| I was taking a college level course in Spanish in Guadalajara, Mexico over the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. My mother was a Mexican immigrant and she insisted that I gain some exposure to the culture. I stayed in a boarding house with about eight other students that was run by an old, broad shouldered, devoutly Catholic woman. She had laid out incense and candles with various saints lining all the bathtubs. The other students were all from different parts of Mexico and several of them spoke English well, but I didn’t make any friends. I wasn’t much a lets-make-friends type of guy.
In the first week of classes I met a pretty, chain smoking local girl at the university and asked her out. She was an English major and seemed a complete Anglophile. She suggested an English-style pub and we sat across each other drinking beer. I could sense that she trusted me right from the get-go. I wasn’t terribly experienced in any area of life, but it might have been this innocence that she trusted. She got very personal almost immediately.
“Do you have a girlfriend back home?”
“No girlfriend.” I answered. “Why? You think I collect girlfriends in every country I go?”
She laughed. “I had a boyfriend who was into that kind of thing. Not sure if I want to go through that hell again.” She gazed far-off to the opposite side of the pub as if she recognized someone in the distance.
“English is the only language I like, so I limit myself severely.” I joked. She laughed curiously and said nothing. A specific type of sadness eclipsed her. I didn’t really want to get into it, but I knew it was inevitable. . .“So this boyfriend of yours. What happened with him?”
She seemed relieved that I asked, like this had proved a theory about me. “Mmm, its ancient history I guess. We started dating in secondaria. I think that’s like high school for you.” She paused before starting to speak again. She was testing the water.
I nodded and thought of a follow-up question, but couldn‘t come up with anything. “I hate high school.” I filled the silence by trying to change the subject.
“Yes. I hated it too.“ She said and then she added as if she was answering the follow-up question I should have asked, “He was the first guy I ever dated actually. The first guy I ever had sex with.”
I was hesitant for her to go on. I couldn’t imagine this conversation would lead me to having sex with her. But she persisted.
“When we graduated he went to study in London for a year. We agreed to keep in touch, and I didn’t even think about dating anyone else. I was ready to get married. This is how crazy I was for him.”
“But when he was gone he never called me. I emailed him many times to ask how he was and he never responded. I tried to find out the address and phone number of his dormitory, even going so far as to track down his Mom in Mexico City. Nothing worked. It seemed as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore.”
The server came around and I ordered another beer and asked her if she wanted anything. She declined and kept talking.
“So I lived in this terrible desperation for an entire semester. I studied six, seven hours a day and chained smoked cigarettes. I didn’t go out with friends, didn’t eat, didn’t exercise. I was like a fish struggling on a fishhook. But I wasn’t a fish and sooner or later I would have to come up for oxygen.”
“Nice metaphor,” I thought to myself.
“I started to go out again. Started to make new friends, have new experiences, continue my education and basically get back into the flow of a new life. And right when I found myself happy again, he returned.”
I found myself staring at her lips as she told the story. They were full and seductive. I wanted to be friends with them. Sounds started to emanate from them again.
“He was waiting outside my house in his car. It was late at night and I was coming back from a group-study session. He asked me to get in the car, but I did not know what to expect. When I got in the passenger’s side I looked at his face and it was intense.
‘I need you.’ he said. ‘I can’t live without you.’
And every feeling I ever had for him returned like an injection into my veins. The hostility I first had when he left was what tuned in the strongest. I became defensive, my blood got hot and I started to yell at him. Never one to take it, he yelled back. We went back and forth for a long time and then he hit me. I never felt anything so painful in my life and I immediately got out of the car.
He rolled the window down and begged me to forgive him. He was on the verge of tears. I screamed obscenities at him and walked off. He yelled my name over and over until finally peeling off into the distance. I went inside and pretended like nothing happened.
He went home and killed himself. He overdosed on codeine and whisky.” She stared at her fingernails for a few moments before looking back up at me.
