A Groovy Kind Of

I am very loose with the work “love.” I can say I loved my ex-wife, or that I love my family, or that I love The One That Got Away, and they all mean different things. There’s friendship love, either squealed at each other at bachelorette parties, often accompanied by the word “bitch.” There’s the “I love you, man,” accompanied by the most distant hugs imaginable, because God forbid anyone thinks you’re a homo.  

From the way we differentiate between loving someone and being in love with someone, the word love has many different meanings, like “aloha.” I am in love with a number of people, and it’s not because I want to marry them. I have my friend, the princess, who I will love until the day I die, and all I want to do is cuddle with her. I’m in love with The One That Got Away, and her I want to marry. I’m in love with my Best Man, Shane, my brother. I’m in love with the one who brought me out from party to party in New York and made me feel cool, and that’s mom love. I’m in love with my best friend in 1999 and 2000, and the only thing I want from her is to lie in bed together with a dictionary, spending the entire evening looking up the dumbest word.  

Same word, completely different meanings. So when I tell you I was in love with her from the moment she forced herself into my conversation, it wasn’t because I thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen (though, to be fair, she was), but because she radiated artistry, sensitivity, and mischief. She was a very tactile person, holding hands, stroking forearms, using one another as chairs, and it was easy to confuse a guy who’d never had a girlfriend in high school. However, expectations were set and revisited, and things were great until I started to run with a crew that viewed sincerity as a character flaw, and she was sent into exile, which wasn’t the punishment it was supposed to be because she had many friends across all disciplines, and I don’t think she missed us.  

She wasn’t gone from my life, though, and we kept bumping into her, and I wanted to keep bumping into her, but there was still a part of me that saw her as the enemy. I was awful to her. She continued to extend the hand of friendship, and I repeatedly slapped it away.  

That was college. After college, we became closer. During a celebration of a relative’s accomplishments, I told her that I was married, and I loved my wife, but I loved her too, for different reasons, and I didn’t have the language to explain, but she understood. That’s probably why I fought so hard against her. She understood me, and I didn’t want anyone to. But ten years after graduating, I wanted it more than anything in the world. 

We talked to each other rarely over the next several years, but any doubt I had about our relationship was dispelled when I visited her at her home a couple of years later, and we spent a couple of days having the kind of drama-free relationship we’d always wanted. We went back to communicating rarely, and I saw her one more time before we went back to communicating rarely.  

In May of this year, while “suffering” from COVID, I wrote my memoirs. I have known a lot of people, and I have done a great many things, so I wrote it down. I broke the book down into nineteen particularly influential individuals (my ex-wife gets two chapters). I sent her her chapter. I wanted her to see what she meant to me. I wanted to tell her how in love with her I was, but not in that way. I wanted her to understand me, more than I wanted anybody to understand me. So she read it. She had no notes. She read the rest of the memoirs because I wanted her to know everything about me.  

Now we text every day.  

For reasons I won’t go into, I’m taking what is probably my last vacation. I stopped by to see my sister in Colorado, and then I retreated to my cabin in the woods, where I was visited by the friend I was in love with. With a brief exception, we sat on the cabin couch and talked about ourselves, our past lives, our present lives, not very much about our futures, our impending disasters we had no control over, our regrets, our mistakes, our triumphs. We also talked about TV and movies. We talked a lot, is what I’m saying. I’ve become touch averse in my old age, but she got through my shields like she always belonged there, holding my hand, playing with my hair. This was our entire relationship in a nutshell. I had no idea how much I needed this. 

I live-blogged to her the rest of my vacation, the writer’s retreat with my old friend Shane, running into those people from my past who crossed social boundaries to be my friend, how I’m feeling, etc. I’d rather be sprawled out on the couch, my head on her lap, recounting the events of the day rather than sending her a text. When I think of her, I think of warmth and companionship, and never romance. It’s the perfect relationship for someone ace.  

Now that we’ve so clearly spelled out what we mean to each other, what does our future look like? I don’t know, but we have the rest of our lives to figure it out. She’s not going anywhere. 

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Home Again Jiggety-Jig

When I arrived in Albuquerque, I had a few hours to kill, and I explored a neighborhood called Nob Hill, close to the university campus. I breathed in the mountain plants and beheld the adobe houses everywhere, and it had been twenty-four years since I’d spent more than a few days here, but it still felt like home.

