Sunday, August 16, 2015

Writer For Hire: At Your Cervix

Ladies, ladies, ladies!
If you are the proud owner/operator of a vagina, I highly recommend you read this. It can save your life.
If you're simply a vagina aficionado, or have friends with vaginas, I ALSO recommend you read this. Because, vaginas, guys.


I spent 16 years with the same guy, and when it started to fall apart, I spent a lot of time alone in bed, depressed.
When it finally did fall apart, I spent a lot of time also in bed, cheering myself up. But this time I wasn't alone.
(Shameless Winky Emoticon.)
My "number" is still in the single digits, but clearly I had some lost time I needed to make up for.
I got laid, got some great stories, and unfortunately, got something else:

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I don't have HPV anymore. I am healthy, clear of the disease, and Planned Parenthood has stated that my vagina is "so clean you could eat off it." So, hooray for me! I was lucky, but not everyone is - and HPV can be pretty dangerous. I was shocked at how little I knew about it, so here's what I didn't know and what you should be aware of, you hornball sexkittens...

"Page-ing the owner operator of the pink vagina parked illegally in the chair..."

HPV is something people don't talk about. It's not a glamorous or humorous STI, so it doesn't get much limelight, but it really should and here's why: IT CAN KILL YOU DEAD, LADIES.
-80% of sexually active adults in major cities have some version of it.
-Most of us don't know we even have it.
-There is no test to determine whether or not a guy has it - they can be carriers and never know. Totes unfair, right?
-There is, however, a test to determine whether or not girls have it - but it's not fun.
-Guys can carry it with no symptoms.
-Girls can carry it with no symptoms. I had it and didn't even know I had it - everything looked and felt perfectly normal.
-You can get it even if you and your partner are using condoms. (Suuuuper unfair!)
-HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. The booksmart part of me who aced all her sex-ed classes knew that it meant genital warts. But that's totally not it. There are dozens of different strains of HPV, all with different calling cards. Most of them have zero physical symptoms except for one, and it's a kicker: HPV can give you cervical cancer.
If you have a cervix, cervical cancer can kill you.

There is one silver lining - if you stay healthy, your body can "clear" the disease. It takes, on average, 2 years but it is very possible.
However, if you have an aggressive type of HPV, or you let it go unchecked because you didn't know to go get an annual pap test, you can die. Dead. And then you can't have sex anymore.

I'm a catastrophizer, so naturally, I was at defcon 1 upon hearing that I had HPV.
Everything I'd learned in school (condoms, condoms, condoms) about protecting myself had let me down, and here I was, newly divorced and scared shitless that I was going to die from snatch cancer.
I was terrified, because I didn't know the facts.

Guess who else didn't know the facts: the guy I was seeing at the time. Whom I foolishly called for comfort.

Let's call this gentleman "A."
Could stand for "A-hole," could stand for "Andrew." But to keep his identity (and callousness) a secret, we'll stick with "A."
I didn't have insurance, and this was before ObamaCare, so I went though a Christian Clinic to get an annual woman's health exam.
I had no reason to assume anything was wrong.
As soon as the clinic called me with abnormal pap results from what I assumed would be a perfectly routine pap smear, I thunderstruck to find out I had a stealth STI I didn't even know I had. I was extremely upset and the clinic did little to assuage my fears, telling me that I should come in for further testing but that if they determined that I had an STI they had to "report it."
"Bullshit," I say.
Then they told me about the additional cancer risk. Ughhh. Gutpunch.
I felt like I'd been poisoned.

I called "A." for support and to tell him I probably had HPV, which most likely meant he had it too and would be a symptom-less carrier.
At which point he promptly freaked out and asked me where I got it. Because there's, like, no way it could've been him.
He's CATHOLIC, for fuck's sake. They don't get diseases!

Now, there were really only two sources it could've been: either my ex-husband had tracked it in off the streets, or it was "A."

"A." insisted it wasn't him. Since I couldn't exactly vent my frustration on my ex, and most guys never even know they're carriers, I told "A" to check his facts and get back with me. "A." is convinced Planned Parenthood is the devil, and gets all of his sciencey information from trusted Catholic sources.
"A." then has his roommate call me to be the voice of reason. "A's" roomie is a smooth-talking Englishman with a penchant for one night stands. As a self-diagnosed sex addict, the roomie is well-versed in matters of the genitalia, and called me back to console me with his adorable accent and inconceivable misogyny...

"You probably picked it up from a public toilet seat, love," he croons.

If only...

Yes, he was serious. He swore I couldn't possibly have picked up an STI from "A.," his Catholic condom-hatin' roomie, who, unbeknownst to me at the time, had a girlfriend back home when he and I first started dating. Clearly he could do no wrong. Clearly I picked it up from a toilet seat. Because, science and stuff.
(This man is also an actual part-time Life Coach. Ladies beware.)

Eventually "A." got checked, and proudly told me it came back negative.
Of COURSE it came back negative. It never shows up in tests for guys, so unless he had visible symptoms, he'd never know if he was a carrier (or Patient 0.) At my urging, he told his (now) ex-girlfriend, who may have wound up sharing this with both of us at some point. I'm sure that was an awkward conversation.
She was tested and it came back negative. I told "A." that it can take several months to show up in tests, that it wasn't an instant-results kind of thing.
"A." grew really cold at that point, and although we'd ended our romantic relationship months before, this was the spectacular end to our friendship.

I felt violated. I felt maligned. I felt misunderstood. I felt tainted. I felt dirty and I felt stupid. Like I didn't deserve to enjoy my body anymore. I felt a deep sense of shame and worst of all, a pervasive sense of dread and fear haunted my love life.
I'm pretty sure that film "It Follows" is about HPV.
Never a single symptom. Never any warts, bumps, never any pain.
Just an all-consuming terror that my vagina would grow cancer cells and kill me. Probably overnight, in my sleep.

I told another boyfriend about it. I'm convinced this man could not have been a "donor" because of the nigh-virginal state he'd been in when he met me. He hadn't been sexually active for years, so even if he'd been a carrier it would've passed long before he had a chance to pass it on to me.
However, since there was a chance I passed it on to him, I had to call him up.
At which point HE freaks out and calls every girl he's ever hugged or cuddled. He looks up HPV, but he looks it up on WebMD and chooses to focus on the worst case scenario.
Sure enough, one of his ex-girlfriends (with whom he'd had a walk down memory lane after he and I parted ways) has cancer. But it's THROAT CANCER. And she's been a heavy smoker for years.
Tragic? Yes.
My fault? Fuck no.
But naturally, he blames me. Awkwardness ensues and I feel like a monster.

Cut to a year later and it's time to call upon the good people of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles to test me and see what stage I'm at...

They tell me this...
There are three kinds of "danger levels" from HPV:
2) Medium-speed, Holy Shit Keep An Eye On This It Could Turn Into Cancer Any Minute YOU WHORE, and
3) Cancer, you're dead. Or if you're not, they have to cut out pieces of your cervix with a small chain-saw so you'll WISH you were dead.
Guac is extra.

Fortunately, there are ways to test what kind you have.
First, you get a pap smear (a simple swab-rubbed-against-your-cervix-test) to determine whether or not you have cancery cells.
It's not fun, but it's not too painful. You'll just feel crampy the rest of the day, no big.
Then you wait 2 weeks, and if they call and tell you that you have cancery pre-cancerous cells, they'll need to perform a culposcopy.

