I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
It happened so long ago but I could still take you back to the exact parking spot where I lost it.
I can’t say that I was all that surprised when I heard the news. She had been hanging out with all the wrong people and they had that whole “bad boy” thing going for them. I guess that was what initially attracted her to me, but after five minutes sitting across from me, the last thing people would do is consider me any type of “bad boy”. But these new guys had face tattoos and were in gangs and they had guns and stuff. Real bad kids. Not the kind who colored their hair, intentionally ripped their jeans, and listened to weird music. The kind who robbed stores, sold drugs, and had done drive-by shootings.
The phone calls slowly became more sporadic and brief. When she finally did answer, instead of “hello” it was always met with an annoyed, “What?” I began to notice her tolerance with me become shorter with every interaction. It began with no longer laughing at my jokes. Then a tension-filled air of annoyance when I was around her. Then her speech began to change. Her clothes and even her make up. She was a chameleon changing right in front of me and I just had to sit back and take it while the person I loved grew increasingly annoyed with my antics – antics she once found charming and adorable.
It’s never easy to watch a person you care so deeply about slowly begin to fall out of your life. And it always seems like the more you try to save the relationship, the faster it falls away. Kind of like some cruel relationship quicksand. I had lost all pride and cried on the phone just begging for answers. Was it something I had done? I would have apologized. Was she still attracted to me? I would have changed whatever it was that she didn’t like. Did I not tell her I loved her enough? I was so desperate to make that relationship work that she couldn’t even look me in the eye anymore. I had lost my self-respect. Because you can’t respect yourself when you’re willing to bend what you believe or change who you are simply to keep someone in your life. You can work through problems and issues, you can be more cautious with your investment, but when you fail to recognize how incompatible you are with someone who already knows that you aren’t meant to be together anymore, well, let’s just say you never want someone to maintain a relationship because they feel sorry for you. That’s just a festering cesspool of resentment.
The final blow came when I heard that she had been doing drugs. At the time that was my absolute deal-breaker. But it was what I needed to hear to finally give me the courage to walk away from what I knew was a lost cause.
I pulled up and parked my piece of crap white station wagon in front of where she worked. I stepped out and walked inside where she had been inflating balloons for a child’s upcoming birthday party. Her squinty eyes told me she wasn’t happy I was there. I walked to the counter and asked if I could have a few minutes to talk to her in private. Before she could say no, her manager said over her shoulder, “Sure, you guy can go chat in the break room.”
I don’t remember the exact words I used but it was something like, I heard you were using and that’s something I don’t stand for so we have to break up. But what I DO recall is when she reached backward, lunged forward, and punched me dead in the mouth. Now, I had been in physical altercations many times before this and was no stranger to being mouth-punched. But it really is an odd feeling when someone you’re in love with is so angry with you that they can’t find any other way to express themselves but to mash your face with their fist. After the shock wore off, I jumped forward and hugged her. She was in a rage. I could see it in her bloodshot and glistening eyes. If she could have bit me right there in that break room, she would have. She kept yelling, “Get the fuck off me! Get off!” I didn’t. I just held her. Not only to prevent being punched but because I knew this was it. It was the last time I would be able to hold her up against me, magnetized by desperate love. I just wanted a few more seconds so I could burn this moment into my brain. I wanted to remember what her body felt like up against mine. She had been my everything. I was convinced I would never want another human being again in my life. But I guess that’s how most of us feel about our first long-term relationship.
I did my best to hold it together as I walked past the greeting cards and party hats. I got to the front door, pushed it open, and let out a wail. The kind of guttural moan that only comes when someone you love dies. And in my mind, she was gone. Erased from my life. The first love of my life and my best friend. Over.
I walked to that stupid $300 station wagon, kicked a dent in the door, and fell to my knees crying. I couldn’t breathe. I still remember not being able to get enough air in my lungs to continue to cry and I just started choking. I laid in that suburban parking lot, in that parking space, next to that dented and rusting piece of shit for what seemed like forever.
Then I drove home and began my life without her.
Twenty years later, I get the occasional text.
“Christopher Brian Mark Francis Gutierrez. How’s my favorite brown tree hugger?”
I always laugh and respond in kind. It took two decades of ignoring each other for us to finally come back and become good friends. She is well-off, married, with many children, living in the suburbs and I am broke, unmarried, zero children, and I am constantly bombarded with the sounds of the El train and screaming ambulances in my crappy and overpriced one bedroom apartment in this rat-infested city. Our lives couldn’t be more different. We are complete opposites – but we are good friends again.
There was a reason we were so connected back then. There was something about our souls that were so compatible that regardless of our differences, we could not deny how strong it was. We both had to put ourselves through hell to confront our demons in order to understand who we are and why we made our mistakes, but somehow we both made it though relatively clean and pretty damn good people. We get the occasional coffee and have lunch together every few months. We laugh about how ridiculous we were and compare stories from our youth and I ask her how her children are doing and she asks me what it’s like being a middle-aged child.
There are a million reasons why our hearts connect with the soul of others. Not simply because we have a desire to get in their pants but the kind of relentless attraction that causes a person to fall in love. Sometimes we can make that attraction work, sometimes we can’t. But to deny it wouldn’t be fair. But even now, twenty years later – we still have that bond. While it’s no longer a romantic one, I still consider her to be one of my best friends. She knew me before I started high school and I knew her when she was still a confused kid. We came together because we were both angry at the world. We fell in love because of an undeniable chemistry. We broke up because we both had to go off and find ourselves. And we came back because we knew that no matter how many decades were between us, we still needed each other.
It is possible to be friends with the people who crush your heart. Usually it takes years of time and distance in order to heal and move on, but never forget there was and is a reason why you fell so hard in the first place. And whether that happens when you’re 14 or 40, it happens for a reason.
And sometimes it’s nice to know that, on the very rare occasion – that your heart got it right.