5. 12. 2020

English Version | Love is: Rui Catalão

by Rui Catalão


I had a happy first love, a second happy love, a third happy love, and so on. Oh well. All my loves could have been happy if I were able to be happy. It so happens that I don’t really know what that love and happiness stuff is all about. 

Throughout my life, I have attended many weddings, almost always alongside my parents. The bride and groom, I often didn’t know them. There were times I didn’t know them at all. The fact that I only ever attended two weddings of people who were my friends perfectly shows the type of friends I have made or the idea they have of me since they don’t even bother to invite me. The first time I watched a friend get married, his enthusiasm was so grand that, when approaching the table where all his comrades were sitting, the first thing he told us was: “Let’s get hammered and fast.” It wasn’t promising. I don’t even remember the dance. There’s a possibility I left before that. Two buddies, that stayed until later, indulged the groom and got smashed drunk. When the party was over and one of them made his way towards his car, the other tried to convince him to take a cab. A drunk argument then began. The first wouldn’t listen and sat behind the wheel; the second didn’t give up and pulled him, forcing him out of the car. The driver fell helplessly straight to the ground, cutting his face. The point of no return. As to not put up a scandal, the assaulted part proclaimed one of those vehement expressions: “Don’t ever speak to me again!” He got back to his car and the friendship was over right there and then. In less than a year, the married couple had also separated. I wasn’t even in time to give them their present, I had forgotten it back home that day.

The second wedding was disturbing. A soon as the bride walked into the church, my friend, who was waiting for her at the altar, started crying. Up until the priest declared the ceremony was over, there was no stopping his tears. The guilty party, he told me later, was his mother, that unleashed the waterfalls from the moment she stepped into the courtyard. “You need to stop, otherwise there’ll be two of us crying soon.” His mother didn’t stop, and he held it in, and in, but when the father of the bride gave away his daughter’s hand, he could barely see her. It wasn’t just the fact that his eyes were swamped with tears. On top of that, he also wore contact lenses. When heading out to the parking lot, on the back of the church, I witnessed a couple fighting and yelling at each other. They would only repeat the same phrase over and over again. He would say: “Let go of me, let me go!”; she would go around in circles repeating: “I love you so much and all you do is hit me!” The girl would grab his arm, he would say “Let go of me” pushing her away, she would fall, as if she had lost all her strength to stand without his arm, and would repeat: “I love you so much and all you do is hurt me”. I stood by watching, trying to confirm if he would actually hit her, but since the only thing he was trying to do was get away from her, I got into my car and drove away, ashamed for both of them.

Even amongst close friends, as we were, I’m not able to guess if my friend from the second wedding was as happy as he looked. There was, however, one ingredient to the mix that makes me believe he is. They supported each other as two crippled people depending on the same cane. She accepted his flaws with a saint’s resignation, and he adored her as if she was a saint at an altar, covering her with kisses, cuddles, and lovely quotes. He would find comfort in all his sins and dreads by holding onto her. He was devoted to her. He never forgot to pray at the feet of the patroness he had at home. She was destined to a saint’s death. Before their 20th anniversary, she got sick and although she managed to resist for a couple of years, she died in excruciating pain, the kind not even the heaviest of drugs could spare her. She left no children. Only many failed attempts. My friend carried on with his life, of course. Or maybe not, what do I know? Ghosts might not be real, but that has never stopped anyone from believing fervently in them. Although I belong to the same generation as my friend, despite having witnessed him growing, just as he has done for me, our history has been incredibly different. His is made of impossible loves and of unreciprocated ones, followed by a state of calm that had everything to last forever, only his wife’s death interrupted it. I had a happy first love, a second happy love, a third happy love, and so on. Oh well. All my loves could have been happy if I were able to be happy. It so happens that I don’t really know what that love and happiness stuff is all about. After all, all those love stories ended, hence the ones that came after. Or have they not? Is it possible that what ended were the relationships, with all their mundane, torturous characteristics, while love continued, indifferent to the breakup, to the pettiness of our secrets and lies? Love, such as God conceived it, happiness and truth, are polyhedric concepts. No one really knows what they mean, because they’re always connected to something else, further away, out of our reach. They inspire a feeling of confusion. We either see what no one else can, or we become blind in the face of no shred of evidence. It’s even likely that those words all mean the same thing: that we want more from our life than what it can give us.

