“Do you think you can be candid with me, here?” asked the blonde. “I suspect you’re finely attuned to discerning what people want to hear, and packaging what you say accordingly.”
The brunette found it hard to not be offended. She looked at the blonde indignantly, with a blend of emotions. One of these was: anger.
The blonde smiled disarmingly. “This isn’t criticism. I understand your reasons. But, they don’t apply here. My place is a safe zone for you, like an embassy in a hostile country.”
“The way you describe it, it’s more like an embassy in a hostile world.”
The blonde thought about that. “That’s a stark, but good analogy. So, yes. Here’s your chance. I don’t want this visit to be just a change of geography for you, but a fundamentally different way of living. Your public persona is charming but I am asking to see only the unvarnished version of you. At the generally visible level, you’re super-nice. Then, there’s a stark, self-protective layer. And beneath it all, there’s a nice person, fundamentally.”
The brunette gave her a hard look. “You’ve only seen the top layer and you’re extrapolating the other two.”
“I’ve seen the second layer based on your writing.”
“But you’ve not seen the third layer. You’re just guessing it’s there.”
“I agree – I haven’t seen it but it’s more than a guess. It seems reasonable. Time will tell. Anyway, please dispense with the top layer when you’re with me.”
“Fine – but be careful what you wish for. I relish the prospect of making you regret that I’m here. In fact, a dark part of me is looking forward to making you regret you ever noticed me. You’re inspiring an unusual candor, in me.”
“I’m not worried. Worst case, one of us can’t stand the other, and you leave,” the blonde responded, calmly. “That’s part of why I wanted you to drive here in your own car. This way you can leave whenever you want, for whatever reason, for however long you need space, or permanently. Or if I can’t stand you, I’ll ask you to leave for however long I need space, or permanently. However, I’m resilient so the latter situation is unlikely.”
The brunette shrugged and said, “okay” though she was thinking much more.
“I’m glad you’re here,” the blonde said, earnestly.
:”After agreeing to be candid, the very first candid thoughts in my head are probably too candid already,” the brunette said, looking tense.
“No, go ahead, though I appreciate the warning.”
“I was thinking that this is in no way the warm and fuzzy situation you’re making it out to be. My state of mind as to why I decided to visit you is stark. I don’t like how open you’re being. I’m tempted to say that I simply don’t like you, though it’s more complicated than that. In some ways, however, it’s safe to say that I actively dislike you. I should really use a stronger word but I’m trying to avoid four-letter words in my first candid response. I’m nowadays much more uncomfortable due to you. I feel like you’re fucking with my head. I was miserable before but more comfortable as such. So, I’m not here because yay, you’ve won me over. I’m here because with your openness you’ve undermined my alternative by making me understand things I can’t un-think now.. I’m here to see if going down the rabbit hole makes things better because that seems to be my best option now. I can’t go back to how I’ve been. You’ve dissolved my comfort zone elsewhere. I don’t like drugs and you’re like the human version of crystal meth. By pointing certain things out, even though you somehow seem to have my best interests at heart, you’ve changed me forever and not for the better. I wish I had a time machine so I could have chosen to remain blissfully … no, not blissfully … that’s not the word … blandly is better … blandly unaware of you. I was miserable before but with a sort of dignity that’s now gone. I was unaware of some of the issues, but dignified in a preferable way. I’m probably supposed to say that it’s nice that you care but instead I’m asking why you couldn’just have left me alone, comfortable in my sadness?”
The blonde let a few moments pass. She looked at the brunette gently and said, “I appreciate your candor — and you know why. I’ve explained it in writing. You being here means you’ve read it and it resonated with you. Many people say much wilder stuff than I did. For example, some people write that they want to marry you — which is really outrageous — and they’re only half-kidding, and they’re probably holding back in describing what they’d like to do with you on the honeymoon night. And yet none of that offends you because none of that reaches you beyond a superficial level. However, what I wrote reached you, even if you hate it — and there’s a reason for that.”
