The room was dark, save for the neon lights streaming in from outside and a small lamp in the corner. We sat together at my weathered card table, sharing a bottle of wine. Or did we each have our own bottle? I wasn’t sure, for it was a long time ago, and that night I was already ahead by a few bottles before Frank arrived. Faded movie & band posters peeled off the walls like wilting flowers. Somewhere outside, someone had been playing an Etta James record, but the last song was over. I could hear the scratching of the vinyl through my open window. Pretty soon, that too would be over.
We toasted each other first.
“Sir, can you tell me about the fool in love?”
“Why no, good sir, but I can tell you quite a bit in detail about being a fool for love.”
“And how is that working out for you?”
“Well, right now not so well. I spent half a week reading great novels by great authors spinning stories of spiritual bereavement through the women who destroyed them. I’m starting to think that maybe all great writers have been destroyed at one point by a woman, because even with all this pain, it has only caused me to sit here in front of this typewriter and pour my heart out.”
“You do know that just because you write and your heart was broken, it doesn’t mean necessarily that you are a great writer. In fact, a broken heart can also be responsible for the creation of the most hideous works. Then again, maybe you’re right. Oft times, being too happily in love has the effect of taking all the piss out of your prose. Take old Bill for example, his first novel was almost a masterpiece. And he did it right by not making his first one a true masterpiece, because as it was he got plenty of buzz and was branded a rising star in the literary world. We all know the critics love nothing more than to be able to pretend it was they who discovered the fresh new voice of their generation. But if you write a bona fide masterpiece right out the gate, you’re simply burdened with horrible pressure to top it, as if crafting a successful sophomore follow up wasn’t tough enough. The critics also love nothing more than to tear apart a new effort following a masterpiece, which by definition is already a failure until proven otherwise. Bill actually did it on purpose, according to him.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just that. He purposefully withheld elements from his first novel that could have made it a true masterpiece, just so he could make his second effort a resounding triumph. If he had pulled that off, he could’ve written ten turkeys after and it wouldn’t have mattered, he still would have lived forever. But unfortunately, in between the two novels, the poor bastard met an awfully lovely girl who was perfect for him in almost every way. And don’t get me wrong she wasn’t Mother Mary, but he loved her so completely, he loved all her faults too.”
“What’s so wrong with that?” I asked
“Well what the fuck do you think happened to his Great American Novel? Utter gutter trash. Nothing but overly lovey-dovey hogwash. Nobody can stomach reading five hundred pages of the perfect relationship. His publishers would have thrown him out by the seat of his pants if it weren’t for the huge advance they had already given him. I heard they shipped a hundred thousand copies to Guantanamo to use in their torture chambers.”
“You’re such a dick sometimes, Frank.”
“Well, for better or worse, I am always frank.”
"Har dee har."
I took a good long swig from my bottle of Merlot.
“I knew she’d figure out she was too good for me.” I said
“Well, the truth is, we shared a lot of small lovely moments together, and she told me constantly how much she enjoyed my company, but not too deep inside I was terrified she was going to figure out I wasn’t smart enough for her.”
“She probably figured it out the first day, Jake.”
I gave him the finger. But he was right.
He watched me and drummed his fingers on the table.
“Luckily enough though, most girls are actually smarter than their mates. It’s God’s own wonder as to why they tolerate us, but if a smart girl didn’t keep with a dumb monkey like you or me, why there wouldn’t be a species to exist.” he said
We looked at each other. Frank stood up.
“I think I’m going out for a smoke. Want one?”
I stood up with him.
“Great, bring the wine too.”
I located the cork, took another swig, pushed it in deep, and carried it in the crook of my arm.
“Ready to go, el Capitan.”
“Hey, ho!” he punched the air and started walking.
I followed him out into the crisp night.
Ten minutes later, we were back. He sat down on the floor and looked at me, grinning.
He took his time, stretching out flat on his back on the floor.
“So tell me Jake, what does it feel like to be a fool in love?”
“First of all, I am heartbroken, in love, but the bigger truth is that I’m not a fool in love, I’m a fool for love.” I sighed “Yes, I’m both. But being a fool in love isn’t so bad necessarily. It’s being a fool for love that causes all the trouble in a man.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, before we get there, let us first analyze how to identify a fool for love. He walks the streets just as any other man, but he is not just any man. He looks at the world with a kind of wonder and disgust for his own place within it. He is a part of society but really, exists at an arms length. He lurks the corners in a lonely manner, even as he smiles so wide. Every woman is lovely to him, but truly he only wants to be in love with one woman. Who? It doesn’t matter, and that’s part of it. It’s not about who but whom. It’s the idea of the one girl, the one whom he would gladly give everything to. I suppose all fools for love must begin as romantics, but not all romantics end up fools for love.”
