[Short Story] Strangers

Some say life resembles a highway. We travel so fast because we don’t want to live in the here and now, because we feel that the future is going to be better than we can imagine. We travel on a highway that’s slowly sinking under the horizon, with no maps, trying to get to a place we can’t be sure exists. On each side of this road, there are trees and endless fields – a barren wasteland melting under the sun or shivering beneath a silvery moon. We don’t have time to stop, we don’t have time to think.

At 100 miles per hour, you’re entire being collapses into a reflex.

The only way we can realize what’s going on is for us to crash into others. A painful process, in which there’s a lot of damage to be made, but a necessary one nonetheless.

As I look back into the past, my life so far seems to be uneventful. Taken as a whole, with the good and the bad, my life appears to lack any importance whatsoever. I missed on some great opportunities; I have made stupid excuses because I was afraid to take the leap or to make a certain sacrifice when it was required.

My father once said that the brave don’t have time to think about consequences. I suppose I’m not that brave.

Every once in a while, I try to make an inventory; I try to count all the meaningful events, to sift them from the mundane, from the reflexes and instincts of the twenty first century. Moments that define who I am and what I do, moments that will last for as long as I live. And, truth be told, I can only remember very few occasions in which life seemed to be profound and magnificent.

I do all this because I once read an article in a magazine about this ancient tribe. They had the custom of keeping count of the days of happiness in their lives.

But is it that important? It seems to me that entire years of our lives slowly disintegrate into funny stories we tell over dinner. Finally, they become just a few phrases, in such a way that you can summarize twenty years of your life in a rapid succession of simple sentences.

In the end, all you have left are a few blank pages. Life’s just like writing on a blackboard, and someone is walking behind you, erasing everything as you write. We accumulate so much, yet when we leave this world, we own nothing.

The cynics might even say we never own anything.

What do we really want? What do we desire most in the world?

Sometimes I ask myself this question. What is my purpose? What’s the one thing I want most in the world?

It seems to me that we spend most of our lives trying to figure out who we are. What makes us unique, what we love doing most in the world. After we find that, we spend what’s left searching for someone who can love us for who we really are. And at times we’re afraid that we will never be who we’ve always wanted to be, we’re terrified that we’ll never find that one person… real love.

It pains me to write down the words, but I never found what I was looking for. Even when I was a kid in high school; math was too hard, physics seemed useless, history was too boring. The chemistry professor smelled funny.

What I did have, ever since I was twenty, was Caroline. She was mine, but she wasn’t. She never left, but she never stayed either.

I’m not sure if you can ever own another. If so, I never owned her. But I never lost her either. We were less than friends. If I had a problem, if I wanted to speak to someone, I wouldn’t go to her. Our conversations were long and stupid. We laughed a lot. We made fun of each other.

And then we would stop going out or seeing each other for a few months, maybe even as long as an year or two. Without any reason. Then we would meet by accident, on the street or in a bus, exchange numbers again. And the circle resumed.

I was proud just to be around her. You know, this arrogant, childish pride that people would see me with a beautiful woman.

You see, I learned one thing. Women fall into two categories. First there are the mothers. Women of conventional beauty, both inner and outer, who during their lives attain a certain solemn grace. They’re not adventurous and can be easily understood or satisfied. They hold few secrets and that’s why these women appeal to men who want to settle down.  Hence their name. They make love, take care of everyone who needs taking care of, grow old, and die. Their conservative nature is owed to their maternal character. They are mothers and that’s what they do best.

Then there’s the other category, the one we hate and love at the same time, and it seems to me that we can only truly love, in the hallucinating sense of the word, the women who fall into this second category. They’re mysterious and beautiful in a way that makes heartbeats furiously irregular, they’re suave and gentle and they hold an almost supernatural power. You can compare them to a flame if you want. They burn for a few moments and then there’s nothing but ash left. These women are the muses of artists, the goddesses that prove how chaotic and unfair life is. No man can forget such a woman and no man can ever love the same after he has met one.

That was Caroline. A fire that burned so bright you needed a lot of courage just to get close to her. You could feel she was different.

Every few weeks, we’d go to a church and see a wedding ceremony. Two strangers living their happiest moment. That’s what she’d say. We didn’t know anything about them, just the fact that they were, in that moment, happy. She always made up stories about these strangers. Why they married, how they had met.

It was as if we were putting our lives on hold, to witness something much, much greater than we could ever hope to achieve. In a way, we were as lonely as we would ever be, inside that church, seeing happiness shine bright inside someone else’s eyes. I know I felt that way, and I’m sure Caroline felt the same.

She was always a stranger to me. A stranger to everyone, I suppose. Maybe she was a stranger to herself. She always talked about figuring out who she was, and it felt as if she had embarked on a long quest to discover who she really was. Or invent that self she had always dreamed.

Caroline wanted to be everyone and no one at the same time; you could see it in her eyes. All her dreams glittering wild.

I just wanted to be close to her. She gave me purpose. Yes, we were lost, but we were lost together. We weren’t searching for anything in the moments we spent together, but there was always a mysterious charm that lingered long after her perfume would fade away.