"This was about ten months ago, though as sick as this sounds, I think I’m still in love with him.” The sentence rolled off of her tongue like a wave skimming the ocean.
Her brown eyes peered at me and tears formed in the corners. I wiped them from her face and put my forehead against hers. I stared at her lips and it was inevitable. I became friends with them.
I took her home, she invited me in, and we slept together. We spent the summer like this. I was seventeen, she was nineteen.
Her bedroom was in a three story house owned by her aunt and overlooked a courtyard. Her aunt was a widow and spent most of her time hosting various family members, friends and clergy in the various bedrooms. There were so many people coming in and out all the time it felt like a bed and breakfast. Kids and food were everywhere. Her aunt became fond of me and never objected to me sleeping over.
On clear weekend mornings the sunrise was blocked from the third floor until around noon when a gentle stream of sunlight would gradually peek its way over our sleeping faces beckoning us to hang out in the verdant parks and plazas. When it rained a large stream of water would drop down the courtyard from the roof which created a rather violent serenity for me to lay flat with my eyes closed but still conscious with her sleeping head on my chest. All kinds of thoughts would go through my 17 year old head, but none of them were harmful in the slightest. It was the closet I had ever known to utter peace.
“I am talking quietly so I don’t wake myself up.” She whispered right up to my ear on my last night in the city. The sounds of her words made small vibrations that permeated down into my brain where they permanently nested. Her smooth brown legs were wrapped around me.
“What does that mean?” I ventured to ask.
“What do you think it means?”
She always presented me questions like this. She drove me crazy with her smoky accent and these mysterious puzzles.
“I don’t know. Are you dreaming?” I attempted. She laughed.
“Maybe.” She whispered coolly. I could feel my heart beat in my groin.
I changed the tone of my voice to a whisper, “Well I will talk quietly too, so you don’t wake up.”
She softly laughed as if pleased by my remark, and almost as if these words had cast a spell she fell fast asleep, clutching onto me as if I was perpetual movement in the opposite direction. My eyes closed and in the darkness I painted a pleasant little scene of the dawning of the Earth: Stagnant pools of matter beneath an insensate grey sky.
Funny how lonely I felt then. Even beside her. Even inside her.
Whenever I think about being seventeen years old these two things return to me: The small vibrations her voice made permeating through my ear canal and the genesis of the Earth.
It was much later in life that the semantics of these somewhat ambiguous novelties returned in a context more ripe for my understanding of them.
I was sitting at the bar with my father and he had just about finished his third scotch and soda. He was saying something about some other lawyer who always screwed him, but I was sipping on a beer and staring off into space. It had been several months since I had seen either of my parents, and I felt obligated to ask about my mother.
“How is mom?” I interrupted him.
“Your mother? Well, she is fine. You know you should call her once in awhile.”
“I know.” I nodded to acknowledge his suggestion.
“Yea, her brother is driving me crazy with the dealership lawsuit, your cousin Beto just got his second DUI, Pablo wants to immigrate his second wife, and some second cousin’s friend of your mom just got arrested for grand theft auto.” He looked down at his third whisky. The ice had mostly melted down by now.
“You know. I’ve been dealing with these Mexicans more than half my life.” And his face stayed in a sedated amazement for a good thirty seconds. Suddenly it filled with life and he began to laugh a laugh I had never heard before. A special laugh that seemed to be stewing inside for so many years.
My father was a Jew from Los Angles. He met my foreign exchange student mother outside the UCLA Law School on a rainy afternoon. She was lost and delirious and he helped her to find her TOEFFEL testing room across campus. How that turned into marriage I don’t know, but I do know that, that initial confusion led to my creation. That’s the funny thing about confusion; it always results in unintended circumstances that prolong its existence. Like a perfect agent of evolution, it has perfected the art of parasitic reproduction.
