Alright, here I go again. I’ve tried writing this post the last two nights, but couldn’t finish it. It’s Saturday morning now, and unlike the past two Saturdays I don’t have any plans to go out today, I’m just going to be home, so now’s the time to do this. This isn’t easy for me, because I’m going to get personal.
I don’t usually do that here, but it seems like the sort of thing that a blog should be for. I’ve been going through some things recently, I’ve been on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. In particular this past week has been rough for me, and I’m thinking that writing things down might help me deal with it and get through it a little better. Or maybe not? I don’t know, but, well, here we go. This may be a bit of a long one.
The above picture is me and a woman that, for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to call “Emma.” Real-life friends and folks on my private social media accounts have seen the pictures without masks which also refer to her real name, but I’ll respect her privacy here with the names and some minor details changed or left out.
Emma is someone I consider my first love. We met and began dating as teenagers. We were in several ways from different worlds, I was in Inglewood, CA, she was in Santa Monica, I was 2 years older than her and I’m Black and she’s White. But we just had a connection. We got along so well, spending time with her always felt natural, we could talk about anything and confide in each other. And she was gorgeous and, for some reason, she seemed to find me attractive too (and folks said we looked good together). We each also had some emotional issues to deal with, both of us had been in therapy (that’s actually how we met), so we understood each other even when others didn’t.
I didn’t have a car back then, so our dates usually consisted of me taking two long bus rides to her house, and then her joining me as we’d take buses to places like the 3rd Street Promenade in downtown Santa Monica, or Westwood Village near UCLA, Melrose Ave in Hollywood or various malls where we’d hang out, walk around, get something to eat, or go to movies. Sometimes we’d rent movies from a local video rental store and watch them at her house and just hang out there if no one else was home. Typical teenage dating stuff. I also loved taking pictures of her, and she loved being photographed. These were the pre-historic days when you actually had to use a polaroid camera, and send your film out to be developed.
While my parents were divorced, Emma’s parents “Ken” and “Jane” were still married, and also in the house was Emma’s one-year-older sister “Rae” and 10-years-younger brother “Leo.” They were all great, Ken and Jane always made me feel welcome in their home, I got along with them immensely, especially Jane. Sometimes I’d call Emma and Jane would answer the phone and we’d end up chatting for 20 minutes or longer before she’d pass the phone to Emma. I also got along with the siblings, Rae had a car and took us out a couple of times, and little Leo was a cute kid., Emma just adored him. I often semi-joked that I was as attracted to Emma’s family as I was to Emma herself. It was nice to visit a stable household that I just didn’t have myself. I could imagine marrying Emma and being part of her family someday.
After about 3 years the relationship ended, for reasons which I can’t even really remember. But I guess you could say that our relationship simply ran its course, as most young relationships of the type do, and I went on with my life. We talked one more time, maybe about 6 months after we last saw each other. There was a major Earthquake and I called her to see if she was okay. We talked a little bit, she told me about something coming up that she was excited about, and she said she’d call me afterward to let me know how it went, but I never heard from her again.
25 years passed, I grew up, had other loves, new jobs, new experiences, but I never completely forgot Emma. Occasionally I’d think about her, wondering what happened to her, what she was up to, etc. I still had a photo album of all my pictures of her, including some with her family and of her and I together, which I never got rid of. As the 2000’s rolled around and I got a computer and became active online I’d occasionally try to look her up. I remember when I was on Myspace I tried to look her up a couple of times to see if she had a profile, but never found one. That would continue over the years as social media grew and changed, Facebook, Twitter, Google + (remember that?), Instagram, every once and while I’d search her name on the various sites but never found any profiles, she never appeared to be active on social media, which just made me even more curious about what she was up to, especially as it became more ubiquitous. In this day and age who isn’t on some kind of social media? I mean, even my 70-year old mother is online now..
Eventually I found her brother Leo on Facebook, and sent a friend request. He accepted, although I don’t know if he knew who I was at the time (when he knew me I mostly went by “John”, not “J.R.”) or if he was just one of those people who accepts any friend request they get. For some reason I was hesitant to ask him about Emma. I looked around his profile and noticed that he didn’t have any pictures or posts about Emma. There were pictures of him with his parents (who were still married), Rae (who was now married with two children), and even various cousins, aunts, and uncles, so Emma was conspicuous in her absence. It’s hard to explain, as I still don’t understand why I didn’t just ask him about Emma sooner, I guess I was afraid to possibly get an answer that I didn’t want to hear (like maybe she cut all contact with the family and disappeared, or was even dead). But we were Facebook friends since 2014 and I never directly talked to him.
