Let’s start at the beginning. It’s the summer of 2012 in the Paris of South America, Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’m out with some of my fellow exchange students the weekend of the 4th of July the only way that North American’s abroad can–by getting absolutely shit-faced while a bunch of Argentineans look at us wondering how on earth any president that we elect is the leader of the free world.
We’re on a pub-crawl through the city’s Palermo Soho neighborhood and have just stopped at our first bar. As I walk in, she’s the first thing I see. In all fairness, at the time she was the first thing everyone walking in could see–She and a friend were dancing together on top of a table. I think it took everyone by surprise, which is why none of the staff seemed to be forcing her down. I don’t know, maybe they just liked the view. I definitely did–I got up on the table and joined her.
We talked for a while, mostly a lot of the usual stuff–I’m studying abroad, she’s on vacation, how catchy that Ai Se Eu Te Pego song is–and at one point, the company or whoever behind the pub crawl asked if they could take a picture of us. We say sure, she puts her arms around me and I hug her, our faces pressed up against one another, cheek to cheek. I must have taken over a hundred different photos during that summer. And I’d take a lot more with her as well–Us together at her place at Christmas, Us in New York City, or just Us out at a nice dinner for her birthday. Problem is, somewhere over the years, between switching of phones and a half-assed purge of memories of the relationship, that is one of the photos from that summer that didn’t end up making it, and I regret that. It was a good photo.
So let’s provide a little more context and answer some of the questions up front for you. No, we’re not still together. For a while after we broke up, it was complete silence. Then, Victoria (not her real name, of course) reached out to me and we started talking again. We became friends again.
Why did it not work out the first time? Same reason it usually doesn’t work out the first time or ends in divorce–we were too young. I was barely 20 at the time and getting my first steps in adulthood (insert asterisk for obvious reasons). It was also long distance, which, despite being a cliché, is one of the most stressful kinds of relationships, so I’m not surprise it was ultimately doomed. We always did a great job of making it work, texting each other whenever we could about whatever we could, regular video chats and the occasional “date night” FaceTime. And we would put in the work to come see each other when we could. I took on a job over the fall and saved every penny I could just to fly out to see her on Christmas. But there are those moments where because of cell service or time differences that you’re just left feeling alone, and that’s never fun.
So, how did it end? With a very poorly orchestrated phone call. I was supposed to come and see her the next day, but I had already been thinking all week about how I was going to break up with her. I had actually never broken up with someone, let alone someone I had fallen for so intensely. It was like I was on that table with her, but I didn’t know how to get down. Or I was afraid that if I did, it would break the table and we both would die. My first thought was to do it face-to-face. Can’t be a coward, I had to be a man and own up to the break up. I was going to go see her, probably would have to get a hotel room somewhere before I could go back. But I kept hovering over the reserve room button. I couldn’t do it. So I canceled my ticket and picked up the phone. When she picked up, I asked if she was alone. “No, Bruce is here.” I didn’t want to break up with her in front of her best friend, so I told her I’d talk to her later and hung up. She called me back. “Babe, what’s wrong? I can hear in your voice that something’s going on with you.”
Ok, one last question–why did I end it? To be honest, I felt like I was trapped. Not by her, but by this idea I had on who I was supposed to be. Look, I’m not going to wax on about how I was discovering myself and needed to make a change. If there was something going on with me, she was the first person I would want to talk to about it. But just because you love someone that much, doesn’t mean you always make the right decisions.
Ok, so let’s fast forward this story to a year ago. Victoria and I had just started talking again. Things are so different for both of us now. I’m in a new job, she’s in a new city, there are new friends and people in our lives, as well as some of the old ones. She invites me to come down and visit her and Bruce–they’re still friends and now roommates–for a couple of days, hang out like all three of us use to. I book a ticket.
I know what you’re thinking–Here comes the good old back-slide, a story as old as time itself. I’ll admit, maybe I thought the same thing too for a while. But when I get there, it’s just not what I expected at all. I thought there would be mountains of awkwardness to climb over, but really, after a briefly shared “this is so weird” moment, it was great. We went out and danced and drank and told stories and jokes together, just like the old days.
Now, curiousity did get the better of me, so I ended up asking if she ever ended up dating or seeing anyone else after me. I mean, I felt like I needed to know–did my breaking up with her send her on some devastating spiral of depression and hatred of men? Did I ruin all men for her and switch her over to the ladies? Was there ever anyone that would match the specter of me as one of her first loves. “Oh, yeah, there’s been a bunch.” She told me that she even fell in love again with another man, but that he had left her. She had been sad for a bit after we broke up, and she told me that I was a pretty good boyfriend while they dated. But my leaving hadn’t sent her into spinster-levels of depression. She and her heart had moved on.
She asked me the same question, and I told her honestly. “I mean, it’s mostly been hook ups. There’s been no one like you.” I thought that was nice to say. That I was being contrite and complimenting her. Took me a while after to realize what I really said. I broke up with her because I thought I had to move on, but even after all these years I was still in the same place. I hadn’t moved on. Because I wasn’t who I wanted to be. Only who I thought I was supposed to be. I hated the job I had, I felt like every year more and more friends from college and highschool were getting married or having kids or doing something that said to me “See, they have it all figured out. They made it work. Why couldn’t you?”
So, did I get back together with Victoria? No, dear reader, I didn’t. It might have been the biggest mistake of my life breaking up with her back then, but it was the right decision not to get back together with her now. I’m still as much of a mess in my head and heart as I was back in 2013, hovering over a 1 star hotel that I thought would be a just punishment for what I was about to do. Because, dear reader, this isn’t a lover story about a boy and a girl. It’s a story about self-love, and how hard if can be to find even 7 years later.
I don’t have any answers about what it is that is going to make me happy going forward or who I’m meant to be with. I doubt that even exists, that we’re meant to be with one specific person. But, I know that if you can’t find a way to love and be at peace with yourself, then no one else, no matter how perfect they were, will make you feel that way. I don’t think I necessarily saved Victoria from years of dealing with me, that somehow breaking up with her was the chivalrous thing to do. I just did, and now I’m just trying to figure out what’s next.
There is one good thing that came out of it though. While visiting her, I asked Victoria how she got into her new job as a DJ. I remembered that she had always loved music, but when we were dating, she worked in Concierge at a really fancy hotel–I’m talking the kind where presidents and kings stay at, and where, if you don’t have the net worth of a small island, you are politely asked to leave before they beat the ever living fuck out of you.
“I just loved it, so I started doing it.” What you expected something more poetic? It’s the truth, and hearing that truth from her actually inspired me to start writing again. So for the time being, when I feel like I don’t know who I’m supposed to be, what I’m supposed to do, or who I’m “meant to be with,” I just start writing.
PS. There’s a reason that I chose to write about love in this post. We just published our first short story on the website, called The Cannibal and The Vegan: Part 1 from my short story collection, Stories from the End of Time.
He eats kale. She eats people. But in their hearts, they’re just two kids wandering the apocalyptic wasteland of LA looking for someone to love.
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