ok. Deep breath.
August 5, 2005
For J, somewhere
"And he entered the regions where there is only life, and therefore all that is not music is silence." -George Macdonald, The Hands Of The Father, "Unspoken Sermons", 1867
I can't believe it, at the end of this month it will be 10 years since Jerusha and I last saw each other's faces. Not that anniversaries mean anything between she and I. The days when I could treat our anniversaries with any sentimentality are long over, as I always knew would someday be the case. Mostly it's just amazing that it's been 10 years since a milestone that occurred during my adult life. There've been a lot of those bittersweet 10-year anniversaries in the last few years: 10 years since I left the East Coast, 10 years since I lived in Yosemite for 2 months, 10 years since I crash-landed in Bellingham, WA. It's coming up on 10 years since I last saw Jerusha. Amazing.
I took a scroll back through memory lane yesterday afternoon and discovered that the last contact between us was over three years ago, a mass-emailing to all her friends of a new temporary email address. The last personal emails between us were a good bit before that, a year or two. I had contacted her a few times at various points, left her some voicemails when I was passing through her town once, but her responses gradually trickled to a halt, although I stayed on her "people to notify when I change email addresses" list.
I sent her an email last year, but it bounced - "mailbox over quota". So yesterday afternoon I figured, now's good time to re-send it. I forwarded it along with a nice update about where I was at and some well-wishes.
I rounded out my day with a beer at my favorite watering hole. The sound system played someone's version of the Bee Gees song "To Love Somebody" and it struck me what a beautiful song it is:
"There's a light, a certain kind of light, that never shone on me
Jerusha Dahn was the only woman I've ever loved. This month it will be 10 whole years since I got too inconsiderate and too petulant and too immature and she kicked me out of her car at the airport and I waited 8 hours for the next plane home and never saw her face again. Amazing.
It's a hell of a story, Jerusha and I, from way back when. I first saw her across a crowded room. No joke. We were both at a transfer student orientation at the start of my junior year at a new school, and I noticed her across the room and was interested immediately. Worldly-looking with her nail polish and dyed auburn hair, but also with a certain vulnerability and not something you see every day. Or maybe that's me seeing her through the lens of everything that happened later. I just know she was really, really pretty. My type. Really, really cute. More than cute. There's something about a girl who really knows how to wear makeup. It's an unpopular opinion in the circles I run in today, but if you saw Jerusha, you'd understand. She was different. What a pretty girl.
I luckily got seated next to her at a meeting the following night, told her to stop biting her nails and got a ride back to my dorm from her, and then asked her on a walk down to a waterfall in the woods when I bumped into her outside the dining commons the next day.
This was in 1988, at St. Leon's College in upstate New York. She was my first serious girlfriend, and for a few years was the gold standard by which all my relationships were judged. She was sweet and smart and goofy enough not to be as intimidating as girls as pretty as she was usually are. She was from California. She loved David Bowie, she was a photography major, she got horny when she got high and the sex was dynamite - I mean, every single time. You know, sometimes it's just sex, but sometimes it's having sex with someone. It's personal, not sex with someone's body but with them in their entirety, and it's a whole different animal. It's great. It's like making love. It was like that every single time. And the sex wasn't even the highlight. Her company was that good no matter what we were doing. She was always right there with me like that, never any pretense or games, no bullshit to get in the way between us.
And she was intrepid. When I was too creeped out to investigate the wooden door beneath the mausoleum near our campus chapel, she not only went in on her own but brought back photographs of the peculiar little room below, the dirty mattress and old posters and record albums she'd found within.
We dated for a month and then I got drunk and acted foolish and was too embarrassed to come around again. I jealously watched from a distance for 5 or 6 months as she went for other guys and dropped acid with her nerdy friends and generally looked like she was having a good time without ever giving indication of a second thought for me. Finally, come February I decided to give it one last try, and knocked on her door.
We dated until the end of the year. She came home with me and met my family and highschool friends. We snuck into an empty school in Kingston so she could take photographs. I met her friends when they visited from California. We parted without ever having had a disagreement. Every minute we had spent together had been good. She left for a year in England.
