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.