Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thoughts I Keep Thinking

It has been almost two years since my father died and I think I’m still coming to terms with the fact that he’s gone. As he lay in the hospital, weak, but conscious and lucid, I hugged him and I said what seemed to be the only words I could articulate at the time: “I’m sorry I wasn’t a better son.”

I don’t know why I spoke those particular words when there were so many other thoughts sprinting through my mind. I had so much I wanted to say, but it was like my roiling emotions choked off anything more articulate and that was all I could get out.

What I wanted to say, or, at least, what I wanted to convey, was that I was sorry I was, in my opinion, a disappointment. I was 36 when my father died and he would have been 72 had he lived long enough to reach his birthday. I was basically half his age and I couldn’t help--can’t help--comparing my life to his when he was my age.

When my father was 36 he was married, had three kids, a good job. In contrast, at 36 I was (and still am) living in the home in which I grew up, in the same room, with a job I hate and nothing even resembling a social life. And now, almost two years later, at age 38, nothing in my life has changed.

And I think that’s what I was apologizing to my father for. I wasn’t exactly apologizing for any inadequacies I felt as a son, but as a person. I was apologizing for still living at home, and for not having a job, for not trying harder to find a job I actually wanted. I was apologizing for my complacency, my laziness. I was (and still am) sorry that should I ever find myself with children of my own, they will never know their grandfather.

I look at my brother and my sister, both of whom are married with kids of their own. And while their lives aren’t perfect (whose is?), I can’t help feeling a twinge of jealousy. Both of their spouses knew our father for the better part of 15 years. Their kids, my nieces and nephews, got to know their grandfather, not just as small children, but into their teenage years.

Should I ever get married, unless I’ve already met the woman, she will not have had a chance to know my father, and that bothers me, maybe more than it should. My father was the biggest influence in my life. There is so much of him in me (or so little, if you compared our hairlines) and yet I have been unable to attain what he had. I don’t know if I ever will, but I have to try. I owe it to him to keep trying.

My father’s reply, by the way, after I apologized to him, was, “No, no. You’ve been great. You’re great.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Interview: Greg Smallwood

For its annual Halloween celebration, Omaha's Krypton Comics invited Dark Horse and Marvel artist Greg Smallwood to visit the shop and draw some spooky sketches for customers. Smallwood is the current artist of Marvel's Moon Knight, written by Brian Wood, and he is the artist and co-creator of Dream Thief, which is written by Jai Nitz and published through Dark Horse.

During a quiet moment in between sketches, I took the opportunity to talk to Greg about his art, his love of comics and what his next project might be:

Has anyone mentioned the fact that the writer of Moon Knight is Brian Wood and you’re Smallwood.

A few people have talked about it online, I’ve noticed. It didn’t occur to me until a few weeks until after I took the gig, and I thought, ‘Oh, wait a minute, on the cover it’s going to have “Wood” and “Smallwood” on it. That’s really bizarre.’ And then I thought, ‘Maybe my editor, Nick Lowe, maybe he considered that. Maybe he thought that would look good on the cover, a little bit of synergy going there.’

He’s the big wood and I’m the small wood.

Can you tell me a little about how you broke into comics?

The store in Lawrence, Astrokitty Comics, is pretty responsible for my breaking in. I did an entry for Zuda Comics, for one of their last competitions, I think it was December ‘09, if I remember right. I did a bunch of flyers and took them to area shops. And I took some flyers to Astrokitty, I had been there a couple times, and the store owner, Joel, put that flyer in front of Jai Nitz and said, ‘Hey, look at this guy’s work.’ And Jai was like, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta work with him.’ And Jai sent me an email that day and said ‘hey, I have a pitch for you if you’re interested. It’s called Dream Thief. And he sent me a one-page synopsis and I loved it and I said ‘yeah, let’s do it.’

I was wondering if you had known Jai before, prior to Dream Thief

Yeah, no, we became friends working together. A lot of Leavenworth kids ended up going to Lawrence, just to get out of Leavenworth and go somewhere else. And so I had a lot of friends in Lawrence, and my sister lived there at the time.

I made the move, actually, after our first pitch of Dream Thief, which was not successful, then I moved out there. And I started hanging out with Jai more and we said, ‘let’s give it another shot,’ and so we did a second pitch for Dream Thief and that’s when Dark Horse picked it up. And during that time is when I really got to be friends with Jai.

