Why you should care
Because we don’t always choose who we fall in love with.
Frances Park is the author of 10 books and co-owner of the famed candy boutique Chocolate Chocolate in Washington, D.C.
I like to think W wasn’t a bad person, just a troubled one. Oh, we had good times, sweet times, fell to our knees silly in that furniture store that sold factory seconds where three-legged tables went for a song, but sometimes his eyes went cruel blue and wouldn’t let you in, not even at knifepoint, I bet. Stone-cold upon hearing of his father’s death, he cried whenever “Desperado” came on the radio like it meant something to him and only him, too precious to share with the likes of me. And, hey, I was only the girl he called “Face,” the girl he wanted to marry. W was cut deep, but so what when it was the ruin of him.
“Why do you always cry when you hear that song?”
“Leave me alone, Face.”
We met because he was the most beautiful thing I’d seen in a long time. On a crowded D.C. street, I gave him a look. You’d never think a look in 1988 would lead to something to write about. Now, though, I wished he never noticed.
“Can I take you to dinner?”
“Take me anywhere.”
Early on we went for a drink at Duke Zeibert’s. Next to us was a woman with a brassy laugh, aching for love. When W got up to use the men’s room, Brassy leaned over to me:
“My God, you’re the luckiest woman alive.”
W was a pretty boy, though subtly rough around the edges from smoking, drinking, late nights. His throat was gravel, his jeans frayed. Unlike me, who longed to write like Janis Joplin sang, more fascinated with the dream world than the waking, W lived for happy hour, which I blamed on his dad — helpless and bedridden but in his heyday a mean drunk who would take W, his little towhead, to other women’s apartments while he did his thing. Well, like father like son. I should’ve known, but a girl can’t always, even when the boy inherited a faithless carriage (you can always tell by the way someone moves). So despite my suspicions, I stayed. Indeed, a year later we moved into a house on a lake with glittery views.
“C’mon, let’s get married, Face!”
“I don’t think so … ”
When his dad was on his deathbed, we were summoned to his childhood home. Afterward, W refused to join the sobbing circle in the living room, where his mom and sisters were confiding family secrets to the priest who’d been delivering last rites. Instead, W busied himself in the garage while I eavesdropped from the kitchen. Later, I confronted him:
“Your sisters said your father used to beat you to a bloody pulp every day. Is that true?”
“Hell, no. Never.”
In time, I walked out on W. His denials of cheating and other drama did me in, left me looking worn and alcoholic and asking myself how I ever could’ve loved such a person. In self-imposed exile, I didn’t date or drink for years. In fact, I barely spoke to a soul, just wrote my heart out. I went vegetarian, vowing to renew myself on a cellular level. Instead, I fell sick with a mysterious virus that attacked every inch of me. I thought I would die before I would ever recover.
Meanwhile, W begged me to come back. I didn’t get it and still don’t get it. Now he was free to fuck whoever, get trashed and freely weep to “Desperado.” So do it, man, and fall off a cliff while you’re at it — I don’t care.
One day, two years later, I heard a knock at the door: W. His car was at the curb. More knocks, but I didn’t answer and finally they stopped. He didn’t leave, though, just sat in his car looking paralyzed. Should I scream? Call the police?
Suddenly, he jumped out, slammed his car door shut and began knocking again so furiously it knocked the fear right out of me. Ready to strangle him, I cracked the door open and saw his wasted soul.
“Can’t I just check on you once in a while, Face? See how your writing’s going?”
“Go away. Forever.”
And he did. Sort of.
In 2010, I was in the middle of writing a memoir when my editor suggested I was holding back. More personal details, please; readers want that, crave that, hear about your love life. Problem was, I’d always been embarrassed by my W chapter, if you will. It always seemed like a character slip — a DUI, a black mark. What would my readers think of me?
Chronicling my time with W after 20 years was so weird. Molecularly removed, I could only remember two strangers from some foreign moon. Out of curiosity, I googled W and what popped up was shocking: his death notice in the Washington Post. It had been published that very day.
Soon after that, I dreamt I was in my kitchen when W appeared, standing closer to me than humans can. His face dove down to mine as he whispered “I’m sorry” in a voice so broken, so haunting, only a devil would say no, then kissed my cheek. I woke up with two sensations: a hot tear running down my face and a little fire where his lips were.