anyone has ever said to me, and that I ABSOLUTELY had to find a way to include: “You’re in love with love; you’re not in love with me.”

There’s also an artist from the south, another muse, an astonishing painter I met on Twitter who – in correspondence since – just struck all the right chords and followed all the same roads when it came to how I view love and life and art. She is a huge influence on Gabriella’s character.

In the end, Read in Denver is fictional. The characters are fictional. The plot is fictional. But there are things that are said, and scenes that happen, and relationships that exist that were said, and did happen, and do exist. Just about every character in the book has a soul formed from the existence of a real person. All these things mean the world to me, and if I’m going to write a story about love, I think it needs to be born out of the varying loves that I feel and have felt.

Will that mixture work? Is the book going to be earnest and genuine or will it come off overeager, sappy and forced? I have no idea. Maybe I’m a shitty writer with lofty ideas.

But don’t think of this book as any measure of autobiographical (it couldn’t possibly be fucking further than that), and don’t try to guess which parts are born of reality and which are from my weird brain. Just take it, please, as the story it is, and know 100% of it is born from the heart.

Read in Denver will (hopefully, fingers crossed, knock on wood) be on sale for the Kindle and Nook on August 15, 2016.

Rainy Day Romance

I like making love on rainy days
When we fog the windows and
We fill the rooms and
I don’t have to beg you to stay
Those gray afternoons that filter through
The love letters traced in the
Beads of sweat across your skin
A pale blue hue stretched languid ‘cross us
While we talk ways to start again
I like faintly brushing errant strands
Of hair behind your ear
I like the ways your legs embrace
Me and coyly draw me near

I miss those long and patient minutes
Just before you began to stir
I long for love on rainy days and
For the lovely way things were

image

New Year, Old Habits

A year ago, I was writing about being celibate and ringing in the new year sober. I saw a wide range of reactions as 2014 drew to a close, including romance, ambivalence and desperation. I watched, alone, as people clutched to their loves and lovers, as others desperately turned in circles trying to find a physical connection as the clock wound down, as others contententedly gulped their drinks, finishing off the year with the same liquid courage that got them through most of it.

A month later, I wrote at length about my views on sex and sexuality, on promiscuity, on having fun on a physical  level. It was a post that carried over from New Year’s Day, one that touched back on the reasons I stopped sleeping around and why I was cutting back on drinking: because as much fun as casual sex was and is, I’m starting to reach an age where finding a genuine connection was more important to me. I even tried – briefly and hardly enthusiastically – trying online dating. It didn’t really pan out.

I went through the most of the year is this perpetual state of “lonely but determined” up through May. When I went to Montana to visit my grandparent’s old home and began clearing through their old things and began reliving old memories, it began to trigger a manic break. Which of course meant it was perfect timing to come back and use that break to help ruin a relationship and friendship with someone I trusted implicitly and had been close with the better part of two years.

And if 2014 taught me that I was finding solace in sex in an emotionally unhealthy way, I guess 2015 taught me I’m just emotionally unhealthy in general. I feel things in extremes and I’ve barely managed to figure out a way to manage it. I can actively choose not to engage with someone! That’s the fucking easy part. I can walk away from anyone and just not give a shit about the conversation. Or the friendship, really. I’m close with a very select few people that have really weathered a lot of intense periods of my life, things that most people would or even have run away from.

Even when it comes to sex, though I’d say 95% of the women I’ve been with I’ve cared about, that affection is usually limited to a friendly minimum. Don’t get me wrong: I would bend over backwards and do tricks and do anything for any friend that needed something or someone. I do my best to be strong for someone when they can’t be strong for themselves. And sometimes that means a physical connection. And sometimes a physical connection is just born of it. But for the most part, as much as I care and/or worry about them, however the sex turns out, I can still just write it off as one of those nights. You know? Maybe not. I mean, it’s an intimate act. More intimate than pretty much anything. But there’s an understanding going in that the act is limited to physicality involving two people who trust each other but don’t necessarily need to rely on each other. There’s no need for real attachment.

