Karen Rivers

love and other painful collisions.

Karen Rivers

For some reason, I've been thinking about old boyfriends. 

And not in the way that you (they?) might think that I'm thinking about them.  

Mostly I'm just thinking about love and its randomness and strangeness and general grotesquery and how good cool sheets feel against your feet on summer nights.  

Saying you are thinking about love is much like saying, "Oh, I'm just thinking about quantum physics and how it relates to that drop of dew on the dead needles of the Christmas tree I threw out behind the fence." It's too much to think about really and half the time, no one knows what they are talking about, least of all me.   

Don't cry.

This one really isn't sad.


None of the boyfriends I mention here were serious.  (I won't talk about the serious ones because I know they read this blog.  Or at least, I sometimes assume they do, and then I feel weird, wondering what they are thinking.  Assuming that they are mostly thinking, "Well, bullet dodged.")

There is no chance whatsoever that any of these three men read this blog, so we are in safe territory.

If they do read this blog, they ought to pretend they don't if we happen to bump into each other at Thrifty's buying quinoa and endamame salad.  (I'm hungry, and Thrifty's makes a good quinoa and endamame salad, which is why I mentioned that.  Besides which, eating quinoa and endamame makes me feel like a better person than I actually am, which is actually just a contrary-sort of person who is really terrible at love.)


I gave a boy a mento.  

That's how we met.  (We were in an economics class together, but I hadn't really noticed him.  I'm the kind of person who either overly notices other people or completely blanks them.  There is no middle ground.)  The economics boy was my waiter at Milestones during a period when I was obsessed with veggie burgers and didn't realize yet that I was allergic to them.  I gave him a mento and he told me he was in my economics class and asked me out.  I think he was the first person who asked me out while sober in such a straight-forward way.  

He was the manager.  I associate him strongly with cilantro.  So much so that even now when I eat cilantro, I think about him.  (Back then, they cooked everything with cilantro, which was considered very trendy, if a herb can actually be considered trendy.)  He was Dutch and very kind and much too old and serious for his actual years.   He wore a tie unironically.  He grew up to look like Colin Firth, I know this from Google.  Google is useful when it comes to old boyfriends.

It ended because of a club called Chocolate Milk where my friends and I would go dancing on Thursdays.  It was a gay club and we thought we were exceptionally cool to be straight girls going to gay dance clubs.  He liked the club a lot and for a while, I thought that was the problem, that he was gay, but then I caught him trying to befriend my best friend in a way that was more than friendly.  I always knew, with him, that the other shoe was going to drop.  Because he'd been sober when he noticed me, he was obviously broken in some insidious way.  I'd known it all along!  I was sophisticated, enjoyed cilantro and gay dance clubs, so I didn't need him!  I don't think I cried when we broke up.  I don't really remember. 

I am excellent at forgetting. Forgetting is a skill that should be more embraced than it actually is, I think.

The cute Morman boy had a pet cow growing up who he later slaughtered and ate.  He was exceptionally good at Jeopardy but I am not a believer and he was a really terrible cook.  Whenever he spoke, I couldn't shake the idea that although he seemed sweet, he would happily turn on (and consume) his best friend.  He'd said that she'd been the best pet ever.  He trained her to do tricks.  I don't know how you can teach a cow tricks and then eat her, I just don't.  He's probably reading this.   Well, what can I do?  He shouldn't have eaten the cow.  

He ate the cow.

I couldn't possibly have loved him, knowing that.  But I was enraptured by his ability to play trivia games without ever making a mistake and the absolute certainty by which he lived his life.  He seemed like a good choice, if only I could get past the beef thing and the gulf between our religious beliefs, which could not have been more vast.  

I also can't remember how that ended.  I am almost certain, in that case, I felt nothing.

I'm not sure why I even mentioned him.  I think I was trying to go in some sort of order, in case you are fact checking.

The bouncer was someone with whom I had the kind of chemistry that altered the fact that he was not my type, was clearly bad news, had bad skin, and did not pass my best friend's standardized test for boys-I-should-date, which I didn't realize until much later meant boys-who-preferred-her.  I don't know why I mention the bouncer because we did not date.  


After months of intense flirting -- flirting is the wrong word here (and always makes me think of hummingbirds) -- one night after the club closed, I went with him and his bouncer friends to a Chinese restaurant where they served us beer in a teapot.  This was to be the start of something, it was understood.  We thought we were very outre drinking beer in tiny china cups meant for tea.  (This outre-ness is a common theme of those years for me.  The actual enjoyment of a thing mattered much less than the appearance and relative coolness of the thing being enjoyed (or not enjoyed, as the case may be.))  He ate a burger with onions and his friends teased him about the onions and about me.  I can remember what I was wearing, which was a long floral dress, motorcycle boots, and a leather jacket, borrowed from my best friend.  I was impressed by a person who would go to a Chinese restaurant and order a burger.  

These were not my people -- I was rarely without my best friend and when I was, I felt unmoored -- yet there I was, without her (although in her clothes), with the sweaty palmed, acne-faced bouncer.  It's not even that his hands were sweaty, it's that his skin had an odd quality to it.   Both papery and wet.   He apologized about the onions and said he'd meet me at home, he had to go back to his place first. I was nervous but happy.  Then something happened.  I don't know what it was.  I do know that when he showed up, I pretended not to be home.  He threw things at my window and I lay on my bed and cried.  I listened to the things making contact with the glass and realized that I would never let him in.  It was summer.  It was really hot, but I had closed and locked the windows before he arrived as though he might scale up the side of the building and come inside.   I lay in the clean sheets and moved my feet around to the cool spots and listened to my own pulse.   He threw things for quite a while.  Not chairs or anything big, but probably rocks, although I don't know where they would have come from.  Maybe it was coins.  People always have coins, but who has stones?  I never saw him again after that until recently when he (or his doppleganger) reappeared as a policeman who gave me a ticket for talking to my mum on my cell phone while I was driving.  I didn't know that I knew it was him until much much later, at which point it was too late.  

It makes no sense to me why I can remember that night but not one of at least 15 break ups I had both before and after that.

That's life. Mostly, things don't make sense. 

All this was meant to lead me somewhere, but it didn't.  These weren't even real relationships.  They were pre-relationships.  They were some place and time where I existed before I'd ever actually been in love or knew anything about heartbreak and life.

I still don't know much about love, actually, now that I think of it, but I've had more practice, although now when someone says "I love you", my kneejerk reaction is to say, "No, you don't." Which sounds less insulting than, "Don't be ridiculous!" which is what I used to say back when I was a mature sophisticate who knew how to dance at gay bars and sip beer out of Chinese tea cups. 

I think my point is that there are always people that through the years, no matter when you see them, you are drawn to them.  And not in a romance-novel type of subtle "We were drawn together like magnets!  Squee!  Cue fireworks!" but more in the kind of force field of things colliding that have to collide, you can't stop them, where you have to actually step back because otherwise you will crash into each other so hard, bones and hearts (probably yours) will be smashed apart, jaggedly tearing through the skin of everything you are pretending to be.

It's mostly best to avoid those people (friending them on Facebook is not a good call, for example), in case you were looking for advice here, which I doubt you were.  Either avoid them or celebrate them because they at least remind you that you can have feelings like these, even if they are for the wrong people at the wrong time in the wrong places. 

I mean, we all make our choices.

I feel strange now, like all these people from my past are suddenly going to Google me and find this and read too much into it, and then I'll have to blush and look away, or just hold very still and pretend to not be at home.

I think next time I teach a class, I'll say, "Write something you'd be embarrassed if anyone ever read."  

You should try it, too.  

Why not?