It was 3 p.m. in the afternoon and the heat still hadn’t let up. “Shit, I’m hungry,” I thought to myself.
I was standing outside. My bare feet sticking to the sidewalk like pan-fried ham. As the delivery guy got out of his faded grey 2003 Nissan Altima, I scolded him for making me wait, before grabbing my Thai food and hurrying back inside. I didn’t leave a tip.
Most students had left for the summer. So my South Central street had grown quite peaceful. Almost like it belonged in one of those upper-middle class towns with those self-righteous, nouveau liberal families. Sure, they support Bernie Sanders, but they also get uncomfortable around black people.
Beached on the mattress like a starfish, I could only lay there, hoping it would eventually get better.
The walls were colored off-white like computer paper, making the room feel even more desolate than it looked. In the center of the room was an old mattress and resting next to it, a beat-up old duffel bag. The rest of the apartment was nice enough though. Three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and brand new hardwood floors. Considering how expensive student housing could be around the University of Southern California, the $400 rent was, to say the least, generous. A friend of mine had secured the place for me, last-minute, after I had contacted her, deep into the summer desperately looking for somewhere to stay in time for the start of my internship.
I never got a chance to find housing myself because the day after my last final for school, I spontaneously jumped onto a plane bound for Europe. I ran away because I didn’t want anyone to see me in the state that I was in. I was homeless, depressed, and chainsmoking cigarettes, instead of eating food.
Like most bad stories written by guys, this all started with a girl.
Four days prior, in the wee hours of the morning, my long-term on-and-off girlfriend (at the time), flipped a switch, told me that she hated me, and then kicked me out of the apartment that we had been sharing. While this isn’t the worst thing to ever happen in the world, going Mr. Hyde on someone who has come to rely on you, and during finals week, is never cool.
With no one awake and nowhere to go, I took my two duffel bags to the library and hung out there for a couple of hours, before going to my first final. Later that day she called me up, apologized profusely, and pleaded with me to come back. So I did. We had obviously never been the most stable couple, so I figured that her episode was caused by our impending, and final, break up. (She was graduating and moving away for work in a couple of weeks, while I had another year in school left.) The rest of the day was nothing but cuddles, sex, and “love”.
So you could imagine my surprise when, at around 4 a.m., it started up again. She sat up in bed, turned to me, and told me to get out. Knowing how close of a call my final that morning had been, I begged her to let me stay on the couch until morning. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, and I found myself homeless again, and unsure of what to do.
I still remember her cold stare, as if she didn’t even recognize me anymore. I still remember how her lips pursed together in disgust, as I pleaded with her to let me stay. I still wonder, had the roles been reversed, how long would it have taken for the cops to arrive? How demonized I would’ve been at the sight of my handiwork: a pretty, USC cheerleader, sitting on the sidewalk, crying. I shudder, because I know that if it were me who did this to her, I would’ve had a knee in my back, and cuffs around my hands.
At this point of the story, I’m probably supposed to go into a long, drawn-out, sob story about how awful of a person my ex was. However, that’s not going to happen. While I definitely didn’t deserve the atomic break up, I was by no means the saint of the relationship.
Besides stating that, I refuse to talk about it because it’s a story that you’ve already heard before. It can readily be found in the annals of modern folklore. It’s a “love story” that’s regularly packaged and fed to the public for entertainment, because it’s glorified by a culture that inhabits the imaginary realities of Hollywood films.
If you think I’m wrong, let’s do a quick round of word association. What comes to mind when you read the names: Rihanna, Chris Brown, and Amy Winehouse? Is it ‘passion’? Runaway love? How about infidelity? Rage? Abuse?
Nowadays, emotional and physical abuse are implied to be the byproduct of a type of love that’s quantifiably more than a connection that simply fosters stability or care. The ugliness of my relationship exposed what truly lies beneath these “sexy” dynamics: insecurity and emotional baggage, and it’s not Louis Vuitton quality stuff either. It’s the type of baggage that’s bought at goodwill, stuffed to the brim with Abercrombie & Fitch, and taken back to a country that scorns American imperialism, but still worships all of her shitty, worthless brands.