A culposcopy is when they take what feels like a serrated jack-o-lantern scooping tool and rake-scrape it along your cervix while peering up your cooch with a microscope. It's grand.

So grand, the first time I had one, I got up from the table, threw up on the clinic floor and passed out from pain.
I woke up in the chair I'm pretty sure they place girls in after they have abortions. A heated massage chair, pulsing with soothing electric waves. I struggled to keep my eyes from tunnel-visioning out again as I heard my roommate's name being called in the waiting room.
My roommate, an officer and a gentleman, came to the back of the clinic and scooped me out of the chair and carried me Whitney-Houston-Kevin-Costner-style to his car and drove me home.
(Fun fact: my roommate is not tall in stature, but incredibly strong. When he carried me, I had a bizarre vision of those mighty leafcutter ants or whatever hoisting dead bird carcasses home for food.)
My insides hurt like hell and I cursed "A." with every pothole we hit on the way home.
In keeping with the theme of unspeakable pain, I laid in a fetal position on the couch and stared at "Birdemic" on Netflix. I'm loaded up on Ibuprofen while my other roomie fed me coconut soup from my favorite Thai place.
My roomies were pretty freakin' awesome.
I felt better in a few days, but had serious cramps and spotty bleeding. Plus the blood and other goodies that came out were stained with iodine dye, so it looked like a load of coffee grounds were seeping from my vagina directly into my panties.
So not sexy. But better than not knowing if I was precancerous, cancerous, or just plain fucked.

Planned Parenthood called me in a week with the results, and I guess I won the HPV lottery: I had the slow, only marginally scary kind of precancerous cells. Unlike the Christian Clinic, Planned Parenthood took the time to actually talk with me about HPV, and assured me that lots of women have it. I was pretty emotional still and told the nurse that I didn't know anyone else who had it. There was a long pause, and then she said "I had it. And I cleared it, and I'm healthy. So don't worry."
She told me tons of people have it and just never know, but I still felt awful. Like I was being punished for something.

So, cut to another year later. Things are great and I'm totally in love. I met an amazing guy who I can see a future with, and oh crap we're having The Sex Talk. And here's the part where I have to tell him I have This Thing, and he'll think I'm a whore and leave.
He'll tell me to avoid toilet seats.
...But he doesn't. Instead, he does his research and finds out that oh hey, a LOT of this is going around. And he understands that even if we use condoms, he may become a carrier and never have any way of being tested for it.
He responds by immediately making a visit to Planned Parenthood himself, and getting tested for everything.
(Just ask for "The Works." It's on the Secret Menu.)
He's clean as a whistle. And I'm about to ruin that, because he really wants to put it in me.

I'm still in love! Same Guy! We're still doin' it!
I go to my annual Planned Parenthood appointment and get my pap. It's abnormal and I have to come in for another culposcopy.
I cry a little. I'm so tired and over it - I just want to feel clean again.
Boo. But I'm a big girl now, and this is the price I pay for having The Sex. I have to be responsible, it's just... why is no one else talking about this? Why am I the only person I know getting tested for this stuff? I know I'm not the only one who has The Sex, so why do I feel so alone in this? My boyfriend is amazing and supportive, but then, it's not his cervix about to face the melon-baller.

I suck it up and borrow some xanax from a friend and endure my second culposcopy with significantly less pain.
No vomiting or fainting. (I'm a pro by now.)
I'm making jokes about how if I get 10 culposcopies, my 11th should be free. That they should punch my culposcopy card with the same punch they just used to take a nip out of my cervix. I am loopy and delightful.
Then the receptionist who checks me out tells me not to worry, that she had HPV too and recovered 100% from it.
I am relieved to know that I am among at least 3 sexually active adults in Los Angeles.
Later, they call with the news. I still have it. I still have slow, slightly-less-terrifying HPV. They tell me I probably won't die from cancer in the next 12 months, and to come back in a year. I feel dirty and ashamed. God dammit.

Over the next calendar year, I open up to 3 girls about my HPV. One has it, one HAD had it. But we all shared this amazing AHA! moment where there's this wave of relief that someone else is going though a hell we thought we faced alone.
The third gal is kind of a slut and should probably go get tested, bless her heart.
I feel better. I feel... better.

And better, and better, and better.
I take care of my immune system, get rest, and load up on healthy foods and exercise, per the instructions from my doctor.

I have my annual pap, courtesy of Planned Parenthood.
I bite my nails for a week, and then, they call with the results:
(dramatic drumroll, please)
I am 100% healthy and fine. My body has cleared it, I no longer have HPV. Clean, pure, healthy happy vagina. So clean you can eat off it!
And I am elated. I feel exonerated in some way. Like I completed some sort of punishment.
The last vestigial souvenir of my single days is gone and finally, it's just me and my guy.
The one who trusted me and never made me feel dirty. The one who stood by my side and loves me unconditionally.
The one who can put it in me.

Ladies, (and dudes who read this,) I can't even begin to tell you how amazing it feels to have this hanging axe over my head removed. This dark Spectre is vanished, gone for good. I feel foolish that I didn't know about it, and I feel lucky I had the "good" kind. I feel even luckier that it cleared my system and, if I stay healthy and monogamous, I'll never have to deal with it again.

But if I'd let shame or "A." or guilt stop me from being diligent about my own health, it could've gotten ugly fast. It terrifies me how little I knew about HPV - and I consider myself pretty educated. Walp, now I'm even MORE educated, and if this inspires even one of my readers to go get checked, I'm happy to share.
Yeah, it's kinda embarrassing. But so are half my blogs, so, whatevs. It's never been about maintaining some perfect appearance. Sometimes it's about sharing what we know for the greater good. I waited to share this story, not because I was ashamed, but because I really wanted to have a happy ending to it.
And I finally do.
And you will too, if you take care of your health and GO. GET. CHECKED. (you whores.)

Ahh I'm just kidding. You know I love you.


I got this amazing, exonerating, Governor's-reprieve phone call from Planned Parenthood the same day Will (my boyfriend) and I'd decided to go for a hike, letting me know I was healthy and fine. We'd chosen a hike with a specific purpose - I had a book to drop off. I'd long since burned the wedding promises my ex had vowed, then broke. I'd burned mine too. There were no words left to keep once my ex left. But we'd written them in this beautiful red journal, a leather-bound book our Officiant would hold and read from at our wedding.
I'd exorcised the offending pages from the book years ago, but still couldn't bring myself to destroy such a beautiful blank journal with so many clean, empty pages left to offer. I also didn't want to ever use it again.

Here I was, stuck with this gorgeous journal that I could neither keep nor destroy.
I lamented the situation to my boyfriend, and he suggested we leave it up on the top of a mountain overlooking Burbank - the home of the Magic Tree, which has become a popular spot for meditation and reflection for those able to make the strenuous hike, and the journals left and donated up there would become communal records of joy, life-lessons, heartbreak, triumph, despair and ultimately, love.
I was absolutely all for this idea. I loved the chance to turn a loss into a gift.
The call came as we were in the car on the way to the hike, so we stopped at a coffee shop and the very first entry in the journal is now my own story of triumph and recovery.
In 100-degree heat on one of the hottest days of the year, we climbed together.
The air was hot and the book kept slipping in my sweaty hands but we climbed on, sometimes only a few feet at a time.

