I was born a lover. Something about me falls easily for other people. I love to love. As a tribute to the holiday of romance I am writing about the five great loves of my life--for better or for worse--after all what's romance without the heart break?
I spent New Years Eve in Niagara Falls one year with a guy named John. We had met during a college class which he attended with his longish, dark hair, hemp sweaters and Styrofoam coffee cup. He was all sorts of deviant (drugs, alcohol, women) but that coffee cup meant something to me: it meant I had found my ticket out of Utah Valley.
For weeks before John and I started a relationship I watched his enveloping personality flirt with girls in the class. They didn't know what to do with him, he was so forward and foreign, too black sheep for their virtue. But I knew what to do with him, I'd use him to show everyone I was too good for this constricting culture. I'd flaunt him around like a show-and-tell from Hell. I waited for him to notice me and when he did I congratulated myself.
I was going to be good for him.
He was perfectly imperfect. Exhausted by his antics, John's mother put him on a plane and sent him from New York to be sorted out by the Utah Mormons. But he found worship on Sunday mornings snowboarding instead of church-going. Utah did nothing to reform him. While his mom was back home praying for him, he was out here finding trouble in the cracks in our culture.
From his father's suicide to accounts of mushroom-induced visions, his past was like fiction. There was the time he escaped military school, the women he seduced, the jerk he was to people he didn't like. He rode around his hometown on a motorcycle visiting peanut-shell-covered bars, devouring hot wings and sharing drinks with strange characters. In my inexperienced sheltered life I couldn't comprehend the actuality of these stories. To me he wasn't real, he was a thrill ride. Fantastic.
He was tall and muscular. Dark-skinned, dark-eyed and handsome. He fell from eastern European descents and mixed with his thick New York accent he was positively alien. His diction was spiced with well-placed cuss words which enhanced a very dry sense of humor. And when he kissed me my mouth would vibrate.
I paraded John around town past the hometown boys who seemed like simple, colorless creatures in his presence. I needed his ability to make my life as big as his was, unique and different. I craved the opposite of what I felt was required of me--a marriage and babies before I was twenty.
I didn't thrive in this place--my emotions were too raw, my body was too curvy, my expectations were too complicated. It felt like a daily poisoning of my spirit to live here. I loved the belief system I found in the academia of my religion, but I despised the shallow culture that followed it. Finding someone like John who rebelled against everything I hated (authority, narrow-mindedness, mundanity) and loved everything I presented (my emotions, my curves, my expectations) fueled an unspoken vengeance. It pleased me when he was barely tolerable to people around here. I liked that he pushed every boundary ever placed in these pastures. When he was dark, I was satisfied.
But they don't call this place Happy Valley for nothing. As much as I wanted to quit the place, I also wanted to appease it. I played with the idea of molding him, like fleshy clay, to be just Mormon-enough to qualify, but deviant enough to still excite me. He cut his hair, withdrew from his vices, tried the church-going life. And everywhere we went people would whisper in my ear,
"You're so good for him."
And I wore an imaginary badge of honor until this experiment of mine proved to be a disaster. I couldn't completely leave the environment that raised me. We like to be pretty, we like paragons of righteousness, we aim to honor ideals that only exist in our prayers. Utah Valley can be a toxic place if you are not quintessentially Mormon. While I could reconcile this for myself, I wanted John to change as badly as I wanted him to stay the same. And the more he tried to please me, the less I loved him.
It was wickedly cold, Niagara Falls in the dead of December. Even though he had warned me, I brought only a powder blue wool tailored blazer to keep me warm that day. When we retreated to the gift store to revive our iced-over bodies I found knit baby booties in the souvenir section and wanted to buy them.
"Don't buy those," John said laughing at me.
"Why not?" I asked, knowing I'd do whatever I wanted anyway.
"Because one day I am going to marry you and I don't want our baby to wear stupid knitted booties from the Niagara Falls gift shop," he said back.
John had an incredible ability to do what he said he would do, and some time after Niagara Falls he did marry me. But no baby of ours ever wore knitted booties. It took only a few months of marriage for me to come to a cold conclusion.
I was no good for him.
There were rumors around after we divorced, John was saying I left him because he wasn't righteous enough. This made me wince.
He probably was right.
Tomorrow: The One