The topic for this month’s Insomnia Club? The end of an affair…
I was 19 years old when I fell for my first Canadian. He was 26, and everything about him was beautiful–his brilliant mind, his sense of humor, his beautifully angular face and body…and, yes, that accent. To this day, if I hear someone say ‘aboat’ or ‘soarry’ or “zed”, my mind flutters back to him and the year of ‘97.
My Canadian lived in the country’s geographical equivalent of Nevada, while I was living in the northeast of the U.S. But in the summer of 1997, we came together in Toronto, a city I had never been to and one he had only been to once as a young child, where we had one week of fairytale bliss.
This is our story of how that beautiful summer love affair came to be.
This is also a story of how it came to a screeching end, and how, for the first time, my heart was shattered into a million, splintered pieces.
There were many things I learned during my first quarter of college, and as you would expect, most of those lessons were gleaned outside of the classroom. For instance, I learned what a mudslide was thanks to my neighbor, a senior who had a mini fridge stocked with every alcoholic beverage you could imagine. I also learned that there were tunnels under the buildings of campus that students explored like spelunkers. And, in the year 1995, I learned of the wonders of the Internet, how it could connect you to people all over.
For someone who now lived 3000 miles away from home, being able to keep in touch with my old friends and my boyfriend was a godsend. Thanks to my roommate Whitney, I also got turned onto this odd invention, where you could have a live digital chat with someone across the country, or even outside the country.
I wondered what my roommate was thinking when she began conversing with strangers, but soon I began conversing with another college student who lived far from his loved one. For the most part, however, I spent time trying to reassure my long-distance boyfriend that I was still thinking about him—my daily letters weren’t enough.
A year and a half later, I was living back home, attending the in-state college after months of feeling guilty for trying to have fun away from my boyfriend, while also feeling terribly homesick for all the things that were familiar to me. But by 1997, I was starting to also feel trapped.
Over the course of my time back home, I had made numerous friends all over the world through list-servs for my favorite singer/songwriters. We exchanged emails, snail letters and glorious mixed tapes of music I would have never discovered otherwise. And then I found myself curious enough to check out this new MSN program on my folks’ computer. There were chat rooms for every topic imaginable.
Sometime in spring, I kept coming across a guy with a wicked sarcasm for the ridiculous people trolling the chat rooms, witty retorts for people spouting idiotic opinions and, inevitably, our paths crossed. Our conversations went over people’s heads, and soon we made our way into private chat rooms.
Our conversations moved from several hour IM chats to several hour computer phone calls. We’d share our days, our childhoods, our philosophical and spiritual ideas, and hopes and dreams. I’d chat with his roommates and best friends, sing to him my latest original songs and inevitably, we grew more and more in like with each other.
Eventually we began to tentatively talk of meeting. It was a brave and ridiculous idea. We lived more than 3000 miles away, in different countries. The one photo I had of him revealed bleached blond hair, shades and other people. Somehow none of this seemed to matter.
We picked a city: Toronto. We picked a general time frame. After I jumped in and bought a plane ticket, he realized I was serious.
A couple months later, I was in the Toronto Pearson International Airport, having forgotten my passport at home. At customs, I remember having to call my mom to ask her to fax a copy of my passport, but somehow they allowed me through with just my driver’s license.
I arrived first, waiting with several others just beyond his terminal’s arrival area. Not knowing exactly what my Canadian looked like, I knew he would spot me first. As people of various size, shape and degree of attractiveness passed by, my heart was thumping in my stomach.
Finally I glanced to my left and saw a beautiful man with brown spiky hair, grinning at me and walking quickly in my direction. Before I knew it, I was being wrapped in those arms, backpack in all. Finally I released my backpack, and was literally swept off my feet.
I wish I could remember all the details now. For a year afterward, I rewound and replayed them over and over again in my mind. There was the ride to his godmother’s house in the rental car, where I played navigator, while he shared stories of his childhood. There was trying to keep quiet in a squeaky four-post bed. There was the very adult, dinner party with wine that turned his face red, and a gorgeous photo of all of us taken.
There was visiting the SkyDome and splurging on a room at the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel (not sure if that was its name then) in the place overlooking where the Toronto Blue Jays play. There was getting red streaks put in my hair since he was dyeing his own hair. There was the big market and fair where we saw a horribly inaccurate fortune teller before getting rained out on my gorgeous, silky smooth hair. There was the glorious bubble bath that night where I couldn’t stop my 19-year-old, naïve girl self from saying, “I think I’m starting to fall in love with you.”
There were tight hugs and tears when we parted ways at the airport. Tears is an understatement on my part, but I saved the blubbering for after he was out of sight. I went back to Connecticut. He went back to Alberta.
I remember the sweet, nostalgic phone calls and emails exchanged at first. Yet when I made the right choice to return to university back to California a couple months later, things were different. Though we technically lived closer to one another now, the correspondence had petered off. I’d occasionally hear from him—he mentioned that he was thinking of going back to school, and my school was one he was looking at—but eventually the tenderness died out, and the hope was lost.
I couldn’t believe it was over. He’d felt that magic too.
I was still clinging to the last strands of beautiful memories into the next year. Finally, he sent me an email saying he would call me, that he had something he wanted to tell me. He didn’t. Instead he finally sent an email saying he had started seeing someone else a while ago. As in, months ago.
I was livid that while I had been pouring my heart out, he was falling in love with someone new. He knew how I felt, yet he didn’t say or do anything to let me know that he’d moved on completely.
I wanted to fly up there and punch him in the face. I wanted to slap my own face for being so naïve. Why would this man with a wild social life want to try to build a future with a girl living so far away?
It’s funny to think of it now, as I see his face every day on my Facebook news feed. We went through years where we didn’t talk. Several years afterward, he found my first Internet journal, leaving a sweet message on there for me. After answering him, I of course wrote a post on my surprise of hearing from him after all that time. A week later, he disappeared.
Again years later, I heard from him via email. He said he was so glad to find me. He had taught English in Korea. He was a born again Christian (and apparently in AA) as he poured out this incredible apology for treating me so terribly 8 years earlier. I told him he’d already been forgiven for years, but I appreciated the gesture.
Is it crazy that it wasn’t until receiving that email that I finally let go of any lingering thoughts of him once and for all? I’d had two, long, committed relationships and been in love several times over. Yet a little part of me still had carried some torch for my first passionate love affair.
Pitiful? Probably. Yeah.
I can’t remember who found whom on Facebook this past year. He still looks pretty much the same. He’s finally finishing college at the age of 40, is it? He’s no longer a born-again Christian, and he drinks again. He’s not married, though at one point, he was pretty close before bailing out five or six years ago. He’s in an “it’s complicated” relationship currently. He’s still incredibly brilliant and very political-minded.
He’s also a big dork. If I could share with you a recent Halloween costume to prove his dorkiness, I would. I bet he watches The Big Bang Theory and loves it.
We exchange messages now and then. What do I feel? Nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true. I feel fondness for an old friend…and gratitude for a brief period of incredible, precious memories—before I lost my innocence.
Stay tuned for more posts from my fellow Insomniacs this month: