I recently wrote a short story. For anyone who has spent any reasonable amount of time on my blog, they know that short stories are not something that I write. I am a (mostly) non-fiction reader and that contributes heavily as to why I am a (mostly) non-fiction writer.
The original non-fiction story, I guess you would call it, that I wrote happened in a short span at the beginning of May in 2016. I’m not sure what exactly inspired me to write it then. Perhaps that it was soon to be my ex-girlfriend’s birthday, or whatever, and she was on my mind, or whatever, but I think it was just time. I needed to exhaust all those dormant feelings I had been carrying with me for so long and express them in some sort of way to make sense of where I was in life and how I got there.
As a result, I believe, I produced the best and most honest collection of blogs in the history of what has since turned into my full christian government name dot com. It was originally digested, for those who read it at the time — and for whatever reason there were many, including all of the key characters in the story, which I found out at later date, probably around Part IX — as ten separate blogs. For the purpose of accessibility I have condensed them into one major blog, which is what follows after the jump.
Some of it in retrospect I find embarrassing, naturally. In some areas I said too much and in others not enough. I gave too much credit to people who did not deserve it. I gave very little credit to myself. But alas, I was 26 and this was apparently the best I could do with the information I had at the time.
It was March 21st, 2008, a day after my 18th birthday. A handful of my friends were in a hardcore band, and that night they had a show in Rancho Cucamonga. For some reason Trey’s older brother, Brad — who normally transported the drums and amps — had something going on, so it was my black Ford Ranger and I that assumed responsibility.
It was a lovely day. A Friday. I got on the freeway and remember heading down there by myself, trying to keep up with Ben (vocals), Kyle (bass) and Isaiah (guitar), who led in the car ahead of me. This was made more difficult by the rush hour traffic and sun, which blazed unrelenting from the direction I was heading.
But we made it. We made it there just fine. The Nitty Gritty is what they called it, a melting pot of various factions of the hardcore scene. Mostly, it was just a big room for young people to practice posturing at one another. There were “Heavy Hands,” which was basically a bunch of big ass dudes who liked to fight. There were the scene kids wearing their brand new tank-tops and factory-cut half-pants. And there were just your regular people there to watch a hardcore show. I spent about 12 months trying to get into it, but all I got was literate. I was there to support my friends.
Our group stood outside on the asphalt, bullshitting away about who the fuck knows what. Trey and Brad had just showed up. It was probably a half-hour before the show started.
Suddenly, my phone began vibrating in my pocket. My mom was calling. She knew I was with my friends, out in Rancho, and since I was an asshole teenager it would have taken something extraordinary for her to interrupt my precious, important life. Or at least that’s how I interpret it.
But the news was good! It was, arguably, the best news of my life. A letter from Virginia Tech came in the mail, and my mom just couldn’t contain herself. She opened it, and called to tell me I got in. I had the biggest fucking smile on my face in The Nitty Gritty parking lot. As it so happened, I was wearing my white and maroon New Era Virginia Tech hat. I flung it in the air in unconfined excitement, along with all the wonderful hopes and dreams I staked my acceptance on.
She told me how proud she was of me, how happy she was for me, and told me she loved me. We hung up.
Meanwhile, my friends must’ve either thought something awesome had just happened, or that I was pretty strange. I just threw my hat in the air. Who does that?
Then I told them I got in, which wasn’t that exciting to anyone other than me. Trey and Brad were the happiest for me, because they knew going to Virginia Tech was my dream. At the time I took anyone who didn’t appear happy enough for me like they were jealous. It wasn’t necessarily because they gave two fucks about college, or about me accomplishing any goal. It was simpler than that. I had options and they didn’t.
The following Monday, I went into History of the Americas Part II — an I.B. Program course for juniors (Pt. 1) and seniors. In the front corner of the class, to the left when you walk in, our teacher had a huge white piece of paper where students wrote in which colleges they had been accepted to.
The I.B. Program had some strong students. A couple went to the University of Chicago, a couple went to Cal-Berkley and UCLA; the wall was well represented. Under where I wrote my name, all I had were measly California schools: Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Sacramento, Humbolt State, et. al. I was so insecure back then. I thought the schools I got accepted to actually said something about me. Maybe they did. Maybe they do.
So I took out a fat black marker, one of those that smells of straight fumes, and wrote over all my schools with an enormous “VT”.
There, I finally made it.
With my destination in hand, the next month went about as senior year-ish as it could have. I was virtually done trying. I took the girl I had liked to the prom, and had a horrible time. She wound up meeting the guy she would eventually get engaged to, so I spent my evening standing around like a knob and occasionally dancing.
But I was playing with house money. Again, Virginia Tech already accepted me. Why should any petty nonsense get in the middle of the fact that, in a few months, I wouldn’t have to see any of these people ever again. That gave peace to my failures with my prom date.
I was 18 years old. The world was about to open up as senior year was winding down. It was a great time to be alive.
It couldn’t have been any more harmless.
Some of the I.B. seniors went on a field trip to see the play Sweeney Todd in Pasadena. My only real friend, even then, was Trey, and he wasn’t in I.B. nor did he care about seeing some goddamn play. Truth be told, I can’t tell you specifically why I went. I imagine it was the same reason I did anything else my senior year, because I didn’t want to miss it. Like many events, like football games and dances, I was driven by the idea that I would never get to experience what it was like to be a senior again. And I was right about that.
So a bus full of seniors went to see Sweeney Todd in Pasadena. It was March 14, 2008, a week before I got my acceptance letter from Virginia Tech.
I wore a black Volcom T-shirt with blue jeans and a black blazer. I felt good about myself. During the bus ride, my friend Kevin provoked me into a freestyle rap session, so I gave in. In the middle of one of my (most likely horrible) freestyles, I casually referenced the girl who was sitting behind me, the girl I always thought was the prettiest at school. I was shy. Rapping was how I managed to break the ice.
Surprisingly, she didn’t find it totally lame. She was amused, even.
Over the course of the night, my eyes couldn’t stop from gravitating towards her, like a car crash but more beautiful. I felt her eyes on me, too. It was a game of cat and mouse but I didn’t know how to play. We ended up separated by one person who sat between us during the performance, but I had a sense about this one that I hadn’t felt before and haven’t felt since. It was weird.
On the ride home, all of us were talking about this and that, playing games in the nature of Fuck, Marry, Kill — but not that, specifically. My new muse asked me something and I answered. I would ask her something, and she’d answer. It was generally a friendly conversation.
* * * * *
After my atrocious prom night five weeks later, I gave up on girls. Or at least the practicality of having a girlfriend when I was about to leave for the east coast in a handful of months. It made no sense.
So, naturally, a month later I had a girlfriend.
One morning after 2nd period English — which is where the girl I met on Sweeney Todd Night and I rendezvoused with our friends each day — I mustered up the courage to tell her “You look really pretty today.” This was before I was introduced to alcohol. She gave me a big hug, and I found out it was her birthday. It was May 13, 2008.
Not too long after, we had each other’s phone number, and texted pretty much non-stop over the next few weeks. I was living on adrenaline. I could stay up talking to her until 3:00 in the morning, and wake up at 7:45 full of energy and ready for the new day. It was perpetual Christmas for a young boy.
We talked about everything. She was fond of me being a writer, and having the dream of writing for a living. I told her the reason I wanted to write was to inspire young people like I’ve been inspired. She was an artist, and an authentic one. She understood anything my 18 year-old self could say.
At the end of May there was a school dance, the last of the year. It was luau. I arrived as the sun was falling; it was twilight time.
Her and I met in the quad. I wore a big ass black NEFF T-shirt, covered with bright blues and yellows and pinks and had a large palm tree on it, with my Krew jeans that were all messed up from when Trey took me out to paint with him. I swear 18 year-old style is the best, most obnoxious style.
She was better dressed for the part. It was the prettiest I’d seen her in my small sample. She wore a short brown dress with white heels, and had a flower in her hair. Since I was so inexperienced, at the time I had no idea that it was all for me.
We danced, and we danced some more. We took a couple breaks, I presume, to go to the restroom or whatever. But we did a lot of fucking dancing. She was a dancer, so she was really good at dancing. I am not a dancer, so I did my best to pretend like I was.
Until then, after all of about two weeks worth of “talking,” her and I hadn’t spent any time together outside of school. It was all talk. This night we were at school, sure, but we finally got a piece of each other. And we liked it.
During the last song, we kissed for the first time. Then we stopped, looked at each other like no one else in the world existed in that moment. Then we kissed some more.
When we left that night, we held hands as I walked her to her friends car, and she went home. Three days later I asked her to be my girlfriend, and she said yes.
So 10 days before graduation, and two and a half months before I was to leave California for Virginia, I had a girlfriend.
* * * * *
Summer love is an actual thing. Or at least it was an actual thing. As I’ve gotten older I have grown less sure if my life experience is fairly common, or I’m just ranting on about a totally trivial existence. I don’t know which I prefer more.
