Never and Always
“I wish I knew how it would feel to be free. I wish I could break all the chains holding me. I wish I could say all the things I should say…. I wish I could share all the love that’s in my heart…”
– – the great and only, beloved by all Ms. Simone, God rest her angry and righteous soul.
It is dull, and tawdry, hardly worth writing about, and has been written about so much and for so long and in so many languages one begins to believe no one thinks about anything else. Fucking. Attachment. Love. Marriage. Family. Intimacy.
Mary McCarthy, before proceeding to write her tremendous and moving book on Venice, first wrote that all that had to be observed about Venice had already been written. One could make the same claim, and more honestly, about marriage, and sex and intimacy and divorce. My god, someone somewhere come up with a better conceit, a better way to live, to write, to grieve.
I think of the perfection of Kay Thompson’s prose as she has her Eloise describe her glamorous, odd, lonely life.
“Here is what I’m good at:
“Here is what I love:
skibbling down the hall
banging a stick
watching the grand ballroom being
set up for a dance.
Room service with Nanny.
Hello, it’s me, Eloise.
We’ll have two beers,
a steak and ice cream
and two raisins for Skipperdee
and charge it please, thank you very much.”
A sardonic, simple list. Good for an eccentric little girl, the poignant ghost of a great hotel during a louche moment in New York’s history. Good for heartbreak, too.
Here’s what I want to do:
Travel to India. By myself. Practice Ashtanga yoga for 6 months,
meditate and perform austere kriyas,
and fast for weeks under the guidance of a great sadhu.
Make my body a moving wraith
everything carved away
but skeleton and muscle
and some sort of renewed faith.
Here’s what else I want to do:
make my way
taking cocaine and reading
through the night.
I’ll buy a small riad
with an exquisite courtyard
a boy to keep it
cook for me
and charge it please, thank you very much.
Here’s what I must do:
take care of my three confused children
despite feeling emptied of love,
or even tolerance
Ensure that their lives are beautiful
every potential reached
so that when the time comes
if they wish
they might travel
or sit for orals,
Here’s what else I must do:
of extended travel
of living in the country
close to an ocean
who has adopted
bows and rivers wending
through soft green hills
steady silence and quick fast feet
There is a house in North Carolina, not far from the Virginia border. It was built in 1905 to perfection: wide pale pine floors, windows that reach from floor to the edge of the 13 foot ceilings. A butler’s pantry of oak and two staircases winding up to bedrooms that stretch out like something out of the Secret Garden or a the rooms of a sad, complicated heroine in a late James novel.
The house sits on four perfect green acres. It is land that is eternally dampened by sea air drifting in from the Atlantic. There are gardens and a formal koi pond next to a gazebo, and trails that lead to a small forest. The forest backs a farm of many hundreds of acres: this land will stay land.
It is my mansion on a hill. White and clean and beautifully lived in, meticulously loved. It’s for sale for not even a song – barely a whisper. It’s a house for writing, for children riding bikes down the long halls, for early asana practice and evenings on the wraparound porch with an absurdly expensive bottle of Willamette Pinot Noir. It’s a house to leave and be happy, deeply happy, to arrive home to; it’s a house to carry one through the last stages.
When I saw the house I yearned for it, I couldn’t imagine not moving there, children and animals in tow. What would I do with all that ridiculous amount of space? Leave it empty, primarily, I thought, to be filled, barely, with spare and modern and slowly acquired objects of the purest beauty and originality. More space than object: that’s what I saw when I saw the white house on the Southern-green land.
Are these the common things common women like me strive for during a divorce? I’ve no idea anymore the difference between fantasy and what might be some sort of real objective.
Well. I had no idea until yesterday.
Clarity. My lifelong enemy. I am much happier living in the shadows of the numinous world, an existence that can’t really be named or pinned by practical concerns. I remember vividly the first time I realized this about myself: I was nine years old, and Top Hat was playing on the big screen, in honor of some anniversary or other. While watching the gorgeous “sleep” scene, in which Ginger Rogers, dressed in a robe of silk-satin with princess seams, is serenaded to sleep by Astaire’s sand-softened dance, I remember thinking, “Oh! So this is what life is like.”
It wasn’t until my husband and lover of 17 years moved out a few months ago that it dawned on me that I had been wrong.
And just how wrong, I am still discovering. There is no music that touches this chaos, no asana that will force the grief into some sort of malleable or recognizable shape, no company to keep or wine fine enough to address or dress down this pain. I miss smoking. And coke. I miss looking at trees for their beauty and not just another external object I’m seeking to ground me in this reality, this life. This…fucked up…solitary…chaotic…life. I miss my husband.
Today, after some prodding – he is not, after all, a sadist – he said the words I needed to hear. “I don’t love you.” Yes. Yes. Just like 17 years ago I thrilled from neck to groin when I heard the opposite. “I love you. I love you.” The latter makes you high; the former makes you numb, sister drugs.
Farewell to my mansion on the hill. Farewell to teaching, to the dream of making my living and living my life through spiritual practice. Farewell to the Great trips: summers in France with my children, a year in India during their middle school years, a journey to Bali to study with the original Western acolytes of Ashtanga yoga.
Farewell to my beauty, the sweet remnants of my youth, to sex and fucking and making love. Farewell to my beautiful inner world of refined ideals and wonder and the undying, aching belief in Platonic perfection. Farewell to love. Farewell to this man, my husband.
What is to come? The common caricature made real, I suppose: a once attractive, spoiled white woman, middle-aged, qualified for not much, returning to school and joining the workforce, lucky if she can, consumed with the well being of her children, budgets, not getting fat, worrying about university at night, scheduling vet appointments in the morning before rushing off to work.
Will there be music? Will there be practice? Will there be ballet, and walks, and (some) travel? Will there be life? Who will live in my white house with the wide windows?
So, yes, there is not much, not anything really, that hasn’t been said, felt, more aptly numbly not-felt, about love’s loss.
Anger, of course. Anger, like a little girl left by her best friends on the sidewalk. The anger resonates, always, with the lyrics of Kendrick Lamar.
He said it. He said it all, when he said,
“You ain’t try.”