Tuesday, September 2, 2014

LA Stories: Mix Tape

"And now you're like, 'Devil, get thee behind me,' I'm gonna see the world," she said as she slipped my passport to me through the glass partition. I smiled at the kindness displayed by this Government Agent- she'd guessed the abridged version of the story behind walking into the Los Angeles passport agency requesting an expedited passport, and toting all the necessary legal documents to expunge my ex's last name from my travel papers.

I came home and shredded my old passport- the last existing record of a last name I'm no longer part of, and spent the rest of the day packing and having fun with my boyfriend and his wonderful family. I've discovered that the simple act of letting go often leaves one in the position to accept new gifts, and mine came on my flight's short layover between Denver and England: a text from a friend asking if I'd heard the good news. I was then forwarded a formal announcement my ex had sent out- he and his new wife are leaving Los Angeles and moving to Florida, which means the West Coast is mine. If I'd ever regretted not receiving spousal support, winning California in the settlement is even better. They leave the week of my birthday, which is pretty damn considerate for a guy who never could remember exactly when my birthday was. The city is free, purged of my ghosts. I floated at 600 miles per hour all the way to London.

Though wonderful, moments like these have not been rare. I've been Ghostbusting for a while now, in seeking out things I'd associated negative memories and creating new, positive moments. A massive catharsis surfaced at the Hollywood Bowl, when Will and I went to the One Republic concert. "Stop and Stare" had been my anthem for leaving Orlando- I'd identified so strongly with the lyrics, feeling like I was atrophying by standing, treading water. Hearing that song under the twinkling stars of the very town I'd fought so hard for meant the world to me- but the best part came even earlier, as the sun was setting all purple and gold in the Hollywood Hills...

The Script (and as a writer how can I not love a band called The Script) opened, and they were amazing- then they played the song I'd simultaneously longed for and dreaded: "Breakeven." Everyone has certain songs which chronicle points in their lives, but for this gutwrenching break-up song to come out at the same time my marriage collapsed was musical overkill. The song was hardwired to my heart, and haunted me through the airwaves. Like a mournfully insistent banshee, it followed me. I'd turn it off when it came on my radio only to hear it blasting from the car next to me. Elevators, hold music. Every time I heard it, I'd be transported right back to my hurt.

And yet...

Hearing that song that night in the magical snowglobe of the Hollywood Bowl, with Will by my side, I realized I'd finally flipped the script. (So to speak.) All the pain and uncertainty I'd felt was now completely inverted, and I was free from all that. If you know the song, sufficed to say I went from the role of the singer to the role of the subject. It felt amazing. I pride myself on having already shed my lifetime quota of tears. I'm not a crier. I am NOT a crier.
(but I cried.)
(a little.)

Later, we'd go to the Counting Crows concert at the Greek. More spells were broken as any songs I'd associated with the tattered sepia footage of the Past came blasting though in HD scintillating Present. The best part, though, was when the songs mentioned "California" and everyone in the audience went nuts. I looked around- most of us here (in LA) are transplants, so this fierce pride we feel is for a good reason. If you're proud of being from Iowa, or Texas or wherever, it's probably because that's where you're from. It's simply where your stuff is, where your family lives. But California Pride is something different- it's the roar of independence. We're all alone together out here, and we each gave up so much- we gave up everything- to come out and chase our dreams. We're all pioneers, blazing trails in the darkness trying to figure out how to do what no one we know has done. And it's hard to live out here, so far away from the comforts of the familiar- so despite all our differences, we are united in our elation at simply living in the place which inspires so many songs. When they're singing, they're singing about HERE. I had a beer and a hot dog. I sang along. (I NEVER sing along.) (but I sang along.)

All the spells have been broken. My favorite songs now have new favorite memories to go along with them.

The passport agent was right. Since I've been free, I've been to Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Greece, and Turkey, all by virtue of the wonderful friends I've made along this adventure. And now I'm on my way to London to be part of a photoshoot. The tray table was locked and my seatback was in the full upright position. The wheels left the ground and I popped my earbuds in and closed my eyes as John Mayer sang.

"Goodbye cold, goodbye rain. Goodbye sorrow, goodbye shame.
Just found out a ghost left town, the queen of California is stepping down."

That'll do nicely.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Best Served Cold: How I Bitchslapped My Ex at his Wedding

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This totally isn't my story. I would certainly never do anything like this. But I, um, heard it somewhere. Yes, that's it. I totally heard this story somewhere and I'm sharing it with you. In 1-st person narrative form. (WINK)

I'm not big on revenge. Overall, it's probably a terrible method of healing. However, when someone wrongs you and leaves you to die, even in an age of encouraged Forgiveness, some things are unforgivable. As for me, I was enjoying a brand-new backbone I'd just grown and I decided to go a little Samurai and reclaim my honor. This is not the best thing I've ever done. I don't endorse long-games or plots.
However, I did what I did and for me, it was exactly what I needed to heal 100%. I'm just not proud of it. (OK, I'm actually proud of it.)

When I found out my ex was engaged, I was elated- it solved a little problem for me. You see, I'd gone through most of the various items which accumulate from a 16-year relationship, and kept what I wanted and burned the rest. But what to do with those pesky wedding albums? Sure, they were great photos of us, but would I really ever want or need to see them again? I searched my heart- the answer was a resounding fuck no. And yet, I couldn't really bear to simply throw them away, either. It was, after all, a beautiful wedding, and I'm happy to keep my memories of that day- but burning it to ashes or tossing them out? Nah. That's what he'd done with our marriage- and I'm more of a "pay it forward" type of gal.

See, I kept having these nightmares where I was angry, and shouting or even trying to fight my ex and the girl he'd cheated with. I'd even dream that I was at their wedding, mad as hell but I could never DO anything about it in the dream. Throughout our awful divorce, I'd suffered tremendously, and he'd just blithely moved on, never expressing remorse or regret. I'd been without a home while he moved immediately into her bed, and started his new life right away. I never got to scream at him. I never yelled at him, never got to argue or stand up for myself, or so much as throw a drink in his face.
I'd just wanted SOME sort of REACTION from him- SOME way of knowing that it mattered, that he was even the slightest bit inconvenienced by his choices.

I never wanted to get him back, but OH how I wanted to get him back... I WANTED that reaction...

So, I set about with a bit of deviousness. First, I had to start my publicity campaign. I'm sorry to say, but I put on a bit of a show with a mutual friend, swearing though contrived tears that I needed to BE THERE because I had some UNFINISHED BUSINESS. I hated to be less than honest, but anyone who can straddle the fence and maintain an active and ongoing relationship with the man who literally left me to die has chosen sides whether or not they intended to. This wasn't an easy break-up, after all. My ex had lied to me, and immediately moved in with his girlfriend, the same week he found a draft of a suicide note. Then he and his family, well aware of the dangerous depression I was in, simply disappeared. Working two unpaid internship jobs at the time, I had nowhere to live and actually, physically starved. I'm rehashing this in abridged form, because what's about to happen next might seem a little inappropriate.
I received zero help with the rent I was left with, zero remorse, zero compassion and zero alimony. I was left with nothing but two cats and nowhere to live.
Revenge hadn't been just been crossing my mind, it had set up shop.

I'd had no contact with my ex since he came out with the truth, that he wasn't "taking a break," that he was, in fact, long gone and already living with his new fangirl. From that point on, we only communicated through email, and kept it clean and civil. I received nothing from the divorce, and he made no offers of apology, so my only source of venting was by writing out my feelings.

I chose a few select people and told them that come hell or high water, like the Frankenstein's monster he'd created, I WOULD BE WITH HIM ON HIS WEDDING DAY. After a very simple search on TheKnot.com, I found out exactly when and where their wedding would be. I'm surprised the happy couple was so public about the details, honestly- this, after all, was a relationship begun under the worst of pretenses and a proposal issued while the ink on our divorce papers was drying.

Me, on the day I signed, wearing my actual divorce papers. If I look happy it's because I just lost 180 lbs. of stubborn fat.

I was also surprised by the brevity of their engagement period. Six months seemed short, but my ex was never known for his patience. This gave me just enough time to disseminate some false information to people who would ultimately (unbeknownst to them!) act as my purposeful moles. (Thanks again guys!)

Then I got to posting about it, with increasingly less subtlety, on FaceBook. As the date of their ceremony neared, I would post photos of Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson (from "Wedding Crashers") on my wall, with captions like "SEE YOU IN VERO BEACH" and "LOOKING FORWARD TO THE BIG DAY!" Eventually, I'd use photos of The Bride from "Kill Bill," wearing her bloody bridal dress and wielding her katana. The vengeful images were for a purpose: not only did I figure someone would "leak" these photos to him, I was counting on it.

Their wedding was 3,000 miles away, and right in the middle of a busy work week for me. Was I really going to spend the time and energy to go disrupt it? Fuck no. But they didn't know that.

"My my my what a glittering assembla- wait. You're really wearing WHITE? Tsk tsk."

