The first aromorphosis in my personal evolution occurred a couple of years after I graduated from college. That day I had a date with a beautiful young woman I had met on a train a few weeks prior. This was our third date, and we had already slept with each other, so I didn’t think I needed to worry; I was wrong, because she showed up with another man.
We were in a downtown Manhattan restaurant that I liked because of its quiet ambiance, convenient location and a superb selection of seafood, and the first thought that crossed my mind was that she had double-dated herself. But, acting with enviable confidence, she made her way to my table, her companion trailing behind, and sat in front of me with such resoluteness in her eyes I had no idea what to expect. The man grabbed a chair and sank down next to her, both of them facing me at a slight angle as I slid to the side to comfortably extend my legs without touching either of theirs.
I was silent while she narrated her tumultuous relationship with this man, who had one of those names I always forget despite trying not to. While she talked, I was trying to understand. See, my perfidious date was very attractive, no more than thirty, with naturally blonde hair and such a slim body that I could have carried her in my arms all day. On top of her superior appearance, she also bore that distinct mark of inimitability I invariably fell for. She was almost that magical unicorn who had lost her way in the vicissitudes of Creation and ended up in a world cruelly ill-suited to her fragile nature. The man, on the other hand, was not. At first, I thought he was a convenient friend whom she had temporarily burdened with a more valiant role, but then I noticed an unmistakable look in his eyes, that of a coward who is in over his head while trying to play it cool, and realized that he had already closed on this woman, although I could not imagine how. There was nothing special about him, neither in his appearance nor in his manners; on the contrary, everything about the man was as commonplace as his forgettable name, and he clearly neither knew this nor would have understood what I meant if I had told him. He was just a regular pal in his late twenties, slightly taller than the average, slightly larger too, with short black hair and dull eyes, dressed in blue jeans and a gray coat with a black collar. He looked like a million other men I saw in Manhattan or anywhere else: men who could be great folks or complete bastards without making an iota of difference in the grand scheme of things. But, even though his plain and parochial persona was taking a remarkable woman away from me, I felt no animosity toward him. No, it was the woman’s choice that nauseated me beyond endurance, threatening to make me throw up right on the table.
Encouraged by my silence, she kept talking, now going over the futility of our affair which, allegedly, had been clear to her from the very moment I spoke to her on that goddamn train, “goddamn” being the epithet she used herself. Then she apologized for having gotten me into this hopeless nuisance as I seemed to be a nice guy whose feelings she had not meant to hurt, and claimed that it was my empathy that she counted on. Then she began going in circles, as if unsure of whether she was supposed to keep apologizing or switch to an assault.
At that point, all I wanted was for the man to speak, just to hear his voice and find something in it, something that would make him worthwhile. Two minutes later I realized he wouldn’t do it on his own. His attitude had changed since he sat down: he had grown less afraid, and his eyes were almost contemptuous, as he must have taken me for the kind of milksop he was himself. I had completely forgotten about the girl and was now staring at him, considering how I’d proceed if we had to go at each other bare-fisted. He weighed at least thirty pounds more than me, his thick bones providing ample space for muscles to grow on, but his pasty wrists suggested that he did no exercise, which was a shame, as he could have taken his image to the next level by spending a mere two hours in the gym every week.
That made me pity him. I interrupted the girl, who was in the middle of another disquisition, and asked him how he was feeling. After a pause, he reluctantly said that he was fine. In a tone of genuine concern, I asked if the conversation was making him uncomfortable. He said it was fine, too. I asked whose idea it was to have this showdown, and he said it was that of his girlfriend, whom he called by her name, providing his first multisyllabic response yet still denying me an audial glimpse into his personality. I asked how they had met, and he said it wasn’t relevant. I asked if he knew how I had met her, and he said that wasn’t relevant either.
At that point any pity I had felt vanished. He was worse than I had thought, and it was unbearable. In a rush of lurid inspiration, hoping to extract something—anything—respectable from him, I asked him whether he was aware that I had had sex with his girlfriend on our first date, that she came three times that night, and that the next morning she told me she’d just had the best sex of her life. He winced, almost imperceptibly, and repeated that none of it mattered.
And then it hit me. I knew why she had chosen that man: not only over me, but over all the other men available to her: he was reliable. She could do anything she wanted, and as long as they slept together, he’d forgive her. Isn’t that the definition of desirability? That “hard and tumultuous nature” she had mentioned was all hers: if it were up to that man, theirs would be the steadiest relationship known to the world. But that would be too boring for her, so she chose to have a foot in each world, leaving her … well, a little stretched in the middle.
I remembered how I had approached her on the train. I was on a high, having just accomplished something my CEO had deemed impossible. This always gave me a feeling of invincibility, and I carried it into our conversation, so when I asked her to meet me again, nothing else mattered, because no woman could have said “no” to that kind of man. Our first date passed in a similar fashion, me being one of my best selves, so we ended up in my apartment. She was even better than I had suspected, and I had no reason to let her down either, but by the next morning I’d turned into something like a lazy feline, my energy level at a fraction of what she had seen. But then, still high on the night, she’d preferred to ignore the contrast, so it must have been our second date that had made her call it off.
On that day, I had felt perfectly pacific. I was as relaxed as a man in the company of his lover can be, and that must have raised a red flag. My amplitude was too large. It didn’t matter that the whole range was positive: she could imagine that a person with such a variety of good moods was also capable of the utmost horror. I simply wasn’t reliable like this guy, her longtime favorite, whom she could read like a book she had read a dozen times. And since there was nothing too bad about him, nothing to undermine the convenience of predictability, he was the safest bet for any woman, averaging out all possible risks around one steady zero line.
When I arrived at this conclusion, I got up, left a Jackson on the table for the two glasses of pomegranate juice I had drunk and left the place without looking at or thinking about anyone. I felt sick, so I walked to the World Trade Center to clear my head. What had just happened, along with my thoughts about it, added up to an inescapable denouement, so I urgently needed to acclimate to a new reality: that of having permanently lost the woman who had enabled me to forget about Martina without any hope of meeting another such as her.
Next Chapter – “Epiphany”
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