“What is love” was the most searched phrase in Google in 2012. Psychologists say you need to marry self-esteem with a mature, positive love in order to prevent erotic Eros from burning itself out. In Liz’s experience in this story (and in my memoir Angel Hero, Murder in Hawai’i, A True Story), that’s about right.

Part 2 of the “Only Love” short story continues below.

Two years after the reading by the clairvoyant palmist, when I turn 31, I long for a Prince Charming who is fun to be with, kind, and courageous. Like in the movies. Like in romance novels. I escape into daydreams about a soulmate I can grow roots with.  Someone who will really hear me.

Not like my boyfriend Billy. The fire between this bronze Hawaiian surfer and me ignites like dry wood on hot coals, throws a smoke screen over the ways we are wrong for each other—his hatred of the Caucasian conquerors, my fear of abandonment and speaking up.

Living together in his roach-infested, crumbling beach bungalow on the dry west side of Oahu splashes cold water on my romantic notions. Intimidated by his hot temper, my difficulty in speaking up increases. We talk less and argue more. He escapes to the welcoming arms of the wild waves he rides like a sea creature. I am landlocked and alone. Hope for a happily ever after with Billy dissolves like smoke in the trade winds. My mantra becomes, “At least he’s faithful.” More than anything, I want to engage, relate, love and be loved.

The gap widens. Afraid of abandonment, I cling. Magical thinking: he’ll turn into Mr. Right.

I take what solace I can from my Army fire department job where I shoot the breeze with my crusty old veteran dispatching partners and the firemen who stop by the alarm room to “talk story” with single blonde dispatcher me. Later that same year, on a cool October day, I change jobs, transfer away from the smoky, antiquated fire alarm room. By comparison, Whaler Air Force Base’s high-tech, pristine fire station where dispatchers work solo and the boss is supportive feels like a refuge.

In my new job, after the 8 to 5ers drive home, I work evening shifts solo. With the bosses away, the men and I enjoy crackling conversations about love and life. For a while, in this exciting, fast-paced world, I forget about the strained atmosphere waiting for me at home. I don’t know how to fix Billy and me, but I hang on, hoping for better days to come. Hoping for a miracle.

On slow shifts, at twilight, I gaze through a picture window past the huge red airfield trucks at golden pink sunsets. Sometimes, after midnight, I turn off the overheads, turn on my Walkman, and sway to lyrics from the song Both Sides Now: “the dizzy, dancing way you feel when every fairy tale comes real, I’ve looked at love that way.” But the only dizziness I experience stems from occasional bouts with vertigo, an unhappy legacy from a childhood ear infection.

Two years later, my budding friendship with fireman coworker Vic Lazzarini blossoms. It’s partly that he really listens. Partly that we are friends for years before becoming confidants, bonding like hydrogen with oxygen. Mostly that we talk, joke, share, care. I grow closer to Vic than to Billy.

Vic, droll, kind, generous. When I make dispatching mistakes, he teases me. Vic listens, hears me, amuses me with his jokes, thinks I’m funny. I’m a red-breasted Robin and he’s the golden sunrise inspiring me to sing. Vic, happy, self-assured. Outspoken, not like me.

Wanting to be outspoken, too, I practice on Billy. Every day for a week, I tell Billy I want to talk about us. Every day, he says he’s too busy. Today, he looks up from the football game he is watching on TV and says, “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“How about after the game?” I ask.

“If I told you once, I told you a dozen times. I’m not your typical blabbering haole boy. And I’m not in the mood,” he says, turning his gaze back to the TV screen.

My heart aches. Carole King’s lyric, “I need relating, not solitude,” play in my mind. I blurt out, “Well, I’m not in the mood to live with you any more if you won’t talk to me.”

He is used to a quiet mouse, not this outspoken haole. He tells me not to bang the door on the way out.

My stomach ties itself in knots. I cry and cry, pack my bags, stay at my friend Emily’s apartment until I can find my own place. I tell no one that Billy and I are history.

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