Jay and I met for lunch at our old joint, and requested a seat in the back of the restaurant where we've sat before. It was colder than anywhere else in the restaurant, but the soft cackling of the lit fire, the smoky sweetness of burning pinewood blended with the cool air gave it the coziness of home. We ordered the blackened salmon grazed with tropical salsa that seduced our taste buds into devouring every bite.
Jay is home for Thanksgiving. It’s been years since we've seen each other. His hair is all grey now – the spring in his step is mostly gone, his eyes have lost their youthfulness and burned fierce with pessimism. Only few years older than I, but Jay had grown old – and angry. I was shocked at the bitterness and somber outlook he had on all aspect of life. Maya Angelou said, “There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing."
His second marriage crash-landed into a fiery blaze over a year ago, short of their two year anniversary. He said his wife packed up one day and left without warning. Does a woman ever just pack her things and leave without warning? I wondered.
“So are you involve with anyone?” I asked over lemon meringue pie that Jay ordered. I tried it and found that like good sex, one bite wasn't enough.
“No,” he said. “I don’t want any involvement,”
“How then will you recover and move forward?” I asked.
He laughed, and I breathed a sigh of relief, glad to see that he still had laughter left in him.
“Kitten, you are not asking the right questions before forming a conclusion. You’re just like Melanie?”
“Who is Melanie?”
“A woman who didn't ask the right questions then accused me of being a liar and a cheat,”
“Explain,” I said.
“You asked if I’m involve with anyone, and when I said no, you pictured a lonely man, eating microwaved dinner, drinking to dull the void that he goes to bed alone every night, am I right?”
“Yes. Pretty much,” I said.
“You're dead wrong," he said. "I told you that I am not involved with anyone – I didn't say that I’m not having sex. These are two different questions and they mean two different things,”
“When did you last have sex with a woman or man?” I asked.
He laughed again. “That’s specific. Yesterday morning, with a woman. And the day before with a different woman, and a few days earlier, a different woman than the first two,” he said. “
“Why so many women? And where do you find all these women to sleep with you? It is seldom that I meet a man who I want to have sex with,”
“That's because sex is completely different for men than women. A man sees a woman and wants to penetrate her. He thinks of the moment. A woman sees a man and thinks of marriage and babies. If she can't see a future in him she eliminates him."
"I don't think of marriage and babies when I date. I don’t think anything," I said.
"You think you don't. But you emotional creatures cannot help but get your hearts involved. As for why so many women, why not? I am too damaged to commit to anyone,"
"You’re not damaged. You’re hurt, that’s all. Even the most severe wounds heal, Jay,” I said.
“And some kill you," he said. "I fucking hate women. I take them to bed but I want nothing else from them,”
“Do you hate all women even though you've been hurt by one?” I asked.
He stared at me. "I can never trust anyone again, Kit. Not ever,” He said this with such vehemence we fell silent for a while.
"Enough about me," he broke the silence. "Your turn,"
“My turn for what?”
“Are you involve with anyone?”
“I don’t know. I was seeing Ean, but he lives in another state and I seldom see or speak with him,” I said.
“You have nothing,” he said. I disappeared into my mind for a moment to again contemplate a question that I've asked myself several times now. Did I think that Ean and I had something? I thought we at least had the possibility of something despite the distance.
“You can have a different man in your bed every night, why aren't you?" Jay asked.
"I don't want to," I said. "I would rather have a lot of sex with just one man,"
He stared at me as if I spoke foolishness. You see, I am a hopeful romantic – always have and I hope, always will be. I still believe in love, loyalty and commitment. When I take a man to bed, it’s because I feel that there’s enough of a connection for further exploration. He gets my full attention until or if I feel it necessary to move on.
Jay and I finished lunch and promised to do it again before he went back home. We hugged goodbye and I held on longer than I should – for a moment missing the spirit of the young, vibrant man I once knew. Will I ever see that man again?
Driving home, I couldn't help wondering, have we become a society of hook-ups? Not that I think there’s anything wrong with hooking up. My most recent being Sully – we were single, and the moment was right. We didn't feed each other false expectations – and no one got hurt. But neither of us believed that hooking up was the answer to avoid heart-break. But Jay made me sad when he said that he was too damaged to commit to anyone. I did time in this institution too, and I know too many who calls it home with no intention of ever leaving - they live on hook-ups as their connection to others. I discharged myself when I realize that I am self-healing and most of my pain with life came not from others, but from a lack of self-awareness and smallness within me. I now know that no man or beast alive has the power to turn my light into darkness without my permission.
The Jay I remembered was resilient. He could step back from the canvas of his life like an artist working on his masterpiece, and with a brush stroke, change the story. But that guy did not show up for lunch. I have always thought that as we grow older, we grow into ourselves – not out of it.
I watched him walk away with his drooped shoulders and heavy steps until he turned the corner. How does one live without love? I wondered. When we lose our capacity for love, do we not also lose our ability to appreciate life? To stop for a sunset? Bask in the innocence of a baby? Smile with our whole being?
“No one's happiness but my own is in my power to achieve or to destroy.”
~Ayn Rand ~