After the fairy tale comes a montage of familiar imagery, rose-tinted by sunrise in a strange city. How far would I travel to be where you are? A thousand kilometers by plane for him and eighty by bus for me, for these: half a day alone together, a meal shared, a long walk, a brush, a touch, a hand held, warm smile, lingering gaze, sweet words, soft embrace, promises and plans for the future, then—not goodbye but see you again.
When I sleep with butterflies fluttering in my head, I expect them to vanish with the dawn. But in the mornings after that morning, I would wake up to his words, transmitted over seas, setting the day on a lovelier note; in the evenings, too, his words would allay the cares delaying rest. His image figured in my daydreams and I allowed myself to ponder the possibility of satellite love.
After the fairy tale and the rosy vignettes comes the fact: he lied. He was, indeed, not simply committed, but engaged to be married. (He did not reveal this to me; I found him out.) I never thought such things happened in real life, and if they did, they weren’t supposed to happen to me. And what had he to say about the whole affair upon my asking? Nothing. I got only his absence by way of confirmation of what has yet to be explained.
After the fact comes the lesson: In life as in writing, development is key; beware the grand romantic narrative painted in precipitate strokes, beware clichés. Beware days that unfold too much like fiction.
I tell myself it is no great matter—I am a girl who reads. Upon beginning a story, already I imagine its conclusion. For I know that every narrative ends, in clincher or question, abrupt silence or sentential goodbye. It’s just that I did not expect this story to end so sharply. But I can handle neat closures, also the lack thereof. Schooled in the tenets of structuralism and beyond, I accept the death of the author and apply hermeneutics. I delve into the texts of his traces, his messages, and our conversations I noted, and remark on the grammar of his gestures, expressions, turns of phrase; I read and reread them, and try to reconstruct their meanings from memory. Was there, perhaps, some hint that I missed, a signifier I misread? He seemed such a genuine man. Perhaps he did not mean to deceive me.
I do not doubt or dwell to hurt, to wither. I remember because it interests me to. I remember because I am trying to understand why—why he made me feel as if I had captured his heart when it already belonged to someone else, why I allowed him into mine so easily after building all these walls around it all these years, why I still think of him when he simply disappeared without so much as an apology, why I even bother to write this.
It’s been thirty days since we met, sixteen since he broke my heart—or so I tend to put it, though my heart has never been broken (how do I escape this metaphor, this goddamned cliché?), just so I can justify all the lines I’ve been spewing out on account of him, like so:
Days after the break: soft sunlight peeking through rosy blinds, flushing whitewashed walls, linen, skin. A woman in bed, alone, undressed, bathing in depressing poetry.
And I said I’d had enough of clichés.
Blindsided by the vanities and vagaries of life, I find refuge in literature and philosophy:
“The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it,” Jane Austen wrote in Pride and Prejudice, “and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”
“This whole business of being ‘in love’ is not an existential reality,” says David Lodge in Small World, “but a form of cultural production, an illusion produced by the mutual reflections of a million rose-tinted mirrors: love poems, pop songs, movie images, agony columns, shampoo ads, romantic novels.”
Talking about the justification of belief, Richard Foley states that “Deception does not preclude rationality.” Even so, wasn’t I partly to blame? Have I been too trusting, too careless, too eager to buy into the discourse of romantic love? Have I been, in a word, stupid? And do I really have to damn anyone?
I have decided that not everything needs to be dissected and pinned down. So I’ll chalk it up to experience and leave it at that. No matter how many questions I ask and how much I ponder them, how often I trail his traces and refresh his Facebook page—as if I could find any answers there—would any of that undo anything? Would he steal back all his words and the hopes they birthed, hide them in his mouth and wash them down and smile, would we have remained friends? And is he, in the first place, worth lamenting? Is it even him I am keening about? I think I am grieving for myself and whatever illusions I may have held, and the dreams I can no longer harbor.
I might meet the memory of him again, in a story, a poem, another’s song—for I am a girl who writes and reads, who listens and sings. But for now I find it is finally no longer interesting to remember him, except as a lesson well-learned.
This is it, then. In release I take his silence and stopper my words. I am done trying to understand.