But as the years went by I still never saw him post anything about Emma, either on Facebook or his Instagram page. In July 2018 I finally sent Leo a private message, asking him about Emma. Leo told me that she was “going through a tough time,” and that he was trying to help her but it had been difficult, and he offered to pass on my info to her if I was interested in reaching out to her. So I gave him my phone number and main email which he said he would send right to her. Then I waited.
But I never heard from her.
I was disappointed and confused.. Why wouldn’t she want to talk to me? It’s not like our ending was bad or anything. Wouldn’t she have the same natural curiosity about me that I had about her? And what was this “tough time” that Leo said she was going through, did that have something to do with it? But I couldn’t force it, and I didn’t want to bug Leo about it, so I just dropped it and carried on with my life.
Emma’s birthday is during the end of March. Last year, as the date was coming up, I started thinking about her again and was planning to ask Leo to contact her for me again, hoping that maybe something had changed in the almost two years since the last time I tried it. So I was just waiting for the birthday, to use that as my excuse. But, wouldn’t you know it, a week before that could happen the apocalypse began. California shut down due to the coronavirus, and I suddenly had other things to concern myself with (like, you know, working and surviving).
Well, this year things were finally looking up, as people started getting vaccinated and public places began re-opening. I got my first shot on March 20 (Pfizer, didn’t feel a thing), and with Emma’s birthday coming up I thought maybe now would be a good time to reach out again. So, on her birthday, I sent Leo another message. I said please wish Emma a happy birthday from me, and let her know I’m still available if she ever wants to catch up.
Days passed, and I didn’t hear back from him, nor did I hear from her. After about a week I thought, well, that’s it. She just doesn’t want anything to do with me, so I’m not going to be a pest. I resigned myself to the fact that this was it, it’s time to accept that I’ll never see or talk to her again, so there was no point in ever trying again. I just need to put her out of my mind for good.
And then Leo wrote back, apologizing for the late-response, saying he was offline because he was busy with work, and he gave me Emma’s phone number saying she’d love to hear from me!
April 7th, Wednesday night around 9:30pm I called her and we talked on the phone. It was a great conversation, we caught up a bit, she asked if I’d ever married or had kids (nope), said she’d been engaged twice but never did it herself, we joked around, we could have kept going but after about 45 minutes I wanted to get to sleep because of work the next day (it was around 10:15pm) and in a way I didn’t want to waste too much talking on the phone. We had 25 years to catch up on, I said we need to do that in person. I told her how I was getting my second vaccination shot that Saturday, so I suggested that the Saturday after that, April 17th, I could pick her up and take her to lunch, which she agreed to. I went to sleep happy, I didn’t even think about what Leo told me 3 years earlier about her “tough time.”
But it soon became clear that she indeed had some problems. Some pretty big problems. I heard from her again a day later when she called me.
I was woken from my sleep, picked up the phone and saw that it was her calling, which was quite a surprise so I answered. And she was rambling like a crazy person. Even though I was tired I was concerned so I got up and stayed on the phone with her, hoping to talk her down from whatever was going on. I ended up staying on the phone with her until 3, when I just had to get back to sleep (and I had work that day, I had to pop a couple of 5-hour energy drinks to get through that). My first guess was that she was bipolar and off her meds. These late night calls continued the next 3 days, with her calling me between midnight and 1am, just acting nuts, it was bizarre. I eventually got in touch with her mother Jane (I asked Emma for her number, and said I just wanted to say hi), who explained to me that Emma is an alcoholic and that in the past 5 or 6 years her life has taken a downturn because of it. She hasn’t worked in over a year and is living off of SSI. I won’t get into everything, but I’ll note that some folks I know and told about it suggested that I just walk away right then. Even Jane was telling me not to let Emma drag me into her problems. I remember thinking, damn, I wish Emma was just bipolar like I initially suspected, at least that can generally be controlled by medication, we’d just need to make sure she takes her pills everyday, but alcoholism is a lot more unpredictable.
