“It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
This quote, scrawled on a napkin in the calming blue of a Crayola crayon, hangs on the wall beside my North Ave. twin bed. The words serve as a reminder of a time long passed, bringing comfort to the cold and empty expanse of my 39” by 80” mattress. More than that, though, it is the one remaining link I have to Chardonnay Montgomery.
This story begins where all good stories do: inside the hallowed walls of the Van Leer bathrooms. With only the stall’s crudely-drawn genitalia to keep me company, I quickly felt a festering loneliness awaken inside of me. So, phone-in-hand and pants-around-ankles, I began swiping on Tinder in hopes of finding love. It wasn’t long until I arrived on that angelic face, the face that would etch itself into my heart like the swastikas etched into the walls that enclosed me. Not even the Snapchat dog filter could mask her ethereal beauty. The name that sat beneath it was perfect, like a punctuation mark after the moving and gerund-filled sentence of her face: Chardonnay.
I sent her my opening line immediately, inviting her to bathe with me in a kiddie pool of Arby’s sauce. The 15-minute wait for a reply was agonizing yet made worthwhile by her thoughtful response of “lol.”
I had done it. I had made her laugh out loud. I was, to put it bluntly, in there like swimwear.
It wasn’t long before I was messaging her on Kik, the first step to all meaningful relationships. My life became a rollercoaster, riding the highs and lows of my talks with a beautiful stranger.
On the ninth day of my courtship, during a streak of exceptionally quick replies from Chardonnay, I became emboldened enough to ask her on a real-life date to the place I thought all real-life dates were held: Mellow Mushroom pizza. Before she had even said yes, I was already writing my jokes for the night. Would she order the Mighty Meaty, prompting a crass yet necessary one-liner?
My invitation was read on a Tuesday. It wasn’t until Friday that I had received the response of “sure, when?” As could be expected, her response sent a wave of elation over me. I imagine the feeling was comparable to that of doing heroin for the first time, probably. To capitalize on the fact that she was currently on her phone, I sent an excited “tonight” within seven seconds of her question. We agreed on a time, she gave me her address, and just like that my day had become a lot more interesting.
That night, Siri guided my Nissan Pathfinder to a modest duplex on the outskirts of Peachtree City, a wooded area that heavily influenced the love of nature that I assumed Chardonnay harbored.
I could hardly breathe as I ascended the porch steps. This was due in equal part to my nerves and the stench of a decaying raccoon that lie unseen to me underneath the creaking wooden stairs. As my racing heart pumped adrenaline-filled blood to my trembling hands, I knocked.
In reply, I heard the faint yell of a rasping voice. “Come in.” After half a minute of fumbling with the loose knob, I opened to door to be met with a blur of motion, the figure of a cat bounding towards the freedom of the empty street. She even had pets. This girl was perfect.
Once I came to my senses, I noticed a thin haze filling the foyer and the acrid scent of synthetic watermelon. I followed the fog into a small living room, finding a husky woman of about four feet sitting motionless on a stained sofa. The television, playing a rerun of Judge Judy, fought with the sound of a violently shaking washing machine for my attention. Another cursory glance around the room brought my gaze to a recliner, where a bearded man sat mumbling to himself in what appeared to be a foreign language. A lawyer mother and a linguist father, just what I expected of my perfect Chardonnay.
Her mother brought a rectangular metal box to her mouth, exhaling an odorous fog that latched itself onto the fibers of my Banana Republic sweater. I still haven’t washed it.
From another room came a dazzling light, the brilliant radiance of their daughter Chardonnay. She looked just as I dreamt she would, wearing black Nike shorts and the same red flannel I had seen 100 times in her Tinder profile. Her face, complemented by a heavy coat of makeup, was even more gorgeous in person.
Without a word from her parents, we absconded back to my car. A turn of the ignition brought the romantic sounds of Smash Mouth’s “All-Star” out of my crackling speakers.
She immediately contested my choice of restaurants, claiming to “only eat Zaxby’s”. This was a woman that knew what she wanted. I balled up my list of Mellow Mushroom jokes and set a course for the land of Zax Snax and Zalads.
Opting for the drive-thru, we sat in the romantic bliss of the Fayetteville Zaxby’s parking lot eating chicken and Texas toast. I learned that she had dropped out of school after a semester to focus on her art, which she had brought along as a point of pride. Out of her bag she produced a 64-pack of Crayolas (the kind with the sharpener on the back, swoon) and a drawing that I immediately recognized as her cat. The same cat I had released into the Peachtree City wilderness a half-hour prior. I said nothing.
The topic quickly turned to an ex-lover, or as Chardonnay referred to him, her “ex-future baby-daddy.” Although those words meant nothing to me, I found myself engrossed in the tale of Brad’s sultry affair with a waitress from the local Hooters, a story that brought tears to her eyes and a fervor to her voice. Her passion was moving, and I soon recognized the feeling inside of me as true love.
We arrived back at the duplex, my mind steeled for an attempt at a goodnight kiss. But, as the familiar raccoon scent filled my nostrils, the chorus of “Redneck Yacht Club” pierced the night’s cold silence. As she brought her phone to her ear, I could just barely make out the name “Brad <3.”
She hurried inside without a word, her torn bag leaving behind my only consolation for the night. On her porch lay a single crayon, the same color that my heart has been these past 14 months: blue.
I delicately picked up the crayon, an artifact of the most impactful night of my life, and drove home. To this day, every time I watch the towering Atlanta skyline come into view, I find myself thinking of Life, Love and Chardonnay Montgomery.