Over Dinner

I ordered Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes and sat cross-legged on a cold metal chair. You chose a table on the ground floor of Novel Cafe. You’d only lived in Westwood a couple of weeks, otherwise you might have known to sit upstairs. When I arrived, the plate in front of you was dotted with remnants of baby spinach. I noted it as peculiar. I had a long and sordid history of male friendships, but couldn’t recall any of the men in my life ordering salad at a restaurant. Ever. Later, I would know you as a frequent consumer of cold lettuce and raw veggies. Usually from a square plastic box with a colorful Trader Joe’s label. One time from a folded cardboard container. A Whole Foods Salad Bar Caesar I’d assembled myself. I remember the care and consideration I’d used in selecting the ingredients. High quality. Right proportions. It was important to me that it tasted perfect, to you.

That first night was more “second interview” than “first date.” I was still skeptical about whether we’d end up really being friends. Were you funny enough? Interesting? Politically Engaged? Did you have a closet full of jersey cotton t-shirts with ironic phrases across the chest?

I asked my best “get to know you” questions and channeled my inner high school counselor. I probably chewed with my mouth open when I got excited and had a mess of dried maple syrup smeared across my chin.

It was the last time I felt any uneasiness between us. My last memory of us as anything other than best friends.

Our inaugural hangout was a foreshadowing of the months to come.

Week after week of Friday and Saturday nights spent laughing and talking through a light, organic meal and shared dessert.

Our relationship happened, and deepened, over dinner.

Sometimes the purpose and nature of our dates was unclear to one or both of us.

Like when you picked me up wearing sweat pants and I pranced down my concrete staircase wearing makeup and high-heeled leather boots.

Or the time I was forced to go out in your oversized zip-up sweatshirt because I’d showed up in the middle of the day in a tie-dyed  t-shirt. We planned to sit and “catch up for an hour.” It was early in our relationship. Soon after we realized that between the two of us, that phrase didn’t exist.

I knew I was doomed during our first homemade “dinner in.”

You masterfully crafted gourmet quesadillas from your two-burner makeshift kitchen while we sang and swayed to Ray Lamontagne. That night we played mini golf after threatening to find somewhere to “laser tag” in Los Angeles. On my short drive home, I thought about the ease of our relationship. It’s comfort and stability. How I was  going to avoid the inevitable disaster at the intersection of platonic soulmates and unrequited love. A  year and a half later, I could feel my patience unravel over a plate of sauteed brussel sprouts. You offered them to me tenderly, coaxing me out of my ball of exhaustion, curled up on your soft, beige couch.

I always thought we were best during those stripped-down stay-at-homes, but we had our share of beautiful nights out, too.

You salvaged the celebration of my 27th birthday with an elegant plate of fish and a fake story to the wait-staff about how we were engaged. Overlooking the ocean in Malibu, we wrote a screenplay about best friend lawyers who made a classic romantic comedy marriage contract as unlucky-in-love law students. We called it “At Arms Length” and staged the movie poster while holding hands, barefoot under the icy, mid-December tide.

We drank a bottle of wine to celebrate surviving our second year. You made our reservation under your celebrity pseudonym, John. We toasted to finding, and saving each other. As we left for more drinks at ” The W” I warned you about my irrepressible desire to make-out after more than one glass of wine. I was being honest, but also testing your always clear (and thick) boundaries. The boundaries that kept our unique relationship intact.

We demonstrated entrepreneurial genius and made countless strangers into friends. We made up elaborate narratives for the events and relationships at adjacent tables. Even now, there is no one else in the world with whom I would agree to “split a brownie.”

During dinners amidst our small social network, we kept people guessing. They wondered if we were “doing it” on the side of our friendship or secretly involved in a full-fledged affair. Every person we knew together had a different version of our story, not one of them mirrored the truth.

When we ate with your siblings, I wondered what they were thinking. I wondered both what you told them and how they evaluated it on their own. I wondered if some day, at our wedding, they would talk about the early days of light-weight denial and the destiny we collectively knew about, but of which, we never spoke.

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about  a year ago. My seasonal memory is a powerful storyteller and the images and sensations of February trap my mind in the re-living. I re-play every episode, evaluating what I might have done to re-write the ending.  We talked about dating, and marriage. About telling our families, and our friends. When you kissed me on my living room couch, I was trying so hard not to screw it up, it’s the only thing I barely remember at all.

It happened so quickly, then ended just as fast. A month later, we felt like strangers, again.

I ran from you, and hid from my feelings. You watched me leave, and let me hide.

