I knew what had happened, and they saw it in my eyes.
In the summer of '99, the doldrums of inland Jersey living were taking a toll on my friend Henry and I. Both of us were 17 at the time and agreed to heed the call of adolescent restlessness. In other words: ROAD TRIP.
We made the decision to pack up his Honda Accord and get the hell out of Dodge. A quick call to my mother, and arrangements were made to spend the summer in her condo on Cape Cod. Seven hours, a pack of cigarettes, and a few red bulls later the road trip came to an end with the sound of our tires crunching down the course driveway sand. As we unpacked our bags we felt like anything was possible.
In record time, we found work together selling frozen treats out of the back of a truck on a nearby beach. Day after day I would sit there with my guitar, staring out at the ocean wondering how I got so lucky. Did I mention the onslaught of young women to flirt with? Oh, and all the ice cream I could eat. (I've got a thing for ice cream.)
One fateful morning on the beach, this blue-eyed blonde walked up, and for the first time my teenage my powers of seduction were gone (I froze). She wrapped her beach towel around the bottom of her bikini and said, "Can I get a two-ball screwball please?" A two-ball screwball is a cylindrical frozen treat with two gumballs on the bottom.
I grabbed the screwball, passed it through the window and she left. Just like that. What just happened? Where were my powers of seduction when I needed them? Turns out, I didn't need them. Unbeknownst to me, she had already planned to get my number as I was leaving. And she did, she called within the hour.
We talked all night and into the morning. The rest is history.
Fast forward a few years later. Although we were still very young, we got married on the beach where we first met. A fairytale relationship in the eyes of our friends and family. Everyone, ourselves included, believed we were well on our way to happily ever after.
As the fates would have it, our future would take us across the country to California. My wife had finished up her Master's degree and it was my turn follow a dream.
Another road trip across the country, without Henry this time, and she and I started a new life in LA. My lady beside me, the endless California sun and the dream of rock stardom in my sites. I was in a state of ambrosia. (Is anyone else starting to feel a sense of impending doom? Perhaps a too good to be true feeling?)
Here's where it all went south. It was a warm New Year's Eve and my best friend had recently moved in with his girlfriend just a view hours south. This guy was like a brother to me. One of those friends that would lay down in traffic for you.
We invited the two of them to help us ring in the new year. They showed up right on time with a bottle of Crown Royal and an assortment of other intoxicating libations. Oh, how we loved to drink in those days. Did I mention my wife had some serious alcoholic tendencies? She was of those people that turned into someone else when she drank.
I enjoyed my fair share of the hooch but when it came to my wife, I often found myself having to babysit her when we were drinking in public. The worst part of her alcoholism was that she wouldn't remember what a royal pain in the ass she'd been the next day. If you can't remember being an ass, how do you learn your lesson?
For information's sake, I'll add that my best friend also shared some of those unfortunate traits. I had to carry his ass out of a few bars on more than a few occasions.
We cracked open the Crown Royal with an inspired enthusiasm. I didn't feel the need to babysit that night so I let myself enjoy the evening on my terms. My terms were get drunk — really drunk. (I've grown since then. I no longer see any point in drinking until you can't feel feelings anymore.)
So much laughter! So much lightheartedness! So much flirting! Wait ... flirting? Neither my wife and I, or our friends, to the best of my knowledge, had any swinging experience. So why were we all over each other?
All together on the couch, we were a tangled mess of arms and legs passing a newly opened bottle of Jim Beam from one thirsty mouth to another.
Now, I'd been with one woman since I was a teenager and I'll admit the feeling of a very attractive woman sitting on my lap felt good. So what if it was my friend's girlfriend? He was in the room, nothing was happening, and he and my wife were similarly positioned.
Those next few pulls from the bottle smacked me over the head something fierce. I stood up and exclaimed that a cigarette was in order. Turns out, my wife and best friend didn't smoke but at the time both his girlfriend and I did. So, she and I went to my favorite smoking spot up on the roof. Yes, I left my drunk wife alone with another man, but this was a person I trusted. This was a friend ... or so I thought.
Up on the roof, you could see the famous Hollywood sign, and glowing lights from the Sunset strip. It was a rare sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of LA life.
My friend's girlfriend grabbed my hand, pulled the whiskey bottle to her lips and took a hard pull. I picked her up into the air, both laughing, and sat her down on the edge of the roof. It was just high enough to put us face to face. We were close enough to one another for me to be between her thighs.
Her arms found their way over my shoulders, and her fingers twirled the back of my hair. We were young, drunk and enjoying the heck out of each other. I lost track of time up there and never thought twice about the two alcoholics who were well beyond their limit downstairs alone.
So what happened up there on the roof? Not a damn thing. We were just drunk and flirty. Not even a kiss. Sure, we got a little handsy but those boundaries had been crossed hours ago. In fact, as the time passed, our body positioning changed to be next to each other instead of face to face, and we conversed as friends do. What about? How lucky we were to have these people we loved so much.
Neither she nor I had any idea how long we'd been up there but a good dent had been made in the whiskey bottle. Seeing this, we decided to call it a night and went back down to the apartment for a much-needed glass of water.
We opened the door to the sound of quiet music and ... shuffling sheets? Empty cans of beer were knocked over on the table and playing cards lay strewn across the floor. We stumbled down the hallway and pushed open the bedroom door. My best friend and my wife were standing at the edge of the bed. Their clothes were on, but buttons were open and shirts were untucked that had not been before.
I knew what had happened and they saw it in my eyes.
The next few minutes were as ugly as you'd think. In a single instant all my current perceptions of love, marriage and friendship were gone.
That night with a woman who wasn't my wife, I was guilty of flirtation, guilty of physical affection, and guilty of imagining what it might be like to be with a woman who wasn't my wife. I wasn't guilty of acting on my imagination.
My wife, however, given all the same circumstances — maybe because of her alcoholism, or maybe not — put one foot over that line from which there was no return.
After the ugliness was over and I had sent our now unwelcome guests home, I spent what was left of that night somewhere else.
The next morning I walked in to find my wife crying on the living room floor. Even after something like this happens, there's a part of you that hates to see the person you love hurt but that part of me was pushed far into the background and I exploded.
We came close to divorce right then and there, and again and again for the next few weeks. I spent night after night sleeping on friends' couches or not sleeping at all. Even when I returned home, it took months before I slept in my own bed.
The constant unavoidable thought of what really happened was torturous. I needed to decide if I was a person capable of forgiveness. As it turns out, I'm not. I gave all I could to the idea that marriage is something you can't just throw away and we spent two years working on it.
In the end, my outbursts, both internal and external, became so toxic that I went completely numb. I became a shadow of the man I used to be.
In a last-ditch effort, we even tried an open relationship as a way to save the marriage. In reality, I think it was a way for me to redeem some of the manhood I had lost.
In the end, I wanted to be me again. I no longer recognized myself. So, I ended it. I took back control and allowed myself to be the person I remembered selling ice cream on the beach. A man who craves adventure and romance. A man who feels the importance of chasing his dreams and inspiring others to do the same.
As for my so called friend? He made a few half-baked attempts to reach out but my manhood wasn't having it. We all have the right to make mistakes, but actions have consequences and sometimes those consequences are the loss of a cherished friendship.
I haven't spoken to him in years and that's the way it will stay. How do you repair a friendship with someone you can't leave alone with a girlfriend or wife? You don't. You let them go.
It took some time, years actually, but I'm back and I'm happy, chasing adventures and loving hard.