“Jesus Christ, I hope you never write a novel about this shyte.”
“Do you want to hear this or not? You’re the one who asked.”
“I’m starting to regret that.” he snorted.
“Whatever. You started this train and it’s moving. Anyway, the fool for love is a hopeful bastard, and thinks far too much about the meaning of things when a girl he is truly interested in is involved. Every word or silence means he is flying or falling. Every little sign of affection fills his chest with a warm glow, and every positive encouragement makes his head light and giddy. But alas, he who lives by the sword truly dies by it. When he is rejected, it says so much more about him to himself than it really should.”
“You mean like when you say you’re not good enough for this girl when clearly it was her mistake for looking over you so casually?”
“Ah Frank, you flatter me. I wish you had a vagina right now.”
“You’d probably just fuck me and leave me like the rest.”
He snorted again.
“There is something to what you say though. Another sign of a fool for love is that for him, it is all or nothing. The vast majority of men are quite happy to go out and fill their belts with notches, but the fool for love goes cold with the girls he doesn’t really love. To those girls, he is a mystery. To almost all of them, he is an enigma, a question mark in human form. Brooding and silent and unwilling to share his feelings. But it’s such a joke, because when he is into a girl, he will open up and share far more than he should so early on. This usually leads to a negative result, because love or not, every girl needs a little bit of intrigue and mystery to hook them in.”
“Damn straight.” Frank grunted. He was the master of mystery. I think it was mostly because he truly didn’t give a half a damn for what anyone thought and barely, if ever, explained himself.
“So the problem is the fool for love is so willing to do whatever he can to express his true feelings, she cannot picture him as the cold, mysterious version of himself that exists only in other girl’s realities. And so he suffers for it. And when she rejects him, he still smiles and tells her sorry for bothering her, because even in his misery he wants nothing but for her to be happy and the least inconvenienced. He’d rather bend over backwards until his back snaps (and all his dignity with it) rather than leave her with a cold thought. So the fool for love smiles and lies through his teeth, telling her that no, she didn’t hurt him -despite the fact she was hurting him worse than anyone had in ten years. And the worst, worst part about all of this.. is the fool for love, despite all evidence to the contrary, still holds out hope that things may work out some day. If only he can keep smiling.”
“Smile and the world smiles with you. Cry, and you cry alone.”
I smiled, and then stopped. Frank didn’t give a shit about appearances. I closed my eyes. He continued for me.
“Women are great at believing what they want to believe. They’d rather be friends with a hundred men they’ve rejected rather than to be thought of poorly by any one of them.”
“I don’t agree with that.”
He took a long swig.
“What do you know, you’re just a fool, remember?”
“Well, if you’re right it’s not all women. Maybe most. I don’t know. Anyhow, another sign of a fool for love is how quickly he becomes romantic with the girl he is falling for. He will write her notes, sing her songs, and by the way all music is suddenly related to her. Everywhere he goes, he filters all that he sees and experiences through her, even having semi-conversations or at least imagining the things he’s going to share with her later. And while he won’t change for any girl, for this girl he doesn’t have to change, for he just naturally wants to be the best version of himself possible. All so he can give her the best and make her the happiest. He could never imagine being with another girl, and indeed the one girl whom he is infatuated with easily drives away all urges to get to know any girl not her. He knows he could spend an eternity just trying to learn everything he can about her, and he’s fine with that. He accepts her for everything she is, and is contented with it.”
“Hold on now, this all sounds very vanilla and normal to me. Lots of people fall in love and experience all of this. How is this different from being in love, versus a fool in love?”
“A fool for love, remember?” I sighed deeply, shrugging my pain away “I suppose there isn’t much of a difference. Anybody can be a fool, and anyone can be in love. But only a special few can be a fool for love.”
I looked around the room, at all the stuff I had accumulated in the past few months. I looked at all the new books I had bought recently, the art supplies, and even clothes. Foolishly, I had made a bid to become smarter, more cultured, and better for her in every way I could. I never buy new clothes. I knew I was in trouble the day I found myself wandering through a department store trying to understand the difference between a straight-leg and a boot cut. What the hell was it all for. I looked at all of this, but I was quite far away. Frank waited. I came back.
“Well..” I said “I suppose what makes the difference between a fool in love and a fool for love.. is that the fool for love.. while he may be in love with her, she just doesn’t love him back.”