(About a 5 minute read)
I was disappointed, when I arrived at the coffee shop many years ago, to see Chris standing outside, talking with an impossibly beautiful young woman, for I wanted to visit with him, but I was reluctant to interrupt what looked like an easy-going, friendly conversation.
Nevertheless, Chris waved me over.
After he and I exchanged pleasantries, he introduced me, “This is my half-sister, Marah”. Marah immediately burst into a smile as bright as the day was sunny, we briefly greeted each other, Chris spoke again, and so I turned back to him. And that was almost the full extent of my introduction to Marah.
She disappeared from my consciousness almost at once after we’d exchanged pleasantries — disappeared until a few minutes later when, for some reason I can no longer recall, I suddenly got to wondering how old she was.
I thought it would be awkward to straight-forward ask her because the question would most likely seem to her to come from out of the blue, so I asked Chris how old he was.
“By the way, Chris, I’ve forgotten how old you said you were. I’m 39.” He told me he was 19, and then, after a moment’s pause, Marah pitched in, “I’m 16.”
Mission accomplished. And that was all of it, the whole introduction. I didn’t see Marah again for about a year. One day she showed up at the coffee shop again, and we soon began hanging out with each other daily.
“Hanging out” consisted almost entirely of sitting together at the shop, mostly in the afternoons, and usually at one of the sidewalk tables. Typically, we’d engage each other in idle conversations. The conversations were so idle in fact that it took me a fairly long time to realize Marah was just as bright as she was beautiful. Not only was she bright, but she was quite level-headed, too. Not a bit of the drama queen about her.
Yet, just about the same moment I realized Marah was exceptionally bright, she suddenly quit coming to the coffee shop again.
I can no longer recall whether it was one, or two, years before she showed up after that, but we got to hanging out again, until — once again — she disappeared for a year or more. And so it went with her and me for several years.
Then one night, when Marah was about 24 or so, and “back in town”, so to speak, she was visiting me at my place when something very strange happened.
It began this way: First, for some godawful reason, I spent a couple hours uncharacteristically holding back my need to pee until almost the last possible moment. Finally, I rose up from chair, intending on making a straight path to the bathroom. But at that moment, Marah suddenly shot up from the floor, where she’d been sitting, and intercepted me.
She wrapped her arms around me in a very tight embrace, and pressed her half-turned face into my chest. In a slightly raised voice, she said very emphatically, “I love you, Paul! I have always loved you!”
Her words were indeed so emphatic that, even though I was quite surprised, I instinctively believed her.
Then, the dumbest words came to my mind. And perhaps because I was in a hurry, I didn’t waste time searching for any better ones. “I know you do. Please excuse me for a moment.”
When I got back, I added to the mess I was making of things by deciding to pretend nothing had happened between us. Marah waited about 30 more minutes, then said her goodbyes and left. Afterwards, we saw each other now and then, but Marah had put distance between us.
Why had I turned her down that night? You might suppose it had something to do with our gap in ages, but that would not be the case. I knew even then of more than one happy marriage between couples 20 years apart, including an exceptionally happy one. While I knew such marriages have their own unique difficulties, I also knew those difficulties were not always crucial.
Most likely, it wasn’t my celibacy, either. My celibacy has never been a matter of having vowed to be celibate. It’s always been a matter of having felt a need or desire to be celibate. I can’t be sure, but I think it’s likely I would not have felt a need to be celibate with Marah — had I bothered to check my heart on the matter that evening.
Rather than any of that, it was that I simply thought I knew better than Marah what was best for Marah.
When she said, “I love you!”, she said it with such emotion that I instantly believed her.
Yet, by the time I returned from the bathroom, I was suspecting she didn’t know her own heart — an adult woman who was almost certainly smarter than me, and at least possibly more insightful — only because she was so much younger.
I don’t know whether to properly call that “arrogance”, but I think it might have been close to it. It wasn’t like I made my decision based on my own feelings and desires in the matter; I didn’t even take a real moment to consult my own feelings and desires. No, so far as I can still recall nowadays, I decided to reject Marah solely on the basis of feeling I knew her heart better than she did because I held myself to be older and wiser than her.
Were her words really sincere? Of course, I’m unlikely to ever know a firm answer to that because it’s unlikely now that I’ll ever be in a position to ask her. We haven’t seen each other in years, and even if we do meet again, it’s unlikely I’ll feel comfortable bringing up that evening again.
On the one hand, Marah had given me a few hints now and then that she could be interested in me as more than only a friend. She’d once or twice passionately kissed me, for example. But on the other hand, they weren’t great hints, and if her words really were true, then why had she stayed away from me for such long stretches of time?
If Marah really did love me, I have to conclude she hid it even better than she hid her exceptional intelligence. Most of us have at one time or another in our lives hidden our love — or at least hidden our attraction — for someone. It’s quite a common thing to do. I can’t put it entirely past Marah to have done that. And so, it must forever remain a mystery to me what was really going on with her that evening.
Which raises a question to my mind, “When, if ever, is it a good or necessary thing to hide one’s love for someone from them?” Your thoughts, feelings, and insights are welcome. Please weigh in!