Do this, exactly: Wake up on your forty-first birthday in 2014 on Thanksgiving, and finally feel happy, feel ready for what’s next. Realize that although there’s a lot you have in common, break up with a very sweet man who you’ve been seeing for a few months. Hunker down and make some fun art, take some silly pictures, spend Christmas in a snowless Portland winter. Spend time with friends, miss your family who you can’t see very often around the holidays because of your day job.
Have a guy get back in touch with you (after connecting on a dating app the summer before). His name is David, and while he wasn’t available then, when he lived in Chicago, he is now. He remembered you, found you again and is open to trying to make a connection over the long distance that separates the two of you. He woos you by playing music on his keyboard (he’s a talented composer) and sending you the videos. Through FaceTime dates, you introduce him to Battlestar Galactica, he introduces you to Avatar and Korra. Point the cameras at your faces, get your dinner ready to eat, press play together and watch the episodes simultaneously, 1,400 miles apart. Look over at each other, check each others’ expressions, smile at each other. Invite him to Portland for a long weekend to test out the in-person chemistry.
Next, do this: Have him come out the first week of February, and feel the instant and powerful connection. Show off Portland, your city that you love, go to the places where your home shines. On the way to the waterfalls, quietly ask him if you can take a picture of the two of you. Think to yourself as you look at the picture later, after he goes back to Milwaukee, if nothing else, I’ll have this from this weekend.
Be invited to make a TED-style talk up in Seattle for the JAKE Talks, and write a piece about dating and courtship through the ages. Have it be received well, and mark your first time public speaking. It’s a strange thing, being asked your opinion on dating and romance, when in the past three years you’ve been unhappily single and very unlucky in romance.
The next month you see David in New York: the two of you go out there for several days. He checks out NYU, where he’s applying to grad school. Surprise him with tickets to Sleep No More, see some sights. Get snowbound and have to stay an extra day. You have a lot of friends in that city, so introduce him to some of them, have him introduce you to his.
Meanwhile, back in Portland, film a segment for the local NBC affiliate on romance and dating apps. Have a small, insecure part of you worry that your writing will suffer because you are now happy. Have another part of you not care.
Have a talk with David: you are both falling deeply in love with each other, and so you make sure your future plans are aligned. Decide (to your own surprise) that you are relocatable for him. This is the man you can finally trust, he’s read everything you’ve written, and knows your deep insecurities and anxiety triggers. He knows you’ve been through a long-distance courtship before, he’s sympathetic to your apprehensions about how badly that went. He calms you in a way you didn’t think possible.
Next, be invited to tell the tale of your worst date ever at a small event hosted by cultural trailblazers. It goes well, be pleased with the result. This is apparently what you do when you’re happy: you tell tales of when you were not. You have plenty of these stories.
Have a whirlwind of a couple months traveling to San Francisco, to Seattle, to New York. Then the milestone: fly to Milwaukee to meet David’s family. They’re as warm and friendly as he is, it all feels familiar, your family has roots in Wisconsin. On a subsequent trip of David’s to Portland, Skype your father and introduce him, hear your boyfriend call him “sir” . Experience your heart swelling. Turn and look at his profile looking at your father’s face. Think to yourself finally, finally.
Back in Portland, hear that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of gay marriage. It’s a strange feeling, having grown up in such a different time and now seeing this. Feel that it’s a turning point in your heart for your feelings with David, and it is for him too: he calls you The One, he tells you you’re perfect. These are things that no one has ever told you in your life, and you think the same about him, tell him as much. Have him hold your hand in public, another lifetime first for you. Make plans to shift your life to New York: get rid of your car, tell your boss that you want to transfer.
David gets into NYU and moves to New York. While packing, he tells you he found the poem you wrote him, is taking it with him. Go there to see him off the plane at LaGuardia, help hoist his massive luggage through the subways and sweaty streets of Bed-Stuy. It’s a beautiful late summer in the city, and you get some good writing out of your happiness. New York is a city you fantasized about living in for while, and the possibility of moving there within the safety of a relationship is ideal. Plan a long overdue trip to see your mom and sister in San Antonio, and a couple days before, get the news that your mom’s been admitted into the hospital. It’s serious enough that she’s unconscious almost the whole time you’re there, but it does both of your hearts good to even be in each others’ space. In the meantime, David confesses to having read your book a second time.
Over Halloween weekend, take another trip to the east coast to be with David, and have it feel like a preview of your life together: no pressure for date nights or sightseeing, just enjoying each others’ company. Have him ask you to groom his back, a surprisingly intimate and erotic ritual. In bed, finally ask him to do that, the thing that you and he have talked about for a while, the thing that you haven’t let anyone do since the ex who sexually assaulted you over 15 years ago. He eagerly does, and you both do, and as you lie next to him afterwards, sated and exhausted, think finally. Finally.
Get the phone call a few days later, hear him cry, say he’s breaking up with you. Ask to see his face, but have him refuse. Just days before, you had permission to ask him anything and get an honest answer, just days before, you had permission to touch him anywhere, to put your mouth in places that made his back arch, and now you don’t have the right to see the face of the person rejecting you. Hear him say he doesn’t love you the same way that you love him, he doesn’t see a future with you. Register, numbly, that not once does he say “I’m sorry” or apologize in any way. Five minutes later and the call is over, five minutes later it officially becomes the shortest relationship of your life.
A week later, wake up alone to a Brooklyn sunrise, having used the ticket that was already bought for the next visit. Realize that you’re not as upset about the loss of love, but much more that it may never have existed for him in the first place. Wonder at the thought that breakups are like the death of someone who simply doesn’t want to be alive around you anymore. Have a gentle epiphany that we remember those we love not in how they say hello, but by the grace with which they say goodbye, and know that this goodbye was graceless, clumsy, cruel. Consider that this will be a pattern that follows him forever, but also know that it’s not your problem anymore. Realize that you still believe in lasting love, despite the world’s seemingly best efforts to convince you otherwise.
A couple of weeks after that, wake up on your forty-second birthday. Feel that you are surfacing. Know suddenly that you are going to miss Portland fiercely, because you are going to move to New York anyway, just not for him anymore, for you. This is urgent. This is imperative. Feel that the city will likely chew you up and spit you back out, and know that at least you will have tried. Speculate that the city will probably be a very lonely place to find love in.
Shower. Make coffee, drink it. Eat breakfast. Pet your cat. Get dressed. Brush your teeth, comb your hair. Pluck out a grey nosehair. Put on your jacket, grab your keys, your pen, your cat, your heart. Open the door. Step into New York. Live.
Finally, finally, live.
If you enjoyed this, here’s a story that takes place in New York. And here is another that does not, about a lovely neighbor of mine. Let’s be horrible people together. (above image by Summer Olsson, hand model: Michael Wheeler)