The Love of my Life (Part I)
The phone would ring loudly in the afternoons.
My mother was a talented seamstress, so it was always important to answer the phone professionally. That often fell to me.
“Milici residence, may I ask who is calling?”
“It’s Monique. Is Mark there?”
“Sure. Let me go get him.”
(He doesn’t want to talk to her.)
“Sorry, he’s not up to talking.”
I could hear the pain through the wire connecting her to me, without her uttering a word she simply sighed.
“Well, what are you up to, you’re Brian, right?”
“Yeah, I didn’t know you knew my name.”
And thus began our intense friendship.
Shortly thereafter she called everyday, and she stopped asking to talk to Mark. She wanted to talk to me.
We would talk for hours everyday.
This actually is how I ended up with most of my friends in high school. I’d meet them through my older brother Mark, and not long after they would want to hang with me. Steve, my best friend now, was that way. Most of my friends in high school were 2 years ahead of me (Steve, Michael, and a myriad others) or one year ahead of me (Bryan, John, and a myriad others).. I didn’t really like anyone in my graduating class. My senior year sucked as all of my friends were in college.
Steve I do not consider just my best friend, but he’s been the older brother I always wanted. His wife, Sam, is the sister I never had. Ha, a few weeks ago I went over to their house and I didn’t knock, I just walked right in the front door. They’d left it unlocked for me. In typical Steve fashion, he walked in to the room to shake my hand and playfully, grouchily said, “Sure! Just let yourself in like you own the place!”
Sam was setting the table for dinner.
I replied shortly, “I have a key to your house!”
She died laughing, and he chuckled and we shook hands and hugged.
I was a very troubled kid, I suppose. I never had a male figure in my life to look up to, and so I pretty much taught myself what it meant to be a man. I was so rudderless in that journey. Without direction, no instruction, and a lot of painful nights dealing with my unstable mother led me to a place where I found the one way I would like myself. I’d be a good person.
That became a focus of my life growing up, and it gave me what little self-esteem I could cobble together.
I was a scared, nervous, and uncertain little boy for a very, very long time.
Those closest to me might say I’m still parts of that deep within me.
I feel it somedays, but I know I’m different now. So very, very different.
And Monique is a big reason that started to change.
She had lived a hard life of drugs, drinking, and skipping school or being kicked out of them for fighting.
She once stabbed another girl in the hand with a fork.
The thing was, she was actually brilliant. Smart. Funny.
And so beautiful.
So full of life.
Yet she was her own worst enemy.
If there is anything you should know about Before Brian is that he was a very judgemental, very close-minded, and very rigid individual.
I believe in right over wrong. That things were black and white even when they were misted gray.
I did not drink. I did not smoke. I did not do drugs. I had no tattoos nor piercings.
And yet she did and had all of those things.
I found her challenging me.
Never before had anyone been able to do so in such a way that I actually stopped and listened intently.
Before long, she was broadening my vision.
As if I was just born, my eyes were slowly and very sincerely opening.
We started to hang out together, and I was unattractive physically, but she adored me. She didn’t care about my weight. She didn’t care about my chaotic home life. She didn’t care about my limitations and fears.
She grew to care for me as a person.
Not a thing.
And this is where it muddies.
She ended up liking Bryan, my best friend back then. I would always joke that if you combined the two of us we’d make the perfect guy. Give me Bryan’s looks and athleticism, and I’ll bring everything else to the table. ;)
So Monique started asking me to set her up with him.
We’d become the best of friends. She was certainly my best female friend, and I always had girls to talk to even back then. I always drew them in, but I ended up “the good friend” every single time.
I didn’t have an edge.
I was just sweet, nice, and thoughtful.
No confidence whatsoever.
Looking back I want to grab him, shake him, and tell him you had everything. You just didn’t believe in yourself. So of course no girl would.
That has certainly changed. :)
I was adept at one thing, though.
Monique? For that year that we talked all day everyday?
I was in love with her from the moment I saw her. She changed my perception on love at first sight. I believe in.. a form of it, and I’ve discovered that form to make its presence known every few years when I meet someone.
I just know that she’s different, special, and likely going to steal me.
I just know I’m sunk.
Monique was the first to sink me.
Back then, I believed so steadfastly in Bryan. I genuinely felt he could do no wrong. I was then and am to this very day loyal to a fault.
Burn me, though, betray me? And you’re gone.
That has not changed about me.
I’ll give you so much rope to unhang yourself, though, before I cut you from my life. I don’t just walk at the first sign of disarray.
Desperately I’ll work to remedy the rift, and if it cannot be done, then I’m done.
Back then, had I just felt confident enough to go after her, I think she’d have been with me from the jump.
No, I know she would have been, but I truly felt she was beyond my meager fingers. Well past my longing grasp.
She wanted to be with Bryan.
He was “eh” about her, which drove me nuts, but I felt since I could not have her, did not deserve her, the next best thing would be my best friend and my best female friend to be together.
And so I coaxed them together.
It broke me in so many ways, but I was very good at smiling through the pain.
Always smile through the pain, Brian.
