PEP TALK

“Sometimes I miss my urban lifestyle. Then, I think about it a while, and realize that I really just miss her.”

“Here we go again,” James said, not looking up from his tablet.

“Really? It’s been months since I’ve mentioned it.”

“Not long enough,” he muttered, and flicked past another article. “You’re never going to get over her at this rate.”

“Maybe I don’t want to.”

“No maybes about it.” He sighed, and locked the tablet. He drummed his fingers on the table. “You should go out.”

“And do what? Pick someone up? Get picked up?”

“Why not? You make it sound so horrible.”

“That’s because it is horrible.”

“Not if you manage to get lucky and score with someone on the same wavelength. Stop thinking about yourself for one second, get out of your own head, and open your eyes. There’s a billion people out there, just like you: mopey and hungry for someone else’s arms. Or more. All you’d be doing is facilitating. Don’t look at me like that.”

“You’re not really selling me on this, James.”

“Okay, okay. Maybe facilitating makes it sound too… prostitutional. How about ‘fulfilling a shared need’? Does that make it sound any better?”

I stared out the window. The morning was right there, just beyond the cloudy panes of glass, with its bright beams of golden spring sunshine beckoning like open arms awaiting a reciprocating embrace. “I think you’re right on the part about going out. As in, outside. It’s a beautiful day out there. Maybe instead of waiting for night to fall and slinking through the bars like some kind of starving predator it would me some good to walk under the open sky for a while.”

He frowned. “Right. Go for a long walk. Find yourself thinking of her, and all the things she meant to you. Think about all the times the two of you used to go on walks, and how much more of a complete person you felt. Then come back here and mope around until we have this conversation again. I know exactly how that goes. No, I’m not going to stand for it. What we’re gonna do is go out and find you a decent outfit, hit the gym, and then I’m gonna play wingman to your sad desperation until you find the medicine you need to cure what ails you.”

“James, you’re a great friend and all but I don’t think that she-”

“Don’t think that she what? That she’d approve of you actually getting on with your life, instead of pining after her memory? Because that’s all she is now, you know. A memory. She’s moved on and become someone different, possibly someone you wouldn’t even recognize, let alone love. And meanwhile you’ve stayed still, stagnating and growing stale. And frankly, I’m bored of it.” He reached out and gave me a playful slap on the cheek. “It’s time, Jack. You’ve got to cheer up and get on with it, because she’s never coming back.”

He was right, of course.

NEW BOHEMIAN

“Let’s get thin. Let’s try to remember what real hunger is like. I’m tired of taking everything for granted, and knowing about it.”

“Smoke more pot,” was his answer. I wasn’t having none of that.

“Escapism? It’s like putting a pillow over the wet spot; it’s not cleaning it up, only covering it. That damp disturbance is still gonna be there, festering under its concealment, possibly mouldering and turning into something worse, so that when the time comes to remove the pillow it’s a worse mess than it was in the first place. That’s no solution. No, we need to run toward the hurricane, not away from it. To be swept up into its destructive embrace and ride the cyclone to wherever it wants to take us.”

“Pretty words.”

“Easy action,” I replied. “All it takes is a little discipline and we’re off to the races.”

“Let me tell you what will happen,” he said, stretching out his long body on the couch that could only really hold half of him. “You’ll embark on this little journey of yours, and in the beginning it will be as breathtakingly romantic as you’re imagining it right now. After a while, though, you’ll grow bored even with that, ignoring the accomplishments you’re making in the attempt to return to simplicity. No matter how hard you document our process you’ll still find yourself unsatisfied, only now you’ll be unsatisfied and wanting, rather than unsatisfied with abundance. The only solution will be to return to where you were, and hopefully you can get back here unscarred by the experience.”

“You don’t get it. I want those scars.”

“You only think you do. How many of your current scars are helping you in any way? You’re still here, still bored, still searching for some privation that will teach you something because, at the heart of it, you’ve got a predilection to indolence. Sloth, that’s your sin. I say embrace it! Put that pillow over the wet spot, and if it gets too nasty just throw away the bed and get a new one. It’s so much easier than turning your back on all the things you’ve earned.” He stared at me for a long time, waiting for a confirmation or denial, and when I offered neither he said, “I see your mind’s made up. Go on then, starve yourself. Just leave me out of it.”

And that was how that relationship ended.

THE EX

“Is that what he told you?” she asked, her beautiful dark eyes flashing between incredulity and amusement, but not scorn. She smiled. “That may be what he thinks, but it isn’t the truth. You’ll find, as you go along in this life, that that is more often than not the case with certain people: they believe that their will supersedes the truth, that if they just imagine events a certain way in their heads then insist that those are the facts, that somehow what they say becomes reality.”

“You’re telling me he’s deluded then?” I asked. The urge to put my hand somewhere on her body was overwhelming. Even a light touch on the back of her bony hand would’ve sufficed. I held myself back and bit the inside of my mouth in frustration.

“The thing about him was that he hated being wrong. He hated it more than anything. And he’d go to extraordinary measures to avoid it, sometimes bending his whole frame of reality to fit conditions that favored his way of thinking. Some would call it stubbornness, but his brand of obstinance was superhuman. For him, navigating the waters of life was deadly dangerous, as everywhere the mines of truth floated just below the surface, waiting to hole his little ship. What I’m telling you, dear Marcus, is that he was very leaky.”

“Why did you stay with him as long as you did, then?” I asked, searching for an opening. She didn’t sound vulnerable, if anything she seemed to have been somehow toughened by recent events. I wanted to tread lightly, though, lest my desire cause a rupture in our friendship. What an inenviable position to be in, to find myself so close to the one I loved yet unable to express that feeling for fear of demolishing the trust.

“He was fun, and that’s a rare thing these days. Sure, people can muster it from time to time, when it matters. When making impressions, or during the ‘appropriate’ times. But to be fun with razor-sharp consistence? That’s something special. It was more than him just making me laugh. He actually lit up my life, as corny as that sounds.” A look had come into her eye, a distant stare in which she seemed to be seeing something out of the past, and a small smile crept over her lips. Then she blinked and it was gone, and she took a hard pull on her cigarette and blew the smoke out with contempt, almost spitting the cloud into the air. “The crazy are often like that, you know. Fun all the time, but a mess up here.” She tapped her temple.

“What will you do now, then?” I asked, stifling any voice of hope or encouragement from my question. I should have just put myself out there, right then, but fear held me back and I got what cowardice always earns, nothing.

She stubbed the cigarette out and stared at the thin curls of smoke it made. “Take some time off, I guess. As exciting as those kinds of relationships are, they’re exhausting. Love in any form is a hell of a lot of work, and when it ends like that you really have to wonder what it was all for. I see people who’ve given up on love and really can’t blame them.”

I thought that I could be different, that if I could just take her hand and her heart that I’d be able to show her something new and lasting, and that all would be well, happily ever after. I tried to convince myself of that, but the more I considered it, the more I realized that I had nothing of value to offer her, and that I was better off keeping my distance. I paid for the drinks and went home, alone.