Complete

 

I wrote us a love story. On a cold weekend morning in March, in Michigan, I made a list of the important moments, occasions and exchanges that shape my memories of you. All of the places and conversations that defined our relationship. All of the times I wondered what you were thinking or why you wouldn’t say what I thought you were thinking out loud.

5, nearly 6 years of wondering. Wondering over dinner dates and hometown latte meetups and the type of lengthy, rambling phone calls most people our age haven’t been on since high school. Plans and dreams and futures we mapped out together.Plans and dreams along life paths that sometimes sounded intersecting and other times seemed infinitely parallel in the same direction. An image of possibly converging lines, the uncertainty of their meeting point blurred when they disappeared into the unknown horizon.

The more of it I wrote, the more I realized I’d been writing it all along.

I wrote in the romance and the mystery and the do they or don’t they subtext of our every interaction. I wrote in the plans and dreams. The parallel lines and the intersecting ones. I wrote the whole thing.

When I’d written nine of the maybe fifty stories I’d brainstormed, I stopped writing. I got distracted by the occasional sunshine in Detroit and my commitment to keep showing up at soccer even though I was pretty bad at it and nobody on the team was my friend.

It was only when I stopped writing that I realized how much I’d already written.

3 years ago last February I called from Landmark in San Francisco and got your voicemail. Ever an A student, I diligently followed our Landmark leader’s direction by following up with you every time we had a break. Five weeks passed before you returned my call. I’d left the forum feeling like my confrontation with your avoidance was as close as I’d ever get to “completing” our relationship. So when you unexpectedly got back in touch with me, our completion unraveled into a beginning. Again.

And so it would be, for the next couple of years. One or two long phone calls of catching up followed by weeks or months of radio silence. An open-ended absence of expectations. I never knew whether the next time we’d talk you’d admit you loved me, or you’d be asking for my address to invite me to your wedding.

Meanwhile, I kept writing.

I wrote both of those endings and countless more. I wrote the banter and the conflict and the resolution. I wrote compelling story arcs and potential screen plays. I wrote happy, hopeful lines, tragic and ironic ones, and everything in between.

And then, I stopped writing.

The exact definition or purpose is foggy now but “getting complete” at Landmark meant something similar to what I knew about “closure” from romantic comedies. Landmark has a formula for it. Or the initial conversation at least. There were no guidelines for what happens after the completion, especially if there’s more to say, or in my case, write.

Today, I learned from Facebook that you’re moving to New York city. A dramatic life change that under ordinary circumstances of best friendship I would be, at minimum, consulted on before the final decision-making stage. But ours has never been a traditional friendship and over the years its ever-evolving ambiguity had made it even less so. I read your post looking for apartments in Manhattan and waited for a predictable sensation to wash over me. It’s somewhere between a twinge in my stomach and an accelerated heartbeat. Not quite heated, but elevated, from my normal state. A acute, but hard to define mix of nervous, anxious and uncomfortable. I pulled up my text message ready to put my reactions to words for my (real) best friend.

And before my fingers touched the key pad, I set down my phone. I breathed in, held it for a moment and let it out. I dropped my shoulder blades down my back. I pressed the weight of my body into the back of my chair. I breathed, slowly again, in and out.

In the moment, I had nothing to say.

 

I wrote this post over six months ago and then picked it up again last weekend. I’ve been trying to get back into writing and I used the drafts folder in my blog to propel me forward. I published all nine chapters of the book I started. Then I dove back in to complete my completion.

This morning, over breakfast when my text message beeps three times in a row I assume it’s my mom or someone who works for me. By the time I see the phone screen only the last in the series is visible.

P.S. I miss you.

I feel the pace of my heart quicken the way it does when I feel turbulence on an airplane. It’s a distinct sensation of uncertainty, and loss of control. I open up the entire thread with increasing curiosity, and worry, and excitement. I think about this entry, in this blog, still unfinished, so many months after I started it.

I think about our story, still without an ending.

Maybe, possibly, not quite complete.

9: “Cops hate white kids.”

There’s a square room in the center of the main law school building called the “student lounge.” It’s cluttered with old, uncomfortable, wood furniture and is a good place to find tired friends between classes and leftover cold pizza at 4p.m. or a half-eaten box of almost stale donuts.

It was my favorite place to study. Just enough buzz and distraction to keep me focused. Always the hopeful possibility of getting caught up in an unintentional thirty-minute break.

Eight or so weeks into our first semester, Nick and I had settled into a casual routine of semi-close friendship. We more or less knew each other’s schedules and had developed a pattern of running into one another other before we both left campus for the day.