So I was twenty-one then. Certainty I did not feel as confused as I once did, but honestly I think I had just gotten better at adapting to the nature of it.
There was not a whole lot holding my father together. He wasn’t the most attractive man in the room, not the smartest, not the strongest, definitely not the most confident. He was very quiet, he had a dry sense of humor, and he cheated on my Mom, but he worked diligently and practiced fiscal responsibility. To this day I feel very distant from him, even sitting next to him at a bar. Don’t get me wrong, I like my father. I just never saw him as a man I would want to emulate.
On my fourteenth birthday my mother had to be out of town, and so I went alone with him to eat dinner and at a bar in an Italian restaurant. He drank whisky and I ate a plate of spaghetti. A quarter of the way into the meal I accidentally dropped my fork and it fell to the floor from up high on the barstool. My father asked the bartender to bring another. When I went to reach the second one, it slipped through my fingers and clanked against the floor annoying the bartender. My father ordered another scotch and sat in silence as I started to cry, the two forks left stranded under my barstool.
I don’t know why I started crying. Something about the whole situation just made me nervous and insecure. I guess my father’s lack of composition seemed to offset my own stability. From then on I refused to go out to eat dinner alone with him. From then on when I cried, I made sure no one could see.
But by the time I had turned twenty-one my skin had spread so thick I couldn’t have cried if you had branded me with a hot iron.
“Are you happy?” My father asked without any eye contact. I sipped my beer and thought about it. There’s the truth, and then there’s the way you answer your parents.
“Yea. I am.”
But I wasn‘t. I was happy enough though. Though no matter what I say my condition was what defined the word, and not the reverse. “Depends on what criteria you’re judging with” I probably would have explained back then.
I always knew there was something different about me. Growing up I always felt lonely in a way that never made any sense considering I have always been extremely well-liked and social. In fact, sometimes I would say I feel lonelier when I spend a long time with people than when I am alone. It’s a truthful self-awareness, but it’s too foreign of a concept for most people to understand.
That does not mean that I haven’t hurt others in this perpetual state of solitude. Girls always liked me because I came across as original and independent. When I was younger I broke a fair amount of hearts out of this rugged individualism. With the exception of the girl from Mexico. She was just as lonely as I was. Our mutual solitude was ironically what united us so compatibly. I didn’t go a day without thinking about her. Sometimes I wondered if what I really missed was a part of myself I had left there. I suppose that’s why I tracked her down a few years after our initial meeting.
When I first returned to the States we had sent a few letters back and forth, but eventually we gave up. We were simply too far from each other. I went to college and grew up.
Nevertheless, I had kept her address and when I turned 19 I decided to fly down without warning. It’s funny how illogical we sometimes think when we are younger. The thought that she might have moved never even crossed my mind. I took a cab straight from the airport and in broken Spanish found my way to her home. Fortunately or unfortunately, she hadn’t moved.
It was early in the afternoon and a light rain shower had mellowed to a steady pace. I counted the raindrops on my window from inside the cab like a metronome.
When we arrived at the front of her address, I paid the driver and watched him drive off. I made the steps to her front door and knocked, but there was no answer. I knocked again and then decided to wait. I sat on the steps under the shelter of a jungle tree at the front of her house. The old sidewalks were darkening as raindrops trickled on top of each other. Little rain soaked jungle birds swayed on power lines. It was perfect weather for this kind of situation. I was nervous, but not anxious. I could have waited obediently there for a patient eternity.
A car would drive by every now and then and I would try to look past the rain to get a glimpse of the face inside, but it was never hers. A stray dog or a stray cat would pass by every once in awhile, watching, testing, smelling, and sizing-up everything. What were they looking for here?
Finally, after what could have been an hour or two later a car appeared down the street and I saw her in the passenger’s seat. She looked more mature, but her face was beaming with the same aura that had initially sparked my attraction to her. There was a guy in the driver’s seat beside her. When the car came to a stop, she saw me from inside the window and had a surprised expression on her face.
