I moved back to my old neighborhood in January. For as many times as I've tried to move away and stay away I've always come back, like a homing pigeon making its way south for the winter to a place familiar, comfortable as an old flip-flop, warm and sunny. I like to think that each time I return I've grown a bit more, smug with the knowledge that I've evolved from a young surfer/mountain biker/struggling freelance writer into a working professional with health insurance. At least I can say that I've seen more of the world, experienced lifestyles outside of our funky old Venice Beach, and that I now own an Armani suit.
Alas, I am back, but with the return comes the haunting by old ghosts.
I was at The Rose Café this afternoon, eyeing the blueberry crumble pie in the bakery case when I ran into Anthony. Anthony is my old neighbor whose apartment was down the hall from mine. I saw him first and thus positioned myself directly in front of him, waiting while his brain unscrambled the initial confusion of who I was and why I was blocking his path. I laser beamed my blue-eyed gaze into his brown eyes set wide on his dark skin determined not to say my name and at last: recognition. "Wow! I haven't seen you in years!" he exclaimed, his smile growing, along with my relief. Of course he recognized me. We had lived on that same floor of the building for five years, my longest residency anywhere, ever. We had seen each other through five years of lovers and rejection letters (he is a screenwriter and I was writing for magazines). We immediately launched into predictable dialog. "How are you?" I asked. "Great," he replied. Indeed, he looked as gorgeous as ever -- fit, healthy, and verrrrry sexy. "But times are hard with this economy," he continued, his eyes turning serious and a little sad. "I just need to get a break. You know that C.A. is a big film guy now, right?"
"No, I didn't." C.A. was my ex-fiance who had also lived in the ocean-front building, one floor below me.
"Yeah, he's producing movies. We've known each other 15 years, but do you think the guy will look at one of my scripts? No. He's so disingenuous."
C.A., it occurred to me, could stand for Complete Asshole. "I know what you're saying, Anthony. Out of all the crazy things I've done in my life, being in a relationship with him is my only regret. And I'm talking all the one-night stands, stealing, walking out on jobs, lying to my parents, you name it. He was by far my biggest mistake, the wrong fork in the road, the guy who said 'trust me, I'll take care of you' and then one day with no warning put all my belongings in a pile outside his door. So, yes, I know exactly what you mean by disingenuous."
“I just feel sorry for his wife,” he said.
“You know her?” I asked.
“I introduced them!” he replied.
I didn’t remind him that C.A. got engaged to her just three weeks after we broke up. Three weeks is all it took for Complete Asshole to put three years with me behind him. Just like that. Poof! It made me feel less terrible about the time I baked a peach-blackberry pie for his parents when they were visiting and dropped it on the carpet just as I was bringing to them downstairs. I took a spatula and scraped the broken mess of pie off the floor, along with dog hair and sand, and patched it back together in the dish. The ruined pie should have been a sign of the broken heart to come. But I thought we were going to get married. I had trusted him. Stupidly, I trusted him.
The last time I moved back to Venice after the bust of my dot-com job in San Francisco, I returned with the slightest glimmer of hope that C.A. and I could reconcile. I hadn’t seen him in two months. I rented a cottage only two blocks from our old building and began reestablishing my life at the beach. My neighbor, Pam, came by one day and asked if she could talk to me. “I ran into C.A. at the mailbox,” she ventured. I could tell there was more she wanted to say, something serious. She paused a little longer, making sure I was going to be able to withstand the blow she was about to deliver. In the gentlest, kindest voice she said, “He’s married.”
Of course the news came as a shock. I hadn’t heard about his quick engagement -- and subsequent marriage – while I was living 385 miles north. I was simply holding on to a fantasy, still wanting to believe that the white knight he pretended to be wasn’t just empty Hollywood salesman talk, something for which he is now getting paid big money. My shock wore off after the first time I saw him one morning a week later at Starbucks. “I heard you got married,” I started. I could see his relief release out of him like a dog emptying its bladder. He didn’t have to be the one to tell me. “I wish you well,” I continued. And that was the last time I saw him.
But now, back in the old neighborhood, I caught myself warily passing our old building, scanning the tables at the Rose Café to make sure he wasn’t there, avoiding places where I might see him again. Happily it was Anthony and not C.A. I saw today at The Rose.
“You know, you’re like family, Anthony,” I reminded him. “Here’s my card. Let’s stay in touch. But before I go, can I buy you a cup of coffee?” I asked.
“No, sweetheart. I need to get going too. It was great seeing you.” And with that we hugged tightly, squeezing out the past, embracing the future.
When I got home I Googled C.A. Sure enough, he’s a big time film producer. But the news was better than that. He had moved away, far, far away, all the way to Singapore. Now it was my turn to be relieved. Now I can reclaim my old neighborhood and walk the beach with the peace of mind that the population of Venice has declined by one disingenuous resident. Instead of looking back I can look forward. I can go to The Rose without worry of C.A. sightings and I can focus on things like helping Anthony sell a screenplay. And I can think about staying this time. Even homing pigeons need a place to call home.