A note about his one:
Thanks to Sr. Cervantes for the literary image, and to the artists everywhere for painting the visual ones. This one is my favorite. Although not the exact version. That one was painted by someone else. That I will probably never see again.
Sitting down to write the final Shades of Blue story. When I write a story, I start with all of my music on shuffle, until one song feels like it captures the mood, even if the lyrics don’t match or anything. Then I will listen to it until I am done writing. This evening’s song, which based on it’s length, I will hear over 50 times in a row (now you know part of why writing is a solitary pursuit for me) is Nic Cave’s “I Do Dear, I Do.”
Additionally, I have lived in Puerto Rico for 9 months now, and have seen it rain really hard, but nothing like tonight. If rain really is angels crying, they are particularly sad tonight. Maybe it was the song, maybe it is the story. It definitely added to the mood. Especially when the power went out and candlelight was the only light source besides the screen.
Dulcinea watched as he tried to reason, and to fight, and to wail against the windmills. He really is mad, she thought.
He brayed, and prayed, and pled to her and to God to help him. Alone in his fight against the dragons, he continued tirelessly trying to keep them at bay. Talons, wings, jagged tails all coming at him, his shield and sword increasingly heavy in his arms as the fight went on for what seemed like months. He didn’t care. The damsel was his love, and as his duty as a knight, he had to free her from the dragons.
He was winning. He was winning! He had struck a blow into the heart of one of the beasts, and suddenly, in the spurts of blood released as he withdrew the sword, he saw the ending. He knew he could defeat them. And she was here! After all this time, after marrying someone else, she was here, to see him in his great triumph.
Little did he know that everyone else had decided to leave him in his madness, and she had only come out of a debt of love that she had never repaid. She was here to watch him die. Just so he wouldn’t die alone.
Her presence encouraged him, and he fought with superhuman strength well beyond what his body, ravaged from the months of beatings and starvation, could have mustered without her nearby.
And then one struck him on the left side. A sudden surge of pain traveled through his body, and he knew the blow was fatal. He struck back, decapitating the monster, but feeling the energy leaving his limbs.
“I love you,” he said to her, wanting to feel the sweetness of the words pass through his lips at least once more.
He did. He had. She had been the one to awaken his heart after a long, divorced-induced slumber. Sleepwalking through life, he had stumbled across her in a restaurant, eating alone, reading something on her phone that made her laugh. That laugh, that he would cause, that he loved, was the first indication that something was wrong, by its absence and eventual loss. He loved that she made him laugh, that she loved him, that she cared for him, even, or especially, when he no longer cared to take care of himself. Until she could no longer.
“I loved you once,” Dulcinea thought, watching him, silent in her embarrassment for him.
And she had. The charming man in the suit, eating alone, as she was, at the little Greek restaurant back when he was normal, and she was single. They had exchanged glances when she had laughed aloud, and three months later, they were living together. Those were the happiest days of her life, having come after her own walk through the desert of love. For her, it had been passing youth, one too many failed relationships, and the seeds of doubt about her self-worth planted long ago having matured to a thorny rosebush, with her inside that had isolated her.
He had cut the roses around her heart carefully, with a sweetness he had forgotten he had, buried as it had been under layers of arguments and anger over a decade of the slow death of his marriage, and he had presented them back to her for the beautiful flowers that they were, and not the cellar bars they had been before. The bush had died back.
But the roots remained. She would water it with her tears, shed whenever he ignored her fears, her opinions, her needs, or even his own, in pursuit of his writing. Until one day, she found herself again surrounded by prickly branches, bearing sweet roses.
He thought he saw her wave to him. Unable to move on his own, he tried to stand up using his sword as crutch, only to have it slide into the ground, with him stumbling, face first into the dirt. He lifted his head, to see one of the dragons snap at him, managing to just avoid the razor teeth.
Eventually, as his pursuit led him to madness, she had left, and ended up in the waiting arms of another man, who was none of the things she loved about her dying knight, but none of the bad, either.