The story goes on. You know. We went on with our separate lives and had other relationships. None of mine were as good as what I'd had with Jerusha, I came to realize. A succession of good women just kept failing to measure up. Surely I was romanticizing her in retrospect, I figured, but four years later I left the east coast for good and visited her in California along the way and we got back together and it was every bit as good as I had remembered. I had been right about everything.
I had been planning a road trip for a good long time, saved up a load of money and in Summer '93 I just got in my car to travel aimlessly for a while. I wrote all my old friends scattered around the country before leaving. Jerusha had been back in California for a few years, studying at UC Irvine, and she wrote to let me know she had two weeks off before the new semester started. I hopped in my car and drove 2800 miles in five and a half days. In one of life's wonderful little moments, when I got to Santa Ana I was delighted to discover that her little home in the Hanakiki Garden Apartments was on a street named Memory Lane.
She had traded Bowie for the blues and photography for geology. She had cut her long hair and wore dorky glasses. She had a gun - a revolver. I asked her about it, and she said, "Well, I go out into the desert by myself for four days at a time to look for mineral specimens. I'm all by myself out there so I need something for defense. I've got a stun gun that I used to use, but I once tripped and fell on it and accidentally stunned myself, and it didn't immobilize me like it's supposed to. So I got a gun." Baby, you had me at "I go out into the desert by myself for four days at a time." The gun is fine.
One afternoon she had some extensive dental work. On the car ride home she looked so rundown and drugged and pathetic that I just had to hold her hand. It was soon after that that we stood close in her kitchen and had our second first kiss.
I remember the moment I fell in love with her. She came home from class and walked into the room where I was reading, and I was never so happy to see anyone in my entire life. And I loved her. That was it. I remember laying in bed after the first time we slept together again. She looked at me. "You're smiling," she said.
I stayed with her a month, until her roommate protested that she wanted to be able to walk around the apartment in her underwear again.
Jerusha was so fucking cool. A few months after I left Santa Ana and Memory Lane I wrote her a letter from the road, questioning things. I was in love - I knew what I had this time. But somehow I felt it wasn't meant to be permanent. I couldn't see us marrying each other someday. How I could be in love and feel that way I still don't know, but I was in love, and I was also questioning the relationship, and I wrote her a letter about it. It was just simple honesty mixed with complicated neurosis. I mentioned in passing in the letter that I was planning on heading for Ashland, Oregon soon. Not long after mailing the letter I hopped in my car again.
In Ashland a few days later, I was out at a bar (the Black Sheep Inn, for all you Ashland shakespearean hippie freaks) and I had the flu. It just slammed into me that evening, and I left the bar dizzy and swooning. When I got back to my small hostel accommodations the evening guy said, "Your friend is here."
"Friend"? I have no friend. Nobody knows I'm here.
He showed me the guest register and - Jerusha's signature. She'd misread the letter I'd sent and thought I was dumping her, so she drove the 12 hours from southern California to Ashland to try and find me, in this town she'd never been to, without knowing where I was staying, or if I was really even there. 12 hours. She thought I was dumping her and she jumped in her car and drove 12 hours to another state to come find me with only the vaguest hint of where I might even be. That is the coolest thing anyone has ever done.
Yet still, somehow, I knew we wouldn't work out permanently.
She told me that six hours into the trip she had actually re-read the letter and realized I wasn't dumping her, but since she was already halfway there she kept going. We checked into a motel for a few days until she had nursed me back to health, hit a thrift store where she bought me a black and white polka-dotted hat, and drove to a small hostel on the Oregon coast to drink in sleepy bars and catch crabs from rickety wooden piers and spend the most romantic few black and white polka-dotted days of my life.
That was winter. Come summer I was living in a youth hostel in Bellingham, in the Pacific northwest. I had stopped there for 2 months over the winter to earn some more money to get back on the road, and never left. I had made many friends and was enjoying the vaguely communal living, and invited Jerusha to come up once school was out. Her first night there, my friends Lindsey and Linda up the hall generously let us borrow their private room for the night so we could be alone. Following that, I had booked a month in Room 14. We wouldn't need the whole month. In my delight at the opportunity to be with her, I had forgotten about The Curse Of Room 14.
