I continued to take many courses in psychology, but none again with Bellagio. Yet his theory of desire—that desire is about what we can't have—consumed me as I began to have a spate of crushes. My teaching assistant in philosophy was a graduate student from Vienna I'll call Fabian. Of course I realize now that he was a guy on the make, but to me he seemed a romantic hero. Fabian had full, sensual lips set against skin so pale it seemed bloodless as paper, which lent him a slightly macabre cast (think Edward Scissorhands). With his greasy black hair falling into his eyes, his heavy brooding over tomes of philosophy, and a thick accent—which to my sophomore ears made the most banal of utterances sound as if he were reciting Goethe—he might as well have been Lord Byron himself.
One day at a philosophy class party, Fabian approached me as I sat in a wing chair. He leaned against it. In the background someone exclaimed, "This California beach town is a haven!"
"What is this haven? What does this mean, haven?" Fabian turned and bent toward me.
"It's a kind of...well...shelter, but a paradise too."
Fabian squatted, moved in close, and said, "Oh, I see. It is like..." He searched my face, staring intently, meaningfully, as if to imply "like love." It was a cheap and easy move, and I'm embarrassed that I fell for it. The truth is that it took me wholly off guard. I'd never met a man whose manner was so forward and suggestive. I was thrilled.
It wasn't long before Fabian and I were spending romantic evenings together—first we went to a movie, where he began kissing me during the opening credits. He kissed me throughout the entire movie, for that matter. Then I took him to the boardwalk and introduced him to the roller coaster. When I think back on those dates, they seem like an interlude in a corny movie—music plays, swells with emotion, the couple walk along the beach and kiss and kiss and smile into each other's eyes. They ride a roller coaster and laugh with abandon as they try to kiss and hold on to each other even as they are being rocked about.
That night changed the way I experienced the sea, the night air. It was as if someone had lifted a film from my eyes, my skin, my senses. I saw the realness of things, the very magic of existence.
"I can see why you like the roller coaster," Fabian said, as we sat on the sand. His cheeks were still flushed. He smiled into my face and studied me as if he had a new respect for me. I felt wholly other—seen anew. I felt admired, and that is what being with him was about, a longing to discover who I could be when I was with him (older, philosophical, European, cosmopolitan). It was as if, with him, I could walk into someone else's skin, or walk out of my own. I was leaving behind the college sophomore, leaving behind my hometown suburbs, leaving behind the depression and failure of those last months with Daniel. Oddly, the more I felt myself a new person with Fabian, the more differently I acted, as if his imagination was bringing me alive. I found myself saying clever things, teasing him, taking risks, and acting in a way I never had.
After our first date, I remembered Bellagio's theory about romance and the market, that we chase an idea. But this was no illusion. What I felt now seemed an attraction to a something so outside of myself. Fabian was no illusion. He was a current running through me, a force, a power, a necessity, like electricity. On our next date, he brought a thermos of martinis to Seacliff, where we sat on craggy rocks watching a swollen sun drop into the ocean. Afterward we made out in his car. He let me off at my apartment.
We Hear You!