“I attend Catholic service every Sunday,” my date said, beaming proudly across the table.
My gut told me to leave after the appetizer: I was raised in communist Bulgaria by atheists who taught me to associate religion with mental dullness. I have no friends who believe in God or go to church. But after living in California for a decade, I had been working on “opening myself up to the universe” and being less judgmental. So I stayed.
The fact that Andrew had thick black hair, wore a cool gray blazer with a fringe trim, and had manners that were a perfect balance of continental blue blood and rugged American utility helped. But what really drew me in were his eyes, blue and intense, emotional and honest, as if he knew a deep truth. Jedi eyes, a friend later said.
Andrew was a Texan. He had the grounded dignity of a man who knew where his roots were and knew where he was going. He mispronounced “charcuterie” and wasn’t embarrassed when the server corrected him. Instead, he smiled openly.
The long line of depressed, foreign, sometimes stateless atheist intellectuals I had dated in my 20s and 30s paraded through my mind: an exiled Kurdish journalist; a theoretical physicist from Cuba; a South African composer; a French-speaking Pakistani American economics professor.
Like these men, I had no childhood home in America, no buried ancestors to come to earth for me, no young cousins or nephews to tie me to their future. I didn’t go to birthday parties, family gatherings, Christmas dinners or Easter brunches. My mother thought that Mother’s Day only served to further enslave women and promote the patriarchy, so we didn’t celebrate that either. These men I mentioned and shared sexual chemistry, aesthetic sensibilities, and an understanding of the world as an ultimately dark and suffering place. We hurt each other because we hurt each other.
I think I saw Andrew rooting happily I was really looking forward to it.
For our next date, I invited him to Irish actress Lisa Dwan’s performance of three short Beckett plays staged in complete darkness. He didn’t seem interested in the “blinding exposure” of “existence as a wound” (as described in The Times), but he came anyway. He wanted to stand out in the dark. It felt refreshing.
On our third date, he came home with me. Sex was carnal and connected. We liked it. We would fall in love easily.
In the morning, Andrew woke up early. It was Sunday. “I’ll go to the early church service and come back to breakfast,” he said.
As I lay in the wrinkled, sweaty sheets, I texted friends, “My date left my bed to go to church. Church! What do I do? I actually like him.” Confused Emoji
Text messages from friends rang again. My neighbor Ryan said, “Is he a Christian? You know what to do: let him go.” My brother accused me of being a moral relativist. My closest friend refused, “How religious can he really be if he stays with you?” My mother later said that if we liked her, she might come to see the “right way”.
At breakfast, Andreu was happy. He ordered a Sloppy Joe and told me that a young Latino, former band member, had spoken at the service. He had survived six shots, two to the head. His survival was a miracle, part of God’s greater plan. I was scared, although I liked that Andrew had compassion for this man.
Perhaps he was envious that Andrew felt secure in the belief that human suffering had a greater purpose, that a kind and intelligent God had figured it out, and we just had to trust. Andrew had someone to catch him if he fell. I didn’t do it. I had never had it.
When I was 11 years old, the Bulgarian communist government that was supposed to last forever collapsed, leaving us without teachers, school books, jobs, heat or food. Three years later, when we moved to America, my family fell apart with my parents’ divorce. When I was 20, my father took his own life. He was now 36 years old. In the decades to come, my friends would begin to get sick and die, and at some point I too would sink. There was no greater plan.
One day I opened Google News. The state of Texas did not allow transgender students in schools to use the bathrooms they wanted. Andrew said: “The whole transgender thing… I’m against it. It’s like: Pick a side.”
He believed that a person was randomly born into a country, a family, a gender. Why did it have to be bound for life by an accident of geography or biology?
I realized that the rift between Andrew’s worldview and mine was so deep that there was no common ground, just two tectonic plates moving in opposite directions. You couldn’t build a house with that.
Contrary to what my new age yoga teachers said: go with the flow, open up to the universe, the things I had chosen to ignore (my judgement, if you will) did it matters because they communicated an internal ideology, a hierarchy of values that permeated and even guided what one thought and did. A person interested in Beckett would probably not believe that transgender surgeries were wrong. In trying to “open myself to the universe,” I had betrayed my own intuition.
After breaking up with him, Andrew persevered. He left concert tickets and books on my porch. I asked him to stop. He said exchanging books was “nice.” Hoping to find me and persuade me to be together, he started crashing my friends’ happy hours. In his own way, maybe he was fighting for me. But he wasn’t listening to me. He seemed to have a bigger plan for me.
The author is a Bulgarian-born short story writer and teacher of Russian language and literature. She lives in Los Angeles. He is currently finishing his first novel.
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