I think that’s why our second pitch was a lot better, we had a little bit more synergy, we knew each other better. I realized we had similar sensibilities, so we kind of keyed in on that. Where as before Dream Thief was a little more broad, then it became more, kinda like, cultish, because we were making a lot of Miami Vice references and all kinds of crazy stuff, which wasn’t originally part of the plan.

Did you go to school for art or are you more self taught?

I guess you could say I’m self taught. I took art in high school, but they don’t really teach you anything that’s applicable to comic book art. College was the same. I went to community college, took some painting courses. I guess I learned a little bit, but not much. It was pretty much a waste of time. I just knew DC and Marvel, they don’t care whether you go to school or not. And that’s really what I wanted to do, just do comics, I didn’t have any interest in doing any other kind of art.

Where did the interest in comics come from?

It was my dad. My dad collected comics. He was into them for the art. While he was in Arizona in the ‘70s, he walked into a comic shop and he’d read a few comics when he was a kid, like the adaptations of classic novels and stuff like that. I think he got war comics.

Yeah, I just fell in love with the art. Of course that was the time Frazetta and Boris Vallejo were getting pretty big, and the Hildebrandt Brothers. And he kind of passed that love of comics down to me.

What were some of your favorite artists or influences?

When I was younger, my dad put a lot of comics in front of me that become pretty influential, Rocketeer and Xenozoic Tales. Dave Stevens and Mark Schultz were big favorites of mine. I see a lot of their influence in my work.

He was big into EC Comics, so a lot of that stuff was a big influence.

These days, I think Chris Samnee has probably had the most impact on my work, because he was sort of my gateway into Alex Toth. And that kind of changed my approach. Once I discovered that you could just lay down tons and tons of ink on a page and make it work, I really took to it. So guys like Sean Phillips, Chris Samnee are definitely probably big influences. I like Dave Johnson a lot, and Jason LaTour.

I guess a classic artist that I really like for his storytelling is José Luis García-López. Of course I had a lot of his art when I was a kid, because he did all the DC licensed art, so Super Powers action figures was all his art.

You can really see that sort of influence, especially on Moon Knight, and following Declan Shalvey … how did you get on the book?

The editor, Nick Lowe, he had come to Kansas City Planet Comicon one year and Jai and I met with him. It was after Dark Horse picked up Dream Thief, so we showed him a little bit of Dream Thief. He dug it and he said, ‘all right, keep in touch, guys.’

After Dream Thief came out, Nick contacted both of us and said, ‘hey, would you like to do a story in A+X?’ So we did a Dr. Strange/Beast story. And Nick said, ‘hey, I’m gonna keep you guys in mind for anything in the future.’

And I got an email from Nick one day, and he said, ‘hey, I think I’ve got something in mind for you. Give me a call.’ So I called up Nick and he just straight up offered me Moon Knight. He was like, ‘Brian Wood’s writing it, Jordie [Bellaire]’s is staying on for colors, what do you think, do you want to do it?’

Of course I immediately said yes. I got a little bit nervous afterwards. I started talking to people, saying, ‘man, I don’t know if this is the right move.’ I mean, everybody was in love with those first six issues, and following Declan, I knew that was going to be a big challenge. I knew a lot of people were so attached to his art.

They [Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey] kind of streamlined the character to the point where it became very much theirs. And I didn’t know if it was the right move to follow, but I mean, it would have been dumb of me, I’m not going to turn down a Marvel gig like that. Especially working with Brian and Jordie, and Nick is such a great editor. It’s pretty much a dream job. I always thought I’d have to do a lot of fill-in issues or something like that, to work my way up, but right away they just gave me a job on one of their big books and I’m really grateful for it.

DMZ, Demo and Local, those were big for me. That was a big deal when I was younger. His graphic design that he incorporated into his comics, that was a big influence. I love that. Even the Dream Thief logo, there’s a lot of Brian Wood in there. I think that’s definitely a lot of looking at his work. He did that Channel Zero, he did an art book you could download as a PDF from his website … his comics are really special.

What’s working with Brian Wood like?

He communicates mainly through the scripts. I sort of just get exactly what he’s going for. He’s always got some notes in there, to let me know the tone he’s going for. He’ll make references to a movie and say, ‘think of this when you’re drawing it.’

I do my thing and after the issue’s done, he’ll send me an email saying, ‘hey man, great work, thanks.’ He’s great. I like working with him. I love his scripts. I couldn’t be happier with him.

So after Moon Knight, what’s next? More Dream Thief with Jai?