I could get into the stupid details, but you get the picture. We spent basically the entire summer together, knowing my impending departure was just over the horizon. We both knew what we had wasn’t going to last forever, so it made us appreciate the time we did have. We waited about a month to say “I love you” to one another, and shortly thereafter I lost my virginity.
July 19th, my mom and I flew to Virginia for my freshman orientation, which was to last the weekend. With so little time before I was to fly out there for good, I was a pain in the ass to my mom. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to miss three days from my girlfriend when time already felt like it was running out.
But we had a great time. To this day my mom and I still reminisce on our trip to Virginia, how special it was. We went out to eat for every meal, hung out all day, and shopped for little trinkits I could get my girlfriend. At night I would stand outside the room at the Holiday Inn we stayed at, talking on the phone while fireflies bounced around against the darkness.
It was a preview of what life would have to be like.
We made it home the following Sunday, and the first thing I did was, of course, drive to see my girlfriend. I was rushed with excitement. On the way I remember hoping I didn’t crash and burn because I couldn’t exercise a morsel of goddamn patience. I also had a bag of Virginia goodies with me that I was excited to give her.
A month later, and a month deeper in summer love, there was no time left for practice runs. It was happening. My mom and I picked her up around 4:00 in the morning to drive to Ontario Airport, which would connect me to Atlanta and then to Roanoke.
We sat in the far back of my mom’s blue caravan, holding hands and kissing and crying and saying how much we loved each other. I put in a Jack’s Mannequin album so we could listen to our band. That’s how the book closed on our eternal summer.
I boarded my flight, first class (thanks mom), and sat next to a guy from Ohio who went to Xavier. His name was something Fisher. I wrote it down on my black leather-bound journal that my grandparents got me as a graduation present. I was anxious and excited and nervous and hopeful, but mainly I just wanted to be with my girlfriend again.
I made my commitment to Virginia Tech before I made a commitment to her, but it took almost no time at all before I realized which was more important to me. I chose to play the part I was supposed to play; I needed to go to Virginia and find a way to make it work back home.
I arrived on campus on August 21st. It was a muggy, overcast afternoon.
Virginia is beautiful.
At Roanoke Airport, a tiny six-gate hub about the size of a can of Pringles, I took the Smart Bus to Virginia Tech. However, since I arrived so late in the afternoon, what with the time change and all, I couldn’t register into my dorm room. I was unaware of this supposed deadline. I walked aimlessly around the large, foreign campus, trudging along with my big ass suitcase, a backpack, and the briefcase that held my laptop. I watched students playing beach volleyball, sitting, laughing, talking like they had already been there for weeks. I felt like an outsider showing up halfway through a party I wasn’t invited to.
Overwhelmed, I found a bench as far away from human activity as would allow me, and parked all my belongings. In the middle of trying to figure out what the fuck I was supposed to do next, I called my girlfriend — who was at Disneyland with her family as a consolation present for me being gone. I told her what was happening, that I loved her and missed her, and let her get back to her favorite place in the world.
Then, sitting on the bench, I sulked my face into my folded arms and cried my eyes out.
When I finally got my shit together, I called my mom and asked if anything could be done. I had no credit card and, as far as I can recall, very little money on my person. But moms know how to do everything, so it didn’t matter. She called the front desk of the Holiday Inn across the street from campus — the same one her and I stayed at during orientation — and it took me about 20 minutes to walk there with all my luggage.
That night I ate at KFC, and it was delicious.
* * * * *
Because Virginia Tech overbooked its freshmen class in the fall of 2008, my dorm was larger than it was supposed to be; it was meant to be a common room, where kids study or whatever. On the plus side it had a ton of space, roughly three times that of a normal dorm. The minus was it didn’t have a sink, so I’d have to brush my teeth in the restroom (which I never found to be a major inconvenience). If it was up to me that would have been my dorm for the whole year.
Also because of the space, I had an additional roommate. I had two roommates. The first was Jason, who would turn out to be my closest ally on the east coast. He stood about 5’9″ with brown hair and had a lean figure; he played multiple sports in high school. He also played guitar, and was so laid back you would think he was the one from Southern California.
The second was Jeremy, an engineer whose purpose in life was to conquer the world at video games. He played nonstop. Jeremy was a sad creature, someone I didn’t know if I should feel sorry for or just think he was fucking weird. I ultimately decided on both. Towards the beginning of the year, in the honeymoon era of being roommates, Jason and I invited Jeremy to go to dinner with us several times. After about a month of witnessing his strange social behavior, we stopped the jig.
Still, it was a strong situation to be in. Jason had a girlfriend, so there were nights he would sleepover at her place. Jeremy and I didn’t keep much communication. He did his own thing and I did mine.
When Jason transferred dorms in October, Jeremy and I had the gigantic room to ourselves for the rest of the semester. He got involved in some gaming club, so there would be entire days I’d have the room to myself. That gave me ample time to have phone sex with my girlfriend, which was soon cut short by her mom receiving an embarrassingly high phone bill. So it goes.
That’s how my life was in Virginia. I went to class, ate lunch, went out to eat with Jason and his group of friends from Lynchburg for dinner, and there was a pocket of time each day that I’d talk on the phone with my girlfriend. Most days, Trey and I would talk on the phone as well. It was simple, and for those initial few months everything seemed to be working out.
* * * * *
Whether it was movies, television, or just word of mouth, for my entire life I was sold the meme that long distance relationships don’t work. The night before I left for Virginia, my girlfriend and I were in my room at my parents old house, packing things for my eventual trip. I remember telling her explicitly if she found somebody while I was gone, to just tell me and that would be the end of it — an oddly mature response from me as an 18 year-old.
I don’t know why I was so surprised when she told me she had no plans of breaking up with me. I guess I just assumed, by the time summer ended, that she wouldn’t want to be tied down with a boyfriend on the east coast. It’s almost like I needed her to tell me she wasn’t going anywhere to reinforce my own love for her, which wasn’t going anywhere, either. I just try to let myself down as easily as possible.
I won’t deny it was difficult, but the beginning wasn’t so bad. From August through October we had a couple fights over the phone, but this was before the days where the fighting seemed to be more common than the loving. These were just normal, mostly petty, disagreements that I can only assume were initiated by me and my insecurities.
The whole time we had planned to see each other over my month-long winter break. It was supposed to be a surprise when I showed up for Thanksgiving in November. But I couldn’t hold it in, since I was just as ready to see her again as she was me. Everything felt like an eternity back then.
One night I was walking around the football stadium, a normal route I took when I was on the phone for long periods, and she was feeling sad. So I spilled the beans right then and there, next to Lane Stadium, told her we wouldn’t have to wait a month and a half to see each other, that I’d be home in a couple weeks. She was so elated she started to cry. “Thank god,” she said.
I came home for Thanksgiving and both of our parents agreed, since I was only to be home for 5 days, that her and I could sleepover together. It seemed like an easy decision to us, but looking back, we were only 18. We’d only been together for like 5 months, and half of that time we spent 3,000 miles apart. Our parents did us a real solid.
Home always feels familiar. When I think about California, being away from it, it’s always going to be through the eyes of my 18 year-old self. It has its beaches and mountains, great weather. Anything anyone could ever want.
I only wanted one thing: Her. I hated how much I missed her, but I loved how it felt to be missed. When I was in Virginia to see the leaves change in the fall, for the snow and rain and sleet, I couldn’t appreciate it enough without her. It was like I was stealing these images. California was still home, and it was always going to be home, but it was also the place she was. That was what made it home to me.
Thanksgiving came and went, and I flew back to Virginia for finals. A few weeks later when I returned to California, she was on her way home from a train ride with her mom, so I didn’t see her for my first few days. They had been looking for houses in Texas.
Her sister and I picked them up from the train station a week before Christmas. It was cold and breezy, and snow capped the surrounding mountains. On the ride back to her mom’s house we held hands in the backseat, something we had grown accustomed to by that point. We were together again.
When my girlfriend and I were together, in person, we got along just fine. We spent so much of the prior summer within arm’s reach of each other, aware of the expiration date that was soon to come. By the time I made it home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, again, the same concept applied: I wasn’t going to be there for very long. The reality of leaving left no room for arguments or unhappiness. It was all love all the time.
It was when we were apart that became harder to manage. Phone calls and text messages were no longer going far enough to mask the distance between us. I didn’t doubt that she was in love with me — because you have to really fucking love someone to put up with what she put up with — but I was 18 and in my first relationship and still treated every little thing like the end of the world. I was inexperienced at how to treat people I claimed to love.
When her mom became sick with a blood issue… towards the end of my Winter Break… my girlfriend began spending more and more time with her. Our communications became shorter, and our phone calls less frequent. She was sad, and I couldn’t change that. Her mom’s situation was the priority, and I never gave her the slack she deserved for focusing more of her time there.
We stayed at the Radisson near LAX the night before I flew out for my second semester at Virginia Tech. My mom got two rooms, one for her and another for us. That night we ate dinner downstairs at the bar/lounge; I believe there was a playoff game between AFC North teams, but I don’t remember if it was Steelers/Ravens or Steelers/Bengals. I think the Steelers won.
