Saturday, February 13, 2010

Amateur Hour

Been a strange few weeks for yours truly.

I realized that in a lot of ways, I simply don't have a clue as to what I'm doing. This applies to many VERY different aspects of my life, but the one area that seems to really be dominating my thoughts lately is that of romance. I'm simply lost.

There have been a lot of instances that illuminate this fact, but the most recent one is this:

There is a woman named "Joy" that I've been seeing at random all over town. I don't know this woman, we've never shared more than a few superficial conversations, and yet she has somehow become embedded within my waking mind. Now, the reasons for this aren't the obvious or the usual. Yes, she is beautiful in the extreme, and has charm like few others I've ever encountered, but that's not it. No, my reason for thinking of her so intently is because she is a phenomenon that I've heard of but never seen first hand. Joy is a Muse.

Normally, this would be cool if for no other reason than that as a writer, she would be an enormous inspiration. Joy has all of the normal effects of a Muse on a man. She's not the typical Playboy definition of beauty, yet when you look at her, your breath catches. Her smoky and resonating voice is enchanting to the point hypnotic, so much so that your focus upon her can't help but become razor sharp . When she asks a question, your whole world turns into the answer. She bubbles with so much life and vitality that just being in her presence is enough to restore faith to the most jaded of cynics. Yet despite all of these wonders, there is something within Joy that is broken.

Keep in mind that Joy and I are strangers. We've talked a few times, and we know of each other through intermediaries, and except for one notable exception we have never shared any personal truths with each other. Despite this, because she IS a muse, Joy is a very easy person to know.

I first met her in a restaurant. I was happily eating a Cajun style burger, (Yes, I still remember all the little details, she is a Muse and that's one of the things that they do...) when she came toddling in on a pair of crutches. She was adorable. Even clunky and awkward, there was no denying the effect she was having on her surroundings. She ordered the mac and cheese and collapsed into the table next to mine. It wasn't long before we were chatting amiably, and she told me all about how she managed to shatter her leg to the point where it was ridiculous. (her words). Even when describing terrible pain, while in a dull and throbbing misery, she was nothing short of radiant.

I did what any mortal man would do, I listened to the raving lunatic I keep chained in the back of my mind and asked her for her number. She said no, and did so in a way that made me want to brag about the rejection instead of brood over it. She finished her meal, favored me with a glowing smile, and hobbled back out of my life. Over the next half hour one complete stranger and two acquaintances came up and asked me who she was and how I knew her.

I didn't see Joy again for over a year. I was once again in a restaurant, eating dinner when she came in and sat at the table directly across from me. I didn't recall how I knew her, but there is no forgetting her. Instead of being some creepy guy with a weak line however, I stayed where I was and minded my own business. She had sat down with a table full of men, and it was obvious that while all of them were somewhat smitten with her, there was one in particular that was trying to stake a claim. I gave myself an inner shrug, silently laughed at the posturing idiot, and finished my meal. I got up to leave, said my goodbyes to my immediate neighbors, and then found her studying me with that laser like focus of hers. "Hey, how are you?!" It was clear she wasn't sure who I was or why she knew my face, but apparently I had left her with a good impression. "I'm great, how are you?" We talked for a few moments, but at some point I began to feel tension in the air. My gaze strayed to her table mates and my smile faltered. The man next to her was giving me a look of such hate and loathing I literally thought he was going to come over the table at me. The other men weren't any friendlier, and I felt myself tense up and center my weight, ready to take a charge or unload an attack if necessary. I did it without thinking about it, and I silently wondered If I should take care of this now or worry about dark alleys for the next few weeks. All of this happened in an instant, and it was lost on nobody, except Joy herself. Well, at least that's what I thought at the time. I left thankful it hadn't degraded to a fight, and that was that.