She heard a four letter word from the brunette.
“That was long overdue,” said the blonde.
The brunette glared at her. “You being all peaceful and accepting is just irritating me more. It’s annoying in a condescending way.”
“So say something candid back — or is this a setup where I get to feel worse yet because you’ve tricked me into being the raging bitch while you’re being all calm?”
“I am being candid. I really am not angry or upset. I’m not suppressing anger. I don’t feel any, toward you. I can see where you’re coming from.”
She got another stark look.
The blonde continued, “candidly though, you’re not the first girl who has said something very similar to me.”
“Oh, great. You’re a serial killer. You don’t kill girls’ bodies, but you drain our souls so that we long for the days when we were soon going to be dead.”
The blonde shrugged. “I understand that from your current perspective, it looks like that, and yet that’s like the part of a good movie where things look bad but they get better and there’s a happy ending. There’s a pattern that repeats itself, a time-line that plays out with fundamental predictability.”
“So when we open the front door, I’ll be greeted by several of the girls who went down the rabbit hole and are now all cheerful and happy? Not that I want to see anyone, I’m just curious.”
“No, they’ve all left.”
“Wow, that’s quite the non-endorsement.”
“They didn’t sign up to be my mate for life. I didn’t get them here to be that, either. If they want to stay, they stay.”
“And nobody ever did, to the point where she’s still here.”
“I should probably turn my car around and go home, right now.”
The blonde explained, “I’m not recruiting for girls to come here and never leave. I see a rare and special person in the sort of pain that I recognize and that I think I can help make go away …”
“… and replace it with something worse …”
“Yes, for a while. And then it gets better. As in, vastly better.”
“So why wouldn’t they stay?”
“For a variety of reasons.”
“How many girls in this illustrious group to which I now seem to belong?”
“Seven, including you.”
“Seven girls over the course of your life? That’s not a lot.”
The blonde shrugged. “These things take time.”
The brunette bit her lip. She suddenly felt an emotion that was counter to her anger. She asked, trying to not sound more conciliatory than before: “Months? Years?”
“Months, at least — Several months.”
“So it takes that long for a girl to go through your weird process?”
“That sounds miserable for them – and you.”
“It’s a difficult but rewarding journey for everyone involved.”
“I still don’t understand why, privacy issues aside, I won’t be greeted by a group of happy girls.”
“They have their own lives to live. They have moved on. They don’t linger to help the next person. As an analogy, if you go to the dentist and now you’re fine, you don’t necessarily move in with the dentist, and linger so as to welcome new patients.”
The brunette shrugged. “Still, it doesn’t reflect very nicely on you.”
“I think it’s good that they go and thrive.”
“Do they at least keep in touch? Are they thriving?”
“Initially things are good. After we’re apart, each girl lives her life. Their stories unfold in various ways. Some are living happily ever after, and some are not. I don’t presume to be able to promise eternal happiness. I notice a girl spiraling down and I step in and reach her intellectually and enable her to understand herself in a way where she appreciates herself much more and is a lot happier and at peace, and views the world and her place in it fundamentally differently from then on. What she does beyond that point is up to her.“
“But in the process, you probably have a deep emotional bond with each girl.”
“And yet, they’re all gone.”
“So you do all this and you don’t have a girlfriend. That seems sad.”
“I DO have a girl friend. Arguably, two. It depends on how you count.”
“Wait, what? And they’re okay with all this?”
“One of them is. The other isn’t okay with all this, which is part of why she left. She might be back, or not. I don’t know. I hope she will.”
“And these two girls, they know about each other?”
“And they are — or were — okay with you having two girlfriends at the same time?”
“Yes. I’m polyamorous. If someone isn’t OK with that, she shouldn’t be my girlfriend. I understand it’s not for everyone. Next I expect you to say that that would never work for you. I hear that a lot. And then somehow the girl realizes it’s much more low-stress to not have to be someone’s ‘everything.’ The arrival of someone new doesn’t mean the eviction of everyone else. It’s like the kids’ game ‘king of the hill’ where the hill is a plateau with enough room for everyone to stand and enjoy the view. I’m not into sports, but imagine a game of basketball with enough basketballs for everyone.”
