Right now I'm in a really good place mentally, physically, emotionally and relationship-y. I feel all settled, grounded, anchored -- basically any adjective you can think of that describes having your shit somewhat together for the time being.
And, of course, that being said I'm ready to take flight. I'm going on a trip back home with my main squeeze, ya'll!
You know that feeling you get in your guts right before a shaky wooden roller coaster is about to make its death defying plunge into law suit land? Yeah, I don't have that.
I'm actually excited about planning a very nerve racking version of "meet cute" that I call "meet cousins." Excited because I know that despite all the moving parts I can't control -- like my grandmother's penchant for calling Asian people "Oriental" or my uncle's penchant for showing up everywhere, including but not limited to my book signing at Barnes & Noble, drunk -- things will be perfect because I'm all grounded and shit.
And, of course, that got me thinking about the last time I took a trip with a boy I really liked liked.
As some of you might know, I'm from L.A. L.A., which is different from L.A. Much like “the double like,” the double city emphasizes the brute strength and authenticity of your birthplace among all others. As in, New York, New York. Need I go on?
In the same way, for one to exclaim, “I like him like him” (the double like) is tantamount to professing one’s love for said individual by way of repetition. To like someone is to let them have a bite of your sandwich. To “like like” someone is to make them a sandwich -- with cheese.
Both of these movable pieces, distance and feelings, speak to one very important life lesson I learned in London -- knowing the difference between being very close to something and oh so far away from it. Saying you live in L.A. but really you’re from the fucking valley, is like thinking you’re in a relationship but really ya’ll just fucking.
Distance in this particular situation I’m speaking of was measured not in inches or time zones, but in the diameter of a knot on my forehead caused by too much Hite and a hotel with terrible bedside manner. Enter Jake, my very own international man of mystery.
Long story short we'd been "dating" off and on AND long distance for about six months. Him living the high life in the Middle East and broke me couch surfing on my mom's Ikea pull-out in Georgia. I finally decided one day that Gchats didn't even a fake relationship make.
“What you wanna break up?" he asked. "That’s dumb. We like each other. Breaking up is dumb.”
The fact that Jake referred to the idea of us ceasing our post-coital pen pal-ing as “breaking up” was enough to last me another…forever. I mean you can’t break up what didn’t exist in the first place, right? Right? RIGHT!
“Okay okay fine,” I sighed on my end of the world, trying desperately hard not to sound as if I was about to explode.
A few weeks later, I got the big (read totally modest) check I’d been waiting all summer for and like a Trailer Park Queen who wins the Lotto my problems really had just begun.
Jake and I made a pact to meet up in London at the end of the summer. His job had an office there so he could still work while I did touristy stuff like eat mushy peas, which in the states we call disgusting baby food. This was going to be amazing.
Our Jasmine and Aladdin magic carpet ride to relationship just needed to make a quick stop in The Smoke, which I learned during a 100-pound cab ride from the airport is London’s nickname nobody’s ever heard of.
A quick post-it note to London. The pound? I believe you call it that, London, because it’s literally clobbering the rest of the world’s currency. Seriously, this Starbucks, despite NOT tasting the same, is like 8 dollars American. You are literally killing me, London, pounding me as it were. Eventually I just gave up trying to figure out your weird metal money and held out a hand full of gold whenever I got to a register like a three-year-old announcing her age; “This many!”
These were just some of the things I figured out on my own because Jake was a day late meeting me. In. A. Foreign. Land.
Thankfully, I stopped mentally berating London like a mute homeless man long enough to hang out with my high-school friend Jane who insisted I try the mushy peas, which are only the slightest upgrade from frog vomit. After a day in a FOREIGN LAND Jake finally called to say he was waiting for me at the hotel. Actually it was more like a frantic 911 call.
“Ohmygod, where are you?! I’m here! Alone! What’s going on?!” I’d had my phone off all day because, Ah Duh, we were in London. I only turned it on sporadically, hoping there would be something from Jake. But then even that felt pathetic so I just figured he’d see me when Jane got sick of me.
“Oh, me? I’m just eating frog vomit. Where are you?” The plan here is to appear as nonchalant as possible. Whoever gets the most excited first loses. Whoever comes off as totally detached wins.
“I’m waiting for you! Come on!” It took 20 minutes in the loo for me to create casual sexy -- tussled hair, rosy cheeks, glistening lips.
Let's call what happened next boutique hotel sex. Not motel sex, mind you, but contemplative well-placed efficient faux-authentic sex. It'd been so long I don’t think either one of us cared either way. After months of being broke, horny and living with my mom I needed this. The hopeful feeling you get just when the key turns in the lock because whatever’s on the other side just has to be better than standing outside in the hall. It has to be. Because the hall sucks, man.
My itinerary for the week was centered solely around me and Jake being lovey dovey. All I wanted was a Facebook album filled with the same picture of us holding hands with various landmarks in the background. Oh look there’s Jake and Helena making out in front of Big Ben! There’s those two crazy kids staring longingly into each other eyes during the changing of the guard. The Facebook comments would unfurl beneath each spontaneous love ad, announcing to the world how made for each other we were. Like I said this was going to be amazing.
Jake worked the ENTIRE TIME.
