Saturday, February 22, 2014

When You’re the Worst

In the summer of 1997 I was dating a woman so volatile that she destroyed my apartment after I asked her to leave. I came home to find clothes thrown everywhere, furniture turned over, and dishes broken in anger, the outlines of drinking glasses etched perfectly into the wall where she had smashed them.
By then I had met someone else. A few weeks earlier, this other girl and I had gone on a picnic. We spread a blanket near a reservoir in the west hills. We ate a salad that she had not washed well and for a while we pretended we did not notice the grit. Eventually we laughed at all the sand between our teeth. We talked about work—my permanent job and her summer job. We talked about her going back to school in a couple of weeks. We looked at the shiny water and the sun going down. She knew about the other girl, so we acted as if it was not a date. The water turned gold then darkened as we kept talking. I always felt somewhat ridiculous around her. She was very tall and towered over me. She was smart and was working on a Japanese degree at university. She came from a comfortable suburban family. I worked 40 hours a week at a grocery store and had taken some classes at community college. I drank at a bar with old time drunks, young people who would soon be dead, and people that killed themselves over gambling debts. She and I were different kinds of people, let’s say. As we were packing up I told her that in the little time I had gotten to know her I had become fond of her. “I’m fond of you,” is what I actually said because I have always liked anachronistic, artificial language. I also told her that I was dating a maniac and that it was a good thing she was going back to school so that nothing would get overly complicated.

After she left for school we wrote letters. I sent her a mixtape that was a fairly transparent cipher. She, being cleverer, sent me poetry in languages I couldn’t read. So I broke up with the other girl and she destroyed my apartment. The new girl rode the bus 100 miles to come visit me and that’s how we started. Because of her I began to see new possibilities for myself. I finished community college and got a scholarship to her university. After a couple of years, I discovered what I wanted to do and my life finally had purpose. She remained tall and pretty and smart through it all. She loved me unconditionally, perhaps better than anyone ever has. But I changed. I wanted something else, someone better. Eventually I wanted to destroy what we had just for the sake of not having it anymore. She loved me all the way to the end, until I made sure there was nothing left of us.

It is many years later. She has a family with someone else. One time I ran into her in yet another grocery store, I was with my daughter and she was with her son and she was as kind and gentle as always. I don’t know how she remembers the relationship we had.  But I know how I feel about it. When Jhene Aiko sings “You ain’t shit/And you weren’t special/Til I made you so,” I know exactly what she means.