About five years ago, a friend of mine took a job in West Virginia. I had my concerns about the job, to put it mildly. And when I saw the house she’d bought to go along with the job, I had serious concerns. It was “vintage”, you might say. And a “fixer-upper”, you also might say. The first night I spent there with her, I had to take a shower in the basement because that was the only place any of the fixtures worked. She said she was going to make it her own, do most of the work herself. I nodded my head but privately I thought she’d bitten off more than she could chew.
While I traveled the world and got in trouble and crashed cars and fell in love and fell out of love and won races and lost races and got so drunk I couldn’t stand and spent money I didn’t have and learned how to be a kinda-sorta father… she worked on the house. One little bit at a time, neat and tidy just like she was neat and tidy, precise just like she was precise. After the crash in January of 2014, she rushed to the hospital to see me. Told me that she had the answer to all of my problems, that she could save me from this catastrophic thing that I’d brought down on my own head. She told me that she’d chosen that job, and that house, so the two of us could be together for the rest of our lives. I didn’t know what to say. I told her to leave my hospital room and never come back. It was rash and after a few days we had some conversations. Hard, unpleasant conversations, full of things that couldn’t be taken back. I did it on purpose. I wanted to scare her away. I thought — no, scratch that, I knew — that she’d be better off without me. Then we said our goodbyes, because that was all we had left to say.
A few weeks ago someone told me that my old friend’s house was up for sale. He didn’t say why. Didn’t say if maybe she was moving in with someone, maybe getting married, maybe just changing jobs. I didn’t ask. Didn’t think I had the right to know. Eventually, I yielded to temptation. I took a look at the listing. I wanted to see how far she’d gotten with the place before making the decision to give up. To walk away.
It never occurred to me that the house would be empty in the photos that accompanied the listing. That she would already be gone. I don’t think I was prepared to see that. It made me think about how lonely she’d been in that house, made me think about how lonely most of us are. How sometimes you can’t say the things you need to say to someone when they are right in front of you. It feels like you’re both covered in gauze, maybe. Like you can’t quite get the words out. It’s that same helplessness that you feel in dreams, where you could solve the problem or save yourself if you could just get the words out. But you can’t open your mouth, can’t say anything at all. Then you wake up and you have this unpleasant cut-glass clarity about everything that was so gauzy, so fuzzy, just a moment before. All the answers are right in front of you. It’s just too late to do anything about it.
I miss her. It’s not that I wish that I’d gone to live with in her house. She really is better off without me. No matter what’s happened since the day we said goodbye. I believe that. I have to believe that, just to continue getting up in the morning. But I do wish that I’d made better use of the time we had together. And I wish that I’d loved her the way she wanted to be loved. The way she loved me. Not grand and dramatic and sweeping and overpowering. Not the kind of love that makes you risk your life or cut your wrists or abandon everything you’ve ever known for some romantic dream. Just the kind of love that makes you paint a wall. Or fix a bathroom. Or keep a space empty in your garage, in the hopes that someone will come to visit. Or hold on to a house that you can’t really afford, for just another month or another year, hoping that you’ll wake up one day next to someone who loves you, too.
Without further ado, let’s see what I managed to get out the door this week.
For TTAC, I answered a question regarding cross-country rentals, told a tale of an advertising campaign that didn’t cut the mustard, and revisited the death of journalist Michael Hastings.
Speaking of stupid things to put on the radio… I was a guest Thursday morning on 620 WTMJ in Milwaukee, talking to one of their reporters about the behavior of commuters and ways to stay safer in traffic. It was great fun and I hereby declare myself (and my squeaky, prissily-Standard-American-Accent-ed voice) to be available for any and all radio interviews in the future.
This weekend I’m back to the skatepark with my son for the third weekend in a row. Cross your fingers that I make it home alive, so I can write some more of the great stuff that you all love, and the comments that you all love to hate!
Just kidding, I’ll be following all applicable commenting policies.
Isn’t that great?