“Why are old lovers able to become friends? Two reasons. They never truly loved each other, or they love each other still.” ~ Whitney Otto, How to Make an American Quilt
“Why are old lovers able to become friends? Two reasons. They never truly loved each other, or they love each other still.” ~ Whitney Otto, How to Make an American Quilt
“Something told him that something was coming to an end. Not the world, exactly. Just the summer. There would be other summers, but there would never be one like this. Ever again.” ~ Neil Gaiman, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
After twenty years, I finally returned to Termoli. It felt like a homecoming of sorts. It was bitter and it was sweet. I regret that I waited so long to return. After all, A passed away ten years ago. I wanted to come then to pay my respects and to say goodbye, but life and situations got in the way, and this year was the first time that I saw a clear path back to this magical place. It was as if all the stars aligned just so that I could make this journey.
His parents met me at the airport. I saw them as soon as I exited the terminal. I saw the love and happiness in their faces, and I felt the love and joy in their warm kisses and embrace. We all cried tears of happiness, tears of pain, and tears for the loss of A, our beloved, who connected us then and who still continues to connect us all.
We swam in the sea every morning, and we dined al fresco in the evenings. After dinner, we walked amidst ancient fortresses and breathed in salty sea air. We drank strong cups of espresso, and ate glorious fresh food from the sea. The sun was strong and beamed upon us every day. At night, the skies were dark in the way that made the stars seemed brighter.
I will always remember A. He will forever live in my heart. Without him, I never would have known of this beautiful place, and I would never have had the honor to meet his beautiful family and friends. He is what brought me to Termoli. I have tasted a slice of heaven, and I know he is in his own personal heaven watching over all of us.
“Your head’s like mine, like all our heads; big enough to contain every god and devil there ever was. Big enough to hold the weight of oceans and the turning stars. Whole universes fit in there! But what do we choose to keep in this miraculous cabinet? Little broken things, sad trinkets that we play with over and over. The world turns our key and we play the same little tune again and again and we think that tune’s all we are.” ~ Grant Morrison, The Invisibles, Vol. 1: Say You Want a Revolution
“I envy people that know love. They have someone who takes them as they are.” ~ Jess C. Scott, The Devilin Fey
I’ve been watching couples lately. I watch how they interact with each other in public, and I listen to stories from friends and even strangers about their relationships. I am curious about the mechanics of how relationships are supposed to work. I feel as though my track record with past relationships has not been very good. Did they all fail because of me? Did they fail because of the men who I chose? Why have all my relationships failed? Was I too intense? Too clingy? Or was I too distant and not open enough?
I try hard in any relationship in which I am involved. With my last relationship, I tried so hard that I felt exhausted and spent at the end of it. I try everyday, by being supportive, by listening, by rearranging my days and schedule to accommodate theirs, by taking care of them, and by being the person who I believe they want me to be.
I have spent most of my adult life being a skewed person of myself. I have contorted myself to be someone else to make others happy, and along the way, I have forgotten who I am inside.
But the “me” inside, the “real” me, wants to come out. It wants to be seen, to be heard, to be felt, to be needed, to be taken care of… to be loved. When was the last time someone took care of me? When was the last time someone bent over backwards for me? I have been so busy twisting and turning myself to take care of others, but they in turn don’t do anything to take care of me.
Every day, I see couples on the train, on the streets, in office buildings, and at grocery stores. I see them holding hands, leaning up against each other, or even kissing. I look at the faces of these couples, and I examine the smiles on their faces.The other night, I was at the grocery store. I walked up on a couple arguing in the parking lot. “You want to walk, don’t you?” the man said to his wife. “Ha!” she replied. “I can’t believe you said that. You are so walking.” he said. She starts laughing. “Then you’re going to have to call my mother and tell her you made me walk home.” They both laughed and he put his arms around her. As I walked past them, they both smiled at me. Here was a couple comfortable enough to fight, but yet remain loving and playful with each other. I felt a tinge of envy.I deserve that, too. I deserve to be loved, just as I am, and not have to work so hard at twisting myself into the person others want me to be. Maybe if I didn’t try so hard and just be myself, it might just happen.
“He took his pain and turned it into something beautiful. Into something that people connect to. And that’s what good music does. It speaks to you. It changes you.” ~ Hannah Harrington, Saving June
“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.” ~ Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
G is six now and she is often curious about how I was when I was her age. She lost her front tooth recently, and she asked me how long it took for mine to grow back when I had lost my front tooth. I was surprised when I realized that I did not remember. I have a very vague recollection of losing my teeth, but yet I can remember the exact layout of my bedroom in our house on Greenport Avenue in California.
