A New Year Note to the Man Who Saved Her
A million years ago there was this woman. A girl really, just 18, and the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. I thought I was going to save her from a life in the bars.
It was a purely selfish ambition. “Saving her from a life in the bars” meant “sleeping with her every night,” so I was no hero. There were plenty of people I could have saved without sleeping with them. Charities I could have given money to, schools I could have volunteered in. I could have saved her without sleeping with her, but I did not.
After the first night with her I was in love. Even that was selfish, of course. She was never in love with me, although I think she liked me. I didn’t care if she loved me or not; I was focussed entirely on my own feelings. I have never since felt for anyone else what I felt for her. Every moment with her was a joy. I thought it would go on forever.
It went on for five months and ten days and then she fell in love with somebody else. Not somebody who could save her from the bars. Not somebody who even wanted to. Just a good looking man closer to her own age.
She left me and we never saw each other again, except for one brief glimpse of her I caught in a restaurant when she was pregnant with her first child. By that time she had met and married another man, a wealthy man, and a good man apparently, because they’ve stayed married for these million years.
He’s given her an amazing life. A grand home, beautiful children, and travel all over the world. I think they are happy together. Certainly she has been saved from the bars.
My life in those million years has been one dreary failure after another. Immediately after the love of my life dumped me I married somebody else, somebody I never loved, another selfish decision since I figured that if I didn’t love her she couldn’t hurt me. I have paid the karma price for that selfish decision every day since.
At the new year we look back at our lives and take stock. I don’t regret trying to save that girl from the bars, and I don’t regret falling in love with her. In fact, it was the falling in love with her that elevated that decision to “save” her from something selfish into something sublime. The memory of her smile and her eyes has comforted me on a million years of lonely days and nights, including this one.
This year, for the first time in the million new years that I have been remembering her smile and her eyes, I wondered what I would say to the man who truly saved her, if I had the chance. I’ve never had that thought before. Usually I try not to think about him. When I’m remembering her smile and her eyes I feel like I’m doing this man a disservice, this man who I’ve never met and have no reason to dislike.
For that reason, the first thing that comes to mind to say to him is, “thank you.” It turned out that I was not meant to save anybody. I could not even save myself from poverty and despair. This man gave her a life that anybody would envy. Not just a life that women working in bars in Thailand would envy, but one that anybody anywhere would envy. I know that my ex-wife would gladly kill somebody for a taste of that life.
Beyond “thank you,” I wouldn’t have much to say to this man, I guess. I’d have questions, though.
“What has it been like?” I’d ask him. What was it like to wake up next to her every day? What was it like teaching her to drive? How did her first efforts in a Western kitchen turn out? What was it like the first time you saw her holding your child to her breast? What does she sound like speaking English with your accent instead of mine? What is she like when she cries?
In the five months and ten days we lived together she never cried.
Don’t mind me, I might say to the Man Who Saved Her. For a million years I’ve been thinking of that girl I tried to save every day, looking at old photos of her every few months, dreaming of her a couple times a year. But the girl I loved, and still love, is not your wife. I love a girl who reads comic books and listens to Tongchai MacIntire. A girl who is trying to finish high school in night classes. A girl who has never tasted alcohol. I love a girl who has not existed for a million years.
I have never met your wife. I would not know how to speak to her if I ever met her. She would probably not recognize me if she met me. The woman I dream of and your wife share a first name, and the smile and the eyes are probably the same, but that’s all.
So give me this little thing, Man Who Saved Her. My pathetic inability to let go of my past is not your problem. You’re the hero, and you get the hero’s reward. I don’t grudge you that. I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude, hell, I’d give you a kidney if you needed one. So let me have my slim volume of old photographs. Let me have the pain when I hear the songs that were played over and over in the bars that year, because feeling pain is better than feeling nothing. Don’t tell me to get over it. Don’t tell me to move on.
Just keep on saving her, please. And happy New Year.