She motioned to the guy beside her to set the car in park and to exit the car. She tried to force a smile, though her eyes said different. This situation was troubling for her.
“Rudy, what a surprise.” She said. She approached me with a hug and the driver of the car stood beside her as she stepped back. He looked English.
I didn’t know what to say, so she kept the conversation going by introducing me to the guy.
“This is Charles. He is my fiancé.” She sounded like a kindergarten teacher explaining a complicated concept to a student with a learning disability. I shook his hand, “Mucho gusto.” Then I repeated in English, “Nice to meet you.”
He shook my hand and reiterated my phrase in English. His accent confirmed him as English. He looked confused. He explained that he had to be somewhere and said goodbye to the Mexican girl in Spanish, got into his car and drove away. After the car had petered out of sight she looked at me with those beautiful brown eyes. “Why did you come back now?”
“I don’t know.” I said. I asked to use her phone and she invited me in. She made me lunch as I called a cab back to the airport. I was able to exchange my ticket for an earlier flight and I never saw her again.
The rain followed me home. I flagged a cab at the airport and counted the little beads the raindrops made as they exploded on the glass plane. I traced the trail they left on their descent with my finger.
I tried to count them. Too many to count. No it wasn’t that. Too many to remember.
After that whole ordeal I decided to lay low and keep mostly to myself. That does not mean that I turned into a complete loner. I just maintained a comfortable distance from everyone, be it friends or family. Even more so than I ordinarily had.
But I didn’t end up spending my life alone.
Ok I’ve taken everything out of order and done a bad job explaining. I hope I have not completely confused you by now. My life has been overlapping phases, much like yours. My phases have always resided on opposite sides. I guess it’s these extremes that make it so hard to compile and reflect on.
This is my present situation:
I work as a securities analyst for a local bank. My office is on the second story of the Plaza Building downtown. I live in a quaint and suburban neighborhood about twenty minutes away. I am thirty years old and have been married for three years without any children.
My marriage is nothing paranormal. We commingle our finances, eat meals together, and sleep together. We met during graduate school. When we first started dating, outsiders were impressed by how compatible our personalities were, and how much we improved as people from trading influences. We could brighten any room and color any sky. Yet, overtime that same profound aloneness within me wedged itself between us. It started to bother me that I couldn’t give my wife the marriage she deserved. I tried to make up for it by maintaining a sense of humor and by keeping our home happy, but I could tell that she was concerned by my concerns. It’s a difficult process and deep inside I know we embarked on an impossible journey from the start. Starting as an immeasurable gap, this ugliness began to widen until we could no longer continue to ignore it.
The first problems started to surface after the initial financial and political challenges of our marriage died down and our lifestyle became more routine. We wake up, eat breakfast, go to work, share dinner, watch TV and go to bed. The sudden structure of our life has formed over a hidden resentment we share for each other and it’s largely my unwillingness to give myself to her completely.
Three days ago we had our first real fight. A normal couple would have easily been able to recover from it, but the fight was a sudden culmination of so much tension that it made it harder for us. She took the car in the middle of the night to a hotel. She left a note.
First of all, there is no doubt in my mind that I love you. No one could ever bring me the same happiness. But you are like a character in one of those 3-D features. I can hear and see you, but when I reach out to touch you, there’s nothing there. I know that for you it’s just normal, but for me it’s too difficult. I just need some time to mull over some issues.
P.S. I’m sorry for taking the car. You can call me if you want a ride to work, but that might be awkward right now.
I laughed at the P.S. That’s just the kind of relationship we had. Under the direst of circumstances we could still make each other smile.
I took the note onto the porch and read it over a couple of times. The winter rain had started to fall and everything was blanketed by a calm grey. I called in to work sick and spent the day in silent contemplation.
