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?

The Butterflies Effect

The last few years of my marriage, I became insular. I would accompany my ex to gatherings, and I’d sit there, unable to think of a thing to say and unable to meet new people. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk to people, or even that I lacked the will to do so, but because I had no idea how to start a conversation. When I got a job at The Container Store in Reston, I didn’t particularly bond with my colleagues, and it took me three years to be comfortable enough to be myself around them. This came up during one of my employee evaluations, so it was noticeable. When I started work at the DC Container Store, I was there for a year before I quit, and I had not, by that point, made friends. There was a guy I talked to regularly, and there was my crush, who I followed around like a lovesick kitten, and that was it. Once quarantine happened, I lost any progress I had made in that front. Since I’ve been half-assed dating over the past six months, I’ve had success chatting with the women because they led, and I just caught up.

I’m very comfortable in silence, and I can ride an elevator all the way to the top (which in DC is only ten stories) with someone and not have to share a word. Since we’ve returned to the office, though, a situation that makes me extremely uncomfortable, as in middle-schooler-at-a-dance uncomfortable, and that’s when I’m in the break area with my new crush.

I’ve gone over this before, but I love having crushes, and I never look at them as anything more than just butterflies fluttering around my ribcage. In the case of my last crush, she was in her early twenties, fresh out of school, and I had no doubt that everything I found charming about her would absolutely irritate the shit out of me if I experienced it for longer than an hour at a time. In the case of my new crush, I know nothing about her, except that she’s cute, and that’s no basis for a relationship. She looks like she’s in her mid-twenties, but she has her own office, and my boss doesn’t have her own office, so that has got to put her squarely in her thirties (that’s two things I know).

Every day she walks by my cubicle on her way to the water station/break area (so I guess I know three things about her—the third is that she’s hydrated), but she looks really irritated every time she walks by, so the excuse I have made not to talk to her is that I didn’t want to be messing around in that. However, I stepped into the break area to find paper towels my second day in the office, and she was there. I braced myself for what was bound to be an uncomfortable (for me anyway) silence, but when I did discover the paper towels, I announced my relief, adding, “I knew they were here because I saw them in the trash.” She said, “As long as you don’t take the ones from the trash,” and she laughed uproariously. So she has a sense of humor (four things I know about her), and she’s got a husky voice like Katherine Hepburn (five things).

The next time I interacted with her, it was the next day, and I made a point of going to the break area when she walked by. Somehow I started a conversation with her and made her laugh some more. I can’t begin to express what a big deal this is to me, for all the reasons I outlined above, and because my inability to have conversations doubles when attractive strangers are involved. But I made a joke about pinching on St. Patrick’s Day, and she laughed, the kind of laugh you throw your whole body into. But the following week, I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her.

While talking to my Wellness Coach, I made it clear I wasn’t proposing marriage. All I was doing was having a thirty-second conversation. If that failed, my life will not have changed in any way whatsoever. My homework assignment was to compliment something she was wearing, and how hard could that be? On Tuesday, I did it. Today, I had a brief conversation with her about Turkish coffee. So not so hard at all. The tendency of humans is to lose excitement for things that are no longer novel, but every time I talk to her, I want to tell everybody. This is a huge accomplishment for me.

I am reminded of my roommate in Jersey City, and how, every time I expressed an interest in someone or talked about my crush at the time, she always said, in an almost scolding voice, “You never know!” And so I leave you with that. Will I continue to chat with this woman? Will the skills I’ve picked up in my thirty-second conversations translate over to the rest of the world? You never know.

The Princess and the Pauper

Once Upon a Time, there was a pauper who lived in the Magical Kingdom of New York, by way of the Fiefdom of Jersey City. This Pauper was deeply in debt, and had to work two jobs to keep the creditors off of him. Working so hard made him tired.

Once Upon a Time, there was a Princess in a distant kingdom. She had troubles of her own and was also very tired.

The Princess and the Pauper knew each other, but only barely. And yet, one fateful day, she sent a message to the Pauper that she had some frequent-flyer miles, and she wanted to see the Magical Kingdom of New York, over President’s Day, and would he be her guide?

