“Molly and Self-Importance”

Where had she been this entire time, you may ask, having grown tired of waiting for her demonically beautiful face to appear (I bet seeing it would take your breath away). Well, this entire time she was within arm’s length yet unreachable. After AC, our education continued in the US: I ended up in the wonderfully primeval Vermont, while she went to Columbia: a university as close to Broadway as an educational institution is allowed to be. Soon after our studies began, I wrote her a letter on Facebook (which was then gradually gaining in popularity), wondering about her situation and her plans for the future. I got no response. Having waited for two and a half weeks, I wrote again, this time sharing my impressions of America: these revelations she also ignored. Undeterred, I waited until Christmas provided cover for another overture but was ignored again.

Then I took a break dictated by a chain of loves toward my own schoolmates, which was interrupted only in the middle of the summer vacation, at this very time of year (tomorrow, to be precise), when I congratulated her on her birthday. That was an immaculately friendly message into which I, beautifully and apropos, wove a sleek poetic eight-liner, no insinuations added. Yet the result was the same.

Having decided that contact had been lost for the foreseeable future, I shifted my full attention to my schoolmates and didn’t give Martina another thought until the following summer when, by making a blunder while booking non-refundable plane tickets, I doomed myself to a three-day-long exile in New York City before the beginning of the school year. I had little appetite for the city, but still I told her about my predicament, expecting she’d at least volunteer to give me a tour around her hometown, as I would have done not only for her but for any former classmate of mine. She was silent, and I resented it: so much, in fact, that I didn’t reach out again until the end of college. Having congratulated her on her bachelor’s degree (and noting that I didn’t understand why the degree is not called a “bachelorette’s” when appropriate) I refused to open Facebook for an entire week to avoid doing something stupid. At that point I knew that I would be staying in the States and was already devising complicated multistep stratagems, their only goal being a rendezvous with my elusive darling, whose supremacy over other women had never been more clear.

She did not reply to that message either.

Next, there was a break of over two years, during which I was struggling to carve out my place in the competitive American landscape, living in several distant places on the East Coast and working different blue-collar jobs until things turned sour, bringing me to New Jersey—so close to Manhattan that I could go there every day after work, if I could still move. Judging from her occasional Facebook posts, Martina lived on the other side of Treasure Island and hadn’t had much luck finding herself as an actress, see-sawing between being a waitress, a personal assistant, and a number of other things that didn’t require a degree from Columbia. Every now and then she’d urge her followers to attend an obscure performance with modestly priced tickets, but I never went, continuing the tradition I’d begun back in AC.

Strange as it may sound, I had never seen Martina act, because as soon as I’d learned about her passion for theater I made sure to avoid every occasion that brought her on stage. My reason was fear: the mere thought that she could suck scared the hell out of me, because I’d know it if I saw it. And if she did, it would have spelled a death sentence for my love. After all the pain she’d inflicted, all the humiliation she’d subjected me to, the only excuse I had for loving her, no matter how hurt I was, was that she was supernatural. Merely “special” wouldn’t do: to counterbalance her magnitude of arrogance, she had to have something no one else had. And if she had turned out nothing but a self-important soignée brat, there would be no point in even remembering her.

Remember, I promised to tell you what makes people akin? Perhaps you’d forgotten, assuming I wouldn’t come back to it. But underestimating the narrator in his own story may cost you some embarrassment—unless, of course, you are entirely unencumbered by self-importance.

Do you know what self-importance is? The most hideous thing in the world. It’s when someone is rude to you, and you feel offended. It’s when someone is promoted at work ahead of you, and you feel wronged. It’s when you get caught in the rain and get angry. It’s when you notice a stain on your pants and feel stupid. It’s when you buy a house you can’t afford; ignore good advice out of spite; defend your point while knowing you’re wrong … Put simply, self-importance is what forces you into the ultimate mistake of believing that you matter more than Infinity.

