Remember the young love, the tumultuous and the difficult? It would be a cause for arousing great anxieties — and for their dissipation, too — that would make one feel, at the very least, alive. And for a gracious while, love could last on the suspended idealism of the two lovers: Love conquers all. Love will overcome…
Except that, sometimes — it wouldn’t.
Yet, even in that failure, one could confuse loving — for living.
“I think you’re, like, addicted to drama!” accused my last standing friend, Taisha, over sushi. (She was actually sitting — cross-legged on a silk pillow — craning her neck over a bowl of udon noodle soup. The long, swollen noodles shined through the brown broth with surprising starkness.)
“They’re famous for their noodles here!” proclaimed my last sitting friend. She mostly spoke in exclamation points. Taisha was always up on the hippest places to eat, in LA; and she spoke of them with a sense of urgency and worship, as if passing along the name of the best heart surgeon, in the country.
From the reclining passenger seat of her Prius, I had earlier protested: “But I don’t even like sushi.” I had been dragged out of my routine of melancholy and self-neglect; and even though I was glad to see the City’s never-ending light of day — grateful to have my heartbeat shocked back to its rhythm by the speed of it all — I still felt I had to throw a fit, just to suit the timeline a little better. Because every love — had a timeline; and according to mine, I was still in the self-pitying stages of my mourning:
“My girlfriend. Had left me. For her ex.”
“Wasn’t it more like… She never left her ex?!” Taisha was relentless. Her people back in Kenya, whose suffering seemed to fit every argument of Taisha’s making (kind of like “Confucius say” of her own invention) — her people back in Kenya “were starving to death! That’s tragedy!” Whatever I was going through — was just “some frivolous, American bullshit”, including my current stage of raising objections to my god (for the likeness of whom I searched the faces of mortals) and confusing pity for compassion. But where did I get off thinking that even compassion — was my right?
Taisha was right: A soggy tissue in hand, my face — pruned, I better resembled a moody teenager, with no other tragedy in his life but the fact that his mother was in love with another man:
“Dad?” I would slobber into the phone, after each love affair’s turn for the worse; holding back my tears, otherwise they would be an admission of my failure. I’d call, mostly out of needing a witness to my suffering, after the heart’s each little break. (And what if these little heartbreaks surmounted to an unrepairable damage? Maybe I did need the name of that surgeon, after all.) “Is mom there?”
Before getting off the phone and passing off its receiver as some sort of a parental torch, my old man would manage to wedge in a lecture:
“Are you still in LA? Gosh, kid! What are you doing with your life?”
Prior to my decision to migrate to the West Coast, his lectures seemed better thought-out, better practiced. In them, I could still hear the quotation marks of my mother’s gentle voice, as dad brought out the assumptions of my motifs and breakdowns of my troubled psyche. But with time, he began to run out of breath. Run out of words.
“I’m speechless,” he’d say, breathing heavily into the receiver, a pummeled heavyweight ready to count down the fights left in him, until his retirement. “I’m utterly speechless, I tell you.”
Then, why speak at all? “Please give the phone to mom.”
Speaking to mom was always malleable. No matter with which expectations I marched into our a conversation, mom would always, capably, receive. “My baby,” she’d half-whisper, with teary-eyed compassion catching her voice (for that was my right!). Mom’s love was a place of warm breaths and moldable embraces that consumed so completely, I hardly wanted to come up for air. There were no rhetorical questions, no passive-aggressive accusations; no drastic resignations at my expense.
“I give up,” was my father’s farewell every time, especially after we received his diagnosis of a coronary artery blockage.
Mom’s heart, on the other hand, was unblocked. It was a space at which I could flail my objections to all the injustices of love — a padded room for the non-criminally insane and the criminally heart-broken.
In every affair, after the clothes had been untangled off of a lover’s body enough times to establish a routine to each other’s orgasms, things would begin to settle down. Unavoidably. Either the expectations of the sexual fantasies evaporated, unmet in most cases; or the two lovers would find themselves tired enough to settle down, giving room to domesticity.
Could you pick-up my dry-cleaning, dear? Can you check on our bathtub drain, hun?
Our. By the hour (for every love affair had its timeline), things would begin changing their possessives.
But love should never be possessive. If you love something — set it free.
