Love first disputed the laws of mathematics as a child. While excavating through the archaeological site my mother called our family’s photo album, I asked how my parents met. They met in High School, dated shortly afterwards, attended the same university, married after graduation, worked at the same job, had a family, shared the same life. High School sweethearts who became partners for life, soulmates for eternity. Companions in times of joy, companions in times of hardship. Never an acerbic exchange of words that surpassed what was admissible by the daily vagaries of modern life. Never any sign of domestic violence or emotional abuse. Partners in private conversation, partners in social life. She was his first girlfriend; he was her first boyfriend. And so it dawned on me. One man, one woman. One relationship, one life: both transient and eternal. One is the infinite number.
This belief was first tested in Fourth Grade. During show and tell, the pianist Richard Clayderman paid a memorable visit to my class in the form of a record I brought to share with my classmates. My mother studied the piano for countless years and the poetry of sound in time expressed what words alone could not convey: a voluptuous, amorphous emotional life vicariously experienced only by riding the musical rollercoaster of notes, scales, melodies and harmonies. Upon concluding my presentation, I played my record while my classmates laid down, relaxing to the mellifluous sound of Clayderman´s piano. Before the school bell rang, several girls approached me. All with cryptic smiles, demonstrating a sincere appreciation for my words, especially for the accompanying music. None of my friends made the same effusive compliments. The boys were bored, some having fallen asleep. The precocious musical sensibility displayed by my female classmates was not lost on me.
One girl in particular caught my attention. Memory recalls only that she was blond and slender, with brown eyes that contrasted with her fair skin. Her hair was silky and long, reaching well below her shoulders. A pink headband was the only rebellious sign of her individuality, since the dress code determined her navy blue skirt and white school t-shirt. Always silent in class, she was bubbly and gregarious in social settings. Always vocal in class, I was reserved in social settings. Whether polar opposites attract was a question never before considered.
As the semester unfolded, she made herself ubiquitous wherever I was. Sitting by my side in every class, standing behind me in line for lunch, hovering around during recess and silently gazing at me during gym class. She passed me private notes throughout the day, always containing seemingly undeserved pink saccharine compliments. Finally, one day, she rammed the gates of my childhood with an unexpected question:
“Would you like to hold hands?”, she asked impetuously.
Three dots would not aptly illustrate my reticence with her question. Her sudden entreat completely mystified me. Having no discernment of what my response implied, I tentatively acquiesced. Much to my surprise, holding hands elicited a puzzling sense of elation previously foreign to me. This was an entirely new experience. It felt like having a loyal friend, who somehow, was so much more. Always by my side, less talkative than hoped for, but always present no less. I saw the smile on her face as a reflection of mine, but the smirks that greeted us were undecipherable to me. Their keen perception extended far beyond my own. Later that same day, as our palms grew sweatier, she abruptly let go off my hand during music class
“It’s over! You didn´t even try to kiss me!”, she said with a sonic boom that violently pushed me back a few steps.
A cavernous hollowness in the pit of my stomach left me in a state of emotional seasickness never experienced before. Wiping the sweat from my hand proved impossible. An impregnable scent would not relent. As other kids grinned staring at me, for the first time my stature only diminished as time languished by, until the clock went on a slumbering strike. Lilliput had a new citizen. The nauseating incompleteness of a pungently unexpected rejection was my first unwitting taste of romance. The confines of my body no longer seemed to be the confines of my soul.
A lassitude afflicted my whole being. Every sense became uninterested in life around me. The previously hypnotic odors slithering their way through my grandmother´s kitchen on Sunday´s family gatherings were no longer enthralling. The taste of my grandmother´s paella was eerily insipid in ways that only satisfied the appetite of the household canine companion. Lois Lane´s patronizing and condescending treatment of Clark Kent made me question Superman´s true stature and better judgment. Bruce Wayne suddenly appeared much more self-confident and appealing in his solitary quest for justice. As the once shimmering Technicolor became grayish in tone, my Choose Your Own Adventure Book Series was set aside, my best friends phone calls left unanswered. Recoiling from the mundane fixtures of daily life became a matter of practical survivability. Only burying myself in schoolwork accelerated the tempo of my slumbering days, but Albinoni´s Adagio in G Minor seemingly playing in the background at all times could not be sped.
In a moment of solitary desperation, I crossed the unforgiving line of reasonable caution: confessing my tale of woe to my little brother in the frantic hope of receiving much needed emotional support. His strident laughter nearly destroyed my eardrums, if not what remained of my self-esteem, willfully giving him ammunition to mock me for weeks. Yesterday´s predator became today´s defenseless prey, mercilessly taunted throughout the days. Even the iridescent colors of life were now devoid of their usual vibrancy. The usual televised escapism no longer offered any solace.
