I never thought I’d be that guy. I’ve seen them before, maybe sitting in a booth at IHOP, over ignored cups of coffee, puppy-eyed while the girl across the table is mentally counting the days since her missed period, and trying to figure potential fathers.
Love is a disaster, it really is. You ever have time on your hands, do an experiment: run around counting the people who have found true love; then run around counting the people who have found love unrequited. Look at the numbers, and make sure you have a bottle of pills handy.
And if it doesn’t depress you, do the same experiment with the same people a few years later, when the poor saps who thought they had true love have discovered that what they had was a warm, fuzzy illusion. If you’re one of those suckers who believes in true love, substitute that bottle of pills with a gun barrel, because you’re going to need to swallow something to end this loss of faith, and the drugs won’t do the trick.
I never believed in love. I had a stoner friend who always said it was about toy merchandising: “Think about it, man. Toys for boys, you got guns, you got soldiers, you got trucks, you got bugs. You don’t have these toys, you know what little boys will do? They’ll go catch bugs. They’ll pick up sticks and pretend they’re guns or swords or whatever. They’ll sit in boxes and pretend they’re in monster trucks, running over civilization.
“But take chicks, man. Look at their toys: ovens and dolls and shit. The dolls I understand, because chicks are made to want to reproduce. Capitalize on that. But that’s not enough. The boys, they have all kinds of shit, and the girls, they only get one little row at the toy store, you know? Dolls only take up so much space. So ovens. Who the fuck wants an oven? So here’s what: they invent the idea of true love. Now you need an oven, see? To make food for your husband. The little cake-maker, you need one of those. You need the ironing table, the vacuum.
“True love, man, that’s why you’d iron some dude’s shirt, or make him supper, or suck up his crumbs with your little vacuum cleaner. Name me a bitch likes to do those things, I dare ya! They grow up, they realize that taking care of another person sucks. But for some reason, they maintain that this love bullshit is something that is attainable. True love my nutsack, that’s what I say!”
Like I said, the guy was a stoner. But stoners tend to overanalyze the most basic of thoughts, and it seemed like there was something valid about his ranting—true love was an idea force-fed to us from birth, and even though it was as foolish as all the other crap adults tell kids, it’s something that tends to stick.
I never believed in true love.
Until I met her.
I won’t lie—her looks were what initially caught my attention. Dyed-pink hair in pig-tails. Not pussy pink, either—day-glow, I’m-either-a-major-attentionwhore-or-I-really- don’t-care-what-you-think pink. She really didn’t care what anyone thought. She liked pink, the brighter, the better. High-heeled boots, black and shiny, the plaid schoolgirl skirt. Ink up and down her arms, so many designs and colors that you could spend a lifetime looking and still miss something.
She asked me for a cigarette, and I gave her one. And then, either to be courteous or because she had nothing better to do, she hung out and talked to me while she smoked. And I was in love with her looks and then in love with her words.
We went back to my place that night, and we talked and we smoked weed and we talked and we drank wine, and we talked and we fucked.
I was hooked already, but I didn’t know it. I thought she was just some girl; some cool chick that might be worth calling when I felt like it.
When I found myself thinking of her, I didn’t think anything of it.
Cool chick, cool times, why not, right?
Time went on. One day, I found myself wanting to buy her things. Strange things. Cards and presents and flowers. Things reminded me of her. Ew.
And when she told me about how she fucked another guy, I discovered my apathetic curiosity had been replaced by a twinge of jealousy.
I told myself to get over it, to quit being such a pussy. I told myself it was just lust trying to take over, trying to camouflage itself as something deeper and with more meaning.
That kept me from making an ass out of myself for a while, but it didn’t keep me from spending as much time with her as I could. The more time I spent with her, the more convinced I became that I was in love with her.
I spent many lonely nights arguing with myself about my situation, over multiple bottles of cheap wine. I was smarter than this, I was more real than this. I wasn’t in love. Another Mason jar of wine, and I’m convinced that it must be love; true love, because I’ve never felt this way, and this is how true love is supposed to feel. Another drink and I’m berating myself for falling victim to such a stupid idea. Another drink, and I’m telling myself that because I’ve fought against the brain-washing, because I never fell victim to the silliness, that’s why what I have is true. I’m not some starry-eyed high school girl with a crush—I’m a grown man, intelligent enough to know the difference between emotional commercialism and real feelings.
And by the end of those nights, I’d have it all figured out, only to completely forget it by the next morning.
Days, weeks, months go by. And I finally have to tell her. I finally have to confess.
A park, a mid-summer afternoon, watching the drones and the hustlers and the bums as they pass each other, indifferent to each other’s existence, like bugs programmed only to recognize one another.
I say, as I light a cigarette, “I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, then.”
“It’s going to sound stupid, and I know it sounds stupid. Probably it is stupid.”
“You’ve started watching reality television, is that it? And you find it very interesting?”
“Okay, because I don’t think I could handle that.”
“Yeah, it’s not that.”
“I’m in love with you.”
She stops chewing her gum mid-chomp and turns her head to look at me, to see if I’m joking. The beginning of a smile is on her face, like she thinks I’m screwing with her, and a voice in my head screams that I should just go with it, I should act like that’s exactly what I’m doing, is just screwing with her, testing her reaction, something. But another voice says that that would be selling out in the worst way.
I look like any other joker decked out in styles by Hot Topic, I know that. With my black clothes and my heavy metal wrist bands and my crazy haircut and my goth boots. This is how I’ve always dressed, because this is how I’ve always wanted to dress. Even when people teased me because I looked like a freak. Then places like Hot Topic came along, rebellion in a shopping mall, and I continued to dress like I wanted, even though people now teased me because now I looked like a conformist freak. I dress the way I dress because it’s how I want to dress. I act how I act because that’s what feels like the real me.
And if I’ve fallen in love, I have to admit it, no matter how stupid it seems. To lie would be to betray myself.
“You’re kidding me, right?” She asks.
“I wish. I really do. I know it’s dumb, but there it is. I’m in love with you. I’ve never in my life felt for anyone the way I feel for you. Being with you makes me happy, make me feel alive. When I see you, I understand what life is all about. I’m in love with you.”
She tugs the cigarette out of my hand and takes a deep drag. She blows the smoke out, slow, staring at the street, at the parade of yellow cabs passing by. The light turns red, they all stop, and she focuses her attention at the sky.
The light turns green, she watches the parade resume. She smokes the rest of my cigarette.
My cheeks are hot, and I know that they’re blushed red. I look around at the passing pedestrians, pretending that my palms aren’t sweaty, making believe that my stomach isn’t digesting itself in nervousness.
She turns back to me. The look on her face tells me everything I need to know, but there’s a part of me that still hopes, that still waits optimistically for her to tell me she feels the same way.
“Look, that’s really sweet, you know? But…”
“But you don’t feel the same way.”
“The problem is, if I were with you with you, things wouldn’t be nearly as cool. Instead of licking me off until I have a pass-out orgasm, you’d be wondering why I bought a new pair of boots instead of paying my half of the rent. Instead of letting you come in my face and going to Applebee’s just so I could jack you off under the table, I’d be bitching about how you forgot to take out the trash again.”
“I’m not asking you to move in with me, I j-”
“You would. Eventually. And even before that, there’s the jealousy, the anger, the bullshit. Love? Love’s the shortest path to hate.” She stands up.
“Yeah. It’d be weird if I just sat here after that. I’ll see you later, though.”
I watch her walk towards the stairs that lead down to the subway station. “I’ll see you later,” I say as she turns and waves to me.
But I don’t.