Nana is the love of my life. I knew that she was the love of my life the first time I saw her in Shanghai in the summer of 2011. She was much younger than me: she’s very bright, shiny, and happy. I knew that she was the one since I first saw her, and that feeling has never changed. Five years have past, and the only thing I regret about our short encounter is that I never get to tell her how much I love her.
Brutality wasn’t strong enough a word to describe that summer in Shanghai. Being hot and humid was one, and the enormous amount of people fighting for their places to stand and for the air to breathe was the other. But for me, what made that summer unbearable from day one was the extreme anxiety caused by an unexpected encounter with a girl who looked strange, yet familiar. Her soft spoken English with a thick flirty Spanish accent was cunning. Must have gotten many men fall in love was her flirty eyes. Nana was her name, a beautiful 22-year-old Chinese girl with many Western features. If I shall say something to describe her, it would be the abstract quality combining cosmopolitanism, feeling of liberation, and her absolutely gorgeous oriental beauty. When the Japanese master novelist Junichiro Tanizaki wrote Naomi (1947), a story of a doomed love life between a young man named Jōji Kawai, and a 15-year-old innocent and naïve waitress whom he met in a cafe — whose name is Naomi — he was simply telling a story of an unexplainable subconscious. Jōji falls in love with Naomi because of everything she externally possesses : her Western facial features, her youth, her seductive femininity, and her mystical personality. Jōji, who in the end would lose everything because of her, has to be deprived of everything to realize that he himself and his deviant “bad faith” in the girl half his age are in fact the root of his own downfall.
Born almost eight years after me, Nana to me was exactly like Naomi to Jōji. She represented the fresh breeze of innocence as well as the tantalizing sensory faculty of juvenile sensuality: She’s Naomi to my unconscious Jōji. I must admit that I wasn’t sure whether I was attracted to her by her youth, or by her personality. If it’s the former, then Nana was also my imaginary Lolita to my perverse Humbert Humbert, the fictitious male protagonist in Lolita, a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, whose sickly sexual appetite and insatiable thirst for the body and the soul of 12-year-old Lolita make his name a substitute for the adjective “pedophile.”
Seeing Nana in her summer tank-top-styled dress knitted together to her short skirt revealing her lightly freckled skin around her arms and her thighs, I felt as though she was created by the true divine power just for one reason — aesthetics –and that’s a strange feeling because I was hardly a religious person. I never quite got it why I could like someone so much without having met her before. Well, according to Sigmund Freud, “the finding of an object is, in fact, a re-finding of it.” What he means by that is that when we discover something we really really love, the feeling of happiness as a result of such discovery is nothing but the response to the finding of something that we may once have fantasized about.
Rooted in the desire for sex (of course it’s Freud), this theory may only explain the gist of the meaning of what we are searching for, as well as why we do so. In this sense, if we’re to go along with this Freudian theory, the reason why I like her so much must have been due to the fact that at one point in time when I was young I must have met someone who looked like Nana before. It could have been my teacher in the kindergarten, or it could have been a waitress in a restaurant that I only visited once in my life. It could be anyone. That is, there’s a true limit to freedom, and therefore free will. I may have thought that my feeling for Nana was intrinsic, which was why it was hard to explain, but it could be as simple as the fact that she happened to look like someone I couldn’t possibly possess in the past — because I was too young, too economically dependent, too inferior in my social status, and so on. This could also be someone that I couldn’t possibly possess because she was a member of my family. Freud, in particular, places an enormous emphasis on our mechanism of self-suppression, namely cultural convention, in not wanting to talk about it, even to mention it, and of course not to do it. Therefore, I may have misunderstood my feeling, which was, perhaps, not love. It was just a reaction to the reappearance of a loss object of desire. Nana may happen to be at the right place and at the right time, and that was it.
This is precisely why Freud believes that civilization is bad for us. Had it not been because of civilization, I wouldn’t have felt that I was too young when I met that someone who looked like Nana. And I wouldn’t have felt that I was too economically dependent, since, at the end of the day, economics is an invention of a civilized society, and, most important, I wouldn’t have felt that my social status was too inferior, because there was no such thing as social hierarchy in the first place. I would have come up to her and tell her how much I like her. I might get rejected and that would be the end of it, but it would be better than having to repress such desire because I didn’t even have a chance to say to her what I wanted to say because of the self-imposed censorship brought about by the rules of social norms.