It’s a Friday evening and I can tell that summer is over because it’s nearly dark outside but not quite 6pm. I always feel a subtle sense of heartbreak when summer ends. The loss of warm nights and long days and the carefree, unstructured hours of unfettered possibility.

It’s a likely side effect of having been a student for 90 percent of my life.

Nick appears from the upstairs locker room and sets his stuff down near my feet. He slides next to me on the lopsided couch. He looks law student tired: Pale skinned with slumped down shoulders. Like he didn’t eat quite enough to sustain the energy required to show up and look engaged during hours long lectures about parts of the law he’ll never remember, nor need to know about at any time during his career.

I could tell he wasn’t up for playful banter or even prolonged lingering on the couches where we’re vulnerable to an imminent gathering of peers that would demand his attention and exertion.

“Let’s go get food.” I told him.

Ten minutes later, we’re crossing Hilgard avenue to the guest house where he lives. He drops his heavy backpack on the ergonomic office chair in his bedroom and quickly pivots back towards the door.

The backpack drop lightened the aura around him but his urgency to leave again reminds me that he likely hasn’t eaten since well before noon. I hold back a smile thinking to myself, “and it was probably just a salad.”

Eighteen minutes later we’re waiting for dinner at the Literati cafe. I first took Nick there to study two weeks ago and we’ve been back four times already. It’s one of my old haunts from undergrad. One of the first, hip places my college boyfriend took me. The site of many a teary-eyed mixed greens salad and post make-up sex french toast.

I’d avoided the place completely in the whole year I lived in L.A. after undergrad. I was finally brave enough to go back, four years later, when I had this new, promising male friendship to distract me from the memories of that old, dysfunctional one.

Nick perks up almost immediately after three bites of sandwich. Half-way through the meal we’ve both been restored to the fullness of easy conversation and intermittent hysterical laughter.

Nick pushes his empty plate away from him, leans back in his chair and lifts his arm to check his watch. He fights back a yawn.

“Jesus. It’s only 7 o’clock.”

Nick and I have discovered many, shared characteristics. It is one of the biggest reasons we’ve so quickly become such close friends. One of our only so far discovered differences is our relationship to social: propriety, pressure and obligation.

While I have no problem calling it a night before 8p.m on a Friday, the mere suggestion of it threatens Nick’s well-crafted self-image as cutting edge and cool.

There’s no way we’re going home.

We (he, mostly) make(s) the decision to drive to the beach and stir up trouble in the dark.

Parking near third street is easy, another sad sign that summer is over. The night is warm for early October but too cold for the average Los Angeleno to be out and about after sundown without a heavy jacket. I’m wearing the same thing I went to campus in at 10a.m. so I’m noticeably chilly as we make our way toward the sand. I yank my hood up over my ears and pull the zipper tighter around my neck.

The closer we get to the ocean, the more it feels like we’re the only two humans for miles. It’s a rare, special moment when you live in L.A. Silence. Complete dark. And the feeling of being peacefully, finally alone. It’s one of those sensations you don’t realized you were missing until you experience it.

I peel off my converse and ankle socks and put one roll in my jeans. I tip-toe towards the incoming tide, surprising myself that I’m willing to touch the freezing water with my feet. Being with Nick makes me feel light and playful. Adventurous.

The temperature is dropping and my toes are going numb. We seek refuge from the clear skies and light breeze by climbing up on to a lifeguard tower, maybe 600 yards from where we parked. We lean up against the front of the splintery, rickety building and sit peacefully in the quiet.

I have flashes of all of the nineties era movies and TV shows where a scene like this would be unequivocally romantic. The shy female protagonist nervously bites her lip and wrings her hands as she patiently waits for her handsome male love interest to make a move on her. It’s the type of repetitive media image that gives all young women unrealistic expectations of our male peer group and sets up a lifetime of bizarre and confusing gender dynamics. It’s the type of repetitive media image that made young women like me feel anxious and insecure about being outspoken, loud and opinionated.

Even in my late twenties I’m aware of the ways I lack the feminine allure of being mysterious and demure.

Nick breaks the silence asking if ever came to the beach at night during college. I remind him that between my very demanding extra-curricular activity schedule and frequent blow-outs with my boyfriend, I didn’t have much time for leisure.

“We used to bring the mentorship kids here during the day.” I say it softly, half talking to him, half narrating myself through reflection and nostalgia. I feel warmer as the memory washes over me. It’s the type of private, personal observation I don’t typically share with someone I’m newly acquainted with. That I even say it out loud surprises me. It tells me there’s something unusual about my closeness with Nick. I make note of the feelings: Vulnerability. Openness. I observe that I’m less uncomfortable than I think I should be.

