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L.A. Affairs: I was mourning. He was charming. Would romance help me heal?

Two images of a woman standing in front of picture frames.
(Anna Resmini / For The Times)
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In December 2022, I was at Zara in the Glendale Galleria, helping my sister find a coat suitable for a funeral, when he first messaged.

“How are ya?”

It was a loaded question. My 27-year-old brother went to sleep the week before and never woke up, and our family didn’t know why. I was a wreck but I swiped through dating apps seeking a sense of normalcy. Among the suitors, one guy seemed special: artsy and attractive with empathetic eyes. So, I divulged.

“Admittedly not great. My brother died last week,” I responded.

“Well, I know we’re near strangers,” he wrote. “But if you want to talk to someone removed from it, I’m happy to.”

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I met one of my exes on Grindr. He was an astrological match, and our Virgo/Taurus vibes were palpable. But was that enough for a real relationship to bloom?

Feb. 9, 2024

I was taken with his kind response to my overshare, and we established a long-distance rapport (he had just moved from L.A. to New Orleans after a relationship ended).

Three months later, he came to town. I was at a house party in Pacific Palisades when he texted.

My phone screen showed the time as 11:09 p.m.

“Is this a booty call?” I texted back.

“It is, yeah. Like, adjacent.”

I pondered the proposition. Still grieving, I was acutely aware of mortality and eager for anything to make me feel the opposite. I requested his location.

As I drove east on the 10 Freeway, more texts illuminated on my dash.

“I took a buncha ecstasy. Fair warning.”

Apparently, he was eager to feel something too.

He hopped in my car outside Prime Time Pub. His hair was pulled back and he smelled like beer. We were matching in gray thermals and black pants (mine had rhinestones). I was relieved to feel attracted to him.

“I’m enamored with your face,” he said. So it seemed we were on the same page — or same MDMA.

Throughout the night, his brazen statements continued. “I love your big eyes,” he remarked. “How are you not married?”

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I flew back to my husband, brushing off the night with Anthony as harmless flirting. But every time I remembered his fingers against my leg, an electric surge swept my body.

Feb. 2, 2024

I was cautious of his molly-colored claims. Even so, as he followed me into my apartment and leaned down to kiss me, I co-conspired, standing on my toes to meet him.

By morning, his tone was more practical. He shared his plans to sign a lease in New Orleans.

But before he left, he took me to dinner at Tsubaki in Echo Park. Later that night, back in my bed, he ran his fingers over the freckles between my ribs, and said they resembled the constellation Cassiopeia, channeling a scene out of “Serendipity.”

I had wanted to feel something and I was starting to. Yet I was wary of feeling joy.

The next night, I was barhopping the Sunset block in Silver Lake, when I bumped into him having dinner. What were the chances? He kissed my forehead; I stepped on his foot.

Two days later, he ran into me at the reservoir. I slid my headphones around my neck, stunned.

I started a conversation with her in a chat room. She was witty and had razor-sharp quips, parrying every attempt at deeper connection with playful defiance.

Jan. 26, 2024

The coincidences humbled me; suddenly, the clamp clenching my atrium loosened a notch. Nevertheless, he left for the Gulf Coast, and we carried on a touch-and-go dialogue, a “Serendipity” JPEG here, photos of his new apartment there.

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Then, one night in April, I was having dinner at Greekman’s when he stumbled in. I couldn’t believe it. Here, we’d been planted in the same place unplanned a third time, and yet he hadn’t told me he was in town.

He sent olive oil ice cream to my table, an olive oil branch.

“You looked like you saw a ghost,” he’d later say, conveying that he hadn’t reached out because he needed to remain single.

I understood even if my ego didn’t, and defaulted back to dating apps. Then, something extraordinary happened.

The first two men I went out with had just vacationed in New Orleans. I wrote it off as a Baader-Meinhof frequency illusion, but the signs didn’t stop. One day it was a Louisiana license plate, the next an LSU sweatshirt at Starbucks or Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou” on the radio.

After a month, I couldn’t ignore the onslaught. I fired off a text.

“I was thinking of you earlier,” he replied.

That was all it took for me to suggest I visit. He obliged, and thus set in motion plans for our third date (if you counted the booty call, which I did).

I booked a plane ticket and checked the forecast: excessive heat warning. We barely left the hotel room. When we did, we traipsed through the French Quarter holding hands. We ate beignets at Café du Monde and went night swimming.

“How did he die?” he asked as we simmered by the pool.

“Liver failure. Maybe from alcohol or genetics. We don’t really know. He was 27,” I shared, surprised by my vulnerability.

A few weeks after the trip, he invited me back for his photography show. I couldn’t attend, but to show support, I bought a nude he took in the mirror, with proceeds going to Planned Parenthood.

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We laughed over ‘National Lampoon’ at the bar. Could the bartender help us connect again? And did you feel the same way about our time together?

Jan. 19, 2024

The next time he flew to L.A., I was giddy to reunite, but the sentiment deflated when, in a postcoital moment, he put on his sneakers.

“You’re leaving?”

“We’ll both sleep better this way,” he said in a tone I didn’t recognize.

I didn’t sleep at all. The conversation carried over to morning, when by phone he confirmed my feelings had outpaced his.

“Are you OK?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m fine,” I lied.

But when we hung up, I sobbed. As tears fell from my chin, I wondered how long they had been needing to come out.

In the following days, I moved through the world in a state of compounded grief. Back at the reservoir, the path felt lackluster — a reminder that there was no divine order. I stopped seeing New Orleans signs.

But after the dust settled, in their place came winks from another 6-foot-plus figure from my past, another ghost: Turtles, Pokémon and license plates with my brother’s name, JJ.

I met a wonderful, kind and handsome Marine via a dating app. I wanted to spend my life with him. But our relationship suddenly changed.

Jan. 12, 2024

I realized they had always been there; they were just too painful to pull into focus. It was easier to get caught up in a blossoming love story than to confront the unending horror of loss.

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Weeks later, the full-frontal photo arrived via FedEx, and I asked my friends for their input. “Return to sender” and “Gift the world’s most elevated d— pic to the Louvre,” they suggested.

I weighed their opinions, until a fresh perspective crystallized. In life as in love, art and death, we get to choose what we see and how we interpret it.

So, I hung the photo on my wall.

Some days the image reminds me of getting my heart broken. On others, I recall my courage in being vulnerable — and how I started to open my heart back up.

The author is a screenwriter who lives in Silver Lake. She’s working on a novel.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $400 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

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