I didn’t know it at the time, I could only sense, that the relationship was beginning to unravel. I could see it happening before my eyes and did nothing to change it. It was as if I would rather go down with my pride and ego, sticking to my guns, than try to help her in the first real crisis she went through while we were together.
When I look back on it now, as a 26 year-old, I wonder if Virginia wasn’t, after all, the reason we stayed together for so long. At the time it regularly acted as the scapegoat for why things didn’t work out, but I was just a kid. I would have been no closer to changing my ways if I never left California in the first place. One way or another, the tears in the fabric were going to get exposed. I couldn’t hide forever.
It was freezing cold, and snow was falling, the night I returned to Virginia. I hit a delay in Atlanta, and I only made it to Roanoke in time for the final Smart Bus shuttle of the night. I sat towards the back of the bus talking to a girl who was also a freshman. She was from St. Louis.
When I got back to my new dorm room, I realized I was alone again. I would have to wait another month and a half — March 1st — before I could go home again. Somehow, I needed to find a way to survive the longest month-plus of my life.
* * * * *
It was the end of January, roughly 10 days after I went back to Virginia, when we broke up the first time. Her sister and sister’s boyfriend bought her a webcam for Christmas so she could talk to me on there. Between us, almost nothing had changed. Her mom was still sick, and we weren’t talking nearly as often as we had been before. In an attempt to cut my losses and hope for something better down the road, I told her over the webcam that we should take a break.
We were both crying, but she agreed that would be for the best.
I was genuinely heart-broken at how little I actually thought that through. Maybe in the back of my mind, I don’t know, I thought she would tell me no — that we should try to make it work. At most, I assumed it would be a week or two, she would realize how desperately she needed me, and we’d get back together like that. But I wasn’t so lucky.
February of 2009 was the worst month of my life, and nothing comes close. Whenever I feel the worst of life’s pain, I’m returned to my dorm room in Virginia. I worried about everything, whether it was her finding a new guy, or her hooking up with someone. She was the only girl I’d ever been with, and I was the only guy she had been with, and so perhaps wrongly we always viewed each other as property, to an extent. Like we had some sort of claim on each other.
But mainly I just missed the hell out of her. I’d spent so much of my days in Virginia talking to her; my favorite part about being out there was getting to tell her about it. When that got ripped out I was lost. I quit going to class, couldn’t eat anything, couldn’t sleep. Through all the phone calls with my mom and dad and Trey, nothing was helping my situation. I just had to wait it out.
During the month of February I went from weighing 165 pounds down to 130. I looked pale as a ghost. My mom sent me care packages filled with snack food and candy that I liked, and that was what I mainly lived on. I didn’t want to go out anywhere. I just wanted to sleep and forget where I was. It was pathetic.
February was also the month I picked up smoking. At the student store, I bought a pack of Marlboro Reds and smoked three or four at night when Trey and I spoke. That was around the time that Trey was arrested for using graffiti; the police connected it to shit he did all the way back when he was 17. He spent a few days in jail, and would be on probation for the next 6 months, so he had to be home at 9:00 every night. That was usually when we spoke, around midnight on the east coast.
* * * * *
On March 1st, I arrived at Ontario Airport. My (now ex-) girlfriend picked me up, along with her sister and sister’s boyfriend. She wore white boots and a black American Apparel-ish looking thing, and I — per her request — wore my tightest black Krew jeans and a white V-neck. We were going dancing that night.
When I came down the escalator, I wasn’t totally sure how I was supposed to treat her. (Am I, like, not supposed to kiss her?) She came to me and we hugged, pulled back a little, and we kissed. I think she asked why I was being weird, but in my head we were broken up. I don’t fucking know.
We went to the club and danced, and took pictures, and then went to her mom’s house. I was elated to be back. I gave her mom a hug when I got in the house, then followed my kind-of-girlfriend into her room along with my luggage. I shut the door behind us. We started kissing some more.
She took off her black dress thing and I got out of my pants, and I laid on top of her while we held one another silently. Behind her bed she grabbed a book titled My Friend Leonard and handed it to me, with a page bookmarked by a pink sticky note. On it, it read:
Eric, my darling, please read this to me.
So I read a couple pages, put it down, and we spent the night together. For the first time since I left for Virginia in January, I felt like everything was back together again. I had been worrying about nothing. From summer love to the coldest winter, only that night, laying with her in bed, did I discover how worth it she really was.
A couple days later she left for Texas with her mom, to close a deal on the house her mom wanted. So we spent a few days crazy in love, and instead of me she was the one to leave. I flew back to Virginia a week later, primed with optimism about the future.
* * * * *
The end of my freshman year at Virginia Tech was a blur. Around the time of my 19th birthday, on March 20th, my girlfriend and I were official (again), though we still dealt with a lot of the same issues we had before. Even after my bout with depression, my behavior never fundamentally changed. I was still jealous of her time when she wasn’t talking to me, and still judging meaningless aspects from her past. There was absolutely no saving me.
But we did make it through the end of the school year. Over my last couple months we spent much time on the phone speculating how I could transfer to a school in Texas, get a job and live with her at her mom’s house. Only young people can create such a fantasy. When I finally told my mom and dad, who made an enormous financial commitment so I could go to my dream school, that I planned to leave Virginia Tech because I wanted to be with her, they weren’t happy. They pleaded with me, even in spite of how much they loved her, to not abandon my dream school for a girl.
In my head the decision was already made. If it was up to me I never would have left for Virginia Tech in the first place. I would have attempted to make it work with her. But the universe didn’t have that in mind. It was only after I got accepted to a once-in-a-lifetime school — one I didn’t feel like I deserved to get into in the first place — that I became smitten with a once-in-a-lifetime girl. I was 18. I did the best I could.
She left with her mom for Texas on May 15th, two days after her 19th birthday. We walked in circles together on the platform at the train station, hugging and kissing and talking about all the big plans we had. The afternoon before we laid on her bed, and I asked:
If it was up to you, would you be leaving for Texas?
She gently put a finger over my lips, like someone from a movie, as if to tell me not to be so loud because her mom might hear. Tears started running down the side of her face, as we laid facing each other on the same pillow. That told me everything I needed to know. She wasn’t anxious or scared. She had accepted it. She was resigned to leaving.
I watched the train leave with her standing in an open space, so we could still see each other. We blew each other a kiss and she mouthed “Forever.”
A week later we got in another fight over the phone, and didn’t talk the day after. On May 22nd Trey and I were caught trespassing, and spent the day in jail so the cop could prove some stupid point. It was that night, but not because of getting arrested, that her and I broke up for good.
Listen, I was a mess when she left for Texas, and the subsequent breakup. But the worst of it was only to come. Right after May 22nd — the day Trey and I went to jail, the day I got dumped — there was a brief window where being alive was tolerable.
My now ex-girlfriend was getting settled with her mom in Texas, but we kept in semi-regular contact. We still texted, and spoke on the phone some nights. We talked about what went right and wrong, and that, who knows, maybe one day she would invite me to her wedding. She still saw an opportunity for friendship, and when I broached the idea of us getting back together someday, she said “I can’t predict the future.”
In the meantime, Trey and I were regularly hanging out again — something we didn’t do as much when we each had girlfriends. We did random shit. We’d go bowling, painting, play tennis, and we even started going to parties. Trey is straight edge, so he isn’t into drinking or smoking or any of that other noise. We were just doing whatever there was to do.
That was my consolation prize for getting broken up with: I had my best friend as a distraction.
At the beginning of June, not three weeks removed from going to jail, Trey and I went bowling one night. There wasn’t anything special about it, except this time his on-again-off-again ex-girlfriend showed up when it was just supposed to be us two. She didn’t like me. After months of Trey telling me it was over between them, he spent the night at the bowling alley showing off for her, creating huge delays for me and my precious bowling time. It could have been any other girl and I wouldn’t have cared. But it was her. Inside I was livid.
When we got out to the parking lot to leave, Trey confronted me to ask what my deal was, and I flipped my shit, told him everything I just wrote. I was excessively unhappy; there’s no other reason I would have treated my best friend that way.
So we argued, yelled at one another beneath the tall lights, and I got in my black Ford Ranger to leave. That was the last I saw of Trey until November the following year.
* * * * *
In July, my ex-girlfriend came home. Her mom still had items to move, and there were certain legalities in need of handling between her mom and dad. Her first day back I took her to IHOP and we sat next to each other at a booth while we ate pancakes. After, we went to the mall and got some See’s Candy.
Rather than take her out to go thrift store shopping after, which was our original plan, the two of us ended up in her room at her mom’s old house. We thought we had enough time to sneak one in. When we heard the front door open, we panicked and got dressed. It was her mom. My ex told me I should leave, so I did.
I didn’t hear from her the rest of the day, or day after, which I thought was strange. Here we had someone I had been with the last year, who even after she broke up with me was still in touch, so much so that I was the first person she wanted to see when she got back to California.
