Five Meanings of I Love You

[This is Chapter 3 of an ongoing work of fiction.  Chapter 2 is here.]

1. I want to be closer to you

Evan had learned something about his mother that had robbed him of his smile, Kara couldn’t figure out exactly what, she wished to God she knew, it killed her that she didn’t know.

“What is it?  You can trust me.”

“I know I can, but…”

“That’s what I’m here for.”

“…but I need to sit on this one for a bit.”

“That’s what love is all about.”

“I know.”

“Then why don’t you tell me?”

“It’s just that—”

“Is it something about me?”

“No, it’s just that some things take time to process.”

The look on his face broke her heart.

It was like the ancient Rapa Nui written language.  They have ancient writings, but nobody knows what it means because the Spanish conquistadores killed all of the Rapa Nui scholars by 1888.  Today, we look at the writings, but they’re absolutely impenetrable.  That was sometimes how Evan seemed to her.

There were so many things that Kara wanted to do with Evan.  Go on a train trip with him.  The idea of bumpy train sex made her wet.  Life was all about rhythm, she knew, figure out how his rhythms counterpointed with her rhythms and make a song, and whether that song was a good song or a tired-ass clunker.  Rhythms explained everything.  Once, she had stood onstage with her lead guitarist playing a solo behind her, and just from the rhythm, she realized that his girlfriend had just broken up with him.  She turned around and looked into his eyes incredulously.

Really, her eyes said.

Yes, he nodded.

It was all there in the rhythm: details and concepts, math and emotion, pink and zigzaggy and booyah, everything.

The next morning, Kara wrote up a list of other things she wanted to do with Evan, too.  She so liked lists.

  • Hike in Red Rock Canyon till we’re knackered.
  • Sing him my best songs. In the living room.
  • Not talk about coke ever.

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2.      If I can’t love, I can at least pretend to love

After a set in the casino, someone with a loving face came right up to Kara and killed her with kindness.

Oh my goodness gracious, your voice is such a blessing.  You songs open up my heart, I can’t tell you how much.  We’re from Indiana.

But, Kara thought as she showed her lovely smile, she still lived in a crummy apartment and drove a crummy car.  Sometimes she heard somebody on television, some real person in an interview, who said to a girl, I will transform everything, and he did.  The guy who married Mariah Carey.  The guy who married Celine Dion.  The guy who wrote songs for Ke$ha.

I want to meet one of those guys, she thought.  I could pretend to love him, too.

Sometimes Kara wracked her brain for something that would change things—a new song, a new band, new chops, a new writing partner.  But the thought that tortured her was—What if I need a new heart?

3.      I have the right to take what I want

It was 8 at night and Kara was on her way to surprise Evan at his apartment, but for some reason, she veered into a Catholic church.  Inside, it was so empty and shadowy that it made her think of an ancient Italian cathedral she’d read about once that had a splinter from the True Cross.  She couldn’t imagine being that close to Christ.  She walked up the aisle and the tile echoed off her heels, the proof of her own aloneness.  Kara had never felt close to Him, only far away, so far away that He’d always been nothing more than a vague concept.  Written on a piece of paper.  Stored in a vault.  Bolted to the bottom of the sea.  On Jupiter.

The sound of her own heels hurt her so much that she started to cry.

There was a young priest there.  He patted Kara on the back and said, There, there.  They ended up at Ichabod’s for a late dinner, and then at her place at 1:30 am.  They nestled together on the sofa and he was saying, I’ll tell you everything, and then he did, not like Evan, who wouldn’t talk.  The priest was young and handsome like Jesus, but humble and kind like no handsome man ever is.  When he took off his clothes, Kara saw he had a scar on his side.

Is that where the centurions stabbed you? Kara joked.

He became solemn and spoke softly.

You know, there’s a lance in St. Peter’s Basilica that they claim is the lance that the soldiers used to stab Jesus.

Really.  You know, I didn’t sign up for a sermon.

What I mean is, there’s another one in Paris.  And other ones in Vienna and Krakow and Istanbul.  So don’t worry about feeling far from God. 


Kara pushed her head into his chest.  There was so much consolation in his attitude towards despair, as if despair were simply proof that we can be happy.  She made love to his despair more than anything else.  Afterwards, their conversation settled upon their pasts.  He talked about trying to please his Mexican father, who was so obsessed with not going to hell that his son wondered what horrible thing he had done.  His father had indeed done a horrible thing.  One day, he discovered what that sin was: him.  That’s what made him join the priesthood.

It was my way of committing suicide, he said.

Kara talked about what was consuming her, the old love that was ruining everything.

Harris left me.

Oh no.  Tell me what happened.


What, you mean…last November?

Yes.  I always think about him when I’m making love to Evan.  Sometimes I start crying when he’s making love to me and I have to make an excuse, like I say, ‘Oh, I’m only crying because it’s so awfully beautiful.’ 

You do what you have to do.


I mean, I do what I have to do.

Of course, I paid her back…


My sister.  She stole Harris.  She dug a grave in my heart.

I’m sorry. 

My boyfriend Evan is a complete mystery to me.  I wish to God there were an Evan-to-Kara dictionary.

I’m sorry.

It’s so beautiful that you apologize.  I wish everybody would apologize to me.  All the time.

I’m a great apologizer.  Give me a sin and I’ll apologize for it.  I’ll apologize for Saddam Hussein’s sins.  I’ll apologize for the weather. 

We’re a great pair.  We fit into each other like puzzle pieces. 

Hey, you want to do some more blow?

IMG_2026 smaller.jpg4.      Don’t blame me, I’m a mess

Five days later, Kara made a list.

  • Organize papers
  • Do delicates
  • Never go back to church ever

Kara loved making lists.  She did it because her life was a shambles.  She made lists and she sang for the same reason: so that she could live with the chaos.  Singing elevated the mess into art.  She’d heard that in ancient Greek, chaos comes from the word sing, which made complete sense to her.

5.      I must control everything

Kara was out shopping with her friend BabyLynn, who was a costume designer for performers on the Strip.  They were eating frozen yogurt in the mall and talking about late paychecks.  One thing they had in common was they both worked in entertainment, and both their employers commonly delayed payment.  Another thing was sobriety.

So how are you doing with your twelve steps? BabyLynn asked.

Kara had forgotten that BabyLynn was her AA sponsor, they had so much fun together.

I don’t know.

That doesn’t sound good.

I mean, look, the Big Book says to be “searchingly honest.”  Why can’t we just be honest?  Isn’t that a bit obsessive, I mean, like, trying too hard, to be “searchingly honest”?

You are too much, Kara, that’s why I love you.  What brought that up?

Oh, I guess I’m having a little trouble with control issues.

Like what?

You really want to know?


I’ll be searchingly honest, then, all right?


Okay, here it is.  I want Evan to talk to me.  It kills me that he holds back secrets from me.

You think he’s cheating on you?

Could be.  All men are dogs.

What are you going to do about it?

And then Kara began to cry and people at other tables started peering over their shoulders.

I just…I just….


I hate myself for loving him so much.

[Chapter 4 is here:]


It’s Not What You Know, It’s Whether You Can Become Part of the Goddamn Machine

I’ve always been smart.  It was confirmed early on by teachers and standardized tests.  It has always been a part of how I think about myself, but I sometimes wonder if it’s been a good or a bad thing in my life.

In high school, I was astounded that there wasn’t a mad rush to become the main squeeze of Colin, our valedictorians, who had astounded everybody in 7th grade science class by correctly pronouncing the microbe gonyaulax polyhedra.  In fact, I noticed early on that there was a blank, manly look that girls seemed to go for, so I started cultivating it.  Mouth slightly open, mysterious.  A slight swagger, nothing exaggerated.  Never answer a question in class.  And, of course, never talk about Lord of the Rings or Beethoven sonatas or calculus, forget that, that wasn’t sexy.

But it wasn’t just romance that intelligence has blocked.  It’s always tended to make me overestimate my own abilities, as well.  When I first became a freelance writer, I assumed it would be easy to make the jump to book publishing within three years.  It wasn’t.  When I became a magician, I thought I could easily get onto cruise ships within five years.  It’s been excruciatingly difficult, and I’m still not on them.  Is it any surprise that the Great Recession has given a severe beating to my bankbook?  Well, it surprised me.  I knew I had intelligence on my side.

I sometimes muse that life would be so much easier if I had just accepted my role in the machine.  Gotten a responsible job doing technical writing for a defense contractor, had a couple kids, and retired early with over a million in the bank, as my best friend from college Josh will do next month.

“I’m going to take a buyout,” he recently told me over dinner.  “The T-bill rate is tied to my pension, so if I wait any longer, I figure I’ll lose $100,000.”

I didn’t understand it, either.  Josh was fairly smart, but unlike me, he wasn’t filled up with his own greatness.  After college, we lived together for a couple years, and without the demands of classes, he dove into heavy dope smoking for what I called our St. Elmo’s Fire period.  He would sit in the living room with reddened eyes and listen to Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” and John Fahey’s “Bring Me Cornbread When I’m Hungry.”  Soon, he realized that altered states weren’t going to get him anywhere, and so ended up getting together with a boring girl who could help him quit smoking and land a boring job.

Josh loved Mark Twain, but he didn’t have to become the new Mark Twain.  He could just be Josh.

Bob Dylan once sang in anger:

Advertising signs con you

Into thinking you’re the one

Who can do what’s never been done

Who can win what’s never been won

Meantime life goes on all around you.

Our high school valedictorian Colin paid a price for his high IQ, too.  After graduation, he dove deeply into philosophy and mathematics.  He started taking 16-hour walks to think more deeply about things.  He would stop in parks to sleep, then continue walking and thinking.  He had long brown hair and thick black glasses that made him look the part of the genius lost in his thoughts.

“Colin, what do you do on your long walks?” a friend once asked.


“What do you think about for all that time?”

“Well, I look at all the people, and I think, ‘Where can they all be going to?’  And I look at all the food in all the grocery stores and restaurants and kitchens, and I think, ‘Where does it all come from?'”

Obviously, Colin was falling off the deep end.  Within a couple years, Colin was killed by a hit-and-run driver on one of his long walks.

[My sister has requested that I take down a section of this post involving her, and I have.]

Don’t feel sorry for me.  I’ve gotten lots of things out of my IQ numbers.  I understand the music of Steve Reich.  I type 105 wpm.  I can use inchoate in conversation.  But some nights, as I’m balancing my checkbook in the evening, ruining my sleep for sure, I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened if I’d accepted the offer to become editor-in-chief of Shape magazine when I was 28, accepted the fast track and what was handed to me, rather than flashing a superior smile to Joe Weider over lunch at the Velvet Turtle and telling him, “Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t, I’m writing a novel.”