I had caught a 6 a.m. flight to Denver to meet a woman that would eventually become one of the great loves of my life and I recall, like it was the better part of yesterday, feeling like a little boy (not a twenty-five-year-old man) as I sat, cowering, inside the slowly encroaching four walls of a quaint coffee shop called the Black Eye, anxiously awaiting her arrival.
When she finally did show, she was late — something I found wildly ironic considering I was the one that had caught the flight to attend the coffee date–– I’d later discover the reason for her tardiness was a digital debate (Via Snapchat) with her best friends regarding the outfit-of-choice she’d be wearing for this fateful rendezvous in Denver’s eclectic Lo-Hi District (the neighborhood where the Black Eye was and still is located to this day).
She eventually landed on something striking, a black pinstriped jogger of sorts that fit her like a glove and a pair of big, clunky Doc Martens that I’d come to fall in love with and the music they’d make as they smacked against the pavement like raining phonebooks or falling angels or large pheasants too heavy to fly.
(This is the funny peculiarity of love, you find yourself batting away jelly in the knees over the most ordinary of moments — like the way her boots sound simply doing the very thing they were created for, walking, or the strange aesthetic of the scar-tissue she leaves behind on her nail beds from her nervous, ceaseless biting or the way in which she brushes the bangs from her pretty green eyes, mid-conversation, with those chewed-up nail beds.)
Fuck, did I fall in love with her.
And, while all this is really very romantic, the two of us met (or reconnected, rather) on Instagram of all places, which is extremely problematic because the platform has this remarkable way of allowing us to fall head over *Docs for complete strangers, and it allows us, the strangers, to dangerously craft these beautiful (but wildly artificial) facades and narratives of ourselves.
On Instagram, we’re not unlike the recently renovated picturesque “historic” buildings smiling on bustling city blocks housing coffee shops and vintage thrift stores and hot yoga studios and Urban Outfitters and Lawyer’s offices — while our exteriors aren’t necessarily more pretty nor less pretty than our interiors, they rarely, if ever, match.
However, when I fell in love with the girl I just hummed on about for the past — I don’t know, seven paragraphs? — I’d like to think she was the exception to this rule, that we were the exception to this rule, that even now, after everything that has happened, we’re still the exception to this rule.
The two of us grew up together in Southern Indiana and had a very short bout where we dated for two, maybe three weeks. She moved away and I moved away and we lost touch for the better part of a decade but we followed each on Instagram and sort of kept tabs on the other from afar.
(What a strange phenomenon, huh? How you can end with a person at the age of fifteen and then spend the next ten years, watching their existence from afar. It’s both toxic and beautiful and horrific — like a zoo for your life’s romances.)
In the years that followed, the two of us found ourselves in and out of various relationships and, at times, dangerously close to one another — I remember her once even commenting on a picture an ex of mine had posted of the two of us — something along the lines of how pretty she thought we looked together.
Well, eventually, we were in-between relationships (at the same time) and fighting a great deal of heartbreak (at the same time) because we both, individually, ended with humans who meant a great deal to us.
If there is any truth to human existence it’s that we are either falling in love or falling out of it and fighting desperately to navigate both of these two heavens and hells.
So, one day, I announced to my Instagram “audience” (I loath that word and recognize I am part of the problem) that I would be writing a book of poetry and prose, page by page, on the platform and that the book would be called One Minute, Please?
With this announcement, I shared my very first page.
She read this first page and she fell in love with it and she messaged me telling me to keep writing. She did this, again and again and again.
To say this was a godsend is an understatement. She was the first person that had read something I had written (that wasn’t advertising) and said it was not just good but something more than good.
And, so I kept writing and I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I wasn’t writing every single page to her — the sad pieces and the happy pieces and the pieces that found themselves idling in-between the two like an awkward pre-teen at a middle school dance clinging to the room’s shadows.
While I didn’t write One Minute, Please? for her, I wrote it to her. And, because of this, she in many ways, was the reason it was breathed into existence.
I remember the feeling I got on days she’d message me and say: this piece was particularly beautiful. It was like Cupid had shot me three times in the chest and left me bleeding in a pool of my own ecstasy.
For a good while, my existence became about making the day of this stranger who I hadn’t laid eyes on in-person for years, this stranger who I was falling in love with on Instagram.
As these conversations developed, one thing led to another and eventually, I messaged her and asked her what she was doing on a particular Sunday afternoon.
To which she told me she was doing nothing at all.
