We all have a different threshold for guilt, before we cave. Some people start to feel guilt immediately and it deters them from doing something they shouldn’t be doing. Others feel guilt once they get caught. It takes someone else witnessing the crime for them to really own up to it themselves. I’m someone who usually feels guilt very early on in the process. By the time the bad thought has occurred to me, I’m already feeling bad about it. It’s something I’ve considered to be mostly a blessing, because that feeling of regret for doing something that rarely is worth what you’ve lost, keeps me in check before things have gone too far to take them back. I can’t take any credit, it’s just how I’m built. I’m not shady. I’m not even really capable of hovering around the edges of shady. I can be irrational, stubborn, dramatic, needy, and argumentative. But shady I am not. I’m not great at spotting it either.

A few years ago I was working as an intern at a record label. I had never been around so many people with floppy hair and tattoos. I knew I had to step my game up and stop wearing polo shirts. I did my best to keep up and got a little too excited to cancel plans with my friends because “I have to see a show” sigh. Then one day someone new walked in. As soon as we saw each other we knew we were finished. He hovered around my cubicle until the lights were being shut off and I pretended to get work done while really just typing random letters in a document that wasn’t open.

Red flag number 1: he had a girlfriend. This isn’t an obvious red flag when you’re 23. You consider it a challenge.

So, he dumped the girlfriend. Six years under their belt and he was gone. It didn’t occur to me that was not normal behavior. It didn’t occur to me what I was taking from someone else. It didn’t occur to me that he might just be playing us both. So we fell in love and I slipped right into her warm seat. Two weeks in we were vacationing with his friends, he was having dinner with my family, we were dog sitting, sharing toothbrushes, professing love, planning our lives, sending each other quotes out of our favorite books, dedicating songs to each other, staring at each other for stupidly long periods of time. I loved everything about him. Everything. Well, he wasn’t naturally a very affectionate person. I know now that I can’t live with that.

Soon, we hit a bump in the road. Tragedy hit in his life. Someone died. Out of nowhere. An ugly death. And he didn’t know what to do or where to go. He didn’t go to me. He pulled away and needed space. Even though it killed me to watch him go through it, I gave him his space. I had no experience with death, I didn’t know the right things to say and I didn’t know why I wasn’t a safe place for him. He decided to go on a soul search for the weekend. He was going to turn his phone off, drive to the desert, and be with his thoughts. I lent all the support I had to give. I packed him a lunch, I made a mix for the car ride, I tucked Buddhist passages into his suit case. And he went off to Palm Springs to find himself. I was a wreck. I wanted to be with him, I checked my phone frantically, I tried to be patient but I worried about him so much it was eating me up. That Saturday I had an interesting conversation with my dad.

“He’s with a girl.” I stared at my dad in shock. “What are you talking about? Why would you even think of something like that? What’s wrong with you?” I was offended. It pushed all my buttons. So typical for my dad to assume the guy is cheating on me, that always seems to be his first assumption. He really didn’t think there was someone out there whose attention I could hold on my own. “That is ridiculous! For the record dad, not every guy thinks like you. His best friend died! You’re unbelievable.” He stayed calm, like he didn’t even want me to see the truth. “Listen Erin, I’m gonna tell you this once and then I’m going to let it go. No guy is going to the desert to spend the weekend alone. It just isn’t happening. He is there to be with another girl. Bottom line. I hope I’m wrong, but I know I’m not. Move on, he isn’t worth your time.” Please, I thought. If my dad paid any attention to my life he would know how amazing my boyfriend is. If he had my patience and understanding, he’d still be married! The nerve, really.

I expected to hear from my man Monday morning. I couldn’t wait. Then Sunday afternoon, my phone rang. It was him. I picked up quickly. “Hi!” He immediately started rambling into the phone, “Erin, I don’t know what I was thinking wanting to go through this alone. I missed you so much the whole time. I’m coming home early. I need to see you. I’m getting you a ticket for next weekend.”

He had moved to San Francisco recently for work, and so I was coming to see him for the weekend. I knew I was right. I knew that if I just gave him a little space, he would find what he was looking for.

I got off the plane at The Oakland Airport. I walked into the bathroom to check myself out. I flipped my hair upside down, freshened my face, popped some gum and headed to baggage claim. I appear to be low maintenance, but I always check a bag. My arms get tired carrying heavy things. I called him on my way to get my bag, but he didn’t answer. I checked my messages, nothing. I watched the bags make their way onto the belt, tumbling over themselves. I called him again. No answer. I texted him. No response. Where was he? I saw my bag. I struggled to pull it off of another one, as my purse swung around my shoulder spilling onto the floor. Not quite the entrance I was hoping to make here. I was expecting an excited boyfriend watching me walk through the glass bridge with flowers in his hands. He would scoop me up and cherish the good woman he somehow held onto. But now I had my bag and I was looking around and I didn’t really know where to go. I called him again. It had been about half an hour since I had landed. Maybe his phone died and he was circling around the airport hoping for me to see him. So I walked outside.

I stood on the sidewalk and looked around. There were people rushing to open car doors for each other, security blowing whistles, kids dragging their sweatshirts on the ground behind them, couples reuniting. I got a text. It was my mom, “Are you there safe?! Is he so happy to see you?! Xoxo”. Damn it. A bus pulled out of its spot in front of me and I looked past it across the street. It was him. He was here. But… what was going on? There was a girl standing next to him and she was screaming at him. He was just staring straight ahead while she threw her arms in his face. The light changed and he started walking towards me. She followed him. I didn’t move.

They approached me together and he took a deep breath. He looked defeated. Scared. Relieved. She started screaming at me, “Oh, so this is her?! This is your little bitch in LA?! Of course it is! You asshole!” People were staring now, but I couldn’t see anything, I just felt them. Guys were covering their mouths in shock at the scene, feeling for the guy who just got busted. I couldn’t speak, I didn’t know what was happening. I couldn’t move my arms, they were just a dead weight at my sides. My hair was blowing in my face and I couldn’t figure out how to move it away. He looked at me like he was sorry about what was about to happen to me. He looked at me like he wanted to save me from this but didn’t know how. He put his hands in his pockets. He knew the jig was up. “Well, I guess I can’t avoid this any longer. Erin meet Lauren. Lauren meet Erin.” Lauren… Lauren… that name… oh, right; the girl he left to be with me. But he never left her at all, did he? This must be what Karma slapping you in the face feels like. Then she said it, “You understand that he and I are together. That he was on the phone last night telling me he can’t live without me. You know that we were fucking in Palm Springs last weekend!” Well, that snapped me out of it. He threw his hand over her mouth to stop her, but it was too late. The desert. Of course. There was a small crowd hovering around us now. Mom’s were smacking their kids heads to stop staring.

My whole life I’ve been told I’m too confrontational. I was always  too eager to fight. And in this moment it was the last thing I knew how to do. Of all the girls I had yelled at in my day, all the times I had stood up to someone, it was all gone. I couldn’t feel the ground anymore. I just kept picturing what I thought the desert had looked like in my view, and now what it had really been. I wondered how this seemed like such new information to me, why I didn’t see this coming. Why I had come there. It was my birthday. I came here to be with him on my birthday.

I closed my eyes and turned around. I walked back into the airport and looked at the Southwest screen to see when the next flight home was. I tried to focus my eyes but the screen was blurry. My dad was right.

Wow, that just got heavy! I couldn’t find the funny twist. Good luck to anyone who wants to date me after things like this.

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