I was rummaging through some of my old writing a while back and came upon one of my first published short stories. It’s trite, immature, cliché, and just about every other negative thing that makes a piece of writing more fluff than substance, but at the time (in college) I was proud of it. I even got a phone call from a cute girl when the book of student work came out. She was amazed and thrilled by it. I was amazed and thrilled by her.
But the truth is, I saw the same sort of story (because there are a million of them) posted on a refrigerator somewhere (where that was is lost to time) and simply took the idea and embellished it with the flair and drama I possessed at the time. It’s been edited from its original form simply because posting the original would be a criminal act of writing. It’s still pretty cringe-worthy, but a little better than it was.
This is not a true story nor based on anything real. It’s just a story.
Have you ever been hurt? I have.
I was hurt when my parents separated to ultimately get a divorce. My girlfriend of four years turned to me one day recently and announced that she had fallen out of love with me and that it would be best for us never to see each other again.
That hurt a lot.
The thing which had the most impact on me was the death of my father. He died suddenly and it hit me hard. They said he was traveling 82 mph when he hit the tree. I promised my mother that I’d never follow in those footsteps. I barely kept that promise.
My name’s Robert Clarke. I’ve been coming here a lot lately to look out over the ocean and think. Things are starting to get straight again and it’s refreshing to be able to think with a clear mind although things got pretty bad there for a while. I’m sure a few people thought I’d never get over her. She was like that. Once she drew you in, once she took hold of you with her glamour and charm, it was difficult to get away from her, even if you knew you should.
Have you ever been in love? I have. I barely made it out alive.
I met her one night after a particularly hard day at work. Everyone knows days like that can happen from time to time. That day, it was my turn. I believe there are moments in our lives when we are very vulnerable and have no defense against the bad things in life. These moments are very short and we can skip over them easily enough without ever noticing they’ve passed. Sometimes, other factors pry the break in our defenses farther apart, and into the breach can slip all manner of unpleasantness. For me, the moment manifested like a single frame of a movie. Brief and fleeting, but it was enough. A moment when I was most vulnerable to the seductive attraction of a free-spirited woman. And at that moment, the painful rending of my world slowly began.
“Go on,” Terry had said, “she won’t bite.” He pushing me on the shoulder.
“No, no. I’m not looking for anything today, I just want to relax and forget today. Her type doesn’t sit too well with me anyway.”
“Why? What’s wrong with her?”
“I know her type. I’m not interested,” I said.
Terry was insistent, “Go on. Give it a try! Maybe she’s actually what you need to forget today.”
“If you think so highly of her, why don’t you give it a shot?”
“Because it’s your moment and because mine’s over there.”
Slipping from his stool at the bar, Terry smiled deviously and swaggered over to a neighboring table where two fairly stunning young women sat sipping their drinks. How did he do it? I wondered. His confidence and ease. I began to wonder if maybe Icould do that with the one casting glances at me across the bar; easily, without all the angst I’d felt with anyone else.
She seemed interesting right away. She also seemed interested and we connected from the very start. As time passed that evening, I felt a feeling I’d never felt before. The recurring thought that we were made for each other kept dodging in and out of my mind. It seemed strange to be feeling as I did so soon, but there was something about her that drew me in and held me with a velvety, gentle embrace. A flame was lit within me and I needed to feel its heat.
I brought her over to the table where Terry was still schmoozing his new friends.
“I’d like you to meet my friend.”
Terry leaned to me and whispered in my ear, “Not your type? Ha. Some judge of character you are. She’s working her magic.”
“Yeah, well…you know how it is with us shy types.”
Terry just winked and turned to introduce the two women beside him. I slept that night with thoughts of my newfound love swirling in my dreams.
The next day passed with a slowness I’d never thought possible. Every minute she occupied my thoughts and I relished the idea of feeling her warm embrace once more. Unfortunately, it was two full days before our paths crossed again. When I was with her that second time, I was worried I’d built her up to be something that she wasn’t. But she had an interesting and diverse disposition that continued to meet all my expectations. By the end of the evening, I’d fallen completely in love.
The next month was a blur; a whirlwind of outings, meetings, and surprises from my newfound love. Time slipped by swiftly and joyfully. The time we spent together was pure heaven and days together began to outnumber days apart. As January wore on, we grew closer and I was awash in joy. She became an essential part of my quest for warmth and comfort. The cold days of middle winter had never treated me well but with my new love, I could drift into thoughts of blue, clear water, white sands, and warm, caressing sunshine. She had the power to take me places, to make me dream until I was there.
She moved in seven weeks after that first meeting. I came to depend on her.
She would occasionally visit me at my office or I would meet her for lunch. The office visits increased in number as did the lunches. We couldn’t be without one another. Our lunches wonderful, but afterward, it was difficult to concentrate on the rest of the afternoon’s business. But it didn’t matter because I was so thankful, she was in my life. I was feeling a happiness I’d never known.