As I approached Gallup from the east, the shapes of the buildings—the gas stations and auto parts stores and restaurants—were all the same, even though they are all different businesses than they were in the twentieth century. I drove in a car I thought of as invisible i.e. it’s so generic that it can follow you for miles and you’d never notice, and I coasted down Coal Avenue, my favorite place to go when I’m downtown. An entire block of the street was gone. Aside from that, it looked great. The coffee house that had opened up after I started college has been renamed and expanded, and the ratty, crumbling apartments that had housed several of my friends have been given a fresh coat of paint. On the other hand, the department store across the street is exactly the same, and so is the Crashing Thunder Art Gallery a few businesses down. The New Mexico souvenirs store now sells CBD products.

On day two of my return to Gallup, I started to entertain fantasies about quitting my job and settling down there. The dating scene is terrible, but I have no interest in that kind of thing. I have three friends there already, which is more than I have in DC. This would be a good place to retire.

By day five, I’d had a chance to look around. The elementary school my dad taught at is gone. There’s not a molecule of it remaining. My middle school had been expanded by erecting these Borg-cube-like buildings. My high school has been completely rebuilt, though the roof is still that familiar zigzag shape, making me suspect they built on top of the original. Lots of familiar buildings have unfamiliar storefronts, Comics, Cards & Games, for example, had been replaced by a sign that simply says “Waxing.” However, from a distance, Gallup looks the same as it did when I grew up here. The Gal-A-Bowl hasn’t changed its cheesy sign, El Sombrero is still there, the courthouse is a masterpiece of Southwestern architecture (just don’t look at the modern office buildings springing up around it).

If I look closer, the stucco on the house I grew up in has been replaced with aluminum siding, the Pic-A-Flic video store I once relied on is now a payday loan place. The theater where I went to the movies by myself for the first time at age nine (Godzilla 1985) is now boarded up. A lot of businesses are boarded up, actually, while other businesses, mostly the ones downtown, have been given facelifts. Gallup in 2022 looks like the Gallup of 1994, but it’s not. It can’t be.

Even the people I’m seeing are the same, but not really. My friend from high school kept up her enthusiasm and her bright smile, but she’s an accomplished professional now, not a giggling cheerleader. And then there’s Shane. Shane is a special case because we’ve led parallel lives that occasionally intersect. When I met him in Gallup, he was an artist and fixture in town who went to bed in the same studio where he created his paintings. When I pulled up to his place in Gallup last week, I found an artist and fixture in town who went to bed in the same studio where he created his paintings. But when I looked closer, I could see many differences. He has two children now, one of whom is twenty-four and living in New York, like I once did. He has less hair. Money is no longer the precious commodity it once was. There are hundreds, as opposed to dozens, of paintings leaning against the walls. If I moved down here, I’d have to navigate a Frankenstein recreation of the city I grew up in, and I don’t think I’m ready to do that. On my way to my hotel, there is a sign for a diner that was once a Gallup landmark. The diner itself is gone, now a weed-infested parking lot. The ghost diner speaks to me. It says, “Don’t look back.”

The More They Stay the Same

May through August of 1998 is known to me as My Summer in Purgatory. My plans for my post-collegiate future were pulled out from under me, and I was so tied up in graduating and working almost full-time that I didn’t make alternate plans, so I moved in with my parents. And my two sisters, who had been doing fine without me there, thank you very much for asking. I spent most of the time being drunk and stoned, being needlessly … well, me … to a wonderful young woman who has moved onto bigger things and beyond. I was offered a hand out, and I took it, and decades later, here I am. I’ve visited Gallup a few times since then, but over the years the city has been completely rebuilt and redesigned while also remaining the exact same. Here I am, twenty-four years since the last time I’d spent more than a couple of days here, crammed into a coffin of a hotel room ten miles from town, and it still feels like home.

I’m here on a writing retreat with Shane. We want to take a 156-page screenplay and expand it out into a four-to-six-episode TV series, and thanks to his networking from being a successful painter and having once been married to literary intelligentsia, he has contacts, and he might be able to get it in front of people. If he doesn’t, that doesn’t bother me. The whole goal of this trip was to work with one of my oldest and best friends on an art project together like we used to do. We have met that goal. We have written a solid first draft of the pilot, and we’ve finished more episodes. What it needs is a fine polish, and then we’re ready to send this butterfly out in the world and see where it lands.

It’s about a hitman and his sidekick and the people they pick up along the way searching for a ruthless drug dealer in Gallup, New Mexico, in 1995, a time and place Shane and I know very well. And the thing about Gallup is, it’s weird. I know, I know, you think your hometown is weird. You’ve never lived in Gallup. It’s a curious cocktail of mixing cultures that don’t mix well, but can get along to get along. The characters, who have impressed some of the contest readers who’ve seen it, are what we’re focused on. The hitman is a professional, but he’s emotionally unstable, and pops antidepressants and anxiety meds like Pez. The sidekick is a hitman in training who doesn’t want to kill people and dresses like a 1995 rapper. The point man is a Reservation resident who acts chill but is shifty. The victim is a cute redneck girl once kidnapped by the drug dealer, and who hangs around the hitman so she can get her bloody revenge. The waitress is a high-class girl in search of adventure. Nobody knows what’s up with the drug dealer. That’s something we have to work on.

Sorry, didn’t mean to bore you. I’m proud of what we’ve done together.

Shane has been a resident of Gallup for years, after living around the country and even outside our country. The town has a certain gravity. It draws people back, like a few of my friends from high school (and me) in the years following. They all scattered to the wind, but a few more came back as adults. And I don’t mean adult like me, where I have a job and failing eyesight, but otherwise I haven’t changed. I mean adult as in married, with children, and buying houses. This was where they wanted to raise their families. Shane knows more of them than he can count. I know two of them.

The first was the cute cheerleader turned cute mom and high-ranking school administrator from my last post. She’s the one who informed me that the narrative I had where I survived high school by being invisible was not remotely true. I’d been seen.

I knew she was in town, and I had expected to see her, so that didn’t blow my mind as much as the next guy. Shane called for a break during a particularly unproductive stretch of hours, and he drove me to the UPS Store to see someone who really wanted to see me. I’m terrible with faces, so I knew that, unless he told me who it was, I wasn’t going to guess. And he took me up to the pass-through and pointed his chin at a guy wearing a COVID mask. I shrugged, and someone called his name, and I remembered everything I talked about in this entry:

tl;dr: If 1998 was My Summer in Purgatory, 1992 was My Summer of Adventure. The Lost Boy was a really good friend when his crew was away, but as soon as the crew returned, he ghosted us. I was heartbroken at the time, but as I got older and met more people who were popular when they were young, the more I understood why.

On the other hand, a member of the crew I ran with that summer was an easily offended, vindictive bitch, and he very well could have unilaterally exiled the Lost Boy.

Either way, the last time I saw him up close was when he tried to explain to me without explaining to me why he had to leave us behind. But once I heard that name, those sharp, manicured eyebrows could belong to no one else. Shane got his attention, and he came over, and they chatted. Then Shane said, “Look who I brought!” The man I used to know as the Lost Boy called out my name and ran out from behind the counter to tackle me with a hug. He looked the same—compact, in shape, no wrinkles, not a single gray hair. The only change was his mullet. He used to have the kind of mullet that would make Billy Ray Cyrus look like Sinead O’Connor. It was business in the front, very long party in the back. And now he had a respectable middle-aged-man haircut. He asked me where I was and what I was doing, and he was excited to hear I was still writing. He reminded me that it didn’t matter if I wasn’t a New York Times Bestseller, I was writing.

Beyond his sexy cool, he was one of my most enthusiastic cheerleaders. When we were hanging out alone, he was always encouraging me to write. At the time I believed that I could tell the story, but I couldn’t think of what the story should be. That’s why I was working on an idea with the vindictive bitch as opposed to my own, which I wasn’t sure I had. But my friend believed that I could come up with my own. He also had a female friend he thought would be a good match for me when the school year began (but that went away when he did). He knew I was bound for bigger things. That hadn’t changed in the slightest, even though it is literally thirty years, summer-to-summer, since we had known each other.

He gave me his number. I’m going to shoot him a text.

Gallup, New Mexico is a weirder-than-average town close to Arizona and three Indian Reservations. It’s a place where magic happens. I’ve set two novels and a screenplay here. It will always be home.

Social Influencers

I didn’t enjoy high school, but my senior year in high school was kind of nice, actually. People stopped bullying me, Severian wasn’t around to bring down my mood, I made new friends, a new comic book shop opened, and this cute cheerleader started following me around. She hung on my every word and often arranged to be where I was going to be. She manipulated events so we could be coeditors of the school paper. I had enough presence of mind to recognize that these weren’t romantic overtures, just someone who was fascinated with me for some reason, like Jimmy, who had a man-crush on me.