For all the times he DIDN'T think about me, I wanted him to be thinking about me that day. For all the nights I spend riddled with anxiety, wondering what would happen, I wanted him to wonder what would happen. And for her- she's no innocent. She knew she was with a married man when they started dating. After all, I'd sent her an email politely requesting her to take my ex's dick out of her mouth long enough for he and I to attend marriage counseling. I guess she couldn't wait.

And so, neither could I. I let them wonder when and where I'd show up, and look over their shoulder the whole day while I sat pretty on a pair of stilts in the warm California sun. Dozens of photos of me, clearly in L.A., showed up on Instagram that day. Not a coincidence.

However, after all that fuss about BEING THERE and then suddenly unable to attend, I still wanted to send a gift... which brings us back to the Wedding Albums.

Sure, their wedding was (wisely for them) set on the other side of the country from me- but I'm blessed with a widely-spread set of friends. Friends who could easily have my albums sent to them. And place each one in a separate box. The kind of box you'd expect to find in a pile of gifts. I believe one was a panini press box. Another in toaster oven box. And for irony's sake, a photo album gift box.

Congrats! Three of these contain a personalized his-and-hers Bitchslap!

The toaster oven was weighted with a bit of concrete to give it the natural heft one would expect, and padded with a dirty sock to keep it from rattling around. (That wasn't MY idea, but I kind of love it.) Each of the three boxes was expertly, professionally, beautifully gift wrapped in different paper and ribbon, to make sure they'd get the message not once, but three times. Or perhaps they'd simply open the paper but leave the box itself for some matrimonial panini emergency, years later, and get slapped again. I really didn't care when it happened- I just wanted my message to get across.

And speaking of messages, I'll flash back just once to something my ex had told me when, (still unaware of the extent of his betrayal) I'd called him desperate for help. A roommate had recently returned from his band's tour and strangled his girlfriend, and she and I had to clear out of the apartment quickly. I'd returned to collect my things, but my back-up was running late and I was terrified this person would show up suddenly and attack again, so I called my ex who lived within a mile to PLEASE just come be in the same room while I threw my stuff in a bag. I was scared. I was alone. "Call the cops," he said. "You're not my problem anymore."

And so that was the card I chose to accompany the gifts. A simple message, stating my feelings towards the happy couple: "IT'S YOUR PROBLEM NOW."

And so it was! On the big day, my friend watched as my ex meandered back and forth between the holiday inn he was staying at and the resort where the ceremony would take place. Certain he wouldn't cross paths with the groom, my Avenging Angel stacked my gifts in his arms and entered the resort's lobby. When his elevator reached the floor on which their reception would be held, (thanks for the details, bride and groom!) he approached someone to ask where their gift table would be. However, the only person nearby to inquire with was a chubby gal in white- the bride. She gamely pointed him in the correct direction, and he made the dropoff and left, but not before he "checked me in" on Facebook at the restaurant across the street from the resort.
Thanks again, Social Media- you made it possible to be in two places at once.

It was my intention that they'd open the gifts privately, later, as their honeymoon was to immediately follow their wedding, but The Universe, it seems, had a bonus surprise in store for me! ...

This was taken from Etiquette Expert Emily Post's advice about when to open wedding gifts:
"A: It is [sic] unusual for the couple to open all their presents at [sic] a brunch. It is not a shower where the main entertainment is opening the gifts. There’s nothing entertaining about watching the couple open gifts."

It was NEVER my intention for my little gift to be made public, but that's exactly what happened. The tackiest of tacky, the new couple somehow, against all precedent, decided to open their gifts IN PUBLIC at a massive family brunch the next day. And, (and!!!) not only was that enough to make me suspect I'd gotten my message across, but my ex, who can barely string two sentences together, spent the first day of wedded bliss ANGRILY TYPING A SMALL NOVELLA ABOUT HOW UPSET THEY WERE.

Bless his heart, he wrote out a play-by-play of exactly how well my plan had worked. Finally, this was exactly the reaction I'd wanted.

Ahhhhhhhhhh. (the sound of me exhaling a breath I'd been holding since he left.)

He spent (knowing his writing skills) the entire morning typing a letter detailing exactly how much of a little bitch he is, and how upset they were, and HOW DARE SOMEONE SPEAK TO HIS BRIDE ON THE DAY THEY EXCHANGE VOWS - yeah, because CLEARLY wedding vows mean so much to him!- and going into great detail about how I'd completely made ass-hats out of both of them, publically.

He generously wrote that they thought I was actually there. He wrote about how he opened the "It's your problem now" card and read it to his assemblage. He wrote about opening each. of. the. boxes. in front of EVERYONE.

Basically, he gave me exactly what I wanted, and giftwrapped it.

After that, I stopped having those nightmares where I could never touch him. Because I'd definitely touched him. In fact, I'd managed to bitch-slap the both of them from 3,000 miles away. I Keyser Soze'd their wedding. I Killed Bill.

"Yep. That oughta do it."

My ex complained about how he and his blushing bride had been harassed since day one (which, I presume, was technically adulterous) but aside from that single email to her and, admittedly abundant blogging, I haven't interacted with, spoken to, or contacted them except to deliver some gifts. And it's not really MY fault if they don't like what I got 'em.

His little online rant got him all the expected cooings of sympathy he'd needed, and I'm fine with that. One girl suggested he get a restraining order, which is ironic because this is the same girl who tricked a guy into getting her pregnant so he'd propose. The same girl who I once witness pull out a concealed weapon and fire on a bluebird. (She's a single mom now in Colorado. Stand-up kinda gal- she knows about restraining orders because her reluctant baby-daddy put one on her when she snuck into his parents' house.)
Another person who 'there-there'd' my ex's bruised ego is an overweight, bitter old hag of a makeup artist who, in her heyday when she was slightly less overweight and only a little bitter tried to seduce my then-husband by crying on his shoulder about her own divorce. She'd call him at all hours of the night, needing "comfort" from a married man half her age. Again, sterling example.
Finally, the angriest man I know raged on about how disgusted he was! How furious he was! Yawn. What else is new.

In fact, since both the women mentioned above had tried so hard to hook up with my ex in the past, I say game on- go for it, since clearly being married isn't a dealbreaker for him. Also, to the angry gentleman mentioned above, why not throw your hat into the ring? My ex is no stranger to cheating with dick in his mouth.
(If you're curious -which, ironically, was HIS excuse - that's also in a blog below.)

Although none of his friends openly condoned my behavior, most folks simply expressed their condolences and hoped that now, finally, it would be over. It is, thanks. Out here in L.A., my friends and I celebrated The End Of It with hotwings and beer.

As for me, I'm happy. It's settled now. Honestly, I never expected this result, but I can actually wish them both well, as I'm incredibly grateful for the amazing adventure they set in motion. Yes, he left. Yes, they cheated. But it's all lead to where I am now, which is happier and healthier than I've ever been. And if they're happy too, all's well that ends well.

And this, my friends, ended SPECTACULARLY.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In Case of Suffering Break Glass

Tonight, we drove along the sunset-halo'd mountains headed home, and the twinkling lights below beckoned us into the twilight of the valley where we live. I held my hand out the passenger window, collecting the cool dusk in my palms, spreading my fingers, letting the night free, then trailing lazy digital contrails in the waning light. My hand. My bracelets, knuckles, long fingers, long strong healthy nails and sparkly glossy polish on manicured fingertips.

I flashed back on the time I'd pass the commute home by watching crimson blood trickle down my arms as I "fixed" my hands. Made sure every stroke I'd type hurt, putting tiny cuts in fingers and pulling, tearing my nails and cuticles to expose the raw white tissue beneath.

I remember swearing tearfully to my ex that I was broken, that I'd never write again. I'd never love again. I'd NEVER love myself.
I remember the hot sticky wetness of the blood as it beaded and ran. If the trails reached to my elbows I'd consider it "enough" and stash my toolkit until another time and place I allowed myself to spiral my thoughts that low. And by then, lightheaded and high from the scent of copper, my adrenaline had spiked and drained my energy enough that I no longer felt, no longer thought, and for the moment, no longer hurt. It felt like the only thing I could control. Maybe at that point, it was. But that was then.

Looking at my hands now in the sweet dying of the light, an L.A. sunset which has consistently kissed me goodnight for almost a year now, I can see how wrong I was. How everything has changed. I came to peace with my shortcomings, learned from them, forgave myself, and eventually learned to love the strong healthy person I became. Then I found love with someone else, and began to experience what a healthy, happy relationship feels like. Ah, Whisper-In-My-Ear 2010, THIS is what you meant...

It took a WHILE. It took time, a lot of work, 10 days of Buddhism, a night in a treehouse, lots of therapy, some fire, crying on many a shoulder, a little more fire, nachos, 7,000 miles and a long-distance nuptual bitch-slap, but EVERYTHING GOT BETTER. There and back again, but literally and figuratively in a different vehicle.

