Non fiction

Jetlagged love

Love Better
Pamela travels to Ecuador to find the man she loves and get to know him better. But after long days spent alone waiting for him, she finds that her image of him is becoming increasingly blurred and wonders if their relationship can survive day-to-day.

Memory behaves in a particular way when it comes to shadows; after Chile, it was Ecuador. In Quito, the mornings were long. I had nothing to do but wait for Dhan to get home from work, read in bed, paint my nails red, take a bath, shave and put on perfume, wander around the apartment naked listening to Billie Holiday’s voice pour out of the speakers of Dhan’s computer. I found myself cutting out photos, improvising floral arrangements that I put in wine bottles, whisky bottles, empty beer cans – in short, using whatever I could find to decorate the almost-empty apartment, that contained nothing but books, an electric guitar, a rug, a couple of pouffes patterned with soccer balls, that I had draped with my own sweaters to disguise Dhan’s childish taste, a double bed and long black curtains. 

Quito didn’t interest me. I never considered exploring it, visiting tourist attractions or anything like that, all I wanted was for time to pass quickly, so I could be with Dhan and make the most of each second that he belonged just to me, and not to his friends, to planes, to his brother, to poetry or drugs, each second that I had him for myself alone. Sometimes, I would go for a walk around the apartment complex – named “Los Pensamientos”, a name that was simultaneously corny and appropriate for the setting of our love – opening and closing a total of three doors to get out and in. I would walk nervously through the deserted neighbourhood and buy myself a juice or a drink, sometimes an ice cream or a sandwich at the nice, expensive store called “El Jardincito”, the little garden. Other times, I would buy myself some sweets from a little shop with half-empty shelves owned by two exiled Venezuelan women, and we would talk for a while; I liked to pretend that I was a foreigner like them and that I would stay here in Ecuador forever.

In the morning, I got up early to walk Dhan to the door with the apartment’s only set of keys and kiss him goodbye. The ritual was strange to me, it gave me the impression that we were a married couple with an established routine, that I was a housewife. Dhan liked it – I remember the particularly happy expression on his face when I kissed him. I think that sometimes it gave him the feeling that he belonged to me.

From the moment I met him, I was crazy about him, but to tell you the truth, on that second trip the way he carried himself told me nothing about him – if anything, I knew him less well. I think that I was starting to un-know him, if that’s possible

I remember these lonely routines of the first few weeks better and with more clarity than the times that Dhan came home from work, and we made love on the rug or the bed. I remember my long hours of solitude better than I remember Dhan’s body, much better than the long hours spent reading José Maria Panero, better than the viscous feeling of Dhan’s sperm between my fingers or in my mouth, than the times that I almost reached orgasm and began to laugh, and the atmosphere got strange, because I had the feeling that my vagina never did what it was supposed to, and we stopped doing it. I remember sitting, dressed three hours early, writing down the things that I hated and loved about Dhan in a little notebook, and on the list of things I hated was the fact that he never responded the way that I wanted him to, that each time that I told him an anecdote about myself, he gave me the impression that he wasn’t paying enough attention and his response showed that he hadn’t understood the essence of the story. For example, I once told him that in my last year of high school I fell in love with a nerd that coloured his hair red, and that from that moment I started to dye my own hair red, that loving that boy transformed me, even if he never loved me back, and that one day, at a party, I said in front of everyone that he was gay, because his best friend had told me in secret, but really because I hated the fact that he hadn’t fallen in love with me. Dhan should have understood that what I wanted to say to him was that I transform myself into the people that I love, to reflect them like a mirror, but he never listened properly, he was always too preoccupied by the moment, and he had only said something like “How did you know he was really gay?” or “I thought that you dyed your hair red to look like Jim Morrison’s girlfriend Pam” – and that happened in a lot of our other conversations. I remember the hours spent alone much better than the times that we slept naked, and in the morning, before even saying hello, made frenzied love, me on him, him on me, each of us plunging our gaze into the other like a knife; in truth, all of these images are hazy. I know that Dhan remembers my breasts clearly, or all the times that he tried, unsuccessfully, to take me from behind, and I’m sure that his most vivid memory is of a moment that he possessed me, or when he came on my face; for me, the most sexual memory that I have is his back, his broad, curved back, framed by his long black hair and his perfect ass, him, standing tall in front of me like the statue of a Kichwa god, while I, sitting with a tiger-patterned blanket, typical of his shocking taste, tucked into the covers, watched him pack his orange and red pipe with a few grams of weed and smoke it slowly, lifting my eyes towards him as I lay on the bed and he towered over me, almost celestial.

