Olivia, the false start


oliviaI’d have left everything behind me in Columbus for the chance to be with Olivia once again – the mortgaged blue bungalow with a swing and a wrap around porch; the half-finished manuscript sitting in the locked drawer of my flame mahogany desk; my budding collection of rare jazz LPs and old soul 45s. I had given up my resolve and self respect to her long before.

All she’d have to do was ask, to say, Please come, and I’d be pawing at her front door within 72 hours, elbows scratched, knees muddied, ever the charmed and faithful little pet. It had been three years. No matter how many times she’d broke my heart we both knew I’d always take her back. In her own perverse way she needed me as much as I needed her.

The first time she dumped me we were on a long walk along the Willamette River after I had just returned from a forest firefighting gig in Southern Oregon. She waited until we were halfway over Knickerbocker Bridge before she broke the news.

“All good things end badly, Knox,” she concluded her rehearsed remarks with a sigh of pity and a somber shake of the head. “Otherwise they were never any good to begin with.”

If she was trying to soothe me with her words, Olivia had failed entirely. Before she could open her mouth again I had hurled myself from the bridge, fully clothed, as if I’d just been set on fire. After swimming to the north bank of the river I spent the remainder of the day getting bombed out of my skull with an affable tramp whose mongrel dog, Randy, entertained us by fetching sticks, branches and beer cans out of the water.

The second breakup came a few years later, after we had slept together in the college cemetery, gotten back together, got engaged, moved to Austin, and opened a small video store that also doubled as a coffee shop. She told me then that she wasn’t ready to take a relationship like ours any further – that she had come to the realization that she didn’t know who she really was deep down inside, and therefore was incapable of giving herself entirely to another person. We were doomed for the time being, but I was to keep the video store running, she insisted. Plus, who knew what the future might hold for us.

“Whatever happens, happens,” she said, as she kissed my cheek.

That night I happened to set fire to the video store and then head south to Corpus Christi, where I worked various odd jobs and ended up with a few unflattering tattoos on my forearms. Months of tequila baths, manual labor and boarding in a Mexican flophouse gave me the wherewithal and confidence to pursue Olivia for a third time. Sheer will power is all that kept me going after breakups four through six.

I thought it was over once and for all when I changed my name and moved to Columbus. But that wasn’t the case. Olivia called me from California on what would have been our 10-year anniversary.

“I still think about you, Knox.”

She began writing me letters, sordid tales of her search for self, through binges and false starts and new beginnings. There was never a return address, even though I had a lot to tell her, I couldn’t write her back. It was her way of saying that she still wanted to be with me, but she only knew she’d hurt me again. After a while I stopped reading them. And not long after that, they stopped coming altogether.

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