I’ve noticed that a woman starts a conversation with a man differently than she does with a woman.
The man starts and ends conversations sometimes with compliments. Sometimes without. Sometimes with interest, or a feigned interest or without. In the end you are not friends with all of the people you fall in love with. These flirtations. Infatuations. Family. I like words like that. Family. Justice. They mean something to me. It’s something I’ve lived through. Something ingrained on the blueprint of my soul. I drew close to him because he was beautiful. Most of all, he was a combination of kindness, grace.
‘Your hands are my hands. Your tiny hands will always fill mine.’ He took her hand in his and squeezed it hard. ‘Your heart is my heart, always and forever. It doesn’t matter what will happen in the future.’ He placed his hand on her chest. ‘Your face is a flower. This is the way I always want to remember you.’ He stroked her cheek. ‘You seem to write a lot about love yet you say you’ve never been in love.’ This makes him smile.
I have a way. Every woman does in her forties. He was a stranger. A stranger on a bus. A stranger at a wedding. A stranger on the train. He was a stranger under layers of clothing. Does it matter? Every man is strange to a girl. His ways. His rituals. His rituals! Every man is a stranger to a girl. He is both the paradise of heaven and a hellish territory to her state of mind. After the experience of the death of love you feel compelled to think of the world as if a veil covers it. Or a shroud. It was a man who taught me everything I knew about the world even before I ventured out into the city. My father was that kind of man. I don’t think of death in the same way I thought of death in my twenties. Now I create my own world and there is no one to tell me to paint my nails, or do something different with my hair, or to have his children, or obtain a university degree, or to cook and to clean, or what is wrong with my process of writing.
Love can make you feel as high as a kite suspended in the air for a short while but you always have to come down again. When you come down the first thing that you feel is emptiness. For writers this can be a useful exercise because you go through memories and think you’re making progress. You think that through this bleak exercise you are either forgiving or forgetting but when neither happens you find yourself at the start of the exercise of self-pity. He lived in a world surrounded by intellectuals. I lived in a lonely world. The lonely world of gifted outsiders and ‘circus freaks’ (freaks of nature). Girls need to be told they’re special especially if they’ve had the life experience and background of the lack of mother love, abandonment issues. There’s always something arranged about love in the daylight. Two people who are attracted to each other sitting in a restaurant holding the menus in front of them. Those two people are held together by a connection, a sublime thread as if they are seeing each other for the first time or the last and they don’t want to let go. They don’t want to let go of either the day or the arrangement of light.
You never want to escape from that novel country once you find yourself ensconced by its ivory tower, or red brick walls. I think I write about love and the torment of it, the trials because it is not enough to see that in my own life. In my parents’ relationship. It is all I have ever known and I am a fighter for truth and beauty because of it. I am human because of it! Humanity has the capacity for harmony. To live with others and accept them but they don’t. Men and women are beautifully different. They’re perfect creatures even though they don’t think they are perfect. What do I mean by that? I want to believe in humanity. I also want to believe in love. Men are just subjects open to study and observation. A man feeling lonely is no different from a woman wanting to belong. Wanting to be longed for. ‘You’re just human.’ I told him once. The love of my life and he looked at me as if a whole new world just opened up to him for the taking. As if I was speaking the truth. It is part of our condition to think of others before we think of ourselves. I don’t know why. Life’s cause and effect is just that way.
I tell stories for a living now. Stories about love. Stories about being touched by love. You always remember touch in a relationship and you always remember words. ‘You are important to me but there are also other things that are important to me.’ ‘Other relationships. The relationship that I have with my parents. My children. My wife.’ You think after a while that touch will give you a kind of equilibrium or balance but it doesn’t. I do not know what dimensions my heart is made of. I only know that it is not an ordinary reality. In my twenties I took love seriously but I don’t anymore. All I remember is the heat of the day, or desire, I don’t really like that primal word lust. That most caveman primitive of words when it comes to the sexual transaction. He intoxicated me the same way my dreams did later in my mid-thirties. By then all my dreams were about the past. All my dreams were about him. He was always tall. A pale king.
I miss him even after all this time. He kept me alive in much the same way that hunger did. I knew I had to see him again. I caught him looking at me and that was all that it took. Did we have shared interests? Common goals? I don’t think we had anything in common until we started talking.
Then, desire was a window. He was a footpath less traveled. There’s always a stillness in the air when I think of him and I cannot wish this away.
I saw interest in his smile. Now in my forties I see him in intervals. In my forties! I write and change. I write and see. I write as the world turns. Mourning as everything changes around me. Seasons change. As the climate changes. The challenge of change is upon me. The future is now. The time is now. Stop all the clocks! I am breaking through barriers. The first is the man who cannot be moved. I don’t write about what I had to say goodbye to. I have lived with everything I treasured as a child, adolescent, young adult, adult in my thirties, reaching forty.