Nick tells me he’s surprised by the quiet. I share a story from a few years ago when I spent a weekend at my then-boyfriend’s family home in Lake Tahoe. It was midway through my fifth year living in L.A. and I was alone for six hours, reading in natural light and pure silence. I told him how you get accustomed to the background noise and the not quite dark enough city darkness. I advise him to cherish the kind of experience we’re having right now.

“The longer you live here the harder it is to remember the things you miss about your former life.”

My poetic wisdom is cut short by the appearance of bright lights over the horizon to our right. I exhale dramatically.

“Ya see.”

Nick leaps up from his seat and grabs me by the hood of my sweatshirt.

“We gotta go.”

I’m a little light-headed from the whiplash and confused about the swift and inexplicable mood change.

“We gotta get out of here. They’ll fine us or arrest us or something.”

I’m wondering why my seemingly normal new friend has morphed into a shifty conspiracy theorist and I’m suddenly aware of being completely alone with him, on the beach in the dark.

“Cops hate white kids. We should run.”

I burst into laughter but before I have time for some entertaining and witty banter about it, Nick has jumped off the side of the lifeguard tower and is running at full speed towards the car.

Once again, I am my typically cautious self so I lower my body down gently, butt first, then struggle to match Nick’s pace in the sand. I get to the car with just enough breath to squeak out the question, “what the hell was that?” I’m still laughing, halfway thinking the entire episode was a hilarious and dramatic gesture by him designed to make me laugh and create a mutual, fond memory.

We’re half-way back to Westwood before I realized he was completely serious. The whole time.

The best, most well rested version of myself would take the opportunity to impress Nick with my progressive intellectualism. Cite something smart from bell hooks, maybe drop a little Dr. Cornel West. We’d have a rich discussion about race and justice and the disparate impact of unconstitutional policing.

But it’s getting late and it’s been a long week and all I can muster is, “do you really think cops hate white kids? Are you out of your mind?”

Nick tells me a couple of ridiculous stories from his not-rebellious adolescence running the mean streets of the upper middle class white suburb where he  grew up, adjacent to the upper middle class suburb where I grew up. Two or three non threatening encounters with bored Sheriff officers chasing him and his friends out of the neighborhood park after midnight. Real, gritty, stuff.

We decide to table the intense social justice conversation for another time.

8: pancakes for dinner

My whole life I’ve been a picky eater. Incorrigible, weird, dysfunctional, disordered. My parents used to bribe me to eat on family vacations because I was in an almost perpetual cycle of not-eating, feeling sick from not eating, then not eating because I’m feeling sick. They’d give me money, or choice of activity or an extra souvenir to incentivize things like, one, whole sausage link or an extra two bites of pancakes.My repertoire of edible foods was very limited and my appetite, even for the few things I liked, was even worse. In the late eighties and nineties, there were no self-righteous parenting blogs or other well-meaning internet advice to shame my parents for their tactics. Besides, they were doing their best to keep me alive.

By the time I got to law school, I’d been living on my own for almost ten years. The first three of them were spent finally sympathizing with the daily struggle of my mom to feed me. During the college dorm days, I lived on a steady diet of Ritz crackers smothered in peanut butter, sugared cereals, apples and soft serve ice-cream. When I moved off campus, I was so busy during the day I frequently arrived home after dark to realize I hadn’t eaten a thing. On a good day, I ate pepperoni pizza pretzel from the Wetzel’s on the A floor of Ackerman before filling a bag of sour candy to keep me awake during afternoon class. On a bad day. I ate ten Oreos, straight out of the freezer, at 11pm, in bed.

As a junior, my on-again-off-again boyfriend was appalled by my eating habits and critical of my parents for not doing more to force me to eat. Both in variety and amount. In my many attempts to tailor my behavior to please him, I took to being more adventurous with food. In his many attempts to make up for being such an asshole, he’d apologize for nasty behavior by feeding me donuts from the shop his parents owned in the San Fernando valley.

During my senior year, I remember my roommate, and best friend, Alice, would cook extra dumplings, nightly, to ensure I put something substantial in my body. We’d eat together, standing up in the kitchen, yelling at each other about our insensitive ex-boyfriends, global social injustice and other important  struggles facing young feminists of the time.

In so many ways, Alice kept me from starving.

The years after college were a mixed bag of consistently feeding myself like an adult then unpredictably reverting back to survive-on-cereal behavior.

