The bottom line of it all was that undeniably, Beautiful was everything to me. I felt that against all odds, I had met my soulmate in the most fortuitous way possible. She was right within my age group, we met under just the right circumstances in the right environment, and the emotions she inspired within me burned more intensely and more passionately than I had ever felt before. I believed I was on the very cusp of a life-changing relationship. In terms of soulmates, the more time I spent with Beautiful the more I felt convinced that ‘soulmate’ was exactly what she was for me. She almost immediately fostered a strong sense of affection, companionship, and warmth within me. If secrets and trust were the commerce of soulmates, I invested everything I ever had in her heart. I spoke of every dream, every wish, every hope, and every fear, depositing as much of my soul as I could and enjoying the seemingly endless returns. I met Beautiful when I was only eighteen; we started dating when I was nineteen. I was young and yet I felt that I was standing on the summit of love, experiencing the greatest example that bards and artists could only ever allude to.
I was happily love-blind ever since the moment I laid eyes on her. I can remember emotions, thoughts, sometimes even smells or sounds, but the memory of Beautiful in that classroom is perhaps one of the very few and very rare precious ones that are permanently burned into my mind in picture-perfect clarity and resolution. I can place every lovely strand of hair on her face. I can hear her voice as I drowned out every other person’s. Maybe, like everything else, this is a trick of the mind. Maybe the precious memory I have held onto, supposedly frozen in time and set in amber, is nothing but a wish tied to the last leaf on a branch being blown in the wind. Perhaps it is easy for me to claim how well I can cast her image because, as love at first sight often goes, it follows an idealized, standardized, uniform version of what we wish to see. Knowing the reality of what drives love at first sight or love at first meeting does not detract from the reality of how she made me feel when I saw her and met her. It does not matter that she perhaps reminded me of past exes or seemed to promise great things in how she spoke or looked or acted. She was the uber-standard. The best qualities of what I was looking for and the greatest ever promise of what I wanted. That was real.
If you had known me or her, you would have seen the same thing I did. Anyone would have said that Beautiful was exactly my type. If I hadn’t met her first myself, I have the faintly optimistic hope that some mutual third-party who knew either of us was looking would have arranged for us to meet anyways. Despite what science or emotion, studies or stories, the mind or the heart would say about the efficacy or legitimacy of ‘types’, it definitely influenced my desire to know more about her. Maybe it was a trick of perspective. Perhaps over time she became more like what I wanted, or perhaps over time what I wanted became more like her. I don’t know which came first, the cast or the filling; I was too busy counting my lucky stars that I found someone who seemed to align perfectly for me. Now I know the mind can play tricks sometimes when it comes to types. Maybe when I tried to fit her into my perfect image I began trimming off the edges, cutting off the imperfections that didn’t fit. Maybe when I measured her against the mold I pushed and stretched and thinned out the filling to force her to be enough for me. Types may mean nothing for relationships, but they can be everything for the heart. My heart filled when I met Beautiful, and it overflowed when we were together. Type was cast away long before that. It may have driven us together, but it was the love it inspired that made us stick.
That is the ultimate truth of what I can say about who Beautiful was. She was the result of inevitability. You know people like this, or perhaps you are one yourself. There are some people in this world who are set upon the world to meet and love. Separate of each other and without each other’s influence, we grew up and set on a journey that would lead to our meeting. It would be a crime on a cosmological scale for two people so supposedly ‘meant’ for each other to miss their great chance. Something was going to put us together somewhere, somehow. She had been made irresistible to me, regardless of the reason or how I came to that conclusion or even what I may have believed that conclusion meant. All these things, soulmates, love at first sight, types, they are all there to indicate attraction and foster affection. They are as much biological as they are mental. Spiritual ties in physical bonds. There was no denying, ever, that Beautiful was going to be the girl of my dreams. A great machine had been very carefully and lovingly put together when she and I met. All of the gears fit just right, the revolutions were mighty and moved with great purpose. I just did not know what this machine was for or to what the gears counted down towards. Short of naively calling it ‘destiny’, meeting Beautiful was what every choice and decision I had made up until that moment was for. The feelings brought about from meeting were very much real. They may have been inspired by assumptions of pop culture but they were all legitimized by very real science and psychology and the result was undeniably magnetic and prolific. I have since learned however that while all of these can indicate and predict affection none can create any promise or sense of lasting any better than a relationship devoid of all of these things. I know that now but I didn’t doubt then that this relationship, so memorable in its inception, so intensely convincing in all of its signs, would last forever. That she would forever be as I would always know her to be, my Beautiful girl.
