Folie a Do-Over: Back with an Ex

Not everyone can rewrite history. Here’s one woman who got uncomfortably close to an old flame.

By Jane Monroe

After All These Years

It was almost too weird to be true. But I was thinking that it might be love. Again.

If you know me at all, you know this is not how I think. This was against all odds, something I’d put out of its misery — years of misery — years earlier. But, yes, it was true. I was getting back together with my college boyfriend.

If you could call him that. I met him midway through my freshman year, when I had a superior air and a pathological curiosity about how far I could push my limits. James was a senior, a well-respected writer on campus. I was a budding poet and girl-about-town, and we looked good on paper: "She loves punk rock, pub-crawling, and pointy boots. He is reed-thin, with an aquiline nose, and the only guy on campus who knows how to wear a leather jacket." Together we cooked up a mutually beneficial origin myth that destined us to each other and each other’s greatness. Because he was closer to greatness than I was, it appeared to me that I was getting a very good deal. He was New York City-ready, a prizewinning wisecracker, an Ivy League army brat who dropped his g’s, pretending he was Lou Reed (without the heroin and dachshunds), definitely slumming.

James graduated with high honors, I dropped out, and we lucked into a spectacular summer sublet near Washington Square Park. I was now entering — or so I envisioned — a dark den of decadent fun. Once in New York City, though, havoc. During one of the hottest summers on record, the entire city plunged into a two-day blackout with thousands roaming the streets. Elvis died. The penthouse apartment that we rented was filled with Duchampian assemblages of black rubber and glass shards that stuck out straight; inside its badly air-conditioned rooms, James and I cracked. Our intellectual jousts routinely exploded into power grabs. He argued that Norman Mailer was right about masturbation and contraception, that they impeded the life force; I insisted on separate bedrooms. His bitten fingernails began to loom before me like bloody stumps. In an act of desperation, James proposed marriage. I responded by vacationing in Maine and sleeping with a painter there. By the end of the summer, our great love was officially off.

James and I went our separate ways. We lived within a 10-block radius of each other in the East Village though, so I’d occasionally run into him on a break from table-waiting or artist-loft-sweeping or another of the auspicious jobs I held while he established himself as a shiny new under-30 literary light. In a club late at night, he’d drag on his cigarette and glance up at me sideways with an inscrutable expression. I’ve been given that look since and I can tell you, although it’s sexy and mysterious, it’s nothing good. But it kept something flickering between us.

At one point, in a moment both hopeful and resigned, I gave James the opportunity to burn me. I went home with him after a concert. Some recent ex’s sequined mules lay dashed beside the bed. I took one look and said, "You and I will never go anywhere." Prescience becomes me. He was already at his desk when I woke up in the morning, and I slouched home.

Our misadventure faded mercifully to black. I found a real boyfriend. James registered as a distant folly, as far-flung as Egypt and as risky as a tightrope tarantella.

Years later, I decided to leave my job and my fiance to try living in Los Angeles. I’d spent a lot of time visiting my father there, and I’d harbored a fantasy about Southern California as a fine and fitting place for my reinvention. James, now conveniently transformed into my old college chum, had relocated to L.A. a few years earlier and situated himself among a group of like-minded creative types who might be able to help me find some work.

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