6.7 Three Speed
This is the story I told at the most recent Stories We Don't Tell event. Look for the Open Kwong Dore Podcast episode of this night coming soon. Check out our fancy new website: thereapers.org. For the last two years since the relationship with my ex-girlfriend ended, I’ve often wondered about how, not if, but how we would meet again. It would be a spring afternoon and I would be walking down the street hand in hand with a woman I just started seeing. I’m dressed in my finest blazer, my hair is at that perfect place between being too short and too long. I’m a successful writer and this success provides that invisible confidence a person can carry when everything in his life is in the right place. We’ll stop at an intersection and wait to cross. As the walk signal turns, we step on the street and this is where I see a familiar face coming the other way. We lock eyes and I smile, nod. This familiar face takes us in, is hit with the invisible power of the love emanating from us, and brushes past. The woman I’m with asks, “Who was that?” And I reply, “Oh, no one.”
This relationship lasted almost three years. We were having our problems, but the sudden demise of our time together sent a shock through me. She broke up with me on the phone. There was no discussion, no ‘trying to work things out’.
I wrote her an email asking to meet at a coffee shop. I told her I’d be there the following Sunday at a specific time. I needed some kind of closure. I needed something. Anything. I wrote that if she didn’t show up, I’d be there the next Sunday as well. This led to nothing except me feeling even more pathetic than I already was.
The end of this relationship was a shock because it had been the closest thing to longterm that I’ve experienced. I was thinking all kinds of marriage-related thoughts. There were problems between us, I felt, that were just normal issues common to all relationships. But there were things that I just couldn’t see. The body knows. Towards the end, I noticed that my hair started to fall out and was turning grey at my temples. There was no bald spot, but more and more hair appeared in the shower. More and more grey hairs came into view. I started sweating more than I usually did, pit stains stained my shirt. My body was trying to tell me something I didn’t want to admit to myself. I didn’t see any one cause for our breakup, nothing specific happened. No one cheated, we weren’t really fighting. The relationship just drifted away from us.
This breakup proved to me that I had my shot at something longterm and lost. I claimed to be vulnerable and sensitive, but I lacked the ability to let someone in to who I was because that opened up the possibility of causing exactly the kind of pain I was feeling at the time. This inability to let someone in, to actually be intimate in a completely authentic way had immobilized me. There was no lack of desire, she was just at a loss with me, just like all the others. She tried, she really did, but being with me was like being with someone who wasn't really there. I was convinced that the more I continued like this, the more the cycle would never be broken and I would begin to spend more time on my own, claiming I didn’t need anyone else, I saw myself becoming bitter and old and I’d mumble at young couples walking blissfully hand and hand down the street, go home alone and never leave my house and die alone and my lonely body wouldn’t be found until the smell was noticed a week later by my whispering neighbours.
So, I clearly had some work to do.
It’s strange after a breakup because the person is still out there somewhere living their life. Just without you now. I had to start living mine again. I disappeared to Cuba for a few weeks, brought nothing but some notebooks and Life, the biography of Keith Richards.
I was just tired of myself and what I was doing and who I had become. In Cuba, I came face-to-face with someone I didn’t like anymore: Me. With the help of Keith Richards, I ripped myself apart and returned with a relentless drive to change things. I did what you’re supposed to do after breaking up. I started to clean myself up a bit. Started using product in my hair, which, curiously within a few weeks of when we broke up, had stopped falling out. Went to the gym. Tried to be more social. I started focusing on what I wanted to do with my life and traveled for work to the United States, Russia and other places. I went on a trip to Costa Rica with seventeen others and came back with new friends and connections. I published a book and threw a big launch event and put myself out there like never before.
It was as though many of these big changes were reactionary. I can say that I made these changes for myself. But either directly or indirectly, she was a part of all my decisions. Some small thought, tucked away in the back of my head said, “Maybe someday she would see this new person I had become.”
A couple of weeks before the launch event, I sent her a letter. I included the book, which wasn’t exactly about her, but it was about my time after we broke up. I wrote, “I understand we haven’t talked in a while. I regard our time together as an important part of my life and wanted you to have a copy of this novel. Many things I learned from you were integral to its writing.” I wondered if she would show up to the event. I wasn’t surprised when she didn’t. I thought that perhaps this was finally complete. I haven’t seen or heard from her since the night on the telephone. I didn’t have to worry about running into her. It was done. I felt a weight had lifted.
A week later.
I was at Three Speed - a bar where nothing good has ever happened. I was sitting with one of the people I met in Costa Rica. We just came from an exciting meeting with people that run writing workshops for kids and we were discussing what we could do to help them. My friend had just quit her job and would soon be off traveling for a month. She was in that exhilarating place of being in her twenties and going after new opportunities and we were eating and drinking and talking about all these good things in our lives. We sat near the back, along a row of two-seater tables. The server was showing two people to the table next to us. I glanced up, locked eyes with her-
After three years of being in a relationship, it ends. I spend two years working on myself and wondering when I would run into her. Wonder what I would say to her. I saw her passing me in the streets, I saw her at bars and at restaurants. All were ghosts. I reached out to her with a letter after all this time, a letter that might not have even reached her. And I’m putting out work that tries to make sense of why all this affected me so much. I’m trying to understand why I couldn’t seem to get over it. I mean, get over it already. And I do this launch event and I feel the weight lifted. And it’s over. And a week later, I find myself in a bar and she is being seated RIGHT NEXT TO ME. Now, I don’t know if it’s proof of the existence of a god, or a pattern of some universal energy that binds and connects us, or just pure FUCKIN’ coincidence.
I glanced up, locked eyes with her.
She grabbed the man she was with by the arm and stormed out of the bar. The body knows. I instantly started shaking. I called the server over to take away my half eaten meal.
I was shaking because for a moment, everything I achieved over the last few years disappeared. All of it meant nothing. I was brought back to the person I was before. I was scared that all that she saw was the person who deserved to be dumped over the phone, who would accept that. All the things - my grey less hair, my blazer, the traveling I had done, my work, the new people in my life, the book, everything - had disappeared in a moment and not meant anything.
But this was simply not the truth. The exchange occurred in a few seconds and my friend said, “What just happened?” She knew the backstory. She ordered us another round. The real truth was now I have an end to this story. Sort of.