Returning to UCLA for law school sometimes felt like going back in time and other times felt like visiting the past as my present self. Some of my favorite spots for food and fun felt haunted by the ghost of my ex-boyfriend and memories of our life together. The smells and sounds swirled together evoking an emotional mix of happy nostalgia and reflective sadness.

One of my favorite undergrad study spots was the novel cafe. A two-story restaurant slash coffeehouse on Gayley avenue, one of the main drags in Westwood. The bottom was filled with small, round tables surrounded by metal chairs. It looked like an outdoor patio had been converted to indoor dining by boxing it in with windows. I preferred the upstairs, a loft-like space with a corner bookshelf that housed dusty-old versions of not-quite famous novels. The staff was tolerant of lingering students, they had reliable wifi and you could order off the whole menu, all day.

Yelp wasn’t quite a thing back when I was in college but I imagine that’s how Nick found his way to “Novel” years after I first discovered it. I read his text message as I was leaving an evening yoga class in Santa Monica. It was a half hour old already and he’d asked if I was interested in joining him for dinner and studying. I let him know I was twenty minutes away but I’d stop by if he’d still be there.

Just before 8pm, I rushed through the front entrance, almost missing Nick as I instinctively headed upstairs. On the third step, I caught a glimpse of him in my right periphery. He was huddled at a corner table, near the window. There were two heavy textbooks on the small, round table. He was leaning back in a metal chair, staring at a third, open book. He was wearing his black-rimmed glasses and appeared quiet and focused. He wouldn’t be for long, as I ungracefully interrupted with my always-a-little-too-loud-for-public voice that sounded a pitch or two higher when I was nervous or excited.

I threw down my overstuffed lululemon bag and yoga mat. I pulled two chairs close to each other so I could sit in one and put my legs up on the other. My once sweaty hair was now dried, sticking to my forehead and the sides of my face. I could feel the sensation of my still-damp sports bra in the center of my chest.

I’d later wonder if it was early moments like these that prevented Nick from falling in love with me.

Nick had “already eaten.” He gestured towards a small, almost clean plate, and I note the remnants of what appears to be a salad. I nod to signal understanding and try to conceal my curiosity about the seemingly unusual eating habits of my new friend.

I had a long, torrid history of close male friendships and I knew almost all of my boy friends (not boyfriends) to devour large meals at frequent intervals usually with high concentrations of protein.

 

7: dating rules

Affluent, college graduates in their early twenties are easily lured to grad school by the mostly false promise of higher paying job prospects and the temptation of re-joining a large and diverse peer group. Two or three years of struggling to find an adult identity and a place in the world among friends makes pulling the back-to-school escape hatch feel like a catch-all fix to a host of life’s biggest problems. The similarities to the college application process gives would-be graduate students a false sense of familiarity and comfort. They are easily seduced by the nostalgia of long weekends, sleeping through early morning classes and partying through 85 to 90 percent of the semester, saving their only real effort for the last week or two of it.

Grad school, law school, anyway, is tragically un-like undergrad in most ways. In the long history of my education I found it most akin to junior high school. Most days you feel overwhelmed by a new environment, new language, and new set of rules everyone seems to understand better than you. In your first year, you’re divided into “sections” of the same fifty to eighty students and the professors rotate among you. You can’t so much ask a member of the opposite sex to borrow a pencil before the rumors start swirling about your romantic involvement and the anxiety to both fit in socially and perform academically overwhelms many students to the point of breakdown.

In the whole, terrible mess of it, there is only one thing that feels remotely like college.

Thursday night.

Thursday afternoon is the start of it, really. The typical intensity of the hallway welcomes a relaxed energy as ordinarily urgent students move with less purpose and more conversation. The usual clicking and slamming echoing in the locker room above the student lounge (one of the more junior high-ish destinations) is muffled by excited voices organizing plans. Class seems to clip along a quicker, more tolerable pace. Everywhere there’s a palpable, sexual tension, as if every student on campus is anticipating sleeping with every other student on campus, tonight.

It’s week four, maybe five of the school year and so far I’ve avoided the Thursday night mating ritual. At lunchtime, Nick finds me on the patio and suggests we try to “go out tonight” to “make some friends.” It sounds unappealing to me but I don’t have a believable excuse ready, so I agree.

I blow dry my hair for the first time since I  moved back to LA. I put on mascara, the pinnacle of my efforts to look different than I do in the daylight, and because I was blessed with a body that looks good in tight jeans, I use the opportunity to remind Nick that I am, in fact, a woman.

