Smile and a Veil by Oliver Meres
One road to loneliness, it’s always the same. One road to happiness, it’s calling your name.
It was a late summer morning and the sun was still low above the horizon. I could feel cold air entering my room through an open window. I was lying on the sofa, observing the leaves of the ficus above me fluttering in mild wind. The light in the room was dim, and everything seemed peaceful. How misleading. I felt like my thoughts were to burst through my skull every minute. I was exhausted.
I looked out of the window and sighed. I had been thinking too much. I was trying to slow down, but with limited success only. Slowing down and getting back the tranquility I had been longing for was the reason why I was here in the first place. Few things could calm me down as successfully as lying under that tree in the morning, listening to Pink Floyd spreading across the room.
Yet I was still nervous. I felt like I was in two states of mind at once. On one hand, I was happy, content and satisfied with everything; on the other one, I was lost in myself, not even knowing what it was that I wanted and who I was.
“A wonderful idea for a story,” I thought. I was laughing at myself. What a fool I was. Everything seemed absurd. I had changed over the past few months. Changed beyond a certain threshold. Everything I knew about myself seemed questionable. I had had some opinions before. I changed my mind. I had had some rules before. I broke them. I no longer knew who I was.
That being said, I had just enough trouble coping with myself, but as it is always the case, things were to complicate even further. And indeed, as a wonderful coincidence, I received a text from a...woman yesterday. All the sharp, troubling thoughts I’d been fighting with for several months were to be mercilessly revived. This girl – now a distant friend of mine – is one of the most wonderful people I have ever known, and it had once been a painful experience to accept her as no more than a friend. After a few months of a hard and exhausting quest for peace of mind, this was gone in the second I read the message.
I was about to experience a complete mindfuck.
I guessed something had gone wrong when I saw that she had texted me. We hadn’t really been in contact for months, apart from occasional “how are you” e-mails. We hadn’t seen each other and we hadn’t called each other. And although a message is surely nothing extraordinary, I was afraid to open it. And boy, I was right. But let me start from the beginning.
I’d known this girl for a couple of years already, although only superficially. She was just a schoolmate of mine, and despite being quite blown away by her appearance (and voice, yes, the voice), I didn’t really care about her or pay extra attention to her. Little did I know about how huge influence this freckled, green-eyed girl will have on my life.
When it all began, I was simply minding my own business. Things always happen when I’m minding my own business. I was perfectly comfortable with myself at that time. I didn’t really know any of my schoolmates yet, and they obviously didn’t know me either. I was quite enjoying this state of blessed anonymity and ease of being on my own. I didn’t have to care about anything but myself. Egocentric but very comfortable.
And then she came, out of nowhere, and turned every piece of myself inside out. I don’t know where exactly this whole thing started, but that’s not the point, anyway (as if I knew what the point is). We had a two-hour gap in our third-year schedule on Tuesdays, and I used to walk down to the river, conveniently situated just a few dozen steps from the faculty’s entrance. I always walked down to the bottom of the riverbank, just next to the bridge, and lay down.
I really enjoyed lying in the sun for a while, listening to the silent flutter of tree leaves and the gentle sound of waves breaking over the stones just a few feet away from my perfectly motionless body. How romantic. But at least I had what I really needed at that time – peace of mind.
And I did this each and every Tuesday: I left the whole world behind, lay down into the short grass and listened to the waves. It was so relaxing that it always put a mild smile on my face. I must’ve looked like an idiot. But hey, what does it matter when there’s no one to look at you there? And that was true. No one came looking for me. It was just me and my thoughts. A blessing.
On one of these ordinary Tuesday afternoons, I was just chilling out half-asleep on the bank, thinking about something of no importance (as always), when all of a sudden, someone, not three feet behind my head, spoke up. It freaked the living hell out of me. I had no idea someone was this close behind me. After gaining consciousness from the depths of the initial shock, I pulled up to sit and turned around. I could see her standing behind me, my heart beating like I was to run for my life every second.
I didn’t really hear what she had said, but that’s unimportant. Important was the surprise that someone had actually found me and come to me down there! But even then, I wouldn’t have guessed that this was my last Tuesday gap in solitude. But it was. We had a little chat, and to my surprise, she was a company of quite remarkable quality, which was something I hadn’t really been used to. Still, I didn’t have any plans with her. Actually, I didn’t have any plans at all.
Plans were made for me though. It became a rule that she came down there every Tuesday, and once, when she was even waiting for me there, I stopped and told myself that this meant something. Then again, I didn’t really care about what would come next. She was lying on the ground, her smooth brown hair waving in the breeze. She was beautiful. Hell, she was the most beautiful person I’d ever laid my eyes (and later hands) on. Or at least I thought so at that time. I sighed and walked towards her.