And that’s good for me, I thought, because when I find someone I want to attach myself to, it typically goes poorly, for any number of reasons. In 2015, I ended my whole “save yourself, find a healthy connection” at a time when I was – albeit mostly unaware – at my unhealthiest. I was in the middle of a manic break. It ruined that friendship and it left me hurt and feeling damaged and pathetic. And there were deeper, unrelated, more intensive and intimate reasons for all of that, but I still felt low.

So I got into my head that I just genuinely cannot make a relationship work. I’m not good enough to take a chance on or not to cheat on or to take seriously. And if I am good enough for those things, I find a way to screw it up somewhere down the line just by being myself. That wouldn’t be a problem if I just didn’t give a shit, but I do.

Here’s the thing: I can detach myself from people. I can avoid investing large chunks of myself in people. But it isn’t because I want to, it’s because I’m used to being used and being left and being hurt, and I’m used to being disappointing and to letting people down and to hurting others unintentionally. I always try to keep a shoulder open to lean on and an ear to talk to, but there are days when I can hardly keep myself going, much less anyone else.

I am a hard person to be a close friend to, and I’m even harder to be in a relationship with. I’m a lot of work and that embarrasses me, especially in light of what I learned about myself. So I shut a good part of myself away and keep it out of harm’s distance from people, and I thought that was a good idea. And when I start catching feelings for someone, I tend to just ignore it or turn away from it, and let it pass me by.

And when I don’t ignore it, I’m fucked. Because everything I’ve refused to let myself fear gives way to hope and love and an enjoyment of affection and romance and feeling valued, and I let myself feel it so intensely because I feel it so rarely. I soak up every bit of it because I never know how long it will last and I put stock in every. Single. Second of it.

It bleeds into every aspect of things. The sex is more passionate, the dates more romantic, my writing is better, my patience is higher. And because I’m a writer and because I’m in love with love, I make huge, sweeping gestures. I don’t give a little. I give it all. I pour my heart all over the table and let it spill onto the floor.

And when it doesn’t work out, I’m crushed. All those old insecurities come back to gnaw on my tired bones. And if I’m the one responsible, I hate myself as passionately as I’ve loved the other person. And if there is a goodbye, it has to be another sweeping gesture. As memorable and (hopefully) positive and (hopefully) passionate a moment as any other during the relationship. I have to get all of my feeeelings and wooorrrds out there because there will never be another chance, and if she thinks of me, I want her to think of those good moments and those last thoughts because the same things will fucking haunt my entire life.

Of course, it never works out that way. I have plans and I imagine conversations, the final things I want to say, the way a conversation or encounter may pan out. That’s delusional. I am literally mentally ill.

And the funny thing about it all, if there is something that can be quantified as funny, is that when it comes to the things I’m passionate about outside of writing – love, romance, sex, intimacy – I am completely ineffective as a writer. When I’m disengaged, I can speak smoothly, act confidently. I can charm. When I’m really interested, when I’m nervous, when I’m in love, I overthink everything. I run something over in my mind so many times that whatever I actually say or write is usually a mangled mess of the original intent and comes out as something horrible and easily misinterpreted. I am easily overwhelmed and become tremendously overwhelming.

I sat in a bar last night packed with happy revelers, cavorting about, kissing and touching each other. A former passionate love of mine (one of the handful that I didn’t screw up) was around. We were able to have a conversation in person for the first time in three years. I saw new relationships and new passion around me. I sat, alone again, with a glowing blue tiara I stole from a different bar crowned upon my brow. I didn’t feel like drinking but someone was buying shots and I don’t like to turn down free things and that always leads to trouble quickly.

And I’m sitting. And I’m thinking. And I’m lonely. And I’m stressing. What did I do? Did I say something wrong? Why couldn’t I just have let everything ride? Why do I always fucking feel so much? Why can’t I stop wishing for more? And I’m drinking. And it’s 2016.

I don’t start my new year on the first of January. I start my new year on my birthday. Those are my years of life in which to consider the things I’ve accomplished during 12 more months of being here. But January 1st is at least an event that reminds me I have five more months before my year is over.

In those five months, I need to seriously begin to evaluate my emotions and reactions and try to find a healthy method of regulating them. I don’t know how to do that. I have a hard time asking for help. But I’ll figure it out. Right? Of course I will.

