Learning The Difference Between
The Height Of The Flame & The Depth Of The Heat.
Friday, November 1
Brad and I took our first weekend trip together. We wanted to get away from everything so we took the dogs to a remote lodge in the Georgia Mountains.
We couldn’t figure out why there were so many “Just Married” signs on the back of the parked cars.
Then we saw the lobby doors. The ones built in the shape of a giant red heart. We had booked ourselves into a lodge catering to honeymooning couples. I pull into a parking space. Brad is halfway out the door when I yank him back in. “Don’t even think about it,” I say. “We’re not walking in together.”
He relents and I walk in alone. Nobody behind the desk. I ring the bell, walk around. I’ve never seen so many pictures of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
Why would you have pictures of past presidents all over the lobby of your honeymoon lodge? Why would you only have pictures of Republican presidents all over the lobby of your honeymoon lodge? This wasn’t looking good at all.
The owner finally appears. “Hi, can I help you?”
“Yes, I have a reservation.”
“Actually, several,” I think to myself, but only one that I phoned in.
“And where’s your beautiful bride?” the man beams.
“Oh, she’s in the car,” I say weakly. “She’s very shy.”
He winks at me and bets she won’t be in the morning.
I grabbed the keys, thinking there’s no way, for the entire weekend, that I’m letting my “bride” grace the lobby with her lovely stubble.
Friday, November 8
Things have been going great with Brad. We’re spending lots of time together. And I don’t even do my eleven o’clock thing anymore (you know, come over at eleven on a weekday because there’s nothing to do except have sex and go to sleep).
I like doing “boyfriend” things with Brad, but I can see storm clouds gathering in the horizon. Meaning, he’s getting more and more serious about me. He’s dropping hints about ratcheting up our relationship. Like any Peter Pan worth his wings, I just change the subject to something more fun.
I like things the way they are —undefined. As soon as somebody tries to “define” a relationship I freak out.
Saturday, November 9
I’m constantly Peter Panning my way out of serious conversations with Brad. Any day now he’s going to drop the “L” word on me, I just know it. It’s not that I don’t want to hear it. And it’s not that I don’t want to say it to him. It’s that … it’s that…
Oh, like I fucking know.
What is it about me that as soon as the other guy falls in love I start pulling back? Ever since I could tell Brad was falling in love I started acting like a caged animal.
I don’t get it. I spend all my time chasing a relationship and when I finally get one I convince myself this isn’t really the one I’m looking for.
Sunday, December 9
Phone call. 7 pm. “I don’t want to date other people,” Brad said. “Oh, oh,” I thought. It’s the conversation I’ve been dreading.
“We’ve been going out for six months now, Dale.”
Please don’t say it, I think to myself.
“And I think…” he stammered.
Please don’t… I think.
Please don’t say it.
“In love with you…”
Tuesday, December 11
I keep thinking about my last conversation with Brad. He makes a tender expression of love and how do I answer? By giving him that tired line of loving him but not being in love with him.
I’m repeating every romantic mistake I’ve ever made and I can’t seem to stop myself. Have I learned nothing from all the pain I’ve gone through? Am I doomed to being aware of what I’m doing without having the courage to change it?
“Dale,” he had said, “we don’t have to decide right this minute but I can’t keep going the way we’ve been going for very much longer.”
He looked down to the ground for a few seconds and when he looked up there were tears in his eyes. “You have to decide whether we’re a couple or a couple of friends.”
Wednesday, December 19
Love is a mirage for me. As long as it’s a distant, hazy watering hole somewhere in the horizon I feel safe chasing it. But once I’m upon it, my thirst disappears and I look to the horizon for something else. It’s been that way with every boyfriend I ever had.
In the past few weeks I’ve been feeling these vibrations, like there was someone banging a giant gong inside me. The other day I figured out what it was. The gong was my life. The beating against it was a warning that I was about to repeat my ugly, painful history of driving decent guys away and then obsessing over them after they’d moved on.
