“She’s gonna be there, bro.” James dropped a bomb on me as he adjusted his zebra leotard and fondled his tail.
We were in San Francisco prepping for a day filled with substance abuse and general city shenanigans, marching the streets in obnoxious outfits with like-minded maniacs. Sure to be some weiners freely floppin' around; hopefully a nice rack or two as well.
It was Bay to Breakers.
“And she’s bringing her new boyfriend.” I wanted to smack those ridiculous whiskers right off his stupid face. I tried to play it cool, but James knew I was upset.
You see, she and I were together for almost six years. We fell in love hard and fast. It was love at first sight – on a stripper pole in my classy fraternity house at San Diego State University (not entirely untrue). I was the social chair, and she was the president of the sorority next door.
Our love was madness, but damn was it magic. The ‘honeymoon phase’ was pure bliss and seemed endless. We lived in the South of France one fall. We adopted a child together, a blue nose pitbull named Biggie James Smalls (middle name after his Godfather – the zebraman up yonder). Her family was my family. We had a good thing going. Marriage and a baby carriage – three to be exact – were givens.
She was my best friend.
But things changed like they always do. She was 20, and I was 19 when we started dating. Kids. Then we became young adults trying (unsuccessfully) to 'find ourselves'. Her job sucked the life out of her. Mine was ok, but I certainly wasn’t fulfilled or passionate about it by any means. We would get home, eat dinner, watch TV, maybe some sexy time, more likely bed. Work. Eat. TV. Sleep. Repeat.
Neither of us were happy.
“Dude, you’re so much better off without her. You were miserable. You guys were not good together. Too different.” James said the same thing I had heard a million times.
Sure, we were different in a lot of ways, but everyone is. That wasn’t the real problem. I thought being a generally good person was the same as being a good partner – it’s not.
“I know, I know,” I said to James as we hopped in an Uber en route to a buddy’s to begin the day’s festivities. “You just don’t understand. No one does.”
The First Act: The Beginning of the End
In May of 2013, she left San Diego for San Francisco. She needed a change. We both did. She wanted me to move up there too when my lease ended in a couple months. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew getting another desk job and struggling to get by in one of the most expensive cities in the world was not the answer. We were stagnant – both as a couple and on a personal level. You can’t fill someone else’s tank if yours is on empty. I needed to fly solo for a little while, or I would resent her the rest of my life.
So naturally I told her that, right?
Nope. I was a coward. I strung her along, because I was afraid of hurting her – or worse – losing her for good.
This was the beginning of the end. After a month of long distance and me acting like a jackass, partying like a 21 year-old in Pacific Beach, she finally got the balls to break up with me. Just what I was subconsciously hoping for (or more consciously to be fair). But that wasn’t the end…is it ever?
The Second Act: A Broken Family
By the end of that summer, I negotiated a temporary remote working situation, sold whatever wouldn’t fit in my car, and began a road trip to Ohio to stay with my mom for a few months while I figured out my next move. My first stop would be San Francisco to see her.
When she and Biggie were reunited, I was so overcome with joy. I’ve never seen homeboy’s tail shake with such veracity. She was so happy to see her boys. We had lunch, and she gave me a letter that I still have but haven’t been able to read since. She’s always had such a way with words.
“Remember my heart in this moment,” she said in the letter. “I will always love you like this, no matter what.” Reading that sentence gives me the chills. My insides moan with melancholy.
This was the last time the little family we had built would be together. I got undisputed full custody of the Big Guy…
The Third Act: Tears in Hell
That November, I visited her in San Francisco for a few days. What a mess – a bipolar shit show to be sure. She pleaded with me to be with her, but I was still lost, living with my mom in Ohio and no clue what I was doing with my life. I was going to disappoint her like usual if I committed to her right then. When I left this time, she said something I’ll never forget.
“You can’t gamble with love, Jordan. I won’t be here forever. You’re losing me, and you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life.”
She knew it was over. I wasn’t convinced.
“Just a little while longer,” I thought to myself. “I’m on the cusp of my path to greatness. She loves you infinitely and unconditionally. She’s not going anywhere.” A classic low risk, high reward gamble.
“You can’t gamble with love,” she said.
