Love?

There is no lover’s dictionary. No universal definition to the flutters and thuds of the human heart. Love exists in the language of private metaphor, in the image sought through fingers reaching, through eyes slow-closed and teeth on lip.

See, I could fill rooms and mouths to understand just what it was you did to me. I could pour ink through my fingers, spill memories across the page until they form the neatest of lines. I could attempt to distill what survived, sift through the words to find some greater truth about love. And you.

But I will come up empty every time. Desire, love, eludes the grasp. The chemistry, the alchemy? The way you altered me? This above all remains our mystery.

inexplicable by Joanne Piechota

“A single metaphor can give birth to love” – Milan Kundera

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The Other (revisited)

The Other

You ask about her once. With your head on his chest so he cannot see the way you squeeze your eyes shut in a kind of terror as you wait for his reply.

You feel a twitch in his muscle as you extend this invitation. She has not yet entered this other world. This other woman. He has not traded pieces of her for your favour. He has never once tried to use her as an elucidation (though her presence has knocked in the we of his day, the night invariably colludes with you and I).

Still, she is a gossamer strand wrapped around his finger, she glances off the gold band when he touches your face, and the knock turns in to a hammering in your chest when you ask –

What is she like, your wife?

(You have read that the source of the word ‘wife’ is veil. Here now you lift the fabric with trembling fingers)

It is not until you turn to face him that he answers.

Well (a pause) … she is a really, really messy cook.

As he elaborates there is knowing, an easy affection for this agreeable flaw. And it splinters your heart because love is in the detail isn’t it – in the ordinary, the commonplace. You don’t know what you expected from a revelation – but you never considered this.

He will tell you other things in this concession. But you think only of a kitchen in another city, of homemade sauce licked from fingers, of frustration ebbed in the taste and the smile. Of a sink cluttered with the dishes of everyday.

And now when you stand at your own sink you sense some deficiency in the even florets and the wiped-down bench. The running tap as you clean what you use and how you put each utensil away.

In the order and the precision of your empty sink you are suddenly found wanting.

Because somewhere she is splattering the oil and spilling the wine. In a kitchen over-flowing.

When you are supposed to be the beautiful mess.

But you are essentially – the other.

***

Grace

Forgiveness.

It always comes back to this. The desire for it, and the struggle against it. If I forgive, will I also forget? Is that the greatest fear when it comes to letting go of the anger we hold for those who have done wrong by us? If I forgive you Ben, for the casual destruction of our marriage, do I also risk forgetting? Because when I am angry at you we still exist. We are not done, not when there is unfinished work between us. Will forgiving you mean leaving you behind?

And what of Lucy, and Maggie Valentine, the trio we have become in this affair. I have bound myself to them both, haven’t I. If I blame them for what happened, do I somehow continue to absolve myself?

Matthew: 6:14-15

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

What blame do I carry in this? Or were we all just doing what we had to do to get by? Happy accidents, and tragic ones too, before we all collided? If we knew then what we know now … ah, isn’t that always the question. I’d like to think we would in fact do better.

I do forgive you. All of you. No one escaped the damage in the end, did they. The light is shining through the cracks now, and here we all are. Illuminated.

My baby kicks. A fierce knock before I feel her shift down inside me, ready. I am ready too, Grace. I am ready too.

**

Fatal

We know what we have is finite, we know it has to end, but we stumble just the same because knowing is not the same as believing. This, then, is our fatal flaw. The way we consider our maybe next times and our second chances, our opportunities to change things. We plot and plan – redemption, revenge, renewal – because we never truly accept that something can be lost to us. We tell ourselves that we live in a world of infinite possibility, that time heals everything and we assume that tomorrow will give us another day. We waste so much time believing in the benign nature of time itself, in the idea that it will somehow expand to contain everything we want of this world. If we just keep going. If we never, ever give up.

But you are gone. That which was endless is suddenly contained. The ending has been written, and even if I travel backward through all that came before I will one day arrive at the point where the beginning resides, where there is nothing new to discover.