The brunette laughed derisively, and said, “That would defeat the entire purpose.”
“Perhaps there can be a better purpose.”
The brunette sat silently, pondering all this. “You sure have an unusual way of thinking about things,” she said. The blonde shrugged.
“So do you lose interest in someone after she’s no longer in the mindset in which you noticed her?”
“Not at all. It’s great if she wants to stay and be my girl friend or girlfriend.”
“Has that ever happened?”
“It’s never not happened.”
“I’m not here for that agenda, though.”
“We’re clear on that.”
“So how long do these dynamics then last?”
“It varies. Two of them lasted six years.”
“As it happens, no. There was more than a decade in between.” She counted the years. “Two, actually.”
“And after those six years, you were still close with each girl? It was a good dynamic?”
“Yes. Even so, each girl was ready to move on. It was time. She wanted things for which I’m not a good choice. Marriage, for example. Or, a straight dynamic. But we were still close and good friends.”
“So without me having romantic aspirations for you, could you even add value as to me?”
“I don’t see why not. I first get through to people and then the girl decides to be with me. I don’t think anyone saw it as a requirement.”
“Sort of like becoming the dentist’s girlfriend after the toothache is gone?”
“Yes,” the blonde smiled.
“All right. I’m not turning around. I’ll see where this goes as long as you’re clear the romantic prospects between us are zero. I’m morbidly curious to see how this plays out. Though now I’m curious as to why you’re doing this.”
“I like you.”
This got a long, hard, unfriendly look from the brunette. “That was probably the worst possible answer.”
“I’m being candid. I don’t mean that in an adulation sense. I noticed things about you and I wanted to learn about the real person behind the façade. In the process I grew to like you.”
The brunette made a disparaging comment that insulted them both. The blonde smiled and said, “perhaps by the time you leave here, you’ll like yourself as much as I do, and ideally more.”
“Why you would plan something like this, and how it can be a ‘win’ for you I cannot imagine.”
The blonde explained, “I notice certain types of girls, with a specific sort of intensity. That’s the kind of girl I like. And then, often she ends up being in a difficult situation emotionally and since I can help her, I do.”
“So they all just happen to need your help.”
“Not all of them. I’m not drawn to girls because I relish this process. I’m drawn to a certain type of girl. Sometimes she happens to need my help and then I help.”
“But they don’t all do?”
“The girlfriend who hasn’t left. She’s intense and we are emotionally close, but she didn’t need any help from me in the way that some intense girls do.”
“So how long has she been in the picture?”
“I see. However, I hope I don’t meet her, or anyone. As we discussed, I don’t want anyone to know I’m here. You’ve identified the public-image liability you are, quite eloquently.”
“I understand. “
“So doesn’t me being here make things awkward with her?”
“No. She doesn’t live with me.”
“And you’re keeping it a secret that I’m here?”
“No. She knows that a girl is visiting me here, for a week. That this girl is you, that’s not my information to disclose.”
“And she’s OK with that?”
“She has to be. It’s my life, my place, my decision.”
“I’m glad I’m not your girlfriend. And I can see why the other one left and if I were her, I would not be back.”
The blonde smiled. “It’s more complicated than that, but … indeed, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. And, the sentiment is nicely mutual. My love life is about as complicated as I’d like it to be, so you being just a friend — is perfect.”
The brunette looked relieved, then continued trying to understand: “So you’re not drawn to girls with this inner conflict. You’re drawn to intense girls and some just happen to have this inner conflict.”
“So you didn’t think I was an interesting person having a hard time. You thought I was an interesting person. Then, you realized I am having a hard time.”
“Yes. Initially, I just saw similarities in our values. You having a hard time — that was separate.”