Yeah, we’re working on volume 3 right now. We’re doing it a little bit different, we’re not going to do a miniseries, we’re gonna do some short stories. Dark Horse will probably announce that in a little while. We’ve got a pretty long story in mind. We like the idea of a finite ending, but we have a lot of stories we want to tell before we get to that point.

Have you thought about writing your own thing?

I think doing my own book is in my very near future. I have some stories that I want to tell. That might be next, I don’t know, we’ll see what happens. I’m open to more Marvel work, obviously, but that may not happen immediately. There’s definitely a story that I have in mind that I want to tell and that might be my next project.


To check out Greg's work, the first volume of Dream Thief is available now and Volume 2 comes out in January. His Moon Knight arc (issues 7-12) will be collected in a trade in April 2015. You can also find digital editions of Moon Knight via and Dream Thief at

Monday, September 12, 2011

DC New 52 Review: Animal Man #1

I'll admit to not being very familiar with Animal Man. I've read some, but not all, of the Grant Morrison trades (of course, in this New 52 reboot, that shouldn't matter. You should be able to come in cold to any one of DC's new #1s and understand them), and while I enjoyed them, the character never stuck with me. It was Morrison's treatment of Animal Man that I found most interesting. In truth, I tend not to follow characters so much as creators. Animal Man himself has simply never been compelling enough for me to collect his title(s). He's a guy who can channel and harness the physical abilities of animals, right? OK, now tell me an interesting story about him. Make me care.

In a single issue, writer Jeff Lemire did just that.

Animal Man #1 opens with a brief "interview" between Lemire and his titular character, ostensibly as a way to introduce Animal Man's place in the DC New 52 status quo. Buddy Baker is a former Hollywood stuntman who, for the last three years DCST (DC Standard Time), has been moonlighting as the superhero, Animal Man. His bond with the animal kingdom, however, has opened his eyes to the way animals have been treated by mankind. Because of this insight, Baker has taken a step back from superheroics and instead has been focusing his energies on being an animal rights activist. He is also a family man, married for 10 years with two young children. How does a superhero juggle all these responsibilities? Work, family, superpowers. It's a great concept for someone of Lemire's talents and aesthetic to play around with.

I've read some of Lemire's Essex County Trilogy stories, as well as his post-apocalyptic Vertigo series, Sweet Tooth, which feels like an indie hipster take on the genre, not that there's anything wrong with that. Lemire, whose work is sometimes quirky and oftentimes dark and angsty, puts a unique, humanist spin on his otherwise fantastical stories, and when I read that he was going to be writing the new Animal Man series, I became curious. What would he do with a superhero character set in this newly rebooted DC Universe? (Yes, I know Lemire wrote some "Brightest Day" and "Flashpoint" stories, but I couldn't bring myself to care about any of that stuff, the lone exception being 100 Bullets co-creators' Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's brilliant Batman: Knight of Vengeance, which I simply thought of as an old-school "Elseworlds" story. But I digress.)

The first half of Animal Man #1 is for the most part straightforward superheroing, albeit well-done superheroing. There are some nice scenes between Buddy and his family (his daughter wants a puppy and his wife wants him to return to being a superhero because "[he] just seemed happier then." Then Buddy's son rushes in and tells his father about a hostage situation at a local hospital and we're off!

Animal Man of course averts disaster at the hospital (which is a melancholy, almost poignant sequence that really illustrates why Lemire is a great fit for this book) and then things start to get ... weird. But in a good way.

Buddy returns home from the hospital and, after nabbing "the napping ability of a cat," quickly falls asleep. We're then treated to a beautifully-illustrated, mostly black-and-white dream sequence, in which Buddy is confronted by creepy, nightmarish visions of his son and daughter, and of three "bad things that dress as hunters," twisted, mutated creatures that would appear right at home in an H.R. Giger exhibit. I was already hooked on this book after the hospital scene, but the dream and the chilling last page cliffhanger are what reeled me in. The last few pages are great setup for the larger, overarching story that Lemire is telling and he has me for the long haul. As long as Lemire's writing this book, I'm reading it.

Accompanying Lemire on this journey is artist Travel Foreman, whose work has always been hit-or-miss with me. His art always either seems to be too sketchy, too heavily inked, too blotchy. His pacing is solid and the action sequences flow well, but I'm not entirely sold on him just yet. He draws animals really nicely, though, which is a definite plus in a book called Animal Man. But it's telling, I think, that the surreal black-and-white dream sequence is the best-looking part of the book.