I arrive at Nick’s apartment for the first time four minutes before we agreed to meet. I stall in my car by checking my makeup in my rear-view mirror and pulling out my credit card and ID from my wallet. At 8:01p.m. I slide out of the driver’s side door of my mini cooper and walk nervously across the grass towards the entrance to Nick’s bungalow in the backyard. That night, it feels like trespassing, but no more than a few weeks later and it’s one of the most familiar walks in my daily life.

The door to Nick’s apartment is at the top of a steep, wooden staircase. It’s surprisingly spacious inside, especially the bedroom. I notice immediately how clean it is and that it smells like freshly snuffed out candles and air-drying laundry.

Nice. And comfortable.

Nick welcomes me in with a side hug and ushers me to the living space behind him where our mutual friend Thomas, also a transfer student, is sipping a dark brown beverage, over ice, on the couch. Thomas, who we call “Tommy” is six feet four and close to 300 pounds. He’s from Orange County and went to a small, Christian college that’s notorious among liberal, public-educated Californians for having strict rules about bedtimes and fraternizing with the opposite sex. Tommy is silly and jovial, the type of guy that would make a good sidekick to an uptight cop in an old-school buddy comedy. He reads a lot on the internet so he has a fact or tidbit to contribute to almost every conversation. For now, it’s entertaining.

It’s an intimate gathering of close friends. Except the three of us barely know each other.

90 minutes of clever jokes and casual conversation passes quickly and with ease. Law students share a certain automatic camaraderie. Both our common experiences of legal education the shared personal characteristics that led us down the path to it, generate a common language, and natural bond, among us.

Shortly before 10p.m., Nick, Tommy and I pile into my Mini Cooper and head towards Santa Monica to make some friends.

The bar is dark, everywhere. Dark lighting and dark wood fixtures and dark, leather booth seats. The place is swarming with young people and when I look around expecting to recognize some of them, I’m suddenly aware of how much a stranger I am to Los Angeles. Loneliness in crowded space is a bizarre and uncomfortable feeling.

I realize quickly that Nick and Tommy feel it too. We sort of huddle together the way a group of socially awkward thirteen year olds congregate at a school dance. We’re close enough to the other law students that it looks like we might be interacting with them, but we’re only really talking to each other.

Mostly because of his enormous size and the acoustics of the bar, Tommy is essentially eliminated from the conversation.

Nick’s on his third drink and the volume of our surroundings require a closeness of lips and ears that is typically reserved for those who are already intimately acquainted. I can feel him loosening up in his body and speech pattern. We’re intensely engaged and years later I would recognize the conversation as the type Nick has with a woman he’s interested in romantically. Back then I had no clue, and I’m sure if I asked him about it, he’d deny any romantic inclination. He’s was feeling me out. I know it.

We’re talking about our dating histories, briefly, before getting deep into dating philosophy. Nick tells me about his dating rules, a list of best practices that, to me, sound rigid and unnecessary. I wonder how, and why, he carefully manages a process that even in my overly managed life, I believe to be unmanageable. He insists his approach is well-honed and effective. I remind him that he’s single.

The debate continues over what feels like a number of hours but is likely 45 minutes. By the time we make the collective decision to leave, I feel sweaty and heated, as if we’d spent the entire night on the dance floor.

We haven’t moved eight inches from our original spot.

I drop the boys off back at Nick’s place and make the three minute drive home. I climb the stairs into my apartment, my heart beating faster than the amount of physical exertion demands. I slip quickly into bed, barely changing clothes and forgetting to brush my teeth. My body is exhausted but my mind is racing.

I play back the night’s events trying to make sense of the apparent progress in me and Nick’s relationship. That level of magnetism between me and a man has always resulted in a quick and passionate love affair always feels less like dating and more like a month and a half stranded on a desert island with only him.

This feels different. But even as I drift into sleep, I’m not sure why.

 

6: awkward dance circles

Up until a few days before I was born, my mom did Jazzercise with me in the womb. It is one of few concrete sources to which I can trace my exceptional sense of rhythm and lifetime obsession with Whitney Houston. It was the early 1980s and my mom was on the cutting edge of healthy living. The gestational vibration of pop hits and the bounce of her belly to the beat of an up-tempo grapevine transferred to me her relentless energy and love for moving her body.

When I was a kid, I spent hours alone in my parents’ bedroom making up dance routines to the soundtracks of dirty dancing and top gun. As a teenager, I sweat my ass off near the DJ booth at the front of the Rio Americano small gym. I was always sober but more than once accused of being drunk.

No one could possibly go that hard without a wine cooler or two.

