It’s 2018 and I am lying on the living room couch listening to my son and nephew playing on the Xbox in my bedroom. It’s a hot South Texas day in August and my only thoughts are getting as much rest as possible after the tumultuous Summer Reading Program we had at the public library. It was the first program I ran as acting-supervisor of the department, as the children’s supervisor had left before summer began. There were some hopes that I’d take the title before Autumn Programming began, though I know there was a slim chance I’d even be their second or third choice for the position. Maybe their fourth? Possibly their fifth.
A black moth lands on the front screen door. Memory makes it the size palm of my hand, but it might have been much smaller, though still bigger than most moths that flutter around during the day.
I call out to the boys to come see the moth while snapping a picture with my phone for my Instagram. “The invasion starts tonight,” I typed and hit post. It is August 9, 2018.
Sometimes we create fantasies because the reality isn’t worth facing. We create happy marriages when all we think about is running out the door. We glue something broken beyond repair in hopes that things will get better. We do this because the alternative is scarier than what we have.
After we split, I spent hours every day day dreaming that she’d come back. There were mornings I’d hear her trying to sneak into my room like she had in our college days. I’d feel her warm body curled beside only to find her side empty when I opened my eyes.
And I spent hours contemplating the outcome of “the talk” I had with V. How, in every scenario that played in my head, things turned out better than they did. Because I had this one right. I read all the signs correctly. In the end, I projected my feelings onto her and just read what I wanted to.
Maybe it’s time I stopped clinging to this maladaptive daydreaming and accept reality for what it is. Take charge of the things I can control. Focus on my return to writing, book/movie/television reviewing. So I dropped $60+ on a new theme. It was time to start fresh, you know?
I started this post last night. Then I backspaced it to oblivion, only to start again. Rinse and repeat until I closed the tab and shut off my computer. Writing hasn’t been coming easy for me, and that famous Bukowski quote echoes through my head: “Don’t try.”
While Bukowski speaks to a younger version me, lost to the times, that quote still holds heavy in my heart. Much like the one I scrawled in Sharpie on my teenage bedroom: “You have to be WILLING to write badly.” I’m unsure of the origin of that quote. Not sure if teenage me plucked it from the pages of Writer’s Digest, or read it in a writer’s manual. But it made sense to me.
You have to try to fail, and failures aren’t always a bad thing. Sometimes failure leads to something better. (Cue The Rolling Stones.)
As overly simplistic this is, failure led to Shaun. And I never once thought of it in that way. When I started in 1997, I was bold. And I don’t mean that I took great leaps and chances to stand out – though, I vaguely remember wearing this string in my hair for reasons that still baffle me. What I mean is, my freshman of high school I had this thought that if I took French, I’d get the girl. What girl? Who the fuck knows. Any girl. I can think of a number of crushes I had in the eighth and ninth grade and to 14-year-old me, either one would have sufficed. I wanted a girlfriend and French is the language or romance, no?
So I took French and, ultimately, I flunked French. Who would have fucking guessed that? So my “sophomore” year (better known as my second freshmen year), I took Spanish. Advance Spanish. Now I speak better Spanish these days than I did back then. And that’s very telling of the skill 15-year-old me had. Which is, if you haven’t guessed, none at all. Yet somehow I passed. So that in my junior year, I took Spanish II.
Spanish has never been a second language to me. It should be considering my upbringing and where I live. I’m good when it comes to ordering food and, most times, assisting patrons at work. But conversationally, I’m as gringo as they get. (In fact, I know a white girl who speaks better Spanish than me.) So in Spanish II, I managed to pass the first semester. I don’t know what happened that second semester, but I failed, causing to repeat it in my senior. Bear with me, I’m getting to my point.
In my second semester, I walked into my second attempt at Spanish II. I chose my seat carefully, sitting aside a pretty, green-eyed freshman girl with a unique spelling of her name. This girl, of course, was Jeanna. Now I didn’t fall in love with Jeanna off the bat. I was in a committed long distance relationship with a redhead in San Antonio, whom met through her friends here.
But that’s beside the point, because eventually, I did fall in love with Jeanna. I spent most of my post-adolescent and adult life in love with her. And we had our ups and downs. Our fights. Break-ups and make-ups. And we had Shaun, the best creation I ever had a hand in. More beautiful than any poem I’ve written or ever will write.
