The Ghosts of Southern California

I have a habit of searching crowds for people I know.  It rarely happens that I actually come across someone I know well enough to stop and chat with and the few times that I do know someone passing on the street it’s usually they who have recognized me – a coworker, mostly.  But now that I’ve moved back to Southern California I find myself searching the sea of faces, wondering if I knew any of them in my past life.

There are two in particular that I think about: an ex-boyfriend from high school who now lives in LA and a former good friend from my Santa Barbara days who I think resides in the LA area as well.  Now, in the four months that I’ve lived here I’ve been to LA approximately four times (one time for the airport, one time to meet friends in town for dinner, one time to see a Dodger game and another time just thrown in there because I’m sure I’ve made that drive more than just three times) so I’m not constantly looking over my shoulder for these two people – only when I venture into their turf.

Like I was on Monday night for dooce’s meet and greet.  The Key Club seems like a fairly hip place (but I know very little about LA hipness) and she’s got so many followers that it’s not inconceivable for one of them to be there (is it?).

The ex-boyfriend and I haven’t spoken in several years.  We had this sort of on/off relationship/friendship.  I was mostly in love (teenage love, which just means that he was nice and good looking and slightly rebellious enough to have a crush on) for most of sophomore year.  We had study groups for Biology together, played pool at the University, carved pumpkins with friends and even went to a school dance together.  But nothing happened until the summer between our sophomore and junior years, when we split schools.  I think we were an official couple for all of two months before I freaked out and ended things – which would come to be my MO for the next, oh, ten years until I met Wes.  I think the ending of our relationship made his mom supremely happy.  For some reason she just did not like me (and this was before I broke his heart repeatedly – um, his feelings, not mine).

We continued to pretend to be friendly and hang out when mutual groups of friends got together.  And then he started dating another girl and suddenly I was totally in love with him again.  I had to have him.  And I got him because for some reason he actually loved me.  Even when I treated him like shit and started dating one of his twin brother’s best friends.  Even after he heard that I dropped acid (I didn’t).  So we started dating again.  If you’re following along you can maybe figure out that things didn’t work out any better the second time around.

Cut to the college years when we actually are friends and he comes to visit me in Santa Barbara.  And it is awful.  For some reason everything he says and does just annoys me.  I can’t wait for him to leave and I think he knows it.  We don’t talk for another year.

But when we finally do come back together we are able to be friends without all the bullshit that was there before, meaning finally I’m less crazy and realize that he’s a good friend – someone I want in my life.  We talk on a regular basis and see each other when I’m back in Idaho.  I see his dorm room and meet his new girlfriend.  He buys me a skateboard for my birthday.

After graduating college, he buys a van and decides to move to LA and try to work on his music.  He stops in Santa Barbara on his way down and we spend the afternoon together.  I see him off from my work and that is that last I saw him.  We talk a couple of more times but then he loses his phone in ocean and I never get another phone call from him.  I try to call and e-mail but I get nothing back.  My closest friend is less than three hours away from me and I never see him.

The second person I keep expecting (wanting?) to run into was a friend from college.  We became pretty close and for a while there she was one of my best friends.  When she and my very best friend left for Spain and I became pretty depressed she tried to help in the best way she could: by having her parents invite me to dinner.  She didn’t want me to be alone even if she wasn’t there.  When she came back from her semester abroad I was still on shaky ground: attending school and working but I didn’t have any real friends.  I was this brooding person and it wasn’t fun.  Well, not for me anyway.  I think she liked it when I was so sad and hating life and myself – it gave her something to fix.

When I finally came out of that funk and started making friends she didn’t like it.  When I started hugging people she accused me of being “a completely different person.”  She couldn’t understand that I just got tired of being called an Ice Queen.  We used to have these long discussions about our friendship.  She didn’t think I was putting in the effort and she felt like, fuck, I don’t know what she felt like.  But I know that whenever I saw her name flash on my phone I would think to myself, Not again.

We tried to have a friendship, but things just kept happening.  The more she wanted to talk about it the less I wanted to be around her.  One night, when a friend was visiting, we all went out to a bar.  There was a guy that I had told her I thought was cute and a group of us went back to my place.  Where she promptly left wtih the guy I said was cute.  Both being pretty drunk, I’m not sure where they went or how they got there.  When Jessica and I woke up the next morning her car was still there but she wasn’t answering my phone calls.  She even came to pick up her car without calling me or even knocking on the door.  At this point I’m not mad about any of it – just worried that something’s happened to her.  When she finally calls me back I can tell that she feels badly about what happened.  And all I can think is We’re going to have to have another conversation about this, aren’t we? Which, of course she wanted.

I couldn’t do it, though.  It felt like being in a romantic relationship, but without the romance.  I wasn’t going to marry her – we weren’t even dating – but it felt like we were in couples therapy.  So I told her I couldn’t have one more conversation about this.  That I just needed time to be away from her.   So we had a tearful hug and I walked out of the building into the rain and I have not seen her since.

About a week after that I received a box in the mail.  A breakup box.  She had packed up some stuff that I’d left at her house: lip gloss that I couldn’t remember buying it was so old; a cheap key chain; some ribbon; a chess set (though she never gave me the chess table that she made me for my birthday).  It came with a not that I’m sure said some other stuff but all I can remember is: I don’t think we should talk again.  Ever.

I took her at her word and didn’t try to get in contact with her for the next three years.  I never sent any of her things back to her and when she e-mailed me a couple of months later to let me know that Liz Phair was having a concert on my birthday I never responded.  She was the one who added that “Ever” and I was determined to follow it.

And then, this past year, in a drunken moment of weakness, I sent her a friend request on MySpace.  Which I immediately called back because I didn’t know if it was worth it.

But now that I’m down in this area I keep wondering if I’ll see her.  And what we would say to each other?  Would we even recognize each other?  These two were pretty prominent in my life at one point and I wonder if we passed each other on the street if we would even think twice about it.

And these aren’t the only two.  There’s a whole slew of used-to-be friends from Southern California that I’m afraid will pop up.  But those are the two I think about the most.

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