A CERTAIN KIND OF LOVE
The cracks in time highlighted our presence once again as we sat across from each other. He stares at me in the dimmed dining room light that I have turned down on purpose, and the stillness of the neighborhood presses down our shoulders tightly, making sure that we are aware of the decision we will be making.
I am aware, of course, but I am not sure of him, or his feelings toward me, or the future that we both hold in our hands.
For instance, we both have very different ideas about love.
My parents had always reminded me to fall for the right boy and to never come out as gay. Apparently, worse than having a daughter who falls for the wrong boy is to have a gay daughter.
I am 28, and I know one day I will be somebody’s bride, and if that one person, that one heart that belongs to a vessel succeeds in filling my days with something more than just broken beer bottles and arguments buried deep within the night, I have to love them back.
Pieter has much, much more to lose.
With me being his first love, I was unforgettable. How could you forget the girl who had accepted the rose you handed her and later admitted she had never loved you at all?
I told you, I was what they called unforgivable, heartless, ruined.
No, no, I was not just ruined. I was ruination.
This is my second week of moving in with my sister and her girlfriend. They live on the edge of the city, their apartment located at the exact point between high-rise condominiums dotting the outer part of Jakarta and the dilapidated slums that somehow survived eviction.
Anyway, I unlock the apartment door and open it slowly, not wanting to wake up its inhabitants, and yelp as I find Zoe standing behind me.
‘‘Go on in, then,’’ she says, nudging me with her wet hand. It never occurred to me previously how beautiful she looks when she stands in the poorly lit hallway, trying to squeeze the water out of her hair as she tugs off her bomber jacket.
‘‘ What brings you here late at night?’’ she asks me.
‘‘I thought it was clear, the fact that I was staying with you and your girlfriend.’’
Zoe raises an eyebrow, clearly baffled by what I just said. ‘‘Your sister, my girlfriend?’’
‘‘ Well, she couldn’t have been talking about me when she writes those sappy poems about elfin women falling in love with girls like you.’ ‘‘You mean Sapphic.’’ ‘‘Of course, I do.’’ I help myself to a glass of orange juice from the pitcher and sit on one of the stools as Zoe pulls off her wet jumper and drops it to the floor. ‘You are the one, as far as she is concerned.’
‘But I’m not sure if she is the one for me.’ ‘‘ Why wouldn’t you?’’ ‘‘Everyone else thinks we’re made for each other, of course, but it’s that feeling that always sets my world off its axis, that one question filled with doubt that threatens to tear this relationship apart,’’ Zoe squirms as a gust of night air breaks through the kitchen window.
‘‘Is it weird?’’ she asks. ‘‘You probably don’t get it, I mean, you’re probably much older than me and much more experienced in terms of love, you’re engaged with a perfect man who loves you to death— ’’
‘Yet I’m not sure if he really is the one.’
‘ Why not?’ Zoe’s expression is a mixture of incredulity and relief, and maybe a little tinge of sadness, too.
‘I’ve never been in love with him. Not since we started dating at the age of fourteen,’ I say.
‘‘But you’re not supposed to feel this way,’ she says. Her words feel heavy and they linger in the air, like the smell of something burning. ‘‘Isn’t love supposed to free you, not condemn you?’’
I glance at the gaping doorway, at the aching heart I have been saving for someone special, and finger the laced tablecloth on the kitchen table. I’m not
supposed to like you this way, I thought, and decided to save my thoughts like the draft messages I have always kept on my phone.
Zoe has always walked like she belongs in a better world, and it is a surprise to come home early from work and find her lounging across the sofa while watching a movie and enjoying a cup of milk with honey cookies.
‘‘You caught me,’’ she grins, beckoning me to sit on the other end of the couch. Her bare feet are cold, and she talks over the movie with the freedom I have always envied, the charm I fail to possess, eating while she ignores the screen, saving her eyes for me, and only me.
Oh, how wonderful it is to be the apple of her eye when my sister is not around.
Maybe I am not the only one who notices the chemistry between her and my sister, because when my shift starts and I begin stacking baby food at the local supermarket where I work, my sister catches up with me, running through the aisles, passing through a pair of lovesick teenagers who probably have gone out of their way to find a quiet place where their parents would not be able to find them. ‘‘Hey.’’ ‘‘ Was I expecting you?’’ I frown at her messy hair and pajama bottoms.
‘‘Zoe’s leaving!’’ Her hand grips my arm tightly and I feel so, so sorry for my sister. I feel a pang of remorse as I try to remember what the world was like without her girlfriend.
What would the world be without the lips of that particular person resting on mine, her hands travelling the veins that made up the lost pathways that would never lead anywhere? I force myself to seal my lips shut and never tell her the truth about what happened. There is nothing I could do, of course, to un-love the girl I fell in love with; but I know, by reading the book Zoe had left me, there was a chance everything else would be all right, even if things are never going to be the same.
And of course, months pass, and the wedding I was supposed to have is finally called off, in exchange for a future for myself, and after rereading the letters Zoe sent to my own apartment, she is not ready yet to reconcile and mend things over, and I am sure we are both looking for more than we are supposed to have, for a future that is both reliable and clear.
My 29th birthday rolled around and I am still here. I have chased more than
a dozen MRTs, I have been late to the office numerous times, and I am still living alone after a whole year of reasoning with my sister. I have stared at the faces of many people when I walk around the city, simply because any one of them could be Zoe. I have found more and more things to love, yet none of them are the ones I want, and maybe that is okay.
The person my heart has chosen to love stands underneath the lamppost, and it is raining again in Jakarta, a usual thing on a gloomy Sunday afternoon. I take a sip of my latte and pick distastefully at my croissant, and watch the figure drawing nearer and nearer. The radio is on, playing a song I know too well, except this time I am not listening.
The cracks in time highlight our presence once again as we both sit opposite each other, fists unclenched, our smiles flourishing under the starry sky. My lover stares at me in the dimmed dining room light that I have turned down on purpose, and the stillness of the neighborhood touches our shoulders lightly, and for once, it gives us the time that we need.