Give me mine… bittersweet.
For a long time, there was a gap between me and the world, because I did not understand what love meant.
One night, there was a bridge of birds.
Where romance is concerned, it has always been in my nature to desire the unattainable. When I was a child, the spark in my life was a first cousin, though he showed little regard for me. In high school I developed a string of crushes on smart boys uninterested in love.
At University, there was a professor.
Oh, he wasn’t a professor when it started. He was just another graduate student on a teaching assistantship, and I was just a senior uppity enough to take graduate courses. Eventually he became an assistant professor, and I became his head teaching assistant.
We shared a deep love of programming languages.
I remember late nights in the computer labs, talking at length about continuations and stack frames, surrounded by the hum of Sun workstations and the clicking of keyboards from huddled figures in distant corners.
Or walking on the bridges through the CS building atrium, musing quietly about compilers and parse trees, silhouetted against suspended fluorescent lights, surrounded by the inky black sky.
Or one harried night we spent together in his office, grading final exams like mad. We talked little, much less about lambda calculus or Church numerals, but by then we did not need to.
I visited his apartment often, in spite of his tarantulas, snakes, and desire to acquire poisonous tree frogs. Just to talk about life.
But, you know, you can’t have professors and assistants falling in love. That way lies nepotism and disgrace.
One day we got word that two of our friends were getting married.
I was relieved, because this meant that she was not the person that he might possibly be in love with.
The actual wedding in the church did not touch me, although the ceremony provoked throat-clogging emotion all around me. The vows, the rings, the kiss: I looked at the strange transformation of our friends through plate glass, and wondered.
Perhaps the reception was different because it occurred at night. Or because it happened in a large rented cabin in the woods, rather than the formal grounds of a church.
But most likely the crucial difference was that the reception was a party everyone actively participated in. There was food, there were presents, but most importantly there was dancing.
At the time I understood dancing as well as I understood love, but I wanted to try it. Just with him.
I remember best the vision of him, under the lights, so formally dressed, so polite, like a prince in nerdy professor glasses. And I was formally dressed for one of the few times in my life, and perhaps it was kind of like a wedding, in the way that a raindrop is like a storm.
In spite of my clumsiness (he was, as ever, so patient), I learned something.
Dancing is a relationship in miniature. For the length of a song, you are touching someone and looking at someone and moving together with someone through space and time: for a short while, the dancers are two breathing as one.
Never before and never again would the phrase “I love you” in my mind ever ring like bells, like truth and not just some illusion we cling to in our desire to not be alone in the dark.
It was just one song.
And it did not last forever.
Maybe weddings are like funerals.
Our friends’ wedding was the first of many separations, the death knell of a group of friends moving their different ways into the next phase of life. By two years afterwards, everyone had moved in opposite directions across the country, and keeping up with distant friends is, of course, difficult.
The last call I ever got from him was on my answering machine, a happy birthday message.
I never called back. He didn’t, either.
I still don’t understand love: why it exists or why it stays or why it goes away. If I have any comfort, it’s that no one else seems to understand either, although there are different levels of understanding.
I have tried to rekindle those strange feelings, but it seems that wedding was the cap on my ability to experience love in real life.
The human condition is strange and sometimes all too wonderful, or all too painful, or both.
Thus I write.