Another Spring Love Story

The story begins like any other, but I would have debated otherwise a month ago.

I’d say the story was written itself, by family, faith, love perhaps.
Or more like me, and my strong desire for a story which reminded me of unconditional love.

This tale begins in Rome, but it started somewhere far away.

It’s only two more hours until they meet, not for the first time but it feels like eternity since. It’s an exciting time, but petrifying nonetheless.

In the train she holds close to her all of his letters, the poems sent, the promises. The same words she couldn’t stop rereading before going to sleep back home. The phrases she’d repeat herself to guarantee a goodnight’s sleep. Only a year, but they swore they could see beyond each other’s masquerade in the way they’d undress each other’s thoughts, and expose only the truthful, vulnerable and bold. “It’s fate”, he’d always say.

The bell rings and he’s outside. Standing on his feet, looking as she expected him to. His height, his head shaved, wearing the same scar he engraved in the left side of his scalp when they were five, where she has been dying to leave a permanent kiss since he got rid of his curls.

They hug, and they can’t catch their breath. It’s real, the person on the other side of the phone, the children they were more than ten years ago.

Everything starts smooth, just as friends, just a coffee, just nineteen. It’s so easy to picture themselves living this life, walking these streets, together. It could be so easy and right.

But it is so far off. They live lives that have no point of intersection, not even a common street, common friend, common ground. There is nothing but words and thoughts that bond them as one. She argued there was nothing more genuine and pure. She might have been in love.

They reach the Trevi Fountain, and their wish is to live a fantasy that is incapable of resisting reality and its pressures. They examine the fountain carefully, its material and the intensity of the sun that resists the urge to set behind the buildings at five o’clock in a spring afternoon. They look at each other as if they knew all their secrets, and their story was just one.

They sit in one of the stairs, right in front of the spectacle.

(Credits: Pinterest)

She doesn’t move, she doesn’t breathe, she can only look. They make eye contact and she looks away. She is scared, one look is too dangerous because they might try to beat fate. He looks away. They are both scared, they know how this chapter goes, there is a pending kiss.

The atmosphere is so intense that they have lost all rationality. She looks around, fixating on the white statues, static, but with movement, because the water is moving, flowing, splashing, reminding her that even if she finds herself in stasis, just like the statues, there is a destiny to fulfil.

She plays him a song about time, about its subjective velocity. She realises almost an hour has gone by without saying much, they said it all through their eyes. It’s a fantasy, at best a dream, that’s how she feels, like at any moment they will ask her to wake up and she will have to deny. At that moment, it’s only them two.

He looks at her once more, she doesn’t look away, and this time he kisses her for the first time in six years. The last time they were thirteen and facing a TV screen, and it had been her who kissed him. I was not much of a believer in there being a “one”, but for some months, this story made me believe, or at least wanted to.

“I like the way your brain works”, he told her once during a call, months before. These calls were an escape, both in their respective rooms and continents, but these exchanges created worlds. She was falling for him. He had just told her what she always wanted to hear. He always told her what she wanted to hear.

They shared a mutual sensibility, which allowed him to understand and praise her for who she was. Her conversations, analysis, observations, weren’t a bother for him, contrary they were what he’d admire and love most about her. The way she thought and felt, without limits, vulnerable and willing to share all of it with him. She loved the way he loved her, because she loved herself the same way.

After the kiss, there was no hiding anymore, actions would speak louder than words. This meant an open door, and she needed him to love her the way he promised he would. The afternoon resolved itself in the most nonchalant way possible. They continued walking the streets, speechless but aware. They were calm, neutral, holding hands, as if they weren’t leaving a reality so far away from theirs.

Back in the apartment, he started playing the guitar for himself. She remembered how he’d send her his songs, his poems, for her to read. She remembered how in awe she’d been after finding him again last year, seeing who he had become. In the four years she lost track of him, he became one of the most interesting, authentic, passionate persons she had met. Maybe he had always been this way, but at nineteen we had learnt how to manifest these areas of ourselves. He was the man of her dreams. She thought she loved everything about him and what he would create, she’d relisten his records again and again, and would read his poems whenever he shared. He was dear to her.

Then, he wanted to sing a song, but he couldn’t. He tried again, but he couldn’t in front of her.

Later, dinner with his family. She thought it would be awkward, dreading being the only one outside, but again it was them two, they weren’t alone. She listened and was polite, while he wandered off in his brain, faraway, holding her hand, that being his only conduit back to reality. He’d rest his head on her shoulder like a kid waiting to be excused from the dining table. She protected him, or at least wanted to, she was willing to endure whatever he was so tired of. She would do anything for him.

