First Love’s End
I don’t know when I knew it was over. Maybe I always knew one day it would end, because really, how often do first loves become forever loves? Maybe it was a gradual disintegration from day one — like the degradation of a compound, it’s half-life immediately ticking away.
We were long-distance so most of my memories of the end are a blur of text messages, frustrating phone calls and tearful nights. I said I was fine, but after the biweekly frat parties or village bar crawls the tears always came. I could not lock them behind my eyeballs any longer. You were everything to me and I was everything to you, we were unhealthy. The love was real but we were frail.
The closest thing to a breakup moment was that time you drove up to LA to talk. We had already drawn our swords with fighting words the night before. “It’s over.” “Fine.” Click. Walking parallel on the sidewalk we bled silently.
We went to a Pho restaurant we had never been to — surprising because we frequented all of the local restaurants in Westwood over the past three years. Enzo’s was our favorite. Well, it was my favorite. They served New York style pizza, dimmed the lights low, and played Frank Sinatra on Saturday nights.
When we requested a table for two at the hostess desk everything was too bright under the neon PHO sign. And too big. With too many people. We were exposed in this place; our breakup moment too intimate for this public, visible setting. I smiled, and almost pretended it was a regular date. We sat in a booth and my eyes scanned the menu. Shrimp rolls. Pad Thai. To this day I always order the same thing. I glanced up, you glanced down. So I looked back down too. My moment of peace pondering Thai delicacies was interrupted by the restaurant’s loud speakers:
I heard that you’re settled down
That you found a girl and you’re married now.
I heard that your dreams came true.
Guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you.
All I could think was, Stupid fucking Adele song. That’s also when I ran to the bathroom, hiding my face.
I almost made it out of that night unscathed. Without a tear. Without the moment of terrible loneliness that comes with a first big breakup. Of course I knew I was lying to myself. Of course I knew whether or not I cried, the pain of missing you bubbled underneath. But I wanted to lie to myself, damn it. Then Adele had to come in and ruin it all. That song always did make me cry.
I closed the bathroom door behind me, the dead bolt poorly lined up with the drilled hole in the door jam. With the door closed it was more like a closet. When I turned around she sat in a reading chair. Of course it’s a grand reading chair, upholstered in velvet, because she’s British and everything British people do is grand. At least to us Americans. She sat with her beehive bun piled high on her head, her eyeliner fanning out into a cat eye. Her left hand cupped her face: pointer finger touching cheekbone, thumb grazing jawline, remaining fingers supporting chin. She looked at me with an all-knowing look. Don’t drag me into this.
I glared back. Fine. You’re right.
After my breakdown in the bathroom with Adele I had nowhere to go, except back to the last dinner we’d eat together. I willed myself to unlock the dingy bathroom door and put one foot in front of the other. Each step from the restroom to the booth felt like walking the plank, high over the dark blue unknown. Because I knew once I slid into our plastic, sterile booth it’d be over and all we’d have was this memory from the Pho restaurant.