“So Eileen, who has been the great love of your life thus far?”
I shot him a curious glance. “That’s quite the question.”
“Well, our time is limited. I find the best way to get to know people is to ask the questions that you are afraid to ask, the ones the other may be afraid to answer. We can skip over weeks and months of trust building and slow budding intimacy with a short succession of inquiry. Are you game?”
“Ok,” I laughed. I was quite shocked though, both to discover this about him and by the fact that he should want to form such a connection with me. What was I to him, except a musician he enjoyed?
“Good. Then, back to my question. Who has been your great love?”
He scoffed. “Seriously, Eileen.”
“I’m not kidding. In all of my life, thus far, no one else has moved me as much as you.” His face became unreadable, and in my boldness I suddenly became terrified again that I had overstepped myself and revealed too much. He would think I was a nut!
“Before you get too worried, I realize that I’m completely certifiable,” I said, trying to add an ironic lilt to my voice. “It’s a fictional you that captivated me. Pieces of characters that you played that touched me and left other, mere mortal men incomparable.”
His voice was soft. “Actors are not the characters they portray.”
“I know,” I assured him. “I’m not suggesting that you are. It’s a funny game that movies play with our heads though. So different than reading a book. We can fall in love with words on a page, with a poem or a beautiful passage. But to a living, breathing embodiment of those words on a screen, attached to an actual human being…I suppose the attachment grows stronger.”
Cal gave me a sad smile. “I don’t think you’re crazy, lovely one.” He ran his fingers lightly under my chin as he spoke. “I’m just sorry to think that you will be disappointed that I am not the vision that you have of me.”
“Maybe that would be true, if you were still thirty.”
We both laughed, and he nodded.
His eyebrows raised quizzically.
“Who has been the great love of your life thus far?”
He turned to gaze at the moon.
“No one? Truthfully?”
“But, you’ve been married several times.”
“You weren’t in love with any of your wives?”
“In love is such an arrogant, American phrase. I hate that expression. We’re raised to think that being infatuated with someone is equivalent to love. So we make promises that we can’t keep, and when the passion wanes, we move on with what’s left of us.”
I sat speechless for a few moments, not knowing how I should reply.
“What do you think about that?” he asked.
“That makes me sad.”
“Well, because what else is there?”
Cal didn’t answer.
“Did your wives love you?”
“That’s an interesting question. Truthfully, I wouldn’t know. I treated them all so terribly. I was never faithful to any of them. Eventually, it made all of them despise me. If any of them did love me I broke their hearts with it.”
“Do you regret that?”
“Yes and no,” he replied, searching in his pocket for another cigarette. He found one and lit it. “As I said, I never loved any of them, not truly. Whether I cheated on them or not, I would never have been able to return their love.”
“And your children?”
He took a long drag on his cigarette. “My turn.”
“These characters of mine, the ones that you say have been your only great love, which ones were they?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Just curious. Come on, humor my vanity,” he said, grinning.
I tried to pretend like I was taking the time to consider it, even though I already knew my answer. “A war vet and a male prostitute.”
He chuckled to himself and shook his head.
“Out of all the some sixty different roles I played, you would pick the most abstract and unpopular, wouldn’t you?”
“The critics loved both of those films.”
“Yes, but the fans didn’t. Both shattered that James Dean image they had of me; the small town, all-American boy. The latter almost cost me my career.”
“And now it is a heralded classic.”
“Hmmm. And tell me, what was it about those characters that moved you so?”
“Well, both of them moved me for the same reason. They were so desperately lost, and they thought they were nobodies. They felt like nothing inside. But yet there was such beauty in their souls, and neither of them ever recognized it because no one ever gave them the chance to prove to themselves that they were more than what they feared. And when they tried, they were persecuted for it. Eventually they both succumb to the lie that they are nothing, in spite of their greatness.”
“And you felt that those were admirable qualities? Being lost and tortured?” He flicked his cigarette onto the ground under his furious boot.
“No, that wasn’t the point. The point was that they had the potential to be these remarkable men. They were poetic and courageous. They recognized the unloved and the uncared for, and they fought against injustice. All they needed was someone to offer them hope, to validate what they kept hidden away inside. Neither of them ever knew what they were worth.”
I must have been beaming in that wistful, dreamy-eyed way I get when I talk passionately, and I almost didn’t notice him swipe at his eyes in the gruff, offhanded way that old men do.
I dared to speak his name. “Cal? What is it?”
He sat, shaking his head over and over. “Where have you been?” he whispered. “Where have you been all my life?”
I didn’t know whether he was being sarcastic, or whether I had said something that hit a tender nerve in him. I answered the only way I could. “Waiting for you. Admiring you from afar.”