This is part one of a 10,000+ word story. Part two is the next entry called The Beginnings of Things.
Some months ago I wrote about my first relationship with Melissa. As much as the 19 year old me would like to report that we rode off into the sunset together, the reality was that the mismatch between her just being a 16 year old with those fluffy pink teenage visions of romance and my emerging troubled soul began to draw us apart. Oh, you can bet I stuck around the best I could for any further carnal experience that might come. And in perusing my journals from the period there was an interesting push and pull from one week to another that charted some "progress" and then regression from that. We never really closed the deal, and it was perhaps that see-sawing action that made me impatient and frustrated even as things unraveled for us as we closed in on eight months together.
Said another way, I was a 19 year old boy who wanted to get laid. And she wasn't giving in to it.
But she was sorting it out at her own pace, aided by her mom, auntie, and her one-year-her-senior cousin Chrissy. I did try to be patient because it seemed like it took so long before Melissa appeared on the scene in mid 1992. But it wasn't that we had just met like many other kids meet at school or just hanging out in some scene. No, we went back many years before. In fact, our parents used to be in some kind of scene before I was born. In some ways, Melissa was almost like a cousin to me because she appeared periodically when it was social time for the folks. Years after that when we started dating, she'd tell me she had her eye on me since she was eight years old! Our dads eventually both worked at the same company, one helping the other into the position. That bit about the old men knowing each other eventually proved unflattering to me when Mark, Melissa's dad, knew well enough what my old man was like and used it as a pretty harsh harpoon to jab me with when finally I crossed the line with Melissa in February 1993 during the eighth month we were together. We didn't quite make it a complete eight months though.
The sharpest turn downward came when as the boyfriend, I was automatically assumed to be a date for the ASB ball at her school. I guess I still phrase it that way even all this time later because I have an instinctive reaction against doing stuff like that, and I guess the fact that this all happened means that events like that are marked forever. Given the background situation of being a rather manipulative punk wrapped in a cute loverboy, it was perfectly in character to say and do some of the dumb shit that brought a close to this relationship faster than the Harlem Shake spread on YouTube this month. Even I have to admit it took a lot of gall to pronounce to Melissa that I would go—but on my terms. (I guess there are folks who don't find that surprising even today.) Of course, that's not bound to endear me to the girl with whom I was seeking still-ungained carnal knowledge. And frankly, the week or so leading up to the ball was just one really rotten time, thanks to me.
The ball was held on a Saturday night, February 20. By then I'd been an ass the previous week at a pre-Ball casual dinner with a group of friends going together. (Or maybe it was just one more couple.) The day following that was Valentine's Day and my journal reports that was kind of a mixed day. I suppose now it should be evidently a "DUH!" that Valentine's Day was so strained since only the day before was so mishandled. As it turned out, that Valentine's Day was the last date and day of general good will toward each other. The following day, maybe attempting to make right or further complicate things (the two were hard to discern then), there was a kind of a comical episode when, while at her house, she was directed by her dad to go to the yard and pick up dog shit. The job shouldn't have lasted long. But it did. And then after some time, Mark and I heard the shower running and Melissa emerged freshly showered for, um, no apparent reason. Of course, it was perfectly apparent and she wasn't into the unintentionally mocking smirks that we both had on our faces. She took immediate offense and declared if I was gonna laugh then I could just kiss off and leave. Because things were so testy I retorted that might just be a good idea since I wasn't getting anything done there. I marched out and drove off in a huff. So that day, a rather random Monday at her house on President's Day with no school, was another that cost me some points. Okay, it wasn't my finest moment. It wasn't even my worst moment, either. That was yet to come.
By the end of the week, at the last minute I skipped out on the Ball after some hemming and hawing, even as late as Thursday when I finally said I wasn't going. She was able to get a date to go along at the last minute, but probably not so well dressed as I might have been. I seem to recall that the expense of the tux was something I decided not to incur, but also that the cancellation fee was rather notable and so the financial motive backfired for me, probably as justly as anyone could say. (Interestingly, now that I actually glanced at the correspondence from the period, it was mighty nice of Marie to actually refund the ticket price to the ASB Ball. I totally forgot about that. How totallyuncalled for that was, given my handling of the matter. I believe I had to eat it on the tux rental cancellation fee.)