Then I saw her yet again, day before yesterday. This time, I was in a book store, one of my favorite places in fact. She came in all her glory, towing along what I quickly realized was her son. He was a tawny haired kid, lean and energetic with sharp eyes and a quick laugh. It didn't take a genius to see that he had inherited his mother's gift. He asked me about my book, I told him all about a guy named Houdini, and she arrived from the coffee bar in time to hear about his new passion with magic and superstition. She blessed me with another one of her smiles and we for the first time we both puzzled over why we looked so familiar to each other out loud. We were soon interrupted by the store manager, who turned out to be her ex husband and the boy's father. The boy gave him an earful, he gave me the gimlet eye, and she acted oblivious. They wandered off and had an argument while I entertained the kid. It was heated. There were a few looks my way before it broke up, and then she left with a smile and a few flirty touches to my arms and shoulders. The manager spent the next hour or so giving me the hairy eyeball. I didn't understand it, but just chalked it up to them being ex's. That is until one of the employees clued me in.

"That chick is crazy!" He said when I asked about the situation. After an hour of anecdotes and examples, I came to the conclusion that she was an obsessive flirt who delighted in getting guys to the pinnacle of jealous insanity before dancing out of the path of the inevitable destruction. She'd done it often, and was apparently getting better and better at it as time wore on. I told him that sounded a bit over exaggerated, but he insisted that it was true. He then pointed out that my own little incident the week before was just the sort of thing she thrived on. Apparently my muse was known as a tease of mythical proportions. I was dismayed.

I headed off to work in a weird mood, trying to ponder over all of the things he had told me, trying to reach an understanding that would allow me to still think as highly of her as I had in the beginning. One of my buddies at work took one look at me and said; "Bryan, tell me a story." So I did. I told him about the woman who had such an affect on men that she left fights in her wake wherever she went. He laughed, I laughed, we both dismissed it.

Twenty minutes later: "Dude, there is this woman in my section that is seriously flirting with me. She's hot too!" I had a suspicion, but told myself surely not. I went out, took a look, and sure enough it was her. She looked up and saw me, and gave me another of those smiles. My buddy said; "I totally see what you mean man. That woman just oozes appeal."

This time I talked to her with my eyes a little more open, and with a little bit more insight brought to bear. The differences were startling. Her smile hid a bit of unease, a bit of insecurity. Her laughter was a little forced, and her jokes were always just an instant too late. I realized that this woman, this muse, had been broken down by someone so thoroughly that she was standing on the last little bit of confidence she could muster. Our conversation got a little deeper, a little more penetrating, and soon I was the one who was trying to inspire HER.

It was an interesting day at work.

She told me how she doesn't date at all because it causes too many problems. She told me about how lonely it is to be wanted by everyone on sight, and that because of this none of them bother to get to know her. She said that the only answer she can come up with is to date a blind man so that she's not judged by her looks.

I responded. A lot. I pointed out the flaws in her assupmtions. I fell back on old roles and responsibilities as I asked illuminating questions. I provoked her sensibilities. I challenged her. I made her look at herself.

Before it was all over she had once again reverted to form and was covering up her weak points, but for a few minutes there I had seen that she wasn't thriving on the chaos she left in her wake, but was instead trying desperately to rebuild herself as a woman by focusing on her effect upon men. There was no malice in it, no evil intent, just a broken and hurting woman who was lashing out in her own strange form of internal pain. I never established the kind of trust required to find out what it was that actually happened to her, or why her road to recovery had taken this uniquely destructive turn, but I did catch a hint of what she must have been like when she had still been whole. A muse in truth as well as in action.

This opened my eyes to a fact that I try to avoid. Despite all my intelligence, for all my insight and understanding, I child when it comes to the complexities of a relationship between a man and a woman. I have only scratched the surface in my explorations of romance, and even though I am the type to hunger after all forms of knowledge, (and all forms of female company), I find that this intimidates the Hell out of me.

I feel like a shepherd boy shoved into a gladiator ring, terrified and alone. Just like that boy who sees a sword up close for the first time, I think of that smile, and I shudder in the face of my own incompetence. Because that smile, with all it's power, was only the merest hint of her true smile. A smile unfettered by pain and heartbreak. I wouldn't have gotten out of that encounter with a woman undimmed, not whole at any rate.

In the end I find that I do not hold her responsible for the destruction she wreaks. I actually feel for her. I'm left saddened by the whole affair. I don't know what the solution to her gordian knot is, but I am very aware that it is beyond my grasp.

Like I said, I'm just an amateur. When I think of my new friend the Muse, I realize that apparently we all are.