It took rebuilding, reframing, relearning, relabeling and relaxing. But it happened. And it totally got better.
So if you're reading this, and you're In It, allow me to be that whisper by your shoulder:
Trust me. I have been In It too. I have felt these feels, hurt this hurt. Hurt just as dark and deep as it gets- and gotten out.
I know you feel alone, like you have to hide whatever horrible thing you do to keep your hurt your own. I kept my razors in the center console and covered the rest up with a smile for as long as I could, until I broke. Stuck, stuck, stuck- in traffic and otherwise.

And somehow, same road, same hands- but there's no glass. There's night air. There's no suffocating heat. There's Santa Anna winds.
I dismissed any friend who ever promised me It Would Get Better, because I hid the extent of my hurt. They had no idea- they'd never hurt like I hurt. Like I hurt myself. So that should get me a little street cred. Listen up:

Whatever you're doing, decide to finish it. Wrap it up. Bandage that shit and start being gentle to yourself, because whether or not you're ready to accept it, you are so loved. And you may hate your skin or your job or the way your husband doesn't love you and not see a way out without blood. But if you give yourself a chance, you'll be on that same road later (it's always the same road) and dangling your fancy hands out the window while you let someone who loves you right drive for a while. And you will be so glad you hung in there- you're worth it. Get up. Fight. Every day. Whether or not you feel like it, you deserve the love you'll feel one day.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Stunt Man

Like the quintessential Little Black Dress, every gal in the dating pool surely has one: a psychotic ex. Mine is no exception- a sterling example of his species, complete with restraining orders and 5150's. Stunning.

I met this prize in LA when my dear friend Rob asked me to help him out with one of his video projects. There would be swords and stuntfighting, so how could I resist? When I arrived and we started shooting, I noticed one of the stunt guys looking at me. Like, really LOOKING at me- the sort of piqued fascination which pierced through my shield of cynicism and got me LOOKING right back at him.
I thought, wow, that sparkle in his eye- is this indicative of some internal blazing fire of passion?


It was the pilot light of insanity.

But he was sweet and he laughed at my jokes, and, regrettably, stretched that day in such a way that his shirt lifted up to reveal the most gorgeous set of abs I've ever seen. These abs essentially located and hit some sort of "power down" button in my brain.
Can I just, in my own defense, point out that I was in a really shallow mindset at this time?

If I could've just dated his abs, I would've- it didn't seem like we had a whole lot in common. I'm a writer. He gets lit on fire a lot. Hm. He was different from other guys I'd dated in two major ways- one, he was the first person I've dated who is shorter than me. Two, he actually wanted a relationship. He didn't want to "date," or "see each other," he wanted me to be his girlfriend. "He was done dicking around, and he knew what he wanted," he said.

Flattered, I still asked him to remove my photo from the homescreen wallpaper on his cell phone.
I mean, I didn't really KNOW this guy, and it made this sick hollow feeling leak through my gut every time he referred to me as "his girl." I was so confused- here was someone who was telling me everything I wanted to hear, but I had a physical reaction in my stomach every time he talked about how much he liked me.

Foolishly, I blew it off. Maybe it was because I was gunshy about getting hurt again. Maybe I was being shallow because he was short. I didn't know. I didn't know, and since I couldn't figure it out, I wanted to take things slow until I got to know him better. I told him I didn't want to have sex with someone unless I was in a committed, monogamous relationship. He assured me he had eyes only for me, and had stopped dating anyone else after we started seeing each other. He was fine taking things slow, he was fine waiting.
Then he told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.
RINGDINGDINGDINGDINGADINGDING went every siren and red flag and warning alarm in my brain.

I didn't feel the right feels for him. I was attracted to his body, but everything about the rest of him made me really uncomfortable.
But he WANTED me, right? Unlike most of the guys I dated who just wanted to hook up, this was (seemingly) the one heterosexual male on the planet who was actually looking for a relationship.
But he was shorter than me. So surely that was the problem. I stuffed the anxiety and acid down and convinced myself it was just me being shallow. I'd get to know him better, then make an informed decision.
Besides, I liked how he let me treat him. He let me cook for him and take him to do outdoorsy things. Like a love-starved puppy, he was over-the-top enthusiastic about every little thing I'd do. Like thanking me profusely for texting him.

New Year's Eve rolls around and I'm going to a party. He has to work, so I go alone, which suits me just fine. I was experiencing the very first pangs of growth as an individual and actually looking forward to some pensive reflection on the dock at the party.
I told The Stuntman this, and he agreed he'd give me some space.
I ignored my phone as he called 19 times after midnight and left 5 voicemails.
DINGDINGDINGDING goes the alarm, but I'm not paying attention as I enjoy the fireworks reflecting across the lake's black waters.
I make my New Year's Resolutions. None of them include the Stunt Man, but I was flexing my fledgeling wings and tried not to feel guilty.

We spent a lot of time together and after a few weeks, I invited him to spend the night at my place.
He took his shirt off (nnnnnooooooooo!!!) and climbed into bed, promising to be a gentleman.

...Anyone who's read any of these blogs knows exactly what happens next.
This was during my Ambien days, also known as The Days Of Bad Decisions.
I tell him explicitly that I do NOT want to have sex with him, that I just wanted him to sleep NEXT TO ME, nothing else.
The sex was amazing.
Or, I think it was. Stupid Ambien.
Really, what I remember, was this weird half-hallucination of him naked except for a Robin (as in, Batman And) mask. Urg.
I'd been on a big Batman kick at the time, and even my subconscious saw him as a lowly sidekick, but nevertheless, the sun came up and we had to have a chat.
He admitted he had perhaps taken advantage of the situation, and there I was having had sex with someone who was not my boyfriend.
My brilliant solution to deal with the consequences of my actions in an adult manner?
"Walp, I guess we're in a relationship!"

He was over the moon ecstatic. I felt positively sick and immediately regretted my decision.
After he left I went to go use my bathroom, and discovered that he'd left his toothbrush there.
I was instantly filled with revulsion. I wasn't charmed, I was angry- and I knew that wasn't the right reaction.
Was I turning into the kind of person who didn't want a relationship?
Was I (gasp) one of THOSE people who would have sex with someone they didn't care for, just for the sake of sex?
No. No, that wasn't me. I was a relationship person. It's how I'm wired- but as much as it was something I wanted, I knew it was wrong to be in a relationship with a guy just because I wanted to get laid.
Within an hour of agreeing to "be his girl" I began contemplating the best way to break up with him. The problem was, he hadn't done anything overtly breakup-worthy, and I couldn't really give him a solid reason... I felt lost.

Alternating between self-loathing and guilt, I told him we weren't going to be having sex for a while until I "got comfortable" in the relationship, and, ever eager to please, he and his abs agreed. We'd spend our time getting to know each other better. I mean, I hadn't even been to his house yet! How could I possibly have sex with someone when I don't know what their house looks like, right?

I really, really wish I'd actually stuck to this rule, because there was a good reason I hadn't been invited over. His House is where his Crazy came out, and it came out swinging.

After telling me for weeks that he knows how "clean I am," and how he didn't want me to be grossed out by his bachelor pad, he finally invited me over. He insisted on staying on the phone with me to give me turn-by-turn directions over each and every speedbump, I arrive at his house. He owns a home, right? Bonus points, right?
Spoiler Alert: WRONG.

I see his car for the first time in the light of day, and I see an NRA sticker on one side and a Bush sticker on the other. I feel nauseous.

He takes me in, holding my hand as he shows me around while his frenzied dogs (who he's kissing on their doggy mouths) claw and scratch blood from my bare legs as they leap repeatedly. Their incessant barking gets maddening, so he ushers them into another room and closes the door on them as echoes of Son of Sam rampage on a shooting spree through my brain.

He suddenly takes both my hands- he's literally trembling.
"I'm sorry," he says. "It's just that I've never had any girls over here other than my mom."
"I want you to be happy here- this is your home."
He shows me the bedroom, wiping tears out of his eyes and proudly proclaiming that the only other girl in his bed had been his mother.

"Wait- what?"
He tells me that "he'd had a rough time" and his mother had come to sleep with him.
I immediately leaf through my mental calendar to pick an appropriate expiration date for our relationship. Sooner the better.
The only problem is his birthday is coming up and he's been so vocal about how his ex had dumped him right before his birthday one year. He actually makes me promise to not do that. Maybe he's kidding, but at this point I'm a little scared of him and how fragile he is, so I can't risk it. I mean Christ- he wants me to meet his parents. I start to hate myself for being with him and being too chickenshit to hurt him.

I don't spend the night that night (or any other night) because that day he tells me about his childhood. How he'd grown up training for athletic events and never had any real friends. How his parents are hoarders, and how he slept on the floor next to his dad for most of his life because there was never any room on the bed. How he'd been pushed, driven to physical perfection, to the point of multiple breakdowns. How college had been his only escape. And then drinking.

He tells me he's been in Alcoholics Anonymous, which is news to me because we've had plenty of wine with the dinners I'd cook and he never mentioned it. He tells me he's in the NRA. He tells me he voted for Bush.

This is how I felt hearing that.

It's over- I just have to let him down easy, after his birthday. It's in a week. I can do this.

He begs to spend the night at my place, and I agree but make damn certain I don't take anything that night. No more Ambien around him- I no longer trust him. But he's literally whining, and I'm exhausted and emotionally drained. Sure, why not- sleep here, because he has to work early in the morning and I don't want him driving home so far so late.

He tries to sleep next to me. "Sleep" is the best way I can describe it, but it's more like some sort of tortured wrestling match with himself.
Since I'm not drugging myself, I can witness him as he's literally writhing and twisting in my bed, growling like a wounded animal. At one point he flails an arm out and his knuckle makes contact with my head. I am annoyed but not injured. Later in the night, he makes a sudden roll towards me and his hand wraps around my throat. I am terrified.

The next morning I tell him we're not going to be sharing a bed any more, period.
He immediately grows agitated, wild-eyed and red.
He tells me he'll do anything. He offers to take some of my Ambien. He offers to let me tie him down.
I decline.
Then he gets really upset and starts tearing up. Ugh. I HATE it when guys cry.
He gets desperate, begging me, telling me he'll get some rope so I can tie him down and his night terrors won't affect me.
Citing "potential fire hazard" as an excuse for not imprisoning a man in my bed, I am officially completely turned off.
By now, all the abs in the world can't save him. He looks about this sexy to me:

A couple days later I find out he's a smoker. I would never knowingly be in a relationship with someone so willing to hurt themselves like that. The Stunt Man has been hiding this fact from me because he knows how much I hate it. He swears he'll quit smoking for me. I tell him not to, that it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter, because I am not planning on keeping him around. (I'm a dick.) I told him he should quit for himself and not for me.

I reach out to a friend I used to work with. She dated him for almost a year, and might have some advice about how to break up with him. However, I can't get ahold of her and her number is no longer working...

I have to wait to break up with him until after his birthday because he's turning 30, and wants to commemorate the occasion by setting himself on fire and jumping on a pogo stick long enough to make it into the Guinness World Records. I'd hate him to get hurt because he was in some sort of funk on my account. After all, he'll be engulfed in flames.
But it's kinda cool, right? Fire stunts and extreme sports?
Like I said, this is mostly a story about how dumb I was.

His birthday comes and goes, and he survives the stunt despite Guiness assuring him they want no part of this particular category. He has a great night. The next night I take him out to dinner. He tells me he loves me. I thank him politely as I'm scripting The Talk.

Driving home from dinner, night-time construction began on the street we'd been driving on, and retracing my route home meant a strange left turn amidst dozens of cones which had not been there earlier.

"Is this the right way?" I ask.
"Yes," he says.
"But look at the cones- we're going the wrong way- this looks like a one-way street" I insist.
"No, it's fine" he assures me.
In the distance I see oncoming headlights and have to quickly reverse into an alley to save us from getting into a head-on collision.
He was dead certain we were fine, but my instincts were right and we were totally in danger.
Point made, Universe. I'd break it off tomorrow.

So I do, gently, telling him I'm not ready for a relationship after all. He takes it surprisingly well and says he'll wait for me. I strongly encourage him not to. He posts dramatic vows of staunch patience on facebook, accompanied by links of Jason Mraz's "I won't give up on you," until I beg him to stop. I promise we're still friends, and to prove it, I'd take him to a party the next week. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

This particular party is a gathering of artists who're seeking models to be photographed for some artwork as part of a book about mythical creatures. The Stuntman is game, so he arrives at my house for me to drive us to the party. Before we go, I hand him a bag with his toothbrush in it. Some sort of shadow passes through his eyes as he takes the bag from me. He does not speak on the way to the party, and sits brooding in silence behind dark sunglasses at dusk.

He immediately hits the bar at the party, downing a double rum and coke. They paint The Stuntman up like some boggy monster, a legendary creature famous for dragging unsuspecting swimmers to watery graves. He's greenish and wearing whited-out contacts, and seems to be having a good time until he begins stumbling. Soon he can barely stand and the photographer calls me over to collect him. He's mumbling incoherently and I lead him to the bathroom to get cleaned up and get dressed.

Half-speaking, half-growling, I can barely understand him through the bathroom door, but I get the impression he's trying to get dressed without washing off any bodypaint. I try to tell him to take his time, get cleaned up, take those contacts out because I know he can't see very well, but I'm interrupted by the crashing sound of glass smashing as he stumbles into the sliding glass door of the shower he's not using.

"Are you OK?!?"
"Just come in, come in," ...shit. He's crying again. God I'm an asshole.
I reluctantly step in and he grabs my arms, pulling me into him. He's smaller than me but stronger by far and green.
Staring at me with painted yellow teeth and white eyes, he's trying to tell me something but he can't speak clearly and I'm scared.
"Let go of me," I said, and he squeezes me harder.
I use a simple martial-arts twist to free my arms and jet out of the bathroom, telling him to get dressed, we're leaving.
Jesus, he'd only had the equivalent of two drinks, right? Fuck.

He gets in my car, green paint everywhere, still growling like some mini-hulk. It'd be comical if it wasn't tragic. Like this, but way way sadder:

I tell him he needs to take the lenses out before he drives home- that he can't see very well since they don't let enough light in.
Proving my point, he asks me where we are, tells me we're lost and he has no idea where we are.
We're a half-mile from my house, on a street he takes every day to work.
I don't want him coming inside. He's weird tonight. Weirder than usual.

He stumbles out of my car. I don't understand how he's acting so drunk- it's been 4 hours since he had that double. I ask him if he's taking any kinds of medications that might have interacted with the alcohol. He can't answer me clearly and now he's begging to come up and use my bathroom before his long drive home.
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck DINGDINGDINGDINGDING Oh nowwww I hear it.

I tell him he can, but he has to promise to take those contact lenses out while he's up there. He agrees, and while the door is shut I text my friend, begging for help. This is Rob, the same friend who introduced us- he kind of owes me.
This amazing friend leaves the party he's at and drives 30 miles as fast as he can.
Sure enough, my Green Goblin is refusing to leave and literally making animal sounds when Rob bursts through the door.
By now the Stunt Man has gone into FULL freak mode, telling me he's had the FBI google me and they know all about me, and how he's also secretly part of the CIA and his dad is so disappointed with me.

Thank god for Rob.

I leave the boys to talk and finally my friend talks the Stunt Man into driving home. Rob follows him home, makes sure he gets inside, and texts me the All's Well at 5:30am.

I take out the knife I've secreted in my pocket, bolt the door and sleep easier that night.

...I get multiple texts from the Stunt Man. He tells me he misses me. He tells me he's "working on the set of "Supernatural," and that I should watch episode blahblah of season such-and-such because it proves that he was so right and I was wrong and soooo right." These texts come at 3 and 4 in the morning. "Supernatural" shoots in Canada. There's no way he's there, because his car is parked next to mine the next day when I leave my job.

This parking "coincidence" happens more than a few times and I'm complaining to a coworker when a manager overhears and tells me to take it to the police, just in case.

I send The Stuntman an email, telling him I was blocking any calls, texts or emails from him and that if I saw his car or him near me again I'd go to the cops. I told him not to respond to the email, and he very graciously did not.

About a month later, I run into his Ex- the one who broke up with him right before his birthday. The one I'd tried to call. I told her my story and she laughs, pulling out her phone and sharing a mile-long string of texts from him along the same vein.
The reason I couldn't call her was because she's had to change her number because of him. She'd also had to get a restraining order against him, since he was texting her things like "you and your baby have to leave the house, there's a bomb in it, my CIA team and I will sweep your house, get to a safe place and I'll text you the all-clear."

Jesus. I'd dodged a bigger bullet than I thought.

Then she shows me all the texts he'd been sending her about how he'd bought her an engagement ring, how he was going to propose. Despite her restraining order, these proposal texts had been sent by him during the time he and I had been dating.

Sigh. Ya think you can trust a guy...

I haven't seen or heard from him since, other than word-of-mouth that he's settled down and quite happy in a new relationship.

Phew. My god I was dumb. But here's what I learned:

It would take approximately two more bad decisions before I started living by those rules, and those two decisions involved the millionaire and the pilot from previous blogs. By then, I'd finally exhausted my capacity for idiocy. I became much smarter, and I stopped needing Ambien because the decisions I made during the day let me sleep just fine at night, alone, in my own bed.
I became comfortable in my own skin. I learned to enjoy being by myself, single, whole within my own skin.

Which, naturally, is when I was finally ready to meet my soul mate.

Friday, April 25, 2014

LA Stories: Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines (in pieces)

When I was 8, and living in Omaha, I saw the friendly neighborhood tom cat attack a baby rabbit from the nearby woods. I loved this cat- hell, I love just about all animals- but he was killing this ball of bunny fluff. I don't know if rabbits can scream, but in my memory it's screaming, terrified. I scared the cat away, wrapped the bunny in my sweater and rushed to a neighbor's house. The lady who lived there was a vet, and as she took the blood-soaked bundle from me, she promised to do everything she could to save the bunny.
Yeah, he totally looked like that guy.