I’m always okay, even when I’m not.

The Bedroom Is a Powerful Place

A powerful place is the bedroom.

There is a space where your most valued possessions lie; the things you can’t forget in the morning and want to remember before shutting your eyes for the final time that day. It’s a place of comfort. A place where you can shed your clothes and any masks you may have used to brave the world through morning and afternoon.

The bedroom is where the rest of the world ends and you convalesce. Where you can get the silence you’ve wanted all day. Where you can scream at the walls and blast music that shakes the window looking out to the patch of yard you share with the neighbor you never talk to. Or it’s a place soft notes coax the tears that have been fighting their way out for hours, letting them free, finally, to find a home in the pillowcase softly caressing your cheek.

The bedroom was a place one could feel vulnerable or powerful or free. There was a release in a bedroom. There was an intimacy there.

He was all too familiar with intimacy, release, and soft caresses. He was all too familiar with bedrooms.

And vulnerability.

He traced the rim of the shot glass with his index finger and stared into the amber liquid within. It didn’t reflect as well as he, and he saw nothing in it but the worn wood of the bar beneath it. He was a man so familiar with cold that he had fallen in love with the fire for the way it danced in his chest and made him feel… something. Finally. When it wasnt women, it was whiskey. There hadn’t been a woman in a while.

But he thought of them, often, every one. He thought about how each person he had taken to bed had taught him something about himself he never would have discovered otherwise. Most of those things were good. Not all of them, but most.

Despite all odds, he recalled vividly the drunken nights of stumbling down stairs, one arm wrapped around a woman, their hands running over clothes, craving intimacy and too impatient to wait for the articles to be discarded. A careless hand pushes into a pocket, the apartment key is dropped, picked up, fumbled around the lock until it finds purchase. The door falls open and the lovers fall in and the door slams closed and the lovers bob and weave to the bedroom. Shirts are tossed, pants are kicked away. A sock or two might stay on and the next morning they would both thing too much about it and roll their eyes.

The sex would be frantic and desperate, both eager to please and eager to feel something. Both primed to be vulnerable and be wanted in the midst of it. There were nights when it meant nothing but sharing a moment with someone who needed him as much as he needed them, and that was okay.

That was okay. And it was nice. And it was soft pecks in the morning and an agreement to get lunch soon and six months of sporadic texts and an occasional short, happy conversation when they ran into each other in a restaurant or a bar.

Comfort.
Companionship.
Release.
Acceptance.

Sometimes it worked better than others. There were always other things in play. The mind is distracted. The body doesn’t cooperate. Both participants had their distinct ways to communicate. Even when it meant nothing in the grander scheme, it was an intimate arrangement, an exposure of body and interest, a reveal of arousal and preferences. But it was temporary, an act of validation, an acknowledgement that one could be desired in this world, that one could cause pleasure or serve as an escape from worse things.

It doesn’t always work like that, does it?

He recalls a woman he had had his eye on for some years. A chance meeting. The first kiss. Rhythmic sex interrupted by a call into work and texts that promised repeats of a performance she “couldn’t stop thinking about”. But he had provided nothing special and there was no second encounter and she began dating someone a scant few weeks later. She was married now, years after, and happy.

He recalled a passionate affair. Neither of them could keep their hands off of each other the minute the door snapped shut. There was a desperate craving, a need to be wrapped around each other an irresistible urge to be as close as possible. They were flint and tinder and together created a wildfire.

That wasn’t how it started. It started in a quiet bedroom lit by a tiny lamp in the corner. It started with sitting next to each other and asking if each little touch was alright, assuring each other that nothing was crossing the line. Innocence was found among the guilty and it released a flood upon good judgment.

He remembered being on the phone with his brother when a t-shirt fell into his lap. He remembered looking up to see a naked back retreating to the bedroom. There wasn’t even a cheeky glance back. There didn’t need to be; that call had ended with a quickness.

He remembered an ex-lover that he had reconnected with while mourning the loss of his mother. They had a need for each other that transcended the physical, and they felt comfort in being weak with each other, and they took turns keeping their souls in, holding each other when the world threatened to break them down to ash.