That day, I didn’t attend the class at six. These Tuesday conversations weren’t as innocent as they seemed. I could dance around the fire, but to cut the long story short, I’d grown to love her as hell in the course of a few weeks. Tuesday afternoons were the point of my life. And this one marked the beginning of a long and weary journey to…heh…I’d tell you if I knew.
In the middle of a sentence, we just snapped together like magnets and kissed. It was the greatest feeling of my entire life. I don’t remember anything but the feeling. As if I woke up when I saw the grass behind her, swinging in the sunset again. I’d never felt anything like this for anyone. I got these little spasms clutching my throat in excitement. It was… love, strong as hell. I could lie there forever, looking at her beautiful freckled face, staring into her green eyes, listening to her sweet voice. If I was to choose a single word to describe her, it would be nothing but “divine”.
But (and there’s always a “but”), that’s where the nice story ends. It turned out that she didn’t really want to get involved with me, or with anyone else. And so I ended up sitting under the bridge, listening to “I need to be alone now…”, wondering what the hell was going on. We were both in love, but that apparently wasn’t enough. For a strange reason, she wanted to remain friends. And I don’t get it now any more than I did back then.
The next few months were painful as hell. It was unimaginably hard not to think about the Tuesday afternoons when I saw her. Not to remember the shivers in my body when our lips met. Not to remember the slight touch of her gentle fingers on my face. It was damn hard, harder than I could imagine. As for her, she acted like nothing had happened, like we had always been no more than friends. And for some reason, that hurt me even more. But I didn’t give up. I was too strong and too determined to fail like that. I carried on, I lived on. With time, I was able to get my peace of mind back. Through painful and exhausting effort, but I had grown to feel comfortable about her. Until that morning two weeks ago.
When I opened the message, it was short. And it didn’t say anything really shocking. But I already knew her. I knew her more than well. That message was hiding more than what was obvious. The text read,
I miss you. I can’t stop thinking about us. We need to talk.
I was stunned. I felt like I’d frozen and melted back to life in the course of two seconds. I didn’t dare to think about what was to follow. I didn’t want to even imagine it for the tiniest little moment. Because I knew.
We met the next day, and my fears (AND deepest desires at the same time, which is where the problem was) came true. She told me she couldn’t go on like this, that she had come to realize that she wanted me after all. She told me that she had made a mistake when she wanted to remain friends. And, in the end, she finished with telling me – surprise, surprise – to “think about it”. And WHAM, suddenly, as if there was too little thinking for me; there I was again, in the same brainwash as before. And what’s more, I had a decision to make, and, possibly, a whole lot to lose if I screwed up. “Brilliant,” I thought, wishing I could shut myself down instantly without death being a necessary side effect.
I was mad. I was mad because somehow I knew this would all come along. I couldn’t possibly come up with a decision harder to make than this. “A lucky bastard,” you may think. Wrong. The long months of convincing myself why it was good that we were only friends had left their mark on me. I didn’t really think getting involved with her again would end up happily. On the other hand, at the same time, there was nothing that I had wanted more than her. Talk about dilemmas. I was completely out of order.
Usually, when you hear about things like this, you think about them for a minute and then just sigh with relief that it isn’t you. But this was me, and there was no escape, no back door to take. I had to think it through. I was the one to make the decision; I was to deal with my life and no one else. I had both a chance to discover the love of my life and a wonderful chance to screw things up even further. The problem was that I didn’t know what would lead to what and there was no guide whatsoever. It was up to me.
On one hand, I loved her. I still loved her as hell. On the other, I no more trusted her enough, simply because she was able to refuse the same love for a reason still unknown to me. She was unpredictable, and that scared me more than one would think. The big question was whether she had really just made up her mind and we could be the happiest couple on earth, or whether this was a sign to back off, for she might do another similarly stupid thing to me later.
These thoughts had been chasing me non-stop for the last two weeks. I had been waking up at night and mindlessly staring out of the window during lectures. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it. And yet, I was still stuck at the same point, my personality tearing apart like cardboard.
There was no point in guesstimating the whole thing. There was no logic involved. I could as well throw a coin to get it over with fast. But I couldn’t help myself and I did like I do always. I tried to rationalize, to evaluate various points and aspects of a thing where points and aspects are completely irrelevant.
The last two weeks were one of the hardest times of my life. These haunting thoughts occupied me whatever I was doing. I was exhausted and clueless. But I had to decide. And I needed to. The day before yesterday, I woke up, and overpowered by love (awww), I gave up on rational thinking. I had nothing to lose. I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try. Maybe this relationship woul crash, burn and end disastrously, but maybe it wouldn’t. And that ‘maybe’ was enough for me to try.
