Empires Can't Be Run Alone

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He pushed me up against the tiled wall under the hot stream of water. I could see his face in the pale light of the moon coming in through the window over us.

He kissed me and held me, wet and hot, against his chest.

“When I look at you, you’re still so new to me,” he whispered in the silver light. “But when I close my eyes to kiss you, I recognize you.”

“It’s because we’re the same city,” I said.

I don't really know you, but my essence recognizes you, Tristan.

My cities of the interior are made of the same cobble stones, the architecture is strikingly similar, the walls are constructed of the same volcanic rock, and our alleys are equally narrow. You are a part of the inner city that was divided from me, perhaps in siege, perhaps in famine, over the course of history. My streets, with numbers that seemed to go nowhere, and so often met dead ends, find their sequence when I line up against you, and the dead ends become paths to other places, places inside you, which until now had also been incomplete.


The abyss. You know what it's like. You can taste it even before you come around the curb. It tastes like the rushing speed of oblivion, missed deadlines and meetings, a truce to regret and no thought of return. That's me at 180 miles per hour, heading straight for it.

I believe in living—but living in an organized fashion. Lovers have a place, and this place is not all over one's life.

“What are you going to do?” my friend Melissa asked me.

“What must be done when my heart does not oblige me,” I replied, pulling a suitcase out from under my bed.


Malus. That is the family name of the apple tree. Apple trees are known to grow in temperate climates. They can grow to be thirty feet tall.

According to legend, Newton was musing in a garden when he witnessed an apple fall. As John Conduitt, his assistant, described it, "It came into his thought that the power of gravity (which brought an apple from a tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from earth, but that this power must extend much further than was usually thought."

Love. It is said that love is a thing of the heavens. Relationships are forged in heaven. But they must be lived on Earth, must they not? Earth is bound to gravity, making it a hostile environment for things like love, which are susceptible to such forces. Everything that goes up invariably comes down.

To say that one has fallen in love is to say that one has fallen up. It is an incomprehensible remark, but perhaps purposely so, as love is an assault on the senses.

During my first year of university, I lived in a hotel. Apartments were scarce and I didn't want to live in the dorms, but my school had ended its off-campus housing program due to issues of liability.

Two years before I'd arrived, a balcony on which two lovers were indulging themselves collapsed. A free-fall from the eleventh floor. Though she broke every bone in her body, the girl lived. They said the boy broke her fall. He died on impact.

That's love.


"I'm leaving tomorrow," I whispered into Tristan's neck.

I was straddling him, naked on my bed, my head resting on his shoulder.

“Where?” he asked. Then he checked himself, “no—don’t tell me.”

“Would you follow me?” I asked. I shouldn’t have. But I did.

“I might try. How long are you gone?” he asked.

“Three weeks.”

“Jesus,” he said. “To do what?”

“To write.”

“I’ll be gone by the time you come back.”

I wondered if I would stay if he asked me. He wouldn’t ask me.

“You have to go,” he said.

“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do,” I said, kissing him. “There’s a choice, there is always a choice.”

If you seek to fly through life, you must be weightless. To be weightless you must accept two things: that you must go alone and that everything is a choice. There is no such thing as fate. There is only choice.

“You have to work.”

“That’s not really the reason I’m going,” I sat up and looked down at him.

“Why are you going?”

“I’m going to get away from you,” I said.

I’m going to save myself. I’m going because if I don’t, I’m going to go in so deep, the only way out of him will be through him and I don’t think I’ll make it out in one piece.

“There, that’s the truth. That’s why I’m leaving.”


“I want you inside me.”

Him on top, me on top, him on his side, intermission, a cigarette and conversation, caresses, kisses, his eyes on mine, the light of the sun filtering through the open window, hitting the particles of Los Angeles dust as they float around us, so it looks like we're surrounded by sparks.