Self-importance paints our weaknesses as strengths, locking us in a trap of illusory grandeur and leading us astray from the true magic we possess as humans. It whispers in our ears that we are the image that we’d created of ourselves, and that unless we live up to that image every moment of our lives, those lives will be bad. Self-importance robs us of our confidence, making us probe for proofs of our value and feel miserable when we can’t find any. In short, self-importance is a monster, and the only antidote against it is not taking ourselves seriously.

So, much as I thought I was different, I wasn’t. Just like everyone else, I took myself with deadly seriousness, becoming destiny’s toy, doomed to be tossed around in a grotesque rigmarole of existence until death plucked me like a blade of grass. The fact that my interests had little to do with those of others didn’t matter: the introspective loop of conscious thought, along with the emphasis on my allegedly central role, rendered me as unlikely to attain the sublime as were those who didn’t occupy themselves with its pursuits.

Now that you’ve been briefed on self-importance, I must admit there was one more reason for avoiding my darling; which, naturally, is a corollary of self-importance. Pride. I was loath to give her yet another chance to scorn me. I knew that when I’d approach her with all my amiability and flamboyant solicitousness, she would mock me yet again or simply pretend she didn’t know me. I wasn’t prepared to take that risk; not without a trump card up my sleeve, anyway.

Then that trump card arrived in the form of a professional jackpot. After a series of ruthless interviews, I was offered a job that shifted me into a different social class. This gave me a new perspective on life, so I thought about it and wrote to Martina one more time, asking her out. There was no fluff in that letter other than the politeness required by a prolonged silence: it was a straightforward invitation to dinner.

After three weeks of waiting (I truly believed that this time she would reply after taking a grand-master pause), I reread our Facebook message history and concluded that I could have done better. What had once seemed like sleek wit now looked stilted, as if I were forcing platitudes instead of telling her what I wanted. And then I wondered what I wanted to tell her, and couldn’t answer. She remained the only woman I’d ever loved whom I’d never told that I loved, but it wasn’t that. There always was something distinctive in the fact that we both knew it yet had never spoken about it; besides, even after years of unilateral silence, I believed she had a right to this uniqueness. The problem was that, for the first time since I’d set eyes on her, I doubted that I still loved her.

I remembered the last time I knew I did. I was in Vermont, wandering through the woods with a voice recorder in my hand and devising a plot to reach one of her friends. For that, I needed a very specific job in a very specific town, so I was creating a cover letter to offset my lack of experience. I was in an excellent state of mind, seemly sentences flowing out of me in a steady stream, and suddenly her image appeared in front of my eyes. She was in a cloud of amber hues exuding such gentle warmth that I instantly forgot about everything except the scene unfolding in my head. We were in a little café, dimmed rectangular lights on the ceiling and scarlet drapes at the windows; she entered on the arm of that friend of hers and was instantly stunned, freezing while the friend introduced us. A soft handshake, burning on her palm and icy on mine, assiduously restrained voices: the ineluctable politeness of two strangers, both of whom are making sure that, at the end of the conversation, the other is left wondering what impression he or she had made. Her friend wouldn’t have a clue because Molly would expect me to crack first, and at the end of the night when the imminent parting would allow for a brief moment of intimacy and all the necessary words would have already been said, I’d take a step forward and, hanging over her ear like a lazy bee over a fragrant flower, whisper:

Che piacere di rivederti.”

This, in a nutshell, was the crux of my relationship with Martina: it was based on the assumption that she’d play along, which she never did. Thinking about it had always puzzled me, but now it was clear. I reread the poems I had written for her, the most recent dating back to Vermont, and then realized it had been seven years since I’d last seen her. This made no sense. I could have sworn it was only yesterday that she passed by, blind to my existence as ever, and I could reproduce every feature of her face without closing my eyes. At Atlantic, I used to think her image was etched on my heart with a scalpel; now, an engraved stone would make for a better metaphor, even though no part of me was nearly that petrified. The sculpted memory of Martina, so deeply stored yet so easily retrievable, was the finest masterpiece in my collection, but why did I insist on keeping her at the forefront of my museum when she explicitly refused the role of my muse?

Next Chapter – “The Cruise”

Previous Chapter – “Epiphany”

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