There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it – George Bernard Shaw
A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. You have thought often of these fish and their bicycles. How the idea of needing a man is just as curious. It is this way from the start – just ask your barbies and Laura Holt. Anything boys can do, you like to do it better.
(As a necessity it just never strikes you to equate men with air. And you never could ride a bike).
But want is something else entirely. Want, that director of desire, takes up residence well before you can name it. Your early poems hint at this something sleeping within, a dormancy more dangerous than need. Your body contains a fault line that strains at your seams.
You are 14 when the first breach occurs. A particular scene in a particular film. The way two characters make love. It stops you in your tracks. With a white hot clarity you think – I want to do that. You rewind the scene a dozen times. Your chest blazes and your heart pulses in your finger tips as you study the limbs and skin and sweat on-screen. It leaves you blinking in the light and quietly sure that you want nothing less than this from
Jeff Bridges men.
With that quiet sureness you wait. Any time a skinny boy with grass on his knees comes near you push him away. Sex will not be an education. You want to greet it fully formed. You will know when you see it, and indeed years later the recognition is instant. This boy on the cusp with no grass staining his knees. He wears an earnest love of women on his sleeve and builds you a grotto on a laundry room floor.
When you lay down with him the sheer joy of it makes you laugh out loud. Later you scrawl in your diary that you cannot erase the feeling of his strong arms, and of laughing. You fall in love with the feeling of wanting more.
(You edit out the finer details however. You do not mention the girlfriend, how your secret glows up out of you but you are not allowed to say a word. He is the first man you will lie for. The first lesson in how little people see when they decide to look the other way).
When this boy leaves town your heart contracts once, hard and painful, but brief. You carry no weight of loss. Just the memory of strong arms and laughing out loud. He has taught you in secret the lightness of love. Un souvenir léger in the swing of your hips.
The next man is just a little famous. He buys your friends drinks and snorts coke in a bathroom bigger than your apartment. It makes you giddy, but he drinks three to your one, and when you spend the night your bodies tangle but never connect. He tells you with the ego of someone who is just a little famous that the fault lies with you. Alone, awake, you test his theory and experience a revelation. Your first ever orgasm, to spite, while he snores. As the sudden shift of settled rocks floods to your limits you have to bite down on his pillow till the tide recedes.
(In the morning you are ferocious in your gratitude. He is confused by your ardour and though you never see him again, you think often of this man who is just a little famous. The one who led you to the best sex you
And now you get back to the business of want. It hits you in the stomach when you meet this next. Your mind is turned, it splutters and starts like an old movie projector every time he enters the room. This bohemian boy in shorts and a tie. You spend a hundred hours trying to capture him through your pen. Forests of words in his honour, a treatise on longing. And you literally slide down the wall when he tells you I’m gay.
But he teaches you, this man, to trust your instinct. When you get up off the floor he will become a great love of your life. You will live together in domestic bliss on a busy street and fill your house with Buffy re-runs and cheap red wine. You will spend many a night in his arms and he will be the one to say just write. He will call you New Years Eve to remind you to forget perfect, and he will never trust your crooked smile. He is your first experience of love as being known.
Then comes your Finch-Hatton. The man they say you conjured as if you had written him yourself. You are covered in red dust when you meet and this time you welcome the grass on his knees. This earthly man when you are air. You still believe in stars then, underneath an African sky. On a continent that lodges under your nails, where changing the world is changing each other. This, then, becomes your fine romance. A man washing your hair on the banks of the Mara. When he tells you he loves you the mosquitoes hum.
You survive a full year on the memory of this. But in the city your fucks become urban. Until one day Africa recedes so far he hands it back with your keys. Stilnox and bathwater carry you through the hazy weeks that follow as you slip under to silence the humming. From this man you will learn how to climb back out. But for a while the under-tow pulls you down. (You will dream of red dust for years).
It is in the wounding that you meet the one. A man with slate eyes who has a low tolerance for alcohol and your flesh. He will shuck you from your skin, this man, shake you loose and leave you scrambling for the pieces. Everything you have ever learned recedes in the glare of his gold band. And you will spend years riding your freedom with the curb of this bit.
As his sign flickers on and off you will measure your days by his vacancy illuminated. Your greatest love will be your greatest folly and you will revel in the farce.
(Funny that ‘mistress’ means having authority, heading a house. A woman who has the power of controlling or disposing of something at her own pleasure).
As long as she never needs.
And what did I get for it? I never weighed what I gave for what I got – Walt Whitman