Conspiracy Via Email

My husband was forwarded an email recently from a family member. Another family member on the same email chain told my husband that he was not using logic and facts to understand the situation in which we find ourselves as a nation. Hours after the email exchange, it kept eating at me. How many facts and how much logic are involved in this forwarded email? What if instead of clicking “forward” and “send”, he had taken five minutes to search the Internet for reliable sources to put this in perspective? So I decided to do it myself.

Notes: Email is in red, then my fact check/analysis below in black. And if you consider mainstream media to be an unreliable source, I’m unlikely to change your mind so you might as well stop reading if you ever started. You are too far gone, and don’t @ me with talk about logic and facts. You lost the argument before it even began.

The US Population is 330,000,000 and in 5 months the number of deaths was 130,000 . The number of deaths as a percent of the population is 0.03939 %, compared to the number of cancer cases diagnosed in 2019 (1,762.450) and 607,000 deaths.

This doesn’t seem far fetched because it is happening before our eyes.

These numbers are correct: At the time of this email, the United States population as 328,200,000 and the COVID-19 deaths totaled approximately 130,000, which equals approximately .04% of the population. However, then the writer contrasts COVID-19 with cancer in an attempt to show you that it’s much more serious than COVID. First of all, this isn’t an apples to apples comparison. One statistic shows the number of deaths as a percentage of the U.S. population. I think the intention of the second one is to cite the number of deaths from cancer as a percentage of cases.

So, the conclusion the author wants us to come to is basically this: cancer is far worse than COVID, and we are overreacting. I think.

However, a quick Google search brought me to a Business Insider article that compiled all the data, and found that COVID-19 was killing more Americans weekly than heart disease or cancer did on average per week in 2018. Moreover, the article is from April, and predicted that by August our death totals may be in the 60,000 range. Well, here we are: August and the total number of deaths is more than 170,000. Draw your own conclusions there.

A very well orchestrated plan, or a unimaginable set of events that just fell into place … with the United States front and center. You tell me!!

Scare people with a virus, force them to wear masks and place them in quarantine.

Count the number of dead every second of every day, in every News Headline. By the way, ninety-nine and eight-tenths of the people who get the virus, recover. About one to two tenths of one percent who get the virus, die. Most all of them have other medical problems. Did you catch that ? Less than 1/2 of a percent die.

There’s a hyper focus on death here, as if that’s the only thing that matters. I offer two thoughts: first, even if the percentage is low, does that mean you’d rather play the odds? What if your sister or husband or good friend is in that percentage?

Secondly, even if one does not die from COVID-19, they are likely still hugely affected. Someone who doesn’t have health insurance could be bankrupted by medical bills. Someone who is on a ventilator and suffers a severe case of COVID-19 is looking at PTSD and rehabilitation. What about their lost wages because they were suffering from this disease, even if they didn’t have to go to the hospital? We should be worried about people needlessly suffering when we have the power to control the situation.

Close businesses = 35,000,000+ instantly unemployed.

Remove entertainment and prohibit Recreation; Closing parks, gyms, bars, restaurants, sports.

No dating. No touching. Isolate people. Dehumanize them.

No doubt that closing businesses resulted in unemployment. It was also necessary to flatten the curve. Just look at the data from other countries that did this well. South Korea is a good example: 14,000 cases and 300 deaths, while the United States spirals out of control.

In addition, these are not permanent closures; this is supposed to be a temporary situation. It is hardly dehumanizing to ask people to make an effort to stay home during lockdown to help control a worldwide pandemic. Is this hard? Of course. But the sender of this missive doesn’t seem to grasp that this is not just about the United States. (The sender notes the “US is front and center!) Yet this is a worldwide pandemic. And we, the richest country in the world, cannot manage to  do our part, when we have the resources and the ability to do so.

Close Temples and Churches, prohibit worship. Create a vacuum and let depression, anxiety, hopelessness and desperation set in.

This is a ridiculous argument. Worship is not being prohibited because a building is closed. God doesn’t live in a temple or a church. No one is being prevented from worshipping on their own time, in their own homes. I believe at home worship is a more personal experience anyway, and a more direct connection to God. But I suspect this section is more about appearances than actual worship.

Then… ignite hatred and civil unrest, creating Civil War.

Again, this makes no sense. Who’s igniting the hatred? It’s the President of the United States. At a bare minimum, review what he’s said over the past 3.5 years. He makes derogatory comments about women, Mexicans, and Blacks, just to name a few. He calls certain places “shithole countries.” He makes up juvenile nicknames for people he doesn’t like, and tells lies about them to confuse his supporters and ensure they hate those people too. I could go on, but that’s an entirely different article.  

And these protests and civil unrest are in response to the systemic racism running rampant through the United States. Watch the video of George Floyd being pinned down. It’s cold, and it’s terrifying, and it’s time the system changed. What’s that got to do with this virus? Nothing, unless you’re a conspiracy theorist, as it appears the author of this email is.

Empty the prisons because of the virus and fill the streets with criminals.

This section is, quite frankly, utterly insane. The prisons are certainly not empty. And those who have been released are non-violent offenders and are almost finished serving their sentences. Each state has created specific criteria for those who are to be or were released. The numbers are low. Simply put, there is no deep state plot to allow criminals to run rampant through the streets.

Send in Antifa to vandalize property, as if they are freedom fighters. Undermine the law, Riot, Loot and Attack all Law Enforcement, but tell government to order a stand-down.

Blame “Antifa” and suddenly you’ve got people’s attention. A couple of actual facts: the Guardian found that they have been responsible for zero murders in 25 years of existence; a report from Reuters states that  “U.S. federal prosecutors have produced no evidence linking dozens of people arrested in anti-racism protests in Portland, Oregon, to the antifa or anarchist movements, despite President Donald Trump’s assertions they are fueling the unrest.” It’s more fearmongering and attempts to delegitimize peaceful protests, which are permitted under the Constitution.

Then… Defund Law Enforcement and abolish Police. We are all being played by those who want to destroy America! This is how you destroy a Nation from within, and in very short order. Will it work, I guess that depends on you and me.

One ludicrous claim after another. Words matter. (Just like Black lives!) Using the words “defund” and “abolish” again is intended to obfuscate and fearmonger. At a high level, the proposals involve diverting funds to other social services to allow for the proper agencies to respond to requests for help. This move would allow the police to focus on responding to the calls for which they are properly trained. In addition, some proposals call for increased mental health counseling and training for police officers.

The author of this email—and everyone who just forwards it without thinking – should be ashamed of themselves. In this age of 24/7 information, it is incumbent upon all of us to be responsible with said information. Instead of immediately typing some email addresses into the to: box and hitting send, we should be researching, thinking critically, and analyzing. It’s all too easy for us to be keyboard warriors scrolling and commenting incessantly.

The future of our democracy—currently a precarious 200 year old experiment—is at stake.

2019 Year in Review

1. What did you do in 2019 that you’d never done before?
This is not a radical thing, but I cut my hair much shorter than I can remember ever wearing it. I got so many compliments – some from men! – that I wondered if I had been wearing my hair too long for nearly my entire life.

Bought a car from another state sight unseen and drove it home. See #11 and #13.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don’t make resolutions, but Sterling did tell me I had to get our ski clothing company off the ground or he was giving up. I found a manufacturer and ski bunni prototypes are in the works as of this writing.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No, but I know a lot of pregnant women, so I think the correct answer is “not yet.”

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No, thank goodness.

5. What countries did you visit?

As usual, no other countries, but lots of USA travel (#13).

6. What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?

I would like to have an in-house attorney position at a company that, to put it simply, makes cool stuff. I would kill to work for Aston Martin, or Porsche, or Sephora or Whole Foods. Something like that.

7. What dates from 2019 will remain etched upon your memory?

December 18. Pelosi’s birthday gift to me was impeachment of the President.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Professionally, I did a lot of networking which is definitely not my forte. I completed a pro bono divorce case and took on a new custody case. I hadn’t done pro bono work for a while, and it felt good to get back and give back. And I did some volunteer work helping people with their citizenship applications. At my current job, I’ve managed to stay the course in some uncertain times, rather than jumping ship. I’m proud that I believed in my own ability to make the right decisions for myself. Hopefully, this will pay dividends in the new year.

Personally, I got ski bunni off the ground (still flying low, but optimistic) (#2), and really stuck to my fitness goals. Last year my answer to #1 was that I started taking classes in the morning at the gym, and in 2019, I really leaned into that – literally and figuratively. I take off for a three week-long ski trip in two days, and I’m eager to see if my legs are even stronger than usual.

9. What was your biggest failure?

This is the same answer as 2017 and 2018: Not being kind enough to myself. I kept a pretty accurate tally of every time I fell short, drank too much, ate the wrong thing, said something stupid to my husband, my boss or my friends.

Being mature about college football.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

No, I was lucky to be very healthy this year!

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Not me, necessarily. But my husband bought a Porsche 911 GT3. Community property state, yadda yadda – it’s half mine, but I still consider it his money. However, coolest wife award to me because I gave him the green light to make the purchase. And we picked it up in Miami and drove it home over one wild weekend in March (see #13).

12. Where did most of your money go?

Entertainment in the form of cars, booze, food, car parts, clothes, shoes, travel. Not necessarily in that order.

13. What did you get really excited about?

Vacations! We continued our grand tradition of traveling everywhere Southwest Airlines will take us:

January: Sterling’s first visit to Heavenly, Lake Tahoe, California. The moment we skied down the mountain to get our first clear glimpse of the lake in all its glory, when he said, “HOLD ON” because he needed to stop and gape at it: priceless.

February: With a three-week sabbatical from work coming up in 2020, I wanted to research all the resorts to be sure I chose the correct place. We spent our six-year wedding anniversary in Beaver Creek, where the powder was deep, the chocolate chip cookies were delicious, and we did our first ski shot ever!

March: Picked up Sterling’s new car (see #2 and #11)! We flew into Miami on a Friday night, picked it up Saturday morning, and made it as far as Tallahassee Saturday night. My brother in law went to college there, and gave us tips on where to hang out. Of course we had to go to the bar where he met my stepsister. Outside, we were flattered to show our IDs, and happy to pay the low cover charge of $5 for me and $10 for Sterling (of course ladies are cheaper!). However, we were confused when they handed us gigantic plastic cups. It turns out the “cover” was all you could drink out of said cups. An upcharge from well liquor was just $6 each. As a result, Sterling wants to retire in Tallahassee.

April: Back home to Arapahoe Basin for spring skiing fun! And we got a visit from Gigi, Madame V and Joe. We visited the Funeral Museum (don’t ask) and played a board game very incorrectly but the way we enjoyed it most.

May: We spent Memorial Day in Austin visiting my family, Gigi and Madame V. Spent too much money at the Fairmont, but it felt like Vegas.

June: Summer skiing weekend at Arapahoe Basin with our friend Ronne. Laughing so hard our stomachs hurt.

July: Return to Chicago where we stayed in the Rock n’ Roll apartment, visited museums (Sue the T-Rex!), drank champagne, bought Nikes and rode the train. Oh yeah, and laughed so hard our stomachs hurt again—this time with Joe.

August: Great Literature Book Club with Gigi and Madame V. Wondering about dystopia, almost getting drowned in the hotel pool, strawberry rhubarb pie for breakfast. A good time was had by all.

September: Spent the holiday weekend in LA, rode bikes, watched football, walked the city. We had brunch with an awesome colleague and her daughter. It was really great to see her.

October: I did a boudoir photo shoot in New Orleans with some badass ladies. Photography, model coaching and hair and makeup were on point. Now I anxiously await the photos. And maybe do another next year.

November: VEGAAAAAAAASSSS! Plus Thanksgiving with the ‘rents in Austin. I can sum November up with: champagne.

December: We went to Dallas for a quick weekend trip to watch OU play Baylor in the Big 12 Championship. A win for my hubby made me happy. Good times with Joe and Scotty.\r\n\r\n

Other things that were not related to vacations:

Aston Martin coming out with the manual version of the new body style. Now I have to save my pennies.

Getting the 4Runner supercharged.

Ski Bunni meetings/production.

14. What song will always remind you of 2019?

I have a few:
“Must’ve Never Met You” Luke Combs
“Enchanted” Taylor Swift
“You Need to Calm Down” Taylor Swift
“Stompa” Serena Ryder
“99” Barns Courtney

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

happier or sadder? Happier.

thinner or fatter? About the same.

richer or poorer? Richer.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

I feel like a broken record, but the answer to this one is always the same: I wish I were kinder to myself. I wish I didn’t grade myself so harshly on whether I was doing things the “right way”.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Same as above and same answer as always: beat myself up, stress out.

18. How did you spend Christmas/Hanukkah/Major Holiday of your choice?

We spent Christmas on our own in Houston, since we are planning a long trip with my parents in January.

Christmas Eve: I went to a class at the gym and then we went up to the Woodlands for lunch with Sterling’s parents, aunt and uncle. We spent the rest of the afternoon organizing Sterling’s new office, watching movies and drinking wine

Christmas Day: I made chocolate chip pancakes, Sterling replaced the brakes on the Aston, and we went bike riding in search of open bars and restaurants.

I love the endless holidaze.

19. What were your favorite TV programs?

I watched Big Little Lies Season 2. Another rare one in that I feel the TV series is better than the book. I’m not proud of this, but Temptation Island and Are You The One? were so good. Kind of like cheesy books, they are not cinematic masterpieces, but they are fascinating. Sterling and I love to watch how people handle their relationships. AYTO did a non-binary season this year, and we think it’s the best yet. Hoping for more! (Still doing my One Tree Hill rewatch. LOVING IT.)

20. What were your favorite books you read this year?

I only gave one book five stars on Goodreads this year: The Idea of You by Robinne Lee. It is not great literature (y’all know that’s nothing new), but the story completely captivated me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the book for days after I finished it.

21. What was your favorite music you heard this year?

Luke Combs is pretty awesome, and he’s not necessarily my favorite genre, but I really like his voice and his lyrics. Billie Eilish, Bishop Briggs, OneRepublic are some others I was digging this year.

22. What were your favorite films you saw this year?

I *think* I saw A Star is Born this year, even though it came out in 2018. I positively sobbed. Also, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and The Art of Racing in the Rain. The latter is one of the few movies I can remember that I think is better than the book.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 42 this year. Perhaps because I’m exactly a week before Christmas, I’ve never taken the day off, especially if my birthday falls into the middle of the week. But this year I decided to take the day off and have brunch with my husband. I went to a gym class at 9:30, which felt so indulgent compared to my usual 6:30 classes. Then we went to Snooze for brunch and had another drink at the new Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company. The weather was sunny, crisp and cool.

It was perfect.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

If people could stick to their commitments. I find more and more that people can’t plan, or if they do, they change the plan when something better comes along.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2019?

My fashion concept hasn’t changed too much over the past couple of years, but the one thing I am trying to do overall is be more sustainable. To that end, I’ve been trying to: buy less clothing/shoes, keep them longer, buy high quality, and as a replacement for something instead of an addition.

26. What kept you sane?

My husband. My friends. Prosecco.

27. Share a valuable life lesson you learned in 2019.

Stay the course. Don’t jump ship. Trust the process. Most importantly, trust yourself.

2016 Year in Review

I read Gigi’s entry on this topic and decided I would give it a go. Partly because I love a countdown at the end of the year (I remember being glued to the TV to watching a countdown of music videos on MTV back when MTV actually played such things) and I also love a montage. Sitting down to think through my year is like a mashup of both. Also, who doesn’t love talking about themselves?

1. What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?
I went on five ski trips in 2016 – between the two of them, I was able to ski the penultimate weekend in Arapahoe Basin (A-Bay to me and my buddies) in May, and then the second weekend A-Bay opened in October, meaning there was barely five months during between trips. How freaking amazing is that? Skiing in October also meant that I did something else I’d never done before – watch my beloved Longhorns play football between my laps around the mountain.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I never make New Year’s resolutions, but Sterling and I decided on financial, physical, professional, personal and relationship goals. I just looked back at the list and uhhhh…

I’m just gonna re-set the same goals for 2017. How’s that?

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Not in 2016, but my friend MaryAnn gave birth on Christmas Eve 2015, so that’s pretty close.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, thank goodness.

5. What countries did you visit?
I didn’t leave the U.S. in my travels this year.

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
Confidence. And a manual transmission Aston Martin Vantage V8.

