At nineteen years old, I met the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my entire life. Her name was Alice. I never worshipped Aphrodite, fought for Helen of Troy, or bowed before Nefertiti, but trust me when I say they all paled in comparison to her.
I still remember the first time I saw her. I was a sophomore football player at New Mexico State University and was finishing up my mandatory eight hours of study hall for the week, of which I usually did two or three. Just as I was about to open the door to leave, she walked through. I nearly fainted. Standing before me was a six-foot tall supermodel with long brown hair, a perfectly pointy nose and disarming green eyes. As I was catching my breath, my teammate Mike Martinez walked over to her and gave her a hug. I’ve never been nor ever will be as jealous as I was in that moment. “Who was that?” I said to Mike as nonchalantly as I could after we’d walked outside. “Alice,” he said. Alice, I thought, so that’s name of the girl I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.
As with many of my crushes, I found it easier to start out as friends. Though I always felt there was something electric between us, the timing never seemed to match up to where we could be together. She was seeing someone or I was destroying my chances with drugs. And so, for two years nothing happened. It wasn’t until she left for Spain to study abroad that our relationship began to gain traction. For three months we were pen pals. I hardly slept knowing that I might have a new message from her in the morning. She was smart and funny. I tried my best to be charming. I couldn’t wait for her to get back to the states so I could prove to myself that this girl was real, that I hadn’t made it all up.
She returned. I was in Heaven. We were in love. Five months later we signed the lease on our first place together. It was a two-bedroom apartment, one for our two cats and one for us. For all I cared it could have been a cardboard box, my home was wherever she was and I knew she felt the same.
It wasn’t long before our families became each other’s. We’d spend half our holidays with my family in Oklahoma and the other half with hers in New Mexico.
Our third December together I let her believe I wasn’t getting back until our anniversary on the 28th and that we’d be spending Christmas apart. A snowstorm in Tulsa almost proved me right. Every flight on the 23rd and 24th had been cancelled and I was terrified I’d miss my surprise trip back to spend Christmas Day with the love of my life.
When I got to the airport Christmas morning things looked bleak. The tarmac was white with snow. I waited as patiently as I could as the statuses of the flights were updated. 7:45am to El Paso via Dallas appeared on the board. I waited… and then it came up. On Schedule. The people around me must have thought I just won the lottery the way I celebrated.
The wheels hydroplaned across the icy runway as our pilot tried to get us off the ground. I didn’t care. It’s amazing how the love of a beautiful woman makes you unafraid of death. The whole plane erupted in applause when we finally lifted into the air. I sat back in my seat with a smile on my face. There was only one thing on my mind.
My heart pounded as I drove up to her mom’s house in Anthony, NM. I dialed her number as I walked up to the front door. “Baby,” she said. “Hey babe, come outside. I had something delivered for you.” She must have instantly known what I was up to. I heard a gasp on the phone, then the pitter patter of feet as she ran to the front door, pulled it open and jumped into my arms. This was love.
Two and a half years into our relationship she got hired as the head volleyball coach at a high school in Las Cruces, NM. She was so excited and had the same sparkle in her eyes that made me fall in love with her when she talked about coaching these girls and building a winning program over the next few years. I was happy for her and tried my best to hide any disappointment I was feeling. I was completing a Filmmaking degree at the end of the year and we’d planned to move to Los Angeles together soon after. Those plans would have to wait.
A losing season and inadequate administration at the school took a toll on her over the next few months. It didn’t help that I was still in school and living a relatively easy life compared to what she was dealing with on a daily basis. I tried to empathize the best I could, but it wasn’t enough. Though we were still in love, our relationship suffered, and we began to take the little things for granted.
That November when I was searching for flights home to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving Alice told me that she wanted to spend the holiday with her sister in Los Angeles.
“Oh, okay. Yeah, well, I think it’ll be good for you and your sister to spend some time together,” I said.
“You’re sure it’s okay? You’re not mad about it?”
“I’m sure, kid.”
The truth is, I wasn’t mad. But if she’d asked me if I was heartbroken I would have had to lie.
My flight took off early in the morning. Hers wasn’t until later that afternoon. I kissed her sleeping forehead, then scribbled, “Al-Pal, hope you have an amazing time in LA. I love you so much. (heart) JareBear,” on our dry erase board. I walked out the front door.