But after all this time I couldn’t bring myself to walk away just yet. Especially after that first conversation, where it was like talking to the old Emma. I mean, it took me so long to get in touch with her again, I wanted to see where this went. In retrospect, I don’t really know what I was thinking, I don’t know anything about dealing with people with any type of addiction, I stayed away from drugs, and the kind of people who use them, my whole life. I didn’t even have my first drink of alcohol until I was 30, and I’ve never drank to excess. But I was thinking maybe I could help her somehow. It was clear that she’s driven a lot of her old friends out of her life, which is why she was now calling me so often. Her relations with her family weren’t so good either. She told me herself that she wasn’t close to Rae anymore, and Jane told me that she and Ken didn’t want to allow her in their house anymore because she’d cause trouble. A couple of weeks after we began talking, Leo took Emma to lunch and, apparently, that didn’t go well, with Emma being drunk and refusing to get out of Leo’s car at the end, and he had to physically force her out (this I heard from Jane, when I asked Emma how things went that day she just said “great.”).
So I kept talking on the phone to Emma, several times a week. Mostly she’d call me, at night. Thankfully the post-midnight calls stopped, she was now mostly calling between 7pm-9pm, sometimes she’d be really drunk, in which case I’d mostly just try to listen to her as she rambled nonsense. This wasn’t always easy, especially when she’d try to keep me up late and I was tired. Jane would later tell me that she simply refused to talk to Emma whenever she called her and was drunk, that she’d just hang up on her, and she recommended that I do the same, but my feeling was that at least if she was on the phone with me during those times that meant she couldn’t be out doing anything potentially harmful? Maybe that was naïve on my part, and instead I was just enabling her, in a way? Again, this is new territory for me.
Sometimes the conversations were better as she was just a bit tipsy. Not completely sober, but not totally drunk, either. It was during those conversations where we could at least have some normal interaction. She’d repeat herself a lot, tell the same dumb jokes over and over, but there would be bits where we could reminisce about the past and talk about common interests and it would be like talking to the old Emma again. She had a good memory, as she’d bring up things we did and talked about when we were teenagers that I’d forgotten about. Like when the news of Bill and Melinda Gates’s divorce came out, Emma brought up how I was the first person to tell her about Bill Gates and Microsoft back in the day. I don’t recall that, but it sounds like me, as he was one of my heroes back then. It was moments like that, that gave me the encouragement to keep the lines of communication open, with the idea that eventually she’d feel comfortable enough to open up to me about her problems and I could try to help her. But like I said it was a bit of an emotional roller coaster, as whenever the phone would ring I didn’t know exactly what to expect, and I wasn’t sure if I was handling the situation correctly.
I did eventually get her to acknowledge that she had a “little problem” with beer, she said she knew that she drank it too much, although she didn’t use the world “alcoholic,” and in that conversation she’d told me that she hadn’t drank beer in the past 5 days, although I know that was a lie because she’d clearly been drunk one of times we’d talked in that past week. Still, I figured that was good start. I was slowly getting her to open up to me. There were also some times where instead of talking we’d have some texting conversations, and those were mostly normal.
But I avoided the topic of meeting in person, because honestly I was scared to. What if she was drunk? I don’t know how to handle a drunk person. And, frankly, me as a Black man out in public with a drunk White woman who is acting up? That could be dangerous for me. I’m not looking to become another hashtag.
But after about three weeks of this she pressed the issue. Asking me why I haven’t asked her to meet? She kind of roped me into it, I couldn’t think of a reason to say no. This was a Sunday night when we had this conversation, and we agreed to meet the next Saturday. She suggested meeting at night, but I didn’t want to risk being with her when it’s dark, and I figured there was a better chance of her not drinking yet, the earlier in the day it was. So we planned to meet at 1:30pm, and I told her I wanted her to call me a half-hour before (I’d looked up her address on Mapquest and saw it would take about that long for me to drive to her), to let me know she was ready, I figured this way I could hear if she was sober or not. And I told her flat out, if she was drinking I wouldn’t come. She agreed. But, man, I was nervous. I could barely eat that week leading up to it.
Saturday, May 8th, a month and a day after we’d started talking on the phone, we met. She was completely sober. And I ended up having one of the best times I’d had in years. It was exactly the kind of day I’d hoped for when I first got in touch with her. I picked her up and we went to a local restaurant near her place for lunch. After that we drove down to the 3rd Street Promenade. Then we got a couple of slushies at a 7/11 and hung out a park, ending the night by driving out to Marina Del Rey and sat on the beach watching boats sail by. We spent around 9 hours together, ending after 11pm when I dropped her off back at her place There was never a dull or awkward moment. It was almost like no time had passed, we were a couple of teenagers again, just spending a whole Saturday together. The difference was now I had a car and I wasn’t picking her up at her parents house. And while physically we weren’t quite teenagers anymore (I’ll be frank, I’ve aged a bit better than she has), I have to say we still looked good together.
