Love (Found & Lost) Along the Road

So, the context provided in the entry before this one should explain that I’d followed love to a strange set of life-decisions. After having planned for over a year to move from Boston to Los Angeles, I finally did, and a year later I left to drive haphazardly across the country. Because of a Boy. Seriously, read that damn entry first.

So I left Los Angeles on June 3rd. It was very hard to do. My stuff was in storage, my birds were in their travel cage, there was less money in my bank account than I’d hoped, and I was very, very, nervous. I had just moved to LA a year before. I’d been so excited to start my life there. I kept looking at my favorite restaurants, favorite haunts, thinking to myself that I’d be back in two months, that I’d just settle right back in, hopefully bringing the Boy back with me.

The only way I was able to leave was by reminding myself I’d be back soon. Reminding myself that I had an adventure to go on, and that I’d be home again before I knew it. That the time would fly by.

So I drove to Las Vegas. I checked into my hotel room at The Artisan, a hotel I’d stayed at many times before and have stayed at many times since. I spent the next two weeks working – booking tables, selling bottles, hosting parties, Go-Go dancing, bar-tending private parties, gambling even, all cash and quick. The plan was to make as much money as I could fast, and to head East.

A few days before my expected leaving date, I met Ghost. Ghost has a real name, but I don’t feel like using it, as few people know it and by keeping it close I feel it makes him still belong to me in some way, even though I’m giving away this story. 

Ghost lurked around nightclubs, he drank Johnnie Walker Black, kept copious amounts of cash in his pocket and spoke with a rough, deep voice, the memory of which still sometimes catches me by surprise. He and I met when I sidled up next to him leaning against a railing and made conversation about the people we could see from his vantage point. Together we ended up standing at a bar at a club one evening for hours, talking about philosophy, sociology and politics. I loved every minute of it. We debated a lot, but mostly agreed on foundational things, we quoted authors and texts, and we gave anecdotes from our lives. He told me ridiculous stories – half of which I’m sure were lies, I even knew it then, but I didn’t mind. I told him some too.

I got back to my hotel room sometime after sunrise, and I remember calling the Boy. I remember being excited but realizing that the excitement wasn’t right – I was actually thrilled about someone I had just met, just as I was about to come see the boy I’d changed my life around for. I remember holding back all of my sudden butterflies, my sudden floods of euphoria. But I did remember in that moment my pact to be honest, so I told him the truth – “I met somebody last night who was interesting and I spent hours talking to him. I am committed to you, obviously – we’ve agreed to stay monogamous and exclusive, but I must tell you that if we weren’t, I’d probably be with him right now. He was just really compelling. I’m not telling you this to make you feel bad – I’m telling you this because I need to – I am committed to you, and I need to say that out loud.”

He took it well, considering. The very next night Ghost showed up again and we continued our discussions from the night before. We decided to go see a movie, and the theatre was empty besides us, so we talked to the screen and made historical corrections and references continuously. It was so much fun. We got another couple of drinks at yet another bar and the conversations brought us back to sunrise. I told him I was leaving the next day for Iowa to see my boyfriend, and he told me that made him somewhat sad to think about.

After some sleep that morning, I called him to ask if he would have an early dinner with me. He agreed. The conversation and the food were both delicious, I ate up every bite and wanted more. I invited him to come help me pack for my trip. We made our way back to my hotel and he met my birds, both of whom took an instant liking to him. We told stories and theorized about ridiculous subjects for several hours before I knew I had to leave.

He helped me carry all my things down to the valet, helped me organize and pack my car. It was close to midnight. I was going to drive into the sunrise.

He finished his cigarette and went to give me a goodbye hug, and we kissed. It was one of those epic kisses – the kind you’ve been waiting for, it feels like everything’s led up to, and it was absolutely blissful, I won’t lie. There were a few more kisses before I finally drove off into the night.

I got an hour away before I suddenly felt the biggest regret of my entire life. I felt like I’d made a giant mistake. Then I felt terribly guilty for thinking that. The Boy was waiting for me in Iowa. What was I doing? My phone beeped, a text message from Ghost, it said “I wish I’d asked you to stay.”

I kept driving. I thought about the Boy, I thought about Ghost, I thought about my friends who were getting married in a few weeks who live in New England, the people I’d be visiting once I got to that side of the country. I listened to a lot of music, I contemplated various meanings of words. I wrote poetry in my head. I passed signs for the Great Continental Divide and drove through the mountains as the sun made its way up into the sky.

I drove 820 miles that day.  I arrived at my friend’s home in Colorado Springs and had some dinner. We talked for a while, and then she went to bed, and when I checked my emails I found one from Ghost. He’d written me a poem. It was an amazing poem. I called him and we talked for six hours. We talked about various after-life theories, about concepts of divinity, God-forms, eternal salvation or punishment, or nothingness. I wrote him a poem after we hung up. I went to sleep as the sun rose. I spent some time with my friend and took a nap after she went to bed. I woke up before dawn and left for Iowa.