That relationship hadn’t ended well, but it had ended with as much raw emotion as had breathed life into it.

There was a woman who was everything right and everything wrong for him all at once. When they clicked, the world was wide open. They loved each other and took every moment in every place to express it. The sex came easily, naturally, two parts to a whole. They knew what the other wanted and gave it and afterwards collapsed together contentedly.

And when they argued, they were brutal and scathing and cut to the core. They wept for each other, for the mislaid lines and frayed edges. They were perfect and terrible.

He remembered a woman he never expected to love. He remembered the first night together and the panic attack he had because he was so terrified to let her down, and how she patiently worked him through it. He remembered laying next to her, on their sides, looking at each other and forgetting there were lives outside of the sheets he had bought just to impress her. He remembered hours spent, naked, beside her, both reading, both touching enough to reassure reassure the other that they were still there.

He remembered desperately clinging to her because he knew she would slip away. And with a long, lingering kiss, she did. He found her hair on his pillow the next morning. He could trace his hands over the silhouette her body haunted his bed with. Of all of them, he thought he might miss her the most, for her patience, for her passion.

He traced that goddamn shot glass with his finger. He searched for answers in the liquor he knew would light his belly. He longed for connection and recalled fondly every one, every drunk, desperate, passionate, awkward, loving, awful, perfect one.

The bedroom is a powerful place.

My Own Worst Enemy

I have a pretty liberal view on sex. I’ve believed for a long time that as long as you’re being safe and consensual, have it with whoever, or however many whoevers. Sex is fun, and the beautiful thing about people is that they’re all different, and finding what each person likes is a delight.

Since high school, sex has come easy to me (no pun intended). It’s a lot easier to find someone you’re attracted to and vice-versa and agree to something that doesn’t have any strings attached. Ninety percent of the time, we even stay friends afterwards.

What doesn’t come easy to me is a connection. It’s been five years since I’ve been in a committed relationship and the handful of times since that I’ve felt like I’ve found someone worth making that leap for, it’s gone horribly wrong.

I say often that it isn’t easy for me to trust people, and that’s true. I’ve been hurt so many times that I can’t muster the energy to confide in someone I don’t think will give a shit or someone I think will hurt me somehow or use what I tell them against me. I don’t feel that connection with many people. I don’t see myself being with many people. I can see hook-ups and flings, sure, but it isn’t common that I find someone who takes my full attention.

Maybe that’s why, when I do, I fall so fucking hard and fast. When I trust, I trust completely because I’m bursting at the seams to find someone who is patient with my anxiety and my mood swings, who lets me be vulnerable without judging me, someone who believes in me. I don’t find many people who really believe in me. My last relationship, five years ago? She told me she didn’t ever see me being anybody important. We dated a while after that, too, because I’m a fucking idiot.

“I was never insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched,” said Poe, and persistent other mental issues aside, I find myself in a similar recurring predicament. I blind myself to hints and red flags and I hold out hope that things will work out, that things can be worked out, that the connection I feel is as strong for them as it is for me. That I’m worth working for. I do this, this planning too far ahead, this ignoring the signs, this fantasy wish-fulfillment, I do this until I’ve backed myself into a corner where I can do nothing but be hurt.

And I can’t be mad, except maybe at myself. No one has done anything wrong, except maybe me for clinging at threads that no longer even connect to the dress. But I can’t sit here and hate myself. I’ve done that before, for a long time, and it doesn’t do much in the way of making things better.

I can only be sad. I can only be upset, and brother, that’s a lot harder to get over.

See, my life is finally getting into shape. I’m setting money aside. I’m putting book submissions in and entering contests. I’m writing… or trying to, anyway. People still seem to like my first three books. But I still blame myself for not being good enough. I’m not handsome or charming enough. The sex wasn’t what it should have been. I’m not smart enough or in good enough shape. My life isn’t together enough. Ultimately, I’m not good enough to believe in or to work towards or to have faith in.

