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i.

This is not an instance of communication breakdown but an example of wounded pride. I am the type of vengeful, petty wraith who is at her most compelling when she’s scorned, a shiny new convert to the scorched earth policy. You think that the act of writing is an easy, thoughtless pastime, a hobby that does not require the fried mechanics of an exhausted, Möbius strip imagination and fraying patience. You think that the act of writing is an exercise in the ego’s masturbatory need for proof of life, the unquenchable hunger for outside validation. You think that the act of writing is a symptom of a space-bound dreamer, that the process of reading and comprehending literature in order to form a cultural dialogue is as fruitless as shouting in an empty, padded room.

You fail to realize that I am writing for my life.

Our Waking Life

By Mag Gabbert

Essay

Ty and I were asleep. We were in my new apartment, the first place I’d ever lived in on my own. We’d gone to bed exhausted after a full day of moving my belongings from my grandmother’s house in Dallas to my new place in San Antonio, where I was about to begin my junior year of college. The apartment was still empty, but for a few stacks of boxes in the living room, a wicker trunk that was to serve as my coffee table, and a futon, laid flat in my room, that was to serve as my bed. I remember opening my own front door for the first time, the rushing smell of fresh paint and wood.

I broke up with God. The breakup was devastating. It was like a divorce when all the friends you had as a couple are forced to choose sides and end up not choosing yours. It was like waking up in an empty bed in an empty house. It was like someone I loved died. It was like when Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome arrive at Jesus’s tomb with spices to anoint his dead body, and they find the stone rolled back, and they look inside the cave, and he’s gone.

“God loves you,” church signs announce when I drive by. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, Jesus says when he’s asked which commandment is the greatest, and in the river, when he’s baptized, God claims Jesus as beloved. It’s the best love story ever told: God chooses you, sacrifices for you, kills for you, knows you, sees you, saves you. No wonder losing my religion felt like heartbreak.

Still, I hesitate to call what happened to my faith a breakup. I’m not completely comfortable portraying it as a love affair gone wrong. Figuring it as a romance seems simultaneously so medieval-mystic, so patriarchal, so oedipal that it makes me cringe. Even worse, calling it a breakup means I have to come out: I have to admit to myself and to the rest of the world the kind of God I loved—namely, a man. I’m a feminist theologian. Saying out loud that I believed in a male God is like a yoga teacher smoking a pack of cigarettes every day between classes behind the studio. So let’s get that part out of the way: I believed in a male God. I loved him. I needed him. Sometimes he was gentle and kind. Sometimes he frightened me.

You could say God and I lived together, which made it hard for me to admit the relationship was over. Staying was easier than looking for a new place to live. God might have been invisible, but he took up a lot of space, and I had never been alone. Sure, the passion had gone out of our relationship, and he wasn’t who I thought he was anymore, but we were still comfortable together. Habits, routines, rituals. If you’d gone out to dinner with us, you wouldn’t have noticed that anything was wrong, but we definitely didn’t run home to tear each other’s clothes off. Sometimes we stay with what we know—even if it makes us miserable, even if it makes us feel small—because it’s familiar. It’s not that misery loves company, it’s that we’re willing to be miserable if it means we’ll have company. I was afraid of being by myself. A dead relationship seemed better than coming home to an empty house.

My relationship with God was never casual. When it began to unravel, I was going through the ordination process to become an Episcopal priest. I was the youth minister at a church in a suburb of Boston and a doctoral student in theology at Harvard. You might say God and I were engaged and the wedding was planned—church reserved, menu chosen, flowers arranged. Calling it off would be awkward.

Breaking up with God meant letting go of someone I had believed in, loved, and built my life around, so I hung on for a long time because I was scared of what would happen if I let go. My relationship with God was connected to everything—my family, my friends, my sense of justice, my vocation, my way of being in the world. I lost more than belief. I couldn’t go to the places we used to go anymore. I couldn’t use our special language. I couldn’t celebrate the same holidays. I even had to trade red wine for beer. People say you can use a simple mathematical formula to figure out how long you will feel like shit after a breakup: one month of pain for every year you were together. God and I were together for my entire life. Thirty-four years. Which translates into thirty-four months of post-breakup misery.

Almost three years.

 

 

Excerpted from BREAKING UP WITH GOD by Sarah Sentilles. Copyright © 2011 by Sarah Sentilles.  Used with permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.