The next morning, they went out for a run to Villa Borghese. She thought it’d be fun, what better way to discover a new town than to run. They were pretty quiet for all that was left to say, but she didn’t think it’d be there that he’d decide to speak. After two kilometres they reached the park, her feet uncomfortable, “these are definitely not running shoes”- she said. They looked up to see the trees, she felt okay, but she knew he was not. They sat down, but there was a shift, they were a metre apart.

“Can I be honest?”- he asks.

She was almost mad for the question itself, when had she ever asked him to lie. However, for a second, she didn’t want to hear the truth, I still had a story to write. “Of course” – she said, unsure.

“It’s not our time. It doesn’t feel right.”- he confessed.

His words cracked open her chest, and even though she should have been prepared, it hurt nonetheless. She knew that up to four months ago, this illusion would have been harmless. Not anymore.

After she moved to college she also started a new life. But he was there, in the back of her mind, on a pedestal. Whenever she dated someone, she knew it would never be as great a story as the one she had with him. She lived with the consolation that others might be temporary or lessons learnt, but he was the one. He would back off during these times, but maybe it hurt him too.

Then in January when she found out she would see him in April, it was as if a weight was lifted off her shoulders. She would have the chance to feel the truth. She felt so happy and also so guilty for having taken him for granted under the premise that they would see each other only in four more years. If she had only known, she thought.

But the unthinkable occurred, he started seeing a girl two months before they met. Her heart dropped, she had failed herself. She had messed up her chance of being loved. Maybe if she hadn’t taken him for granted… but truth is she never did, she valued him too much, and reminded him of how worthy he truly was. They both agreed they needed to let each other live all of the experiences they would find, even if it was love, because only then could they be adults that knew best, that knew how and who to love. But “let all the rest be lessons learnt” she wrote in a poem sent to him.

She had been making up her mind for over a month now. Truth was, in the train ride to Rome, she tried to imagine and rehearse what being his friend would be like, because they had never been just friends. What to say and what not to say. She was walking over eggshells trying to avoid the previous demeanour of all of their conversations.

When he told her it wasn’t their time, she knew exactly what he meant. For the last month she hadn’t asked any questions, she was too scared, she trusted that he would act and say what he thought was appropriate, and she would do the same.

She knew exactly what those words meant, and as subtle as that, she was expected to resume her role of friend without a sight of heartbreak. She was almost mad, for him to ask of her, something he couldn’t even ask himself. Why then, had he deviated from script with that kiss, if they had been doing so great as “friends” before all of those glances without words. More words should have been said, warnings, prohibitions.

She wants to prove to herself she has some control. She says she understands, she says it is hard, but she understands. She walks two metres away from him in the spirit of friendship. She smiles. They talk about the buildings, the architecture, Rome, and it all goes back, as it was.

Breakfast goes by as if nothing had ever happened. She has no one to answer to but herself, she sits and listens. Meanwhile, he is in his head about the hearts that are at steak, the feelings that hang in his grip.

He wants to do the right thing but his body keeps feeling faint, he embraces me as we leave the building. My heart stops and resumes quickly after that. I’m still fine. He talks to me about songs, he makes me hear the bass. His enthusiasm cracks my smile, we listen to these songs, sitting in front of the bus, and now he grabs my hand, cautious, as if we were still thirteen. Maybe it was muscle memory or a spasm, but I didn’t dare ask, because once it was said out loud, rationality could win and I was threatened with the possibility of never holding him again.

We walk towards lunch, I give him his space, I walk with his sister upfront. I can’t begin to imagine the mess that his thoughts must be in, I want to help but I can’t, I’m not impartial anymore. Whatever he decides, I will respect, but as the hours pass, I need him to make up his mind. It’s okay if I’m not the one, but I need to know now.

We went to the circus, just like we did six years ago. But as we sat down I remembered how everything was simpler, sweeter. That one time I had felt loved, valued, cared for. This time around, I felt anxious, reliant, and needy. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t. I stayed just in case he could make it any better.

It wasn’t enough. Him holding my hand without any words wouldn’t cut it after the promises he had made me months ago. How can someone promise so much?

I needed to tell him to stop. It would probably hurt me more than it would hurt him. My mind was starting to obsess, and exhaust me as a consequence. This lack of control over my emotions, which I was allowing, was driving me insane. It made me sick to play the role of victim when I had a choice. I knew I needed to remind him of his own words, “this is not our time”, which kept repeating in the back of my mind. The words were rolled on my tongue for two days because I couldn’t get myself to let them out with him next to me. One could say I was too weak.