There’s a little spot in the back of my brain that reminds me some things just aren’t meant to be, that getting out of Alaska means a fresh start, be patient, you are good enough. But I’m always going to blame myself, because I always have. That is what feels right and logical to me: that I’m just a fuck-up with pipe dreams.

I’m tired of sleeping around. I’ve traveled that road. I’ve done a lot of it, more than the awkward, outcast, bullied kid I was in high school thought he would. It was fun, and I don’t regret it. But I’m tired of it. I want to find someone I can be myself with. I want to find someone I feel safe with. I want to find someone who tells me I’m not fucking crazy for wanting to be an author.

“Write hard and clear about what hurts,” Hemingway said.

You know what hurts? I do. All the goddamn motherfucking time.

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.

A Hard Way to Gain a Good Friend

I don’t know what to write about, and it’s been over a week, so let me tell you about a woman. She’s one of those women, the proverbial “ones who got away”, though I would never describe her as such in any degree of seriousness. To do so would border on objectifying her as something I possessed and then didn’t, or it would diminish the fact that she was simply strong enough to walk away from a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere for her.

It was good for a while, though. We met on or around Halloween back in 2011. Everyone was dressed in costumes except for me – I’m terrible at dressing up and have been for several years. The last costume I had was Halloween of ’08, I think, and it consisted of my graduation gown and a blue luchador mask and when people asked what I was, I just screamed “HALLOWEEEEN” and drank more jungle juice.

On this Halloween, the night began pretty inauspiciously. I joined a group of friends who were seated around a couple of tables on the floor directly in front of the karaoke stage. The bar was dead, and we just had a few rounds and good conversation before ultimately bar-hopping to some place more lively.

I met her through a friend and was immediately taken by her. She wasn’t shy, initiating the conversation and driving it in whichever direction she wanted, finding out the things she wanted to know. She had a beautiful smile that settled into a self-assured smirk. She wore it comfortably and regularly and I found myself looking forward to it. I found myself looking forward to a lot of things. Her scathing wit. The way her eyes would widen and her mouth would pop into an open-mouthed grin whenever a truly offensive joke shot her way.

This woman was and is deeply intelligent. She was a fan of reading (she purchased my first book, even, which I had just put out a year before) and romance and humor. She was studying to be a nurse, because she likes to help others and because she wasn’t intimidated by anything, much less the notoriously difficult medical profession.

The first time I tried to kiss her, she turned me away. “I don’t kiss in bars,” she said. “That’s my rule.” She stuck by it, too, making me earn it. When she finally allowed me the kiss, it made my entire month.

We dated for a while. It was nice. It was fun. She supported me but challenged me. She knew precisely how smart I was (or wasn’t) and held me to that standard. She called me out on shitty jokes and laughed at the ones that…well, they probably weren’t great either, but if she liked it, she let me know, too. I bought her earrings. I introduced her to my friends, and even the skeptical ones loved her.

Honestly, she was probably the best woman for me. Certainly better than anyone I deserved. Of course I would fuck it up.

I was still hung up on an ex from a relationship that was far too poisonous to have been hung up on anyway, and I was still pretty loathing of myself and what I saw as failed dreams. I wasn’t ready for a relationship. I was monogamous but not committed. I introduced her as a friend, but got jealous like a boyfriend and by the time I was ready to go all-in, she had had enough of my shenanigans and decided we should just be friends.

Maybe I could have fought a little harder for it after that, but she didn’t need that from me. She deserved better and she found better. She graduated and works as a nurse now, and she’s every bit the intelligent, hilarious, amazing woman she has always been.

We would run into each other from time to time after we “broke up”, and we’d catch up on life. At one point she was single again and asked if I’d go in to a place with her to make her ex jealous. I thought to myself that there might be an opportunity for me to maybe rekindle something between us. Instead, the ploy worked a little too well, and her ex decided to give the relationship another shot. They’ve been together since, and she’s happy. I was disappointed for myself but happy for her. Like I said, she found someone better for her and better to her.

She remains a good friend of mine, one whose humor still makes me smile and whose intelligence still challenges and inspires me to live to my potential. Whatever that might be. She has been sympathetic and empathetic and patient, and I value that more than anything.

