When the What Ifs Strike

“Would you ever take back any of your exes?”

It’s a question that is on every “getting to know your friends” questionnaire survey. Okay, maybe not EVERY one, but it’s one of those hypotheticals that people like to ask, thinking it will reveal some deep dark secret or hidden regret.

My answer is a firm…maybe.

What seems like a lifetime ago, I was engaged. I was going to graduate university and move to Texas to be with my soul mate, my best friend. Until he pulled the rug out from under that plan.

Before him, I had been chasing another flame. Literally, right up until the moment we kissed for the first time, I had been chasing another flame.

Cameron and Israel. A weird, awkward fling and the missing piece of my soul. But my “would you take back an ex” answer may surprise some.

Things with Israel ended badly. In a fiery plane crash of ugly crying and screaming. Basically a passionate whirlwind romance really can’t just fade away. It’s going to die a passionate whirlwind death. And that one did.

And then Cameron came back to me. I had pursued him through our time in university and then, once we were out, he started pursuing me. Hard.

And I not only let him, I encouraged him wholeheartedly.

Hell, yes, we can go out, get drunk, then come back to my house to screw like rabbits. This is everything I could have ever asked for. Why would you even question how I would respond to that? Oh, you’re going to do something else that weekend? Damn.

And then, I turned him away. For asking what was a horrible but probably experience-based question. When I really should have taken a day to cool off and told him why he was an asshole but yes, please come visit while you’re in town.

So, I can firmly and unequivocally say, without a doubt in my mind, if Cameron called me tomorrow and wanted to … anything – date, hook up, travel the world – I would tell him I would absolute want to think about it.

I’ve Google stalked him a bit, since I started this project. Truth be told, I’ve Google stalked a few of the antagonists in a few of these stories. And I have to say, he still looks like the same old Cameron. Maybe without a skateboard under his arm or a guitar on his back but the same green-eyed, messy punk-haired, diminutive, intelligent Cameron. And probably with that same Gemini split personality.

Micah might have my heart tight in his grasp, but Cameron could maybe steal it back, if he wanted it.

The Weekend Everything Changed

The following program is rated TV-MA for descriptive sexual content. Viewer discretion is advised.

The idea, in the beginning, was to get Cameron’s girlfriend to cheat on him. I don’t remember if I ever knew why, exactly. I think it was a combination of things, honestly. I think someone told Israel he couldn’t do it and he developed some masculine need to prove he could.

I think Israel and Cameron’s (and my) mutual friend, Ramos, didn’t like her any more than any of the rest of us.

And, maybe it’s wishful but I think, maybe, Ramos thought Cameron was better suited to someone else. Someone he had let in on the “get Nikki to screw Israel” joke. Someone like me.

When Ramos returned from his summer at home, in Texas, Israel, and a third friend, Angelo, came with him. Ramos was spending a few days with Nikki in her apartment, waiting for the house he was moving into to be ready to move into. Nikki’s apartment was across the courtyard from mine in the same complex.

After dropping their luggage off at Nikki’s apartment, Ramos brought Israel and Angelo to meet me. “Israel’s trying to get Nikki in bed,” he announced, early in the conversation. We talked, on my patio, for a while. An hour, hour and a half. Ramos revealed Israel was majoring in English. I decided early on that I wasn’t ever going to make any kind of connection when it came to Angelo (I never did). And they left.

A few hours later, I crossed the courtyard to join the festivities. Which mostly consisted of vodka and drinks we’d bought from Sonic. High class.

That first night, we all had some good laughs, drank a little, listened to music, just had a stereotypical college summer night. Somewhere along the way, someone suggested that “someone need[s] to make out; I nominate you two,” gesturing to Israel and me. We laughed it off and carried on with the rest of the night.

That was Thursday. Friday, I came home from a girls’ night out, just as Ramos, Israel, and Angelo were coming back from another trip to Sonic. They invited me to join them and I did. The four of us sat in the living room of Nikki’s apartment long after she and her roommates had gone to bed, watching a Saturday Night Live marathon on cable. As we talked, Ramos and Angelo fell asleep, leaving Israel and I to bring up the sun.

They spent Saturday playing tourists, and we all got together again that night.

That night was different.

