Bear with me please while I allow myself to revisit, in an attempt at sincere reconciliation, one of the worst and most regrettable decisions of my life.
For those who believe that there is one right person for everyone, and through the forces of whatever you believe in, you meet that one person once in your life, I am here to tell those people that I may have met her four years ago. But I must also tell those people that, while it may seem cosmically possible that you are destined for such an encounter, I believe that this is all you are destined for. Timing is out of your hands, while everything you do or don’t do after that encounter is entirely yours to utilise or ruin.
Perhaps I am stalling to further postpone my painful confession. But now I see, as clear as day, that there is nothing left to do but begin.
I met Anna Karenina in a used bookshop near Russell Square in London. Sometimes I’d like to believe that we found each other there, since I wasn’t exactly conscious of having been looking for her. I don’t even know what I was doing there, really. I had just gotten out of a very serious relationship—with a man named Ulysses, if you must know—that, still to this day, I blame for my occasional feelings of intellectual inferiority. Since him, I have had my fair share of short relationships, which I may as well admit were so frivolous that they never left my bed nor gone further than my nightstand.
Anna I had never met but had seen before; since we both belonged to the book world, we moved in the same circles. But this time, undeniably, Anna caught my eye for the first time. Perhaps there struck something within me, something my heart knew that my brain hadn’t yet computed, and suddenly in those brief first exchanges I was ready to be whatever she wanted me to be. I say now, dear reader, without the aims of boastfulness or chauvinism, that I took Anna Karenina home with me that day.
I promised exclusivity to Anna the next morning. I couldn’t then explain how absolutely certain I felt in doing so, but I did. There would be no one else. I would spend all my time with her. (Of course I know the reason now. I must’ve known that Anna was a woman with whom you couldn’t divide your time. Such treasured individuals are so rare that doing so would be a crime against beauty and a crime against love.)
Whenever you are in a committed relationship, especially one so passionate and immediate from the start, doubts will sneak up on you during the oddest of moments. Three weeks after that day in the bookstore, we decided to take a trip to Edinburgh together. We held each other close as the train began its five-hour trek up Great Britain, but halfway through the ride, we couldn’t stand each other. And this, after three whole weeks of complete and blissful inseparability! She felt that I wasn’t paying attention to her; I felt that she was rambling without the slightest regard for me. We spent the second half of the train ride in silence, not looking at each other once. But even as I sulked toward the window, I knew that it was just a fight and that everything would be fine.
They say you can’t travel with just anyone. Just like you can’t live with just anyone, or that you can’t love just anyone. And it’s true. These three roles don’t always have to be the same person, but the qualities of each tend to overlap. Intimacy is at the root of each role, and regardless of how I felt about Anna at the time, I was indeed travelling with her; and if I couldn’t feel comfortably intimate with her in Edinburgh, then what?
We started talking to each other again once we arrived in Edinburgh, but we had certainly gotten off on the wrong foot. While we didn’t continue arguing openly like we did on the train, we fell silent upon the first instances of disagreement. During meals, which were usually some of the most quality time Anna and I shared, we hardly looked at each other. One time my eye caught hers; without a smile, she looked away, and suddenly I was afraid of the future, of commitment, of her. Suddenly all I saw was the woman before me. The one I met in the bookstore, the one with whom I enjoyed spending so much time, hadn’t entered my mind since we left London.
We decided to spend part of the second day on our own, and I suppose part of me knew how monumental a decision that’d come to play in the future of our relationship. I went for a long walk, trying to take the city in, but all I could think about was her. I would look down a beautiful street and think, If only she could see this. And then I’d immediately think, Well, she’d just go on and on about it. So I kept walking until I found a bookshop and instinctively walked in.
The bookshop was small with a straightforward set-up that possessed neither charm nor tastelessness, but there were books on the wall which was all I needed to take my mind off my problems. And that’s when I saw her. Her name was Lolita.
Well, dear reader, we’ve come to that point. I’m sure you could guess what I, a sad and simple man, did. I looked at Lolita in the eyes and felt fire underneath my skin.
I was supposed to meet Anna Karenina back at the hotel for dinner, but I didn’t return until midnight. I had been out with Lolita all night. Like Anna, she chattered, but her stories were sung like songs. They made me laugh and they made me shake my head in disbelief. She was exuberant, and she made me feel alive again.
That is all I will say about my first encounter with Lolita. I returned to the hotel to find Anna and all her things gone. At first I was shocked, and then I was relieved. I invited Lolita over immediately.
I had two days left in Edinburgh and I wanted to spend them with Lolita. I didn’t even feel guilty about what had happened with Anna because all I cared about was Lolita. On the day of my departure, I looked into Lolita’s eyes, the eyes of another woman, and couldn’t believe I felt for her what I had felt with Anna just one month ago. Before I could ask myself what was wrong with me, Lolita asked me to stay longer, and I did.
Because I had checked out of my hotel already, I stayed with her at her place. She was younger than I was and still didn’t have a job. When I asked her how she afforded her place, she remarked coyly that she had people who took care of her. I hoped that she meant her parents, though even I knew that wasn’t what she meant nor intended to mean.
We went out to dinner at a quiet spot off the far end of Holyrood Park, which turned out to be a mistake. The people around us turned their heads whenever Lolita let out one of her howling laughs, and suddenly I felt self-conscious of the fact that Lolita looked so much younger than I did. When I asked her, as politely as I could, to lower her voice, she lashed out and caused a scene. She yelled, called me names, and at one point threatened to stab me with her fork; as the wait staff approached our table to calm her down, I wondered whether I’d ever see Anna again.
I didn’t stick around for the end. I bailed on Lolita that night and took the first train back to London. I wasn’t particularly happy or relieved to return either. I left London when it was, for once, sunny. There was no question of how dreary it would be now.
I must thank you, dear reader, for silencing your judgement of my actions while I told this tale. It is as if you already know that nothing you say would change the fact that I had made a terrible mistake, and there is nothing left for me to do but live with it.
But I know you are curious to ask, so I will tell you. I have seen Anna Karenina again, a few times in fact, but always from afar. I’ve not once managed the nerve to talk to her. She would never take me back, nor do I feel like I deserve to ever rekindle anything with her. But I attend certain functions, the ones I know she’d attend, just hoping to see her, confident and strong, in all her timeless beauty that shows not a trace of myself in her past.