I came back a few hours later to check on it, and found the tiny animal backed up, nose quivering, into a corner of an empty aquarium. The vet had told me it didn't look good, but I could hold it if I wanted. I scooped the trembling, warm body out of the tank and cradled it against my body. I held it for a moment when I sensed it going limp in my arms. I looked down into its glassy little eyes, and, just for an instant, looked back at me before they glazed over and dulled.

I watched as the little flickering spark behind the eyes faded into nothing, and the rabbit died in my arms.

I cried for hours. My mom held me, her own baby bunny, in her arms and told me all the soothing comforting things moms say when their child witnesses Death for the first time. It was the worst, saddest thing I'd ever seen in my young life.

In my ongoing effort to Never Date Actors, Ever, I continued "online shopping" and came across The Pilot.
The Pilot is 6'1'', slender, with a wicked sense of humor and a vague resemblance to Daniel Tosh. SOLD. He texted me constantly- he was a master of sarcasm and very attentive. He made a massive effort to get my attention, and he got it.
We set up a date, met officially, and hit it off. He's funny, smart, successful, and a competitive triathlon enthusiast. So far so good.

But the best part about The Pilot was how he looked at me. Whenever I'd meet up with him, his eyes would light up and sparkle like two greedy diamonds. He knows he's funny, but he thinks I'M hilarious. He told me he'd never met a woman who could keep up with him, with his sense of humor, get and appreciate his jokes. Sure, whatever- I was just thrilled to be LOOKED AT like that. I wanted to be coveted. That light in his eyes made me feel like some precious object.

That's right babe. SPECIAL.

Over 4 or 5 dates, I grew to like him. I liked all the benefits that came with dating a person with a "real job," and I loved his razor-sharp wit. The only part I wasn't crazy about was that most of his jokes were mean, or really offensive. Don't get me wrong- there's a time a place for that, for sure- but in moderation. Sure, I might crack a joke about the guy convulsing in his wheelchair, but I'll deliver the joke with rolled eyes and some sort of hang-dog posture, or use inflection to imply some sort of remorse, like I'm AWARE that I'm totally going to hell. The entire point of laughing at stuff we're not supposed to laugh at is to take away the brevity of the situation. The Pilot seemed to be missing this crucial element in his humor, but I figured time would tell if he was genuinely funny or just kind of an asshole.

(Hint: he's kind of an asshole.)

The other weird thing about The Pilot was that as much as he liked to joke about various insensitive subjects, he CONSTANTLY would joke about how small and disappointing his penis was. It was his favorite thing to mention, and he brought it up all. the. time. Like, REALLY pushing the issue. I assured him I didn't care, but I'll admit his never-ending referrals made me curious. Was he kidding? Was there a possibility he was NOT kidding? Like a poorly drawn illustration outside a Freakshow Tent, the advertising worked and now I wanted to know what the buzz was all about.

I was dating The Pilot while taking a regular nighttime regimen of prescribed Ambien, which is notorious for aiding and abetting bad decisions. I was also still at a point in my divorce recovery where I'd not yet learned to sleep by myself, and I'd rather sleep next to Someone, Anyone, than sleep alone. After some late night video games and probably too much to drink, The Pilot invited me to spend the night at his superluxe townhouse. The promise of morning omelets was on the table, and I acquiesced, with the caveat that there would be absolutely ZERO fooling around in bed. That I was taking Ambien. That it affected my decisions and my memory. And that no matter what I said AFTER I took it, I did not want to get intimately involved with him. He promised me that that was not a problem, and he'd be a gentleman.

Now, hold on to your seats, because here's a shocker: I'm an idiot. And he's not a gentleman. (What a tweest!)

We fooled around that night- no sex, but close enough for the dramatic reveal that HOLY SHIT HE WAS NOT KIDDING ABOUT HIS PENIS. I vaguely remember him apologizing for it and me assuring him that it really didn't matter, that it wasn't a big deal.
I guess that was the wrong thing to say, but what else can you do when confronted with something like that?
I suggested he think of it like those little Vienna Cocktail Sausages that sit on fancy crackers at a party. Small, but still entertaining?

Not this bad, but close.

Ambien sunrises are weird enough, but I knew the lines had been pretty blurred in the wee hours of the morning.
The sun came up, and The Pilot climbed out of bed and started dressing in his lycra bike shorts. I realized there would be no omelette.
"Walp," he says, "I got 15 miles to ride, so..."
He wouldn't look me in the eye. I caught a glimpse of his profile in the bike shorts and wondered if he was somehow embarrassed?

I was confused. I had no idea where we stood. He'd wanted me, right? Enough to directly violate a trust I'd given him?
That must mean he wants a relationship with me, right? (Forgive me, I'm really stupid in the mornings.)
"Hey, no problem- and if you like going alone, I'll head on out- but if you want some company, I'm happy to go with you. Either way, no worries."
He perked up. "Really? You'd go 15 miles with me?"
"Sure, why not."

We make awkward small talk while I pick up a bike, and head to the trail.
We make awkward small talk while we bike 15 miles. FIFTEEN. MILES.
There is no mention of his ridiculously small penis on this morning. Odd- it was usually his favorite subject.
At the end of the trail, he tells he he's going to go to his swimming lesson. (Triathletes, right?!?) I wish him good luck and thanked him for the bike ride. For the first time all day, he looks me in the eye- and it's cold. Dull and glassy. Like a dead rabbit.

"See you later," he says, and PATS ME ON THE BACK GOODBYE.

Wow. Thanks pal. Buddy. I half-sit, half-stand on my bike, absolutely mackerel-smacked. Hadn't we gotten closer last night? Hadn't I just biked 15 fucking miles with this guy? So HE can joke about his dick, but I can't?

Got it.

He stopped calling and texting after that. I think I must've texted him a day later, because the last communication I received from a guy who used to text me non-stop was the tell-tale fatal missive...


The light had faded. The spark was dead, gone. It was over. And worst of all, there had been no omelette. AGAIN. God dammit.
Sweet dreams and Flying Machines in pieces on the ground.

As I watched him pedal off, I packed the bike in the backseat of my convertible, a day older, a little wiser and sore as hell for all the wrong reasons. I remembered that little bunny dying in my arms, and this time, though there would be no tears on my part, I was still sad that The Pilot's insecurity was our undoing. Maybe we could've been good together, maybe not- but we'd never get the chance to find out. Not because his penis was small, but because he was a little dick.

The next person I dated owned his own airplane and had several pilots on call. I made certain to never ask about their penis size.

Monday, April 14, 2014

LA Stories: Gold-digging and Other STDs

Everyone has a price, and friends, mine's pretty bargain bin- the things I've done for money would shock and amaze you. I've been a phone book, a clown (an EQUITY clown though, dammit!) a flamingo, a pearl diver and a fluid mopper on a porn set. Hi mom!
Still, all things considered, my conscience is clear- because no matter how low I've set the bar for my pride and comfort level, no one can buy out my dreams. They're not for sale.
This is how I know, in Two Parts.


Twice, I was challenged by men who tried to buy me.
The first was in Los Angeles, during the Starving Days. A good friend had let me take over her job as a receptionist at an architect firm while she went on vacation, and during my 2 weeks at her desk, I became chummy with the head of the firm.
Now, perhaps I should clarify- this wasn't "an" architect firm.
It was "THE" architect firm.

And "THE" Architect in question was going through a rough divorce.
Coincidentally, so was I. So you can see where this might go...

The Architect, a handsome older man in his mid-sixties, learned that I was a personal assistant to other fancy people, and asked me to invoke my super powers to find him a house to stay in while the divorce was going through.
Something low key, understated. Kind of a bachelor pad.
He gave me an $800,000 ballpark figure to work with.

While he was drafting and cruising around on his new Harley, I house-hunted online for him, chose my top favorite options, and showed them to him.
He loved what I found, and sent me to visit the ones he liked best. He paid me a very generous office rate for my time, and was thrilled when I came back armed with photos, videos, and a lengthy list of pros and cons for each option.

I liked this man. He was warm, funny, generous. Reminded me of my dad. And like my father, we bonded over motorcycles, and I showed him photos of my old bike back in Florida. He supplies the entire office with catered bagels and lox every friday.
I wanted to make him happy, and he was really nice to me. He selected a home, bought it (cash) and moved in right away.

After my last day working for him, he asked if I could meet him for "celebration drinks" downtown.
I like drinks, and celebrating. I was single. Why the fuck not, sure. One drink. I hadn't been "out" in a while and I was looking forward to not sitting at home worrying where my next paycheck would come from.

He gave me an address and I drove in circles downtown looking for the restaurant, finally pulling into a hotel to ask for directions. There were no street numbers to be seen on these schmancy high rises.
The valet very kindly informed me that I was already AT the address I was looking for, and that they were expecting me.
Uh oh...

They took my car, it'd already been paid for, and sent me to the elevators with instructions to go to the top floor.
And so I watched Los Angeles expand beneath my feet as I was whisked straight to the top of the tallest building in the city: The Four Seasons.

I emerge from the elevator bay and there's The Architect, waiting at a table in the gorgeous bar area outside of Wolfgang Puck's.
Yep! This guy!