I’m not one for fate or destiny or divine design, but if I were the type to believe some things happen for a reason, it’s only fair to also believe that some things don’t happen for a reason, too. If that’s the case, I still came out pretty fortunate here.

Yellow

She wore dandelions in her hair. I told her, “You know, people eat that” and she spent ten minutes explaining how unhealthy it is to chew on hair before she realized I was talking about the weed instead. She had a cute little button nose that she scrunched up then, and she asked, “Why would anyone eat dandelions?” and I asked, “Why would anyone eat snails?” right back. She didn’t answer. She liked escargot.

I asked her once, a month or two later, why she chose dandelions. It was always dandelions. She said it was a personal preference, just because they were everywhere and nobody was doing anything with them but complaining. Girls wanted posies and lilies and daffodils. Well, she liked yellow and sunflowers were too big, so dandelions it was.

“It’s a weed,” I told her. “It’s bad for gardens.”

“We’re bad for the planet,” she said, and though I wasn’t a hippie (and she wasn’t exactly, either), I couldn’t disagree.

She liked things that were a little different, a little off the beaten path. She didn’t mind flinging a little mud around when we tramped through the woods and found a dying riverbed. She always ordered a hot chocolate at the coffee shop and pushed down all of the little plastic tabs on her soda lids except the kind she was drinking, which is the exact opposite of what is supposed to be done (and which is exactly what nobody does anyway).

She liked long walks and longer drives down trails and roads where the trees lined up like soldiers and the businesses, if there were any, were all locally owned. She liked to hear the birds sing and she wondered out loud to me once if birds named their children like humans did, and if those names were sometimes just as stupid as ours.

She liked me. She liked sitting next to me on the couch, sitting upright in a fetal position, knees tucked up against her chest, her back against my chest, a bowl of popcorn in my lap that she used to reach back and grab from and spill from, and she would tell me not to worry, the Roomba would get it, and we’d both laugh because we didn’t own a Roomba and we never would. Call it a misplaced fear of robots if you want, but we valued our feet and refused to let them be the first casualties when the uprising began.

She liked watching those horror movies that are a special kind of bad, full of schlock and dialogue so cardboard an action figure should have come packaged with it. We would pick a character just to see how long “we” survived and whoever lasted the longest had to do the dishes. She was good. I lost a lot.

She liked me and I liked her and we had a good thing for two winters and two summers. We met in the snowpants section of a chain store and I muttered something disparaging about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and she piped up an agreement, and we went out for coffee. Well, I got a coffee. She got a hot chocolate.

We curled up in front of a space heater and pretended it was a fireplace until the next winter when I moved into a bigger place with a real fireplace. She insisted I cut my own wood. I bought wood and pantomimed and she rolled her eyes, but she liked that, too.

She never got mad. I did. Never at her, but I could get mad. I could get moody and lethargic and sullen. She would go on her walk and I’d stay and I’d sleep and I’d wait and when she came back, I would smile a wistful little smile because it was all I could muster, but I loved her and she deserved something from me.

I could hold grudges. I was really good at losing. Losing friends, losing jobs, losing arguments, and I would be resentful because I felt there was something else I could do, some words I could have said that would have changed everything. Did I hold grudges against them or myself? I couldn’t be sure. She would ask me to let it go and I’d nod and I’d smile and I would hug her and stare at the wall behind her, a pit in my stomach turning over.

She loved to travel, to meet new people, to taste new foods. She liked culture and history, and the way the cars were small in France and the “medusa” warnings on Spanish beaches when the jellyfish clusters grew large.

I used to like that, too, but I grew tired and restless and grumpy and conflicted, and it’s difficult to plan an itinerary around a mood swing like that.

We liked to talk to each other. It was easy, too easy, too funny, too real. It was easy for two winters and two summers, from inside our snowpants in that first café to inside my arms that last night in bed. But that third winter started around and I couldn’t be happy for her, and it wasn’t as easy to talk about it, and I didn’t want to bring her energy down. I shut her out, and she didn’t like that. I didn’t either. It wasn’t a game for two, anymore, but the sky trying to carry on with a wall, and the door that led through it stayed locked.