Although I knew I loved her the moment I met her, I did not immediately begin or even pursue a relationship with Beautiful. Call me an idealist, a romantic, or even old-fashioned, but I wanted to enjoy this feeling of falling for someone before I even dove into the intensity of being with that person. I wanted to court this stunning, incredible, beautiful girl. I wanted to learn everything about her, I wanted to become the closest person to her, I wanted to earn everything she could have to give: her love, her commitment, her devotion, her affection, her time before I ever even presumed to ask her for anything. I knew I was falling and falling hard for Beautiful; she had set me up on the highest pinnacle of love and I willingly jumped without a parachute. This love was set to be memorable and I knew the fall was going to be epic in and of itself. Obsessed with the bliss of falling in love and falling for someone seemingly so perfect, I felt no need to rush the relationship. I lingered in this in-between state of simply being happy to be with her.
Our first club meeting was on a Wednesday, and she and I immediately hit it off. After the meeting, as club members went off to their classes or to their dorms, I stayed behind with her. We walked around campus and kept talking. She told me how shy she was in high school and how difficult it was for her to make friends. She got along amicably with her roommates, and if that word seems too clinical and devoid of any actual connection, that is because that is exactly how she felt about them. She was a dorm student struggling to make friends and I was a commuter who seemingly did not have any time to. At the time I had a meal plan for commuters that basically meant I could eat at certain times of the day so we decided to go have dinner together at one of our dining halls. The food was bland and soulless but the conversation was animated and lively. I found out about where she lived and where she went to school and was surprised to realize that she lived only fifteen minutes away from me. We frequented the same malls, our parents shopped at the same grocery stores, and I had been getting my hair cut at a barbershop in her very town for the past eleven years. It was, as we both would later admit to each other, increasingly feeling like fate. Not to seem overly eager or attached, after a dinner that fed my heart more than my stomach, I said goodnight to her, but not before making sure we would see each other again the next day and have dinner together again.
It was on the second night together that I decided to work up the courage to ask her about her class schedule. You know, friends walk with friends to classes all the time, so this shouldn’t have seemed so out of place, after all. We exchanged class schedules and in the next few days the number of ‘random encounters’ across campus, in the halls or outside of department buildings or in the library during free time, dramatically increased. That weekend after meeting her I could not stop thinking about her. I was reliving every conversation we had in my mind. I was looking forward to Monday if only because it meant some more time to spend with her. I wondered if she ever thought of me, if I was running through her mind the same way she was through mine. The thing about falling for someone, unlike any other stage of a relationship, is you get to enjoy this pure, unadulterated, unaltered version of that person and of your affection. I was blissfully and willingly viewing the world askew through rose-colored glasses. I was so inspired and so spurned on by this desire to know more about her and falling for her that I never once had to worry about entertaining the notion of whether or not she felt the same way. The point was moot, irrelevant to how I felt. Falling for someone, before knowing them, before being with them, before losing them, is about the purest most selfless version of love I have ever experienced. It is a form of love unburdened by expectations or realities of relationship because you aren’t in one. It is the only time that the luxury of wishful thinking comes before the reality. So engrossed in the task of getting to know her and love her I was, that I never had to ask whether she felt the same or presume that I knew or not.