 

This week, I find myself cooking out of habit, then eating nothing or just picking around the perimeter of each nicely plated meal before packing the remains in plastic tubs. I have no appetite but am fixing delicious things, increasingly complex productions that fill my dollhouse-size apartment with perfect smells. In an effort to rationalize this situation, I shift from stewing over heartbreak to focus on science. While earning a nutrition degree, I learned we crave fatty things for their esters – compounds that carry smell and impart taste. From smell and taste, we derive pleasure and comfort, and from fats we derive fuel. The stuff that keeps our mechanical bodies going also plumps our hearts like pillows, in the figurative as well as literal sense. Fats are comforting and clogging. I also learned we crave sugar when there is a lack of sweetness in daily life. All I can stomach right now are Pink Lady apples and endless cups of honeyed hot milk. This indulgence and dependence is risky – artificial sweetness is inevitably succeeded by a bigger crash

tears…

You woke up crying. 

“I wish my uncle was still alive.”

“I know, baby.  Maybe he went where he needed to go though?”

 “Yeah, he’s in a better place.”

 

sex…

I couldn’t get it up that first time because I wasn’t sure you really wanted me in you.  The second time, you said I was too big.  I tried to be gentle, came as quickly as I could. 

 

soup…

I cooked matzah ball soup with onions, mushrooms and carrots.  No chicken because you’re vegetarian.  I heard the pride in your voice when you told your sister I was cooking dinner for us.  You said it was odd to smell food in your apartment that you hadn’t made.  I left you the leftovers. 

 

surprise…

dear peter,

I tried calling last night and today, but have not been able to reach you, so email will have to suffice.  Last weekend left me with serious concerns about us.  We did connect, but we need more than that if something romantic between us is to survive.  We live our lives in opposite ways.  You are spontaneous, where I am structured.  You live for the moment, but I plan for the future.  You don’t care about society, yet I take my role as part of the larger community seriously.  You cultivate the internal life, but I exist very much in the outside world. Where you value emotion, I prize logic.

We’re also at different places in our lives.  I’ve begun to establish my career, am pursuing my studies, and have many other responsibilities.  You have focused on art and writing and have not established the kind of responsibility and stability that I need in a partner.  I just don’t think there is a place for a lasting romance between us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He has this terrible habit of tracking me down right before my birthday.

“Hello,” he offers up in that sing song sort of way he has when I pick up the phone. And I huff and puff, determined that his ex-boyfriend shenanigans are not to be forgotten! But pretty soon he has me laughing or tells me about a book I would like. “I’ll lend it to you.” In person, I wonder?

I drift off, curious as to how he looks now. I heard his hair was long, almost shaggy, which I think ridiculous, and I smile. Then, somewhere before “I told you not to call me,” we make plans, to lend a book, to catch up, to let him properly take me out to celebrate my birth.

I pick him up at his office, quickly reminded of how much I had hated his job and yet how it had once thrilled me. I remember as I sit there waiting in the big, scary atrium of business suits and fancy cars, how he’d rolled off me one night to get the phone, how he’d turned back and said he had to go out, to his boss’ house, to a party, that I, now in a lowered tone, couldn’t come. And I pretended not to care, to understand. I stayed in his bed over a series of nights, wanting to be what he’d come home to, asking, “Just call if it’s late. But have fun!” I wished him well for the things he wouldn’t bring me to.  Staring up through the darkness, there in his bed, I was hopeful that every noise from the street was his truck pulling in from the night.

He’d finally arrive and I’d have the “audacity” to say, “You don’t think 2 a.m. constitutes as late?” He’d pause and sigh and have a faint genuine moment of truth. “I don’t think I can do this,” he’d whisper.

I’d roll over, not knowing what it was we had decided, but still there in his bed, not demanding he take me home. He’d off to some trip the next day, some business that very much needed to be done. And when he’d return, we wouldn’t speak of it. We’d just continue, barely able to say what we were wanting, just calling each other less and less, hurting more and more for about a year or so until he was squiring some new girl around town.

Then he saunters in, all tall and exactly the same and I hope there are lots of people standing there in the atrium to witness our reunion, to see him greeting me. We behave ever so properly and discuss our dining options, deciding on a place, acting as if we’d just seen each other some recent summer day.