I came home one day, close to spring, the snow melting on the sidewalk and me slipping through it because the sneakers I bought had no treads on the bottom for traction. There had been signs for weeks. I knew that. I had seen them and looked through them and practiced smiling in the mirror.

I saw this sign, though, the purple pair of lips pressed against the outside wall of my apartment, just next to the door. The door would have been easier to hold it. I don’t know why she chose the wall or how hard she would have had to press her lips into the scratchy wood to keep the prints there. I hoped she hadn’t hurt her lips.

There was no note inside. Her stuff wasn’t there, either. She cleaned before she left, though. Did the dishes even though my character had died first in the last film we watched and did my clothes, because…because she was sweet, and she liked me once.

She left one thing behind, though. I found a dandelion on the kitchen counter, next to the stove we took turns cooking each other breakfast on. I don’t know where she found a fresh dandelion. I just know she liked to wear them in her hair.

Kisses Have Pictures Beat

I was on my way home, riding in the back of a cab and staring out the window at the downtown lights in the darkness of night. I don’t know why, but my mind found itself thinking about the last woman I truly opened myself up to, the one that, two years ago, destroyed any notion of trust I had and brought me to my lowest point during one of the most tragic periods of my life.

I don’t know why I thought about her. She broke a promise to be there when my grandfather passed away. She didn’t so much as send me a text when I was dying in the hospital, nor after. We tried to be civil for a while. I reached a point where I decided, after six years of friendship and love, I couldn’t – rather, shouldn’t – have her in my life anymore. When I cut my ties without a word, silence was my response. Well and truly done, then.

You know what I think it was? A couple weeks ago, I saw her at the bar. She was with friends and she was drunk. We walked past each other and someone jostled me on my right just as she put her left foot forward. Our elbows bumped into each other. I flinched. She didn’t. She kept going forward, never noticing me. I kept going forward, quietly relieved.

In the back of the cab, I went from thinking about the shitty parts to the last time it was good. Before she lied, before she left. We had rented a hotel room just for something different
We had sex. It was good, but it was always good with us. Afterwards, we turned the television on but kept the volume low. We lay there, curled around each other, talking for hours about everything and nothing.

She got up before I did the next morning, ready for work. I blinked awake and called her over. I sat on the edge of the bed, arms around her waist, and we kissed. Passionately. Desperately.

I knew it was the last kiss between us that would ever mean anything. It was a farewell and I felt my heart breaking as the door closed, though it wouldn’t be complete for a few months further.

People like to talk about their first kiss. Their first kiss ever, as if more often than not it wasn’t a bumbling, awkward thing. But that very first kiss isn’t the only special one. It isn’t the only one with a story. Often times, it’s hardly even the best story.

I have kissed a lot of women, and I’ve kissed many more times. I haven’t always remembered them. It hasn’t always been women I liked. There have been instances when alcohol or grief or anger has driven me into the arms of a woman who would receive me.

One time I spent an entire evening trying to hit on a girl and when it didn’t go anywhere, I kissed her friend – who I had known for years and worked with – at last call. And while I was attracted to the second woman as well, that was still a really shitty thing to do.

First kisses are weird. They can be bad. They can be great. They can be awkward.

Not too long ago, I finally got to take a woman out on a date that I had fancied for quite a while. We spent eight hours together. Dinner, movies, drinks, karaoke, back to my place to relax. We kissed for the first time and despite how many hundreds of times I’ve kissed someone before, this time I had no idea what to do with my hands. The kissing itself was fine, enjoyable and Lord, she was beautiful, and maybe it was because I liked her so much and I psyched myself up, but as she pulled away from my house, all I could think was that I had fucked it up.

We’re just friends, still, if you were wondering.

The first kiss is something special. Not just the first kiss ever, but the first kiss with each person. The first time you and someone else decide maybe there’s enough chemistry to lock lips. It’s different with everyone.

I had a first kiss with a woman in Texas while Katrina raged around us and Black Sabbath played on stage and that’s the most metal fucking thing that’s ever happened to me. She and I still disagree about a lot of things (mainly my attitude), but I still hold so much fondness for her as a woman, an artist, a musician, and an animal enthusiast.