I was on Nikki’s patio, smoking with Angelo. Or smoking near Angelo who was busy dialing and redialing his girlfriend’s phone number and not getting an answer. Israel burst through the door out of the apartment and made some kind of exasperated animal sound. “I can’t take her anymore. She’s driving me nuts!”

I chuckled and asked if he meant Nikki. I hadn’t made any real effort over the past couple days to hide my disdain for her. Which was largely fueled by jealousy and my feelings for Cameron. “Yes,” he groaned. “I gotta get out of here. Do you want to go for a walk?”

So, we left.

Somewhere around midnight, Israel and I embarked on a tour of my university campus. I didn’t keep track of the time, but I’d guess it was half an hour, 45 minutes later, we found ourselves at the fountain plaza, which was the focal point of the central part of campus. We had found conversation easy ever since that first meeting on my patio and that night was no different.

I can’t tell you, now, what we had been talking about, but we decided to sit on one of the stone benches that surrounded the fountain to continue. I don’t know how long we sat there, talking about whatever we were talking about, before he leaned in to kiss me.

I am very much a kiss-on-the-first-date, sex-positive, no shame kind of girl. But until he moved, I had feelings for someone else. And he knew about that. He had incorporated my feelings into the conspiracy to get Nikki to cheat on Cameron. “If I can get her into bed, he’ll need someone to help comfort him.” He tried to kiss me anyway. And I pulled away, because I suddenly had no idea what I wanted. I was fairly certain Cameron didn’t want me, even if Nikki did cheat, and Israel and I had formed a genuine connection. But he lived 1000 miles away. In another state.

We hashed all of that out and I let him try again.

And I climbed into his lap, facing him, one leg on either side. And we made out like teenagers. Until we mutually decided we wouldn’t be satisfied ending the night with dry humping on a stone bench in the middle of my university campus.

A long walk in the daylight when I finished with my classes. I’d never made it in this condition before. What was once a long walk now seemed like it would never end.

We finally reached my bedroom and had barely got the door closed and locked before stripping one another. It was a scene from a movie, or maybe a prime time soap opera, as we rushed through something that resembled foreplay. I had just gotten my lip pierced a couple weeks before and I had to revise my customary oral sex foreplay rituals to accommodate the still-healing oral wound but he took it all very seriously.

And just as suddenly as it had all started, that prime time soap became a teen drama when he revealed his secret.

He was a virgin.

I stopped everything, not sure what to do with that. Thinking like a girl conditioned to believe virginity wasn’t something to be handed out like candy on Halloween, I didn’t know if I wanted that responsibility. Or was virginity even important to guys?

As I considered the situation, weighing my options – get laid and maybe, finally, move on from Cameron or masturbate myself to sleep and make things weird tomorrow – he explained that it wasn’t, necessarily, his choice. He hadn’t found a girl willing to take what he had to offer. Any girl willing to give him oral sex had refused to go any farther, intimidated by his …. er, gifts.

After we (both) finished, he got up to leave and I told him to stay – if he wanted to.

Sunday, they had more tourist activities planned so we split for the day. Sunday night, I returned to Nikki’s apartment, expecting to hear all about keeping Israel “out all night.” Ramos made one, quiet, casual comment, and that was all that was said, much to my surprise. And relief.

We left again, this time passing my roommates on the road before finding our way to a small amphitheater that I hadn’t even known existed and that I assumed was used for astronomy classes. We talked. For an easy couple of hours. And we kissed. He told me he thought my soul was sad and that he couldn’t believe my friends had never mentioned it before. And we made our way back to my apartment for a repeat performance of the night before. Our one-night stand became a two-night stand and would ultimately become an intense, tumultuous eight-month engagement.

 

The Heart Doesn’t Forget

I started this project with the goal – ultimately – of clearing out some of the cobwebs of my past relationships. I don’t know if I am accomplishing that, exactly, but I think I am learning a lot.

Some.

I am learning some.

Some of what I am learning – have learned – has been about the relationships themselves. I have gone back through my almost-eidetic memory and sorted through the moments that shaped my past, re-examining them, figuring out through that process whether it went wrong because of something I did or something they did (wrong because most of these stories have been about things that did not end in the most favorable of ways), or something either of us were, as people (Lennon is a narcissist [not to be confused with someone having narcissistic personality disorder] and also possibly a psychopath).

