"I know the answer to that and I know that I cant change that answer and I don't think I can change me because the second time I ever saw you I learned what I had read in books but I never had actually believed: that love and suffering are the same thing and that the value of love is the sum of what you have to pay for it and anytime you get it cheap you have cheated yourself."
W Faulkner, Wild Palms
She stayed the night for the first time. When she told me she would, I couldn't believe it first. I've been dying for her to sleep by my side since that fateful date, a month earlier. I learned soon enough why she couldn't stay. I had to accept it, I had no choice. We would go out, then come home and make love, and then she would get up and leave. Then she said she'll stay - not one, but two nights in a row. I did not ask her, how. I was beside myself with joy and excitement. Nothing else mattered. She would curl up next to me all night long, and I would finally learn what she looks, feels, and tastes like in the morning. That first night was magnificent. Neither one of us has got much sleep, but it did not matter. We just reveled in one another, our bodies pressed against each other, our hands, legs, lips locked. We were both glowing the morning after. We took the train to work together, for the first time. To the outside world, we must have looked like a couple on their honeymoon. Nobody knew how far from the truth that was.
That first night together I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I couldn't sleep, so I just laid there, listening to his breathing. He slept so quietly, like a small child, and my heart was over-flown with tenderness. I didn't want to think how brief, how momentary that was. We both agreed we would not think about it. But that night I realized he meant a lot more to me than I first thought...and that it would hurt me terribly when it ends. I knew that I would have to pay for this feeling dearly one day, but id didn't matter then. When he was laying next to me, everything else would become irrelevant, insignificant. This is how I felt around him most of the time when we were together, nothing but that moment truly mattered.
I didn't think I'd see her again after our first date. It was late December two and a half years ago, and we had lunch together. We talked about books, jobs, and families the usual talk of two strangers on the first date. I liked her right away. Her quirky accent, her smile, her brown eyes. I was fascinated with how well-read and intelligent, how smart and witty she was. And beautiful, so beautiful. Those big brown eyes... I e-mailed her the next day, asked her out again. She responded saying that she'll get back with me and let me know, and never did. I thought of her often after that, wondering if I'd ever see her again.
When I saw his picture on that website, it struck me is this the guy I had lunch with almost three years ago? I'd been on a blind date marathon then, trying to get over what at the time seemed like the most defining and important relationship of my life. Needless to say, I rarely went on second dates with anyone I'd met back then. They were all perfectly nice young men, my heart was just not in it. I'd meet them, and talk to them, and have a drink or two, then get them out of my head as soon as a date was over. He was one of them, one of many. He made a pleasant enough impression, but what did I care?
It was just a matter of impulse, mixed with mischief, to e-mail him and ask if he was the same person I once had a blind lunch date with. I didn't think he'd remember me. I myself could barely remember his name or his face.
I knew right away it was her when I opened that e-mail. She did not even sign her name or attach a photo, yet I knew, even from those few very impersonal lines it was her. I replied right away, trying not to sound too excited, too eager. We spoke on the phone a couple of days later, and I recognized her voice, her accent, her laughter immediately. I offered to get together for a drink, for the old times' sake, as I put it, pretending to be as casual as possible, fearing she'll turn me down again. We made plans to meet at the bar close to her work in a few days.
I expected very little from that "second" date. I remembered he was well-read and polite, I remembered he was tall and thin, and I remembered not wanting to see him again after our first date. I wasn't even sure why I bothered with contacting him, agreeing to see him again. I reasoned we'd just have a pleasant non-committal chat and a couple of drinks to go with it, and part ways - a perfect way to spend a Wednesday evening.
I got to that bar early, and I was practically shivering with anticipation. When she finally showed up, my heart did a somersault something that has not happened to me in a while. She looked even more beautiful than I remembered her in a knee-length skirt that emphasized and flattered her figure, tight black tank top and a sparkling silver necklace, - walking confidently towards me, smiling. I wanted to kiss her badly right then and there, but I knew I had to play it cool. I could not believe she was finally there, sitting next to me, sipping her wine, laughing at my jokes. I knew I would do whatever it takes not to let her get away from me this time.
I saw him standing at the bar, white shirt and black jeans, black curly hair and the pair of most intense darkest brown eyes I've ever seen. I liked the way he looked. I'd never call him drop-dead-gorgeous, he'd never have my head turned on the street, but he had an air of calmness and confidence about him, he had a "presence" the quality that is so rare and so elusive, yet so important to me. We talked and drank wine, and soon we found ourselves leaning towards each other closer and closer, as if we both wanted to bridge the distance between us and share something important, something intimate, meant just for the two of us to know.
