Well she was an American girl
Raised on promises
She couldn’t help thinkin’
That there was a little more to life somewhere else
After all it was a great big world
With lots of places to run to
And if she had to die tryin’
She had one little promise she was gonna keep …
One of the final weeks I was in Skamania, I met with another ex-boyfriend. This one was someone I dated the last few months I lived in Olympia after I graduated Evergreen State College in 99’. Frederick, I will call him, was a year or two younger than I was. We first met at a party in the dorms. Who ever’s dorm it was they were drying psychedelic mushrooms in the closet. I remember that. Frederick was sitting on the bed and we got in a little tiff about nothing in particular. I asked him a question, he pitched me attitude and I called him stuck up then he called me “a bitch”. After that, I gave him the evil eye on campus for an entire year.
I don’t remember how we became friends. He was in the chess club and was pretty much a straight shooter. At 20, his hair was already thinning. He wore a long tweed jacket and eyeglasses. He also religiously rode his bike everywhere. He was passionate. Once a car pulled up too close to him on the road and he kicked the door. The driver cursed him but Frederick was up for the challenge and fed the confrontation until they drove away. He hated cars.
The other thing I remember about him was his speech to a Ralph’s cashier. “No, I don’t want a loyalty card. I don’t like the idea of being loyal to any corporation. It isn’t just about taking the card and using it whenever I need to. It is in my wallet and I have to look at it anytime I need to take something out. It gets embedded in your mind. No. I don’t want a loyalty card today, thank you.”
We hit it off, and our comfortable friendship quickly blossomed into a romance. We dressed up together for Halloween from dresses we found in a thrift store; mine a bulky white dress with a chain around the waist and his a polyester blood orange dress with a high collar. I painted my face white and called myself “Chastity”, he put on heavy eyeliner and black lipstick and called himself “Blasphemy”. Our college was on the edge of a rainforest and on any given night the whole place looked as though it had a skyroof to space. The stars and tree tops were crystal clear. I ran around singing, “Blasphemy …” and he chased after me jingling, “Chastity …” We made love in the forest, getting make-up all over each other and our clothes.
I adored him, but knew upon acceptance to Grad school that we were short-lived so I scored our affair with Diana Ross love songs, playing them after sex or simply breaking out in song. When I took him home for Thanksgiving my mother claimed she didn’t like him, describing him as “too effeminate”. For Christmas, he spent the night. My high school boyfriend, Jay, also came by for a visit but left when he got wind that Frederick and I were intimate. My mother cried for him that night. She always liked Jay the best and still insists that I shouldn’t be in a relationship because I “don’t have the personality for it”. Looking back, I remember several wonderful young men I loved in Washington. They were all kind, good-looking, brilliant in their own way and good friends. Being right out of college, drunk on independence and arrogant with promise, I was casual with all of them and protective of my future. Unlike my other alumni, I wasn’t particularly eager to marry right out of college. I wanted to be free.
After I left Washington and moved to Orange, CA (and leaving one last Diana Ross song on his voicemail- the title escapes me though I have been searching for several hours) we still corresponded. When I came back to visit, I gave a blow job to another ex-boyfriend then made love to Frederick the next day. I felt bad and was honest with him about it. He was bitter and hurt, but he stuck with me … I thought as a friend.
He came down to California to visit me with a friend, but my affection for him cooled in light of a new place and new men. I remember making love to him in the bathroom and promptly leaving him against the wall, opening the door and joking with his buddy (who was waiting patiently in the living room) “I think he needs to be held in there.” A few months later, he sent me a letter with a ring proposing marriage. I sent it back with a funny but probably too cold letter refusing him.
“Dear Frederick, first off, I had rolled out of bed this morning and had to walk to the post office and pay 29 cents in extra postage to get your letter today … ”
To be fair, I was 21, every minute of my day was devoted to being a Pre-School Teacher or working on my degree in Film Production. That year, I would get pregnant by one of my roommates and have an abortion. I would fall in love with a British actor who asked me to move in, then cheated on me and broke my heart. My identity was changing every few months and I just wanted to see where things would take me. The last thing I wanted was to settle down with someone from UnderGrad, or my roommate from Grad school (who also proposed). I wasn’t in love, I was just floating, and unfortunately breaking hearts in the process.
I don’t know where I was a year or two ago when I got an email from him. I must have reached out to him on Facebook or something and got an email back blaming me for a failed relationship and general darkness clouding his life since Undergrad. It was ten years after our 3 month affair, so it was hard to take the email seriously.
When I was back in Washington this last summer, we made plans to meet for dinner. He asked if I was still vegan and suggested a spot called ‘Sizzle Pie’. Driving down to Portland to meet him, I didn’t know much about him anymore. He was in law school now, living in a commune type house in Portland. I sat down to read a book with a beer since I was early. A bike spun up to the front door, and I watched through the glass entrance as a balding Frederick locked up his bike and waved at me through the doors. I was happy to see him and smiled big. His mouth was a little crumpled like a discarded Christmas ribbon, but there was a smile in there.
He came in and hugged me. We ordered pizza. I got something heavenly called the “Vegan Angel of Doom”. It was caked with something revolutionary in the vegan world called Daiya cheese (It is made of tapioca, tastes like cheese and, more importantly, melts like cheese), with jalapenos, pineapple, shaved almonds and cilantro. God damn it, that was one of the best pizzas I have ever had in my entire life.
I was happy to see him and rattled off my typical stories about France, my parents, the Old Man and Los Angeles. He sat across from me in a dimly lit booth and listened with a big smile on his face. “I can’t believe you look exactly the same. I mean exactly the same. And your life is exactly the same too. Is this how it always is? Has your life been crazy like this all this time?” he asked.
“It isn’t too crazy, I mean … I am giving you the highlights. I just have lots of stories and the summer was kind of amazing,” I said. The pizza place had Tecate, that made me happy. I hadn’t seen Tecate anywhere since I crossed over the Oregon border. “You look the same too,” I said.
He laughed and stroked the top of his receding hairline, “Not really,” he said. I tilted my head to the side and grabbed his chin, shaking his face like he was one of my dogs. I got the feeling he didn’t like that but he didn’t offer any indication either way. “So tell me about your life,” I said, tempering each spicy slice of pizza with a mouthful of Mexican beer.
“Well, it certainly isn’t as interesting as yours. Not at all actually. I am almost done with my law degree,” he said.
“Are you in civil rights or something good or have you crossed over to the dark side like my ex-boyfriend?”
“No, I am one of the good guys. Environmental law, actually. Yeah …” he spoke slowly, thinking carefully about everything. I could see the data feed reel through his brain with each sentence, measuring who I was, what I did to him and who he was. “You dated a law student?”
“Yeah, just for a little while. He started off wanting to be Atticus Finch and a year later in law school he decided he wanted to do corporate law, which he is probably better suited for anyway. I am fairly certain he is a sociopath.” I said.
“You don’t want to know any lawyers or law students. Stay away from them. They are terrible people,” he stroked his thinning hair.
“I did?” he said. “I don’t remember sending the email but I believe you that I sent it. That was a dark time, I ended a relationship then … I don’t know, it was bad. My mother and brother were killed actually.”
“Oh my God, I am so sorry,” I said. I stopped eating.
“Yeah, it was bad. I am still trying … to get over it,” he would trail off in mid sentence and, as if suddenly remembering he was talking out loud, he would speed up the remainder of his thought. He always had a rich voice. I closed my big mouth and sat there, waiting for him to take the conversation wherever he decided to.
“When they died, I ended this relationship. I don’t really know if that was the right thing to do or not, it was just a really bad time in my life,” he said.
“I understand. I am so sorry.”
“It’s ok. I haven’t really been in a relationship since … that weekend I came down to visit you in Orange, that was bad too. That was one of the worst trips of my life,” he said.
“I am sorry about that, too.”
“It’s ok, I went back to Evergreen and wrote this amazing poem my professor loved. It was a big thing. I was really happy with that.”
“I am sorry about … all of that. I am sorry about the way I handled things. I was just really young and being selfish. That’s what kids do I guess, but I am sorry anyway,” I said.
He paused then smiled big, “Thank you, oh my Gosh, thank you. That is so good to hear. I am surprised.”
“Surprised?” I asked.
“Yeah, I just assumed you were flippant towards other people’s emotions so I am surprised to hear you apologize. Thank you,” he said earnestly, bitterly, genuine but disingenuous.
“It bothers me that anyone would think I was flippant towards their feelings. We were young, that’s all. I never meant to hurt you, I was just thinking about myself,” I said. He slowly nodded, staring at me, measuring me for all I was worth. “You know,” I continued, “it’s funny how I got that email from you and you seem surprised by my apology since my memories of you are all so warm. When I think of you, I just remember having a really good time with a really good friend. It’s strange how different our perspectives are.”
We chatted a little about things. Dancing, pierced nipples, people we may have known but don’t anymore. I wondered if he would hit on me and I wondered how that would make me feel. I was still high on my night with Nick and felt funny about being intimate with anyone new yet. Though Nick and I only really dated for a month, a third of my time with Frederick, there seemed to be a stronger connection there. Love is funny.
“Well, it’s past my bedtime. I have to go home,” he said.
“Ok, well, if you ever want to go dancing sometime, let me know. If I can bring my dogs to your place, we can pull an all-nighter somewhere,” I said, getting up out of our booth.
“Ok, yeah … I will let you know. I just have to talk to my housemates about it. There are some cool things happening on the weekends out here. I think you would really like Portland,” he said.
“Maybe … I really miss L.A.”
We hugged goodbye and though it was a full on chest-to-chest hug, there was a chill between us. We texted a bit back and forth for a few days, entertaining the idea of dancing. Then I never heard from him again.