We have the drink. A (singular) drink, and nothing more, and I high five him on his new home and rise to leave when he asks if I'd like dinner- no, no, I say, I couldn't possibly...
But he waves his arm and a waiter arrives. Yes, yes, his table is ready, would he like to be seated?

My stomach roars as it clamshells in on itself. My paycheck was already spent on rent, so I didn't eat that day. Sigh. Yes, let's get seated.
I lie and tell him I'm not that hungry, but he assures me that not only is he insisting on picking up the check, but I simply MUST have some chilean sea bass.
Oh. Well if I have to. My stomach, hell-bent on devouring itself, agrees.

The sea bass is amazing. And the korean tacos. And the springrolls. And the duck.
Yep, yep, all amazing. I try to enjoy it, knowing it's my last good meal for a while.

The Architect touches my hand and runs some fingers down my arm as I reach for yet another dinner roll. The food is to die for, but I'm distracted by my father's voice echoing in my head (possibly resonating up from the ever-narrowing hollows in my sea-bass-stuffed gut) telling me "there's no such thing as a free meal."
This meal was certainly not free- the check came and I tried to snag it from him to cover the tip (which would mean bouncing a check but better than this sickening feeling of indebtedness.)

I saw the bill: $425.
Holy shit.

He won't hear of me covering the tip and and waves me off when I plead to contribute to the sum. The Architect writes a room number on the bill and sends it off with our waiter, then turns to me.
Here it comes. I brace myself and he says:
"So, I've got the penthouse for the night- it's huge. Would you like to come see it?"
No, no I can't. Early morning. Thanks anyway. I just, you know.
"I had to try, right?" He grins at me as I retreat awkwardly, stumbling backwards in heels.
I wish him congrats again AND I'M GONE.
I kick myself in the elevator- indebted, graceless, and now doomed to breakfastlessness.

But integrity intact.

I sent two thank you notes for that meal. One to The Architect's new address, and one to my Father.


Back in Orlando, no longer starving and in a much stronger place emotionally, I had sworn off dating actors and was "shopping online" to see what was available. There was a lot to choose from, but I wanted the exact opposite of an actor. Just to see what it was like.

I selected a Lawyer.
Seemed like a good choice at the time- tall, blonde, physically fit, close to his family. Why not. Sure, he's kind of a gym rat and losing his hair, but this is a deliberate effort on my part to refrain from dating people for superficial reasons. I will try my damndest to make it work.

We meet at a wine bar and he's reasonably cute. Sweet, intelligent, the right age, been married and learned from his mistakes, still friends with his ex, all plusses. He's keen to be in a relationship, like, RIGHT AWAY. He wants a wife and a family, and is in a whole hellofa hurry. Aside from that, though, he's definitely 2nd date worthy.

The Lawyer walks me to my car, parked very near his, which is some fancy model or other.
He points out that he's trading it in for a newer model as soon as he can, which makes me wonder what his marriage must've been like- but he kisses me suddenly, like, inappropriately passionately, like he's trying to recreate a scenario in which I'm welcoming him home after a war.
I see the thought bubble over his head- in his mind, he's clearly dressed as a sailor and I'm the nurse.

It dawns on me that perhaps he's a little drunk- then I judge him for having a liver inferior to mine.
Then I chide myself for judging. This whole date is an exercise in not being superficial, right? I need to get over it. Suddenly he says, in all earnesty, "I'm gonna marry you."
Ohhhhkay. So this is what drunk lawyers are like. Still an improvement over actors.
As he hug-smothers me in the parking lot, I'm forced to inhale and I smell this sweet, strange smell on him. Somewhere in my mind a tiny alarm sounds.
Shit. Well, I'd already said yes to the second date. Whoops.

Date #2 is a lunch date- he asks me to meet him downtown at his building.
"Which building is your building?" I ask.
"The one with my name on it."
(It's the REALLY phallic one in the middle.)

I meet him and in the clear light of day, he's fine. He's smart, driven, loves his job, and seems really friendly. He was very polite to our server. That's important.
We take a quick walk after sushi and I see some fluffy little baby ducks.
Joking, I wonder aloud how many ducklets might fit in my mouth at once, and he stares at me with a horrified expression.
OK, so maybe we're not on the same page in regards to a sense of humor... But he's kind of redeemed himself in the way he speaks and how lovingly he talks about his family. We talk about karate and how much he loves the gym. Like, LOVES the gym. He rolls up his shirt sleeves to show me some well-defined muscles. I'm used to working around superheroes, so I'm probably not as impressed as he'd like me to be, but there's that smell again- like sweet almonds... It is the smell of something wrong, but I still can't quite place it. Regardless, he's charming and kind, and there's really no good reason to not see him again.
Wait for it.

Date #3 is at my place. I cook for him, and we chat about families.
He wants me to meet his, soon.
"Oh, and would I mind keeping my opinions about women's rights, gay issues and gun control to myself if his father asks?"
Wait, what? Absolutely not- I warn him that I have a penchant for speaking my mind, regardless of who's asking. I arch a brow and fold my arms. Red fucking flags all over the field.
He changes tack and, since we're discussing sensitive issues, inquires how soon I think is too soon to be physical in a relationship.
Um. That kind of depends- I tell him I've had a chance to try a few different methods in terms of rushing things, one-night-things, and things in between.
I tell him I wanna be slow. Like, glacially slow.
No more actors, no more craziness. I wanna be smart about this.
"That's good," he says. "I'm glad to hear that- because I have herpes, and I want to get married soon and since I hate condoms, I expect my wife to share my herpes."
ON DATE #3?!? ...wow.
"Okayyyy," I say, trying to process.
I thank him for his honesty, and wrack my brain trying to recall if that kiss on Date #1 has doomed me to anything.
"What are you thinking? Is everything OK? Is this a dealbreaker?!? Please don't say it's a dealbreaker!"
"Um." (Translation: "It's a dealbreaker.")
We say goodnight shortly afterwards. I thank him for his honesty, and he responds by absolutely pinning me down to Date #4. Uggghhh.

I've already made up my mind Date #4 will have to be the last one- partially because of the herpes and partially because he absolutely reeks of desperation.
OK mostly because of the herpes.
"I expect my wife to share my herpes..."


I stall as long as possible, but the inevitable Date #4 rolls around.
It's at his house. I say "house," but it's a small palace.
He gives me an enthusiastic tour- pointing out there's where the kid's rooms will be. There's where I could have a writing room, or a study. Whatever I wanted, just name it. Gulp.
He starts cooking ME dinner now. It's a fancy dinner.
As he invites me to join him on his airplane for a quick trip to New York City, I'm reminded of another fancy meal that cost me way too much.

Melancholy sets in. I know I have to tell him the truth at some point that evening. He's a nice guy, it's a shame- but I don't want to be his wife. I need a guy who gets my sense of humor. And won't riddle me with disease.

He'd been at the gym shortly before I arrived, and was wearing his gym clothes. I help him prep the chopped veggies, and as he reached a muscular arm across me I'm finally close enough to see it:
His skin is grey-blue in certain areas, and flaking apart. As his arm nears my face I smell the sweet almond smell and it hits me...
I am smelling his decaying skin cells.
The man is literally rotting alive in his empty tomb of a home.
Panic sets in and I start talking, quickly.

I tell him about an email I got that day- an invitation to an audition in Los Angeles. If I get the job I'll have to move out there, and I'm not up for a long-distance relationship.
Words tumble out of my mouth as I try to repress my horror at his skin.
Is this some side effect of herpes? Is it from steroids? Hair loss, skin issues, compulsive sweating, mood issues...
Every Valtrex Advertisement I've ever seen hurricanes through my mind as I process.

I'm spitting words out as fast as my whirling water-wheel mind can spin them. Excuses, explanations, reasons, stuff, things. As I speak, the light, once blazing behind his twinkling eyes, fades until he regards me with a dull, flat expression.
"So, there's nothing I can do to get you to stay here?"
"And you won't skip this audition?"
I shake my head and look down. "No."
He sets his fork down and takes my head in his sicky-sweet hands.
"I could give you everything you need. You know that, right? You'd never want for anything."
I gulp. "I know."
He breathes. "Everything I have isn't enough for you?"
I kiss him, once. Last time. "I have to write. I have to write in LA."

He picks his fork up and resumes eating. "Well I guess that's that," he says.
He's right. By the time I'm home at my apartment, he's unfriended me on facebook.
A mutual friend reports that he's asking girls out at the gym two days later.

I recently heard he's married- to a gym girl. I hope they're really happy. He's an honest, kind, ridiculously wealthy man, and if she's cool with sharing "what he has," I wish them all the best.

As for me, I'm happy. I don't have an airplane. I don't have sea bass. But I have this laptop and these stories, and I'm typing them out in the city of my dreams next to my wonderful boyfriend as he writes, too.
He smells amazing, he's disease-free, and the answer is 2.5.
He can fit 2.5 hypothetical ducklings in his mouth.
(He gets it.)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

LA Stories: Rack Focus

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank God for unanswered prayers... I wrote this a few months before I met my boyfriend. I really wanted to share this story, because it's a good reminder that great lessons can be learned from relationships that don't work out the way we want. This helped me learn to appreciate the right qualities, and recognize my Soul Mate when I met him.

