PREVIOUSLY: PART ONE
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. I had a constant smirk on my face while doing all the simple things I had done before, like getting a folhado at my favorite bakery, recharging my cell phone balance at the mobile shop, doing pull-ups on the beach bars in Ipanema, and eating lunch at Delirio Tropical. In Copacabana, I visited Marcelo’s juice bar and was surprised to see him still working there. I walked up to the counter and before I could say anything he squinted in a flash of remembrance.
“I was here two years ago,” I said.
“What’s your name again?”
“Roooooooosh, that’s right!”
He put out his hand and gave mine a healthy shake. We chatted for maybe thirty seconds and then he went back to work. I think I was more sentimental about our relationship than he was judging by how quickly the smile evaporated from his face. I wanted him to be more than just my juice guy, but I knew he saw a dozen gringos like me every day and I was lucky he had remembered me at all.
Eventually I ran out of nostalgia. I walked around Ipanema, by the McDonald’s, KFC, and expensive boutiques I’d never stepped into, then thought, “Okay, now what?” I did it. I had come back, just as I’d told everyone I would, and I was about to reunite with my girl, but the mission that had consumed my thoughts for the past two years was almost complete. I felt a little empty, and then I remembered something someone had once told me: “Sometimes wanting something is better than having it.” That was probably why I hesitated in Vitória before returning to Rio. I stayed there ten days instead of three, perhaps subconsciously conflicted about the fact that I was about to finish what I set out to do. I wanted to hold on to wanting just a bit longer.
I had no complaints when Mariana pushed our date back one day (because of allergies, she told me) to Saturday night, which was a more proper time for a reunion. We were supposed to meet at the subway station, but it began pouring, so she texted me her address instead. At our meeting time I stood partially hidden under a tree in front of her building, waiting for her to come out.
I stared at her for a good five seconds before she noticed me. It was a careful stare, trying to see what had changed and what hadn’t. Her hair was longer—longer than mine, finally. Her body still looked great and it’s wasn’t obvious that she had aged two years. She smiled when she saw me hiding behind the tree. I gave her a hug, but she seemed decidedly cool, only giving me a weak embrace. The first thing she asked was where the taxi was, and when I told her I had let it go, she sounded annoyed, asking me twice why I’d done that, almost scolding me like a child. If she was happy to see me, I couldn’t tell.
We decided to walk up a steep hill to some local bars in her neighborhood. She had a tiny umbrella, so we both got wet as we lost our breath climbing, and several times she criticized herself for not bringing a bigger one. She was tense and made little effort to help with the conversation. The silences were painful. We hadn’t seen each other in two years, but after five minutes we had almost nothing to say. I thought either she had a serious boyfriend and was simply giving me a token meeting or needed time to warm up to me again.
When we finally settled into the bar twenty minutes later, I decided to approach it as just another date: I’d talk my ass off, tell her the interesting things I had been doing, make her laugh, and touch her more and more as the evening progressed.
“So my book is done. I finally finished it—and you’re in it,” I said.
“Oh, no!” She laughed.
“No, it’s nothing bad. Meeting you was a good way to end the story, I think, after all the bad stuff that happened.”
“What name did you give me?”
“How did you pick that?”
“Well, I went on the internet and did a search for Brazilian names, and you seem like a Mariana, so I went with that.”
I told her about the book, carefully avoiding its sexual theme and focusing on the friendships and cities I had visited. Mariana is the type of girl who didn’t care much about my past, but I still didn’t feel comfortable with her knowing about all the girls I had tried to get with before getting with her. I didn’t want to trivialize our relationship by saying it was the culmination of dozens of approaches and brainstorming and effort and game. There’s no romance in that.
By the second hour of our date, we had settled into a fun conversation. She opened up more, telling me about the time she had been robbed at knife-point, the traveling she had done, and the productions she had acted in. There were many moments where we relived our time together and I’d say, “I put that in the book!” Even though she had never seen the book and had no idea what filled its nearly 300 pages, she seemed pleased that she was in it. The whole time I held on to the hope that our reunion wouldn’t be anything less than worthy of the two-year wait.
We moved to a sushi bar and as we walked, she hooked her arm through mine. She seemed to laugh harder at my jokes and gave me longer stares. She asked more questions, and if this had been any other date, I would have been thinking, “This is going well.”
After four hours of talking, we decided to call it a night. On the walk to her apartment we held hands, but at the front door she was prepared to say goodbye and send me on my way. I couldn’t let that happen.
“Can I use your bathroom?” I said. She didn’t answer. Without skipping a beat, I added, “Okay well can you point me to an alley where I can go? Hopefully I won’t be robbed.”
She paused for a few seconds. “No, that’s fine,” she said. “You can come in.”
I knew I’d be staying a while when she offered me a drink. I went into her room and saw that the pictures of her guru were still there, but the shelf of herbal remedies was gone.
“Where’s all your medicines?” I asked.
“You know, the natural medicines you used to have in those dropper bottles.”
“I think you imagined that.”
“Are you sure? Because I put it in the book.”
The last bit of nostalgia I had was with her and I milked it for all it was worth. I wanted the wait to be validated. I wanted to be correct that she wasn’t just another notch. I had so many relationships that were meaningless that I needed this one to be real.
“The last time I was here,” I said, “I was a bit messed up, I think. When I went home, I hibernated in my dad’s basement and it took two months until I felt normal again. I’m telling you this because I didn’t want to leave you. There’s a lot of things we didn’t do together.”
“You didn’t have time,” she said.
“I could’ve made time. I could’ve stayed longer. I…”
She put her hand in mine. A few minutes later she led me to her bedroom.
There was a peculiar moment the next morning when I left. She gave me a kiss goodbye and said, “Take care.”
“Take care?” I replied.
“Yeah, take care,” she repeated. “Isn’t that what Americans say?”
“Well, ‘take care’ is something you say to someone you’re not going to see for a while. If you run into an old college friend you haven’t seen in years and you chat for a couple minutes, you say ‘take care’ at the end. It means ‘See you in a few years, maybe.'”
“Oh, no, that’s not what I meant at all,” she said. Then she gave me a more proper farewell as I left.
I really wanted to say that she was indeed the one, that I ended the game because of her, that we feel in love and had beautiful Brazilian babies, and that I lived out my days in a tropical country. But that wasn’t the case.
Five days later we met for lunch at her suggestion. Beforehand, I debated whether I should comment on her coolness. I knew something was wrong because all the signs were there: rescheduling our date, getting annoyed at my letting the taxi go, excusing aloof behavior with a made-up illness (allergies), not inviting me back to her place, and giving me an impersonal goodbye. I remembered the first time we met, when she had asked me to come over, but the previous night I had to weasel my way in as if she was any other girl. Her kisses were also different—quicker, colder, and not as sensual. Our lovemaking was more detached. I decided to not say anything and see what would happen. Well, I didn’t have to wait long.
During lunch she barely said a word. Like on our date, I talked and talked to get something out of her, but she responded with simple one-word replies. I had brought a book with me, Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and the only time she really said anything was when she explained that she had liked his most famous work, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being. Did I have to bring one of his books on every date just to get something going? Whether she was no longer interested in me or not, there is no way I can date a girl who doesn’t talk to me. Disappointment set in.
We finished our meal in silence, then she said, “I have to tell you something.”
I knew what was coming.
CONTINUED: PART THREE