The Kiss by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
HE couldn’t sleep. The clock shows 3am and he is alone in his vast bed. Fists bunched up, knuckles between his teeth, he bites down hard, hoping to distract himself from the pain welling up inside: tonight, every night.
He wonders how long it would be before he can lie in bed and fall into the sweet oblivion of sleep again without happy memories and sharp regret colliding in a colossal explosion of pain.
Events of the past play a persistent track in his head.
The first day they met. He told her he never thought she was beautiful, not at first. Then one day, he took a second look: she was amazing with her long, dark hair; warm smile and hearty laugh, curvy body and long, long legs. She had great character — quirky, funny, smart and, he later discovered, affectionate, passionate, loving and sensitive. The first kiss. The flurry of furtive SMSes. The late phone calls. The late night meetings over supper and wine. The long chats about nothing. The incredibly explosive, multiple-orgasmic sex. The love and unspoken longing in her eyes. The shadow of pain behind her smile. She knew. He knew.
Yet, she never asked nor demanded for more than he could give. Not once. Even when her eyes betrayed her so many times. Even when tears would come dangerously close to the surface, she always said there was something in her eye; the way she averted her head so he wouldn’t see her struggle to suppress the pain and longing and hope. Even when he sometimes sensed her crying in her corner of the bed in the darkness ever so silently, discernible only by the uneven rhythm of her breathing.
He took from her everything he wanted and consciously kept her at arm’s length. He was with someone else, wasn’t he, and this wasn’t going to last, was it? But she made the ultimate sacrifice for him. She gave it all up to be with him. His angel… his goddess…his love…and, he now realised, his life. He should’ve stepped up, should’ve done right by her, but he didn’t — even when he knew he felt nothing more for his life-before-her, that every single day spent with her meant a day further away from his life and commitments as he knew it. That it meant a stronger, deeper connection with her.
Outside, the moon is a pale, dull yellow, half obscured by dark, heavy clouds. Just like his heart.
It was complicated then, he justifies. He was already answered for. Could he have jeopardised his relationship just to be with her? But it would’ve been so worth it, he saw it now. Now that he had lost her. Now that she’d had enough.
He was too late. She had walked away with his heart. She was done. He should’ve stopped her when he had the chance.
He glances at the window again. It’s dark outside now, the moon swallowed by the clouds.
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SHE always did love the moon. It had a friendly glow and that made her feel comforted. But there is no moon tonight.
How symbolic, she thinks. The glow, like the moon hidden by clouds, is gone in her life.
She moves from her spot at the window and sits at the edge of her bed. Her room is pretty in a bohemian way with colourful print curtains to match the print bedsheets and decor. There are books jammed into the crevices of her single — and very full — bookcase, a few lamps, tiny decorative ornaments and photographs of him, of her, of them together.
Funny how she had finally mustered the courage to walk away, yet not been able to strip her room of all the things that reminded her of him. And there are many of them — enough to fill half her study: the two lamps, the side table, more books than she could count, jewellery, dresses, gaily coloured throws for her armchair, the snowy globe…
Her eyes start to well with tears. She still couldn’t forget him, doesn’t think she ever will. She had given him years of her life, compromised her principles and eventually made the ultimate sacrifice to be with him. She thought maybe, just maybe, if she freed herself from the bonds of her existing commitments to be his and his alone, then he would reciprocate.
He did not. She still wasn’t good enough to be the one. And she was tired of their furtive liaison, of being a secret, of hoping in vain. She wasn’t the sort to threaten or bully a man into submission. She believed that if a man really wanted a woman, he would come for her. But he did not come for her.
She remembers what he once told her, “You feel like no one before. I kneel cause I want you some more, I want the lot of what you got and nothing that you’re not”, quoting lyrics from U2’s ‘Original of the Species’. He also told her, “I’ll give you everything you want, but not the thing you want.”
It made her feel demeaned and insignificant. Over time, the pain festered and it got increasingly difficult to suppress her frustration. She got tired of the sudden halt in communication every time the other one came back. Tired of being relegated to the back of the shelf even though the other one had chosen to move thousands of miles away, even though she was the one that spent more time with him, took care of him when he was sick, worshiped him. Loved him with every fibre of her being.
Deep in her reverie, she starts humming Florence and the Machines’ Dog Days are Over’ as tears roll down her face.
“And I never wanted anything from you
Except everything you had and what was left after that too,
Happiness hit her like a bullet in the head
Struck from a great height by someone who should know better than that…”
Angrily, she starts to pick at the threads on her blanket — the one he gave her.
She was angry that this was the decision she had to make because he left her with no other choice. He could’ve chosen her. After all, he always told her he loved her, that she was the best ever. It all sounds so hollow now looking back at what she went through all those years.
Thoughts of leaving began to take root in her mind in the final two years of their relationship. To be free of this insensible bondage was something she longed for, yet she could not summon the guts to walk away. And now even though she had, she knew that she still loves him, still wants him back, still craves for the warmth and scent of his body.
“Why can’t we be together, babe?” he asked her just before dinner two nights ago. “I don’t understand it. I know you still love me. I love you.”
The truth hurts, baby, her heart whispered. But it had to be told. She took a deep breath.
“Because I cannot risk the past catching up with us. Because I cannot rid myself of the insecurities that have plagued me since we got together. Because when I am with you, I become this crazy monster. I get so possessive, so jealous and paranoid. I know I won’t say it, but in my mind, I will always wonder who you were with today, that day, whenever. I don’t want to come to that stage of checking through your phone and pockets to see if you were telling me the truth. I don’t want to give murderous looks at other women that you introduce me to, to ‘mark my territory’,” she said after a pause.
“I don’t want to push you into a corner until you find someone else the way you found me.
“You’ve always told me that you were a loner and that you needed your space. You said that all the time. And I know that if we got together, I will crowd you out because we started wrongly and never made it right. I will drive you insane. Hell, I’ll drive me insane. That’s not how I am, baby. I was never like that until you.”
He was silent for so long, she thought he had not heard her. “But I would risk anything for you, babe,” he whispered.
“Then why didn’t you when you had the chance?” she countered, the hurt and anger creeping into her voice against her will.
His eyes filled with pain. He had no answer.
Oh, how she loved those eyes that spoke more volumes than his lips ever could: how they would flash in anger, open wide in surprise or confusion, and fill with lust when he looked at her in that way; how hooded they became when he had something to hide; how fleeting shadows meant he was troubled; bloodshot and red-rimmed eyes meant a lack of sleep and misery.
His eyes had been constantly bloodshot since she pulled the plug six months ago. And as much as it pained her, she knew she had done the right thing.
Still, her heart could not let him go. She still lived for his smile and approval and clung to memories of them together. She still remembers how he would sweat buckets while fixing their dinner, how generous he was, how sensitive he could be to her feelings, and how in tune they were as lovers; how compatible. She still met him for meals; still cared deeply and still worried about him.
“I’m sorry, babe,” she whispers, looking out of the window, hoping that the moon would reappear. “But it’s not my fault. I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
The Kiss by Roy Lichtenstein
A sliver of light shone reluctantly through the half-drawn curtain as the moon struggled to peek through the heavy clouds.
He is still on his vast bed, wishing she was there in his arms. A troubled sleeper, she always fell unconscious almost immediately in his arms.
“It’s my fault,” he acknowledges silently. He loved her too late, and now she’s gone. With his heart.
Mirror in the sky, what is love?
“And I’m afraid of changing cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder, children get older;
And I’m getting older too
I took my love and I took it down…
The landslide brought me down”
~ Excerpted from Landslide, by Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac