You always think you’re going to be the one who proves to be the exception to the rule. That you’re the very reason the phrase “Love conquers all” could even exist. Naturally, this was a bastardized phrase of what Virgil said: “love conquers all things; let us too surrender to Love.” Then soon it was just this runaway train that even Shakespeare had gotten on board with by turning the quote into Latin via “Amor vincit omnia” in The Winter’s Tale. This, of course, was after Chaucer already used it in The Canterbury Tales. The optimal word in both titles about this notion that love could save the day being tale. Just a synonym for fable. Hearsay. Fiction. A lie. The bottom line was, men in particular seemed to be fond of perpetuating the phrase despite the fact that it was the sort of sentiment attributed to “maudlin” women. It was a prospect Violet found not only ironic, but infuriating. For Virgil and the men after him to immortalize a simplistic aphorism they didn’t genuinely believe in vexed her to no end. Though probably not more than how Gregor had made her believe they could be an example of such an absurd cliche.
That Gregor felt obliged to bring up this goddamned dictum as Violet was packing her bag to leave did not make her feel any warmer toward the “old chestnut.” He was not iterating its veracity, so much as telling her, “This just proves what I knew in my cynical heart to be right all along. Love doesn’t work wonders, it can’t change a person. It does not ‘conquer all.’” What he had wanted to change in her was a desire to get married and “some day” (likely as soon as possible) have children. That was not going to happen. Ever. She had told him that from the outset, long before the circulation of an article about what made a lasting relationship. According to extensive studies, it was “psychological flexibility.” Violet was anything but psychologically flexible, something she couldn’t help but attribute to being a Taurus. She was not open to new experiences (least of all motherhood) and she definitely clung obsessively to her thoughts and feelings. Both of which screamed, “Run the fuck away before you compromise every aspect of yourself for the sake of ‘love.’” But how could it be love if she would be required to alter something so fundamental about herself?
She had pondered this question over and over again in her mind throughout the course of her all too brief two years with Gregor. Now that things were coming to an unavoidable end, or, rather, “an indeterminate pause” while they “reassessed,” she had decided–while in the midst of trying to reason away the idea that it couldn’t be love–that it actually must be if it hurt this much. That’s what all the great novels and films presented love as, after all. And what were human beings if not a facsimile of the experiences they saw and read about? Maybe it was eighty percent true love, and the other twenty percent–the amount that made them so hopelessly incompatible–was what made her doubt that it was. And doubt, as we know, can be a real killer in the confidence one has in anything: themselves, an institution, a relationship. Her doubt had killed at least some of Gregor’s love for her, she knew that. Despite all his posturing about being a pessimist, he had really believed love would conquer all. In other words, conquer her will. And her unmalleable personality.
To compound the heartbreak, the only place Violet had to go was very, very far away. While Gregor would remain in the apartment they had shared together in Berlin’s cruelly named Wedding neighborhood, Violet could only return from whence she came: Toronto. Her aunt, who had raised her, agreed to take her in again. In Violet’s time, West Queen West wasn’t quite as cachet-laden as it is in the present, and she found herself quite surprised by how much everything had changed upon returning. It wasn’t the worst place to be marooned, but she knew it lacked the more pronounced bohemian flair of Berlin. Was far more “clean-cut,” and decidedly less “hardcore” (part of that reason being because the food was so much more gourmand than anything in Berlin). It also lacked Gregor. And, honestly, who knew when they would actually see one another again? Times being what they were, air travel being a hellacious foray into the abyss. She knew she had made her bed, and he would no longer lie in it. Instead, they would lie to each other about the possibility of “picking up where they left off” at a later date. They would prolong the pain, suspend the delusion. But Violet, of course, knew that the crux of the thing that had ultimately driven them apart would not change. He would always want one particular trajectory, and she another.
“Sometimes I think we’re both just waiting to see which one of us can hurt the other more,” he told her one night on the phone. Well, her night, his morning. This was said after she jokingly (or so she thought) proffered the notion that he would soon be “tempted by the carnal flesh of another” (yes, she used that exact phrase). She expected that, like a devoted lover in a Jane Austen novel, he would balk at such a notion, insist that she was the only one for him and that he would never even consider touching his hand on another. Instead he said, shruggingly, “At this point, I can’t deny that if the opportunity presented itself, I wouldn’t be able to resist.”
She felt paralyzed, as though she had gone into cardiac arrest. Her heart stopped, only starting again when he asked, “Violet? You there?” She gathered her bearings long enough to scold, “How could you say that to me?”
“I’m a man, aren’t I? I have uncontrollable desires sometimes.”
She wanted to wring his neck with the telephone wire that she didn’t even have (fucking smartphones just strip romance out of every last gesture). “Is that so?”
“Yes, would you rather I lie to you about the possibility?”
“Uh, no. I’d rather you not be a weak fucking dickhead who can’t resist the slightest flashing of skin in your direction.”
He sighed. “Oh Violet. You’re so unrealistic.”
“What about people in the old days? They didn’t even have all the means of communication that we do now. And they stayed together. Absence made the heart grow fonder.”
“Maybe for the women. I think it’s foolish and naive to think the men didn’t go around ‘gallivanting.’ Out of sight, out of mind was the soldiers’ motto, don’t you think?”
“You’re completely ruining my faith in us with this sort of talk. Where is the hope and romance you once had for our situation?”
“Guess it all walked out the door when you did.”
She couldn’t think of anything else to say to him. He was just like the other men she had believed him different from. No more capable of fighting against a proverbial “cleavage exposure and a smile.” She wouldn’t be surprised if he was out most every night looking for a vag that would let him in. Meanwhile she was over here, dumbly believing in Virgil platitudes and Jane Austen senses of how time could only make love grow deeper rather than cause two people to drift apart irrevocably. Perhaps sensing her panic–interwoven with despair–Gregor tacked on the consolation, “I don’t know what I’m saying Violet, it’s really early. I’m just talking nonsense.” But it was too late. He had said what he said and there was no comfort to be had. She wanted nothing more than to hang up and forget all about him, yet she knew all that would happen when she hung up was the advent of her shift at the Loaded Pierogi. Walking down Queen Street West to get to this middling cashier job she had taken on, the words Gregor had so casually uttered made her lose her religion, so to speak.
How could she have ever had confidence in anything Virgilian? Even Gregor admitted that such a credo was a patent fabrication, and that everything both of them had ever experienced was proof of that. She knew it couldn’t have been much different for Virgil, who probably also got his dick wet in more than just the many fountains of Rome, so why the fuck would he bother imbuing lovers with such false hope of constancy knowing full well the extent to which his aphorism would be perverted for the purposes of trite greeting cards and hollow wedding vows?
The hours passed in the amount of minimum wage. Mindlessly ringing up yet another customer, she was sent into a fit of apoplexy by the sight of a teenage couple walking in to order, hands all over each other. She suppressed her rage quite professionally, she felt, but her ability to stifle emotions started to shift rapidly once they sat down at a table and she overheard the male in the permutation talk about how obviously he’d keep in touch with her after going to university in Montreal. They’d visit each other every weekend. He concluded his assurance with the coup de grâce that sent Violet jumping over the counter and lunging at him to cut him off before he could finish: “Love conq–” And then it was conk right over the fuckin’ head for him. Perhaps Gregor could feel a sympathy pain all the way across the ocean. Either way, at least she had done this girl a favor she wished someone would have done for her (though certainly not Virgil): spared the goddamn bullshit.