And now, this.
It wasn’t adding up in my head, so anxiously I waited around my parent’s house next to my phone, agonizing, thinking I was only moments away from a text or call. It never came.
Knowing she was leaving the next day, the following afternoon I texted her a couple times… before calling. Multiple times. I went mad trying to understand what was going on. When she didn’t answer I drove out to her mom’s house, where I assumed she was.
Outside it was overcast and occasionally it sprinkled. The grey skies set the mood for an appropriately sad afternoon. I made my way to the front door and rang the bell, then rang it again. I could hear rumbling inside in what sounded like the kitchen area, making my situation even more uncomfortable. There was only one person who lived there who wouldn’t answer the door for me, though I wasn’t totally sure why.
I went back to my truck and got out a composition notebook and pen, and started writing a letter on the bed (which I pulled down to sit on). This would be the only way to get my last word in. I pressed pen to paper like a maniac, wrote my page-long piece in what felt like 10 minutes. It probably was 10 minutes. When I finished, I proceeded back up the driveway and to the front door, rang the doorbell a couple times, knocked, called her, texted her. I was going to pieces out there. I also remember not caring if anyone on the street saw me, which was out of character. In that moment I had no shame.
Then her mom pulled up, came to join me at the front door. She was obviously tipped off to come deal with the inconvenience. Somebody had to. She leaned over and sat with me on the cold ground while she said what was really going on, which gave me at least a breadcrumb of peace. She was upset that her daughter and I were supposed to go thrift store shopping and we ended up sleeping together. That isn’t what friends do, she explained. Like a parent to a child.
When I drove back home that day, I finally understood the magnitude of how much I had fucked my life up. Less than a year earlier I was flying out to Virginia Tech; I had a girl I was madly in love with and a best friend who would do anything for me. I had the best life.
Now I had nothing. I dropped out of my awesome-sounding college. I was dumped by my hot girlfriend. I wasn’t talking to my awesome best friend. All of the things that made me cool, and made me feel cool, were gone. As one of my old friends told me, “All your hard work and you ended up back at home with the rest of us.”
I was a long way from using such statements as fuel to improve myself. This wave of turmoil was only getting started: The exposition was a true love story, but the climax wasn’t until the two people I loved most were finally gone.
I was about to enter the falling action — which in this case was more inaction — and how, after the most pain-free upbringing, I struggled with the worst pains, all at once.
* * * * *
I badly needed an outlet.
My wisdom teeth were removed at the end of July, 2009. I was given a Valium before the operation, and prescribed a bottle of Vicodin after. I didn’t take any right away. The night my teeth were taken out I went to play basketball at Ben’s house — my friend from high school who was in the hardcore band — and the pain wasn’t unbearable.
In fact, the next day I started working part-time at the auto auction company. Even though reality seemed like a total loss, work was the best distraction. I was filled to the brim with sorrow from the breakup and losing my best friend, and I still had a hard time eating and sleeping. But at least a few days a week I could focus my mind on something else. I was lucky to get a job so quickly.
Eventually, weeks after my wisdom teeth were pulled, I finally opened the bottle of Vicodin to see what they were all about. (Hint: they were amazing.) In high school, and for the duration of my now-dead relationship, I talked down about drugs, as well as the people who used them. I said those people were weak, dumb, lost. Whatever. It wasn’t until I experimented myself that I understood all the fuss.
For stretches of the next two years, pain-killer medication was my weapon of choice. Between weed and pills, I estimate roughly a quarter of my income was committed to getting high. Because opioids are tolerance-based, at the beginning I would only need one to get through half the day, which was all I needed. By the end of a cycle, I’d take two in the morning, two at work after lunch, and two more once I got home.
One night, hopped up on Norco’s, I had a panic attack in my parent’s living room. Aside other panic episodes I’ve had over the last half-decade, it was the only time I remember thinking I was actually going to die. To help calm down I went in my mom’s room and laid down next to her. I thought I would rather die than tell her that drugs were the cause.
I was always ready and willing to escape.
* * * * *
In October I flew back to Virginia to visit my friends from school. Virginia Tech had a Thursday Night Football game against North Carolina on ESPN (that they lost), but at least I was there to see it. Even though it seemed like a totally different world by then, it had only been five months since I saw everybody.
That was the final bow on all my Virginia friendships. That was my closure. I haven’t returned since.
Three weeks later, Brad, Ben, Isaiah and I had plane tickets bound for New York. It was a half-hearted vacation attempt; we had no real plans of what to do once we got there, and we were to stay in hostiles. That was all I knew.
So I wasn’t totally disappointed the night we made it to the airport in Long Beach, and got a call saying our flight had been canceled. Not delayed, or postponed. The lady at the front desk offered to compensate us with a flight to Ft. Lauderdale, instead, but our group wasn’t unanimous so we stayed put. We stood around like a bunch of knobs trying to figure out what to do.
Because our friend, Kyle, was going to school in Sacramento, we decided on driving up to surprise him. We left around midnight from our homes in San Bernardino, took Brad’s big ass white truck up north. With little traffic it only took us like six hours, which was nice.
We spent a couple days in Sacramento, drove out to San Francisco and saw the Golden Gate bridge. I was just a whore to go on as many vacations as possible, since I still couldn’t shake the heart-break from the summer. The morning we left to head home, we saw on one of the social medias that a kid we went to high school with, also named Eric, died in a car accident on his way home from college. He was on Thanksgiving break. He and I had the same first name, same birthday, and were born only hours apart at the same hospital. We went to preschool together.
He was a better person than I was.
After the trip up north, but not because of it, Ben, Kyle and Isaiah fell out of touch with me. I didn’t really put up a fight over it. One week we were friends, drinking beer in my parent’s backyard. The next week we weren’t. Neither side, not them and not I, cared enough to have a conversation as to why.
Now, sure, they and I never shared the same interests. Not even when we were in high school. They were into music in a way that 90% of their conversations revolved around the hardcore genre. In high school it didn’t bother me very much, because they were only my secondary friends, the people I hung out with when I wasn’t doing something with Trey.
Once Trey was out of my life — and at this point it had been about 5 months — their importance increased. And it was because I spent so much time with them that I learned how much Trey meant to me. I was still only 19 at the time, so what happened in my life still felt like the most important thing in the universe, but it was easy to tell that the three of them weren’t in the mood to talk about real life issues. They didn’t have the answers I needed.
That is, of course, to say I had any fucking clue what answers I needed. My uncle once told me that the problem with gaining life experience is, unfortunately, you get it right after the time when you need it. The year of 2009 took a dump all over me. But without it, it would have been impossible to grow up.
I met John just days after Trey and I stopped being friends, in June of 2009. Being a year younger than I am, John had a massive graduation party at his parent’s house. There must’ve been over a hundred people there that night. Since he knew Trey and Brad from painting, occasionally, John treated me with immediate respect, as if my affiliation to them was an endorsement in itself.
But he was an easily likable guy, in general. It made sense why he made a strong impression, because that was just who he was.
John was classically soft-spoken, and stood with a slight frame, close to 6’0″ with long arms and skinny legs. He had caramel-colored skin; his mother was Mexican and his dad black, though he was now living with his stepdad, who had two boys of his own with John’s mother.
Over the next several months, John would come around to the get togethers I had with Ben, Brad, and Isaiah, playing beer pong and smoking weed. Many weeks we had kickbacks at his parents house on Friday or Saturday night, and Sunday it was always at my parents. We were living the burnout life as 19 year-olds.
After Ben, Kyle, Isaiah and I went our separate ways, John was the person I hung out with the most. We eventually realized, through all the blunts and beer, that we really enjoyed getting fucked up and talking about bigger ideas. So that’s exactly what we did. He was a sad person by nature, seemed to never think he was good enough or capable enough, so he was generally always down for a good time.
Our reasons for being unhappy were very different, but the fact that we both were, to begin with, was what ultimately bonded us.
So, as it happened, John and I channeled our unhappiness the best way we knew how: We smoked. We drank. We occasionally went to parties, smoke and drank there, too. John bought me my first sack of weed, was the person I did coke with the first time, was the person I dropped mushrooms with the first time. We may not have been accomplishing much, but it sure as fuck felt like we were.
I enrolled at a local community college in the spring of 2010, took a couple writing courses to help pass the time. John and I were regularly hanging out by then; we began making rap songs on GarageBand from YouTube instrumentals. With work, school, and making music with John, I had finally regenerated my supply of useful distractions. It was going on a year since I had been broken up with, and lost my best friend. Only now was I beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
It was during the summer when I finally had my epiphany. One hot afternoon, John and I thought it would be a good idea to smoke a joint while we walked up a hill near his sister’s apartment. Everything seems to develop casually slow while I’m high. That ten minute walk felt like it took an hour. I was sweating and sucking for air.
When we got to the top, we found an abandoned house, torn apart from at least a decade’s worth of weather and neglect. There was a makeshift wooden garage with no roof, a bench carved out of a fallen tree stump, and every piece of standing wood was marked up with spray paint. The only thing that was still functioning, at least in any practical way, was a wooden swing connected by a thick rope to a large tree.