“But I’m a pimp, and I’m a gambler,” he replied.
He grew up.
She grew tired.
He lived a happy life.
She lived happily ever after.
About a month later, we had our last fight over the phone, which had become our default setting by this point. It was about a week before Christmas. I had just sent in a video application for my dream job, and I was doing a road trip from Ohio back to California with my brother, a good friend, and her and I’s lovechild – Biggie James Smalls.
Things were starting to look up (at least in my world).
The Fourth Act: A Christmas Story
It’s Christmas day, and I had just gotten to Orange County the night before. I’m hanging at my buddy’s house, trying to distract myself from where I should be – what I knew she was dreaming of that day…
We had spent every Christmas together since we started dating. I would fly up to her parents in Sacramento on Christmas morning, and we would spend a few amazing days with her incredible family – my family. She was conjuring up images of her knight in shining armor showing up at the doorstep. Fantasizing about opening the door to Biggie with a ring attached to his back – the ultimate romantic gesture that would make up for a lifetime of transgressions.
“Not yet,” I thought. “Just see how things play out for the next month or so. She’ll still be there. She always is.”
Not only did I not show up to her house, but I didn’t even call her. Words just weren’t enough anymore. It was time for action. But once again, I was a coward. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything (not a good strategy). In the famous words of the legendary band, Rush, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Instead, I sent her a weak-ass text to which she responded with an equally as weak response.
I picture her crying in her dad’s arms as that Christmas came to an end. It breaks my fuckin heart thinking about it.
The Fifth Act: Valen-versary
One month later (end of January 2014), I got offered the dream job working remotely, and I was ecstatic. I was on the path!
“Here we go,” I thought. “Time to get my girl back.”
Valentine’s Day was right around the corner. This would have been our six year anniversary. We used to call it our Valenversary – perfect timing.
As February 14 got closer, I contemplated what I would do. I imagined how elated she would be when I showed up with Biggie. How she would burst into tears of joy when I told her I wanted to marry her and spend the rest of my life with her. I was SO stoked. This is what she had always wanted, and I was finally on the same page. The thought of forever with her no longer scared me; it excited me more than anything ever had.
I was driving from San Diego to San Francisco to surprise her, belting out all our songs, tears streaming down my face like a goddamn lunatic with Biggie in the passenger seat next to me. I can only imagine what my main man was thinking…
“You ok, bruh? I think my dad’s gone crazy...”
Probably something like that.
I was a couple hours out when it occurred to me – what if she’s going on a date with someone? It was Valentine’s Day, and she’s a catch to say the least. Chances are good someone snagged her for the night. I hit up a couple of her friends, and it turns out she had a date. Shit. This was going to be a little trickier than I had anticipated.
“That’s ok,” I thought. “She’s mine. This guy’s just a filler.”
So I laid out my intentions in a text and told her I would be there soon to sweep her off her feet. Naturally, I expected her to drop the zero and await her hero. Her response rocked my world…
“Jordan, don’t come here.”
That was it. #FML. This can’t be right. We exchanged a few more texts, but this is all I remember:
“I told you this would happen,” she said. “You gambled, and you lost. Be better to the next one.”
I diverted route to my brother’s house in Santa Cruz, but I wasn’t giving up that easily. I was going to fight for her.
The Sixth Act: One Last Stand
I spent that night and the next day writing her a letter. I poured my heart out in this bad boy. After I all but perfected it on my laptop, I wrote it out by hand, drove to her work, and put it on the windshield of her car. At the end of the note, I told her that I would be at the Starbucks down the street.
I waited (not so) patiently…distracting myself with work for a while…waited some more…called my dad to update him on the status of my real-life romance tale as it was unfolding…more waiting.
I took Biggie on a walk and remembered the day we adopted him. She was instantly a mom. She was afraid he would catch something if we let him walk outside, so we carried him everywhere for weeks. She loved him so much. He was our first of a lifetime of dogs.
I waited until the sun started going down.
I got another coffee. I thought about all the delicious coffee we shared during the three months we spent traveling around Europe together. Kissing in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome while we got haggled for fake flowers and unoriginal origami birds.
I waited until it got dark.
