I left you, dear readers, falling in love with Jacob who was winging his way to a war-torn region to save, if not the entire world, at least a small piece of it. Oh, I probably didn’t mention the war-torn part, did I?
Yes, people were dying, although not exactly where he was. But close enough not for comfort.
I should mention before I launch into part 2 too far that Jacob and I shared exactly one round of correspondence while he was gone. I think I wrote first to the address he had left us and then he, very politely, wrote back. I’m sure I did not write a romantic letter, but one that was gossipy, newsy and maybe a bit funny. His response was, to my memory, hard to read due to trying to cram a lot of words on a single sheet of aeroplane onionskin, but he seemed grateful for the news from home. Nothing romantic in his response, either. A lot of talk about the NGO, the region and the weather.
So . . . 18 months passed. In that time, I tried to forget him and I lived my life like always. I tried to not hold the proverbial torch for him, since obviously he wasn’t holding it for me, either.
One night I went to a meeting and gave someone a ride home. As we chatted amiably, she offhandedly mentioned, “Oh, you know Jake’s home.” That stopped me in my tracks. Home? For how long? It turned out he’d been home, in the U.S. for about four months. He’d been spotted at some meetings by then, originally visiting his family on the east coast before returning to LA.
In that moment, torch held high, I made it my mission to track that man down. It never occurred to me that, had he been as crazy about me as I him, he’d have tracked me down.
Eventually, I obtained his phone number and we reconnected. Thankfully he seemed happy to do so, and we quickly resumed our friendship from there. The phone calls picked back up, and I pieced together his overseas story which included falling in love with a local girl, but due to the cultural issues, finding it an impossible situation. He was still nursing a somewhat broken heart. He was also fairly disillusioned about the NGO, having worked closely to the inner circle and finding corruption on several levels.
One evening he came over and after talking for a long while, I don’t know who leaned in to whom, but kissing ensued. We’d never gone to this place before, but there was at least on my end, a lot of shall we say, pent-up demand?
I will never forget these early weeks of the switch from friendship to romance; it was a heady thing. And he knew exactly how to be romantic to a nerdy geeky gal like me – he made me dinner (all vegetarian as he was opposed to eating meat), he talked and he listened, he let me read his writing, and we laughed at a lot of the same stuff.
It is hard to write about what it was like to date him except that I, again, was so crazy about him, that if he’d just wanted to read me the phone book, I would have probably swooned. I was a lot like those girls in the old early 60’s movies who would sigh dramatically and say, “what a dreamboat!”
And he was. Jacob was back in college and living in a converted garage near campus, riding his bicycle everywhere. So that meant if we were off to someplace, I did the driving. He was a student on a very strict budget, so I often paid or we went dutch, or he rustled up food where he was living (his landlady got used to seeing me around, using the bathroom in the house on occasion and so on – I’m not sure she was pleased that he had a girlfriend.)
But these issues, although horrifying to my girlfriends (what? you’re paying on dates? You’re driving him places? What kind of guy is he at 37 to be back in college?) didn’t bother me a bit. He’d not had the ability to return to college when he was younger so he was on a full scholarship but that didn’t leave him a lot of cash to spend on dating. And I loved him and this was temporary.
Of course the cracks came as they were going to. And they showed up in a place I hadn’t expected, I guess. He became depressed. And withdrawn. He kept up with his schoolwork and his part-time job, but other than that, he barely existed and didn’t want to be in contact with me.
I think his withdrawal was a way to protect me. He felt he had limited resources in getting help for the depression. As a recovering alcoholic/drug addict, he wasn’t about to start taking meds, if he could help it. He finally found a therapist who saw him for the princely sum of $5 a session, but it took awhile for him to get past his funk.
So during his down times, we were out of contact with each other. It was killing me, but I had no choice but to leave him alone since he was not in a mindset to be social. We had a few rounds of this and I hung in there because, although I was crazy in love with him, I also loved him and seeing him in pain was difficult.
We had a lot of good times, too. We went hiking a lot and took several trips out to Joshua Tree National Park as well as all the normal dating things like movies and vegetarian pizza.
He finished a first draft of a novel he’d written and let me be an early reader. This should have been a big clue to problems on the horizon for the book, a fairly standard mystery novel set in the South Bay area of Los Angeles featured a woman named Lisa – the protagonist’s ex-wife. Originally, by the way, the character had been named Laura (yes, my name) but he changed it to Lisa. Lisa was pretty awful in this first-person narrative – she was bitchy, selfish and mean-spirited and completely based on his ex-wife who was named Holly.
Now Jacob professed to have worked out all his differences with Holly and that they were now friends. And by then, I had met Holly. This was Jacob’s idea – he thought we’d have a lot in common and would like each other, which was true in both instances.
So I got protective of Holly and disputed what I felt was a very unfair portrayal as “Lisa.” I gently suggested to Jake that he re-consider this, especially before he had Holly read the draft (he was having a few of us read and provide notes on it). His reaction was both defensive and rather clueless. A few days later, though, he called and said I was probably right. He softened the character and made her more human, with a more balanced marital breakup.
This incident said a lot. Although this was a novel, Jacob was very much the main character and his ex-wife was also rather nakedly portrayed. How could he not see this? And was he really over his negative feelings towards her? Obviously not, at least in his writing.
Holly turned out to be a pretty big ally and friend to me, even afterwards. She had loved, married and then divorced him. She knew the real Jake – his wonderful qualities, but also his depression, rigidity and (mostly) passive-aggressiveness. I was only beginning to see these parts. Of course, Jacob told me many stories about Holly, too – mostly about how they were ultimately ill-suited for each other due to their own demons. It was, for me, an initially puzzling situation because in public they were friendly and cordial, laughing and upbeat. If they were such great friends, why hadn’t the marriage worked? The more I knew Holly and we became friends, the more I learned about Jake’s demons.
But we moved on and like all relationships, we had our ups and downs, until a fateful day.
I will never remember the first blow struck, but somehow we were at an open-air mall and talking about the news. I had been reading a lot about female genital mutilation happening in North Africa and the middle east and I was appalled. Remember, this was years before 9/11 but at the time I was reading about it, refugees were leaving their home countries and speaking up about the practice and so, somehow, we were discussing this.
Jacob, the world traveler, kept insisting that we Americans were boorish in insisting that other cultures fit our norm, and that we had to allow other countries to make their own decisions about their societies. I kept insisting that even if all that were true, we had to say it was wrong, because . . . well, it was wrong to mutilate young girls. How could anyone say it was okay?
As the discussion became more heated, Jake’s eyes got darker. At one point, I actually thought that either he was so angry at me, Laura, or at me as a representative of American Imperialism (I was never sure which), that he wanted to strike me . . . hard. He had gone too far in his anger and he couldn’t control it and I saw in his eyes that he was terrified about what he might do to me.
Somehow we managed to calm down so we could leave the mall and stop making a scene (as our voices were getting louder, I’m sure there were others who were giving us a wide berth, not knowing where this might lead). I took him home and we hugged and kissed and I drove home, bereft, thinking it was over.
And it was. Until it wasn’t.