Room 14 was across the hall from Room 9, where I had been living on the top of a bunk bed in a walk-in closet. Room 14 was the favorite room for couples, a sunny room at the front of the building with a couple-sized bunk bed, which you might be sharing with another couple, although as often as not you wound up having the room to yourself. To those who were not well acquainted with it, it seemed ideal. But something lurked in Room 14, something indefinite, subtle and foul.
A few months earlier, two nice kids named Barry and Luna had showed up at the hostel from Harrisburg, PA. They moved into Room 14. Within 3 weeks they started arguing, and Barry told me that Luna, a truly beautiful woman, wasn't goodlooking to him anymore. He said, "I look at her and I just can't see it." The problems got worse and within a few months Barry was in court for kicking Luna in the stomach while she was pregnant with what later turned out to be another man's baby.
Next, Lisa and Brent moved in. Lisa was an Englishwoman, manager of the hostel desk and a practicing pagan not long out of an abusive relationship. Brent was the hostel handyman and, unbeknownst to most of us, busy developing a burgeoning crack problem. They made an odd pair, and pretty soon the arguing started. There was some sort of twisted psychodrama going on, but it was mostly behind closed doors and both were tight-lipped about the specifics, as far as I ever heard. Lisa ended up fleeing back to England without giving anyone her contact info. Brent was last seen in Los Angeles, where he turned up unexpectedly at our mutual friend Jayde's house to ask if he could sleep on her floor for the night. She let him in, and later that evening he told her that he had realized he was the Holy Spirit, put on earth to ignite Armageddon, and - to Jayde's considerable alarm - that he had sent the President a letter about it. When Jayde woke up in the morning he was gone, having left behind a nice thank-you note, and that was the last any of us ever heard of him.
Following our beautiful reunion in the temporary lovenest of Lindsey & Linda's loaner room, Jerusha and I moved into Room 14, occupying the bottom bed of a couples' bunk, which we had to ourselves at first, then shortly shared with a pair of runaway teenage sisters from Alaska - the younger one running away from their parents and the older one running from a kidnapping warrant for helping the younger one.
I don't know what happened, but pretty soon Jerusha and I began bickering. It was over nothing - after a relationship that encompassed 6 years and 4000 miles without the smallest friction, we just started getting on each other's nerves. There was no conclusive blowout, but the squabbles became frequent and we seemed to have major disagreements over minor things.
The end of that chapter came after only three weeks. We had argued one morning before I left for work. I was supposed to meet her that evening at a nearby shopping center, and wound up playing a game I had come to call "Where The Hell Is
I got back up to the room, where the fugitive Alaskan sisters were listening to some music. I crawled behind the sheet Jerusha and I had strung up as a privacy curtain around the lower bunk, and laid down to regroup. Right at that moment, the weepy opening passage of "Free Bird" came on the sisters' radio, and in a second or two, I have to confess, I just started sobbing.
When I spoke to Jerusha a few days later she told me she'd driven the 1200 miles back to Santa Ana in 20 hours, took a 4 hour nap, then drove her folks to Arizona for a family reunion.
We spoke on the phone a few times in the months following that, and everything was fine between us. A year went by. A few women came and went in my life. There was a meteoric two weeks spent in bed with Karin, a petit spitfire who flew off the handle the first time she thought I had doubts about our relationship. There was Jenn, the sweetest girl I've ever met, who I became bored with dating after about two months but had a brief, wonderful reunion with a few years later, and is still the light of my day on the odd occasion that I hear from her. There was Lisa, a down-to-earth woman whom I never had a label for my involvement with, and who lived a few hours away and eventually fell victim to my legendary ability to not keep in touch with people I care about.