That being said, one week into DC's New 52 initiative, Animal Man is hands down the best title so far. It has humor, heart (almost literally) and humanity, and a big dose of creepiness. It's like Vertigo invaded the DCU, and, I hasten to add, the DCU is better for it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: Pigs #1

Co-written by former Marvel editor Nate Cosby and British expat (and Pittsburgh Steelers fan - w00t!) Ben McCool, Pigs is an espionage thriller about Cold Warriors who never stopped fighting the war. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a KGB sleeper cell was tasked to the island nation. They never left. Now it's 70 years later and the original operatives are old men and women. And so the mission falls to their children. The sleeper cell has been activated, but by whom? Why now? What is their mission? And who, or what, is the mysterious "White Russian" they're searching for?

Cosby and McCool have crafted a tightly wound, ticking-time-bomb of a story perfect for fans of historical fiction and cloak-and-dagger spy stories. Draped in the shady underbelly of Cold War history and the modern climate of fear and terror America now finds itself in, Pigs looks to be an action-packed and politically subversive story. It reminds me of Andy Diggle's woefully underappreciated The Losers, and not just because of the evocative cover art by Jock. (Future issues will feature covers by Francesco Francavilla, Amanda Connor, Humberto Ramos, Ben Templesmith and Becky Cloonan.)

The interior art is handled by comic book newcomer Breno Tamura (with the superb Christopher Sotomayor on colors), whose understated style meshes perfectly with the story's dark and realistic tone. Tamura's characters are all wonderfully unique and the story transitions smoothly from one panel to the next, which is not always an easy task with such a dialogue-heavy book. It's difficult to make two people sitting in a room having a conversation visually interesting, but Tamura pulls it off with ease. His action sequences are also engaging and full of energy.

With its alt-Earth history and intricate spy games, Pigs will have you hooked even before you reach the shocking cliffhanger. The final page is just one last tease to whet your whistle for issue 2.

Pigs #1 is published by Image Comics and will be in stores on September 14. Be sure to pester your local comic shop for a copy.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Preview: The Last of the Greats

Writer Josh Fialkov, best known for crime noir comics Tumor and Echoes, is jumping wholeheartedly into the superhero ring with his latest creator-owned title, The Last of the Greats, debuting in October from Image.

Illustrated by Brent Peeples, Greats is not your average capes and tights superhero book. In fact, labeling it a "superhero" book is probably a mistake, given that where there are heroes, you expect to find villains. Fialkov's superpowered world is not quite so black and white. The Last of the Greats is an exploration not so much of those who wield that power over us ordinary humans, but of humanity itself, and of what happens when our dependence on the Greats is exposed as the weakness it truly is.

In 1991, seven beings of immense power came to Earth in order to help us, to protect us. At first they were seen as benevolent gods, curing diseases and feeding the hungry. Humanity came to rely on the Greats and, as is so often human nature, quickly came to resent them.

We needed them. And we hated them for it.

(While the rest of the comic bears little resemblance, this initial premise flashed me back to the first couple years of The Authority, first written by Warren Ellis and then by Mark Millar, the turn-of-the-century superhuman series about superheroes determined to save humanity from itself, regardless of whether humanity actually wants to be saved.)

Cut to 20 years later. Earth is besieged by millions of unknown vessels. Six of the seven Greats are dead, murdered by those who would be saved. One Great remains, hidden away from humanity in what appears to be a giant Arctic fortress (of solitude).

Where his siblings sought to connect with us, to spread peace and harmony, the Last of the Greats chose isolation. He knew his brothers' and sisters' generosity would be spurned eventually. They were new, all-powerful, beyond our comprehension. The Last knew we would turn on them eventually. We always fear what we do not understand.

But in the face of such overwhelming odds, a group of humans, some who were seemingly handlers or ambassadors to the Greats, their most fervent advocates, sought out the Last, to beg him for the help his murdered siblings gave so readily. The conversation does not go ... smoothly. And help does not come without a price.

Joining Fialkov on this epic tale is artist Brent Peeples, whose clean, expressive artwork is a great complement to Fialkov's precise, evocative text. Each one of the Greats is distinctively rendered, as are the principal human characters. Peeples deftly conveys a wide range of emotions, everything from anger and jealousy to guilt and remorse, joy and gratitude. He can draw huge, cavernous backdrops and cityscapes as well as close ups and action sequences. His artwork will definitely be an asset to a story that's as much about ideas as it is about actions.