“So why not just walk away? Why waste all this time on a stranger?”
“Because I liked you enough to care. The more I learned, the more I cared. Unlike most people, whose lives are an unknown until they tell their story in person, you have forty years’ worth of information publicly available so that someone can get to know what sort of person you are.”
“… most of which isn’t about the real me.”
“… unless someone can read between the lines, which I did, otherwise I wouldn’t have reached you as I did.”
“Something about that statement annoys me more than it probably should.”
“You can’t help how you feel,” the blonde replied but, as she suspected, this didn’t have a soothing effect.
“So you just wanted … what? To get to know me as an actual person?”
“That’s not very realistic.”
“So you weren’t drawn to my flaws?”
“No. I like you in spite of what you’re struggling with, not because of it. You’re not fundamentally flawed. You’re a good person struggling with something.”
“Somehow that makes me feel a lot better about your motivation,” the brunette replied, “though I think you’re incredibly naive. For once, I’m in a conversation where I feel more wise and cynical than the other person. So, let me make sure I’m clear. In the process of learning about me, you noticed there’s a more urgent issue than simply socializing. So you wrote me, for months. Why didn’t you walk away eventually?”
“Because as I understand you, walking away from you unilaterally is the worst thing someone could do to you. Once I’d started the dialog, and I realized what was going on, I refused to unilaterally walk away from you, on principle, whatever it took.”
The brunette was quiet. “That’s true, but somehow I don’t like that you know that.” She thought some more before adding, “… though, you did walk away, eventually.”
“No. I respected your need for silence and distance at a time when you seemed to need them, as far as I could tell. Without a clear reaction from you, I was at best guessing whether I was getting through to you or not. Even so, I tried to make it clear that if YOU wanted to have continued interaction, I’m still here.”
The brunette nodded as in conceding the point, then observed, “I’ve just noticed that you can be brutally candid too. You’re just earnest and polite about it. Now I almost wish you were less candid.”
The blonde smiled disarmingly. She pointed. “We’re almost at my place. You have been pretty tense during the road trip. It’ll probably be nice for you to have a new, stable environment.”
“I was tense because the road trip was in a way my last chance to change my mind, in case I found reason to. I phrased it like that, to myself. My natural inclination was to not meet you at all, ever, much less come visit you. And yet my natural inclinations so far have gotten me into the unhappy situation you identified. So I’m formally going with a vastly more adventurous approach, since it does seem logical — not least since, as you’ve pointed out, that the alternative seems to be non-viable. You’re right – it is, in part because you’ve made the alternative worse yet by identifying its nature in a way I cannot deny or evade any more. Logically, it makes sense to see how this plays out as opposed to simply continuing as I’ve been. If you could reach me so effectively from far away just by writing unilaterally, then in person at close range I’m sure you’ll be more effective — and annoying — yet. Even so, emotionally … me being here feels wrong to me, in every fiber of my being. The road trip did give me reasons to be reassured and none to be concerned, but I was nevertheless in emotional turmoil. I still am, in some ways more so since I’m opening up to you and I feel horribly vulnerable. By the end of the week, it’ll be the end of my mini-vacation, though it feels more like a prison term — and ironically it’ll probably take me that long to just feel comfortable with you — assuming I ever will,” the brunette explained.
The blonde processed all this, and then nodded in understanding.
“Anyway, here we are. Right into … yes, there’s the front door,” the blonde directed. She got out of the car and unlocked the front door, and held it invitingly open. The brunette walked into the blonde’s apartment and looked around. “It’s very ‘you’ as far as I understand you … some homes are decorated as if the person living there was trying to conform to general standards. You didn’t. It’s very … Bohemian.” The brunette’s eyes moved slowly from the acoustic guitar to the large American and Nevadan flags on the wall, to the large painting, to the sexy pictures on the walls, to a wall of numbered banker’s boxes. She stared at them, and said: “And here I though I was OCD for alphabetizing my bookshelf. You’ve taken that to a whole new level.”