“Same car,” he says matter of factly as we are on our way. I answer, “Yes,” very aware of every word as I struggle with the radio button that I know by heart, surprised he doesn’t ask to drive.

We take our seats after a few hellos to other patrons, and I feel on equal footing because I know people too.

I sip my lemonade, which he orders for me, worried that the next forty minutes will be the same. I look at him and think, “Oh, that’s right, you’re kind of boring.” And I feel happy we aren’t together. But then he leans in, only for me to hear, and tells me how he found his eighth grade English teacher’s phone number, called her and thanked her for his education, for the things he was able to accomplish. He tells me how she cried. I excuse myself and hurry to the bathroom, almost crying myself, for the story is too lovely to be ignored, and I am furious that he suddenly isn’t boring.

I return and we eat our salads, and slowly a giggle emerges. We talk of Vonnegut and bad movies and trips we have taken, and pretty soon I forget the speech I am practicing in my head, of how we can only be friends, if that, of how I know now that that was not a way to be treated, of how I’m very much on track if you haven’t noticed.

But he doesn’t give me the chance. He doesn’t ask for me back. (That won’t come for another week or so – late and drunk in some diner somewhere. It’s always late and drunk in some diner somewhere.) He tells me he is too embarrassed to ask for another chance, that he knows he’s used up his chances, that he’s sorry.

I melt just a little more than is good for me, convinced that maybe once he really did love me.

With that conversation out of the way, he feels permission to pick at my salad. I let him, enjoying the reach across the table and he asks me what he’s been waiting to all day, “Seeing anyone?”

“No one special. A writer,” I say, angry that I hadn’t lied, hadn’t claimed to be riotously happy, nearing nuptials actually. He pauses and inquires some more, but I won’t budge. Then he waits for me to return the question, but I won’t. I know who she is. She’s why I’m not her. I get momentarily flustered thinking of her, even though I’d heard they’d broken up, and talk of the two or three (or four or five actually) other writers there’ve been this year. Then I push my salad away.

“Happy Birthday,” he finally offers.

“Oh yeah,” I say. “To you, too. You know, I think you find me right around my birthday so you can butter me up by the time it’s your birthday in a few days,” I pretend to scold.

He laughs, denies it, but with a glint of “you caught me” in his eyes.

And I remember his eyes and stare just a little too long.

“I’m having a party actually. A birthday party. Friday,” he says, as he pays the check. “I’d like you to come.”

I hem and haw and say, “Lunch was probably enough,” even though I make a mental note of the time and place. I seem miraculously to forget about how he’d had his birthday party anyway a few years back. I had been rushed to the hospital earlier that day with a ruptured ovarian cyst and recuperated in bed alone as he drunkenly turned thirty.

“Thank you. It was good to see you,” he says in his most genuine tone as we head back to his office. “Friday?” he tries again.

“Probably not,” I say, suddenly remembering those last years.

“What is it you want?” he inquires almost hurt.

“You know. House, husband, baby, dog.”

“Oh.”

“Hanging out with you just postpones those things,” I say, feeling momentarily powerful with my zinger of truth.

“Not necessarily,” he sheepishly musters as he slowly glances away, not aware, or maybe all too aware, of how cruel his flicker of hope is to me.

I drop him off, anxious for him to get out of the car and then missing him as soon as he’s gone. I drive off not wanting to watch him walk away from me.

I head over to the writer’s house. “Hi, I’m around the corner,” I call. I enter his apartment very determined to have a good time. I let him touch me. Kiss me. We end up on the hallway floor, not worthy of a bed or a couch. And just a second after the moment where we go too far, where seeking companionship turns to utter isolation – I rise and make some excuse and hurry home, leaving him there on the hardwood floor, promising nothing’s wrong, I’ll call you later behind an almost believable smile.

I drive almost in a daze not sure how I make it home or what is wrong.

I shower like Lady Macbeth and scare the bejesus out of my friend when she calls, not realizing as I answer the phone that I am heaving and wailing. She races over and listens to me rant about my day, about how I violated myself, by my actions. How dirty I am substituting one man for another. “If I had a therapist it wouldn’t be lost on them that both men have the same name,” I say attempting levity. She takes that as a cue to suggest therapy. I dismiss it, knowing she is right.

I calm down and think I look pretty when I cry. She agrees with me, pointing out how green my eyes are. I should cry more often, she instructs. “Not a problem,” I respond. Then we both laugh.

