One day, I will find the right words, and they will be simple.
The worst most wonderful thing just happened to me, kids.
I know I said last summer that I’d be more honest…and assiduous…with matters of romantic concern. What’s funny about that is… Well, maybe it’s not funny. Maybe it’s exactly the desired effect–that the honest admission of desire brought on things to be honest about.
It works like that, you know. I’ve seen it. So have you.
What I’m saying is that shortly after writing that post, there were disturbances in the force. I would have written about them–honest I would have–but oddly enough, they proved to be people who sometimes read what I write. (A proclivity which qualified them as legitimate disturbances.)
I wasn’t afraid of jinxing it…in fact, I was afraid of jinxing it by not writing about it.
But I didn’t want to embarrass anybody or otherwise out them without permission. And that’s a weird conversation to have with someone you’ve only just developed a crush on: “Hey, are you cool with me writing about how excited I am that you might be super into me?”
Another funny thing about these matters–how they multiply. It’s a truth well documented that as soon as your backbone straightens with the knowledge that someone might love you, everyone you’ve ever looked twice at suddenly starts looking twice at you. What I’m saying is that as soon as this one disturbance showed up, several more joined formation. It was like a flying V of exploratory suitors, all in a matter of weeks.
I won’t waste words on the situations that proved nonstarter.
Instead, I’m going to tell you about Jackson, Wy.
A while back, you may recall, I wrote this article for Salon. I got a lot of emails. One of them was from a guy in Wyoming.
I also got a lot of new Twitter followers. One of them had a byline that read “Writer for hire.” I won’t lie…I Googled his name more than once. All it unearthed was a series of entries for a nightclub impresario (is that the word I want?) in Las Vegas. Who, while he certainly looked hire-able, didn’t give much appearance of a writer.
I have my dignity. I left it alone.
But when I left Phoenix for Santa Fe a few weeks ago, a random tweet about a friendly hitchhiker elicited a response from this one Twitter follower of mine.
— Jack Colton (@btown88) September 15, 2014
I don’t know if there was a subconscious drive to find out the identity of this mystery writer-for-hire, or if I just wanted a hit off the pheromone pipe. Anyway, I responded. Then he responded. Then he threw out a tease about a story he had to tell.
@thechelseagrin I can’t tell you in 140, but I do have a helluva example that borders on the metaphysical.
— Jack Colton (@btown88) September 15, 2014
You must know what that did to me.
I sent him my email address.
I was sitting in a bar just off Santa Fe Plaza when I got another tweet…this time, a direct message…from the guy. He said he’d just been on an awkward first date.
Do tell, I said.
He did. Then I shared my misgivings about an upcoming awkward first date possibly awaiting me in another state.
Next thing I knew, it was four hours later, and my toes were curling and I was blushing and grinning so hard that the night concierge at the Inn at Loretto looked at me with a mixture of amusement and alarm.
By this time, I had confirmed that #Flirt and Wyoming Emailer were the same person.
I had also repeatedly told him that this was nothing more than a flirtation, for both of us. That his proposal of meeting in person was bound to disappoint us both.
I continued to tell him this for the remainder of my stay in Santa Fe. But he persisted. And his persistence pushed all my buttons…not the good ones. I got weepy. I got panicky. If you think these things don’t translate through text…well, maybe they don’t…but they did between Jackson, Wy. and myself. How do I know? Because I felt the pang of hurt feelings when he made an offhand comment that triggered my insecurities.
How do you distinguish between a flirty social media exchange and a genuine connection between two humans?
I’m going to say it’s when one, having been accused of hurting the other’s feelings, offers an unequivocal, unqualified apology.
I know couples married twenty years or more, who are still waiting for one of those.
A few days later, I was broken-hearted and could find no one to talk to about it. Nobody was answering their phone.
So I texted Jackson, Wy. and asked if he could talk to me.
I just wanted to hear his voice. He has a great voice. Somewhere between a cello’s low register and a tiger’s warning growl, it’s the kind that melts your bones like good bourbon that you drink too fast because it goes down so smooth.