In college, I was a token white women in a rainbow of first-generation immigrant friends. My boyfriend was Cambodian. My best friend was Taiwanese. Pictures of me from that era are easy to spot for their absence of other men and women that look like me. My non-white friends had considerably more soul than the aforementioned Rio Americano high school students. We spent Saturday nights and weekday birthday celebrations in cool, hard-to-find, intimate hip-hop lounges where the bass was loud and the dance floors were crowded and tiny. It was my best life. One of my most special memories is walking into “The Room” in Santa Monica when the clock struck midnight on my 21st birthday. Tupac’s “How Do You Want It” was playing, perfectly timed. It’s my all-time favorite dance song and that night was my all-time favorite dance to it.

Fast forward seven years and the days of closing out my tab during last call and liquor-fueled taco stand runs on Hollywood boulevard seem like a lifetime ago.

I’m sitting in my apartment, alone, watching the Food Network on a Wednesday night. There’s a  stack of heavy law books on my coffee table and I’m exchanging sentimental text messages with my best friend from home about how hard it is to be away from each other.

My phone dings to alert me to an email. I sign in on my computer as to not interrupt the text thread.

It’s my not-quite-friend, Nick, and he’s urgent to “get my digits.”

I feel a small rush of excitement shoot through the center of my body. Unexpected, but not unwelcome.

I respond with something characteristically concise and witty.

24 hours later I’m sitting at a familiar Mexican restaurant on Wilshire boulevard. The long table is filled with 12 or 14 twenty-somethings who are engaged in forced conversation. I’m feeling light headed from my first margarita on an empty stomach and trying to stay focused on what the guy next to me is saying. His name is Luis, and apparently he used to be an actor. His wife is a semi-main character on a popular vampire show and for some reason I’m completely oblivious to how handsome and charming he is. It’s an inexplicable foreshadowing of the next two years. Attractive, engaging men are all around me and I barely notice them.

The dinner is a gathering of UCLA law transfer students that Nick organized. The days notice invitation explained the urgency with which he sought my contact info, a revelation that left me more disappointment that I could make sense of.

A partially eaten cheese enchilada, second margarita and complicated group check later, we’re filing across the busy west Los Angeles thoroughfare like kids on a fifth grade field trip.

Our destination is a smallish, poorly lit bar. Not quite a dive, but not the type of place where I’d go out of my way to use the bathroom. Definitely not as hip or underground as the urban joints of my youth. The music isn’t as good, either. I notice the dance floor is small but practically empty.

Half an hour later, my transfer student classmates have all had 1-2 shots or quickly slurped drinks and are feeling just loose enough to get on the dance floor. I can barely stand the thought of another conversation with a self-absorbed white guy about where I’m from, so I’m grateful when I feel the energy shift towards dancing.

The transfer student dinner party forms a clump on the back edge of the scratched-up linoleum and reluctantly, I make my way into it. My love for dancing is almost outweighed by my loathe for groups of uncoordinated white people bobbing and shuffling together off beat, but I’m still waiting for the second margarita to wear off before I drive home so I suck it up and try to enjoy myself.

Two and a half songs in I’m ready to call it a night when Nick finds his way to us. To make room for him, or shape organically morphs into a circle.

I’m more annoyed than ever.

The next track is a Justin Timberlake song and I bravely decide to stay and hear it. Immediately, my eyes are drawn to Nick. There are three people between us but I feel his energy like he’s right next to me. It’d been years since I shared the dance floor with a man who could move like that. It was so surprising I could barely focus on my own connection to the rhythm. I was suddenly more aware of my own body moving in space.

I stayed in the mix for an hour or so longer than I anticipated, relaxing enough to settle into a smooth, sweaty groove. I moved around the still-awkward dance circle but kept my left eye on Nick. I was mostly fascinated by him but also quietly interested in how much attention he paid to me. For all 72 minutes we were dancing together, I couldn’t really get a read on it.

I drove home that night reflecting on a rich history of my favorite dance partners considering whether I’d have another opportunity to see if Nick would become one.

He certainly had the talent for it.

5: teach me how to Dougie

My hands are icicles. I’m in constant complaint about the frigid indoor temperatures of the law school. It seems impractical and environmentally irresponsible to fill 10,000 square feet of classrooms with freezing, artificial air when the outside temperature never exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit. On a day where I comfortably walked to campus in a tank top and cotton skirt, I shouldn’t have to bring a hoodie to sit inside.

It’s Wednesday and the last ten minutes of law and sexuality are dragging at an excruciating pace. I can’t focus on anything but getting to the patio to warm myself like a reptile at sunrise after a cold desert night.

