Sometimes our dark side shows up in in public dressed like an ordinary thing, able to blend into the crowd, absolutely unmemorable.
I much prefer evil to reveal itself. The bland, expressionless version of it often obfuscates one’s vision, and the fight tilts to the other’s favor.
In an airport lounge in Colombo, I remember being woken up unceremoniously by a blond guy, late 30s, herding two toddlers. In a gray haze, I heard him saying loudly at me, “There are people that need these seats, you know.”
Half-awake, I scramble to sit up, thereby freeing two seats for this irascible man and his toddlers. I vaguely register people sitting near me look on, startled by his loud voice. I see his wife sitting on the floor, cradling a baby. A moment passes, and the pair begin to argue. I tune them out, thinking what bad luck to wake up to such negativity.
When my wits have fully returned, I look around and notice that three feet or so away there were maybe thirty, no, probably 40+ empty seats all around us. I didn’t need to be summarily jolted out of my sleep.
I stand up, walk over to the man with the toddlers and say to him, “Look over there. Look. Look real hard. Those are empty seats, all what, 40 of them. You didn’t have to wake me up. You’re an asshole.”
I walked away from the sight of his gaping mouth. The lounge was quiet. The wife didn’t say a word.
I’m usually very zen, but when my limit is reached, I do get pissed off. And I’m not at all shy to express it. After a brief discussion, the boy and I reached an agreement of sorts and put the matter (including ourselves) to bed. The next day, early in the morning, he messages me.
H: How are you this morning?
M: Well, I slept good, so I’m not that pissed off anymore.
H: Last night I told my guards to watch my door very closely.
M: So I put some fear in you. Good.
Well, I’m glad we got that resolved.
These dalliances, they require persistence. Persistence to see them through, most probably because they cannot rely on actual presence. I make myself available online — I am a patient listening ear: the TV set to mute, my laptop tethered to headphones. I have their voices in my head, echoes of conversations that are quick to dry up and become imagined sounds, then degrade into white noise.
I persist, like I said, to be present for these men. I hold up my part of the bargain like a good trader. In return, they strive to honor my attempts at realness. They send me photos of traversed landscapes, nameless faces, objects they value. They leave long drawn-out voice mails full of longing, proffered plans, promises of meetings. They gift me with lines and lines of intimate chats that I read when the days are long and need to be filled.
We are strangers, though, for all our insistence on that meet up in real life (IRL). I know the drill by now, the swapping of calendars, the constant arranging and re-arranging of days so that separate lives may dovetail. Still, all that desire does not transmute into commitment. I am a ghost that passes through their lives, briefly. They all hold me closely, as though at any second I will flit away. They offer promises of permanence, as though that will hold me down, as though that is what I want.
I’ve discovered that there is a song for this.
Of all the dalliances I’ve had, this boy is the most, shall we say, puppy dog like. Maybe it’s the age thing, the younger they are, the more needy they seem.
The distance doesn’t help, of course. I find myself giving out reassurances that I may not be able to sustain, so I stopped giving them. Unsurprisingly, this did not go over well on the other side of the ocean. There was radio silence for days. And then there was that one night we were messaging, when he sends me a missive: “Tell me you do not love anyone.”
That made me pause, mid-key. I’ve just been given a sort of ultimatum, and the skittish girl in me wanted to run, fast. But then I thought, if I do not love anyone, that makes for such a sad life. If I do have a love and it’s someone else, that will not be palatable to him as well. Maybe it’s the grammar that needs work, some nuance lost in translation, but I get the feeling he is looking for something that may not be there. And so, there is no happy answer to that bit of chat, no emoticons that can ease the heart into believing all is well.
That’s the flip side of asking for the truth, you might learn more than you care to know.
I can’t quite figure it out when men tell me, “you’re curvy.” Is it kind of a backwards compliment or is it veiled criticism? The reference to curves could be a slight poke at the extra poundage I’ve cultivated from having had two humans pushed out of me, or it could be a somewhat vague appreciation of my over all abundance.
So which is it — are you saying I’m curvy-fat or curvy-sexy? Choose carefully.
During one of our video calls, the boy suddenly stands up and tells me he has to show me something. He disappears from the frame momentarily, then returns with a big black object. He swivels the thing around in several directions to show me what turns out to be one of those huge duffel bags with a metal frame and wheels.
Boy: I got this from one of the shops down at ISAF. I can use this for check-in luggage. What do you think?
Me: Baby, it’s huge. I can probably fit in there.
Boy (chuckles): Yeah, you certainly can.
Me: I hope you’re not planning to chop me up in pieces and stuff me in that bag.
Boy (nonchalantly): No, no need for that. I can just chop your head off and you’ll easily fit in there.
See, at my age, dating is no longer that complicated. The most you can hope for is that the guy is not a psycho killer. Or maybe a big enough duffel bag.
For some time now, I have been dancing the dodgy two-step with this guy — an older man who is by turns charming, irascible, and sometimes, just plain tired. Together, we skim the surface of things, unlikely conspirators in a plot to eke out a little happiness.
I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled upon this bit of a dalliance, this little preoccupation. There was that phone call in the middle of the night. He made me laugh and yell at him until about 2 in the morning. I couldn’t make up my mind then if I liked his gruff manner. But the next night he called again, and it was hours before the phones got turned off. We call or Skype each other most everyday now. Sometimes he just grunts at me over the phone, at a loss for words. I kind of like that.
Details began to emerge, photos were swapped, bits and pieces got shuffled around to make room for us. This little preoccupation, it passes the time. It consumes me just enough to make me feed the fire day by day, to tend to it just so to preserve the spark. It is what urban kids nowadays call a ‘skinny love.’ A love that’s not fleshed out enough to be substantial, not solid enough to be defined as a sure thing, or as anything.
I don’t mind it, I mean not too much. There is a connection here that I can appreciate, no matter how tenuous, no matter how brief. But, the both of us, we’re not bothered too much by it. There are no unreasonable demands on time, no shallow arguments, no intrusions into privacy, no intense moments of feeling as though your heart will explode. None of that nonsense.
No, it does not eat us up. It is, after all, just a skinny love.