8. The first year
Posted March 31, 2014on:
With the hand I’m going to lose
Though I already knew the ending
I still pursue
Because what counts
this moment is that I’m winning and I’m holding
my “what if” trump that I’m going
to next put down
On October 9th of the first year, I wrote that poem after I replied to his email. In the email, I said:
I‘m OK, and I hope you won’t beat yourself over it. It was my decision to make and I’m fine with that decision. It meant something to me. You should know that I love you, for what it’s worth.
A week later, I left my cheap apartment, he left his, and with each of us paying about 50% more for rent each month, we became housemates. That was the end of the first year.
The first year after the rift was the shortest and the longest. Time flowed differently when one is depressed. Or desperate. From the day he quietly left, he took my time with him. I felt like I was existing in this void with no sense of reprieve until he reconnected. My feelings were overwhelming and intense once they were stirred, and I couldn’t turn them off even if I wanted to. And I didn’t want to. It was easier to feel them rather than ignoring them or suppressing them. I thought I knew what falling in love was, what being heart broken was. But each time I experienced either one, I felt bewildered and lost all over again. It was my thoughts that were driving me nuts. Being 21 made everything worse, because the newness of an adult’s life compounded the senses. I was feeling frustrated and intrigued. You would know this this about me if you know me: once I hone into something of interest, I develop a single minded obsession that could be healthy or unhealthy depending on the subject matter. It used to be the force that enabled me read Chinese within 3 months, or hack into an ex’s computer + email accounts among other things when I found out he had made me into a mistress because I didn’t know about the existence of his fiance. My tenacity is of a rabid dog once I put my mind to something, so I had tried to not put my mind into too many things.
I should have had a hot looking single professor, or five; I would have gone far in my studies.
There were days that he would completely ignore me, even a week at a time. But as if there were expirations dates, he always came back on his own. He just showed up at my doorstep unannounced. Or he would call. Or he sent me terse emails like “dinner’s on you.” Things were much quieter and more somber that year, as we both moved cautiously around each other. He revealed less things about himself and his private affairs, if any at all. He was shutting me out, but for all that, the fact I paid attention to was this: he kept on coming back, even when he had nothing to say. And I waited for him to comeback, like I was holding my breath. Life in between his appearances was like living underwater for me. I wrote extensively that first year, just to pass the time. Poetry, diary entries, short stories, longer stories, short plays, letters to him that I never sent. I took on more work hours. I picked up a few new hobbies to pass the time. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I would go for long walks, more often than not ending up in front of his place, where I could see his car. Then I turned around and went home.
I knew his ex was in touch with him in a sporadic messy post-break up way. I didn’t know what to feel with regard to that. To me, she wasn’t a threat, but a lost man like him was. About two months after we went from BFF to Awkward Former Friends (AFF), I received a phone call from him one Saturday night. He sounded terrible; he asked me if I knew anyone who could use a drink, because he needed a companion. I said I didn’t. If he wanted to, I could go with him. He said, with you – NO. Once was bad enough. I said I didn’t want him to go drinking alone, because I didn’t want him to drive himself home drunk. He despaired that I was of no help, he’ll figure something out. I can’t remember what else was included in our conversation, but the sense I got was that something terrible had happened to him and it involved his ex. So right after he hung up, I changed and ran out of the house. I took the train to his place, and to my relief, his car was still parked in front of his house.
I knew where he lived because I found that place for him. I had only been there once, to watch an anime that he raved about, when we were still happy together. It made me sad, remembering how fun it used to be. That night, I just wanted to do something for him. I didn’t know what was going on, but I could feel his pains, and I just wanted to be near, watching over him, even if he didn’t know. If he were to get out of the house, I would have tried to stop him. But he didn’t, so I sat on the curb, in the dark, gazing at the stars. I told him it’s alright. It’ll pass. And I thought about things like snakes that could come crawling out of the grass to freak me out, since the area was very close to a hiking trail, or a neighbor who could call the cop on me for looking suspicious in the dark. I thought of my feelings for him, and his behavior towards me. I made a decision that night – he will love me and live happily ever after, or I will kill myself trying so I wouldn’t have to regret that I haven’t done my best. I would no longer play fair. Love became a battle field to me.
I never initiated contact with him unless I needed help like the time I sprained my ankle that took almost 2 years to fully heal. But that’s the only time I can remember contacting him on purpose. It had to be that way for me to study the results. I would set out the traps, and I had to wait patiently if I wanted to find out what worked and how it worked. I kept detailed notes about the tactics I used in notebooks and diary entries addressed specifically to him, some day he would have to know all about it, and not think any less of me. I set my girl friends upon him, my beautiful, charming, loyal girlfriends who descended upon him like a flock of birds in spring. I didn’t ask them to do it, but I’m gifted that way. Just like I knew exactly how to dress and style my hair and act a certain way on the day I had to show up and bid for an apartment against 10+ other people my first year at Cal, I knew exactly how to tell my one sided love story to people and make them my instant allies. I don’t think he knew any better back then. He probably thought I continued to be as straight as an arrow as I was initially with him. Whatever emails or information he divulged to my friends who sought him out and encouraged him to open up to them went straight to my ears or my mailbox. They would occasionally get him to come see them and inevitably ended up at my doorstep. They hosted sleepovers to help further my cause. They even went out and got drunk with him for me. In subsequent years, my awesome friends continued to invite and host the two of us in such living arrangement that would inevitably leave only 1 room for him and I to share. They came to our apartment for long visits and took over my entire bedroom, not sharing, which would send me straight over to his bedroom for weeks. (At my request) They claimed my sleeping bag on top of my bed, leaving no reason for me to be on the floor in his room. No matter what the latest antic was, he never questioned or protested. That was the kind of answer I sought.