The night of the ball, I was having second thoughts. After a real troubled week trying to talk on the phone and this particular day being quite silent because she was running around in last minute preparations, I drove up to her friend's place some mile away from her house, where they were gathering. I got there earlier than the others and must have caused some puzzlement for the hosting family when I appeared there, unshaven and without a tux. At first they didn't know I'd cancelled out. They seemed to be confused enough that a call was made to Mark, who directed them to have me leave right then. I sat in the car for a bit, hoping for any glimpse of Melissa in her dress. She didn't appear or was parked out of view. Not long later, her friend came out and saw me and reported to her dad that I was there. He came out and told me again to leave, and if I had a problem with that, Mark would entertain my complaint.
Rebel Without A Case
So I stormed out of there in the car, driving madly in a fit of rage as if I was in some teenage flick from the 80s. It must come naturally to a teenage boy to storm away in his car, even if it's not his own car and it's just a front wheel drive Ford Escort wagon. (But it was red so that makes it edgy and daring and James Dean-approved, doesn't it?) At that point, I was a raging, sobbing, mixed up dude. For the first time ever, I was confronted with the fact that my girlfriend was in the company of another dude. Okay, he was a pretty decent dude. But he was... not me. And to tell the truth, that wasn't anything I obsessed over. After such a passive time, Melissa was actually standing up for her own good. That throws dudes off.
Still, I was not ready to let go. After some settling down at the shopping center, I went to the park that adjoins her subdivision. It was cold as you'd expect in mid February. But somehow I sat there, trying to sort out the mess I made. I had a marker with me and upon the picnic table where I sat, I wrote some long, trite screed that strung together a range of cliches I was only then beginning to understand from the inside. I suppose it isn't so bad, but given my attachment to the events and the knowledge that some of these things have been cheapened by chain letters and other meme activity, I find it almost unbearably embarrassing to read now. I'll grant that there was a kid there that night trying to make sense of stuff and grabbing at any straw that might help build a house in which to hide my head. I guess I just gave myself the present of realization that you don't know what you have till you lose it. After having scrawled that, I copied it down for myself and not too long after that sent in a copy to the radio station that Melissa and I used to listen to for the dedications we used to pass back and forth to each other, usually for monthly anniversary dates. I gave it the title, "Inspirational Graffiti." It was read over the air in a slightly redacted version and for some years to follow I had a recording that I suppose is lost to time now.
Mother Marie Gives Comfort?
Later on once the dance party was definitely at the school, I drove around the block to her place and saw that mother Marie's van was not there. I sat it out and when she drove in, I went to the door and was welcomed in. I didn't know what to expect for an angry Mark. I got that much for certain. Her dad—who most certainly was pissed—unabashedly told me so, offering that "you have a lot of balls coming around here after what you did to my daughter, two of which you're about to be fed." (He had a workingman's approach to interpersonal relations and diplomacy, you see?) He continued to lecture me for a bit on the matter of playing head games and not respecting Melissa's feelings. It was during this talk when he produced a pound of kryptonite when he said I was just like my dad. Ouch. Take the balls first, dude!
My sack was left untouched for the evening, by both father and daughter. Mark did the heavy work and left Marie to do the more nuanced work. She and I spent about an hour and a half talking in the front room. Since we already had some rapport, I was able to settle down some and listen to her. I think she would like things to work out but she seemed to realize that Melissa was already moving on. Still the talk was good because instead of the lessons coming strictly from the angst and tension of the decaying relationship, at least part of the whole experience was enlightened by Marie's considered perspective. Of course, since she was Melissa's advocate, much of what she was about to say was going to sting in one way or another. One stark observation was that she said we didn't seem to have a relationship. This was new talk. It provoked a question in me that wondered what those last seven months and more amounted to. She said we'd not really know what we wanted in a relationship until we'd probably had a few different partners. This was pretty outlandish talk at that time. What about that puppy love, radio dedication fluff about staying together for ever and ever? Man... this was turning into a crazier weekend than when we started.
Needs Gone Unmet
Reading my journal written hours after that talk I'm pretty struck with the fact I put my finger on an issue that keeps recurring and showing its ugly head over and over: the lack of a cohesive family unit with some sense of rootedness and maybe traditions that anchor one in something larger than self. At the time I admitted there wasn't much of that fundamental relationship practice but tried to save face by saying I'd done okay. The more time passes now, the less I am sure of that, especially after all the drama of the last dozen years or so that this blog chronicles so well. But there it was, dated February 21, 1993, in my own hand.
Since the ache for a girlfriend was saved up until a few months prior to my 19th birthday, Melissa was the unwitting target for loads of expectations of what a relationship would be like. At 16, there's no way she could ever amount to what I had in my head. And as my adolescence gave way to young adulthood, the nearly three year gap in age put me into another life space by default. But the stuff I was grappling with was serious stuff and she had no way to deal with it. Even now I feel I load up too much on Kelli, but in our late 30s that can be processed a whole other way than twenty years ago. Heck, even 20 years ago, Kelli, a few months younger than Melissa, was better equipped to deal with life's heaviness. More later.