Ultimately, we would repair the damage the same way we created it.

After months of dinners without you, on a garden patio in a Venice bistro, a week before the bar exam, we finally felt like us, like before. You ordered shrimp and I chomped though a kale and potato flatbread, wondering when the “greens on everything” trend would finally disappear. We took the “is this a date?” online quiz, a hysterical flow chart that could have been written exclusively for our relationship, at all stages of its evolution. It was both fitting and awkward. We could laugh out loud in silent recognition of the unreleased tension, the still unaddressed feelings underneath.

As the youngest patrons of a chic Brentwood eatery, on my last night in Los Angeles, we said, “goodbye,” over dinner.

It was the last time I looked at you and wondered how you could possibly resist doing this with me forever. I wondered why you didn’t reach across the table and beg me to stay with you. Why we were planning how we would stay in touch instead of how we would spend the rest of our lives, together. How dinner could possibly be better, or more fun, with anyone else.

Internet Love Story

The Internet is creepy. A land of voyeurism and judgement. A hot bed for the exchange of righteous opinions and bad information. Shameless self-promotion, shameful self-deprecation. Wedding pictures. Food imagery. Hashtags and viral videos.

My relationship with the internet is like most of my recent romances: Addicting and fascinating. Repulsive and dangerous. One day exhilarating. The next day devastating. every encounter filled with internal conflict between how I am and how I want to be.

Late last summer I sat on my computer trying to piece together my post-law-school plan. Still jet lagged from a month in Asia, I could barely face the idea of starting the next chapter of my life. I felt paralyzed by uncertainty, resistant to changes already taking place.

Without explanation, a post popped up on my Facebook page from one of my high school classmates. I hadn’t seen any internet action from this guy since we first connected online in the early days of the website. I hadn’t seen this guy in person since graduation day.

My mind flashed on memories of Miles from the Varsity basketball team and our school student government. He was uniquely wholesome in a pure and genuine way. Years before the movie empire was conceived, he looked and acted like a character from Disney’s High School Musical  He was smart and silly and loveable. The type of boy the mom of a high school girl would encourage her daughter to go out with. The clearest, most vivid vision I have of him is at the bedside of his long-time girlfriend. She broke her back in a freak ski accident, and in the days that followed, he spent every minute next to her in a tiny downstairs room of her parents’ house.

Years later, I would wonder if he was put on the planet to support strong women in their recovery from unthinkable events.

My focus lands back on my computer. He writes a blog. I click on it immediately.

I read three words and burst into tears.

The blog was launched in response to Miles’ wife’s cancer diagnosis. His 28 year old wife. With stage four lung cancer. A vibrant, beautiful young woman. Full of life and love and energy and potential.  Dreams and plans stretching far into the future.

I kept reading. And crying. Then crying some more.

I read every post dating back to late June when she was first diagnosed. I cringed thinking about so many late-June hysterical breakdowns in the face of my Barbri Paced Program Study List. Perspective is not retro-active.

An hour later I closed my computer and pulled a blanket over the top of my head. I shrunk into my couch. I wanted the entire experience to evaporate. I felt a surge of anger and frustration still lingering from my loss of Heather. I felt too weak to take on the sadness. I decided I needed to let it go, or, more likely, block it out.

But as the weeks went on, I was back on the blog. Over and over again.

Miles writes clearly with humor and sincerity. His narrative voice is beautiful and funny and evocative. Reading his blog, I feel like we’re sitting at brunch together sharing our lives. His support of, and dedication to his wife animates every word. The blog, designed to give medical information and updates, reads like an elegant, honest and witty love story.

Out of sadness, I feel hope. The courage of this woman is indescribable. In every picture, she is beaming. The mere description of her battle leaves me exhausted and yet she continues to prevail. I have laughed and cried with her. She’s become one of my most important teachers of the practices of presence and unconditional love. A reminder to value the life I have. The moments of health and deep breaths and illness free meals with people I love. She gives me hope that in the face of challenge, I too could find the strength of a resilient warrior goddess, who refuses to give up.

Miles and his wife are strangers to me. We may never see or talk to each other in real-life. Still, I feel a deep and intimate connection to their story, their strength and their ongoing optimism and bravery. I feel tremendous gratitude to them for illuminating this deeply private struggle in their lives.

You can find love and inspiration here.

You can donate to help Emily’s recovery and research for future lung cancer patients.

You can fall in love with Miles’ entire family. You can be inspired by a remarkable story. You can creep on the internet, and find something beautiful.