She asked me, jokingly, what my reaction to drinking alcohol was. I said it made me both more animated and more affectionate. She pushed my glass towards me then, and smiled, that wide, mischievous smile that I liked so much: "Drink up!" I could not control myself anymore, so I pulled her from her bar stool close to me, and started kissing her, passionately, almost aggressively. And she was responding, kissing me back, with the same hunger, same passion! I did not care then, I just wanted to devour her. I could not remember the last time I desired a woman so much.
When he kissed me, I was surprised and elated at the same time. It was a bold move on his part, a daring move, and I liked it. I liked it even more when he offered, more like ordered, to leave the bar and go to his place. I agreed right away, something I never expected myself to do. As we were just leaving that bar, he suddenly pulled me into a dark corner and kissed me with such passion, such forcefulness that it left me completely shaken, weak in the knees. He then rode his hand up my skirt a gesture that I would typically find crude and inappropriate, even offensivebut it turned me on even more instead!
We were kissing hungrily in a cab, grabbing at each other and groping like two teenagers, and I was so turned on by the feeling of her skin and the taste of her lips that I actually climaxed She did not notice, at least I was spared the embarrassment. That 15 minute cab ride took forever. I could not wait to get her out of her clothes and have her, all of her, finally, to myself.
I remembered very little of the first time we made love. It was awkward, the way it always is between two people who don't yet know each other's bodies, each other's habits, likes and dislikes. When it was over, I could not wait to leave. I was not embarrassed or ashamed, or even uncomfortable in his presence; he'd been a perfect gentleman, and an affectionate lover, but he was a nobody to me, possibly a one-night stand, a soon to become nothing but a pleasant memory. He offered to stay the night, and I declined, thinking it was probably his way of "being nice", his habit, his "thing". We made plans to get together in a few days. He walked me out, made sure I got into a cab safely, kissed me good-bye. I was not sure I'd see him again. I didn't care very much either.
When I returned home, I reached for my journal, which I hadn't touched for over a year. I began writing, feverishly, my head still full of images of what just happened, visions of her body sprawled on my bed, her back arched, her arms outstretched, her legs bent. I could still taste her on my lips, smell her on my sheets and pillows.
I knew I was not going to let her make me wait another 3 years for the next date.
We made plans for next Sunday. I could not sleep. I wrote a poem that night. A poem about second dates and second chances, about this girl whom I'd never forgotten and who reappeared so miraculously in my life. And I knew it was just a beginning. I was going to see her on Sunday.
It was one of the longest nights of my life. I made my decision, and I had to tell her the next day. I knew the decision I made was right, the only possible solution that could be reached before it was too late, before we'd gone too far, before people got hurt, lives shattered. I knew I was doing the right thing, but my heart ached, and thoughts kept coming back to the first night she was here, in my arms, on my bed. I was yearning for her, yet I knew it was too late. I was almost happy when it was time to leave for work, for it provided some temporary distraction. I missed her badly on the train that morning. This is when I realized she was never going to stand next to me again, holding my hand, touching my face, pointing at funny ads and billboards, smiling that smile that I knew was for me, only for me.
When he told me it was over, I could not believe it first. I've always known it was not going to last, was not meant to last, but I was not ready when it happened. I've always thought that if two people were on the verge of a break up, there would be signs, clues, hints of some nature. True, most people prefer to ignore them even when they are most obvious, but I knew there had not been any, as hard as I searched for them. It just happened one day. He told me he was not going to see me anymore, his voice decidedly calm, his eyes avoiding mine. Just two days before we were together, and everything seemed perfect between us. He was as gentle and passionate, as loving and adoring as he'd always been. And then, out of blue his words, I can't see you anymore.
Everything he said made perfect sense. He was right, of course. But the pain - the pain was excruciating. Blinding and paralyzing. I shrieked. I yelled. I was standing in his bedroom, where we'd spent so many hours making love, drinking wine, talking and laughing, where we first whispered our I love you's to each other, and could not believe, could not comprehend that all of it just ended. I thought if I scream loud enough, he'll realize just how unbearable that pain was, and will make it go away. No matter how much we endure in life, we can never prepare ourselves for this kind of pain. That day, it felt like the part of me died. There was no going back, there was no going forward. It was over.
The days that passed between our first and second date seemed liked an eternity. They dragged and dragged. We e-mailed each other daily, and talked on the phone every evening, but all I could think of was having her in my arms again, and kissing her over and over, until my lips hurt. And this was exactly what we did, when we finally met, all of that long, hot, humid, lazy Sunday afternoon. Walking down the lake and kissing, having a lunch in an outdoor caf and kissing, sitting in a dark and empty movie theater and kissing, kissing, kissing, till our minds went blank and we forgot where we were and why. As I was riding the train back home that day, my heart was pounding with excitement, long forgotten. She was in my life again.