“I cannot fail now, not now that I am so close,” he urged himself. He stood up, ignoring the pain, as he had ignored late notices, his job, reality, and most of all her. Some last reservoir of strength propelled him to his feet, and stood once again to challenge the remaining dragons. He swung and killed, and swung some more until the last of them lay slain. He walked over towards her, stammering something she could not hear, having blocked her ears to protect them from the dying screams of the dragons.
He got closer.
“I did it Dulcinea!” he exclaimed, finally close enough that she could hear him. “I killed them!” He managed a smile.
He was now close enough that she could still see the eyes of a madman, intermittent while they were together, full-blown bonkers after she had left.
He fell to his knees just feet away from her.
“They’re gone, Dulcinea. They’re all gone. You’re free.”
She bent down to touch him, an old habit perhaps, to touch his face. The few nicotine-stained teeth that had survived the beatings from groups he was certain had imprisoned her, like the high school boys whom he was certain were Barbarians, stood in stark contrast to the drying mud and blood that covered his once-handsome face. His upper lip swollen from some altercation. Oh, how she had missed those lips and his kisses.
He looked up at her, out of breath, clearly in the clutches of death.
“There was nothing you could have done, Dulcinea” he said, with the remnants of the voice he had used to serenade in her native Spanish her when he had picked her up from the airport, after a business trip.
“The reason all of my female protagonists were always so beautiful, so amazing, so smart is because all of them were you. Every one. It doesn’t matter if she didn’t look like you, sound like you, inside my head, she was you. You couldn’t have been more perfect,” he said with a bloody smile.
She looked at his eyes, and the madness was gone, replaced by that smiling look that he had had for her in their early years. That sweet smile, so damaged now, but still so beautiful to her.
“I never wanted to stop writing, and I let myself go mad is because that was the one way I had left that I could continue to love you. I knew my body had failed me, I knew I had failed you, and only by driving you away could I free you to be away from me” he started.
“In each of my stories, there is always a kiss, maybe a first, maybe a last, but it was always based on our first kiss on your birthday. If I kept writing, I could still kiss you, I could still make love to you. I could still be your knight. I could still be the sweet man that you used to love. So you see, there was nothing you could have done to save me. I only wish that I had been better for you. To you. I only wish that I could have loved you the way you wanted. In real life, in our bed, in our home, not in some story. But I knew that the dragons that imprisoned you were never going to let you go, so I wrote stories of noble knights and rescued princesses. Of monsters being vanquished so that the beautiful girl could be freed. I knew that with my faults, I could not free you. And it drove me mad. Because the one thing I wanted most, I could not do. To free you.”
She found herself unable to speak, overcome by the emotions of the years of praying to hear just those words, to free her from the guilt she had made into her personal cross, the weight of it ruining her back to the point that she lived with pain every day. She looked about her and saw a field of slain dragons and torn rosebushes.
“I am sorry I couldn’t have helped you. I am sorry that I added to the dragons. There was nothing you could have done. It wasn’t your fault. Go home, and be happy. I love you,” he gasped before collapsing.
WIth his dying breath, he said the one thing she needed to her, years ago.
What he had been fighting was not just his issues, but those inside of her, too.
And when he finally stopped, when he finally stopped tilting against them, his valiant and noble pursuit turned pyrrhic victory, a victim of a broken, no-longer-beating heart, only then did she realize that they were not windmills after all, but the dragons and rosebushes that enslaved and isolated her he had been battling.
“I love you, too. Tal vez en otra vida!” she thought, repeating in Spanish the chorus he had sang for her so long ago. Maybe in another life. She took first step towards home, the pain in back suddenly absent, and a solitary tear wetting her cheek.
Song Inspiration: En Ésta No, by Sin Bandera.
There was little of him left. The weight loss, rather pronounced in the last few months was part of it, the missing perennial fingertip extensions that had previously been his cigarettes were another, but something else had changed.
He had changed what his definition of recklessness was. Now, extreme pursuits dominated his life, searching for exhaustion, pain, or the nothingness offered by his dalliances with painkillers to feel something or nothing, depending on what he needed most.
It had been different. He used to define his heart as reckless, to indicate how far beyond fearless he felt in the pursuit of love. He no longer pursued it. And it showed. The former romantic in any group of friends, was now like a recently extinguished candle. Still vaguely warm, but without fire, without light, as if the latest gust had managed to extinguish the flame of hope that had sustained him through bad relationships, breakups, years alone.
