Two of my formative love experiences centered around the
The first suffered unintentional tragedy by external forces;
the second, those forces were internal.
I was 19 when I met Joe in the basement dwelling of a mutual
friend, basements being common gathering spaces for teens in suburbia. Scotty
J. even had a puke hole in the back behind the water heater should the need arise, and it often did.
In the morning, Joe didn’t remember driving his Camaro over
to my house the night before, and thanked me for getting his car there safely.
… I don’t drive stick; it really wasn’t me.
It was red. Muscley. His pride, his baby, his staff and his
project. Both he and Scott would spend hours in the driveway with the hood up,
tinkering, fixing, unearthing, lubing, loving, and suping their cars. Scott was
working on a Firebird, the shell of the Trans-Am on blocks in the garage having
donated its engine to the Firebird.
I loved this. I loved watching how attentive they were to
their cars, how dirty their hands were, how much they knew. How sweaty and
excited and jargon-speaking they became when bent over the greasy machine. I
loved how the cars sounded when they started up. I loved the primal growl, the
testosterone surge. I loved that the cars and their owners turned me on.
Maybe a month, maybe less into this Summer of Love, Joe’s
Camaro was t-boned by a woman blowing a stop sign through an intersection.
Suddenly, the man-boy I had “fallen in love with” deflated. Defeated, broken,
grieving for his totaled “baby,” Joe crawled inside a bottle of Johnnie Walker
I couldn’t follow him there, into his mourning. Nor could I
really understand or have the perhaps appropriate amount of compassion for his
loss, feeling like he was turning his back on what he did have: me.
After my own very misguided attempts to grab his attention
back from the stoned, middle-distance stare he’d acquired, he finally did see
me; but this time in outrage and betrayal, and our relationship ended in
high-octane tears, screams, and pleading.
The second figure I loved so much I fell into that burning
ring of fire, was an artist.
Oh, this one. Andy. A Canadian I met in South Korea at age 23, another
teacher in the pre-school where we taught English. From moment one, I could smell
the pheromones of a tortured soul, and it rang straight into my bones.
There is something very particular about a tortured artist
soul. It reads like a familiar, I acknowledge you as one of my own; I see where
it is black inside you, where it is a vitriolic, white-hot, tumulting blackness, a yawning
cavern of desperate need and distopian pain. God, it’s electric.
The gaping hole, the violent, untenable ache for
validation and self-flagellation… god, you just want to walk into the center
of it, and be fueled by it. Let me stand in the eye of your self-destruction, in
the blaze of your unrest, and be transformed, be elevated by it.
It’s sick. I know. And because you know it’s sick, you
delight in it all the more. The delicious evil of it. The knowledge that you
are, together, charring a path through hell, is invigorating.
Andy was, and probably is, a painter. There was a crooked,
dotted path of yellow paint down the back alley toward his building where one
of his cans had leaked through the bag, and bread-crumbed his trail home.
His fingers were often covered in paint (like Joe’s in
grease), and his apartment had more than twenty completed canvases leaning on
the floor, against the wall. The typified artist whose greatest work lies stale
and unrealized behind walls, in drawers, in storage.
I loved the
unrealized potential of him. How he slammed his head against his self-made
cage. I hated how he “did nothing with it,” and as if I had the power to free
him from that bondage, I would look up galleries and places he could show his work. I
would read the poems he wrote to accompany his pieces, and create books in my
head for this next great artist.
The fantasy of his life, what it could have been, drew me
like a moth. A sick, misguided, gaping hole of my own, moth.
Andy had a girlfriend. He had another tragic girl he was
sleeping with. I would sit on the heated Korean floor with him and drink and
play cards and fuck and drink and intone and fuck some more.
He was never in love with me. This I knew, but tried not to
know. I wondered if I could crawl inside him and patch his broken places if he
would love me then. But he was also in love with his tragedy, and you can’t
take a toy from a child.
The men I’ve loved past these two have been thousands of
shades lighter in tragedy. And I have learned enough that you cannot date
potential, or rent love from infatuation, or demand love from one who doesn’t
love themselves. I have also learned enough that I don’t really want to be
ignited by tragedy anymore, but rather by joy, and I pass up the visibly broken
ones for hope of something different.
But in the sense-memory playground of my love life, I do
know that my heartpace quickens recalling tragedy’s twisted pleasures.