So there I was, a guy in my early 30s, recently separated, having made the solo journey back to Los Angeles from Nashville. Broke and in debt from the experience, I had the war-torn heart of a man who dearly missed his 4-year-old daughter ... yet I was liberated from a failed relationship.
My ex was bright, cheery, blond and needy. Sure, I knew she was a bit immature, but I thought she would grow wiser and that we would grow together. Things unraveled directly after our daughter was born. We had the usual fights. Money was tight, career ambitions challenged. I should have known that our "98% compatibility" results from our Catholic premarital classes was no guarantee of success.
I had moved back to Los Angeles to pursue my goals in Hollywood. I was dealing with a custody battle, but I was also finally feeling ready to rejoin the ranks of the available. Not that I had much spare time. I was working on a feature film and bartending on the weekends to whittle down my mountain of bills.
I wasn't meeting eligibles with a lot of promise. Among other forgettables I met a woman who produced a cop show. She had earrings shaped like handcuffs; admittedly intriguing. We went out a couple of times, but I noticed she had a habit of keeping her eyes wide open when we kissed.
I was mired in work when my friend John called me with a save-the-date. A mutual, former employer — Phil — was turning 50 and was hosting a birthday bash at his swanky house in the Hollywood Hills. Phil always had an open bar, and I knew there would be more men than women.
I figured the odds were in my favor.
It was a great party, lots of people I hadn't seen in years, tray-passed hors d'oeuvres, and did I mention the open bar?
While waiting my turn for a refill, I took in the twinkling lights of Hollywood — and there she was. A raven-haired vision of loveliness. I remember her being perfectly rim-lit by the party lights, a halo appearing around her head.
She had a confident stride as she approached the bar and ordered a margarita.
"Nice choice — I'm having tequila myself," I said, emboldened by agave.
We struck up a nice conversation, and since she only knew a couple of the guests, I offered to show her around. Eventually we found her friends. I tried to stick around but realized I was coming off as overly enthralled with Darby (and I was).
So I mingled onward.
Later in the evening, my ride, John, wanted to cut out. But I wanted to circle back to Darby. She agreed to give me a lift, and when we arrived at my place I invited her in with modest ulterior motives, but things went downhill rather quickly.
For some inexplicable reason I read her my dating profile. Why? I don't know. To signal my availability? Or show her I could turn a phrase on paper? She practically beelined outta there.
I followed her to her car and asked for her number. Not having paper she found her head shot and with a faulty pen gave me part of the numerals and the rest scratched into the semigloss.
As she drove off, I figured I'd seen the last of her.
The next day I was looking for my billfold, in which I carried a small photo of my daughter, Abby-Rose. I turned the place upside down. Finally, I found the billfold but not my treasured pic. Then it hit me. Darby, the voice-over actress, the raven-haired beauty. I had shown her the picture in her car. I found her head shot and the phone number in partial ink / partial scratch.
Holding it up to the light, I tried a few digits till I got it right and she finally answered. We made a plan to meet at a play that she was interested in, a commedia dell'arte at the Mark Taper Forum called "Changes of Heart." While negotiating this date, Darby made it clear that she was really only interested in being my friend, to which I replied that I was interested in more.
The gauntlet thrown, we met outside the doors to the theater.
As the performance about star-crossed lovers unfolded, Darby's vibe was intoxicating. I found myself wanting to put my arm around her, hold her hand. Anything. I'd been smitten before, but this was different. I was literally squirming in my seat. I followed her back to her place, as she said her night driving wasn't her strength. She wouldn't let me in, but we talked at her door awhile. I asked if I could see her again. Considering me with her lovely green eyes, she smiled and said, "Well, I like to go to the beach on Sundays."
She leaned in and gave me the smallest, sweetest kiss (eyes closed) that knocked me on my behind.
On the bluffs of Point Dume in Malibu, after an epic day on the sand and surf, I produced a nice bottle of red and some cheese and crackers, while Darby told me the qualities of a man that she would likely marry.
"That's me!" I replied to every one.
We married on Valentine's Day in 1997, the ceremony done at Phil's swanky house. People say our son, Sky, is a perfect combination of us. Darby told me later that when I spoke of my love of my folks, grandparents and daughter that she knew the promise of the play we had just seen was fulfilled.
"Changes of Heart," indeed.
The author lives in Eagle Rock and works in set decoration for HBO's "Silicon Valley" and the channel's upcoming new comedy, "Room 104."
L.A Affairs chronicles love in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments, or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.
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