The Pauper remembered being bedazzled by her smile and her attitude, so he opened his doors wide, where she came into his life like a tsunami. She was a princess, in every sense of the world, and demanded the Pauper’s full attention and allegiance. They zigged and zagged through Manhattan, until something caught the Princess’s eye, and everything came to a halt while they investigated. There was much to investigate. They went to the finest restaurants, the finest drinking establishments, the finest merchants, and befriended the finest puppies. Unfortunately the Princess chose the wrong boots for all the walking they were doing, but she persisted. She had to see all of Manhattan in three days, and they almost did.

Meanwhile, the paupers of New York gathered on random weekends at a pub called The International. The Princess’s sightseeing fell on the same weekend as one of these gatherings, and the Pauper had to confirm with the Lead Pauper that he could have a plus-one. This made the Lead Pauper suspicious, and when he and the Princess arrived, the Lead Pauper gave her a look that asked the question, “Who do you think you are?” The gathering of paupers was for paupers, not princesses. But then Lead Pauper and the Princess carried a conversation with their eyes for a split-second, and the Princess was welcome to their corner. The Princess charmed everyone, and was a welcome addition to the gathering.

When the Princess and the Pauper weren’t wearing themselves out in the Magical Kingdom of New York, they were resting. They took refuge from the chilly February air under the blankets and sheets, talking. They talked and talked and cried and laughed and talked some more, all while cuddling. And that’s where they kept it.

At the airport, when it all had to come to an end, she kissed him chastely but passionately, and when she pulled away, she nibbled on his lower lip. That was when he fell in love with her. This wasn’t the pining, focused, often possessive love of fairy tales but rather a sense of joy knowing that she was in the world, bedazzling others with a smile and a wink. He never fell out of love with her, even through several girlfriends and a long marriage, and when the Princess found her Prince and is now Queen of her own kingdom. They don’t talk often, but every President’s Day, they reach out and remind each other what that weekend felt like.

And they lived happily ever after in their own lives, knowing that, on the day when everyone in the US celebrated their presidents or, more likely, their day off, the Princess and the Pauper would always celebrate each other.

My Silly Valentine

Having been single for the first twenty years of my life, I grew to hate Valentine’s Day. Here was a card that, like Mother’s Day, was invented just to sell flowers and cards. I used to think that, if couples needed to wait until one specific day of the year to do something special for each other, then maybe their relationship wasn’t so special.

At the age of twenty-five, I was dumped on Valentine’s Day after we celebrated it together and I spent a lot of money on her. We won’t discuss whether I deserved to be dumped because I totally did.

At the age of twenty-two, I made a friend whose birthday was on the thirteenth, so I would celebrate that instead. (I lost touch with her for around fifteen years, but I always celebrated February 13 for her.)

While married, Valentine’s Day became just another day, as we focused our celebrations on the dates that mattered to us specifically, i.e. our anniversary, the anniversary of the day I left New York to be with her, and, as the years progressed, her religious holidays.

I did have a Valentine’s Day on an undisclosed year of my life that is one of my fondest memories. It started out playful and flirty and hit kind of an ugly point, but we brought it back together, and that night, while she slept, I think I fell in love with her (but I never told her—one of the greatest regrets of my life).

As I’ve gotten older, and I’m already looking at forty-five in my rearview mirror, I’ve come to realize what Valentine’s Day is really about. It’s about giving out those little cards to everyone in your class, even the ones you hated, the ones with the puns and your favorite superhero on them. It’s about those candy hearts that say, “Be Mine” and other phrases I can’t remember anymore, the ones you were supposed to give the apple of your eye, but you just ended up eating it yourself. It’s about pink streamers and cutting hearts out of construction paper, and the red sheets always running out before you can get to it. With the exception of my nearly perfect Valentine’s Day outlined above, this is the Valentine’s Day I want to celebrate—kids who have no idea what romance is being creative and funny to each other, passing each other pieces of paper that advertise a fast-food version of said romance.

