A couple of years ago, I was walking to work and I fell. It wasn’t a terrible fall, but I skinned my knees pretty badly, and the heels of my hands. It was at the beginning of my walk and I had the choice of either limping home and taking the subway or continuing on. I chose the latter.
It’s a beautiful walk and the Hudson wears many different faces along the path. I had another choice to make: feel sorry for myself and worry about my leg, or practice being happy, even while my knees throbbed and my hands stung and I had two and a half hours of walking ahead of me. It wasn’t easy, but I chose the latter. Limping and smiling, smiling and limping, I made my way to work.
I was thinking about that fall today. I wonder if I’ll ever skin my knees again. Chances are I will. It seems likely. Everyone falls. But, I don’t play sports, and I don’t roller skate or run outside, so, even though there’s a chance I’ll fall down and skin my knee a few more times in my life, there is also a chance that I won’t.
This has me thinking about other things that might not ever happen to me again.
It also has me thinking about my Boston date and how he embraces his life like a character from a not-yet-written, sweeping romance novel: his motorcycle and jeep which he drives with the top off, his house in the country, horses and bird dogs, weekends in Nantucket, and breakfasts in India. And how we sat at the bar at the Carlyle Hotel with murals by Ludwig Bemelmans scratched on the walls. How he doesn’t drink any more and can hardly eat. He’s a sick man, carrying his death sentence with him wherever he goes.
His plan: first he’ll make himself very sick with a surgery, in order to get well. Eventually, he’ll get sick again. And he’ll keep trying to make it better until the day he decides to stop. No one knows what day that is.
I suspect this has made his heart more robust than most.
To me, it seems he’s lived the best and worst life that money can buy. Motorcycles and nights at the Pierre. A floor-model ex-wife who looked pretty for a while, gave him three children, and ended up broken down, angry, and twisted. Boarding school kids who will go to Harvard and Brown and enjoy summers in Nantucket and winters in Aspen and might never know what the world outside their cloisters looks like. Dogs and horses and small adventures that seem big, all the while reading novel after novel and imagining he’s in every single one of them.
He wants to fall in love. He wants to fall in love with me. He’s wanted to since before we met.
I figured he was lonely and brushed off his invitation to Martha’s Vineyard. And when he insisted I order another drink, another appetizer, even though I didn’t want them, I supposed he was used to bullying his way into people’s lives with unwelcome acts of forced generosity. But after our date, and the few emails which followed, where he declared his affection towards me, and humbly accepted that I didn’t share the same ardor, I now see the true reason behind his impetuous romanticizing of romance. He’s squeezing every last drop of sweet and goodness he can from of his life on earth.
I’ve done a lot things in my life that a lot people wouldn’t do. I have this vague notion that the more sensations I experience, the more vibrant a story-teller I will become. Yet, to walk blindly, even for a moment, into the vast expanse of this man’s fantasy spinning heart, a world without walls, and without a floor, is dizzying and frightful. I don’t know if I’d have the strength to step through the door and remain true to myself.
I used to practice yoga four and five days a week. I was very strong, but certain things held me back. My biggest adversary was the headstand. It took years to work up the courage to go upside down. And then a few more years to do so with strength, grace, and poise. But, I’ve never been able to stand on my head without a wall behind me. I don’t touch the wall. I just like knowing it’s there. It’s because I’m afraid of falling.
Sadly, if I allowed myself to fall, I wouldn’t be scared anymore. But I can’t seem to do that, even though the floor is so close.
Isn’t it funny that one needs to learn to fall in order to stand?
Even after realizing that I didn’t return his feelings, he invited me again, insisting I meet him in Martha’s Vineyard for a weekend, and Nantucket in the fall. I haven’t responded. Though the romance of spending time with an unrequited infatuation appeals to him, I don’t think I want to play that role.
What would you do if you knew you were a dying man’s last wish?