7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory?
November 8.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
One of the attorneys on our very small team left in April, and I had to do my job plus hers for several months. I am extremely proud of the way I handled it. I received multiple awards and shout-outs from colleagues over the course of the year, ranging from a formal plaque in my office, to a gigantic box of Godiva cookies, to emails and instant messages saying some version of “Thank you. You’re the best.” The best compliment by far might have been when my boss said: “We hit the jackpot with you.” (I almost fell out of my chair. And here’s hoping that’s reflected at review time in April.)

9. What was your biggest failure?
Sterling and I utterly failed at curbing our spending going out. However, see #12.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I took a spill one night at a bar while dancing. There may have been booze involved. I was also kind of making out with my husband so that’s still a win. My knee is a little wonky but it doesn’t impact skiing so I’m rolling with it. I also endured the annoyance of a colonoscopy because I learned that colon problems may run in my family. Clean bill of health, but I will have to get regular colonoscopies every five years. Wooo.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I’m going to cheat a little bit on this, and give two answers:

1 – Our house, purchased in November 2015. Even though it’s not 2016, it *almost* is. I had to include it because it’s hands-down the best thing I’ve ever purchased in my life. I also think it counts because Sterling and I spent most of the year saying to each other, “I love our house” and “I love where we live.”

2 – For something truly purchased in 2016, it’s the Garmin watch I gave Sterling for his birthday. We make it a practice not to give gifts on the standard occasions, instead getting a gift for the other when we feel like it. (This makes gifts an unexpected delight.) In this case, I knew he wanted this ridiculously expensive watch to add to his collection, so I bought it for him. I decided his birthday would be a good time to give it to him. This way I could tell everyone at his party that I am a cool wife. Kidding. Kind of.

12. Where did most of your money go?
Again, a little embarrassing, but true. Going out to eat and drink. Being DINKs (Dual Income, No Kids) means that you spend stupid money doing stupid things just because you can. But sometimes being stupid is really fun.

13. What did you get really excited about?
Every vacation, especially skiing. Aside from skiing in Angelfire and A-Bay, we went to Dallas on a Race Armada poker run, Boston for a wedding, Scottsdale for Friendiversary with Gigi and Madame V, San Antonio on a Race Armada rally, Austin for various visits/holidays and Tulsa for Christmas. (Okay, I admit, I was not that excited about Tulsa, but at least it was cold for a day and felt like Christmas. And I got a bottle of Bailey’s in the white elephant gift exchange. Winning.)

14. What song will always remind you of 2016?
See #21.

Also, “My House” by Flo Rida. I know what the song *really* means, but to me and Sterling, it means that all our friends are coming over to celebrate. We had a huge group over to the house for his birthday in January, and then we went to Clé. We walked outside and every person’s exotic/supercar was parked all over the neighborhood, including a Lambo hard-parked in the neighbor’s driveway. It was like we had our own entourage. That’s the rally life.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? Sadder. I am having a really hard time getting past the election results and what it means for our country and my relationships with some of my friends.

– thinner or fatter? I am just about the same. However, I hate this question.

– richer or poorer? About to be poorer because I have to pay property tax in 30 days. But it’s worth it, because have you heard I love my house?

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Writing, meditating (I keep trying to learn), doing new things like riding bikes or going to see a play, and trying things that take me out of my comfort zone. I read an article yesterday about Mischa Barton (yes, random, but I just downloaded the first season of the O.C. to re-watch and so when an article about her popped up in my twitter feed, I had to see how Marissa Cooper was doing as she approaches 30) and she said she heard somewhere you should re-invent yourself every seven years. Because my law career started in 2007, I’m overdue for a reinvention.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Being hard on myself, stressing out about work, worrying about the future. (Again I am copying Gigi somewhat, but it’s true. Therefore, Gigi, you and I have some work to do. Perhaps another Friendiversary is in order.)

18. How did you spend Christmas/Hanukkah/Major Holiday of your choice?
I spent Christmas Day driving back from a visit to Tulsa to see Sterling’s family. That’s about seven hours in the car. That time was spent asking each other dumb questions, gossiping, sipping a Starbucks coffee (to pretend it was still cold outside, like Christmas should be, but I digress), listening to music, exchanging texts with Gigi and Madame V, and reading the Internet. All of it. Once we got home, we turned around and went to our new favorite neighborhood bar, Clutch. We walked in and immediately found a group of our friends, who yelled merrily and gave us hugs. It was a pretty good day.

19. What were your favorite TV programs?
Designated Survivor, Timeless, Botched by Nature, Marriage Boot Camp

20. What were your favorite books you read this year?
These are all the books I gave five stars on goodreads:

A Much Married Man, Wicked Pleasures, One Fifth Avenue, Crazy Blood, Leaving Time, Orange is the New Black, More Than You Know

You can see that I enjoy a very high brow type of literary greatness.

21. What was your favorite music you heard this year?
“Five More Hours” – Deorro and Chris Brown. Sterling became obsessed with this song around January sometime, and it became our theme song for partying all year. I requested it from DJs, turned it on in Ubers, played it while baking and meal prepping on Sundays.

22. What were your favorite films you saw this year?
Film-watching is not one of my strengths, but Sterling and I watched a psychological thriller called The Invitation a couple of weeks ago. It was amazing.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I celebrated all weekend because my birthday fell on a Sunday. Friday night I was supposed to have dinner with the in-laws, but my flight from Chicago was delayed until 6:30. Pretty sure we were the last ones out that night, due to the weather. We had to de-ice before takeoff, as it was snowing pretty steadily. Poor Sterling worried about me from the moment I flipped my phone into airplane mode until we landed. I should have paid for wireless and emailed him—oops. When I did get home, we went out for drinks at Clutch.

Saturday, we drove to Austin and stayed at the W with our Race Armada friends. I met up with a group of people—Gigi and Madame V included—at Lavaca Street Bar downtown. Old school.

Sunday, back to Houston for brunch at Cyclone Anaya’s. Sterling and I continued the party after brunch. The night ended with a shopping spree at CVS that included three flavors of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The next morning we discovered toothpaste on the cat.

Not a bad showing for 39.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
I am going to echo Gigi on this one: The first female president being elected.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?
Classy and hip for work. Refusing to act my age, sexy bordering on slutty when I go out. Wait, Gigi told me on my birthday to stop talking like that (slutty). Okay, sexy and fierce when going out.

26. What kept you sane?
My husband. I kept a diary of my happy moments on this blog, starting in February. Here’s what I said about him on our anniversary, and this pretty much sums it up:

My husband is worth of mad love for many, many reasons. He’s handsome, smart, funny, sweet, hard working. He takes care of me. He’s a true partner in our relationship. He makes me feel like I’m the only woman in the room. But the best thing about him? The reason I married him and am happy to go through this mad journey called life together? He lets me be me. Every day. Not only does he let me be me, he loves that version of me. Even when it’s not the best version.

27. Share a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.
Our country hasn’t come as far as I thought we had in terms of civil discourse, racism and respecting others who are different. All the more reason to be involved, keep the faith and speak up for what we believe is right.

(I am not sure these are life lessons, but two significant things I learned in 2016:

If my husband leaves me or dies, I am selling everything I own and moving to Colorado to ski as much as possible. Basically, I am a true alcoholic’s daughter, which means I create backup plans constantly.

My husband thinks I am one of the strongest people he knows. I think that is fucking cool.)

tiny hands in South Beach

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I met a guy who was only in town for the night. We kind of hit it off and exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. This guy turned out to have too much money and frequent flier miles, so he offered to meet me in South Beach one weekend so we could get to know each other better. I took various security precautions to ensure he wouldn’t leave me for dead, but I did not know this meant I was expected to, well, put out.

In honor of PEOTUS’s hands, his inauguration (I will be wearing black, in mourning for our country and general notions of sanity and goodness) and throwback Thursday , I bring you the story of tiny hands in South Beach.

Miami International Airport. There he is—tiny hands. Okay, he’s cute—short (with tiny hands—as I’ll discover later), but cute. I can handle this. We grab a cab and direct our driver to our hotel. “Second-best hotel in South Beach,” tiny hands says to me, as if I care. I nod and wonder aloud, “According to whom?”

Second Best Hotel in South Beach. We check in and find our room decorated in white; very sleek and very modern. I stare at the bed. THE bed. Just one. There’s also a couch…could I ask him to? Ah, forget it. I’ll get drunk and pass out and then I won’t have to deal.

Tantra. Very cool place. Diva recommended it specifically for the aphrodisiac menu. I tear into my entrée and wait for the aphrodisiac effect. Nothing. I gulp some more alcohol and look at tiny hands. Nope, still nothing. What is he babbling about? Oh yeah, something about the millions of trips he’s taken this year. And how he’s a really bad dancer. Thanks for the warning. What the hell? Now he’s text messaging his friend.

“This guy, who I’m talking to; he’s the one who recommended the hotel-second best in South Beach.”

I think about faking a heart attack so I can spend the weekend in the hospital.

Second Best Hotel in South Beach. We return from Tantra slightly buzzed. Well, I am. I’m also exhausted—it’s been a long day. I brush my teeth, change for bed and dive under the sheets.

“Good night! So very tired!” I say, and turn over. I wonder if tiny is a tiny bit disappointed, but then again, so was I when I realized how lame he is.

Lunch. Somehow, we’ve gotten turned around on the directions from the girl at the concierge desk. We’re walking; well, I am—and tiny hands is sort of shuffling and whining about his Adidas soccer slippers. They’re hurting his tender feet. Maybe that’s because (1) they’re brand new (2) they are supposed to be worn with socks and (3) tiny hands doesn’t  play soccer.

Yet he’s insistent on finding this stupid restaurant. We pass roughly 6,000 sidewalk cafes and I’m about to gnaw my arm off when we finally choose one at random. We choose badly, as the waiter is so stoned he forgets about us. Which means I get hungrier and tiny hands gets chattier. This time I get to hear about his Saab and how it really punches on the highway. I watch some hot guys play volleyball and wonder if I could join them.

We’re walking back from lunch when tiny hands takes my hand. It’s all I can do not to snatch my palm out of his. Oh jeez. It’s so SMALL. And sweaty. Dude, is this guy really 13? What’s going ON here?

Beach. I’m lying in the sun, hoping that tiny hands will STOP talking. For just a minute. And if he does talk, please God, make it something interesting. But no. I have my nose in a novel and he asks, “What are you reading?” I answer without removing my eyes from the page.

“So, do you need me to help put lotion on your back?” he asks.

“No, I’m fine.” Reading.

Sweet silence for a few moments. Then, “Are you sure you don’t want to take your top off?”

Would it be more painful to kill him by dumping him in the ocean with raw meat tied to him, or perhaps by burying him in the sand and depositing birdseed on his head?

“So, have your boobs ever been in the sun?”

Raw meat. Sharks. Yesssss.

Finally he says he’s going swimming. As soon as he’s out of earshot I grab my phone.

“GIGI! Help! This guy is so not cool! I can’t stand him! I want to come home! Help!” She giggles and tries to reassure me. After all, I only have another 24 hours to go. Tiny hands unfortunately has not drowned, as he returns and lies down in his lounge chair. Finally, he’s quiet and I sneak a peek to see if he’s fallen asleep. If so, maybe I can grab my stuff and run…fast. I can’t tell what he’s doing behind the mirrored sunglasses. Yeah, mirrored. Don’t ask. So I decide to flip over. “Good idea,” he comments. Oh GOD. He’s still awake. And WHERE is the damn waiter? We’ve been out here for two hours and not a drop of alcohol. And tiny hands has a strict rule about not drinking until 5 p.m. Whatever.

Pool. Good. Pool = drinks and food. Tiny hands gets in the water and I grab another deck chair and a new magazine. Sweet Jesus—there’s a waitress, heading my way with a tray. it’s like she’s in slow motion as she hands me a deliciously cool vodka tonic, and I’m saying, “Yeah, just charge that to the room.” Tiny hands gets out of the pool to join me, drains his Heineken and says he’ll have a vodka tonic also.

“I usually have gin and tonic,” he tells me, while I wonder how long it would take me to drown myself.

I mutter, “Oh?” while focused on the magazine. I may even have it upside down.

“But I decided to try vodka tonic.”

“Why?” Do I look like I care, buddy?

“Because you’re drinking it; and well, because it sounded so light and refreshing that I wanted to try it.”

I grab my own cocktail and down it. He did not just say “light and refreshing,” did he? There should be a list of words straight men should not say—and “light and refreshing” should be on it. And why the hell does it matter what I’m drinking?

Hotel Room Patio. Three vodka tonics later, we’re waiting for dinner. Well, that’s what I’m doing. If I can just keep him out of the room, maybe he won’t try and make out with me. I keep running to the bar to get more vodka tonics, while tiny hands babbles about everything from his cable modem to his mom’s boyfriends when he was growing up to condo fees for the new place he wants to buy in Georgetown. Oh—and don’t forget—this is the SECOND best hotel in Miami beach. THE SECOND BEST. I resist the urge to scream “SHUT UP!” and smile and sip my cocktail instead.

I’m getting out of the shower—door locked—when I hear my cell phone ringing. It’s Diva. “What are you doing?” she asks.

“Hiding in the bathroom,” I hiss.

“Oh no,” she replies, laughing. “That can’t be good.”

“I can’t wait to get the hell out of here,” I tell her. I hang up with Diva and make up songs about how much I hate tiny hands. Yup, the alcohol is helping.

Some Restaurant. Tiny hands and I can’t agree on wine so we order by the glass. I’ve lost track of how much I’ve had. I just know that as soon as he gets up to go to the bathroom, there’s a guy facing me from across the room who shakes his head sadly at me. I start laughing and mouth, “He’s that bad?” He shrugs and makes a motion to slit his throat. I’m convulsing with giggles when tiny hands returns to the table.

“What, are you flirting with someone?” he says. He looks enraged but still…tiny and lame.

I giggle some more, take a gulp of wine and nod. “Yup! He’s cracking me up!” Tiny hands looks wildly around the restaurant but Heckler has fallen smoothly into conversation with his table. I try and catch his eye but he’s a master—until tiny hands stumbles to the bathroom again. Then Heckler starts up again. He’s clearly indicating that he thinks tiny hands is a loser and he can’t understand what I’m doing with him. I shrug. Dude, I don’t have any answers either. More wine.

Outside Some Restaurant. I realize tiny hands also has a Tiny Alcohol Tolerance. And boy are those tiny hands moving fast over my ass. The night has turned windy and I decide if we’re going to Lario’s to dance I’ll need my sweater. Tiny hands and I start walking toward our hotel. And his hands feel permanently affixed to my ass, despite my constant protests.

“Seriously, tiny, stop touching me,” I keep saying, and he babbles about being drunk and how that prevents him from listening, apparently. I tell him I don’t care. Lario’s is out of the question as he has become too drunk to function. Damn those light and refreshing vodka tonics!

Then he says to me, “You got me drunk. You should expect this.” My annoyance quickly transforms to revulsion. I got him drunk? So I could take advantage of him? WTF is he saying?

Quick, think. Okay, we’ll buy liquor. Maybe people from the club at the hotel will drunkenly wander to our patio, and as long as I have people around, he won’t be able to molest me. I drag the Octopus into a liquor store. I’ll put his drunk ass to bed and party with some cool people. He’s all over me—still. “BACK the FUCK OFF,” I snarl, as I’m purchasing a bottle of vodka.

Second Best Hotel in Miami. Back in the room, he heads for the sliding glass door as I grab my sweater. He’s smoking a cigarette and apologizing for being so forward. “I jus…I jus…needed a lil’ nicotine,” he slurs. Outside, I sit in the chair opposite him, longing to be on the crowded dance floor. It’s just…a few steps away…

“Yeah, nicotine will fix your problem, all right,” I spit.

“I promise to stop hitting on you,” he says, getting to his feet and putting a hand on my shoulder.

“Yeah, see, with that hand on my shoulder, you’re already breaking a rule,” I tell him. “THE ONE THAT SAYS STOP TOUCHING ME.”

It appears my party plan won’t work, as I realize at some point I’ll have to sleep in the same bed with mr. handsy. I toy with the idea of running off the patio, finding a group of people and hanging with them all night. But at some point I have to return to this damn room. Tiny hands is smoking another cigarette and complimenting himself on ashing into the water bottle.

“I’m not very comfortable here,” I announce, standing up. “I think it’s time for me to go.”