I have also learned a few things about myself.

One of those things being that my heart does not forget.

If I had spent the time to develop my memory as a child, I could be one of those people who remembers, literally, everything. Dates, times, colors, smells, everything. But that’s the brain part. The brain part needed to be developed, exercised, trained, to remember what Micah smelled like (although, I can guess, and I believe it would be a fairly accurate guess), or the tonal quality in Cameron’s voice.

But my heart remembers everything.

As I have sorted through some of these moments, a few things have become quite clear. The first is that some of the feelings I had in the past are still there, somewhere, deep down, buried under feelings for someone else.

Maybe it’s because Cameron and I never had the opportunity to see things through. Because I may have overreacted and shut down instead of talking to him and explaining why his question was a pretty dick thing to say and then hearing him out, asking why he chose to say something so incendiary, letting him defend himself. Essentially, approaching the situation from an adult angle instead of proving his point and flying off the handle like a crazy person. Instead, I slammed the proverbial door in his face and now I will never know, because I deprived myself, what could have come of us.

At the same time, I look at my situation with Micah and feel like it echoes what happened with Cameron. I made a decision, in both instances, that, ultimately, has left me with little more than a mounting collection of what ifs. What if I had told Micah how I felt about him? What if I had tried to have a serious adult conversation with Cameron? After all, we had been having serious adult conversations for months before that; why was this any different?

My second moment of clarity in all of this has been that I think I’d give Cameron another chance – or let him give me another chance – which is telling in a couple of ways.

I have been thinking, a lot, about what I would do if I bumped into Cameron somewhere in the course of my daily life. Give him a severe dressing down? Give him a severe undressing? A combination of both? And there is a part of me that would love for that moment, that what if, to become a reality. I’ve even played the conversation out in my head a few times.

Unfortunately, it always comes back to the same thing. “I miss you. I wonder what could have been. But now I am ass over tea kettle for someone else who I’m pretty sure doesn’t give a damn about my ass or my tea kettle.”

Because I am.

And the shit part of it is, knowing that I would even consider taking Cameron back, after all these years of not speaking to one another, tells me I’ll probably carry these feelings for Micah for years as well. That one day, a year, two, three years down the road, I’ll find him somewhere and we’ll talk and we’ll laugh and we’ll hug and, regardless to what is going on in my life at that time, I’ll fall in love with him all over again.

I have already made the statement, months ago, that I couldn’t bear to give up on something – with Micah – that I believed could be so good, if we could just get it off the ground and my heart is just stubborn enough to commit to that for forever.

I’m not saying that anyone in my future needs to be threatened by Micah – or Cameron. I have been cheated on and I have been the one someone cheated with; I won’t do that to anyone. Ever. But for as long as I am on my own, single, unattached, a part of my heart will always belong to the two of them.

And, if I’m honest, David, too.

Birthdays and Break-Ups

March 8 is one of those dates that will probably never leave me. Today is Israel’s birthday which kind of marked the beginning of the end for us.

Keeping in mind that “the end” lasted several months.

Israel pushed everything. Israel said, “I love you” first. Israel proposed to me after four months. Israel suggested – after watching his brother and his girlfriend pay rent on two apartments and live in one – that we move in together. Israel pushed everything.

With his 21st birthday fast approaching, everything that Israel had pushed began closing in on him and he no longer wanted to be the first of his friends to get married. And even if we didn’t get married for another five years (we had planned on graduate school but he had another three years of undergrad before we could do that), he would be the married one of all of his friends. Because we would be living together and I wouldn’t be just one of the guys; I’d want him to stay home with me while his friends went out drinking or had poker night or went to the strip club.

I tried to explain that I didn’t want any of that. I didn’t want to keep him from his friends. I didn’t even care if we had separate bedrooms (a single bedroom would be cheaper rent but if he wanted two, we could make two work). I hated watching girls do those things to their boyfriends. And I would want time to myself or to hang out with the new girlfriends I would inevitably (hopefully) meet when I packed up everything to move to a strange city and close the gap on our long distance relationship. Me. I was the one making all the sacrifices to give him what he had pushed for the whole time. I was moving so we could live together. I was leaving my family so we could get married. I was leaving my friends so that he could finish college.

