Something Like This
Sometimes a man is born into a love story. He trudges though his life as if on a forced march through perpetual winter night, driving himself forward against slashing winds, grasping at light glinting off dots of driven snow. For this man the simple act of waking and forgetting a dream is a cyclopean tragedy. Losing a spot on a grocery store line recalls the pilgrim's forty days fasting.
We are likely to find him inebriated, standing on the highway overpass safety railing watching the cars pass underneath him. For he has always recently lost his soul, and life is frequently not worth enduring in such pain.
Yet he would not trade a single heartbeat of his pain for the nothingness of death.
I tell you, give me five such men and I will build cities.
I will defend you against marauding armies.
Stand beside me and know that I will risk my life, and it is not because I do not cherish my moments, but because I cannot die before I reach you and kneel in your grace. For God's own angels bar my entrance to Hades until I receive your permission to depart this earthly domain.
Upon this sword I swear myself to you.
"What's the matter?"
She lowers her head slightly, trying to intersect the line of his vision with her own eyes. He's locked onto a square of carpet. He does not break his stare, even when a waiter stoops to pick up a fallen napkin at that spot.
"It's not nothing. I see the wheels turning. I hope it's not me."
"I'm sorry," he says. "It's..."
He's thinking he wants to be Michael Keaton in the movie. He wants to have a secret to hide. Something massive. Something she's the last to know. He wants to be fighting to tell her what he has uttered to no living soul.
There's a cave filled with computers.
There's a car that flies and a thousand bad guys locked in jails instead of destroying the world. There are rayguns and dragons and a diamond sword handed to him by a fallen angel intent on avenging heaven.
That's why he's run out of words, and not because the waiter doesn't realize they're about to refuse his credit card. That all he has in his pocket is a carefully folded post-it note bearing her phone number. All he has inside him is knowing it's either back to his parent's house or the bridge and the cars and the chance he might fall this time.
"Hello. Hello? I'm here."
He says, "I'm really sorry," when the waiter slams through the kitchen door shaking his head, credit card in hand, portable phone to his ear. He bursts from his chair so fast she jumps. He kneels beside her and takes her hand. Kisses her knuckles. "I wanted it to be something else. I wanted it to be someone else."
"What?" she says as he stands over her. Pleads with his eyes for her to understand, then realizes her understanding would make it worse. It's supposed to be a dream.
"Where are you going?"
"Forgive me, dear lady," he says. Leans over and kisses her on the lips, silencing the conversations at surrounding tables.
"And I mean no disrespect to your honor, but would you not excuse the abrupt reaction of your champion when his back is pressed against the wall?"
"What's wrong with you?"
He backs away from her along a path he made sure was clear. One step and then two, backward, facing her. "And I will have your hand. I will."
"Where the hell are you going? Get back here."
He intercepts the waiter. Herds him back into the garish light, steam and sharp metal clanking.
When I was in Antarctica, Kristen told me: "There's a lot of sex in your stories." She said it scanning the ice for snakes and voles.
"I have a lot of stories with no sex at all in them. Lots."
She shrugged. Her breath formed a contrail within a breeze that reddened her nose. Maybe I hadn't shown her any of those stories. Not like I'm hiding them.
"So, what advice do you have for me? I mean, you're a professional. What would you say to someone like me?"
"Keep trying to do what?"
More shrugging. "Why do you always ask me these questions when it's so cold out?"
"I figure you have nothing better to do than answer."
"I'm not going to give you a different answer. In case you hadn't noticed, it's Antarctica here--everywhere."
I said, "Yeah," because she was geographically correct. Not because I felt like trying anymore.
Some men get themselves into love stories and then lose all sense of gravity. Up and down cease to be relevant directions. They find themselves in situations with little awareness that they came to that spot by virtue of their own motation. They wander like sleepwalkers, their minds and bodies in alternate universes.
I have no use for a man who cannot direct his passion. Rather, he will verily find himself under the hooves of my advancing charger.
This can then end in any one way, but only one.
Shall you find yourself in my bed? Will you rescue me from the bridge? Or will it come to pass that my visions are more solid matter than whimsical musing. That the computers in my cave calculate your next move. That I reveal my secret identity only to you. That I introduce you to the supreme being who guides my hand, and leads me to rescue you from the villain who shall threaten your life to get to me.
Which will it be?
My wife lets the open book fall onto her breast and looks at me over the top of her reading glasses. The light pours from the tiny incandescent bulb and falls onto her like a dollop of late afternoon sunshine. Our bedroom windows are as black as if they've been painted.
What could I see of this woman I haven't seen in the past twenty-five years? What is it about light that makes me believe it carries the vibration of our thoughts and hopes. Decades I've felt it. It came from somewhere before and will last long after.
"What's wrong with you?" she asks me. "What are you going to tell me?"
It's been cold. It's been moderately dangerous, and incredibly uncomfortable. I've had to sleep on windy plywood floors in sleeping bags into which I did not fit. I've cut my body open on metal shards and lost two night's sleep in a row I have not recovered from. I've flown above the earth in planes and helicopters and drank beers with a blimp pilot. I've danced with strange young women and marched beside mountain climbers from Alaska.
I get onto our bed knees first. Hover over her above my palms placed beside her shoulders.
"What?" she says, that bit of a giggle at the edge of the last phoneme. Nervous. Happy. Worried. "What happened to you? What do you want to tell me?"
"Did I ever tell you--" the angel bars my path to hell. There is a cave full of computers and I have a weapon capable of destroying any enemy of earth. I have created life and killed hundreds of insects with the sole of my New Balance sneakers. I have been to the bottom of the world and breathed Erebus's exhalations. Followed the paths of the explorers. Stood in the steps of my heroes and felt the fading warmth of their quests. Climbed ice walls and stood on moving glaciers. Seen my face reflected in blue ice older than Jesus.
"I know you," she says as I lower my face to kiss her. And after our lips part, "...you're Batman."
"Something like that."
Something like that.