If I read the stories without the music, I don’t feel a thing.
I’m glad I can develop some compassion for my younger self, even when it is induced through artificial means. I’m sure this is important for my recovery.
I’m keenly aware in these stories of the writer’s yearning for at least normal levels of human connection. He plainly has an attachment disorder but has yet to go to therapy. On the outside, his life looks like a success with money in the bank, good grades at college, and boundless ambition. Below the surface, however, he’s about to hit the iceberg of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and collapse and from that wreckage he will remake his life, though the themes he’s hitting in these stories apply just as strongly to my life now.
Early on in my first story, written in 1988 about events in 1984, I write: “Then one Friday, knowing that my brother Paul would be away all weekend and that I’d have the car, I resolved to invite Rachel to dinner and dancing that evening.”
This gets me to thinking, when did I first ask a girl out to dinner?
The first time I successfully asked a girl out full stop was August 9, 1981. The object of my affection was Denise. I’d met her in September of 1977. I was eleven and new to America. We were in sixth, seventh and eighth grade together. Then in 1980 my family left Pacific Union College (PUC) for Auburn and life outside the Seventh-Day Adventist church, but I made it back to PUC whenever I could and I was spending the summer before tenth grade with my friends the Muth family.
I was fifteen years old. I’d asked out Denise twice that summer already but she always had something else going on, like a horse shoe. This evening, however, she says yes to the baseball game the next day. The Muths happen to have tickets to the resumption of the baseball season after the strike.
Two college students drive four of us kids to Candlestick Park where the Houston Astros beat the San Francisco Giants 6-5.
On the drive, my best friend Andy’s little sister, Jenny, remarks that I’m wearing mismatched socks. Once we get to the stadium, Andy, Denise and I go looking for our seats. I lead the way, nervous and frenetic. Throughout the contest, I’m leaning over to Andy placing bets on various aspects of the game. Denise is not impressed and we never go out again.
The next summer, I have my first love with a girl a year younger, Rainy. I never ask her out, however, except to the PUC pool, where we spend many an afternoon. I hate asking girls out. It’s frightening. I dread the awkwardness and rejection.
I don’t get my driver’s license until right before graduating from 12th grade in May of 1984. The next month, I fly to Australia and live with my brother Paul for a year. I hope to get a real girlfriend and lose my virginity but I’m scared by women and I come across as just as weird and needy as I did in the States. I don’t think I ever formally asked a girl out that year, not for a date by ourselves. I did ask this girl, LeeAnne, to come to a dinner and party organized by some charity and we ended up driving to the beach and hanging out till sunrise but it was all very chaste and we never went out again.
The one girl I made out with that year was brought along on a camping trip. We went to a pub around Christmas and she got drunk and we outside and made out in the bushes before she needed to vomit and that was the last time I saw her.
I came back to California in 1985 and bought a 1966 VW Bug and slowly awkwardly asked girls out to movies and the like. There might have been a few dinners as well. There were definitely lunches. But I didn’t get my first girlfriend until I transferred to UCLA and got together with this Chinese girl in February of 1989, the week of Valentine’s Day. We spent the night and that launched us. I never had to go through the agony of asking her out.
I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at the time and that limited my going out. I had several relationships over the next few years, but because of my illness, I couldn’t exactly ask girls out. I could only ask them to come up to visit me at my parent’s home.
In September of 1993 while living in Orlando, I get on the medication Nardil and begin to recover my health. The next month, I meet Paula through a singles sit run by a Messianic rabbi. We hit it off over the phone and I ask her to dinner.
In my memory, this is the first time I’ve asked a girl out to dinner and she accepts.
Paula drives her mother’s station wagon and picks me up and we go to the Olive Garden and I talk a lot about sex. I’m 27, Paula is 36 and thrice divorced (twice to the same man). She has three kids. She is not Jewish.
The night ends with a chaste hug.
I ask her to dinner at my Conservative synagogue Ohev Shalom on Friday night. She accepts. I pay for two tickets.
She comes over that Friday afternoon and she’s weirded by the family I’m living with across the street from my shul. She flees. I’m mad. After the evening is over, I call her and say I’m not going to chase her.
She comes to shul the next morning and she gets along with everyone and that night we go back to her place. She’s staying with her mom. And we’re launched. From here on, I’m as comfortable as a bloke can be asking a girl out for dinner.
Another thing that strikes me as I read these stories — the difference in wages between Australia and America. In Australia, I had a cleaning and gardening contract for the Boyne Island Shopping Center that was worth about $40,000 a year. I came back to California, and the only job I could find was in construction for $3.50 an hour. (The Australian dollar during this time varied between rough equivalence in value to the American and two-thirds the value.)
I’m struck that when I see the woman I love in this story, I cross the street and try to get away unseen. Getting close to what I want frightens me to this day. Why? Because my heart gets so full and I’m emotionally flooded and like a car that floods, I don’t run. I have to get distance to soothe myself. What’s my anxiety? What was I scared of that Friday night in 1984 on Gondoon Street in Gladstone?
I think my primary fear is of connection to someone I want so badly that I won’t have the inner resources to handle rejection. Love feels to me like stepping off the edge into a free fall. OK, so I’m scared of how much I could get hurt and embarrassed if I approach Rachel. I’m trying to relate to her from a safe place, from humor and sarcasm, to ward off the vulnerability. And these fears plague me to this day.
These fears must go back to earliest childhood when I lived in foster care and home and attachment was not safe because it would get torn up again and again, so I learned to disconnect from my emotions and to avoid being vulnerable. Eventually, I learned to express myself through writing. With enough distance, with a keyboard, I could be honest.
When Rachel wrote her phone number on a Spearmint gum wrapper, I could safely attach to that wrapper. That didn’t cause me anxiety. I could get all emotional about that wrapper. It represented human connection. It couldn’t hurt me.
My fear of getting what I wanted has not affected me nearly as much in my professional life as it has in my love life. I guess I need to conduct my personal life more in line with the way I go about my work life.
I’m struck that there are details in the story, such as the name of Gondoon Street, that I have forgotten.
I’m still crazy about quiet, shy, proper brunettes like Rachel. She liked me but I couldn’t put us together and she got snatched up by another bloke.
The stories are composed of the themes I return to again and again — loss, thirst for connection, ambition, loneliness, the seeking of love and lust to stop the ache.
Why do feelings of loss, longing and nostalgia create a literal ache in the throat?