Why?

We got into the water. I’m in my underwear and she with her bra and panties. I told her I never got into the water at night and she suggested we’d do it. On the first date. Two weeks ago I spent the whole evening looking at her. She was with friends. Before they left, when she was alone for a moment, I approached and told her she was very cute. She smiled. I asked for her phone number. She said she was just coming out of a relationship but would be happy to take my number. I thought it was just an excuse but gave her the number anyway. I wasn’t expecting a call. She called a week ago. Said the relationship was over. I said I hoped I would be an adequate substitute. We set a date for today. I suggested going to the beach.

Both of us in the water, on a hot and sticky summer night. Just us and the Jellyfish. I kissed her. On the first date. We kissed passionately. We hugged, almost naked, in the water. On the first date. Didn’t think this could still happen to me. I’m not young anymore. At my age you compromise, settle down to raise a family. And here I am, my heart racing, like a kid, in the middle of the night with my underwear, in the water, hugging her, not wanting to let go. On the first date. Me, who carries the whole damn country’s problems on my shoulders, who doesn’t understand how people can be so selfish when so much evil is around us. Here, in the middle of the night, in the water, I was thinking only about myself. Is this how love feels? I don’t know. I think this is the first time I feel this way. And I’m not young anymore. Recently, a friend asked me if I’ve ever had ‘love’. I said no. She looked at me with amazement: How can that be? At your age? I said that I either loved and wasn’t loved back or was loved and didn’t love back. This can last a lifetime. For married people too. Tonight it was symmetrical. Finally. The look in her eyes, I can’t be wrong. The sarcasm I was so proud of, that is part of who I am, was gone. I felt normal. I stopped being angry at the world. Me, in love. Receiving love. Real love. I joked about our cloths being stolen from the beach. She said that even if they were, we would manage without them. I smiled. Of course we would. We got dressed. I only just noticed that I didn’t even check her out when she stripped down to her underwear. Is this how love feels? All of a sudden her body didn’t matter. Me, who always says to my friend that if they introduce me to someone, she has to have large breasts. Didn’t even take a look at her breasts.

Second date. She was waiting for me on a bench by the house. I sat next to her. She examined me closely. I told her I had many faces. That someone once told me that every day I looked like someone else. She smiled. And kissed. I told her we could hang out right here, on the bench. She smiled. And kissed. Is this how love feels? You can spend a whole evening on some bench, in the street, because the location really doesn’t matter. We kissed. Passersby were sneaking looks. It was me sneaking those looks at couples in love, until today. Rushing, to yet another meaningless place. Slowing down for a second, just to see the kiss. My heart pinching. Why? Why doesn’t it happen to me? Then I would go on. Because I have some meaningless place to get to in a hurry. A girl with a flat tyre on her scooter stopped, asking with a smile if she could bother us. If I was alone, she wouldn’t have smiled. Worrying it might look too inviting. Probably would have turned to someone else altogether. Why ask for help from a lonely guy sitting on a bench? Maybe he is the one that needs help? Is this how love feels? People feel more comfortable approaching you. There’s this aura around you that says: come, be around me, it’ll make you feel good. We gladly agreed. I couldn’t help her but it didn’t make me feel any less good about myself. I don’t need to please others. I don’t need to prove my worth. I am worth something. We offered to help her push the scooter home. We’re in no rush. We have all the time in the world. She turned us down politely. Seemed she felt uncomfortable interrupting a couple of lovers. We went to a nearby pub. Holding hands like kids all night, kissing all the time. I always said I had a problem holding hands with a girl. I feel constrained. But with her I didn’t. The waitress came to take our order. If I was alone I would have felt obligated to look at the menu and make a quick decision. That’s the way I am, obedient, even with waiters. But now, I told her we needed more time. Is this how love feels? You get this sort of power. It’s like being drunk, you stop worrying about other people’s reaction. Your happy with who you are. Don’t have to prove anything. You can relax. Breath. Kiss. She asked me:”so what’s your story?” with anyone else I would have been defensive. Would have felt the need to explain. I don’t have a story. I just go with the flow. Don’t know where it’s going. With her I just smiled. This is my story. I’m with you and I’m having fun. I suggested going up to my place. She was unsure. I promised we wouldn’t do anything. I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted it to stay pure. Sex could pollute it. Could make it into just another relationship. I didn’t want it to be just another relationship. I wanted it to be it. We kissed on the couch. And on the rug. And stopped. We looked each other in the eyes. And kept going. I said she better go. She said we didn’t want to do it right now. That we want it to be different. Yes, we want it to be special. I want to drag this moment on. Don’t care what they say about sex when you’re in love. I know that as soon as we’ll have sex it won’t be perfect anymore. Sex is about our primal instincts. She’ll be just like all the others. But here, now, on the rug, she’s different. I looked her in the eye and I knew I couldn’t be wrong. Me, who was always proud about my intuition when it came to women, that can always tell what they feel about the relationship, can’t be wrong. Here, on the rug. Hot. The air conditioner isn’t working. I hugged her and felt her hugging me back. Symmetry. Finally. Like placing the last piece in the puzzle. When it happens, it seems so simple.

Third date. She’s on her way to a gig. A singer she likes. Stopped by my place to see me before the gig. She called last night, after we already spoke in the evening, to wish me good night. I told her it warmed my heart. She said it warmed her heart that it warmed my heart. She said we’ll be in touch. I said that when we stop saying “we’ll be in touch”, it’ll mean that the connection is growing stronger. That it’ll be so obvious, we won’t have to say it anymore. If I saw this in a movie I’d be constantly looking at my watch. This kind of kitsch doesn’t exist in reality. But it does. Now. So what’s the real reality? I’m banal and predictable and all the things I thought I wasn’t. I’m in her car. We look at each other and kiss. I feel confident. I came out f the house wearing an old t-shirt, unshaved and after eating some onion. I told her this is me looking my worst and I want her to see it now. She laughed and kissed me. With the onion breath. Is this how love feels? When you don’t care how you look, when you break cultural barriers, marching, head up high, into the abyss. And not fall. Games become pathetic. Don’t look too eager, don’t call too often, don’t and don’t… now you can do anything. I started talking a lot. About life. About how I think it should be. I wasn’t afraid of anything. This is me, I told her, and this is my story. She looked. And kissed. And I kissed. And I dove into her. And I touched her legs. She said she had an issue with her legs. She doesn’t like them. I didn’t even think about what they looked like. I just caressed. I didn’t feel as if I was operating under standard, reality based criticism. I’m in an alternate reality. In a dream. And in this reality I don’t think whether her legs are pretty or not. Common sense was irrelevant. Emotion took the throne with great pride. So this is what it looks like. This is the world of emotions. Everything is beautiful. Everybody’s smiling. I hopped over to her seat. Said I was really glad we didn’t sleep together on our last date. I suggested we should only sleep together after fifty dates or after six months, whichever came first. She laughed and said that we better start going on a date every day or several times a day. Is this how love feels? When we make future plans together we hint to fate that it is out of his hands now. We took the reins of fortune. She rang her friend who she was meeting, but the friend couldn’t make it. She’ll go to the gig alone. Not the first time she goes alone. I liked that. I said if you’re confident you go to gigs on your own. Few people can do this. She asked if I wanted to come. I said no. It’s her singer. I said each of us could have his own special ‘loves’ that he could do on his own. Only a few days ago I was alone and today I’m making all these rules about what a healthy relationship should look like. She said she tried hitting on the singer’s keyboard player once. I asked if he was going to be there, smiling. She’s already late. But it’s hard to stop. One last kiss and then another. She said:”hug me” and I did.

She’s at the gig. I’m with a friend at some party. There were girls, a lot of them. I scan the room the way I always do, just without the emotional aspect. Purely physical. Our radar, men’s that is, is always operating. Only now the information I’m receiving means nothing to me. The friend went home early. I stayed to dance alone. I don’t care. Is this how love feels? You can dance alone, surrounded by people and feel at ease. And I danced like I never did before. I turned and bounced and flew and fluttered and closed my eyes and was at peace. Finally quiet. I’m surrounded by girls and I’m at peace. The male instincts are resting. No hunting today. I’m here to enjoy and what perfect enjoyment when the hunter is resting. I looked girls in the eye and was not embarrassed because I didn’t feel like I was attacking. The party was winding down and it was left with a handful of other people. Dancing and dancing. I barely drank. Didn’t need to. I was dancing wildly and felt serene. Outside, a group of older men asked me about the location of a club. When they walked away I stared with intent. Growing older, wrinkly, lonely, trying to preserve a youthful spirit. I’m not there anymore.