I chose not to address her alcohol or other problems during the day. Everything was going so well, I didn’t want to ruin the mood. I figured it was better to keep things light, let her see how much fun she could have with me, while sober. I honestly thought that this would help her see how much better her life could be if she didn’t drink. My plan was that I’d take her out a few more times, like we’d go out each Saturday for the rest of this month, and then by June I’d finally confront her (as nicely as possible, of course). I always thought it would be better for us to talk about this in person, rather than on the phone, so I could make it clear that I wasn’t just being judgmental and attacking her. I hoped by then she’d see how much I cared about her and wanted to help her. Again, probably extremely naïve on my part.
During that day, at one point we Facetimed with her mother, so I could say hi to her “face to face.” (I have a Samsung Galaxy, not an iPhone, so I can’t Facetime on my own phone, we had to use Emma’s) I suggested the idea of us all meeting for lunch next time, as I really wanted to see her parents again. So that became the plan for the next Saturday. And that’s what we did last Saturday, we briefly met her parents at their house (Emma wanted to go in, but Jane told her she couldn’t because she isn’t vaccinated), so I got to say hi to Ken, who couldn’t come with us since he had another appointment to make. And then we drove to International House of Pancakes with Jane.
Again, it was a great time, Jane was glad to see me and we got along just like old times. We had a nice lunch and then we said our goodbyes, and at Emma’s suggestion she and I drove out to a high point in Pacific Palisades overlooking the beach to chill out. It was great for a couple of hours, until it started to get dark.
Emma got drunk. Very drunk.
At the time I didn’t understand how this could have happened, it was Jane who later explained it to me, when I told her that Emma had brought a couple of bottles of Gatorade with her which she’d been drinking. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but Jane said that’s one of Emma’s tricks, sneaking alcohol in Gatorade bottles. Duh, I feel like such an idiot for not seeing it and putting a stop to it when I could have. But it happened so quickly, she went from zero to sixty in a few minutes. One minute we’re sitting arm and arm on a bench, talking and laughing, watching the sunset, the next minute she’s falling over and alternating behind shouting at me and crying.
I had to physically hold her up to walk her back to my car and then I had to put the seat belt on her, but she kept trying to take it off. I won’t get into all of it but it was my initial fear come to life. I legit started to get scared of what might happen, as I didn’t know how bad she might get. Also, I didn’t know the area at all, she’s the one who directed me when we drove out there, so I needed her to show me the way back, which including getting on the freeway. And while on the freeway she grabbed my hand and kept trying argue with me, while I was trying to keep her calm, so she’d give me the proper directions to get back to her place. It was a harrowing experience.
We finally made it back to her apartment building, but she didn’t want to get out of my car, she wanted to go somewhere else. I had to trick her, I said I needed to use the bathroom first, she said okay. I had to physically pull her out the seat and guide her to the building, as at this point she could barely walk straight, and when we got inside her place, she suddenly said she had to pee, so she went to the bathroom and I put her purse down on the sofa and I literally ran out of the building, jumping into my car and took off. I felt terrible but I just had to get away from her while she was in that state. She called me 14 times as I was driving home, left 6 voice messages asking me where I was, but I just ignored them all.
Well, this was an eye-opener for me. I thought I had some idea of what it’s like from talking to her on the phone while she’s drunk, but seeing it in person was a different story. Her problems are bigger than I realized and the truth is that I’m just not equipped to deal with it. At this point I wouldn’t feel comfortable going out with her again, I certainly could never allow her back in my car. It’s just too potentially risky for me, and it pains me like you wouldn’t believe but I have to think of myself. I talked to her mother the next day, who understood and agreed that I need to cut contact with Emma now. This just isn’t going to work.