I can feel the real loss waiting for me here. When I exhaust our memories I will be left only with what we never knew. There will be no new words to decipher, no clumsy mistakes to ponder, no new arguments on which to stake our silence. No new white-flag smiles and no new resolutions. No new landscape awaits our exploration – we will have mapped our love entirely.

You had such an enduring faith in tomorrow, Mack. So much so that you never had both feet planted here in today. And now you are gone. What happens to tomorrow without you there, waiting?

Rock Bublitz by Joanne Piechota

When it was tomorrow I liked it more – and thought it just might be the dream I slept over so easily the night before …

Image: Joanne Piechota

Engineer

The morning everything changed started off like any other. Isn’t that what they say, anyone who knows what it is like to have everything shift on its axis, the way I do now. There is no prescience, no inkling in the waking up, the reluctant sliding of feet into sneakers, the bleary sipping at instant coffee while you wait for the dark to give way to a safer shade of grey. How different can it be, the morning that everything changes? The planet itself is not adjusting itself for your story, it is not preparing you or it for what is to come. The indifference of the world to your plight is a remarkable thing to realize. Liberating even, once you understand that it all goes on without you. Although that day, I learnt what it means to be firmly at the centre.

It started as just another morning in this new life of mine. I had been living it slowly for weeks, testing out this new ground like some baby animal learning to walk. When I left Adam, time changed its pace to something slower than I’d known. When you have been tethered so long and finally find yourself free, you do not burst into a sudden run. Days are to be absorbed; like sun on skin most sensations are felt from far away, and it takes nights and weeks to find yourself present in any moment, to know that you are here, safe, sure. I had been in a relationship since I was 18 years old. I had been wrapped so tight in Adam’s love that everything felt loose and vast when I finally shook it off.

It takes time to learn how to be free. I was terrified of the open spaces before me, the emptiness after years of clutter. I understand a little of why people stay so long. Fear is easier to contain when you can recognize it. Then there is the isolation, the looking up to find no-one is waiting . I had lost so many friends and barely noticed, the girls from my dance classes, the worlds of people from my time with the Company. Each one inching, then turning away when I wouldn’t follow the lead they offered. So many, I see now, who tried to help me extricate myself in those early days. So many who said oh hey there’s a bed at mine if you ever need, and asked of me more than others, Lucy, are you okay? I always said yes because what would you say? When the love we danced, the art we made was so often violent and explosive. How could I say I didn’t want it that way off stage?

They are jealous of you, baby Adam would say as one by one these sentinels dropped away. But don’t worry because you’ll always have me. No-one knows you like I do.

Funny that sentence. No-one knows you like I do. How it can sound so assuring at first, how eager we are to be known, and how sure we are that we are not already transparent. Later, when you have given it all away, that sentence will be thrown back at you, as hard as a slap. No-one knows you like I do. Your selfishness, and your stupidity, and your ugliness. No-one sees the real you, the pathetic you, except for me. And you’ve already believed the words a hundred times, so this is just another truth to absorb. From the person who knows you best. The careful engineer of your isolation. Yes, I know a little of why people stay.

That morning, the morning everything changed, I was thinking about dancing again. How there must be some memory of it still in my bones. Muscle, they say, but I think it goes deeper. I thought I might make a call – tomorrow. Toby, he still ran his studio from that warehouse in Prahran, maybe he’d let me teach a class or two, find my way back. I was sure it would not take long for me to remember.

When I set off for my run I felt pleased with my intentions. A future plan, an idea of tomorrow. For the first time I did not feel like I was escaping. Funny to have that thought right before I was pulled back in.

***

Eidyia’s note: I want to take care with this character. The final act belongs to Lucy …

A conversation between friends (revisited)

“When the two people who thus discover that they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass – may pass in the first half hour – into erotic love.”