I remember the time my sister came back from school one day when she was in first grade and she told me that she felt lonely because no one in school liked her. I told her that she could sleep with me that night and I sang to her until she fell asleep.
I remember the day my brother went off to the military, and how I cried when he left.
I remember when my mother turned thirty-eight and how I was afraid that she was getting old.
I remember the time I wasted being angry with my dad and how we did not speak for much too long for a reason that no one can even remember anymore.
I am trying to piece back the vestiges of my childhood and early adult years and while I may not remember losing my first tooth, or the first time I fell or got hurt, the memories and events that I hold close to my heart, I will remember those for the rest of my life.
“It is the tenderness that breaks our hearts. The loveliness that leaves us stranded on the shore, watching the boats sail away. It is the sweetness that makes us want to reach out and touch the soft skin of another person. And it is the grace that comes to us, undeserving though we may be.” ~ Robert Goolrick, The End of the World as We Know It: Scenes from a Life
Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, leaving behind severe devastation in its wake. New York City was hit hard, especially Lower Manhattan, Staten Island and the Rockaways. Tens of thousands lost power. Many are without food and basic necessities. Some lost everything. A few dozen lost their lives.
“The dead are never exactly seen by the living, but many people seem acutely aware of something changed around them. They speak of a chill in the air. The mates of the deceased wake from dreams and see a figure standing at the end of thier bed, or in a doorway, or boarding, phantomlike, a city bus.” ~ Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones
My friend M lives in a typical pre-war building here in New York. It is a building with a long history and a long roster of souls that have come and gone.
And some that have not left.
I visited her one afternoon. She lives on the first floor, adjacent to the front lobby, and just past the mail room. After she buzzed me in the front door that day, I walked down the long corridor towards her door. I passed the mail room and caught a glimpse from the corner of my eye a young woman bent down in front of the mailboxes. She was dressed in a long, white skirt and a dark top. I turned away, and then turned again to look back at the woman.
She had disappeared.
After a conversation with my friend and her building super, I learned the story of a woman who had died in the building. She was an elderly woman who had lived in the building since the first year the apartment building was erected. She was then a young woman who was engaged to a young soldier who was sent to Europe to fight in WWII.
It is said that her lover’s body was never found during the war. He was considered dead after they could not locate him after a mission he served in France. Accounts from other tenants in the building reported that the young woman never stopped hoping to receive word about her lover. She faithfully checked her mailbox every afternoon with the hopes of receiving some kind of correspondence regarding her one true love.
From what I saw that afternoon, she still waits.
True love never dies and waits forever.
One of my favorites …
Haruki Murakami: On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning
One beautiful April morning, on a narrow side street in Tokyo’s fashionable Harujuku neighborhood, I walked past the 100% perfect girl.
Tell you the truth, she’s not that good-looking. She doesn’t stand out in any way. Her clothes are nothing special. The back of her hair is still bent out of shape from sleep. She isn’t young, either – must be near thirty, not even close to a “girl,” properly speaking. But still, I know from fifty yards away: She’s the 100% perfect girl for me. The moment I see her, there’s a rumbling in my chest, and my mouth is as dry as a desert.
Maybe you have your own particular favorite type of girl – one with slim ankles, say, or big eyes, or graceful fingers, or you’re drawn for no good reason to girls who take their time with every meal. I have my own preferences, of course. Sometimes in a restaurant I’ll catch myself staring at the girl at the next table to mine because I like the shape of her nose.
But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like noses, I can’t recall the shape of hers – or even if she had one. All I can remember for sure is that she was no great beauty. It’s weird.
“Yesterday on the street I passed the 100% girl,” I tell someone.
“Yeah?” he says. “Good-looking?”
“Your favorite type, then?”
“I don’t know. I can’t seem to remember anything about her – the shape of her eyes or the size of her breasts.”
“So anyhow,” he says, already bored, “what did you do? Talk to her? Follow her?”
“Nah. Just passed her on the street.”
She’s walking east to west, and I west to east. It’s a really nice April morning.
Wish I could talk to her. Half an hour would be plenty: just ask her about herself, tell her about myself, and – what I’d really like to do – explain to her the complexities of fate that have led to our passing each other on a side street in Harajuku on a beautiful April morning in 1981. This was something sure to be crammed full of warm secrets, like an antique clock build when peace filled the world.
After talking, we’d have lunch somewhere, maybe see a Woody Allen movie, stop by a hotel bar for cocktails. With any kind of luck, we might end up in bed.
Potentiality knocks on the door of my heart.
Now the distance between us has narrowed to fifteen yards.
