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Letter to Alexander (Written before the Flood)
One evening a long time ago, when I lived alone in a beautiful half empty apartment and slept on a mattress that every evening received a golden draping light from the falling Western sun, I met a man. He was tall and had dark hair that curled in wild waves around his face, and he was dressed, as he is always dressed, in the American style of a slovenly old t-shirt, soft to the touch, and cotton pants a size too large. His expression bore a guarded self-confidence and his grey-green eyes smiled, even as they retreated from my flirtatious greeting. On his wrist was a bandage from a recent surgery. I wanted to unwrap it.
The next evening the man and I went on a date. An old and precious girlfriend of mine tagged along, and we sat getting drunk and soothing the hangover from the night before. At the time I was achingly lovely: long golden brown hair, eyes enormous from the drugs I regularly consumed, skinny as a phantom with lips permanently red from impossibly expensive lipstick. I remember that night wearing maroon leather pants and heels so high I was almost as tall as the man. I was a wreck. He was not. I could sense that his attraction to me was dampened by the obvious fact of my wreck-edness, and this of course made me all the more want to sleep with him.
And so I did. I took the man home and after many hours of bliss we discovered that our bodies were a perfect match. From my apartment, which I recall was just filling with a winter dawn’s light, the man drove to the airport. Before leaving he went to my refrigerator looking for sustenance. I think I had opened the refrigerator approximately six times in the months I had lived there, and then only to grab the vodka out of the freezer. One must always keep vodka in the freezer; that was the purpose of a refrigerator after all. I saw his look of dismay upon witnessing its telling emptiness.
But it was too late. The man loved me anyway. And I loved him.
A few weeks later, in the midst of visiting and helping to care for my father’s mother, whom I adored as a mother and who was dying a tortured, slow death, I flew from the frozen city of Chicago to the city where the man lived. When he picked me up from the airport I remember the drive to his little apartment being endless, as if in slow motion. The distance between us, in the car, was too great. In my grief over my grandmother/mother, my abused and malnourished little frame, and a general state of disorganization, I folded myself into the man’s life and body. I stayed a month. I slept ten hours a night and lived for the gaze of his eyes.
We met the day before New Year’s Eve. That autumn we drove my things (books, a ridiculous amount of clothes, paintings, more books) to our new home in his city. A few days later my grandmother died. Two days after that was 9/11. I didn’t go to her funeral.
Almost instantly the man and I developed what would become an incredibly layered and fraught relationship. Horribly the sex faded to the background, to be replaced by my frozen neuroses, his tender love, and our mutual resentment. Love, though, remained the silhouette and outline to our intertwined complexities.
On a perfect day in early September we were married. The ceremony took place at an old historic hotel in Taos, New Mexico. My father escorted me down winding old wooden stairs to a perfectly tended garden. I carried an outrageously huge bouquet of oxblood red roses and wore a silk dress so thin it looked like a negligee, with pearls for straps and no back. For once the man wore a suit, and he cut his hair and looked like a creature from early 20th Century Rome. Exactly at the moment of our kiss rainclouds covered the bright New Mexico sky and for a time we were all deafened by the sound of close thunder.
When I met her I wanted to fuck her. Then I saw the aggressive unhappiness in her eyes and I didn’t. But somehow, when she talked to me about Rothko and his color palette I wanted her again. To charm her I told her I’d draw her a Rothko; I think that sealed it.
Jesus I’m fucked up. Visiting my parents, my mother needy as a girlfriend, my wrist all in an ache and bandaged. I can’t stand the girl I’ve been screwing but it’s better than being alone. Or is it?
There is need, everywhere.
When she took me to her place she put her head on my lap. It was tender. Hot. And in bed, when she turned over, I knew she needed that touch, she trusted me… when she got up, shit, I’d never seen such a tiny hot little ass. But still, how do you deal with a girl who doesn’t even have an apple in her fridge?
There is love, everywhere.
