So, I’m working on a memoir, a memoir about relationships and sex and love, a memoir about letting people go to let other people in.
Last night, listening to Pete Yorn’s “On Your Side,” I wrote chapter 16, set in November-December 2004.
This morning while making AJ breakfast, I played the same song via YouTube because it was stuck in my head. I picked up AJ and danced with him — as I often do — cheek to cheek to this song that I used to listen to on dark nights when I was in dark places, all alone.
I’m outside your house / 2 am it’s dark / so many mistakes / come back home from bars / I am on your side / I just want to tell you off
Then I read this comment underneath the video — and it stopped me for a moment, AJ still in my arms:
This song reminds me of my cousin Hillary..She killed herself in 2008. Every time I hear this song I think of her..She was beautiful but eternally wounded..She drank too much, loved too much and couldn’t cope with life..She would call me at 2am drunk and crying about her awful boyfriends..She was only 26yrs old..I still don’t get it even now. I miss her a lot. I don’t think she ever knew how much we all loved her..
–john johnson, a YouTube user
THIS. 100% this. This is why I’m writing a memoir about my own experiences with dating and men and being single and having bad boyfriends (I had good ones too, ones that I hurt and hated myself for) and wondering if I’d ever find happiness and a him.
People ask why I want to share my story. This is why. Because some of us feel so alone in this crazy world that we leave it, or want to. Too many of us keep our stories, our feelings locked in, and we think we’re alone, but we’re not.
I feel so much of myself in dear Hillary, 26 years old, lonely. This woman I did not know but know. This woman I wished I had known.
You see, if she could have read my book — or any book — and felt less alone, felt like she had someone who understood her, and that saved her, well then it was worth putting the story out there.
This week I finished a memoir by Joyce Maynard called AT HOME IN THE WORLD, and I cried because I felt like someone knew me.
I emailed Joyce and told her so; I wrote to her about a secret I keep that only my memoir will bring out. She asked questions, she listened, she invited a conversation — and I felt less alone.
Sometimes we all need someone who doesn’t know us but knows us. Sometimes a stranger can be a better listener than a dear friend. Sometimes strangers become dear friends.
The older I get, the more I realize this. I have learned to take risks — in friendships, in love, in my writing.
With all of this in mind, here is CHAPTER 16: Single in the City, Part 2 in its entirety (just over 1,000 words). This, of course, will change somewhat at some point; I haven’t revised it too much yet. But I like the raw emotion of it now.
Three months later, I drive past S’s condo. I park my car along Diversey. A Christmas tree lights up his front window.
I know in my heart that he’s found someone. Single guys don’t put up Christmas trees.
I am desperate. I sit in my Chevy Blazer after a night of drinking, listening to Pete Yorn.
I’m outside your house / 2 am it’s dark / so many mistakes / come back home from bars / I am on your side / I just want to tell you off / So many lies / Are taking hold / It’s not your fault / There’s many scars
I sing along, the words my life, our life, you and me, the 2 am us we’ve turned into.
I spent last summer trying to find a way for you to love me again and now I know — I just know — that it’s over. My phone is not ringing, you are not standing outside my door, waiting for me to let you in, you are with someone else.
It’s the fucking Christmas tree the seals the deal. I know whatever it is — whoever she is — it’s serious. You’re celebrating the holidays like a couple. White lights and tinsel and red and green balls, pine needles falling to the floor a sign of us ending. I’m imagining all of it, decorating cookies and sipping egg nog. All these things I never did with you, will never do with you.
And I’m fucking alone, alone, sitting in my car, listening to “On Your Side” on repeat.
Men suck. The world sucks. My job sucks. I am almost 28. I’m old. I’m sick of the bar scene. Of men who don’t call me. Of traffic.
I am thinking of ways to escape Chicago. Blue pickup trucks come to mind. Wide open spaces without skyscrapers. Some place where I can’t fucking constantly think of you.
Any urge I have to speak to him — to tell him off, to tell him I missed him and just wanted to spend the night, to tell him I’ve never stopped loving him — fades away when I see the Christmas tree.
