You told me you loved the stories I told you about my past and the women I’d loved and failed. In your moments of doubt, love turned to bitterness and you told me all you would be in the end was a story I told someone else. I told you no, that wasn’t true. That wasn’t true. But you must agree, compassionate lies make the best true stories.

It’s New Year’s Day 2011 and we’re driving through the rain north to San Francisco. You’ve never been and this is spontaneous and my idea and for once both of these things please you.

It’s raining today and I’m thinking about San Francisco as I drive north and hold her hand as she cries.

There was nothing to see. By the time we arrived it was too wet and too late to go anywhere. The advent of the new year had brought us a few hundred miles north of LA, but we were still the same people we’d been in 2010.

I think about San Francisco as she tells me about the man she loved and failed and the years of goodness and bitterness she so recently left behind.

In the hotel that night we made a tired love on rented sheets and by the glow of a rented lamp, and it was simultaneously boring and blissful, and I was simultaneously fearful and awed by that. I laid awake for a long time with my hand on your body, thinking, not really wanting to be in San Francisco. You fell asleep first. The longer we lived together, the earlier you fell asleep.

I’m complicating things because what she needs is time, but I can’t keep away from her. And whether it’s because she needs me or because I’m not him, she tells me to keep driving. And I love her so much I make every wrong turn I’ve made before.

San Francisco was full of mad bums and wet condos we could never own, and we both had work Monday morning. Both of us were sure we’d made a mistake, but we had come together and we would leave together.

She says, “He was the man I was going to marry.” I listen and I understand (how it feels to lose the love you know). But I do not say what I’m thinking. “No, he wasn’t. Because you belong with me.”

The next year we were both in different cities, and still I think about San Francisco.

I take her home and I love her like the world is ending, because every time I touch her feels like the very last time.

That year you came back to love me the very last time. Lying awake under our old, familiar lamp, I said, “Do you remember San Francisco?” You laughed, and you said, “What a disaster.”

In the darkness, she whispers to me, “I can’t give you what you want.”

I want you, I say.

And she says, “Tell me a story.”

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