It used to be about being willing to get on a plane to talk to someone, maybe for the last time, or packing up his life to be with the one he had been certain was The One. Now it was surfing bigger waves, pushing his body to the limits of its endurance, with little regard for safety, in a blind pursuit of feeling something that didn’t have to do with her.
“Maybe in another life…” she had trailed off as she had walked out of his apartment. It wasn’t the first time that she had said it to him. They had dreamt of meeting younger, before the others in their lives had occupied their younger years. They had said it as part of a daydream of marriage and parenthood together, of having shared the good days that preceded their meeting, of having avoided the bad ones.
Weeks went by with him not telling anyone, not his family, not his closest friends. He knew that as soon as the words had crossed his lips that it would become real, irreversible. He had hoped that by keeping it in, she might change her mind, that she would come to her senses, and see that together they were better. As individuals, as a couple, as workers, as parents, as family.
She never did.
In time, he made the phone calls he had long dreaded, spilling his awful secret into a headset, or on luckier days, ruining the mood at family dinners she would no longer attend.
“What are you going to do?” or some version thereof was always the response. Having proven himself to be the hopeless romantic, they all expected him to make the grand gesture, even if doomed to failure, to get her back.
“I don’t know,” he would sheepishly admit, for the first time in his life fear getting the upper hand in the battle with love.
She had chosen fear over love, a choice he had always avoided, even despised. But now, the comfort of his loneliness presented a welcome alternative to the uncertainty that lay ahead of him, were he to fulfill the actions of the person that he was typecast as, by those who knew him best. It was just easier to just hunker down and just miss her, than to be faced with another rejection, another wave of crushing heartache, for which he felt insufficiently prepared. He gasped the first time he thought that he had already seen her last smile, felt their last kiss, touched her for the last time. That they would not walk through the world, and life, together.
“Maybe in another life…In this one, no” he thought, wistfully, one last time.
He willed himself to suppress the love for her, the love she had grown and earned by being more than he had ever dared to dream of finding in a single person. He was going to choose the safety offered by fear, just as she had. And he was not going to think about it.
Surfing was something that he had tried on a business trip to Hawaii, having been enchanted by a gorgeous woman surfing at the break of dawn. Trying it, he had found it to be just as magical as she had described it, and although living a short distance from the beach kept it from becoming a daily activity, he now raced to the waves every chance he got.
The winter storms brought surf warnings that he promptly ignored. His improving form and newly found physical recklessness propelled him beyond the breakwaters, and into the higher waves. Multiple attempts at riding one of the twenty-footers that were hitting the shore ended in awkward faceplants into the water, dangerously close to the rocks that lined the left side of the beach.
With each attempt, his desperation grew, as this was no longer the spiritual oneness with the sea that the beautiful Hawaiian had talked about. No, this was about killing demons, or himself; something had to be slain that morning.
As the sun fully rose from behind the mountain to the east, he finally found himself atop a wave, riding it as if his upbringing in Kansas has done nothing but prepare him for this moment, as if he were born atop a surfboard. He rode the wave closer to shore, thrilled at the awesome power of nature, and then….
Crack! The board splitting into pieces as the wave bounced him on the rocks was the last thing he heard before blacking out.
And now she was next to him. She was kissing him, filling his mouth with her tongue, and his soul with her love. It was like a vignette of their happiest days, and their dreams. A curly-haired little girl, walking between them, holding their hands as they lifted her forward, a gleeful squeal accompanying each of her parentally-propelled leaps through space. The Northern Lights overhead, waves of iridescence washing over them as if the heavens has opened a portal, filling the sky with color just for them. Holding hands at the right moment, of the right song, at a concert. The sunlight streaking across her face on a Saturday morning, a smile on her lips as she felt him climax inside of her. The smile in her eyed as his hand caressed her cheek at bedtime.
He awoke to a dark room, and quickly deciphered he was in the hospital. He felt excruciating pain on his left leg, and pressed the nurse call button in hope of relief.
