Living Out Loud: : Maybe Five Years Ago

Defining Ellen

I can't remember exactly when I met Ellen. We were both drinking at a bar in Clifton and both pretty drunk. After the bar closed, we walked back to my place and fucked. This sort of established a relationship between us — one I really can't define.

On one July night, maybe five years ago, before Ellen was going to move to Over-the-Rhine, I took her out to dinner. Considering she didn't have a job, was losing her apartment and had to move in with friends to a part of town she didn't like, she seemed in a good mood.

We had dinner at an Indian restaurant on Ludlow, then went over to Sitwell's for some drinks. Betsy was there — the person who cuts my hair. She and Ellen were old friends, and I enjoyed seeing the two of them hug and catch up with one another. Ellen didn't mention to Betsy she was moving to Over-the-Rhine; and while I found this odd, I didn't say anything, didn't want to spoil Ellen's good mood.

After the evening was over, we went back to my apartment and had sex. When I woke up the next morning, Ellen, like always, was gone. She left me a note saying she would be in touch in a couple days.

Those couple of days turned into a couple weeks. When she finally called, she seemed indifferent about continuing our relationship. Still, for the next couple months, we would get together on occasion. Her mood would usually be bleak and she often complained about where she was living.

Sometimes I would tell Ellen I wanted to take her to an art supply store, help her out with some supplies. When she was in a good mood, she would talk about her love for painting and how she no longer had the time or energy to do it. She still wasn't working, so I couldn't figure out why she didn't have the time. I thought maybe she didn't have the money. I thought maybe she was missing that creative outlet in her life.

Several times we made plans to go get the supplies, but for various reasons, it never happened. Most of the time she just wanted to go back to my place or she was too depressed to think about creating again. As time went on, I started to wonder if being an artist, a painter, really wasn't something she was but something she wanted to be.

I started to tire of her moodiness and depression. By late fall I had decided whatever we had between us simply wasn't going anywhere. Ellen knew little about me. When I would try and talk about things I was interested in or bring up some of my writing projects, she seemed uninterested. She was starting to drag me down to the point I didn't want to see her anymore.

"Ellen, this isn't working out for me, you know?" I told her one night, maybe five years ago, over dinner at that same Indian restaurant on Ludlow. "I mean, I never know how you're going to be, never know if you're going to be happy, depressed or angry. We really don't know one another; we've ever gotten around to that. You don't want to even listen to anything I have to say, like you don't want to really know me."

Ellen got up from the table and smiled.

"I'll be in touch," she said.

She just walked away.

I didn't hear from her again until early spring. We made plans to get together for dinner and to meet at the Washington Platform downtown.

She wasn't in a good mood and said very little. When she did talk, she talked about who she was living with and how much she didn't like them. She didn't smile once while having dinner. Often there was complete silence between us.

Afterwards, I offered to take her home. We got in my car and I started driving her to the place she was staying in Over-the-Rhine. As we approached her building, she said, "Why don't we go back to your place and fuck for awhile?"

"I don't think that's a good idea," I said.

"Just drop me off at the corner then," she replied.

I pulled over about a block from her building. Ellen quickly got out of the car and started walking the opposite way from where she was living. Defeated in trying to understand her, I drove home.

She called me later that night. I asked her where she had gone after being dropped off. She said she walked down to the river, trying to clear her head, trying to sort out her life.

"Of course," she said, "you understand I figured out nothing except for the fact you've been pretty good to me and I haven't been that way with you. I'm sorry."

"Maybe you need professional help," I replied. "Maybe some medication could help you deal with your life."

"I've done all that," she said, "therapy, pills, all that. I am who I am. Nothing's going to change. It's too late for me to be somebody else."

As her voice started to break up, like she was going to cry, Ellen quietly hung up the phone.

After a couple of days, I got around to calling her again. The phone was busy. I never called back.

Maybe five years ago, all this happened. Time passes by so quickly. I think of her from time to time. I'm not at all sure what we had together, maybe it wasn't much. I can't even remember Ellen's last name.

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