I thought that every bone in his body had fallen in love with my thick-legged form. I remember that the moment he described my legs as “little potatoes” I had, for the first time, the feeling that I could look at that naked ass for as long as I wanted and that no one would stop me, that I was alone in another country, that I was free to admire that ass for as long as I felt like it. That this curved and bony back, whose history I would never fully know and that would later be adorned with the verses of Dylan Thomas’ “And Death Shall Have No Dominion”, this ugly face covered with scars, with thick lips and a bushy black moustache, this small penis that seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of sperm, were mine. Feeling pleasure wasn’t important to me, what was important was knowing that his nakedness and his desire were for me, that I possessed them, as though I were the mistress of some primitive and animal power.

We had decided to host two poet friends in the living room of “our apartment” that were there, like me, for the “Canes Urbanos” poetry festival. I think that the trip wouldn’t have been the same without them, without being accompanied by poets like we had been in Chile, the perfect excuse for Dhan and me to partake in every excess and let ourselves be carried away on the current of that new, promising freedom that we had hoped would last forever. I had to pay close attention to what I said, the final words conspired against me like the sacraments of what could have been, words changed into prayers and prayers into sentences, and when you live with people who write, words count. They are not forgotten. Lies grow, silence transforms itself into words. Being with them made words into memories, and talking in memories was the only language that Dhan and I knew how to speak, the language we spoke best, condemned like all good writers to communicate in nostalgia, a language that we mastered perfectly. We existed there in a way that was comfortable, pleasant – our language had always been nostalgia, a deep puddle in which we stamped joyously, dancing in it with the same violence with which the characters of Orange mécanique when they break into a house, rape a woman and play “Singing in the Rain”.

Violeta and Vladimir were in love like us, but to be honest, having another couple around wasn’t that helpful for our relationship. They had met on this trip, their love story was much more recent than ours, and yet you could tell that they loved each other more, that they knew each other more intimately, that their love made sense. At times, it seemed to me that I had gone on this trip to get to know Dhan better, a little afraid of the idea of ruining a good memory so that I could examine it more closely. It was also for the thrill of visiting another country, reading at a festival, having a new experience, and because he could pay for my tickets, and being with someone who could offer me a trip to somewhere else in the world was a novelty for me and I wanted to make the most of it. From the moment I met him, I was crazy about him, but to tell you the truth, on that second trip the way he carried himself told me nothing about him – if anything, I knew him less well. I think that I was starting to un-know him, if that’s possible.

A few times, he suggested that we see each other again, but always for a set period, with a return ticket, on the pretext that everyday love doesn’t work, that it stagnates, goes bad with time

In Ecuador, Dhan was fundamentallyhidden from me yet I only loved him more, because by not knowing him, I made him more complex and wanted him more sincerely. Vladimir and Violeta slept in our living room, and sometimes made love there among the bottles and the books, while we made love in what was our bedroom for that short time. I got to know them well, learned about their pasts, their present, especially Violeta, who lived off bizarre classes that she taught to young and old, and described in such a beautiful way that I wanted to take any class with her, even if it wouldn’t have made any sense for me to learn any of the things that she taught. Each of them was in a relationship with someone else, and they were having an affair together. Sometimes, when we were walking in Quito, they stopped at phone booths to call their partners, and kiss passionately afterwards. Maybe infidelity excited them, or maybe they didn’t believe in infidelity: both of them had been writing since they were very young, she was a Libra and he was a Gemini, they had been born in different countries but they had both travelled alone and on a budget, visited lots of places, lived passionate, heartbreaking love stories. Both of them were really nice and obsessed with hygiene. Violeta took the utmost care to comb and dry her long brown hair before going out, and Vladimir always made sure he was clean and smelled good. Neither of them was particularly good-looking, but they each had a little something that made them attractive. Each of them was cheating on their partner, and they cheated on each other during the trip; Vladimir kissed a girl in front of everyone at karaoke, drunk, which annoyed Violeta quite a bit – it was at that moment that I began to think that their infidelity thing was more complicated than they, nonchalant, would usually admit. Both were big readers, big talkers, and could chatter for hours and hours.