Rack Focus is a camera term for changing the focus of a lens during a shot. Things that were far away suddenly seem crystal clear and close, and things that were very close somehow blur and obscure themselves. It's a cool trick, but it's also a total mind f*ck when it happens to you personally.

Over the last month I'd been dating an independent filmmaker. A very good one, too- creative, insightful, socially-conscious, kind. In getting to know him better, I discovered that the reason I'd never found the qualities I wanted in the actors I'd been dating was just that: I'd been dating ACTORS. They're lovely, but while I would stare at their beautiful bodies and faces, watching them shakerball yet another protein shake and pretending to be fascinated by the details of their work-out experience that day, I'd forgotten that actors ACT. They PRETEND to do stuff. I somehow blinded myself to the fact that putting on an Egyptian God costume does not make one an Egyptian God, no matter how well they fill out the headdress. *

*My actor friends- if you think I'm writing about you, I'm not. The fact that you're self-aware enough for that concern eliminates you. The ones I'm referring to are not my FB friends or blog readers. You're wonderful and have treated me well. Go back to your protein shake. ;)

This guy, a Producer, Produced. He made things happen- and he didn't brag about it. We chatted about a film festival and went off on some tangent about bats. He didn't mention he'd won the festival. It wasn't until I visited his home and noticed the gold records on the wall that we even spoke about his musical career.

Me: "Um, wow."

Him: "Oh- thanks. Those were a lot of fun."

Me: (looking closer) "Wait- they're gold but they say platinum on them?"

Him: "Yeah, they're technically platinum, but these were freebies from the record label and I didn't wanna spend money on some award that's just gonna hang on my wall. I think you have to frame them yourself, too."

Me: "Riiiiight. I totally hate it when I have to do that."

When I first met him, I wasn't sure if I was attracted to him or not. He definitely wasn't my "type," but then, to date, my "Type" has been a terrible choice. Once I was able to get to know the Filmmaker better, I'd become a smitten kitten. His home, his attitude, his acoustic guitar collection, everything was warm and inviting and authentic and real. I was completely blown away by how his mind worked and his ability to create and actually DO the things he set out to do. He writes, directs, produces, works equipment, on-set landscaping, everything. We watched a movie together and he sat at his piano and effortlessly duplicated the musical scoring. Suddenly I realized- my bar for dating had not merely been set higher, it had been moved to another PLANET. I'm so used to being dazzled by someone's (shall we say) package I stopped looking at the content. This man amazed me with his quality of character and actual substance. Granted, I have a puppyish enthusiasm for people but whereas I'm easily impressed, it takes a lot to inspire me... and I was inspired. Seeing all the Good this guy was able to accomplish for others reminded me that I want to work harder so I can do more Good, too. Jesus isn't that why I started writing in the first place? So I could provide a voice and make a difference? This guy is making a difference. I wanna play too.

Gradually, date by date, over sushi, stargazing/shivering in a hammock, curled up for a Netflix night or holding hands at the Arclight, I became convinced- THIS was who I wanted. I never once saw the man drink a single protein shake. It seemed like he was actually enjoying my company, rather than looking for another fan to worship him. (Again, something new to me.) He listened to my ideas, read my writing, encouraged my suggestions, and even gave me a shot pitching to his production company. He didn't need me, and I didn't need him- but it was really nice to feel brave enough to want someone again. And I wanted him to want me too.

In addition to all this, he was super respectful of my limits and my comfort level progressing with beginning a physical relationship with someone. I was looking for something real, and I wanted to be smart and take my time. We actually talked about it and seemed completely on the same page and kept things at a PG-13. He invited me to spend the night, and I did, sleeping so soundly in his massive soft warm bed. The beautiful shades of sunrise woke me up in the morning, casting stripes of amber and gold on his antique wooden furniture. I was startled at how natural it felt, and began to sense the beginnings of a closeness I'd not felt in a long time.

Slowly focusing in, becoming clearer as some stray dust motes dance lazy choreography trails across a 6am sunbeam. I swear my life has lens flares.

So when he called at 6:30pm on a Sunday and asked what I was doing, like, RIGHT NOW, and did I want to go to the Hollywood Bowl for some outdoor music, I leapt at the opportunity. I met the Filmmaker and his best friend in Studio City and we headed for the show.

The Hollywood Bowl had been on my Bucket List since childhood, when Looney Tunes would always set Bugs Bunny's operatic fiascos there. Bugs would swap places with the conductor and shenanigans ensued. As a child, I was given a snowglobe with some LA landmarks inside: Griffith, the Hollywood Sign, the Capital Records building and of course the Hollywood Bowl. Time and time again, I'd wind it up and gaze into the world of swirling glitter, watching it settle in the itty-bitty amphitheatre seats leading down to the miniature famous scallop shells, as "Cal-i-fornia, Here I Come" twinkled and chimed from the music box in my hands.

I'd seen the Bowl while hiking, too, still from far away- about on par visually with the size ratio of my snowglobe- so distant, so unreachable. Still very much behind glass and a thing for cartoons and fantasy.

And suddenly, there is was. Or rather, there I was: walking up the winding pathway which deposits you BAM right there in the perfect spot to take it all in. From our seats, I could see the stage beautifully- there was the exact spot Bugs always stood. There was the place the conductor got trapped in the tuba. And wayyyyy up there in the hills, beyond the twinkling lights, was the place I'd hiked and dreamed of this very night.

Rack Focus: It had become real, in the form of an amazing concert next to amazing people. I had my Filmmaker and his friend on my right, and a fun stranger on my left who kept sharing box wine in delicate plastic cups with us. The show was beautiful, and a genial sense of happiness and community permeated through the crowd. We were all the swirling glitter. For an hour or so everyone shared this magic snowglobe existence, and I was elated to check Hollywood Bowl off my bucket list in such a sweet way with a man I was so excited about. Sure, he seemed a little "off" that night, but I attributed it to the uncertainty of PDA in front of his friend. No big deal- I hoped to make up for lost time later.

The Filmmaker had received the tickets from an actress he'd directed before, who was now a performer in the band. When she texted him after the show to see if we wanted to meet her backstage and say hi, we took her up on the opportunity. We'd made it 80% of the way out of the parking lot, but this was too good to pass up, so we turned around and made our path back upstream, where we met her behind the Bowl.

She'd seemed so tiny and far away onstage, and yet, here she was.

Rack Focus: this glimmering 6-foot-tall Music Goddess barefoot in a seafoam green gown. She was gorgeous, and I instantly sensed a connection between her and the Filmmaker, who had seemed uncharacteristically nervous and distant throughout the evening yet lit up in her presence. Especially when she mentioned that she'd be quitting the band and moving back to Los Angeles. This girl is an amazing musician, a talented actress, wickedly smart, and phenomenally beautiful. She was also really, really exceptionally nice and gave off the same aura of kindness and do-goodery that the Filmmaker does. I began to wonder how well they knew each other, but that thought was cut short when the Music Goddess was joking about Hollywood crushes, and how she had a huge crush on an actor. I thought of my old stand-by Hollywood Crush, Jake Gyllenhaal, WHO SUDDENLY WALKED AROUND THE CORNER AND APPROACHED OUR GROUP. He was friends with the Music Goddess (of course,) and chatted with us amicably for a bit before ducking out. Another bucket list item checked off for me.

Again, Rack Focus effect- from a small image on a screen and a tiny portion of my imagination/fantasy, there I was instantly face-to-face in reality with something (in this case Jake Gyllenhaal) which had formerly seemed so unattainable and far away. at one point he'd tilted his head back and laughed, and it was just like when his characters laugh in the movies. I grinned too, enjoying the blur of Hollywood and Real Life backstage at a place I'd only seen on postcards.

As we walked (and I floated) back to the car, the Filmmaker's friend jokingly asked me what I would've done if Jake Gyllenhaal had asked me out.

"I would've simply had to tell him sorry, I was out with someone," I said, gesturing towards the Filmmaker.

"Yeah," the best friend replied, "but it's not like you two are dating..."

It was as if I hadn't realized a knife had been plunged into my heart until I felt it violently twisted and wrenched.

Rack Focus: Everything close and clear suddenly became blurry and wrong.

In the brief moment between the opening of the wound and the start of the bloodflow, I chittered happily away, blowing it off. Denial is kind that way. It wasn't until the Filmmaker mentioned how amazingly funny the Music Goddess was that it really began to pour out.

Uh oh. So she's funny too, hunh? ...This might need some stitches.

Temporarily bandaging my rip with a smile, I continued to wrap my injury with the excitement from the night as we dropped off his friend and grabbed a milkshake and a burger. We were talking, we were laughing. He was looking me in the eye for what seemed like the first time that night. Maybe things were OK.