The moment I made the decision half of my thoughts just disappeared. I felt liberated and relaxed. At last, I felt happy and was looking forward to seeing her again. The world had changed its shape and color before my eyes (no controlled substances involved, I swear).
My happiness lasted precisely for one day. Yesterday I met with her to clear things up. And indeed, they did clear up, just the other way round. She decided to study abroad for the next three years. Our relationship was over for the second time already, before even having started. She said she thought it was a great opportunity, and that it was the best for her now. I was puzzled. Was she in love with me or not? Simple to ask, impossible to answer, obviously.
She said that I was a great person, a great company, and that she had never liked anyone as much as she liked me. She said that I was everything she could ever wish for. But, apparently, everything was not enough. I didn’t know whether to burst into tears or into mad, uncontrollable laughter. It was more absurd than I could ever imagine. I was the best for her, but for some unknown reason, she didn’t want to get involved in a serious relationship. What the hell did she want anyway? She had missed me, made a mistake in resisting and thought that I was the best person in her life, yet she didn’t want me? What sense does this make?
To me, it makes none. If I wasn’t completely against the concept of someone being “too good” for somebody, this would be the case. Not a standing army of devils would have known what was going on in her head. I doubt she even knows what she really wants. I’m angry on one hand, but devastated on the other – I don’t have a clue what stands between me and her. I don’t have a single tiniest reason why we shouldn’t be together, for fuck’s sake!
Women… sometimes I understand them. But most of the time, it’s like writing handcuffed with a blindfold on my eyes. Impossible. They are never satisfied with what they have. And when it shows best are the times when they have everything. They will tell you that you are the most delightful creature on earth, yet they won’t have anything more than friendship with you, and you are left to wonder.
They are all out there, with their smiles, perfumes, cleavages and legs. But they are all fake. All there is for show is just on the surface. All those eyelashes and short skirts, driving you nuts. But sadly, beauty is often superficial. The deeper you go (no pun intended), the less you understand. Eventually, you lose your enthusiasm to go on trying and are left out in the open, with the last brittle pieces of your peace of mind dissolved in tears flowing down your throat.
They are all out there, and you’re stuck between their divine elegance and charm; and the hidden horrors that may be waiting for you to be lived once you get to the core.
You never know what’s hiding behind the veil of their smile. You never know what you’ll find in there.
That’s life. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s why you live through the same shit repeatedly. There’s a slight chance that the next time you’ll be luckier. Good news is, there’s always a “next time”, and there are always “maybes”, so you can always have hope. Sometimes, it’s all you’ve got…
I am out of my mind. I’m breathing heavily, finishing my glass of wine, thinking about the events of the past few weeks. All that thinking, all that deciding, all the dilemmas, all that pain. And everything in vain. Everything for love, as they say. Maybe if I had fought harder for her, I would have convinced her to be with me in the end. But I didn’t. I thought I knew better than to convince someone to love me. And maybe that was the sole but critical mistake I had made. Maybe it simply doesn’t go around like this.
Once again, I made the mistake of treating people as if they were the way I wanted them, and not the way they really are. Maybe my ego has to give way to how things work.
To put my thoughts in order, I wrote a short letter to her. Just for the sake of my own peace of mind. I needed to do this last thing to be satisfied and to know that there was nothing more I could do. Nothing heartbreaking and definitely nothing pathetically persuasive. Just this:
Dear (I’ll omit the name for obvious reasons),
I know we’ve spoken about everything, I just need to tell you a few more words, and I thought this is a good way to do it for I needed to think it through a bit. So please, bear with me for a few lines.
I feel a lot can change in our lives depending on how we act now. I just want you to think everything through once more. I’m not going to try and convince you to stay with me. You know I’m not like that. I don’t want anything you don’t. I just want us both to be happy, and I think you’re making a mistake. I may not see into your mind, but yet I see more than you think.
Maybe staying together is good, maybe it isn’t. I don’t know. We won’t know unless we try. But I know love when I see it, and when I feel it. And denying love is at least as insane as yielding to it. With one big difference: yielding to flourishing love is the most beautiful thing you can ever experience. Don’t cut yourself loose from something that may not repeat itself.
I don’t want to force you into anything. You know what’s right for you. It’s up to you. Do as you want, but please, think it well through, so you won’t do anything we’ll both regret later.
I love you, and I trust you know what you’re doing.
PS: Regardless of what will follow, I want you to know that you’ll always remain very, very dear to me.
Someone once said: “Love is like a rollercoaster. You pay a lot of money to be tossed around, and before you know the ride is over, you’re covered in vomit.” So here I am, taking the most surprising ride of my life, finishing the last sip of wine, and just about to post the letter.
As I said, you never know what’s hiding behind the veil of their smile…
Smile and a Veil by Oliver Meres
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