I knew I was doing the exact same thing with Brad that I did with Will and Brett and Shannon. In each case I said “No” because of some vague notion that they weren’t “the one.” In each case I made a serious mistake that I deeply regretted.
But today told Brad “no” anyway, let’s just be friends. Proving that insights don’t mean shit if you don’t have what it takes to act on them.
Thursday, January 3
It’s been weeks since I last talked to Brad. I keep getting his voice-mail when I call and he never calls me back. I really miss him, but I can’t “commit” like he wants me to, I just can’t.
Friday, January 4
I went out with some guy named Cooper last night. I was so not into it. All I could think of was Brad.
I don’t understand myself. If I miss Brad so much why am I so unwilling to formalize our relationship? Because I know he wants to live together? Because his lease is expiring in a few months and it would make more sense for us to live under one roof?
I’ll admit that living together scares the shit out of me. But why? I’ve been single for the past two years, preoccupied with the idea of getting into a relationship, and now that the opportunity presents itself I fuck it up.
I want all the benefits of a relationship but none of its sacrifices. I can never tell if I’m being fiercely independent or just a selfish prick. All I know is that the idea of being in a committed relationship scares the hell out of me. It feels like I’m going to lose myself, my identity, my freedom.
Sunday, January 5
I think I figured out why I go dead in the pivotal moments of my relationships: My dad. I was eight when I last saw my father as a kid; just two years ago when I first saw him as an adult. There was nothing in between. No good-byes, no letters, no phone calls, no visits. No alimony, no child support, no nothing.
My older brother was twelve, my younger sisters, nine and seven. He erased us like he had drawn on us on a chalkboard and simply changed his mind.
At twenty five, I decided to look for him. The search was complicated because he had dual citizenship. He was born and raised in Ecuador but had fought in the Korean War for the U.S., earning him the right to stay in the country forever.
I had no idea if he was alive and breathing in one continent or dead and buried in another. Assuming he still lived in Ecuador, I flew to Quito for the first time in almost 20 years to see his side of the family.
No one knew where he was. His own family was mystified. “Diez anos,” said his sister. That’s how long it had been since she last heard from him, ten years. “Hay, que pena!” she would say. What a shame.
Well, I remember thinking, at least he’s original. I’ve heard of fathers abandoning their wives and children, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a man who abandoned his brothers, sisters, cousins and uncles, too.
I looked for my father for two years. A private detective found him in two weeks. The utter banality of how he did it was almost insulting. I traveled the globe and talked to dozens and dozens of family and friends. He tracked down his license plate and found him in an apartment in Marathon, Florida.
How do you write a letter to a father you haven’t seen in almost 20 years? How do you start it? Do you begin it with “How are you?” End it with “Sincerely yours?” I didn’t understand the protocol.
“Dear Father,” began the seventeenth draft of my letter. The problem was I never called him “father” when I was a kid. Besides, the word felt like a lie. How about “Dad?” No, never used that one either. I used to call him “papi.” But that too, sounded forced, contrived. Do grown men call their fathers what they called them when they were boys?
Such was the power of his silence over me, that I did not know what to call the man who gave me birth; I did not know how to refer, even in conversation, to the man who raised me until I was eight.
About a week after I mailed the letter, I opened my mailbox and stood there, paralyzed, like a scorpion would strike if I moved. It was a letter from him. Three days later I was on U.S. 1 headed from Miami to Marathon.
I pulled into a small, modest apartment complex. He was waiting for me outside. When I got out of the car I recoiled at something I hadn’t expected. I was bigger than he was. Much bigger. How could this be? How could I be bigger than the man who once almost put me through a wall when I was seven? How could I be so much taller than the man who used to punch my brother and I when we made too much noise? How could I be so much bigger than the man I was so scared of all my life?
He lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment. Never married again, no kids again. He pulled out a bunch of pictures and a bottle of whiskey. I accepted the first, declined the second.
He looked at me with true admiration, maybe even love. And then he said it. The man who threw away his kids like a used hand-towel, the man the private detective said lived a few miles away from us when I was growing up, had the cojones to say it.