It was Friday the week after our first meeting that I finally worked up the courage to do what was up until then the unthinkable. Remember I was, maybe even still am, the kind of person who gets nervous just trying to hold a girl’s hand. Yet here I was, emboldened by my feelings, on a Friday afternoon knowing that neither of us had any classes remaining, asking this brilliantly beautiful girl if she wanted to go off campus and hang out for the night at the mall. I promise you I tried my best to play this cool. I don’t know how it looked to her or to passersby but my intention was to be convincingly blasé and nonchalant about the whole proposition. ‘Oh you know,’ I would have tried to play, ‘since we’re free why don’t we get some food at the mall and hang out a bit there’. In the split-second it took before she emphatically said ‘yes’ I thought the world was going to swallow me up whole and spit out my bones. I drove us to the very same mall that we had separately frequented over so many weekends in the past years and we had what would become one of our all-time favorite guilty pleasures and simple weekend treat: unapologetically greasy and supremely satisfying mall Chinese food. This mall would become significant over the course of our lives. Later on this would be where she got her part-time job. I remember celebrating with her when she finally got it and consoling her when the pressures would get to her sometimes or relations with her coworkers were strained or the expectations of sales would wear at her confidence and comfort. It would be at this mall and at that very store that I would experience such contrasting polar emotions. There would be the times when I waited, excited, outside her store, with a single red rose hidden behind my back, to surprise her and whisk her away for a small mini-date to recover from the stress of her days. But it would also be here where I would feel the deeply cutting devastation and rejection, waiting outside her work to speak to her one more time, to try and convince her of the errors of my past, to implore her for another chance at the bright light of her love, that I would watch her walk right past me without even glancing over. It was winter when I tried to see her again, and though it was dark and cold that night and though I had spent two hours waiting for her outside in the bitter east coast winter, I never felt more numb, more bitten, more shocked, than when I was no more than a shadow in the dark to her. It was this very mall that I avoided for five years after that, too haunted by the ghost of my past happiness. The memories contained within those walls threatened to overwhelm and destroy me.
But not having any knowledge of what the future might bring, at the time it was just an opportunity to steal more time with Beautiful. We walked around the mall, hopping in and out of stores, all the while talking and laughing and bonding. At the end of it all we were perhaps only a few moments away from being chased out by security guards before we finally left. It was by then late and rather than drive all the way back to campus, she wondered if I’d be so kind as to drop her off back at her actual home, as it was so much closer. I have the drive to her house programmed into my muscles. I have driven that road so many times that whether in the dark or completely blindfolded, I could not only navigate the route with ease, I can move the car to avoid every pothole or manhole cover. I took those directions to heart, because I knew they would always lead me to her. Years from our first ‘date’ at that mall I would find myself driving down that very same road to see her again. I felt entrusted, important enough to her to have me bring her to her home. I enjoyed the feeling of being guided by her voice, responding to her directions and trusting her as I drove into then unfamiliar territory. We weren’t dating then, we didn’t even know if we felt the same way, but still, a gentleman always walks a lady to her door. I simply wanted to make sure she got home safe and wanted to accompany her as much as I could as closely as I could. Before disappearing into her home she turned to me, thanked me for a great time and for the ride, and gave me a warm hug. That was all the fare I needed from then on to become her weekly regular ride back home.
One or two weeks after, we were beginning to bore of the mall for the night, so I offered an alternative. The local bowling alley had Friday night specials for bowling as much as you liked in the span of two hour rentals of the entire lane. The only problem (if you could call it that) was that the specials didn’t start until midnight. This opened up the opportunity for us to finish with class, go somewhere for dinner (we always changed it up, we were both adventurous and ravenous gourmands), then spend some time at my place watching movies or taking naps before heading to the alley at midnight and not finishing until two in the morning. Looking back it was naively simplistic and very clearly ‘dating’ without calling it ‘dating’. But to me at the time, it was just getting closer to her without expecting anything in return. I would be lying if I didn’t say I would sometimes wonder, wishfully dissecting her actions and her expressions, hoping to find some glimmer of mutual affection, and though I would cling blissfully to any hints and disregard wholly anything to the contrary, I never acted on any of it. I just wanted to keep falling and she never ceased to give me more to love. It was during our bowling ‘excursions’ that I finally formulated my plan. See we were both pretty terrible bowlers to begin with, so on equally shoddy ground we met as opponents. Being the gambler, I proposed a bet. For every game won, the person won a point. She decided the reward. At the end of the night, the winner got to make a request of the loser. As the night went on, I gave Beautiful her first ever nickname (I’d have been insane to start off with Beautiful!). I called her ‘Ofer’, because it was becoming very clear she wasn’t winning any points anytime soon, and the record for her was always ‘ofer one, two, or three, etc’. Suddenly she started assigning points for things outside of just bowling games. Being right, winning arguments, good comebacks, all of these were now fair play for points. The game expanded beyond just bowling and the time expanded beyond just that night. We were now locked in a game that would last the entire fall semester and it would only be at the end of it that the winner would be able to make an ultimate request of the loser.
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