*For Last Valentine’s Day*
The first snow of winter is falling white outside, and I have a woman on my mind as I put everything I’ve got and all our hopes and dreams into a small, red box.
Our regular readers will recall that we were to finish now what we started in #13—Dr. X’s account of meeting me for the first time—completion of which was interrupted by the death of a friend, on which I reflect in #14. Events have again changed our plans, however, so this installment is again dedicated to what did the changing. Barring yet another disruption, we will finish what we started in #13 next time: in #16.
I was stomping downstairs in a huff and a T-shirt when we first met. It wasn’t love at first sight, though some might call it that. She stood poised on the landing below as if to attack, her draping black hair crowned by golden light, her nurturing curves turned dangerously fit, marching upstairs, moving in. Great Hera!, I heard myself murmur as my flesh quivered, blushed, and dripped. She raised a silent question mark beside persuasive lips and stared in through me. I carefully suppressed awe and surprise, intoned a low hello, and smiled.
I waved forlornly as she passed by. And when the stairwell door closed behind her, I rushed to store my dumbbells, showered slowly in cold water, donned something less elastic, and coolly introduced myself all over. I found that she spoke my own plus two wild tongues fluently, thought progressively, voted liberally, and knew the arts of high culture. Her creamy skin impressed me as her wide, keen gaze assessed me, and when she said she’d come “alone” to study awhile before returning home, I knew I wanted to caress her. She’d forgive but not forget me when my love was neither long nor firm enough later to span both ocean and semester.
So I considered the problem studiously and applied to it methodically: I showed my interest with measured indifference, suggested but never pressed, side-stepped when I overstepped just to dance in again forwardly, and kept my eyes off the prize but occasionally.
And surely, if slowly, I progressed. We were soon sharing conversations and brief walks downtown. She displayed such compelling confidence, such a captivating smile and disarming elegance, that people bent over sidewalks and window boxes to ogle at the wondrous woman strolling with a man about to fly from falling.
And then one afternoon, in the student lounge around the corner from our rooms atop the stairs, I rose to lock the door. Then she showed me where her heart and passion hid, and I tipped my head and leaned into her rosy, moistened lips. It was a win for both of us, her expression said.
We’d been getting on well like this for a while (at least a week) when I rolled over panting late one evening to confess that my parents had planted religious faith deep in me, that it had flowered in my youth and had grown to mean the world to me. I rushed to add that faith had also taken that world from me, when—disfellowshipped from hope and love, exhausted by excess Bible thumping, and sickened by hypocrisy—it gagged on science, buckled in unanswered prayer, spewed nonsense, and died of a heartfelt attack of integrity.
I spoke sadly yet proudly of how this painful loss had motivated an extended search for meaning that had led to where we’d met. But I had to admit that answers still escaped me, and I sobbed of feeling exhausted by my quest. I’d give it up, I said, for someone to hold and grow old with.
We did everything we could together after that. And when she returned to her home, she called so often to profess her love that I longed to join her. So I declined safer opportunities nearby, packed three suitcases bulging full and soared toward no one and nothing to lose but her.
I flew off the plane in great expectation, brushed my hair and combed my teeth, doused cologne, sprung through Customs like Tortoise, and sprang into Arrivals like Hare—
but she wasn’t there.
She met me halfway on the train, laid my sleepy head on rose petals when the long ride was over, and everything seemed just great. But only a few days later she couldn’t look at me, recoiled from my touch, complained of my company, watched television alone when she was free.
At first, I merely puzzled and queried, flirted and teased, invited and tried to please. But I soon disclosed a growing frustration, spelled the invective in a rude question, pronounced it in denunciation, bawled my affection, shouted devotion, brought a fistful of flowers down on the counter, preached passionately and often. But my heat didn’t warm her, and her cold didn’t cool me, and when I tried burning rage maybe three years in, all hell froze over. So I seriously considered that what the woman needed (and secretly wanted) is just what she claimed to hate more than anything: a man who would play, dominate, and beat her.
In short, I decided, not me. I had fallen too far already. I knew I had no right to such behavior. So I resolved to put away my resentment and examined the options left over: love her as is, or leave her.
I fled to Asia one year later.
But there’s still more to tell, because the loneliness I’d felt those years beside her had returned me with renewed urgency to the quest I’d quit for her. And before I left her, that quest had yielded the grand hypothesis I mentioned last time: the one which helped me believe again that life—despite death, unrequited love, and other nonsense—might be fully meaningful after all; might even be felt so by those who dare to live so. The theory is cosmological; but it nevertheless implies that human relationships are central: that a proper quest for meaning can’t really be abandoned for love because it culminates in love. So when my job in Thailand ended prematurely and I felt unable to march on alone happily, I took a leap of hope: I put my ideas to the hard test and accepted her invitation to try again.
I arrived in June of 2014, streetwizened by our nine previous rounds, with high aspirations and low expectations, determined to fight by cleaning and being kind and otherwise acting as if I believed that our previous failure was my fault by half, at least. And I thought she had similar intentions.
So of course I’d like this tale to flow smoothly and satisfyingly into glad tidings of new beginnings and happy ever afters. Instead, it ends abruptly and badly, in brokenness and pain. We disagree about the reason: my complaint that she ignores me was beneath consideration, and I’d hardly dare suggest that she oppressed me; I’d complain if she claimed that I’m too negative, and call depressed what she calls lazy. So perhaps it’s one of these: we hadn’t learned our lessons well enough; our love was never strong enough; we were both too self-absorbed. But I think it wouldn’t help us now to know it anyway. Not now that I’m packing slacks and tears into a small, red box, again to fly away, on this our likely final Valentine’s Day.
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