Or, so I heard from that one Canadian author who’d made a fortune from tinkering with the ideas of free will and self-liberation from fear, in his books. Now! — he emphasized — “is what matters. Focus on the Now!” (His philosophy hit all the right notes with the youngest culture in the world that hadn’t acquired enough past to dwell on, yet — a culture whose grudges weren’t long enough to demand forgiveness. The year — was, still, 2000.) I, the American lover, had the Canadian’s tape rolling around on the floor of my car; and at yet another little break of the heart, I’d attempt to listen to it. His voice wouldn’t hum monotonously through the speakers for three minutes — and I would begin to fall asleep behind the wheel. Yet another sleep-walker, in LA. Another sleep-driver. The Canadian Zen Master instructed for me to feel Nothing! in the Now! Instead, I would feel so much! — “My heart would explode!”
(Seriously. What was the name of that heart surgeon?)
Eventually, one simmered down. Settled down. Unavoidably:
Shouldn’t we just stay in, darling? (Be weary of sharing spaces. A home is only as safe as the compatibility of one’s habits.)
Do you wanna just rent a movie, doll? (Words began colliding into each other, losing their endings: wanna, gonna, sorta, kinda. Familiarity attacked the language from its extremities, and it worked its way in.)
One suddenly found oneself falling in (long past having fallen in love, by now); falling into the softness of comfort you think you want, but suspect you may despise. Because, with age and enough witnessed tales, marriage became to sound like a tired story. And even if the fantasy could be prolonged for while — exhausting in itself, with its maintenance of reality’s suspension (which required its own discipline of rituals) — one would eventually agree to share a meal after sex via shortcuts.
And so, the familiarity would begin to slip in: with a pair of earrings left behind on a dresser or an eventual invitation to spend the night. (Although, in my history, it would always be accidental, like my crying myself to sleep on the couch after watching a rented flick. A tired heart.) But therein — exactly! — I would find my favorite parts.
And even though I despised my own desire to belong (not yet! NOT Now!), I knew that after a night of shared sleep, things would demand being specified, even if it meant their ending. Still, I would stay: for the sake of learning the nooks along a lover’s body, measuring my curvatures against them: the ying to the yang, the jig to the saw. By then, the strained politeness of one lover’s visiting another’s bed would give room to exhaustion and voyeurism. The secretly harbored hopes that, in their actuality, the lovers would be as glamorous as they had led each other to believe, would linger. Please let there be no runs in the stockings or mascara! No dirty underwear, no orphaned socks!
But the unconsciousness, already unleashed by tiredness, would begin to crowd the room, treading in the footsteps of the night’s shadows and revealing the private habits of both participants. That’s when the true intimacy, however untimely or ungraceful, would knock on the door.
It would always be after the washing up (“I’m just gonna rinse-off, quickly!”), both of our skins emitting the perfumes of shared supplies, that Nina would stretch out on top of the covers — a big cat baby-talking of her kitten days:
“I love baths, don’t you?” she purred.
“Ah! That’s the smell!” the recognition would piece itself together, as I buried my nose behind her earlobe or in the small of her back, where each pore was still exhaling the heat it had endured in the water of nearly scorching temperatures. With every pore, she breathed against my face.
When love first reared its outlines, I would want to leave, wearing her on my skin. I succeeded, but only in that point along the timeline: only after using Nina’s toiletries — after the familiarity, the domesticity, the intimacy of co-habitation knocked on the door. Each lover became a mere chart of chemical elements, taken apart, and then yielded together again.
She flipped over: “I feel safe with you.”
My darling girl. She was younger. Young enough to belong to the previous generation that suffered from ailments I’d never even heard of, in my time. Learning disabilities and controversial psychological malfunctions, with acronyms instead of names. But the young were smarter than us (as well as they’re suppose to be). Never before had the generation gap been so gaping: a giant jaw chomping out chunks of common ground. These kids would be more advanced, savvier with technology — and more impatient with humanity. They spoke a whole different language, filled with abbreviations and smiley faces. The generation of the easily distracted and bored, and of the perpetually amused. LOL.
And then, she would kiss me, loudly; and while her muscles melted around the bones of her back, I rested my head above her heart and traced the constellations of the beauty marks in the tides of her falling, rising, and falling again stomach; while her chest visibly vibrated, a restless heart fluttering in the confines of her ribcage. An unblocked heart of the young.