Eventually, (one legitimately strenuous mile later) we get to the top and I add the book to the box of journals at the summit, at the base of a tree which serves as a living symbol of love and dedication.
I left the book there. I let it go.
When we arrived home, I hopped in our pool.
I was still in my hiking clothes and as the grit and grime from the heat left my body, dissolving invisibly within the crisp cool water, I felt clean for the first time in a very long time.

Monday, April 27, 2015


My boyfriend's name is William. Matthew is his middle name, but since he is a "the third," he's chosen to go by Matt for most of his life.
I already had 14 Matts in my phone when I met him, so when he suggested I enter his number, I asked him if he'd rather be the 15th Matt or the first Will. I reminded him I'd already dated two Matts to disastrous results.

He asked me, "on a scale of one to Ryan Gosling, how sexy do you find the name 'Will?'"
"Baby Gooses!" was my earnest and eager reply.
He chose WISELY, and has been my Will ever since.
But I'm not one to let a name stand in the way of a Titular Pun, so here it is:

The Laundro-Matt blog...

When I first got married to my ex, way back in 2004, I'd moved straight from my very sheltered life at Mom and Dad's to living with my (at the time) husband. I was super new at adulting, and in one of my many, many classic newlywed mistakes, managed to dye most of my husband's underwear and socks a delightfully cheery shade of pink when I washed them with a rogue red sock.

My ex took it in stride, but he was quick to suggest that we separate our laundry from that point on. He took care of his stuff, I took care of my stuff. And I profoundly regret agreeing to that, because it set a precedent for Not Figuring Shit Out Together.

Six years later when he suggested we separate our marriage, so he could take care of his stuff and I could take care of my stuff, I took the bait. And that was the beginning of the end of things.

A year later, when my whirlwind disaster-journey landed me safely living with my then-boyfriend Paul, I wanted to do everything I could to express my gratitude for the multitude of kindnesses Paul had shown me. And so I very bravely did a load of his laundry.
*author's note: Laundry = Love. Kudos to any man who does his ladies' laundry. And ladies, if you're doing laundry for a man you're not living with, you are a chump.

For those of you following this blog, you may recall how profoundly struck I was while feeling the heft and weight of his jeans as I'd folded them. These were his working pants, in which he installed theatrical lighting. They were rugged and coarse and very different from my "girl jeans." The density of these pants caught me off guard, and I realized: I'd never folded "guy clothes" before. I instantly felt a bittersweetness strike my heart. I wish I'd folded my ex's jeans for him. I wish we'd tried to try. I wish he hadn't given up so easily.
But it was just easier to separate.

Cut to 4 years later. Present day. 2015.
I wind up working away from home more frequently than my boyfriend, and often I'll come home to find he's done our laundry. This is miraculous in and of itself, but my favorite part is the elaborate thong-chandeliers he makes while drying my delicates from our ceiling fixtures.

This, but like, hanging artistically from our kitchen light. It's good stuff.

Keenly aware that I was slacking on my end, I insisted on helping with the next load.

Our heaving hamper finally let us know that today was the day. My boyfriend loaded the first load of our clothes in the washing machine and dryer downstairs in our building's tiny laundry room. I took over after that, and throughout the day, I made trips up and down the stairs, to the clothesline and back, and performing the sheet-folding dance in our tiny living room.
Later, true to form, I overloaded the washing machine and caused it to break.

This much, times, like, five. Oops. I always assume if the lid closes, it's good to go.

In sheer denial and ignorance, I loaded our sopping wet clothes into the dryer and broke that too.
I made a guilty run to the LaundroMat down the street with the last of the whites as my boyfriend attempted to repair the machines I'd murdered.

Finally, with a view of a California sunset kissing the drought-yellowed hills, I'm folding our clothes.
His clothes. My clothes. Our clothes. There's the batman shirt that he always wears. There's the grey H&M shirt he wore out to our friend's birthday party. A replay of the days we've lived the past month flashes as I fold. We've had a lot of fun in these clothes. And also out of them. My mind wanders...

And then I get to his pants.

Shorts, actually. Cargo shorts because he knows how much I love their pockets. He purchased them in duplicate so he'd have a place for my phone when we walk. A special pocket for chapstick because he always has chapstick and I fucking love that about him.
I feel the weight and the heft of this fabric, feel their rugged velcro and zippers in my fingers as I flip them neatly in half, then half again.
I remember my guilty confession to him about how I ruined the laundry, how I was sorry, how I'd fix it.
And I remember him telling me not to worry, smirking and saying that he'd give me plenty of opportunity to perfect my technique over time. Lots and lots of practice, he says. And I am grateful, because his first instinct wasn't to bail.

2004 Me is punching the lavender-scented laundromat air.

It's OK that I made a mistake. It's OK to keep trying.
Clothes are going to keep getting dirty and machines are going to break. Laundry gets ruined occasionally.
(In my case, twice every 10 years.)
But he doesn't mind.

I finish my folding and place the stacks of fresh clothes in my bag, ready to come home to someone who makes me feel shiny and clean.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Six Flags" the Barback and His Amazing Abs!

Another older annecdote I forgot to share...
Several times a year, all the abs in Los Angeles gather for their semi-annual Ab Fest.

Kinda like these I guess.

This abdominal caucus convenes on one man's midsection, and that man's name is (for the purposes of this blog,) XXXX.
(bahhh gotta look out for the guy's privacy an all. Dammit. It's SUCH a stupid name, too. I wish I could say it.)
He's bronze, he's blonde, he's beautiful, and his So-Cal Valley drawl is hotter than a sizzling fajita platter at the Saddle Ranch he works at.

Reader's note: this concludes the nice things I have to say about XXXX.

I met XXXX at that very same Saddle Ranch, on Sunset, when I made the classic mistake of showing up on time for a co-worker's birthday party. The invite said 10:30, so naturally, the punishment for my ignorance was to sit at the bar, alone, for about 45 minutes.

At this place...
Did I mention my coworker was turning 21? Sigh.

During that time, I joked around with the hot chatty barback, who, I assumed, considered it a job requirement to flirt with me. His name is XXXX.
Let me say that again, and allow it to really sink in:
His name is XXXX. That is his actual name, and he seems oblivious to how stupid that is.
That is a name for a caveman, or maybe Kristin Bell's husband. But really? XXXX?" Come on. I stifle a grin and focus on my drink.
XXXX asks me what I do, and I tell him I'm a writer. His eyes light up.

"Really?" he asks. "I'm looking for a writer!"

"Really." I'm skeptical, but then he launches into a pitch he's got - he wants to create a new spin on Alice in Wonderland, where Alice is a hitman. Apparently he's got a whole story bible mapped out, and knows exactly how he wants the plot to go, he just needs someone who can crank it out in the proper format for him. He's got a list of characters, and descriptions of each scene. I'm actually impressed - the idea is cool, and it's a job I wouldn't mind taking on, provided the price was right.

He asks if he can get my number so we can discuss it a little further.

"Cool," I say, and hand him my card, nonchalantly. I get up to go pee, and he swears he'll text me. He's absolutely never, ever going to text me.

He texts me. While I'm peeing. "Careful in there," XXXX writes. "We had to clean up some nasty things after last night's bathroom orgy."

I smile. How can I not.

"Way to keep it classy," I fire back.

I'm busy with my friends for the rest of the night. (The FINALLY showed up.) But XXXX texts me again the next morning.
"Good morning beautiful."
Wait, what? Weren't we talking about a script job? Like, work stuff?

