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Courtyard – A Moment

I.

Two winters ago. Paris, daily rain for three weeks. Stolen passport, stolen money. But not lost, or scared, not really. It is Paris, after all.

The wait was long, for the passport. The French like to do things properly, and time moves in slower waves there; it is one of the countless reasons my love for the place runs so deep: my true nature is both slothful and awake, qualities that seem unable to intermix in the either-or of the United States. It is possible to be both sleepy and piercing, Godard proved it.

Grey skies that turned pinkish blue every evening, as the lights of the City refracted against the heavy clouds. Headlights were blurred stars, taillights the brilliant tips of embers.

That winter I had been married many years, none of them particularly happy, and as each passed there grew more and more polluted space between us,  tiny toxic rivulets carving intricate gulches throughout the landscape of our life. His life. My life. Joined, by then, only by the three iron threads of children. They formed, poor innocents, the dangerous bridge between us, and the bridge served as a mirror in reverse to our growing offspring: the more they grew and thrived, the thinner and more rickety became the passage between us.

Passport, gone. Money, gone. Concern or worry from my lover, gone. (No. Not lover. My husband.) It was his moment to unmask the years of rage, the years of perceived betrayal and impatience, even hatred, that had grown in him like a shadow turned, through its neglect, to something solid and corporeal.

II.

Trip extended for the wife, which created anxiety but of course also joy: Paris! She was trapped in the web of embassies and papers to be filled out; she became friendly with the head of security at the U.S. Embassy, who on the last day told her she was “magnifique,” and gave her a perfectly timed wink.  A man at home with three children. A man at a home that didn’t feel like a home, waiting for a woman who didn’t feel like a wife but a series of necessities, unexamined promises, lists gone stale through repetition:
1. Save the vulnerable wife.
2. Save the vulnerable wife.
3. Have sex, never enough.
4. Fight about the children.
5. Fight about the wife’s constant lateness. The disrespect.
6. Fight about money.
7. Fight about money.
8. Just in case (6) and (7) were not covered in full, fight with more vitriol. Over $.
9. Feel guilt because – despite the debt – flowers, jewels, remembrances of any sort
have never been given.Ever.
10. Fight about not going out.
Which the wife now understands was never about
money, but the tedium of the wife. (Knife-pain, shivering lips, still, to write that
particular Truth.)

Now the wife is not a wife, and knows she has not been for many years. What is a wife anyway? Now the not-wife thinks often of the etymology of husband – from the Old Norse Hus, or house, and bondi, peasant, householder. And of course, Husbondi as Master.

Now the not-wife understands that she hates living in and owning a house, and keeps the days marked on her office wall until she can rent a studio in some ancient part of Paris. And she is certainly not a peasant, either in antecedent or taste. The Master element… this is more complex. Perhaps the now-not-wife was searching for a Master. Someone to lay waste to her appetites, her peripatetic nature, her groundlessness. Perhaps the now-not-wife wanted to slaughter (husbandry) the delicate ether of her half-embodied nature and become a woman, rounded and busy, unafraid to touch the Earth, beast of burden to Hus and Master.

Tame me. Slay me. Put your hands around my neck on Friday; I’ll join the corporate sisterhood on Monday.

III.

It didn’t quite work out that way.
When I was in Paris that year we fought. By text, by email, occasionally by phone. I could feel the messages delivered to me. Not the messages sent through crude technology, but the messages of the invisible companions who have always traveled beside me, within me, and have been silenced to an alternating grief and bemusement at what their charge has (not) been up to all these many many years.

As he typed furiously the words
“You are a selfish bitch.”
“You only think of yourself.”
“I have lost hours of work trying to get a card/money/ID to you”
those Daimons slowly stirred, and their song, inseparable from action, woke me to the loneliness, the nothing-ness, of attempting to shape-shift my shapeless Self into little more than a sweet smelling mare in a well-kept barn.

The Daimons sent me a cruel gift, or was it a test? Both.
They placed my bodily form, tiny and freezing in the early winter twilight, at the very center of the Louvre’s Cour Carree, which still bears stones from its early life as a 12th Century fortress. The light lifted, the courtyard seemed alive from every angle, every height, as tourists took photos in the precious brief glow of the soft sun.

Sound. Light. Cold facades briefly blond-white before the coming darkness. Lovers. Space. So much space, but of the joining kind; I felt held close to the city and its most charming hour.

My phone lit up with many letters that formed just enough words that I finally understood. Despite Daimons and books and poems and travels and children, I am terribly slow to face the realizations handed to me. But that moment, I saw.. I felt.. I knew. I stared at the hard mean words and grew colder, deep in the bone.

I am sure many thoughts drifted about my frightened mind, but mainly they settled like small birds with tired pale wings on slender branches:

“Over.
All gone.
Or really
never
was.”

With thanks to Anne Carson, without whose tangos I don’t think I could go on.

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