Him inside me again, my legs over his shoulders, legs wrapped around his torso, on his lap facing away from him, his arms around me, my head turned so his lips are on mine, then on my stomach with him on top, and then me in a back bend with him kneeling before me, alternating between slow strokes and pounding.

I drop onto the bed so I'm flat on my back, he leans over me, and I close my eyes as my vaginal walls begin to contract with my orgasm. I squeeze my legs around him, my nails digging into his back.

Then I think, no, I want to see him, I want to see what he looks like when he sees me writhing this way, writhing for him. I open my eyes and look directly at him.

“Lick my soul,” I don't have to tell him.

His orgasm follows mine, and collapses over me. We're breathless in the sun. The only sound—the only truth—is the wild beating of our hearts.

“Don't tell me where you're going,” he whispers to me.

“I won't,” I say, running a hand through his hair. “I won't.”


Charles is leaning against his doorway when I exit the elevator. He folds me in his arms. Earlier that morning we'd spoken on the phone and I'd told him I couldn't see him anymore.

I walked into his apartment and its layout, with a glorious view of the waterfront, made perfect sense to me though I'd never been there before.

That's Charles and I. Long-time lovers who have never been in each other's personal space. Our story is one that unfolds across many airports. The way people text each other on Thursday nights when they hit a club (“where u at?”) is the way he and I communicate (“LAX-SFO, you?”). I used to joke our relationship was framed in frequent flier miles—the reason it's funny is that it's true.

Always going, on the move, in full flight. On my birthday, he took me to Switch, a restaurant in Las Vegas that changes its ceiling and walls every 20 minutes.

“This is so well-suited to our attention deficit disorder and need to keep in motion,” I told him then. “Even when we're sitting still.”

Now here I was, in his apartment.

“You know why we are perfect for each other?” I asked him, sitting down on his couch.


“Because you would never ask anything of me,” I said. “You would never get in my way. Our relationship is a pit stop on the road to our personal success. We're the double helix, we come together and drift apart, come together and drift apart. We're clean and concise. Our passion is a controlled demolition.”

“Everything has a weight,” he told me. And he sounded like me—the me I wish I were but could no longer find. “Everything has a weight—responsibilities, commitments, appointments, relationships.”

“You know what weighs more than anything else?” I asked.

“What's that?”

“Happiness,” I said. “Happiness is so heavy, it leaves you flat on your back, belly up.”

“We're sharks, AV,” he told me.

“We must stay in motion or we drown,” I completed his thought. “My mother always says that.”

“What I don't understand is why you're here,” he said.

I lit a cigarette, “because I almost love you, Charles.”

“This must be some man,” he remarked. He pointed to one of the photos on his wall: “Do you remember that?”

It wasn't a photo of us. We never took photos together. Landscapes. Pictures of each other. Yes—all of these things. But we never took photos of us together.

It's not that we must keep our relationship a secret. It's that in order for something to be weightless, it must leave no trace.

“Of course I remember.”

“Most people are afraid of dying alone,” he said.

“I'm not. Are you?”

“I have never met anyone who didn't die alone,” he said. “If you don't want to die alone, join a cult.”

“My greatest fear is losing control,” I confessed.

“You're always in control,” he replied. “You always have a choice.”

Charles represents everything that is organized and pragmatic in my life. He is the man who will run beside you to the end, never let you fall out of step and never get in your way. If Tristan is diving head-first into abyss, Charles is a skydive: a controlled free fall.

“I hope he's strong enough for you,” Charles said.

At his door, he gave me a hug and kissed my forehead.

“I'm going to miss you,” he said. “I love you, too... almost.”


People stood around me, removing their shoes, emptying their pockets.

I stared around me. It felt like a movie. Like I was no longer living my life, but watching it unfold.


I focused my eyes. A gaunt African American woman was looking at me with annoyance from behind the metal detector.

I walked through and collected my carry on, laptop, purse and boots from the trays as the machine spit them out, with the automation you'd expect of a decorated member of the jet set.

I began walking toward the gates.