– CS Lewis

Here, now, at a hotel bar. The transience of this place, a living in the moment when the rest of your life carries on outside. Talking through the wine, a gentle teasing, discussing hot-headed reactions and how the battles of two people are so finely played. Trying on friendship, letting it settle on the skin – this is your new thing. As lovers the relationship was a series of ellipsis, a trailing off when words were required. And now a chance to finish your sentences, to speak in the honest and open way of allies. You have put down your swords.

The room glows amber as you raise your glass to this new found alliance. You are friends. You are feeling your way and you are careful not to touch (though your knees list starboard).

“Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; friends hardly ever about their friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.”

– CS Lewis

You want to understand his views on God and family. “What did your mother teach you?” … “Do you fight with your wife?” “Is being a dad what you thought it would be?” … endless and earnest words flowing… “Venus came up out of the ocean, you know … and the problem with religion is it tells us men and women are fundamentally different, and don’t you want to fuck your equal?”“See, I’m not the same as you but I’m trying to understand a little”“Can I see a picture of-” … “How many times do you-” …

(Endless and earnest, yes – though some, still, are hard to say out loud).

He answers carefully, aware of this fragile accord. You are friends. You listen with a frozen smile. As lovers, you would have stopped his mouth.

Because the real question, the one that aches, comes last. You tell him you don’t have a ballast. An essential truth about who you are together.

“Tell me please” you ask, and the smile liquefies, “Tell me when you were most true with me?”

His answer is in moments like this, just sitting at a hotel bar together. It is all right here. And the physical, the times you leave the bar and move upstairs – it is just a manifestation of this feeling. This travelling down the same secret road. Two friends, side by side. Absorbed in each other.

And it’s lightening quick. Acknowledging the confluence of friends and lovers, before he orders his last glass.

You ask him to drink slowly. He assures that you will see each other in this way again. You say “grazie destino” but you are lying, because it will never be enough to meet at a hotel bar and drink slowly these one or three with a friend.

Who used to be your lover and moves upstairs, alone.

***

This isn’t fiction. Sometimes you just feel like telling the truth. When I first posted this, I left out the last line from the original piece, how it’s a lonely walk home when you don’t have anger at your side. I remember that walk, and how it wasn’t the last one I took with this man. Some lessons take much, much longer to learn …

The things we think we cannot lose

I see now that I have been both blessed and cursed in this life. I was once the luckiest woman on this earth. I had everything promised to us, and more. I counted my blessings every day, I lined them up and gave thanks to God and fate for what I had been given. And truthfully, I also lived in fear. I lived in a kind of terror that these things could be taken away from me at any time. Everything we build is so precarious, so delicately strung together that it sometimes takes only the slightest shift for our structures to tumble. I knew this in my bones at the exact same moment I knew how great my happiness was.

The truth is our most precious things are not meant to be held, no matter how tightly we clasp at them. We lose the things we think we cannot lose, we survive when we are sure we will drown. Because we are meant to go on. We are still here, the ones who have been left behind. And we will laugh again, eventually. We will feel excitement and desire and hope again – eventually. Life does come back. But make no mistake here. We are never, ever the same, those of us who have lost what we loved. There belongs to us now the deepest sadness, a soul-sadness that cannot be reached or soothed or repaired. Something is dimmed in the ones who survive.

Make no mistake here. We are never, ever the same. But it is what you do with these changes that defines you.

Ephesians 4:31-32

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

It is not what Mike Keegan has in mind. I fold the statement into the smallest of squares and place it in my husband’s bedside drawer. The bottom one, next to his red shirt and a book he was once given by a woman who loved him, perhaps as much as I did. We must do right in this world. We must take care of each other. We must take care of what we have. And we must try to understand when the time comes for us to let go.

***

Eidyia’s note: Coming to the end of Anna’s story. Thoughtful, deep-water Anna whose lessons have in so many ways turned out to be my own. Thank you as ever for reading body, remember.

The Butterfly by Picasso

Le Papillon – Picasso