So my full time job became wandering the streets of London, wondering if this was what our life together would really look like. Me in a foreign land where people only pretend to speak the language and Jake only pretending like this was a relationship.
Introducing him to other human beings would make the whole thing more real. So when Jane called to invite us to karaoke I jumped at the chance to make a public appearance as a real live couple. A couple who traveled thousands of miles to be together!
Jake didn’t want to go. He was tired. Because, he, of course, had worked all day.
“You go,” he said, climbing into his side of the bed. “You don’t have to stay here. I want you to go. Seriously.”
“It’s no fun if you don’t go,” I whined, completely aware of how desparate house-wifey I sounded. I went alone just to get that bad taste out of my mouth.
On the taxi over I started mentally preparing for all the questions. Where’s your boyfriend? Ha, well he’s not like my boyfriend boyfriend. Um okay, well where is he? Yeah, he’s just really tired right now. He’s been working -- Working? I thought you guys were on vacation? Yeah me too.
Problem was we weren’t, not together at least. I was taking a mini-break from my life back home and Jake? Jake was quietly breaking up with me, only neither one of us knew that yet.
I met Jane and four of her ex-pat friends in a basement bar somewhere near Holborn, the “l” is silent. So in a neighborhood that sounds exactly like what’s happening in a prostitute’s vagina, I sealed the temporary fate of my own. Basically I got very very drunk.
I remember singing NKOTB's “Please Don’t Go Girl” only because that’s what I always sing at Karaoke. There were shots of something foreign and foul-smelling, barreling through my insides and destroying any sense I had of propriety. I sang some more. Beyonce. Stereotypical. Then someone, most likely the beautiful and non-drunk Jane, put me in a cab. This was somewhere around two in the morning.
It was in the ride back to the hotel that I remembered Jake. I was here with Jake. Jake was my pseudo lover! We’d been in London for days and all we’d done together was eat Chinese. Otherwise this trip had been a pricey lesson in how lost I could get before asking for directions. Jake didn’t care one bit about where I was going or where we were going.
“I’m so fucking drunk!” I screamed, kicking in the door, our door, and stumbling from the hotel's hallway onto the Jake lump in the bed.
He woke up slowly. First his head then his chest came peeking out from under the covers. I flopped around on the rest of him like a dead fish. This, I thought, was very sexy.
“We saaang! It was sooo awesome. You missed it. You missed it. I can’t believe you missed it. I can’t believe you. I hate you.” I removed some clothes. This, I thought, was very sexy.
“You should go to bed,” he said calmly, not yet coming to my badly needed rescue.
“I can’t! Too drunk!” Now I’m marching around the room, opening drawers, emptying trash cans. I was looking for something. What? Couldn’t tell you. Alls I know is that Jake wasn’t helping me find it. Instead he was staring with narrowed eyes and even thinner veiled loathing.
“Helena, it’s almost three in the morning. You should probably go to sleep.” Here you’d imagine someone rubbing your back, stroking your hair, boiling some hot water.
“Help me! Help me,” I pleaded while wobbling out of the rest of my small clothes, grabbing the now emptied trash can and steering it like a steering wheel to my side of the bed.
“Helena, lie down.”
“I am! I am! Shut up. I need this here.” Bent over I placed the trash can as close to the bedside table as possible, trying to arrange it perfectly so that when the room stopped spinning I could hurl my gross emotions without spilling.
“Go. To. Sleep.”
Fine, fine, I thought, jerking upright from hugging the trash can. Then BAM! My forehead and the bedside table decided to duke it out. I hit the wooden edge so hard the room went from whirl to warp speed.
“What is it?”
“I just decapitated myself.”
Longest sigh recorded in history.
“Go to sleep.”
“You don’t even care. You don’t even care. You don’t even—" That last pathetic line was punctuated by consistent and violent heaving. Sighing some more, Jake turned, his back to the carnage, and went to sleep. I suffered through the rest of the night alone, knowing full well that whatever had been between us was thrown out with the toilet bowl water.
Thing is the person “right under your nose” doesn’t always smell so great up close. And in close quarters, like say a ridiculously tiny London hotel room, sense of smell is the first thing not to go. Jake and I, the couple who’d work so well together when miles away, were now forced to confront the obvious of the last seven months. We weren’t a couple. He liked me online and on the weekends. Offline and for a whole week? That was for people with time and patience and patented Karaoke moves. He had neither.
Jake checked out a few hours before I did. Work was calling. I hung around the room, our room, a little while longer, breathing in being alone once again.
When I rolled through the lobby a couple of hours later the manager, a thin-lipped Russian woman with a bad dye job, demanded I stop. With a flick of her hand she produced a printout that detailed every thing we owed the hotel. The list was long. The numbers added up to something huge. I imagined it was the last seven months come back to haunt us. A dollar sign for every false promise we made to each and ourselves. I can’t wait to see you… $ 20.99. This is gonna be so great. Fuck yeah, London!… $156.87.
“Your friend left without paying," she said. And I laughed a maniacal, loud, stupid American laugh.
For the record, Jake did pay for everything, hotel girl got it wrong. But in that split second all I could think was, Of course he didn't pay! It was the perfectly horrendous end to a perfectly horrendous holiday.
So do you see why I'm not worried about future trips with the mister? Cause with a trip like London stamped on my relationship passaporte there is nowhere to go but up.