“It was this girl,” he starts. “She was my first, uh… well, my first,” he settles on the word that leaves no doubt in my mind as to what he’s referring. I lean my head on my knees, facing him. I try not to look surprised. I guess, honestly, I’m not. Something about him is admittedly sensual. He clearly has a lot of passion.
“Three weeks ago, out of nowhere, she dumped me. And the next day, she started dating a mutual friend. Sleeping with,” he corrects himself. “Just fucking, really…” his voice trails off into a distant whisper.
“Is that what you did with her?” I ask him.
“I didn’t think that’s all it was,” he says, “but the more I think about it, the more I’ve come to realize that there was nothing else really there. I thought there was. I truly believed there was. I was wrapped up in her, completely. She had all my attention – all the time, really. When I was with her, when I wasn’t. She was all I thought about. Being with her was all I thought about. She was addictive.”
I look around the room at the different canvases that still sit atop easels. There are six of them, each with a drop cloth beneath it. I’m guessing these are his most recent works. I can only see the front of three of them from where I sit. “So which one of these is about that?”
“None of them,” he says. “I couldn’t paint when we were together.”
“She consumed me.”
“That doesn’t sound healthy.”
“Really?” he asks. “Because some people would argue that what I typically do isn’t healthy. Isn’t that what love is about? Being everything to someone?”
“What’s the point? So that person can just take advantage of you for years and years, making you think they love you, and then one day just suddenly change their mind? Why would anyone want to do that? I don’t ever want that.”
“What do you want?”
“I want whatever won’t hurt me. I want whatever leaves me whole, and keeps my faith in the belief that bad things don’t happen to good people.”
“But they do,” Nate says. “That’s inevitable.”
“Well, there’s fate that intervenes, and then there’s humanity. There are people who fuck up. Who choose to do that. People who make a conscious decision to hurt another person.”
“Which one do you think happened to my dad?”
“Fate,” I answer quickly.
“No, he fucked up,” he clarifies. “But I forgive him.”
“But he didn’t cheat on your mom,” I counter. “He didn’t decide to hurt you and your mom.”
“But he did,” Nate argues. “He didn’t think his decision through to the conclusion. Had he thought of the consequences of his actions, he could have saved himself.”
“Nate,” I say softly. “He probably wasn’t thinking clearly… with the alcohol…”
“There were plenty of times when he was sober. Times when he should have been considering those sort of things. By no means was he drunk all the time. He was never drunk when I was around. Never,” he says, and I can hear his voice begin to waver.
“I’m sorry, Nate.”
“But would I ever say I hated him, or that I wish I’d never had a father because I know what it’s like to lose one? Not in a million years.” He swallows hard while I try to think of something to say. Words fail me. “What my dad did was so much worse than what yours has done. You still have a father. He may not be the best one right now, but he’s still on this planet. And he has a lot of time to make it up to you.”
I bite my lip. I can’t argue with him. It’s not fair to, because he makes a good point. But I still think what Dad did is unforgivable. I don’t want to argue with Nate, but I don’t think I could ever forgive my father.
“So you didn’t paint at all when you were with this girl?” Changing the subject is the only thing I can think to do. He sighs heavily. I hadn’t realized he was holding his breath, but he was. He shakes his head. “But since then?”
“All of these.” He motions to the easels around the room. “And two others in a closet.”
“And have you worked it out?”
“Worked what out?”
“Your feelings. Have you worked through them all?”
He laughs at my question. “I don’t think that’s possible. They never stop, you know. You get over one emotion, and another comes.”
“I guess so,” I respond.
“Last night’s the first night I wasn’t thinking about her. It’s the first night I wasn’t angry at her. In fact, it’s the first night in a long time that I wasn’t angry about anything.”
“That’s good, I guess. What changed? Oh, wait– you met me,” I tease him.
He laughs and raises his eyebrows, as if considering it. “Coincidence,” he finally says.
“Well, I felt special for three and a half seconds, anyway.” I bump his shoulder with mine.
“Have you ever been in love, Emi?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then this is a real shame,” he tells me.
“You’ve never been in love. You don’t want to be in love. How does one live their life without love?”
“So, you were in love with that girl?”
“No,” he says. “I thought I was, but no.”
“Then have you ever been in love?”
“I’m not sure,” he answers, and his eyes linger on mine just long enough to make my heart skip a beat. “But I want to be.”
©2012 Lori L. Otto