I am sitting on a porch in Vermont. The crickets are fizzing in the dry grass blades. The sun is out hot. There’s also the distant sound of a lawnmower somewhere but otherwise it is quiet. The air sort of bends and shimmers with the heat, creates waves over the pan-fried back field. The trees are a dream-like green, bending and waving with the breeze. I feel my brain has maybe been left on a rock to sizzle. My thoughts are not coming out straight. I realize it has been too long since I have talked to a human. I go running out on the Vermont country roads and come home and eat salads made from vegetables I picked in the garden. My shit is a nori-like rich earthy green. I sweat pure droplets of saltless water. My skin is tanned and I read six hours a day. But I don’t talk to anyone.
Out here, in this countryside, I still think of you. You are in San Diego, which is across the country from me and down all the way almost to Mexico. I’d like to be there with you, drinking tequila on a beach and reading six hours a day, going with you down to Mexico to work with orphan kids, or whatever. I could do that, I think. I’m a good person, or at least I used to be before I started doing this. Before I stopped talking to people.
Now I’m not so sure.
The first rule of love is: There are no rules.
I didn’t learn that from you. I learned it from everybody else. Maybe the first rule of life is there are no rules. Anyway, anyone will do anything in love. You never can predict it. And therefore you can never really feel bad for anything you did out of love. As long as it was out of love.
Like if you leave someone, for instance, even if you promised them a lot.
Have you ever seen that movie Forrest Gump? I know you hate it; everyone does. But there’s something you should know about me. I treat every woman who passes through my life like Jenny; I don’t touch her, I don’t push her. I just do everything for her. So I never get those ones. Then I only touch the ones, I only push the ones, who could never be Jennies. Not even in a million years. Because I don’t have to honor them anyway; I don’t have to invent any rules with them. So I always get the ones who could never be anything like you; meanwhile, I only love you.
So you are my Jenny. It doesn’t mean anything; don’t worry. It’s pointless. You have nothing to worry about.
There are no rules, except when you’re leaving.
You taught me that when I had to leave you back at home, when I left and came out here. You knew I had to go, and I knew I had to go. But we both wanted the other thing, the thing we couldn’t have.
–If you wanted to bring me with you, you would, you said.
–I do want to bring you with me, but I can’t.
–That’s not true. It’s only what you say. I wish I could make you understand how different it is. If you just stayed here—
–But I can’t stay here.
–I know you can’t.
And round and round like that. Till I finally left. And when I did, I got nothing from you; no consolation prize for all the hours consoling you, the nights on the phone, the flowers, the cards, the waffles in bed. Nothing for anything of that.
That’s because the rule about leaving is, if you want to leave someone, you have to show them that you meant it, everything you said, before you really leave them completely.
The second rule of love is: You can have more than one at a time (except in the case of the third rule of love).
That one I learned when I fell in love with you, or thought I did, but didn’t pay attention to what you were saying. Didn’t pay attention to the amount of time you spent at the gym, for instance, or the amount you drank when I was with you. Then the nights when I had to drive you home blacked out because I was soberer than you, and I realized there hadn’t been a night together in a month when I had felt better after seeing you.
You are the most self-absorbed person I know. I remember that about you now. At the time I just thought I had nothing to say and that is why you did all the talking.
And then when I met someone who wanted me, who begged me to sleep in her bed with her, and I said no, because of you, and then the next day you said you weren’t serious about us. That’s when I learned that.
She had sat up and looked at me and asked me to come to bed.
–I can’t. I would feel terrible about her.
–She’s not here. She doesn’t care.
–Maybe she doesn’t. But I just can’t. I want to, trust me, but I can’t.
–Don’t go. Please.
And then I closed the door and went to the couch.
And then the sun on your face, your eyes behind the sunglasses, the next day, as I squinted while I tried to look at you. I wanted to tear the sunglasses off of your face and look directly into your eyes to see if anything was there except desert blue.
The third rule of love is: You can’t have more than one at a time if one of those people really loves you.
The fourth rule of love is: You don’t need money to have it, unless you love someone who loves money.
I am sitting on a roof in China at night. It is some Chinese holiday, sometime around the New Year, and somebody has lit a flying candle and sent it soaring off into the night sky to ride the breeze over the line of mountains. Then another one. They appear to race for a while. They are reddish flecks on a quiet night sky. There are no real stars. The sight is so solemn; it reminds me of a gray hawk flying in a snowstorm. Pinwheeling and searching for prey in all that snowy blight. And maybe finding it, and the silent quick death amid the fast accumulating snow. The blood trickling down into invisibility.The candle rising into the sky.
I think of you here, too, for no reason. Why are you still in my head? I think. I should be rid of you by now.
But I know you won’t go away, not ever. And I will always be angry and sad and ashamed of that. That I can’t forget you.
The fifth rule of love is: You must be willing to lie to have it, even if the lie turns out to be true.
I am falling asleep on a futon in San Francisco, and I feel a bit of a cold. I am all alone now, I have sold everything I owned and struck out on the road to visit people I know all over the country. I am worried to the core of my being; the thing I’ve done is foolish, given up my job, my apartment, my car, my clothes, and left with a backpack on a bus. All the way out to San Francisco. In about a week I will see you. I feel completely honest. I feel that I could go walk around just to see the world with my naïve, honest eyes. A few days ago I fell asleep in a friend’s house in Colorado listening to at least six other people having sex. Some of them were honest lovers, and some were just intoxicated. But I had been honest to all of them. And I was alone. And now I was in San Francisco alone. And soon I would see you and still be alone.
If you are too honest, you are always alone.
The sixth rule of love is: You won’t follow any of the rules.
The seventh rule of love is: If you have to leave someone, you shouldn’t say anything nice to them.
That will only hurt them more, you see. I learned that when I talked to you on the phone and you told me that you were attracted to me, but not enough.
If you are honest with them and tell them something good about themselves, they will only regret it later. Because they will think of you sickly, with a kind of confusion and hopelessness that won’t go away. It’s better just to tell them the truth; tell them what you think, and spare them the compliments, even if it feels impossible for you to say it.
The eighth rule of love is: You sometimes have to ignore the truth.
The reason for that is because there is no such thing as honesty. You will see that when you look into yourself and try to find out what it is you really want. You will peel back yourself and discover that there are many yous, and they all want different things. And the only honest answer will be to say that you don’t know.
I learned that when I discovered that you wanted me to lie, that part of life was lying just to enjoy it. Just to be in it.
The ninth rule of love is: It is like a shark, or the American economy.
If it stops moving it dies, if it stops growing it collapses. I learned that when I asked you to live with me and you said it was too soon. And I realized it wasn’t a choice for me to ask you: I had to. If I hadn’t you would have thought I was indifferent, and would have chosen someone else who was willing to keep swimming for the sake of staying alive.
And then, months later, when I had to leave the country, you said you remembered when I asked you to live with me on the same day that I said I was thinking about joining the Peace Corps. And when you said it, it sounded like an accusation, but maybe you didn’t mean it that way, right?
Sometimes the things you don’t want to hear just sound like accusations no matter how they come out.
And then, when Robin’s wife got pregnant right around the time he was sure he wanted to leave her, that’s when I knew. And when I saw them months later in the backyard, surrounded by other peoples’ yard-sale items, with nothing but thrift-store clothes to wear and his adjunct job at the college, and them looking so happy in the late-afternoon sunshine, her barefoot on the porch and him in the den surrounded by his paintings and talking about the baby. That’s when I knew.
It drowns if you let it stop moving even for a second.