In a long-distance relationship, you get plenty of practice at saying goodbye. Still, all the practice swan songs in the world don’t make parting for good any easier — as I discovered when I broke up with California-based beau Mark (a.k.a Sparky).
Smile Though Your Heart Is Breaking: Sparky took this picture of me during my tumultuous visit to L.A., June 1995
Like the many goodbyes that preceded it, our final farewell took place at LAX. I now Open The Vault and take you back to the summer of 1995…
June 9th, 1995
San Diego, CA
After telling him we were breaking up, Mark and I went to dinner. We had a heated conversation about where we had gone so wrong with each other.
“We’ve played everything by your rules,” Mark said bitterly, about the pitfalls of our situation [being miles apart, my inability to make a commitment].
At no point during his monologue did he acknowledge the lengths I had gone to for the sake of our relationship — lying to my parents, skipping school and eventually going head to head with Mom and Dad, all so that he could have me in his hometown.
Mark faulted me for crying.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m not 37, so I haven’t learned how to control my emotions.”
“Don’t do that–okay,” he answered angrily. “Just because I’m not crying doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings. I’m hurt. I’m disappointed.”
Eventually, we calmed down. Mark’s voice softened when he said–
“I still think I’m going to get a call from you in two years.”
“You just might,” I said, laughing through my tears.
* * *
[I wasn’t due to leave L.A. for three days. For some reason that I have no logical explanation for, I didn’t change my plans. And, after much back and forth, Mark said I could stay with him for the duration. Somehow, we managed not to kill each other.]
June 12th, 1995
Ironically, the drive to LAX took only 20 minutes. Every other time Mark has dropped me off, we’ve encountered horrendous traffic on the freeway. Now, with the end for us finally at hand, there was no doubt I would catch my flight.
“I’m sure we’ll keep in touch through the years,” he said.
At the airport, we hugged. Sparky said he would probably be in New York before the end of the year. Hand in hand, we walked to the gate.
“I’m trying to think of something profound to say,” I said.
“There isn’t any — just be happy, be successful,” he said.
“I will,” I answered. “You too.”
We arrived at the point of departure to find passengers already boarding. I put down my bag and we stood with our arms around each other. The final moment for us had arrived. We hugged tenderly.
“Have a good life,” he said.
“You too,” I replied.
And with that, I let go of Mark and proceeded to the gate.
Just before rounding the corner of the ramp, I looked back at Sparky one last time. Then, with no tears but merely a profound sense of sadness and loss, I walked onto the plane that would take me away from Mark’s world and to a new life — without him.
* * *
Though I didn’t know it then, the final chapter had yet to be written for me and Sparky. He would remain true to his word and stay in touch, paving the way for a new phase in our relationship — one that would keep us in each other’s orbit and yet also reveal the wisdom of my decision to walk away.