“Thas’ ridiculous,” tiny hands exclaims, looking up at me and then quickly back the cigarette to see if he’s succeeded in getting the ash into the bottle again. “Where you goin’?”

“Somewhere else,” I tell him and go quickly into the bathroom, gathering shampoo, conditioner, makeup and toothbrush in an armful. I dump them in my case while he struggles toward the bed.

“Awww, come on,” he mutters, patting the bed beside him. “We’ll jus’ sleep. Really. No touching. Sleep nice.”

“Nope. Don’t believe you,” I respond brightly, throwing clothes into my bag at lightning speed. Freedom never seemed so sweet.

“Please? Jus’ siddown. Jus’ sit and talk to me.”

“I don’t think so,” I reply, and hoist my bag to my shoulder. “I’m outta here. Have a nice night!”

I flee before he can stumble after me and grab yet another body part with his tiny hands. In the lobby, I ask the desk clerk where I can grab a room for the night; she directs me to a hotel down the street. I walk through the streets of Miami with a duffel bag over one shoulder, wondering what the hell he’s doing now. My cell phone rings. Oh. That’s what he’s doing.

I ignore his call, check into a new hotel, and have a fabulous Sunday in Miami. Alone.

2017 Year in Review

 1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before? Mountain biking. I’m learning how to maneuver the bike on the trails. It’s challenging and fun. Each time I successfully navigate an incline or jump the bike over a root, I count it as a tiny but real victory.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?I always struggle with this question, because I don’t really make resolutions, but I do come up with goals. I’m embarrassed to admit this is the first time I’ve looked them in months. Number 11 was on there, but otherwise I missed the mark a bit. I will re-set and re-focus in 2018.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Nope. But I have two really good friends who are due in early 2018 – Alison and MaryAnn.

4. Did anyone close to you die? 
Nope. (Thank goodness.)

5. What countries did you visit? I went to Canada for our family ski trip to Whistler in January.

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017? Okay, last year’s answer to this one came true, so I’m rolling the dice and trying again: now that I have Princess Eleanor, I need a badass weather vehicle (Hurricane Harvey, I’m looking at you). I’m a big stalker of high-priced items before I’m willing to pull the trigger, and I’ve been eyeing a 4Runner for a while now. In 2018, I am GETTING ONE.

7. What dates from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory? January 20 (Inauguration Day), December 16-18 (my birthday weekend

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? I don’t think there was one big achievement, but there were so many small but groovy things that made me proud. I got an enormous raise in April, but that was largely due to my hustling hard in 2016. (Still, shout out to me!)

I got out of my comfort zone a little bit in 2017: mountain biking, hitting up DanceHouse Fitness nearly every Saturday or Sunday morning and a couple of weeknights starting in late May, and I took a writing class in June and July, which was another Saturday morning commitment. I wrote a story per class assignment/instruction and I received really great feedback, even from the class instructor.

I worked out (read: mountain biking, DanceHouse and super regular booooring gym visits) and owned it, like a boss. I even earned (?) the nickname Boss Lady from one of my favorite people at the gym.

I maintained my Happy Girl Instagram, posting each day something (or things) that made me happy. With 328 posts, I am about a month short of one year strong.

I had a falling out and difficult time with my brother. Life hasn’t been easy for either of us, but standing my ground and knowing I handled the situation well was a good lesson. Talking to my therapist about this (hi Kathaleen!) and hearing her words of wisdom and comfort was like wrapping myself in a warm blanket of love and reassurance. She told me that I deserve my good life, and I’ve worked hard for it. They were words I didn’t realize I needed so badly to hear.

9. What was your biggest failure? Not being kind enough to myself. Instead of celebrating all those things I wrote in the answer to #8, I kept a pretty accurate tally of every time I fell short, drank too much, ate the wrong thing, said something stupid to my husband, my boss or my friends.

Being mature about college football.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? No, aside from a couple of mild colds, I have been very healthy.

11. What was the best thing you bought? My car, without a doubt. She is gorgeous, sounds amazing and is an absolute joy to drive.

12. Where did most of your money go? Same place as last year – going out to eat, drink and on vacations during which we ate, drank, skied, boarded, drove and generally had a blast. No regrets.

13. What did you get really excited about? EVERYTHING.Our vacations. We went to all the places. Had all the fun. Purchasing my car. The Astros win!

In January, we went to Whistler. We took the train from Seattle to Vancouver and it was a wonderful experience. The route winds along the coast, and from the window, we could see people and dogs walking and running along the water. They would look up and wave to us.

In February, we went to A-Basin (per usual MO) and skied several days for our anniversary celebration. The night before we left, we did our anniversary tradition of donning our wedding finery and going out to dinner. We went to Caracol for dinner, which was outstanding, and it was at that dinner that Sterling successfully talked me into buying Princess Eleanor Rose.

In April, we returned to A-Basin for our spring trip. Heather and Erik came to hang out with us one afternoon, and brought their new puppy. Neither of them were skiing or boarding, but Sterling and I would take laps in between hanging out with them. On one of our laps, we danced together, carving turns and weaving a path together down the mountain. It was glorious. We got to the bottom, I popped my skis off and jumped on his back. We rolled around in the snow together, laughing until our sides ached. It was the perfect storm of my favorite thing (skiing) and my favorite person (my husband) melded together. What a happy day.

My dear friends Gigi and Madame V came to visit for a weekend in April as well. We drank too much and laughed a lot. I feel so lucky to have those strong, fabulous women in my life and by my side.

Our annual Halloween tradition with Heather and Erik turned five this year. We pulled off a 24-hour vacation, flying into Denver Saturday afternoon, and turning around to leave after a delightful Sunday brunch. We did a Guardians of the Galaxy costume, and I must say we rocked the house. As usual.

Sterling and I went on the Corsa Rally in November, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I be nervous the whole time with all the speed? Would we make friends? We flew into Vegas, rented a Range Rover Sport, and drove to a new place each day: from Vegas to Los Angeles, from L.A. to Palm Springs, from Palm Springs back to Vegas. The camera guys’ car broke down, and we followed them to the shop to drop it off, and then they rode with us. It’s funny how strangers can become great friends in the matter of hours. I was actually surprised at how much fun I had, and had the worst vacation hangover in history after we came home.

In December, we returned to Vegas for the best birthday celebration …ever! (See #23)

14. What song will always remind you of 2017? Jason Aldean, “A Little More Summertime” – this song came out in 2016, but we listened to it practically on repeat all year. It’s the saddest but it is SO GOOD. And I like to turn the words around, because I need more wintertime. SNOW. SKI.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? Happier

– thinner or fatter? Refuse to answer

– richer or poorer? Richer

16. What do you wish you’d done more of? Vacation, have fun, party without worrying about the next day.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of? Stress out and second guess myself. (I think this is the same answer as 2016.)

18. How did you spend Christmas/Hanukkah/Major Holiday of your choice? Sterling and I went to Austin to see my parents. My stepsister and her family joined us from Georgia. It was a four-day episode of gluttony and hilarity. Saturday afternoon we ate barbecue (yours truly had a salad with fake chicken, some creamed corn and potato salad), Sunday OMG Torchy’s, Christmas morning was all about the buttermilk pancakes and mimosas. My brother in law brought me a Trump voodoo doll from NOLA, and we put that guy in many harrowing experiences over the weekend: in the fireplace, the burner on the stove, under a truck tire and in the manger. We played a card game called Dumbass on Christmas night. I’m not sure any of us know exactly how to play it correctly, but isn’t that the point?

I’m paying for all the food and drink indulgence, but oh my! – it was worth it.

19. What were your favorite TV programs? Throwback: I’m re-watching Felicity. Designated Survivor, Younger, This is Us.

20. What were your favorite books you read this year? The books I gave five stars on Goodreads are: The Girl on the Train, First Comes Love (this is another throwback – I had already read this and own it (in fact it’s autographed!), but I wanted to read it again after Gigi reminded me how good it was), and Small Great Things. Lordy, if you read one book, read this one!

21. What was your favorite music you heard this year? Bastille, Imagine Dragons, Fall Out Boy, Sir Sly, Portugal the Man

22. What were your favorite films you saw this year? I’m so bad at seeing movies. Wonder Woman, Star Wars, Office Christmas Party. (Basically I saw five movies and most of them were good.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I hit the big 4-0 this year, and I wanted to do it big. (Thirty SUCKED, and I’m big on dates/milestones.) My birthday fell on a Monday, so Saturday morning, Sterling and I took a 7 a.m. flight to Vegas. We met our friends William, Raymond and Beth there, and did the LAVO Party Brunch in the Palazzo. It was amazing – like nothing I’d ever seen. DJ music, wait staff dressed in Star Wars costumes (theme of the day), people dancing on tables, gigantic bowls of booze. It was exactly what I wanted for my birthday.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? If Donald Trump were no longer president. If Republican members of Congress would hold him and his administration accountable. If any of those members of Congress would listen to their constituents instead of their donors. It’s a simple concept to me: just do the right thing.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017?
I’m going with the same answer as 2016: Classy and hip for work. Refusing to act my age, sexy and fierce when going out.

26. What kept you sane? Same as last year for the most part – my husband. My partner, friend, confidant, therapist and love.

Also, I instituted a rule that we don’t talk about politics (for me, that means don’t open Twitter because that’s my most “newsy” and political social media) after 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. And all weekend. I …just can’t with this ridiculousness.

27. Share a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017. Similar to last year, I was struck by how we, as a nation, haven’t come as far as I had previously thought. I finished reading Small Great Things and resolved to do what author Jodi Picoult advised: call out your friends, colleagues, family, when they say something racist. I promise you, it’s awkward and you will get a sputtering, defensive pushback, but it’s more important than you realize. Just point out how that statement isn’t funny, instead of laughing along nervously and just going with it. I realized this what I used to do, and I resolve not to do it anymore.

Politically, it was a horrible fucking nightmare.

Personally, it was a pretty damn good year.

2018 Year in Review

1. What did you do in 2018 that you’d never done before?

This sounds so lame, but 2018 was the first year that I got up early, took an exercise class, showered and got ready for work at the gym. Seriously, I had to talk myself off a ledge the night before: “If you don’t like it, Christianne, YOU NEVER HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN. No one will be staring at you or thinking you’re weird. They will be focused on themselves. GET YOUR HEAD RIGHT.”

It turns out, I loved it and felt energized all day. Don’t get me wrong – this is not going to become a 7-day-a-week thing. I heart sleep.

But it could be a once-a-week thing.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I rarely make resolutions. Instead I set goals. (Honestly, I’m not sure how these are different.) But in 2018 my husband Sterling and I made vision boards and hung them in our bedroom. Among other things, I had a 4Runner, a corner office and a dollar figure on my salary. THEY HAPPENED.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My friend Alison had her daughter in March, and I got to meet her in November. She’s a little doll!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No, but our beloved cat Batman almost did. Our dog Silver hurt his leg somehow and we were initially worried that he had a degenerative knee issue. Corner Vet prescribed some medicine for the dog but failed to mention that it’s highly toxic in large doses. Because cats are so much smaller than dogs, it’s much worse for them. Batman jumped on the counter when I was feeding Silver and ate half of a dose. My back was turned for less than a minute. I immediately swatted the medicine from his mouth, but the damage was done. Two days later, he was near kidney failure and in kitty ICU. I will never forget standing outside of a Starbucks where I had settled in to wait and work on my laptop after dropping him off, the vet’s voice on the phone, telling me how high the kidney values were. It was bad. It was catastrophic.

“Are you telling me that my cat might not live?” I managed to sob. I could tell the answer was probably yes, but he didn’t want to say it.

I got in the 4Runner and called my husband, describing in more sobbing, hitching breaths what had happened. The worst part was that I had messed up by leaving the medicine on the counter. “I killed him,” I wailed. He told me it wasn’t my fault, that it was just a mistake, that Batman would be okay. But my heart was absolutely breaking.

Batman spent four days in ICU. We didn’t ask what it would cost to save him. We just asked the vets to do everything in their power to try.

He made it. In fact, his last diagnosis had him almost back to normal, so much that I heard incredulity in the vet’s voice.

5. What countries did you visit?

I didn’t leave the USA this year, but I went basically everywhere else!

6. What would you like to have in 2019 that you lacked in 2018?

My life and my heart are full! I am so grateful and lucky that I have everything I want and need, but if I have to choose something, I want more quality friends like Gigi and Madame V. I am working on this (see below!) and making progress, so I have high hopes for 2019.

7. What dates from 2018 will remain etched upon your memory?

November 6: the Blue Wave that ushered in a historical House of Representatives victory. And even though Beto lost, he inspired so many. I think he’s going places. Maybe even the White House.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Professionally: I got a promotion, a raise and a new corner office (hello vision board!) and hired my first employee. I manage a team of just one, but I’m so grateful that she not only loves her job and loves working for me, but tells me these things. Sterling always said I would be a great manager, and I hope every day I’m proving him right.

Personally, I made big strides in my relationship with my brother Jerry. Last year, same question, here was a part of my answer:

I had a falling out and difficult time with my brother. Life hasn’t been easy for either of us, but standing my ground and knowing I handled the situation well was a good lesson. Talking to my therapist about this (hi Kathaleen!) and hearing her words of wisdom and comfort was like wrapping myself in a warm blanket of love and reassurance. She told me that I deserve my good life, and I’ve worked hard for it. They were words I didn’t realize I needed so badly to hear.

Jerry and I didn’t talk much throughout 2018. He did his thing, and I did mine. In October, I was visiting my parents when my mom told me he was moving to Chicago. Because he has a dog, he would be driving instead of flying. Offhandedly, I said, “Road tripping isn’t really his thing; it’s more mine. I wonder if he wants help driving.” She beamed at me: “He would love that.” I rolled my eyes, thinking, “He most certainly would not.”

Regardless, I texted him and offered to help. He wrote back so quickly I saw the tiny dots that indicate someone is typing an immediate response. “That would be awesome and it’s so kind of you to offer.”

A month later, we had made the arrangements and the trip was upon us: 16 hours from Houston, starting Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. The goal was to reach Chicago by dinner Saturday night, and then I would fly home Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. I had scheduled a ton of trips (see below) so I couldn’t take any extra days off work.

Jerry pulled up in a rented Ford Expedition with all his earthly possessions, including the dog. In the driveway, he said to my husband, “Thanks for letting me borrow her.”

Friday night we stayed in a Motel 6 in Marshall Texas. It was so fancy that I was surprised there was hot water in my room. I also found leftover Subway sandwiches in the refrigerator (mini bar?). Saturday morning at 6 a.m., we were back on the road trading 3-hour shifts of driving.

We rolled triumphantly into Chicago proper at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night, after 17 hours of music, Google maps, Starbucks, jokes, FaceTime with our parents, Spotify, podcasts, talks about why Chicago, our jobs, dating, trips down memory lane, facts about Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois’s state flowers, insects, and more.

Sunday afternoon we brunched and parted ways after sending a selfie and a few texts to my mother, who said we made her “heart sing.” Days later, Jerry told me that the trip was almost as cathartic as the move itself, my friends and my husband told me I was one of the strongest people I knew, and I realized they were right.

9. What was your biggest failure?

This is the same answer as 2017: Not being kind enough to myself. I kept a pretty accurate tally of every time I fell short, drank too much, ate the wrong thing, said something stupid to my husband, my boss or my friends.

Being mature about college football.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I took a spill in A-Bay on our spring trip and hyperextended my knee. I heard the pop, felt some pain as I navigated the rest of the double black run (!) and thought I had torn my ACL. I ignored it, hoped for the best, but Sterling convinced me I needed to see a doctor. Reluctantly, terrified of bad news, I went in August. The doctor examined me, made a face and said, “I think it’s your ACL, but let’s do an MRI before we jump to conclusions.” I was kicking myself for the second time in 2018 – first I had screwed up with the cat, and now I had potentially wrecked my knee without time to fix it before ski season began in December.

The MRI showed a partial tear of the ACL, and my heart dropped in my chest. I asked a bazillion questions and received answers I didn’t like.

“Well of course you’ll need to brace your knee when you ski.”

“For how long?”

“Well, forever.”

Heartbroken? Um, yeah.

My hubby came through yet again with a recommendation from a friend in med school for a second opinion. The day of my appointment, I thought that I’d go in with a positive attitude, but be realistic. There was no way this would be a completely different diagnosis. Perhaps less severe than the reconstructive surgery with a 6-month recovery time the first doctor said I required, but still something had to be wrong. Right?