You see, if I hadn’t taken French my freshmen year, I would have started my Spanish lessons earlier. Thus leading me to have never meant Jeanna. And if I passed French my freshmen year, I would have taken French II my sophomore year. Whether I passed that or not isn’t important; I still wouldn’t have met Jeanna. Had I passed that second semester of Spanish II my junior year, same outcome.
Now I’m not saying things happen for a reason, because that’s balderdash and a strange way to look at the world.
I’m guess what I’m saying is this: Don’t just try to do something, do something. If you fail, that’s part of the process. Some times it might hurt; some times you find yourself in a better situation because of it.
Maybe you’re a writer trying publish for the first time, only get a rejection letter. Maybe you’re a freshmen kid wanting to learn French. Or maybe you’re sitting next to the woman you’ve grown really close, watching YouTube videos, and you get brave enough to ask if she wants more only for her to tell you she’s content on just being friends.
If there’s one message I want to impart here it’s this: It’s o.k. if you’re not o.k. right now. Failure and rejection have a way of making you feel like a lesser person. But I love my failures as much as I praise my successes. Because I wouldn’t trade all the hypothetical girls freshmen-me could’ve had speaking perfect French for what I have now. Even if what I have now is just being a single dad.
Dune author Frank Herbert once said, “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” This isn’t an ending. It’s just another beginning. Another chapter to be written.
The noise is suffocating. And I can see that her ear is bothering her. And knowing the looks and whispers that will come by us getting up together, I ask her if she would like to step out for a moment. Get some fresh air. Our friends share smiles. There is some egging on. Not sure if she sees any of it. And I’m sure there are some jokes passed around as we make our way through the crowd into the great outdoors. Our only company are the banished smokers. And we sit across from each other just talking. Nerd stuff. Our usual conversations. And then…
“Where did you go right now?”
I’m seventeen and it’s summer. The scent of Candies perfume fills the atmosphere of our bodies. She whispers all the dirty things we should be doing. And she looks into my eyes as she asks me her question. And I can see the pain that lingers behind them. And I can hear the words she’ll tell me when I inevitably break her heart in a matter of months. When I meet the sweet cheerleader girl who’d rather play guitar in a band. When I meet said girl’s best friend, the redhead from San Antonio.
“Are you even listening to me?”
We’re fighting again. And I know we’re at the end of our time, but both of us are still trying to wedge the puzzle pieces together. We’re just too afraid of having to start over. She’s made too many plans. She’s got it all figured it out, while I’m still struggling to find out who it is that I want to be. Though, deep down, I know it isn’t the person I’m growing into. And I turn to her, and I see the tears in her eyes, understanding the pain that I’ll introduce in a matter of weeks when I go missing. When I break up with her over a phone call because I’m the coward I deny being.
“Are you ok?”
Her green eyes inspect mine. She who watches me sleep whenever she awakes first. She who I long to hold on to even as she runs away from me. She keeps me centered. I called her my balance to my counselor. There’s so much I want to do for her, but can’t get past my own anxieties. We’re at the stop light and I know the words she’s about to tell me. She’s uncertain, but I know the truth. She’s pregnant. And my life is going to split into two. There were times when I wanted to leave because it seemed easier than remaining a slave to what I felt for her. But at that moment when the words slip from her mouth, I know that I want to stand by her side for as long as she will have me. And while the possibility seems endless, I began to wonder if she can see in my eyes the pain she will cause me. And I wonder if it’s with the same clarity that I have when I see it the pain I’ll cause her.
“I think it’s my mommy’s friend.”
Shaun and I lay in bed watching TikTok videos when the phone call comes in. And I ignore it because it’s late and nothing good can come of this. When I listen to the phone call, it’s from the hospital. The information doesn’t compute correctly. My mind doesn’t process it that I’m hanging on to the fact that they mispronounced Jeanna’s name. When I call back, I learn of her condition. Stable but critical. An oxymoron to put me at ease, I imagine. On the way to the hospital, I’m calling her mom. I’m calling her brother. I’m calling Izzy and Marci. When I get there, the nurse takes me aside and tells me she’s the only survivor. Her mom, Marci, and her nephew gone.
“Can you be strong?”
