Thursday, February 5, 2009

Heart like a wheel...

Well, it is clear that this Facebook thing has re-aquainted me with some friends from my past, which has caused me to be haunted many times in recent weeks by the Ghosts of Boyfriends Past. They smell suspiciously like cheap beer. They come visiting, not spooky and threatening, but alternately vivid and hazy, smile- and groan-inducing. They were activists, artists, potheads, whack jobs, geniuses, and nurturers. Somewhere along the line things fizzled out, someone stopped returning calls, there was a heated argument with no apology or one of us did something (drank excessively, read the other's journal, had mean-spirited, jealous friends) that proved unacceptable and so we parted ways, with barely a whimper sometimes or, other times, with so much emotion the whole sky seemed painted an angry red.

My gallery of college ex-boyfriends (the descriptor boyfriend used only in the loosest way at times) was a diverse assortment, like a box of chocolates (I don't know if it's possible to read this without hearing that idiotic Forrest Gump drawl, so my apologies), but unlike a box of chocolates, there was no key anywhere as to what I was getting except for a few hunches. You know how you can pick up a chocolate from a sampler box and be certain that it is a caramel because it looks like one and feels like one but you bite into it and you're all disappointed because it was actually nougat masquerading itself as a caramel? Or you avoid that last chocolate because it you are certain it has that icky cherry liquor stuff inside but then you take a tentative bite and it's actually a truffle and you are pleasantly surprised and you are kicking yourself for tasting all those less satisfying ones first? Dating in college, as a (fairly) sheltered suburban girl with limited life experience was a bit like reaching blindly into a chocolate sampler box and hoping for the best. For the most part, I did alright for myself, though there were a few of those squishy cherry liquor ones along the way.

Forgotten vendor dude

Freshman year was pretty much of a wash except for a few tipsy and random make-out sessions. I was way too nervous and scattered to be a-huntin' for a boyfriend. I did have one that summer, though, a guy whose name I forgot long ago, who was a vendor with me at Cubs games. In retrospect, I'm pretty certain that he was insane. He was convinced that someone was spying on him most of the time and he would occasionally blurt out loud threats to invisible (but to him) undercover agents. He had wealthy parents, brown curly hair and long eyelashes, and he smoked. I'm not sure if what he smoked was always tobacco in nature. I'm also not sure how things ended, but I'm fairly certain that it was weird. Everyone has someone from her past that she instantly winces when recollecting, and he is my wince.

Be-mulleted Loverboy

Things picked up considerably my sophomore year. I met BL at a party. Okay, it was a kegger. He had long brown hair and bangs. Okay, it was a mullet. Follicle crimes aside (and, really, pretty much everyone had some version of a mullet in those days, so stop your damn snickering), BL was dreamy.

He had bright blue, sweetly sad eyes, played guitar and told me that I reminded him of a Peruvian woman who danced the samba on his tender heart, so, really, how could I resist? He had the whole wounded rebel thing down pat and I was chomping at the bit to break out of the confines of my very cloistered, boring dorm life. He was my very temporary ticket out.

That fall, we had a wonderfully whirlwind couple of dates. We clutched hands at the café, his other hand on my knee, and we gazed into one another's eyes (yes, we really did that, so fraught were we with emotional intensity) and he protected me against the wind as he showed me his favorite hidden away spot, hazy to me today, off campus. I don't think we talked much, I can't recall a single conversation, but we looked at each other longingly, like actors in a movie, which, in a way, was oddly appropriate. He was a great kisser. Unbeknownst to me, I was in the early stages of pneumonia, so I was thin and pale, all clavicle and wrist bones, the perfect frail counterpoint to his brooding persona. We had a few dates before Thanksgiving, during which time, The English Beat's Melt With You played over and over in my head, but, upon returning from break, BL vanished from my life, leaving nothing but a tattered old sweater behind. I left unreturned messages, I figured out ways to run into him on campus - covertly getting access to his schedule - until it was clear that he was already an apparition in my life. He was cold and distant, his eyes now ice cold blue lakes. I'm not sure what happened there. He was my first college affair, and I think my heart received a tiny fissure with that, but I moved on surprisingly quickly. (The next year, a roommate and friend tearfully informed me that she was dating BL all clandestinely - I'm sure he lived off the fumes of that doomed Romeo and Juliet storyline for days - but he ended up ditching her in a similar fashion. Served her right! And that BL was no good, but it is fairly likely that he contracted pneumonia through me, so na na.)

Brando Boy

Next one out of the gate a few months later was BB, and pretty soon that little dalliance with BL seemed like child's play compared with the hot-and-cold romance I had with BB, who had the Wounded Rebel archetype absolutely perfected. To BL's Lord Byron, he was James Dean with a good dash of Brando. To an idealistic nineteen-year-old, of course, this was a irresistible combination. He was a couple of years older, very good looking, clever, cool, and hopelessly emotionally crippled. Ooh la la! Where do I sign up?

He drove the bus that picked up all the jackasses in my dorm, and every day, we lined up with our passes in their little blue ID cases and he nodded distractedly as he quickly scanned over them. My roommate Dana and I had been on the bus together a few months earlier when he was being trained, and as he walked on with the obese driver who commenced to barking orders at him within seconds, she raised an eyebrow at me and nudged me with her shoulder. He was very cute.