There was a theme that is rooted in my neediness because of that lack of relationship I feel plagues me. Somehow I adopted a very materialistic value system about the time Melissa and I spent together. Each visit was counted and marked on my calendar. Even after we split up I somehow decided it was worth the exercise of adding it up. Worse, I thought she'd be interested and so I reported my findings. I think it was somewhere like 800 hours over about eight months. That kind of itemization of things was an odd thing meant I guess to do some good to remind me how many good times we had, but on the troubled days like in the last weeks, it ended up showing some shorter times and reflecting trouble more than joy. Because Melissa and I were already at odds about how she watched TV so much, and I felt like when I was at her place I should be worth the attention instead of the box of glass and plastic and wires. She lived ten miles away (a pretty big distance then), requiring the use of my grandfather's car, gotten by riding my bike three miles in the other direction on Fridays and then back after the weekend wrapped up on Sunday night. Doing that routine each weekend, trying to wedge as much time in with her as possible, I got protective of time together and sometimes declared time a waste if we weren't pretty much together. There were plenty of times when I had to take second place to her school marching band activities, but for the rest of the time, when, say, the TV was an issue, I got frustrated. (That too has kept on as an issue, even being the last straw that drove me out of Robin's place a few years later. I still am pretty adamant that most TV viewing is pretty dumb. But I go easier on people and their motivations for doing so. I swore off TV in 1997 and never turn one on for my own gratification. Never follow any shows, don't really worry about if I'll get the news.)
Trying to argue my point about time being a waste was not something Marie agreed with. She knew I'd been keen to not work weekends at my job at Jack In The Box so that I could be with Melissa. She thought that was misguided and that I should just work when I need to and let the relationship fall in around it. It's not that she didn't want me around, but she picked up on how the counting of time made me rather expectant of results that would not always follow. She encouraged me to just take the work and earn some money and enjoy the relationship more because of the scarcity instead of placing so many expectations on it. This was a strange, early lesson in the economics of time.
Marie and I talked for an hour and a half or so. It was kind of a bitter pill but since she was so momlike I could receive it better than if the same job was done by a friend who didn't have the longstanding relationship. She gave me a card to write some words of apology and pathetic appeals to call as soon as possible.
Marie had said Melissa was mad enough that I shouldn't expect to see her that weekend. That was scary because the week prior had been really testy trying to work things out at all over the phone. I dreaded another week passing if it was going to be like that. Rhythmic Catharsis buddy Matt lived within walking distance of Melissa's. I asked him to go over and see if he could persuade her to call me on Sunday. I called Melissa's cousin trying to accomplish the same. The day after the ball was an agonizing time, for sure. She did call by early afternoon but things weren't rosy yet. I told her about the picnic table, and suggested maybe she read it. I told her I wanted to not let all this go on for a week, so she agreed to meet the next day (Monday).
Jerry to the Rescue, Again
Needing some counsel, I decided to head down to church where that afternoon there was a meeting of the Shalom Group, a group that I helped to co-found in 1989, intended to help provide teenagers with a safe place to talk to a few trusted adults and peers. It was set aside even from the default youth group. It's interesting that I'd choose to go there that very day since I had largely been out of church life for some time by then, maybe even counting back to 1991. And certainly with such a regular schedule with Melissa, crafted to fill as much weekend time as possible, there was little time for stuff like church. These days I wish I had made more time for it; for balance; for some scheduled adult perspective before the shit hit the fan. As such, I made what I could of it and got down to church and found that the meeting was going to be sparsely attended. It got called off. As long as we were both there, I asked my pastor, Jerry, if I could have some time to talk. By that point, he already had a few years' track record of giving me some life changing perspective. Just two months before he was responsible for talking me off my ledge during my first period of suicidal ideation.
We spent a good while talking outside the church building, even on a rather cool day in the winter and agreed to meet Wednesday. At that moment, it didn't seem like that would be two days too late. I can't complain though. Jerry's insight has always had a long shelf life. For that troubled Sunday, I took what I could from the exchange and went on my way. What followed doesn't exactly make sense and I'm not sure I did it right, but at the time, somehow, like these things go, it was all I could do to get out of my head for a bit.