The first issue of The Last of the Greats sets the stage for what appears to be a wonderfully philosophical and complex series about just what it means to be human in a world given over to gods. How would you react if six Supermans came to Earth and systematically fixed everything to their liking?

There are also explosions and bloody deaths if that's more your speed.

The Last of the Greats #1 ships in October from Image. Be sure to pester your local comic shop to order you a copy.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review: Echoes

With the Echoes hardcover debuting this week at San Diego Comic-Con, it seems like a good time to post my review of Josh Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal's dark, horror-tinged thriller.

Film has long been the province for dark psychological thrillers, from Alfred Hitchcock's original classic, Psycho, to more recent fare, such as David Fincher's sublimely disturbing Se7en. And while there have been countless movies of equal or, as is more often the case, lesser quality than these, there is one realm where genuinely creepy thrillers are much less prominent: comic books.

Sure, there are horror comics full of grisly, blood-soaked death, much like the Saw and Final Destination series of movies, in which each iteration attempts to top the previous entry's imaginative killings, but these are generally death for death's sake. Murder as entertainment. Empty calories of the macabre. But far less often is there a comic book that so grips your psyche, so wreaks havoc on your sense of what's real and what's hallucination, and shakes to the core the very idea of narration that it keeps you awake at night with the lights on, unable to free yourself from the darkness you just ingested.

The bleakly addictive Echoes, masterfully crafted by writer Josh Fialkov and artist Rahsan Ekedal, is just such a comic book.

Echoes chronicles the tragic, downward spiral of Brian Cohn, husband and father-to-be, whose own father is a dying old man, a schizophrenic, who, lying in his hospital bed and wracked with Alzheimer's, seemingly confesses to being a monstrous child murderer.

Before he dies, in an apparent moment of lucidity, Brian's father desperately tells him about the box, and about the dead girls, "so many dead girls." He pleads with Brian to find the box and tells him the address, tells him the box is in the crawlspace under the house.

Understandably freaked out, Brian goes to the address his father told him. He tries to reassure himself that his father was just talking crazy, that it was the Alzheimer's or maybe his father didn't even really say any of those things. Maybe it was all in Brian's head.

You see, Brian is a diagnosed schizophrenic like his father, which immediately calls into suspicion everything we see through his eyes and hear through his ears. The conceit of an unreliable narrator has been done before, of course, but rarely has it been handled as deftly as it is here. Fialkov definitely did his homework, researching schizophrenia, its effects and its treatments in order to convey the disorder with both realism and honesty.

It must be a terrible thing, to be unable to trust the voices inside your head, to be constantly questioning the world around you, unable to differentiate between what's real and what's a chemical imbalance in your brain. Brian is constantly second-guessing himself, even when he takes his meds. He's recently been undergoing treatment in a hospital and he can't escape the fear that he'll be sent back unless he acts "normal." This is why he has to investigate his father's deathbed ramblings himself, instead of going to the police. If it turns out not to be true, that Brian simply imagined the whole thing, maybe they'll lock him away again.

What Brian finds in the crawlspace, unfortunately, is all too real.

Or is it?

That's the real beauty of Echoes. Because of Brian's disorder, it's difficult to know what's real and what he's imagining. There are moments throughout the book when you might think the whole thing is one big hallucination, that Brian is strapped to a bed in a psych ward, doped to his eyeballs. But Fialkov doesn't stoop to such a cliched, cop out plot twist.

In the crawlspace, under the house, right where his father told him it would be, Brian finds a box. And inside the box is proof that his father was telling the truth, that Brian wasn't imagining it.

And that's when Brian's life begins to fall apart.

Even during Brian's slow descent into madness, as he fights to keep the schizophrenia from overwhelming him, it doesn't come off as exploitative or cliched. Even as we start to think maybe, just maybe, Brian really is a serial kiddie killer, carrying on his demented father's work, we still feel sorry for him. To elicit sympathy for a man who may be a monster is difficult to pull off, but Fialkov manages it with ease.

Fialkov's work is heavily influenced by the noir style of storytelling, with a doomed protagonist unable to free himself from the web he finds himself caught up in, a web largely of his own making. Truly, the only thing Echoes is missing from the noir playbook is the femme fatale, the dangerous, seductive woman of mystery who lures our hero into a deadly situation. Brian is a happily married man, after all, whose caring, pregnant wife wants nothing more than for Brian to get well, take his pills and return to work so he can provide for his family.

