As soon as a nice coffee shop opens up around here, hordes of Gucci knock-offs and disaster nose jobs descend and take away the ambiance. August in LA is stifling. I need to get out. If you drive west on Highway 101 towards Santa Barbara and take the State Street exit, the road twists and turns through the mountains and eventually brings you, in the middle of nowhere, to a slice of Scandinavia – a place that goes by the name of Solvang. Patisseries, ice cream parlors and cafés abound. Once there, it is quite possible to think that one has died and gone to java heaven.
On the drive over I have the music on high to drown my thoughts of Mira and her man; well - her part-time man. I have not been able to shake off the conversation we had. That’s my curse. Someone says something to me and I own it wholly. It must be the caged codependent screaming to get out when given half a chance. A sob story is the ultimate turn-on for this soul of mine. The rescuer literally leaps out of my heart wanting to hold and soothe the other person and relieve them of their blame, their sadness and their responsibilities. Try as I might though, I cannot fathom my violent reaction to Mira’s confessions. I am neither the betrayed wife nor Mira herself, so why such extreme emotions? And then to go and lambast the poor soul, hurling a barrage of verbal bullets without even giving her the chance to tell it all – assuming there is an ‘all’ to tell. I chastise myself mercilessly. The self-flagellation feels good.
At the café I order my cup and start looking around the room. There is a family two tables down. The father, a somewhat handsome man in his forties, and the mother, a slightly plump plain Jane, are busily entertaining their protégé; a girl who is about the same age as mine – 10, and a boy who is a couple of years younger. I am mesmerized by the family dynamics - the children vying for the parents’ attention so that the adults cannot get a word in edgeways. The table is replete with half eaten sandwiches, spilled juice, general chaos and laughter. I wonder to myself if this father takes off into the woods with a Mira of his own. And does this mother know and look the other way? Is she too busy with chores and children to notice the perfume on her husband’s clothing? Is she chalking down the tardy arrivals from work to extra money for the family? Is she refusing him sex and love – too flustered and fatigued to care? Would that she knew? And what of it? Have a show down and give up the Sunday outings also? He looks decent and good from the outside. But who really knows whether he has an ‘other’ life? I want to believe this is an intact family untainted by an absent amour. I want to believe that the couple is holding steadfastly to each other despite the sleepless nights, work, bills and the mediocrity of their existence - but can I be sure? Can they be sure? And what if a Mira-clone appears at his workplace? Surely he would not be human not to compare in his mind, at least for a moment or two, his kind yet dowdy wife to a twenty-some year old beauty who looks like she just stepped out of a magazine? It could all start innocently, couldn’t it? A shared coffee - a joke at the water cooler - a ride from the bus stop. Next thing you know Daddy dearest is watching the rear view mirror with a woman prostrate in his lap.
I snap back from my reverie to the now – the Mira who has not called for over two weeks. She must hate me. What am I but a bag of conceit, cruelty and colorful language? She has run right back into his arms, I bet. She may never call and here I am panicking that I have lost her friendship for good – another soul I will have alienated because of my big mouth. Another person pulling out of the train station of my life – waving – never to return. I feel the anxiety build up within.
But I meant well. I simply could not see how she succumbed to those actions by force. No matter how I viewed it, something didn’t add up. And I had to tell her truthfully what I thought. Isn’t that the duty of a friend? An intimate friend? What was my sin but to utter what others are thinking? A long time ago a coworker of mine had told me there are three motivators in life; money, power and sex. I wonder which of these three motivated Mira and her man. And if none, then what was the reward? Or was it penance? What would compel a 20 year old to subject herself to the whims and wishes of a thirty-some year old married man, escape and then return to him decades later – helpless in her love- utterly devoid of pride, reason or guilt? This is not a simple equation. This must be a multi-dimensional quadratic one. Or was it?
I had torn the man apart in my soliloquy; but was that fair? Could a person with a social conscience be so cruel? He had been a political prisoner in Iran. He was most probably tortured. The chances were that he had received an anal insertion or two of his own and quite possibly had had to perform fellatio on his jail keeper. He’d have known, from personal experience, how demeaning and humiliating those actions can be – under duress. Why would he then engage in similar acts with a young woman – one whom he claimed to love? Maybe a woman rescued him and he felt so indebted that he married her, despite the absence of love and passion. She saved his life so he paid her back with his. Emotionally scarred, and quite possibly physically also, the tortured had become the torturer – caged with self-loathing – a prisoner of his conscience. And then amidst the sea of demons, simply by happenstance, he ends up in the right place at the right time; or in the wrong place at the wrong time – depending on how you look at it. He meets Mira and an affair of the heart creeps up on him bringing with it joy and devastation in equal proportions. And who is to say what is right or wrong behavior between two consenting adults? What is normal? And what is deviance?
Maybe I had been quick to judge this man and far too quick to give Mira all the credit. I am a full blown idiot. I didn’t even listen to the story and made up my mind how it ought to be. Hadn’t she said “Is this your story?” I had created my version of Mira - the innocent one and my image of the man - the villain. It was my story – me - staring in a mirror.
In the web of logic I occupy, and the black box in which I sit all day long – the world and its events have to be linear for my universe to maintain its equilibrium. It is there that I can exist – in balance. And so I judge others, based on my reflection, my experiences and my wishes. I solve their puzzles using my keys. And here I have found myself the key I hold cannot unlock this mystery. Humans are not equations though. They hardly ever operate on a linear path. In the world of vagaries such as love, loyalty and betrayal, the lines criss-cross and meander, for each in a differ manner. So how can human issues be solved by simple or complex mathematical equations, assumptions and theories?
As I watch the dregs in my empty cup, the answer comes to me. It is simple of course - the only possibility that I had not considered; the most obvious and most probable reason for Mira’s demise. Bingo. I get it. My lips break open into a big smile as I rest my elbow on the table, prop my chin on my hand and turn to the patio to catch the view.
Right there and then I notice a face at a table outside; one which, wrongly but serendipitously, assumes the smile and the pose are meant for him. He nods, picks up his cup and walks inside the café. Before I know it he is at my table. I hear him say ‘May I?”. He places his lanky self into the chair across from me, leaving me no choice but to acknowledge his presence with a coy nod. I notice his hands – the long bony fingers hint at him being a musician. Are those calluses on his fingertips? It must be a string instrument he plays. Secretly I wonder how he would play me. My thoughts must be unabashedly smeared on my face. He extends his hand, introduces himself with a delicious smile thus treating me to a perfect set of dimples. He comments on my cleft chin. I check his left hand to make sure I have not missed a ring or an indentation, hinting at one having been there shortly before our encounter. He is ‘clean’. Inwardly I sigh with relief. I engage and smile a dimple back. I ask him what he is doing here – in the middle of nowhere. He tells me he is a writer. I laugh. “Aren’t we all?” I throw him a lazy look. The waitress arrives and I order a double espresso. He chimes in with a smoky voice; “Make that two.” Mira crawls to the back of my mind. For now my attention turns to the owner of the bony hands, that voice and those dimples.
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