At 35 years old, I finally know what it feels like to fall in love—and, at first sight. I’ve lusted, crushed hard and really liked, but never loved. Then Patty walked through the door of the Women’s Narcotics Anonymous meeting. It was March and unseasonably chilly that evening. It was my first attempt at socializing outside in the real world. I had just been released from a two-week spiritual journey at Orchid, the Women’s-Only Rehabilitation Center in West Palm Beach. It was my first NA meeting and my whole body was buzzing with anxious energy.
Patty casually scanned the dimly lit room, as she quietly slid into the seat across from me. Our eyes locked like two gear arrangements joining in the precise gap that was designed to connect one to the other. In that electric space between us, I witnessed a single gossamer thread glide across the room. It leapt from her chest toward mine and cast a silky web around my heart. She had pulled me in without uttering a single word. I immediately thought: I have to know this girl.
It took three months, before I worked up the courage to allow the thread that connected us to strengthen its hold. We were at a meeting, once again sitting directly across from each other. I turned around to grab an Oreo Cookie, but was struggling. The speaker of the night had started to address the group and I didn’t want to make any noise. After a few minutes I gave up. Then Patty gets up to pour herself some coffee. There was a fresh pot sitting on the table behind me. She pulled two Oreo’s from the pack and on her way back to her seat, delicately placed one on my lap. That night, I friended her on Facebook and sent her a short message: I almost didn’t recognize you by your profile photo. You are most definitely sweeter in person. She replied: Do I look tough? Because I am.
On our first date, she told me her story. How growing up her mother used to beat her in front of her little sister. Her mother had been 19 when she got pregnant with Patty. She wasn’t in love with Patty’s father so didn’t want to go through with the pregnancy, but her grandmother intervened. For the next 17 years, Patty’s mother provided daily reminders that she was unwanted. Eventually, she fell in love with another man and had a daughter that was loved and cared for the way Patty never got to know. One day, Patty’s mother is rummaging through her bedroom when she comes across a love letter from a girl, tucked inside Patty’s jewelry box. Full of rage, her mother drives to Patty’s high school. She finds her sitting with a group of friends outside the main entrance. She storms over, with the love letter in one hand, and begins shouting at Patty. She belittles her daughter in front of her friends, yanks her by the arm and marches right into the office to withdraw Patty out of school. It was two months before graduation.
Patty’s mother had every intention of shipping her off to the army, but instead dropped her off at a shelter after learning that her daughter was too young to join. Abandoned by her family at 17, she found herself navigating without a map. Sadistic sex and heavy drug use were now her means for survival. She bounced around, from woman to woman, lost in a labyrinth of false connections with mother-figures, deceptive lovers and truly fucked up individuals. She fed off their heat, one day at a time. And just like every addict tends to do, she was constantly looking for the next high, before even coming off of the one she was on. I listened intently while the netting around my heart grew tighter.
Over Caramel Macchiatos, I concluded that we were absolutely destined for one another. We both had Sun and Moon tattoos on our right shoulder blade, which as it turns out, we got the same exact year. Back in 2003, she returned to Miami, after living in New York City for two years. That the same year I moved to New York. We were like to ships passing in the night. As the night wore on, I learned that her dog’s name is Cleo and what are the chances… My dog’s name is Chloe! All her best friends were Pisces and I’m most compatible with Scorpios. The morning before we met up, she had seen an Instagram post of the New York Times Best Seller, Luckiest Girl Alive, a novel by Jessica Knoll. That night I had brought it with me to Starbucks – to give to her.
Looking into her dark brown eyes, framed by long soft eyelashes, I was immediately reminded of a line delivered by Tak, in the movie 2046: “That day, six years ago, a rainbow appeared in my heart. It's still there, like a flame burning inside me”.
But unlike the old-timers who’d climb a mountain, find a tree, carve a hole in it, whisper their secret into the hole and cover it up with mud so that nobody else would ever learn their secret... I didn’t think once about protecting my heart, like I had the tendency to do. I wanted to tell her that very first day, that I loved her.
As a little girl, I was exposed to the prince charming archetype. Once exposed to what “happily ever after” looked like, I developed an unhealthy fervor for stories with knights in shining armors. I read all the romance novels I could get my hands on and devoured every romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan. I spent family vacations in Spain, daydreaming about my future European honeymoon with Mr. Collazo, instead of enjoying the Goya paintings that hung before me at El Museo Del Prado. I envisioned him to be tall, dark and handsome. He’d protect me at any cost and stand vigil by my side as I lay in bed dying from a terminal illness.
And yet, here I was. Consumed by obsessive thoughts of loving someone who did not come close to the image I had held onto for so many years. She was broken and her edges were made of poetry. She had a boyish gait, thin figure and Morrissey hair. I wanted to love every inch of her body with my mouth. I wanted her to know what it was like to be wanted.
I wondered how many beautiful experiences I may have missed because I never considered the possibility. Then again, perhaps there was never meant to be a previous experience of this kind. In that way, my heart would be wholly available to her—like a vacant drawer in a chest, whose purpose is not stripped by the fact that it sits empty for so many years. It just needs to be filled one day.
A week after our first date, Patty shared where she was at in her recovery, with the twenty women sitting around the small wood-paneled lounge reserved for our weekly NA meetings. She spoke about recently coming to the conclusion that relationships were not a good idea. In the past, she explained, she’d jump from one to the other, not allowing any time to heal and letting these new partnerships consume her, body and soul. And when the union reached its inevitable expiration date, the unavoidable downward spiral that followed always led her back to her drug of choice. To a room of sympathetic women, and one rejected girl, she confessed that after a recent first date, she had almost given in to this predictable pattern.
I sat silent staring at my toes. I had painted them red in anticipation of our date and the bright blue sandals I was now wearing, strapped across my pale skin, created a very patriotic combination, which I found funny. My efforts to block the words were absolutely fruitless, though. This speech was meant for me and accepting it, the knot that tied our hearts together began to come undone.
Perhaps I had been too aggressive when we sat in my car listening to “Obstacle 1” by Interpol, and I grabbed her beautiful face for a deep impassioned kiss? “She puts the weight into my little heart,” the singer croons. In that moment, she hadn’t hesitated with her mouth, but her heart must have deflated under my grip. I confessed to her that I had not been in a serious relationship in thirteen years and that I only slept around to feed a primordial need, because I thought love was momentary. In hindsight, I should have added that I thought she was different. But, I buried that secret into a hole and covered it with mud.
Before she could even finish sharing, my little blue sandals walked out of that lonely room and led me to my car. I looked back, hoping to catch her standing right behind me, but she wasn’t there. No matter, I decided, I’m going to do what I know is best: love that girl.
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