I practically held my breath as the doctor examined me, pushing my leg this way and that. He looked at my MRI. Finally, he looked at me. “I push and pull on torn ACLs all day long. That’s not what’s wrong with you. In fact, I’d tell you to ski tomorrow.”

I returned his gaze and said, “Would it be really awkward if I hugged you right now?”

11. What was the best thing you bought?

My 4Runner! He is so badass. I needed a weather vehicle for Princess Eleanor Rose, and my husband came in clutch with the research, negotiation for a fair price, and most importantly, all the mods to make FinnRunner look like a badass.

12. Where did most of your money go?

Same place as last year and the year before that: going out to eat, drink and on vacations during which we ate, drank, skied, boarded, drove and generally had a blast. No regrets, three years running.

13. What did you get really excited about?

Our vacations. We scored the companion pass on Southwest, so we went EVERYWHERE.

January: ski trip to Breckenridge with my parents, aunt, cousin and friends. We met up with a customer of Sterling’s and dragged him back to the house for dinner. Heather and Erik came to the house one night and we had cake for Sterling’s birthday. Joe joined us and crash landed into my dad on the slopes, but they were both okay and we laughed about it later.

February: annual anniversary ski trip to A-Bay, which is always like coming home. In late February, we went on the Race Armada rally to Golden Nugget, each driving our own car! This was very super awesome for the control freak in both of us, but not so awesome for conversation on the trip.

March: our final spring ski trip of the season, where Sterling’s colleague joined us and egged us on into trying a double black diamond. That turned into #10 – see above. Sterling intelligently said no. Despite the snafu, we had a blast. That’s what happens when you’re home.

May: we did a quick trip into Denver for Heather’s 40th surprise birthday party. I reconnected with her parents, whom I hadn’t seen in 30 years. Her ailing father even remembered our secret code word and made sure to say it to me. Memorial Day weekend we went to Scottsdale, mountain biked in the desert and generally partied like college kids.

June: I tagged along on Sterling’s work trip down to a resort in Galveston. We rode bikes and had too many cocktails in the pool.

2018 was strangely the year of Chicago – after never visiting there before, I went on a business trip there in June, returned in July and helped my brother move there in November. July’s trip involved meeting our friend Joe there and spending three glorious days eating, drinking and walking the city. Blue skies, sun, comedy shows, rooftop views, and much laughter.

August: we met up with Joe, Madame V and Gigi for a quick weekend. Cue the food, drinks, laughter and fun.

For Labor Day weekend in September, Sterling and I took a tour of California, starting with San Francisco on Friday night. After dinner and drinks with friends, we headed south on Saturday morning to Los Angeles. We stayed at the Dream Hotel for a night, then got on the road Sunday morning for San Diego. Sunday evening we had a delightful dinner with our friend Denise, and returned home Monday.

In October, we met Joe again in Dallas for the Texas-OU matchup and a win for the Longhorns! Then my crazy schedule really kicked in. Two weeks later, we took Princess Eleanor Rose on her second car rally to the Golden Nugget in Lake Charles. My friend Heather came to visit and we road-tripped to Austin for two days. A week later, we were en route to Vegas (my third home, after A Bay) to rally from there to LA, Monterrey and back. After arriving home on Tuesday, it was off to Chicago three days later. The following Saturday, I spent 24 hours with my dear friend Ali, her doll baby and baby daddy. I treasure our memories of takeout, Hallmark movies and watching the Longhorns on my iPad.

For Thanksgiving, we road tripped back to Austin for dinner with my parents. My sweet mother made me strawberry rhubarb pie. SHE IS THE BEST.

Outside of all that vacation, the other standout for excitement is I made new friendships. I found some special ladies who are strong, progressive, independent, and love sharing a mimosa and/or an enchilada with me.

14. What song will always remind you of 2018?

This just came out, so It’s a bit late, but the lyrics totally describe car rallies: “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time” by Panic! At The Disco.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? I think I’m a little sadder. Trump’s presidency is wearing on me.

– thinner or fatter? I am just about the same. However, I hate this question.

– richer or poorer? Richer

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing. I love it. I think I’m good at it, but I just have trouble making time to do it. I had a plan at one point to go write on Saturday mornings after my workout class, but it happened a grand total of twice until life got in the way.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Beat myself up for not being perfect or “good.” This is obviously a recurring theme

18. How did you spend Christmas/Hanukkah/Major Holiday of your choice?

On Christmas Day, we flew to Denver and went up to A Bay for three days. I call this a bonus trip since we didn’t plan it, and one of the main goals was to test my knee. It passed with flying colors.

19. What were your favorite TV programs?

Queer Eye, Very Cavalleri, This is Us, Are you the One?, 911, Suits, Younger, Botched, (rewatching One Tree Hill).

20. What were your favorite books you read this year?

The books I gave five stars on Goodreads are: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, The Good Goodbye by Carla Buckley, and Sacred by Dennis Lehane.

21. What was your favorite music you heard this year?

I am totally digging Zayde Wolf and Panic! At The Disco right now. I went to a Blue October show in November and was absolutely enthralled. Sterling and I ask Siri to play Imagine Dragons radio nearly every day.

22. What were your favorite films you saw this year?

I hardly ever watch movies! I’m usually reading or watching TV when I have free time at home, on a plane or at the gym. I saw Crazy Rich Asians, Sorry To Bother You, I, Tonya, RBG and A Simple Favor. They were all good! (A Simple Favor was somehow better than the book! I think big credit is due to the screenplay writer as well as Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively for their amazing acting.)

23, What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

My husband and I celebrated my 41st the Saturday prior to my Tuesday birthday per my request. Our day began at Tenenbaum Jewelers, where I brought in a ring my grandmother left me when she died. I haven’t ever worn it, and it’s been 30 years. So now it’s being coated with a silver finish and made into a pendant. From there, we went to St. Bernard’s, where we drank free champagne and beer, and purchased new ski trip items. After St. Bernard’s, we wandered around River Oaks District, window shopping and sipping. We finished the night with a wonderful dinner with our friends Alex and Mark, including a delectable risotto.

There was a lot of prosecco.

I don’t regret a moment.

On Tuesday, I came home to flowers, champagne and a new lounge hoodie. My husband is always surprising me in the most wonderful ways.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

My husband struggled a bit with being fulfilled in his job, with his colleagues and friends, mainly due to the Trump presidency. His happiness is mine, and it’s important. I hope this gets better in 2019.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2018?

I’m going with the same answer as 2017: Classy and hip for work. Refusing to act my age, sexy and fierce when going out.

26. What kept you sane?

I apologize for the boring answer. As always: my husband. My partner, friend, confidant, therapist and love.

27. Share a valuable life lesson you learned in 2018.

Hard work plus patience pays off. I passed the 6-year milestone at my job in September. It’s the longest time I’ve ever worked anywhere in my entire life, whether marketing or law. All the good things that happened this year — my promotion, raise, new boss — made me feel like perhaps I’d found my home.

I continue to be most deeply grateful for my family. I chose not to have human children, but that doesn’t lessen or cheapen how much I love my family. My husband, my parents, my brother, my furkids, and my friends are my life. And that is a pretty damn good one.

Reality Check

Here’s what I’m supposed to be.

I shouldn’t have a line or a blemish on my face: a perfect FaceTune in real life. A full set of long, curled lashes. The perfect pout and long, shiny hair that never frizzes. My measurements should 36-24-36; not a bit of cellulite.

I’m supposed to be a runner, a weightlifter, a downhill champion skier, the girl who gets up a 5 a.m. to go to boot camp. I should eat kale, and quinoa, grilled fish and chicken.

Cultured. I would enjoy visits to a museum or an art gallery. Maybe learn a new language. I could take up the guitar.

I should be volunteering at the food bank or taking pro bono cases for those who can’t afford it. Maybe work at the community garden. I would never forget the reusable bags for the grocery store. And definitely bike to work three times a week.

I should work 60 hours a week, and if I have downtime, I should be studying articles about the law, my industry, management. I should create new projects and initiatives. I should work weekends. My job should be my passion.

If I were perfect, my husband and I would always hold hands, make love spontaneously and often. I wouldn’t ever go makeup free in yoga pants and sit on the couch. If I were perfect, I would have great friends, and a best friend. We would have these elaborate parties and get togethers and have great talks over coffee.

Here’s who I am.

I have cellulite on my thighs. I have lines on my face. My hair frizzes when the humidity hits 40%. But my husband says I’m gorgeous, sometimes in the morning when I’ve just woken up and I have not a stitch on, nor any makeup on my face. I have my dad’s long straight lashes, and my mom’s freckles. My grandmother’s dark brown eyes, almost black. Those lines on my face: some are frown lines, but perhaps far more are laugh lines.

I hate running. Lifting weights bores me. But I work out nearly every day. Sometimes, I get up at 5:45 am to go to a gym class that challenges me. (It usually involves weights.) If I don’t get up early, I go to the gym after work. I am one hell of a downhill skier. I am a pretty decent mountain biker. Each day at work when my Fitbit reminds me to get up, I walk the floor. Sometimes, I take the stairs.

I am flawed. I drink too much. I don’t want to learn French. I just want to sit on the couch and watch old episodes of Felicity. I tried the guitar once. But I meal prep on the weekends. I have a budget. I have a weekend checklist of productivity. My idea of a fabulous Sunday afternoon involves mimosas, and my husband, and some of our friends, and laughter, and my favorite wedges, and a hip new restaurant, or the one across the highway from our house where everyone knows us and we sit at the bar.

Every once in a while, I do take a pro bono case. Every couple of years, I take a family law case and help women free themselves from a marriage that stopped working long ago. Every once in a while, I volunteer to help green card holders apply for citizenship.

I don’t work 60 hours a week. When I have downtime at work, I pick up my phone and scroll through social media, or read an article in the Washington Post. I wasn’t in the top 10% of my class in law school. Sometimes, though, I read the bar journal magazine. Almost always, I do good work. Always, I am a good employee, a good colleague, a good manager.

My husband and I can go a whole day without touching except a quick peck on the lips to say hello or goodbye. But that’s not every day. We love each other with passion. We have fun together. We talk, we laugh, we plan, we dream. We are a true team, a partnership. We take care of each other. Perhaps most importantly, we are friends.

I invited a bunch of people to my fortieth birthday party in Vegas. Three people came. And sometimes people who I thought were my friends…aren’t. But my mom is my dear friend, and she is a wonderful person who is slow to judge and quick to compliment. I could not love that woman more. And I am still friends with a girl who lived across the street when we were just babies. Another one, from first grade – has a baby and lives in New Orleans and doesn’t drink anymore – but when we’re in the same room it’s like no time has passed at all, and we let each other be…each other. I found some wonderful ladies in a car group. I found an unexpected friend at a workout class. I have lovely friends who stood up at my wedding and who I’m confident will be by my side forever. And with all of these friends: we get together, and we laugh. Over booze, or coffee.

Sometimes, I eat the freaking cupcake.

Sometimes, I give myself a break.

Unrequited Love: A Head Case

This is part 3 in a series about my great loves aka fuckups in terms of relationships.

I met Pierce after I’d been back in Austin for a couple of months. He was one of Dean’s colleagues. I had been on a dating whirlwind and was lamenting the fact that I didn’t really have a connection with any of the guys. I had random, intermittent communications from both Billy and Jay. I think at the beginning Billy regretted breaking it off. And Jay ran hot and cold with me, as usual.

Dean and I went to the Bob Marley festival together in April, and he brought along some friends — one of whom was Pierce. He completely captivated me that afternoon. He was tall — nearly 6’5” — we must have looked ridiculous next to each other, as I’m just over 5 feet tall. He had a shock of curly light brown hair, hazel eyes, a goatee. I described him in my journal at the time: “cute, funny, educated, intelligent, he’s AMAZING.” The group of us lounged in the sunshine, drank beer, listened to music. Pierce had a date that night with some girl he met at a coffee shop. But I didn’t let that deter me. As we all walked back to our cars, I boldly told him we should go out next Saturday. Obviously I knew he was already booked that night. He said that his parents would be in town the following weekend because it was his birthday, but maybe after that?

“That’s too long,” I simpered.

“I’ll get your number from Dean.” He grinned at me. “Until then?” And he leaned down to give me a quick peck on the side of my mouth.

I was the one to ask him out, and then I was the one who got his email address from Dean and emailed him two days later. I thought I was just being proactive and going after what I wanted, but I probably should have listened to my mother when she told me that I shouldn’t chase boys. He emailed me back, to my delight, and we made plans for Saturday.

I spent that Saturday at the lake with my friends, anticipating seeing him again with a flutter of nervous excitement in my belly. I was living with my parents at the time, and we were far north of town, so I didn’t want him to come pick me up. Similarly, since he had recently moved to Austin, he was living with his brother and sister-in-law. So I met him there, and we got in his 4Runner. He had suggested a party being thrown by another colleague.

We stayed at the party for half a beer. We were too into our date to hang out longer: people were annoying us simply by distracting us from each other. I hadn’t eaten much that day — too nervous — and he took me out for pizza at his favorite neighborhood place. We couldn’t stop talking. From dinner, we went downtown to the Elephant Room and listened to jazz. I’m not sure I had ever been on a date like that. My dates up till that point had been things like keg parties and Taco Bell at 2 a.m. And Billy hardly took me out at all. Dinner and then listening to jazz seemed so sophisticated to me.

We left Elephant Room and strolled down Sixth Street, people watching talking and laughing. At some point he took my hand. Then he was beaming at me and saying, “Wow, you’re fun.” I felt as light as air. I thought he was the fun one — can you imagine the difference between him and Billy? And he liked me? We wound up outside the Driskill Hotel, gazing up at its imposing outer walls, and Pierce suggested a nightcap. I agreed enthusiastically, telling him how much I loved the hotel. I had never stayed there, but the sweeping grandeur of the architecture, the marble floors, and the Texas-themed bar were all so classy and cool.

“Why don’t we get a room here?” he said then, and I might have swooned. We certainly couldn’t spend the night together at either of our respective homes, and neither of us wanted the night to end. In the hotel room, I was all nervous and fidgety again. I was bouncing around the room, acting silly, pulling books off the shelves, checking out the view while Pierce lay on the bed and smoked a cigarette.

“I’ve been dying to ask you this all night,” he said.

I paused, looked over at him warily. “What?”

“Can I kiss you?”

I was floored. No one had ever asked me that before, and something about it struck me as incredibly romantic.

And so the Pierce chapter began. In the beginning, our honeymoon stage, we were electric. We went on dates to restaurants, bars, parties, concerts. Again, it was something I had never known with Billy, who was absorbed in his world of computers. Pierce could dance, and would spin me around the floor, everyone watching. I think I fell in love with him after a week. I wanted to say it but I couldn’t — I knew that was crazy, and I didn’t want to be the first one. One weekend we drove to Shiner for a picnic. Inside the picnic basket, Pierce had three roses for me. That night he hesitantly asked if I would be his girlfriend. I was ecstatic. Of course I wanted to be his girlfriend. I couldn’t get the guy out of my head.

He also warned me he had issues. He didn’t tell me what they were, but he said that his heart wanted to be with me but his head was trying to deal with the unresolved things that happened in his past. I told him I would help him, even thought I had no idea what I was signing up for. I loved him so much that I was willing to do anything for the relationship. And I think he truly loved me, but true to his word — the issues in the end were just too much for him.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Something about his issues and his past — there was a weird religious cult thing that he would occasionally bring up, usually after many drinks, but I never really got the full story — made it hard for him to say those three little words, “I love you.” He said that he really didn’t know what love was. He slipped, though, and after we had been dating about a month, he said it while he was spinning me around the dance floor at the Continental Club on South Congress: “I love you girl!” I didn’t say anything. I pretended I didn’t hear him. I didn’t want to be mistaken. It was loud, crazy, the band was pumped and there were throngs of sweaty dancers. We were practically screaming to be heard. But then he pulled me close and said it again, in my ear — “I love you!” I was so relieved, because I was besotted with this man and beginning to fear I was in it all alone, afraid of what that meant and what would happen to us and to me.

But as Pierce said, he was weird about it, so after that night, he stopped telling me. It was like he jumped the gun, said it too early and wanted to take it back. I became obsessed with it. My friends and I called it “The Phrase.” No matter what he did or said that showed me how much he obviously loved me, I needed to hear those words. Nothing else would do. It took nearly eight months for him to say The Phrase again, and this time he kept telling me.

