“What’s really messed up is that we’ll probably never master self-regulation of the brain,” Len said while taking a bite from his crepe. “We know all of the neurotransmitters. Regular exercise, emphasis on positive thoughts, and some exposure to sunshine can help reduce depression. Studies show ways of delaying the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s, and the public doesn’t care — people remain ignorant and the rich pharmaceuticals get richer manipulating body chemistries to the point of complete dependence on a line of products on which people spend credit they don’t have. It’s your turn, by the way.”
I cut away the last syrup-soaked part of my pancake, stuffed it in my mouth, and reached for my light square bishop. I was careless earlier, and now the entire head was sticky; there was no Original Maple on the dish, but it smothered my fork handle and several of my pieces.
“I think it’s likely you can understand yourself enough, but you’re oversimplifying one of the most complex subjects known to science. Even if we knew everything, I can’t formulate my actions in my 20s to prevent Huntington’s. ”
“We can alter children’s diets to prevent type 2 diabetes, and we can subconsciously suggest realities to those susceptible and completely twist their decision making processes. One’s chemical, one’s psychological, and all I’m saying is that combining both together for self-medication isn’t crazy, only problematic for money mongerers.” He wiped the crumbs from his mountain man’s beard and moved his queen across the board. The game was over, it was mate in 3.
We packed up the set and left just as peak breakfast time transformed our favorite IHOP into a warzone, shuffled into Len’s 1998 Honda Civic, and got on the highway north toward the mountains. It had been two months since we hiked our usual trail, and we were eager to be among our Eastern Hemlocks and Hickory Pines, though Len will swear he only wants to check up on the fox den.
“So Mel told me she loved me yesterday,” I blurted. We had just started our ascent but Len looked like he was about to fall down the little part we covered.
“Well that was quick, it’s been four months?”
“How did you respond?”
“I said I liked how this is going, but I’m not going to say something that I’m not completely sure of. Just like you wouldn’t build a house on a shitty foundation, you don’t base a relationship off a possible lie like that.”
“You can build on shitty foundation,” he said, detached. “It was probably only a temporary living arrangement anyway, and with your salary you’re well on your way to a McMansion.”
“She wasn’t happy. Yesterday was the first time we talked in three days.”
“I don’t care what good you say you see in that woman; you gave a perfectly reasonable explanation on why you didn’t want to use the L-word and instead of respecting the fact that you care about her enough to be truthful and not placate her on such a strong subject, she doesn’t talk to you for half a week.”
The higher we climbed, the more Len’s agitation took control of his mannerisms. He would go into convulsions when we reach the peak if the trend continued.
“I might love her,” I mumbled. I immediately wished I didn’t because Len looked as though he would spontaneously combust. “It’s just not something I can answer back without giving it serious thought.”
“Even if you decided today that you loved her, your two loves would be different. Yours would be the result of deep self-reflection, whereas hers is all oxytocin.” This seemed to strike an unexpected chord with Len, who completely missed the fox den he was so set on seeing. “Love is so philosophical in typing to begin with and I don’t even want to deal with that beast, but the true love that we idealize in movies and Nicholas Sparks novels, the love that sees you imagining yourself growing old with someone, that happens when both sides experience the same type, and that can’t happen with you and Mel.”
“How do you know she didn’t take her own time to reach those conclusions before she told me?” I asked. “What if her convictions are so strong that she has no problem admitting a conclusion of that magnitude whenever she feels like it?”
Len withdrew for a moment, fixing his eyes on a Bigtooth Aspen, intent on burning a hole through the trunk. His assumptions are usually correct, but he only spoke with Mel twice and is probably retracing every utterance from those conversations. I continued to prepare my counterargument. His arguments were just like his game strategies- a carefully planned assault under the guise of insanity.
“I can’t know that, it’s just a gut feeling.”
“‘A gut feeling?’ That has no place in your argument,” I replied. “That’s a bitchy cop-out to cap off everything you said earlier.” Every example I planned to bring up was now out of place.
“A brilliant philosopher once asked ‘what is love?’ in Bb major, and there’s a reason nobody has given him a definitive answer. I’m not arguing that you can’t have a nice life with Mel should you two stay together, only that if you weren’t confident enough to answer back immediately, sticking with your decision likely bought you some time to further examine your foundation. Maybe she thought more about the idea that I thought. I can’t know.”
We finished our descent back down the trail, but not before Len found the foxes again — it seemed only the father was there. Len’s Accord was one of the only cars left in the lot, we were out longer than we expected.
“So how did this situation play out with you and your last girlfriend, then?” I asked. Len never talked about her after they broke up half a year ago. “She was just like Mel.”
“A year before we broke up, I went to her apartment with a pack of Reese’s I had bought before.”
“She hates those.”
“Yeah, but when she saw them, she rolled her eyes and said ‘I love you.’ And then without thinking I told her I loved her too.”