I felt as though she was smiling at me — or maybe it was just me who thought she did － during the first time we met when she happened to get on the same bus on which I was also. Sitting across the aisle from me, she put on her headphones as soon as she sat down. I wasn’t sure whether she was in the mood for music or she did not want to invite any conversation with a stranger sitting across the aisle. As she crossed her legs and sang silently along with the music she was listening to, her heart-penetrating dimple made me dream. Knowing that my heart would be beating fumblingly, I, still, could not resist looking across the aisle to see her every chance that I had. Troubling me then was the fact that I was already somehow in an acutely difficult relationship that was about to break apart. As a deeply troubled man, I deliberately asked my rational sense of self-control to take over my intuitive passion for her. Be my excuses to not to speak to her was an aphorism “What’s in it for me, a man much older than this young girl, for any whom he has no respect, including himself?”
Nana was far too good for me. Growing in a conservative society that saw sex as sinful, I had to repress everything including my desire to have to want to have sex with her, which was quite natural to a heterosexual man who felt in love with a heterosexual woman. I may not be wise enough, but I was experienced enough not to want to put myself in a situation that I knew would let me end up in a deep troublesome place. I knew better. I didn’t have the quality of a man that would attract her. I even thought to myself that I was just a boring man, who stuttered and often spoke in riddles because he had problems organizing words to say.
Approaching my departure from Shanghai, we finally got a chance to speak. I seldom did stupid random things like this one — asking a phone number from a girl so much younger than me — whatever the situation was and how I did it I couldn’t quite recall I did get her number. As soon as I could pull myself together to believe that I got her number, I began texting her. Still, that was the best I could do because I simply didn’t have the courage to speak to her.
Starting with “it’s good to see you,” I was texting her with the hope that she would at least read what I sent. I never expected her to reply, and she seldom did. I found out through a classmate in the Chinese class that three of us were in that Nana thought that I was weird. “He texted me, saying very lame things, like ‘it’s good to see you,’ or ‘you look good today’ — what’s wrong with him?” said Nana according to the classmate who spied on her on my behalf. Obviously, it never crossed her mind that I may be in love with her. I shouldn’t, in fact, since we had never really talked to one another and she barely knew me. To be fair, I also barely knew her. I relied almost entirely on my gut feeling and my impression of her. It’s what the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard would probably call a “leap of faith.” She even revealed to my friend that she probably thought I was “a genuinely weird person,” and that can’t be a good thing. Eventually, we went out together for a quick dinner. I later found out (from the same classmate) that she eventually gave it because I was “persistent” and that she “didn’t see how anything could go bad” by having a meal with another classmate. I wanted to see her so much that I didn’t even ask her where she would like to eat. It was also me who traveler to the neighborhood close to where she lived. I guess I texted her at the right time: the time that she was hungry, bored, and alone. Although I was nervous, I felt much more comfortable than I thought I would be. I felt as though I could be myself. We decided to eat at a small sushi bar near a metro stop right below the apartment that she rented for the summer so that she could study Chinese in Shanghai. There weren’t many people in the restaurant, so it was rather quiet. We were able to engage in a very lively conversation on a verity of topics. Mainly, it was me asking her about her life because I was really interested in knowing more about her. I sincerely don’t remember whether she ever asked anything about me. Well, my impression of her was that she had no interest in me anyway, and I was just someone that happened to be texting her asking her whether she would like to eat when she was hungry. But that didn’t matter at that time since I had no interest whatsoever in talking about myself. I just wanted to know everything I could in, possibly , the only chance that she would grant me an audience with her. I, however, felt as though she appreciated who I was, how I was and was attentive to things I had to say. I, too, needless to say, was attentive to her. I felt as though I was dreaming. She smiled, and cried — when she ate the sushi in which she underestimated the power of the green wasabi that she put on it. The more I learned about her through our short yet lively conversation, I more I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Perhaps, I wasn’t that boring as I thought I was. More likely to be the case was the fact that Nana was also an absolutely wonderful person. Despite her awesome family background and cultural capital, she wasn’t as lofty as I thought she was. In fact, she was not only down to earth, but also curious about many things and open to diverse opinions. Whenever I was with her, time flew.
We went out again; this time on a rainy day. I had no idea why she would ever want to go out with me again., but it happened. This time, if it was a lucid dream, it was the most lucid one. She didn’t bring her so I brought mine over to pick her up from the metro stop. Under the same umbrella, we were close — so close that I could scent her shower soap, and sensually aromatic shampoo that she used to gently rub her beautiful skin and long straight hair. All my senses were completely conscious and alert. I never liked rain so much before. I didn’t want it to stop and I didn’t want us to arrive at wherever we were walking (as I didn’t care anymore). Under that umbrella with Nana, I felt as if I was truly myself with someone I truly loved and adored. The experience, to me, was transcendental. It’s spiritual, and I couldn’t ask for more. After that, we didn’t really get to meet again.