And none of that bothered me. I was ready for the change. I was ready to take the leap.

But he wasn’t. To borrow from some random thug movie, his mouth wrote a check his ass couldn’t cash.

So he freaked.

Days before his birthday, he rescinded my invitation to spend my spring break with him. Even though he had access to my bank account to withdraw the money he needed to buy my VIP wristband to South By Southwest (SXSW), he bought his own and told me he didn’t want me to come down. Only days before that (sometime in the middle of February), I had turned down an offer to travel around the country as a Leadership Consultant for my sorority, an offer I later learned was not given to just anyone, an offer I would grow to regret not accepting.

The next couple of weeks were a hurricane of emotions. He was breaking up with me. He was calling me at 3 in the morning to tell me if he lived closer he’d be ringing the doorbell not ringing the phone. He was telling me he loved me more than anything in the world. He was telling me I was smothering him and that he wasn’t fit to be anyone’s boyfriend. He was telling me, through suffocated sobs, that he was supposed to be the one to save me.

And I just dragged along behind. I wasn’t even riding in the car on his emotional rollercoaster. I had been tossed out and was clinging for dear life to the back end.

SXSW (the music festival part) was the 14-16 of March that year. That weekend was between his and my spring breaks (respectively). The original plan was that I was going to miss the class on the 13th and 14th and spend the festival and my spring break with him in Texas. A few days before his birthday, he told me no. On the 12th, he told me he wanted me to come, that even though I couldn’t make it for the festival, he wanted me there for my spring break. I got out of class at 2:00 on the 14th, got into a Volvo headed south with three of my guy friends, and we drove 20 hours straight to the south of Texas.

The last time I ever saw Israel’s face was on March 24, 2003, at the edge of security in the Austin-Bergstrom Airport in Texas. And I told him, as he refused to kiss me goodbye (because “this isn’t goodbye”), that I could Feel it was the last time I’d ever see him. He had always trusted my Feelings, even more than I have after living with them my whole life. He even asked me on one of the descents from the height of the rollercoaster if I “felt” like we needed to keep trying. Because, to him, me saying I knew something didn’t hold nearly as much weight as me saying I felt it. He truly believed, even more than I ever have, that I was (am) psychic.

I told him I felt that I would never see him again and I watched him try not to trust that feeling. I think he knew it too.

Even now, as badly as I hurt, for as long as I hurt, if I look at the situation objectively, I don’t think he ever meant for it to happen the way it did. I don’t think it was supposed to end. I think he really did intend to put it all back together after he took some time to himself. But show me one couple who took a “break” and actually made it work again after and I’ll show you 100 who never made their way back.

**There are a lot of songs from that era of my history that were important. Israel and I were deeply connected through music and we shared a great deal of it in the months we were together. When he said he was the one who was supposed to save me, it was in reference to a song from one of my favorite bands that wasn’t one of his, Something Corporate. It was actually a very surreal comment for me to hear from him because it told me that he had been listening to my music while his mind was crumbling around itself.

Saviour was not one of those songs but there is a lot to this song that fits with this particular story. “That’s when she said, ‘I don’t hate you but I just want to save you while there’s still something left to save.” That’s when I told her, ‘I love you, girl, but I’m not the answer for the questions that you still have.’” It reminds me of that time, a lot, so I’m adding it here.**

Fixed Points in Time

“I wanted to ask if you wanted me to stay but I didn’t want people – or you – to think it was because you were drunk.”

Time travelers talk about fixed points; times and events in history that can not be changed. In working through this blog, I have come across a few of those moments. Moments when something happened and I can trace the butterfly effect through the rest of my timeline.

I was in my first apartment. Technically, a townhouse. It was student housing on the university campus but, for the most part, we had all the freedoms we would have had in a regular apartment. Read: we could have parties. With alcohol. And we did. For my 22nd birthday, my roommates and I hosted a blowout. It didn’t start out that way but it definitely ended that way. The first people – Cameron – crossed the threshold between 9 and 10pm and the last one – Cameron – left after 3am.