Confused, I agree to meet him when he asks me out to coffee. Is it a date? I have no idea. I wear writer clothes, just in case.
He talks with me a little bit about his script idea over lattes, and it still sounds pretty good, albeit slightly less organized than he'd made it out to be at the bar. There was no actual "bible," per se, but he had a list of characters. And he knew how he wanted it to begin.
I arch a brow at him. This is starting to seem like more work than I'd thought, but still, a gig's a gig.
He was a barback at one of the most lucrative bars on Sunset Boulevard. He could probably afford to make it worth my time.

I had to go, but as I'm standing up, he takes my hand suddenly.
"Hey, thanks, for just chilling with me, too," he says. "I don't get to talk to girls like you a lot."
That eyebrow shoots back up.
"And what kind of girl am I, XXXX?" I somehow manage to pronounce his name without it sounding comical.
"You know." He looks bashfully at the remains of his muffin. "Smart."
Oh! A compliment! ...wait, or was it?
Was he calling me fat?
I wasn't sure. But I knew it was NOT a date.
"I'll email you my consultation rates," I tell him as I get in my car.
He smiles and waves from the curbside table.

What just happened?

That night he sends me a text thanking me for my time that afternoon and letting me know he was thinking about me. A lot. Winky face.
Dear lord. What have I gotten myself into?
He texts me again the next morning, "good morning beautiful," and I begin to assume I'm on some sort of mass-text roster.
I mean, a guy this gorgeous, with access to scattered ass left and right at "Straddle Ranch," surely has better options than me.

Like this "Take-Home-To-Mom" beauty...

But then he asks if I want to hang out with him that afternoon, in the park.
I actually had to get a stilt workout in, since some stiltwalking auditions were coming up, so I agree.
Shit. Wait. Is THIS a date?
I wear workout clothes. It's not a date.

And yet he meets me at the park, opens my car door for me, compliments my ass while I stretch (he clearly knows the way to my heart) and seems genuinely impresseed as I strut around on my drywalls, practicing my turns and skips. We chat a little, and, true to his form, most of it is about him. There's a little more commentary about my ass, but mainly him.

Then he took his shirt off for no reason. LADIES AVERT YOUR EYES because dear god. Dear. GOD. I just... really? On a real person?
The semiannual Los Angeles Ab-Fest, 2013. And there is was. Every ab in the world. Like, all the abs, ever. I think somehow he'd planned to remove his shirt where a sunbeam would fall, because at that exact moment a ray of light shot from the heavens and dazzled the very air around his glistening 19-or-20 pack.
I'm pretty sure a choir started singing.

Yep. More like these.

He starts his workout, and I feel like a perv just hanging around like the beads of sweat rolling down his body, towards his GAHHH FOCUS WOMAN. I avert my gaze as much as possible and WHERE IS THAT SINGING COMING FROM.
He tells me that basically, rather than a bad-ass female Alice, HE wants to be Alice.
He wants this to be a vehicle for his acting and stunt career.
Ah, of course.
Oh, and that "character list" he has? It's in his head. He rattles off a few ideas, but really everything sounds pretty half-baked and weak, in the clear light of day. But damn that light's reflecting off his golden, tawny-sorry. It was so weird trying to talk shop with this guy.
I pin him down (only verbally, sorry ladies) and get him to confirm: really, he just wants me to make up a story where he's a hitman and there's an evil queen and there's chess and drug references and stuff. But make it gritty and cool.
Pretty sure this is how the script for "The Unsual Suspects" was created. In between pull-up reps.

I took my confusion and drove home to consult my roommate for advice.

"Sounds like some serious abs," she says, when I tell her.
"Oh yes."

We then make a verbal list of how he's blowing hot one minute, then treating me like a business partner the next. I honestly can't tell if he's flirting or he's just naturally that flirty with everyone, even writers he'd like to hire.
Eager to eliminate him as a potential suitor, so I don't create any unnecessary confusion, I begin to list the serious red flags which had come up during our brief chat in the park:

Red Flag #1: He has yet to respond to the consultation rates I sent him, or mention money at all.
Red Flag #2: He doesn't have a car. Shallow, I know, but how could he come to my rescue if I'm ever a damsel in distress?
Red Flag #3: He lives with roommates. FOUR roommates. He doesn't have his own room, he's the guy on the couch. Ick.
Red Flag #4: Those abs tho. Anyone who spends that much time on themselves is probably a narcissist.
Red Flag #5: He's into pot. Like, a lot. No wonder he can't seem to finish (or start) a script, he's stoned, like, 24/7.
Red Flag #6: His name is XXXXX. COME THE FUCK ON.

Thus, Six Flags: Fun for a ride or two maybe, but not somewhere I wanna spend a lot of time. Plus, dirty, dirty, dirty.
The man works at STRADDLE RANCH. He's beautiful, but probabbly riddled with the herp. At the least. With a heavy sigh, I know what I must do.
I gotta cut those abs loose.

The next day, I send XXXX an email suggesting he's got enough material (maybe) for a short film, which would be between 15 to 30 pages. I send him my page rate, my day rate, and what my hourly consultation rate would be for any future story development meetings.

I then text him that I was looking forward to getting started on his project.
XXXX texts me back asking if that's ALL I'm eager to start doing.
I do not respond.
He texts me a winky, tongue out face.

I show my roommate.
We're fairly certain that a herpetic dick-pic is in our immediate future if I do not clarify, so I let him know that I accept paypal and cashier's checks.
There is a long pause, and a series of three dots. For a long, long time.
Then, XXXX texts me:
"I was hoping we could work something ELSE out, if u no what I mean."
I do not respond.

He sends me another goddamn winky face.
"Like i give u pleasure n u write."
Ugh. Subtle.
I mean wow really??? I can write for this guy, NOT get paid, AND contract several STDs? WHERE DO I SIGN UP???

...What happened to the gentleman who'd texted me so eloquently in the bathroom? Sigh. At least my confusion had totally cleared up.
Unlike whatever rash I suspect Six Flags struggles with daily.

"Thanks for the offer but I'm really only looking for paid professional writing work," I finally reply.

He texts back:
"I wanna go down on u so bad."

"Bye XXXX."

I only saw him one other time, when he texted me to let me know he was at Universal, and wanted a photo with me on my stilts. (The practice had paid off; I got the stilt job.) We snapped an awkward photo together, and he sent me a copy of the photo.

I really don't recognize him with his shirt on, so I deleted it.

LA Stories- Wizzards vs. Warriors

This is an older story I forgot to publish from a few years ago:

It all started with a feather... A blue feather, chosen by my friend Mandy, placed in my hair alongside my blue streak and secured with a plastic bead. "There," she said, admiring her handiwork in the mirror of the salon where she styles hair. "That seems right."

I'd gone to visit Mandy and to support her salon's art show, which was displaying some art she and her fiance Dani had created. I brought my friend Kyle with me, and, although he declined a feather, we enjoyed an impromptu rock concert and some wine- a fun outing with fun people.
The next day was my friend Elissa's birthday, and she'd invited everyone to join her in some karaoke in Culver City... I HATE karaoke, but I love Elissa. She was one of the first friends I made when I came to LA, and has been a social staple in my life ever since. So I had to go and endure some Empty Orchestra.