This is especially hard because our time together that first Saturday shows me that the Emma I remember is still in there somewhere, but what I saw the next Saturday night was something else entirely. It’s just killing me to see that this is how she’s turned out. This past week I’ve been struggling to keep it together, I keep thinking about her, thinking about what I could have or should have done differently, second guessing everything. Not only everything I’ve done since contacting her last month, but even before that. What if I had tried to get Leo to get her in touch with me back in 2014? Could I have made some kind of difference before she got as bad as she is now? Should have followed up in 2018 when I didn’t hear from her? Should I have brought up her drinking on the phone? So many what if’s, maybe’s, and coulda, woulda, shoulda’s.
And, dammit, I do miss her. After 25 years she was finally back in my life, even under these less than ideal circumstances, and to have it end like this? It hurts. And I feel like maybe I just made things even worse for her by coming back into her life just to leave it again?
Emma texted me later that Sunday night, it was just a link to a silly Youtube video. I replied back with a text explaining why I couldn’t talk to or see her anymore (I figured texting was better than a phone call since I can’t be sure if she’ll be sober enough to remember what I say on the phone, but she could read the text later). She replied with a text blaming her drinking on a past breakup. I texted back, and told her to stop making excuses and begged her to please get help before its too late. And that’s that, for me.
She has tried contacting me a few more times this past week, she texted me Monday afternoon that she was getting a pedicure, she called me Tuesday night and left message saying that my texts were too long for her to read and she wanted me to explain myself on the phone (yes, she sounded drunk), but I’m not responding. It’s tough, but this is the advice I’ve always given when I participate in the dating and relationship advice forums on Reddit, when someone is trying to break contact with someone who keeps calling, I say just don’t reply. At all. Not even to say “fuck off,” because any response you give just encourages them. Just ignore until they get the hint.
I found a bag of lemons Jane had given Emma from her lemon tree last Saturday in the backseat of my car. Not wanting them to go to waste, I shipped them to Emma via Fed Ex from my job. When Emma got the package on Wednesday she called and left a message saying she just got a package from me, but was scared to open it in case I’m like the Unabomber. I can’t tell if she was drunk or just trying to be funny. I was briefly tempted to text her saying it’s the lemons but decided not to. I know she’ll open the package, if she hadn’t already, and see what’s in it. So, no response.
Thursday morning I was awoken at 2:40am, and it was Emma calling me. I didn’t answer and went back to sleep. She didn’t leave a message but clearly she was drunk to be calling me at that time. As of now, that’s the last attempt of communication from her.
I really wish things had turned out differently. First of all, I swear, when I tried to reach out to her it’s not like my goal was to get back together, I just wanted to see how she was doing. If I’d found her happily married with a bunch of kids I’d have been happy for her. Even when we talked on the phone the first time and she said she was single, I was just thinking of a friendly lunch, didn’t even really think beyond that. And then when her alcoholism became apparent, that obviously put any thoughts of potential romance away, I just honestly thought I might be able to help her, like get her into AA or something, and be a good friend that she could count on and talk to when she needed it.
But I won’t lie, after our first day together, spending all the time, having so much fun and being so comfortable, it was easy to forget all the obstacles. For those moments when it was just the two of us enjoying ourselves, it was like nothing else mattered. I could envision a possible relationship again, at some point in the future. I was posting pictures of us out together on FB and IG and had some friends practically ready to ask for wedding invitations.
Like I said, we did look good together.
And then last Saturday also started off great, the lunch with her mother really felt like old times. So I may have let my imagination run away with me for a little bit. I needed to help her get over her alcoholism, and then who knows? But then reality set in. This was never going to work. I was foolish to think it ever could. All I know about relating to alcoholics comes from watching reruns of MOM on TV. Her own family hasn’t been able to stop her, what would I think I could do? Still I can’t tell if experiencing this was better than if I’d just never reconnected with her at all? Would it be better to just continue to remember her as that sweet innocent girl I loved as a teenager, than to now remember her as the drunk woman I had to ditch in the middle of the night?
So, like I said, it’s been a rough week. Work has been really busy, so I’m dealing with that on top of the conflicted feelings of grief, depression, anger, and guilt that I’m trying to comprehend. I tell myself that I should take this opportunity to throw myself back into my writing, both this blog and my various creative writing endeavors, and I’m going to try but that hasn’t been easy.
Okay, yes, this has turned out to be long. I started in the morning, but I kept stopping and coming back to this post, it’s hard to write this down without all the feelings coming back. It’s now Saturday evening as I’m finishing it. I don’t know if I feel any better, maybe after I post it and read it back? Well, if you made it through this whole thing, I appreciate it.