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T H A N K S !
He never really could make it out, that famous difference between men and women. Yes, it was obvious, men were men and women were women. But what about it? Cats were cats, cars were cars and nobody made big deal out of it.
Philosophers wrote books full of questions as to why cats were cats and cars were cars. Poets wrote verses speaking about cats as cars and cars as cats. Cars and cats lived together in the same world where boys grew up.
When he was a kid, his mother used to tell him: "It's hard to stay alive in a place like life." He never understood this sentence, but then, he never really understood his mother, either. How could this person be just one grown-up among all the others, and yet, also his one and only mother? And she had another big problem as far as his empathy was concerned, she came from another planet: she was an adult, and a woman.
Our man, still a small boy as all men are at some period of their lives, dearly loved little girls. He was quite sure that they had nothing in common with himself. When he grew up into a slightly bigger boy, he began to despise little girls, and then the whole idea of girls in general.
Time passed, he was a tall, strong youngster, and he fell madly in love with a girl of his own age. They made love. Instantly, he promised her his eternal love. He asked her to marry him, and she said, yes, yes, yes. Three times.
They married very young, they had three children and they lived happily ever after for the next twenty years.
And then something happened. Or had it been happening all the time, gradually? The man couldn't judge that. He only noticed in dismay that his young wife had grown into an unhappy, still beautiful, but aggressive and silent middle-aged woman. She refused to sleep with him, to talk to him, to support him.
He loved her still, just as he always had. His love had not changed its steadfast character from its very first day, when he had made love to her and then asked her to marry him. Maybe he loved her more, for he had grown fond even of the bad sides of her character and she had many, being a violent, unhappy, and unsuccessful person. Once she had been young and promising, with all the world and all its men beneath her feet, and yet she had chosen him. Now, after twenty years of their marriage, she had only him beneath her feet. But he was still madly in love with her. He was dependent on her, watched over her as if he were her lifeguard, guarded her from her own bad temper and her mistaken moves in life and mind.
What had happened? Why had she stopped loving him? Did she love some other man? Did she want a new life, now that the children were older? The world had changed and women and men no longer united for life. Oh, yes, so, maybe he was an old-fashioned and romantic guy, like a character from a movie, or a soap opera, or a true Italian opera. And he persisted in true romance: he loved his wife after twenty years of marriage, and after she stopped loving him.
She decided to talk to him, to tell him. Tell him what? Well, lies... Anyway, she decided that they must talk. They bought a bottle of whiskey, even though she didn't drink, and they solemnly opened it.
Yes, love, he said.
Don't call me love, she said.
What shall I call you? he asked her.
Don't call me anything, just listen to me for once.
I have always listened to you.
You think so, LOVE, but you have only listened to your love, Love.
Don't be cruel, what's so wrong with my loving you all these years?
The fact that you didn't notice that I stopped loving you?
I don't mind that, I still love you.
That is selfish, you ruined my life by loving me without caring for my love for you.
I will always love you, whatever you feel.
You woman-killer, just stop it, stop loving me and look at me. Let me go, please let me go, you ruined my looks, my career, I became the object of your love, the thing that you love, who could be anybody, because you are a maniac who would love anybody who stayed with you as I did, ANYBODY. You don't see me, you don't need me, you just need your love...
The man started crying, usually women do this first in arguments, but this man was different. He was a nice man whom his wife didn't love anymore. And then, after a bottle of whiskey and a cruel conversation lasting two and a half hours, she simply hit the door and left him. Left his house, with his car, kids, savings, his name and pride: everything they did together and made together. He let her go. He had no choice, he still loved her and he had to let her go, loving her. He didn't dare think of his future without her, or hers without him. He could not even hope that she might come back. He just sat back and started to think, very slowly, as if unconsciously.
What went wrong? The big question. Or was it all right, somehow, the way it had gone? The big answer sprang to his mind: whatever happened should be recognized as the true state of affairs. So he loved that, and he accepted that as some kind of temporary answer.