When you’re with your beloved, and you’re irritated that none of the restaurants have any space for couples, and you forgot to make reservations. The ones that do have openings jack up their prices for the day. You just spent over a hundred dollars on flowers and chocolates, and you have no idea what to talk about on a date with someone you’ve been living with for years, just remember when that girl you definitely didn’t like, especially not like that, handed you a card that had Aquaman on it, and it said, “I ‘sea’ you, Valentine” and long for those days. I generally don’t think that things were better when I was a kid, but in the case of Valentine’s Day, it totally was.

The Snow Miser Reloaded

I used to live in Nebraska. It wasn’t for very long—only four years, or less than one-eleventh of my life. At Hastings College in January, we had what we used to call “Interim,” but is now called “J-Term” (the latter which feels like a racially charged insult of some sort, but I’m not in charge of marketing for Midwestern liberal arts colleges, so what do I know?). I have a lot of memories of the time I spent in Hastings, some good, some bad; but Interims, with their university-like focused classes and more spare time than we were used to, really stuck out. I bonded with people I’d never really spent any time with before, I’d had a lot of adventures, I played a metric shit-ton of Doom II in the computer lab, and most of all, I froze.

I lived in Indiana for another four years later in my life, and I spent long January and February weekends in Upstate New York. I loved winters in New York City, as I often had a girlfriend at those points, and there was a lot of cuddling under the covers to keep warm. Also the city seemed so much more electric at that time of year, sometimes because of Christmas, and sometimes it might have been that the cloud of air in front of your face that invigorated everyone. Of all these places I’ve lived, nothing has measured up to winters in Nebraska, where once, as I walked across campus to get to my dorm, a gust of freezing wind caught me and slid me back about a foot on the ice.

Winters in New York were impersonal, dropping in because they had a job to do and leaving as soon as was polite in March or April, only to return again later in the year. Winters in Indiana brought ice storms with them, which were just kind of mean. Mostly what I remembered of the winters in Upstate New York, as well as those in my hometown of Gallup, New Mexico, was the slush, which felt like the season just throwing in the towel. Winters in Nebraska, though, were brash yet cozy, like that relative who was just going to stay over a few days and ends up using up all the hot water and eats all your food. It got into your bones, and even when you were sitting in front of a roaring fireplace in a cable-knit sweater over a set of long johns, you just can’t get warm.

Winters in Virginia and DC, however, have been nothing short of mild. They’re actually pretty wet. Sure it gets cold every once in a while, like when it was in the low 20s (-4° Celsius) last week, but within a few days, it was almost 40° again (4°). And we never, ever get snow. Well, we got snow this year. It was like somebody dumped a big bucket of it on the region. I thought this was great. Winter doesn’t start in DC until mid-January, and on the rare occasion we do get snow, it happens later in the season. Therefore, a major winter storm on January 3 means we won’t get one in February (this is not remotely how meteorology works), and hopefully spring will come early.

I’m thinking about winters in all the places I’ve lived, especially Nebraska, because this morning, when I woke up, it was 16° (-8°) out, certainly not the coldest I’ve ever been, but the coldest I’ve ever been in a long time. I opened the front door to stand in it for a minute and remember what it felt like to absolutely freeze to death. It was not as fun as I remembered. Also on the horizon is a snowstorm that is supposed to be as bad as the one two weeks ago, but with freezing rain to add to it, and I’m like, what am I, in the Midwest? We still haven’t gotten rid of the last snow.

Weather’s not the same as when I was a younger, and that is 100 percent because of manmade climate change. Where weather that approached 0° (-18°) used to be pretty bad in the Midwest, thanks to polar vortices, temperatures far below that are frequently gripping the Heartland and bringing it to its knees, which is a particular hardship given the shoddy American infrastructure—which tends to be worse in states with Republican governors. This is the way it is now.

I don’t know if DC’s recent run of actual winter in the winter is a result of climate change, but I do know that this morning, I stood in the doorframe, my breath visible, wistfully remembering what it was like to bundle up and brave the outside, as well as curling up under a blanket with someone special, sipping hot chocolate and watching through the window what looks like stars, slowly drifting from the sky and resting peacefully on the ground with all of the rest of the stars in the universe.

The Muffled Man

A friend recently made a post about how she feels out-of-sorts with her bipolar meds. She’s not depressed, but that’s really the only way to describe her mood, “not depressed.” She has no motivation to do anything. It got me thinking about my experiences.

I’m on a ludicrous amount of lithium, and the side effect of that is that I’m pretty numb all the time. In fact, I feel exactly like my friend. I tell people I’m happy, but I’m using the word “happy” as a synonym for “content.” My life is good, I type, stretching out my hands and arms because my cat is sleeping between myself and the keyboard, but I’m not happy. I don’t even know what happiness feels like. I had an incredible time last month at my work conference, but it didn’t really affect me long-term. Likewise, I have moments of disappointment (my dating life) or despair (that really bad review I got), but never any actual pain. I’m like a Nerf ball: you can put a dent in me, but I’m back to my old shape in moments.

What’s the alternative? Well, I’m bipolar 2, which means I’m depressed most of the time. Depression, with a capital D, is brutal. It’s not just a mental affliction, but a physical one. When I had a bad depressive episode after Robin Williams died, my joints hurt, and I couldn’t walk without pain. Depression turns you into a selfish asshole who sucks the joy out of everything. Nobody knows what to do with you. And when I’m not depressed, I’m manic. Here’s the reason a lot of bipolars will stop taking their medication. Being manic feels like you do after you’ve had a couple of drinks. You’re lucid, better looking, funnier, more charming, and a royal douchebag. Whenever I had a manic episode, it climaxed in some intense behavior, and I would crash instantly into the lowest depression imaginable. What triggers my manic episodes? Unadulterated joy. No wonder I want to be numb all the time. It’s just safer.

What keeps me from becoming a zombie who sits in front of his iPad watching Netflix all day is that I have found the thing or things that bring me joy, and I hold onto it for dear life. I have Doctor Who, as I proved when I spent hundreds of dollars on merchandise in December. Seventeen-foot scarfs and a complete set of Doctors isn’t enough to give me something to feel. My real anchor, which you must have guessed by now, is writing. Making up stories, making up people, and currently, crafting a screenplay (I call if “crafting” because there is a science to drafting a screenplay; i.e. you can’t just make it up as you go along) are the first things I do in the morning, and I can’t wait to go to bed the night before to see what I will cook up tomorrow.  

I’ve lived my entire life like this, and five years ago I finally found the cocktail that works. The side effect is that I’m kind of toned down. I can tell you now that it is 100 percent worth it.

All fourteen Doctors, or the world’s largest doo-wop group?

Post-Countdown Countdown

I wanted to wait until 2022 to get all this down, just in case the universe has anymore surprises to throw at us (Betty White), but now that it’s January 1, I feel like I can safely look back. The one thing I dread every year between Christmas and New Year’s is the pile-on about how terrible the previous year was. Everyone is falling all over themselves to condemn it the hardest, and a quick look at your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr (which is still a thing—I just checked) reveals the accepted wisdom that 2021 was a terrible year. So was 2020, and 2019, and 2018, and 2017, and so on. I have very, very rarely looked at a social media post stating that the year that passed was a good year in all the time I’ve been on social media, and I had a Friendster account. Honestly, the news was pretty bleak this year, and I have several friends, one in particular, whose December was a terrible nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, much less someone as kind and generous as she is. But the thing, the news is bleak every year. That’s how they sell news. And while I watch the rise of fascism, income inequality, and disease in my own supposedly clean, democratic country with a sense of dread, I had a pretty good year.

I am not a trend-maker, and I cannot convince anybody to do anything, no matter how much I think it’s a good idea, so I don’t expect this to catch on, but I would hope that maybe in the future that people will look upon the passing year with a little nostalgia. This seething hatred and disgust for every year that passes cannot be healthy for us as a society, and neither is this hope for the next year that will be dashed completely a few months in. I’ll go first, and I’ll do it in meme form.

Everyone else:

Me: In 2021, I self-published 10 e-books and one print book, and I got pretty good reviews (and one really bad review) on a couple of them. I jettisoned an unhealthy relationship that was draining me dry. I lost twenty-five pounds in the spring and summer (and gained back six in the fall). I (kind of) learned how to play tennis. I got a promotion and subsequent raise at work. I went on my second business trip ever, and I had a wonderful time and met some really amazing people doing it. There was another Matrix movie, which may have been fan fiction, but was still welcomed with open arms by me. I went to San Francisco and had a much more enjoyable time than the last time I went and got to go on the So I Married an Ax Murderer tour I so desired. I entered several novel-writing/screenwriting/movie-pitching contests and advanced to round two in some of them. I rediscovered classic MacGyver. I befriended my neighbor, who is a treasure. I moved to a better apartment. I went wild and bought all fourteen action figures they made of Doctor Who. I tried dating (which didn’t really take), and I met a lot of interesting people in the process. I went to a movie in the theater for the first time since January 2020.

Again, I know that I have very little influence on what people do, but I still highly recommend doing this for yourself. If I push the flaming dumpster fire that contains things like the January 6 insurgency and both Delta and Omicron—as well as the negative review my TV pilot got or some of the fights I got into with my roommate—off the cliff and never speak of it again, what would I do with all these victories I racked up? Times are hard for America and the world, but they were good for me, and I’ll bet, if you try hard enough, you can come up with some reasons 2021 wasn’t that bad.

If you’ve ever listened to a thing I say, make it this: Live your life. Enjoy the good parts as much as you can. Don’t be hating every moment that passes, or you will die a miserable person.

The One That Got Away

The love of my life, my biggest regret, is engaged to be married. The idea of her ever leaving her perfect life with her long-term boyfriend and his kids and ideal career and so on for me is as much as fantasy as anything in Lord of the Rings. But it was my fantasy, and I’m crushed.

Life wasn’t perfect with her. We’d broken up four times, and I still don’t think she’s forgiven me for the last one ten years ago, but when I think back on my life, she was one of the biggest parts of it, second only to Kate. I first met her during my first month in New York. We broke up. We came together again shortly after, a little more established in the city and sure of ourselves. We broke up. I was pretty sure that was it for us.

We somehow found each other again, as friends, after over a year and change apart. She started hitting on me, and I knew she was doing it, but I didn’t appreciate it, and when she directly asked me out, I told her no. I stayed at her apartment overnight because she lived about as far away from me in Manhattan that she possibly could, and I changed my mind about her. I was a different man then, much more confident, and much more fun. Together, we enjoyed the best New Year’s Eve of my life. We went to concerts.

Someone recently asked me what my best memory was. Without thinking about it, it was a cold winter’s day in New York, early in the morning, getting off the train that we took downtown together. We were about to part ways, and she kissed me. It was a small peck of a kiss, just a quick goodbye, but it was the first time she had done that. It felt natural and cozy. It’s one of my most vivid memories, even now, twenty years later.

We broke up.

Years later (while I was married, but open), we hooked back up and had a romantic week together for Christmas that I will never forget. I heard her sing, and until I did, I had no idea how much I had missed it. We tried to video chat when we could, and we texted constantly. And therein lies the problem.

When Kate wanted to open up our marriage, she meant that she wanted to sleep with a bunch of men, but I shouldn’t be able to sleep with women. When the love of my live and I reconnected, Kate was insanely jealous and hid it from me. She made it impossible to carry on a relationship with her, and her behavior led her to think that I was cheating on Kate, not that I had her blessing. A year later, I met another woman, and Kate pulled the same thing. My relationship with the love of my life has never recovered.

That’s not why she is my biggest regret. What haunts me about this colorful relationship I had with her was that I’d never told that I loved her. Of all the people I’d told I loved them (except for maybe Kate), none deserved it like she did. She’d told me. I never reciprocated. I always thought I’d have more time with her to kind of ease into it, but then we would break up again. There’s no way I can tell her now. She’s engaged to be married. She has two stepkids she loves like her own. She’s got the ideal job and a number of side interests that keep her occupied. How would it look if an old boyfriend made that kind of declaration to her? It would look terrible, that’s how it would look. So how I feel about her will have to remain my secret.

I can still wish and hope that someday she’ll find me again, but I know that she hardly ever thinks of me. She might even still be mad at me for “cheating” on my wife with her. I send her a Facebook message every year on her birthday, and the next year, I’ll note that 365 days have passed since the last message exchange we’d had. Life goes on without me, as it should.