When it came to conversation, Dhan and I were pathetic. Both of us liked to talk about ourselves too much, and in a couple there should always be one person who likes to listen more than talk. Dhan preferred to recite long poems from memory, preferred to sit and watch me, detecting something in me that I couldn’t see myself. When we were walking together, he talked to me about planes, explaining, with passion, the different components and how they worked; I didn’t really have an opinion on the subject, but his enthusiasm was infectious. From time to time, we liked to joke around and sing in English, things like “People are Strange” by The Doors, or more recent songs like “Take me to Church” by Hozier. Another thing that Dhan and I liked to do was to stuff ourselves with food; he really liked watching me eat, there was something in my hunger that made him very tender. We went on long walks without saying a word, only stopping from time to time to kiss; sometimes we liked talking about our friends, our past relationships, but once we had finished it was hard to keep going. That made me nervous, particularly one time when we went out to eat sushi and I couldn’t stop rambling incoherently, bringing up subjects that I only half-remembered and couldn’t properly explain. I didn’t like watching movies with him, his comments always missed the point. Documentaries were more his thing, even if once, when we weren’t together anymore, he recommended an amazing film – maybe, as he said, I just “didn’t get his taste”. He could sometimes be egocentric and ridiculous. Once, he stopped watching a film with me because he was annoyed that Ryan Gosling was more handsome than he was – it was Drivea cinematic masterpiece. We liked to fall asleep on each other, me on his shoulder, him on my belly, take photos of ourselves making faces, talk about the lives of writers, read each other poems. I liked to watch him play guitar, a deep passion that the death of his brother had taken away from him. Dhan had tried to follow him to the other side, and had just finished up with 18 broken bones and a hand that could no longer play the guitar well enough to get into Juilliard. He wanted to teach me to play, but I was a very bad student. We were not very compatible, but we loved each other in an honest way; he admired my beauty, and I admired his, a beauty that was like a terrible squatter on a hunger strike that had occupied our hearts. He liked to watch me get ready and play with my long red hair, especially when I wore dresses, to talk nonsense to make me laugh and to stroke my legs with his scarred fingers.

Sometimes, he told me very personal things about himself. Even if he talked about himself a lot, it was always stories that were safe for public consumption, and you had to hold his truths like ants, with the greatest of care, and respond the right way, or he would close in on himself and refuse to say any more. He had been a strange child that had never felt he belonged anywhere, who spent a lot of time sleeping, half asexual, always depending on the attention of others to exist and to create. For him, poetry was meaningless unless it was recited. He had learned to memorise poems before learning to write them, and had been a good child from a small village until he went to the city for university, made friends, and started to take drugs, become aware of his charm and be sexually active. His father had tried to force him to fuck a sex worker, but he could only masturbate in front of her, left her lying on her back and got out of there. He explained that he was nervous, but while he was telling the story, I realised that he hadn’t done it because he believed in love too much; he never told me about his first time but it was probably with someone that he loved or that he felt he could love, I’m almost sure of it, even if you can never put too much trust in the image you have of the person you’re infatuated with.

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Dhan never stopped proclaiming his freedom, but perhaps the biggest obstacle to the Lord Byronesque life of adventure that he wanted so desperately to lead was that he believed too much in love. It is impossible not to, when you start to memorise poems at the age of eight; all the great poets write about love. You don’t have the luxury of possessing the virtue of love but not the object of love, not when your most distinctive trait is being capable of reciting a 20-page poem from memory after doing three lines of cocaine. He had to possess it, but he didn’t want to be possessed, and if he didn’t dare to be possessed, he would never really know love, something that I write today but that I never knew how to tell him after we broke up, over the many years that we continued to talk to each other from time to time in the hope of seeing each other. He knew it, and I still think today that it’s the reason that he didn’t really leave his father’s house. He knows that if he lives alone, love will creep in easily, that it’s better to rent an apartment for brief periods of joy, of pure and absurd passion, so that you’re able to leave and never again call anything home, not even a person. I didn’t think about that when I was there with him, running around, beginning to get as attached to his friends as he was, because it has to be said, Dhan was the most loyal and generous friend that anyone could have, my God, it was the thing about him that I envied the most. When he met someone new, his only goal was to have a good time with them. It was fascinating to be with him, he had the gift of putting people at their ease immediately and sparking their desire to have fun, he had unlimited money, and if he liked you enough, it was almost certain that he would take something off and give it to you as a gift.

It was when I left Ecuador, during those final months of a long-distance relationship, when I began to wonder if we would survive the trip, that I realised that he didn’t want to live with me or with anyone, that he didn’t have a house, that his home was a poem or a stray dog that he stroked once, drunk in a dark alley, that his home could be something as fleeting as a night on the beach where he swam naked in the sea on LSD, and that had found refuge in his heart, so that he could feel free while living at his father’s place.

A few times, he suggested that we see each other again, but always for a set period, with a return ticket, on the pretext that everyday love doesn’t work, that it stagnates, goes bad with time. I never stopped loving him, but I already had my own, different, understanding of love. I didn’t want that. I wanted a house, a tree that belonged to me, maybe a child, stability. During my most bitter nights, his idea of love comes back to me, but it’s just that, an idea, the idea of that love, or rather of a pure passion, that is only real in nostalgia, that flares up and dies away, as real life takes its course.

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