Smoking, Lovers: Six Stories
Updated: Dec 14, 2021
It is important to, every so often, remember how certain people have appeared in your life, and reflect on what they have taught you. The fact is that we all need to experience what we need to experience, with whom we need these experiences, when we need to experience them. And by virtue of experience, we choose to live eternities with people in fragile crystal prisms with the hope that they do not crack or crash into a million pieces. We hope and we proceed, knowing they might well.
I praise the universe that not all of the six below are gone from my life; a friend, a potential unfinished story or two, and... probably another friend. I am blessed to say that most (not all) of these experiences are adornments to my life, my vintage silver, my quartzes and topazes. Whom I loved, and who loved me back.
1994: I was part of the maintenance crew at a Christian summer camp. There was a lake, there was a lifeguard, he had long brown hair and a British accent. Even then, I thought, he must be totally out of my league. No way. But as we got to know each other, and our taste in music proved just too similar and more educated than the other teenyboppers at the Christian camp, and things developed. There was a wanting and a longing that could not be fulfilled because I was 16 and he was 21 and this was the United States. So I lived for the in- between moments when I was journaling on the steps of my cabin, and he´d be coming back from the lake. We would sit on those wooden steps and talk for as long as we could without being noticed by the administrators, who were already watching us for "inappropriate behavior". After that summer, there were letters I wrote and letters I received from him, and I lived for all of it; but eventually, it faded into the background. It was the first time I had tasted real longing for someone and it was an interesting entree into knowing how I would approach love as an adult: with idealism and abandonment.
1999: Just past the edge of 21, when everyone is forging ahead on identity issues and/ or thinking about what they want their life to look like. I was in the way I find myself now: desperate for real life, real city, music and art and poetry, nothing else. It was three summers before 9-11 and I was living in my Grandmother´s attic doing a journalism internship. I smoked regularly then, menthols, and it helped me foment my foray into identity-land. This person got me hooked on clove cigarettes. We went out a few times and he was my first "almost famous" musician lover. Super-duper-almost-famous and now plays with the best. He lived much harder days than anyone I knew and survived his own life, with the best "almost died" and "almost became a millionaire" stories I have passed on because he is legend, to me. I fucking loved him for that, but also for introducing me to my first glimpses of international culture. Eating hummus, drinking wine, sharing cloves in an outdoor patio on the lower East Side. I even drove out from Pennsylvania in the dead of snowy winter to see him play at CBGBs. I was dedicated but god, was I inexperienced. And he continued onward with chicas much more sophisticated than me. But he did impart something life-defining to me: he challenged me to be this "international" thing that I am today, and so I must thank him. I am proud to say that today, we are close friends; we have traveled together, and I know and adore his partner. We confide in each other and I never forget his Christmas Eve birthday.
2010: Jumping forward eleven years, I am working as a trade specialist in the government and affectionately called a "China Nerd". That´s when I met him. He was tall and beautiful and Silverlake indie, at the time, but always drunk and/or always awkward. I could never figure out which one it was. He questioned why I liked him, and I couldn´t believe he liked me. So I changed my hair color, I lost some weight. I wasn´t indie enough, I wasn´t pretty enough, and I knew it. He had a massive record collection and one aircondition-less summer night he played the Fleet Foxes 2008 album for me, the night we finally made some melancholy love, which hooked me completely. Henceforth, I lost myself in all of this. I loved him hard, yet he laughed at my efforts to reconnect with a culture that once was so accessible to me. He dumped me out of the blue one day, and I remember running across the White House ellipse, sobbing, in my goddamn work clothes that now were too big, into the telephone at my mother who will never get what this feels like, at least not at 32 years old. Bad times.
2014: When I locked eyes with this person for the first time, at a jam in Madrid, I knew this was a person I would never be able to say "no" to - in a very bad, destructive way. I have walked away from many things -- often a bit too late but -- I have always been able to walk on. This time, I was destined to careen spiraling into a very destructive firepit and no one could talk me out of it. There was love with him, and then it vanished, and then there was compromise to keep him, and weekly amazing sex, dirtier by the occasion. It was a "mierda total" in which I completely vanished for a full year. No one heard from me, I smoked and lost 20 lbs, and I nearly lost my career as well. And more. I only survived this experience by the grace of the universe. It was the most self-destructive thing I have ever done to myself, which is why I call this "suicide" love.
2017: I put myself back together, I moved on. I was in a normal relationship with a normal guy who was just slightly obsessive about controlling me. It was ok for a time, and then it was not. At that moment, I recoincided with this next person. We had met in Spain when he was on music tour with a friend, briefly, and when we saw each other, there was an instant mutual attraction, and mad lust on both ends. Nothing happened that night, but we stayed in touch via socials. And one day, I was in his city to do a music video, and we decided to meet up. The moment I walked into his apartment with Massive Attack Blue Lines playing and his candlelit eyes, I knew this would be the most righteous night I would ever spend. Little did I know that our encounters and our friendship would only continue to deepen, and that there would be no destructive ending to this real connection. This was / is my YES type of love, and I will call it that because there is no bottom to this experience, at least not from where I am standing, and it is all positive, mutual, and 100% in the moment. The friendship is rock solid and there is zero toxicity - we care so deeply one for the other without any holding back. He makes me feel mighty real, and he´s got it going on so bad, so believe me, I know how lucky I am. It will always be YES, to this person.
Compressed/ Real Love
2020: This crown jewel of a love appeared in my life when reality dictated it should not have. During COVID, in a lockdown facility, nowhere to go and a lot of work to do. When I got quarantined for 10 days for attending an off-compound meeting, he showed up every night on my doorstep in a mask, with a glass of Jack Daniels on ice for me, to make sure I was OK in my quarantine state. From quarantine to basically living together, he was the biggest surprise of my life. We laughed, and laughed, and laughed; he loved my vintage store apartment and my vinyls collection (I think I was the only one in Pakistan who had records!) and we bitched and complained and listened to each other. And had great sex. I cut his hair, we made Italian food. There was no holding back on "I love you" and it was sincere, not something said up front to stoke a fire that would eventually burn out. The door will always remain open for him, because he´s totally been my guy.
May all that is well end well!