The Love of My Twenties: An Unexpurgated, Factual Account

by Kristen Roupenian

Like many other publications, we wanted to create a place for millennials to write important, groundbreaking things about their generation. Here’s one report from the front lines.

The first time I saw Milo was at a truck stop in Vancouver. He was angling for the same ride I was, his cut-off shorts hiked up high over one perfect golden thigh, his shaggy, unkempt hair hiding eyes the color of sea glass and broken bottles. Watching him, I knew that everyone around me — from the burnt out, 30-something waitress slinging hash in the run-down diner to the horny long-distance truckers cracked out on Benzedrines in the lot — they were all thinking the same thing I was: that boy is fucking beautiful.

It was mid-2011 and that year I was a wreck: 23, restless, eternally hungover, my mousy hair scorched newly blonde by the sun. Exhausted from the never-ending project of being a good girl my parents could be proud of, I’d recently embarked on the process of comprehensively burning my life down to its foundations. I was hungry for something realer than the cloistered little life I’d led: I wanted to bruise myself, to dance naked in fountains at midnight, to breathe deep and inhale the glittering stench of the stars. So I quit my internship at the arts nonprofit, dropped out of my long-distance MFA program, and broke up with Bryan, my devoted boyfriend who wanted nothing more than to marry me and raise my children. Then I emptied my bank account down to the last dollar so that I could spend six weeks hitchhiking across Canada. My friends thought I’d lost my mind; my parents threatened to stop helping me pay the rent on my walkup unless I got my affairs in order, and Bryan was texting me every day, sometimes every hour: are u sure ur okay, why canada, I think we shd talk this over, who is in charge of feeding the cat, is it your roommate bc Im kind of afraid she’ll forget. I felt burdened by the weight of all their worry, but I couldn’t travel fast enough, or far enough, to leave the voices in my head behind.

On that hot, bright day in August, Milo and I crashed into each other like two semi-trucks going in opposite directions on the highway. I don’t know if he seduced me, or if I seduced him, or if we were both intent on seducing each other. All I know is that I approached him in the parking lot, my sparkling silver fingernail polish glinting against my tanned skin as I hooked my thumbs into my faded jeans, tugging them down a little to give him a glimpse of what I had to offer. From the look on his face, I could tell he wanted me, but I also knew the only way to keep him interested was to make him wait, to torture him, to force him to beg for it. Bryan had called me “cold,” “an ice-princess”; he said I was a broken girl with daddy issues who really needed get back into therapy, but I knew I was waiting for someone who’d reach inside me and set a match to the dried-up kindling of my heart.

Milo and I caught the same ride down to Calgary, our legs pressed against each other in the back seat, his cinnamon-scented breath hot against my earlobe. With the wind from the rolled-down window tangling our hair together and Beach House’s Teen Dream crackling on the stereo, he told me everything about himself I needed to know: at 43, he was 20 years older than me, an aspiring bassist with two unreleased albums under his belt. He smelled like homemade deodorant and old paint and well whiskey; he had needle marks on his arms, and a line of brown dirt under his fingernails, and one missing front tooth that meant that his breath whistled flute-like through the gap when he spoke. He didn’t tell me he was married, then, or that his wife was pregnant with their third child, though after sneaking a look at the pictures on his phone, I guessed it; he didn’t tell me he was going to shatter me to pieces, either, but from the moment he pulled me onto his lap and bit the back of my neck I knew I was lost.

We only had ten hours together, our limbs entwined together in the back of that truck, the cracked leather seats pinching our asses, but we made the most out of every goddamned minute of it. We ate Slim Jims and slushies we stole from the rest areas, gorging ourselves until we felt sick; we found an old can of Miller High Life on the floor of the truck, and I sucked it down, the golden liquid spilling from my lips as Milo, laughing, called it “the champagne of beers.” We kissed until our mouths ached and then groped each other helplessly through the thin fabric of our clothes; despite the discomfort of the cramped truck cab and the stink of body odor now emanating from both of us, it was the closest to being alive I’d ever known.

Everyone wanted him: the teenage cashier at the 7–11 where we shoplifted during a pit stop, the elderly manager who ran after us, shaking his fist, even the trucker who stared jealously at us in the rearview mirror and muttered for goodness sake what are you two doing back there, don’t you realize that’s rude, but Milo only had eyes for me. You’re so fucking tiny, it’s like I could snap you in half, Milo breathed, wrapping his arms around my waist. I know, I whispered back, I only weigh 122 pounds. I still have a photo of the two of us, saved on my iPhone from when I texted it to Bryan: it’s a self-shot, blurry from the truck’s vibration and the way my hand shook because Milo was finger-banging me at the time; we look beautiful and broken and not long for this world, two gorgeous, coked-up angels flying down the open Canadian highway.

I knew it couldn’t last. By the time we reached Calgary, Milo was craving the black stuff so bad he had to keep bending over to vomit; the driver, sick of us at last, had dumped us by the side of the road, tossing our baggage out into the air like heavy birds behind us. Well, my baggage. Milo liked to travel light. He misquoted Janis Joplin: when you ain’t got nothing, that meant you’d got nothing anyone could steal. He asked me to whore myself out at the Tim Horton’s up ahead so we could get some cash for drugs but I knew I couldn’t do it: I loved being wild with him, but I wasn’t that wild, and besides, gross. He pulled me to him, buried his face in my hair, and whispered that me he loved me, and that he understood, but he had promised himself that he’d hold out for girl whose morals didn’t interfere with his lifestyle. He said that someday I’d grow up, and he hoped that on that day, I’d come and find him; he said that until then, he’d write song after song and every single bass line would be about me.

I kissed him goodbye, my face a pretty, expressionless mask. I felt like my heart had been torn, bloodily, from my chest, but I didn’t want to let him know how much he’d meant to me, so I didn’t cry until he’d turned his back and begun walking down the darkened road. But as he turned the corner up ahead, at last I did start crying. I cried not only for him, but for myself, for my childhood, for everything I had lost along the way, including my wallet, which I could see protruding out of his back pocket. I cried because I knew he was a criminal, and a drug-addict, and an aspiring pimp; I cried because I knew he was no good, and because he had forgotten me already. Mostly, I cried because I knew it was my fault I had lost him, and I cried because, despite it all, I knew he was the love of my life.

Previously by this writer: My Extremely Dead Zombie-Vampire Novel

Kristen Roupenian has never set foot in Calgary.