There was a two drink minimum, but I more than met it by engaging in a drinking contest with my friend Erik, who happens to be Kyle's roommate. Not feeling buzzed at all, I matched Erik drink for drink, baffling him with my abnormally awesome liver. That night, more and more friends showed up- Kyle, John, Zach, Annalisa, Chelsea, Melissa, Sean... all these familiar faces I've been working and playing with over the last year. A mismatched group of Lost Boys. Fighting for survival, bonded through sweat, blood and tears, I was looking at my LA Family. I sat back with the last of Erik's challenge swirling through my system and gazed at my friends as they danced. The same powerful sensation of love and bonding I'd felt with my Band, with my Karate Family, with my Universal Family- here it was again, surging through my veins alongside rum and godknows whatelse.
We are a tribe. I had a feather in my hair. I am a fighter. I am a Warrior.

All of the battles of the last 6 months had been registering in my body, leaving heavy scars on my psyche. I suddenly felt free and liberated. My handsome Dark Haired Boy asked me to dance, so, leaving my cares on the sticky barroom table, I joined my people and danced and sang alongside my fellow Warriors. The night belonged to us.

I left the feather in my hair to remind myself of my new outlook.

I've been suffering for long enough- I'm tired of feeling like a victim- I need to remember that I am strong, I am a fighter, and I can survive.
I kept this attitude when my roommate, Jon, informed me that even though I'd only been living with him and his girlfriend for 2 months, he was in a bad financial state and needed to raise the rent. By $100 a month. Being a badass Warrior, I no longer take shit from anyone, so I told him I'd be moving out. Jon is in a Metal bad called "White Wizzard." They don't suck, but (did I mention they're a Metal band so) they aren't that sucessful, and financial hardships and rockiness within the band were making Jon grumpier and grumpier. I don't need that in my life- I'm a fucking Warrior. Warriors don't take shit from Wizzards.

Over the next few days, things got tense between Jon and his live-in girlfriend, Jane. (not her real name.) Jane is from Thailand, and although there is an occasional language barrier, we both speak Empathy, and had been growing closer as friends. As we spend time together at the gym, or swimming in the pool, she began to confide in me. Things about Jon. Things like, how he told her that "if he ever found out that she'd been sent by the cops to spy on him, he'd have her killed." Things like how he calls her names. Things like how she is forbidden to ask him where he's been, when he's coming home, or who he's been spending his nights with. I'd heard him speaking to her, and telling her how "fucking stupid" she was. I hated how he'd wax philosophically about the beauty of open relationships, but insisted she not see other men. He'd cut her off entirely from all of her friends, and she no longer had a social life because Jon did not allow her to go out.

This came to a head two days after Elissa's birthday, when Jon sent me a text stating that he was intending to have a "mellow night at home," that he'd had a death in his family, and that Jane was spending the night elsewhere and he needed some down time to be with some friends, so could I not have any guests over that night. "Sure," I wrote back. "Understood- I'm sorry you're sad."

I stopped by the apartment to grab a few things, intending to spend the night with my Dark Haired Boy, when I saw Jane, also packing. Jon was not around. I asked where she was headed, since it wasn't like her to spend nights out of the apartment.
"Jon has asked me to sleep in the van tonight."
"What! Why?"
"He say he needs to be with his sister. But he has no sister..."
"Jane, this is stupid- come stay with me tonight- I don't like the idea of you sleeping out in the open streets. It's not safe."
Jane whispers now, looking at the floor. "I think he cheat on me..."
She insisted on following Jon's orders, because he had to meet up with her for some reason that night. She waited in the van all night, and he never arrived. However, when she got back to the apartment the next day, she found Jon passed out in bed next to a bottle of pink tequilla and a bottle of body oil. He'd had sex in their bed, and left the sheets messy.
Taking advantage of his unconscious state, she grabbed his cell phone and began to look through the texts. She found plenty of evidence that he was cheating on her.
She told me this through a storm of tears that afternoon.
"I hate him! He take everything from me, he threaten me, he say he's going to smack me if I ask any question, then he cheat on me in this bed! I want to leave him!"

Being a Warrior, I feel protective of Jane. This man has no right to threaten to hurt her.
"Whatever you need," I said. "I will help you."
Jane looks at me with determination in her eyes.
"I want to fuck him," she said, in perfect English. "On rent. I want to fuck him on rent. I want to leave right away so he is fucked."

"Okay," I said. "Let's make a plan and be smart about this... If you want to move out when I move out, I will help you move. But Jane, if he's threatening to hurt you, I think you should get out sooner. He doesn't love you- no one who loves you would talk to you that way..."
She hugged me around my neck, and promised to figure out a plan to leave.

I talked with a bunch of people about the situation that day, and got some good advice. I also called Jay, just because I missed him and I wanted to talk, but he was not particularly helpful. "You shouldn'tve moved in with them," he said.
"It's not like I had a lot of time to hunt and look- you LEFT me, so this means I am victime to CraigsList."
"That's not my problem," he told me.

Awesome, cool, thanks Jay.

That night, Jon was still out, but I sensed trouble on the morning's horizon. I had such a powerful feeling that something bad would happen, I slept in my clothes and left a lamp on in my bedroom.
Sure enough, at 5:20AM, I awoke to the sounds of them arguing loudly. Then Jane started screaming my name, yelling "Jaime come help me!"
I bolted out of my room to find them squared off in the kitchen, her back to the wall.
"He choke me!" Jane said.
"Grab your bag, we're leaving."
Ah, but Jon the Wizzard was angry now, in full Metal mode.

"Oh so now you're waking up our roommate with this bullshit- you pushed me to the limit, so you can get the fuck out!"
Jane screamed back at him "You cheat on me!"
"OK," I said. "Probably time to get that bag now."
I wedged myself physically between them and stayed there like a wrestling Ref.
Jon was furious. "Where the fuck do you think you're going?"
"I'm not getting in the middle of this, I'm just taking her somewhere so you two can cool off."
Jane finally grabbed her purse, and we took off. She was hysterical, crying. "He choke and scratch me!"
She was adamant that we NOT call the cops because then she would be deported.
"That's not how that works," I said. "They don't care about whether or not you're a citizen, they care about whether or not your boyfriend attacked you."

We arrived at Paul's (the Dark Haired Boy) house at 5:30, and texted him out of bed. I'd kept him in the loop, so he wasn't completely shocked to see us at his door. Jane had scratch marks on her back from the Wizzard's guitar fingernails, and was pretty much in shock. I took pictures of her scratches and we convinced her to let us call the cops.

They arrived in true LAPD fashion- an hour later.

They, too, took photos of Jane's scratches and reassured her that they didn't care where she was from, they were just there to get the bad guy. By now Jane was calmed down and able to talk with them about all the awful things Jon had said to her. They listened, sympathetically, then left to go arrest him. Sadly, by the time they arrived at the Wizard's, he'd already gone.
This wasn't surprising as the man already has an arrest record and is behind on his child support payments.
...did I mention he's a pretty awful human being?
I was meeting my huge awesome friend Carlos that afternoon to carpool, but he couldn't get there until 11. That meant Jane and I had to kill a few hours and get as much stuff packed as possible during that time.

I knew Jay lived just down the street from us, also in North Hollywood, so I sent him a text:
"I know it's early but LAPD just left and I'm scared- can you please come over?"
He groggily phoned me back after my 4th call, and told me that it wasn't his job to take care of me anymore and that I should wait in Panera Bread.

Thanks, Jay. Thanks for showing me your true colors- now I can focus on the people who actually give a shit about someone other than themselves, like pretty much every other friend named in this story.