I took up his favorite pastime, anime, and studied it like a school subject. I watched endless series of old and new animes, read the reviews, wrote my own essays, by the time I was done with it, I knew more about it than he did. I put some time into studying his primary language. I researched about the shows he liked. I listened to his music. I even spent many sleepless nights beating every single of his high score in Snoods so that when he showed up at my place, he would automatically sit there for a long time, talking to me while trying to get one of his scores back up into top 10. Whatever he had mentioned before, I examined them closely.
Each time he had a visitor from out of town, he would inevitably get me involved even though there was no need for that whatsoever. His childhood friend from Europe (Europe Friend, EF for short) came just shortly after we had the fall out, and the tension between he and I was really thick, so much so that finally, EF asked me directly about it the night before the two of them left for Southern California. We were eating icecream together late that night, when he stood up and excused himself in search of the restroom. EF immediately turned to me and piled on the questions. EF said you guys are acting really really weird together, he’s seems like he’s ignoring you but I keep on seeing you around, and you are telling me that he called you up… When I asked him what’s going on, he refused to say anything and told me I can try to ask you directly. Either he didn’t know his own mind, or he was playing with me. If it were the former, then he played his friend right into my own hand. If it were the later, we were evenly matched. From the talk with EF that night, I got a bunch of useful information that fed into my firm belief that he had feelings for me, no matter how flatly he denied them. And no matter what type of backhanded things I did, I wasn’t doing them because I liked toying with him. I did them all out of desperation, because I believed he and I were meant for each other, and I had to make him see it.
I wasn’t making smokes without fire. There were things that I would give him which he simply accepted without any question. Before the rift, despite all the jokes and tease, I honestly told him that I liked his looks, but he was in a dire need of a makeover because his wardrobe sucked. He had asked me to help him buy a sweater or two before, which I did. After we became AFF (awkward former friends), I continued to add to his wardrobe one sale item at a time. He accepted everything without ever offering to pay me back – and he’s one who’s always generous with his money. Whenever he got sick, I would make chicken soup for him, packed a whole pot in a box with his name on it and delivered to his doorstep. He used to run after me if he caught the sight of me at his front door, but after the rift, I came at sunrise and he never mentioned it. He just returned all my containers, afterward and said he ate it well. Sometimes he himself came back from somewhere with gifts for me too. There were days we almost made it back to the type of closeness we used to share before the rift. Then he would disappear again and came back somber. I never knew what to expect.
We hung out less in my room. Instead, we were at the Berkeley Marina or Emeryville Marina, looking out into the dark water at night and the lights of the Bay Bridge. We talked or stayed silent. We went to movies together or sometimes on hikes. When Pink Girl came again to visit me that summer, he cleared his schedule and took care of her as a matter of course. Through it all, he never forgot to steadily tell me that he was not attracted to me and could never see me as a girl friend. I didn’t even approach the subject on my own. When he was mean, he could be cruel. I would take his cruelty in stride and cried my eyes out when he wasn’t around. I wrote endless angry letters addressed to him, which I never sent. Years later, some of the letters still made me tears up when I reread them. When he blew up at me without a good reason, I had to stamp down my indignance and lowered my voice to apologize in my most gentle manner, which I knew made him feel like a jerk, and that was my revenge. I gave as good as I got.
We went through another “good period” in September and I made an attempt to get some information about where he and his ex stood. One of the things about me that would push his button is how I talk under presumptions. He blew up at me that time, “No, you don’t know these things, you just assume you know things about me! I never assume I know anything about you, I just let you be and let you tell me!” In these moments I recognized wisdom in what he said. That was one of his charms. That talk led to another twilight zone gateway, and out came all these stories he withheld from me since that spring. I thought about it for a bit, and I told him that I could solve his problem for him if he’d let me try. You need a keeper, and if you can’t prevent her from seeking you out and end up in such a mess, i will. Just listen to me this time and do as I say. And what I had to say was, I’m going to move you and I’m going to move in with you.
He agreed. He said he was tired of it all. A few days later, while he was out of town to attend to some matters, I went to look at a place, filled out a contract, emailed him. He wrote back “If you think it’s good, then I’m fine with it.” We got a 3rd housemate to split the rent 3 ways for a three bedroom house. We looked at the apartment together. We gave our move out notice and started packing.
Less than one week before our moving day, there was another confrontation. I said something innoculous, and less than 1 minute later found myself facing harsh words flying my way. It plays out like a tableau in my memory even now. Me in my tight red sweater and white pencil jeans, sitting at my desk in the corner of my room, looking straight at the computer screen, trying hard not to cry. The light was rather dim, but the computer screen would not hide my tears. He was sitting on the bed on the other wall, pausing mid sentence when my dead silence reached him. I took a breath and started to say sorry, but he deflated and said to drop it, it doesn’t matter now. Then he asked if I would come sit next to him, just this once. I came over, and it was that hug all over again, reconfigured into sitting position.
You like me, don’t you? I’ve always suspected that.
No, then you suspected wrong. I love you. I have always loved you.
That moment was very sad for me even when I recall it now. I was relieved to have been able to say those words, but they promised me nothing in return and they didn’t make me feel any better than before I had said them. So that as we kissed and undressed, and he carefully asked me if this is what I wanted – it was all very sad.