I went home alone. Checked my phone for messages. None from her.

Lunch, Friday. Just finished some laps at the pool. Called her cellular. She’s not picking up. I remembered she had a shift at work today and perhaps can’t pick up. I wanted to know if she enjoyed the gig. I left a message.

Afternoon, Friday. Finished eating with friends. She still hasn’t called back. Familiar emotions from the past started infiltrating the walls of defense. Am I back in the game? To call or not to call?

I called her cellular. She’s not answering. I left a message that I was concerned. Who am I concerned for? Her or me? Do I care about her or about this feeling I have that I don’t want to stop?

Afternoon, Friday. I rang her house. Her mum answered. Said she was at work and probably couldn’t get to her phone. I relaxed. Or not?

Afternoon, Friday. She calls. Just finished her shift. I said I was worried. She said nothing. I asked about the plans we made for that night to go to the movies. She said she’ll probably be too tired. She’ll call me later.

Brain: “something’s up. She didn’t initiate anything during the entire conversation. Completely passive. She couldn’t get back to me all morning? She’ll be tired to go to the movies? Really? Something is wrong.”

Emotion:”nothing’s wrong. Can’t be. Just last night we said goodbye like two lovers. Not a hint. If there was a sign I would have noticed. Nothing happened.”

Brain:”maybe it was something I said yesterday?”

Emotion:”but I didn’t say anyth… or did I? What did I say? I was calm, relaxed. Spoke naturally. Maybe I touched on a nerve? Maybe scared her? Can’t be. She asked for a hug.”

Brain:”maybe she’s just not into it anymore.”

Emotion:”why?”

Night, Friday. I’m back operating according to the rules of the game. Decide to call, but at an odd time so she doesn’t think it was planned. She picks up. Sounding detached. As if she just woke up. Maybe not. Heart pounding. Yesterday’s butterflies have turned into blood-sucking bats. The magical feeling has been replaced by a dark, painful, stabbing feeling. I feel weak. I ask if something happened. She’s fine, she says, but, yes, something happened. Anything to do with me? I ask. Something I said? No, she says, not at all. It’s about her. I’m falling. Nothing to stop me. Heart pounding. Throat choking. I always said that when one side ends a relationship, the other side is better off not asking why. The answer will always be unsatisfying, unclear and unpleasant. Matters of the heart are better settled without painful explanations. But now the brain is in charge. Got to hold on to something. Need an anchor. Need a reason. It can’t be just like that. I must have a reason. Need to know why. The brain is asking for a logical explanation to relate to, maybe counteract, but emotions don’t have logical explanations. They just happen. Did you meet someone at the gig? I ask. I meet a lot of people, she replies callously. But the brain keeps leading the way. It wants an explanation. It’s like poking an aching tooth. It’s no good, but you can’t help it. The emotion doesn’t care for the reason; it’s going to hurt either way. It’s the brain that’s looking for some peace. The logical circuits in my head keep getting stuck. Like a scientist making futile attempts to solve an unsolvable equation. If this conversation ends now I’ll collapse. Something must have happened. Between last night in the car and this morning, something happened. Or didn’t happen? So, what? Just like that? Can’t be just like that. Did you meet someone at the gig? I ask again. Say yes, please, I think. It’s only to do with me, she replies. I sense her backing out. Curled up in the corner while I’m attacking. In love with myself. Oblivious to her suffering. But I keep falling. I have to take something from her to save myself. Can’t stop, not now. Did you meet someone at the gig? I ask, or conclude, with a threatening, scared, shaking tone. Yes, she answers. Quiet. The brain circuits are relaxing. There’s an explanation. The brain got what it needed. The emotion still hurts. Refusing to believe. But how? Why? Just yesterday you asked for a hug, I think. I guess he was more impressive than me, I say. The Cynicism is back. Renaissance era, over. Were back to the darkness of the Middle Ages of the soul. Cynicism rules again. No, she says, not at all. Like a mother consoling her son after failing an exam, I feel her hand stroking my head. It’s just that, it shook me, emotionally, she continues, and… Enough! I don’t want to hear any more. Enough! I got an explanation. More than I bargained for. Just like in a casino, better get out now. While I’m ahead. If we go on, I’ll lose everything. Her every word is like a whip on my back. I think we should end this conversation now, I mumble. She tries to say something. All I hear is a blur of syllables. Everything is foggy. Painful. Very painful. I raise my voice, trying to maintain some dignity. Like a condemned man on death row committing suicide so the executioner doesn’t get the pleasure of doing it, I suggest we end the conversation. Goodbye. That’s it. Storm over. Quiet. The town is in shambles. Residents are starting to emerge from between the wreckage. Cool breeze of sadness in the air.

