A friend and I, sitting and discussing the latest girl I’d fallen for. The waiter, walking through the glass doors and seeing us in conversation, set our coffee in front of us apologetically, hers a sculpted cappuccino in a white porcelain cup, perfectly dusted with cinnamon and chocolate, mine a latte with a napkin wrapped protectively around the heat of the glass.
‘And there was that thing, you know,’ I said, as I shaped a vague invisible box in the air with my hands, ‘where there’s all these other people around, but, the two of you are in this, I don’t know, it’s kind of like the Cone of Silence from Get Smart if it was made out of electricity, you know? Like, there’s that buzz, and it’s just the two of you in the room, and, it’s just… you know?’¹
My friend shook her head, thoughtfully chewing a mouthful of lemon-soaked saganaki and fresh warm Turkish bread before swallowing.
‘No,’ she said. ‘I’ve never had that feeling.’
A different friend and I, drinking and discussing the same girl at a different point in time.
‘You know how it is,’ I said, as she poured us another two glasses of South Australian white and I leaned back into her couch. The night outside her living room windows was cold and clear; I’d been glad for my heavy black jacket on the short walk from my car to her front door. ‘When you just kind of click, and you realise that you love someone, totally and completely? And so you believe in them, and you have faith in them, and you want the best for them?’²
‘Um…’ my friend said, lifting the glasses from the table and holding mine out to me. ‘No. I don’t think I do.’
An ex-lover, sitting and drinking and discussing her relationship with her longish-term, on-again, off-again boyfriend. She tried to slide a slice of lime into a freshly-opened Corona as we talked. She’d cut the lime too fat, so she squeezed the rough edges and pushed with the palm of her hand, wedging the slice into the neck of the bottle, stripping it of tiny scads of peel. She licked the juice from her fingers and drank before offering up a final summary.
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘It’s OK. I mean, yeah. I settled. He’s OK. You know?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I don’t.’
I’ve been bitching for about fifteen years straight, whenever the opportunity has come up.
About women, about relationships, about love³. Women in specific, relationships in particular, love in general. Because on the whole, I’ve had some unpleasant experiences with it⁴. For a variety of reasons, on one side or another – broken trust, mistakes made, information that didn’t come to light until too late (or too soon) – but really, that’s neither here nor there. Let’s just say that in the grand carnival of human relationships, I t find my way to the rollercoaster with unerring accuracy. Dizzying ups and sickening downs go hand in hand with sleepless nights, remorse, regret and self-doubt, and every time I stumble off the ride, I make my way over to the funhouse mirror, square myself up and say OK. No more drama. Enough. I want something nice and easy and stable and happy.
But that son of a bitch carny who runs the rollercoaster… he knows my weakness and my forgetfulness far better than I ever have.
‘Mr. Smithson!’ he says. ‘Step right up! So nice to see you again! I’ve got your seat all ready and waiting at the head of ol’ Blue, here – care for a spin?’
Somehow, a perceptual lever flips in my brain and I think he’s asking if I’d like to quietly sit a moment and enjoy a margarita.
‘Why, now that you mention it, yes, Lionel!’ I say. ‘Yes, I most certainly do!’
It isn’t until I’ve passed the first drop and we’re ratcheting up the long climb to the second that I remember.
Fuck! Wait a minute! This isn’t a retro-cool jazz lounge at all! This is a rollercoaster!
… and… where’s the safety bar on this thing?
… and… I thought there’d be margaritas.
The thing is, though… I always thought everyone else had it at least halfway figured out. I didn’t have fantasy visions of other people’s relationships where every day was domestic bliss, and no voices were ever raised or anniversaries forgotten, where helpful elves emerged from behind the oven at night to click their heels and clean the dishes and sprinkle just a smidgen of fairy dust around the house. But I figured that people felt – or had felt – similar feelings to the ones I have experienced in the past.
That unbearable yearning to see someone that straddles the line between soft pleasure and sweet pain. That thrumming deep-water explosion of a late-night kiss. The warm golden knowledge that you love and are loved.
And yet… apparently not. Or rather, not always.
That’s a bitch.
A guy I used to work with once bemoaned his lack of a girlfriend to me. It was early morning, when the rising sun was weak and flat across the lobby floor of the club we worked at, and we were the only ones left after a long night, and while we waited for the security van to come and pick up the night’s takings, we sat and smoked on the white marble stairs of the foyer. I miss that pleasure of working in bars – stale cigarettes and crisp coolroom beers that have been chilling for seven days at seven o’clock on a Sunday morning.
‘I’m getting a bit old to be single,’ he confided to me, this guy who would have been 31, 32.
