Tag Archives: memories

Ghosts of boyfriends past

Photo by katmere

I got a call yesterday on a job I had applied for last week.  I had a brief phone interview with a woman who I think was HR, because she said she was going to “resubmit” my resume to the hiring manager, and I may or may not get a call back for an interview.  Great news, right?

Here’s the bad news.  The office is literally directly across the street from my ex-boyfriend’s house.  You could probably see his house from the office.

Why do we attach so much emotion to things like this?  Like, where we met someone, or where we had our first kiss, or what we ate on our 49th date?  Why do we have places we can’t go to because they remind us of that person?

ABC Restaurant is just a restaurant.  I’ve been there a million times.  In fact, I’ve been there with at least 5 different guys.  So why is it that whenever I go there, I think of Mr. X?  I’ve watched XYZ TV show for years, since before Mr. X and I started dating and broke up.  So why do I think of him every time I watch it?  I’ve tied my shoes by myself since I was 6 years old.  Why does tying them now make me think of Mr. X?  (These are basic example, people, not necessarily my specific experiences.  I don’t actually think of my ex when I tie my shoe, okay?)

And it’s not even that everything makes you think of your most recent ex.  I think of my college boyfriend any time I go to the zoo.  I think of Colorado Boyfriend every time it snows.  I think of one of my high school boyfriends every time I eat fortune cookies.  I think of Soccer Guy every time I see his college’s emblem…which is the same college my last ex supported, so why would I attach it to a guy I dated 6 years ago and not to the most recent one?

We attach memories to things, places, foods, smells, songs, thoughts.  Then those memories haunt us.  Why?  Why do this to ourselves, why let these things have that much control over us?

And it’s not just exes!  It’s parents, and grandparents, and siblings, and kids, and friends, and jobs.  Some memories are good, some are bad.  Some make you smile through tears, of either joy or sorrow, and some make you want to rip your heart out so you can just stop thinking about them.

Yeah, a little Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind wouldn’t be so bad, on occasion.

What things have memories attached to them in your life?  Do the memories make you smile or cringe?  What have you done to get past those memories?

The Concert that Wasn’t (Or, How I ended up here, part 1)

Summer, 2002. The Eagles were playing their farewell concert tour in smaller cities across the country, which is the only way Little Rock would have had that big of a concert. I decided to buy my parents tickets to the concert – a joint gift encompassing Mom’s Birthday (April), Mother’s Day (May), Father’s Day (June), and Dad’s Birthday (September). I wanted to go, too, but tickets were $98 a piece. I simply couldn’t afford it.

The concert was July 2. I had been kicking myself all day for not buying myself a ticket to the concert, price be damned. It was The Eagles Last Tour! I would never have a chance to see them again! Dumb, dumb, dumb. My friend “Marissa” asked me if I wanted to try rock climbing, and I agreed. We would be meeting another friend of ours, “Don”, at a nearby “mountain” on the west side of town. We hiked up the trail, and found several other people at the small wall setting up to climb. Don knew most of them, including “Luke”.

Luke was…calm. Mellow. Patient. Nice. He seemed only too happy to teach us, show us how to tie knots and belay and climb and set up ropes. He patiently went over things again and again. He was strong, competent. Patient. I know I keep repeating that word, but that’s still the overall image I have of him. He was always so patient with others, so much more than he was with himself. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We spent several hours climbing, the Arkansas summer evening providing us with sunlight until 9pm. As dusk set, Luke and I walked up to the top of the climbing wall to take down the topropes. We stood, watching the last rays of the sun drop over the next ridge. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” he said. And I felt so peaceful standing there, in nature, next to a kind person, and I felt the first bits of attraction.

My friend Marissa and I were hooked. On the way home, we talked about how much fun we had had, and how nice Matt was, and how much we had learned. We had already taken Luke up on his offer to meet him the next evening, to climb again. Marissa expressed her attraction to Luke in one way or another, perhaps a “He’s really cute” or some such phrase. I agreed. Being the kind of person I was then (am still?), I determined that she was interested, and she had “Dibs.” If he liked her, I would have no problem with that. He had certainly shown no preferential treatment towards either of us, and for all we knew he could have a girlfriend, but regardless, she had expressed interest, and I didn’t feel the need to fight her for him.

We started spending every night after work climbing. I lost fingernails. My hands were torn up, and I started to get calluses. I had bruises, on my knees, elbows, thighs. I loved every single moment of it. When Luke asked if we wanted to do a weekend trip to Northwest Arkansas, Marissa and I jumped at the chance. A whole weekend of climbing – we couldn’t wait. And it was great. It was the first of many weekend trips. We were both hooked.

