You will meet a girl named Simone when you are on a family vacation at the age of 11. She will have blonde hair, she will be from LA and she’ll tell you that she stars in Teddy Graham commercials back home. This will sound amazing, because you love Teddy Graham’s, and for the first time ever you’ll be convinced that you can fall in love just like the people in the movies. You will wonder if she thinks about you the same way you think about her, and this will make you wonder why you’re thinking that at all. You’ll know, though, that this is love and that you are feeling something no one in the history of time has ever felt. That these feelings are entirely unique to you and only you. She will always smell like shampoo and in your mind you’ll probably move to LA when the week is over. You will go home after the vacation and write her letters from time to time that she will not return, and you will cry because Simone and her delicious snack food commercials will never be a part of your life again, and love is hard. You will never speak to Simone again, which will hurt for an unreasonable amount of time.
You will meet Chelsea in middle school. Her last name will be exotic and you will steal her from a guy who will become a best friend that you will have for the rest of your life. You will date for around a year and talk a total of five to six times, maybe. She will be your first kiss, and you will never know if you ever actually kissed or if you just flailed into each other and ended on a polite headbutt. You will pace your room wondering what you’ll say to her when she picks up when you call, the nerves leading you to hang up over six times before asking something mundane about her favorite band. You will write her a longwinded letter about your love for her, complete with doodles. She will take said letter from you, say thank you, and promptly dump you. You will wonder if there is a God and will curse women with hispanic last names for years for no apparent reason.
You will meet Mandy a year later. She will be your first french kiss. It will happen on rollerblades, rollerblades that you will race home on as though you were the triumphant misunderstood kid who beat the odds in a John Hughes film. You will wonder if it affected her the way it did you, if she was calling her friends and telling them that she had discovered magic in a curly haired young man. She will tell everyone that you kiss like a goat, and you will question what a goat even kisses like or how she knew. No matter, it will crush you and your teenage tongue. She will dump you and date the guy you stole Chelsea from. The two of you will laugh about this for years to come, the most important times being when you live together and when you then stand next to him as he gets married to the love of his life.
You will meet Sarah in high school. Her friends won’t really like you, your friends won’t really like her, and everything will feel impossibly hard even though you know that the two of you are meant to be. You are not meant to be, even in the slightest. You will break up and get back together at least 17 times until the day that your 4’11″Jewish grandmother will yell at her from the stairwell wearing a nightgown at 3 pm inexplicably, telling her to leave the goddamn house. It will be a lovely moment you and your grandmother share, if only because you realize that people will stand up for you in the most trivial of moments. You hate losing Sarah because everything is terrible and no one could possibly understand what it feels like to love and lose someone in high school but you love what you found in the process.
You will meet your college sweetheart during the first week you’ve ever lived away from your home. She will smile, dance, and hold your hand differently than the others before her because you are 18 now and you are a man and you know what love is (or at least what you want it to be). You’ll ask for her number the day after you meet and she won’t remember who you were, which you will think is the perfect story to tell people when you’re old and married. You will create endless amounts of inside jokes that no one will get at parties when you purposely recreate them in front of others. The world before her will feel indistinguishable, juvenile and unimportant. As time goes on, you will begin to feel like she is an ice cube that has been melting in your hand for five years straight, and for the first time you will understand that love is horrifically fragile and something that you can lose, like your keys, which will terrify you. She will break up with you twice due to your lack of ambition in life and you will cry until she takes you back. In a panic, you will go to live with your brother and cousin in a Nevada desert to find yourself and she will call you to tell you that she’s met a male model and never wants to hear from you again. You will cry harder than you’ve ever cried and feel a hopelessness you didn’t know existed and wonder why he couldn’t just be in sales or something. This will alter everything that happens to you ever again.
You will move to San Francisco and move in with four strangers in an attempt to pretend you are okay and open to frightening amounts of change. You will drink too much every night in a room you’ve locked yourself away in because you don’t recognize yourself or who you’re becoming, and you will sleep with people whose names you don’t remember because it’s all a blur and no one feels worthy of inside jokes anymore. You will aimlessly wander San Francisco and feel like a shell of anything you were because the girls who dance with you now remember you the next day and that’s not how it’s supposed to go.
You will cry at a wedding because Heather doesn’t like you anymore and you will feel horrified that you are a shit show that isn’t just on display, rather one that is playing at the movies fourteen times a day. After the tears dry up you will drink so much that you will fall asleep on a street corner that night in the town you grew up in and a taxi cab driver will call the police and tell them that you are dead. You will then politely ask the police for a ride home at the age of 26 and tell your mother that you’re doing perfectly fine. You are not doing perfectly fine.
You will be so embarrassed that you will write about it without leaving out a single detail, because humor is what you’ve got left and humility seems like the only way out of this mess. People will read it. An alarming amount of people will read it, and the heartbreak will begin to feel like hope. The disaster will begin to feel like the middle of the movie. You’ll begin to feel like maybe, just maybe, the girl who began to date the male model because you had no ambition was right: maybe you should be a bit more ambitious. Maybe you should write like she said you ought to.
For years, you will meet countless girls and make countless mistakes. You won’t necessarily write about them, but you’ll begin to write about you, and they might almost seem like the gasoline that reminds you that you should be a fire, even if it’s in a dumpster from time to time. You will hurt them, they will hurt you, but more importantly, you’ll both probably find ways to wake the other up. They will all be good people, you will regret so much of how it all went down, but you’ll be thankful that at least one of them caused you to put a wet towel on a duraflame log that caused a building fire that you wrote about. Because you wrote. And they had a baby with a guy who presumably made countless mistakes with someone else. And you’ll realize more and more that that’s how it works, just like everyone’s mother said: You get hurt. You hurt people. You put wet towels on Duraflames and eventually you get back up and just open the flue next time.
Then, you will meet her.
She will have a look in her eye like she’s put some towels on some Duraflames before. Like she has fallen in love in ways that you can’t understand and that if you’re willing to listen, she’ll never discuss them with you. You will sit down and have a beer that will turn into five, and you’ll go home that night and think out loud that maybe, just maybe, every last piece of heartbreak was worth it.
Years later you will ask her to marry you and cry before she does, which for the first time won’t be the embarrassing kind. She’ll say yes.
And everything, all of a sudden, will feel like it was very much worth it.