Night, Friday. I’m on the beach. Staring at the same spot we were at. In the water. Hugging. The air hot and sticky. It’s bugging me now. I’m off the Olympus and down here, amongst the mortals, the heat is annoying. I’m not crying. I can cry from a sad movie but I don’t cry about my life. I think I’m afraid. Don’t want to sink. I look at the sea. The look in her eyes, I couldn’t have been wrong. Why?

Loyalty

Betsy and Bruno sat quietly in the back. Leah looked at them through the rear view mirror. They seemed strange. Quiet. Any other day they’d be jumping up and down with joy, probably disturbing Leah’s driving. But today was not an ordinary day. Today Leah is getting married. Leah was certain that Betsy and Bruno sensed her tension. After all, she believed, cats possessed special powers. Traffic light. She looked in the backseat, moistened eyes, and caressed Betsy. Betsy gave herself willingly. With her thick coat, she was always happy to receive human touch. She licked Leah’s fingers softly. Bruno was still curled up in the corner, like a pensive philosopher. It’s so like him, thought Leah. Even at home he only wandered away from his spot once every few hours, so why should he be any different on my wedding day?

A beeping sound disturbed Bruno’s peace. It was from the car in the next lane. “Congratulations” said the driver, winking at Leah, most of his attention still given to the traffic light, ready to accelerate as soon as it was green. Leah regretted being so noticeable. Her balloon filled car and her wedding dress were not making it any easier. Leah gave an obviously fake smile. This was not a good time to strike a conversation. “Thank you”, she replied, turning towards him only for a split second, hoping he will get the hint. “So, getting married then?” he continued. Leah figured she had about fifteen seconds left before the lights turned green. She could handle him for a little longer. It’s not nice to be so unfriendly on your wedding day. He’s a young guy and could get the wrong idea about the whole concept of marriage. She smiled at him, more pleasantly this time. “Yes”, she replied. “It’s a bit late isn’t it? Shouldn’t you be standing at the altar? And where is the groom?” he persisted. “He’s at the venue. I’m on my way there”, Leah answered him, not really believing she’s having this conversation with a random driver. “Can I help?” he asked. Green. Leah stepped on the gas pedal and leapt forward. No, you can’t, she thought. I wish you could.

She was supposed to arrive at the wedding venue within ten minutes. She was already around thirty minutes late to her own wedding. She glanced at the invitation thrown on the passenger seat. “Guests are kindly requested to arrive on time”, it said. No one bothered to mention that the bride should be on time. She heard many stories about girls disappearing on their wedding day; but had no intention to vanish. She had a hard time not thinking about what is probably occurring at the venue right now. Ben, in his groom suit, standing by his parents, who are standing by her parents, who are standing in front of hundreds of guests. All of them waiting for her. She tried focusing on Ben. He must be on the verge of crying. He would look so cute, standing there with his long curly hair and goatee. What is he saying now?

“White Ford, pull over.”

What?

“White Ford, pull over immediately.”

The police car was behind her. Well, this’ll make a great story for the grandchildren one day. She pulled over. A chubby policeman stepped out of his vehicle.

“Good day to the lawbreaking bride. License and registration, please,” he said with a fatherly smile.

“Look, Sir, I need to get to my wedding. I don’t even know what I did.”

“Even on your wedding day, red lights stay red and the law says you have to stop when you see one.”

“Can’t you find someone else to give a ticket to? I’m sorry, but—“

“Lady, I don’t care that you’re sorry,” he began losing his patience, “and I don’t have the time for all this whining. License and registration!”

She started crying. That’s it. All the pressure that was mounting during this crazy day started to come out. The harsh conversation with Ben at the bridal salon. Running to the car and driving like a madwoman home to take Betsy and Bruno. She wasn’t built for that. She’s usually so quiet and eager to please. She loved Ben so much. But before the wedding she felt like he was changing. As if trying to show her that once they were married he was going to control things. He was going to set the tone. Must have taken advice from one of his weird friends. And she wasn’t that bossy or overbearing. She was always there for him, with all his impulses.