In the spring, I was sitting out on the front steps in front of Neismith Hall enjoying the first warm day and he stopped the bus right in front of me and opened the door. No one was getting on or off. He asked me if I was waiting for the bus and I told him no, I was just enjoying the beautiful day. My heart was racing. He asked me if I knew Olivia De Havilland, the actress who played Melanie in Gone With The Wind. I told him that I did. Gone With The Wind was my mother's favorite movie, though I found it dreadful. He told me that I looked just like her, and I must have scrunched up my face in displeasure - she was the sweet but plain one to Scarlett's volatile knockout - so he smiled and matter-of-factly said, "She was, by far, the most beautiful actress in Hollywood." And with that, the door of the bus shut and he drove off. Wha'?!

The next few months presented a prolonged cat-and-mouse game between us, and as many times as he didn't call or showed up to a party I'd invited him to with a date (!!), we had marathon conversations at Perkins over coffee (which I hated, still do, but I thought made me look mature) and blissful strolls through campus, arm-in-arm after an all-nighter. I never felt more vulnerable, with good reason. We had a very romantic last few days before I had to go home for the summer: we went to see bands, got drunk and silly together, he stared at me constantly. BB paced the hallway compulsively smoking with teary eyes as I packed the last of my bags to go home for the summer, and he held me in the parking lot as my friend Sarah waited for me in her car. Again, Melt With You played through my head and I was in a dreamland the whole drive back to Chicago. It struck me that all the clichés I'd always heard about love were actually true: I felt like I was walking on a cloud.

Well, that cloud must've actually been a helium balloon because BB stuck a needle in it over the summer and I came crashing to the ground. He was distant on the phone, rude, caustic (although he made sure that he was warm other times just to add to the layers of self-delusion). When I came back to school in the fall - my hopes high and clearly unrealistic - he gave me the cold shoulder. The superficial moral of the story: if you're really crazy for a guy, don't go home for break. He pretty much wrapped my heart with explosives and detonated it.

Activist Man

I had been friends with AM for a year or so before we started dating, and by dating I mean he would call me when he was in town. AM was a Native American activist, like a real live associate of Leonard Peltier, and he was all long black hair and intensity: when he came to visit me at my dorm, people overtly gawked at him, their synapses snapping at the sight of an adult male wearing something besides a sweatshirt with a football team emblazoned on it. He wore tie-dyes and Malcolm X t-shirts instead. He traveled for months at a time, following the Dead, crashing with friends in Berkeley, going to the Rainbow Gathering. AM was a great friend and my introduction to counterculture and activism in many ways.

About a year after we met, not long after BB served me my barely-beating heart on a platter ("Here ya go!"), we started fooling around with no strings attached. He would leave town, come back, call me up, and if I wasn't dating anyone at the time, we would fool around again. It was actually very nice to be with someone and without all that drama. He was absolutely not the kind of guy who would make a commitment, and I was happily not seeking one. He would come back into town periodically with pretty, sweet women with dreadlocks, diaphanous dresses and West Coast accents, and they always seemed to have an understanding. I was still very wounded by BB, and AM provided intimacy and connection without any baggage.

True story: I went to the Rainbow Gathering in '90 or so and I was looking for BB there, who went by his Rainbow Family name, Cinnamon. Yes, really. I wasn't sure if he was there or not, but it was something he did go to. I was walking down a path and asking a Rainbow person if she knew of Cinnamon, the tall, Native American from Kansas. She didn't, but suddenly, another women appeared, pushing her way through the shrubbery, and she was all like, "Cinnamon? I know him, dude!" Anyway, she did know him, but, alas, he wasn't there that year.

Average Joe

After the emotional wreckage of my sophomore year, AJ offered me stability, predictability and...sssssnooore. Whoa. Sorry, I must have drifted off there. Anyway, a friend of mine thought we'd make a good match and while I was sort of "meh" about him when we met, he wore down my indifference with a Cub Scout-like determination. He had a mustache that was a little Hitler-esque (strikes one and two - one for the 'stashe to begin with, and two for the look of it), he was in the Army Reserves (strike three), to pay for college (which neutralized the previous strike) and a band (could be a strike or a bonus, depending on a careful analysis of the specific situation and how many people I could get on any given guest list). AJ was a stick in the mud and totally not my type, but we dated for a year, which was - by about eight months - my longest relationship at that point. Again, after BL and BB, I needed someone who didn't set me alight with passion, and, well, AJ was it. Our parting was like our union: desultory and unmemorable.

Strummer Man

After AJ, I dated a little bit of eye candy, a guitar-strumming boy with long blond hair and a persistently dazed expression, more at home on Venice beach than the meadows of the Heartland. There are people you meet in life where you say, "Well, he's not a great communicator but he's very scientific," or "He sort of lacks common sense but he's highly creative." Truly, with SM there was no "but" to offset his apparently fully-rounded, low-wattage brain power. He was one hundred percent stupid. He was also sweet and a little slobbery, and he definitely was impressed by me, sort of like my personal yellow lab puppy. He made sure that I got home safely after I ate too many pot brownies at a party and started hallucinating, so much that when I eventually threw up in the parking lot, I saw myself as a fire-breathing dragon. The night after that escapade, he felt so connected to me, that he sang to me his self-penned little love song, accompanying himself on guitar. I had to pinch myself to keep from bursting out in laughter as it was, undoubtedly, the most inane song I'd ever heard. All I wanted was to laugh with a friend about it, but then I realized that we were dating so it was no longer funny. I broke up with him in the most cold-hearted way I could muster because he wasn't taking any hints, which made me feel sort of evil, but I could not be with someone who could write ridiculous lyrics and sing them without an ounce of irony.

There were others, of course, but these are the ones for this day. The crazy vendor, lover boy, Brando-esque heartbreaker, radical activist, regular guy and sweet-but-stupid dude. Quite a strange assortment, eh?

Shalom, everyone.

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