“I’ll take you out for your birthday, just the girls,” she offers. And for the first time all day, I smile and think, “Oh, yes, lovely.”

“Friday? How’s Friday?” she offers as she tears into planning a grand fete.

And I shrink back and calmly say, “I can’t Friday. I’m busy. Friday, I have plans.”

Like a grown-up version of musical chairs, speed dating was all the rage during the post-9/11 urge to merge. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center left some couples clinging to each other as if their very survival depended on it. Other relationships snapped under the pressure. Young singles who were previously perfectly happy on their own suddenly felt compelled to pair off.

As with everything in those frightening months, time was of the essence. Activities that separated the wheat from the chaff were in high demand. We wanted to spend quality time with our loved ones, write our wills, donate to patriotic causes, and contemplate the meaning of life. All of this while being slightly suspicious of everyone around us.

Speed dating was just what the doctor ordered: a single location for multiple, time-limited dates in one evening without the bother of having to offer or receive awkward rejections.

Several months after the traumatic break-up of my almost three-year relationship, my friend Karen asked me to accompany her to a speed dating event. While I knew that we were both feeling the urge to merge ourselves, I was stunned that she’d consider such a thing. Of course I told her no way, but she reminded me that I hadn’t had a single date since my break-up. I honestly don’t know what possessed me, but I agreed.

The plan was that we would meet in the restaurant’s bar where the event was being held. That way, we could walk into the special event room together. The bar was filled with couples holding hands while they waited for their tables. The tables were filled with couples who ate from each other’s plates and finished each other’s sentences. The acoustics created by the high ceiling in the cavernous space made for a carnival-like experience. I waited and waited. Finally, my phone rang. I started for the exit as soon as I saw Karen’s number on the caller ID. Of course she wasn’t coming. Stuck at work. Of course I wasn’t staying.

Then she reminded me that I had already paid for the event so I may as well attend. I should “be open to possibilities.” She wanted a full report later, and she offered that perhaps the evening would make a funny story one day.

Um, yeah right…

I walked through the dining room filled with happy couples toward the event room. Dead woman walking. Perhaps I should have paused for my last meal. The Pasta Bolognese smelled amazing.

For some reason, I feared I would be the lone geek in a room full of poised and accomplished young professionals. I envisioned well-dressed lawyers and doctors sipping sophisticated cocktails and partaking in witty conversations about their stock portfolios, foreign policy, or literature. With quivering knees, I entered the room to find men segregated on one side and women on the other. Good Lord, it was eighth grade with pink girlie drinks for the women and beer for the men!

The men were clumped into small groups pretending to be in deep conversation, while sneaking quick glances to size up each woman as she entered.

The women seemed oblivious to the men. They were all gathered around one woman at the bar who was rather loud and who sucked down drinks in single gulps. The woman was statuesque, a redhead, and the sister of a friend I’d dated briefly. She turned to welcome the newcomer into the tribe and immediately recognized me. She proceeded to introduce me as her brother’s ex-girlfriend, which was definitely not how I would have described myself. Looks of pity followed from the peanut gallery.

Hey, I went out with him for a few months in the course of a ten-year friendship. And we’re all single here. Why else would we put ourselves through this torture? Keep your pity to your damn selves! I thought.

The organizer, Patrick, was obviously a cheerleader back in high school. He rang an obnoxious bell and called everyone to the middle of the room. Women were in a semicircle to his right, and the men mirrored us on his left. A peppy spiel about being open to everyone, balanced with warnings about inappropriate behavior, ensued. He provided extensive directions about the proper way to fill out the scorecard. He didn’t actually call it a scorecard, but we all knew what it was.

There were several tables with numbers on them. Each woman was directed to pick one and have a seat. The men were told to approach a table one at a time for our seven minute “dates.” We were not allowed to talk before Patrick rang the begin-date bell nor were we allowed to speak after he rang the end-date bell. At the close of each date, the men were required to switch tables. They were not allowed to return to a table they’d already visited.

The first gent to approach me looked very much like Bill Gates. Not rich, just incredibly and stereotypically nerdy. Now New Orleans is not known for its beautiful people, but you generally think of people this geeky living near Silicon Valley, MIT, or Microsoft headquarters. I took a deep breath and prepared to be “open to possibilities.” He’d moved to, as he called it, The Big Easy (cringe) from the Midwest. I wasn’t surprised. I was being open. Nothing inherently evil about the Midwest. I have friends from the Midwest.