Near the abandoned house was a gorgeous backyard setup. Er, I imagine it was once gorgeous. It wasn’t much to look at anymore. There was a large fire-pit encased by bricks, an enormous pool that had since become a dump. It smelled like shit, and the deep end was littered with collected rain and all sorts of discarded junk. I was walking in the shallow end when I saw some sticker outside where one of the jets was supposed to be. I don’t remember what symbol or writing crew the sticker represented.
But it was in that moment that it hit me. I didn’t feel the pain in the pit of my stomach anymore. I wasn’t upset anymore. I was finally okay with myself.
I was also pretty high.
* * * * *
By the summer of 2010, John and I were hanging out almost every day. I was still working at the auto auction company and going to school. I’d even started seeing a couple women, one I met in a writing class and another from a party John and I went to. If an outsider who knew nothing about me was walking in my shoes, he or she would think I was doing pretty well for myself.
On the inside, I wasn’t any more over my ex. I wasn’t any more over the circumstances that led to Trey and I falling out in that bowling alley parking lot.
Rather, I was getting better at dealing with it. I began viewing pain as a constant, as something I would need to shape myself around. The only alternative was to wait for it to leave, and I just got tired of waiting.
That summer I reached the peak of my drug use, but I’d fallen so far off the face of the earth that nothing really mattered. I ran into all kinds of people I knew from high school, and many shared a similar reaction. They never thought I’d be the type of person to do such and such drug, or whatever. It was only a phase. Everyone was mostly right about me.
John quit smoking at the end of the summer. He was getting sober for a new job. I was still working at the auto auction place and living with my parents, so I was making more money than I needed. John and I were talking about moving out, splitting an apartment together. I was ready to go.
For whatever reason, John wasn’t as interesting when we weren’t high. He talked about things he heard from someone, and presented them like they were facts. When I knew something was blatantly untrue, I would reply with the actual truth. He seemed to always take that personally, like I was attacking him instead of the untruths.
It wasn’t only that — John was on Final Boss Level laid-back-ness. I genuinely liked spending time with him. We just didn’t have anything real in common. When we were high on god knows what, we spoke of theory and nonsense. It seemed really interesting at the time, because it was really interesting at the time. There were no wrong answers.
However, those were merely escapes for confused young people. Reality wasn’t going anywhere. Once the curtain fell, and we didn’t smoke anymore when we hung out, I realized there wasn’t a lot of substance to our friendship.
* * * * *
Around the middle of November, 2010, my mom was late coming home from work one night. She told me she had stopped at the Mexican food place down the street, just to say hi to Trey and tell him she missed him. My mom hadn’t seen or spoken to him in almost a year and a half, and I wouldn’t have been okay with her doing that if she had told me beforehand. I didn’t want to make it seem like she was speaking on my behalf, because I was fully prepared to hold onto my pride and never speak to him again. Just like he was.
But when she told me, I wasn’t mad or upset with her. I was glad she said something.
The following day was a Friday. After getting home from work I did whatever the hell I normally do, probably ate dinner or something. At night I sat in the garage smoking cigarettes while I read Paint it Black, a book I borrowed from a girl I went to community college with. The story was about a woman whose boyfriend died in the past, and how she was handling it in the present. Half the book was flashbacks.
Without giving it much thought, I picked up my Blackberry and texted my ex-girlfriend to ask her if she had ever heard of Paint it Black. We had few communications over the last year-plus; I texted her several times and she texted me a few times. Once was to tell me I had been using caveat out of context.
Surprisingly, she responded to me right away, asked what are you doing and put an exclamation point at the end. It seemed awfully upbeat of her. I was suddenly rushed with adrenaline, because when you expect nothing it doesn’t take a lot to get you going.
As it were, she was staying with her dad at her parent’s house, presumably visiting over Thanksgiving. And 20 minutes later, just as I had done a hundred times before, I stepped into her living room and we hugged. I hadn’t seen her since July of 2009. Her best friend was also there, as was her best friend’s boyfriend. Her best friend’s boyfriend was Trey. They are now married.
This was a surreal environment to be in. It had been forever since I’d seen her, but Trey was there, too! I had not seen Trey since the bowling alley parking lot night. Immediately he and I went out back and I smoked a cigarette, and caught up on whatever there was to catch up on. That may have been the most obscure part of the night, that Trey and I went from nothing to virtually becoming best friends again.
We didn’t mention the past, or the fact that a shitload of time had gone by (relatively speaking). It was like we got out of one cab, and into another. A seamless transition.
Inside, the four of us played Pictionary. It was girls versus boys. Trey and I won.
During a lull, my ex called me over to the kitchen and got out a bottle of scotch from the cupboard. Come ‘ere, she said, gesturing for me to join her on the tile floor. She took a snap from the bottle, handed it to me and I took a snap. I felt uncomfortable whispering conversation to her with Trey and his girlfriend there, thinking they would be dropping eaves. But that got drowned out by the fact that I might not get this opportunity with her again, and that I should appreciate the time I had.
That could have been the scotch, too.
I left that night with renewed optimism, like all was not completely dead quite yet. Trey and I had plans to make a rap song on Wednesday night, an occasion that would turn into our weekly hangout.
And there was also this: For the last year-plus, I dedicated myself to being a better person. Through days and miserable nights of thinking, writing, crying, and asking myself the hard questions, I was finally at a point where I could deal with my emotions in a productive way. My stupid pain arrived all at once, all in a month-long wrinkle in time just before the summer of 2009. In the time leading up to when Trey and I, and her, met again, all of my efforts were directed at coming out of it a smarter, nicer, more accepting human being than when I started.
But I never put much thought into what I would do once they came back to my life.
Depression is a bottomless pit. I didn’t experience it for the first time until I was in Virginia in February, 2009, but the feeling has never escaped me. The summer I lost my ex and Trey it was a constant struggle. The following summer, in 2010 — when I finally felt like I was “over” it — it became more of a monthly thing. In 2016, as I write this, I’m stricken by it maybe once every three or four months, on average. It comes, it lasts a week or two, and suddenly I’m fine again.
If I have learned anything from depression, it’s that there isn’t much I can do about it. My mind is one of my assets, just as it always was, but there are still times that I’m reminded of how little control I have over my own thoughts and emotions. All the planning in the world could prepare me for various situations. But I am still a slave to the involuntary thoughts that sporadically pour through my brain, and I can’t prepare for that. All I can do is react.
When Trey and my ex came back, at the end of November in 2010, I started anew with big plans for the future — which they were obviously both included in. I was going to show them how much I had learned in the time they were away. They were going to be satisfied with the job they’d done on me.
* * * * *
Hanging out with John turned into a grind, especially with Trey coming around again. When Trey began driving over on Wednesdays to record music at my parent’s house, John was understandably miffed. For over a year John had essentially assumed the role as my “best friend,” and making songs was originally “our” idea. But I was convinced to make the juggling act work.
To his credit, John never challenged me on the fact that he was getting a raw deal. The three of us even made a couple songs together, including a remake to Tyler The Creator’s Yonkers. That was the dynamic for a large portion of the next year, 2011: John and I were hanging out more, but I was significantly closer to Trey. As the year progressed, and as Wednesday nights turned into three or four nights a week, there was never a question who my loyalty was with.
* * * * *
In July, Trey and I played our first hip-hop show. Our set was three songs long and at a bar/deli. There may have been 40 or 50 people in attendance.
My ex was one of those people.
She was home from Texas visiting on her summer vacation. I met up with her at Trey and his girlfriend’s apartment the night of the show; when I walked in she was sitting on the kitchen counter with her legs crossed at the ankles. She wore a short, tight dress, and white heels. I gave her a hug, told her she looked really good. Later she would give me shit for not kissing her when I first saw her. She was playful.
So Trey and I went up, played the damn show. There’s a minute-long clip of it that still exists. It was the first time I had performed anything like that in front of any audience, but the two of us would play a few more venues before it was all said and done.
After the show, I went back with my ex to her dad’s house. We sat outside with her sister’s boyfriend and we talked for a little while. Since it was apparently impossible not to, her and I got into a verbal spar over who the fuck knows. It would pass. Her sister’s boyfriend left and went home, and her and I wound up in her bed. It had been over two years since we’d been with each other.
The following morning, after drinking the evening before and staying up all night having sex, I got dressed without showering and headed off for work. She was leaving that day to go on a road trip with her sister and sister’s boyfriend, up north to see Washington and Oregon. She walked me to the front door, we hugged and kissed, and I left for work. I listened to a lot of Grieves that day at my work station.
She came home from her road trip a week later; it was a typical California summer day — hot and sticky. The first thing she did was send me a text asking what I was doing. I don’t remember what that was, exactly, I just knew my schedule was unquestionably open for her. So I dropped whatever was happening and went to her dad’s house.
When I got there it was just the two of us. She talked about her trip, told me how much fun she had, and then we started making out on the couch. She played Explosions In The Sky on vinyl. When we finished, the two of us went out back and smoked.