Intermission: Wayne and Pops
I drove from the church in Pacific Beach, headed down to one of the shopping centers there and parked. Only this wasn't like the day before. I walked to the Presbyterian church across the street. I met a couple of homeless fellows. Wayne was 52, and his buddy Pops, 62. Both had been in construction and trades. If anything, I think Shelby had put me up to this, or something like it. Shelby, while sometimes fire and sometimes ice, was kind of a scout for my consciousness in the world. I think I'd heard enough tales from her and had a few conscience-tipped arrows shot into me over the few years we'd been friends by then to know that I needed to take myself from the center of the universe once in a while. So here I was. I talked to the guys for a while then offered to get them dinner (at Subway, the actual center of the universe back in that era of the early 90s). They counteroffered. The church was about to serve dinner coming up pretty soon. Their treat! Their "normal" was parking their carts in the church hall and making their way to the serving table. Of course I was the fish out of water here, dressed decently and looking pretty much ready to head to school or on a date. Sure, I felt a little weird and one comment from one of the servers sort of put me on the spot, though not in a bad way. I just stopped into to see how others live, I said.
These days, after encountering Jubilee Economics and related bodies that are sympathetic to those who don't have, or encourage those who do have to live more simply, I'm pretty surprised at how Wayne and Pops were some of the first encounters I had with that kind of worldview. They lived simply not of their own accord but it seems they had made their peace with the reality and knew how to live on about $5 a day that they could earn recycling. They were a bit less generous in their political positions, with Pops chafing at the gubmint's practice of giving out loans to foreigners to start businesses here. The whole experience put a face on homelessness that I would not have had. It was petty of me to say I had to go because it was cold, but they knew well enough what I was talking about after a couple hours of talk and dinner. On parting, I realized I had a pretty good blanket that might help them out and donated that. All in all the experience was something that I sometimes revisit. For that day, it did prove to be a worthwhile diversion from the woe-is-me party I threw myself. It sort of had the effect of making me more ready to hear the news about to come the next day.
I headed back to my grandparents' place and attempted to keep up with my piano class homework for a bit.
Somebody Has a Case of the Mondays
Monday deservedly is much maligned. But not every Monday is so heavy as this one was. I started it though with new resolve to work weekends if that was called for. Okay, it might mess with Melissa time but that was now something to put on the back burner. I drove to Mira Mesa where she lived and dropped in at the Subway that was one of the remaining stores belonging to Chuck Perrecone after he sold the one where I worked about a year before. He and I were on good terms so I paid him a visit and inquired about work opportunities. I'd already been at Jack In The Box but at the moment was about 2/3 of the way through an indefinite layoff from that job since the whole corporation was in major damage control mode following the e.coli outbreak in January. Not knowing when that would end, and having been given the freedom to live a life I didn't really want to live, I thought it was worth asking. Chuck didn't have anything but it was good to see him again.
I got to her house at 3 pm after she got home from school and collected herself. The terrible uncertainty of the day let me really only say that I'd like to leave here on better terms than last Monday (dogshit day). She didn't think that was possible. She retreated to another room. I had my sandwich with me and was munching away, finished, and joined her. She gave me two pieces of paper, each with a poem. One was from her. Another from her ASB ball friend. She sat down and looked away as I read them and began to start feeling the poison arrows working their magic. She'd made up her mind. We were done.
It was one of those times when you think you're in a bad dream. Can this be happening? I can't believe it's her doing this. It was surreal, for sure. It wasn't of much use to sit on the couch and ask her to sit next to me. Those days were history now even if that was just last week. Suggesting we go outside, she accepted but we just stood in the yard with that awkward inability to look into each others' eyes, and for the moments when we did, the flashes of pain and confusion just singed the soul. I couldn't believe she really called it herself. I mean, sure I'd pushed a lot of buttons, but after so long a time knowing how passive she tended to be, this was out of character, especially given all the fluffy talk of the early days, professing undying love forever. But of course, she had many people in her corner who helped her clarify what was going on. I think I entered the denial and bargaining phase in one swift movement, making some plea to try having a nice long talk to hash everything out and maybe involving a mediating party. She wasn't too worried about the dance debacle. That was past now. Then I started hearing a familiar phrase from two days before.
The echo of Marie's talk was ringing in Melissa's talk. The matter of being in a steady relationship that was too steady had to be dealt with. The litany of things that our time together was blocking from happening normatively was offered. Too little time with friends. Too little time keeping at piano practice. Faltering grades. Even the TV wasn't being watched as much as she would have. It seems like she'd been thinking about it for a while but was afraid of making waves. Finally the dance proved to be the breaking point. She did say she didn't want to come to the decision but felt she had to.