“My long lost son,” he said. “I knew someday I’d find you.”
I stared at him for a very long time before I stood up and said I was having second thoughts. I would have that shot of whiskey after all.
“What do you mean,” I asked carefully, slowly, trying to avoid confrontation, “that “someday you’d find me?’”
“I’ve been looking for you for years,” he said.
“You couldn’t find a jobless woman with four kids?” I asked.
“I didn’t know where you were,” he said calmly.
“How could you not know? She served you divorce papers with our address on them.”
He shrugged his shoulders and told me how great it was to see me again.
“You don’t know how hard I tried to find you,” he returned to the subject. “No man loses his kids without a fight.”
“We were in the phone book,” I said. “Listed under your last name.”
Again he shrugged his shoulders. “I’m telling you I tried. Why don’t you believe me?”
“You couldn’t find a woman with four kids living in her mother’s condo that you’ve been to a thousand times.”
“Yes, but you moved soon after,” he said.
“To a house listed in the phone book under your last name,” I said. I looked down at the ground and all I could hear was the tinkling of the ice in his glass.
I spent the rest of the weekend with my father. We kept in touch. Or rather, I did. He never called me, ever. Yet he always seemed glad to hear from me. One day, vacationing in Miami, I met up with him in Marathon. “We only talk when I call,” I told him. “You call back but you never call. I need to feel like you’re actually doing something to stay in my life; that you’re interested in being my father.”
“What are you talking about?” he said. “I call you all the time.”
His lie forced me to come face to face with an unbearable truth: I wanted so much more to have a father than he wanted a son.
“All I’m saying is, if you want me in your life you have to call me. Do you understand what I’m saying?” I asked not as a condescension but as a plea. “All you have to do to keep me in your life is to call.”
For so much of my life my father was an unanswered tap on my shoulder. No matter how often I turned or how hard I looked there was nobody there. For a brief moment, for a few weekends, a few phone calls, there was somebody there when I looked back.
I wept that day, on the way back to Miami, knowing that the closest I would ever get to having a father was to long for one.
Sometimes I feel like this is the reason I go AWOL when I get too close to a guy. My father erased me from his life and I don’t want to give another guy the power to do it again.
It’s Valentine’s Day and I just couldn’t stand the loneliness anymore so I called Brad.
“Please pick up, Brad, please,” I thought to myself as the phone rang.
“Brad, it’s me.”
We both laugh nervously.
“Why are you calling?” he asked softly.
“To ask you out.”
“We haven’t talked in weeks and you’re calling me on Valentine’s Day to ask me out?” He sounded suspicious. That’s the trouble with dating psychologists –you can’t pull anything over on them.
I acted insulted. “What, you think this a booty call? That I’m only calling you because I’m horny?”
“You mean, ‘probably.’”
“That’s what I said, ‘probly.’”
“Will you go to dinner with me?” I asked, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice.
“As a friend or your husband?” he said.
“How about something in between?”
“How about NO?”
“Dale…” he cut me off. “I’m not ‘dating’ you anymore. If we go to dinner on Valentine’s Day we’re going as a committed couple or we’re not going at all.”
There is a moment between breaths, a rest between words, a pause between actions when you either diverge from your past or stay glued to it. I had reached that moment. It was a moment of choice. A choice between a path I had always gone and a road I had never taken.
This wasn’t my first “Brad,” I knew that. How many Brads had I let slip away because I was either waiting for love to sweep me away or because I was too afraid of what might happen?
It occurred to me in each case–Will, Brett, Shannon and now Brad–that I let my feelings dictate what my mind should have decided all along.
Maybe my feelings are wrong, I thought to myself in those seconds of silence. Maybe there isn’t “the one.” Maybe you meet somebody whose raw materials complement your raw materials and you build “the one” together.
Maybe my fears are wrong, I thought. Maybe Brad won’t erase me out of his life like my father did. And even if he did, aren’t I mature enough to handle it?
And so, for the first time in my romantic life I made a decision based on what I wanted and not what I felt.
“Wilt thou be mine?”