He invited me back to his house. Delirious from blood-loss and giddy from snowglobe life, I went with him. And life sped from a PG-13 to an R before I really knew what I was doing.

Let me repeat: What I was doing. Me. My choice. Looking for some way to prevent hemorrhaging.

But it was too late and I bled out in a pair of apathetic arms.

As close as the lens was, I realized I couldn't regain his focus.

Later, the words "not quite on the same page" would tumble from his lips, and even though he held me as he slept (as HE slept,) I knew the knife had gone too deep and it was over, like a leaking snowglobe that lost its glitter.

I kissed him goodbye in the unmistakeably cold grey light of a foggy dawn and slipped out the door.

He suddenly seemed very far away.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

LA Stories: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Los Angeles

My mom nodded and cried when I told her I was moving back to Los Angeles. My father pursed his lips together in that disapproving manner, and my brother literally facepalmed. Hadn't LA completely kicked my ass 18 months ago? Hadn't I JUST settled down, gotten my bearings and begun to heal? The dust from my divorce had barely settled and the scar tissue was still fresh. I had a Florida job, I had built a Florida life... but I'm a California Girl with a California heart.

And the heart, having broken and regrown anew, needed to go back to California.

The comparisons were painful- my brother likened my situation to a desperate gambling addict at a slot machine, pumping quarter after quarter into a one-armed bandit. "Maybe THIS time... OK maybe THIS time..." Others compared it to a battered spouse going back to her abuser. "But they swore they were gonna change..."

The first time I went to LA, I was a starry-eyed dreamer full of hopes and expectations. This was wrong of me. Just like a 15-year old assumes they know how to drive because they've ridden in a car, it doesn't amount to jack shit when they're actually behind the wheel. This was the case with Los Angeles. I came in all excited with my learner's permit, got seriously distracted by my passenger, lost focus and inevitably crashed and burned.

Let me be clear: I do NOT blame my passenger. Let me be clearer: it is not Jay's fault that I got as bad as I got, sinking deeper and deeper into depression and self-abuse. It is not the city's fault, either. There are many factors in catastrophic disaster, and just as I cannot fully assign responsibility to my passenger or the road itself, as "the Driver" and captain of my destiny, I must assume responsibility for my collision with said destiny.

We'd left Florida under bad circumstances, in the wake of job layoffs, my parents' divorce, my best friend moving away and the birth of my brother's second child. I felt a severing of ties and knew that the relationships I'd cherished at home would be forever altered- and so I begged, and begged- I'd waited 8 years, after all, for HIS jobs to work out, for HIS stars to align... he was reluctant, but I eventually wore him down, and convinced him it was the right thing to do.

Husband by my side, (so I thought) he went kicking and screaming, but "we" went to LA.

(note: I was the one who waited. I chose to depend on his timeline. And I begged him until we finally left. Realizing my hand in sculpting the impending disaster has been good for me- he never even wanted to go.)

When we arrived, the inevitable fissures ruptured, and as our relationship crumbled, I crumbled too, blaming the environment the whole time. "LA Ate My husband," was the potential book title. The more he pulled away, the more resentful I became, and it surely showed in my demeanor and physical appearance.

Behind closed doors, my stress was consuming me. I'd complain to him that my gums were bleeding, my hair was falling out. He'd take a slant-ways glance at the clumps of hair in my hands and shrug it off, telling me it was normal. Then he'd go back to his video games. Yes, this was a dick move- but it was NOT the city's fault. And it was my fault for not recognizing his apathy for what it was. It's my fault for trusting him to be right.

No WONDER I wasn't getting jobs. No WONDER none of the opportunities I'd been expecting had opened up to me- I was sick, I was hurting. I didn't want to be around me, my own husband didn't want to be around me, so why would anyone else? At some point I must've decided to win my husband's attention by needing him, which drove him further away, but I was stuck with the cosmic kick-me sign I'd taped on my own back. And where Jay didn't notice, the city surely did.

As the months wore on, and he left, I was pumping nothing but bile and acid through my own veins. The self-sabotage and body abuse I'd indulged in became the only ritual I could count on- the only thing which seemed in my control. I was desperate, scared, hungry and angry- and the city could smell it on me. The more I made myself bleed, the more the sharks attacked.

You get what you give, so naturally, a string of horrible situations snowballed after Jay bailed. Out of subsequently hotter frying pans and into increasingly raging fires, I think I was probably trying to kill myself the same way someone commits Suicide By Cop. I was taunting Los Angeles, subconsciously begging it to end my pain before I had to take matters into my own hands. Los Angeles responded in force, by starving me out and frankly, just sucking Everything which could possibly go wrong went wrong- because I needed it to.

I was terrified of my surroundings, and everywhere I looked I found scary ranting homeless people, random strangers bleeding on sidewalks, murder scenes (hello neighbors!), and poop on the sidewalks. And off the sidewalks. Pretty much everywhere I looked I saw shit. Why? Because I was looking for shit.

When I was giving off all that bad energy, I attracted bad things. When I came with my hands outstretched and empty, expecting things to be placed in them, I was left wanting. When I was scared, I was scary, and scary things became my constant companions.

I crumbled and burst into flames and exploded and burned and shattered and ended. My brother came, scooped up my remains and brought them back home.

Then, I got better. I got lots better. It took about a year and a half. It meant lots of home cooking, sunshine, and exposure to unconditional love from my family, who held me while I cried. It took some wonderful friends who restored my trust in men by sleeping by my side until I learned to sleep alone again. It took a LOT of levity- mostly at work, with my comedy roles, and making others laugh until my own genuine laughter was resparked. In concentrating on others, even just for a little while at work or spending time with my pals, I finally got out of my own head. I was resting, I was eating. And I was healing.

I took an amazing get-your-shit-together seminar by Landmark Education, which helped a lot. I spent some time at a Buddhist Retreat. That helped a lot too. I spent a couple nights in a treehouse, and attended a ful moon sweatlodge ceremony in the forest. That helped a LOT. I dated some really beautiful boys and learned about what I like and what I don't like when it comes to relationships. Ohhhmigod that helped too.

I remember sitting on MY couch in MY home, laughing at a really awesome and completely inappropriate joke on a comedy show when I felt a familiar glow strike up in my heart, like a pilot light had suddenly been ignited. "Hello Ember. I know you."

I didn't know how, I didn't know when, but I knew I needed to go back to LA and fight for my new dream as my new self. I was finally brave enough to want something again.

California hadn't changed. Not one bit. But I certainly had. In dissolving to ash and Phoenixing my way out of the crematorium I'd constructed for myself, I'd become rebuilt of sterner stuff. And I was ready.

Like the chain event of bad stuff which had kicked my ass before, a completely unexpected chain event of good stuff happened as soon as I was ready and Babe Ruth'd my intentions. I suddenly had the means to go west.

And so I went back swinging- I was changed. I'd been behind the wheel, I know how to drive and I know how to crash. The absolute worst had already happened, and I was no longer afraid. When someone is fearless (for whatever reason) the Universe responds to that, too. I was full of fresh stories, fresh ideas- I came with my hands full to GIVE to the city, to contribute. I was the opposite of the negative me, and I have had the opposite of the experience I went through.

A HUGE part of What Helped was accepting responsibility for what was happening and how I was responding to it. I'd become highly reactive, pinging off at the slightest "boo." Making decisions based on pressure and fear lead to some horrible decisions. Blaming my ex for EVERYTHING (especially the horrors that happened to me AFTER he left) was a waste of energy. I realized my shared part in the demise of our relationship. I realized how much better off I was without someone who would treat me like that and abandon me in the condition in which I was left. I realized how toxic I'd been and stopped blaming Los Angeles for giving me exactly what I was begging for. I stopped hurting myself, and made a point of learning how to protect myself against ever making those mistakes again, or depending on anyone else for my happiness.

If I'm going to allow an absolute idiot to determine my mood, that idiot will be ME.

I became calmer. I became strong. I was over my grief- I'd mourned the miscarriage of my marriage and my dream, and all that remained of my disaster was anger. Harnessing my anger as a fuel was invaluable- and figuring out how to let it go was... well... priceless. But that's another story.

LA's my friend now. The city has opened up like a hand to hold, receiving me with the same embrace I felt when I collapsed, broken, into my mother's arms. But like my mother nurtures the broken, LA favors the bold. It is a city designed for the fearless, and living within her parameters means I'm now eligible to play the game.

Amazing stars aligned themselves to provide for me- everything I needed, from a roof to roommates to furniture to jobs to a new car- EVERYTHING has lined up to bring me where I am now- which is happy, on my own steam.

Naturally, this is the exact moment I met my soul mate, in the right place right time, like a welcome home gift.

...but that's another story too- one I can't wait to share with you.

I don't need to be famous- I don't need to be rich. I DO need to write, and I need to be in California.

The advice I'd offer to the starry-eyed dreamers of the world who want to chase their LA dreams is this: come out, by all means. Crash, burn, and LEARN. Take responsibility for what happens, and definitely don't take any bad luck personally.
You can change your stars, as soon as you accept that you ARE the stars.