“If you stay,” Tristan had told me, “don’t do it because of me.”

No one wants to be responsible for life-altering decisions like this. We can’t guarantee someone’s happiness. We can only guarantee that we’re ourselves, mortal and flawed as we are.

And how could that ever be enough?

Life is a game of calculated risk. I know this better than anyone. I have to.

To experience life, I run. To keep myself, I run. To save myself, I run.

There is courage involved if you want
to become truth. There is a broken-
open place in a lover. Where are
those qualities of bravery and sharp
compassion in this group? What’s the
use of old and frozen thought? I want
a howling hurt. This is not a treasury
where gold is stored, this is for copper.
We alchemists look for talent that
can heat up and change. Lukewarm
won’t do. Halfhearted holding back,
well-enough getting by? Not here.

— Rumi

I stopped walking.


The night before my departure, I was at a party with friends on the rooftop of Wokcano in Santa Monica. I'm not one for large events—I have always preferred things one on one. But that night, I needed the writhing mass of bodies around me, the sound of voices overlapping each other—something, anything, to escape my own head.

“Are you all packed?” my friend Marisa asked.

“Not in the least.”

“Oh, baby,” she said, nodding with understanding. She could tell I didn't want to talk about it.

“This is one of the pairs he got me,” she said, pointing to a pair of gorgeous red stilettos. “Aren’t they phenomenal? He spent the night last night and I wasn’t a complete neurotic.”

“You let him spend the night at your house?” I asked her, unable to hide my surprise.

We don’t do that. A living space is a sanctuary and a sanctuary is a reflection of the soul. Mine: tight, hidden, full of books and art. Hers, large, modernist, claimed back from a battlefield of a marriage where she almost lost herself.

“Don’t ever mention this to me again, but I’ll tell you something,” she said. “We don’t need men the way most women need men. Women like us don’t need men for security. We can make our own empires. But empire isn’t the only thing we need in life. Empires don’t feed the soul. And for that, we do need someone to run with.”

“Oh, Jesus,” I said.

“Let’s be honest,” Marisa said. “I’m lonely. And so are you.”


You can try to solve for everything, as I do. You can gauge your life by how far you go and how fast. You can streamline everything to its bare bones. You can live as I do, with a carefully scheduled non-schedule, suitcases always half-packed, with the books you own and the words you write as your only certainty in life. You can ignore serendipity time and time again because it doesn't fit—because there is no room in your full progress for something as big as a visceral connection to someone else.

Or you can cede some control and let yourself fall.


Tristan, I suspect, believes in fate.

“Perhaps you’re right, perhaps we don’t have a choice at all,” I typed into my phone, lost in a maze of Los Angeles traffic. “But if we do—”

And I believe we do—

“Then clearly,” I wrote, “I choose you.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“I didn’t take the plane.”

A tree. An apple. This is the Fall.

To gravity.

Do You Leave Room for A Partner, or Fill Your Life Up? by Liz Rizzo: "I can't remember when I first heard or read the theory that you should leave room in your life for a potential partner. It made good sense to me at the time, though, and I took it to heart. This philosophy is one of the reasons I lived with a roommate for a few years longer than I financially had to, even though I knew I would love to live on my own. I was afraid that if I got my own apartment it would be so awesome that I would never want to leave. I would die a happy hermit."

14 Things This Single Gal is Thankful For by Zandia: "I'm thankful that I've never felt any pressure to be anything but myself, or rush into something I'm not ready for. I've talked to other people and I know this isn't always the case."

Do You Honor Your Commitments? by Paula: "I'm not saying life doesn't sometimes get in the way. It does. Sometimes for your own good you need to step away from a commitment previously made. Yet it should really be the exception, not the rule and all commitments you have to break should be done directly, be well-communicated, and come with a proposed solution to honor the commitment (rain date, reschedule, replacement, etc.) another way if appropriate. Commitments must be treated with honor if you want to be someone who succeeds and whom others respect and can count on."

AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405--what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.


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