“The cats are also attending the wedding?” the policeman smiled in slight awkwardness.

“Yes!” she replied, “and I don’t care that Ben doesn’t think they should be there.”

“Ben? Is that the poor guy waiting for you right now?”

“Poor guy?” she was upset now. “He knows just how lucky he is to have found me. What did I ever ask for? Three years I haven’t said a thing. I said yes to everything. I get depressed after every argument with him. But what does he care? What does he know about relationships? I’m his first long-term girlfriend. His first.” The tears were pouring out now, “but I love you Benji. Don’t you get that? They’re just cats. I love them too Benji.”

“I’m sure he’s not miserable,” the policeman apologized, “but what do the cats have to do with it?”

“They’re my guests. You understand? Mine.” She was pointing at the policeman as if he was Ben, standing there in front of her, “I want them at my wedding and I don’t care that you think they’re just stupid cats that should stay at home. If it were a dog you’d probably have agreed, right? But cats – no. Absolutely no cats. Why? Because cats are not dogs. Because cats are stupid, disloyal animals, which care about no one but themselves and just lie around all day. What do you know about loyalty?”

“I actually think cats are pretty cute,” the policeman didn’t quite know what to say. “They do shed all around the place, scratch the furniture, but…”

Her phone rang. It was Ben. She answered and started yelling.

“Let me tell you what loyalty is. Loyalty is a human trait. You can’t judge an animal with human standards. What are you afraid of? That you’re going to fall into a pit in the middle of the night and your cat is going to look at you from above, say ‘meow’ and walk off? Cats are cute. Accept them. Learn to accept. Stop judging. What did I ask for? For two cute, cuddly, fuzzy, quiet cats to be with me on my wedding day. I love them. I love you, Benji.” She was finding it difficult to continue talking. “I want you to respect me as a human being. I expect something from you that I don’t from Betsy and Bruno. I expect you to understand me. We’re in this relationship together.”

“Leah, you know I’m crazy about you, ” he paused, “I didn’t mean what I said at the salon. I just didn’t understand why you were making such a big deal about the cats and why two hours before the wedding. After all the wedding preparations I was stressed out. I can’t handle the uncertainty. I’m busting my ass, organizing this whole thing and you suddenly ask for those two creatures to—”

“I’ll tell you what you can’t handle,“ Leah calmed down, she was focused now, “you can’t bear the fact that I decided to bring Betsy and Bruno along, two hours before the wedding. That this time, I’m the one who made a decision that could jeopardize the whole operation. I’ve been talking about them for a month now and you’ve done nothing but laugh at me. You didn’t believe I’d do such a thing, right? You don’t get that it’s not about Betsy and Bruno. It’s about me. I want you to know we’re together in this. I love you Benji, but—”

“No buts,” he cut her off , “and I’m really not in the mood for one of your relationship speeches when three hundred guests are sitting and waiting for the lady to arrive at her own wedding. You have a gift for pissing me off at the worst times. I look like an idiot in front of the guys from work. You realize how embarrassing this is? Get down here. For me this is loyalty, nothing else.”

“Is loyalty also fucking your ex, Ruth, behind my back for a whole year?” she blurted quietly.

“What are you talking about?” Ben’s voice was lower now, his usual certainty vanishing.

“You know very well what I’m talking about. I know everything. I also know it’s over, but only because I stepped in and spoke to her, without your knowledge, because I didn’t want it to spoil our wedding.”

“Leah,” Ben was trying to regain control over the conversation, “I want you here in two minutes or I’m calling the whole freaking wedding off!”

“Well, I’ve got news for you,” Leah felt as if she was about to make the most significant act of her life, “you’re not calling this freaking wedding off because I am.”

“Look, if you’re going t—”

Leah hung up. She felt a sense of calm washing over her. A feeling you get when you make the right decision, after long and agonizing deliberations. She smiled at the policeman. The policeman, who listened to the whole conversation, smiled back at her, “I’m not so sure I actually saw you driving through that red light” he said.

“And I’m sure you are very sweet,” she laughed.

Betsy and Bruno were jumping up and down with joy in the back seat. Cats can sense things. One last pat. A U-turn. She’s going home.