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This must be the place: If I ever loved once, you know I never loved right by you

Garret in seventh grade, 1997. Garret in seventh grade, 1997.

Ah, Valentine’s Day.

Upstate New York in the late 1990s. Middle school and Valentine’s Day dances in that a-typical gymnasium. Crappy late 90s hip-hop and pop music. Tongue-tied couples slow dancing. I was the 13-year-old kid running around the gym, kind of poking fun at the couples, but also secretly wishing that girl in my ninth period math class would save one for me on her dance card. 

High school and the eternal quest for some sort of actual relationship. Partly, because high school is lonely and misunderstood. Partly, because of raging hormones and the urge to finally run the bases. 

Backseat of the 1991 Plymouth Acclaim with your high school sweetheart. Kisses goodbye in her driveway in the mountains before her parents check the wall clock again to see if she broke curfew. 

Entered freshman year of college together. She was in Rhode Island. Myself in Connecticut. Yet another victim of “Breaksgiving” by the time the turkey gets carved in your respective households. The rest of the year was a blur, pretty much until the next girl came along. 

She was older, but I craved the fun that was at hand. Camping. Concerts. Underage drinking. That road trip to see Phish call it quits in some far away muddy cornfield in rural Vermont. But, she was still in love with her ex. And I entered a blur again, a default mode that still occurs from time-to-time. 

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Somewhere around second semester sophomore year, another girl walked into my dorm room, into my life during a keg party. She commented on how much she liked the Crested Butte, Colorado, skiing poster above my bunkbed. We soon hit the slopes together. Dated all through spring semester and that summer. 

She was the first person I ever told that I had a dream of someday becoming a writer, told sincerely and genuinely to her as we sat on her porch in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. I was 20. We were 20. There was something truly there, something that would last until the breakup that fall when I stepped on that plane headed to Ireland for a semester abroad. 

No more relationships for several years. Just meaningless flings with cute girls and nothing else. Push through my early and mid-20s, coasting along until I took a chance and asked a longtime crush out. 

The first date was a disaster. Nothing seemed to work in my favor. Soon after, I asked her to breakfast the day I left for Burning Man (Nevada) from where we sat in that diner (New York). If anything, I was hoping we could be friends. Truth-be-told, I wanted to spend my life with her. 

I paid for her breakfast and we hugged goodbye. With the vehicle’s nose pointed westward an hour later, I texted her: “I should have kissed you when I had the chance.” She responded, “You should have.” That exchanged turned into thousands of back-and-forth messages until I returned from the west a month-and-a-half later. She came to visit me the day I returned home. We started dating immediately. 

As I struggled to find footing as a writer, I barely made any money as a substitute teacher in my old high school. Less than a year later, it all fell apart. I was 24 years old and barely hanging on. She was looking ahead at what our life could be like together. A one-bedroom apartment on a writer’s salary probably didn’t seem to appealing back then. Probably still doesn’t.

One night she called me just as a huge snowstorm hit the North Country. I could tell from the tone of her voice something was up. I could also hear her two girlfriends in the background, whispering something: the inevitable. “I think we need to break up,” she said. I jumped in my truck and took off for her off-campus apartment at a college an hour-and-a-half away. 

“I graduate college in a month. I’ve never been on my own. I want to find out who I really am, and away from here. See what else is out there,” she explained through tears. We hugged. We laughed. We cried. Two hours later, we said goodbye. I jumped in my truck and out of her life. 

Heading into my late 20s, I ended up in Western North Carolina. Solo endeavors of the flesh. Nothing serious. But, when 30 nears, you start to think maybe one last attempt at something, anything in the realm of lifelong love. Tick, tock. 

So, let’s date the girl from back home, eh? I knew better that long-distant relationships rarely work. But, she was beautiful and had her shit together. Throw the dice. Six months later, I found out there was another guy, someone over a thousand miles away back in my hometown. They eventually dated, then got married. The last I heard, they bought a house and are expecting a kid soon. 

I floated along for a few years. More flings. More chaos. Joyous chaos mixed with the occasional girl who wanted more. Push that aside, even if she kicked through your front door that night she got drunk and wanted to talk to you. 

“Go home,” I yelled through the locked door. Boom. Her foot through the broken glass. “I hope you die alone,” she drunkenly screamed in anger. It was a statement I would be told again a few years later by another woman I thought I loved. 

Onward to my early to mid-30s. A beautiful woman (inside and out) falls into my lap. Saw the country together. Saw parts of the world together. As with everything, though, timing is a bitch. Two trajectories that should have intersected for one incredible, yet brief, moment. But, I flew too close to the sun and my wings melted, falling into darkness that consumed my heart and soul. 

Ah, Valentine’s Day. I’m still the kid running around the gym, kind of poking fun at the couples, but also secretly wishing that girl in my ninth period math class would save one for me on her dance card. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 


Hot picks

1 The inaugural “Empty Bowls” fundraiser for Haywood Pathways will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville. 

2 Jam/rock act Porch 40 will perform at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Innovation Station (Innovation Brewing) in Dillsboro.

3 The Water’n Hole Bar & Grill (Waynesville) will host Humps & The Blackouts (psychobilly) at 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22. 

4 Western Carolina University will present the U.S. Navy Band in concert at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Bardo Arts Center Performance Hall in Cullowhee.

5 The NetWest program of the North Carolina Writers Network will host an open mic night at  7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.

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