Her best friend called shortly thereafter. Her best friend was with Trey at the time. I could only hear from my ex’s end of the call, like when she said yeah I just got home like an hour ago, and yeah Eric is here, too.
I wouldn’t know until months later, from Trey, that her best friend thought it was pretty fucked up how I, the author, was the first person to hear from and see my ex once she made it home.
From my perspective, it only reinforced one thing: Whatever the two of us had together, or whatever it had morphed into over the two years since we broke up, it wasn’t dead. The story wasn’t yet finished. I convinced this to myself.
Her and I got to spend more time together before she headed back to Texas. We went to the Mexican food place Trey worked at, ate burritos while for a moment it seemed like everything was again right with the world. Even though this was all temporary. That night I brought her to my parents house and she drank wine with my mom in the backyard, and we all caught up on what life was like. I had a whiskey and coke. When my mom went inside, we sat together on the swing, talked about what went right and wrong between us. How it ended up this way.
She was a borderline drunk and I was, at best, tipsy, but in the moment it felt again like this is where I belonged. Since the end of our relationship her and I fought more and more. We were living in a constant state of on-again-off-again, even when she was half of a country away. It was as if the only thing on the same level as the love we shared as kids was how large we built our walls to keep the other out.
Only in tiny doses, like this particular summer evening on the swing in the backyard at my parents house, did the animosity between us totally evaporate. In that moment, we were together. And that was the only thing that mattered. Then we went inside and did that thing again.
She fell asleep on the couch in the living room. I went back outside and smoked a few cigarettes while I finished some work I needed to do, then went in to turn off the lights. I laid down on the couch that was next to her, and somewhere in that process she woke up. Almost instinctively she came over and laid her body on top of mine, wrapped her arms under my torso. We just laid there in the dark. That would be the last time.
It’s dark outside. I am standing on the second floor balcony of what appears to be an apartment or hotel complex. I hear voices surrounding me, kids and their parents, presumably, panicked by an impending crash. I look up at the night sky to see what the commotion is about. There’s a helicopter spiraling out of control.
It’s directly above me, helplessly swaying around in circles like in all the movies I had seen. It looks like it’s going to crash right on top of me.
Knowing it’s only a dream, I remain calm. And it’s because it is a dream that I know exactly who the helicopter is coming for.
I admire the path it takes on its way down. The kids are screaming just like their presumable parents, and I wait in silence for its inevitable crash landing. I look straight up while it barrels down into me.
* * * * *
Trey turned 21 in September of 2011. The night before his birthday we drove out to Casino Morongo, played video roulette of all things. It was the first he or I ever gambled. We only played $200 apiece, but that was a lot of money to us back then. We left even. The following morning we flew to San Francisco for an all-guy vacation, and if we lost at the casino we would have been out about 40% of our collective budget for the trip.
But we didn’t, so who cares.
A lot was happening around then. Having seen one another a few months earlier, during the summer, my ex and I were on our best terms since she moved and broke up with me. We were talking every day, telling each other ‘I love you’ before we got off the phone. I wouldn’t go as far as saying we were on any direct line to get back together, but we couldn’t pass each other off as being “just friends,” or how you say. We were the same as we ever were; our relationship had simply taken a different form.
To that end, 2009 may as well have been an entire lifetime ago. In October, Brad — Trey’s older brother — got married. The Texas Rangers, my favorite baseball team, were in the middle of their second consecutive crushing World Series defeat. (Sports will forever be my point of reference.)
Even as Trey and I had grown closer than ever, I was still bugging John about splitting an apartment with me. It was always going to be soon that we moved out, only soon never arrived.
* * * * *
At some juncture in November, I got a phone call from Trey’s girlfriend (now wife), my ex’s best friend. It was nighttime. Trey called about 10 minutes earlier to tell me she might call, and to just deny everything. She had apparently found something out from a text someone sent her. My job was to be a best friend and not say anything.
So she called, and I told her Trey loved her, denied everything else. And that part of it was true. Trey was very much in love with her. That was it. She hung up.
I don’t like to lie, and the longer time goes the more I regret that I had to lie. This problem surfaced out of nowhere, and in a split second I effectively chose my best friend over my ex-girlfriend, whom I was still deeply in love with. And it’s amazing that, in spite of said love, I admit that I would make the same decision if I had to relive that moment again, and again. I would not sell Trey out under any circumstance. I stretched the truth as far as it could go, until there wasn’t anything to do but lie.
It was the week after Thanksgiving — roughly a week after I got the call from Trey’s girlfriend — and I sat in the office I shared with another woman from the auto auction place. By then I worked full-time in the accounting department, which consisted of, like, five people in total. It was a mundane afternoon, just like all of the others.
That is, until it wasn’t. My ex and I were texting back and forth all day, then there was an hour-long window where she got silent. I had no reason to be worried.
However, it quickly became apparent that lying to her best friend would not go unpunished. When she finally wrote back, the text cryptically read:
everything in transit.
I didn’t immediately know what she meant, I just understood that something awful had happened. Everything In Transit was the album title to the soundtrack of our summer; it was the anthem to our beach trips and bedroom hangouts and random drives to nowhere when we were together. When she wrote that I knew everything was about to change. Again.
Not two minutes later, Trey called. He sounded in a rush. “Can you come pick me up?” he asked.
“I’ll be right over,” I responded, without any further questions, and got my keys to get him at their apartment.
He got caught up by his girlfriend. He needed me to take him to the bank so he could take out all his money, because they had a joint account and he was worried she would do something. On the way he explained the situation, was grateful and apologetic. I was mainly just worried about him. I could attempt damage control with my ex another time.
A handful of days later, when things calmed down, his girlfriend moved back in with her parents, so Trey needed a roommate. He called while I was on break one afternoon and asked if I’d be down to move in with him, and of course I did.
For months I had been ready to move out of my parents house; I only needed a roommate. The circumstances surrounding why Trey suddenly needed one were not ideal, but it was nonetheless appropriate how quickly the situation resolved itself. We were best friends, so it couldn’t make any more sense.
That was ultimately John’s flaw: He was incapable of pulling the trigger. Trey, meanwhile, lived his life on the brink of pulling multiple triggers, all at once. Right or wrong, he does not hesitate.
It’s funny how the best friend roles were different between them. Since we were in high school, I never minded Trey assuming the alpha persona in our friendship. He liked to be the focal point of every situation, so I played the quiet best friend who rarely boasted while I was around anyone. Trey did so much of my talking for me. When John and I were out, socially at a party or around people in real life, it was the opposite. I was the one who took control and did most of the talking. We’re all alphas; I just flip the switch on or off depending who I’m around.
John won’t ever see my moving in with Trey from my perspective. He can play the martyr, the guy who got the short end of the stick when Trey came back around. But I could never find the recipe to make it work between the three of us. And I really did try. I just got tired of it.
One thing we each shared was the capacity to be all-or-nothing with people. The reason Trey and I, and John and I, were such close friends, is because we basically rejected every other person who could have potentially threatened that spot on the mantle. We could never exist as friends unless we were best friends. Otherwise it would have been pointless.
I haven’t spoken to John in a few years, but I’ll never have any ill-will towards him. It’s the opposite, actually. In my heart I could never turn my back on the person who was there during my darkest hours, even if that’s exactly what I did at the time. It came down to Trey or John, and it wasn’t a serious decision.
* * * * *
Following the episode, the communications with my ex were not pretty. Christmas of 2011 rolled around, and she didn’t visit when she came home from Texas. It was just Trey and I hanging out at our apartment.
The breakup was hard on him. Pretty sure I can count on two or three fingers the number of times I’ve seen him cry, but this was one of them. He lamented what he’d done, bawled out while he explained how different everything would be if given another chance. I just listened, because all there was to do was listen.
It reminded me of how I spoke to my mom, when my own relationship ended. This was what it looks like when you really love someone.
This was the era where Trey and I were most prolific with our music. We made videos to this and that, and at least half our Soundcloud is comprised from when he and I lived together. We had fun.
Their standoff only lasted about a month before his girlfriend started coming around again. That was also the time we went to the casino all the fucking time.
Unironically, Trey and I gambled more when we had less money. Blackjack was our game of choice. When we started it was $100 here or $200 there, and there were some lucrative nights. We’d win $1,000 or so, go back the next night and lose it all. That process repeated itself about a dozen times when we went everyday.
Slowly, like a broken record, my ex and I started talking again. Every time we got in an argument and went on a week- or two-week-long hiatus, I would tell myself that was it. That the next time we spoke everything would change, and I would be nice.
It rarely translated.
Trey and I posted this video on March 6, 2012. A week later, on the 13th, I got really heated with one of my coworkers and walked out of the auto auction place. I fucking quit. At that moment things must not have been going well between my ex and I and, since I lived vicariously through how she felt about me, I let it bleed into my job. Which is where I made money. Which is how I paid half the rent at the apartment Trey and I shared. It was a mistake.