I had thought I had a pretty good handle on things… until I saw pictures and there were people I didn’t remember being there. But I was proud of the fact that there was no drama, no tears, no fighting. We lost one of my roommates, a couple of times, but every time we found her again and returned her to her bed.

Cameron was one of the first people through the door that night. I had already started drinking at dinner with my roommates and I was ready for more. This little Irish girl is a walking stereotype. Or was. When I was doing it regularly, I could put away my weight in whiskey. Or rum or vodka. And I had all three lined up that night.

I am not sure, exactly, when the liquid courage kicked in but at some point, early in the night, I poured my heart out to Cameron. I confessed the crush I’d had on him since the first time we met, two years before. To which he blithely replied that he knew.

Years later, when we were waist deep in whatever long distance relationship mess we had gotten ourselves into, he told me that he had known all along that I liked him. But even with that revelation, I only recently remembered that he had told me that night.

I told you. I was several sheets to the wind at this point.

We hung out the rest of the night. Anyone who didn’t know (and some who did) wondered if we were coupling because we were together, if not physically touching, for the duration of the party. Until the last person left (before him). As things were winding down, with eight or ten people left of the sixty or more that filtered through, a couple people playing some incarnation of Mario on my roommate’s Nintendo, Cameron sat on the arm of our couch and I laid across his leg, one arm draped over and my head laying on that.

My remaining two roommates bowed out and went upstairs to their rooms. The last remaining guests filtered out the door and Cameron excused himself to the bathroom. Not quite ready to call it a night – at 3am – I set about picking up some of the big pieces. When he came back out, I told him I was going out for one last cigarette; did he want to join me? He said he’d had enough but he’d stand outside with me.

As I finished smoking, he “remembered” that he’d left his jacket inside. Back in the warmth and light of my living room, we stood facing one another, less than a foot separating us. My heart and brain – and if I’m honest, my hormones – argued over whether or not to invite him to stay.

“You’ve been stuck to him all night,” my heart said, “and he’s still here. He wants to stay.”

“You’re still drunk,” my brain argued, “he’ll never know if you wanted him to stay because of that.”

“But look at that body,” my hormones offered. “Do you really want to send THAT home?”

“Don’t you want to fully enjoy your first time together, without anything clouding your perception?” And Brain wins the debate. And he hugged me goodnight and went back to his dorm.

That night was a fixed point in my timeline. Sending Cameron back to his room without sex is a point from where I can trace everything that happened after that. If he had stayed, David’s jealousy over seeing me smoking with Cameron’s singer between their sets might have been directed at Cameron instead. If he had stayed, I might have never met Israel. I might have never slept with Israel.

If I’d never slept with Israel, we likely wouldn’t have had the relationship we had. I might have ended up in California with Cameron. We might still be out there. If Israel hadn’t broken my heart, I might have never discovered the band Kill Hannah or met all of the people I met because of them. I can link a great deal of what has happened in my life over the last decade to that moment when I decided not to invite Cameron to spend the night in my bed.

So much of what has happened in the interim has been good. I’ve met amazing people. But sometimes I wonder how it would have been different.

How the Cameron Saga Came to a Head

“I’ll need a place to crash,” he said, “I can pay you back with food, beer, or sex. Personally, I’d pick sex.”

We hadn’t talked in a couple years. After I had graduated and moved back to my “hometown,” we had lost track of one another. But then, there he was, in my email. He assumed, because we had partied together throughout university, that I had the lock on where he and I could find a good party for the Memorial Day weekend, should he come into town for it.

Plans changed and he ended up back with his old band to play a birthday party for the guy who owned the bar where they had played while we were all still in school.

I didn’t hear from him again for a couple months.

And then another couple months after that.

The pattern was bizarre but I rolled with it. I was on the uphill climb from what had been a soul-crushing break up and the idea of rebound sex wasn’t even remotely unpleasant. Especially rebound sex with Cameron. Considering Israel had been, in a way, revenge sex while I was still into Cameron (the first time around…).

So, I let him shoot me a random email every once in a while and tried to fight back all of my old feelings. Rebound sex, I kept telling myself.

“What’s he doing in L.A.?” My Little Sister had taken it upon herself to stalk his social media as I told her about what had been going on.

“L.A.?”

“Yeah, it says he lives in L.A.”