I’d heard it once, while still in Santa Fe. He’d called for a few minutes just to see if there was really no possibility of racing me out to Denver in order to have coffee. (Please note that it’s a ten-hour drive between Denver and Jackson, and he didn’t know anyone there to stay with.)
I knew I liked it. His voice, I mean. And in that moment, it was all I wanted to hear.
So we talked. Rather, he talked, and I listened to stories. Of which he has many. Good ones. Ones that speak to an experience with a lot more than just chasing girls a la distance.
The next day, he asked if I wanted to swing by, on my way to Portland.
We could go to Yellowstone, he said.
I’ve never been to Yellowstone.
Sure, I said.
This is getting into minutiae. Not the interesting kind. If you want the full blow-by-blow, I’ll tell you when we see each other.
What ended up happening was that we kissed within ten minutes of knowing each other.
A weekend turned into a full week, ending in a second weekend in Arch Cape, Oregon.
And my third visit to Portland turned Rose City into the most romantic place on earth.
I took him to Powell’s (his first time), where he slow-danced with me in the rare book room as “The Way You Look Tonight” played over the intercom.
We photo-boothed (my first time) at the Ace Hotel.
My poor navigation skills led us on a wandering circuit through the Pearl district, winding up by luck at Brasserie Montmartre (Allison’s list is the gift that keeps on giving), where I got super drunk on a cocktail way too girly to be called the Henry Miller.
By nightfall, we walked from Couch Street down Burnside to the apex of the bridge, stopping at a parapet under the neon Portland sign (the one with a leaping stag) and leaned on our elbows to stare at the light-barred Willamette.
One by one, quotations from Jack Kerouac started coursing through my head like meteors, following faster and faster on each other. It seems silly to admit that. But we spend our time…I do…trying so hard to be responsible, to make sure that impressions are genuine and deep and not let pass too lightly, to live this unlikely life in the most grown-up way possible. Sometimes, when it gets truly magical, it’s almost hard to accept, because I try so hard to make sure that its romance is grounded in reality. But suddenly I was thinking
“The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream”
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere”
“This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion”
and, of course,
“The only ones for me are the mad ones–the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
I started laughing under my breath…or gasping, maybe. It’s hard to distinguish, at that pitch of emotion.
“What?” he asked me.
“This is the life everybody says they want. It’s the life I’d have always wanted, if you asked me. And somehow I actually ended up in it. I don’t know how…I didn’t do anything special, at least nothing that I knew would work. But here I am. With you. It doesn’t make any sense.”
I promise you I really did say that. I was listening to myself as they tumbled out, thinking Even this? The exactly right words? Without trying at all?
He took me in his arms…wow, what a thing to write about your own life…as he’d done so many, many times the week previous, and I’d pay any amount of money to get an exact transcript of what he said then, or what I said…which wasn’t much, I can tell you. But the thrust of his words was, “This is it.”
And I reckon it is.
Just shy of three weeks’ knowing each other at all…just over a week of having met in person…we were in love enough to tell each other so.
We walked back the way we came, down the west side of Burnside, past people cocooned in sleeping bags against the pocked concrete, some staring dully up between the bars of shopping carts. My hand in his felt warm and safe…not in the assurance of his protection, but in the thrill of knowing that whatever might happen, on that street or any other, would happen to both of us.
He wasn’t going to keep me from places. He was going to be in them with me.
Do you know what that kind of knowledge does to a woman?
Caveats? I know them all. Jackson, Wy. can vouch for how well I know them–he’s sat patiently by as I’ve rehearsed them all, and gone through crying jags and anxiety attacks and pensive retreats. Neither of us is entirely cock-eyed about this.
You know what? I don’t have to explain it to you. I’m not here to explain shit. This is just a place for collecting stories that happened to people.
This is what happened to me.
My bluff has been called. And now I have to figure out what to do about it.
Suddenly, I was left with nothing in my hands but a handful of crazy stars.