If you love something, absolutely do not set it free. That shit ain’t comin’ back. It’s about to be gone baby gone if you for one second buy into Richard Bach’s lie, “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.” Na na. They still would be if you hadn’t let them out of your sight or grasp. Why would you listen to someone as out of touch with reality as Bach (that goes for Johann Sebastian as well)? This was, after all, a man who thrived on selling hooey in the 70s, like that damned book about a seagull who flew for the sheer joy of it, not because he was looking for food. Give me a fucking break. The seagull just wanted his taste. Like the rest of us doing nothing for joy so much as performing our day to day tasks out of rote habit. But because we want so desperately to recapture that initial feeling–those wondrous sentiments that seem to emanate from the person you love and back into you–we take drastic measures. Like thinking that “a break” will serve as a panacea to the larger issue with romantic relationships: that they always seem to digress into that sexless brother-sister dynamic after a time.
In my case, it didn’t take long. Just six months before Frances, whose favorite movie was Dirty Dancing primarily because she shared the same name as the protagonist, started to recoil. It was subtle at first. Calling me up last minute to tell me she wasn’t going to make it over. Or pushing me away “gently” when I would try to cuddle up to her in the morning. Like most aspects of life, it was the little details that made up the larger portrait. A portrait that signified I was out of favor where once I was so sure I could never be. She was the one who had pursued me, after all. And I, being a twenty-first century type of guy, was rather enamored of this fact. I could get used to it, I thought one night as she drunk dialed me to ask if she could come over once she was finished at the bar. Why would any guy feel emasculated by his hunt down on the part of a woman? It makes everything so much easier. So much less indecisive and filled with games. A part of me wanted to be averse to it on principle, from all the indoctrination that even I had absorbed from being forced to watch various romances of the silver screen (Titanic, naturally, included). But Frances made all those false obligations to “masculinity” vanish each night when she stumbled into my apartment, pulled my pants down and sucked me off as though I was high-quality gelato. Yes, it was probably her commitment to oral that melted my cares and worries away, lured me into a false sense of security.
Before I knew it, she had basically moved in. And it was so organic that I hardly noticed the excess of clothes bursting out of drawers and closets or toiletries strewn about the bathroom that I would certainly never use for myself (eyelash glue, maybe. It just seems so strong and multifaceted). Then, one morning, after months spent growing accustomed to her at my side, I awoke to find that she had actually risen before me. I didn’t know she was still in the apartment, at first, and a wave of panic spread over me. Had she decided there was something fundamentally offputting about me and therefore to flee as whimsically as she had come, having had this newfound epiphany? It would make sense, the more I let my thoughts race. I had bad breath in the morning, I always had the sneaking suspicion that my dick was crustier than other dicks of guys in their thirties and I probably talked too openly with my mother three times a week on the phone. Maybe she had realized I was just a crusty dick with an Oedipus complex and had decided she was better off without me. Better off with some smooth penis with a dead mother. And she would have been right. How could I have faulted her for that?
And just when my heart palpitations were reaching their crescendo along with my anxiety over never being able to find someone who could love me unconditionally, I saw her slink back into the bedroom out of the corner of my eye. She was wearing a shirt with Mia Wallace on it. Mia Wallace was her muse, she had stated many times. In terms of style and comportment. Still, I wondered if she really needed to be so committed to emulating her muse that she should make me buy her coke supply most nights.
In the end, I didn’t care. I would have bought her a fucking island and named it after her if it meant she would remain interested in me. It didn’t even have to be as interested in me as I was–and would forever be–in her. Just a sustained and contented level of mild care and affection. It was that morning, however, that I should’ve known the wheels were turning in her head. That some change was brewing within her, and therefore within me. Except I didn’t know well enough to make a change before it was too late.
After those uninterrupted weeks of blowing me off in every way except the way I wanted to be, I was surprised and elated to find her calling me one night just as she had in the beginning, drunkenly slurring that she wanted to see me, wanted to come over. It hadn’t occurred to me in all our time together at this point that she might even have a home (or as close to a home as anyone can have in London) of her own to go back to in the first place. I was a fool, in my capacity as an American, to fall for a British girl, least of all a London-born one. I should’ve intuited that I was nothing more than an expatriate curiosity. That I couldn’t possibly have entered into her steely English heart with the essence of my American flaccidity. But I persisted. When she came over that night, careening in unsteadily just as she always had, she ripped my clothes off and pushed me into the bedroom.
Hours later, after she was done having her way with me, she turned over to pull a pack of cigarettes out that she had, unbeknownst to me, stashed in my nightstand. As she serenely lit one from the pack (and when I say serene, I mean it looked like she had just sucked a fountain of youth dry as a result of the radiant glow she had about her), she turned to me and smiled faintly before her expression transformed into one of near regret. “I have something to tell you, Emery.”
My entire body tensed. She never said my name. It was like an invocation when she did. So automatically I knew that whatever she was about to say next was going to be cataclysmic in some regard. And sure enough, she told me, “I’m going to Morocco for a while.”
“Morocco,” I spat back, thickening the word with contempt. “Why?”
She shrugged. “There’s an opportunity for me in Tangier.”
I raised my brow. “What kind of opportunity?”
“Just…an opportunity. Don’t ask me any questions. I just need you to accept that I’m going for the summer and that I’ll be back.”
“What about us?” I demanded, suddenly feeling like I had cut off my own penis for being so willing to sound that pathetic.
“We’ll still be together. Just apart. For a while.”
My mind was a racetrack of self-loathing thoughts trying to get to the finish line of the only conclusion there was: this was her polite and roundabout way of dumping me. I ignored those thoughts, using the human powers of denial. Suppressing everything within me to finally come up with the return, “Well, bring me back a mosaic or something.”
She grinned. “Oh, I’ll bring you back more than that.” And before I could ask what that could possibly mean (other than her loosely referring to the fact that she would be learning new sex techniques by practicing them on other men), she proceeded to go down on me again before I could utter another objection.
If I had been more assertive–if I had instead been the one to overpower her that night sexually–maybe things would have gone differently. Maybe she would have actually come back from Tangier. The last I heard, she had made her way to Melbourne. Had joined some band and gained mild success at the local level, as seems to be the case with any Australian who joins a band. While she was away, I thought I was “letting” her have her freedom. All the while, she had imprisoned me. Locked me in a time loop of yearning and waiting. Assuming there would be a payoff. When her texts grew sparser, creating a thread mostly colored in blue (me), I still didn’t take the hint. I started calling her three times a day, never getting an answer. Lennie’s thoughts burned across my brain: “I don’t know why I can’t keep it. It ain’t nobody’s mouse. I didn’t steal it. I found it lyin’ right beside the road.” So had I, with Frances. Or I suppose she had found me, but even so…
Had I the opportunity to do it all over again, I would have smothered her in the bed that night. Suffocated her with a pillow until she promised never to leave me. Vowed to put these heinous ideas of casual abandonment out of her mind. Because if you love someone, you’ve got to squeeze them more tightly than Lennie would. Never let them go, have time to consider that there might be options for them other than you. For it’s better to lose them to the blackened abyss of the great beyond than to concede to them carrying on without you because you thought it might be prudent to take heed of some hippy dippy ex-aviator’s grand platitude.