I asked him what his favorite things were about living in New Orleans. His answer: the food. Great, we had something in common. I could work with that for the next five minutes. I asked about his favorite restaurants. Chili’s and Applebee’s. Um, dude, you could have stayed in the cornfields and eaten at chain restaurants. Good grief.

Okay, next subject. I asked what he thought about Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and our general party culture. He proudly informed me that after living in New Orleans for five years, he thought that this year would be the one when he “would go to the Bourbon Street to see the Fat Tuesday.”

For the uninitiated, the syntax of this sentence was utterly bizarre. It’s akin to someone in New York going to “the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue to view the celebration associated with the annual advancement of the Gregorian calendar.”

Ding!

In retrospect, Bachelor Number Two turned out to be the most promising of the lot. He had lived in New York making a living as a writer but had returned to New Orleans to run the family plumbing business after his brother suddenly died.

I’m sorry, did you say plumbing? As in pipes and poop? Okay, I had a big ick reaction but rallied on. After all, this guy was creative and responsible. What were the odds? I was opening to the possibilities more by the moment. We talked about his writing, which was heavily influenced by Charles Bukowski. Uh oh.

Now, here I must digress. Many people have types. Some men like women with blond hair. Some women like men who are really tall. My type was incredibly specific. For years, I dated men who played chess, juggled, ran cross-country in high school, and yes, were Bukowski acolytes. What can I say? Apparently, I liked them smart, agile, and highly dysfunctional. It wasn’t like I looked for them. I attracted them. It was an odd gift.

I never found out whether the plumber fit my other unconscious criteria. Once Bukowski was out of the bag, I was done. After all, I was there to break patterns, not repeat them. I somewhat sadly said goodbye when the bell rang.

Ding!

Bachelor Number Three’s appearance immediately set me back in my chair. He was wearing false eyelashes. Seriously. Not, I have a dermatological condition and have lost my eyelashes so I wear these so I don’t look weird false eyelashes, but Mary Tyler Moore from the Dick Van Dyke Show false eyelashes. It was stunning.

Somehow, I got over my mute shock and started a conversation. As it turned out, we were both Jewish and originally from New Orleans. I knew we did not belong to the same congregation because I’d surely have remembered this guy and his lashes. I asked him if he was affiliated. Yes, he did belong to a congregation, but he wasn’t too crazy about it. I asked if he’d attended services there all his life, and he said no. Apparently, his parents paid for his membership. They’d belonged to a number of congregations over the years because his mother tended to fight with people. Uh, how many Jewish stereotypes can you fit into a seven-minute date?

Ding! Thank G-d.

Now, I feel really guilty about describing Bachelor Number Four. He was very nice and seemed like a heck of a lot of fun. But he was remarkably short, maybe five feet tall in shoes, and a rodeo clown. Yes, you read that right. A rodeo clown. I was born in New Orleans, and I had no idea that there was enough rodeo work in the area to make it a full-time job. And maybe I’m being snobby here, but it seemed to me the speed dating people used a mighty liberal definition of the term “professional.”

I tried to maintain a conversation, but my mind drifted to the image of the little fellow emerging from a tiny car with 20 of his friends. Or maybe only circus clowns do that. Anyway, I feared I was going to hell for thinking these thoughts, but the night was so surreal. I felt like I was dating on acid: distortions of space and size, warping time, ringing bells.

Ding!

When Bachelor Number Five approached my table, I exhaled. He appeared perfectly normal, handsome even. He was dressed neatly but informally. He did hold his head at an unusual angle, but I thought he was just being flirtatious. I had no idea what the next seven minutes held.

As soon as he sat down, we agreed that it seemed like we’d met before. We didn’t live in the same neighborhood or hang out in the same places. Was it work? I told him what I did. He told me that he had his own business related to the casino industry. Definitely not work.

Okay, was he Jewish? New Orleans has a small enough Jewish community that sometimes you just know people because you’re Jewish. He responded by asking me if I was Jewish, and I said yes. He said he was not, but that I’d have known that if I had looked in his wallet. No money. Dude, I’d just told you I was Jewish and your reply was an anti-Semitic comment?

