Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Stony Heart - A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time not too long a girl met a boy in a bar. It was dark and dirty and everyone was tired and hungover from the festivities of the night before, including the both of them, so names and smiles were exchanged, but nothing more. It was just a passing introduction, nothing noteworthy, except that they eventually became friends and spent countless hours laughing together drinking beer in bars and watching movies while eating Cheetohs on their respective couches.

Now, looking back with the introspection that only time and distance allows us, she wishes she had relished those moments more. To her, they had merely been fun but passing experiences, time spent with yet another friend. She didn’t realize at the time she was in the midst of a love story and she would want to save those memories to savor at a later date. She wishes she had taken pictures with her mental camera so she could pore over the brown of his eyes, the smoothness of his hair, his crooked smile, the way his lean body languidly sat on a stool and stretched out over his sofa. Click click click.

One night, during one of their normal drinks and TV-watching sessions, she felt his hand reach over and twist her long hair. Although it wasn’t unpleasant, she felt her stomach tie up in knots and said good-bye to him awkwardly that night, only to dwell on that moment for the following weekend while he was out of town. To her amazement, she found herself missing him while he was gone. And all of a sudden it hit her that there might be something more there, and even more surprisingly, she wanted to find out if there was. It was a startling revelation.

So startling that when she called him she found herself stammering throughout the conversation, which had never happened before. Words and laughter had always flowed easily between them in the past, before the possibility of feelings were involved. But somehow she managed to squeeze out an invitation to go on a date to which he endearingly replied in confusion a real life date? before promptly and enthusiastically accepting.

On their first date, then went out to dinner and nervously chatted the whole time about TV shows and mundane details of their lives. It took a few beers (as it always does) to finally loosen them up and then the remainder of the evening was laughter and seeing each other through new eyes. She realized that she really wanted to kiss him, and feel his heartbeat, and wondered why this hadn’t occurred to her until now. They talked all night and it wasn’t until an unexpected lull in conversation as the night drew to a close that he finally reached over, pulled her close with an unprecedented gentle touch, and kissed her softly and sweetly, and the only strangeness she felt was in the realization that they should have done this a long time ago.

They fell in love slowly. Despite the months of friendship, everything felt new, the kisses, the quiet touches in the middle of the night, the first time they held hands in the safeness of a crowded movie theater, the way it felt when he spontaneously put his arms around her and kissed her on her forehead when they were walking down the street. She started to relish the smell of his skin, the way his clothes and sheets smelled. After he fell asleep, she would bury her small nose in the nape of his neck and inhale deeply, smile to herself, before drifting off to sleep and dreaming of him.

On the mornings when he woke before her, he quietly moved around and got dressed while she watched between sleepy, bleary eyes. She pretended to be asleep when he came over beside her to stroke her skin and drop little kisses all over her neck and face, as if nibbling her for breakfast. After the door closed behind him, she giggled to herself, pulled the covers over her head, and relished the wetness that his lips left behind on her skin.

Nevertheless, she kept her feelings at bay, telling herself it was just a fling between close friends. Before she had even met him, she had turned her heart to stone and forced herself to act cold and distant, so that she would never be hurt again. That was before she realized that no matter how much she denied her feelings, they would still be there, under the layers of sediment, and that when he looked deeply into her eyes in the moonlight and smiled at her, her heart would still flutter and she would want more than anything to be the girl reflected in the dark brown irises of his eyes.

The quietest moments were the sweetest, the best. One night she awoke suddenly after a bad dream and instinctively leaned over to his sleeping figure. Feeling her stir, he pulled her head onto his chest, wrapped both his arms around her tightly in a sleepy embrace, and kissed the top of her head. No words were needed. That night, she knew that she could try to deny it until her voice was hoarse, but in the silence the truth would emerge, that there was love. And as much as that scared her to her core, the only thing she could feel in his firm embrace was safe and content.

The day he told her he was leaving it crushed her more than she had ever believed it could. She had deceived herself into thinking whatever it was she had been feeling was a passing emotion, and she would look back on their time together with fondness, but no regrets. But now, the castles she had built up were crashing down, and the waves were attacking them violently.

She told herself that she was to blame, because she had read too many love stories throughout the years. In all of them, finding love was the end of the tale; it managed to conquer all the obstacles to triumph in a fiery glow. But outside of the books she had steeped herself in throughout her youth, love was not always enough. Sometimes, it was just a painful side effect. She rationalized that she should just close her heart up again, hide her real self away from the world. For in the process of letting him in, she had opened up herself to feeling, feeling everything, including the heartache that she had been desperately trying to avoid.

After the cascade of tears finally ended, after the questions were asked through muted lips, after the throbbing her chest faded, her mind finally quieted. And all the regret that should have been left over, all of the pain just gave way to calm and peace. For in the abyss he had left behind was the awareness that she could, and would again, love. And even though she would love him with a small piece of her heart for her remaining days, even if she never felt his heart beat next to hers again, she would cherish him for that. For no matter what happened in the end, there had been the purest and most radiant of love, and there had been the quiet moments that he had held her in his arms, smoothed her hair, and kissed her tenderly. And that was enough and that was everything.

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