She also met Shane separately from me and followed him around too. It wasn’t until I was telling him about my new cheerleading friend in school that he told me he also had a new friend, and our descriptions of her matched up, and when one of us said her name, we knew.

I lost track of her after graduation, and I found out, like, 12 or 13 years ago, that she was back in Gallup. When I saw her then, I was really depressed and feeling gross, so it didn’t make much of an impression. This time, I was alert and content and feeling confident, like I have been during this long vacation I’ve been on, so we went out to drinks and caught up with each other’s lives.

She told us that, even though she was a cheerleader in a popular crowd, she felt miserable and like a fraud. She had admired me through most of school, and she wanted to soak up some of my mojo, whatever it was. She told me that I was a goth back when goths still wore colors (I don’t agree with that assessment), and she had to learn to be like me.

When she met Shane, she was enamored of him, as many women are. According to Shane, she made a move on him, but I never trusted his interpretation of events when it came to women (because his interpretations tend to consistently fall under the category “She Wants Me”).

It’s weird for me to hear I was a formative influence in someone’s life. I don’t think of myself as making much of an impact on this world. She told Shane and me that if she hadn’t met us, she would have been shallow and unhappy. Now she is relaxed and herself and successful and in a good place. I guess I did have an impact.

Momma Raised a Quitter

I used to have a drinking problem. I’d say I was an alcoholic, but I wasn’t addicted. My problem was that I started out with one drink, and I’d keep drinking until I ran out of alcohol. This was a real problem whenever I cracked open a bottle of wine. It wasn’t that I set out to be a binge drinker, but I was on a medication that kept alcohol from affecting me until I was about five or six drinks in, then I would go from sober to drunk in seconds. I loved drinking, though, so I kept doing it.

I loved how numb it made me while being simultaneously awesome (or so I thought). It turned off the part of me that should know better, so I was a free man. In that way, drinking was like having a manic episode. And I loved the taste of a good beer or wine. And I can’t stress this enough, I didn’t need it every day. I just needed it whenever. Whenever turned out to be most days.

Say what you will about my ex-wife, she made a lot of really positive changes to me. She found me the psychiatric help I needed to be better, she researched Chantix, the quitting smoking drug that makes you want to commit suicide, and she encouraged me to quit drinking, at the beginning of July 2007, after I fell flat on my face at a party and almost hit my head against something. I didn’t go to AA or to a doctor for help, I was just determined to do it. I half-assed it, though. I used to sneak drinks here and there and kept a bottle of mouthwash in the car (that I shared with Kate, so I had to really hide it) to shake suspicion.

This was bad, and I’m honestly not sure how I got away with it as long as I did. I mean, this is the kind of thing people who were addicted did. I didn’t need it every day, just once or twice a week—whenever I could, basically. So for the month of July, I snuck around with drinking. Finally, at the end of the month, Kate was going to be out of town for the weekend, so I could have a whole bottle of wine to myself in privacy, as long as I could get rid of the evidence.

I’ve told this story before, but something clicked in me as I took that bottle off the shelf and placed it gently in my shopping cart. It reminded me of all the times I quit smoking where I’d have one or two, just to take the edge off, then I was a pack-a-day smoker again. It asked me who’s really losing in this situation, me who definitely wasn’t quitting, or Kate, who thought the man she trusted and loved was being honest with her. It asked me how long I intended to keep this up. And mostly it asked me what kind of a man couldn’t keep promises to the woman he loved. So I put the wine back. As I’m fond of saying, I don’t remember the last drink I took, but I clearly remember the first drink I didn’t have.

Fifteen years later, the only drink I’ve had was when a bartender in London didn’t understand my order of club soda and got me a vodka and soda. It took one sip to figure out the mistake (the bartender didn’t apologize, she just doubled down on her logic, which is who goes to a bar to get a club soda?). Do I miss it? I wish I could have a glass of wine, I love a good red. I hadn’t experimented in whites before August 2007, but I’m sure I would have loved them too. I liked beer. I liked standing around with a glass of scotch, not really enjoying it, but feeling classy. I don’t miss being drunk, and I definitely don’t miss hangovers.