I will never be able to justify to a reasonable person how one woman could affect me so much, and so long after the fact. When I was 19 and had a hard time sleeping, pretty much nightly, I would sometimes close my eyes and interlace my fingers, pray to god to convince her to give me one more chance. Bring her back, I pleaded, and I’ll never ask for anything, ever again.
Well, she did come back. But I never held up my end of the bargain. I needed more chances, and more chances, and more chances. And every new chance she gave was treated the same as the last. I was much further from growing up than I had imagined.
After I left the auto auction place, Trey and I went to the casino a lot less. I used up the rest of the money I had in the bank on rent for March, April and May, and then finally moved back into my parent’s house. The lease would be up in a few months, and Trey and his girlfriend would get a house.
My new summer of discontent was in 2012. I was alone again, fresh off moving back in with my parents for the second time in four years, and had a hard time finding a job. I remember I wanted to work at a few different restaurants, but I didn’t have any experience and I guess they didn’t like me, because I never made it past the interview.
That’s the shitty part about being unemployed. After facing rejection enough times it really saps the life out, making it harder and harder to go out. That could have had to do with living with my parents, though. I got comfortable.
I was also depressed again.
Trey regularly invited me out with him, or him and his girlfriend. I don’t think it came from sympathy inasmuch as just trying to cheer me up a bit, because he knew I felt like shit. He knew the ruts I occasionally got in.
We had been to the casino so many times by that point, all the dealers knew us. Since we both tipped well, they all liked when Trey and I played at their table. Over the course of the previous nine months, he and I had probably gambled about 50 times. (Maybe more, I don’t remember.) And it was his idea, simply from me counting cards faster than the dealer was, that that’s what I should do. Be a dealer.
In October of 2012, my ex visited from Texas. Our mutual standing was tenuous, which could be considered a positive after where we were after I lied to her best friend on Trey’s behalf almost a year earlier.
She let me take her out for drinks. We went to our favorite restaurant from when we were dating. I got a couple Jack and Coke’s, and she got a couple vodka somethings. This was not a romantic evening, it was more of a What the fuck were you thinking, Eric? evening.
It was one of our most honest conversations. I told her I wouldn’t betray my best friend, no matter what. That I knew the implications of my decision and went through with it anyway.
She was set in whatever view she had of me. I was a big ball of potential, and was failing with it. She fluctuated between being friendly and agitated with me. She bemoaned things I’d said, or done to her in the past. And she also said I was the only person she would have done anything for. That was me, baby.
When we left, we sat in my Ford Ranger and talked some more, argued some more. There was a sour taste in my mouth, like I had this golden opportunity and couldn’t say anything that wouldn’t make my position more fucked up than it already was. So I stopped talking, put the keys in my truck and we left. We held hands on the drive home.
On the freeway, I told her my plans of becoming a dealer in the casino. She seemed amused, almost as if it wasn’t a serious thought. When she realized it wasn’t a ruse, she told me I had gone to school for writing, that being a writer was my dream, and here I was now giving up on it to deal cards, of all things. But if that’s what you wanna do. . . .
I walked her to her door, hugged her, pulled back. A lot like how we did at the airport when I returned from Virginia for spring break in 2009. Then, just as we had three and a half years earlier, we gently pulled each other back in, started kissing. Then she went inside, and I walked back to my truck to drive home.
Circa Survive was playing through my stereo.
The day after Christmas, 2012, my ex and I went out. She was visiting from Texas again.
I drove to Redlands where my ex’s sister and sister’s husband lived, but they weren’t home. It was just the two of us. For the holiday she got me a blue Round Rock Express baseball hat — they are the Triple-A affiliate of my favorite baseball team — and we sat around and spoke on the couch. I was apprehensive, since it was always a fat question mark how I would be received.
“I have something to tell you, but it’s kind of embarrassing,” I told her. I figure I tipped my hand when I used embarrassing as a disclaimer. I mean, how many things are embarrassing, really?
“What, that you want to marry me?” she retorted, in amusement.
I was still unemployed and living with my parents, which she knew. Because she was so close to her best friend, and because her best friend was in relationship with Trey — my best friend — there were not a ton of secrets to be kept. And while I doubt my ex went to great lengths to keep tabs on my life, some things weren’t worth lying about. I could embellish, or fabricate the truth to all the random peoples in my general life surroundings, but my ex meant more to me than that. She meant more than everybody.
Still, even after she read me like a book, I nonetheless made my pitch. I told her I loved her, and that I was always going to love her. That her best friend was in California, and we could be the four musketeers and live happily ever after, or whatever. Since my reality didn’t leave much to offer, all I had to sell was a dream.
I didn’t get any answer, because what answer was there to give? She was living in Texas and had no plans of coming back to live in California. She was happy there.
She told me I was lost, but that it was okay because a lot of other young people are lost, too. I didn’t accept that. Granted, I was coming from a position of weakness. I had no job and next to no money, and wasn’t literally saying we should get married right then and there. Rather I was, in futility, trying to keep the idea open.
We left soon after, headed back to my parents house so I could give her the Christmas gift I got. I spent almost all of the money I’d received over the holidays to get her the jacket she wanted. Then we left to get burritos at the Mexican food place Trey worked at, and later headed to the mall. She got a bunch of MAC makeup shit and I put it on my credit card.
When I took her back to her dad’s house, I remember feeling extremely hollow. I was used to being distant with her, because distance was never not a factor between us, whether it was me in Virginia or her in Texas. But never were we so distant when we were together, sharing the same space.
Somehow her parent’s living room, the same living room that had been part of our history for years, had become just another room in another house. She saw straight through my great reveal, how her and I should get married someday. Beyond that I had nothing new for her.
Maybe she was right. Maybe I was lost.
She walked me to the front door, and we hugged each other goodbye. I didn’t know it at the time, but I wouldn’t see her again until Trey’s wedding, which came almost three years later.
* * * * *
At the end of the winter, late-February 2013, Trey had a massive night at the casino. We went with a couple people who worked with him — Trey was an artist in a tattoo shop — and Trey went straight to the high limits and bought in with $500.
Before we left for the casino, Trey gave me $500 and said, “If I lose, you’ll play with this.”
I don’t remember what front we were putting up, but Trey gave me the gambling money so it wouldn’t appear like I was the broke friend still living with his parents. (Which in actuality, I was.) He didn’t explain that to me, because he didn’t have to explain. It was just understood.
As it turned out, Trey wouldn’t need me to gamble. He sat down at the $100 blackjack table in the high-limit room. In a span of five minutes, he stacked his $500 buy-in into about $2,000. Our night was already made.
So I did what any normal person would do, and went to the $50 table next to the one Trey was at, and started winning over there. It’s only when you don’t give a fuck about losing that makes winning seem so easy. When Trey left from his table, he was up about $3,000. That was the night I hit a blackjack on a $500 bet, which paid $750. That’s still the biggest blackjack we ever won.
We left that night winners of $2,000 apiece, tied for our biggest ever casino score. Once I made it home I figured it was a good night to drive through McDonalds, a victory meal, so that’s exactly what I did.
The line was long and took some time, so I spent a healthy portion waiting, thinking about what I should buy with all the new money I came into. I could get a new laptop, a bunch of new clothes, or just save it and feast on fast food every day for the next six months. The options were endless.
Somewhere in there, Trey’s voice was in my head. You’re better at math than all the dealers I’ve seen… you should be a dealer….
And that’s when it hit me. I was going to use the money for progress. This wasn’t going to be another one of the countless times he and I won a bunch and gave it all back. This time was going to be different.
At the beginning of March I showed up to dealer school. It was a Friday. The instructor, Peter, offered me to look around and see what the school was all about. He told me there was a payment plan, and so forth.
“No, that’s all right,” I said. “This is what I want to do. I’ll pay you now and be back on Monday to start.”
So I signed his contract, handed him thirteen crispy $100 bills — all casino winnings — and began on my path to being a dealer.
* * * * *
The next year of my life went according to the script. Dealer school was a work-at-your-own-pace environment. Peter had students he hadn’t seen for multiple years come back, re-learn everything. He had people who showed up once or twice a week. And others, like me, came everyday for a few hours.
All told, I wouldn’t get a job until January of 2014, but it wasn’t because school takes that long. It’s because the Rangers played at 5:00 most nights, so I’d go to school around noon and leave around 4:00. Yes, I was that guy.
I became the editor of a tiny Rangers blog on some obscure part of the Internet. So I suppose the way I justified it, to myself, was that I needed to catch the action live so I could write about it. I was also without the pressure of looking for a job, which, too, made me comfortable. Knowing what I know now, I would have busted my ass at dealer school and gotten a job in three months, or something.
Also in 2013, Trey and I were past the point of conflict. It’s as if the night we reunited in my ex’s backyard, in November of 2010, we never looked back. I mean, aside a few squabbles here and there, we haven’t had any serious beef in the decade we’ve known one another. Trey was my best friend, one of the few consistent pillars in my life. And he remains that to this day.
