Up until that point of my life, they were the most perfect set of pearly whites I've seen. Where mine were crooked, his teeth were arrayed in a perfect row. I was entranced. For better or worse, that was a period of naivety. I was content, even assured, with the ignorance of youth. Six jaded years later, here I am, ruefully recalling the memory on happenstance. I now have become aware of the wonders of cosmetic dentistry, and of the carefully assembled half-truths and casual lies we build around ourselves and the illusion holds no power over me.
I wandered the back alleys of the Internet in those days, reveling in the decadence the shadows can afford me. Men - strangers - paraded in and out of my life. In hindsight, it is unsurprising that very few have "stayed" in the varied sense of the word. Of that scant few, there are some whose real names I now know; there are faces and faceless names I recall in passing; and fewer still are those whom I have come to associate as acquaintances.
I envy my bravado then. I was hopeful. I was invincible. I thought myself a poet. I thought myself an artist. I believed in my own well of profundity: of all the love I had to give to everyone but myself. I thought the world unfair and I firmly believed that it was my duty to shield every broken soul, perceived or real, from the harshness of the world. I was a messiah and my message was love. I never thought myself lost, but I was. I was my own downfall.
I am now sober enough to know better. I was inexorably drawn to care for what was broken because, as broken as I was was, that was what I wished for myself. I was blind to my own plight. So there I was, awake in the dead of the night, compulsively refreshing the webpage of my old haunts with fervour, as if each successful reload would bring about the changes I sought for. The familiar ring alerted me of a message sent my way.
He seemed interesting enough, at least that's how he made himself out to be. Apparently, he was into theater. This alone struck a chord in my bohemian self and jolted me awake. He invited me over for coffee. Ironically, I countered that it was 2 AM - too late for me to go out. And so began the precursory dance of flirtations. He insisted, pointing out that I was still awake and therefore must have been unable to sleep anyway. It is amusing how unsubtle I measured strangers: it was little different from tossing a handful of breadcrumbs into the air and observing which ones get consumed. His grammar was impeccable and his punctuations were sound and so I made my decision. After a few half-hearted refusals, I obliged to meet him.
If the succeeding events where scenes in a movie, I'd wince and cringe through every moment, resenting my younger self and wishing I knew better. He flashed his smile and I was ensnared. We made pointless and winding small talk, lightly touching upon our interests. I was aware that he veered the conversation away from our personal lives whenever I attempted to direct the topic that way. I was aware, yet I did not mind. Out of the blue he asked me if I wanted to go with him. I asked where to and he replied with the light of mischief in his eyes, "Paradise." Paradise. A sad attempt at wit. An unimaginative innuendo. Yet again, I was aware, yet I did not mind: I was hopeful. I was stupid, but is that not my point?
I soon found myself seated shotgun in his car. He stole a kiss, pulled back and, with the same hypnotizing smile, claimed that he wanted to do that when he first saw me and kissed me again. I assured myself that it was alright. That this might be IT. He held my hand, raised it to his lips and kissed the back of my palm while he looked at me. While my heart pounded in my ears, I gave myself another assurance, and a fool's reason to hope. I gripped his hand tighter and gently caressed it. It was soft, unmarred and uncalloused by physical toil.
He looked at me and inquired why my grip tightened. I could not trust myself to speak, and only shook my head with a small smile. Perhaps he was satisfied with the non-answer, or perhaps, deep down he truly was just disinterested so he smiled, let go and started the car.
I do not believe it was passion. To say that we simply gave in and lost ourselves to our most primal urges would be closer to the truth. While he ravaged me, I recall seeing myself in the mirror and wondered, in a corner of my head far detached from the present then, if this was how true love felt like. I am wiser now. Wise enough, at least, to know the correct answer to that question. That time is fluid is both a funny and a cruel truth. A lot can happen in an hour or two. Lives are ended. Lives are changed. Both of which are lasting, milestones from which there is no return.
He dropped me off at my dormitory in the late hours of the fading night. That was the last time I saw him. As I lay curled in my bed, lost in my thoughts, I knew I was changed, for better or for worse, though I did not know the gravity of that change. As I fell asleep then, unaware of what lay in wait down life's road, I still thought myself strong. I still thought myself invincible. I was hopeful. I was stupid.
Pain is the price we pay for the richness of experience.