Then another development: the kids started bothering him, asking him for money, food, attention. Being rude, not nice, not as his kids had once been. Then, he himself started growing bald, fat and bad tempered. Then something large and general went wrong in the part of the world in which he lived. People were menaced, they became unsafe, uneasy about their futures, about the sense of their life. The end of the century? Middle age crisis? Loneliness?
All, and nothing.
And then more events, almost preposterous ones. He lost his job through winning a lawsuit. He lost his sleep and appetite, but he became industrious. He lost all interest in his ex-wife, of whom he had no news whatsoever.
Ten years have passed by in the meantime. The children have left home, they return only to beg favors or ridicule him. They have girlfriends, boyfriends, friends, in-laws and children of their own. The children have became mediocre, noisy adults whom he loved for some reason he couldn't remember anymore, but whose presence was intolerable after half an hour.
He never entered a new relationship. Every such opportunity was a chance he chose to miss or maybe they weren't chances, only chimeras. He rarely thinks of women any more; his love and sexual life had come to an abrupt and violent end, the moment his beloved wife left him, and he let her go.
Why on earth did she stop loving him?... After ten years an answer came to his gut, unglimpsed by any previous thought. When his wife had left him, it was because she was a dead woman.
Dead just as as he is now: a dead man. Why do women die so much earlier? Is it because they are women, or is it because men are happily married to them?
Dead by now, as dead inside as his ex-wife, he decides to look her up.
They meet politely in a café, near their ex-house. They both have changed, and they remark on it, after shaking hands without a blink, without a kiss. Both dead, both killed.
She has grown calmer, he has grown sour. Two different people, once knowing each other intimately. Not intimately knowing a floating mirage.
I don't love you anymore, he said immediately, to set her free forever.
I know, I can feel, I felt it years ago, and I am free, finally free. So, how does it feel to be free? How does it feel not to love me anymore, do you feel free?
They both stayed silent, drinking coffees, no more whiskeys. They enjoyed their quiet afternoon, shook hands once again and said good bye, this time parting for good, heading towards a true physical death. Now, they could tell the subtle difference between death, and death, and death. Or was death another step towards yet another death? Love is a strange variety of death, he thought taking a shower immediately after their meeting, so as to rinse off her touch, her look from his body. I loved that woman more than myself for most of my life. Now I don't love her anymore, nor do I love any other woman; I don't even love myself. What has happened, he thought, not angrily, not sadly, simply seriously, as a scientist, as a thinker.
As the faucet showered steaming water on him, he looked at his naked bulk, flushing because of the heat: it was a shapeless, huge, pulsating animal full of blood and tissues. He was a strange living creature, a creation of God or Universe, a miracle... Once he was a man who loved a woman. Then he became a man who didn't love a woman, then a man who didn't love himself.
And now, naked, skin scalding, he is a woman who once wanted to be loved as a man.
She has come a full circle of painful understanding, now. She turns off the boiling shower of water, finds a towel, and decides to start her life anew. Based on this ridiculous moment, this comprehensive understanding of life and love. Of course she will never be able to explain this event reasonably to anybody, not even to herself. But who cares? Is love something you can explain, is life something anyone understands? And is changing permanently, from man to woman, inside a shower stall, something that anybody will ever think to ask about? It is definitely not, and that is some kind of guarantee, so far as her new life is concerned.
Jasmina Tesanovic, a Sebian feminist, activist, filmaker, and writer, is the remarkable and courageous author of Diary of a Political Idiot and numerous other stories and plays. Listen to her frank talk at the Lift Conference in May, 2008, about the realities and violence of Serbian politics and the effect that blogging and the Internet has had on it. To hear her speak of Serbia is to understand that it can happen here, wherever here is, and to wonder if you have even a small fraction of her courage.
Her work appears on Boing Boing, and at her various blogs: Jasmina's blog on b92 (Serbian and some English) and Face2World (English), and Jasmina's blog at zokster (Serbian).