Brian's schizophrenia, however, has other plans for him. Indeed, it is the schizophrenia that fulfills the role of femme fatale, whispering sweet nothings in Brian's ear, driving him to delve deeper into the mystery, making him question himself and, ultimately, destroying him.

Josh Fialkov's twisted tale is only half of what makes Echoes so effective. Without the haunting artwork of collaborator Rahsan Ekedal, the book wouldn't be nearly as effective.

Ekedal's art has a delicate, almost ethereal quality to it, as if Brian's world might crack and crumble to dust around him. Echoes is penciled in black and white, with a minimum of inking, more gray tones than black, which only adds to the ephemeral, ghostlike feeling that permeates the story. The uncertainty of Brian's world is beautifully rendered by Ekedal's light touch.

You can see the desperation in Brian's father's eyes as he pleads with his son to go to the house. The fear is etched on Brian's face as he clambers into the crawlspace, terrified of what he might find. And when Brian discovers a pile of old porn magazines, and thinks that they are what his father was talking about, his relief is palpable as he laughs and laughs, long and loud, sloughing off the fear like a second skin. Until the image shifts and pulls back and we see the bones piled high all around him, the dead girls his father told him about. And in an instant, Ekedal returns us to the foreboding horror we felt just a few panels earlier.

Echoes is a wonderful, must-read example of psychological horror done right, in any medium. Its slow burn of a mystery will keep you guessing 'til the very end, as you question Brian Cohn sanity right beside him, as he tries desperately to retain his already tenuous grasp on his splintering reality.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Pressing Engagement

Originally written in April 2010 for a grad school magazine writing class

I proposed to the first girl I had sex with. Or, perhaps more accurately, the first girl who had sex with me.

Now, to be clear, I didn’t propose because she had sex with me. It wasn’t some passion- or lust-fueled spur-of-the-moment post-coitus decision. In fact, I had proposed months before the actual sex had taken place. I genuinely loved this girl and wanted to spend my life with her. At least I thought I did.

My heart thudded in my chest, pounding so loudly I was certain her father and stepmother could hear it in the next room, through the thin walls of the trailer they lived in. My mouth felt dry and scratchy, as if coated with sandpaper, and my palms were slick with sweat. I was all fried nerves. I don’t remember my fumbling fingers pulling the ring from the right front pocket of my jeans, but I know I went down on one knee.

When we met, my America Online screen name was TheCrow331, so named for my favorite film of my high school years and the date its star was killed in an FX mishap toward the end of filming. Hers had something to do with angels. We quickly bonded over the gothic angst of our youth.

The film spawned a host of merchandise, from T-shirts and posters, of which I had many, to statues and jewelry, including a sterling silver ring etched with the film’s tagline: “Real love is forever.” Thirty bucks plus shipping and handling later, I held what would become her engagement ring in my hand.

She cried when I slid the already tarnished metal band over her finger, nodded her head. A skittish laugh lodged in her throat as she looked at me through tear-streaked glasses. She might have even squeaked out the word, “yes.”

She was a musician. Her plan was to major in music in college, though whether she wanted to get a degree in performance, composition or education, I can no longer remember.

When she applied to Youngstown State University so she could attend the Dana School of Music, one of the oldest music schools in the country, I applied, too. It didn’t hurt that the school offered a minor in creative writing and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be accepted by my first choice, the University of Iowa’s highly-regarded Writers’ Workshop.

But, even if Iowa had accepted me, I knew I wasn’t going there. I was following my girl to Ohio.

The first few months of our freshman year are a semi-vivid blur, like a VHS tape on fast forward, full of false starts and the premature giddiness of being on our own. We were clumsy and awkward, yet to find one another’s rhythm. But we’d get there, I thought. It just takes time.

She dropped out of the music program midway through that first year and moved back home to her mother’s. I don’t remember why, exactly. Somewhere between arriving on campus and when she left, she lost her passion. And with her abandoning me at a college I was only attending because of her, I lost mine as well.

We probably spoke every day, using those same screen names that had brought us together. But the immediacy and ease of the Internet couldn’t make up for the growing distance between us. Even our every-other-weekend visits were lackluster. We were already going through the motions like an elderly couple who have been together for 50 years.

The school year ended and, after one final, fervent night together, I moved back home.

We spoke once after that first year of college. Maybe twice. I don’t remember what about. We never did break up. We simply drifted apart, stopped talking.

She still has the ring, as far as I know.