And I’m sitting next to my father. He has less than a day left when I tell him that there was a time when I watched him from afar. That whenever he visited, I’d hide behind my grandmother’s plants just to catch a glimpse of him. That in the sixth grade, I darted from the backyard to the front when I saw beat up Dodge pickup drive by. And I told him that there had been so much anger that brewed up inside me when he never bothered to look for me. But we are both adults now and we both share the blame for not having a relationship. Neither of us budged. And I tell him that I didn’t hate him. “And if you need to go, it’s ok. You can go. I’ll be ok.”
And I’m here. With her. Watching her hands. Watching her eyes. And I’m searching for myself in them. And I think about what I’ve lost this year. And all that I’ve gained. And I replay all the conversations we’ve ever had. And try to memorize all the words to each of them.
“But are you living in the moment? Or are you living just to remember?”
And every ghost I’ve held on to. Every moment when I looked over my shoulder to what I had and what I lost. The guilt I’ve carried for not being there, and not being enough. And the moments when I could have tried harder. It’s all led me to this. Now.
“Shaun thinks she’s your girlfriend,” she said. “Just something to think about.”
In the parking lot of some fast food joint—maybe it’s Dairy Queen or Whataburger, but the details are foggy; this was nearly five years earlier—I walk out with a girl and her son. As she puts him in his car seat, I stand off to the side. The chill nips at my skin. My ears, despite the beanie, are cold. Don’t get me started on the ruby red skin tone my nose had taken.
She closes the door and heads around the car and pauses when I approach her. Without so much of a thought passing through my mind, I touch her face, lean in, and kiss her. It’s our first kiss. Cemented in memory.
She tries to form words, but nothing comes out. I’m as surprised as she. Because we both agreed that this wouldn’t happen. And the three words escape from my lips, punctuated by her name. Jenny.
Jenny. The girl from New Mexico. Jenny, the wife.
“So there’s never been any moments when you guys have hung out? I don’t know, if I was hanging out with some guy every single weekend…”
“Some times I want to be the little spoon, you know? There’s so much expected of me…a single moment of vulnerability and we’re perceived weak. So yeah, in the bedroom, after a long day of bullshit, I want whoever I’m with to accept me for all my strengths and vulnerabilities.”
“You can be the little spoon once in a while.”
And the words slip from my lips. Punctuated by her name. Selina. The girl from nearby. Selina, the wife.
“What if I’m a bad kisser, Sam? Or that I’ve forgotten how to hold someone’s hand and mean it? What if something as simple as a date night becomes a complex labyrinth of small talks and questions about the weather? What happens then, Sam?”
Her breath is bitter in my mouth. She’s hungry. She needs the control and I give it up with ease. Isn’t that who I’ve always been? Exactly what other people needed. She holds me down. Ties me up. She takes mouthfuls of me.
“I want to taste you,” she whispers in my ear. “Let me taste you.”
Her. This woman. Someone else’s wife.
And if you’re still breathing, you’re the lucky ones. ‘Cause most of us are heaving through corrupted lungs. Setting fire to our insides for fun Collecting names of the lovers that went wrong The lovers that went wrong
I’m twentysomething, sitting in the waiting room at the university health service building. The weather outside is gloom and doom, creating the perfect atmosphere for the thoughts coursing through my head. In my hand is one of those waiting room pamphlets that decorate every clinic I’ve ever sat in.
“Do You Suffer From Depression?” it says on the top. Or some shit like that. I read through it. I tick off the boxes. I know there’s no use of lying. There’s a reason why this one called to me.
I don’t have suicidal thoughts, I think. Except when you do, the Voice says somewhere at the base of my skull.
Only four remain unticked. The suicidal is one of them. When the provider calls me in, she goes over all the tests. There’s nothing with me.
“I…uh…um…” I state meekly. “I saw this in the waiting room.” I hold up the pamphlet. “And I was thinking,” I began.
“I formally and happily resign from the person I was before. I formally and readily resign from depression. I’m ending the relationship I have with the Voice. I resign from the world of ugly that has polluted my thoughts, haunted my dreams. I vow to no longer hold onto the past. But acknowledge the demons that I must exorcise before I do so.”
“Shaun thinks she’s your girlfriend,” Jeanna tells me. We’re sitting in the waiting room while we await for our son to come out from the door. We’ve been talking about our lives and those who linger within them.
My silence speaks volumes.
