Short story. A first person account of a girl who lives her life questioning love. As she gets older, she gives up, until the day she meets Kate...
I never thought I’d be in love. When I was young, love seemed like a curse. Mommy and daddy were supposed to be in love, but that was something I never understood. After all, I would spend almost everyday hiding in my room to escape the screams and sounds of shattering glass. By the time the divorce came, there were three intact bowls in the cupboard. I hid one in my room, just in case.
Love, to me, was a disease. As I got older, it seemed to take over my friends and turn them into sex-machines, driven by one desire, greater than I could comprehend. The boyfriends and girlfriends I saw around me were always together, seemingly attached by the lips. In order to speak to my best friend I was forced to pry her away from her boyfriend, which only lasted about ten minutes. Lust was a drug that I never understood.
By then, I had a skewed reality of love. Love was chucking a ceramic bowl at someone’s face, and at the same time humping their brains out. How could that make sense? Love was a fantasy, a fairytale found in the dreams of princesses, a lost land where I never found myself. Love was uncontrollable. Love would ruin me.
By college my friends had separated. One or two couples had stayed intact, but overall there had been break-ups, cheating, hook-ups and one-night stands. Throughout my teen years, love was an obstacle I never had to face. I didn’t have the patience. I didn’t even believe there was such a thing.
I was helping my friends get over ex’s, telling them exactly what they wanted and needed to hear, while all the while I was repeating what I saw in movies. I wasn’t a friend; I was an actress. But for them it was good enough. On the surface, they loved and lost, while I still had nothing and no one.
It wasn’t like I wasn’t attracted to people. I had actually felt a little twinge in my gut, both for girls and for guys. My first kiss was during a game of truth or dare in sophomore year of high school. I even lost my virginity to a guy I was set up with at a party senior year. You know, to try it. And I would think to myself,what have I accomplished by doing this?I didn’twantto be like those other girls. I was confused, and I didn’t need to pretend. I just wasn’t interested. I just wasn’t interesting.
Rising into an adult, I wasn’t beautiful. I worked in real estate, something my mother loved to bitch about. I didn’t care that she thought it was a thankless profession; it was something that I was good at. I was always good at telling people what they wanted to hear, showing them what they wanted to see. Unfortunately, that didn’t always work with my mother. I was a disappointment. Then again, so was my father. But in his case it was because he left her for a trophy wife with double D’s.
I still hadn’t found love. My parents both died when I was around 57. They never had grandchildren. I was living alone, working on my final year with Washington Heights Real Estate. I had a condo. One bedroom, one bathroom. Cream walls and flower paintings. I figured it was all I needed.
And it was. For a while. Until the day I met Kate.
I was 74, the perfect age to retire with my real estate money and live in a quiet neighborhood. And that’s exactly what I did. By then, I had accepted the fact that love was an unobtainable idea I had never been able to grasp, a wisp of smoke that I may have glimpsed once or twice but never inhaled. Love had formed and reformed itself over the course of my life so many times that, by the end, I just gave up trying to understand it. Love had died with my broken parents and the relationships of the friends that never stopped to visit. I had forgotten its’ very existence.
Kate moved in to the apartment right above mine. I noticed the decorations one day after coming home from a walk. A large U-Haul was parked in front of my beat-up old Camry, and peeking inside I saw old fashioned, antique chairs with little doilies on the armrests. There was a large china teapot; white with painted pink flowers creating curled designs on the handle. The couch looked soft and worn, and instead of a TV, she had an old-fashioned radio. I was impressed. I had always had a soft spot for old, worn things; they reminded me of the past and how, like me, they had held together fairly well.
The next day the doorbell rang. I answered, expecting a package, or maybe girl scouts, or had I forgotten Halloween again? But it was Kate. She introduced herself, commenting on my health and making polite conversation about my living space. Her hair was thin and dark grey; she looked to be around 80. She was wearing a long summer dress that showed her saggy breasts, something I couldn’t help but notice. The skin on her arms had spotted and sagged, but I could tell that in her youth she had had beautiful features. Her eyes, although sunken, were a deep brown, and I could see there was a vague sadness to them. Her shy smile was contagious.
I didn’t like her. I was used to being alone – I wanted it to stay that way.
However, I began seeing her everywhere. She kept to herself, much like I did, and began her walks just as I finished mine. For a few weeks we continued passing each other briefly, and I remembered my years of acting through life. This seemed to come in handy.
Then one day she was early. I opened my screen door, took my first step onto the welcome mat in my worn, white tennis shoes, and saw her. She had come down the steps from above and was sitting at the bottom, lacing her own pair of sneakers. She looked up as I passed, then joined me after a couple steps. I was surprised. After all my years of being alone, there was this woman who had decided to join me for a walk. So I let her.
Everyday for a week we continued this routine. We walked in silence down to the golf course, by the creek, back across the bridge and then up a large hill until we reached our apartment complex once again. No one ever said a word, something I enjoyed and appreciated with all my heart. I hadn’t spoken to Kate except for the day she had introduced herself, and I didn’t feel the need to speak to her on our walks. Our shared presence was enough.
In the middle of the second week, Kate asked to see my garden. By the end of the third week, we were sipping tea from her flowery teapot. At the end of the fourth week, it had gotten too cold to go on our walks anymore, so we stayed inside by the electric fireplace, reading various novels by Austin, Dickinson, or Balzac. Finally, we began talking, and found that we had both grown up shy and awkward. It felt good to have a friend.
One day, Kate shared that the day she had introduced herself to me was a great step out of her comfort zone. She confided that as she grew older, she was realizing how little she knew about the people around her. Kate told me that everyday she held a daisy, and picked the petals one by one to decide if she should leave the house or not. Ever since we began walking, the petals have always told her “yes”.
We were close. Neither one of us had grandchildren, so we were the only people to visit one another. We told secrets of our past, our present, and our hopes for the very short but near future. These hopes didn’t include much, but as we came to know more and more about each other, my hopes began to change. I wanted Kate to like me. I knew that, of course, she did, but I wanted her to remember me until her dying day. I wanted Kate to know that we were special, even if our lives were far behind us. I wanted Kate to love me.
That’s when I realized. Is this what love it? Love could actually be wanting a person all to yourself, being selfish without caring about it, doing nice things without thinking. Love could be waiting your whole life for a connection that you’ll only feel once. Yes, I told myself, love is a feeling that uses all your energy to bind you to the idea of someone, never letting that idea escape. This was not my parents, or my friends, but it was my very own version of love that I created for myself at the very end of my life.
Kate and I were best friends for over fifteen years. We were inseparable. We never made love, but she would kiss my cheek whenever she left my side, and I would rub that kiss into my flesh as hard as I possibly could. I didn’t know if Kate felt exactly the same way I felt; I didn’t know ifanyonefeels love the exact same way. All I knew was that I wanted to die with this feeling, and the wait to this moment would be worth it.
And that’s exactly what I did.