I had a first kiss with a woman in a Bed, Bath and Beyond. Who the fuck knows why? We weren’t dating long. I liked her a lot, but our relationship was full of whimsy and randomness and so we were surrounded by towels and mattresses and we kissed and it wasn’t spectacular. No fireworks went off. No parade marched through. But it was cute, and it was our kiss, and we’re still close. We had Easter dinner together this year.

My first “girlfriend” was when I was in 4th grade. She was two years older, a black girl, and while I didn’t and still don’t give a shit about interracial relationships, there were some boys in her grade that felt a white guy shouldn’t be hanging around and I got my ass kicked a handful of times for it. Which didn’t stop me for a second because I have more balls than brains sometimes.

We played Spin the Bottle, she and I, and some other kids in the neighborhood. We kissed. That was nice. But then she wanted to “French” and I chickened out. I did. I didn’t want to be bad. Now we’re introducing tongues?! What is that madness?

…I don’t…wait a second.

I have no fucking idea who the first girl I kissed with tongue was.

I do, however, remember being in Germany. After a night of drinking through Oktoberfest, I wound up drinking at a party hostel and dancing on a table with an American girl from the Midwest. We laughed off demands to get off the furniture, we drank our ass off, we stayed up til sunrise. I never actually went to sleep that night, so we ran into each other again as she checked out of the hostel to move on, on to her next destination. I remember she kissed me. I had one hand on her hip and she had her hands on my shoulders. It was a sweet moment, and we both smiled as we separated and she moved out the door.

First kisses and last kisses can be the same, sometimes, and they can be worthwhile.

I have kissed sober and drunk, clean and sloppy. I have kissed with passion and pecked with disinterest, and kissed with a hunger, a need for a connection. Sometimes I got it. Sometimes I didn’t.

I did a theater show once and afterwards, after I had signed some kid’s copies of the program and said hello to my friends and family, a girl cornered me and shoved me against the wall and plunged her tongue down my throat. She said seeing me on stage was just, MMM, yeah.

Which is ridiculous,because I’ve seen recordings of my shows and I’m a terrible actor.

I was in a show with another woman,one I had a small, nothing-serious crush on, and instinctively, we kissed gently before the show started. We both smiled, she said, “We just kissed”, we both laughed and then nothing ever happened again.

First and final kisses can be the same and be completely pointless.

Final kisses…

The last kiss on the lips of someone you care about can be a haunt.

That fucking hotel room.

The doorway of a three-story mansion, my birthday, good food, good sex, good movies but my ex is distant and I ask if she wants to break up and she insists she doesn’t, and we kiss so goddamn tightly and I find out two days later that she got drunk and confessed to a mutual friend that she did, in fact, want to end things.

That wasn’t the last time we kissed, but it was the last time it meant anything.

That kiss with the Canadian girl in the back of a cab in Barcelona where I’m pulling back and desperately cranking the window open because I’m convinced one or both of us is going to vomit at any moment.

Kisses, man. A picture may say a thousand words, but a kiss will tell stories, and it will pull inside parts of you that you didn’t know you had, emotions positive and negative that have no goddamn names.

Physical intimacy is a beautiful thing. Being close with someone, being accepted by someone and having a mutual need or desire for each other is enticing. That moment where two people feel each other out – does it work, does it not – and you get that heat and that taste, and their hair is in your face or your hands and their clothes are twisted in your fingers and people are watching, or maybe they’re not, maybe there are candles, maybe it’s Bed, fucking Bath and Beyond, and there’s just a moment. A moment where nothing else matters. Whether the kiss is good or bad, there’s that one moment.

I look back on my past with lucidity, and I view the good with the bad with the embarrassing. I’ve had kisses that are forgettable. I’ve had kisses that I miss. Ones that are checkered and that shouldn’t have happened and ones that should have happened much sooner than they did.

Hell, there are kisses that never happened that haunt me for the sake of never being known for sure.

And there will be kisses to come, I’m sure. Good and bad, both with stories. Hopefully, too, one of those will be the start again of something truly special. Something that makes the rest of it just a footnote.