I played The Fray on repeat – the anthem of our relationship and the album we listened to all night on our first Valenversary as we emphatically expressed our undying, unconditional love for one another.
It was almost 8pm. She wasn’t coming.
“Maybe she’s working late,” I thought to myself.
Her stupid job often kept her in the office long after a standard workday. So I drove back to her office, hoping to see her car still there, but knowing it wouldn’t be.
I was heartbroken. How could she just leave me high and dry like that? I wasn’t giving up that easily though. I wrote a letter to her parents, and the next day I got a text from her pops…
“Leave my family alone. You’re a fucking punk. You understand?”
Ouch is an understatement. This guy was like family to me. But at the end of the day, she is his first-born daughter. He trusted her heart in my care, and I broke his trust. Needless to say, I was out of the family circle of trust. No one in that family had faith in me at this point.
“I know you mean well, but please respect that I have moved on, and leave this alone,” she texted me that same night.
Timing was never our thing…
Intermission: Party and Bullshit
A year and a half went by with minimal communication. She texted me to share that she finally quit her job. I always told her to ditch that shithole – the source of so much unhappiness. I was so proud of her. She wished me happy birthday. I texted her a few times thereafter…her birthday…when I was overwhelmed and didn’t know who else to turn to…Christmas…engulfed in loneliness…longing for my babe. Sometimes she responded, most of the time she didn’t.
So I did the only thing I know to do when I’m depressed – distract myself. At this point, Biggie and I had been living out of my car for two months; it would end up being ten more. We were #LostBoys chasing waterfalls, or something like that. Lots of sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Mostly joking, kinda serious. But those life lessons from my transient days are reserved for a different story. Back to the drama...
The Seventh Act: Ciao Italia – #LoveinLecce
Fast forward to July of 2015. I rear end someone on the freeway and my flight is delayed four hours. Not the best start, but fuck it. I’m stoked. Twenty of the most beautiful human beings I know gallivanting around Italy, celebrating the communion of a glorious couple? Yes, please. Oh, and I’m also going to see her for the first time in 20 months, but who’s counting…
Our group spent the first couple days in Rome. So many stories from that 48-hour period. A handful of us, including the bride and groom, went to a gay rave at 4am. Said rave may or may not have been called Gay Village Farm. Oh the places we go…
Then we spent a magical week in the beautiful coastal city of Toro del Orso. Naturally, our overzealous group wreaked havoc on this beach resort. We drank wine and ate pasta like it was going out of style…had drunken sing-alongs...engaged in gratitude circles on the beach…James got fleas from intimately rolling around with a stray dog…I did a naked backflip off a cliff. Too many stories to tell, but you get the picture. It was one of the most special experiences of my life.
Then my worst nightmare came true. It had been creeping around my subconscious for months, but I refused to believe it would come to fruition.
“Hey man, come kick it with me for a second,” James summoned me from across the dinner table. He tried to act casual, but I knew something was up. We engaged in some small talk, then he finally got to the point.
“Look bro, there’s no easy way to say this, so here it is…she got engaged today. I’m so sorry man.”
Time stopped. My heart plummeted. Short of breath…vision blurred…sounds distorted. Unparalleled anxiety set in. I had a fleeting panic attack. I took a few seconds to catch my breath. I’ve never felt that way in my life.
“You wanna go for a walk?” James asked me. I nodded, fighting back the tears.
James did his best to make me feel better, but nothing could numb the pain. Nothing except excessive amounts of alcohol, that is. So naturally I proceeded to drink myself into oblivion. What else do you do when you find out the love of your life is marrying someone else? During my drunken stupor I jotted down a bunch of mostly incoherent notes in my phone, complete with strange, over-the-top alliterations, senseless imagery, and questionable-at-best metaphors. Amidst the absurdity, I latched on to a mantra.
This is my path and that’s ok.
How stoic, right? I had just read The Obstable is the Way, so I had on my lens of optimism for obstacles – or in this case a cosmic catastrophe. But let’s be real, I was wrecked. Nevertheless, the soldier marches on…
“It’s not over yet,” I thought to myself. “Nothing’s permanent. She’s only been dating this guy for a year, and they’re on vacation in Europe. She had to say yes. Boyfriend pulled a power move. He knew he was going into the lion’s den with her former man and all of his friends.”