The attempts to win her back fell flat. Funny, it was really her who initiated the whole relationship by calling me sometime in early 1991 and telling me she'd rummaged through her folks' address book and found my number. She made attempts to pursue me for over a year before I finally awoke one day from a dream of her and resolved to call her and ask her out in late June 1992. Of course she jumped at the chance. Her outer appearance on that first day belied the inner cartwheels she reported once she got her senses back. And almost immediately, we were off and running. The excitement was paused by my already-planned trip to Germany, but she didn't let that stop her from writing inordinate amounts of mail while I was there. I wrote back, and upon return we basically started the relationship off at about our second month "together." While puppy love seemed foreign to me, I bought into it and by the end was perhaps more into it than she was, yet as I said, the mismatch between my growing existential issues and their ripples out into the rest of life and her feeling of overwhelm was starting to make things difficult. I always had a knack for trying to unpack matters of relationship and the inner life, and she was almost unable to access that for the whole time. It might have been too ambitious for our age. Or maybe she was living in fear of her dad. And some people just don't even go there. But at any rate, it was always my modus opperandi to egg her on to get out of that box. Then she did.
She went inside and retreated to her room to talk to her mom. I sat around for some ten minutes before I thought it time to leave. I wanted to ask for a few things. First, I just wanted to collect stuff that was mine that she'd not need anymore. Maybe a bit of clothing or stuff like that. The second was coming from still not wanting to let go. Could we go out to the car and do one more of those prolonged farewells that we always did? Coincidentally the car was parked in the same spot as the day we started off in June the year before. Third, I wanted to ask for a hug and a kiss.
I read the poems again, still kind of in shock. I didn't like them any better the second time. I wrote a note, operating out of a fierce denial and willful cluelessness about what her words meant that day. It read, "When you want me back, you know the number. I love you..." Then I posted it where she'd be sure to see it. On the TV.
I made my way down to her bedroom where she and her mom were. They let me in. Once again, for an hour and a half, Marie helped us navigate the troubled waters. Since Marie was already so versed in Melissa's thoughts, most of the time it was Marie and I talking, with her interpreting for Melissa, probably too choked to speak. Yeah, the new era was upon us. We'd have to settle on being friends unless some great unknown hand of fate moved us close to one another at some indeterminate time. Basically, don't hold your breath, kid. I put in my two cents about how and why things played the way they did in the last week, but that was neither here nor there now. At least Marie was there to soften the blow and help make the whole thing a learning experience with a dose of tenderness, looking out for her daughter, yes, but also knowing I needed a softer landing too. I've always appreciated the way she handled things.
Freedom Isn't Free...of Hurt
So there it was. The end of that era. By then, it was about 5:30 and there was a weeknight curfew of 6 pm. Okay, I didn't have to wait that extra week or struggle to work things out over the phone. I was free. It's not what I had in mind.
We went back out to the front room. The late afternoon sun was low in the sky. Clouds were spotty but the sun that did peek through was golden and shimmering. It was cold outside. The emotional situation made it cold inside too. Looking at Melissa then, knowing that there was an invisbile boundary fence around her, was surreal. In some ways, she was now back to that girl who used to appear now and then at picnics and bay days or just hanging out at the house. But she couldn't be that. Even that girl had an eye trained on me and that didn't apply anymore. Okay, she wasn't a girlfriend now. Nor a cousin figure. I guess for a bit, with a new hands-off policy enacted but with some feeling of love for her, she was now almost sister like. (I don't want to make too much of that because in a little over a year, we had a little fling that blew that out of the water.) If I didn't know what to make of our new relationship then, I'd have the time to think about it. The seven months and 24 days were over. I did ask her for a big hug to send us off. She obliged. She even let me give a few pecks on the cheek and forehead. Even a moment of rubbing noses. A few more hugs and tears. Then off into that scary world of the unknown. It was 6 pm.
Things unraveled pretty fast but the roots of the matter went back for some time. She wrote a letter on February 15, one week and a day before this final Monday. It was a mix of calling me on things that she finally knew she'd have to put her foot down about, and a bunch of the familar puppy love statements. She mailed it on the 17th and I presume it arrived on the 18th—the day I gave my final no to the ASB Ball. The letter was gentle but firm. Confused but optimistic. She hadn't yet really closed the deal. She still fretted over things getting worse. It's interesting how those moments of confusion really snowball. I guess my Saturday night appearance pushed things over. But it was clear she was chafing at my Ed-isms like TV, doing stuff I wanted to do, etc.
And that's the tale about a girl three years my junior who I happened to know from childhood. Wait until the next installment when you can read about another girl three years my junior who I happened to know since childhood. Yup. Kelli. It's the greatest story ever told, man...