“He was talking about the things you all did together or what she and he did together. And I asked him, ‘Shaun? Who’s Virginia?’ And he said, ‘Daddy’s girlfriend?’ but like he wasn’t too sure.”
“Oh,” I reply.
“Just something to think about.”
It’s Saturday night. Or maybe it’s Sunday morning. And I can’t remember what we were just talking about. But we’re both tired. She yawns and stretches and I can’t help but to smile. Admire her. And she blushes. Laughs. And the moment passes over us and evaporates with my inability to move. When she leaves, I hug her and have to force my arms to release her from my embrace.
Because if I don’t, I’m unsure if I’ll ever stop. Because I don’t fall in love; I plunge.
Something nagged at me today. I had a conversation a couple years ago with some stranger online. The conversation turned to past relationships, I remarked how I’ve managed to remain friends with most of my exes. Granted that we’re not all bosom buddies, but we can hold a conversation without suddenly breaking out in a rage. Half the time, it’s like we were never into each other in that way.
I’m a proponent of remaining friends with a former romantic interest. There are a few obvious exceptions to the rule. If your ex happens to be a manipulative, abusive, or toxic dick asshole*, then it’s best to cut that person out of your life to the fullest extent.
However, if the relationship ended on good terms, I don’t understand why being just friends is taken off the table. Of course, it isn’t an easy or quick transition. There is a sense of rejection no matter how mutual the break up. Time is needed to heal. There are tears. Days of pondering. Trust me. I know. Depression alone is a dizzying roller coaster. Throw in a heartbreak and you have a ride that’ll leave you puking up your bowels.
“If you can be friends with her, then you never really loved her,” said the Tinder profile pic**.
“It’s just plain truth,” she replied.
We’re taught several misconceptions about love. One of the greatest being that love is easily defined and pigeon-holed into a single idea. The true love lie. Believers flock up religiously to yell into the void: “If you really loved someone, then you’ll love them forever.” Thing is people change. Who you fall in love with isn’t necessarily the person you end up with. Or, in several cases, the person you fell in love with remains in stasis, a case of arrested development.
You grow apart. You become two puzzle pieces forced to fit the other.
“Yeah, ok, but if you’re still friends with her, it’s obvious you still love her.”
And I do. Just differently. Love is something fluid. Like gender, it’s not just a binary idea that you can bend to your will. Romantic love can evolve into platonic love. And the reverse is just as likely.
“Ok. But you obviously want to fuck her.”
“I don’t have sex with my friends.”***
It’s years later. It’s earlier today. We’re in the waiting room when the lady looks at both of us and smiles. “I like how you two get along so well. I’ve seen a few divorced families and I wish they could get along as well as you. You’re one of the good ones.”****
When we’re left alone again, she turns to me and asks, “Have you established anything with V?”
“No. We’re just friends.”
“Like friends, or people who say they’re just friends but do boyfriend/girlfriend stuff.”
“Define boyfriend/girlfriend stuff.”
“I mean, I’ve done a lot of boyfriend/girlfriend stuff with girls like Miranda. She used to make me carry her pads when we’d go to Walmart.”
“Yes. Something like that.”
“No, I don’t do that with her.”
“Well not that that, but you know…”
“I pay for everything. And we hang out almost every weekend.”
“See stuff like that.”
“But she wasn’t really that comfortable with the whole me paying for everything at first.”
“Are you ok with being just friends?”
“Yes. And no. I don’t know.”
“I asked Shaun about her.”
“Yeah. He’s there sometimes when she is. So he was talking about her and you and him. And I asked him, ‘Shaun, who’s V?’ and he said, ‘Daddy’s girlfriend?’ Like he didn’t really know. I just thought you should know that.”
Something to mull over, I guess.
*Thank you Crissy for that phrase.
**It wasn’t Tinder. I promise. But for the purposes of this post, it was most definitely Tinder.
***This may not be as honest as I had intended. It also goes without saying the conversation halted shortly after. We unmatched and went our separated ways.
****This quote is heavily reworded, paraphrased, and may not represent the quoted 100%. However, because some elements of my personal life shall remain personal, I took the liberty to rework this into something that fits the post. If you don’t like it, suck it.
Addendum: Another lie that we’re told is that we only have so much love to offer. As if we can’t love people equally but differently. This idea was in the original post, but WordPress crapped out and erased a good chuck of my post. I left it out because the subject turned. I’ll visit it again later.