Eventually, the last two days of my time in Shanghai had arrived. I asked her out, knowing it may be the last time we’d see each other. She could say no, and I was prepared. There was nothing to lose but my chains. This time, I didn’t tell her that I thought of our outing as a date (after five hours of walking around town together).I waited until the very last hour when we were together, almost holding hands but not quite, in a surprisingly quiet evening on the Bund. She blushed and smiled. This time her smile was intentional, but still, she was too shy to admit that we just had our first date. I sent her off on the metro, and then before I realized it was 8 o’clock in the morning of the next day, I got her message on my phone, “I am ready; come pick me up and let’s have a real and proper date :-)”
Nana never told me whether or not she had a boyfriend — either to serve as her guard to protect for being hit on, or to simply tell me that she was being wanted and therefore wasn’t easy. I never met someone like her before. Many women I met in my life loved to tell guys that they had boyfriends, bragging about how great they were despite the bitter lives that the boyfriends were giving them.
Our feeling was mutual, and it was all romantic. “The magic of not expecting anything,” I’d say. Our relationship reminded me of what Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansen had in Lost in Translation. We’d gotten to do so many things together. Time was moving forward as usual, but I felt no urge to rush it, as I simply enjoyed the time that we spent together. Gradually, an imaginary relationship that I initially thought of as a non-romantic perverse type of affairs was turning into something rather spiritual. We were deeply connected, yet not sexual; intimately curious, yet respectful; and full of desire yet enjoying the company of each other in every way. She was and still is, if she is even real, the love of my life. She was my Naomi. She was my Lolita. There wasn’t any expectation, and there wasn’t anything that I wanted from her more than just that. As an ordinary man looking to have a love that will last, this was simply a dream.
Here is the twist of the plot that you have been waiting for. Please don’t hate me for saying this: I don’t know whether Nana is real.
I don’t know where Nana is today. In fact, since I have no records of her existing in my life; no photos, no messages, no emails, no anything, I don’t even know whether Nana really existed. That’s one possible theory. Nana never exists. I created her in my mind because I was so lonely, and that might be the reason why she looked a bit similar to someone I might have been in love with when I was young. Even her name “Nana,” sort of has my name in it. I may have created this name to be the name of the woman of my dream because I liked myself so much.
And that might explain the story of how we eventually got to know each other which was, still today is, too good to be true. A girl of my dream who was ten years younger than me showed where I happened to be for a really short time? It does sound like a plot of a lame and predictable melodrama. She could just be an illusion that I created for myself during the time of despair, similar to what happened to the genius mathematician in the film Beautiful Mind. But even if she was real, at least to me during that hot summer, it wouldn’t change my life today. She came to my life and left without saying goodbye. Many things in life are similar to that, such as friends, family members, some phenomenon that you know you would really enjoy and so on.
Finally, if Nana is not my own illusion, she will turn 26 tomorrow — November 2. Her birthday is one day after mine, which sort of makes her, even more, an illusion. What are the chances that the birthday of the girl of my dream — whose name is, by the way, sound similar to mine, is just one day after mine? Not only that, she also spoke with a soft voice but thick Spanish accent, which I really adored. She also looked like my favorite actress Tang Wei. What are the chances that all of these qualities are qualities of one person that I happened to meet when I was studying away for a month? So that we could always celebrate our birthdays together every year? It’s still too good to be true. At this point, I am game with the thinking that Nana might not be real, and she only exists in my imagination. That said, everybody needs a pad in the back, right? The only right that nobody can take away from any of us is the right to our own imagination. I want to imagine that I could have had a great life with a woman of my dream, which didn’t happen because my attachment to reality eventually overpowers my will to click on to the rosy-eyed imagination. No matter what happens, to me, Nana is real. She’s real in my mind, and she is real in my heart. She might not be real in the reality of the world. She might just be an illusion that only I can see, but her impact on how I see the world is nothing to be underestimated. If one day I become someone important in the society in which I live, it would be because of Nana — it would be because I want to show to my imaginary woman of my dream that I can do good things. Whatever works, right? Beyond the realm of pragmatism here is my true commitment to my own belief in the love that will last. No matter what other people might have to say — and since I don’t like myself so much that I would like to reproduce myself — I think this imaginary relationship is more real than the corporeal one: no possession, no jealousy, no materiality. It’s all about space and time.