The First Date, or St. Valentine’s Day (17 of 90)

That first kiss.

It’s so full of possibility. Excitement. Joy. Nervous-ness. Angst.

No matter how old you are. No matter how comfortable you are. That first kiss is the most humbling moment because you are raw, exposed and alone (well, not exactly alone but alone enough in your mind). You are at the mercy of this other being.

Do you like me?

***

Many years ago, a different lifetime really, a woman I had once loved looked me in the eyes, full of indifferent rage, and said: I hope someday someone makes you feel the way you made me feel.

She then followed that up by throwing me out of her apartment, ending a four-year relationship, so you can imagine she wasn’t wishing happiness and prosperity upon me.

The story that got us to the Bronx doorstep is long and involved, one worth of a book (Objects in Reality, coming to a Word document near you in a decade or so). For years, I laughed off her gypsy curse in the way that we do with uncomfortable words people hurl at us that strike to the heart of the matter.

I was not a very good boyfriend to her. Not in the end. There were certainly moments of amazing-ness between us. Love that filled us, propelled us through the dark times of early adulthood when the world is confusing and overwhelming. When it counted, though, the time you are tested, I failed. Miserably. Epically.

I broke the one thing that you don’t break: trust.

From there, everything fell apart. The cascading effects of the relationship failing, the darkness that came because of that and the resulting aftermath are mine to have.

I don’t think of her to beat myself up. We did, in a brief time of civility just a year later, have a long conversation about our life together. We found closure. We wished each other well.

Still, there were those well-deserved words.

***

The problem with constructing walls, I’ve found, isn’t that they keep people out. It’s that they keep people in. Makes them prisoners of their own emotions.

I was talking with a friend last night, recounting a date with an amazing woman, when talk turned to that one person in your life who simply consumes you. We’ve all had that person, the one so utterly wrong yet some inexplicably attractive. The screaming vortex you simply can’t extract yourself from.

As my friend and I chatted, I began to re-count my life with The Muse, a story that I think has finally run its course. Maybe 18 years too late.

Because my walls kept me from ever letting her go. At least in any judicious time. Our relationship was built on faulty foundations, the ones that broke the trust from the Bronx tale. My insecurities, my crippling need to be taken care of, my walls kept those who stumbled into the castle trapped.

I always gave just enough to keep her around. Never enough to fully commit.

As I recount the relationships I had through my years of drinking, it’s not an unfamiliar pattern.

***

“I wouldn’t change anything because those are the things that made me who I am.”

I don’t understand that sentiment. Maybe because my alcoholism created so much unintentional damage across the landscape that the idea that it’s somehow okay that my actions, while detrimental to so many others, are now forgiven because I’ve finally emerged from that life.

I am thankful every day that I’ve had the chance to see and begin to repair (not fix. Never fix.) that life. That I have an appreciation for love and happiness and joy and peace.

I would happily give that all away if I could erase the mistakes of my past that smashed into people around me, that trapped them in the walls of my self-doubt.

***

It’s Valentine’s Day, though, and this isn’t – not to go all Mark McGuire on your – a blog about the past. It’s about the future.

Because the human body, the human spirit, is amazingly resilient. Quit smoking and within years your body recovers to it’s near-original state. The damage I created so long ago has been paved over, replaced by new damages. The Muse and I have started our separate roads to recovery from each other.

Life goes on. Lessons resonate with us.

As I spent the evening chatting with my date, laughing and falling into an easy conversation, she told me that I was lighter than she remembered. A different person than she’d met.

It’s true, I confessed. I am not entirely sure who this person walking around in my body is, but I know who he isn’t. I told her of this past year’s dating missteps, of my decision not to date, of my commitment to the Year of Change. We spent the evening playfully finding ways to touch arms, or shoulders, or knees. We giggled. We told outrageous stories about ourselves. We talked about passion. And life. And mistakes. And possibilities.

We were honest, sometimes to an uncomfortable fault. And then we moved ahead anyway.

When it was time for me to head back home, she followed me to my car. Both of us, shuffling feet. Shy-ly. In the adult way we do to avoid that long, silent pause. The moment of truth. The time when you face the judge.

Do you like me?

But that moment comes. Because we want it to. We all want those long, silent, heart-breaking pauses. The moment just before that first kiss. When everything is in front of you. Your heart leaps, your mind races.

“Maybe,” I said, “I’ll have to re-think that not dating thing.”

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This newsletter is the outgrowth of The Downtown Writers Jam podcast. What that means is I will collect information about the authors I interview, book happenings around the Web, and other literary events that I find interesting. Without you, I'm just a crazy guy sitting in his office furiously screaming on the page for no reason.
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