At one point, maybe the second week of our after work climbs, a group of us decided to go grab a bite to eat and a margarita after climbing. We went to a local Mexican restaurant and sat on the patio, enjoying the warm night and the cold margaritas. We paid our tabs and went out to the parking lot. Marissa and Luke and I stood out by our cars for a long time, talking. Finally, Marissa left, leaving Luke and I by ourselves.

I don’t know when the flirting began, maybe it had been going on for a week. I don’t know who stepped closer first. But we kissed, and I had a moment of triumph that I am still not very proud of. I had beat Marissa. Luke wanted me, not her. I was a competitive female when it came to dating, evidently.

One night, we were in his apartment, having dinner, and we got into a tickling fight. When we were exhausted from laughing so hard, he said he loved me. I didn’t think he meant to, and so I was going to act like I hadn’t heard him, but I changed my mind and called him on it. I looked him in the eye. “What did you say?” He had sobered, and he repeated it. So this is what this feels like, I thought.

Luke and I were inseparable. I think my coworkers think that he beat me, because I came in every Monday covered in fresh bruises and scratches, but they were all from climbing, and hiking through heavy brush. My dad, at one point during a happy hour, remarked, “I’ve never seen you this happy before.” And I was. I was incandescent. I glowed. I walked around with a huge smile on my face and felt like I was about to burst from the happiness.

And then.

“We need to talk.”

Luke had gotten a job offer in Denver. A dream job for him. He didn’t like Little Rock, the job paid a lot more than what he was making, and he had always dreamed of living in Colorado. It was just after Christmas. He took the job.

I don’t know if he asked or I offered, but suddenly I was moving to Denver, too. We searched online for a place to live, comparing prices and reviews of apartment complexes and areas of town. We packed up a U-Haul, hooked up his truck to it, and drove to Denver.

I remember driving across Kansas, thinking how pretty the golden fields looked at sunrise, loving the single tree in the middle of a field.

Eight hours later, I was begging him to get us the hell out of Kansas.

We crossed the state line. “Welcome to Colorful Colorado!” I looked around. Colorful?

Welcome to Colorful Colorado
Image by teofilo via Flickr

“Denver – 13 miles.”

I looked around. I could barely make out the mountains on the horizon. It still looked like we were in Kansas. I didn’t understand. I had always thought Denver was in the middle of the mountains. I didn’t know that it was “the lawn chair to the Rockies.” Luke always teased that I got tears in my eyes, looking around at the brown, barren land 13 miles east of Denver. I don’t know, maybe he’s right. Maybe I knew, then, that my life would become brown, barren, desolate.

Our apartment, however, was a wonderful surprise. We were in Lakewood, almost to Golden, and we had a beautiful, unobstructed view of the foothills. My dad happened to be in town on business, so he and an associate of his helped us unload the U-Haul. We unhooked Luke’s pickup truck and drove back to Little Rock – he still had a week of work left, and I had several weeks.

“Little Rock – 13 miles.”

I was driving. It was dark, maybe 7pm, and traffic heading into town was pretty heavy. Luke was asleep in the passenger seat. I was exhausted, but we were almost home. I was in the left lane, doing 70mph in a long line of cars, passing another long line of cars in the right lane. I noticed, in the right lane up ahead, a pickup truck with a bunch of furniture in the back. More people moving. As I watched, a bookcase (or was it an entertainment center?) floated up, caught on the wind, and flew out of the truck.

It’s funny what happens in those situations – it’s like time moves really slow. Or maybe it just goes to prove how fast and unconsciously the brain can work. I assessed my exit routes in a millisecond – there were none. A grassy ditch to my left, cars to my right. There was a line of cars in front of me. If I slammed on my brakes, we’d get rear ended and cause a pileup behind us. My foot came up off the gas. I saw brake lights flicker in front of me, saw the car ahead swerve onto the narrow shoulder and back into the lane.  I watched the furniture as it slowly descended. I must have made some kind of noise, because suddenly Luke was fully alert, sitting fully upright and leaning forward, yelling, “Oh, shit!” as he saw what was happening. The furniture hit the road directly in front of the truck, maybe two feet in front, and bounced back up, hitting the underside of the front bumper, the engine block. I was finally able to brake, pull over into the grassy median, followed by several other cars, as more cars pulled off to the right. In all, about ten cars pulled over because they had been hit with debris. I came to a stop, somehow remembering to put the clutch in, put it in neutral, and put the emergency brake on.

And then I fell apart. Shaking, crying, unable to breathe. Adrenaline is funny.

It took a week to get the truck fixed. It needed a new boot, and Luke put four new tires on, at a cost of about $250/ea. He drove back to Denver by himself, while I stayed in Little Rock. I can’t remember why I had several weeks of work left, but I did.

