There was this one time when Flora broke up with me. Well, kind of. It was more one of those "I'm pissed at you right now" kind of break ups. I couldn't remember exactly what I did. My insecurity at the time probably made me say something shitty or attempt to force her into being someone she wasn't. Either way, she felt trapped and the only way out was space from me. I spent days trying to devise ways on how to win her back.
Sunday, November 27, 2022
The "First" Date.
People love Rio because it's a place where beaches are a short walk away. There people go to clear their minds and find resolution to their problems. My place was in the center of Rio de Janeiro at Livaria Cultura - a bookstore that was built inside of an old movie theatre. That was my spot. They had bean bags posted throughout the store for people to sit and read, and I always took naps there but the staff never said anything. It was probably the place that brought me the most peace in Rio, so logically I went there.
I browsed the store, looking for something romantic. Maybe a book of poetry. Maybe a photography catalog of love throughout the ages. I didn't know. Then I stumbled upon it: Princess Mononoke.
For those who have never dived into solid anime films, Princess Mononoke is Hayao Miyazaki's 7th film and essentially catalogs the battle between nature and technology. The film's protagonist is a prince who is seeking cure from a demon's curse that will eventually kill him. He stumbles upon a village in the middle of the forest that is led by a fierce woman named Lady Eboshi. Lady Eboshi takes care of lepers with grace and generosity, and treats everyone in the village with dignity. There is a strong loyalty for her in the community as they extract natural resources with the intention of progressing society.
On the opposite end is Princess Mononoke, a human named San who was raised by wolves. She leads the resistance of the forest and often charges against the village with battalions of wolves, boars and other forest creatures. Her mission is preservation of the forest and views the presence of the village as a threat to that mission. There the battle is set.
The prince, in the meanwhile, is in the middle of it all. He understands Lady Eboshi and falls in love with San. He actually saves his own life by telling San she is beautiful.
This was me and Flora's movie. I somehow managed to find the film with Portuguese subtitles and the first time I showed it to her was the first time I saw her absolutely enthralled by a film. It was also the first time I saw her get visibly angry in a discussion.
"The villagers are INVADING the forest. All they want is destruction," she told me.
"But the villagers don't view it that way. They view it that they are moving society forward," I said. "And look at the way Lady Eboshi treats the lepers. She's not 100% bad."
"But that's all fake! It's all in their own interest! Look at how they kill the animals!"
"And what about Princess Mononoke? Her and the animals kill too."
"They kill to maintain the peace!"
"No!" I shot back. "That is not peace. The only person in the film that wants peace is the prince. Because he wants them all to stop fighting."
That line caught her off guard and ended the discussion, though I don't think it completely change her mind.
All of this came back to me as I stood there in Livaria Cultura that day, seeing what I saw: a t-shirt with Princess Mononoke licking blood off her arm and a giant wolf behind her. They had it in white for men, yellow for women. I picked one up for each of us and a DVD of the movie itself.
That Saturday I went to the organic market where we first met and found her working as she does every Saturday. We started by exchanging pleasantries - how was each of us doing, how was so-and-so doing, etc. I then pulled her aside and handed her the DVD, neatly wrapped in plain brown butcher paper.
"This is a present for you," I said. "Open it when you have time."
She opened it right on the spot and her eyes widened. I then pulled out the shirt from behind my back and showed it to her. I swear I saw a little hop in her reaction, but she toned it down because I think she was still upset with me.
"I have the same shirt," I said. "Maybe one day if we go out together, we can wear it at the same time. It can be like a first date?"
She rolled her eyes playfully. "Okay, maybe."
Two days later she called me, asking if I wanted to go somewhere.
"Sure, but you know what my requirements are," I said to her.
"What?" she asked.
"Then I guess we're not going out."
"FINE. Come here at 5"
I knocked the door at her apartment a few hours later. She wasn't wearing the shirt.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"I'm NOT wearing the shirt," she said again.
"Oh well, then I guess I'm going home." I turned around, motioning as if I was going down the stairs.
"FINE!" she shouted and marched into another room to change. Her twin sister Lilah was sitting on the couch witnessing the entire interaction.
"Flora hasn't been able to stop talking about wearing the same shirt with you for the past two days," Lilah said. "She's super excited."
"You shut up!" Flora yelled as she zoomed out and punched Lilah in the arm.
Lilah began laughing hysterically and the whole scene goes down as one of my favorite memories in life. After the scuffle, Flora turned and went, "There. You happy?"
I bowed by head slightly in approval and made a gesture with my hands for her to lead the way. She strutted past me and I shot a glance at Lilah who had a giant grin on her face.
At this time Flora was getting around town on a moped, further confirming that I had the coolest girlfriend in all of Rio de Janeiro. She handed me a helmet and I sat behind her, grasping the handlebars on the back of the seat. I decided upon a Lebanese restaurant in Botafogo, a place I stumbled across a few weeks earlier with friends. I can't remember much of the conversation, just that we both enjoyed it. We didn't touch upon why she was upset with me in the first place. It wasn't that I was avoiding it, just that she never brought it up. Instead, we talked about life, about dreams, about where and what we wanted to be when we grew older. It was actually very much "first date" conversation material.
As we were finishing our meal, I motioned down the waiter and asked if he would take a picture of the two of us. He gladly complied.
"Yeah, she's like really excited about the two of us wearing the same shirt, so she's been bugging me to get a picture of this all night," I said to him. "This whole shirt thing was her idea by the way."
He just nodded with a grin and took the picture. Surprisingly, Flora did not have any objection to my words. That was at least until he left.
"What the hell?!" she says, punching me in the arm more times than I could count. I sort of dashed away laughing, leaving her head shaking, wondering what the hell she was doing with me that night.
As we readied ourselves to leave, she asked if I wanted to drive the moped. I told her that that was probably not a good idea since I didn't have the first clue on how to do so. She told me that it was simple, and that I'd pick it up quickly cuz I'm smart. I didn't know if that was true, but I did know that it would have ruined the date if I didn't try, so I did.
It started out a bit rocky, but she was right, I got the hang of it. She even convinced me to get onto the freeway and the combination of speed and wind against my face was probably the closest physical embodiment I've felt to freedom. And I'll always remember as we rode through the downtown tunnel with amber lights flickering above us, she squeezed her arms tighter around my waist, and laid her head upon my back. In that moment, I thought to myself: "This is all I want out of life."
My scheme to win her back had worked, at least for the remainder of my time in Rio. Sometimes it hurts to know that even memories like this were not enough to keep us together, but at the same time, she is Princess Mononoke and I am the prince. The two of them do not end up together at the end of the film. Instead, they use the essence of each other to propel themselves further down their intended paths, perfectly fine with the way fate decided to write their stories.