However, I digress. I’m going to skip over all of that dramatic bullshit because my writing about it, and your reading it, is an insult of cosmic proportions, to the brevity of life, and the sanctity of real companionship. In the spirit of full disclosure though, I will say that we were young, dramatic, and in love. But to us, love was just a game that could only be won or lost, and we both hated losing.
So after spending some time in France, I flew to Spain and without telling anyone (sorry Mom), rented a motorcycle and spent three weeks touring Andalusia, Spain’s southernmost region. Even though I had no phone, very little money, and no prior experience riding a motorcycle, I ended up driving over 2,000 kilometers. No, I didn’t want to die, I just went off my rocker, which, despite what Big Pharma has to say, is natural and needed sometimes.
That being said, I can’t talk about the journey because it’s impossible to do so in a way that you’ll find entertaining. There’s no linear progression, dramatic character arcs, or exciting climaxes. It’s just one of those things that happened to me. I’m not fucking Jack Kerouac, I’m just a kid with too much time on his hands and an Adderall prescription.
So I’ll sum it up like this: I did a lot of driving and a lot of “soul searching”. Basically, watch any male-driven coming of age film, sprinkle in a bad case of bronchitis, a couple of motorcycle spills, some severe malnourishment, and there you have it. If you want a cute, mental breakdown story, go and watch Bradley Cooper run around wearing a garbage bag for 90 minutes.
I ended the trip 10 pounds lighter, still terrified of women, and not the slightest bit over my break up. Apparently just running away from your problems doesn’t solve them. Who knew? So upon returning to Los Angeles, and finding out my new roommates were women, I committed to avoiding them at all costs. Which brings us back to that Southcentral Summer.
One Thai delivery induced coma later, I had a shirt draped over my face in a sad attempt to block out the light and trick myself into falling asleep. The length of this purgatorial state would vary depending on the day.
Today, it was cut short by the sound of excited female chatter entering the previously empty apartment. Peaking up in bed, straining my neck and my ears, I listened to my roommates as they made diner in the kitchen.
“Shit” I thought to myself, is today the day?
I heard 3 definitive knocks on my bedroom door.
It was Hillary asking if I was there.
“We’re making food if you want something to eat!”
Instead of replying, I threw on some dirty clothes and proceeded to open the door.
There before me stood my first roommate: blonde haired, blue-eyed Hilary. She wore one of those hip jumpsuits with a fashionable summer print on it like a true flower child; she was sunshine personified. While her eyes showed befuddlement, her grin revealed bemusement. Which meant that she wasn’t totally thrown off by my Manson hair and 70’s Bruce Jenner shorts.
The dark eyes peering over Hilary’s shoulder that looking more skeptical than amused, belonged to Sarah. With her powerful dark features, sharp cheekbones, and coffeed skin, she too looked like something out of a time capsule. For some reason, Michael Corleone’s Sicilian wife from Godfather II, comes to mind. Maybe it’s because they’re both beautiful, or maybe it’s because they’re both awesome.
“How are you doing Ils?” asked Hillary as Sarah beckoned me into the kitchen.
I was inching my way back into my room when the bathroom door burst open and out came the last roommate, Becca. She was as tall as me and had platinum blonde hair, strawberry jam lips, and porcelain skin that was radiant yet dangerous, almost like a goth Barbie.
I stood there, wallowing in awkwardness and too self-aware of said awkwardness, to do anything about it, as all three of them bombarded me with questions about my life. Obviously, I was scared shitless. Not only were my roommates beautiful, but they were absurdly kind as well.
It seemed that despite my state, my roommates wanted to get to know me, and eventually, a bond formed. It became routine for us to share a splif in the living room and recount our day upon returning from work. I explained to them why I had been acting/looking so strange. I told them about the break up, losing my mind, Spain, everything.