When we’re finally dismissed I’m practically sprinting up the staircase, I’ve got pretty good speed and momentum when I’m abruptly stopped at the top by a human-body bottleneck. I’m temporarily detoured  by the wave of movement generated by too many people trying to squeeze through too narrow a space.

It’s the hallmark of mobility in Los Angeles.

I get bumped and jostled in what feels like an upstream struggle until I’m coughed out into an open space between the student lounge and the women’s bathroom. I notice Nick and the beautiful Persian woman have caught up to me.

“So much for my sprint up the stairs.”

It’s week two of classes and I’ve yet to make any friends. My simple, predictable, life occurs through the repetition of solo routines. I wake up and go to class. I eat a peanut butter sandwich alone in the sunshine during the lunch hour before one or two more classes. I stay on campus to read for homework, then leave, go to yoga, then whole foods, then home.

I continue past my classmates when, from behind me, Nick grabs my attention and asks what I’m “up to” right now. I pause, nervously trying to think of something less pathetic than the ritual I just described.

Before I can respond, he’s telling me what a beautiful day it is and how he’s dying to spend the afternoon outside.

“I guess I can do my reading at home, for once.”

I suggest Sunset Rec, the campus-adjacent pool area that was the site of many irresponsible episodes of prolonged sun exposure during my years as an undergrad. I can barely remember how to get there from our current location but my memories of freshman year sand volleyball and UniCamp era BBQs are as sharp and vivid as what I had for lunch today.

Unexpectedly, he agrees, and we make our first, official plans together.

The big, grassy area by the upper pool is nearly empty. It’s still a few weeks before the undergrads swarm the campus common areas and the local members are all busily engaged in their children’s late summer after-school activities. We pull two off-white, plastic lawn chairs together and I’m suddenly aware of being alone with an almost total stranger.

I’m ostensibly social and outgoing but have a few, secret anxieties. One of the biggest is driving in a car for more than a mile and a half with anyone other than my mom and my closest friends.

The dried-out August lawn feels like a long, open road.

Luckily, Nick is a natural conversationalist. He’s one of those people who takes personal responsibility for other people’s experience in social situations. Later, I’ll wish he didn’t, but today, I’m grateful he does.

Small talk is easy and light between us. We grew up in the same town and before I was a future lawyer, I worked as a crisis counselor at his high school. Our moms stayed home with us as kids and our dads are practical and successful. My dad is an eccentric urologist and his is an affable orthodontist.

Twenty minutes into the conversation I’m wondering if he wants to trade.

Nothing about our time together felt flirtatious or sexy. Nick is attractive, but not really my type. After repeated failures of attempting to  date them, I’ve sworn off short men. Besides, he’s probably too serious for me and he lacks that emotionally unavailable arrogance of a true alpha male. The kind I can’t ever resist.

This is the perfect first date I never wanted.

In hundreds of hours together over the next five years I would wonder what Nick thought about me. Am I pretty enough? Does he find me charming and charismatic? Does he wonder what I look like naked? Does he think about waking up on Saturdays and cooking breakfast together in our rustic, open kitchen? Am I too much ego or personality? Does he feel ashamed when I shout the “f” word in public?

That day though, my mind was clear and open as the sky and the grass and the deep end of the diving pool.

The ice had been broken into a million pieces of shared values and similar life experiences. The always uncomfortable edges of getting to know each other had softened and both of us found ourselves playfully in the company of a familiar friend.

And, because, as I would soon find out, he can’t help himself when in the company of new female, Nick taught me how to Dougie.

For years I’ve relied on my varied career and volunteer experiences working with young people to stay hip and relevant but I genuinely had no idea what he was talking about when Nick first made the reference. While it was happening, I felt resentful of my most recent summer camp staff for letting me dwell in already outdated (and age inappropriate) Justin Bieber fandom instead of teaching me how to Dougie themselves. But now, looking back, I appreciate the memory of Nick even more because I was so clueless and uncomfortable.

He was wearing a white cotton t-shirt, white basketball shorts and his trademark dance floor expression. In my first exposure to it, I didn’t realize the look on his face was typical of his commitment to the move. I remember wondering whether this was his one, goofy thing. Most law students I knew were as uptight as I had judged Nick to be, but the ones I got along with best, so far, had at least one or two behaviors that vaguely resembled my kind of sense of humor. I figured this was his.

Our day together ended as spontaneously as it started as we joined a nerdy group of summer school kids in a low-skill level game of sand volleyball.

Just like the old days.