Child’s play. Game on, brosef.
Now, I must tell you that I started playing guitar a few months earlier. It had been on my Yearning for Learning list for years. My sweet, saint of a grandmother gave me her old 6-string box, and I finally made the commitment.
She has such a beautiful voice - a truly gifted artist with the voice of one of the raspy angels. And she LOVED when I sang. But I was always too much of a self-conscious chicken shit to sing in front of her. We had always talked about doing a duet, but like many worthwhile things we talked about doing as a couple, I never took the initiative to make it happen. While I sometimes humbly rejoice in where I am, I can’t help but cringe at where I was.
During my fourth or fifth guitar lesson, we started learning the chords to some song my instructor referred to as a ‘lady killer’. I hadn’t heard of the song, and he never actually played it, so I just blindly learned the basic chords without knowing or really caring what the song was. I finally downloaded it one day, and it clicked – this is the song I had to sing at the wedding to win her back. And I was able to get some practice in with the wedding party leading up to the big day...
The Final Act: Italian Wedding
It’s the day of the wedding, and with the communion was coming the imminent reunion. While checking into the hotel, I saw an old friend at the hotel bar, so I went over to greet her, and there they were having lunch ten feet away – Her and the fiancé. I panicked for a hot second, but kept my composure and walked up to introduced myself.
I shook hands with the fiancé and hugged her. I was with this person for over five years, hadn’t seen her in almost two, and we HUGGED. This was a climactic moment, and it was…weird. That’s the only way I can describe it. The interaction was normal by all accounts. Courteous, casual, no awkwardness – as standard as small talk gets you could say. We shared a laugh at the expense of the shitty club sandwich. That was the highlight.
The exchange only lasted a minute or two, but that collection of spider web connections called the subconscious had lived a lifetime...
- She looks like…her. My babe. I think she’s happy. But is she really happy? I can make her happier than ANYONE can.
- Shittttt, this guy? I pictured a tall, jacked, monster dick-swingin super dude.
- This has gone on way too long. I belong with you. You belong with me. You’re MY sweetheart (one of our favorite songs).
My mind was racing with ridiculous judgments. My ego attempted to make me feel better by putting her fiancé down, despite not knowing a thing about the guy. Future scenarios flooded my psyche. Regrets about the past came pouring in. But all that being said, I felt ok - much better than I anticipated. I had a cool confidence for some reason, like I can and would win her back.
James gave the best man speech, and what an unbelievable speech it was. He told stories, said several tastefully inappropriate remarks, but most notably, he reminisced on the legacy of the bride and groom – a legacy she and I had been intimately involved in. I could see her in my peripheral, sobbing and burning a hole through my temple. Finally, I looked over. We locked eyes from across the room and at that moment, I knew it wasn't over. It never was and never would be. She still loved me. We smiled at each other. I winked at her.
She kept staring at me like she was waiting for me to do something, anything. A call to action once again. “Her fiancé is sitting right next to her,” I said to myself. “I can’t keep looking back at her…fuck it. After dinner, I’m going to go talk to her and have a real conversation. The one we’re meant to have.”
After dinner, I walked up to her fiancé, “You got the best one of the best ones, my friend. You’re a lucky man. I wish you both a lifetime of love and happiness. Do you mind if I steal your fiancé for a few minutes? It’s been a while, and I’d like to catch up with an old friend.”
He looked at her, “It’s up to you babe.” (I instinctively winced – that’s MY babe!).
She looked at me, then him, smiled and said, “I won’t be gone long.”
We found a dimly lit corner in the castle (yes, the reception was at a freakin castle) and proceeded to ‘catch up’…
Within seconds we were back there - in that wonderful, harmonious place. It's like we never skipped a beat. We talked for almost an hour about anything and everything. I had my best friend back. Butterflies, warm and fuzzies, boners and everything in between (yep, boner - I was cock solid). We were in love all over again. After what felt like forever and only a moment at the same time, she finally said she better get back to her fiancé. We embraced with palpable passion, she kissed me on the cheek, and for the first time in two years, I felt some semblance of peace. We may not spend the rest of our lives together like I had hoped, but we would always have this moment in Italy.