The blonde smiled, taking it as a compliment, and observed: “You seem less hostile.”
The brunette frowned. “I feel less hostile. Somehow being totally candid was very freeing.”
The blonde smiled disarmingly.
The brunette frowned at her and then found she couldn’t sustain it. Her brow smoothed. “I’m starting to see how this dynamic works. You have a weird way of getting under my skin and into my head. Initially I resent it and yet somehow if I stay in the dialog candidly and long enough, things get better. So that’s an example of the you-and-I dynamic making things better, for me?”
The blonde smiled and nodded.
“Not that I feel totally better. But I do feel significantly better,” the brunette mused. “I haven’t been candid in that way for … ” she looked pensive … “a very long time. In a strange way, I enjoyed it. It’s sort of raw and primal. I didn’t realize how much I needed that — craved it, actually.”
The blonde smiled in acknowledgement, and said, “I’ll get the luggage.” Two minutes later, she was back, and put some items down by the front door. “The musical instruments are almost all of it. For someone who’s staying a week, you didn’t bring much.”
“Sweatpants and the shoes I’m wearing, some fresh clothes and underwear, my toothbrush, moisturizer …” the brunette explained. “I’m not here to impress you.”
“So, I’d like to formalize your official role here, so we’re clear,” announced the blonde. “If you disagree, that’s fine but let’s start by seeing if we can reach agreement as such.”
“I thought I’m here so you can do your strange mind-melt thing so I can go back and live a semblance of a normal life again,” the brunette protested.
“That’s the plan, but not your role. For example, your role until a few minutes ago was to drive the car here, and yet during that, we had a conversation that has helped you feel better.”
The brunette looked earnest, listening. “So, I have a role here, and then whatever happens as to conversation, that’s more of … well, like the talking-while-driving situation?”
“Yes. Do you remember how you described somebody as having the kind of singular focus that you can have when you’re 25 years old and you have a guitar virtually glued to you?”
“Yes, though at that age I wasn’t all that care-free. Not at all, actually.”
“I kinda figured. Yet when you met someone like that, you invited him to stay in your guest room, and this person entertained you by playing guitar in the living room, a sort of minstrel, without having to pay for rent or food, true?”
The brunette nodded.
“You never experienced something like that, did you?”
“Well, I went to college and that was relatively carefree though I took my studies seriously.”
“You take everything seriously, and that’s part of why I like you.”
The brunette shrugged, looking like she was feeling awkward. “I think I overdo that,” she explained.
“When you described the life of your guest minstrel, there’s a wistful tone, as if you’d have liked to experience something like that.”
The brunette nodded, in agreement. “I would have.”
“So, that’s your role here. Your job is to be the minstrel. I’m the queen, this is my castle and court, and you’re the court minstrel here. In exchange, you get to stay here and I’ll feed you, and that includes coffee.”
The brunette liked the idea but felt odd about it. She protested, “I’m so used to being the most responsible person in the room that I don’t think I could ….” She stopped, frowning.
“Yet, that’s what you’d like, yes?”
“Then I hope you will deal with your acclimatization well, since your job as minstrel is hereby official. And that is truly all you have to do, here. You don’t have to interact with me in any particular way. You can show up to be fed whenever you like, and you make music whenever you like.”
The brunette smiled in a way she doesn’t smile in public. She thought for a long time and then it was as if some resistance in her consciously got put aside. She replied, “Thank you. I accept. Do I have to refer to you as my queen?” She was consciously adding in humor for the first time.
“It would help but it’s not a requirement.”
The brunette frowned. “It would help what, or whom?”
“I’d prefer to have you figure that one out for yourself.”
The brunette shrugged. “Nothing with you is ever simple, it seems. And yet in some ways it’s so simple that it weirds me out. Okay, as to my role … I hadn’t expected to be able to endure being here, much less enjoy it. And yet, candidly … since candor goes both as to saying good and bad things, whatever I’m thinking …”
“I love the prospect.”