He came to me like a poet in transit. A tide making the vibrations of waves. Like dry, dark leaves rotting in the autumn chill. He came to me like the sun in the trees. There is a second world. Song. The song of love which is an urgent call.
I’m not afraid of living in isolation. Always choose happiness it will drive the demons away, he told me. Negativity will kill you slowly. You’re battling so many elements in your daily life. Surprise, affection, adoration, ambivalence, anxiety. Why live with so much panic? Why not live with what humanity and your mind can endure. Love. Love is the only way out of everything else.
Do you want to know what hope is? It is an anthem. We travel there. It’s a journey. You don’t need to have an explanation for it. The rub of love is like music, isn’t it? A kind of lyrical friction. A state of mind. Flux and when you come out of that dark hole stars fill your head like bees. Finding yourself in a man’s empire can be terrifying. What does a girl do when she finds his secrets, his vulnerability, insecurities, doubts? What does a girl do when it is not pretty to look at? She writes letters to reach him. All the damaged, broken-hearted parts of him. She wants to love him to heal all the secret places of him sincerely. The heaviness. The fears that he carries with him wherever he goes. She most of all understands when he says he is lonely and that his wife doesn’t understand him. That she is preoccupied with the children. Small children whose landscape he doesn’t fully understand. What can a man offer a young girl in the city? The world. The world! At the end of the day she can shake it off if she wants to but she will still be tarnished by its stain. She is only human after all like all girls in their twenties. A man is a lion. He has the thirst of a lion. While a girl has coconut oil on her hands while she is doing her hair. During my childhood I was taught to use every emotional experience to the full. I used to think that I believed in tough love but I don’t believe that anymore. That year I discovered that the tributary is written on the body. The lines on his face can never be erased. Why would I want to erase them? They are part of him. Part of discovering him. Accepting him. Loving him. Never forgetting him. Men are symphonies. Men are language. Boys can only ever be found in translation.
Write the body. That vessel. Here’s advice for my younger sister or any woman venturing into the unknown of the city. I’m a quiet woman now. It’s so unsexy to be a sad, mad, bad woman chasing ghosts. Once I had a secret life filled with lovers. Flirtations greatly intriguing. A heart can grow cold. Now it’s part and parcel, strings undone of a distant past. No more come hither stares. No more history lessons. Only music. I know how to build natural bridges now. A woman never forgets the way a man (her first love) held her in his arms. She never forgets the first time she felt worthy. Today let’s go down to that lovesick river. I’m adrift in the heat and the red dust.
The framework of golden light. Talk psychological and spoonfed. I shield my eyes from his, the psychiatrist’s inquiring gaze. Acceptances and rejections. Rejections and acceptances. I don’t have a life outside of writing books and reading them. In a normal reality you would have to strike a balance but in the surreal reality I live in, every day is magical. It comes with choices. Choices! Sometimes dulcet or elegiacal. Grief. Denial. Inseparable twins. What I don’t do is talk about my childhood. That would be far too easy to go there. Blaming the lack of mother love. My sister, well, she’s kissed on the mouth. Wears layers of clothes while I am spirit. I have no children. No children to hold close. Everything, possession’s love story is a ghost story. There’s a rumor going around. We are water. We are life. Once love poured out of me. Writing most of all. The outside world burns me up as if there is a flame inside my heart. I am burnt raw by the sun. The flowing river. The pale supernatural nature. Moths defying the fiery furnace of colorless, odorless light.
Once he was taste and light. He was salt. His eyes were pieces, beautiful fragments of blue sky elegantly wasted in a fool’s paradise, a tidal pool filled with magic and gone, baby, gone. He was elegant and beautiful in the way that all men, older, wiser, more set in their ways than boys, are elegant and beautiful. And when I talked to him he listened to me. When I asked him to give me advice, he gave me advice. He listened to all my stories and I listened to his. I put my head on his chest and he stroked my face, my head, my cheek. That was enough for me then, and it still is now. It still keeps me awake at night. I am in my forties now and that still keeps me awake at night. His children are grown up now. This was the first man who ever said I was intelligent, clever, well read, wise, beautiful, lovely, sophisticated, elegant…and he wanted to protect me from the world. All my life I felt like the outsider but in his arms I found a sanctuary. I never spoke about the illness that ran in my family. That was in my genes. That was in my father’s genes. What is illness when you are in love? We never spoke about betrayal. He would leave the morning after, kiss my forehead. He was the second man who ever cried in my arms. The first was my father.
Image: Ivan via Flickr