However, rather than agreeing with me when I wrote my ex off as “crazy,” they challenged me. Not to necessarily forgive her, but to consider her as a human being. I know it sounds elementary but so many people, including myself, tend not to do this when it comes to relationships. I challenged myself to look at my ex not as a caricature, but as a person who has hopes and doubts just like me. Only then did it become obvious that she hurt me, not because she’s a “bitch” or a “psycho,” but because she’s human, and humans make mistakes. I immediately felt the burden lighten and my capacity for love increase. As ridiculous as it sounds, I felt myself becoming “one of the girls”.
I found that the new person I had become, was at odds with the person I had been. While I always liked being around girls, if I’m being honest, I had never really considered them the way I did my guy friends. My new-found friendships weren’t without fault, but they were purely intentioned. We genuinely took care of each other. I couldn’t help but question everything that I thought I knew: “Why aren’t all of my relationships like this?” “Why can’t I be friends with someone I’m dating?” “Why am I not friends with more girls?” I needed to know. I was sick of being the guy with the tumultuous relationship.
While I’ll be the first to admit that nothing I assert is biblical, the fact is that many men, including me, don’t know how to meet women simply as people. Not only that, but men don’t even really know how to meet other men simply as people.
Men don’t hang out just to hang out. It’s not manly. Men are supposed to be conquerors, so there must be an activity where conquering is involved. (Straight) Men don’t go out to have fun, they go out to pick up chicks. To “search and destroy,” to “slay” – to rub their denim crotch on denim asses.
We’re taught to look at life like a game with winners and losers. That’s why groups of men, or bros, love Chipotle. Men don’t go there to get lunch, they go there to beat the system. To us, paying eight dollars for an eight pound, infant-sized burrito isn’t wastefulness or consumerism at it’s worst, it’s a statement that we’ve won.
The most bizarre thing about this is that while men stand to benefit the most from this neolithic dynamic, many women are also guilty of perpetuating it. For some reason, it’s normal for women to stand at the bar like merchants, trading conversations with men for $9 watered down vodka tonics. Men pay the monetary cover at clubs, women are taught to pay with the flesh.
Next time someone some asks you about the ratio of your group, tell them to go fuck themselves. It’s insane. This is the personification of a world where men are taught that they have all the power and women are told that they have none. If this is the way that women and men are supposed to interact, no wonder (completely platonic) different-gender friendships are so rare.
Luckily, my break up had left me in no place to creep or even consider my roommates as women, so it was different this time. I was also in the middle of what would end up being a five-month period of abstinence. No, I didn’t want to run away and join a friar, I just didn’t want to use someone else to get over my ex. While our culture celebrates the rebound, it had never seemed to work for me. So instead of going out every weekend and trying my best to get gonorrhea, I committed to healing myself emotionally and learning from my mistakes.
While my roommates respected my space, they never let be alone for too long. If they weren’t drawing me out of my enclave with the promise of weed and food, they were gently knocking on my door, letting me know that I was welcome in the living room at any time. I know it sounds dramatic but they took a broken person, and made him whole again.
Through this process, I couldn’t help but utterly fall in love with all three of them, not only as friends, but as people. As being in love should, they made me a better person. In that way, they really are my first loves. They brought the best out of me more than any girlfriend or guy friend in the past had done. They made me question what I thought love meant.
Perhaps giving and receiving love isn’t something that we inherently know how to do. Maybe love is something so fragile that it can really only be shaped by rom-coms and Drake lyrics. Is it also something that’s taught and learned through personal experience then too? What shapes our emotional habits more: our triumphs or our traumas? We learn from the ones whom we hate the most and we love the ones who we fear the most.
It took a mental breakdown, and a chance friendship with three amazing women to teach me how to love and accept myself, and how to eventually do the same for others.
I used to think that love was work, sacrifice, and pain, and while it can be, it isn’t in the way that I thought it was.
Love should only be work because you would sooner better yourself than lose the one you love. Love should only require sacrifice because you’d rather suffer than see the one you love suffer. Love should only cause you pain because it hurts you to see the one you love hurting.