I awoke, discombobulated and otherwise confused. Lulled to sleep by the perpetual hum of voices and airplane noises around me, I had fallen asleep before we had even pulled away from the gate. I don’t know what it is, but something about traveling by plane, and the leading up to it, brings me to such a height of boredom and exhaustion that all I can do is close my eyes and slip away. This time, I didn’t even bother with headphones; my last night in New York City had robbed me of enough sleep to make the need easy to fill. I glanced around, blinking. The woman sitting to my left certainly wasn’t the guy that had been sitting there when I had fallen asleep. I straightened up and smoothed my pants a little, placing the bowler hat onto my knee. I cleared my throat slightly, wishing for nothing more than a glass of water. I allowed myself a glance in my seat mate’s direction again and decided that I was lucky to have a pretty young woman to share the cramped quarters of the airplane with. I looked out the window, hoping to muster up something clever to say. She was reading, but fuck it, maybe she was up for talking. “You’re not the guy that was sitting her before,” I said, smiling. “No, he opted to be next to his family,” she replied, looking up. I asked her how long we had been flying; she replied about three hours. I smiled at her again. “I’m sorry, you’re reading. I didn’t mean to disturb you.” And then, she smiled at me, and I was suddenly very much wide awake.
She didn’t seem like the type of girl who needed anyone to show her around a strange city. Still, I offered, and to my luck, she called me the next morning, asking if I would spare some time for a tour. I picked her up from the five star hotel where she was staying and took her to brunch. After that, I showed her around the neighborhood where I was living. Though it wasn’t much yet, anyone could see that it would be something very soon. With her sharp eye, I realized she would not have a problem recognizing potential. I brought her to the studio. My partners eyed her with looks of approval, and threw me smirks behind her back. Luckily, her German was rudimental enough so that she did not understand their bawdy remarks. They thought she was an easy fling, and thereby the perfect woman. I thought she was the most electrifying, inspiring thing that could’ve dropped into my life at the moment, and I already was shaping her up to be my finest muse in my subconscious. I took her back to my apartment, a modest one-bedroom, and cooked her spaghetti bolognese, serving a bottle of wine costing a whole seven Euro, which happened to be the most expensive one I kept in-house. Afterwards, I served her beer from a plastic bottle, hiding this fact by pouring it into a pint glass, and we sat on the mini-balcony, talking and smoking. She spent the night in my bed, and the next morning I kissed her over coffee and croissants.
On the day she was meant to fly away from Berlin, and out of my life, we found ourselves sprawled naked on the living room rug, surrounded by wine bottles and take-away pizza boxes. After hours of much debate and many tears, we had decided that she would stay with me and we would see what we could make of this. I had been forewarned that she would continue to travel, and I had promised her I would be working long days at the studio. Both seemed like fair compromises to make. I realized I finally had a reason to come home again after work.
She had some boxes from her place in London delivered, and asked me very nicely if she could please hang some artwork on the walls. When I came home, the place had been marked with the artful touch of someone who knew how very little it took to turn a space into a home. From where I was standing, both literally and figuratively, everything looked very promising. I wouldn’t expose myself to her yet, but I knew that I was already in love with her.
If I were to dig deep enough inside myself, and rifle through the part of my memory that housed the things I refused to think of, I suppose I could conjure up the day that she left for Switzerland. All I can readily say is that the weather matched my emotions precisely; it was rainy, cold, and otherwise dour and shitty. The year preceding it had been one of long-distance video calls and lonely nights. I accused her of traveling too much, and she told me I was both working and drinking too much. All of it was true. And instead of putting things into perspective and working them out, we both chose to cling to our careers that had placed us on an upward trajectory faster than either of us could’ve anticipated. Her technological devices had become her constant companions, while I spent most of my time with strangers who handed me contracts and film manuscripts. I had become the composer I had always wanted to be, and she was by now a well-known writer. With all of that to sleep with, it seemed we no longer needed each other. And although I couldn’t actually believe how fucking stubborn I was being, I would never admit to her that I was rotting on the inside without her.
And then, she disappeared. Into the mist, into a train car, into the milieu of another country, and most certainly eventually into the arms of another man.
If I had been a workaholic before, I became a machine that required neither sleep nor food, and ran mostly on alcohol and unbridled passion for the success of my music. For months after she had gone, I couldn’t bare to be alone in the apartment. Some nights, I even slept on the couch in the studio. I was perpetuating a schedule that involved early mornings, long days, and too many drinks with my colleagues who also kept the same, single schedule as I did.
