PREVIOUSLY: PART TWO
“I think we should just be friends,” she said.
I’d been dumped many times before, where things simply faded away and a girl stopped agreeing to go out with me. Maybe I would run into her later and we’d have sex again for old time’s sake, but not once in seven years had a girl I genuinely liked sat me down and said she never wanted to be romantically involved with me again. The last time I had been hurt, but this time I was angry.
She was about to tell me why when two businessmen sat next to our table. She asked if I wanted to talk on the beach. I agreed. We walked without saying anything, then sat on the sand.
“You don’t have to give me a reason,” I said. “I don’t care, whatever you want.”
“No, but I want to tell you. When we first met, my heart was open, but I can’t do this. I can’t see you for two months and then have you go away again. I can’t suffer like that.”
Oh, god. She was giving me the excuse I had been using on girls for the past year—a spin-off of the ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ routine.
“I understand completely,” I said. “If that’s what you want. I knew something was wrong anyway, because it didn’t feel like last time. You were colder, and from the moment you postponed our date, I knew something wasn’t right.”
“But I wasn’t feeling well,” she protested. “I had allergies.”
“Look, if I was in a hospital bed, half-dying, I’d still crawl out to see you after two years. You just weren’t excited. I told myself, ‘I’m 100% sure she’s seeing a guy,’ and that’s what I still think.”
I looked deep in her eyes because a part of me wanted to know the real reason, even though that reason would ultimately boil down to her not wanting to see me. I needed to know if she had something else going on instead of preferring to watch telenovelas at home rather than spending time with me.
“He’s not better than you, but he’s here. You’re going to leave in two months. Then what am I going to do?”
“The other night you were telling me that you were thinking about having a kid in a year or two,” I said. “When a woman says that, what she really means is that she wants a child right now, and I understand that. You’re at the age where you’re ready to find something long-term, but I can’t give you that.”
“I know you can’t.”
“I guess the only reason we got together in the first place was because you had just broken up with someone. I was the rebound.”
“Yes my heart was open then. I knew you were leaving soon and it wouldn’t mean anything.”
I winced and turned away, my eyes falling upon a group of guys in skimpy Speedos playing foot volleyball.
“But now it’s harder, because you’re staying longer, but you’ll still be leaving again. You’re too…” She fumbled for the right word. “Light.”
“I’m sorry I’m not a Brazilian citizen. I’m sorry I can only stay a couple months at a time, but it’s because I’m light that we even met. It gives and it takes, I understand that. You think this conversation we’re having right now is the first time for…” I wanted to talk to her as if she was a therapist and discuss the pros and cons of living the lifestyle that I’ve chosen, but I stopped short and started making patterns in the sand with my book.
“And you barely kept in touch while you were away,” she said. “Do you know the word cultivar?”
“Yes, to cultivate.”
“That’s what I want. Something that grows. You sent me two postcards, a couple emails, and we talked once on the phone.”
“So you wanted me to call so you could ask when I was coming back, only for me to say, ‘I don’t know, maybe soon.’ What would we have talked about? ‘Hey, Mariana, I’m going out with my friends a lot and writing. Oh, yeah? Great. I can’t wait to have açai again.'”
“Well let’s be friends. And I mean that,” she said. “This Saturday I’m going out dancing with my friends, and I’d like it if you’d come along and meet them.”
“No, that’s okay.”
“I don’t want to be just friends. No, it’s either all or nothing with me.”
“So you don’t even want to see me again?”
“We can exchange emails, and maybe have lunch before I leave the country.”
She frowned and tightened her lips. Part of me felt bad for her because after all she was a girl I really liked, but another part of me was pleased that I was hurting her.
“I can’t believe you don’t want to be my friend. You’re blackmailing me! This isn’t how Brazilians do it. We keep in touch. We see each other.”
“Yeah, well, I do things differently,” I said flatly. “I have enough friends anyway.” That was a lie. There was only one other person in Rio I could call.
“Then the only thing you really want from me is my body.”
I said nothing, wondering about the question myself.
She told me that every other guy she’d ever broken up with had jumped at the chance to stay in touch and that I was being silly not to want the same. I refused to reward her decision to dump me with friendship. I wanted her to wonder if she made the right choice by letting me go. She needed to feel genuine loss. I had to inflict either pleasure or pain—nothing in between. I had to burn my bridges because it was the right thing to do.
“I think it’s time for me to go,” I said.
We got up and she insisted on escorting me to my hostel. On the way she continued to push the friendship idea, but I said little, thinking that I wanted her to feel what I was feeling: utter rejection.
