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Young Robert De Niro photo

You start to ache when you no longer receive love. And the ache grows and grows. It wants answers.

I couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud - Los Angeles is extra lonely because it should be fun. It’s fun and I can’t feel it fully because you aren’t here with me. I broke up with my boyfriend because the reminder that love was available to me, it was just back home in Melbourne was too painful.

Employment in the entertainment industry was easier to find than I had thought it would be. I found a cheap room to rent in a hip neighborhood. I got cheap manicures, ate cheap tacos, and went to the movies frequently. One of my roommates was moody and yelled at their dog sometimes. I found soothing distractions like Korean spas, and still put off writing, which at least this time around was for pleasurable reasons instead of depression like back home. Back home everything to do with employment and creativity had been hard.

Back home my boyfriend was my one solace, the only person I had ever met in the whole world who I felt really got me. This was unhealthy I knew it. I had made the right decision to move, and then also to break up. All we did was go to the movies anyway.

Cinematheques, arthouse double features, new releases. Seeing my boyfriend glowing under a movie screen, a shadow profile of a head with hair flopped over it, was a familiar sight. I struggle to remember now why I tagged along so much, but it was part of our routine I guess, just how we spent our time together. How many times had I whispered to him in the dark that I was bored or sleepy, to which he would suppress a laugh. Occasionally I could get him to make out a little bit which was always a small victory.

My boyfriend liked seeing long movies too, one of the last films we saw together was the five-hour cut of Once Upon A Time In America (1984)He cried at Robert De Niro’s character Noodles remembering his friend Dominic say ‘I slipped’, and I cried when Noodles told Elizabeth McGovern’s Deborah ‘Nobody’s gonna love you the way I loved you’.

I would never say no to sharing such moments over anything else, that was the real problem.

Los Angeles holds a neglectful feeling it took me a while to identify. Sketchy rideshare drivers and me in the back seat feeling nauseated. Me imagining an earthquake causing a crack I would fall into. Me watching a strip of the 101 freeway from my apartment balcony at night. No matter what time it was there was always a car on it, my view was never still. Back home my boyfriend used to watch me sleep on the train in the morning, and wake me up before our stop. But no one cared to look out for me here.

Soon enough I hated my day job but being bullied working in an industry I actually cared about was a nice change . A year went by after my breakup and still I was waiting to suddenly feel happy and at home in Los Angeles. Time simply passing wasn’t the cure. Another few months went by and there came a day when I stood on my lunch break at the corner of Sunset and Vine, and looked west expecting to see the State Library of Victoria up ahead a few blocks, as though I were, in a parallel universe, at the corner of Bourke and Swanston street in Melbourne. I was genuinely surprised to see a Jack In The Box.

I reminded myself that I spent just as many lonely afternoons in the State Library of Victoria with a pile of international Vogues as I did at a Goodwill in the Valley. At least now I wasn’t reviewing live music for no money, and volunteering as a production assistant.

I wrote down all my creative writing ideas on slips of paper, put them in a bag and shook it. I pulled out a slip that said, ‘short film idea’ and stared blankly at it.

Actually, falling in love was what I needed again. Someone to go to the movies with. Someone to tell about Quentin Tarantino sitting behind me at The New Beverly Cinema (“When he laughs, everyone in the audience laughs. It’s annoying”). I didn’t have ingrained memories of Los Angeles like I had back home. Once I felt more comfortable in Los Angeles I would creatively open up. The two feelings were linked, I was sure of it.

Movie dates, dinner dates, brunch dates, they all went more or less the same way - talking about Taxi Driver because my dates wanted to be directors. They had all moved to Los Angeles to be a director and they worked in copywriting, script reading, or advertising. I wasn’t attracted to any of them, because I could talk about movies with anyone I soon realized. I pushed for my dates to tell me personal details, anything that was an actual connection, but nothing stuck. When my dates leaned in to kiss me, I obliged out of awkwardness, and the same if they lifted my top up or put my hand down their pants. I didn’t like them so it didn’t matter. If you’re not emoting it’s the same as not even being real.

Unsurprisingly, eventually, I dated someone who could talk about more than movies. When I found out on our first date that we both had red-eye flights to catch to the east coast the next evening (to see family for Christmas), I suggested we meet up in a terminal. And we did, I even went through TSA twice because I walked out of the terminal by accident. I was creating memories again. 

A few dates later, I suggested we go to a screening of part one of Bertolucci’s 1900 (1976) on a Sunday afternoon. The venue was located between the quintessential Los Angeles landscape of freeways and hills, and usually when I visited I would stand transfixed at the bus stop after, lost in anxious thoughts. Going with a date was somewhat nicer until the lights dimmed, he placed his hand on my leg and it felt like a dead weight. 

After the first act a very young Robert De Niro appeared on screen, so young his acting was clunky, and I guess his naivety got me more than anything. In one scene, he leaned in to kiss an equally young Dominique Sanda, and afterward pulled back with a giggle. His hair fell over his face in a perfect likeness of my ex, and I felt a rush of feeling so strong I jolted upright, silently trying to force the tears forming to stop. But they didn’t.

When I got home later I lay in bed remembering Robert De Niro’s face in that scene. I felt a calm, nice feeling in my chest, like light reflecting off a rippling pool.

“I used to read the Bible every night. Every night I used to think about you. ‘Your navel is a bowl, well rounded with no lack of wine. Your belly, a heap of wheat, surrounded with lilies. Your breasts, clusters of grapes. Your breath, sweet-scented as apples’. Nobody’s gonna love you the way I love you.”

Right after Noodles says this to Deborah in Once Upon A Time In America, he rapes her, and yet I wanted to be back in the Astor Theatre watching that scene with my boyfriend more than anything. What totem in my heartbreak had I created? Robert De Niro’s face was my boyfriend’s face now, he emotes and I remember that once I existed somewhere, and in that place, I was really truly in love. He laughs and it is my boyfriend laughing, finally giving in to my pleading to kiss me in the dark of the cinema.

It was easy to forget that even before I met my boyfriend the cinema had been my place of refuge, the place that always drew out my emotions. I broke things off with my very nice date and went back to seeing movies alone.