Then, five months after that first encounter, my world began to slip from my grasp. Just when I thought everything was in control, everything was going wrong. She began to coerce me into staying home from work. I would miss days in a row. When I received a warning from personnel, I began to think I wanted to get fired because it would mean more time with her.
Work wasn’t the only thing affected. Becoming agitated when I kept telling him I wasn’t able to go out on our usual night each week, Terry finally gave up and stopped asking. I don’t think he realized what he’d started by introducing the two of us, but then I hadn’t realized it either. I tried setting up something with him once a few weeks after his last call but canceled the day before. I hadn’t spoken to my other friends since February and, at that point, I suppose they had given up too. Any casual observer could have predicted what was happening, but love is truly blind and from the inside, I couldn’t see a thing. No matter how vehemently one who’s in love denies it, the straight line of reality wrinkles, and they can trip. I was undependable because she had taken control of my life and my decisions were not my own.
Did I still love her? Yes … more than ever before.
I’m not sure when, but at some point I began to realize that she wasn’t the perfection I’d thought her to be. I found out there had been others. She was unfaithful to me regularly. I’d given everything I had
what’s happening to me?
and I realized that what she was giving back wasn’t nearly the same. I’d fooled myself into thinking she had an endless reservoir of warmth and kindness. What I thought were moments of generosity were times of selfish indulgence. She took the attention I gave her
she’s hurting me
and created the illusion that I was getting the same in return; that she was a part of me. Yet, I could not let go because I knew it would hurt. It would tear a piece out of me that might be too big.
I lost my job in September.
Being fired affected me more than I had thought it would but she helped me get over it. Fast. I turned to her and there she was by my side; that magic still there despite what I feared deep down.
when she gets what she wants, she’s happy
No one knew how deep my feelings for her ran except me. Not even she knew and I believe now that she wouldn’t have cared. I began to wrest time away from her to figure out just where I was going. My emotions were a tangled mess. I’d long since lost myself in a place that was dark and lonely.
she brought me to this place
The fire that had started had begun to burn me up
how long has this been happening?
and the fuel was close to being exhausted. Wondering where control had gone and at the same time realizing that I never had it in the first place was an epiphany.
i need to get away from her
The shock sent my world into a spin and I slept for what must have been two or three days. Time had come to mean nothing.
get away from her now!
I awoke one morning, alone and untethered, but my world was oddly steadied. A quietude descended on me as if a huge storm had just passed. In the aftermath of that storm, I began coming to these cliffs to sit quietly by myself. I felt dazed, drained, and weary even though I’d been sleeping for days. The house felt like a cell and my only relief was to get out so I’d walk down here. I used to pass by here every day on my way to work. They had become ordinary and boring to me. Now, I saw them as a sanctuary. I needed time. If it took everything I had, so be it.
That first day, rising behind me, the sun warmed my back; the ocean stretching out in front of me. I stayed there until the magnificent western sun gave way to a twilight sky. That day was the most beautiful I’d seen in all of my 33 years. The first tears since my father had died slipped down my face.
I continued to come to the cliffs and from time to time, there had been sudden overwhelming moments when I wanted her there with me, but I forced myself to resist. There were moments when I wanted to slip down the rock face into the foaming abyss below. I resisted that too. I was scaring myself and this helped me to realize that she was the cause of my shattered life. Through winter I came to the cliffs. The cold penetrated my clothes. In that chill, I found clarity. Slowly I had begun to drift away from the one who’d brought me down and discover the man that had been long locked away. I still felt for her. I still wanted her with me in some way but I knew it could never be.
April came with the new life it brings to the world. I had gotten to know a kind woman who had been passing the cliffs one day in winter and had stopped to offer help.
“No. I’ll be fine. I’m waiting for someone,” I said, lost in thought.
“If you don’t mind me asking, who would make you wait in weather like this?”
“I would,” I said. “I’m waiting for myself.”
As she walked away, she looked over her shoulder and I wasn’t sure if I saw pity, concern, or curiosity.
Two weeks later she came back. I don’t know why but on that second day, she brought hot chocolate and sat down beside me. It was curiosity.
“I want to meet this person you’re waiting for,” she said. “Would you mind if I give you a little company?”
The blackness that had been present for those interminable 15 months had been cleansed away by the unforgiving cold of winter, the rains of spring, and the intensity of a woman I’d met by chance. She had reached inside me and pulled something out. When she opened her hand and showed me what she’d found, I saw myself and I knew I could be whole again.
The second summer since is now upon me and I sit here gazing, once again, at a sunset to that simply pushes into one’s soul. I feel happy now. I am grateful to the one who understood me that first day we met. This time, I know she’s one who will love me in return. It’s been nine months since our first strange encounter and we’re still together. We likely will be for a long time to come and we come here from time to time to sit quietly. I’ve not seen the other anywhere, since I first started coming here and I haven’t tried to find her. I hear she travels a lot, but if you see her don’t tell her I said hello, because I didn’t. Just remember that she killed my father, and stay away from her love. There’s no doubt that you’ll recognize her. You may even know her name. It’s alcohol.
Photo by Cole Patrick