Nebraska is a rather boring state to drive through. The most interesting thing along the way was a T-Rex by the side of Interstate-80. I drove 940 miles that day, I remember it took me 17 hours. There were long stretches of straight highway and fields, and I had two long conversations with Ghost along the way, each for at least six hours. The topics were varied, but my vegetarianism, genetic modification, and philosophies of love were covered fairly thoroughly. We spent considerable amounts of time debating whether one has a finite amount of love that they should give out sparingly, or if by giving love, one has more love to give, and should give it out freely. We talked about our past loves, we talked about my relationship. I crossed the town line into Dubuque, Iowa, and we said our goodbyes. We contemplated the possibility that we may never speak again. We accepted it. We hung up.

I arrived in Dubuque to a drunken boyfriend, a house party, and way too much energy and craziness for someone who just spent 17 hours driving. I retired quickly to bed, to be woken shortly after by my drunk and horny boyfriend who I’m fairly sure wouldn’t have accepted a “no” from me if I’d had the energy to say it. We hadn’t seen each other in about a month anyway, how could I say no? In his passion, he slammed my head against the wall and I cried. He apologized and held me, but my tears came from pain as well as from being over-tired, and possibly even heartbreak I couldn’t explain.

I cried myself to sleep, while the Boy went off to continue partying. He passed out later, reeking of the amount of booze he’d consumed. I remember sometime around dawn I crawled out of the bed and texted Ghost just to tell him what had happened when I’d arrived, and the confusion my tears had brought me.

He wrote me poems. He emailed me epic poems, and many of them at that. I spent the next few days in Iowa with the Boy and his family, I tried to get comfortable, but I was leaving for New England a few days later anyway. On the drive from Dubuque to Akron and from Akron to New Hampshire, I ended up in lengthy conversations with Ghost again. He asked me to come back to Vegas. I wanted to.

I got to New Hampshire, then drove to Maine (to park my car on the Atlantic coast) and then to Massachusetts. The Boy flew to Boston. The last conversation I had with Ghost, I told him I was on my way to pick the Boy up, and he told me we probably wouldn’t talk again until “that was over”. I said that was probably best. He said goodbye. He never called or wrote me again that summer.

I picked up the Boy, and we attended my friends’ wedding. There I was, surrounded by all my community, and everyone was so happy. It’s interesting – I imagine that weddings may be hard for many people – single people, people whose partners have passed away, or people with hard memories surrounding such an occasion. I was there with my boyfriend, a man who’d talked about building a life together and having children with me, and while I was watching my two beloved friends exchange their vows I realized I didn’t believe I had that love with him. I wasn’t in love and the realization was like a lightening strike to my heart, a hole had formed and dark clouds and thunder and rain started as I felt the empty space where I knew he wasn’t residing anymore. I was so conflicted that day – I was very happy for my friends and also very aware of not having that feeling for my own partner. I resented him for something he didn’t know about, I hated myself for feeling it. I was beginning to believe he was becoming aware of my emotional distance, and I could feel us coming apart, unraveling, changing.

We spent some more time in New England before heading back to Iowa. Once there I was expected to settle in – the original plan was for me to stay over the next few weeks, perhaps travel to fun Midwest cities like Chicago or St. Louis or Madison. The festival we met at would be happening in late July, and after that I could head home. I’d like to point out that before I started the trip, I genuinely thought he could be convinced to come back with me.  That he’d turn into the person he’d been that week in October, that if I did my time in Iowa, I would get what I’d been idealizing. Silly girl.

I ran out of money. My storage unit had been paid up, my car insurance, the logistical stuff had been planned for entirely.  But the copious amounts of food on the road, the Red Bull, the additional car maintenance, the various expenses – not so much. I was trapped in a town I was not fond of, with a boyfriend I’d somehow stopped loving in a very fast turn of events, and I didn’t actually have a plan of how to get home anymore.

So I got depressed. He worked, I hung out at his family’s store, I watched his sister’s kids. Every day was the same – we rented movies, we drank at one of the bars in town, we hung out with his friends (again with the drinking, so much drinking), and I tried to figure out how I’d be getting home. I spent way too much time on Facebook seeing my friends on both sides of the country doing things I’d much rather be doing. I wrote. Then I worked – helping his family out here and there, getting some cash together for my return trip home.

It’s funny, the shortest part of my retelling of this story, is the longest part to me. But no words can quite express the tedium I felt in the Midwest over those several weeks. I wasn’t made for the life there, though I can appreciate how some can love it. The people were friendly and sweet, the Boy’s family was amazing to me, and I credit them with really being what kept me *wanting* to love him as much as I wanted to. I adored his family. I still do.

I thought about breaking up with him, but I wanted to see what it was like to return to where we met. I wanted to know if maybe it could work. There were things along the way that hurt – he asked me multiple times when I’d “get over” wanting to live in a big, vibrant city, as if my desire to live there was an adolescent fantasy I would grow out of. We used to argue about that a lot – I told him if I ever gave up living in a major city, I’d move back to the East coast before I’d ever consider the Midwest.