By evening I had not come any closer to a solution. Not knowing how to handle the situation, I asked my father over to a restaurant for dinner. Not having a car I took a cab and counted the rain drops as they exploded on the windows. I guess I started to mumble numbers out loud and the cab driver asked me if I was ok.
“I am talking quietly so I don’t wake myself up.” The words came out completely natural. I didn’t even mean to say them. I don’t even think I was answering his inquiry. They just flowed from some spontaneous well in my core. The cab driver didn’t show much interest in my answer and he went back to driving as if I had said nothing.
When I got to the restaurant I paid the cab driver and hurried inside to avoid the rain. The hostess greeted me at the front and I told her that I was expecting my father. She invited me to wait at the bar which I accepted.
“I’ll let you know if he comes.” She assured me.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. I’ll keep an eye out for him from the bar.”
I waited for ten minutes at the bar and sipped on a scotch and soda. I waited another ten minutes and I started to get hungry. It was nearing dinner, so I asked the bartender if they served food.
“Usually we don’t, but the restaurant is not that busy right now. You want me to bring you something?”
“Sure, anything you got is fine. I’ll pay cash.”
He came back a few minutes later with a bowl of spaghetti and a napkin wrapped around some silverware. He set the plate in front of me and I stared at it.
“Is this alright?” The bartender asked.
“Oh yea. Its just what I wanted. Thank you.” I answered.
I took the fork out of the napkin and gripped it as tight as perpetual motion in the opposite direction.
I finished the spaghetti and two more whiskies. The hostess came around and told me that her shift was ending, but she had informed the next hostess of my situation. I thanked her, but was pretty sure my father was not going to come. I was a little concerned, and I thought about calling him. I took out my cell phone and started to dial his number, changed my mind, hung up the phone and dialed for a cab.
Intuitively I knew that he was communicating something to me in his absence.
So here I am now. Counting raindrops from within the cab. Not remembering them.
When I get home our car is parked on the street. The front door is unlocked and inside is my wife boxing up her belongings.
“Rudy.” She has tears in her eyes. “I can’t give you what you need. You can’t give me what I need.”
“I know.” I look her right in the eyes and she doesn’t avert hers. “I love you though. I always will. But I understand what you’re going through.”
“I love you too. Probably more than anyone I will ever know. But there’s no future for me here.”
I walk up to her and touch her face. It feels warm. My hands are cold, but she doesn’t respond to their temperature. They seem to go right through her. I am a phantom. She averts her eyes and some tears escape.
“I want you to have the car.” She declares. “I called a cab.” She says, and a moment later a horn honks from outside.
“What quick service.” She nervously jokes behind her tears.
I smile. “I think that’s the cab that just dropped me off.”
We look at each other for a short time before erupting into laughter.
I help take her boxes to the cab and she gets into the backseat. She rolls the window down and begins to say something, but I cut her off.
“Don’t forget me.” I plead.
“How could I forget you?” She asks.
I count raindrops in my head. Raindrops from within a taxi cab on the relentless pursuit of a hopeful destination.
“You’ll never remember the things you’ll forget.” I declare. Of all the parting words I could piece together this is what I come up with.
And then she flips it around, “You’ll never forget the things you’ll remember.”
I shut the door for her and the cab peters off into the distance. I keep my focus on its dissipating image.
And I catch myself happy in the moment. The sudden shock of it nearly throws me to the ground.
An enormous rock gets caught in the gravity of the sun and becomes a planet. The first rains fall from a thin atmosphere and separate the continents from the oceans. The first winds blow and separate the mountains from the valleys. Life forms, confusion evolves and I stand here perpetually moving in the opposite direction.
What’s left of my life now?
Stagnant pools of matter beneath an insensate grey sky.
How quietly I talk now so I don’t wake myself up.
“This is Charles. He is the love of my life.” She sounded like a kindergarten teacher explaining a complicated concept to a student with a learning disability.
I shook his hand and lied.
I toed my left shoe on the cobblestone and died.