“The story is always better than your ability to write it.” — Robin McKinley
If you’ve followed my blog at all, you know that I have a deep and meaningful relationship with Mr. Hank Moody (and Charles Bukowski, the writer the show Californication is based upon).
At his highest, Moody is a sharp, witty writer examining the human condition while balancing his on-again/off-again relationship with girlfriend Karen and his casual escapes with other women.
At his lowest, he’s a drunken out-of-control addict unable to keep himself from self-destructing across the lives of everyone he cares about and everyone with whom he comes in contact.
Yet each week, you root for him. Even the other characters on the show root for him, especially the ones he spills across the most. Surely the damages cut a little deeper each time, but somehow you continue to like him.
Because he is unabashedly a Romantic.
He lives his life fully, openly and with the belief that this time – this time – is when everybody will finally get it right, make the right decisions and reach the zenith. Inevitably he falls when that peak is missed.
Until he gets back up.
I can tell you the moment that I fell in love for the first time. (That I can also tell you the time, location and type of drink I had for the first time may be more insightful that I wished it to be.)
It was the August before I entered the seventh grade. My on-again/off-again girlfriend – one who would be my young love for nearly 3 years – had come over to her friend’s house. Her friend happened to be my next-door neighbor. After a bit, the girl took a break from doing whatever almost-seventh-grade girls do and came to my house.
We went for a long walk: down the main street and out of the neighborhood towards the creek bed down the road about 2 miles. Along the way, we nervously bumped into each other, the awkward dance of “I like you, but I don’t want to say it and be rejected” that would play out in so many ways throughout the next 26 years of life. In a fit of awkward terror, we began to poke and push each other. Before long, I had her over my shoulder. And not long after that, we were rolling around on the ground, wrestling.
Which is how my first kiss came about.
Gone in just a few magical seconds was weeks of staying up late into the night, too nervous to sleep and too wired to think. I would pace in my room until the dawn thinking about her, about what would happen if she didn’t like me, about what would happen if I didn’t know how to kiss, about what would happen if she rejected me.
Twenty-six years later, I remember that first kiss. The walk home as we held hands, her head occasionally resting on my shoulder. The sadness I felt when she went back to her friend’s house.
I can tell you the moment that I first irreparably broke the heart of someone who loved me.
It was the summer before my senior year in college, which as it was happened was the Fall semester since we both needed an extra semester to graduate. The woman I’d chased – I mean plotted with her friends for two years – quite accidentally began dating me in our junior year. By the following year, we’d moved to Cincinnati and into our first apartment.
Our relationship was tumultuous and volatile in the way the college relationships can be. We were shattered and insecure, each of us, and not equipped for an adult relationship.
But you know how kids are.
We dove in without looking, which is exactly the kind of thing you’re told not to do when you don’t know how deep the water is.
Infidelity plagued the relationship. And truthfully, I was the cause of much of it. I was in love with the wrong woman. I was in love with The Muse.
Instead of doing the right thing and ending my relationship with the girl, I did the other. For two years. Until naturally and inevitably the truth came out. In our little apartment in Cincinnati. Just before Christmas.
When she asked the question, a question she knew the answer to. The one she said she just wanted the truth to. When she asked it, I answered.
Something in her eyes died at that moment, which isn’t an action I can describe. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know the heartbreaking emptiness that befalls the eyes when that happens. She went to talk, but nothing came out as I tried to explain…or wriggle out.
I vowed to end it with The Muse, to never speak to her again if it would mean we could put things back together. Truthfully, though, I just wanted to feel better. I would have said anything to make her pain and my guilt disappear.
Months later, the girl and I had patched things up after a devastating series of events that reflect so poorly on everyone that I shall leave them in the past where they will sleep forever. The condition of our reconsiliation: I never speak to The Muse again, a fact I readily agreed to.
Within months, the girl and I were engaged, determined to start anew.
It’s then The Muse called me late in the evening, hurt and angered.
“Were you even going to tell me,” she yelled into the phone as I hung up.**
There are more stories. Hundreds more. Stories of love, of heartbreak, of infidelity, of romance, of lust, of anger.
It’s taken many years to understand the good – and the bad – of my life. To understand that making an effort even when you don’t want to – especially when you don’t want to – is the hallmark of love. Actions matter. Inaction matters more.
As I began to unravel that simple truth –- actions matter, inactions matter more – I realized I needed to take a break from dating. Until last year when I decided to step away from dating (a nearly successful endeavor), I can never remember a time in my adult life when I wasn’t in love or chasing love.
As much as there is a nature, I think love is part of mine.
A friend of mine one told me: “I think the reason women love you is that you just love women. All of them. No matter what.”
She meant that as a compliment, and I was happy to hear that.
It’s also been part of my problem, which I why I stepped away for a bit. It’s taken me some time to understand how to live as a Romantic without reaching to the zenith at every crossroads.
All of which brings us to Valentine’s Day. My favorite day of the year. I can’t wait for it, a sentiment that not all of my friends seem to share. I promised them I would make my most persuasive argument as to why this holiday should be celebrated, embraced, enjoyed, cajoled and drank despite the obvious commercialization tied with it. So here it goes.
I love Valentine’s Day for one simple reason: It’s the one day of year we can blow everything off because of love.
What other day of the year can you tell somebody you have to miss a meeting, or you can’t go on that trip, or you can’t stay late, or you can’t do…anything because you have to go be in love.
Try skipping out of a late meeting in June because you have to get home to set up the candles. On every other day of the year, you’d be scoffed out of the room.
There’s no laughing on Valentine’s Day. It’s a Love Get Out Of Jail Free card. You can do it openly, honestly and without fear of reprisal. And whether they will admit it or not, anyone who does scoff secretly – maybe down deep – likely envies that part of you.
The world is a cynical place, one where we are oftentimes surrounded by strangers and strangeness that puts us ill at ease. We spend more waking hours with our co-workers than we do with our friends and family. We have 24-hour connectivity that pervades every aspect of our lives.
We are, in short, oftentimes more concerned about the un-important elements of life than we are about the things most precious.
Not on Feb. 14, though. For one day, we are allowed to stop everything and be in love.
Some believe that the day forces Romanticism upon people, thus eliminating its value. (We shall show love everyday, the cynics say.)
I see it differently. Love is about sacrificing your most precious commodity: time. It’s about re-arranging your life’s priorities to mesh with someone else. It’s about making the decision every day to be with that other person.
In other words, love itself is forced upon you.
This is a good thing. I know this because we all seek it out. We search for the one person who understands us, who hears us, who knows us. The one person we poke and push until we fall to the ground, wrestling. The one who makes the heart stop just a little when they come into the room. The one who makes the breath pause when they touch us. The who makes time stop when they look at us.
The one we hope never makes the light go out in our eyes. The one who never hangs up the phone on us.
Setting aside one day to acknowledge that by putting off everything else, by pushing back against the tides of irrelevancies that fill our lives, is one of the greatest things we can do.
As for me, I’ll celebrate my second Valentine’s Day as a single guy, which may make my stance on this particular holiday seem odd to some.
It makes perfect sense to me.
The holiday isn’t about having love, we all have that in one way or another. For me, the holiday is about celebrating love. The potential energy that comes as we pass through the world searching for that one person and the kinetic energy released when you find them.
I don’t need to have it now to understand the value of what it will be then.
I’ll get up on Monday, February 14, put on a suit or maybe just a jacket and tie, and spend the day enjoying life.
Because it’s there that we find love. Which is worth celebrating.