How can I approach her? What should I say?
“Good morning, miss. Do you think you could spare half an hour for a little conversation?”
Ridiculous. I’d sound like an insurance salesman.
“Pardon me, but would you happen to know if there is an all-night cleaners in the neighborhood?”
No, this is just as ridiculous. I’m not carrying any laundry, for one thing. Who’s going to buy a line like that?
Maybe the simple truth would do. “Good morning. You are the 100% perfect girl for me.”
No, she wouldn’t believe it. Or even if she did, she might not want to talk to me. Sorry, she could say, I might be the 100% perfect girl for you, but you’re not the 100% boy for me. It could happen. And if I found myself in that situation, I’d probably go to pieces. I’d never recover from the shock. I’m thirty-two, and that’s what growing older is all about.
We pass in front of a flower shop. A small, warm air mass touches my skin. The asphalt is damp, and I catch the scent of roses. I can’t bring myself to speak to her. She wears a white sweater, and in her right hand she holds a crisp white envelope lacking only a stamp. So: She’s written somebody a letter, maybe spent the whole night writing, to judge from the sleepy look in her eyes. The envelope could contain every secret she’s ever had.
I take a few more strides and turn: She’s lost in the crowd.
Now, of course, I know exactly what I should have said to her. It would have been a long speech, though, far too long for me to have delivered it properly. The ideas I come up with are never very practical.
Oh, well. It would have started “Once upon a time” and ended “A sad story, don’t you think?”
Once upon a time, there lived a boy and a girl. The boy was eighteen and the girl sixteen. He was not unusually handsome, and she was not especially beautiful. They were just an ordinary lonely boy and an ordinary lonely girl, like all the others. But they believed with their whole hearts that somewhere in the world there lived the 100% perfect boy and the 100% perfect girl for them. Yes, they believed in a miracle. And that miracle actually happened.
One day the two came upon each other on the corner of a street.
“This is amazing,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you all my life. You may not believe this, but you’re the 100% perfect girl for me.”
“And you,” she said to him, “are the 100% perfect boy for me, exactly as I’d pictured you in every detail. It’s like a dream.”
They sat on a park bench, held hands, and told each other their stories hour after hour. They were not lonely anymore. They had found and been found by their 100% perfect other. What a wonderful thing it is to find and be found by your 100% perfect other. It’s a miracle, a cosmic miracle.
As they sat and talked, however, a tiny, tiny sliver of doubt took root in their hearts: Was it really all right for one’s dreams to come true so easily?
And so, when there came a momentary lull in their conversation, the boy said to the girl, “Let’s test ourselves – just once. If we really are each other’s 100% perfect lovers, then sometime, somewhere, we will meet again without fail. And when that happens, and we know that we are the 100% perfect ones, we’ll marry then and there. What do you think?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is exactly what we should do.”
And so they parted, she to the east, and he to the west.
The test they had agreed upon, however, was utterly unnecessary. They should never have undertaken it, because they really and truly were each other’s 100% perfect lovers, and it was a miracle that they had ever met. But it was impossible for them to know this, young as they were. The cold, indifferent waves of fate proceeded to toss them unmercifully.
One winter, both the boy and the girl came down with the season’s terrible inluenza, and after drifting for weeks between life and death they lost all memory of their earlier years. When they awoke, their heads were as empty as the young D. H. Lawrence’s piggy bank.
They were two bright, determined young people, however, and through their unremitting efforts they were able to acquire once again the knowledge and feeling that qualified them to return as full-fledged members of society. Heaven be praised, they became truly upstanding citizens who knew how to transfer from one subway line to another, who were fully capable of sending a special-delivery letter at the post office. Indeed, they even experienced love again, sometimes as much as 75% or even 85% love.
Time passed with shocking swiftness, and soon the boy was thirty-two, the girl thirty.
One beautiful April morning, in search of a cup of coffee to start the day, the boy was walking from west to east, while the girl, intending to send a special-delivery letter, was walking from east to west, but along the same narrow street in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo. They passed each other in the very center of the street. The faintest gleam of their lost memories glimmered for the briefest moment in their hearts. Each felt a rumbling in their chest. And they knew:
She is the 100% perfect girl for me.
He is the 100% perfect boy for me.
But the glow of their memories was far too weak, and their thoughts no longer had the clarity of fourteen years earlier. Without a word, they passed each other, disappearing into the crowd. Forever.
A sad story, don’t you think?
Yes, that’s it, that is what I should have said to her.
“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.” ~ Patrick Overton, The Leaning Tree: Poems
“Fortune sides with him who dares.” ~ Virgil