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Our love of old buildings brought us together. My drinking drove us apart

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I understood. I hated me too.
(Tim Lahan / For The Times)

I couldn’t listen to him anymore. And I couldn’t stay. So I did what came naturally — I left.

I drove straight to a bar on Glendale Boulevard.

*****

We’d first met at a bar called Houston’s. When I got home that night I wrote his name, his phone number and the day’s date in my address book because I knew this day would be important in my life. I drew a big red square around it. Whenever I got a new address book, I’d cut out the square and tape it into the new one. Over the years, I did this again and again.

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This was back in 1993, before we kept all that kind of stuff in our smartphones. He was 35 and I was 33. We would go to bars, drink beer and talk. We would talk about architecture and what we wanted to do with our lives. (We endlessly debated the drawings for the Walt Disney Concert Hall, for example, and then the actual building. We ended up loving it and toured it together.) We would discuss lost buildings too. I couldn’t understand how the Singer Building in NYC was demolished, and Mark mourned the loss of the Richfield Tower in downtown L.A.

Asking was my way of being flirtatious but asking was also the right thing to do, right? I’m not a caveman and I wanted her to know that. I also wanted to know what I had done wrong.

We were on and off for years, but eventually even the glories of architecture couldn’t keep us together. Everybody liked Mark. He was big and handsome and had a good job. I was his opposite. Plus, I was clingy, possessive and jealous. The night I ran away, he had grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me hard, and there was anger in his voice when he said, “You’re drinking too much and you have to stop.”

Over the weeks and months that followed, fueled by all the liquor I consumed, I became more desperate as I watched him pull away from me. Then he made the breakup official in an email in 2004. I printed it out and saved it, but I still can’t reread it because the words are too painful. He told me that he didn’t like what I had become. Then he exited my life.

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After that, I spent years drinking. I made every mistake a drunk can make, and each mistake was followed by a bad choice. Through all those years, Mark never reached out to me. No phone calls. No unexpected visits. Nothing. I would see him occasionally around town, but when he recognized me his face would flash with annoyance or disappointment.

I understood. I hated me too.

I walked up to Starbucks and saw him sitting outside. I was so anxious I actually walked by, pretending I hadn’t seen him, and headed for the door to give myself a few more seconds to shake off the nerves. Was I really ready for this?

Once I saw him walking to the Trader Joe’s on Hyperion in Silver Lake. I saw him but he hadn’t seen me, so I frantically pushed my way into another little storefront there, in a panic. It sold food or candy or something I didn’t need. I don’t remember what it sold. Once inside, I kept my back to the front door and closed my eyes and just waited for him to walk by. I counted to 60, and when I opened my eyes the clerk at the register was staring at me. She didn’t ask me if I needed help. Instead, she turned away.

When I finally peered back out the window, he wasn’t there and his absence made me feel worse. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but I always wanted to see him even though I did everything I could to avoid him.

Over those years, I would call his work phone at night, when I knew he wasn’t there, just to hear his voice on his answering machine. It reassured me. And I continued drinking. When I finally reached rock bottom and began to see pity in the eyes of my loser bar friends, I experienced a moment of sobriety because I did what a levelheaded person would do — I gave it up.

***

A few years later, in 2016, Mark emailed me. I didn’t open the email immediately because I suspected it was a mistake and that in a moment he would send a follow-up email with a “Sorry” in the subject line and say the previous email was meant for someone else.

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When I finally opened it, it contained an invitation to a morning event at the Hollyhock House with the showstopper being a lecture by an architectural historian offering his appraisal of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. I responded with a yes because who wouldn’t want to go to that, but I still couldn’t believe it was actually happening. I thought it was doomed. I was sure Mark would call me at the last minute and cancel. Why would he want to have anything to do with me?

Each time I called her, the conversation flowed, but she was always too tired to go out. Maybe I needed to take the hint?

But it happened. We made plans to go together. I picked him up. The morning at the Hollyhock House turned out to be pleasant. Not thrilling and not amazing but pleasant, which was good enough.

Then it was as if the last 12 years had never happened and we were back to the way we were.

We settled into a routine of watching TCM at his place, taking architectural tours in and around downtown L.A., and eating at the Red Lion Tavern and the Astro, and other old-school restaurants.

We were at Conrad’s in Pasadena a couple of months ago and Mark was eating something covered in chili, which is always a mistake, but I didn’t say anything. I was surprised when he looked up at me and said, “Didn’t you know we would always get back together? Didn’t you know we would be friends again?”

I shook my head. “I never thought you would talk to me again,” I said. “I thought you hated me.”

Hesitantly, he said I had been a “crazy drunk” but insisted he never hated me. He just hated my drinking.

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So I had been wrong for years. My consumption of liquor had been partially fueled by something that wasn’t even true. Something that only existed in my head. He may not have wanted to see me, but it wasn’t because he hated me. It was because I was a drunk.

That I could understand.

As I watched Mark eat chili, he spilled some on his T-shirt. He took a paper napkin and cleaned it off, looked up at me and then growled like a bear at the annoyance before he went back to his food.

It’s been 27 years since we first met, and as I sat looking at him it was important for me to remember that the reason I was able to sit at that table, across from him, was because I had given up drinking.

As I picked up my glass of iced tea, I wanted to ask him if he had loved me or missed me during the years we were apart. I didn’t. Instead, I looked out the window. I watched the traffic drive by and knew what his answer would be if I asked. He would say, “Yes.”

The writer is the author of the 2019 book “Architects Who Built Southern California.” His website is Misterdangerous.wordpress.com.

Straight, gay, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary: L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles — and we want to hear your story. You must allow your name to be published, and the story you tell has to be true. We pay $300 for each essay we publish. Email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.


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