I once heard an analogy that being in a bad relationship is like owning a bad car. The more time, money, and energy you put into it, the harder it is to let it go. No matter how crappy the car is, when you're forced to pop for a new radiator, you can't get rid of it after that -- at least for a while. I mean, 800 bucks is 800 bucks. Three months pass, then the brakes go out. Now you've put over a thou into the damn thing, and selling it at this point is unthinkable. And so on. My college girlfriend and I were kind of like this. I'll call her Liza. The more heartbreak we inflicted upon one another, the tighter we held on, assuring ourselves that a healthy relationship was right around the next bend, or the one after that.
Don't get me wrong -- we did love each other, or at least whatever passes for love in one's early 20s. But it wasn't to be, and it took us five years to figure that out. Scratch that: it took five years for us to accept it. We probably figured it out much sooner.
The short version of the story is, she accepted a teaching position in San Diego, and though I was all set to hitchhike to Seattle and join a band, she talked me into moving here to see if we could work it out, once and for all.
"College is a hard place to hold a relationship together," she said over the phone. "Out here in the real world, it might be a little easier." Sounded logical to me. Early 20s, as I said. Young and stupid.
So I packed my belongings into a borrowed truck and followed the girl into town. I didn't have a job lined up and didn't know anyone except the guy I was getting the apartment with, a buddy's roommate from college.
We had a fight over the phone just before I moved down, and it became one of those "who's going to call who first" routines. I knew where she lived, but I remember deciding that I was going to wait, dammit, for her to get ahold of me. I finally relented and left a message, but she didn't return the call. Not long after, I came home to find a sealed letter taped to my front door.
It's funny how you get to know a person so well, you can see their handwriting on the outside of the envelope and know beyond a shadow of a doubt what's written inside. Anyone else would've seen it coming weeks before, and please be assured I lashed my own back with that one the rest of that year, and most of the next.
I bought a bottle of Jack Daniel's that night. I'd never drunk Jack Daniel's before. The rest of the night is just snapshots. There was only one thing in the fridge, so I chased the shots with peanut butter. I must've called my dad: I remember sobbing into the phone as only a hopelessly drunk man can and telling him she was gone forever. The last snapshot is lying on the floor of the bathroom, spooning the toilet, unable to lift my head to puke.
Liza called me a few months later, out of the blue, and told me in a matter-of-fact voice that she was getting married. I was drunk that night, too. I left my downtown apartment with no shirt or shoes on and started walking. That night is also mostly just snapshots. The downtown Hyatt was being built that summer, and only the framework had been erected. I jumped a construction fence and walked the 40 stories up the stairs, all the way to the top. I stepped out onto a high beam and leaned out over the edge. I wasn't going to jump, but if I fell -- well, that was pretty much okay by me.
Back on the ground an hour or so later, making my way back to the fence to go out the way I came in, a security guard stopped me. He made me sit down on the ground and wait for the cops to come to pick me up for trespassing. This part I remember clearly. After a minute or so he asked me, "What the hell are you doing in here, anyway?"
"I just climbed the building."
"You climbed it? To the top?"
He turned and craned his neck upwards at the building-to-be. "What in the hell did you do that for?"
"My ex is getting married." Seconds passed. I could almost hear the cogs turning under his security cap. Then he helped me up, patted my shoulder, and told me to get on home.
San Diego's been good to me. I'm now the weekend piano player at the very first local bar I walked into and a full-time musician with more gigs than I know what to do with. I have an amazing circle of friends, and I've been married for almost three years to the woman I thought Liza was, the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. I know myself better than that young kid did, but I still have a long way to go to becoming the man, and the spouse, I hope to become.
Writer and spiritual guru Da Free John once implored his devotees to "practice the wound of love." After that relationship and ever since that time, I think I know what he means.
Tell us the story of your breakup and/or date from hell and we will publish it and pay you ($100 for 500-2000 words).
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