“You really don’t have to walk me back,” I said, as if she was following me like a pest. At the end of the block she stopped, but I kept walking.
“Wait!” she called after me.
I stopped, looked back, and said, “Yeah?”
“Aren’t you at least going to give me a hug?”
I sighed, then gave her the most awkward hug I could muster, my body leaning so far forward that only the boney tops of my shoulders touched her body. She stood on her tiptoes to give me a kiss on the cheek, but I pulled away as soon as I felt her lips make contact with my skin.
It was another goodbye, two years and two blocks away from the last one. I took three steps back and stared into her big eyes, which were glassy with tears. She smiled wanly, as if encouraging me to say something comforting, but all I wanted to do at that moment was destroy something beautiful. I raised my hand and said, “Take care.”
I didn’t wait for a response. I immediately turned and walked away.
A couple weeks later I got into a fight with Paula’s best friend, Joana, at a samba club. She had discovered my writings and tried to use them against me. The entire night I endured things like, “So when are you going to bang these girls?” “Are you going to learn samba so you can bang a lot of girls?” and “What clubs do you go to so you can bang girls?” I bit my lip. I didn’t want to create a scene, but at the end of the night, while hailing a taxi, she said, “The night is still young enough to bang girls. You should stay out.”
I’d finally had enough. “Can you shut the fuck up about that already. Are you going to do that all the time from now on?”
The ride home was awkward. Of course she told Paula, who cooled toward me afterward, taking days to reply to one of my text messages instead of the usual hour or less. I now had no friends in Rio.
One night about a month after Mariana dumped me, I went to Lapa alone. While walking up the stairs of the club, I ran into her. She was with her sister and didn’t offer to introduce me, as if I was a distant acquaintance, so I just nodded as if to say I see how it is and kept walking.
She found me later and asked what had happened. “You tell me what happened,” I said. “You seemed like you didn’t want to talk and didn’t even offer to introduce me to your sister.”
“You looked upset! It seemed like you wanted to walk away from me!”
I stuck with her for the rest of the night. We sat on the couch and talked about emotions, love, and all sorts of nonsense my friends back home would have made fun of me about. Whenever I looked away, she wiped away her tears. We gently stroked each other’s hands and when she stared at me, I got the feeling that she wanted me to make a commitment and say, “Baby, I’m going to live in Brazil. Let’s do it!” That’s what she wanted, and I felt confident that if I said those words, she would have been mine as long as our relationship could last.
I imagined how my life would be if I chose that route. I’d have to make a permanent move to Rio, and the only way to do that legally would be to get married. We’d be husband and wife, with our own little apartment in Copacabana. Three nights a week I’d cook American food, three nights a week she’d cook Brazilian food, and one night a week we’d go out. I’d support her in her career and listen to her troubles at work. We’d take trips into the Brazilian countryside to get away from the city. We’d be best friends. I’d become an English teacher or get some other job that brought in a regular income. We’d have a Little Rooshinho and I’d find out if I had what it took to be a good father. We’d outgrow our apartment in Copacabana and get a bigger one in Ipanema. I’d become fluent in Portuguese. I’d visit my family and friends in the States once a year. I’d become a family man and have a regular, pleasant life. If our marriage worked, we’d make each other happy until our last days, companions until death. Our graves would be side by side.
I remained silent.
“You were never in love with me anyway,” she finally said.
Besides my gentle touches, I offered Mariana no reason to dump the guy she had just “started” dating to get with me. I made my choice, and I was ready to live with it.
We walked out when the club closed at five in the morning. When we hugged, she closed her eyes and practically dived in my chest, but she didn’t let me hold her long enough to kiss her. She hopped into a cab and at that point I realized she was too sure of what she wanted to be weak for another night or two. I could accept that, but I went to bed wondering how I was going to meet another girl like her. For my remaining three months in Rio I didn’t.
Those were shallow times, going out to drink and fuck random girls in my favela apartment while building very little of substance. There was the pretty daughter of a gastroenterologist, who spoke French and treated me well, but I just couldn’t fall for her. There was a telenovela actress from São Paulo who was gorgeous but spoke no English and was hard to pin down. There was an Argentine girl with a magical booty who tasted like a bar ashtray. There were traveling American girls I slept with only hours after meeting. It’s after these girls, ten days before I was set to leave Rio for good, that I had an overwhelming desire to see Mariana again. I didn’t care if it was “bad game” to contact her or not, so I called and said I needed to see her before I left. She agreed to a date.
CONTINUED: PART FOUR