The following summer I took some time off from Bellingham to go sport fishing with my friend Cameron at his family's timeshare in Port Aransas, Texas. When Cam split at the end of a week I impetuously cruised up to Austin for a few sweltering days, then I boarded a Greyhound bus westbound from San Antonio. Somewhere along the way I got the bright idea to call Jerusha. Calling from a pay phone at the Los Angeles bus depot, I found out from her parents that she was at her grandmother's house preparing to move to Fort Collins, Colorado, where would be starting school at the University of Colorado. I called her there and she told me to come on over. I spent two days driving with her and her folks from southern California to Fort Collins and helping her move into a little tract-housing cottage on the north side of town.
She told me, the first time we had some time alone together, that she wouldn't sleep with me. She said she decided she only wanted to have sex with one man, ever again, in her entire life. I was a bit perplexed. She had to know I wasn't going to marry her, and I knew her well enough to know she didn't say things that she didn't mean. This was not some coy game, as so many people will play; it was just a statement of fact. She had never bullshitted me, ever. There was still no doubt as to our feelings, our relationship, and attraction for each other, so I was ok with it. We spent another wonderful month together and not having sex wasn't even an issue. OK, it was a little bit of an issue; there were one or two late nights when she had to demurely ask me, in not so many words, to take my paws off her.
But I know guys who wouldn't stick with anyone if it meant an indefinite period without sex. I myself wouldn't have, either, with almost anyone else. But Jerusha, in case you haven't gotten the picture, was special, and in the face of spending time with her, even having to keep my paws off her was a small price to pay.
There were some small children in the neighborhood who came around and quickly made friends of themselves. One time I heard her tell one of them, in answer to an unheard question, "My boyfriend is in the living room." It had been so long since I heard her call me her boyfriend out loud that it struck me as strange for a second. But only for a second. After that I smiled. The label felt right and the feeling was welcome. For all the romance and the reunions, I hadn't felt like her actual boyfriend in almost 6 years.
The next few weeks passed uneventfully. Fort Collins is a charming town. We walked along the banks of the majestic Cache La Poudre and ate burgers at Washington's. Eventually the start of her semester loomed, and I made plans to go home.
I blew it. I really blew it.
The commute from Fort Collins to the Denver Airport was via bus and shuttle. I had to catch the bus at the end of her street at 7:20 in the morning to make the shuttle for my 11:30 flight. I was packed and ready, and out front of the house ready to go to the bus stop, and she had to duck back into the house for a moment - I think it was to get her camera, I don't remember. I was running a bit late, but fucked if I was going to leave again and not kiss her goodbye, so I waited. But I was agitated about the time and she took a moment longer than I would have liked. I looked down the block and saw the bus go by, and the end of our story began. It's funny, the way small things sometimes change the course of your entire life. Life lessons blossom from very small seeds.
She was the only woman I've ever loved. She was my first serious relationship, and my favorite of the women I'd ever been with. I'd seen her across a crowded room and two days later we kissed for the first time by a waterfall in the woods. Five years later we kissed for the second first time in her kitchen in the Hanakiki Garden Apartments on a street called Memory Lane. Once she drove 12 hours to try and find me in a town she'd never been to, not even knowing where I was staying, because she thought our relationship was in trouble. We'd seen upstate New York, southern California, the Oregon coast, Washington and Colorado together. She'd kissed me when I was 19 and 20 and 24 and 25 and here I was 26 and she was kissing me again. I saw that bus go by, and all that was forgotten.
I ran inside to call a cab, but one couldn't be there in time to catch the airport shuttle. She had two bicycles, so we called the bus company and asked where else the bus stopped before the dropoff at the shuttle departure point. We piled on to the bikes, I with a tremendous backpack full of all my belongings and a huge guitar case in one hand, and raced to the next bus stop, across town. It was not easy going.
I felt inconvenienced and annoyed and blamed her. In my mind it was another annoying variation on "Where The Hell Is Jerusha": she knew we needed to be at that bus stop at 7:20, but the plan didn't register, and at the golden moment she was somewhere else. Riding a bike around town with a heavy backpack wore on me quickly, and trying to hold the huge guitar case with one hand made it an even bigger pain in the ass. We didn't get to the first stop on time.