A couple nights into our trips she called me from a party in LA. Something was off. She sounded sad. I thought the worst. As my heartbeat increased she said it, “I miss you. I’m at this party with all these people who are pretending to be important and feel so out of place. I wish you were here.” I never realized you could feel so many emotions at once. With one sentence she had me relieved, heartbroken, overjoyed and desperate to be with her. I nearly booked a flight to LA that night, but ended up convincing her and myself that things would be okay.
The morning before we were both set to return home, I called to check in. She’d been to another party the night before. I tried to make a joke about the people I imagined being there, the people she’d shied away from earlier in the week. This party must have been more tolerable because she didn’t laugh. “I really like it out here. It’s the energy,” she said. I pretended to gag to poke fun at the pretentiousness of her statement. She didn’t laugh at that either.
We’d planned our flights back so that we would get to El Paso at roughly the same time. I needed to finish up some reshoots for a short film I was working on that was set at her sister’s house. I pulled up shortly after she did and walked over to embrace her. A week away was torture. Fuck the reshoots, I’d fail the class for all I cared at that point. All I wanted to do was hold her, press my lips to hers and make love to her. But the hug was short and she pulled away after a couple seconds of kissing to suggest we go inside and finish the shoot since it was getting late. I remember thinking it was a little strange, but agreed that we should finish and get home quickly as we were both exhausted.
We arrived at our apartment. We went to bed.
The next night we talked about our trips. After I’d told her about my family’s exploits over Thanksgiving dinner, she started talking about California and how much she loved it. “I really want to move there,” she said, “I had so much fun with my sister. I think I want to live with her.” I tried to pay attention to what she was saying but couldn’t shake the thought from my brain. Why does she keep saying “I” instead of “we”?
“Aren’t we planning on going together?” I said.
“Well, I don’t know. I just feel like, if I move out there things will be crazy and I… I don’t know. I kinda feel I should do it on my own.”
My heart hit the floor. “Babe, I’m sure it was great for a week, but it was a vacation. That’s not what life out there’s gonna be like. You should think about it more.”
“I know, but I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. And if I do it, I want to do it while I’m still young.”
That conversation lasted another hour. I tried my best to plead my case. She told me they were just thoughts she’d had and that they might change, but I could tell she was set. My life felt like it was spiraling out of control. Alice was everything to me and I was on the verge of losing her. I couldn’t stand to think of it anymore, and so I did something I regret as much as anything else in my life, I told her I couldn’t stay in our place that night.
“Baby,” she said as I was leaving. I looked at her. She was crying. “I love you,” I swallowed the frog in my throat, then said, “I love you too.” I left.
Over the next day and a half I reached out to my family for support and advice on what to do. My brother, the voice of reason, said, “Just give it time, she’s caught up in the moment.” My brother-in-law empathized. He’d had a similar situation with a girlfriend who’d moved out to LA after getting swept up in the lifestyle. My mom, the voice of compassion, said, “I love you, and I love Alice, too. Trust what your heart tells you.” Their advice made me feel better, but my sister’s made me do something.
When it comes to most of life’s situations, my sister’s temperament is as close to mine as anyone else in my family. She’s tough on herself, but is also unafraid to change if she feels she needs to. It was my second night away and I had planned to spend it in a hotel. This night she decided to get tough on me.
“Go home,” she said.
“I’m giving her space.”
“You love her, don’t you?”
“The only way you’ll be able to fix this is if you talk about it. And the only way you can talk about it is if you’re there.”
Her logic was pretty flawless. Still, I persisted.
“I don’t know what to say to her,” I said.
“Tell her the truth, that you love her, that you want to give her as much time as she needs, that whenever she’s ready to talk you’ll be there, and that you’re going to fight for her.”
It seemed like a line from a romantic comedy, but those words were exactly what I felt but had been too afraid to say. I was a little choked up but managed to say, “Okay.”
I turned my car around and headed back to Alice and I’s apartment. My body shook the entire way. It hadn’t stopped by the time I parked my car and I realized it wasn’t going to. I walked up to our front door, took a deep breath, then knocked. She answered the door. I could tell she was a bit surprised to see me.
“Hey,” she said, the tone indicating she was curious why I was there after telling her I’d be staying elsewhere that night.
I took a breath, desperately trying to remember the words my sister had told me to say. My heart was beating a million miles an hour as I tried to speak. “I, uhh… I’ll stay on the couch tonight. I just… I just want to be here when you’re ready to talk. I…” My voice cracked, betraying the calm façade I was trying to present. “I love you,” I said as my eyes sweltered with tears, “and I’m going to fight for you.”
She looked at me. I blinked away the tears and met her gaze. She opened the door. I walked inside.