We were still far from perfect.

Pierce’s mother Pam came to visit when Pierce and I had been dating for about six months. I played the situation all wrong. I made jokes she didn’t like, a curse word or two likely slipped out, and I’m sure I was dressed inappropriately. It simply didn’t occur to me that I was supposed to act a different way in front of her than I would otherwise. We had an awkward dinner — Pierce, me, his mother, his brother and his wife — and then we went back to Pierce’s house so she could evaluate it. I didn’t realize at the time that Pam felt she should be involved in all aspects of her youngest son’s life, even though he was 24. She needed to determine what furnishings he needed — no matter what Pierce thought. At some point it dawned on me that I should go home, when on a normal evening I would spend the night with Pierce.

Pierce walked me to my car and we had a heated discussion. His mother had gone home a half hour ago, but he was actually afraid she would drive back by and see my car there. And then he would be in deep trouble with her. I couldn’t wrap my head around the situation. This man seemed so smart and in control, yet he was terrified of his parents. He was so terrified that he would alter his behavior to suit them. I took the situation harshly and personally, as always. Pierce wouldn’t have been able to spend the night with anyone — this was not about me, but about propriety — but I didn’t see that. I was laser-focused on what I saw as her rejection of me, and his inability to stand up for me and for us.

The weekend was awful. Because Pam was around, we couldn’t have a “normal” weekend — and he was at her beck and call. Our phone calls were short and clipped, and later Pierce would tell me how awkward he felt talking to me while Pam was standing there listening. We went out Saturday night and he allowed me to spend the night. (How did I manage that? He must have felt bad for me, or maybe I wore him down.) Sunday afternoon his mother called after her return from antique-hunting with his sister-in-law, demanding he come to their house immediately. I was pointedly not invited. The afternoon was bleak, spitting rain from low gray clouds. Pierce drove me back to my apartment and I remember staring out the window of the 4Runner, feeling like a tramp.

Though that first night was not about me, I had already made the terrible impression that would ultimately spell the end for us. His mother didn’t like me. She had not chosen him for me. It was as simple as that. A couple months later, we went to Lubbock for a concert. As we drew near, Pierce detailed all the things I should keep in mind: don’t talk about religion, don’t say curse words — in other words, don’t be yourself. I drew inward and stopped talking. In the silence of the car ride, he took my hand and asked me what was wrong. “I get it,” I spit at him. “I’m not a dumbass.” But I clearly was — because I had already screwed up so badly it could never be repaired.

We had been dating for about a year when Pierce broke my heart for the first time. I was so happy that night — we had just come home from a party and I was thinking that he was such a good boyfriend. I felt pretty too. My hair was curly and wild and Pierce kept telling me how much le loved it.

In his kitchen, we started discussing music and I drunkenly maintained that he needed to hear Rod Stewart’s cover of a particular song. He thought Everything But the Girl had done it better.

“I’ll download the Rod Stewart version,” I said to him, sure I could prove my point. In his office, I fired up his computer. His ICQ list flashed to life in the bottom right corner of the screen. I glanced at it — honestly, my intent was just to download the song, not invade his privacy like past boyfriends had done to me — and saw several names of girls whom I didn’t recognize. Frowning, I clicked on one of the conversations with a girl named Maple Sugar.

The screen swam before my eyes and I felt sick to my stomach. I thought, “This can’t really be happening.” He was having cybersex with her. Sometimes begging her to get him off quickly as he was on his lunch break. It was disgusting. I stalked into the kitchen, tears blurring my vision.

“Who the hell is Maple Sugar?” I was hollow.

Pierce looked trapped and confused, and tried to explain it away.

No,” I said, trembling. “No. Read the fucking conversation, Pierce. You’re fucking her.” I started sobbing, and sank to the floor in the hallway. I screamed at him that he had betrayed me and I couldn’t forgive him for hurting me like that. My heard was absolutely breaking.

He was looking at me like he didn’t know what the hell hit him.

We talked for a long time. He said he didn’t realize what he was doing and it was no big deal and he would never do it again. He insisted it was just another persona and not really him. I told him it was completely unacceptable and I didn’t know what to do. I sat in the hallway, leaning against the doorjamb of his bedroom. I felt deflated. I felt like I wanted to die.

He asked if I wanted him to take me home. I was living with Dean at the time, and I couldn’t face him. Dean didn’t like me dating his friends, and he didn’t like that I was dating Pierce. Going home and admitting that he was right — that Pierce and I were wrong for each other, and I was an idiot for jumping in wholeheartedly, with both feet — I just couldn’t do it.

Finally we went to bed. I lay fully dressed on my side of the bed, refusing to touch him. I tried to sleep, hoping when I woke up it would all be a dream. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Suddenly, manically, I was shaking him, waking him, saying “I want to read it.” Groggily, he stumbled out of bed and sat in his desk chair while I peered over his shoulder. We scrolled through every last conversation, every single word typed and exchanged. Two things stood out to me: he called her “lover” and he also said that I was an “on-again, off-again girlfriend.” He fairly sank into the chair as he kept reading further.

“Do you feel pretty awful now?” I whispered. “I hope so.” I went to bed.

He uninstalled ICQ and swore he would never use it again.

That morning, I woke up before he did and watched a movie, still unable to go home and face Dean. Pierce got up and sat across the room from me and made me some food. We hardly spoke. Coldplay was the soundtrack for that awful weekend — it was on repeat. To this day, when I hear a song from the Parachutes album, I remember sitting in the shadows at Pierce’s house, feeling broken, unable to walk away, yet again. Again. At some point, he sat next to me on the couch and asked how I was doing. We talked some more about what had happened and how deeply he had hurt me. I was tired — I had hardly slept the night before — and wanted to nap. He came with me to bed and held me. I let him.

He started crying then, and he said that he knew how badly he had messed up. When I saw those tears, I felt so hopeless and so convinced that he didn’t intentionally hurt me. I tried to believe that he hadn’t realized what he was doing to me and to us.

“I didn’t expect you to be lying next to me this morning. I don’t deserve for you to be here.” His voice broke.

The next day at work I wrote him a long letter. I was alone, again. I didn’t want to tell anyone what he had done. I was so confused about it. Was there something really wrong with him, or me? Was it okay that I considered it real cheating? My heart certainly couldn’t tell the difference. He said he would be lost without me and wanted to get past this somehow.

I should have left him, and that’s why I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened. I was sure my friends, my mom, everyone would say that I should leave him. But I couldn’t. How could I leave this man, who made me Portobello mushrooms cut into hearts for Valentine’s Day? This man who wrote me sweet emails, who called me sexy, smart and amazing? This man who took me out, showed me off? He said that I was too good for him. He told me all the guys at work were jealous because I was so awesome. He loved me enough to do all the stupid things I wanted him to do, like call me each day at work, and make plans each weekend because I needed them, even though he wasn’t a planner. This man who told me he thought about me all day, from the moment he woke up to the moment he went to sleep. He had broken my heart into smithereens, but I couldn’t leave. I didn’t know how to breathe without him.

So we stayed together. But it was never quite right. I kept trying to make him into someone he wasn’t. I made up rules to satisfy my own insecurity, and then I got angry and hurt when he broke them. He didn’t want to call me every day — I insisted. He didn’t want to spend every night together — I did. He felt backed into a corner constantly. Pierce didn’t want to be controlled. And as soon as he started to pull against my needs and desires, I would back down for fear of losing him. It dovetailed nicely.

I didn’t want to love him anymore. I knew he was going to hurt me again. But I couldn’t pull away from him.

In October, after we had been dating for two and a half years, we went to Lubbock for his dad’s birthday. Things had been tense with me and Pierce for a while. He kept chafing against committing to me in some way; I kept looking for ways to be more secure in the relationship. The weekend was awkward, weird. His family, as usual, didn’t talk to me very much. Saturday night Pierce retreated to his bedroom to watch TV. I lay on the bed next to him and tried to touch him but he shied away. He was being cold and indifferent. I chalked it up to being around his parents, which always freaked him out to some extent. I gave up and went to my own bedroom. Surprisingly, he followed.

“I got the job with Tom,” he said. He was sitting at the foot of the bed; I was leaning against the pillows. Pierce had quit his job earlier that year, and tried his own thing. Several of his “own things” actually — nothing was working out, he had moved back in with his brother, and things weren’t looking great for his career.

“But the job’s here in Lubbock,” I said dully. Alarm bells were ringing in my head. This was why things had been so weird lately. Somewhere in my mind I knew he was preparing to end the relationship and I was panicked, reacting.

“And you don’t want to do long distance, so…” Pierce looked everywhere, all around the room, anywhere but at me.

It was Maple Sugar all over again. The world was swimming. This couldn’t be happening. Pierce was leaving me. The thing I had been worried about, fighting against — it was happening. My entire life I had worried how men would leave me, starting with my dad. And it was happening again.

We had another long talk. He kept clinging to the fact that I didn’t want to do a long-distance relationship and I had previously made that clear.

“I don’t prefer it,” I said slowly, “but I would be willing to work it out if you’re sure that’s what you want.” I paused, and looked at him. “You are sure about us, aren’t you?”

He hesitated, finally meeting my eyes. “I don’t know. I know what you want from this.”

“What is that?”

“You want to spend the rest of your life with me.”

“And you?” I waited, holding my breath.

“I just don’t know.” Pierce shook his head, staring at the coverlet. “I think maybe I don’t know what love is. I mean, I don’t think I ever really loved you.”

I’ll never forget those words. They fell between us with a thud. I don’t think I ever really loved you. How can you say that to someone? It had been two and a half years. We had our ups and downs, and I needed a lot of reassurance, but this? This was brutal. This was savage. I was absolutely stunned.

He left my room and I cried myself to sleep. In the morning, he asked if I wanted to come to breakfast with the family. “Are you kidding?” I asked. “Why would I want to come?”

“What should I tell them?” he asked. Since our talk, he had assumed a hangdog look that made me want to scream at him.

“Tell them whatever you want,” I snarled. “Tell them you just dumped me and it might be a bit awkward.”

While the family was gone, I called my mother and told her the story between sobs. She offered to fly me home — Lubbock was a six hour drive from Austin — but I declined. I wanted Pierce to feel as awful as I did for that long drive.

“You don’t want to be in this car with me, do you?” he said, somewhere around Sweetwater, Texas.

“No. You fucking broke my heart. What do you expect?”

As we drew closer to my apartment, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to give him the stuff he had left there because he was between places.

“Do you want any of it?” he asked.

“No, I don’t want anything that reminds me of you.”

He seemed surprised. He kept saying “This isn’t how it was supposed to go.” I was so confused. You tell your girlfriend you can’t picture a future with her, that you think you were lying about loving her and you don’t expect her to end that farce of a relationship?

“I hadn’t gotten that far,” he managed.

“How far have you gotten?” I asked.

“This conversation right now.”

I stared at him, dumbfounded. He was clueless.

After we arrived at the apartment, I started throwing all of his stuff in bags. I slammed cabinet doors. I heard him sniffle and I realized he was crying. Let him cry, I thought. This is his mess.

He took all the bags to the car. The final item was, strangely enough, a vacuum cleaner. I set it down in front of him in the door way.

“Is this it?” he asked.

“Yes.”

He just stood there, with that stupid look on his face and his hands in his pockets. And he cried.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” I said quietly, breaking finally in the presence of his tears, his real emotion.

He said he was sorry. He hugged me and I didn’t hug him back. He kissed the top of my head and said that he wished me the best. I remember thinking how lame that was. That’s the way you’re going to end our relationship?

I closed the door and sank to the floor, head in my hands, sobbing once again over this man who had completely wrecked me.

The next few months were some of the hardest of my life: I dated. I drank. I cried. I thought about him constantly. I compared everyone I met to him. I was alternately sad and angry. I wrote emails and letters that I didn’t send. I was depressed. A not insignificant amount of men told me that man must have been crazy to leave me. It almost made things worse. It just didn’t make sense to me.

In February, I heard through the grapevine that he would be in town for a wedding. I broke down and called him that Friday night. He didn’t answer, and didn’t return my call. The following day, I was eating lunch at our old favorite restaurant with my mom when he walked in. It felt like my heart stopped.

He walked up to our table; I rose to meet him. He hugged me, and I drank him in. He was wearing my favorite sweater, this cable knit forest green v-neck. He was so tall. He had a fresh haircut He told me he had gotten my message and was planning to call me that afternoon, so he would talk to me soon. After he walked away to get a table outside, I promptly burst into tears.

“I’m still in love with him,” I said to my mother.

“Maybe you should tell him that,” she said gently.

I was so nervous that afternoon that he wouldn’t call. But he did call. We met at a bar down the street from my apartment. We sat at a picnic table drinking beers and grinning at each other. He played with the label on his bottle. He confessed that he missed me, that he loved me still, thought about me twenty times a day. Lubbock was making him miserable.

“I go to sleep hugging three pillows each night,” he said. “I always wish they were you.”

The wedding he was attending started at 5 p.m., so he walked me to my car and we stood next to it, fingers entwined. I wanted so badly for him to kiss me. Then he did, and I melted.

“Stay with me tonight,” I whispered.

Pierce didn’t think it was a good idea — he didn’t know where it would leave us — more confused than ever?

“Look, we’re both miserable and we still love each other. Why don’t we just try it for now?”

He promised to call around 10 after the wedding. I went out with my friend to an Irish bar, hoping to distract myself, but as soon as the clock struck 10 p.m., I was watching my Nokia like a hawk. He waited until the excruciating time of 11:30 to call me, but it was worth it — he was on his way to the bar. We fell into each other, kissing, hugging, breathing “I love you so much.”

He stayed the night with me.

“I made a mistake, letting you go. I won’t make it again,” he told me as he left for Lubbock. The night had convinced us we could make our lives together work.

We were going to try the long distance thing after all.

He seemed like a changed man over the next few months. We coordinated visits between Austin and Lubbock. When we were together, we were like drowning people who had found a life vest in the other person. When we weren’t together, we emailed or talked on the phone. The attentive boyfriend I had always wanted him to be — had tried to make him into, stupidly — finally existed.

“He looks so happy,” my mother told me after we visited her one weekend when he was in town. “You look happy too. I think he’s changed. He’s really grown up.”

When I got laid off in late February, somehow the idea surfaced that maybe I could look for jobs in Lubbock. Pierce latched on to the idea. He was unexpectedly excited about it. He emailed job listings to me, talked to his friends, was always brainstorming and supportive. Now I see how it was really a selfish thing for him to do. After all, he didn’t see himself leaving Lubbock for several years because he needed to rebuild his career. Why not bring me in to his carefully arranged world? I could be his plaything while Lubbock bored him.

Of course there was a huge roadblock still in our way despite our new-old love. His parents. I decided the only way we could move forward and make our relationship work was if they accepted me. And for them to accept me, Pierce had to stand up for me and tell them I was his girl, that he loved me and that he planned to be with me long-term.

I learned some painful truths during that time. Pierce confessed he may have been partially responsible for his parents’ attitudes toward me. He complained about what didn’t work in our relationship, and never told them how much he cared about me. Pam was convinced the woman for him would be chosen by God, and clearly I wasn’t that person. It was clear, she told him, because when he found God’s chosen one, everything would be easy. He would never have to work at the relationship.

I should have run fast. I had almost gotten away once.

But I was so crazy in love with him and he was finally the person I had wanted. It was as if the months apart had helped him see clarity. He couldn’t stop telling me how much he loved me. How beautiful and kind and smart I was. How he was a fool before. How we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. There was a ring, he promised, and a plan.

And so it was with that backdrop that we finally had The Talk with his parents. It was a spring evening in Lubbock, following a dinner with the usual stilted conversation — me, because it was always hard for me, and I knew what was coming — Pierce, because he knew what was coming as well and he had never backed down from something his parents wanted. The fact that he would do this for me solidified the idea in my head: this man loved me.

Pierce began the discussion bravely. I was so happy he was sitting close to me, with his hand on my knee. I thought at the time it was to help me be strong, but now I wonder if maybe he needed me so that he could be strong.

“I think we all need to get our issues out on the table,” Pierce said.

I was choked with tears from the beginning of the discussion, but I managed to tell his father how I felt invisible around him. Several times he had left a dinner or an evening without saying goodbye to me. Once I arrived at a dinner and everyone had already finished eating. Pierce kept jumping in and claiming fault for parts of these interactions, but his mother didn’t want him to take any of the blame.

