“I don’t think he loves me anymore,” I say, buttering a warm piece of bread.
The bread basket is almost empty, but the waiter will bring us another. We’ll say we regret ordering more. It will ruin our appetite. But we’ll eat more bread gleefully—slathering yellow smears of animal fat on empty carbohydrates.
My oldest friend and I meet biweekly for lunch, mainly at restaurants with ferns whose menus have more pages than contemporary novels.
“I don’t think he loves me anymore,” I repeat, trying to look sad. I wonder on some level if I care. “The signs are all there. He’s losing interest . . .”
“Don’t overact,” my friend replies, picking at her chicken salad.
“I can’t sleep. And when I can, I dream about very strange things.”
“Dreams mean nothing. Even daydreams, for that matter,” she said, bitterly stabbing a crouton. “Things just are the way they are. Accept reality and move on.” She still wasn’t over her second divorce.
“You know I come from a long line of mystics,” I brag.
“You come from a long line of alcoholics,” she replies. “And interpreting alcoholic-induced visions seldom pans out. Trust me on this.” To make her point, she drains her own wine glass and then mine.
“You know most physicists believe the past, present, and future all happen at the same time. Maybe I am warning myself from the future?”
She gives me a pained look. “Stop it.”
“No, seriously. Einstein said that time distinction is a ‘stubbornly persistent illusion.’ I think dreams are our own selves sending back advice, just at the moment we need it the most!” I am excited about my deduction. It all seems to make sense.
“Fine. Then he doesn’t love you. In fact, he has already dumped your ass, and you have already gotten over him. In fact, you have decided in the distant past to avoid him entirely. Congratulations! You have saved yourself another broken heart, and you have saved me another circular conversation about whether or not your current boyfriend loves you at this particular moment in time.”
“Aren’t you clever?” I sulk.
“What do you want me to say? That the universe sends us omens and portents to help us see into the future?”
“Yes. Say exactly that. Then ask me about my dreams,” I reply.
“The universe doesn’t even know your name, let alone care who kisses you goodnight and if they will pledge their undying love to you. You are alone in a mortal world and coping with persistent existential despair. Join the rest of us in finding distractions until death. Netflix works for me.”
“You don’t believe in anything,” I say, shocked, and a little hurt.
“I don’t believe in anything,” she fires back, turning to see the waiter edge up on our table, ready to be of service, unlike the uncaring universe. “Oh hello there, I believe I will have another glass of Chardonnay.”
“You don’t want to hear about my dreams, then?” I try again.
“Do I want you to ramble on about disassociated symbols and memories all jumbled together in a nonsensical story with no point that you’ll torture into some sort of self-deceiving prediction? Absolutely.”
“You’re having fun at my expense, aren’t you?”
“No,” she said. “And I’m actually picking up the tab today. But do go on.”
“When he didn’t call me last week, I dreamt I was bald,” I whisper, as if the fates would hear me. I didn’t want to call down my own doom.
“You are perimenopausal. You’re going to lose some hair.”
“But BALD? I can’t go bald.” I pat my head, ensuring my hair is still there. “But baldness represents loss. I am going to lose him.”
“Bald is beautiful, baby. Besides, bald symbolizes transformation. Maybe you are ready to move on? Like a newborn baby or a military recruit or Buddhist monk. Shave your head. Figuratively, please. You would NOT look good bald.”
The waiter takes our plates and, of course, we order dessert. Salads followed by cheesecake balances everything out in the cosmic scheme of things.
“And lately,” I remark, mouthful of cheesecake, “I am dreaming of shoes.”
“What type of shoes?”
“It doesn’t matter what kind. Shoes are for leaving. He wants to leave me. It couldn’t be more clear.”
“Oh, I think it could be,” she sighs, rolling her eyes. “Are they baby shoes? Maybe he wants to have a child? He doesn’t have any. You have two from your first marriage.”
“I’m too old to have a child,” I retort.
“That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want them.”
My mouth snaps shut.
“Are you dreaming of high heels or stilettos? Chinese lotus shoes? Dorothy’s ruby slippers? Cinderella’s glass slippers? Flip flops?”
“I don’t know. Just shoes,” I say, defensively.
“You are quite the oracle,” she laughs. “If you believe in the power of dreams, maybe pay a little closer attention to your own.”
“What does it matter,” I pout. “He’s either going to leave me or he isn’t.”
“Exactly. Welcome to the Land of the Stoics. What is, is.”
I brood, chopping up the graham cracker crust like a three-year-old with my knife. It feels good to stab something.
“I liked him,” I say.
“You liked the idea of him. You probably just dreamed up another fantasy castle. Fun to imagine, hard to live in. A dream. An illusion,” she explains matter-of-factly.
“What if this life is an illusion?” I query. Two can play this game. “What if when we die, we awake into a truer reality? Or at least, a better dream.”
“What if your overthinking everything has driven every man from your life? No one wants to think that much . . . about anything.”
“But dreams have to mean something, don’t they?”
“No,” she shook her head slowly. “No, they do not. Your brain is not a ouija board.”
“Don’t base your life choices merely on electrical brain impulses pulling down random memories. In the words of Gertrude Stein, there is no there, there.”
I decide she is right, but I remain stubborn.
“What if we just never wake up,” I sigh. “That seems preferable right now.”
“Well,” my dear friend smiles. “Then ordering this chocolate raspberry cheesecake won’t matter much either way.”