Saturday, January 10, 2009

Turn Off the Lights

I think of the women I've cared for in my life, and I imagine a room full of switches. Each one is labeled with the name of one of those women, and each one stands in a row on a plain black wall. The switches are all off. The room is dark. From my high school girlfriend to last summer's fling, the lights are out. I've thought of this room often, occasionally venturing inside just to make sure that the feelings are all dead. I go down the line, looking at each switch to make sure they're at rest, no energy left being devoted to keeping them running.

And of course, there's one there, a different story for a different time, that remains on. A girl I loved and lost. A girl who laughed like no one else I've ever met, had thoughts that were constantly intriguing, a girl who taught me more about research with ten minutes and a book chosen at random than I'd learned in 3 previous years of college. Yes, I love that girl, and the terrible way our relationship ended will always pain me. The truth of the matter is that she's better off now, without me, and I wouldn't take her out of what she has got going for her even if I could. I just want my friend back, that's all. I miss my friend.

So as I sigh, passing that one by yet again, I satisfy myself that all the switches are as they should be. I turn to leave, and pause. I give myself one last look before I go.

Encompassing all the other switches, indeed, filling nearly the entire wall, is the one with her name on it. The love of my life. The girl I've spent the last decade dedicated to.

She's the face I see when a song about love comes on the radio. She's the voice I hear when I think comforting thoughts. The thought of kissing her, touching her, laying asleep with her in my arms, brings back memories that take away any troubles. Everything she says fascinates me. Every move she makes enraptures me. The mention of her name brings all these feelings back, every time I hear it.

For ten years, I chased her. Through endless obstacles I pursued her. With unfaltering resolve I swore I would make my feelings known, no matter how many setbacks I faced, no matter how my fears engripped me. Through ten year we saw each other sporadically, each meeting leaving me more and more confused as to what she felt for me, but always that much more certain what I felt for her.

Then one cold night in September, after visiting her to catch up with each others lives, we stopped as we said good night. There, under a solitary streetlight, on an empty road, far removed from anyone but each other, we kissed our first kiss.

It remains the most perfect moment of my life. It will be quite awhile before anything tops it.

Then that December, we saw each other again, and no mention was made of it. I was dejected beyond measure. I made a resolution. The next time we saw each other, I would tell her everything. I would not let another wonderful evening spent together pass with acknowledgment that we both had a great time and would do it again some other evening. I would not turn away from her, wondering what might have been, even one more time.

In February, I was again visiting, and took her out to dinner and a party. We then went back to her place and shared some laughs before she announced it was time for her to go to bed. There we stood, at her doorway, telling each other we had a great time and would have to do it again some other evening.

The prospect of more time spent in emotional anguish hit me. The promise to myself, the memory of our kiss, the bottomless ocean of her deep, green eyes.

I told her this; "You're going to have to either slap me or kiss me again, but I need a more decisive ending to this evening."

We went back inside. We talked. I told her everything.

She decided to kiss me again.

I learned more about her in the months that followed than I had in the decade preceding. She's learning German. She knows how to perform Tarot card readings. She entered training to become a yoga instructor. She enjoys hiking. She sings opera in the shower. She can sleep for 15 hours and still be tired. She has every episode of Fairy Tale Theatre on tape. She becomes depressed at the thought of being alone. She owns a boat. She has terrible handwriting.

I learned that she loves her two little sisters tremendously. She loves yoga. She loves the study of religion. She loves to sing. She loves to travel. She loves trying new restaurants. She's full of love for so much and so many things that I finally realized why I fell more and more in love with her every time I was near her. She radiates love. She is love.

She just doesn't love me.

I stare hard at that perpetually on switch, wondering what would happen if it turned off. It seems that over the last ten years every other light has only been on because it was powered by her. I only knew what love and affection were because of what I felt for her, and the other women I became involved with only got the run off; the small portion that was left after everything had been dedicated to her. I don't know if that's true or not. All I know is that nothing has ever felt as powerful as my love for this woman. When I have a thought I want to share, or see something funny somewhere, or if I'm even just sitting in bed watching television, she's the one I envision next to me, sharing the moment. I have no doubt that she is the woman for me.

I also no longer have any doubt that I'm just not the man for her.

So I have to ask myself, where am I left now? Do I keep installing more lights underneath this enormous master switch? Do I continue to use relationships to kill time between moments when I think we might be together? Because I can no longer lie to myself about it - that's what I'm doing. I'm using my feelings for her as a defense mechanism. A buffer between myself and any real feelings. As long as I still love her, it means I can't give myself completely to somebody else. It means no other woman is ever going to get into my life to the extent she has, no one will ever have the power over me that she does. It means I can't get hurt. It means I'm safe.

I hang my head. I smile as I remember our time together. Even the way she broke up with me was tender and caring. If nothing else, if I can take one thing away, it's that after ten years of searching and being told by others I would only be disappointed at what I found, I can still smile. No, I can say, she really was everything I thought she would be. She was strong and smart and beautiful, passionate and curious, possessed of limitless talent, and loving, and deep, and real. My Angel of Fire. I can look everybody else in the eye and say I was absolutely right, and they were absolutely wrong.

I can still listen to the two CDs I made for her. I can look back at pictures. I can close my eyes and remember her leaning in to touch her lips to mine. I can still have my memories. The feelings, though, it's time to move on from.

I look at that switch again, dwarfing the others. It seems impossible that any force could move it.

But I know I will. Every one of them, no matter who they represent or what length of time or how they came to be off in the first place, is still a switch. They turn on, they turn off.

It's time to close the door. Time to leave the room. Time to go find something that doesn't turn off.

The room is empty now. Turn off the lights.

1 comment:

Sera said...

Bravo. Isn't that how the world works though? There's someone out there who has a switch with your name... and they feel the same way you described, and maybe you just dont feel it for them. Sometimes life is poetic in really painful and unnecessary ways. Anyway it took my breath away, and reminded me of my own lightswitch -- a beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful, perfect man that I loved dearly. He died a few years ago, tragically. Fantastic writing, David. Not many men can leave me breathless from only their words. He was one, and I guess you are the other. :)