It was something she had always heard said, though she couldn’t remember where or from who anymore. That if someone returns, “Same” or “Me too” (or, rarely, as Sam in Ghost did, “Ditto”) when you say “I love you,” that they likely do not really love you. They might think they do, or even want to, but, the truth is, they don’t–and probably never can or will. It took Victoria (always anything but victorious) a long time to process, well after the fact, that Nathan did not love her based on his mode of expressing it (combined with several other major warning signs that she glossed over). It should have been glaringly apparent to her, however, that this was the case being that his go-to reply–stated almost as an antiphon–would be, “And I you.”
And I you, she repeated back silently to herself alone in the bed that had become her home, her armor, her world. It had been four months since the end she refused to address had come, slapped down on her like some sort of decree from on high. For it was sent, in true old school fashion, in the form of a telegram. From Antwerp, for added dramatic and antiquated effect. Nathan had gone to visit a Jewish relative there who owned a shop in the Diamond Quarter. He said he would be gone for no more than two weeks, which quickly evolved into two months with little communication to Victoria other than to tell her he was still learning a lot from his uncle ten times removed or whatever, and that he would be further delaying his return. This was done via email, indicating to Victoria that there should be no reason why he didn’t speak with her more regularly if he had blatant access to the internet. With so many of her own emails, detailing, in essence, the intense void she felt without him, left unanswered, she was beginning to wonder if playing a little harder to get would make him want to return, or at least talk to her more frequently. It did not, and instead the game she was playing only with herself backfired, as Nathan’s responses grew even sparser–the last one being a simple “And I you” when she had written at the end of her last dispatch, “I love you Nathan.” It was practically as though he was saying I love you to himself in this regard. But Victoria ignored it, because that was how he had consistently declared his “reciprocation” for her.
And so she continued to wait. Patiently. Foolishly. Going about her days in agony wondering–would he come back to her? Would he surprise her by bursting through her door to finally say, in all its entirety, I love you. She got her answer in late May, with the arrival of that telegram, a reminder of time present and time past. It was brief and to the point (maybe it was charged by the word, she wasn’t really sure), stating, “I’m staying in Europe. Stop. Please move on with your life. Stop.”
She could feel the telegram slipping out of her hand as a result of her faintness. Nathan had spent more to break up with her than he ever had on any trinkets or other such emblems of being in love in a Western relationship. It was a monumental slap in the face, that piece of paper–not even thick enough to wipe away her impending tears. Sitting down on the paisley couch (she had been going through a 70s phase in her selection of decor ever since being inspired by Janeane Garofalo in Reality Bites) to attempt to process what she should have already anticipated was coming–though not as coldly as this. It was, indeed, filled with malice, she decided. Not only to dangle her this long with the false promise of making his way back into her since frigid arms, but to dishonor what she thought, perhaps naively believed, was their love with the cruelness–the passive aggressive air of superiority–of this mode of communication.
All at once ready to be overtaken by her sadness and degradation, Victoria, in the next instant, decided, no, I won’t let him take me down like this. Not without a fight. At least a transatlantic confrontation. Something that would put a more worthy exclamation point on their end. Something that wasn’t tantamount to Berger leaving Carrie a Post-It note. Jesus fucking Christ. So she did what any determined and angry jilted woman with Nancy Drew sleuthing skills would: she looked up the number of Nathan’s relative in the Diamond Quarter, remembering that Nathan mentioned it was called Tobydiam. She knew it was a risk to call a Belgian Jew–maybe even more than it was to call a New York one–for she knew whoever answered on the other end could very well hang up on her as a result of being enraged by accepting such astronomical charges. Nonetheless, she was purposeful in finding a pay phone, one she remembered existing in a random bank of booths at a mall in Queens that she lived near. Taking a deep breath as she dialed the elaborate code of numbers she wished comprised the contents of her bank account (but she was not of the “my receipts be lookin’ like phone numbers/If it ain’t money, then wrong number” lifestyle and never would be), she prayed to some silent force, some arcane god of love revenge that would help and guide her to at last speak to Nathan. Truly speak to him.
To her delight, the invisible god was, for once, on her side, and Nathan himself answered, agreeing to accept the call for some unknown reason. It wasn’t for Victoria to question why as she started in right away with, “I wanted to charge you to talk to me long distance. I wanted to cost you even more than that telegram to explain to me why. Why the fuck would you do this?”
“Victoria, the telegram was free for me to send. Another Belgian relative with an in to such things. I just thought it would lend a more romantic quality to what we had. More romantic than what it even deserved.”
“How can you say that? We were in love.”
“Were we? Because I can see so clearly now that that’s not what we had at all.”
Nathan hears her gulp back a sob and he almost feels compunction. Not over having lost her, but for hurting her this badly. A part of him assumed she would understand that this was a short-term thing. It was never meant to last, but to serve a certain purpose in both of their lives. That was what all people were to one another, in the end. A stepping stone on the road to growth on the road to death.
“I don’t see it that way, and I think you’re full of shit.”
“Victoria, I don’t love you. You know that. Can you even think back to a time when I’ve said the words to you? There was obviously intent behind that. Intent that I myself couldn’t even acknowledge until having some distance from our toxic rapport.”
Victoria felt like such a banality, crying on a pay phone. And then, even more so because she knew it was even more banal for being an intentional attempt at a novelty to spite him for his own. How had it all come to this? She knew there must be something that Nathan wasn’t confessing to her.
So she demanded, “What are you not telling me?”
Nathan paused, looking up to see if he could catch a glimpse of his distant relative coming back from lunch in the mirror in the corner that gave one the perfect vantage point of the street. “Nothing, okay?”
“Just fucking make up an excuse then. Tell me something that will at least try to make me understand how you could do this.”
He sighed, knowing that Victoria wouldn’t relent until he offered her some semblance of an alternate, better truth than him plainly being too self-involved at this point in his life for such figments of the modern imagination as love.
“Fine, I’ve been fucking someone else. This hot Swedish girl that I’ve turned into my goy toy. Are you satisfied?”
“No.” She twists the wire in around her finger, a combination of nervousness and wanting to be as precise as possible in re-creating how someone of the past would talk on a pay phone. “But you know what would satisfy me? To hear you say you love me. For fucking once. Because I know that you do, and that you’re only going to realize it once you’ve lost me for good.”
Nathan, wanting nothing more than to get her off the phone, obliged the request quickly with a clipped, neutrally delivered, “I love you.”
And in a tone of pure hate that he could feel ricocheting off the wires between them, she hissed, “And I you.”
With that, she slammed the receiver down, forever to serve as the voice in Nathan’s head whenever he felt even remotely close to potentially being in love and having the courage to actually utter the full sentence denoting such.