I don’t really pride myself on my impulse control and willpower, but in the same year, I quit smoking and drinking, both of which I was dependent upon. Maybe I do have it in me.

Chats in my Belfry

If you’ve been paying attention, I have a workplace crush. The butterflies have really settled down around her to the point where I could note her heading for the break area and not really get possessed with the overwhelming desire to go talk to her anymore. Plus, I had COVID for the month of May, and by the time I got back to the office, she was on vacation or was working from home for three weeks. I got used to not having her around to swoon over, but she is still here. We’ll get back to her.

I have been a big fan of Dr. Nerdlove since 2010, when I read Kate a number of his columns on a road trip. He’s insightful, a bit tough, and fair, as well as being (I wish this word hadn’t been coopted by the bigots) Woke as hell. Probably his best column is the one where he urged nerd boys not to date nerd girls, which wasn’t an admonishment of nerdy girls, but of the image that nerd boys tend to get into their head when they think of nerd girls. His column, though, is primarily an advice column, so people write in, and he answers their questions with a combination of pop culture references, a little vulgarity, and a lot of heart. I’ve written Dr. Nerdlove four times, and I’ve been answered four times. I’m going to see if I can get a fifth.

When I started this job, I talked to nobody. I was shunted into the corner for the temp, and I just did my job. The people around me did socialize, and they can, at times, do it to excess, to the point where I sent HR a message about it. HR’s response was to have a big meeting with our department about how to be polite to each other at work, with none of the impolite people actually realizing they were the impolite ones. Prior to the pandemic, they had scheduled a move for me to a real desk, but after we returned to the office two years later, this had been forgotten, and I returned to the crappy temp desk. The obnoxious talking resumed, though not as bad as before.

I acquired a new boss during lockdown, and she will talk to anybody about anything, no matter how asinine, which means, where most of my seating area is probably convinced that I’m going to go on a shooting spree (it’s always the quiet ones) and barely acknowledge me, she engages me in dumb, light conversation. And what this has done is make me want to be more of a presence at work socially. But the problem is, how do I start? I can carry on a conversation once it’s begun, so with the dates I was going on last year, we were there to have a conversation, so we had one. But unless the other party approaches me, I have no idea what I’m supposed to say. So I fired off another letter to Dr. Nerdlove asking for tips on starting a conversation.

Tuesday, though, was a revelation. The Publications Department shares the fifth floor with at least two other departments, and we never interact. Management came up with the inspired idea to hold a lunchtime mixer for the floor, with the instructions being not to sit at a table with anyone you already know and to play some silly games. I sat at a table with my crush and the new girl in our department, and nobody else sat with us. Unfortunately, I think the new girl is super-shy, so she was hard to talk to. My crush, on the other hand, who confessed to being shy, was a lively conversation. We discussed my novels and rejection letters, what her department does, and how motherhood is kind of a “schizo-bipolar thing” where her four-and-a-half-year-old is simultaneously her reason for being and the most difficult thing she has to deal with. And it wasn’t just her. People dropped by the table, and I chatted with all of them. One of the games was that we were supposed to introduce ourselves to two people we didn’t know and tell them something only your best friend knows. My crush and I decided that we would be person number one for each other, but we still had to find someone else, which I did, quite aggressively.

And now, I’m suddenly doing pretty well here. I’m chatting with coworkers who are going through the mail, which gets dropped in the half-cubicle near mine. I’m inserting myself into conversations with the obnoxious coworkers, and I’m saying clever things to boot. (When they were talking—not googling or even using their computers—about freckles, and my neighbor’s browser showed him an article about freckles, I said, “Whenever I know they’re listening, I feel a lot of pressure to be entertaining.”) Does this mean I’m ready to get out there and start talking to people? Not quite. These are still conversations that I’m joining and not starting, but it’s something.

As for the crush, I fully intend to have more conversations with her. I just need to figure out a good opening.

Credit Where It’s Due

Well, that was close. I received a text today telling me that my package couldn’t be delivered because something was wrong with the address, and I needed to go to follow the link to correct it and get sent on. So I did, and I clicked the “Forward” link, and they told me it would cost $3.00 to send and gave me some spaces to fill in my credit card information. The only package I’m waiting on is some meds for Newcastle, so I needed those to be delivered. I would have entered my credit card information, but I was working outside, and my wallet was inside, and I figured I’d get back to it later.