In time, I fell in love with her. We were both seeing other people, and we never talked about what it would be to try to build something together.

Simply put, I was afraid. She was more than the promise of a happy future, one I’d more than willingly sacrifice who I was for. She was more than I could ever imagine getting out of this life, so I didn’t even try. Like they say, she was out of my league.

We kissed once though. We were both drunk, and we never mentioned it.

I chose to believe that it wasn’t worth it. You know, the trouble, the pain. I’ve always thought that if you want something too much, you’ll fail to get it. It always seems that way; that we always fail to get the thing we want most in this life.

***

Time did what it usually does. It passed. The world around us changed; became faster, furious, and wild. The world grew bigger and smaller at the same time. We changed. I got a job as an accountant at a big company, and a nice apartment overlooking buildings that didn’t use to exist when I was a kid. She got a cat.

But who we were when we were together… that never changed. And how could it be? We were nothing but strangers to one another.

You get used to things. You build routines. And you die. I got used to simply going out with Caroline. Even when we spent two hours in silence, watching a movie. I got used to that, to the point that I couldn’t watch a movie if she wasn’t sitting beside me on the couch.

Without her, I was nothing.

And all this time I hoped. She dated other guys, and I knew they were all wrong for her. I knew they didn’t care as much as I did, they didn’t understand her. They didn’t know her, and they could never love her as I did.

There’s only one thing infinite in this world. Never-ending and cruel at the same time. Hope. No matter what, we still hope. And when hope dies, the world we have imagined ceases to exist. We cease to exist.

I used to tell me, over and over again, that we never, ever get the woman of our dreams. I used to tell me that I had to make myself care about someone else. Don’t ask me why I thought that. I thought it was all an illusion, that great love is built with care, and it takes time for it to grow.

Then I met someone else. She was different from anyone I ever met before. Simply put, she made me want to be the best possible version of myself. It only took me nine seconds to realize that. She was a dreamer. We would sit at our table in the morning and talk about building a world together.

She wanted to imagine a perfect world with me at her side. I thought that to be the most beautiful thing a man could ever hope for. I tried so damn hard to make myself care. I’d stare at my own reflection in the mirror and whisper to myself that I was happy.

For a long, long time I couldn’t quite understand what was missing. I had a beautiful and intelligent woman. We could talk for hours and hours, and it was never boring. We made plans, and we both wanted to see everything there was to see. We made love when we felt like it, and we didn’t care.

And then… I realized that life was missing. You know, that fire that burns bright even on the darkest and gloomiest of nights. That joy, that ecstasy that has no birthplace. The feeling that you have the power to be who you want to be, the immense hope that tomorrow is going to be an entirely new day. Caroline was life. Caroline was burning with giddy joy and passion; she was an unstoppable force.

And the way she danced…

***

Most people want an easy life. They want just enough. They want to be able to buy all the things they want, when they want. That’s how we advertise life to be… more about contentment than happiness, more about rational satisfaction, the one you have to induce yourself, over and over again, than crazy joyfulness.

You have to constantly remind yourself that you’re happy, even if you don’t feel it. You have to make lists of the things you own. But when you start rationalizing something vague term such as happiness, you kind of get swallowed by the exact opposite.

The older you get, the more apathetic you become. We all reach a certain point in our lives when we’re seen too much, lived too little, and we feel there’s nothing left.

That’s why I was desperate to make Caroline mine. She was dating one of those artsy types, and she was slowly falling in love with him. She acted like she didn’t care, as if he was just another one on the list, but he wasn’t. She had found her happily ever after. I knew it, and soon she’d know it as well.

I had to act, yet I couldn’t pull myself to. I knew I was losing her. We weren’t going out as often as we used to; our conversations weren’t the same. She asked me questions about things she didn’t use to care. She wanted to know what life was all about, not for the crazy people, like her, who do what they want and take what they can, but for the rest of us, the ones who don’t live their lives as if it’s a battle of all or nothing.

She felt like settling down, and this was destroying me one second at a time. She was becoming one with the Universe, one with this lethargic, stupid world which I began to hate more and more.

And one day she told me she was going to get married. Her fiancé proposed; she accepted. Just like that.

In that moment, as she told me the woman of my dreams was about to die, I did nothing. I stared at her and said nothing. All I could think of was that we could have been more than strangers.

If only I had had the courage to say what I wanted to say, when I wanted to say it. If only I could have told her how I felt.

If only I had been more like her and less like me.

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13 thoughts on “[Short Story] Strangers

  1. Damn good blog!
    I applaud your openness and boldness to pen this. It’s real…raw…life! I know it hurts like hell but it’s therapeutic to get it off your chest. I’m sure you’ve helped someone out there going through. Hang in there, Cristian! Love starts and ends with you. Find you within the walls of you. Only there, will you find true happiness. Then, you will find the real woman of your dreams!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wish I had words to describe how beautiful this is. The ‘strangers falling in love to slow down and reflect’ analogy and the distinction between ‘the one you marry and the one you truly love’ are my takeaways from this great piece.

    Liked by 1 person

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