A week ago Jeremy was glowing. “Last night I told Sara that I loved her.” He bought us two horchatas, and then ignored his as he recounted the events of the evening.
“Wow. That’s really…. Well done,” I said. I’m always impressed by new love, and I put my hand out for shaking. Now it was official.
“I know. Everything’s just really coming together now for us, and last night I just felt this overwhelming…” he searched for the words, “all-encompassing thing.”
“So there it was.”
“Right. And I have to say, it feels great.” He scooted his glass, now frosted with condensation, back and forth, obsessively.
“Congratulations,” I said. I’d never been as rigorous with my own thoughts to assume that I understood love, which made his declaration—or any declaration of love—all the more miraculous.
I’d finished my horchata, and the straw sucked spiritedly at the bottom of the glass. “It makes me wonder though,” I said. “Would you like to be her?” The question didn’t strike me as the definitive acid test, but it did seem like a natural consideration.
“To be her? I don’t know, she’s doing pretty well now with the new job and all. I certainly wouldn’t mind that commute.”
“No, I’m not talking about swapping places with her. I mean would you want to be Sara?”
He cocked his head and blinked at me. “What do you…?”
“To live the life she’s living,” I said, “in her skin. I mean, you say that you love her, and that’s great. But I just wonder if being in love with someone—the one—also suggests a willingness to be that person.”
“That doesn’t… I don’t know what you’re driving at.” He laughed and shifted in his chair, looking around the restaurant, as if he might see others listening in.
“I’m asking if you’d be open to the possibility,” I said.
Jeremy sat up in his chair. “I mean, I’ve worked hard to get where I am. I like myself,” he said, making chopping gestures with his hands, “and I’ve become the person that Sara can love. We’re not interchangeable.”
I laughed. “I’m not saying you’re interchangeable. If you were, the question would be moot.”
“The question is moot!” he barked. “Sorry. I just….” He looked around the room again.
“I don’t think you’d be so defensive if the question were moot.”
“And,” I added, “I don’t think you’d be so defensive if the answer were ‘yes.’ I basically asked if you’d like to live your life as Sara, and I infer from your response—from your reaction—that the answer is no.”
He looked like he really wanted to get up and leave, but was unable to. “So what, you’re drawing a conclusion from that? Some metaphorical question that has no basis in…? So would you be willing to swap places with everyone you love? And if not, is that love?”
I shook my head. “That begs the question.”
“What? I just asked the same thing you asked.”
“You asked another question. I’m asking you if you’d like to be Sara, the woman you love.”
He sighed heavily. “Why?”
“Why are you asking me about Sara?”
“I’m asking you about you. But now that you mention it, I wonder what she would think if she knew that you wouldn’t even entertain the notion of living as her. I think that’s enlightening. I didn’t mean it to be confrontational.” I rapped on the table twice: case closed; no biggie. “Can I…?” I indicated his beverage. “If you’re not going to?” He released the horchata into my possession with a wave.
After a moment he said, “I think she’d be amused.”
“This whole idea, I think Sara would find it amusing. That’s all.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Think so?”
“For a second. And that would be that.”
I pointed my straw at him. “You know what? I think she wouldn’t move on. I think it would stay with her, that knowledge.”
Now he really was ready to leave. “That knowledge. Whatever, man. When you’re in love, feel free to swap all you want. This isn’t a conversation that two people can have.” He didn’t care who else heard him.
“Fine,” I said, palms raised. “Just be careful if you tell her what we talked about, okay? You may want to leave this part of the discussion out.”
“Look, you know, we don’t have any secrets from each other. That’s love, see. That’s a legitimate measure of love…. If she asks, I’d tell her.”
“Right. Okay.” Let her ask, I thought. I didn’t need to win an argument, but I consider myself a pretty good judge of character. “Just be careful.”
A month later I was buying Jeremy a beer. He told me how Sara hadn’t been able to drop the idea, and how, over the course of a few weeks, it became the cancerous seed that finally made the relationship untenable. “Things just fell apart like you wouldn’t believe, and all over that. So I gave up,” he said. “After she gave up, I gave up.”
I clapped my friend on the back.
“So you tell me,” he said, “is that the essential question? Is that love’s litmus test?”
“No idea.” I shrugged. “I thought the question up just before I asked it. Besides, I agreed with your implicit answer. Sara can’t deal with existential questions like you can. It would have been a real loss for you either way.”
He sat up from the bar. “Shut the fuck up, man. Not funny.”
“You’re right, bad joke.”
» “A Hero's Lament” (09 of Dec, 2004)
» “Failure” (14 of Jun, 2004)
» “Entropy OS” (03 of Feb, 2004)