And Then I Saw Her Face…

And so it seemed we didn’t miss a beat. It had been a long time since I’d seen my old friend. What he told me during the course of the evening really moved me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

“If you haven’t met your soulmate yet, don’t press. In due course, she’ll be there waiting for you the moment you are ready for her.” I remember him telling me that once. That was a really, really long time ago, almost in response to a question (from a movie I had once watched) he didn’t quite answer, “Do you believe in a love at first sight? …that you could meet someone, or just… connect from across a room, and with that one glance you could look in their eyes and see their soul. Do you believe that could happen?”

He seemed like an old man with all his aches and pains but in fact he wasn’t much older than me. There were days when he could not get out of bed, let alone sit or stand, the pain excruciating. In fact the other day, his masseuse told him that the amount of pain-level his body generally exists in is significantly more than a person she had treated that outweighed him by over 100 lbs (weighing in at over 280 lbs). But he just laughs it off, knowing that the pain is his friend and as his dear friend, had quite a complicated relationship with it.

…he lived a pained existence, obviously physically but I think most of his hurt he wore on his heart for the world to see, though he thought he was always in disguise. A poor disguise at that, I thought.

“Play some Guns ‘n Roses or Blind Melon!” he barked at me. “You Lafayette boys really knew how to play music!” to which I always nodded in agreement, not to mention Michael Jackson, John Cougar Mellencamp and David Lee Roth (when’s the last time you heard those three in a sentence), other Indiana stalwarts.

“Son, you need to write. Write at least a thousand words a night. And if you don’t, take a picture. Cos it’s true what they say. It’s worth at least a thousand words, if not moreso. Cos you never know when you’ll want to look back and look upon the best years of your life.”

I’m not sure he was right (though unbeknownst to him, I had kept a journal since I was a kid, and was always taking pictures, some of them even worth a thousand), but I kept listening. He hadn’t gotten to the part about the greatest story never told.

“You know what the hardest thing to do is? 

…Ask a girl out! It’s really hard, like ridiculously hard! And harder still if you like her, cos you don’t know what she’ll say.”

I disagreed. It was easy to ask someone out. 

And then he told me. He told me what he’d been wanting to say since the moment we had sat down, why he asked to meet me for a drink.

“Did I ever tell you about the last time I fell for someone? No? Sit down, I’ll tell you what happened.

“I’ll just start with saying there are a lot of people out there that are together, together because they’re comfortable, because they don’t aspire to be something more, to be with someone more than their wildest dreams, the person they’re supposed to be with. But instead, they choose to settle. Quite frankly, that’s ok, if that’s what you want. You can live a wonderfully happy life settling. That just wasn’t the path I chose.

“It’s been well over a year now. It was a wet January night, damp from the melting snow, a light rain imminent. Cold but not cold; the way Chicago winters can be amidst a brief respite from its harsh weather. This was a good night to go out for dinner and drinks. We went to Girl & The Goat (amazing place where you have to try both the green beans and cauliflower, owned by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izzard). Afterwards, we walked to RM Champagne for some after dinner drinks. I was immediately enamored by the hostess, who though very nice, cordial and professional (not to mention stunningly beautiful with raven hair) promptly rebuffed my attempt to get her phone number to ask her out.”

I interrupted, “So you asked her out? That didn’t seen so hard.”

“Actually, it was easy. I knew she would say no. It’s easy to do something when you already know the outcome, especially when the outcome won’t change your life. Now, put yourself out on a limb? Ask cos you may actually get what you want? Those are life changers! What I didn’t know then was that my life was about to change.”

Ok I thought, he had a point.

“A week later, I had dinner at Girl & The Goat again, this time with two of my closest friends. Afterwards, yet again, I directed them to RM for drinks after dinner. She was there again, this time coming off shift. She joined our group, and, just like that, I found myself immediately interested in someone for the first time in two years since my girlfriend and I had broken up. 

“The more we conversed, the more I was drawn into her world. As bad luck (from my perspective) would have it, she shared that she was moving to New York within thirty days, a dream being realized to be a chef at Eleven Madison Park (world renowned 5 Michelin rated restaurant). Her destiny awaited her there. Young, sweet, intelligent, beautiful, driven and ambitious. I was drawn even further into her world in a matter of moments.