The next night we mingled through the Roman nightlife, hopping on and off the Trastevere bars, guided by another friend I hadn’t seen in twelve years. We were on a mission of Spritz and Johnnie Walkers. We laughed too much for having met just an hour ago. Three people that hadn’t been together since way before it was legal for them to drink.

Just enough to make us forget that this was all a dream, set in the most precious stage, Rome. We talked and joked as if this night was enough to build a life around, this could be the start. What if this was how it was supposed to be.

We had no shame. My friend went to ask for a cigarette. She had such a powerful smile. The couple she met were Mexicans. “How were we all here in Rome?” – that’s a question we knew the answer to, fate. He started talking to the guy while my friend and I hugged, excited over the version of ourselves we were getting to know that night.

I had been nervous before seeing her, I didn’t know her anymore. In twelve years people change, we weren’t people before, we were kids. Seeing her next to me, with her curls, and full lips, and her voice, warm and injected with her Honduran accent; I couldn’t understand my life right now. I considered myself a witness of fate, destiny, the world, whatever you want to call it; that night made us feel part of something bigger than any of us.

I was wearing my black culotte jeans, my gold beaded camisole, and my black heeled boots that made me feel like I was more in control of my every step. I had put my contacts on so that my face was bare, and my curtain bangs framed my face, the same way I’d been wearing them for over a year. Before leaving the apartment I felt it wasn’t really worth it, but once we danced through the streets, I was transformed, I felt beautiful.

My friend and I were on a mission ourselves, to reconnect. While he was distracted we would plan my next stay in Rome and the future nights we would dance. She also asked about him, what was our story? I explained and she gave me an approving smile. She said we would go out together whenever I returned to Rome; once he was gone.

Another bar, this time I bought the maracuja mojitos, two, for her and I, because he only liked the taste of whisky on ice. She looked away and meanwhile, he and I kissed for the first time that night. It seemed almost real.

Her and I danced, enough to warm me up so that I could take my jacket off. I felt free. We went through the streets, now starving, looking for food. We find restaurants that are about to close, it isn’t time to eat anymore, but they tell us that in the next corner, something can be found. Donkey Punch, we walk inside, the two guys that run the place seem happy to have us around. He talks with them as she and I dance with the energy we have left, we twirl and turn, I spin her around, we are the stars. He takes photographs as we imitate the rhythm of the songs that come up in the shop.

The two guys like our dance, or maybe they can relate to our little adventure, and they offer us the best gift you can give three nineteen year olds at 2 am… nutella and bread. “It’s a gift”- they said, and we thank them. Now I also want water, what should I do, I ask my friends. Just smile and do those eyes, he says. “What eyes?” – I say looking at him with complicity.

I get my water and we share. “That’s a good way to end the night”- we all agree. Just as she orders her taxi, we see a couple of guys in their car, “let’s go talk to them” – I scream. Her and I talked to them, I might have flirted a bit, perhaps I didn’t want to be that predictable regarding how this night would end.

The next morning we are on a train to Florence, I wake up hopeful that reality would change, that we could keep living like yesterday night. But as soon as the sun hits our eyes, everything becomes too clear.

“Should I get her a gift?”- he asks. I know who he is referring to. Why did he have to ask me and not himself? We walk and I try to be okay, maybe if I move a couple of steps ahead, maybe he won’t see my pain.

They call him, “what are you doing now?” – they ask. “I am alone”- he lies. My heartbeat starts pounding, my cheeks burn, my eyes water. That was my last straw.

“I know I’ll be seeing you, whenever life says we’re ready.” – he had written some time ago. Was this what I should have expected all along? Because if this was it, I didn’t want it.

“I am no one’s secret” – she says with a quivering voice. “I deserve more than that and I thought you knew that.”- she cries. So little self love, such a dumb thing to ask for.

He apologised but it was too late, his actions had already spoken. His poems were only pretty words with a pretty sound, but nothing beyond vain. The fact that she admitted to him and herself that she deserved better, made her fall a bit out of love.

What I felt towards him wasn’t beautiful and all-consuming anymore, it was painful and numb. Having heard my own truth, spoken, awakened me. I was too hurt, numb, indifferent now. I can joke now, I have no feelings left, I’ve given all of them away.

Just two more days left, but I won’t bore you with the details. Her heart was broken already, and there is nothing fun about a broken heart. He had made his choice, and it wasn’t her. She continued to hold his hand, but it was a courtesy at this point.

They made their way to Venice as their final stop. The sun was shining so bright that the jackets they brought were weighing them down. She was wearing a skirt and a black shirt, her glasses, her hair, nothing special, just herself, but emptier.

He was wearing the jeans I had chosen with him, a flannel shirt, and the new camel jacket he bought on this trip. I don’t know how he felt, I was too tired to tell.