Eventually though, I slipped back into being human again, and found my apartment to be solace from the otherwise turbid world outside. Mira and I kept up no correspondence, but it was not difficult for me to keep tabs on her life. I would sometimes, rather often actually, find myself scrolling through her blog, staring in awe as pictures of her face, her body, the scenery of beautiful places rolled across the screen. I never left any trace of being there, fearing that she may have an adverse reaction should I leave a comment. Of course this was ridiculous; not only because, by that time she had millions of followers, but also because we hadn’t parted with any bad blood between us to speak of.
After too many glasses of wine one night, at least five years since I had last seen her in person, and shortly after I had moved into a newly renovated loft, I found myself glued to the large-screened computer in my office, ogling the divine perfection of her bikini-clad body as she frolicked about in photos of Sardinia, parts of me beginning to stir and rise that had no business doing so. The blood rushed to my head as I moved down the page, discovering the men with which she had spent time recently. I felt myself becoming belligerently jealous, and swiped a pile of papers angrily from my desk in one fluid flurry of rage. Fuming, I sat back in my chair and wiped my face. Chalking it up to too much wine, I shut the computer down and trudged to my bedroom, falling into a sweat-soaked sleep, and awakening feeling like I had been run down by a city street car.
Thereafter, I disallowed myself from getting involved with her online empire. I mean, at some point I needed to move on. Moving into my new place was a great start, and now I needed to keep going that direction. I was otherwise comfortably adjusted to life in my mid-thirties; I owned a considerably fashionable piece of property in the same neighborhood that I had first lived in when I came to study in Berlin almost eleven years ago. Both my business and my personal music career were thriving, and I had become a known personality on several radio stations, and a sought-after guest speaker for courses at the university. No longer forced to buy beer in plastic bottles, I now bought an assortment of German brews and imports, as well as very expensive bottles of wine to impress the guests I was hosting on a weekly basis.
Finally, I was starting to feel at home again in my own life, happy-hearted with all that I had and become.
It was at a Friday night dinner party hosted at my place where I met Lila; a lovely, if not a little brusque art galley director who had come with one of the musicians we were currently contracting with. She was thin, very tall, with minor swells to mark breasts, hips, and ass. The red dress she wore flowed loosely around her toned frame, and her blonde hair covered everything the dress did not—until she swept it into a loose ponytail after we opened the sixth bottle of Sekt post-dinner. Her cheeks had taken the rosy coloration of one who has drunk plenty of wine, and I couldn’t help but give most of my attention to her, eventually breaking away from the rest of the group for a smoke break on the balcony.
“Nice place,” she commented, gesturing to the glass windows separating us from the living room. I lit the end of her cigarette. “Thank you,” I replied, smiling.
“I can’t believe this neighborhood. It’s really made something of itself, eh?” she mused, looking out over the tops of the surrounding buildings. I nodded. She wasn’t the most easy individual to converse with, but she always, I found, knew exactly what she wanted and knew how to speak her mind, and that is what I found most desirable about her.
We eased into a relationship at about the same speed two glaciers in the Arctic move toward each other, eventually meeting in the middle with a gentle bump of acknowledgement. We saw very little of each other at first because of our incredibly opposite schedules. While I worked during the day and into the evenings, most of her events started at night, making her unavailable for dinner or even a drink somewhere. Usually I would hang around the gallery, nursing a glass of whatever the artist had chosen to serve, grabbing bits of conversation with her where I could before heading home and tucking myself in for the night. It gave us little chance to grow tired of each other, and since we didn’t live together, seeing each other remained something of a novelty.
As time went on, she came to me each night, offering me the comforts of her body, and when she didn’t, I missed her and wondered why she had chosen to go home. Occasionally, I would spend the night at her apartment one neighborhood over from mine. She lived above the gallery, and I could never figure out how she managed to ever distance herself from her work. But that was part of her bravado: compartmentalizing and effortlessly fine-tuning her attentions with precision. We went on like this for years; happy, satisfied, sometimes argumentative and out of touch, but in love enough to move through life in unison.
“I got an email from Mira,” I told Lila over a rushed breakfast one morning. She paused with stirring her tea to raise a skeptical, perfectly-crafted eyebrow at me. “Oh really? Is she coming to Berlin?” she replied, resuming her stirring. I wiped my mouth. “Yea, she is,” was all I said, waiting for the precarious silence to pass. She knew all about Mira, for Mira was a part of my life I could never keep secret. “Looking forward to meeting her,” she said, pushing back from the table. “I must go. I’m late already.” She kissed my hair briefly before flinging a scarf around her neck and slipping into her trench coat. “See you later,” she said before pulling on a pair of rain boots and heading out into the downpour. I sat in silence, mulling over the potential situations that could arise. But nothing, absolutely and most certainly nothing came to mind other than the child-like excitement that rose up every time I imagined seeing Mira again after all these years.
