I have a hard time ending relationships. I wait until big, insanely obvious events occur; I need someone to literally or figuratively hit me over the head. In 1994, it took an earthquake with the ‘fastest ground velocity’ ever recorded to wake me up. My bed, shaking so hard I couldn’t get off of it, was six miles from the epicenter of the 1994 Northridge earthquake in southern California. Once the violent shaking gave us a reprieve, I did the only thing I knew to do in an earthquake: run for the door. I placed myself between the frame, kowtowing to the ludicrous notion that a sloppily constructed building could ever support us. He trailed after me, shoving himself in the doorframe, taking up my precious space. Beeping car alarms and screaming neighbors permeated the thin stucco walls of the garden-style one-bedroom apartment we had moved in to rather recently after a rather short get-to-know-you phase.
Four months earlier, I had crossed the country with my dedicated medical school-bound boyfriend of five years. A couple months later, I shacked up with the law student next door, trading in one honorable profession for another. And then the trembling started again. The earth lost its bearing and began to tear apart at the seams, destroying everything resting upon it. These aftershocks were the most disturbing to me. No one told me about that part. I knew earthquakes happened in this part of the country and I knew books would fall off the shelves and picture frames from the walls, but I didn’t know the earth would keep reminding us, at random times over the next couple of weeks, that the solid ground beneath us was an illusion.
This jolt made me take action with the man taking up space in the doorway. I met him when we were both swimming laps in the pool outside our UCLA-appointed apartments in West LA. He was a southern California surfing law student and I was a Washington D.C. fish out of water. We moved in together shortly after we met for the most practical of reasons: saving rent money. Of course, by the time we found our lemon and lime tree framed apartment in the valley, we had spent more money than we intended. And, in the downgrade to the valley, we lost the pool that had brought us together.
Now that we were living together, I was actually getting to know him. He was a military brat, his parents still living close to the base in San Diego. He was passionate and spoke with his hands cutting through the air as he explained that there was only one cause. He believed that if you cared about one thing, you had to care about everything: there could be no deviation or nuanced beliefs. I have never met anyone before or after him with such black and white thinking, which seems an odd ideology to take into law school. He was also a “cutter” with inscriptions of pain lining his forearms. I was obsessed with my abnormal psychology classes, which perhaps kept me intrigued with him, but I didn’t recognize the cutting for what it was because my textbooks were silent on the subject. He was suffocating me with his pain; while lying in the bed we shared, he would hold up his hand up above his face and stare at it with tears streaming onto the pillow beneath him murmuring something about ‘small hands’.
I didn’t understand him or what he was experiencing but I did recognize that I couldn’t help him. With the adrenaline fueled energy of our young relationship, we had cruised through the first couple of months with nary a purposeful or reflective thought. I had lost that loving feeling and needed to figure a way to break my lease and break his hold over me. I had been contemplating my path out when the earthquake struck. While kneeling down to pick up hundreds of female folk artist CDs scattered across the living room floor, I looked up at him and said what the earthquake knocked out of me, “You need to find another apartment. I’ll give you a month.”