Kurtz came all the way to Miami to win me back. I shouldn’t have texted him from the club that lonely night before Thanksgiving, thousands of miles away from my family and friends, broke, living off of Evian and Adderall. But I did.
Pale skin, red hair, and bulgy blue eyes: Kurtz knew I wasn’t physically attracted to him and constantly punished me for it. Instead, he leveraged his intellectual gifts, using a love song and a rom-com screenplay about us to tempt me back to Los Angeles.
“You look like a slut,” he tells me in the car.
I stare silently out the window. As LA speeds by, I reminisce on the times my girlfriends and I hit up trendy spots in New York until sunrise. We were young and beautiful, surrounded by admiring men. Why did I ever leave New York in the first place? The sun drops below the horizon.
“I’ll drop you off with your family so you can get your shit together,” he says.
When we reach my family’s house, Kurtz leaves me there. He doesn’t even walk me to the door.
“Your eyes look black,” my Aunt Rose says. “There’s no life in you.”
In the mirror, I’m a barely recognizable 98 pounds — “Olsen-twin chic” as I call it. But there’s nothing chic about this at all. I’ve been self-destructive, chasing pretenses of glamour — and for what? I’m disgusted with myself. Kurtz is right; I am a slut.
I fill a garbage bag with my slutty clothes. I wipe away tears, put on pajamas, and crawl into bed with my grandmother. I’m 25 but I feel like a lost child.
“What am I doing?” I ask myself with eyes wide open in the dark. When I’m sitting like a kitty cat on Kurtz’s oversized beanbag chair, I’m safe under his watch. Maybe he is right: maybe I do need him. Or maybe he’s just playing on my daddy issues, that manipulative fuck.
In the morning, my Aunt Rose hands me a 40-page letter that had been left on the porch. A look of concern clouds her face as I read Kurtz’s words detailing how I’m a whore, and if I’m not careful I’ll end up in a ditch with AIDS. When I am done sobbing from the letter, I get an email. It’s from Kurtz. Attached is an MP3 of a song he recorded called, “Murder on My Mind.” Chills run through my body.
With some of my strength back thanks to my family’s support, I leave him for good. But I know the damage has been done. I can’t find the light inside, and as hard as I try, I can’t get away from myself.
It’s three years later.
I live in Santa Monica, six blocks from the beach, and drive a white Audi A4 with a black leather interior. It seems like I’ve made it, right? I look confident on the outside. But inside, I hate myself. I have no self-control. I’m reckless. As soon as a client’s check comes in, I spend it. I drive too fast and evolve too slow. I’m a piece of shit.
So, I keep pretending everything’s okay and go to happy hour at Ocean Avenue Seafood in my neighborhood. I order a half dozen oysters and a glass of prosecco.
“I’ve got something better,” the bartender says. “Chopin Vodka. It’s from Poland, made from potatoes.”
I nod and accept his recommendation.
He pours a long stream into a shaker, adds ice cubes, covers it, and shakes hard. He filters the liquid into a cocktail glass. Ice crystals float seductively on the surface. He tells me to sip, not shoot.
On its own, it is fantastic. Simple, yet sophisticated. Followed by the oyster, they are perfection.
For the first time in forever, I look around me. I mean really look around. The bartender is dapper and dignified in his tuxedo behind the beautiful bar of dark, polished wood and brass. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror behind the bar. The woman staring back at me looks ready; maybe there is something more out there and it’s within her reach?
My client lets me go a month after my first oyster and Chopin happy hour. I get rid of the Audi and start anew in San Francisco.
I need a side job, so my cousin Janice connects me to her friend Mike, who hires spokesmodels for beer brands.
Ugh. I’m almost 30. But I need the money.
My Blackberry rings. “Hello?”
“Hey, Arabella? It’s Mike DeLucco. Can you work this weekend?”
Later, I ask Janice, “What does he look like?”
“He’s beefy! I love DeLucco!” Janice says. I immediately perk up.
A week after that call, I start working for Mike. He has a baby face, shapely mouth, big arms. Just my type. But what I appreciate more are his kind demeanor, intelligence, and sense of adventure. We start clicking.
Two wild months pass, and he invites me to his company’s holiday dinner. No big deal… we’re just having fun, right?
“I’ll have a dozen Miyagis please,” I say to the waiter. “Oh, and do you have Chopin Vodka?”
The waiter nods. I order two. I turn to Mike and whisper, “It’s my favorite pairing with oysters.”
When they arrive, I instruct Mike to sip, not shoot the vodka. He follows my lead. He’s a gentleman, with taste. I didn’t think I wanted a relationship…
… but soon after, we host a dinner at his apartment. I get oysters at the farmer’s market and Chopin at the liquor store. As guests arrive, Mike and I greet them with freshly shucked oysters and a shot glass of vodka to sip, not shoot.
Mike and I clink glasses, and it feels like a toast to a new me.