The mere sight of that blond apparition in school aggravated this nauseating incompleteness, further branding the smoldering mark of rejection. Nobody ever told me that merely holding a girl’s hand for only a few hours could be this painfully noxious. So much irrelevant material covered in class, but the most pressing issues of life learned only at the unforgiving hands of personal experience. Turning to the library for help proved fruitless. The boy detective Encyclopedia Brown never solved a similar case, much less Sherlock Holmes. This simply baffled me. Too humiliated to seek assistance again, a recent conversation with my mother flooded my mind.
“What matters most in a relationship is companionship…”, my mother once said with a smile.
My mother´s fondness for my father in High School completely baffled her friends. My father´s unkempt long hair and perennially tanned appearance silently misspoke of countless carefree days surfing, as if his education was a distant priority. He never came across a mismatched combination of clothes that did not entice his eyes.
“An unattractive surfer dude!”, her friends had curtly sentenced.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Superficial appearances were entirely deceiving. My father bid farewell to his mother at the age of seven, migrating from Spain with my grandfather shortly after World War II, under the most desperate circumstances. Though my grandfather was a disciplinarian valuing education and hard work, clothes were never his primary concern. My father grew up deprived of the sensibility that a mother usually imparts on her son, especially in regards to clothes. Of all the absences felt in a child´s life, that of a loving mother is probably the most emotionally damaging. Though careless about his appearance, he was a brilliant, opinionated student, always a leader in class discussions and a champion in poetry competitions. He was a talented writer in a similar vein to a distant French relative, a distinguished author and Statesman in the 19th century. Hardworking at home, he assisted with my grandfather’s small business when he was not studying. Living in proximity to the ocean, he spearfished only during his scarce free time. Venturing far beyond the reasonable depths for most divers, bringing back lobsters, octopi, spotted morays, and myriad colorful fish that were always a welcome addition to the dinner table.
Oceanic adventures notwithstanding, his true baptism of fire arrived unexpectedly, when my mother sustained a serious injury. While assisting at home, a butcher’s knife slipped through her fingers and partially sliced her Achilles tendon. The accident could easily have compromised her mobility for life, necessitating the use of crutches for the remainder of her days. Only immediate surgery and considerable rest restored her full mobility. Tragic accidents sometimes make for unexpected learning experiences, as moments of unforeseen pain elicit the very best there is in people. My father´s reaction made a lasting impression on my mother. Visiting her every single day, he brought the requisite coursework so she could study from home, while keeping her company. Throughout the recovery process, he accompanied her to and from school every day. Despite his ulterior responsibilities, he remained always by her side during the most trying of times. Companionship in moments of excruciating hardship when all other friends made themselves scarce. This is how they had fallen in love. This was all I longed for. This was all I sorely lacked.
I vowed never again to make the same mistake. Recklessness and Impatience: two words erased from my lexicon. When that blond apparition extended her hand to me that day, she offered me more than I could possibly understand. In taking hers, I accepted more than I could possibly fathom. My sensitivity sufficed to attract her attention, but failed to reveal her true expectations. Despite projecting my own personal longing on her, our smiles had entirely different underlying motives. A man insensitive to a woman’s needs remains so at his own peril, a lesson subliminally learned that day.
While I pined for companionship, she desired physical contact. The two are not mutually exclusive, but the longevity of the heart far surpasses the aesthetic resilience of the body. I wanted a friendship that would last; she longed for immediate physical gratification. Her experience far exceeded my own, while my patience far surpassed hers: a combustible confluence of character dispositions. My body had not awakened to the physical enticements of the opposite sex, something she could hardly say. While my heart commanded my body, her body commanded her heart. A cynic will find these words derisive, but avoiding the acrid company of disillusionment is a proven admonishment, disregarded only at great emotional penance. Contrary to the reigning social norm, I was determined to live according to my personal familial creed. One remained the infinite number.
This is when Yumiko entered my life. A Japanese family moved to the fourth floor of my seaside apartment building and I made their acquaintance in the elevator one day. The couple had a daughter named Yumiko who was also in Fourth Grade, despite studying in a different school. Her physical appearance spoke of an ancestry that was completely alien to me. She had pitch-black hair, darker even than my own, and extremely fair skin, even than my own. Despite having my stature, she was slim almost to the point of an apparent delicate frailty. Her eyes seemed exotic to my inexperienced ones, first making me understand the symbolic meaning of the rising sun. Her eternally cheerful smile was reminiscent of an enlightened monk, and just as equally mysterious.