To which I responded that I’d love to fly out and take her to coffee.
To which she threw her phone on her bed and covered her mouth in a state of complete shock and then little by little worked up the courage to say “yes”.
To which I boarded a 6 a.m. flight for a journey that was intended to be a day or so but ended up being seven. And, after that, the rest was a fucking fairytale until it wasn’t at all.
Isn’t this how most good things go? They’re as good as gold until they’re not anymore. This is the tragedy in good things.
So, I flew out, and as I mentioned moments ago, I found myself sitting, nervously waiting, for her to show — nervousness that transformed to nearly throwing up the Blue Morphos she adored as I saw her step out of her Black X-Terra and out onto the Denver pavement and into the winter sun.
We spent the day getting to know one another — the real one anothers, not the one anothers we had portrayed on Instagram.
She was a deeper thinker than she let on. She was prettier than she was in her pictures. Her eyes popped more in person. She was intelligent. But, a different kind of intelligent — like the kind of intelligent an ambitious individual becomes through real-world experience when they haven’t been gifted the luxury of a college degree. She was confident but it was clearly confidence that covered up a trunk-load of insecurities and anxieties that would eventually kill us like those pheasants I mentioned earlier. She was warm. She was loving. But, at the same time terribly guarded. That day and much of our relationship were spent dancing in and out of the walls she was constantly building — at first I fought desperately to pummel them down but eventually accepted they were as much a part of her as the long brown hair that fell down to her ass. Yet, despite this, I fell in love with her and when I boarded my flight home I had this conviction that I didn’t want to spend any more of my life without her in it.
For the better part of a year, we jumped at any chance we had to see each other. We boarded 6 a.m. flights and high-tailed it across the country to spend an afternoon or two in the same room, in the same city, in the same region.
She’d wake me up early to catch the sunrises she adored. She’d grab my chin and make me look at the moon she worshipped like religion. She’d show me how to care for the plants that hung about my room (that still hang about my room because of her). She’d hold me tight to her chest and neck and face when my head was a storm. She’d laugh when she caught me taking myself too seriously saying — everyone thinks you’re so serious but I know you’re just a goofball. She’d grab my hand, pulling me behind her, showing me her favorite bars and coffee shops and eateries in Denver. She’d turn on the shower and ask me if I was joining — when I was around she hated taking showers without me. She’d whisper in my ear late, late at night that she wanted me to one day father her children as she drifted off to sleep. She’d sway, the back of her body pressed against mine, as we listened to Post Malone and Rainbow Kitten Surprise and Cigarettes After Sex and Peach Pit and the list goes on forever.
We were naive, though. And, perhaps, like everyone, given a bad hand with the pandemic. We didn’t recognize at the time that in order to weather the distance, you must have a big beautiful black X on the calendar where you no longer have to –– a clear end.
Otherwise, one or both parties lose hope, they lose touch and the distance gives their mind ample room to wander and find resentment in the other person — this cancer got to her first and nearly overnight I noticed she began to resent me for not being in the same place as her and for her own fears and anxieties I could never silence.
I’d constantly tell her –– in not so poetic words –– that I’d drink the bathwater of her insecurities. But, this is the terrible trouble with insecurities, no amount of reassurance will silence them.
One morning, she phoned me and she told me she didn’t have it in her anymore. I tried to stop her but realized, that this time, the wall she had built without my knowing, was too tall to climb and too great to knock over and too vast to dance around.
She had made up her mind.
And, so now, as I sit writing this piece in Nashville, 1,156.7 miles away from her, I’m experiencing the hell of getting to unknow the person I thought for a good while I was going to live out my days with.
To aid in this unknowing, I’ve found myself returning to the very place where we spent so much of our time, early on, back when we were just crushing hard on one another from afar — Instagram.
I’m attempting to fill the void she left behind with the very thing that made the two of us possible — and it’s killing me.
So a few days ago, I logged out of the app for what I hope to be a ninety-day period. I think a part of it is me trying to give myself room to heal. I think a part of it is me trying to convince myself that we still live in a world where you can fall in love by simply stumbling into someone at a wedding or a coffee shop or in the frozen food section of a Kroger.
I think a part of it is me trying to figure out who Cole is behind the facade.
And, so far, I keep coming up short.
By Cole Schafer.
I run a weekly newsletter. It’s called Chasing Hemingway. It’s about writing and life and how the two exist so wonderfully together.
Originally published at https://coleschafer.com on August 3, 2020.