“And if thirty days was all I had, thirty days was what I would take. I walked her to her stop on the el that would take her home. The air was misting heavily, and I could see our breath. Before I let her go, I turned to her to tell her that I had really enjoyed our evening. And I told her that I liked her. I liked her a lot. And I confessed that I wanted to see her again. Every day, for the next thirty days until she leaves because you never know that the person you meet today could be the most important person you will ever meet in your life. And that today could be that day. She looked at me, smiled and kissed me on the cheek. And then walked away. She did turn around to smile at me one more time before taking the stairs up to the el platform.

“I gave it my best shot. I smiled a massive smile as the rain was now coming down heavily. I gathered myself, looked into the dark night skies with the city lights accompanying its peacefulness, and pulled a Shawshank. Of course, I wished she had said something back to me. Even if she didn’t, I was still happy that I asked out a wonderful girl. You see, it’s not so easy to ask out a girl. Especially if you like her!”

My friend paused. And he smiled, his crooked teeth showing thru.

Impatiently I asked, “soooo… What happened?!?!”

He kept smiling. “And so the next day, she texted me, ‘what are we doing tonight?’

“For the next thirty days, we spent every day together (save for a couple days when she was in NYC when we texted all night, actually a night when I had food poisoning losing 11 lbs, finally coming back to my senses and texting her till the wee hours). It was both lovely and it was innocent and it was easy. And I very quickly fell for her in a way I had never fallen for anyone before…”

And he quoted a line from a movie that seemed to answer the question about love at first sight that I had asked him years ago… “I think you know immediately. As soon as your eyes [lock]… Then everything that happens from then on just proves that you [had] been right in that first moment. When you suddenly realize that you were incomplete and now you are whole…’

“I felt complete for the first time in a long time. Waking up was so much easier that month.

“Thirty days later, she moved to NYC for her dream job. Though I thought of her every day since for the following few months, I never did see her again.”

I challenged him, “it didn’t seem like you were in love. At the very least, she wasn’t in love with you.” That came out much harsher than I wanted. 

“You’re missing the point. I was in love with her. I knew the moment I met her. At the very least, I knew it the second time we met. I’ll give you that- not the first, but definitely the second. She loved me, of that I’m certain; but she wasn’t in love with me. I came along at a time when I believe she needed me. And after time healed my wounds, it ended up being enough. Ever seen the Charlie Kaufman movie ‘Adaptation’?”

I shook my head (not the way Indians do when they’re shaking their head) in the negative.

He quoted, “I loved her. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even she didn’t have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want.”

He continued in his own words, “You see, it was my love to give; and I wanted to give it. It would have been a bonus if she had accepted. Giving your love selflessly is one of the most precious gifts you can give to someone. But it shouldn’t be a gift that comes with strings attached. Too often we make the mistake that giving out love to the one we love means she must give it back. It doesn’t work that way. Giving it is special, getting it back is magic.”

That sounded hard, but there was beauty in how much sense it made.

We finished off our drinks – Macallen 18 (neat, of course)… And then I said goodbye to my old mentor, sharing with him “I am ready for that kind of love.”

“I’ll leave you with this, kid. A quote that I’ve found very profound, ‘In every single moment, we have the choice to be happy or not. No matter what is going on, we can choose to focus upon what is right, what is good and whole in ourselves and our lives, and what options we have in any given situation. In other words, we can choose to be happy no matter what.’

“Don’t settle for anything less than true and ultimate happiness. You’ll find it; and when she finds you, you’ll then want to settle down. And pass along the good news to us, of course.”

This must have been why I moved west.
When I looked at his silhouette as he was walking back down the street, he seemed younger, his walk stronger.


Epilogue
When I arrived home, I watched the movie. Here is the full exchange:

Charlie Kaufman: There was this time in high school. I was watching you out the library window. You were talking to Sarah Marsh.
Donald Kaufman: Oh, God. I was so in love with her.
Charlie Kaufman: I know. And you were flirting with her. And she was being really sweet to you.
Donald Kaufman: I remember that.
Charlie Kaufman: Then, when you walked away, she started making fun of you with Kim Canetti. And it was like they were laughing at *me*. You didn’t know at all. You seemed so happy.
Donald Kaufman: I knew. I heard them.
Charlie Kaufman: How come you looked so happy?
Donald Kaufman: I loved Sarah, Charles. It was mine, that love. I owned it. Even Sarah didn’t have the right to take it away. I can love whoever I want.
Charlie Kaufman: But she thought you were pathetic.
Donald Kaufman: That was her business, not mine. You are what you love, not what loves you. That’s what I decided a long time ago.
Donald Kaufman: Whats up?
Charlie Kaufman: Thank you.
Donald Kaufman: For what?


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