June 4, 2007

the art of suspended belief

disclaimer: similarities to real people, dead or living, are purely coincidental. of course, why wouldn’t they be.

“should you want to get married,” you told me once, “i wouldn’t really stop you. not that i could, considering.” i couldn’t really remember what the context of this conversation really was in the first place, but i listened intently anyway. “guess i’d just be, i don’t know. crying in a corner.”

i paused to stare - were you joking? i bit my lip to stifle a laugh. i did not know where this was all coming from, and inside myself i was a bittersweet jumble too. “why are we talking about this again?” i just asked.

“i’m just saying,” you continued. you were still holding my hand, and why were we really talking about parting again? at the moment it seemed so far away. “i’m used to getting hurt.”

i wanted to say i wouldn’t, but then that would be a promise and there was no room for promises here. “we’re looking too far ahead,” i just said, diverting.

you just said you loved me and that was all it was.

*

we were in the middle of work when we first met, in the middle of the first month of the year. i was new; you were old. older, age-wise. older, work-wise. that day, all you had to do was look over my shoulder and see the supposedly unreleasable data sheets i was holding, and that would have been it — i would have lost my assignment. all this bureaucracy and power-tripping.

“you can’t have those papers.”

“but the chief authorized their release,” i said.

you looked me over, and then browsed the papers again, and then, “releases of these sorts are usually prohibited around here,” nodding as if telling me that you were letting this go.

i realized i had barely charmed my way out of that, so i gingerly extended my hand to introduce myself, an act of good will.

you only replied with your last name.

(how was i to know this was, in fact, the beginning of several prohibited things?)

*

the next time we met, i had already forgotten your name.

sitting outside your office, far into idle talk, i finally mustered the courage to ask what it was. you laughed, and slowly it was coming to me, how you were starting to remind me of someone i used to know.

“maybe we should do this again,” i just said, extending my hand like i had the first time, when you had nearly cost me that assignment.

you said your name back now and shook my hand, smiling all the while, the way you hadn’t on that first day.

you wore a ring around your finger, and i didn’t even have to ask. curiously, i never saw that ring again.

*

i’d know later who she was, from pictures in your wallet. she was a beautiful girl, and you had three wonderful children. you’d been married thirteen years.

considering how you did not love her though, thirteen years is a long time.

“why’d you marry her in the first place?” i asked.

“i thought i’d learn to love her eventually,” you replied.

you were friends in school, and though you never really meant to pursue her romantically, spending too much time together could lead certain parties to think otherwise.

before you knew it, you were engaged. before you could blink, it was already your wedding day, and you were telling her how sure you were that this was all a mistake.

but then, you know what they usually say - cold feet, it’s normal; i’ll shoot your head off if you don’t marry my daughter today. and so here you were, thirteen years later and three children hence.

“three kids and you still haven’t learned?” i just asked again, disbelief more audible in my voice than i would have been comfortable to reveal.

“too bad i didn’t meet you first,” you just said.

you grew quiet and so we dropped it.

*

so really. right before this started, i knew what i was getting into. i had no intentions of stealing you away from her, nor would i want to ask you to leave your family for me. you loved your children intensely, and i admired you for that, but.

but this. your steady ear and safe embrace and the endless talks and your wide open heart.

i asked you once why you couldn’t have what you have with me with your wife instead.

you said, “i can’t change the way i feel.”

neither could i.

*

i go to mass on sundays praying that we don’t get found out. my worst fear. “lord, please keep it at bay.”

i don’t line up for communion. i know this is a sin.

*

when friends ask me what i’ve been up to lately, i’d just smile. you were my secret and i was yours. “i’m happy now, and that’s all that matters.”

in the face of all complications, this is my truth: you loved me and i loved you.

it’s like watching a movie. when i’m with you, i put all unnecessary contexts on hold: your wife, your three children, the we-couldn’ts, the we-shouldn’thaves.

with your arms around me as you walked me home, your hands under my shirt and on all the inappropriate parts; lips on skin, and would i really want to ask why couldn’t we do this again?

but the fact stood — we could. creative people do things creatively, and this was how we creatively managed what little time we had on our hands — on public transport and in dark spots outside your office, in the dead of the night, with everyone around us sleeping.

one time i asked you why you felt this way about me. you said, “you make me feel alive.”

*

it’s like watching a movie, you and me. we put all known logic on hold and swim within the confines of the story, no matter how irrational. and though the credits roll when they should, in the end — we’re not there yet, so for the meantime, this was it.

suspended belief.