And just like that, a complicated situation got 1000% more complicated. I swept it under the rug, figuring it was probably something I should have figured out sooner and bringing it up this late in the game might seem a little weird. And we were talking, now, with a fair amount of regularity. Three or four nights a week, mostly through an instant messenger but we had exchanged phone numbers as well.

“What’s up?” A standard “I’m bored, let’s chat” opening text message.

“Nothing. You?” You, not U, because I have never gotten on board with text speak.

“Just hanging out at a bar. Bored.” He’s texting me from a bar. On a Saturday night. In Los Angeles. He’s not bored, he’s hooked.

I let it go for a few days.

“What are we doing? I’m not pushing anything, I just want to make sure everything is out in the open.” Following Saturday’s text message, I had a good idea what we were doing, but I wanted to hear it from him. “Are we just talking about something physical, or are we looking at something more?”

“I hadn’t thought about it.” He admitted. “I guess we should try the physical, first. If that doesn’t work, will ‘something more’ really work? With the distance?”

This came close to a year after his initial offer of sexual favors in exchange for a place to crash after partying with me. Looking back on it, and on the revealing Saturday night text message, we had already progressed to “something more,” we just hadn’t had the conversation.

The strange song and dance that was our relationship continued for another six months. We talked almost daily, about everything. Music, recalled things that had happened while we were in university – a lot of which was him telling me things I would have never known otherwise – the standard “how was your day?” conversations, just to say we had talked that day. And we talked about sex. A lot.

“I got your email.” He had been logged in to the messenger we used, waiting for me when I got there.

I replied with a wink 😉 and asked him what he thought.

“I opened it at work.”

I was intrigued. “Did you read it at work?” I imagined him in the back office of a Los Angeles location of a major musical instrument retail chain, a noticeable bulge in the front of black slacks.

“No. I closed it when I figured out what it was.”

I was disappointed. “But you read it later.”

It was his turn to wink. “I did.” He told me he couldn’t wait to try some of it out.

Thanksgiving was coming soon. He had made plans to return to Colorado to spend a week with his family. His sister would be home on leave from the military and he wanted to spend time with her. But he wanted to spend time with me, too. We set it up. I had a four-day weekend from work. He’d come up Friday and spend Friday and Saturday with me.

A week left to go. After 18 months of talking about all of the things we wanted to do to one another, we were a week from doing them.

“I have to ask you a question.”

“Shoot.”

“If we sleep together, are you going to go crazy?” Those were the last words Cameron, the gorgeous, intelligent, talented skateboarding guitarist accountant, ever had the privilege to say to me.

Cameron – part 1

Music is one of the most powerful memory triggers. When you chase musicians, the way I do, that’s even more true.

Even though more than a decade has passed whenever I hear that one song, on the radio or anywhere out in the world, I am back in that basement, leaning against a pool table, watching him dominate his sleek, black lacquered guitar.

Cameron was everything that I was attracted to.* Five and a half feet tall, on a good day, thin but fit… He wore his hair short and clean cut but roughed up and spiked on top. He and his friends spent all of their free time skateboarding around our university campus and even though I never would have said it to any of them at the time, he was easily the best out of all of them (read also: spent the most time on his feet and landed most of his tricks). And he played that guitar like he deserved to be paid for it.

I had just gotten out of a meeting in the upper level of the same building and was headed to the café in the basement when I heard the guitar of one of my favorite songs. I followed the sound to find him, jamming on his guitar, seemingly unaware that anyone else was around. He was supposed to be working but had clearly decided that that particular Tuesday evening was a good time to get paid to practice a couple songs before the rest of the band showed up. They used the basement space where he worked for rehearsals after he closed it down.

I forgot all about the dinner I had been looking for.

I leaned against one of the dozen pool tables and watched. I watched the way his small frame danced around. The way the sleek finish of the guitar reflected the lights in the room and fit so comfortably against him. The way his thin fingers expertly moved across the fret board.

Emily had joined me and when he finished the song, we applauded.

From that day on, even now, I can still see him in that basement, surrounded by pool tables and arcade games.

Years later, he told me he had always known how I felt about him. Sometimes I wonder if that was the moment when he figured it out.

* Truth be told, his type, or the type that he was back then, still kind of makes me weak.