I was living in Los Angeles because I thought I wanted to be a screenwriter, and Jen was living in Seattle because
that’s where she’d moved at the end of our senior year in high school, right when I was understanding that if what I felt for her wasn’t love, then I didn’t what was. I looked her up and called her when I moved to L. A., and we’d been talking and writing regularly ever since.
I always felt better after I talked to her, even though we were not really the same people we’d been in high school. It had only been seven years, but we’d grown up a lot. As it happens, who I’d become was very interested in who she’d become. I was still a romantic, however. I’d always been one of those. Sometimes in my letters I’d write: “Look, I know you love me. You haven’t said it, but that doesn’t change the fact that you do.” And she’d write back, “Stop the big talk! Keep it small.”
“Sorry,” I’d reply. “Big talk is what I’d do.”
Romantics are big talkers. They have to be. The romantic believes in something better, certainly something better than what he’s got. For instance: Los Angeles. I felt lost in the vast, hot, endless highway of a city. I wanted to be successful, but increasingly success in Hollywood felt like trying hit a target I’d only heard of but had never seen. I drove and drove through that wasted city looking for something better, a light in a window, anything that called to me.
I visited her over the New Year then returned to Los Angeles. We wrote and talked and wrote and talked. It was like I was living two lives: our letters and calls were one life, my quest through the desert city was another. There was less big talk in my letters now. It was starting to seem like trying to make myself feel something I wasn’t always feeling. I didn’t want to make myself feel anything. I just wanted it to be there.
That June she was coming down for her cousin’s wedding, and we made plans to spend a few days together after. She called a week before the trip and we talked about what we’d do and she said she was really looking forward to seeing me. That was new. She didn’t usually talk about what she was looking forward to, me or anything else. I hung up, and thought how eventually I was going to have decide what I really wanted with her. It’s one thing when the other person seems reticent and you can supply the romance and the big talk, it’s another when they seem willing to join you.
Have I made all this up? I wondered. Have I invented the dream of Jen because I needed something to sustain myself when I couldn’t find meaning in most of what I was doing? That’s just the sort of thing a romantic was capable of doing.
No more, I decided. I’m not going to make any effort when she comes down here. No big talk. I’m not going to try to make her love me, and I’m not going to try to love her. Whatever is, is; whoever I am, I’ll be.
That first day, when I drove out to her hotel, I reminded myself not to try. It’s okay if you don’t love her, I thought again. It has to be okay. When she opened the door to her hotel room, I thought more or less the same thing I did on our first date: “There she is.” That’s it, really. We spent the next few days hanging around, going to an art gallery, and talking and talking. I had to remind myself not to try that first day, but not afterward. It came easily once I decided.
The third evening we sitting with my roommate talking about some movie, and I was listening to Jen, and she said something that made me laugh, and I thought, “This has been the easiest three days of my life.” The next night she told me she loved me. She shook when she said it, but that was only because she’d never said it before. That gets easier too. I knew I was done with the big talk. Now there was nothing to dream about; now there was just learning to have what had always been mine
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