Verging on 50, love doesn’t impress me. The way I see it, it’s a feeling of deception, like being pranked on, very demanding. Those people to whom I attribute some decency don’t make a fuss out of love. They tame their feelings as they would a wild worse, anticipating the strongest kicks. They take care of what they have and of what came across them in life and don’t get scared away by mere disagreements. People who know how to love, I believe, are those, that care about one another the same way they don’t let their house plants nor the vegetables in their garden die. They keep their house tidy and clean. All tasks I can’t comply with. A few decades ago, when I lived in my parents’ house, a colleague of mine gifted me a bonsai tree out of a seven years old elm. The stature of that miniature elm was a beautiful thing to see. Instead of growing up vertically, its body had grown sideways, then it curved in a “u” shape and only then it rose into a cup. While my mother took care of it, all good, but then she went away on vacation and I thought it was a good idea to put it by the window and by the time I remembered it, it was dead. I kept it for a couple more years, dehydrated and bare of all its leaves, like a fossil, so I wouldn’t forget about neglect. But as time went by, even the fossil disappeared. I had a girlfriend that once told me: “It’s so hard to find the right person…. There should be someone to decide who we should end up with for us. There, that’s your match. Now learn to get along with them.” She was quite the basket case, but in this case, I actually got what she was saying. We spend our lives jumping around from conclusion to conclusion, as if love were this pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, thinking all we’re missing is a shovel to dig it up, but what we’re missing is a sense of commitment. “You’ve got to own it”, she’d say.

Strong emotions, great loves, youth exaltations, they’re all unreliable vases on which to pour and plant love in. The feelings that grow from those emotions are more misleading than a demagogue dictator. Don’t forget Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tsé-Tung and so many other twisted minds of this world that were loved to the exponent of madness by the people they ruled over. The warm feeling of love is easy prey to the suggestive shadows and light effects, of penetrating eyes and mysterious expression. It’s an excellent matter for poetry, but terrible upkeep for this life. Although she died at only 41 years old, Jane Austen was the author I’ve read that better understood the sneaky traits of love. Right on her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, she accompanies a character, Marianne, that to me, defines just how much love finds its best company when it yields to evidence rather than when it insists in romantic wimps. Marianne falls for Willoughby, a young man as captivating and cult as herself, that vanishes from his life the moment their commitment to one another is imminent. Willoughby then pursues a marriage that will settle his debts. In the meantime, Marianne neglects the attention of Coronel Brandon, a friend of the family, older than her, and that is her confidante. For the reader, it’s pretty obvious that it’s this person that Marianne has a real relationship with, what doesn’t prevent her from continuing to feed her feelings with Willoughby and his dashing looks. Only after watching them burn, those beautiful emotions, does she realize how much she relies on Brandon’s devotion. Feelings crave love, reason guides the way. 

Who would ever wish to live with reason, autumnal as a preface for winter, when we have the flicker of spring working up our hormones? Love and passion are two easily confused concepts. The more we live the more passion mutates into somewhat of a drug. The process always repeats the same stages: euphoria, obsession, fever, dependence, despair, disappointment, hangover. And during the hangover, all prior stages blend together in an infernal dance that mutilates our own will to live. Sometimes a thought goes through my mind that love is a path going from the fire of youth to the mildness of maturity. It’s not really a wish of something that can be conquered. It’s a bond, within which we place our devotion, if we’re strong enough for that, for preserving things that are precarious by nature. We’re all going to die. The universe shows its indifference to our presence, but a few hints survive that attest to how the world is evolving towards clarity, and we can all participate in it. In my dreams, I usually wander around abandoned houses, where I can still see traces from when I lived in them. I’m always afraid I haven’t paid my rent, since the last time I slept there, and don’t understand why the landlord hasn’t gotten rid of my stuff in order to rent the place to someone else. I know that’s where I’ll spend the night, I have nowhere else to stay, but the next day I’ll have to leave, to avoid the landlord that could well demand rent payment for all the months I was away. I wonder without a job nor company. In between familiar landscapes, I seldomly encounter people I haven’t seen in a long time. These people ignore me, which leaves me doubting. Am I a damned soul that no longer belongs in the world of the living? The look on these creatures that once were a part of my life intersects with mine. It’s not certain they see me, but for an instant, their gaze lights up and I believe that even if they don’t see me, they recognize my presence. I wake up at that precise moment. Brought back to the present, where hours run by and days blend into one another, I get the impression love belongs to a time where the past, which has already been lived, remains as present as the future we still have ahead of us. But because I’m awake, I don’t belong to that time anymore. And I’m only allowed to act within my conscious, awake hours. It’s right here, in the present, where reality slaps us across the face, that we can still do something and put our ability to love to good use. I wish I were more dedicated, more devoted, put in more effort. But I get distracted and weary from all the distractions calling my name. Maybe love is the power to remain focused on what’s important and needs us right now. But that’s so difficult to learn! 

Translated from the original article from Vogue Portugal's Love issue, published in December 2020.