I felt like a canary in a cage as I waited at the restaurant designated to be our meeting spot. I was early in the hopes of snagging a good table big enough for three. I had already sipped my way through a vodka tonic, and my nerves were only slightly calmed. I noticed how I kept wiping my palms on the thigh of my jeans.
When I saw her, my brain went dead for a second, and then the banging and clanging and fireworks display of nerve synapses began. And I wondered directly thereafter if inviting Lila to join us had been a mistake. There was no time to ponder it, Mira had landed in my arms, and it felt like she had never even left them at all. “My God, you look wonderful,” I said, stepping back to admire the silhouette she presented me with in a black fitted dress as she slipped out of a red wool coat. “You look well yourself,” she replied, smiling. “The shorter hair suits you,” she added. I laughed. “Well, I’m not nearly as young as I used to be,” I said, giving her a smile. She laid her hands on the table, leaning in slightly. “Its so good to see you Marius. Thanks for meeting me.” Something in the way her mouth turned up at the corner, the crinkles near her eyes danced, and how her eyes spoke made me shift in my chair. In my pants, things we stirring as well and I cleared my throat. “You know I’m always glad to see you Mira.”
Lila arrived an hour later, joining us for after-dinner drinks. I was grateful for her treatment of Mira; I had feared she may treat her with cold detachment, but was sighing internally with relief when she slipped into the art of casual conversation with her right away. Mira was the type of person that nearly everyone could feel comfortable with. As beautiful as she was, women could not speak a word against her, out of jealousy or anything else, because she simply glowed with good-will and kindness. This, it seemed, had also put any of Lila’s concerns to rest.
I didn’t realize that I had been holding my breath for so long until I sighed a gust of wind in relief when Mira told us that she would stay in Berlin awhile. “Would you mind if I asked Mira to stay here?” I asked Lila one night as we prepared dinner. She continued her chopping of the onions. “No,” she replied simply. I studied the side of her face, looking for signs that may offer contradiction to her answer. I found none. As I went to bed that night, I was convinced that she was truly okay with it; she had never made time for go-around games in which she wouldn’t say exactly what she meant to. As I closed my eyes and waited for sleep to come, I imagined what it would be like to co-habit with someone who, even after all these years, brought me the same abundance of happiness.
Things between Lila and me were silently falling apart. She knew something I didn’t; something I wouldn’t admit aloud to the question that she never asked. She fucking knew, but waited for me to confront myself with the truth: that I was in love with my past. The past who had become the present. And who I wanted to be the future as well. When Mira came back to the loft one evening after her day out with Lila, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Lila had told her off about our relationship. Not that there was anything more than a friendship. But Lila had finally had enough, and went first to Mira to accost her because of my feelings. I was still uncertain that the feelings I had were actually mutual. But I understood why Lila had decided to come clean—she feared I would never move on from the limbo I had placed myself in, would never decide to chose one over the other, and if I did choose Lila, that I would never stop loving Mira. She had outed my cowardice, and now I felt as if I were naked on stage at the opera house.
“I feel horrible about all this,” Mira said, her face just as downcast as her eyes. I started at the sound of her voice which had snapped me out of focus for the composition I had been going over. “You have no reason for that,” I replied, feeling my own sense of guilt creep slowly back in. “I dunno, I mean, if I had never come to Berlin, you guys would’ve gone on happily. I feel like I’ve absolutely desecrated the sense of peace your lives had.” She sighed and flipped the page of the magazine she had open on her lap. “That is nonsense, Mira. Maybe we would’ve stayed together, but it would have been less of a love than what I feel for you.” She looked over at me and I could tell this was really weighing on her. I moved from my chair to crouch down in front of where she was perched on the edge of the couch. “These things happen, Mira. Who fucking knows why, but its certainly not the end of the world. Its a beginning. Lila will move on. She is still beautiful and brilliant and highly desirable. There wouldn’t be a thing you or I could do to change any of that.” She maintained eye contact with me as I spoke softly to her, trying my best to give her comfort in her grief. She had been careful to avoid any physical contact with me. Only once had she let me hold her hand while we stood on the balcony and I smoked my last cigarette for the day. And once she had laid her head on my shoulder while we rested on the couch. Mostly though, she still felt as if I were not hers to touch. Not until I spoke with Lila.