Jane and I spent that night at the Paul's, and came back the following evening to an empty apartment. Paul stayed there, with us, just in case.
Jane and I decided to act normally around Jon (if he came home) for 2 more days until I could help Jane drive her personal belongings to her new place where she'd be living with the one friend she had left. She had about 2 cars worth of stuff, so we'd caravan her out before the Wizzard knew she was gone. We were going to be quick- we were going to be smooth. It was going to be easy, and then he'd be unable to take any agression out on me, because I am his size physically, and he clearly prefers to pick on smaller girls without citizenships.
Thursday arrived, and I rounded some troops to help extract Jane. I was counting on the Wizzard staying gone, but we couldn't be sure, so I put out a request on FaceBook for some fellow Warriors to act as Guardian Angels. My prayer was answered in the forms of Joop, an old friend from Oyster's Secret in Orlando, and Kyle, a new friend from Halloween Horror Nights in LA. We held a pow-wow at a newarby coffee bean and tea leaf and discussed the plan while we waited for Jane.

She arrived, dishevelled.

"He's home," she said, then started to cry. "He make me have sex with him- I feel disgusted."
She began to have second thoughts about whether or not she should move out, but ultimately decided to move forward with the Plan. We were behind her 100%.
"If he hurt you once, he'll do it again."
She agreed.

As soon as she started packing, the Wizzard freaked out and began to yell at her. He bellowed over her shoulders as she began to stuff things into boxes and bags. I signalled to the boys to not leave her side while I went into her closet and began packing her things. Joop and Kyle stood like stanch soldiers in the living room while the fighting escalated. The Wizzard kicked over the kitchen table, flinging hot coffee everywhere, as he ordered Joop and Kyle to get the fuck out of his house. He took an exceptional shine to Kyle, who he insisted was somehow smirking at him.
Kyle may have been, but he also just kind of LOOKS like a smirker, so, what can you do?

To calm things down, I suggested Kyle and Joop wait outside, and we'd keep the door open.
The Wizzard slammed the door shut, and continued screaming at Jane, who by this point was so stressed out she began to vomit.
While she was retching in the bathroom, the Wizzard turned on me, telling me that I was a lying sack of shit for stating that I didn't want to get in the middle of things, and that he wanted me out as well.

Noooo problem.

We loaded everything into my car and Jane's car, but I had a horrible feeling that the Wizzard would do something evil to my cats if I left him alone in the apartment. I have no bedroom door, only a curtain flap, and even if all he did was let them outside, I'd be devastated. I sent out a text to Todd, Paul, and Carlos, all of whom responded instantly. They were on their way. Todd arrived within minutes, and the Wizzard immediately picked a fight with him. This would've been awesome, as any one of my Warriors could kick the Wizzard's ass, but Todd just smirked, which I knew was the best reaction.

I sent Joop to drive my car to Jane's new place, and I sent Kyle home. Todd waited with me until Carlos and Paul arrived. Once they got there, it was obvious.

"You need to get out. Tonight."

Carlos called his girlfriend (and my friend) Shaunelle, and between the four of us, The cats were moved to Todd's, and I was packed and moved out of the Wizzard's and into Paul's within 4 hours. Surprise!

Victory: Warriors.

The next day, I went back for my bed and some shelves (the only items left) with my friend Gabrielle, and her friend Emily. And their boyfriends Nick and Matthew, who are, respectively, Marines and humongous.

The Wizzard literally gnashed his teeth when I arrived with such giant Warriors. He said not a single word to me as we packed, but proceeded to write me a nasty email, which I read over his shoulder as we moved out.
I'll be happy to post the letter online, because it's funny, but it's mostly blaming me for his problems with Jane because I introduced her into my circle of numerous guy friends, who encouraged her to act on her irrational fears. He also stated that I would not be receiving my security deposit back until he found a new roommate to replace me.

This may mean small claims court for me, but I'm OK with that. I can continue fighting, because I am a Warrior. Oh, and there's that little matter about a police report filed against him that he doesn't know about yet- that'll be a fun surprise to break to him!
In the meantime, I'm safe and loved, here with my Dark Haired Boy and my group of Big Hard Fucking Heroes- Joop, Kyle, Paul, Carlos, Todd, Shaunelle, Gabrielle, Emily, Matthew, and Nick, and everyone else who's shown me love and given me the courage to keep fighting and standing up for what is right.

...Jane moved back in the the Wizzard 5 days later, after he promised to marry her early next spring. Paul says, "sometimes the only reward for doing the right thing is knowing that the right thing was done." He may be correct, but I like to think that maybe in helping Jane escape the Wizzard once, we'll have at least given her a little courage.

When I finally take my feather out, I'm going to send it to her.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The John Avery Effect, Pt. 2

I went to a party at a friend's house a few weeks ago - you know, one of those Girls Nights. It was awesome. The hostess is a natural socialite, and had the whole evening set up to hang out, drink, gossip, and enjoy each other's company. I was especially excited because one of my friends from work was there. I hadn't seen her in a while, and I was eager to catch up.
Except she was there, but she also really wasn't there.
She was at the party, but she wasn't present.
She had her nose glued to her phone the. entire. time.

Curious as to what was so important, I asked, and she showed me: she was on, and had found a connection with a cute guy. They were chatting through the app, exchanging messages back and forth. She showed me a few photos he'd used for his profile page, and he was indeed worthy of her interest - but not like this.

Rather than spend an evening with her actual friends, at a party she was physically attending, she kind of ditched us all and gave her undivided attention to this guy she hardly knows. Based on a few photos and texts back and forth, she automatically gave this stranger the benefit of the doubt, assumed he's awesome, and blew us off to maintain his interest.

"Yep, he's hot. And now your beer is, too."

I hate this for her, and I'm ashamed to admit I've been guilty of this in the past, too: It's the John Avery Effect.
When we don't know someone very well, we assign to them the qualities we hope to see. "Ah, he has a picture in a rural area! He must like to hike! Therefore he's healthy and in great shape and loves nature and we'll give our kids earthy, naturalistic names like 'Cedar."

Human beings are meaning-making machines, and when we're kind, good people, we tend to project those qualities on others. The less we know about someone, the better we think they are. That's how I operated. For me, I'd meet someone and if they behaved marginally decently towards me, I automatically thought they must be a fantastic person. I would place their value higher than the people I actually knew, because those people had at some point shown humanity, shown weakness, or let me down. But THIS person - this shining beacon of hope - THIS person is amazing.
Often these estimations are unfair to their subject. When I placed the men I was interested in so high up on a pedestal, it was only natural that they'd let me down. I set them up to fail by assuming they were perfect.

I felt bad for my party friend - not only was she wasting her time with us, but I suspect she was wasting her time with him, too. What guy is going to be intrigued by a woman he already has at his beck and call, on a Saturday night? She's out, at a party, and giving him her 100% focus. There's not really much alluring or ooh-I-have-to-get-to-know-this-mysterious-creature about that. Men's brains are still pretty simple. They get off on Novelty, which is why if you sleep with someone too soon in the relationship, sadly, more often than not that relationship is doomed. It's been my experience that the guys who are sexually attracted to a woman, but are not instantly gratified in that department, often stick around and (gasp) actually get to know the woman they're pursuing sexually and discover that hey, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, they may have a lot more in common than interlocking genitalia.