Suddenly she fixed me with her steely gaze. “You know what your problem is?”

“I’m sorry — what? My problem?” The conversation had been steering me toward weepy and sad, but her words had shot me through with adrenaline. I was pissed.

Pierce tried unsuccessfully to intervene. “Mom — “

She turned the gaze on him, her mouth pinched in anger. “You be quiet.” Back to me. “You have an inferiority complex. I don’t appreciate your attitude. You haven’t tried at all to fit in with the family.”

“That’s not true, I did try — “

“No, you didn’t. You aren’t good with uncomfortable situations. It’s up to you to make it better.”

At that point, I was flabbergasted in addition to angry. Why, I wanted to ask, were these “situations” so uncomfortable? Because she was correct, they indeed were uncomfortable. Excruciating might be a better word. Pierce, as he had attempted to point out, had actually created these situations by telling him about how his girlfriend was a real drag and a gold digger, and it seemed my role had simply been that I was a person his parents had never imagined for him.

Which was the point his mother drove home next, by asking me if I believed Jesus was our savior. Now, on top of my confusion, hurt and anger, she was going to tear apart my religious beliefs. Pierce gave my knee another reassuring squeeze. I explained that I didn’t believe in Jesus as the savior, but as a prophet. I haltingly told her that I believed in a number of aspects from different religions, including reincarnation. I thought her head was going to spin and pop right off her neck. Her eyes may even have bulged from their sockets. Unaware that I was damaging my life and love with Pierce beyond repair, I blundered on.

“We all have different beliefs about God,” I said, ignoring Pierce’s silence, “but it all boils down to one thing — you should love all people and all things. The specifics don’t really matter to me.”

His father, sitting across from me in a huge leather chair, looking nearly as stern as his wife, considered what I had said. He shook his head slowly, almost as if I were an idiot, which I’m sure he believed. “You and Pierce don’t have a foundation for your relationship because it’s not based on God. Everything else,” he went on, “shared interests, respect, attraction — they don’t matter without a foundation in God.”

How do you know what it’s based on? I wanted to yell. I wanted to yell at Pierce too — he was part of the problem here — talking trash to his family about me for the past two and a half years.

“You shouldn’t be sleeping together either,” his father continued, his fingers steepled together in an illustration of a foundation. It reminded me of the Saturday Night Live skit about George P. Bush — “1,000 points of light” and I wanted to laugh deliriously because this was going from bad to worse. Worse than I had even imagined, if that were even possible.

“Because marriage is a covenant, not a contract. And if you’re taking all the benefits of marriage, then you’re just trying it out, and that’s not right.”

The fight went out of me. I had underestimated my opponents. Resigned to listening, I heard his father tell us that a contract means that you can back out if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain; and a covenant is only broken by death. “And not only that. You’re not considering what God wants for you; you’re selfishly only thinking of yourselves.”

It was his mother who finally delivered the death blow. “I will not allow my son to marry a woman who believes in reincarnation,” she said, fixing us again with her stare. “It is an Islam belief and that is wrong.”

Then she told me if I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior that he would fix my inferiority complex.

Remember how I said I should have run?

Yeah. As fast as my legs would carry me.

The lecture completed, Pierce drove me to my hotel room. I was so emotionally wrecked I couldn’t really talk. We sat in the depressing glow of a table lamp and he said, “Do you love me?”

I nodded. I did love him, but at what cost?

“Good, because I love you,” he told me, wrapping me in his arms. “You’re the one for me.”

He couldn’t stay with me, of course, because of his parents. I couldn’t stop crying, even after he left. I dreamed he broke up with me, again, and it was so real that waking up felt like I was still trapped in a nightmare. Because I was.

We kept up our long distance relationship for the next two months. The relationship even marginally improved with his parents. We tolerated each other, much like my pets do now — the Labrador giving my old cat a wide berth, as she cautiously sniffs at him. It was better than out and out war, but the words they had hurled at me that night in March still haunted me. I suppose I knew they weren’t going to let us happen, but again, I underestimated them. I believed that our love would trump everything.

In late May, I got a job in Lubbock. I was ecstatic to finally join Pierce and put an end to our long distance relationship. But leaving Austin — again — was hard. We had an impromptu going-away party with friends and family. My friend Monica hugged me fiercely and told me not to put too much pressure on Pierce. He was going to be my only friend for a while. “But he’s not responsible for your happiness,” she reminded me. “Keep it in check.” I promised I would try.

She was right. Life in Lubbock was a roller coaster of emotion. Even though we were finally living in the same town, he was still living at his parents’ house. That meant we couldn’t spend the night together. There were so many nights that I just wanted him by my side, and I hated it when he’d pull away and say it was time for him to go home. I think there was a part of me that felt if he really loved me and wanted to start a life with me, he’d stand up to them on this. The big talk had been a huge step, but I needed more from him.

I always needed more.

My job also required that I travel quite a bit. Sometimes I was away for 10 day long trips, flying into airports in large cities and then driving to stores that were off the beaten path. I have never been particularly good at going somewhere on my own, forging a new path. I get lonely and scared and unsure of what to do. I function best when I have a routine, when I’m confident I’ve handled each thing that’s coming my way each day. So moving to a new city, starting a new job as a Sales Trainer — something completely new for me! — and trying to get on track with this man I was obsessively, crazily in love with — was difficult for me. So much change all at once will make anyone a little crazy, and I was already crazy.

It was especially hard for me to believe that Pierce was serious this time around, no matter what he said. The experience with Maple Sugar, the previous breakup and his harsh words wouldn’t leave me. In my lowest moments, I remembered them and they played through my head like a serious of sad movies. When I would tearfully confess my thoughts to Pierce, he would reassure me.

“I don’t just stop loving you,” he told me one night.

“But you did,” I said.

“I never stopped loving you. I was confused and mixed up.”

It worried me. What if he got confused and mixed up again?

Those were the bad times. There were great ones — didn’t I say Lubbock was a roller coaster? Pierce would tell me all the time I was the prettiest girl in the room. He would always make sure we talked on the phone while I was gone. He was patient with me. We had fun: Willie Nelson concerts, restaurants, bars and art openings. Sometimes he would join me on a work trip and we’d have a little vacation. July Fourth weekend we watched the neighborhood parade. Over cheese fries and drinks at Cricket’s, we talked about getting married in Belize. Afterward, we would have a reception in Lubbock and a reception in Austin. Pierce’s friend Ben was a jewelry designer and Pierce hinted, with a gleam in his eye and a grin on his face, that Ben was already working on something special.

I couldn’t wait to get that ring on my finger. I kept hoping it would fix what was broken with me — maybe I could look at the ring and the prior hurts would disappear. No more Maple Sugar, no more of his parents’ ire, no more wondering. Maybe that ring would spell confidence and security.

I know now how stupid that was.

I started to catch Pierce in little lies. I’d be out of town and he supposedly went to a party, but Ben would say, “What party? We went to that new club.” Or I’d return to the table at the bar and everyone would clam up because of the story Pierce had just told — “I swear to God that story was about my brother and a strip club in Mexico” — when it was nothing of the kind. He started hanging out with his beautiful blond colleague after work. When he’d tell me he was leaving work, he was really at her apartment doing drugs. I was helping him pay his bills because he was terrible at paying anything on time. I had access to his cell phone records online. I saw 900 numbers. And I saw repeated calls to a local number, always late at night, after he had left my apartment. Was he cheating — again — this time via phone? When I asked him about it, he claimed it was the blond colleague’s mother, and it had something to do with managing a band. At one a.m.? The conversation about the late night local phone calls happened in the backyard at his parents’ house, and Pierce was annoyed I would bring it up. He was defensive and nervously smoked a cigarette and kept glancing inside to see if they could tell we were fighting.

He delivered the second death knell, broke my heart again, in December. I had been in Lubbock for about six months, and my birthday was days away. We got into a stupid fight over the phone — Pierce wanted his space — and I pointed out that when you get married, you don’t have that kind of space.

“You know, presumably we’d live together and spend the night together every night,” I spit at him.

“I don’t know if that’s what I want,” Pierce said.

I felt sick.

He came over at my insistence so we could actually talk. I hate the phone, and especially for something like this. He sat heavily on my purple couch. “I just haven’t been happy lately,” he told me. He said t wasn’t just me. But as we delved into it, he accused me of resenting his family and said that I didn’t understand how he needed them in his life. In halting words, he went on to say I hadn’t tried hard enough to get back into their good graces. Then, in even an even more bizarre turn, he said that he couldn’t deal with our conflicting beliefs.

“We have an Eastern philosophy vs. a Western philosophy and that won’t work,” he said. I started at him. It was as if Pam were feeding him lines off stage.

I again made a last ditch effort to save our relationship. “We’re good, Pierce. We’re really good. People are trying to find what we have.”

He agreed. But then he said, “I think we both know deep-down that marriage won’t work for us.”

“Sounds like your mother told you what to say.”

He protested — “No, these are my feelings” — but I didn’t believe him. I still don’t. His parents told him to end it, and he did.

“I just need some time to get my head on straight and figure things out,” Pierce said, running his hands through his hair.

“I thought you had,” I whispered, my eyes pooling with tears.

He said he needed a couple of days.

“What am I supposed to do? Just sit here alone in my apartment?” I retorted.

He shrugged, but he didn’t get up.

“Well, are you leaving?”

“Yeah,” he answered. But he still didn’t get up. After a few minutes, he finally stood. He looked down at me and said, “I love you” and tried to kiss me. He got a corner of my forehead. Then he grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go and tried to kiss me again — this time on the corner of my lips. He stood at my door and looked like he was going to cry again. It was like a carbon copy of the year before, standing at the doorway to my apartment. He was making this decision, it was killing him, and he somehow wanted me to fix it, when I had nothing to do with it.

“What do you want me to say?” I asked, still sitting on the couch.

He mumbled something about calling me when he could. I didn’t respond. I stared ahead at the television, which was muted, the actors on One Tree Hill playing out their fictional drama as my real one unfolded. My dinner sat untouched.

After six days of silence, he came over again, simply to confirm what I already knew. I can still see him standing in the kitchen, edging toward the garage door, while I sat in the same position on the couch as the week before. “I fully expect to walk into a Barnes and Noble someday and pick up your book and read about the asshole on page 36.”

Here you are, Pierce: your page 36.

Playing with Adulthood: My Awkward College Experience

This is part 2 in a series about my great loves aka fuckups in terms of relationships.

My college experience, as I’ve already more or less described, was weird. It wasn’t the time of my life, filled with frat parties, beer and freedom. It was a struggle for me. I studied very hard, and was obsessed with my grades. I made very few friends. In fact, I don’t have a single friend from college that I still keep in touch with, even with the advent of social media.

I can think of three boys I went on casual dates with, one a real relationship, I think — who also went to school with me. Otherwise, I dated people who didn’t go to college at my school or at all. It’s probably why I was so disconnected from the college experience. My senior year, my friend Mindy and I walked through west campus — I call her my friend at the time, but as I mentioned, we made no lasting connection — talking about our creative advertising class. I was having a difficult time coming up with my concepts each class session, frowning over my ideas late into the night at my desk in my bedroom.

“You need to come up to school and hang out with us,” Mindy told me. She was a tall, elegant girl with classic good looks — dark hair, perfect skin, almond-shaped eyes. She was always perfectly put together, always seemed to have a styrofoam cup of coffee in her hand. I half-wondered if she ever drank it, as her red lipstick was perfect and her teeth even and pearly white. “The reason you’re having trouble is that you don’t come to school and brainstorm with the rest of the class. You’re totally isolated with…Billy.” She said his name — always — with derision. Mindy didn’t think I should be tied down to one guy, I was in college, after all! — and Mindy was extremely concerned with looks, money and popularity. Billy had money, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at him.

One of my mistakes, as I mentioned above, was not being strong enough. My other mistake, my big regret, is that I dated people who were friends with my brother. It was sort of a natural fit, because that was my crowd. I had one foot in each of two worlds, really — college being one, and I wasn’t really doing that one right — and his world being the other. My brother Dean didn’t go to college. He tried it, and it wasn’t for him. He had a job and an apartment and a corner store where he could buy beer without getting carded if he walked in wearing a suit from work. So his world seemed to me terribly adult, and it was fun to hang out there. He, of course, had friends who also didn’t go the college route, and they had jobs and money and seemed to already be doing this thing I was trying to figure out. And — bonus! — they thought I was cute.

That’s how Billy and I sort of…fell into a relationship. He and Dean worked together. I met Billy through Dean, and didn’t think much of him at first. A brutally honest and somewhat mean point here: Billy was ugly. It makes me cringe to say it, but it’s quite simply true. Billy was well over 6 feet tall and skinny as a rail. It didn’t help that he had a strange birth defect I’d never heard of before, nor since — his rib cage was backwards, so his chest was concave. He had deep set hazel eyes, a long skinny nose, and thin lips. But Billy was one of the nicest guys I had ever met. He was smart as a whip, and he could make me laugh.

He made up a road trip game (made up? I don’t know — like the birth defect, I had never heard of it before, and haven’t played it with anyone else since) called The Cow Game. The simple rules were as follows: each person counted the cows on their side of the car, if you passed a graveyard, you lost all your cows and had to start over, and the person with the most cows when you arrived at your destination won. Of course much of the game was estimating — it’s pretty tough to count cattle as you’re speeding past them at 70 miles an hour. Billy and I had returned home from a road trip to Dallas, and I got in a fight with Dean. I was feeling down, so I called Billy to talk.

“Hey, what are you doing?” I asked, lying on my daybed in the apartment I shared with a high school friend named Krissy.

“Oh, not much. Been driving circles around the Sirloin Stockade to try and win the cow game since you beat me.”

I laughed out loud.

And so it went. I fell in love with his kindness and his wit, and as I mentioned above, his seeming adulthood. It was my sophomore year in college, and I liked dating a guy a few years older than me who got paid handsomely for his work in computers. I’m not sure what he saw in me. The only thing he seemed to actually care about was computers. He was absolutely lost in that world, and it was that world that ultimately drove us apart. He was a child, not an adult, in that way. Sometimes he stayed up all night playing computer games. He would rather spend his Friday nights in front of a glowing screen, in an alternate universe, than hang out with me.

It was during my relationship with Billy that one of the most formative events of my life happened. In typical fashion, I had no idea it had such an impact on me. I brushed it off, moved on, didn’t think too hard about it — and it wasn’t until years later that I realized it was a big deal. I walked into my therapist’s office for my first appointment ever. I knew I had to talk to someone because I was unhappy in my latest relationship and I suppose I finally had this inkling that I was indeed broken, because I just couldn’t make these things work. I sat down in the plush purple armchair and looked at the therapist Kat and I announced, “My dad died when I was 19 but he was never around anyway, so I don’t think it’s a really big deal. My problem right now is my boyfriend.” Kat smiled kindly at me and said, “Let’s back up just a bit and talk about your dad, okay?”

Billy and I lived in the same apartment complex at the time. It was a somewhat botched situation, since he had asked me to move in with him and I had agreed. But then I panicked a little bit — I was only 19, was he really The One? Was I ready for such an Adult Move? — and I backed out. Billy was terribly disappointed and I had hurt his feelings. I think it was a little bit like turning down a marriage proposal, but one of the issues in our relationship was that Billy just didn’t talk to me. My decision not to move in with him had, in his mind, meant I had made this huge statement about the State of Our Relationship, but he didn’t tell me. He just quietly withdrew.

Because I had agreed to live with him and then retracted my statement and Dean had gotten a different roommate, he took his own apartment and so did I. I was again bridging the gap, a part of me in both worlds. It was a Saturday morning, I had spent the night with Billy, and the phone was ringing. Billy had a stupid Mickey Mouse alarm clock that was in its usual place: facedown on the floor.

After trying to wake Billy several times to pick up his phone (1997, landlines, no cell phones), he tossed himself off the bed and barely made it through the doorway to the living room. I laid back down, closed my eyes. Something was off, like the light was all wrong outside, and Billy didn’t get that many calls.

He entered the room, holding the cordless phone. “It’s for you.”

I frowned. “Your mom,” he said, and left abruptly, no doubt to have a cigarette.

I held the phone carefully, looking at it. There were icy fingers of fear closing around my heart. My mother could only be calling about something important, most likely bad.

“Hello?” I said cautiously.

“Did I wake you, sweetie? I’m sorry,” she said hurriedly.

