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The first woman I dated in New York City - and the first woman to make me laugh uncontrollably in a good, long while - is dead now. In fact, L. has been dead for over a year now. The distance is, I'm sure, no great comfort for those who were much closer to her - her family, friends and her most recent boyfriend. I have so much misplaced guilt that I even went so far as to ask myself if I deserved to grieve over her openly. I didn't attend her memorial in New York last year because I wasn't sure I'd earned the right.

We dated for only four or five months, and we both asserted very early on that the relationship was doomed for failure, as our attraction came quickly on the heels of her breakup with a very long-term boyfriend. (the first time i visited her home, it was still their home. i refused to go back until she moved into a new place, as i was unable to rest comfortably with all those traces of their love surrounding me. i couldn't even put paper down between myself and the bed, because it might have been a paper he'd read - or fucked - that morning.)


Of course, I was not an innocent. I did not behave heroically. I, too, was attempting to get over the most serious love of my life. (L. and I probably found safety in that instability.) My girlfriend had recently vacated a shared apartment, then moved to New York City together to scatter the ashes of our relationship. Doom out, doom in. Morrissey would have been proud. Moon - a name I gave her; I used to joke her head was as large as a celestial body, right before I kissed it on the curls - was still very much in my life, and we had our own ghosts to contend with.

Making an additional spectral appearance was Moon's dad, who chose to die poetically. He left us suddenly; the evening prior to Moon's twinned escape from our desiccated relationship and her failed return to undergraduate studies. Moon was preparing a quiet retreat upstate to her parents' (now parent's) home the next morning. Her bags sat packed at my feet, and I kicked at them unconsciously as I received the call from her mother. In the following months we remained broken up but, between death and depression and addiction (hers) and recovery (mine), necessity made us closer than ever.


For L., I was an experiment - could she start over? I represented not a mutually dependent adventure, but her own independence. She probably wasn't ready and, as a result, I was secreted away. L. kept close to friends inherited from her old relationship, and there was no place for me there. So, apart from a few dinners and drinks with her friends, and a clandestine series of sleep-overs at a somewhat famous television personality's West Village apartment, our time was more private than public. I understood - or at least that's what I assured her so I could buy more time.

I was an artist's sketch to L.'s social circle but my friends knew her, and loved her. She was quick and sly, with a loose-limbed, pre-adolescent frame surrounding a mouth that could make David Mamet take notes. The most horribly funny things would spill out of her but she always managed to temper her acute profanity by chasing it off with a look of total Midwest shock, a mischievous giggle laced with menthol rasp, or a censorial hand to her mouth. As I said, people who knew this minister's daughter loved her.

The brief time I spent with L. was wonderful and sad. She introduced me to drinks before noon, pvc boots, Billy's Topless and dirty talk. She was the first woman to good-naturedly encourage my inner-pervert, and the first woman I ever yelled at in anger. She was the first person to leave me feeling sick from hurt when it ended predictably, with name-calling, ignored phone calls, and a discomfort I don't think either of us ever fully abandoned. And if she were here today, and we were still speaking, I hope we'd both be able to piece together the impossible timing, age difference, and crowded cast of ethereal extras, and see it for what it was: a complicated period of grieving for the two of us.


It was strange to discover L. again, after fumbling around, after being angry and estranged, and after learning of her death many years later. But a few nights ago, a mutual friend asked, "did you see L. in New York magazine?" I never see anything in New York magazine, and I've always considered that one of my better qualities. She then went on to explain that New York had just published a feature about the life and tragic death of L.. It was filled with familiar names and recollections of L.'s character that, had they been about a total stranger, I would have dismissed them as nostalgic and perhaps false but here they all rang absolutely true. Wild, funny, ballsy, adorable. I wish it were always as easy for me to remember the living that way.

I felt like I was a ghost in that story, drifting silently above all the names and events from her early months in New York - a dalliance between an old life and a new one she was constructing before her death. I really do miss her, privately and, if you'll excuse me for a short moment, publicly.


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