Plus, the fact is, my smitten friend (in addition to making herself look desperate) is making her assumptions based on a PROFILE SITE. A carefully manicured presentation of the best parts of someone. It's not like she met him at Whole Foods so she can make a logical guess that he likes organic carrots and is gainfully employed. She's looking at a dating site, so of course only the final edited director's cut is shown. Even if they go one step further, and link up via facebook, that's still not the whole story. Who among us is accurately defined by their facebook page?
Except for me, of course. I have a profile pic featuring me, on stilts, wearing a lemur. A goddamn lemur, people. I'm awesome.

My friend over-valued this stranger, devalued her friends, and worst of all, devalued herself when she spent her night like that. But I've done it too. (In my defense, I really wanted to get laid.)
But let's look at this behavior, because it's not uncommon and sadly it affects all ages of women, at any time. Where did this nasty habit begin?


In Part 1 of this series, I describe a very influential first-love with a guy I really didn't know all that well, but thought I did. It was a big part of my emotional development and came at a critical time in my teen years, so my "relationship" with this guy actually had a massive effect on the way I handled relationships in the future. I suspect that the timing (hormones and whatnot) and outcome (teen heartbreak) are not unique to me, so it's my conclusion that the John Avery Effect affects lots of women other than just myself. This common experience sets a pattern in a still-developing brain. Sorry, ladies, but yeah - our brains didn't get full-grown til we were out of our teens. For boys, it happens even later.
We all have a first love. We all have a John Avery. That guy gets around.

John would send me letters, and, hungry for connection, I'd instantly gloss over what he wrote and read what I wanted to read. I was oblivious to my own self-editing, or I lied and told myself it didn't matter. (Trust me ladies, it matters. But that's a subject for another time.)
When John would simplistically describe his new home and town (per my eager request) I'd photoshop my own mental picture until a blah Nothingtown became a lush winter farmland paradise. Snert and concrete rebar became fluffy sparkling snowdrifts and cherry-red brick walls. I enhanced it, mental pixel by mental pixel, subconciously because that is where I wanted it to be when I met up with John again.
We were getting married. I know because he gave me a necklace.

I caught myself doing the same thing, too, when a guy I'd meet tells me he's a director. I automatically assume his films are the stuff of genius. If he tells me he paints, I assume his work is fantastic. And the worst part? If these works didn't live up to my expectations, my brain was so tired of being disappointed, sometimes I'd lie to myself and say "oh, wow, yeah... it TOTALLY is a great painting of a landscape... er, self-portrait. Is that a face? I see it now, wow that's good." My projections went rampant to the point where if someone laughed at my joke, I'd assume THEY were hilarious.
I think a lot of it comes from good intentions, but I'm ashamed to say a whopping portion of it came from low self-esteem. I didn't really like me much, so if they showed interest, they should probably be knighted on the spot.

Once I got a little (coughcough) (OK, a LOT) older, and had the luxury of my old thought patterns destroyed, I began to see things a little more clearly. After the dust settled from my explosive divorce, I got to reinvent myself, and this time, I choose a woman I love. She's smart, she's kind, she's confident. And she has a great sense of humor. But she's still a total softie, and still very, very in love with love.

Cue Round 2 with John Avery.

After almost 2 decades of wondering, I finally tracked down John. Even though I'm in a very happy relationship, I've always been curious as to whatever happened to my first love. And so, through the modern miracle of Facebook, I found out...

As soon as I saw the profile photo, I knew it was him. Same green eyes, same sandy blonde hair, just framing the face of an older version of the boy I knew. His facebook page is not set up to allow friendship requests, but I could scroll down and see a sampling of what his life is like based on the 4 profile photos he selected.

1) There's the angry beard shaved head black and white shot.
(He's deep, he's broody, he's angry! Aha! The stormy musician I'd fallen in love with!)

2) There's the kinda musing, reclined in a chair, black and white shot.
(Sooooo broody!)

3) There's a measuring tape with a "Local Union #4" logo on it.
(He's a ...metal sheetworker? My sensitive musician is a sheetworker??)

Aaaaand my personal favorite:
4) a two-shot of a cheery looking woman in glasses, and a cherub-cheeked toddler who looks like both of them.

Could this have ever been me?

And of course I have to wonder... is this his wife? Is that their child? Is he living out the dreams he'd shared with me, all those years ago? None of this is what 16-year-old John said he'd wanted.
I picture myself, if things had worked out, living his life in South Carolina. I have glasses and a toddler and a sheetworker husband...
It's not me.
It's not what I want. It's not what I ever wanted. And I'm so happy for the glasses-woman, and the toddler, and him, but happiest for me, I think. I'm doing exactly what 16-year-old Jaime said she wanted to to: I'm writing in LA.
It's hard to say whether or not he's happy. I hope he is, because he springboarded a very powerful lesson for me, but honestly, I don't know him. Sadly, I never really did, because we see what we want to see. Noone could've ever been as cool as the John Avery I'd made up in my mind. The shy musician with the green eyes, casually strumming a guitar in his van while we toured America and I wrote from my laptop.
And I don't have John Avery, but I have something much, much better - a genuine, real, authentic man whom I fucking ADORE because he is not exactly what I'd imagined, but everything I'd hoped for. He's smart, and kind, and confident. And he has a great sense of humor, and he loves me better than I've ever been loved for who I am, in spite of who I am, because of who I am.

The John Averys and the subsequent men I've projected on are their own men. They are wonderful and flawed and awful and perfect in their own ways, and I'm slowly wiping the glitter (I somehow secrete) from my eyes and learning to see people for who they really are, and not who I want them to be. There are so many special, awesome, good guys out there - but they're the ones who will straightforwardly tell you how they feel over pad thai, and not monopolize your Girls Night because they want to get laid.

"I know you said you were busy, but I have a penis, so..."

The very best way to get to know someone is to know yourself. And when you get to the point where you can love yourself enough, you won't have to throw that love on everyone else instead. You don't have to make a stranger like you. If they DESERVE you, they'll like you just because.
And hey - maybe I don't know you that well, but I think you're pretty terrific. So put the phone down, girl. Come party with us.

The John Avery Effect, Pt. 1

After literally nineteen years of searching, through the modern miracle of cyberstalking, I finally tracked down the first man I ever loved. And let me preface this by stating that this was a HARD teenage crush, back in the flanel-wrapped glory days of 1996. I was 16. He had a guitar. Clearly we were made for each other. His name was (and still is) John Avery, and I met him, oddly enough, at church.

Neither one of us is particularly religious, but his parents are, and my best friend Holly is. So it was pretty miraculous in the first place that I found myself at the Oviedo Baptist Church that evening, but even more divine: this angelic boy bent over an acoustic guitar...
John was playing something derivative of the time - Pearl Jam, I think. Holly introduced us, and when his smokey green eyes shyly lifted to meet my skeptical blue, I experienced a feeling I'd never felt before... and I was instantly smitten. We shook hands and mumbled "hellos," but he held my hand a little longer in his guitar-string-calloused grip. His hands were rough, but gentle as they held mine like someone would hold a bird. He held my hand like he was holding something valuable, and a delicious shudder ran the length of my spine, landing in my brain and lodging there.

Smitten, Smitten Kitten. Oh yes I was indeed. As it turns out, so was he! I'd been curious about other boys at my school in my past, but never beyond rampant gossipy speculation with my female friends about "who likes who," etc. With John, though, there seemed to be a palpable realness to an intangible connection.
We spent most of the service delighting in catching the other one sneaking glances, and each time I'd bust him, he'd turn crimson and hang his head until his mop of sandy blonde covered his eyes and all I could see was a sheepish grin. Oh, he was cute.

