Wednesday, March 1, 2017

That Awful Drug

That Awful Drug

Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.”
--Dante Alighieri, the Divine Comedy

The classic depictions of Cupid are nothing but a lie. A clever PR job meant to soften the image of an otherwise ruthless opportunist. There is no winged infant firing off heart tipped arrows like a seasoned sniper. Or beautiful goddesses granting blessings to ease longing. The real Cupid is a drug pusher and pharmaceutical executive. A man with a charming smile, and an expensive suit, that both distracts from his cold eyes.

Despite a majority of first loves eventually hurting like a thousand sonsofbitches wielding rusty chainsaws, most of us will remain hopelessly addicted for the rest of our lives. Gay, Straight, Bi, all just arbitrary nonsense to Cupid. He only sees returning customers.

Do you remember your first love?

You most likely never asked for it. Cupid simply spiked your drink while you were distracted by life. Suddenly you were this crazy person wanting nothing more than to attach yourself to another crazy person, so you could both enjoy the high together.

That is how it began for me. I was 16 at the time. One moment I was minding my own business, the next I met this girl, and we both traded a shy smile. It began just as simple as that. From that point on, whenever I looked into those big brown eyes logic abandoned me, and in its place emerged a blinding desire that clouded my thoughts with want.

Her name was Puriel. She was a girl who normally kept her black, waist-length hair tied back in a braided bun. Always dressed conservatively in dark slacks or ankle length skirts, and blouses that were never brighter than earth tones. She watched the world inquisitively from behind a pair of thin framed glasses, and her full lips had an incredibly expressive way of either forming the most motherly of disapproving frowns, or the warmest of welcoming smiles.

Many others frequently described Puriel as being stand-offish, aloof, or guarded. Such views of her were not completely unfounded. But they were only half truths. These aspects of her personality were just a shield she constructed to protect herself after experiencing years of hurt at home, and rejection by her peers when she was younger. I knew and loved a side of Puriel that she rarely revealed to few others. The vulnerable, intellectually curious, passionate, and adventurous spirit that greatly desired freedom.

I saw this side of her when we sat alone together after school, and she would finally let her hair down, then rest her head on my shoulder with a quiet sigh. Or those times when things were so increasingly turbulent at home that Puriel had moments when she temporarily lost that strict control she kept over her emotions, and briefly ranted about how much she hated growing up with suffocatingly religious parents.

I especially loved the days we sat together talking about our dreams concerning the future. She frequently spoke about wanting to go to college someday and leaving home to see the world. Anytime Puriel talked about these subjects she would get this small, hopeful smile while looking off into the distance almost as if she could see those aspirations waiting for her on the far horizon. We were head-over-heels for one another. Deep in the throes of that youthful naivety, and passion, we more than once entertained the dreams of getting married and starting a life together. It all seemed so possible then.

An hour before classes began, every lunch break, and even two hours after the school day ended, we tried to see each other as much as possible. We were constantly stealing time from all our friends to make this happen. Our addiction reached such heights that more vocal friends began to complain about not seeing us. So-- despite it feeling like murder-- we both began trying to alternate days where we separated to hang with our individual social circles during lunch.

It was not all bliss. Constantly looming over our relationship was a tremendous issue we both tried to ignore. Puriel was absolutely forbidden to date. If her father had ever discovered she had a boyfriend he would have immediately demonstrated his immense displeasure to her with his fists. Of course, he would only beat his daughter to keep her safe from the evils of the world. A solution as loving, and effective as a relative burning down your house to defend it against burglars.

Learning this ugly truth locked me into a constant internal struggle. On one side was that achingly powerful want. I loved Puriel and did not want to lose her. On the other was my always scathing conscience. I was not only deathly afraid for her. I also felt increasingly selfish for continuing to pursue a relationship while being fully aware of the possible consequences.

We were together for nearly two years and as time went on the close calls only multiplied. The closest of these near misses occurred one day after school. I was leaning in to kiss Puriel but caught sight of her father's truck approaching from down the street. So, I instead embraced her close to myself and quickly turned until my back was facing the street. I prayed this would be enough to keep her hidden.

“What are you doing?” Puriel laughed in surprise.

“I saw your father's truck,” I said as calmly as I could but she tensed in my arms. The immediate fear that seized her was palpable. “I don't think he saw you. Just stay still.”

I looked over my shoulder to discover his vehicle slowed to a crawl. This was quickly seeming more and more like a worst-case scenario. Just as I was considering how I could protect her from her father, a great sense of relief washed over me when his vehicle picked up speed to continue searching for her.

“He's gone.” I released her.

“Oh god. That-- that was close.” Puriel's voice took on a noticeable tremble as she quickly hurried away from me. “I better go. I love you.”

“I love you.” I replied solemnly while watching her leave with this sinking feeling at the very core of my being.

From that day on my fears only multiplied. Even when we were together, no matter how truly happy I was to see her, the dread hounded me. There came a point where I could no longer reasonably justify the risks to myself. Even trying to reason that she was a willing participant in these possibly dire circumstances did little to soothe my conscience. In the end, no matter how much my heart begged, my more rational, guilt-ridden mind made what felt like the best choice. I decided to break-up with her.

It is still difficult to find a proper way to fully describe what that bleak moment was like. I can never forget Puriel's expression. It was something between crestfallen, anger, and disbelief. It was the look of a soul that had just been deeply betrayed. I do not blame her. I sincerely felt like I was standing there holding the still bloody knife that had just been used to stab her in the back. When I looked into her teary eyes I felt my resolve threatening to leave me. I was forced to avert my gaze least I change my mind.

I tried to explain why I was doing this. Why I was doing this awful thing to someone I claimed to care so much about. The multitude of ugly, spindly, inky fears I tried so hard to contain all spilled from me in one clumsy admittance. I confessed to being constantly frightened for her, of being unable to bear the weight of guilt if she was ever hurt because of me, and how exhausting it was trying to be together under constant subterfuge. But I could see none of that mattered. She was deeply hurt. I was the bad guy that day.

Puriel watched me for a few moments longer. It was some of the longest seconds of my life as her eyes searched my face with that questioning gaze. Then she turned and left. Just like that our story together was over.

I still occasionally wonder whatever happened to that mysterious girl with the bright smile and big dreams. I hope she grew into the woman she wanted to be and broke free of the shackles her parents tried forcing on her. I hope she went off to college and then found the courage to see the world. I want that all to be true. A few years ago I heard snippets of rumors concerning Puriel. People from back then claim to have heard she wandered to the east coast to live out many of those dreams. Others say she experienced more than one broken marriage, abuse, and stagnation. I wonder if any of what has been said about her is true? Then again, a lot of people say a lot of things.

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