Especially from her. When I think about it, marrying this woman made no sense: I have a job, a career. I know money, I know the world and I know how to live in it. She’s got none of those things, this woman. What world does this woman live in? Fantasy. She thinks the world revolves around Rilke and trips to France. She’s got no fucking idea… sometimes, though, I love that. About this woman, I do love that. But she’s got to figure out a way to pay into the mortgage. Someday. Pisses me off.
This woman. She is so vain and also self-loathing and scared. I am working my ass off, changing directions, making connections, while she practices yoga in Santa Fe. Late at night, when she’s asleep, watching Peep Show, sometimes I’m damned lonely. We don’t have sex enough. We don’t have enough friends.
Then, suddenly, the other day, she started talking about kids. We’d never talked about that before. It’s out of nowhere. How can we have a kid?
I do love her, though. This woman. She makes me see the patterns. She makes me uncomfortable. I wish we had more sex. Makes me feel unloved.
III. Sex and Time
At first of course it was constant, like a goal that could never be reached, a place that could never be found. It was a frantic ecstasy, a grasp a need a love an illumination two bodies not two, two bodies woven through with desire. A light graze of the back and the world fell away.
Then for a long time it was a distant thing, a happening, but a far away event. We could see it. But we couldn’t touch it. Not anymore.
And then the twins died, and the other children were born. Everything in the body, the body of the woman, the body of the man, was a busy sort of grief. Even the happiness was a grief. The rippling fingertips, the shivering nerve down the spine – all that was shelved as what happens before. Before love, before the knowing, before the union, before the children and the house and the money.
After the dead twins came the living boy. For some time happiness came into the home, into the bedroom. There was the boy, the father, the mother, and the spectral twins. And there was great contentment. Then came the surprise of the girl.
While growing the girl something changed. Stupidly it was tucked away as hormones. The sex came racingly alive and new. Secret words were exchanged, words that changed the bodies, one so fat with child, in the bedroom, on the bed, under those wonderful skylights made out of rectangles. When the girl arrived the joy increased, but time in the skylighted bed decreased. Not to worry, not to worry… a toddler, a baby. Somehow though there was this guilt over the secret words, and they slid away, undiscussed and abandoned.
The years of struggle came. It was a march through a dry place in a dry time. Love remained the guide, but there were many other guides too, and the voice of love was often lost in the din. Differing desires while two lives melded more and more into one, or, into four. The woman wanted the one life that was really four to become five. Argument ensued. Endless argument that separated the bodies while connecting the minds. Agreements were reached, love reigned still as the guide, but it was still a dry place in a dry time.
When the woman collapsed and almost died while the second daughter grew the love deepened even more. But the more present the love the less present the body. The woman went insane, and lived only with the insanity, and the man took care of her while the rage grew inside of him.
When the third child was born and the illness slowly ebbed away, and all the money went to the Dr caring for the illness, preventing the desired death, the touching did not come back. Even as terrifying glimpses of happiness emerged, the bodies stayed apart. Even when they were together they were apart.
Five children, two dead, three thriving and beautiful. A family alive with love and watchful tenderness. The man still loving the woman, the woman…. not sure. What is dependency, what is touch, what is meditation, what is brahmacharya? Is sex a distraction from spiritual purity, from growth? The love stayed the same while the anger grew, and morphed, and matured into rage. The lovers in short order became just a father, just a mother, just a husband, just a wife, and each to each felt the deadening inside.
Finally, by the grace of a great goddess or of luck or fate, a flowering took place. The flowering took place on one night, like a spring blossom that reacts almost instantaneously to the mystery of the shifting soil and sun. The man talked. The woman talked. Painful agreement was reached, so painful there was equal acknowledgment that perhaps the lovers in their love were gone forever.
The flowering brought the bodies back together, like vine joining to vine. The secret language came back, and this time the guilt was overpowered by pleasure, became perhaps a part of the pleasure. The man and the woman, together for so long, with the house and the money (or no money) and the children dead and the children living, became lovers once more.
Time separated them. Time, through divine blessing or blind stupid happenstance, brought them back together. The woman felt like a virgin newly relieved of the burden of her solitude. The man felt like… a man. And between them emerged a gift long in the making.