By then, I was kind of checking out, so he filled in the conversation with talk of his work. Apparently, the name of his business, 1-ey*d Jack, had special meaning but not for the reason people assumed. He said that he’d had the recent experience of presenting his business card to a “n***** woman” who worked in a casino on the Mississippi Coast. After she saw the name of his business, she indicated that she knew why it was named 1-ey*d Jack—by pointing to his crotch. At this moment in the story, he gestured to his groin. Dear Lord, was this some sort of Neo-Nazi screw with the racially-sensitive Jewish feminist Candid Camera?

No, he was getting to his point. It seemed his business was actually named 1-ey*d Jack because, although his name was not Jack, he had only one eye. The other eye was glass. He tapped it with his fingernail to prove it. I nearly vomited on the table.

Ding!

Throughout these seven-minute increments of hell, my friend’s sister was having a jolly good time. She whooped it up with one and all. I kept thinking she was so much better than I was at embracing the moment and being open to possibilities. Yeah, she is generally a much more go-with-the-flow kind of person than I am, but there were also the cocktails. I wished I’d followed her lead on that.

After 1-ey*d Jack, I was done, so the final bachelor was a dream. He spent the entire seven minutes on his cell phone. Oh, he’d occasionally glance in my direction and nod, but other than that, nada. I didn’t even get his name. As I stared off into space, the rodeo clown winked at me from across the room.

Now, I have to admit, there were a few other fellows there who were decidedly less remarkable than those I’ve described. At the time, they seemed only slightly less wrong. Maybe, between the nerd, the plumber, the eyelashes, the clown, and the penis, I missed a gem. I guess I’ll never know.

But Karen was right. It did make a damn good story.

“Guy” and I met while working at a tiny summer stock theatre in Vermont.

We quickly fell in love and on the anniversary of our first kiss, onstage, in front of a cooing audience of 150, Guy chivalrously dropped to one knee and presented me with a diamond ring.

He had been engaged once before, he announced, but it didn’t work out. He simply couldn’t marry her. This time he wanted to do it right.

For the right girl.

For me.

I burst into tears.

I was nineteen when we met and Guy was my first everything: first boyfriend, first sexual partner, first fiancé, first musician, first bi-polar manic-depressive, first Jesus freak and first deeply-closeted Gay. So looking back, it was only natural that the following year, his was also to be my first broken engagement.

The late-night Vermont cabarets in which we performed were loosely themed around a few staples of hard-scrabbled New England in-jokes: maple syrup, cheese, Flatlanders, fudge and cows.

I had finished my first act number and changed into my next costume before escaping to the back porch where the cast and crew spent intermissions for mid-show smokes and beers.

On that porch, in front of a cringing audience of 15, Guy cavalierly dropped the bomb.

It wasn’t going to work out. He simply couldn’t marry me.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the right girl after all.

I burst into tears.

The emcee stuck his head out the backstage door and called, “Places.”

He looked down at me, crumpled on the ground, wildly sobbing into the arms of a friend –

– in a cow suit –

– one of those black and white Holstein get-ups, complete with a hot pink boa.

The emcee put a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Can you still go on?”

I could not.

I was convulsing so hard that my chest bounced against my friend’s as they pulled the costume from my shoulders – the emcee having chosen to punt and reassign the number, rather than cut it – for as we all know, The Show Must Go On.

I vaguely recall gathering myself together to watch the end of the cabaret. I made it just in time to see someone else onstage, in my cow suit and my feather boa, singing my song: the seminal Cats’ classic: “Memories,” but revamped for Vermont audiences as “Mammaries.”

“Mooooonlight, and no sound from the pasture, all alone with my mammaries, and their days in the sun.”

It suddenly seemed so very, very appropriate.

* * *

I never went back to Vermont after that summer.

I had heard through the grapevine that Guy had gotten engaged twice more after me; breaking off each one with equal severity. Thus bringing the total number of cancelled engagements for him to four in six years.

I never heard of another cow suit, though.

I guess there’s a first for everything.

An open letter to Julie, the girl who dumped me right after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded:


740pxchallenger_explosion



Dear Julie,

We dated briefly in the fifth grade, and on January 28, 1986, you broke up with me. We were sitting in the Presentation Area, adjacent the library, and we had just finished watching the Space Shuttle Challenger explode. It ascended from the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, and seventy-three seconds later, the whole thing went up in a massive fireball, killing everyone aboard. The room was silent, and our teachers started crying. And then your friend Marianne walked over to me and handed me a note that said, “Hey … You’re dumped.”