“Yeah, but it’s okay. We should be up anyway,” I fumbled for words. It was still a bit awkward for my mother to call me at my boyfriend’s apartment, but it didn’t seem to bother her.

“Honey, I got a call,” she began, and the icy fingers of fear grabbed hold with the strength of claws. Never is “I got a call,” a good sign. I sat up in bed, letting the sheets fall from me with a sudden clear head. No more cobwebs of sleep.

“It appears that your father is in the hospital in Maryland. I don’t know how serious it is or how they found us, but I thought you should know right away. Your brother is making calls now.”

I was silent, unable to speak. I had known in the back of my mind for so long that it would happen just this way. Automatically I started counting back…how many years since I had seen him? And at least a year since we had had an actual telephone conversation, if you could call our stilted one-way talks something like that.

“….So you should probably call Dean, as soon as you can…” she continued.

“Yeah, okay,” I managed, feeling hot wet tears welling behind my eyes. “Thanks, Mom.”

I pressed the off button on the phone and sit looking at it for a moment. I wondered what Billy was thinking, probably sitting on the couch, as was customary in the morning, watching soft tendrils of smoke curl from his Camel. He was just as I had pictured him, patiently waiting. He knew, just as I had, that the call wasn’t good news. My mother could have waited for that.

I sank to the couch next to him. He took a long pull on the cigarette and looked at me, waiting. Always waiting.

I set the phone down, finally, carefully, as if it is a bomb that may explode at any moment. “My dad….my dad is in the hospital, and I don’t know what’s wrong. He’s…probably dying.” I broke into bitter, heart-wrenching sobs then, as the full weight of what I was saying hit me, and Billy immediately stubbed out the cigarette and took me into his arms. He didn’t say anything but “I’m sorry,” very softly, and stroked my hair and let me cry.

I talked with Dean later that morning. Our father was lying in a coma thousands of miles away, in the final stage of cirrhosis of the liver. He was jaundiced, unresponsive, and ready to die. Dean and I made immediate plans to fly out there, if for nothing else than to say goodbye.

An image kept coming to my mind, of an old, broken man — broken by life, by relationships — lying in a sterile white room, alone. No one at his bedside but an efficient nurse who is checking his machines, and tubes, and fluids, making sure he was comfortable and perhaps wondering briefly who was this man? Does he have children? A wife? Where are they? Surely, no one should have to die alone.

That’s what made me cry. I was sure that he had been alone for a long time now, not just in the hospital, but every day, until he no longer had the strength or the will to do it anymore.

“I love you,” Billy kept saying, because there is nothing else. “I love you so much. I’m sorry you’re sad, baby.”

How could I explain what really made me sad? I was a girl who missed some vague shadow in her life. It was him I was sad for, him, who at age 57, had decided his life is over. He missed his ex-wife, he missed his children, he missed the life that he had before and now that life is gone. He replaced all of it with alcohol. He drank and he was lonely, and he waited. He simply waited for his pain to end.

It was not my pain that I shed tears for, but his.

*

Dean and I sat outside the airport in St. Louis, Dean smoking a cigarette thoughtfully.

“Are you sure you want to see him this way?” he asked, as if we can actually turn back at this point.

“Not really,” I replied, watching a man calm his enormous dog. Perhaps it is half Great Dane, half Dalmatian. “But I feel like we should be there.” I don’t want him to die alone, I almost added, as if an hour at my father’s deathbed could make up for so many lost years.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Dean answered, stubbing out his cigarette and shaking a fresh one from the pack.

I look at my hands. “I know he can’t talk or anything, but we can talk to him, can’t we?”

Dean takes a long drag. “Of course.”

*

Baltimore, when we arrived, was cool and humid. I headed to the baggage claim while Dean found a payphone to call our uncle. After I grabbed our bags, I joined him. He was hanging up the phone with a terse expression.

“His condition’s worse. He could go at any time.” It was already midnight and I was exhausted, but there was such urgency in Dean’s voice that I know we have to hurry.

We grabbed a cab. It’s was a 30 minute drive, and all we could do was wait for the ride to be over. I wished again, for the thousandth time, that we had had more time. Just a little more time.

*

At the doors to ICU, Dean and I looked at each other. It was a look that passed between us and was understood without words: This is It. No turning back. We had to face whatever was on the other side of that door. Dean took my hand, and I squeezed.

We walked into the entryway, where a few doctors and nurses were monitoring patients and working on menial tasks. A man approached us with a gentle smile. He seemed happy — maybe relieved — that we were there. I wondered if this was one of the nursing staff I had imagined, one of whom was hoping this man wouldn’t have to die alone. The doctors had done all they could, and now we needed to take care of the rest.

“Your dad’s been waiting for you,” he said to us.

Behind the curtain, my dad is lying there, hooked up to monitors and tubes: breathing, heart rate, blood pressure. His forehead and ears were covered by a small towel, and the rest of him covered by a hospital blanket. I immediately started crying, and Dean put his arm around me. It shouldn’t be this way, I thought. It shouldn’t be this way after so many years. More time, dammit. We need some more time.

We approached his bedside, and I looked into the face I used to know so well; the long, dark lashes under bushy brows, a strong nose and wide lips. He was yellow, jaundiced, and as Dean reached for his hand under the blanket, I noticed that he was puffy. The fluid he is supposed to be getting rid of through his liver is collecting, poisoning him from the inside out.

“Hey, Dad,” Dean said softly, next to his ear, “We’re here. It’s me, Dad, Buster Brown…” he said, using my dad’s nickname for him. My heart went out to Dean to hear the way his voice broke as he finished the sentence.

“Hi, Daddy,” I said tentatively, wondering if he could hear us. “Hey, Daddy, your Precious is here.” Precious was my name. There was nothing. No response, no squeeze of the hand, no movement behind closed lids. Somehow I thought maybe we would know, that we would feel his acknowledgement that we are here. We just had to go on blind faith.

We sat at his side, examining every part of him, looking at his face. We pulled back the towel covering his head and touch his hair, as if we could make it more real by putting our hands on something tangible. He never moved; nothing ever changed but the blips and beeps on the monitor. His heart would speed up, slow down, sometimes beat at an amazing speed, and I kept thinking, He’s going to go, right now, right here, with me holding his hand. But he hung on. The breathing, slow and ragged, with the help of a machine, kept going. We talked to him, told him our names over and over. And that we loved him.

I can only hope he heard.

We sat in our vigil until four a.m., when we decided that our job was done. The doctors were instructed to let him pass when the time came; there was no need to resuscitate him.

We peeled back the towel from his head; we each kissed him in turn and whispered, “Goodbye, I love you.”

He died twelve hours later.

*

I found an old diary entry from this point in my life. There were exactly two mentions of this event. I recall bombing a statistics assignment shortly after my trip to visit my father. I tentatively explained the situation to my professor after class one day — I had been out because of my father’s passing — could I get a redo on my homework assignment? I had been distracted. I actually felt guilty for my excuse.

I honestly and truly thought my situation didn’t warrant any special treatment, and life should go on as though nothing changed.

Billy’s reaction? He picked me up from the airport and there were red roses in a vase on the front seat of his 240SX. He didn’t talk to me about it, didn’t ask me how I felt, and when I asked him, he said he didn’t know what to say. In retrospect, in the relationship I have now, in which my husband is my best friend, my confidante, my entire world — it sounds completely insane to me. My father died, I was 19 years old and we hardly said a word about it. I didn’t spend nights curled up next to Billy, reminiscing about the good times with my dad, or lamenting his untimely demise, voicing my worries that I or Dean would end up just like him, crying about how he ultimately died alone — nothing. We had one brief discussion about it, during which Billy admitted how uncomfortable he was with, you know, feelings, and we moved on with our lives.

We had no idea what we were doing.

I eventually moved in with Billy, despite my earlier misgivings. We lived together for my junior and senior years of college. Billy pushed me to enter the Adult World on more than one occasion. Another time that my inability to be strong, to stand up for myself, to take care of me — was a huge problem. I wanted to study abroad for a semester, but Billy wouldn’t let me. I wanted to take a series of classes that meant I would graduate in the spring, on time, instead of early, in the fall — Billy didn’t like the idea. He wanted me to Grow Up and Get a Real Job.

I think Billy was similar to Alex in this way — Billy didn’t go to college, and had a chip on his shoulder about it. He, of course, wouldn’t say a word about it, but I knew it made up a big part of him. He felt like a failure because he dropped out, and it was hard for him to relate to me. He was a little bit jealous of me. I spent my days walking through campus and looking at the couples, feeling jealous of what they had. I wanted to sit on the lawn between the buildings we called The Six Pack and do nothing in the sunshine — other couples did that. Again, I was doing both things — college and Adult World — neither of them well.

I was alone during much of my relationship with Billy. Because he was always playing computer games, it was rare that we even went to bed at the same time. Sometimes I felt like we were nothing more than roommates. I had to ask him over and over for something that made me feel special — to take me out on a date, to buy me flowers — these things seemed so important to me at the time. I was looking constantly for signs that I was a good girlfriend, that I was loved. I wanted romance and fun and excitement, and he didn’t. He was satisfied with life, and with our relationship just as it was. He didn’t put a lot of work into anything — except the computer — and least of all, into our relationship. We entered a never-ending cycle of me begging him to do something with me, take me out, go somewhere, hell, have a fucking conversation, and his response would be to get me a stuffed animal or a rose, with a note about how much he loved me and wanted to marry me. Two months later, repeat. At the time, I thought I was completely justified. Now I realize I was trying to change someone’s fundamental being. He just wasn’t that guy. I must have been driving him crazy asking all the time. I wonder why he stayed with me so long. I spent the entire relationship screaming, jumping up and down and waving my arms, “Look at me, Billy! No, really look at me!”

Sometimes while he was gone, working or pretending to work because he was really playing computer games at work, I would sit in our apartment with tears running down my face, splashing the keyboard, and I would type into my journal, “I am so lonely.”

It’s not surprising to me that I had an emotional affair. It’s also not surprising that it was with one of Billy’s friends. I’m not proud of it, but I can see now with clarity how it happened. Isn’t that the reason people cheat? They’re not getting something from their current relationship that the outside one provides. Billy’s friend Jay was definitely in Adult World — ten years older than me, with a failed marriage and a son. He lived in Dallas, and I met him on one of our trips there. I remember what I was wearing the day I met him — a pair of cutoff shorts and a striped midriff-baring top. He couldn’t take his eyes off of me.

We started chatting on the computer. It was 1998 and the underground chat program was called ICQ. It was a play on words, meaning “I Seek You.” It was a fitting theme for the relationship I started with Jay. He gave me everything I wanted from my relationship with Billy. He told me how beautiful and funny I was; he was also a writer. He wrote me poems. I was a hopeless romantic writer, who at 20 years old was afraid my life had passed me by. I felt like I was already married to a boring man who was addicted to computer games and would say that he loved me, but he didn’t really know who I was or why he loved me.

I was a goner from the first words Jay typed.

Jay came to visit us one weekend in the fall of my senior year. Strangely enough, I had told Billy that we were talking, and that sometimes Jay said things that were, to put it mildly, inappropriate or flirtatious. I’m sure that I told Billy for two reasons — one, I tried to be completely transparent and honest with him, always. It was something my mother instilled in me from an early age. She always said that she would forgive me anything but lies, so I should always tell her the truth, and we would work through whatever truth I had confessed. The second reason is one I’m not proud of, but it makes sense when I think about it now. I wanted him to care. I wanted Billy to be jealous. He had this maddening way of either being completely unfazed by other men — or completely flipping out. I had no way of knowing what would trigger his jealousy. And in my mind, jealousy meant he cared. Yet again, I was waving my arms at him, frantic for him to “get it.”

I don’t think we even left the house when Jay came to visit, except for a drive around the block at 5 a.m. after we’d stayed up all night. The three of us sat around drinking beer, watching football and talking. We couldn’t stop talking. Well, Jay and I couldn’t. The three of us stayed up all night. Billy might even have been dozing at points during the evening, as the night stretched into morning, but Jay and I couldn’t get enough of each other. He had a brand new Mustang, and I wanted drive it, hence the 5 a.m. cruise around the neighborhood. After his visit, it occurred to me that Billy and I had never stayed up all night together. Just…being together.

Our chats became more serious. One night, about a week after his visit, I asked him if I could tell him something and would he please not laugh at me or think that I’m stupid?

“Your mind is beautiful,” he typed to me. “Of course not.”

How could I hesitate after words like those? So I told him that I was having “Jay withdrawal.” He admitted he, too, had been a little bit depressed since the weekend ended. We were both trying to ignore it, given that I was in a relationship with his very good friend. But once we acknowledged it, a torrent of feelings was unleashed. Jay said we had a different connection than most people.

“It doesn’t mean you don’t love the person you’re with — it just means this other connection fills a void in your heart or mind,” Jay typed. We rationalized our relationship, trying to convince ourselves this connection we had wasn’t dangerous. We pretended that it wasn’t going to destroy my relationship with Billy.

We kept talking over ICQ, and after a couple of weeks I realized I had fallen in love with Jay. It sounds insane. Maybe it was. I loved Billy too — or, I thought I did — and it was only then I understood that you can love more than one person at the same time. My relationship with Jay starkly exposed the faults in my relationship with Billy. What I was describing to myself as a “different” connection was really just a connection. Billy and I were just bumbling along together; we just fell into each other as a couple. If someone had asked me why I was with him, I’m not sure I could have answered. I would probably have said, “He’s nice.” That also sounds insane, because I wanted to marry the guy. Because he was nice? Because he didn’t treat me like I was disposable or yell at me like Alex had? I was painfully young and I simply didn’t know any better.

That’s why Jay rocked my world. That’s why I fell so hard. It was practically inevitable.

Billy figured it out. He may not have had a plethora of endearing qualities, but the boy wasn’t stupid. I was acting way too cagey about my ICQ account, hurriedly closing the window on my computer if Billy happened to walk in the room at a bad time. Logging on to ICQ from school in the computer lab, just to get a dose of words from Jay. He was my drug, and I couldn’t quit. I was at a football game with my friends in late November when it happened. The game was amazing. That was the game Ricky Williams broke Earl Campbell’s rushing record, and we were chanting “Run Ricky Run!” at the top of our lungs, high-fiving, hugging each other, shaking the bleachers. It was one of those days that was a college day — a real college day. The sky was overcast and it was deliciously chilly, perfect football weather. As the stadium began emptying out, I called Billy for a ride.

From the moment I heard his voice, I knew what had happened.

The elation from the football game evaporated instantaneously. Billy was stoic, hardly looking at me as I got into his car. He had already called Jay, and Jay told him we’d fallen in love, that we didn’t mean for it to happen, that Jay felt like the biggest asshole on the planet. But it sounded like Jay was willing to fight for me, for us. Billy and I went home, fought, cried, hugged, talked, and cried some more. Billy was furious at me, furious at Jay, and furious with himself for being played a fool. He knew he should leave me, but quite plainly, he loved me and he didn’t want to. He laid down the law — if I wanted to save this relationship, I had to cut Jay out of my life. I told him I couldn’t. Jay had become too important to me. I wanted to see if what we had was real.

I went out that night with my friend Mindy. Before we left her apartment, I called Jay. We talked for nearly an hour. We both felt like heels, but we were giddy hearing each other’s voices. I promised him I would figure out what to do. I decided it was time to take a break from Billy, move out of the apartment we shared and give me and Jay a real try. We had only been in the same room together for a total of 24 hours, ever. Before we got off the phone, Jay said, “I really really love you Christianne,” and my heart melted. I was head over heels for this man, and I had to be with him. Billy was the “logical” choice, the comfortable choice, but he didn’t make my heart sing like Jay.

But by the time I woke up Saturday morning, extremely hungover, Jay had removed himself from the situation. He called the apartment, and the three of us had the most bizarre three way conversation. Jay told us he wanted us to “fall in love again” and that I couldn’t really examine my feelings for Billy with Jay in the way confusing things. I was heartbroken and angry at Jay. In turn, Billy was heartbroken and angry at me.

Saturday night Billy and I grabbed some beers and went to the top of the cliffs at the 360 bridge to talk. Again. It seems all we did that weekend was talk, and rehash, and talk, and talk some more. But we weren’t getting anywhere. Billy knew he should leave me, but he couldn’t. He wanted to fix our relationship, but I was exhausted and unhappy. I’d had a glimpse of something else, and I wanted that. I didn’t want the relationship I already had. Those exposed faults didn’t seem fixable to me. There was no real foundation for us, and even though I was young and bumbling around in the dark when it came to this stuff, I had figured that one out.