When I finally got home that night it had been more than fourteen hours since I left my apartment-a new record. I was sticky from sweat and felt my favorite type of exhausted-the kind that comes from a full day of activities that are energetically demanding but spiritually filling.

I felt a sense of calm belonging that had been missing since my move back to L.A. Like maybe I didn’t have to be lonely forever.

Like I might make a friend, after all.

4: Law and Sex

My college boyfriend was sexy. Magnetic. Women were all over him, all of the time. Not in some of the obvious, conventional ways, like touching him excessively or giggling an unusual amount in his presence. It was more subtle, detectable only in the amount and intensity of the attention they paid him. He captivated people.

He captivated me.

The UCLA campus is divided into Northern and Southern parts. The North campus is stunning. Beautiful, iconic, academic architecture expressed in impressive brick buildings adorn the lush green landscaping, all set against the back drop of an almost always perfect West Los Angeles skyline. Many popular films set at fancy, Ivy league schools are filmed there. In contrast, the south campus is mostly concrete and the buildings are nondescript. North campus is for the humanities: Art, philosophy, history, women’s studies. South campus is where students spend daylight hours analyzing data in basements and doing experiments in labs with no natural sunlight.North campus majors have it made until they graduate without a legitimate career path and have to live in the concrete basements of the beautiful, iconic homes of the south campus majors.

Rak and I were both political science majors, and we spent most of our non-class time arguing and making up on the patio of Luvalle commons, almost as far North as we could get. Directly behind Luvalle is the UCLA School of Law, a u-shape cluster of slightly hidden, average looking buildings surrounding a small patio where law students congregate to avoid undergrads, make weekend drinking plans and commiserate over their painfully privileged lives.

The view of the law school from LuValle commons is unimpressive, and the image featured on the glossy brochures for prospective students is not of tired-looking white kids huddled around at metal chairs and tables. It’s of a dramatic, rectangular, steeple-looking structure that’s mostly windows. The photograph must have been taken at dusk, in the late summer, when the light is perfectly shadowed as the sun sets directly behind the eastern facing building.

The picture is of the UCLA law library. A place law students mostly resent, but undergrads fantasize about. I checked around and I wasn’t the only north campus major to dream and scheme about hooking up in the dusty, majestic rows of thick, heavy books.

Rak and I talked it over  more than a few times, but always reached the conclusion that the risk wasn’t worth the reward given out likely future in politics and/or as UCLA law students.

Besides, most of the time we were near the law library together, we were arguing.

5 years after our last, epic on-campus showdown, I’m living out our prophecy as a second year law student at UCLA. It’s Monday, early afternoon, and I’m staring at my list of classes, still feeling like an outsider in my new surroundings. The room location for my law and sexuality class includes numbers, and letters, and the label doesn’t make clear in what building I can find it. There’s a chance my memory is mixed up but I’m nearly certain I just didn’t have this class the first week. Either way, I’m verging on “late” to my first session and I can feel my heart rate quickening as the intensity of my anxiety increases.

Stubbornly, I refuse to ask for help.

With three minutes left before class starts, I desperately ask a fellow students for directions. He points me towards the law library and tells me the classroom is in the basement. I stumble down to the underground floor, make a fortuitous right turn and land in my seat just before the professor starts talking. It’s no more than 72 degrees outside but I’m sweating profusely.

I take quick inventory of my classmates and flash an embarrassed smile when I meet Nick’s gaze. I’m sitting in front of him and to his left. He’s in a chair next to a pretty, olive skinned woman. Persian, maybe. Her dark hair is perfectly curled and she’s wearing what I judgmentally assess to be a bit too much eye makeup for an ordinary school day. I swipe the back of my hand across my sweaty, make-up free forehead and without thinking, smooth out my unruly, frizz-prone bangs.

Our law and sexuality professor appears to be no more than my age. He’s short and thin and impeccably well dressed. Gay, probably, but exudes the type of magnetism that makes him equally sexy to both men and women. I can’t take my eyes off him and hang on his every word.

Rak was like that, too.

Professor Boucai leads a provocative, introductory discussion about law and sexuality and 90 minutes of class time feel like fifteen.It’s an unusually productive hour and a half. I’m engaged, make a predictable contribution to the feminist perspective and determine that the women Nick is next to is likely the type he’s interested in romantically.

“No wonder he won’t give me the time of day, he thinks I’m a frumpy mess.”

When class is over, I climb up the steep law library steps and stare up through the high-rise window panes. My mind floods with memories of my undergraduate self. I briefly wonder what happened to Rak, then adjust my heavy backpack and head home for the day.