We were driving in his car late one Saturday night, and a song came on the radio, and I’m in the backseat crying.
I hid my tears well back then.
I hid everything about me extremely well back then.
At a certain point, I wasn’t being funny, loud, and energetic.
Monique turned and she looked at me, and I’d dried the tears by then, and she asked so earnestly what was wrong?
“I’m fine. Nothing is wrong.”
She didn’t believe me. Why was I so quiet? Brian is never quiet.
“Nothing, I’m just thinking about the beauty of sad songs.”
Monique asked if I was thinking about Jill, my very first and only ex.
“Thinking about true love.”
I was honest and so dishonest at the very same time.
Yes, it was true what I said.
It just wasn’t about Jill.
It was about her.
And how I loved seeing them together because they seemed happy, although Bryan confided in me daily he wasn’t into her. That bothered me beyond measure.
Monique was just so happy, though.
And so I was, too, for her.
My heart would break a lot back then.
Smile through the pain, Brian.
I always smiled.
One day we all met up at City Park to go through the New Orleans Museum of Fine Arts and then have a picnic together.
It was myself, Monique, John, Ben, Allen, and Bryan was supposed to show up.
He did not, and she was devastated.
I knew why he didn’t, but I could not betray his confidence.
He just didn’t like her very much.
The entire day she tried to reach him, until she finally said to me you call him. He’ll talk to you. Get him to come out with us.
“God, I need a cigarette.”
I’d thought she had quit for Bryan.
“I tried to, I more or less have, because he won’t see me if I smoke so I don’t. But he won’t even see me, so why have I given up smoking for him and he doesn’t even want to be here. He doesn’t want to see me? See you?”
I was very good at rationalizing Bryan’s behavior.
Probably too good at it, but what I said surprised me.
“You should never quit smoking for someone else. You should quit for you, and if someone doesn’t love you after they actually get to know you because of smoking? That’s incredibly stupid.”
She lit up, and we walked, we talked, and we had a very good time.
Their relationship died a very slow death, but we still hung out all the time together. He wasn’t speaking to her for a couple of weeks, so that spelled the end of that she surmised.
I recall just listening, and nodding my head.
Did not want to sway her, I just wanted to be there for her.
That about me has not changed.
Monique would often come over to my house and spend the night. We’d stay up talking, and listening to music and having fun.
She introduced me to Tori Amos.
She introduced me to a lot of things.
However, she was a very wild girl. I was shy and quite bashful around girls. I had no confidence, and that had changed very little even then. Because I was always the good friend.. girls always wanted to talk to me, but not to be with me.
The former has not changed, but the latter has drastically changed since then.
For a couple of weeks, Monique was intent on flashing me.
She’d go to lift her shirt, and I’d legitimately look away.
She did this regularly.
I did not once ever look, so I have no idea if she ever went through with it, but trust in that she would have done it. That was just Monique.
I lived 4 blocks from Audubon Park.
It was a late Friday night and we decided to go for a walk, and we’re joking around and laughing, a couple of friends were with us and they’d moved ahead. I always walked slowly because of my bad left leg.
Her stride matched mine.
I recall the scent of freshly cut grass, and the moss hanging from the massive Willows that dotted the park.
It was a little bit chilly out, and so I had given her my sweatshirt.
She wore it like a champion, though it was several sizes too big.
The mood suddenly dipped.
The moon hung a shade lower.
The chirping of birds departed.
Not one squirrel in sight chasing another up a tree.
It was as if the world slowly stopped spinning on axis.
She and I were walking and occasionally our fingers would dance together, but in the shortest tango ever.
Monique’s fingers brushed mine, and moments would pass before mine would gently return the gesture.
Fingertips dancing below the starlit skies.
There was a hushed tone to her voice.
“Why do you always look away?”
“Huh? Look away? From you?”
“You never want to see me. Why do you look away?”
I had no words.
“Do you not like me? Am I not pretty?”
Those words haunted me then, and upon reflection they still do.
How could anyone so riveting, so sultry, and so absolutely perfectly created ever doubt her own beauty?
And how could she doubt my love for her let alone my desires and cravings for her..?
I finally found words.
“I look away because if I see you, well, I want it to be for the right reasons.”
I did not think they were the right reasons.
And here is my storybook moment.
Her fingers stopped their flirtations, and she held my hand tightly, but in such a warm and assuring manner.
She quietly whispered, “And perhaps they are for the right reasons…“
I squeezed her hand so suddenly and sharply, but she didn’t grimace.
She just looked up at me, with her blonde locks of hair framing her face, and her pale blue eyes staring deeply and intently into mine.
I almost felt as if I imagined this.
That I had penned this to completion.
However, I was not a writer back then.
And I knew what just happened.
What she just said.
We held hands the rest of that night, and we walked all throughout the Oaks and Willows of the park before returning to my house on Broadway.
We kissed that night.
We both fell.
I did not see her that night the way she tried to get me to, and yet I felt like she had suddenly unlocked the key to clarity of heart and of mind.
I would not look away again.
This is not how this story ends.
Last updated December 10, 2015