The Portside Girl
By Susan Zahn
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“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson Tears, Idle Tears
Once again I find myself waiting alone in a dingy portside cantina. Gods, I must be a glutton for punishment. The air—or what serves for air in this pest hole, anyway—is so thick I can see it. I’d be damned to ever actually have a drink in this place. I honestly believe they reuse the glasses here, and don’t wash them to boot. Of all the times I’ve sat here waiting for Him, I’ve never bought a drink, nor accepted one. Dirty glasses are just an excuse for not wanting any of my sensed dulled. The times that He comes are so painfully rare. I want to be in complete control of all my faculties so I will have memories of the time we shared while He’s away.
During bouts of self-pity, I look at how pathetic my life has become. There was a time when the whole universe seemed open to me, ready for my taking. Name, power, riches, respect—they all were mine. A family that supported my self-styled goals and urged me to put all of my energies into them, which I did. There was a time when I had a future… So why do I spend my so-called “precious time” in a run-down, illegal spacer’s bar? I’m trying to hold onto a part of that past that has suddenly disappeared—maybe because of just those goals I’d set for myself, maybe not. What does it matter? It’s all gone now. Times change, people change. The desperate hopes of one, or even a few, can’t stop the universe from its inevitable course of transformation. I should have know better…but then, what did I know of the delicacies of life, or friendship, or love?
It’s going to be the same again this time. Just like it’s been for the last five years. He’s always late. And like a fool, I’ll wait here for Him. The rational part of me—what’s left of it—keeps telling me to just get up and leave. To forget about Him. He’s making you wait on purpose, I say. He’s hurting you, and you keep coming back for more. Fool! He doesn’t really want you, doesn’t want the afflicted soul of a mere woman to weigh down His own. If only you could forget about Him, then maybe you could try to carry on with your life…
But still I come here, knowing ahead of time when He’ll make port, and I wait. The patrons here have come to expect me; they even reserve this poorly lit booth, knowing I’ll be here, sure as the sun will rise the next morning. I can feel their pity-filled stares. They feel sorry for me, knowing how I still cling to a hope, but also knowing how hopeless my dream truly is. Chalkta’s can’t change their spots. What I want simply wasn’t meant to be. I keep telling myself this, but it does no good. Stubbornness had always been my trademark; now it is my downfall. Poor, pitiful, portside girl.
Most of my colleagues, I’m sure, aren’t aware of my lonely vigils spent in this place. All they see is the cold, emotionless woman who knows nothing but her duty. Some do remember the way I was for that brief time after all our battles had been won and suspect why I’ve become so…distant, but do not mention it to my face. Sometimes I hear, and what makes it so painful is that they are right. “A man’s love made her what she is today,” they have said. “She’s afraid to let that go. She’s afraid to let herself feel again.” Oh dear gods, they couldn’t be more right!
Commitment had never been His style; He’d stated that from the start. Governments were all the same, no matter how better they touted themselves to be. How could He keep true to any commitment and still look out for number one? The odds had been against me from the start, but I’d been blinded by love. I’d never been in love before—true love; love that knew no bounds—and was so totally lost in the wonderful feeling of fulfillment that I couldn’t see from any point of view other than my own. I had tunnel vision.
Oh, how I used to pride myself on my ability to view a situation from every aspect! My proficiency at judging character! My deftness at reading between the lines, yet how could I not see what was happening?
For three years we played a childish game of touch and go. I’m afraid to admit how much I came to enjoy our battle of wits. What had first been a feeling of contempt towards a man who seemed possessed with himself soon became a budding fascination, a growing attraction which I’d thought—no, I’d known!—was mutual. Suddenly the game wasn’t a game anymore, but a serious play of emotions. He knew it but continued, enjoying the erotic tension of poorly veiled passion. By burying myself in my assumed duty at such an early age, I’d never had the chance to find a man to become intimate with. When He began to show true interest, I couldn’t ignore my own need any longer. In Him I began to see everything I’d ever wanted in a man. I saw a tender side to Him; a caring soul beneath His shiny veneer of conceit, and I refused to forget it. I believed I could draw it out of Him, and nurture its growth until it overcame the arrogance. I believed I could help Him save Him from Himself… But then, I was a fool.