“You should not be feeling any pain!” the nurse explained, looking at the massive doses of morphine noted on his chart.
“I was on painkillers before this. Would that make a difference?” he sheepishly asked.
“I’ll have to get the doctor, because you are near the limit as it is,” was the nurse’s atonal response.
He returned with a syringe, injected it into the left IV bag, and looked at Tom, saying, “OK, you should go to sleep…” before Tom had a chance to ask what had happened.
The morphine brought him back to his sweet dream. Once again, in this life, or the one he was dreaming of, she was there holding his hand, laughing with him as they people watched in a seaside cafe in Italy.. She was even more beautiful than he remembered, and he remembered her as being pretty beautiful.
PAIN! THat’s what brought him out of it. He tried to open his eyes only to be blinded by a bright light shining directly into them. He could not breath, and curiosity forced him to slowly squint into the light. The pain was slowly abating, and he felt himself getting lighter in the bed.
He could not, however, move his body, as if the thoughts in his head were no longer connected to his physical being. He opened his eyes slightly more, and could see two silhouettes, both female. One might have even been hers. The light grew dimmer, and that silhouette got closer, until her face was over his. That same smile, those gorgeous brown almond-shaped eyes. Was this that other life? As he was losing consciousness he was not sure if he was still daydreaming, dead, or had managed to hop to a parallel universe where their love story had not only started, but continued. He didn’t care. His reckless heart beat once more, in this life.
Did you ever have a fantasy about how you would get back together with the one that got away? Did you keep playing in your head a set of conversations that ended with a kiss that wiped away all doubt and question? Then these stories will be for you.
After having spent a year writing about love lost, I realized that I needed to do a little more celebrating. The next year will be spent writing a set of stories that celebrate love being found. Whether it’s for the first time ever, or first timewith that person, or whether it is after many failed attempts, with someone new, or someone old.
The first one, $6 mugs, is almost a continuation of one of the ones from the previous set. I hope, that you enjoy these. It is called Stairway, after the introduction by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, on the live version of the song (the one on The Song Remains the Same), where he says, “this is a song of hope.” For those of you in need of a good bathroom read, or just a bit of knowing that you are not alone in believing in the magic of love, I wish these stories give you that hope.
Thank you for reading, and for believing in magic.
He didn’t know if he was nuts, delusional, or just a hopeless romantic. He didn’t care. Weeks after the breakup, he found himself looking at a new set of the mugs he had thrown out. The clearance shelf at Marshall’s had given him hope…
I have come to the end of the Blue series of stories. I said at the beginning that I would spend a year on them, and that year is over, give or take a few days. In them, I explored the darker, sadder side of love. There has been much heartache and tragedy and pain. It was sometimes fun to explore that side of life, whether by mining my memory or my imagination. Other times, they were a little close to home, and thus, less fun.
Until I figure out what the next year’s series will be, I leave you with a pallet cleanser, of sorts, when it comes to love:
The vows I would recite, should I ever get married.
*Inspired by “Bluer than Midnight” by The The. One of my favorite songs, and titles, of all time!
The first three lines of the song spilled from the headphones into his ear canals at about the same pace as his labored breathing. The cold had undone most of the gains of the past few weeks of training, and he found himself wheezing his way through even the easiest of workouts. He had created a new playlist, chosing slower songs for the aerobic sections, no longer able to keep up with his old pace on the treadmill, and avoiding those that reminded him of her.
Finishing the shortened walk-run routine, he stepped off towards the direction of the weight room. Being at the gym so early on a Saturday meant that for once he had it to himself. He chuckled about how the reason he used to be out of breath early on a Saturday morning, when they were together, was a lot more fun than a workout.
He placed his towel and water next to a bench in the middle and walked over to the racks to pick out the dumbells. He started the repetitions, counting them out in his head, restarting with each change in exercise. The last one he did was a seated forearm curl, and as he adjusted himself on the bench, he looked at the mirrored wall in front of him.
He was startled at the sight of himself! Gaunt, haunted looking, with only the tan from the outdoor running he was finally able to start again after spring had arrived keeping him from looking ghostly.