The second stop was in yet another part of town. She suggested that we could still make it, and since it was closer than the airport shuttle departure point, we should try for that. I took off again with my ungainly load, but had to stop en route, partly out of frustration I suppose, my aggravation having reduced my tolerance for the effort even further. She offered to take the guitar case, and I let her, figuring the difficulty served her right since this ludicrous, frenzied mission was her fault anyway. We missed the bus at the second stop, too.
We took off from the second stop location, racing to still a third part of town to the airport shuttle's departure point, I in my pack and her carrying my guitar. This was becoming a very difficult lesson in the learning, although I didn't know it at the time. We missed the shuttle departure.
I was steamed, you know. We rode back to her place and she drove me to the Denver airport, 45 minutes away. By this point I imagine I was thoroughly aggravated and whiny, but to be honest I don't clearly recall, so little thought did I give to alienating someone I loved. What I do remember is arriving at the terminal and racing from the car to the check-in desk, and being told I was too late to board and that the flight was about to take off. My anger boiled over. They said they could put me on the next flight, in 8 hours.
I walked back out to her car and slammed myself down into the passenger seat with as much childish contempt as I could muster. She was exasperated. "Look, what do you want to do," she said. I looked out the window and saw my flight take off from behind the terminal. I pointed out the window and fumed, "I WANT TO BE ON THAT PLANE!" Amazingly, at the moment, I did not hear the sound of a door slamming shut.
She told me I could get out now and wait 8 hours for the next flight, or she'd drive me back to Fort Collins and I could find some other way home, but she wasn't driving back to Fort Collins now and then driving me back again 8 hours later. I couldn't believe she wouldn't do that for me. She said she had too much schoolwork to do. I got out, and waited in the terminal for 8 hours for the next flight. That was the last week of August, ten years ago this month.
After a few hours of sitting in the terminal I finally began to feel bad about leaving on that note. I dug up some change & called her to apologize, and hopefully patch things up.
She told me she didn't want to talk to me. She wasn't about to accept my apology. She said she had started a letter to me to say what she wanted to say. I had never heard her sound so cold, ever. Believe it or not, it took until this moment to realize I had fucked up. I feel no shame in admitting I broke down and cried, in front of everyone, right there in the terminal, too late.
Three months later, her letter arrived. It said that her anger had cooled somewhat, but wasn't completely gone. It said I had always been petulant, which was true, but that this time I had taken it much too far, which was also true. She'd tried to help as best she could once the misadventure had begun, including riding her bike all over town willingly carrying my ungainly guitar for me, and I didn't appreciate one second of it, which was also true. I still have the letter, I could dig it out, but it's not important. It wasn't long, just one page, and true to form. Her talent for never, ever bullshitting carried even through her fury. Every single ugly sentence of it was accurate.
That December I tried calling her again. She told me she still didn't feel like speaking to me, and that was the whole conversation.
A year went by. In that time a two-day spring vacation in Vapid City turned into six months, and I didn't make it back north to Bellingham until August. Living back at the hostel again I got involved with Annabel, a lively and sometimes contentious wiccan singer/songwriter who was to complicate the next two years of my life. Amidst the frequent soap operatics, though, we had some wonderful moments and got to know each other real well.
One night An and I were laying in bed at 1:30 am, and I was fuming. An looked over at me and simply said, "Mike, go write a letter."
I'm not very politically concerned, ordinarily, but something I had read in the paper that day really bothered me. The people of California had passed another one of their wacky pot legalization initiatives, and the Federal government machine had geared into action against it. The president's Drug Czar, in an interview, was asked flat out if he was "thwarting the will of the people" . He said, "I think the people were asleep at the switch on this one."
Something about a government official in an ostensible democracy making a statement like this really bothered me. It ate at me, and it was this that Annabel suggested I get off my chest so she could get some sleep without my crazy intense Drug Czar-hating astral vibes fucking up the aether of our walk-in closet bedroom.
I went downstairs and penned a pretty effective piece about the obvious problems with a high-ranking official of a democracy dismissing the importance of the voters' choices. I printed out and addressed paper copies to my congressman, all four of Bellingham's newspapers, and the President of the United States.