When you get onto I-70 in Kansas, it is perhaps the longest, straightest piece of interstate you will ever find. On the west side of the state, there is a curve in the road. It comes out at Colby. At two am, Luke fell asleep at the wheel, lost control of the truck, and flipped twelve times. The large exit sign stopped him from flipping a thirteenth.

Amazingly, he walked away. He was covered in glass, and his body would secrete slivers of it for the next year. His worst injury was a torn rotator cuff. The truck was totaled. I saw pictures of it later. The entire passenger side was crushed. If I had been in it, I’d have been dead.

There is some funny to this. Included in the covered bed of the truck was my drawer of “pretty panties,” you know, the ones that really aren’t that comfy, but they’re pretty, and you wear them for special occasions? They were littered across the shoulder of the interstate. All the contents of my liquor cabinet were in the truck, prompting the responding officer to sniff, look very sternly at Luke, and ask, “You been drinkin’?” I had a beautiful full lead crystal vase in the box it came in, with absolutely no packing materials around it. It was thrown 70 feet from the truck, the box was torn to shreds, but there wasn’t a scratch on the vase. I still have it – it became a representation of me, still intact, even after going through hell.

Because of the accident, I left work early. My boss understood, and I drove into Denver at 5pm on February 14, 2003. Valentine’s Day. I was starving. We quickly unloaded my car and went to get a bite to eat. Every place we went to had a two hour wait. I was ready to gnaw my own arm off, I was so hungry. Finally, we found a Mexican place with a no wait. Evidently, Mexican food is not romantic enough for Valentine’s Day.

Luke had to have rotator cuff surgery – not a fun surgery for anyone, I know. He had no function in his shoulder for months, so rock climbing was out of the question. That’s when I learned that Luke loved climbing more than me.

He was a complete bear to live with. He was in constant pain, which made him tired and irritable. He couldn’t participate in his favorite sport, the sport he had very specifically moved to Colorado for to be closer to. I realize, now, that I put too much of my happiness on his shoulders.  He was working, and I was unemployed.  I didn’t know anyone. I spent my days cleaning – I have never had that clean of a house, ever. I pine-sol’d the shower walls daily. Yes, seriously. I cooked dinner every night, very much the housewife, and waited anxiously for Luke to come home. I literally sat at the window every afternoon, waiting to see him drive up. I was so lonely. But when he came home, I was still lonely, and I began to resent him. I had moved to Colorado for him, and he was doing nothing to make me feel like it was worth it. 

The patient man I knew was decidedly impatient about his injury. I listened to him moan about his shoulder, the pain, and I tried to be understanding, but I wanted to scream at him, “YOU’RE ALIVE! YOU WALKED AWAY! YOU COULD HAVE DIED!” Finally, one day, I did break down. “You could have died!” I said.

He said he wished he had died.

I lost it on him. All of my patience and understanding flew out the window. “Maybe you should have! What do you care that that you’re still alive? Did you even think about what it would do to me if you had died? What it would do to your parents?”

“At least then they would have the insurance money,” he said, sullen.

It’s really no big surprise that we broke up. We probably would have, anyway, but I always blame the accident. I feel like, if he hadn’t had the accident and been injured, he would have been able to climb, and he would have been happier, and then I would have been happier. And I think all that is true, but I know that, in the end, we wouldn’t have worked out. We were different people.

There’s one memory that stands out that illustrates that. We were up in the mountains, hiking a remote trail, and we got to the top and sat down, staring at the next ridgeline. “Couldn’t you just sit and stare at this all day?” he asked.

I blinked at the view. No. No, I couldn’t. Staring at that ridgeline that day, I was bored out of my mind. It’s a mountain, I said. It doesn’t do anything. There’s no change. There’s no movement, no sound. It’s just…there. Always. Doing nothing.

And I think that, in the end, what attracted me most to him is why we were such different people. His patience allowed him to sit and stare at nothing, in silence.

I’ve discovered that I need the ocean, the constant shushing of the waves, to drown out the noise in my head. I’m not a patient person.

I don’t climb anymore. Oh, I go to the climbing gym every once in a while, but I haven’t been outside since I left Colorado. There’s a level of trust and skill you need to climb with someone, and I don’t know that I’ll ever find that in a climbing partner again. Actually, what’s funny is that it’s that very trust that probably bonded us together in the first place. I literally had to trust him with my life. It’s a lot easier to love someone when you have to trust them, rely on them. It forces a bond you wouldn’t normally have when meeting someone in a social situation.

I still think back to the Luke I met that July evening, that kind, patient, competent man with the calm demeanor. Nothing frazzled him. He was the guy that, when under pressure, took charge calmly and efficiently. It soothed me. Something in me, something I still don’t really understand, responded to that. I still respond to that memory of him. I still love that man.  And I hope he’s happy.

