'Tink'. The soft sound of metal on metal. Two blades meeting for the first time in a quiet engagement. The prelude to a bout. As a nickname, it fitted her perfectly. A slim blond actress with martial grace. Think of Naomi Watts with a sword in her hand.
I was taking a stage combat class for fun. Of course, within the grand sweeping continuum of unfulfilled-hopes-and-dreams-that-is-Hollywood, this was serious stagecraft for some people. After 19 years of training in competitive fencing, this was nothing like that for me. Surprisingly though, it revealed some unexplored worlds that I had no idea about: sexiness, charisma, style.
I walked into class one day and there she was. Distinctively beautiful, poised and altogether as non-demure and fully in-your-face as any fencer could be. That night, we worked on a scene where she was the hero and we were the bad guys. She got to kick our asses. She looked damn good doing it and she made no secret of how much she reveled in her own power. Almost immediately, irrevocably, I fell in love with her.
I had nothing of her sense of danger, nothing of her need to test boundaries. We went out on only one occasion that could have been misconstrued as romantic. If there was ever a possibility of a mutual tryst, it flared briefly that night and fizzled.
I remember her saying "I could invite you up but I have to get an early night" and as gentlemen like myself have always done, I respected her wishes without the faintest idea of what might really be going on. I professed my interest, asked her out, heard that she was seeing someone else and realized that it was hopeless. I either refused or found myself incapable of giving up, continuing to reach for the unimaginable goal of being with her. The romanticism, suffering, and fantasy fed on deep hidden things. I hated it. I loved it. It caught me up in its clutches and it sure as hell wasn't letting me go.
It was a little disconcerting how she easily accepted my feelings. Who knows? Perhaps she enjoyed the attention. Perhaps she was oblivious. This was untamed and driven psychology. It fed a dark shard of thought that resonated darkly within me, slyly muttering "Why would she want you? Why would anyone want you?"
One time as friends, we were going to a comedy show and I, the man, drove. I picked her up looking forward to spending a nice evening with her. I remember vividly the moment when my car simply conked out at a traffic light near the venue. I felt a flash of panic. I sat, hands frozen on the wheel, breathless and frankly aghast. She calmly reached across me, hit the hazard lights on the dashboard and started to look around for a place to stash the car. She was unbelievably gracious all evening and I was mortified. As I said goodnight, I put her into a taxi and tried to preserve some vestige of bravado. The cause of the breakdown was that I had forgotten to fill up the car and had run out of gas.
Amid all this humiliation, unfulfilled desire and self-loathing, there was a moment, utterly vivid and astonishing clarity. I remember one day I was fighting through tears and feeling quite utterly miserable over her. A quiet soft voice welled up in me and said, quite clearly, "Its OK for you to feel this way. You love her and she doesn't love you back".
It was simply the act of giving permission to be, pronounced internally with a gentleness that makes me soften even now. I remember how the tears retreated, how the clenching knot in my belly untied and how my whole body unwound. It was a moment I will remember forever.
We're still friends, Tink and I. She's still with the same guy, still a free spirit, still beautiful. I now know, that like Cyrano with Roxane, some element of my own self-loathing had needed an external beauty to help in the search redemption. The moment I let all that go was an inflection point of the highest magnitude. It was the moment when my compassion for myself finally outweighed my sense of everything I lacked. In some sense it was the moment the blades came apart, separated and were put back in their scabbards.