He was angry because I never seemed to be present in the moment. I was angry because he never seemed to think of anything more philosophically or conceptually dynamic than his simple life. I couldn’t stand how petty he was against people who’d wronged him in the past. He couldn’t understand how I could forgive people, or be so close with exes of mine that I called them regularly to catch up. I did appreciate how he could find pleasure in a job well done, his family’s business, his nephew’s games and the neighborhood in general, but I couldn’t find the same level of satisfaction. He used to tease me for paying attention to world events. I had to explain to him why I thought these things mattered, and he’d just grab a beer and ask if I was done, if I wanted to go to the local jam session or take some shrooms. I once sighed and told him I didn’t want to do anything, nothing here would make me less bored. We wouldn’t shout, we’d shut down – he’d walk away, beer in hand, and I’d grab a book and ignore everything else for hours.

So weeks went by, filled with the same people and the same things every single day, and I ached to leave. We packed the car up in late July to head to Brushwood in upstate New York. We made our camp, our friends arrived, and suddenly the magic was there. Granted, so were the same drugs we’d done the year before, and with them the familiar dopamine rushes and empathic patterns, the bonding and relationship buildings.

It flooded back, and there in the woods I loved him again.

After that, we headed back to Iowa, and I stuck around for a few more weeks, because I didn’t have enough money yet to leave. The routine began again as it had before Brushwood. Nothing changed, except the glimmer of hope I had in my heart that I was leaving soon. I made some cash helping out his family, and then I called my father and begged for a small loan to get me back home. With the funds in my bank account, I packed my car and my birds up, and I said my goodbyes on August 15th.

I drove from Dubuque to Colorado Springs, and from Colorado Springs to Boulder to see other friends. I drove from Boulder to Las Vegas. I drove from Las Vegas back to Los Angeles. 2100 miles in four days. Few times have I felt as genuinely, purely happy, as driving back into the city of Los Angeles on August 19th. It was a very “world is my oyster” sort of moment.

The Boy and I were still together. After everything that had happened, we were still together. I didn’t consider it a win though. I talked it over with friends along the way home, and admitted that I was afraid to break up with him while I was in Iowa – what if I decided it was all just mood and regretted the decision when I returned to my real world? How would I tell his family that after all the love and support from them, I was leaving their son, that I couldn’t do it anymore, and by the way, I’m going home 2,000 miles away never to see them again? I didn’t know how to do that, I didn’t trust myself, so I got all the way home and then I felt every single last connection to our love in the woods just die out.

We talked over the phone, decided monogamy and exclusivity were something we could not do. It took another month for us to break up (mutually), believe it or not, and that lingering, holding on to something already dead is a habit I really hate myself for. But I can’t do dramatic impulses with changes of heart – so if I say it’s over, it’s definitely over, and in order to make sure of that, I have to stick around after I’ve decided before telling somebody. It’s a really bad habit. I’ve since resolved to change it.

So the Boy is still in Iowa, and our occasions of conversation are few and far between. I often think back to that year and grasp the collection of memories that are so extremely varied. I love that I had a fling with a boy in the woods of upstate New York. I love his family. I love some of the adventures we had. Things are perfect, aren’t they, in the beginning? Sometimes things should be left there, a perfect little romance in a perfect little week – but some things you have to explore and discover further to learn that not all the glittery things are worth their weight in gold.

I pursued a relationship with someone, which, in retrospect, was an impossible match, but those moments when it was good it was so fun. I think for a while I was good for him. I think I became less good for him as time went on, but there were moments when I know I gave him glimpses of a world he didn’t know. Some of it was not to his liking. He did the same for me. There is no mystery in our story, and I know what happened because I followed the road.

On the other hand, I had my Ghost. It’s been almost two years since I left him at that valet stand in front of the Artisan Hotel in Las Vegas. I did hear from him after that summer, yes, after the Boy and I had broken up. I never saw him again though, and I doubt I ever will. I’ll never stop wondering what would have happened if I’d turned around after that message he sent me an hour into my drive away. I’ll never stop wondering what the sex would have been like if I’d slept with him while he was in my hotel room.

And that’s okay.

It’s these moments in which I’m profoundly grateful for the array of experiences I have allowed myself to have. I’ve loved and lost and left and longed for. I recognize the resentment I held against the Boy for the commitment I made which meant I never explored something that probably would’ve been nothing, but yet it changed everything. It’s made me extremely wary of monogamous relationships, of long-distance ones (ironic given my current involvement in one spanning 300 miles), and of setting expectations high or loving what someone can be, rather than what they are.

Two years ago I set off in my car to drive across the country for love. I found another love – not the kind that lasts but the kind that burns you quick and makes you remember what heat feels like. I was suddenly made aware of a lukewarm love that wasn’t meant to last either, that I’d prolonged past its necessary path. It’s okay. Life is for figuring that shit out. At 23, I had a wild adventure that I like to think has lasting affects on my character and personality. And if nothing else, I’m a bad-ass for driving an 11-year-old Ford Focus over 7,000 miles in a single summer with two parrots in the passenger seat.

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