Catching Up With Friends

Considering that I used to see this particular friend on a daily basis, it’d been quite a while since we got the chance to hang out. She was a “traveling kid,” meaning that she hopped trains and hitchhiked her way up, down, and across the country. She also happens to be around my age, intelligent, and particularly attractive, so of course, our closeness was suspect to my girlfriend at the time.

She and I were standing in the kitchen, beers in hand, and I was ritualistically chiding her for wasting her biology degree from UC Berkeley when Girlfriend said, “I’m going out for a smoke if you want one.” It was less of an invitation, and more of a demand.

She puffed impatiently at the cigarette while she told me that she didn’t like how close we were standing. “I feel like you two are doing your own little thing and I’m not allowed in the conversation at all!”

She was right – we were blocking her out for the sake of expedience. When you’re friends with someone for years and you see each other every day, you develop a kind of conversational shorthand that can be exclusive. That, and Girlfriend’s attitude wasn’t exactly making either of us thrilled about having her jump in.

At some point while we were outside, my friend got a call from a fellow traveling kid, informing her that their mutual acquaintance had died. I can’t recall from what exactly – the traveling lifestyle is wrought with dangerous activities like jumping onto fast-moving metal death boxes, riding those death boxes through harsh climates, catching rides with total strangers, and frequent meth and heroin use.

I’m not sure how close they were, either, but my friend was clearly rocked by the news. I did my best to console her, but my expressions of loving sympathy were too much for Girlfriend to handle. She went off the rails (pun intended), and started screaming at my friend. “Don’t think you can just come in here and take MY! BOYFRIEND! with me sitting right fucking here!”

My friend choked back tears and tried to explain that she wanted none of this sweet, sweet lovin’, but there was no getting through the wall of rage and jealousy Girlfriend had quietly been erecting the whole night. All she saw was red.

Finally my friend had had enough of being screamed at while simultaneously mourning the loss of her companion, and she ran out my front door, face in her hands. Girlfriend started after her, and in an attempt to stop the situation from continuing its downward spiral, I grabbed her in a bear hug. She flailed for a second, then reached around and grabbed the underside of my bicep and pinched as hard as she could until I let go. Then she ran out the door after her grieving target.

I took a breath, assessing how much I cared about continuing my involvement. I stared at the recently-slammed door thinking, “If I just lock it…” I sighed, in part because I was out of breath from the struggle, and in part because I knew I had to do something; I needed to help my friend at a minimum. I ran out the door, and found my friend sitting on the grass around the corner, still crying, with my girlfriend knife-handing and yelling in her face.

“Go back inside!” I yelled. I’m not sure why I thought that would work, but it did. She ran back to the apartment. I got about three sentences into trying to make my friend feel better when Girlfriend rounded the corner, steaming back in our direction. There was murder in her eyes, so I apologized to my friend then ran to intercept her.

We went back to the apartment to consume vastly more alcohol, and puff away at countless more cigarettes. My friend took the opportunity to find respite elsewhere, Girlfriend took the opportunity to continue belittling me as best she could for being a philanderer, and I took the opportunity to daydream alternatively about being single and being dead on a train track in the middle of nowhere – both sounded pretty awesome in that moment.

I eventually chose the former, but not before proving Girlfriend right. “If I’m constantly being accused of cheating no matter what I do, then I might as well be enjoying the thing I’m in trouble for,” I thought. Or I could have been an adult and just broken it off, but that’s just not my MO.

A Not-So-Brief Review of A Not-So-Brief Engagement – Part IV

We were on the Coast Starlight Train heading north after my mother’s wedding, just past sunset and San Francisco. The conversation turned to our status as relationship partners, as it often does after a wedding. She told me that she had fallen in love her 54 year old writing partner. “Honestly, I haven’t exactly been present lately and you’ve been working closely on an emotionally intense project. I’m obviously upset, but so long as you haven’t acted on it or communicated that to him, I think it’s something we can work on.”

We agreed that we were both at fault and she assured me that she had come to me first, but I hadn’t exactly cooled off by the time the train came to a halt in Sacramento. It was about 1am, there weren’t any cabs and Uber didn’t exist, so we were walking home. It’s tough to communicate your anger in your stride when you’ve got large rolling bags trailing behind you.

When we got home, I was putting things away, and she was typing frantically on her laptop in the next room. That wasn’t exactly out of character given that she was a poet, but this seemed different. I asked her what she was writing, and she said “nothing,” which was definitely out of character. I asked to see her computer – nothing in the sent folder, but there’s a Trash folder in just about every email ever in case you weren’t aware. She was unaware.

“I told Sean that I loved you tonight.” I don’t remember what the rest of it said, but I’m pretty sure that’s not something you say unless you’ve talked about it previously.

“Get out of my home.” I felt confident that the proportion of the bills I was paying allowed me that sentence, so I went for it. She packed a couple bags for immediate use, and I did my best not to talk to her. It was late, and I caved in the face of her crying, and said it would be fine if she stayed there for the night, but the next morning she had to leave.

She did, and that was the end of our engagement and that three-year chapter of our young lives. I waffled on my conviction to end it, but her choice to move in with the subject of her infatuation made it easy to maintain a hard line on both sides. With the gift of hindsight, it was the right choice for a litany of reasons, but when you’re young and in love, it’s nearly impossible to see straight.

I made similar mistakes in the name of love since, and I’ll likely make them again in the future. I drink in spite of the hangover, and I fall in love knowing that it’ll come to a crushing end eventually. I’m a strong proponent of jumping off the cliff and figuring it out on the way down – the rush is worth it.