Happy Father’s Day, 1981

Memories are a funny thing. A lot of the time, they’re not real. Often, they’re colored by nostalgia, or pain, or anger, or love. They’re colored by the person we are now, more so than the person we were then. In the same way that history is an interpretation, based on what we know now, maybe memories, too, are based on who we are now. Was Grandma’s pot roast really the best pot roast ever? Was Grandpa’s voice so deep it rumbled?

My Grandma’s pot roast was, indeed, the best pot roast ever, and I can’t be proven wrong at this point. I don’t, however, remember my Grandpa’s voice being deep. In fact, I have very few memories of my Grandpa, and none of them involve his voice. I remember walking hand in hand down the hill by the house at Christmastime, looking at the Christmas lights strung up on the houses. I often wonder if that’s why the sight of Christmas lights make me smile, regardless of how dark my mood. I vaguely remember him hanging a swing on the branch of an avocado tree and pushing me on it.

I also remember him dying. That’s the only other memory I have of him.

My mom and I lived with my grandparents at the time. I believe I was 5 or 6. I was eating in the living room, watching TV, a TV tray in front of me. The memory here is a little fuzzy – for some reason I remember me sitting on the coffee table, but that can’t be right. I remember my grandmother calling my grandfather to dinner. And calling him again. I remember her walking down the hall, past the archway to the living room. She always had an almost militant march about her walk, I never realized that before now. Do I remember her screaming? Do I remember the ambulance arriving? I remember peeking into the bedroom and seeing him laying on the ground, upper body in the bedroom, lower body in the bathroom, where he had been combing his hair. He was in an undershirt and boxers, not yet dressed for dinner. Black socks, with those little sock garter belt things. I remember him on the stretcher, in the bedroom, the paramedics working on him.

But wait. I also remember visiting him in the hospital. Actually, not visiting him in the hospital, because I wasn’t allowed, but he was on the first floor, and they took me by the window so I could wave in. Is that a separate memory? Is that the same time the paramedics came? Did he die in the hospital? Or was he in the hospital before that, for something else? I don’t know. Maybe this memory of the hospital isn’t a memory at all, maybe it’s just my imagination. I was so young. I seem to also remember my mother arriving at the house on the fire engine, standing on the back and holding onto one of the bars, her long hair flowing out behind her in the wind, but that can’t be real. So what other parts of my memory aren’t real?

I should ask my mother. But why? What would it matter? Would it change my memory? Would it make my grandfather not dead?

The first Father’s Day gift I ever gave, ever made, was for my Grandpa. He was the only Dad I knew for the first six years of my life. I barely knew him, I barely remember him. But I miss him, I miss his love.

Homecoming Mums

Most people I know now have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention Homecoming Mums.  I’ve figured out that it’s very much a Texas thing.  I’ve had to pull up photos online just to show people what they look like, and they always think it’s funny.  This one is from Michael’s:


Now, this one may be 4-5 feet long, and may cost around $100. For a better idea on what kind of mums are available, see www.mumsandgarters.com

Girls wear these mums all day.  They are very much a sign of popularity, at least they were when I was in high school.  The bigger the mum, the more popular you are.  Usually your boyfriend gets you a mum – if you don’t have a boyfriend, you have to beg your parents to get you one.  And it really is much better to pay someone to make one, rather than make one yourself.  (Trust me – I know.)  Really wish I could find my pictures…

I had three mums in school – one year I made my own (disaster), one year my parents bought me one, and one year I was lucky enough to have a boyfriend buy me one.  And it was a good one – a big single, that hung down below my knees.  Yeah, that was awesome.

On the guys side, they get garters they wear around their biceps.  The same applies – the bigger, the more popular you are.  But, unlike for girls, most men who have them actually get them from their girlfriends. 

Trust me – you MUST check out this link to fully appreciate mums and garters.  (What’s funny is, I did a google search for images, found this one to be perfect, then realized it was for The Woodlands HS, which I went to.  Well, actually, I went to McCullough HS, which I think is now a middle school, and TWHS took it’s place, but still – small world, eh?

As you can see from the pictures, lots of ribbons, usually with your name on one, the high school name on one, your boyfriend’s name on one, ribbons with “Go Team” or “WIN!”.  Oh, the possibilities are endless.  Oh, yeah, and little trinkets and things, too, whistles and footballs and helmets and letters and bears…

As you can imagine, these things weigh A TON.  It looks like these girls actually have them strung around their necks, but when I was in school they were pinned to your shirt, usually to one side (I think the left).  Imagine 20 pounds pinned to your shirt.  Yeah, insane, right?

Ah, memories….

(More links to mum pictures, here, here.