People have expressed similar sentiments to me before. For so long, I had no concept of loneliness, and so I honestly didn’t understand what it was they were concerned about. To me, it was as if someone had said they were worried because they were getting a bit old to learn how to properly cook a dodo.
The dodos are gone, man. This is absolutely nothing to lose sleep over.
Of course, I ended up meeting a girl who, after things had gone south, as they relentlessly, inevitably, seem to, left behind a hole in my life, in my days and in my nights. It was a sign of just how deeply she’d gotten under my skin that, in her absence, I finally understood the concept of not being a self-contained unit. Through loss, I understood what it was to gain.
Thanks for the wonderful parting gift, love.
I heard back from a mutual friend the impression a girl had gotten from one of the nights we’d spent together.
‘Apparently you were pretty into it,’ I was told. ‘She said you were very… passionate.’
There was a hint of rebuke about the way this information was delivered. A touch of spiteful amusement, as if the discussion the two of them had had was one of gentle mockery, or critique.
Now and forever, I will say this: unless I’ve broken a bone while misjudging an Errol Flynn-esque swing in through the window, or I’ve actually screamed out the name ‘Justin Timberlake!’ while making love, then there is no such thing as too passionate. This is what passion is all about, and I don’t believe people should be called upon to make excuses for how they about someone, or how they express those feelings.
I’ve made mistakes, when it comes to love. Absolutely, categorically, I have messed up and gotten things wrong. As we all have; we all have our rugs under which to sweep the memories that make the blood rush to our cheeks.
And my brain leaves the equation all too easily, I know, although I don’t think the two are necessarily linked. In the name of love, I’ve quit jobs, gone crazy⁵, crossed oceans, without a single thought as to what the consequence would be. Not to make any kind of grand, sweeping gesture, but rather, because I wanted to.
And I don’t understand the concept of settling. Because I know that the possibility exists of the kind of love and passion that drives me onwards through every sandstorm and hurricane the world can throw my way.
I can remember lying next to someone one night and the realisation that I loved every single atom of her, every last fiber of her being, dawning on me. That was the thought that clicked into my head, and I captured it, turned it around, flipped it on its back and examined it from every angle, in the darkness and quiet of the sleeping bedroom.
Huh, I thought. Well, we know two things. First, I’m kind of a nerd, and I have thoughts like ‘I love every atom of you.’ Second, this is good, this feeling. This is a good feeling.
I could be in trouble.
Is it better to have loved and lost than never loved at all? I don’t know. I don’t think that kind of blanket statement helps anyone at all.
I’m familiar with the horrible sensation of loss. That sweeping grey loneliness that comes in the wake of love gone wrong, the sudden sharp silvery pain that slips up and under your ribcage and steals your breath when you see an ex kiss someone else, the rising sickness of having a conversation you wish you didn’t need to have… been there, done that. And this stuff can mess you up. Not every wound heals clean, and the sad, small sound of broken trust can be more terrible and longer-lasting than the loudest fight. This stuff can curl around your bones like smoke and seep into the muscles of your throat until you’re choking on it. This stuff can leave you with scars.
For a start, I think I call bullshit on that whole loved/lost dilemma. It’s better to have loved and kept than never loved at all. Whatever smug and self-satisfied genius thought up the original phrase in the first place would have benefited from knowing that. And from a shovel to the face.
And more, to hear the stories of people who have never felt that overwhelming rush of love, like a flooding river bursting its banks and sweeping all before it… Jesus. Maybe I got the better end of the deal, after all.
Because if you can catch onto that feeling, if you can ride the torrents and the turbulence of it, if you can be uplifted and inspired by it, rather than beaten down and broken… then everything changes.
Maybe Adam Sandler said it the best in Punch-Drunk Love.
“I have so much strength in me you have no idea. I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine. I would say ‘that’s that’, Mattress Man”
(You have to see the film to know the deal about the Mattress Man)
Maybe a thousand, ten thousand love songs have gotten it right. It was Freddy Mercury who said that love could walk through walls. And he was a man who knew what’s what.
And part of me wonders if maybe if I hadn’t had such a yearning for this consuming kind of passion, I never would have experienced it to appreciate it. That maybe, this has all been one grand lesson, with wheels turning within wheels turning within wheels that I never could have seen, or suspected exist.
Whatever I’ve been through (and it wasn’t all bad… a long way from it, in fact) – however things have ended up, and whatever has gone wrong, my personal experience is that I can place those things, and my knowledge of what love is, and has been, and can be, on the scales and say:
Now give me my goddamn margaritas.
¹ Sage, Simon. Sage.
² Eloquent, Simon. Eloquent.
³ Also about the goddamned Man.
⁴ Alone among all people.
⁵ Not the kill people kind of crazy, though.