I also made up a mailing list of my various friends who had email - which, in 1996, wasn't many. The thought struck me that since Jerusha was from California, I could use this as an excuse to try and contact her. But it had been a year and a half since our falling-out, and I didn't even know if she had an email address or what it was. I fired up my web browser and proceeded to look for some sign of her on the nascent internet.
Search engines were of no help but the University of Colorado's website turned out to have a searchable student directory. If she was still there, this would tell me how to get in touch with her. A search for "Jerusha" turned up an email address for a currently enrolled student... but with a different last name. I didn't think it was likely that there were two Jerushas enrolled at the same school.
I added this email address I'd found to my mass mailing and sent it out. I followed it with a second, personal note to that address asking if it was her, explaining that I thought she might be interested because she was originally from California, asking how she was doing, and adding "By the way, did you get married? If so, congratulations."
Soon I got back an incredibly nice email that started with "I owe you a big apology." She was sorry for not speaking to me for so long, she had forgiven me and it was all nice and very good. And yes, she was married. It had happened after "a quick romance last year."
That took about a week to process, mostly because it was just such a strange idea. But, I thought, go figure - last time I saw her she said she only wanted to sleep with one man ever again, and now she was married. It made perfect sense. Still, it was a weird concept to digest emotionally. Jerusha was married to someone.
Six months later I went back down to Vapid City for a two week visit and never left. I called Jerusha a few months afterward, and after 20 minutes of awkward attempts at conversation the dam broke and we spoke like old friends.
She finished school and moved to Bakersfield, CA. We kept in cordial touch over the years, although over time the frequency of our contacts dropped off a bit. While the personal emails declined, we remained on each others' short lists for mass mailings: Funny links, holiday greetings, and changes of phone number or email address. Life went on.
In 2001 she replied to an email from me with three sentences: "Life's a roller coaster. I'd fill you in on details, but I'm starting to see double. Later!" Near the end of that year she sent out a mass-mailing saying she had lost her job and was looking for something new, and would be moving in a few months. She said she was hoping to get back into academia.
Sometime in there I spent the weekend on a camping trip not far from Bakersfield, and left her a few messages inviting her to get together for dinner while I was nearby, but she never returned the calls. In 2002 she sent out a mass email to give her new "at least temporary" email address.
In June of 2004 something reminded me of her and I sent an email to that address. It bounced. "This Message was undeliverable due to the following reason: The user(s) account is temporarily over quota."
Yesterday I realized that this month would be 10 years since we had last seen each other's faces. So yesterday afternoon I figured, now's a good time to re-send it.
Last night I came on home from my watering hole, and as my email downloaded in the background, I looked up the chords for "To Love Somebody" on the internet. Pretty easy song. I could hear it in my head already, I knew I could sit down at my electric organ and really tear the hell out of this one - what a weeper.
A dialog popped up to let me know my email had arrived. There was a bounce notice in with my new messages.
It was the email I sent Jerusha earlier in the day, the retry of last year's attempt. "<<< 550 MAILBOX NOT FOUND. <firstname.lastname@example.org>... User unknown". The last email address I have for her is no good. She said she'd be moving but never told me where. So I tried typing her name into the search engines. They turned up nothing. For the first time in 17 years, I don't know where she is. Just like that. She's gone.
A potent feeling overtook me. Disappointment and time and loss and understanding and the dispassionate affection you feel for the memory of someone special who hasn't been there for a long time. We'd kissed, we'd grown, we'd loved, we'd traveled, we'd fought, and at long last she's slipped into the past, as I had always known would someday be the case. Finally, we are apart for real, as real as apart can be. She's gone.
I thought about it all. I was sort of able to slip back the odometer and put myself back in that place again. I remembered. Jerusha.
I sat down at my organ, and made love to her one last time. The emotion was right there. I played the hell out of that song.
Baby, you don't know what it's like, to love somebody the way I love you.
That's over now. I don't live in the past, I just remember it.
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