By December, we called it quits. I moved in with my parents temporarily. I knew it was the right thing, and I didn’t want my current relationship, but I was so used to Billy. He was a habit I had to break. We didn’t know how not to be with each other. Even thought we’d split up, we went to my office Christmas party. Went back to the apartment and talked about still hanging out even though we had broken up. It was ludicrous.

And so my last semester in college was exactly that — ludicrous. Billy and I tried again. We moved to a new apartment just off campus. He interviewed for a job in New York. Sometimes Jay and I chatted on ICQ, or sent long sappy emails, or sneaked conversations on the phone Sometimes we were silent, trying to stay away from each other. I promised Billy that I wouldn’t talk to him. There were times when I looked at Billy and knew I didn’t love him anymore. Then I would imagine my life without him and not be able to breathe. There were times when I wanted to get in my car and drive to Dallas and knock on Jay’s door. I should have, because I would have forced his hand. Jay was never going to make us happen. He always had an excuse. He slayed me with his gorgeous words. But he didn’t make the effort. And at the time, these two men were my whole world. I couldn’t fathom the idea that neither of them was right for me. They were all I could see.

In May, I graduated college and moved to New York to be with Billy. We were so battered and bruised it was pointless, but we just couldn’t let go of each other. It’s another time in my life that I feel badly for the earlier version of me. I was depressed. I felt directionless, boring, bland. I got a job at a little magazine, made some friends, tried to be an Adult.

It didn’t work. In December, Billy informed me he wasn’t happy and wanted out. New Year’s Day, 2000 — I woke up hungover, our apartment trashed from a party the night before. I switched on the TV to watch the Longhorns. They were losing to Arkansas. The vet called to inform me that my cat, who had been sick and in his care, had just died.

A rather inauspicious start to the new millennium.

I moved back to Austin on a brutally cold day in January. Billy helped with my suitcases, but he wasn’t wearing shoes so we wound up in the vestibule of our apartment building, and he put his hands on both sides of my face, and kissed me. I cried. “Tell me if you want me back,” I whispered. He didn’t seem to hear me.

High School Love, aka a Learning Experience. Also, a Trainwreck.

This is part 1 in a series about my great loves aka fuckups in terms of relationships.

I was a junior in high school when I met Alex. The phrase “high school sweetheart” perhaps could have applied when we first met: Alex was a grade behind me, and so earnest, so dogged, in his attempts to become my boyfriend it was almost painful to watch. Ironically, my mother encouraged me to give him a chance, something I’m sure she regretted later as our relationship took a twisted turn and spiraled quickly downward. I don’t think I realized at the time how bad it truly was — wasn’t everyone’s relationship like this?

Junior year. Other than meeting Alex, the thing that stands out when I look back now is that I had finally made the cheerleading squad. Junior varsity, not varsity, but still, it was something I’d been working hard to achieve. In summary, my high school curriculum vitae went something like this: Not popular. Latch key kid with a single mom and an absentee alcoholic father. I certainly didn’t consider myself pretty and to my knowledge at the time no one else did except my mother. (I can see now how Alex dug his hooks in and got them in deep.) But cheerleading! It was a little glimpse, my own little slice — of popularity, of pretty, of rich.

I took newspaper class that year as well, which is where I met Alex. He was a gangly 15 year old, acne on his face and some funky crooked teeth. His best feature was probably his big blue-green eyes. It was the 90s, and he would show up for class in the baggy jeans and steel toe boots we all favored at the time, topped off with a cheap tee or a flannel shirt if it was cold. Alex took the class as a blow-off, and it showed. There were about six of us who actually did work — obviously, I was into the writing — and six others who didn’t do anything. Alex was one of those.

Alex spent most of his class time flirting with me, relentless in his pursuit. He would tell me later how hot I looked in those cheerleading skirts. No one had ever said those kinds of things to me before. Me, pretty? Me, with a nice ass and good legs? I still refused to go out with him. It wasn’t as if I had boys knocking down my door, but he just seemed like friend-zone material to me.

The thing that finally changed my mind, oddly enough, was the chicken pox. When I came down with it, I was out of school for weeks. Alex called me every day from newspaper class, telling me how much they (he) missed me, giving me the gossip from the day, telling me stories about our poor tortured teacher, who kept trying to make him do some work for a change. He begged to come see me, but I was too vain to let him. He was the one boy who actually thought I was pretty — I couldn’t chance ruining that. Even if he was firmly in the friend zone, honestly, I liked the attention.

When the worst of the spots had faded, I acquiesced. However, I didn’t let him come see me. I was dying to get out of the house, and I was a newly licensed driver. My mother let me take her Acura to see him.

I can’t recall now if I’d been to his house before. I can picture it perfectly now — a modest one story with three bedrooms, a two-car garage that had been converted into what I suppose we now call a “media room” — at the time, remember, the 90s — it was the movie room, or the den. I’m sure that Alex greeted me at the door before his parents or his brother could interfere.

This was a big deal for him.

We crossed the shabby living room to his bedroom, which was painted a garish blue and had the requisite boy posters tacked to the walls with actual push pins. Sports, girls, bands. I don’t recall what we did exactly, probably sat uncomfortably on his bed and talked about school and my recent illness and recovery. I do know that at some point he leaned in to kiss me, and I didn’t push him away or pull back like I had so many times before. You might say I had given in. Or given up.

*

Our high school relationship was just that — high school. It was homecoming dances and prom dates. It was football games and gathering in the school parking lot afterward to talk about where to go next. It was trying my first beer. It was sneaking more and more beers after that. It was my first time to have sex, thinking to myself, “That’s it? That’s what all the fuss was about?” It was growing apart from my best friend Lily, because she was into drugs and I was into my boyfriend and those things didn’t go together anymore. It was lunch off campus for seniors. It was driving our parents’ cars, it was working our first jobs, it was house parties until the cops came and broke them up.

I’m not sure when it all took a turn for the worse. I think it built slowly, Alex’s resentments and insecurities piling up, as the inevitability of what was going to happen to us became apparent. He kept trying to slow things down, to stop that inexorable march of time, to keep us — maybe me? — in this box where he had some measure of control.

I was only six months older than Alex, but I was a grade ahead because of an early start in kindergarten. I made excellent grades, and I knew I was on my way to the University of Texas by October of my senior year. I had made the varsity cheerleading squad. My mother’s boyfriend, a man who would eventually become my stepfather, had moved in with us, which meant I had a father figure for the first time in nearly 10 years. I was still a frightened, insecure teenager who didn’t know much about relationships or how men should treat me, but I was doing okay considering.

In contrast, Alex was struggling in school, nearly failing his junior year, certainly not even thinking about college. His family life left much to be desired. His parents yelled instead of spoke, his father usually in bed by 8 p.m. so he could do his job as a postal worker early in the morning. This meant we all had to tiptoe around the house lest we disturb him and get a good tongue-lashing. Alex’s mother was not much better — she was a substitute teacher and I think sometimes cared more about her kids at school than her own. I’ll never forget the day I won an award for some scholastic achievement — that woman cut the article out of the school newspaper and taped it to Alex’s bedroom door. She might as well have told him, “Your girlfriend is better than you.”

He probably wanted to murder me right then.

It was a powder keg, ready to explode. Alex and I both got jobs at the local grocery store. When I was promoted from bagger to cashier, Alex couldn’t handle it. He was so jealous and insecure that he wanted me to step back down to bagger. According to him, it was because he liked it when I was near him, bagging groceries at his register. I cringe when I think back to discussing the situation with Rodney, our boss. Rodney was a small, worried man, with narrowed eyes and a fluff of quickly disappearing blond hair combed over his head. He studied me as I stumbled through an explanation of why I wanted to move down positions.

He could see right through me. “Is this because of Alex, or is it something you want to do?” he asked.

“It’s not Alex, it’s me. I want to.” I blushed, stared at the floor.

“Sorry, Christianne, you’re a good cashier and I need you on the floor. Alex is just going to have to deal with his issues.”

He was right, but I had no idea how to handle my boyfriend.

His jealousy didn’t stop at the grocery store. It invaded every part of our life as he worked frantically to manage me. He hated it when I cheered at games as it took time away from his time with me. I loved cheerleading, and he was systematically destroying my enjoyment of it. He didn’t like it when I went to work, even though it was time for my shift. One afternoon, we were fighting, and he wanted to finish it. I was exasperated.

“Alex, I have to go. My shift at work starts in half an hour. I’m leaving.”

I stormed through the living room of his house, with Alex in hot pursuit, spitting words at me. It seemed that lately whenever we argued, it involved him telling me that I was a bitch, that no one would ever love me like he did, that I was essentially insufferable. The illogic of him loving me despite my extreme bitchiness didn’t occur to me.

The screen door banged behind me as I strode down the sidewalk, fishing my keys from my pocket. A neighbor across the street tended to his flower beds. Suddenly Alex had gripped me from behind, around the waist, physically dragging me back toward the house.

“We’re not finished talking!” he screamed at me in the relative safety of the front entry way.

Disturbing, again, how at the time, the fact that this was very real abuse hadn’t occurred to me. Disturbing that the neighbor across the street hadn’t noticed, that Alex’s parents hadn’t noticed. My mother knew things were bad, but perhaps not how bad. He was able to hide most of it from her. And she felt powerless to help. Try telling a 17-year-old girl what to do.

As school got worse for Alex, he started skipping. One spring morning, I went to pick him up and he refused to go to school. I sighed, idling in the car blocks from his house.

“Fine, Alex. What do you want to do? I’m going to school.”

“Take me to your house.”

Desperate to get rid of him, and because my parents weren’t home, I took him.

My morning at school was odd. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very, very wrong. Had my mother come home and found him in our living room? Was I in huge trouble? Had Alex done something awful? Because it was my senior year, I had a half day and was able to come home at lunch. I found Alex in our wood-paneled living room, sitting on the couch with a look on his face I had come to know well — he was, to put it quite plainly — pissed off.

It turns out my boyfriend had spent his morning playing hooky from school and reading my diary. Of course he knew where I kept my diary, because Alex couldn’t stand that I would keep anything from him. My recollection now is hazy, but I’m sure he wheedled his way into that knowledge, much like he did everything else. And because Alex couldn’t stand that I keep anything from him, including my very thoughts, he had read the diary.

The diary was a big blue spiral-bound notebook, with three manila divider folders. He sat with the notebook open on his lap. With that look upon his face. I could see my perfect penmanship within the college-ruled lines, black ink stark on the paper. Now I understood my feeling — that very odd feeling that something was very wrong.

“What’s wrong now?” I asked wearily, dropping my backpack to the carpeted floor with a muted thud.

At this point, I must confess that I had a very high school crush on one of Alex’s friends. His name was Bo, and I saw a kindness and an understanding in his brown eyes that was missing from most of the high school students I knew. I sensed he could see the misery Alex was putting me through, that he thought I was worthy of more. He was with me and Alex one night when I was driving and got into a car accident. Thankfully we were all okay, but the car was nearly totaled, and I was in tears. As my parents dropped Bo off at his house, my mother watched him put his hand on my leg, briefly squeezing it in a gesture of solidarity or hope or friendship or…something, and I think in that moment I fell a little bit in love with him.

I had increasingly become aware I was in a cage and I had no idea how to get free.

This high school crush was more or less detailed in my diary. It was, after all, my diary, and I was, after all, a teenager. It was my safe place. The place where I could be honest. The place where I could think, because Alex was always in my head, banging around and screwing me up. Alex, had, of course, read every word. Alex had destroyed my only safe place.

I no longer recall the details of our fight. I imagine it went much like the others, with tears streaming down my face, while telling him I didn’t really like Bo, not like that, him telling me that I had broken his heart with, you know, feelings. Feelings that were completely justified for a teenaged girl who was in an awful relationship with a manipulative asshole. All I know was in the end, he forced me to burn the diary. I watched my words burn into ash in the fireplace, and I’m sure I wondered where it would all end.

*

Alex didn’t want me to live in the dorms. As spring turned to summer and graduation was behind us, we fought almost constantly about it. My life had become a tedious routine — fight with Alex, try to placate him, try to simply get away from him, and then wait for the calm before the storm of the next big blow up. There were plenty of times when he refused to get out of my car, or to stop calling me over and over again. Once I took my phone off the hook — I had my own line, as this was way before cell phones — and he called my parents’ line instead in the middle of the night. I was so angry, hurt and confused. The sweet boy who desperately wanted a date with the pretty junior girl in his newspaper class had utterly disappeared. In his place was a jealous, manipulative and desperately unhappy person who thought the entire world owed him something because he’d been dealt a shitty hand. And for some reason, instead of being let off the hook because I was his girlfriend, I was even more responsible because I didn’t cater to his every need, or do exactly as he told me. Like daring to go live in the dorms. I wasn’t even leaving town to go to school. I would be just a 30 minute drive away, but he was terrified of letting me go.

He knew I would most likely not come back.

Somehow I found the strength to move into the dorms, despite his vehement protests. I want to cry for that girl. I want to reach out and hug her, hold her tight, whisper in her ear that everything really is going to be all right. I was a wreck — instead of looking forward to leaving home and starting a new adventure as an adult, the next chapter of my life — I was terrified. I was already lonely. My parents helped me move in, a flurry of activity, and then they were gone, and my tears started. I had no idea how to move forward with my life.

One night my mother came to the dorm to eat with me. I hadn’t made any friends. I knew a couple of girls from high school, but they were rooming together in the other wing of the dorm and didn’t really have time or space for me to intrude in their twosome. I was so messed up from the lies and the manipulation of my high school sweetheart that I had no idea how to move forward with my life. I had no idea I had value as a woman or a person.

We limped along until my sophomore year. There were several break-ups, several we’re-back-togethers — when I could see the disappointment in everyone’s eyes — people like my mother or my brother Dean or my high school friends. I know I wasn’t blameless, but I struggle to figure out what my mistakes were besides being, quite frankly, an emotional mess. That alcoholic absentee father had affected me more than I thought, despite my mother’s excellent parenting. She gave me all the love she had and more. She sacrificed everything to make a cozy, loving, comfortable home for me. But I was completely broken. I craved love from a man, and I believed somewhere deep down in my gut that I didn’t deserve it. When Alex told me things like, “No one will love you like I do” and that he was the only person who thought I was beautiful, I believed him. He fed me those lies for three years. I was damaged — and I honestly didn’t know — and he just kept chipping away.

My mistake was being too weak to walk away and not look back.

I suppose it finally ended because Alex put a stop to it. That was the only way it could happen. Again, it was so long ago now that I can’t recall the details, but I do know he moved on to someone else. By that time, I had more or less moved on too. We were hanging on by a thread, doing that thing couples do when they know they should be done with each other, but try to be friends, or date each other while dating new people, or whatever bullshit story helps them put one foot in front of the other and get through the day. There’s something comfortable about being in a relationship with someone you know as well or better than your own self. The flip side of that is being terrified to put it all out there and meet a stranger.

I was visiting my friend Lily in Dallas. She had moved there with her boyfriend Jeremy after high school. Lily and Jeremy had a roommate, Travis. By Saturday night I was lying in his bed, making out with him, and he fingered the ring I wore on a chain around my neck.

“What’s this?” he asked quietly.

It was a promise ring from Alex, an awful yellow gold thing with diamond chips. I wore it for a while, then wore it on a chain because we were in that no-man’s land of dating, friendship, whatever. “Nothing,” I answered uncomfortably, and tried to distract him with a kiss.

Travis wasn’t having it, though. He pushed away and looked me in the eye — “Do you have a boyfriend in Austin?”

I rolled over onto my back and sighed. “Not exactly. He’s my ex from high school. We still talk, sometimes. You know how it is.”

Travis smiled. Honestly, Travis wasn’t much better than Alex in many departments — he didn’t have a car, he smoked too much — both cigarettes and pot — and he wasn’t in school. Much like Alex, he seemed to be drifting aimlessly through life. But Travis had a wonderful smile, and he smiled at me like I hung the moon. “No, how is it?”

I laughed. “It’s a mess. I’m sorry. I should take it off.”

Travis put his arms around me, pulled me close. “You should. Because I want you to be my girl.”

My Alex chapter ended with Travis. I thought I would love Alex forever. But along the way, I found out that wasn’t true.