It is Saturday. My friend Amy has invited me to see the world premiere of Cicada at the GreenHouse Theatre – Artist Date 74. It has been a labor of love – hers and others – for three years. She has asked all of her friends to bring their friends. To spread the word.
I say “yes” to the first part, “no” to the second – honoring my commitment to my weekly solo date. To myself. And write it in my calendar in pen.
But now I want to change my mind. I want to see a boy.
He is young. Younger. He visited my OKCupid profile. I visited his.
He reminds me of Mr. 700 Miles – my last love, my last heartbreak. Right down to the part where he moved home to be with his mother when she was ill. That’s the part that really knocked me out about 700 – his seeming unselfishness and big, shiny heart, which he proudly wore on his sleeve.
It is flawed from the start and I know it. Making contact because he reminds me of someone I used to love. Someone I am trying to let go of and clearly have not entirely because I am still writing about him. Because I am attracted to someone who reminds me of him.
We exchange a few messages. And then we talk. He isn’t 700. But I like his voice and there is something sweet and spiritual inside of him. We talk about gratitude. I tell him I’m sober – something I have consciously not mentioned in my most recent dating forays up until now, for no other reason than it is not yet germane.
We make a date for the following week, based on my schedule. But I want to meet sooner. I think of inviting him to the play with me, reasoning that I sometime go to events with others and still count it as my weekly Artist Date. Even though it isn’t.
But I know this isn’t the answer.
I meet him in the afternoon instead. Prior to the play, when a client cancels. We go for a walk at the lake. I tell him I had thought of inviting him to the play but didn’t – explaining the ritual and commitment of my weekly Artist Date. He says he wouldn’t have gone, he wouldn’t want to get in between me and me. My words, not his.
I had the same experience with 700 in January when I let it slip I would skip my Artist Date to talk with him on the phone for the first time. He said he would feel horrible if I missed the movie I was planning to see and suggested I call him later – which I do.
It is astonishing how quickly I will abandon myself.
It is a story about holding on. And letting go. About memory. Identity. The stories we repeat.
Conversations with ghosts that allow us to live on with those no longer present. Some haunting and angry. Some decidedly sweet and tender.
I think about my own ghosts. About serendipity – the times 700 has recently “showed up.”
An invitation he sent months ago to download Facebook Messenger pops up on my phone without cause or reason – his name and profile picture announcing the old request.
The license plate frame on the car in front of me, from a car dealership in the town where he lives – a village of only 5,000.
I whisper, “Are you there?” Sometimes I swear I can feel him. I wonder if he is thinking of me in those moments. I like to think so.
It hurts watching Amy, as Lily, struggle to let go of the one she loves best.
It is not a single action, letting go. More a process. A dropping off, bit by bit, until there is nothing left but the shell of what once was, and you don’t even notice until someone asks you about it.
Like when I went to the Facebook page of the Southern Svengali for the first time in months, and saw he was living in Boston. How could I not know? And how is it, I could not care? I was happy for him. For the work he was doing. But I was not affected by it.
Two days later I cancel my second date with 700 Stand In.
I am overwhelmed. I am working three jobs. Plus writing, dancing, and ostensibly looking for work.
I have not exercised since Sunday. I am again sleeping less than six hours a night. My apartment is a sty.
Something has got to give. The choice is obvious. I choose me.
I let the few other men I have been communicating with know I am on hiatus until June 12 – when my contract work is completed. I give them my email address and I disable my OKCupid account.
I feel sad. Like I have given away a puppy. I forget doing what is right does not always feel good.
I know if I can let go of the attention, and the possibility of romance at least for now – the rest will drop off too. Like it always does. Until I don’t even think of it, think of him, until his name is mentioned. And by then 700 miles is just a measurement of distance between here and there.