At dinner, I was telling Nicole about it, and I realized with crystal clarity that I almost got scammed. The site looked like the Post Office site, and charging $3.00 to redeliver a package sounds exactly like something they’d do, but there were enough red flags that I should have caught it right away, but I didn’t.

The moral of this story is, if I had been any less lazy, I would have spent all of today on the phone with the bank, cancelling my credit card and disputing charges.

This is a victory for sloth.

Stepping into the Same River Twice

I’m doing something a little presumptuous. I’m writing my memoirs. I’m doing it in an unusual format, which is I picked twenty people who influenced my life, from high school friends to more recent individuals, to my ex-wife, and I’m writing a chapter about each of them. Sometimes, I’ll take a page or so of someone else’s chapter and remember another important figure who I don’t have enough to write a full chapter on.

There was this young woman in college who I very consciously set out to befriend. It was a success. However, it was approaching the end of the school year, so we became pen-pals. Every other week, I received a letter from her, long and a little stream-of-consciousness, and just all kinds of wonderful. When asked by her therapist about journaling, she said, “I do journal. I write Jeremiah.” She had lost her father recently to cancer, so she pleaded with me to quit smoking, which I didn’t do. We cared for each other, we supported each other, we loved each other, and we didn’t have sex, so I called her my wife. Corresponding, we had no one else in our lives, but in person, not so much. When we reunited that fall, we didn’t click, and we drifted apart.

At some point, I think she started a cult. It was some kind of internal spirituality thing, and it sounded like a cult. Later, after she found me on Facebook, I discovered that she was a pre-COVID anti-vaxxer, and after she posted some really objectionable science, I hid her posts. The last thing she said to me was a comment on a post I made debunking the Mandela Effect, saying that I was wrong, there’s more to the Mandela Effect than just faulty memory. If you know anything about the Mandela Effect, you know she means alternate universes and apocalypses. That’s when I muted her feed.

While writing this chapter, I realized that I still had all of her letters. I dug them out and reread all of them, which took some time because each of those letters was a tome. What I found was a young woman desperately trying to find her identity and make sense of this world. She struggled to get over her last boyfriend, she tried dating back in her small, South Dakota town to disappointing results. She signed her letters with “Love” but would sometimes cross that out and write “Always” instead. She read a story I wrote inspired by her hostile first meeting with me, starring a thinly veiled me and a thinly veiled her, and she informed me that these two characters would make great friends but there would be no romance (I recognized the subtext, even at the time).

Reading pages and pages of her careening trains of thought reminded me of how it felt to open up my mail and get one of these oversized envelopes. I wrote about three double-spaced pages about our relationship, and I wondered if maybe she would like a nostalgia bump, so I searched her out on my friend list, but she wasn’t there anymore. I searched her out anyway and discovered that her feed is public.

She isn’t just a little anti-vax now. She has gone full-throttle. She’s posting news stories about people dying from the vaccine, and about people applying for jobs at concentration camps that they’re going to create for the unvaccinated so they can force them to take a shot. She is not coming from a Republican place with this, this is all conspiracy from the Left. It was in college that she started down the New Age rabbit hole and got stuck.

How I feel about this is the same as when you have to sneeze, but can’t. I’m seeing this lovely, confused, hopeful young woman on paper, but in reality, she’s kind of insane. I go through nostalgia kicks and can’t or won’t contact the person I’m feeling it for, but I’ve never run across so many red flags screaming “Don’t!” What am I supposed to do with this warm, lovely feeling reading her letters has given me when this person isn’t the same person I remember (all the while being unquestionably the same person)? This is so frustrating to me because the two things I got from this experience that I want to hold onto forever is this woman as I remembered her and the feeling of writing actual, physical letters to someone and getting one back. I can’t have either anymore.

I miss her. I had no idea how much.

Little Sticks of Death

I remember how and why I started smoking. It was the first time Kate and I got together, and she’d left a note in my mailbox that said we had to talk. No time has that phrase meant anything good, so I was stressed. I thought about what all the peers I looked up to did when they were stressed, which inspired me to locate a cigarette from a man whose name is lost to history, and the first time I smoked a cigarette, it was horrible. It was physically gross, and it made me dizzy. Why would people money for that? How was this calming me down? The next day, I wanted to do it again. Gradually, I grew to enjoy the high, even as I craved it the whole time.

