Edit: Reposting for International First Love Day. Suffice it to say Los Angeles is not my favorite city. I'm not sure when our no-lost-love affair began. It may date back as far as my earliest trip to visit my aunt, who lived in Pasadena at the time: We took the Universal Studios theme park "studio tram tour," and something about being six years old and strapped into an oversize golf cart and dragged through a face-melting fire, vomit-inducing avalanche and dinosaur attack made me less than enthusiastic about the city of angels. More realistically, I think it's because of Bob. My unlikely love, my last college boyfriend and the onetime bane of my existence. Though Los Angeles didn't ruin our relationship, it's an association that will never fade from my mind.
Bob was the original Peter Pan in my life — the first in a long line of boyfriends who weren't quite ready to grow up — and our dreams and life goals diverged long before any physical distance separated us for good. He broke my heart more than a few times. But we had such a lovely romance when it was good — when it was good. In college, we talked so seriously and for so long about moving somewhere together after graduation. I drove to St. Louis to meet his family over the holidays; I ate at Cracker Barrel and fawned over his uncle's electric fireplace and collection of toy race cars in his basement. I drank PBR. He made attempts to dress himself to be my guest at my mom's wedding. We danced to "At Last," and I was happier than I could remember being in a long time. He drank wine. We joked about the single shoebox of memories he'd be relegated to when we eventually broke up. He made me a mix CD, Songs to Listen to Once Then Throw in the Shoebox. (Less Than Jake. The Dandy Warhols. ELO.) Then we actually broke up. And I packed him into a shoebox and took it with me when I moved to New York — with the exception of the handmade pearl necklace he'd asked a family friend to make me as a gift; I couldn't bear to look at myself wearing it. We exchanged e-mails as I prepared to move to the East Coast. We were still in love. Life got in the way. It had been just a few months, but it felt like we'd spent an eternity apart. A long, white box of long-stemmed red roses arrived, wrapped in red ribbon, at my Upper East Side door one sweltering summer day. Weeks later, I was on the train to JFK; I was holding his face in my hands, tears in my eyes because I was so happy to see him. After a too-short weekend, I took him back to the airport with plans to fly to Los Angeles for a weekend visit of my own. His makeshift wristband, the frayed, elastic end of a striped cotton tube sock, became mine; I wore it constantly. During my weekend in LA, he showed me all his favorite spots. The Italian restaurant where I met his entertainment-industry friends, the hippie coffee shop in Los Feliz, the lawn chairs on the roof of his apartment building. I remember the faulty latch on his front window, the collection of writing — scraps of paper, printouts, newspaper clippings, drawings — covering the entire living room wall. The night I nearly lost my virginity. Winding down Mulholland Drive, traffic on the 101; the impossibly long antenna swaying on the back of his Volvo station wagon. Freezing on the beach but diving into the water just to say I'd done it.
Apart again, he sent e-mails, without fail, every morning. Near-constant reminders that he was thinking of me, even if it was just a quick "I love you" at 3 a.m. from his overnight crime-beat reporting job. But three hours' time difference and three months between visits was too much. That, on top of every other stress of life in New York, depressed me. And the sadness of being alone there was more than he, thousands of miles away, could quell. We fought. He'd offer to call me back in a few; he'd finally get around to it six hours later. I attacked his pipe dream of selling a screenplay. Eventually? I knew it was coming, but I took his phone call anyway: He broke up with me as the W train squealed to a stop at the end of the line in Queens. I walked home in the rain. After a failed attempt to stay friends — new girlfriends will do that — we lost touch. For a long time. And I hated him. And I hated LA. I grew to hate New York; I kind of grew to hate life. But new love, a new home and a new life has softened me, and we actually are friends now. I'd hoped to see him when I came out for this year's work trip, but it wasn't meant to be. So we caught up for a few minutes after I sent him a text message lamenting the heinous traffic coming into the city. We don't even talk about the past for the most part. Which is refreshing. I said goodbye and hung up as the Hollywood sign came into view through the haze; we put our sunglasses on, yelled "Fuck LA!" and sang at the tops of our lungs to Lady Gaga.
Then, tearing through the city center as fast as our rented SUV would go, three seconds of darkness through an overpass tunnel (which I remembered very well, for no good reason) flooded me with memories I didn't even know I cared enough to keep. Los Angeles makes me ache just a little for what we had "when it was good." Even if it's not with him.