But I wasn’t done just yet…
The Climax: Thinking Out Loud
It was time to throw on the dancin shoes, and cut a mutha luvin rug. More importantly, the ole pipes were primed for pluckin some heart strings. I told the bride I wanted to perform the song of the trip (as it had become) during the DJ set. She looked me in eyes and grinned. She knew what was up. And she was down, ya dig?
Here. We. Go.
I tried not to gaze into her eyes the WHOLE time I sang (to her) out of respect for her the fiancé, but it was obvious what was going on. We were having a musical, mystical love affair. Everyone could feel it. She cried, like always (I love how much she feels). I managed to keep my composure.
Around 4am, everyone said their goodbyes. I hugged her and whispered in her ear, “I loved you then. I love you now. And I’ll love you always.”
She started sobbing again. I walked away knowing I had done what I set out to do. I told her how I felt. And I showed her how her love had changed me. Regardless of the outcome, she sparked a process in me that would be never-ending.
Encore: And Den?
Two weeks later, she called me. I was a little shocked. I really didn’t think I would hear from her again – ever. We engaged in some small talk for a few minutes before the conversation came to a long silence.
“I called off the engagement,” she said finally.
She confessed that she was still in love with me and couldn't go through with the wedding. It wouldn't be fair to him. She wanted to be with me. I finally won her back! I started bawling and so did she. I would never be more happy in my life. We were going to live happily ever after. Fairytale style n'shit. Fuck yeah.
And we did just that. We had two boys and one girl, just like we had always talked about. As Biggie grew older, we got him a brother – a French Bulldog duly named Tupac James Shakur. We had many more dogs throughout our lives. We so loved our furry friends.
Sure, we had problems, but our love trumped all. The two years we spent apart was the cure. We grew old with each other, and it was a damn beautiful thing.
The Notebook ain’t got shit on our love story.
An Alternate Ending: C’est la vie
As you might have guessed, this is not how things went down. This is what might have been. Maybe not. More likely not. But I’ll never know. I’ll always wonder – what if?
No more what ifs
No more pounding heart
No more sleepless nights
No more wondering what might have been
No more playing it safe, fuck being 'smart'
No more apprehensiveness
No more thinking you shouldn't because
No more regrets
No more excuses
No more being a pussy
No more fear
More existential audacity
More 'this is my life'
More daring moves
More fear of the unknown
And doing it anyway
More going after what you want
Here’s what really happened, starting with the turning point…
James is giving the best man speech. She's gazing at me, red-faced, teary-eyed, waiting for my move. “Her fiancé is sitting right next to her,” I said to myself. “I can’t keep looking back at her.” And so the excuses began.
For the next several hours, I tormented myself. I was paralyzed by fear. I wanted to say and do so many things. I had to do something. Finally, I walked up to the fiancé when they were apart and said what I had planned to say to both of them.
“You got the best one of the best ones, my friend. You’re a lucky man. I wish you guys the best. I hope you’re having a good time tonight. Please don’t feel uncomfortable.”
“Thanks,” he said. “That means a lot. I really appreciate it.” Damned if he wasn’t a nice guy.
And this is where the story ends. All the scenarios I played out in my head for months – all that night – I acted on none of them. I did nothing pressing on my heart. I played it safe (and sorry). I was afraid of what the outcome might be. Concerned about making a spectacle on the bride and groom’s special night. Worried about how the fiancé might react. Scared of making her uncomfortable. TERRIFIED of rejection.
You come up with a million excuses for why you shouldn't do something, but you know why you should is far more important, exponentially more powerful. Sometimes you'll regret things you do, but you'll ALWAYS regret what you didn't do. I neglected to follow my own advice:
It’s about the process, not the outcome.
Process is perfect presence. Outcome is the unfounded future.
This was likely the last time I’ll ever see her again. I’ll never know for sure, but I think I let her down for the last time.
I thought there would be more time to express how much I love you.
Time is finite. It’s the most precious commodity, and you don’t get that shit back. Make it count.
Meditations on Fear and Love
“There is no beauty in the world more perfect, more awe-inspiring, more human and transfixing than unfiltered, unashamed love. We are at our finest when we give and live in love, and at our worst when we hoard it, deny it, or choke it out of existence. Love, like nothing else, can make us soar to our highest heights or suffer our deepest lows. In the moments defined by the presence of love, we touch the face of our highest self and of the Divine. To stand emotionally open before the world and give our hearts without fear of hurt, attachment, or demand of reciprocity – this is the ultimate act of human courage, this the ultimate experience of Personal Freedom.”
Brendan Burchard: The Motivation Manifesto
We perpetually act out of fear or love. At the core of every decision, the balance beam is skewed toward one or the other; we just aren’t always conscious of it. When Biggie’s looking all cute and cuddly, I don’t think twice about giving that little bundle of joy a hug and kiss. That shit’s an easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy act of good ole fashion lovin. Asking the love of your life’s fiancé if you can steal her away for a few minutes? That’s that scary kind of love. Performing a song you learned for her in front of everyone at a wedding reception? That’s that TERRIFYING kind of lovin. The fear of rejection is REAL. That takes ultimate humility, vulnerability and courage – all the symptoms of acting out of love when the stakes are high.
Acting from your truest self in difficult situations, for this is the directive of a fulfilled, meaningful life. That is existential courage. Life is continuously changing, and it’s damn stressful, but we must always be courageous in our actions. This is love at it’s finest.
There are three attitudes that together make up existential courage – commitment, control, and challenge. A commitment to being an integral player in your life – the only one you’re guaranteed. A belief that you have control and directly influence the outcome of your life. A pledge to challenge the notions of comfort and security, because you realize growth is a function of bravery.
Everything happens for a reason, right? I typically agree with this philosophy, but I can’t let it be an excuse for inaction, especially as it pertains to this situation. Most people say I did ‘the right thing’. I acted honorably by doing nothing. But only I knew what the right thing was in my heart during those pivotal moments, just like only you know in your own life’s experiences. Would the happy ending have occurred had I taken my desired course of action? Probably not. But that’s not the point. Instead of acting out of love, with existential courage, I let fear take over.
After the wedding night, I had never felt so defeated in my life, so miserably helpless. I could barely eat or sleep, stricken by anxiety and the regret of not acting from love when it counted most. Writing this has been my way of seeking solace – part therapy, part purgatory. While I wish I could change so many things, I can’t.
I hoped for The Notebook ending, but I have to live with The Break-Up. I believe there is more than one person for everyone, but she’s the one I wanted. I’m good at staying busy…distracting myself…compartmentalizing. My conscious mind is pretty well conditioned. But my subconscious is a different story. I dream about her almost every night. Often painful nightmares. Sometimes beautiful alternative endings, where I wake up in tears, desperate to fall asleep and get back there. Most mornings involve some degree of struggle to get out of bed.
“The greatest test of courage is to bear defeat without losing heart.”
Robert Green Ingersoll
In the story of my life to this point, this experience of love and loss is the highlight – the gift and the curse. All I can do is learn from my mistakes and maintain heart in my life. What other choice do we have? The obstacle is the way…
“If you meet with an outcome you did not expect and feel a little disappointed, remember that the laws of nature always ensure that when one door closes, another opens. Once you embrace this, you will stop being a prisoner of your past. Instead, you will become the architect of your future.”
From 'The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari'
Don't get it twisted sistas (and brothas). The past two years have been the most growth-filled and overall awesome to date. Each year, each month, each week, each day, each hour, each minute, every SECOND, is an absolute blessing. I'm happier than I've ever been, and this is a direct result of consistently living outside the confines of my comfort zone, which started with quitting my passionless job, selling all my possessions, and living out of my car for a year – an education from the metaphorical school of the hard knocks. It all comes back to fear and love. When you feel fear, that’s a good thing. It nature’s way of telling you something is important. How you act when facing those fears is the key. I was terrified to quit my job to drive across the country with Biggie and no plan, but I said ‘fuck it’ and damned if it wasn’t the best decision I’ve made yet in this life. I was terrified to talk to her at the wedding – and I let fear win.
This is my path and that’s ok.
There is always triumph in tragedy. Never forget that. It's all about perspective.
What scares YOU? Now, step up like a pimp and smack that fear-fettered ho in the face with some tough love!
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