The loss of appetite since she had left was having an impact beyond what him forcing himself to eat could manage to overcome. He had to eat more. But he was struggling to put anything into his mouth beyond the endless cups of coffee that kept him from crawiling back to sleep. It had become his weird escape, sleep. While he normally would sleep no more than six hours a night-a life-long fear of missing out keeping him out of bed until exhaustion demanded rest-he found himself in bed before ten each night, with naps at the end of each workday, that sometimes turned into an evening of not getting out of bed.
Weights at the ready, he started his workout again, now looking down, rather than the version of himself that was left. It seemed that he now knew how much happiness weighed, about the same as what he had lost in the weeks since he had lost her.
“Lost!” It didn’t seem to quite capture it. The French phrase “Tu me manques,” which translates to “you are missing from me,” as if a part of oneself is gone, seemed better. She had told him that years ago, during one of his business trips away from home, to express how deeply she missed him. Oh, how he wished that this separation were that temporary, that short, as that trip.
He knew it wouldn’t be. Despite the certainty, and the permanent feeling of it all, he knew that part of him still lived with hope. Beyond reason, beyond rationality, beyond sanity. Maybe it was because he dared not face the abyss that lay beyond. From what he had heard from single friends, the landscape for dating was now more difficult, weirder, and more soul-crushing than anything he might have experienced the last time he was single, years ago. Or maybe it was because he had not been able to accept that the woman he was in love with, the one he had dreamt of since he was a boy, the woman that was the answer to all those boyhood dreams was gone.
A second and third set of exercises brought the familiar rubbery feeling in his arms. It was his signal to stop. Gathering his things, he caught from the corner of his eye a woman enter the room, looking for a corner to work out. She was beautiful, and out of his mind as quickly as his glance in her direction was done. He had done the drown yourself in stranger bedfellows thing, and it had done nothing to make her absence any easier.
Entering the locker room, he sat on the bench in front of his locker, letting his heart rate go down, elevated as it was, as much from the sadness, as the workout. He kept his headphones on to isolate himself from friendly chatter with the others in the room. He walked over to the scale and saw the number, a new low, come up on the digital window.
“Have to eat more,” he thought, as if the looseness of his clothes had not already indicated that. As if the sunken cheeks and hollow eyes were not already advertising to the world that he was sick. Sick from grief, from worrying, from missing a part of himself.
Racing through the past few weeks, he thought of all the mistakes he had made, agreeing with her, and maybe pushing them apart, when he had wanted nothing more than to hold her until the fear that had gotten in between them was squeezed out. How she had shown him just a hint of how afraid she was of losing him and of her own demons. How he had not done enough to assuage them. How she had given into them.
Now, out of the house, he could not hug her when the tears came, nor was she there to dry his. No more would they lay in their bed, their happy place, talking, laughing, making love. No more would they hold hands while he drove, as if they were teenagers falling in love for the first time. Her resolve was steely now, telling him in their last sterile text exchange that it was over, for good. Via text!
He dialed the combination on his lock, and too tired to bother showering, simply grabbed his street clothes and threw them into his gym bag and walked out of the locker room, past the treadmills, and outside towards his car.
Unlocking the trunk, he threw the bag inside, and closed the lid. The sun was just starting to rise to the east, rose and gold light reflecting off the few clouds, but in the west, a deep blue still covered the sky. He remembered the first morning he had awakened next to her, with a similar sky, and wished that the memory of the last time had burned itself as clearly into his memory. Not sure why. One more memory hardly seemed like it would have any good impact on either his feelings, or their likelihood of reconciliation.
As he unlocked the doors, the song was ending. He thought of the last line, “Why can’t love ever touch my heart life fear does,” and wished he had taught her the song. He wished that he had taught her to listen to what he was really saying, so that she would have known that from the brightest morning, to the bluest midnight, he would always be there. That he had shown her earlier and more the depth of his love, and not just his sorrow.
He got into the car, took the headphones off, started the engine. The phone now switched to Bluetooth, the same song played again over the car’s speakers.
Save me. From myself.”
He began to drive south, his left side bathed in the infinite possibilities of the light of a new day, his right side obscured by the darkness of the fading night. He was going to try, one last time.
To save them both from being apart.