I was the first one to mention the "L" word. It happened by accident, as I was not only planning on saying it, but wasn't even sure I felt it at the time. Yet three weeks after we met, I blurted those words out. Those were good weeks, days filled with letters, conversations, hugs and kisses, and the most passionate lovemaking I've ever had in my life. I was enjoying myself, enjoying the attention he showered me with, the adoration and affection, but something within me still remained unmoved, or locked. I was still waiting for something, for some sign that would tell me it would be OK to unwrap myself completely, to trust him with all my heart. That moment came when he quoted from my favorite book, the book from my childhood, the words I lived by though the quote is unrecognizable to most and he cited them without knowing what it meant to me. This is when it just spilled from my lips. I just looked at him, and without thinking, the words came out, My God, I think I am just in love with you! A second later, I regretted saying it, and he did not say anything in response. I was hoping he did not hear me, or just thought I was too drunk, or too excited, or both, and did not assign too much importance to these words.
It was one of our usual dates, when we met after work, went out for dinner and drinks, then returned to my place to make love. As always, we rushed through dinner, both eager and impatient, hungry for more time alone, hungry for each other's bodies. I knew by then that she had a secret, knew that we would have to talk about it sooner or later, knew that as soon as it was out, everything will change from that point on. I almost did not want to know, I wished I could hold on to the illusion of ignorance for a little longer, just to prolong this bliss, this excitement. As we were laying in my bed, exhausted from the lovemaking, our bodies still trembling, glistened with sweat, I asked her. It was more of a statement than a question, yet some part of me was still hoping for a miracle, for her to say no. When she answered, telling me what I had already known, I felt a pang of sharp pain, a pain I thought I was prepared for. She was not mine, would never be mine. Could I live with that? I didn't question it then, my desire for her so strong, my sensibility and common sense completely betraying me. I could not give her up, could not lose her just yet, and I had to know. This is when I asked her if she loved me. And she said yes, and I was lost in emotion. You knew the answer to that, didn't you? she said. I could only nod, my throat chocked. And you? she whispered. Yes, I said. Yes. Yes. At that moment, that one moment, when rapture and despair became one, I was the happiest man in a world.
My life became two-dimensional. There was a "real" life, the one filled with day-to-day chores and worries, my family, work, and friends, and there was a life where there was nothing but him and me, just us, together. Our conversations and our jokes, our walks and our lovemaking, our letters and our secret smiles - the other side of existence, the alternate reality. We were getting closer and closer, our passion and affection for each growing exponentially. The more I knew him, the more I respected and admired him. We talked about everything, and there was never enough time to say all the things we wanted to say, to share with each other.
I could not remember if I have ever been as happy as I was that month. Our relationship was growing more and more exciting every day, as we were getting to know each other better. It was not just the physical excitement of two people sharing a strong and intense attraction to each other, it was also a mental and emotional bond that was forming as the time was progressing. We told each other stories of our childhood and adolescence, we shared the most unique as well as the most trivial bits of our lives, we read each other our favorite poems and talked about our favorite books and films. We played silly games. We laughed, we glowed. We were in love. The world seemed like a great place to be. I felt grateful for being alive.
And his talent that was another thing. His paintings, so beautiful, so elusive, so dreamy I could look at them for hours and never tire.
He painted me once. I was amazed. I saw myself through his eyes and I was beautiful.
Then he agreed to make one for myself, and I was beside myself with excitement. I'd have something created by him - for me, part of his soul being transcribed on the canvas. I could not wait to see the draft.
I longed to paint her, to paint for her. I felt I could create something beautiful and unique, because passion for another person was intrinsically tied to passion for art, to creative process.
I was lost in that painting. The more I worked on it, the more I realized this was going to be my best piece ever. I was proud of myself, and I could not wait for her to see it. I knew she was going to love it. Finally, the day when I was ready to show it to her came.
She gasped when she saw it, and that was one of the most genuine, unedited compliments I've ever received for my work.
I gasped when I saw it. On the blue canvas, the image of the city line was emerging from afar, silhouettes of buildings barely sketched. The city seemed unreal and dreamy, in this special, elusive, tender kind of dreaminess. It looked like a childhood reverie, a far away place we all fantasize about, safe and secure, filled with eternal happiness and joy. I think this is how I imagined Paradise, if I ever imagined it at all. If this place existed, this is where I would want to spend my days, with him beside me, in our own private world, our little blue city of dreams and hopes and illusions. The place where we would both find our peace and each other. I looked and looked at it, unable to turn my gaze from it, lost in its beauty, and I told him over and over how much I loved it. He was visibly touched and he admitted, finally, that was his best piece, so far. I told him I wanted to name the painting Blue City. He agreed immediately, flattered by my admiration. A masterpiece was born that day. And for us, it was the beginning of an end.
