L.A. Affairs

Would-be romance pulled apart by Manhattan life and his L.A. girl

An East Coast woman's rival for a West Coast man turns out to be unbeatable — and 7 years old

L.A. Affairs is our weekly column about the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles -- and finding romance in a wired world. If you've got a story to tell, we want to hear it. We pay $300 per published column. Past columns and submission guidelines are at latimes.com/laaffairs

We needed crystals.

So we took the exit north, Topanga Canyon Boulevard. He was driving, weaving tales like highway.

I turned to look at him. He was handsome and blond, a divorced former TV star. I was a red-haired yoga teacher and former model still mourning a failed relationship. When we met three years ago on my first trip to California, we'd both been broken. Him, by the promise of the Hollywood sign gleaming like fake teeth. Me, by the skyscrapers that were swords, really, in a sliver of land.

We stayed in touch while he relocated constantly after his divorce, hashing out a dotted line of temporary homes across America. He texted and called, telling me he was trying to get back West, to be near his small daughter. In my Manhattan home, I froze after getting laid off and broken up with. We kept each other company and offered support by phone. We hovered near romance. But then one of us would disappear.

When I had the chance to teach a yoga workshop in Santa Monica, I took it, in part so I could see him. He had made it back to L.A.

"Let's shop for crystals when I get there," I'd texted, half as a joke. "Maybe they'll heal us."

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When I arrived he met me — still gorgeous, though he looked more tired. Our hug fit perfectly.

Now on the way toward the canyon, I lowered the car window, my elbow jutting into sun. Back East, days were gray, and, during those that weren't, the sun shone only in small strips between buildings. We covered miles of land that looked untouched, but I guessed it was touched. That was how things were between us: They looked one way but were secretly the opposite.

We pulled into a store parking lot where a sign read "Unusual things." He'd seen wind-chimes there once. "They probably have crystals," he said. "This is your kind of place."

We walked right to the rocks. "Rose quartz for heart. Hematite for grounding," the sales clerk instructed. I got a quartz necklace too.

On the ride back, I held the hematite to begin grounding. For a while, he'd seemed unreal, showing up only in my phone, but now he was at the wheel with a real profile and everything.

He told me about his acting days, his ex and daughter. "She's the best thing I've ever done," he said. It was the first time I'd had feelings for a man with a child. His dedication as a father was attractive.

High dust became low ocean. We climbed onto the beach. He watched me while I watched the surf. I pretended not to notice. Giving up my flirtation with water, I sat near him, leaning close. His voice, once only in the phone, now felt full and deep.

"I've always loved that house," he whispered. I followed his eyes to a buttercream mansion hugging the cliff. "It used to be yellow. It faded. Everything changes."

We were not talking about houses but about us. Soon I'd be leaving again, and we'd switch back to texting and distance.

Meanwhile, waves eroded and rebuilt, swept, replaced. If only we could let us go as easily as ocean.

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As night fell we drove inland to a restaurant strung with white lights. We picked up his daughter on the way. She was a mini-him, with mini-him eyes. As soon as I met the pretty 7-year-old, I understood why he was still here, in this heartbreak city, and not with me, in mine.

Over dinner she played with a magic kit, making a red ball disappear again and again inside a blue egg. I pretended not to know how it worked. Then she asked to see my necklace and began swinging it in front of me.

"You're getting sleepy," she said.

I slid dramatically along the restaurant booth, closing my eyes.

"When I snap my fingers you'll sing a song, the best singer in the world." She snapped. I sang off-key.

Later, full and happy, we climbed into his car. I fantasized we were a family.

"What's that?" I asked his daughter. She was crammed next to a box in the backseat, slim legs folded like a cricket's.

"All daddy's things," she said.

I looked at him.

"I'm couch surfing in West Hollywood," he said.

Oh. So even if I relocated to be with him, he didn't have a place for me to move into or even visit.

I wanted to pack his stuff with mine and take him to New York, to show him my canyons and magic tricks. But I knew he couldn't, wouldn't leave her. For a moment I was jealous of a 7-year-old. I needed to grow up. As night fell, the block-toothed Hollywood sign was lit and the sword dagger lights of Manhattan were too far.

I left them the healing crystals. Later I walked from my hotel alone toward the rhythm of the sea.

Sarah Herrington is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Interview magazine and Poets & Writers magazine.

L.A. Affairs chronicles dating in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, write us at home@latimes.com

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