“So, do you … does the queen … have any particular musical preferences?”
“Yes – that you play what you enjoy – even and especially if that means being inspired to compose new material.”
The brunette looked surprised. “That’s one thing I hadn’t considered. I’ve actually considered writing at least one song about how annoying you are to me. But …. ironically, if this new mode works for me, I will have much to say about it. I wonder … ”
“You’re often anxious and you used to be depressed, true?”
The brunette frowned as if to say “yes.”
“Perhaps others are in the same boat. If you write about your journey before this week, and your experience this week, it might resonate with many. And if this week changes things for you fundamentally, you’ll probably have much to say about that.”
“I might indeed. And as to music, I’ll keep the noise level down enough.”
“Don’t. We’re located in a part of town where you can play loudly at 3 a.m. and it’s unlikely to bother anyone.”
The blonde explained how many of the neighbors within likely earshot were businesses that were unlikely to have anyone there, after hours.
“I like your place even more now,” said the brunette. “And, thank you. I accept my appointment. I’ve always assumed the role of the responsible girl, ever since … well, actually, always. It’ll be fun to simply be the court minstrel.”
“I figured. It’ll be interesting to see how you react to being on a vacation from your old life, truly, for the first time. So when you compose, I ask that you don’t do it on the premise that you’d better be earning a living so you might as well start your next album in my living room. Do it for your enjoyment. If later that makes money, great. Don’t get me wrong — I love how responsible you are and I value earning a living, but my intent here is for you to experience a whole new way of life, and if I let you, you might well undermine that plan, albeit unwittingly.”
“You know me surprisingly well,” the brunette admitted. “And wow, this is a huge change for me. Huge!” she added in spontaneous emphasis, and added, “thank you.”
“It’s a ‘win’ for me too. I like having you here.” The two girls smiled at each other, simply, warmly and sincerely, for the first time.
“I’ll put your luggage in your room,” the blonde offered, and saw a fleeting shadow of emotion in the brunette’s eyes before she expressed her gratitude. The blonde stopped and gave the brunette a long look, and prompted her: “Candor, yes?”
The brunette looked awkward. “I might regret to agreeing to be candid. In fact, I do already.”
“If it’ll make it easier to not look at me, look at the sexy picture on the wall and pretend it’s the girl’s thoughts you’re explaining to me.”
“That seems odd but … well, it actually makes it easier. Wow.”
“Well, she’s afraid she’ll be misunderstood if she says anything so she’d rather say nothing.”
“But that wouldn’t be candid, so … let’s hear her out. She gets to clarify things as much as she likes until she’s certain she’s been understood.”
“That’s reassuring. Well, she … she spent the last two nights, during the road trip, in a bed by herself. And she wished she weren’t sleeping alone. And so for the next week, she’d prefer to not be sleeping alone. And I … I mean, she … she really means this literally. Not sex. Nothing sexual or sexy, just sleeping — literally, sleeping. She’s feeling very much intimidated and overwhelmed and she needs comforting like she never has before, in a sense. She’s still not even sure she likes you and she’s concerned that she’ll be misunderstood if she asks to sleep in your bed. But she also suspects you understand her well enough to be able to comfort her there, once you’re clear that that’s the agenda, and the only agenda.”
“We all need to be comforted, and it’s much easier when two girls are in the same bed.”
“I’ll go put her luggage in my bedroom, or in what’s now her bedroom too.”
The brunette smiled, and said, “She’s very happy about that.” Then she had a sudden thought. “What’s her name, the girl in the picture?”
The blonde thought hard. “I’ve never named her. I should. Her name is … Leah.”
“Leah is looking forward to bedtime, to being comforted. And she means that literally. She’s had an emotionally rough day. And she plans to wear a peignoir. She’s very proper and she is just on vacation here, and has her old life to go back to.”
“I understand,” the blonde replied.
* * *
Part 2 of the story is here.