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We ended our engagement. How could I heal my heart?

I was a worrier. An overthinker. A planner. But plans don’t always work out. So I shut my eyes and pointed at a map of Los Angeles. I lifted my finger to reveal Mt. Wilson, a 5,710-foot peak in the Angeles National Forest northeast of the city and home to a 120-year-old astronomical observatory. I had never heard of this place — I was a newcomer to L.A. — nor did I know it would later become an important destination for three future girlfriends. One used to work in the observatory cafe, one’s past boyfriend died in a motorbike accident on those perilous winding roads, and I helped one face her fear of heights on a ledge overlooking the vast canyon below.

I had hoped to celebrate my birthday over Taix’s steak frites au poivre with my fiancée. Instead, after a final breakup just three days before, I was spending it alone. Our apartment was once a theater of hopes and dreams, full of life and laughter. It had become a derelict shell, heartbreak echoing round its deserted stage.

But Mt. Wilson’s elevated white domes invited solitude and reflection, a halfway house between city and stars to help put one’s problems in perspective. It became my place of silent refuge, like it was for thousands of others who climbed its winding face year-round.

My ex and I met three weeks after I moved from Ireland to L.A. I went to Echo Park Lake to watch a Shakespeare in the Park reading performed by my new roommate’s acting class but ended up taking part. I amused them by wearing a flower crown and pitching my voice high to play Puck, a mischievous sprite. I amused her most of all.

Soon after I pulled off the 2 Freeway, the fog-tipped peaks of the Angeles National Forest opened up before me. Sunlight sparkled on the hood of my silver Mustang as I swung around perilous switchbacks and climbed ever higher. The rich scent of pine trees brought me back to a snow-covered log cabin we shared in Lake Arrowhead. Back to the chilly bliss of a white Christmas kiss. It would be some time before I learned to stop looking back with anger and regret, but right now the hairpin turns teetering over a hundred-foot ravine forced me to look straight ahead.

The observatory’s outdoor cafe peered over canyons draped in thick fog. That spring Monday morning, there was no one else around. In searching for adventure, I had driven myself into further isolation. I munched on my sandwich and watched the fog roll in. Flapping wings broke the silence. Hummingbirds hovered around a feeder above me. I wouldn’t eat my birthday lunch alone after all.

The drifting fog took me back to her birthday when I rented a cabin on Big Sur’s towering cliffs. By night we gazed at the stars above through the bathhouse’s glass roof and by day we stood on the cliff edge and peered down at the clouds below. I wrote a story for her about that trip called “Above the Clouds.” That’s how I felt being with her. It was where I asked her to move in with me. A few weeks later, we moved into an apartment a few blocks from the park where we first met.

The dense fog turned me off exploring the miles of trails that cut the mountainside. So I explored the observatory museum instead. In 1904, founder George Ellery Hale’s team used dozens of mules to haul the observatory’s construction material and equipment 5,710 feet up winding dirt tracks. Later astronomer Edward Hubble made discoveries here that led to the Big Bang theory. Wild imaginations discover wild things.

She had the wildest imagination I had ever encountered. Her tough upbringing had forced her to escape into play and imagination to survive. For most of my life I exhaustively planned before taking informed action. But age 40 and freshly sober, I took a leap of faith by moving to L.A. without a visa, job or place to live. In that spirit I met her and dived headfirst into the wildest adventure of my life.

She encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone. She had unswerving confidence in me, and when I got stuck in a self-doubt spiral, she’d remind me of all I had overcome before and gently reassure me.

“You’ll figure it out, my most handsome.”

At times her emotional ups and downs overwhelmed me, but soon I couldn’t imagine a life without her.

In this spirit I vowed that fog and wild creatures be damned. I’d explore those mountain trails come what may. As I wound down through the trees, their leaves lulled into sleep by the creeping fog, I imagined the hordes of snakes and mountain lions and bears lurking just beyond my view. There were corrugated aluminum shoots down the mountainside to channel water, and I joked that they were water slides for predators to let off steam between kills. But I descended deeper into the fog and let the unknown guide me.

The end for us had been coming for some time. But the final goodbye was fresh, still a baby only 3 days old. The full force of losing her would hit me in time. But today was my day. And it had led me into a blinding fog.

I had been making as much noise as possible to alert any slumbering wild creatures, but when I reached some fallen trees that blocked the trail, I laid down, closed my eyes and listened. I breathed in the crisp, damp air. I gave myself the freedom to release the dream I had of spending my life with her. Instead I spent my birthday with the birds and the trees. And I let go.

On what could have been the loneliest birthday of my life, I instead found a place of refuge to rediscover my purpose and strength. And just like Hale and Hubble before me, if I kept faith in my vision, I trusted I’d someday uncover more new worlds I could never have dreamed of. From a pit of despair, I climbed a mountain and found hope above a sea of fog.

The author is a freelance writer for screen projects, publications and brands. He’s an Irishman living in Echo Park. He’s on Instagram: @kevin_lavelle_origins_copy

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $400 for a published essay. Email [email protected]. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.


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