I’m not the type to hold a grudge or anything, but I always felt like that was really insensitive timing.

Cordially,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA



An open letter to Jeffrey Dahmer:


Jeffreydahmermugshot


Dear Jeffrey,

You worked at the Ambrosia Chocolate factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during the early 1980s. I read about it somewhere not too long after you were bludgeoned to death in prison. My second-grade class went on a field trip to the Ambrosia factory in 1982. I often wonder if you were there at the time of my visit. I wonder if we saw each other in the hallway or something. And naturally, I wonder if you looked at me and decided that you wanted to eat me and keep my skull as a souvenir.

Sincerely,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA



An open letter to John Walker Lindh:


Walker_enlarge

 


Dear John,

You were born in 1981. Whenever I hear of adults who were born in the 1980s, it makes me feel old. You’re twenty-six now. And you’re in prison. I can’t think of anything worse than being twenty-six and in prison. I hope you’re not going insane.

I just reread your personal history online, and I have to admit, I find it pretty stunning. It’s hard to believe you started off in Marin County and wound up fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s a massive statistical unlikelihood—which I suppose is part of the reason why you did it. For a teenager raised in Mill Valley, moving to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban has got to be the ultimate in youthful rebellion.

You must have been really pissed off at your parents.

At the time of your arrest, you were twenty years old.

When I was twenty, I was taking bong hits in a Boulder basement, listening to Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz.

People, generally speaking, are pretty stupid at the age of twenty. I know I certainly was. And I imagine that you were, too.

To be honest, I think you might have set some kind of record for misguided youthful indiscretion. If there were some sort of measuring device that could calculate this kind of thing, I’m almost certain that you’d rank right up near the top.

A lot of my friends lost their shit in college, but nobody grew a beard and moved to Afghanistan.

Kindest regards,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA

P.S. Forty is the new twenty.

Like most people my trajectory through life has been filled with tests and lessons. If school prepared me for anything it certainly wasn’t a career, but an ability to recognize when I was about to be graded.

Returning to LA was a test on both my relationship and my ability to be loved and reciprocate love. I failed.

The first week was blissful and sweet. We met each others friends and took each other to our favorite places. We nuzzled and fondled and pulled the car over to the side of the road to have panic-stricken emergency sex on the side of Santa Monica Boulevard.

Cole’s catch-phrase during those days was an awed “So THIS is how it would be.”

Apparently Cole was a changed man. His friends were amazed at his open declarations of love. I just thought it was normal. We talked a lot about each others pasts and I kept no secrets. Cole did. Dark things had happened to him that he wasn’t ready to divulge. I didn’t push, but I did wonder.

At the end of the week, just before I was to return to Fiji, as planned, I got an email.

The email was from my clients, telling me they’d run out of money for the project and would I mind delaying my return? Cole was ecstatic. I was scared. I had no money, no work-visa and no idea what I would do. The idea of relying on Cole, even for a few short weeks, weighed on me. I started to withdraw.

My body tensed.

The monster awoke.

My emotional synapses went haywire.

It was a simple fact that procuring a visa for me to return to the US was going to be really difficult. I had lived there for too long without applying for a Green Card. In order to move back it would take time and money that I didn’t have, and was not prepared to borrow. I was convinced that if by allowing Cole to help me he would lose respect for me. That I would lose respect for myself.

I’d had a relationship for five years that had deteriorated because of similar issues and I wasn’t going to risk it. So I flatly refused any assistance. Now I know that there’s a middle ground, that it’s possible to accept a hand with grace and fortitude when it is offered with love and candor.

Sometimes you have to learn the hard way.

Cole hired me a car and gave me some money. I don’t even know if I was
gracious about accepting it. We started to talk about the future and
things took a turn for the worse.

At one point Cole offered the biggest gift of all. He proposed that we get married.

I turned him down.

I cry as I write this, not because I still feel regret, but because by writing it I’m tapping into something I’ve buried for a couple of years. There are moments in life when everything changes and we alight on different paths. It’s sad. Sad to know that I will NEVER know the outcome of that other path.

The truth is that I’d never wanted to get married before. Cole was the first person who stirred those feelings in me. I wanted to say yes with all of my being, but I didn’t, and I will never know the outcome of our lives if I had said one single word differently.

