I was just months away from marrying my high school sweetheart and shipping off to the Peace Corps. I'd had a bright five-year plan that included teaching English in a faraway land. The idea of a new culture and new life filled me with the sense that all the pieces were falling into place.
Except the pieces fell apart. My eight-year relationship with the man I thought I'd marry quickly soured, the dynamic changing after we moved in together. I was puzzled over how someone I thought I knew better than myself could seemingly change overnight. We agreed that we'd continue to live together but only as roommates.
Enter Ruben. We worked together, so it started with us sneaking glances at one other in the office. Then it progressed into seconds-long chatter.
His appearance became less of a footnote; the pressed button-downs, inky black hair and perpetual five o'clock shadow, a bit of a turn-on. His style was tasteful yet hurried. Disheveled, but in an intentional kind of way.
Early conversations in the office revealed a mutual love of all things Chaplin and, on our first date, we went to a silent movie festival in Glendale. As we sat in the 1925 Vaudevillian Alex Theatre, our arms glued to the same armrest, my hand itched to hold his.
We slipped away before the end of Charlie Chaplin's "The Cure" and downed too many Chimay White's at a bar inside the Far Niente Ristorante four doors down.
We stayed until closing.
I told him I lived with my former fiancé.
He said he had feelings for me.
Before I noticed, he was holding my hand across the table, squeezing tighter as the night progressed.
I wasn't ready for anything other than flirtation. But we kissed that night, whether I was ready or not.
A month later I was still sharing my one-bedroom apartment with my ex, alternating who slept on the bed and who got the couch. Ruben and I celebrated Dia de los Muertos at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, visited Long Beach's El Dorado Nature Center and went on hikes.
But just after Thanksgiving, while riding the Blue Line home from work I got a phone call that made my heart feel like it weighed 40 pounds. It was a "friend" of Ruben's who told me he had been seeing someone else at the same time. It turned out to be true—Ruben confirmed it.
I didn't think I could take two heartbreaks in one year.
I decided to make a clean break of it all and move to Chile, live the life of adventure I dreamed of and escape the possibility of another rejection. Without much ado, I brought my chapter with Ruben to a close.
I lived in a high-rise in the heart of Santiago de Chile, worked as a magazine editor, survived the 8.8 earthquake in early 2010, translated for doctors in impoverished regions after the temblor, traveled to the country's lush, green south, met unforgettable, remarkable people and drank more glasses of carménère and Malbec than I care to admit.
I got my adventure but still ached for the relationship that never was with Ruben. No dates, no foreign flirtations could replace what I felt in our fleeting moments of happiness. I continued to vacillate between feelings of mistrust and hurt — and memories of our happy shared moments. I decided to love him from 5,000 miles away.
I thought I could just harbor this love, unrequited and unspoken, but I returned to Los Angeles for a visit at the end of 2010 and found that the geographic proximity was overwhelming. We communicated (by email) for the first time since the quake.
After I returned to Chile, the emails became more regular. We wrote one another pages-long accounts of our hopes, observations, photos of small moments and songs. I began to suspect the love wasn't unreturned.
About four months after my Christmas visit, I was offered a job back in the States, and after a few months we decided to meet for coffee.
We haven't been separated since.
Our long conversations take place in our Belmont Heights home, where we discuss the news of the day, what we're reading and our plans for the future.
To say it's been an easy road would be a lie, but we finally succeeded in what we were hoping to do for years: love each other.
Lauren Williams is public safety reporter for the Daily Pilot.
L.A. Affairs chronicles romance and relationships. Past columns are archived at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at email@example.com