I played the game once too often. “Fell” is too inadequate a word to describe what happened to me, the moment He looked at me, or touched me, or kissed me. I was deeply, desperately, stupidly in love with Him. I lived for the moments He was with me, and the times we were apart seemed to last forever… They still do.
I should have known He was too set in His ways; that to expect Him to stick to His commitment and keep His commission was asking too much. Why settle for a stationary, pre-planned life that offered little excitement when the sky had literally been the limit. He’d thrived on excitement, and I’d have realized that, if only I’d bothered to look beyond my own expectations. After all, He was only human, and it’s a known fact that we humans have always been sensation seekers. Can I really blame Him? He did what He felt He had to do to keep His sanity. Only in His pursuit to maintain His saneness I fear I may have lost mine. Why else would I sit here now, waiting? Forever waiting.
The day He finally decided to leave He came to me, trying in an almost desperate way to explain why he had to leave. I listened, and I understood. I had expected Him to give up the only life He knew, and conform to my lifestyle, yet what had I sacrificed? Nothing. It wasn’t the commitment that scared him; it was me.
He never denied His love for me. It was always there. Only lovers have shared the intimate secrets we did, and it was something that even He couldn’t turn His back on. He gave me an address, and a date, and told me He would be back. And He was… Even after five long years of cold, lonely nights, we still meet here.
I think it’s His eyes that keep drawing me back, that make me show up for each “appointment” He plans. That wonderful hazel that magically turned to molten gold whenever He looks at me. I allowed what I saw in those eyes to convince me He had fallen just as hard and as deep. Maybe the eyes are the window to the soul, but all I could see was my shining reflection mirrored there.
You know, it’s been two standard months since I last saw Him. The years have been no kinder to Him. During that last night I spent with Him, I’d found gray hairs more common in that thick head of chestnut--Oh, Gods, how I still love to run my fingers through His hair!--and there were new wrinkles appearing around the corners of His eyes, and new scars to count. If only He had someone to take care of Him…
The same thing happens. He comes to this tavern to pick me up, we go to the Millennium Falcon—Stars, that old freighter still feels like home to me!—and there we spend the entire night making love, as if the universe were about to end. And damned if He doesn’t convince me each time that He actually misses me.
But it’s a pipe dream, all of it. I’m just one girl, in one port, in a galaxy full of them. I would truly be a fool to believe He sees no other woman but me, when women seem to throw themselves at His feet. But sometimes, the way He makes love to me, I almost believe He actually means it. I want to believe. Once He had said as much, and I still refuse to let that go. Yes, that is what keeps me coming back to these painful reunions; deep inside Him, I know, He still loves me and can’t release it any more than I can. Perhaps that is what continues to bring Him back to me. There has to be some reason why He bothers to return so regularly, and arrange our next rendezvous. Does He put such an effort into any of His other relationships? I like to think not.
What hurts most, though, is the next morning. I can’t help it anymore; I begin to cry each time He takes me into His strong arms, for I know it won’t last past morning. He shows real concern, and tries to comfort me, asking what’s wrong, as if it weren’t obvious. I just shake my head, then kiss Him, waiting for His passion to stir my own, until our needs of the moment supersede my sorrow at our inability to sacrifice more than one night to the other. Everlasting love is built upon sacrifices, but both of us are afraid to lay the foundation. Some things never change.
So, once again, I find myself waiting alone in a grimy cantina for a man I know will show, even if He is late. I honestly believe He’s come to depend on me, as much as I have come to depend on Him, for the too infrequent moments of desperate passion in a life that’s become almost pointless; for the needed reminders of the way things used to be, back when there seemed to be a future, a promise. The good old days of glory.
What it’s come down to is our dreams became shadowed by His need for freedom and my need for stability. I guess it’s what you’d call an unspoken agreement, these one-night rendezvous we keep putting ourselves through. It’s a compromise that we hoped wouldn’t be too painful. But nothing is ever achieved by taking the easy way out. By now, both of us should have known that. Lessons learned the hard way, but conveniently forgotten. The story of my life.
Sometimes I dream that one of these times, when He deigns to grant me a night of loving, He will offer me a part of His life, either at His side on the Falcon, or wherever He’s decided to spend the rest of His life. That someday, He’ll take me away from this self-designed prison I’ve unwittingly constructed for myself. Rescue me once again and make me happier than I could ever have imagined…
Ah, if only dreams could come true.