And after church, after his band performed, (spladoosh,) Holly and I were leaving when I heard the soft shuffle of corderouy pants hustling up behind us. I spun around to find myself a breath away from John, who pressed a sweaty-palmed piece of paper into my hands.
Two words from him: "Call me?"
A verbal waterfall from me: "Oh yeah, sure, OK. I'll do that. I will call you. On the phone. With this."

I don't remember the ride home. Or really, much of anything after that, except how patient Holly must've been as I surely obsessed about when to call and what to say when I did. Working up the nerve. Whatever I said on the phone must've gone well because John invited me over to his parent's house. They lived so close to me, but just on the border of the next county over, which is why we never shared a school.

When I arrived, I parked on the street in front of his house because his driveway was full of boxes. He came out and introduced me to his parents, who politely shook my hand and called me "dear."
John's parents didn't allow him to "date," so we just went for a walk around his neighborhood. We had SO MUCH IN COMMON: we were both white middle-class American teenagers. We BOTH LIKED MUSIC. We BOTH ATE FOOD. Clearly, this was my soul mate - and then my soul mate dropped a bomb on me.
"So I'm moving to Michigan," he says. "Like, tomorrow."


Hm. Well, that explains the driveway full of boxes. Dammit.

Not to be deterred, I suggested we pen-pal it. After all, I told him. I was going to be a hot-shot writer someday, so I'd enjoy keeping in touch with letters. Kind of chronicle our love affair until we found a way to be together.
Shockingly, he agreed - after all, he was going to be a hot-shot guitarist someday. Surely, they'd have a van or travel trailer of some kind. I could get a laptop and write from there while the band toured the country.
A laptop? I already had a laptop. So basically we were halfway there.

He moved, just like he said, to Farmington, MI. When that first letter arrived in my mailbox I was over-the-moon excited. He DID write. He DID love me. And even though it was riddled with all the misspellings and grammar errors one could imagine from the product of Florida public education, I delighted in every syllable of his oddly block-printed handwriting. I was thrilled to hear about his new surroundings, and visualized everything in lurid detail. The woods near his home. The snow piled up on the red brick walls of his new school.
John hated Michigan. He was just starting his Senior year of High School, and had a hard time making new friends or finding other musicians to play with. I tried to keep my letters cheerful and full of sunshine, but no amount of positivity of affection from me seemed to make a difference.

I obsess in Lisa Frank proportions.

As his letters got shorter and more impersonal, I could sense him slipping away.
I asked my father, who was an airline pilot, if he would help me visit John to cheer him up. After some parental discussions between his folks and mine, in an unprecedented act of adventurousness, my dad agreed! We'd go to Michigan for the weekend! True love conquers all!
John had mailed me a plastic purple bead necklace, and told me he had a matching one. This was the first gift I'd ever recieved from a boy, and certainly the first jewelry I'd ever been given. I wore them every day until the string smelled like my marching-band-practice sweat.
Then I hung them from the rear-view mirror in my car, and every turn I took, every speedbump, they'd rattle and I'd feel that shiver resonate in kind, right up my spine. I was in love.

I'm pretty sure if I'd kept a journal at the time, it would've been riddled with heart-shaped doodles of "Mrs. Jack Avery" and her husband-to-be. I mean, surely the stars had aligned to introduce us before it was too late. Surely the Universe had conspired to nurture our young love with the letters and calls. MY DAD WAS ENCOURAGING THIS RELATIONSHIP SO IT HAD TO BE THE ONLY CORRECT PATH.
Never mind the fact that really, I was the only one writing at this point; that wasn't the point. The point was:

I would go to Michigan and get my first kiss.

After a short flight and a short drive, (but still plenty of time to allow my stomach to completely tie itself into knots,) my father and I arrived in Farmington. We followed my hand-written directions carefully through the snowy countryside to John's neighborhood, which looked nothing like I'd imagined. There were none of the flourishes I'd pictured, no "Michigan Farm House" charm. Just standard track houses on a normal street.
The "forest" near John's house, where he'd go for melodramatic angst-ridden teenage walks of solitude, was kind of just a square or two of semi-undeveloped land. But it was fine - it didn't matter - we were together!

I rushed up to his door, not sure what to expect, but when he and his mom opened it together, there was no swell of music. No cartoon birds appeared, and a very awkward hug ensued between us as our parents met in person for the first (spoiler alert: and last) time.
Didn't matter. I was here. He was here. We were in love. And I was gonna get that kiss god dammit. I was 16. It was OWED me.
After some polite small talk, Dad left for an hour or so to go scout out a hotel for the evening.

That gave me and John some time to warm up. Sort of. I'd been standing around in his mother's living room, not sure what to do with my hands. I hadn't even removed my coat. I was so nervous. Had I done something wrong? Was something wrong? Hadn't he asked me to come?
John suggested a walk, much like the one we'd taken the only other time we'd been alone together. A walk in the woods. A walk in the snowy woods. Trying to still my racing heart, I rebuttoned the coat I'd yet to take off. It was 40 degrees outside. I think I was sweating anyway.
We went for that walk, and I kept expecting that at any moment he'd give me... something. A kiss, an honest moment. Where was all that chemistry we'd both felt at the church? He really didn't even make eye contact.

After we reached some arbitrary half-way point known only to him, we turned around and headed back towards his house.
I think he tried to hold my hand, but we both had mittens on so who the fuck knows.

I could've unbuttoned that jacket for him. I was so hot from my own nervous energy, my blood, my brain, that spot in my brain which had been ignited when he first touched my hand, was on fire. I wanted so desperately to show him that I'd kept his beads, and removed them from their shrine on my car to travel North with me, as proof of my love. I could've shown him, I guess. But something told me he didn't care.

Back at his house, he took me for a quick tour of the town. There really was no town, so he basically just drove me to his school and back. All that nervous chatter faded on the drive back to his house. The bricks weren't even red, they were brown. Why had I imagined them as red? An iconic setting from his letters, in which I envisioned my love ardently penning letters was just a brownish wall about 4 feet high. With a handfull of tired grey snow clustered around the bottom. The naked, thin woods, the non-town, the grey, grey, grey everywhere and the deafening silence from John kind of piled up. We all went out to dinner that night. Our parents took pictures of us. We are standing 3 feet apart in the pictures.
The next morning, my dad and I went back to Florida.

Bleh. Just, bleh.

I sent a thank-you card. I sent a letter. I included copies of the picture my dad took of us. John's hands are folded so far behind his back he looks armless. Just a guy with empty short sleeves, staring stoically into the lens like some soldier in a daguerreo-type.
A little while passes, I've heard nothing. I write him again and ask if he has a girlfriend and hold my breath for a week until my response arrives.
"I am, in fact, seeing someone," he writes. "Lady Depression is her name. I am courting Despair."

I had, at the time, zero comprehension of what that meant. My own Dark Lady would set up camp with me in the years to come, but at 16, I couldn't possibly fathom what that meant. I just liked that he wrote like a cheesy balladeer. I liked that he wrote. I mean, what even WAS depression? Pff. Things would work out.

...Things didn't work out.
After two months went by with no more letters, I retired those beads off my mirror permanently and stuffed them away into some dark corner of a jewelry chest. It wasn't until nineteen years later that I'd see his face again, via the great public crystal scrying bowl known as Face Book.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we learn what ever happened to John Avery...