I started to feel like I was losing control. She was on my mind every minute, every second of my existence, I dreamt of her when I was asleep, and I fantasized about her when I was awake. She was everywhere, unattainable as wind, yet so desirable, so close to my heart. I ached when she was not around. I was furious when after hours of lovemaking, hours spent in my arms, covered with my kisses, she would get up in the middle of the night, put her clothes on, and leave me laying there, in my bed, alone. I was hating her then. How could she do that to me? I was raging, the helpless rage of a man who has to share his woman with another. I made my choice, but that was so unfair and so painful.
I realized it then that we'd gone too far. What was happening between us was beyond love, beyond was becoming an obsession, both mental and physical, an obsession that was quickly growing into addiction to each other.
I had to stop it, before it was too late. And I was afraid. I was afraid of what might happen next.
The first month without him seemed like an eternity. I thought I was condemned to a lifetime of misery. Nights were long and rubbery, filled with indecipherable sounds and images, and most of the time I was not sure if I was asleep or awake. Mornings were the worst, with the first thought always being the same he is not in my life anymore.
I did not have the energy to do anything, but to sit and stareI knew he was never coming back. He deserved more, and I could not offer it to him. His reasoning was right, his logic impeccable, his actions appropriate, his common sense enviable, and I had no right to tell him otherwise. But my heartmy heart was wailing. I was drowning in this ocean of pain, which seemed so unbearable at times that I silently prayed not to wake up in the morning when I was going to bed at night.
I imagined this is how Adam and Eve must have felt when they were chased out of Eden. I sinned. And now was the time to pay for it. And I paidoh, I paid dearly! That is what happiness was all about, I learned. For every moment of rapture and ecstasy and bliss you pay with hours and hours of pain and misery. But if I could go back in time, I would still have chosen to have these moments of bliss, even knowing their eventual price.
I was getting used to my new life, a life without him. The pain was not as sharp as it was in the first days and weeks following our break-up, but my inner peace was lost forever. Nothing looked, seemed, sounded, felt the way it did before. I was laughing again, but there always was this taste of sadness, and everything in my life, including my better moments, was now affected by its bitter flavor.
I did a good job trying to occupy myself with work and projects and various activities. I started dating again. I was distracting myself as much as I could, and I knew I was good at it. I was thinking about her less and less often, and I was getting used to my life without her in it. After all, the circles of our lives hadn't really intersected much. We didn't know each other's families or friends. We didn't go to the same places. We really had nothing in common except those moments of heated passion we shared together. After a while, I was not even sure if she had really existed or was just a fantasy, a product of my imagination. Did I really know her?
Did I love him? I started asking myself this question as soon as the first waves of pain vanished and I was able to start analyzing the situation. Was it love? Or just infatuation? Or curiosity? Or perhaps a mix of both, multiplied by his attitude towards me. Had it not been for his words, his letters, his paintings would I fall for him the way I did? Did I really know him enough to love HIM, or was I just in love with his passion for me? And even if I was in love with him, why didn't I fight for him? Why didn't I leave my present life and went to him? I knew the answers to these questions. They were as obvious as they were painful, yet I knew they were driven by reality. Reality something neither of us was willing to deal with when it came to our relationship.
I met someone that month, and what had happened three months earlier started to seem like something I read in a book or saw in a movie. I was excited about another man, but in the beginning, on the back of my mind, there was always this thought, "it's not him, not him, not him" I wanted him, with his intense dark brown eyes and gentle handsand nobody could give him back to me. Then I stopped feeling like that. I didn't have to compare anymore. I spent a weekend away with that man, three radiant, blissful, sunny days, filled with laughter, kisses, sunshine and the oceanand I was happy, shamelessly happy and high on that happinessThat man gave me back me. Sometimes it felt like I wanted to prove to him that I could still be happy, happy without him and with somebody else. And I proved it, proved it to myself, and that was the only thing that mattered.
With each day passing by, I was becoming more and more certain I made the right decision. As much as she excited me, as much as her presence was filling me with joy, I could not bear that uncertainty, that feeling of being just a part-time addition to her real life. I had been happy with her for one brief fleeting moment, but I knew I wanted more. I loved her, or I thought I did, but ultimately, this situation had only one resolution.
His painting, the Blue City that's what our love was all about. Beautiful, but imaginary, magical, but untouched by reality. Just like the city in the painting only existed in its creator's imagination, our love existed only in oursthe two of us had no context in real life, real world. I understood it so clearly now. I fell in love again, but it's a different story, different era, different dream.
But I miss him. I still miss him sometimes.