It was 1998. It was the year of my first long-distance romance.
I was a wee babe; fresh out of college and in love with a blue-blooded All-American boy whose last name reminded you of the name for a doctor who has decided to focus his entire life shining a flashlight up the very part of your body where the sun don’t.
Our love was rather immature and based on some pretty superficial stuff, including the fact that we both liked to call our beers by their names backwards and we were both soon-to-be-ex-jocks really into college sports, both self-consciously hanging on to the glory days before we finally had to move on to more sophisticated interests. He called me “Sweetness”, which I liked. The sex, from the little of it that I remember, was not spectacular but nice. But fall we did, Johnny Football and I, however prematurely. We had 2 months to do it in, because I was soon leaving for a 6 month work abroad program in London.
When the time came for us to part ways, our puppy love hearts broke in little puppy pieces, but ever the realist, I suggested a pact of, “You do your thing and I’ll do mine so we don’t feel like we miss out on any experiences, but unless one of those experiences surpasses what we’ve got going on, let’s not mention any of it.” He agreed. All was well.
I left, and soon met an Aussie named Jannelle who ended up being my best friend and roommate in our flat in Chelsea…which was technically in Earl’s Court, the less posh district full of gay guys and Aussies and Irish, but Jannelle would make it a point to loudly decree we lived in Chelsea to everyone within earshot at the bars. I got a job as a nanny recruiter and she got a job as an aerobics instructor, and we drunkenly made our way through foreign urban life together, faking our names half the times we went out and would laugh uproariously when we’d hear on our answering machine the next morning, “Pulora? Beulah? This is Roger, from Mars bar….”
Johnny Football and I talked on the phone constantly. I yearned for him. I enjoyed London but I always knew I had a safety net, and that safety net was him.
So, all was seemingly well.
Until he visited 4 months later.
I knew there was some bad juju when I went to pick him up at Heathrow airport; usually pretty self-sufficient with directions, I inexplicably ended up in the Brixton district of London, which is cool because that’s where Basement Jaxx is from and they’ve got some funky ass beats, but not so cool because it seemed super sketchy and scary and I was lost and walking around in a cute little outfit to meet my Johnny Football.
We finally found each other, and even though the chemistry seemed akilter, I blamed it on his jetlag and we got a pint of beer across the street. By this point into my trip, I was able to parse through the English accents quite well, after months of struggling through it and adjusting, but Johnny was new to it all.
A drunken Scot was sitting kitty-corner to our table, mumbling into his pint of half-full Guinness and flashing us a toothy grin and an unfocused eyeroll every once in awhile. Johnny Football looked at him and then looked at me, and smiled mockingly. That’s when I heard, clear as a bell, from the Scot, who was now fixing a now totally lucid stare at me:
“He’s nervous. He’s nervous.”
Johnny football took a swig of his beer and said, “What is he talking about?”
“I don’t know,” I said, trying to wave away a growing feeling of uneasiness.
Back at Johnny Football’s hotel, where his All-American consulting company employer is putting him up, we fall into bed, and even the sex is awkward. Legs and arms are in the way where they previously perfectly slipped into position, and we’re disjointed, not present in the moment, weirded out.
He tells me afterwards there’s a woman back home.
I can feel the bile of our pact start regurgitating against the back of my throat.
Didn’t we say to only mention people who took the #1 slot? I ask, my mind running to and fro like a feral wounded animal.
I never agreed to that, he starts saying, choosing his words carefully.
Oh, he’s nervous all right. He should be. There’s about to be another Chernobyl-calibre meltdown, right here in this damned hotel room.
The phone rings.
The part of my mind that’s not focused on killing Johnny Football slowly and with much relish thinks, “That’s odd. Who knows we’re here, and why would his company call him so late?”
It’s the woman.
Now there is absolutely not one iota of a braincell that’s not plotting massive bodily harm.
Johnny doesn’t get off the phone.
He keeps talking. And talking.
I shoot him the dirtiest look I can muster as my heart breaks.
He keeps talking.
I run to the shower and run hot water all over my naked body, trying to wash him off me.
Goddammit, I think to myself. What a fool I was. Living for this guy, this imbecile with a horrible last name, who took me for a fucking ride! I let the water and the reality of the situation soak in, and then I decided to face the music and then get the hell out of there.
He was off the phone and looked like a whipped puppy when I entered the room again.
“Please…,” he lamely tried, but I ignored him. I robotically got dressed, gathered up my things, double checked to make sure I didn’t leave a single thing behind, including a Gucci watch that a client had gotten me that had become a permanent fixture around my wrist because I liked how fancypants it made me feel, and then I went for the door.
Johnny Football dashed out of the bed and blocked my way out. “Please. What can I say.”
That the whole situation suddenly smacked of Days of Our Lives wasn’t lost on me. I got into the moment.
“There’s nothing you can say.” <Pause for dramatic effect.> “There’s. Nothing. You. Can. Say.”
I pushed Johnny Football aside, opened the door with finality, and busted ass down to the elevator banks. I checked to see if he was following behind me. He wasn’t.
So that’s my story of puppy love turning into a big pile of steaming dog shit.
But it wasn’t so bad in the end, as the next week I took the trip solo to Amsterdam that he and I were supposed to go on together, and I found adventure, most notably in the form of illicit love with a Canadian under the hostel laundromat’s table. I came back to London and started living safety-net-free and ended up getting a lot more out of living abroad than I would have had Johnny Football not been a total prick that night.
Now, I wonder, as Catalan Man and I continue our daily emails and regular Skype sessions, if that experience has tainted my trust in men, especially those that are half a world away, and in the possibility that long distance love can work.
Catalan Man assures me that the very fact that this relationship seems impossible makes it therefore more important that we make it possible. “It makes for a more exciting story to tell people,” he tells me, matter-of-factly.
After weeks and weeks of writing this blog, mostly about him, don’t I know it!