Though I knew her name, when I referred to her in later years I called her Sabina, after the character in the Kundera novel. To me she was the personification of carefreeness and irresponsibility. She lived a vagabond life in which she travelled at every opportunity and found every reason to leave the city in which she grew up. The city in which we both had grown up, but to me it was never anything to escape from. I had always been content in my regulated life: a shitty basement apartment, a 9-5 job that I didn’t like and a history of women who had hurt and discarded me. But then, that was the whole point of being a grown up, wasn’t it?
Sabina didn’t agree.
She warred against the sort of lifestyle I had allowed myself to fall into without question. She refused it and continued to refuse it despite how likely it seemed that she would regret the decision. She had found herself penniless and riding the couches of friends and acquaintances for months at a time; she was often unemployed and working menial jobs well below her intellect; when she was in the city, she was at the mercy of her sole surviving family member: her mother, who habitually berated her vagabond lifestyle and unkindly begged her to stop being an embarrassment to the family name.
And despite all that, Sabina did as she pleased.
I learned much later that she would cope with troubles like her mother by hiding in the bathrooms of diners, pubs or cafes and weeping. She was prone to tears at the drop of a hat should the trigger be just right. She was a well of emotions and an unashamed slave to them all, but she guarded these emotions like treasure. She never revealed what was in her heart or soul unless she felt it relevant. It was through her writing that her deepest secrets were revealed and even then she hid them under layers and layers of fiction.
So, with that as my first introduction to Sabina, it’s no surprise that I was skeptical of her entire being. She had eschewed traditional monogamous relationships and wasn’t interested in maintaining a primary partner of any sort. She dated and fucked and was led solely by her libido and heart, and was the girlfriend of no less than two guys at any given time. These boyfriends of hers she treated as if they were the only ones in the world for her. She was equally devoted to them all and, in return, they all to her. She never loved any of them, though many fell in love with her, but she adored every one of them.
When she met me, I had just ended a five-year relationship and was feeling liberated. Sabina was just what I needed not only because she was so carefree and open but because she was the exact opposite of my ex-girlfriend. The first time we met, we spent the evening talking nonstop. I couldn’t stop staring at her and constantly told her she was beautiful, and she would always respond the same way: “You just think that because I’m your rebound.” There was no malice in the statement, it was just fact, though I denied it vigorously. She would just smile and swirl the straw in her drink.
We spent as much time as possible together over the next couple of weeks, and when I one day impulsively asked her to be my girlfriend, she agreed without a second thought. “As long as you remember that I’m non-monogamous,” she stated and in my glee, I agreed. I had thought about this and figured that I probably wouldn’t get to have her to myself. I’d never tried anything like this before, but I was so infatuated with her I was willing to try.
“I’ll deal,” I told her. “And if I can’t, then I’m just gonna have to put my foot down and woo you ’til you’re mine.”
She laughed at that and I saw a tiny hint of red creep into her cheeks. What she hid with her silence her body betrayed, and it pleased me to have such an effect on this woman. We entered into a glorious time in both our lives where we saw each other whenever possible, made love and fucked whenever we felt like it, talked about everything in the world, fought just to make up again, danced together regardless of whether or not there was music in the air — I marvelled at my luck at having found someone for whom I could fall so soon after my breakup.
It wasn’t going to last.
I didn’t know it, but Sabina knew it from the start. While together, it felt as if we were alone in the world and fell into each other’s step so flawlessly, we wondered where we had been in each other’s lives. But when apart, I was tortured with thoughts of her whereabouts. I obsessed over the other guys she was with and how she acted with them, whether she was the same with them as she was with me, how they fucked her, how they touched her where I had touched her, how I would be touching her where they had touched her. I didn't believe that she could have the same level of emotion for all of us equally, despite what she said. There must be some she liked more than others and it killed me that I wasn’t top dog. I had spent my life being second fiddle or just some guy to girls, and I would be damned if I would walk into that situation wearing a name tag that announced it. So, I broke it off.
“I was 90% sure that you were going to end it,” she replied with a forced laugh. “I was expecting it, but it still hurts.” Again, there was no malice in her words.
She did most of the talking. I heard her soliloquy abut her feelings for me and what I had meant to her, how she had tried to make me see that I wasn’t just another dick to her but had failed. I didn’t realize it then, but she was bestowing a great honour upon me just by revealing these small tidbits about herself. No other guy had been allowed to hear her innermost thoughts and opinions on him before, during or after their relationship, but for some reasons she exposed herself to me and I sat there impatiently waiting for her to finish.
“You know, I could’ve fallen in love with you,” she concluded. “I guess I’m glad it ended before my feelings got that deep.”
I don’t remember what I said in response — something undeserving of her, I bet — and left her. That was the last time I spoke with her.
Over the years I’ve heard her name mentioned now and then from friends and acquaintances who happened to know someone who happened to know her. Sometimes I would see her at parties or bars, but we never talked. The first time we happened to find ourselves at the same event, she greeted me brightly, but I ignored her. Since then, she kept her distance and I was glad. I started seeing someone new and fell back into the traditional monogamous lifestyle I was used to, but there was something off about it all. What had satisfied me before no longer did now and at first I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Then I saw Sabina at a bar one night with a new fella and the way she stared at him continuously with a smile, the way she ran her thumb gently along his cheek, the way she allowed him to rub her thigh under the table, all that brought back a wave of memories with her. My new girlfriend didn’t stare longingly at me like Sabina had done. She never told me she found me attractive, something Sabina never failed to point out. My new girlfriend played games and could be emotionally manipulative, and I had allowed it all, believing it came with the territory, until I saw Sabina interact with that man of hers and realized I could have had it so much better. Or rather, I did have it so much better and I had thrown it away.
Watching her pour affection over this new man, I suddenly became aware of how much Sabina had actually felt for me. She had carelessly mentioned that I had inspired her to write some stories and poems. She complimented me selflessly, truly meaning every word. She never lied and she never made me guess what she was thinking. She was open with me from the beginning and I had thrown it all away because of my own insecurities. It no longer mattered that I wasn’t her only boyfriend, it no longer mattered that I would have to share her, it only mattered that she had felt something for me and I extinguished it before it could fully blossom. She could and would sleep with whomever she chose, but she couldn’t help who she fell for and, for some reason, she had fallen for me.
And now, she can be nothing more to me than a lesson learned.