Chinaski: “I don’t want to fuck you over, Dee Dee,” I said. “I’m not always good to women.”
Dee Dee: “I told you I love you.”
Chinaski: “Don’t do it. Don’t love me.”
Dee Dee: “All right,” she said, “I won’t love you, I’ll almost love you. Will that be alright?”
Chinaski: “It’s much better than the other”
–Charles Bukowski, Women
When I was 11 years old I fell madly in love with my good friend, Mike Chieco. Once whisperings of my affection reached his ears, sitting a foot higher than the rest of ours, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I said yes and he held my hand on a school field trip to an Edgar Allan Poe performance. A week later he broke up with me because he couldn’t deny it a second longer; he was in love with my best friend Nora. The Raven should have been an omen to my impending torment…
I cried to my mother who patted my unfortunately frizzy head and said, “Give it a few years and you will have quite the opposite problem, my sweet. The boys won’t be the ones breaking hearts then.”
I can only assume now that by “a few years” she meant, once I had sorted out the braces, acne and bad hair situation that, since the dawn of time, has plagued middle school aged children.
But as they tend to do, a few years did pass. My braces were removed and my aura stopped screaming, “I just got my period and I still kind of disgust and confuse myself” and suddenly my mother’s prophetic words of wisdom became less eye roll worthy. I began facing far less rejection.
And I made quite sure that if rejection were to come, it certainly wouldn’t find me by way of my inner circle. Eleven years old or not, a scorned woman is a scorned woman. So, with a few minor indiscretions procuring results that only strengthened my resolve, I steered clear of dating boys I hung out with. I bro’d out and ate pizza and drank beer with my bros and had dinner dates with older guys, or oh-so-exotic ones from surrounding suburban farm towns.
I kept things separate because I knew then (much as I know now) that it’s safer, smarter, allows for a better balance and a place to escape to if an escape becomes necessary.
But in thirteen years I’ve found two people who I was ready to break my Mike Chieco inspired rule for. I developed feelings for two people who were in my inner circle and both just happened to be in the fair city of Florence.
The first time I was a lowly study abroad student, searching for a thousand different things, including my identity. But at the beginning of that quest I found him instead, right smack in the middle of my new group of friends. I fell for him fast and hard. It only took a second for everything to revolve around him. And even still I pass things in this city that remind me of him and I feel this brief moment of emptiness. Certainly not because I still love him. The her that loved him was someone else entirely. A different person in a different life. But sometimes I remember how much she loved him and I feel sorry for her. The girl with the doe eyes, who watched quietly as the face she loved pressed up against someone else’s. A constant reminder of her apparent inadequateness. A perpetual feeling of rejection.
The second time hasn’t been quite so dramatic and it isn’t such a distant memory either. He isn’t just in my friend group; he is my friend. And he has been from the moment I met his goofy ass. We spent a year letting long distance messages flow steadily, always joking about being star-crossed lovers.
My best friend would never let me hear the end of it. We were going to end up together, she said. I simply reminded her of the rule.
He was there when I moved into my New York apartment. He lugged my couch and my queen size bed in from the U-Haul. He went with my dad to a place on the corner to buy pizza and beer. We ate and drank on the living room floor in front of one small fan that had no chance of relieving us from the beastly heat of an Indian summer in the city.
We once convinced a group of people outside a bar that we were engaged, telling tall tales of how it happened, belly laughing about the lie once we were alone. We plastered our own faces on stills of our favorite movie couples and it was all so silly and far-fetched and we played the part of platonic pals flawlessly.
However, somewhere over the past year the nature of our relationship changed. We were still buds, but sometimes my bud would wake up in my bed.
I was cool about it. It was casual. Do your thing. I’ll do mine. He sent some signals.
“Don’t do it. Don’t love me.”
But I didn’t, right? Buds. The rule. I had a few brief moments of maybe I might have feelings for him. But I would laugh it off.
“All right. I won’t love you. I’ll almost love you. Will that be alright?”
And I kept laughing it off until last week when I didn’t feel like laughing about it anymore. So I laid my cards on the table.
He told me how he adored me. How I was everything he wanted in a partner in crime and love; a beautiful line that has been bouncing around all the corners of my mind with sharp, painful pangs. He wanted it to be me, but it wasn’t. He left no room for interpretation or false hope. He wasn’t going to let me think, ‘maybe someday.’ He was telling me no.
My initial reaction was, “My god, what the fuck possessed me to do that?” The only thing I could think of was my first Florence fling gone wrong. I spent the rest of the day imagining all the ways I would relive this rejection every time I saw his face.
But when I woke up the next morning I had a strange sense of liberation. There was all this spare room in my mind that I can only assume was once filled up by “what-ifs” about what we were, what we could be. What yesterday, felt like a punch in the gut, today, felt like a huge kindness from my friend.
None of us ever say what we mean anymore. We’re wishy-washy. We live in the age of “I like to keep my options open.” Instead of taking the affection of others and filling our hearts with it, we fill our egos with it instead. We force people, or are forced, to sit around and wonder what the hell is going on all the time. And every moment we sit and wonder we allow ourselves to breed insecurity. And that insecurity forces us to feel rejected by every word that isn’t a direct answer to our question of “what if?”
When Chinaski inevitably broke Dee Dee’s heart, he went to her. When she asked why he’d come he said, “There’s too much coldness in the world. If only people would talk things out together it would help.”
When you give someone an honest answer you show them how much you care about them, even if that answer is no.
You’re putting their happiness above your ego.
You’re not perpetuating an environment of insecurity and feigned connection driven by vanity.
You’re taking care of someone’s feelings.
You’re taking a little coldness out of the world.