He knew he wasn’t who she really wanted; he was just a fill-in, a placeholder. But love makes you do stupid things, and he truly loved her.
They say that we can’t help who we fall in love with. I wish they would quit saying that. Maybe we’d try a little harder not to fall in love with people who are so obviously not in love with us. I know I wished that for him. As one of my best friends, it hurt to see how hard he tried, and how little it seemed to matter to her.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, she was largely gracious to him, and grateful. I think she felt as though she ought to love him, but, just couldn’t or didn’t. They lived together, and slept together, but she was very careful never to tell him that she loved him, because – she didn’t feel it.
Frankly, there is many a man who would be satisfied living with a beautiful woman who has sex with him, but I knew he wasn’t. Or that he was and wasn’t. He wanted her to love him like he loved her, but that wasn’t going to happen. But still he loved her, and did everything in his power to make her happy.
I was over visiting one night; they had just bought this place they were fixing up, and I brought them dinner and some wine as a housewarming gift. He was showing me the antique stairway and describing what all he would need to do to fix it up; I glanced over at her as she was looking, wistfully, out of one of the largely opaque old-style windows. She looked like she wished she was somewhere else – anywhere else, in fact.
“Hey, are things cool with you guys?” I asked him, furtively, as we headed down for him to show me the basement.
“I know she’s not happy,” he said. “I was never the person she imagined herself ending up with.”
“Who exactly is?” I asked, having wondered for some time.
“The guy before me. They had all these plans of getting married, and moving. Apparently, he makes a lot of money.”
“Oh, he ran around on her. If it was female, and would hold still long enough, he would try to nail it, apparently.”
“And she still loves him?”
“I believe so, yes. At any rate, she doesn’t love me.”
“Why do you put up with this? Break up with her!”
“I can’t. I just — I can’t. I wish I didn’t feel the way about her that I do.”
“How do you deal with it? I couldn’t.”
“I don’t know. I keep hoping one day she’ll just wake up and look over at me and think – ‘Hey, I think I love that guy.'”
That never happened.
He called me about three months later to tell me she had left him. She paid him half of the mortgage payment on the new place for that month and the next three, because, she said, she felt bad leaving him in that big place when he was counting on both of their incomes. I asked him what had happened.
“Mister Wonderful called her, and said he was sorry, and that was all it took. She was gone within hours.”
“I’m sorry, man, that sucks. You want to go get a beer or something?”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
We met at a bar called The Wasted Pig about an hour later. We did our best to live up to the name of that august establishment, drinking several pitchers of beer while watching ball games and my flirting with the waitress.
“I was never anyone to her,” he said, suddenly, during a commercial break in the game. “Do you know what that feels like? To give everything you have to somebody who it means nothing to?”
I had to say that I very possibly didn’t, although I’ve since learned.
“I’m playing the game like she did from now on. You’ll never catch me telling some girl I love her. Love is for fools and losers.”
Love turns us into fools and losers, I thought, but I kept my own counsel, as he was in full flow.
“Maybe I’ll pick someone up here tonight. I’ll show her, I’m not just dirt on her shoes.”
“No, you’re not,” I said.
“Why didn’t she love me?” he asked, changing tone instantaneously.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe it’s because you don’t drink enough beer.”
“Good theory,” he said. “Let’s get another pitcher.”
The months rolled by after that, and my friend gradually recovered into his usual cheerful self. He started dating again; I really liked the woman he was dating, and so did he. He did not keep his promise to never fall in love again, although I suspect he waited this time to hear her say it first.
We happened to be back in his basement (he had put in a pool table) when I asked him if he ever heard from his ex.
“Why, yes,” he said. “She called me about two weeks ago… to say that she was really sorry about what happened.”
“What did you say?”
“I told her not to worry about it. That it was hard, when it happened, but that I was happier now with someone who actually loved me. That seemed to surprise her. She said, after a long pause, that she hoped that I would have some fond memories of our time together, because she did.”
“What did you say to that?”
“Well, my first impulse was to say that she had just been a placeholder, someone to spend time with until the real thing came along. But I didn’t. I told her I did, and would, have fond memories of our time together, and that I appreciated her calling and hoped she would always be happy.”
He was a better man than I could ever be; but then, I thought, love can make us wise as well as foolish.
For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.