He kept complimenting her, on her beauty, on the length of her hair, on its reddish highlights as it shone with the sun. “You were right”, he said, “you are the phantom prototype of the people I’ve loved before”, as he remembered the words she had sent to him.

I didn’t even know if it was true anymore, now his hair was buzzed, and the guys I liked had longer hair. Maybe the spell had been broken and we had managed to escape this curse.

She could smile that day because she knew it was the last day she’d see him. She was sad, but she needed to be. She needed to process all of it, and she couldn’t with him there, she would fall apart if she tried.

They held hands and found a place by the Ponte Maria Callas, it appeared to be the only quiet spot in the whole city of Venice. They read the promises they had made out loud, they read their art. Hearing them felt wrong, fake, it wasn’t genuine anymore. The words had expired, and so had the feelings. It was painful to realise that the boy sitting across from her, wasn’t the boy she fell in love with.

I had loved a ghost, a creation of my imagination that knew me better than I did myself. I treated him as a canvas of everything I wanted. He was everything and more, in my mind he wasn’t human. I fell in love with a fraction of him, someone with his name and face, but a product of the needs that haunted me. A love that was unconditional, reassuring, understanding.

As the sun came closer to the water, they were further away. Two strangers that knew nothing and everything about the person next to them. Two strangers that loved blindfolded, in the dark.

“Who was him?” – She asked herself while watching him cry. He was overwhelmed, confused, exhausted too. It all seemed artificial now that she had realised the extent of her delusion. She didn’t know what was real anymore.

He looked so small. He looked the same way he did six years ago. Those same tired eyes, the lonesome mannerisms, his body language that tried not to let his pain show. Maybe he was still that kid she once knew, maybe there was still some truth to him.

She hugged him and told him everything would be all right, but she meant everything except them. The damage was too great to repair in an afternoon, nothing could change. She cared deeply, but if she wanted to feel again she’d have to care less and less.

As they walked to the train station the sky painted itself with every colour, from pink to green. Colours they hadn’t seen in the last few days. They had only seen shades of blue.

She walked unaware of how she could survive with everything that had been left unsaid. Uncertain of how she would move on without having someone to blame, her only option being to forget.

They hugged and said the last nice things they had to say, the last few honest words. She knew that as soon as she got on that train the words she’d have to say would also be filled with rage, insecurity and regret. It was the last minutes before the storm, before reality hit them with all of its force.

“You will always be special to me” – he said to her and she said to him. Was the use of the word “special” a wild card that justified the pain and passion, and was it to be used as an excuse if they were never to speak again? Wasn’t a “special” moment, once lived, just another memory to toss?

One thing was for sure, they had lived their story. They experienced it all and more, everything they had expected and what they couldn’t have imagined. The blue and red. The evil and the saints. The friends and the enemies.

So many experiences, too many; they didn’t fit in her baggage. She sat down, looking at him getting smaller, even tiny, as the train headed back to Milan. She loved, lost, hurt, cursed, pitied. She weighed the emotions she was carrying with her and she couldn’t remember the last time she had carried this much. In six days, she had felt what she would have in a year. Exhausted. Unsure how to start feeling this much.

Sitting down with too many memories, and the only person she shared them with would soon be halfway across the world, lost. She relied on the fact that these would soon be forgotten, but she was scared to lose them, she’d never let herself forget.

That was the end of their story, but she had to resume hers. She had to get back home, where nothing had ever occurred, where her life was still the same, but she wasn’t. She needed her friends to remind her she could get out, that what she had lived wasn’t more than an extension of her life.

He texted me the first few days, but after some days the truth slipped away from my chest. A poem, my feelings splattered in lines, because I needed to let myself feel. He was left speechless. What to say?

There was nothing much he could say. He stopped texting. She reached out a couple of times, it led her nowhere. The truth had been said, and it wasn’t especially pretty or easy. Their friendship was stripped of its easy going nature, it was transformed.

She didn’t want to know about his whereabouts. She needed to make peace with a story that seemed to be made up in her mind. It took her some time to stop missing him, his songs and his voice. It was painful, it was like withdrawal from an intensity she had felt few times in her life.

Months later she made peace with it. She forgave him and herself, but she knew better now. She had her feet closer to the ground. Was there fate all along? Would she ever get a great love story? How would she know if she was or wanted to be in love?

Still so many questions to be answered and accusations to be made. Had she meant anything to him? Had he forgotten? How could he fall in love so easily next?

Questions to which she might never have an answer to. Not in many years. Matters she’d have to look past if they were ever to be friends again. But, would they ever find each other again? Were they ever meant to in the first place?

Had this story been written all along, or had it been manufactured by two artists needing to believe in fate?