"No, not the balcony! I have a fear of heights!"
"But it's only the second floor!"

You have to talk to her. 

She's strikingly pretty and has a slight, unplaceble accent. Her mother was from Germany....or was it Italy? and her father was a geologist, working in South America, hunting oil sources in Venezuela for money and Permian fossils for pleasure. Her name is Q.

So far, it's been a dull party. People are either swarming around her, or avoiding her entirely. You feel vaguely flattered that she favors you.

On your way out, a friend of yours tells you in strong terms not to deal with her.

II.

You're seeing her, off and on, and you're hitting it off well. She likes the back of your neck, and laughs at your lousy sense of humor. She doesn't drive, but you love driving her. You even find out you work fairly close to each other, so it's just a matter of economy that you give her a ride home, now and then. She loves the Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and TCM, and sings old Hanna-Barbera cartoon themes with you.

She's quirky, all right. You find she can't spell words with "ie" or "ei". She can't figure out football. Carnivals possess her, but even going on a carousel gets her mildly seasick. She wears perfume that smells like freshly ground black pepper, believes in color analysis (lime green, yes, mustard yellow, no), and wears no precious stone other than peridots. She considers 17 an unlucky number "worse than thirteen". She'll nonchalantly catch a mouse by the tail in the kitchen, and flush it down the toilet.

But, on the other hand....

Life with her is one set of surprises after another. On your second date, she hands you a map and tells you to drive to some out of the way place in the country, all the while furiously consulting a GPS -- she's involved in hot-air ballooning, to deal with the acrophobia. She's crazy about Brazilian cuisine, and knows where to get the best feijoada in the state, at Gilberto's -- and you didn't think there were any Brazilians around. She plays pelota, and enjoys talking about her internship in a lab where she dealt with meristematic plant tissues ("kind of like stem cells in plants...not that kind of stem"). She inherited a whole lot of antique European folk pottery ("priceless") from her mother, but goes wild over cheap novelty earrings. When not eating Brazilian, she's a sucker for dill pickles. Her life is full of little rituals and lore, and you love it all.

Never mind that she's got quirks, that you hardly see your old friends anymore when you're drinking champagne with a ballooning crew at dawn! Life's one long parade (she loves them, too, and keeps a diary of where and when and what she saw the best ones) of exotic, glamorous, adventure, and a few potholes in the road are just par for the course.

III.

You're smitten. Every weekend is booked, for a balloon ascension, a parade, or a carnival. Feijoada? Can't live without it, and you can now follow her conversation in Portuguese with the Gilberto clan. You keep a ready supply of pickles in the fridge, chant the subperiods of the Permian with her in unison, and scan the Web daily for cute earrings and peridots. You know all the rules for pelota. If she hasn't moved in by now, she's got her pyjamas in a drawer and a spare toothbrush in the bathroom.

Still...The other day you saw a friend from the party where you met, and talked about this neat Viennese restaurant with dancing every weekend and great desserts. When you broach the idea that it might not be a bad idea to waltz instead of samba this weekend, she subjects the establishment to her most intense numerological and chromatic scrutiny, ending with a dismissive statement that the place was too greyed out and cool-toned, and besides, it was on 1723 Oak Street, and therefore, right out. Not such a big deal. But...still...

IV.

You're in the doldrums. There's no real reason to keep going out with her (if indeed you go out at all, anymore). You've made it clear that you aren't interested in spending another evening eating at Gilberto's, that you've gone to Six Flags at least four times, and can't stand shucking out for ride tickets you aren't going to use, and, as much as you like drinking cheap champagne with her ballooning pals, you'd like to spend Friday nights at a bar with your friends and weekend mornings in bed. You wonder what it would be like to waltz.

She's changed too. She doesn't laugh as readily as she used to, and doesn't kiss the back of your neck so much anymore. She doesn't watch cartoons with you anymore; instead she sits in her room watching Globo TV on the satellite dish, painting her toenails lime green, dusting her mother's tin-glazed pottery and her father's not-quite dinosaur bones. She's whiny and needy, and nags unmercifully.

The affair is over, but neither one of you can quite admit to it. In part it's fear: if you aren't there for each other, who will be? Finding someone new will be harder than just carrying on, making just a few more adjustments: she'll budge, maybe, on black pepper cologne, you budge, just a little, on her colorstrology. Grudgingly, you realize that each and every exotic quirk which looked like a gateway from your stuffy, humdrum existence opening to a larger world is actually just a door into another room in the building, which slams shut after you pass through. Both of you feel like adults trapped in a playroom, forced to drink Hi-C and play dress-up, when you'd much rather have a glass of Chardonnay and talk about property taxes.

V.

You broke up.

It wasn't a big deal. You started picking on each other, almost unconsciously. Your fights got bigger, and you can't explain to anyone else what you were fighting about. You find yourself, and her, saying words you never believed you'd say to anyone, much less to each other, a few months before. How did you fall for her? How did you think that you could be so stupid as to think you'd work out? Why won't she tell you where her family came from? What kind of woman catches mice? What is it with the letter P?

Both of you find yourself making excuses to go out:at first, you went to strip clubs, but you ended up going to a sports bar where no one you know goes, watching the games, holding onto a bottle of lite beer until it's flat. She cries a lot and makes long phone calls to her relatives overseas.

When you smash one of her mother's 18th century Strasbourg faience plates, and she moves out, it's just the last in a series. You feel sad, relieved, and angry all at once, and you make a reservation to the Viennese place at once.

When you meet one of your old friends, you tell them how right they were.

VI.

You meet each other a few years later. She's wearing a faux leopard swing coat, and carrying a lime-green handbag. She's updated her eyeglasses, but she's still wearing funky earrings: tiny Tobasco bottles. You've changed, gotten older, deeper (you hope) and mellower towards others' quirks, as you've ditched a few of your own. You figure she's done the same.

You decide to eat dinner together: Gilberto's. The owner beams as he sees you together, and you order feijoada, completa, with all the trimmings. She smiles at you, and you feel a bit of the old fire as she clutches her handbag to sit down.

"You've changed." she says.

Well, she finally got up in one of the balloons, and descended without a hitch. She learned to drive, and now she's working for an experimental car company, translating owners' manuals. She orders Capirinhas instead of Antarctica soda (or vice versa) and doesn't tell you why.

You tell her a few details: you're in a new division, due to restructuring.You got a dog, and upgraded the media room. You learned to waltz. She makes a face, and you switch topics, quickly.

Somehow, you end up reopening one of your last arguments, anyway. She's still smelling of pepper. She still thinks of you as an old fogy, more interested in your worthless high-end audio junk and your muscle car than in the new world of technology. You retort that hot air ballooning is hardly high-tech. She says she's switched to aerial photography, and how are you going to do that well from something that has to keep moving? Pretty soon, you realize that although you've grown and moved on, she's grown and stayed the same...or at least have developed on a different path. By the time you're ready for the check, which comes at not a moment too soon, the owner is giving forth with a familiar scowl.

As she walks off to start up her Boston Bullet hybrid, you don't feel anything at all.

 


Why is this an allegory? Think about drug addiction, or in fact, any addiction, the same way....

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