Here’s something I forgot to mention about my Vegas trip last January: my ex from Seattle was there at the same time as me. I did not run into her like I did on my 30th birthday, but I knew she was there because when I was waiting for my luggage, someone kept paging her. That really tripped my freak-out meter and made me look at every single person arriving at the shuttle monorail station, wondering if she would show up, and what I would do. In that particular case, we broke up with no real ill-will and remained friends, albeit walking-on-eggshells friends, for a couple of years while I was still in Seattle. But after I moved to New York, some switch was flipped with her, and she decided I was the root of all evil and we could no longer speak. And sure, I’ll be the bad guy of the situation and assume that role if it makes her feel any better, especially since we live however many thousands of miles apart, and it’s not like I need to avoid places to not see her. But it’s strange that we keep ending up in Vegas at the same time, and it always makes me wonder what I’d say if I did have to talk to her again.
I always remember the opposite scenario, especially back in Bloomington, with the bad breakup and the dread/anticipation of running into an ex. Because here’s how it would go down: I would get dumped, usually in some catastrophic way. Then I would spend every waking moment wanting to see that person again, for that last word, that one bit of closure. I always thought that if I said the right magic word, they would see the error in their ways and come running back to me, even though they spent the last month breaking every connection, burning every bridge, and completely salting the earth to make it clear to me that we would never get back together again. But I would be pained in such a way that I would absolutely need to say something or lash out in some way and get in that last final “no, fuck YOU!” And when I got to the point where I started leaving the house again, because this typically involved a refractory period of sitting in my room alone listening to Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut a million times, I would both fear and anticipate running into this person again. Because Bloomington’s a big city in some ways – I mean, it’s a couple hundred acres and like 40,000 people milling about, but you’ll eventually cross paths again.
But here’s one that I thought I documented (fictionally, sort of) in Summer Rain, but I guess I tore it out before the final draft. So I dated this woman in 1991, and after spending that xmas break fuming and fretting to all of my friends about how I should dump her, I got back and she dumped me, and whatever reason, it completely knocked me sideways, and I spent a lot of time depressed. We had a lot of stupid fights, and the scorched earth policy went into full effect, and I absolutely knew I could never go back with her (mostly because like an hour after we broke up, she had already fucked like 9 other guys, and was talking about moving to Australia or England or something, because she spent all of her time in IRC chat because she was a fervent Anglophile.) But I was still borderline obsessed with running into her, getting in that last jab, getting her to somehow admit she was cheating on me the whole time or whatever. I don’t really know what I wanted, but I was obsessed with it, the kind of obsessed where I had to take her name out of my wholist program on the VAX. For a while, I left it in there, officially because I needed to know if she was in a nearby lab on campus so I could avoid her, but unofficially because I was somehow obsessed with where she was or if she was on the computer late at night, talking to her next prospect. Not a healthy thing to do, but it took me a while to finally delete her name and get her off my radar.
So we never ran into each other again. And months later, I meet someone, and we meet and we have breakfast and everything is magical and just clicks, and if you think you’ve heard the story before, it’s because you did – the character Tammy in Summer Rain was based on this. And we meet on this Sunday morning in the spring that’s one of those magical days in March in Bloomington where it’s suddenly 70 degrees out and sunny and you don’t need a coat and the memories of digging your car out of a block of ice and spending the last two months damning yourself for not going to school in Florida or Southern California quickly vanish from your mind.
And I go on a walk with this new girl, and we decide to walk across campus to go use the new NeXT computer lab at the Student Building (romantic, right?) and we’re walking and holding hands and joking and strolling across that big parking lot that runs next to the Jordan River behind the music building. And as we’re walking, guess who we see coming the opposite direction? The ex. THE ex, the one I have been avoiding, that I have sort of but not really gotten out of my head. And I don’t even acknowledge her presence; I keep talking and joking and laughing with the new girl, and we go past her as if she’s just another stranger walking around on that sunny Sunday afternoon. And I wanted to say something, to the effect of “do you realize what just happened?” Because right then, the entire remainder of whatever bad karma or bad mojo or whatever you want to call it suddenly vanished from my system, and I realized I did not give a fuck whatsoever about this ex. It was the magic pill that completely cured me of that breakup.
Of course, I did not know at the time that in a few short months, I would be doing the same thing with the new girl, except now she would be in Pittsburg, not answering my phone calls or letters, and I was desperately wondering how I’d ever talk to her again. And then the next fall, as I did talk about at the end of Summer Rain, I would run into her again, and coincidentally, it was at the same exact god damned spot behind the music school where I ran into the other ex, only this time I did not have some new girl in tow – I was actually in the middle of a huge fuck-up/breakup with someone else, spending my days moping around and writing giant multi-page journal entries about what I could have possibly done so wrong to fuck up my life so much at that point.
I am now largely convinced that my next book should be something bizarre, like a sibling to Rumored to Exist. But one of the stories that I wrote for Air in the Paragraph Line #13 was about a bad breakup in 1993, and it makes me think I should just write a book that’s a chapter per bad breakup from like all of the 1990s, and maybe some light paste between stories to make the whole thing a novel. Maybe, but maybe later… bigger fish to fry right now.