I drive home down Diversey, take a left on Wolcott and a right on Wellington, his condo less than half mile from my apartment. I park my car in front of the door where I last saw him, where he left me after he said I love you, three months ago. I keep listening to “On Your Side” on replay, five more times, sitting in the dark, engine idling. Then I walk inside and cry myself to sleep.
Later that week, I read an Engadget article called “Virgin Mobile Wants to Help You from Drunk Dialing,” which describes a service that will help you from drunk dialing your ex-boyfriend. “You just call up a number, enter the number you want to make sure you don’t call, and then you’re automatically blocked from making calls from that phone until 6am, by which point you’ll probably be passed out on a sidewalk somewhere,” it reads.
I think this sounds amazing, and I use it as way to reach out to S.
I send him this email:
<<<12/1/2004 10:26:31 AM >>>
perhaps i need this phone.
Since you haven’t returned any of my dd’s in the past
few months, I’m assuming you’re involved with
It’s better if I know, so I stop calling.
I do miss you, even talking to you. It seems so silly,
especially when I drive past your place every
day…us. Why we do this to ourselves, to each other.
I want to know that we can live without each other…
ps. sorry. it’s been on my mind since monday and i
drove past your place and saw a christmas tree lit up
through the window.
I did get your dd’s. Thank you. Always up for a dd. The problem is
that I lost my phone so I don’t have your number. And when you left the dd’s, my phone was off or I was in a bar with no reception, therefore, no caller ID.
Give me your cell and I’ll call you tonight on the way home. Probably
around 5. We’ll catch up then.
P.S. You sound a little sappy these days. Everything ok?
So much is said in these two emails, reading them tonight as I type this, kills me. Back in 2004, I had forwarded the exchange to my friend Greg because I wanted his take. Greg’s response:
“Ugh. *THIS* guy:
> > P.S. You sound a little sappy these days. Everything
> > ok?
is your SOUL MATE?
Cut him loose forever! He sounds like an ape.”
Greg was right. Here I am pouring my soul out to S, asking him how we can live without each other, telling him I miss him, and he calls me sappy. Only time and space make me see this, now. None of my friends liked this guy, really, ever, but I was so caught up in all the drama that I couldn’t see clearly. It all seems so clear, now.
S calls me on his way home from work.
“Her name is Jenny,” he says. I want to vomit.
Jenny was the name of my alter-ego when I was a child, the girl I wanted to be. A girl with straight blonde hair. A girl all the boys liked. A girl who didn’t have a metal brace circling her body.
When I picture Jenny, I picture the adult version of this imaginary me.
“Things are serious,” he continues. “I met her at a bar. She was sitting outside with her friends complaining about some dude she just broke up with, and I overheard her talking and swooped in for the rescue. We’ve been spending a lot of time together since. Watching Packer games, going out to dinner. Going to movies, you know.”
No, I didn’t know. These were not things S and I had done together — except for watching Packer games. We never saw a movie together.
“That’s good, I guess, good that you found someone you like to spend time with.”
I don’t know what to say to him.
“It’s okay, Lauer, you’ll find someone special, too,” he says.
Now, I want to vomit on him. .
“You know us, some day we’ll start talking again and we won’t tell our spouses and we’ll have an affair.” He was already thinking ahead.
Little did he know— or I know—I already had met that someone special. A few days earlier, at one of those same bars I just lamented, I had met my husband. I just didn’t know it yet.
I didn’t intend to publish a whole chapter (albeit a short one) on this blog, but that YouTube comment today really got to me. I thought it was an important topic to bring up here, and to let my readers in on a little bit of the story since this FIRST PAGE LAST project is so obscure at times.
As this project continues, and if my memoir is published, you’ll get to read the whole story. This wasn’t a man I met in 2004; it was a man I had known since 1995, my freshman year of college. It’s a long story — one that takes many paths, one that somehow led me to this morning dancing to “On Your Side” with my second-born son, his father, my husband, my love, having just left for work.
You see, that’s just it: Right when you’re at when of your lowest points, life can surprise you and something wonderful can happen. Please be patient, I would say to my younger self, if I could.