They asked me if I could be her playmate during afternoons. They had just arrived, and she had absolutely no friends. The couple struggled to overcome the language barrier, but their daughter had no such impediments, conversing fluently. Yumiko seemed delighted at the proposition, her eyes sparkling with jubilation because solitude has no nationality. Given my recent experience, her effusiveness was met with a trepid hesitation. In any event, how was I supposed to play with a girl? Before voicing my objections, my mother respectfully answered that I would be delighted. The Supreme Court overruling my personal judgment never felt so demoralizing, as I recalcitrantly walked to Yumiko’s home that same afternoon.
Entering her apartment was like travelling to a foreign country for the first time. They had brought absolutely everything from Japan. The furniture, china, decorations, paintings, it had all been shipped from overseas. They had appliances that looked like props from a science fiction movie, one of which was solely dedicated to cooking white rice. Insipid as it was to me, for them it was an invaluable staple of their diet. They politely asked me to remove my shoes at the entrance, a ritual that my own parents would later emulate. Always impeccably dressed, they organized the apartment as if the permanent immobile location of each item was conceived for the special benefit of a blind resident. Amazingly enough, being transported to a magical foreign land without leaving home was not what astounded me most.
What impressed me most was her family life itself. They had a jubilant symbiotic relationship that reminded me of my own. They were extremely formal, but merely as a sign of mutual respect, not as an icy emotional shield. Warm embraces were a common sight and Yumiko’s admiration for her parents was only equaled by her cheerful disposition and loving dedication. No frowning witnessed, only a soothing sense of quiet elation filled the air. I suspected that my personal familial experience was universal in nature, but now I had living proof, and from Japan no less.
Always cordial and diplomatic, they repeatedly invited me to their family lunches. The level of dexterity with which they used chopsticks to eat noodles and boiled white rice confounded my previous understanding of human agility. It also expanded my horizons, teaching me that even the most ordinary daily rituals varied remarkably across cultures. Even her toys were completely different from my own. She only possessed two dolls scarcely used, all her other toys were Japanese action figures, robots and board games. The pages of her Japanese magazines displayed magical toys I had never dreamt of, Christmas gifts Santa Claus never brought me for reasons unknown. My original concern about playing with her proved to be completely unfounded. The technological appeal of her toys vastly surpassed my own. She was also much more adventurous and imaginative than any of my other friends. Just as equally important, she was also patient and caring, attributes not encountered before in children my age. Soon, our play sessions filled up my afternoons.
The day Yumiko’s family left the country I lost my best friend. Our paths would never cross again, but the gift she bestowed me lasted a lifetime. She taught me the meaning of female companionship, a bond never shared before. She listened attentively to what I said, always with patience and care. Our conversations were not aggressive debates, but compassionate collaborations. She always provided a different perspective, enriching and complementing my own views. Though patient and humble, she was also highly opinionated and vocal. Despite being respectful of my views, she was never submissive, only garnering my admiration.
In her absence, endless empty afternoons lay before me, all devoid of the cherished Japanese joy and conviviality. Sometimes, I would find myself knocking on her door, but a foreboding stranger brusquely brought me back to reality. All my toys seemed less magical, and the occasional argument with friends a constant reminder of how placid life had been. Absence, longing and solitude are all prices paid for companionship. Even for a child.
My mother taught me that true companionship, especially in trying times of need, is what matters most in a relationship. She had given me a final destination, but chartering the course was my responsibility. Yumiko showed me that friendship is the basis of true companionship. In so doing, she erased the enigmatic bitterness that blond apparition had infused in me. Subliminal competitiveness and aggression were absent from our friendship. Instead, we nurtured a mutual support that restored my internal sense of peace and quiet. Though she left a few Japanese exotic magazines that piqued my interest, her greatest gift was the restoration of my peace of heart and mind.
Intrepidly facing the future once again, Love declared war on mathematics, taking on all numbers: temporal, financial or otherwise. A cynic would say that a child foolishly challenged time with the self-confidence that only immaturity provides, blindly ignorant to the uncontrollable freight train raging in the opposite direction. Blissfully unaware of future challenges, a fearless romantic brandished a principled sword in defense of his personal familial creed. By overcoming an enigmatic bitterness, an acerbic disillusionment never festered, saving a young child from becoming yet another standardized hedonistic cynic so stereotypical of the modern age. Many still condescendingly, patronizingly and dismissively laugh at this child, but my personal familial creed remains by no means exclusively my own. It descends from a long lineage traversing millennia, and for as long as human beings dare believe in the divine eternity of love, the true heavenly meaning of these words will never fade with age. Two hearts, one soul, two beings, one life. One is the number of Infinite Light. Darkness never eternally encumbers... those believing one is the infinite number.