One day, you realize that you’re not even getting the high anymore. All you know is that your brain doesn’t work right, and you get the tremors when you’re not smoking. This isn’t like heroin, where not getting high off of it was a process that took months, even years. With cigarettes, you take a quick hop to dependency. You can go through a lot of cigarettes in a day, especially if you’re sitting a bar from before 2003, when smoking was kicked out of the indoors, because it’s so easy to put one to your lips and light them. Besides, if you do it right, lighting a cigarette can look insanely cool, just ask John Constantine.

Think about a time when everyone’s desk at work came with an ashtray. I used to think it was fascist to kick smokers out of all buildings, but I’ve reconsidered because smoking is really fucking bad for you, and it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re the one with the cigarette. Smoking contributes nothing to society except for death, and I’m willing to overlook my stance on banning things when it comes to that.

After I got addicted, I quit smoking about three times. The first time, I kept one or two around, just in case, to prove to myself that I could resist temptation. I couldn’t. The second time I quit smoking, I removed all cigarettes from my apartment, so I just went out and bought a pack. At the same time, Kate was supposed to be quitting, but she was also sneaking cigarettes behind my back. We gave up on giving up.

Finally, our doctor put me on Chantix, which was later pulled off the shelves because some users tried to kill themselves and then put back on the shelves because I don’t know. Maybe less users tried to kill themselves. Before the whole suicidal ideation thing, I went on the drug. It made me constipated. But the thing that it did best was block me from getting off on the nicotine. And without the nicotine rush and relief, a cigarette is just a burnt, soggy, rolled-up piece of paper. And I let this control my life for thirteen years? I very quickly settled in on the side effects of quitting because Chantix didn’t take away the side effects. Somehow my quitting smoking turned everyone around me into a fucking asshole, and once I was away from it for a while, I came to appreciate just how horribly I smelled.

And so, while I craved cigarettes, I didn’t want to go anywhere near them because a) they were disgusting, and b) I didn’t want to be their slave again. However, I did have two cigarettes since then.

The first was on the day when my beloved friend Jenni got married. I bummed a smoke as a way of starting a conversation with her maid of honor’s boyfriend, which was how we used to do things in college and at parties. I remember how awful everything about it was. It was like my first time all over again, only this time, I wasn’t tempted back.

The second was at my sister’s apartment in Ventura, California. Watching her smoke cigarettes made me feel nostalgic, so I bummed one and kind of hated it. I thought how casually I used to smoke, the cigarette dangling from my first two fingers, leaning rakishly up against the closest wall or streetlight. All I wanted to do that time was sit down until the dizziness passed.

Since then, I occasionally dream about smoking again, but when I realize I didn’t fall off the wagon, I am so relieved. Once a very important part of my life, I’ve completely forgotten about smoking, so that people who used to be badass smokers in my novels and short stories just don’t smoke anymore. I gave no explanation. If I wanted to have fun, I could write a short story about any of them quitting.

I smoked my last cigarette as an addict on May 15, 2007, so I have been an ex-smoker two years longer than I’ve been a smoker. I don’t regret smoking for thirteen years, but I don’t miss it at all. After all this time, though, I still don’t recall what Kate wanted to talk to me about.

Saving the Date

You know who’s not thinking about this day? Kate. I can’t read her mind, and I haven’t any contact with her in over a year when she wanted me to disconnect the cable in the condo because it was in my name. (Plot twist! They disconnected the cable when she initially called two days earlier, so I had to wait on hold and tell my story to three different people over the course of an afternoon for no reason.) I like to think that being married to her for almost fourteen years means that I have some clue how she thinks. However, if I really had a clue how she thinks, I wouldn’t have been sucker-punched by the divorce papers. She didn’t think much of me at the end, and she probably thinks less of me now. She told people our anniversary was April 31.

I blogged two years ago that I feel like this was a holiday that people were forgetting. As is the case with September 11, I want the world to stop on this day. I want people to remember the date. But it’s a Saturday, and it’s a lovely spring day in Washington D.C., and who’s got the time? It’s not my marriage that trips me up this day every year, it’s that this was once one of the most significant days of my life, and to everyone else, it’s time to go to the farmers’ market and pick up some produce.

I’m the only one who remembers this day, and I wish I wouldn’t. Maybe I’ll do something nice for myself.

Do you remember the Princess I told you about in that little fable I shared mid-February? It’s her birthday tomorrow. I want to go back to celebrating that, like I did before I found myself saying “I do.” Tauruses for life, amiright?