“Yes.”

Once the multitude of difficulties ahead were revealed I became embittered and angry. The hopelessness of depression returned. Cole would go to work each day and I would sit on the bed and stare at the walls, ‘knowing’ there was nothing that I could do to change my life.

Cole kept on saying those words “So THIS is how it would be.” But now his tone had changed. There was apprehension in it. Fear. I sensed change and it made me act even worse.

We fought.

I said cruel things.

I sabotaged everything because it seemed obvious that one day it would all disappear anyway.

Perhaps if we’d had good times for longer there might have been a bigger foundation for Cole to lean on when the times got rough. But we hadn’t. He had no idea if this bitch I had evolved into was the REAL Zoë, he had no comparison.

It must have been very confusing and disappointing for him.

I’m sure I hurt him.

I know I scared him away.

I was in LA for a month. Three weeks longer than planned. I finally flew back to Fiji amid a haze of tears and heartache. We both felt so much love and loss, but so much fear and ugliness.

I called and apologized as soon as I landed. The obstacles had been so big, so seemingly insurmountable, and had turned me into a creature even I didn’t recognize.

It was too late.

He pulled the plug.

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t cope with that level of sad, mad and bad.

Who could blame him?

It was over.

And I never saw him again.

It’s been two years now and my desperate phone calls and emails to Cole petered out from daily to weekly, to monthly… the last time we spoke was a year ago.

He’s here, in LA, somewhere.

My visa was finally approved, after two years of waiting.

He might be living around the corner from me, for all I know.

That last time we spoke he’d just met someone and sounded happy. He wasn’t thrilled to hear from me. The letters and phone calls had scared him away even more.

I used to wonder if, had I just left him alone for a while, we might have been able to build a bridge between us, but I didn’t leave him alone, of course.

In the throws of a returned depression I had no focus, no calm.

I was a shrew, a beggar, a mess.

I had no dignity.

Yuk.

I always imagined that we’d run into each other some place, some time, but to this day it hasn’t happened. I figured that fate would play as much a hand in a reunion as it did in our first meeting. I always thought we might meet for a coffee and a chat, perhaps rekindle something. I’m here now, but I haven’t called. For two years I dreamed about him nightly, and cried often. I missed his friendship and the inspiration I drew from him. I wondered if seeing him would give me the closure I needed. I wondered if I was still in love him or just in love with the IDEA of him… for clearly he was not the man I needed or knew, just as I was not the woman he expected.

Time passed.

I decided to write this story, to share it, and as the words left my brain and fingers something miraculous happened.

I gave Cole away.

He’s yours now.

He was a beautiful moment and a wonderful dream.

He existed to show me that men were wonderful and pure, after a lifetime of lies and deception and abuse, he showed me there was love and magic. He just didn’t have the stamina to keep it going, and I can’t say I blame him one tiny iota.

The last time we spoke he told me that he thought our brief time together was just a fantasy, something that never could have sustained itself. Those words broke my heart more than losing him ever did, but I knew that I too was capable of convincing myself of certain things in order to be protected. To heal. In any case, we were clearly both now remembering different lives and speaking different languages.

I wrote him one last letter. I never expected a reply. He’d finally, after a year of being alone, met someone else and was smiling. It hadn’t been easy for him either.

I too had other lovers, I tried to love again. I felt some semblance of emotion for some of them, others were just physical interludes in a time of growth and mending.

I got better. I found my hope. I started writing and laughing and living.

I cannot find the last letter I wrote to Cole, in all its torn asunder splendor. I was going to post it here as one last gesture of open honesty and raw emotion. And clinging need. A farewell to a lost friend from a heart that has finally, through the power of writing, been able to move on. I must have discarded it in a fit of pique or mortification.

Still, there is goodness. I could not have been more honest in this telling, and I have been rewarded with a sense of peace and purity.

You have seen inside of me. I’ve turned myself inside out. For you. For me. It’s a beautiful, naked, tortured and complicated thing.

Sometimes we have to lose what is the most precious to us in order to evolve into the best that we can be. A sad fact, but ultimately a wonderful one- if the end result is peace and a better human being.

I had to lose something dear thing to me to become the best that I could be.

I’ve never been happier, yet I will never know what would have, could have, been.

This story ends here. There are no resolutions or reunions, no fated meetings or fairy tales. It just ends.

Life goes on.

FINI.

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