In no small way, Trey was responsible for funding dealer school. Just as we did as 21 year-olds, from the first time we gambled — the night before his 21st birthday — we split everything down the middle. If I won, we both won. If he won, we both won.
I owe all of my skills as a dealer to Peter, the man who taught me everything from blackjack to roulette to craps, and virtually everything in between. But without Trey, who originally staked his money which I profited off, my timeline would have been delayed. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
* * * * *
The pattern with my ex repeated itself a handful of times between 2013-2014. We’d start talking again, stop talking again, start back up. We were unpredictably predictable. But whenever she came back to California to visit, she made sure not to involve me in her plans.
One of the last times we spoke on the phone, which was probably in the fall of 2013, I learned she was seeing a therapist and taking something to help calm her down. She told me I wasn’t good, or healthy, for her life. And she was likely accurate with that assessment.
As her and I faded out of contact completely, dealer school was my new outlet. There were always people around, always plenty of cigarettes to be smoked, and I didn’t have to be there. I could leave whenever I wanted. It was kind of like being in college again, only this school was actually interesting.
When I was at home, I knew I would be back in isolation — a place I knew very well by then. I would write about the Rangers and sometimes blog about my life, much as I am doing here, right now. And many nights I thought about her, wondered how she was doing.
When I was 19 and 20, I really missed the way she made me look to the outside world. She was so pretty, and so intelligent, that I thought it said something about me that I was with her.
By the time I was 21 and 22 and 23, I realized I didn’t care at all how she made me look. I missed how she made me feel. Nobody else existed when we were together; we shared a bubble, our own universe. None of the number of girls I had been with, or messed around with the idea of dating, ever took me away to a similar place. And it’s been my contention, since I was first heartbroken at age-19, that until I feel that same robust amount of love for someone, I won’t have any reason to bother with a relationship.
The truth is, as shitty as she has made me feel, and as aggressively as I’ve loathed and occasionally loathe myself, I don’t blame her for originally dumping me. And I don’t blame her for rejecting my advances as we aged into our early twenties. I wasn’t a good person then. Neither of us deserved the other.
I can only say this now, with experience at my back. I was 24 once. Last year I was 25. Somewhere in the meantime, while I learned how to calculate 5% on a $1,250 bet, or how to push chips on a roulette table, or how to arrive at the payout of a horn-high midnight on the dice table, I found out how easy it was to be nice. I finally learned how to treat people the right way.
She only saw glimpses, short commercials in between the real action. She knew me, almost exclusively, when I had nothing. All she could go on were my words and actions, and my supposed love. There had to be more to life than that, and back then I didn’t know where to find it.
But, I wasn’t going to stay down forever. All of the dreams I attempted to sell her simply needed time, which turned into the one thing we no longer shared.
A lot like the content of this brief capsule in history, I had no idea where I was going to end up when I began writing it. It started in a small parking lot at some random show venue in Rancho Cucamonga, and it ends here, with me sitting in a chair on the back patio of my apartment.
If there is anything I have learned as I spanned this timeline — from spring 2008, to May of 2016 — it’s that I’ve discovered roughly as much about the real world as I have myself, the token of my love and pain. Which is really to say: I know significantly less now than I thought I knew then.
I was alive for 18 years before my life really got started. This has been that story.
* * * * *
I started in the casino in January of 2014. It was a tiny place, a break-in joint for new dealers. I crashed the audition, asked the table games director if they would give me a shot, and that day I interviewed and auditioned and passed my drug test. I got the job.
If gambling is my favorite thing to do, then dealing is a close second. It’s easy and it’s fun, and the money is disproportionately strong for the minor amount of effort it requires. There is some math involved, but it’s 95% customer service. I am basically a bartender, except instead of serving drinks to alcoholics I deal cards to degenerate gamblers.
I love it.
In July of 2014 I bought my first car, as opposed to the Ranger my parents originally got me — it was a black Subaru STi. My dream car.
However, three weeks after buying it, I lost control of the wheel and totaled the poor fucking thing one early morning after my shift. I smashed into a couple barriers, did a complete 360 in the middle of the freeway. I thought I was a goner.
I called and woke Trey up, and he offered to come get me as my tattered car got towed back to my parents house. I had been sober for 6 months, but that morning I drank three of the most satisfying glasses of Jameson when I got home. I never felt more alive, because I had never come so close to not being alive. Trey went home.
After several months of not being in communication, I bit the bullet and sent my ex a text that morning. Told her I crashed my new car and almost died. And that, no matter what bullshit there had been between us over the years, I still cared about her.
She didn’t write back, which would have stung more if I wasn’t already anticipating it. She had a boyfriend and it’s me and it only makes sense. I didn’t mean to come off as if invoking potential death was a reason to start talking to me again; it was just something I needed to say. I usually believed she was already aware how I felt about her, so the immediate existentialism in that text to her likely came off as superfluous. It didn’t really matter either way. I was still alive so I took that as my win of the day.
In October of 2014, I bought my second STi. This time a white one. In November, the day before Thanksgiving, I auditioned at a larger, better casino — the one I currently work at — and started on the graveyard shift on Christmas night. I would last two months on grave, then began dealing craps on day shift.
* * * * *
2015 was a good year. With a job I loved, the car I always wanted, and no serious roadblocks in sight, I hadn’t been so content since I was at Virginia Tech. Back then I couldn’t have imagined that, somehow, eight years later I would be a craps dealer, and be okay with that fact. Because I was the person who went to school to be a writer, who thought I would graduate in 2012 and start a journalism career earning $100,000 a year — because somehow there would have been actual money for me in writing — and start a family shortly thereafter.
That wasn’t how it shook out.
But at least I was in a better psychological state. Even when I was working at the break-in casino in Coachella, making a fraction of what I make now, I could see myself headed in the right direction. I know depression better than I ever wanted to, but I never lost my optimism for the future.
That’s the best description for me: I can be the most self-deprecating fatalist, but I’m also convinced that I am the best, and that I will find a way to make everything work out just right. It’s a love/hate thing.
In November, Trey married his girlfriend, my ex’s best friend. My ex brought her fiancee, a guy she had been seeing for a while by then.
The weekend went by quickly and without an issue. Her fiancee and I spoke briefly a couple times, and he seemed fine. My ex and I were paired in the wedding party, which was about as appropriate as it was surreal. I had not spoken to her for the longest stretch since I’d known her, and so many of my drives through the desert on my way to work revolved around what was the “right” way to approach the inevitable moment I saw her again.
I decided the best course was to do nothing at all, to just be a man and exercise some self-control for once in my goddamn life. I knew she had a boyfriend and was presumably happy, so what was really there to say at that point? Over the entire weekend the only time we were alone, just the two of us, was after the ceremony when we walked down the isle. We exited the scene, briefly walked arm-in-arm about 100 feet beyond, then released. I asked, “How are you?”
Sure, somewhere in there was that child, yelling at me to tell her how I really felt. But this wasn’t the time for that. This was my best friend’s wedding. If ever, in the many months we were out of touch, she wanted to catch up, it would have been so. It said something that she didn’t do that, so I got the picture.
For all I know, that wedding will be our last encounter, or communication. I would bet against ever hearing from her again. And I have to be okay with that.
In every other aspect of my life, from my job to my car to my living situation to my overall worldview, I was moved on. I was not a child anymore. She represented the last token of my childhood, the scared and confused years where I didn’t know who I was, or how to love. She became responsible for my across-the-board improvement, if only because it took something to bring me so low in life. She was it.
It took a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of conversation, a lot of booze and a lot of drugs. But when I made it out to the other side, I turned into what I wanted to turn into. What the people who loved me hoped I would turn into. I am still everything and nothing, all at once, but at least now I’m a good person.
* * * * *
I’m fine with how this has unfolded, because I do like this version of myself. It’s sad, really, when I think about how easy it is to be this way, and how I fought so hard to be a stubborn asshole when I was younger. I could have been happier and exerted less energy at the same time.
But these are just things. They don’t really matter. You and I don’t live in a world of what-ifs, or of time machines to cherry-pick all the best moments. We are here now. The old days are dead, even if they don’t ever leave.
I write this with the confidence that nobody I know will read it. That’s specifically why I wrote it here. For all I know I’ll post this, the final part, and take them all down tomorrow. It’s the end to one chapter of my life that I made last far too long.
Was it all worth it? Of course it was fucking worth it. I can lament all of my wrongs until I’m blue in the face, can apologize ad nauseam, what have you. And it’s true that I feel sorry for the way I had to handle some situations. But the people I’m in debt to know that I am in debt to them. Which is why I would still do anything for any of them, unconditionally.
I love my life, and I love who I am. I no longer require surrounding objects to make myself feel more complete as a person; I don’t need praise or love or whatever other good things people have to offer. Some day they will come around again. And I’m sure it will be a nice addition when it happens.
We made it all the way to 26. It’s been forever since I found out I got into Virginia Tech, but I won’t forget that moment anytime soon.
It was March 21st, 2008, a day after my 18th birthday.