A couple of years ago I met her in the Barnes and Noble in the mall in my neighborhood. It had started raining hard and we ended up sharing the same table at the Starbucks nook drinking hot chocolate and bonding over the fact that we’d both just bought the same novel. We talked for hours, long after the rain had stopped, and then we laughed at that. I bought her a burger at the
A few weeks and a few dozen e-mails later we went out to the movies…just as friends. Afterwards she kissed me and, despite a promise to myself that I wouldn’t do anything like that, I kissed her back.
A few weeks later she brushed past my misgivings and made herself at home in my company. She commandeered a drawer in my dresser and put a toothbrush, a robe, and some women’s stuff that I hadn’t seen since my divorce in my bathroom and, just like that, she was spending most weekends in my house.
A year or so later, she had a key and she had mingled some of her books and CDs with mine. I told her about growing up in the city, about getting married and having children and getting divorced; she told me about growing up with the wistful stories from her parents’ homeland, about straddling that old world they grew up in and the world they raised her in.
A few months ago, hurt and confused by my failure to commit, she challenged me to tell her that I didn’t love her. I couldn’t and she declared that we belonged together. I thought she might be right but I resolved not to let it happen anyway. The dance of emotional feints and shadows continued.
A week ago our push and pull exploded into our first real argument; seeing an opening I fanned the fire and she stormed out and didn’t come back. I wrote a long letter and sent it to her at her parents’ house.
It never occurred to me that she would just let it lie. I had hoped that she would…and I had hoped that she wouldn’t…hell I don’t know what I hoped she would do. Probably I wanted her to do exactly what she was doing.
She didn’t knock…she just used her key and exploded into the room. She slammed the door and stood there silently, hands on her shapely hips, her steel grey eyes blazing defiantly. I realized how very much I had missed her in that tense moment.
“Natasha,” I said softly. I held my place despite the fact that I wanted to rush over and sweep her up into my arms.
“Did you really think that I would just let you leave me without a fight?” she said with her voice taking on familiar overtones. I suppressed a smile…whenever Natasha got angry or excited her voice became colored with a version of her parents’ Russian accents, something I always found enormously endearing. “After all that we’ve gone through together did you really think I would just say ‘you’re right, we don’t belong together’? Did you seriously think I might do that no matter how mad I was?”
I took a deep breath. I hadn’t expected that my farewell letter…agonized over for so many hours…would be accepted without comment. “No,” I said, as ever unable to lie to her, “but I hoped you might.”
She rolled her eyes. “You should know me better than that, Gabriel,” she said with a hint of sadness in her voice.
I nodded. “I do.” I paused and then said, “The truth is that was…scared…to face you…to say what I said in that message out loud to you…”
Her face softened a bit. “You’re not afraid of anything…you’re certainly not afraid of me…”
I smiled patiently. “That’s not true, sweetheart.”
She relaxed her stance a bit and took a half step towards me. “I know that you love me and you know that I love you,” she said without a shadow of a doubt in her tone of voice, “so why are you trying to push me away?”
I took another deep breath and measured my response carefully. I looked at her and despite her anger she looked heartbreakingly vulnerable…heartbreakingly beautiful…heartbreakingly young.
I could never forget that Natasha was only 23…that she was 29 years younger than I was. All of my life I had found younger women to be too callow to merit serious romantic consideration...even most of my peers were found wanting…and thus I’d almost always made connections with women older than me. One year older or fifteen years older, I always found myself in the company of older women.
Until Natasha…until the dark-haired, grey-eyed girl whose vivaciousness and melancholy stabbed equally and deeply into my jaded heart came into my life. And despite the fact that sometimes I felt so very old when I was holding her, she moved me in ways I hadn’t ever really expected to experience.
“Tasha, you know why” I said with more of a catch in my voice than I had wanted to reveal, “I’m…look, pretty girl, you’ve got so much living to do…so much to experience…so much stuff to do that I’ve already done…” I couldn’t look into her eyes and say what I wanted to say. “You need to find someone who can keep up with you…someone to have babies with…someone to grow old with.” I looked into her eyes and smiled. “You need to be with someone who’s not older than your father…someone who doesn’t have children older that you are…”
Natasha stood staring for a long minute and then she cleared her throat. “Are you done?” I nodded. “That…was a load of crap,” she said evenly. “What I want is to be loved by you as much as I love you. What I want is to have babies with you…and if you don’t want to have babies then we won’t. I want to grow old with you.” She took a breath and another half-step. “What are you really worried about, Gabriel?” Her eyes were shining brightly, anger replaced with concern and passionate affection.
I shook my head. “I meant everything I said.”
“So this is you being all noble, eh?” she shot back.
“Not entirely,” I admitted. “I’m scared of how much I love you, Natasha. I’m scared of how much I love you and need you. I’m scared of your youth. I’m scared of waking up one day to find the love in your eyes replaced with pity and disgust…with the unspoken question of why you’ve tied your life to an old man…”
Her eyes glistened with unspent tears. “Gabriel,” she said, “I’m not going to let silly stuff like that tear us apart. I just won’t. All that we’re promised is now…the future is what we make it.” Sometimes she sounded like the young woman she was and other times, like this, she sounded wizened far beyond her years. “I’ve told you before that the only way I’m going away is if you can honestly…honestly… tell me that you don’t love me. Can you say that?”
I shook my head after another very long moment. “No,” I said in a small voice.
“Then we’re not done. Not now. Not ever if I have anything to say about it.” She held her head up those intense grey eyes waiting for my response.
My resolve…my fears and my so-called noble intentions…crumbled to dust. “What am I gonna do with you?”
“You’re gonna hold me and love me forever and ever,” she said without irony.
I nodded. “Sounds like a plan. Come here, girl.”
Natasha surged across the room and I swept her up into my arms; she wrapped her arms around my neck and her legs along my hips; I put my hands under her and held her securely. We kissed…almost shyly at first and then ardently; I held her close, greedily reacquainting myself with the sweet taste of her lips and the sweet perfume of her hair, the sweet warmth of her breasts against my chest and the sweet heat of her full body pressed so closely to mine.
“I love you, Natasha,” I said.
She nuzzled her head against my beard. “I know that, old man,” she said, “I know that.”
We held on, two people in love despite all of the reasons why they shouldn’t be.
In the next few minutes I would carry her to my bed…to our bed…and we would make love and then we would talk into the wee hours of the morning, talk as easily as we had on the first day that we met.
In the next few weeks, we would get engaged despite the freely-expressed misgivings of her parents and my children.
In the next few months, we would get married, her parents and my children in attendance despite their misgivings.
In the next few years, we would make a life and a daughter together.
In the next few decades we would grow old…together…and the light in her eyes would never turn to pity or disgust.