I had taken a house by the sea, a small, inexpensive one-bedroom cottage with ivy on the window, a curtain against the California sun. The house was up from the boardwalk where mothers pushed baby carriages and walked dogs, where skaters skated and friends walked. It was a street that tilted to the beach; if you dropped a ball, it would roll down and over the sidewalk and into the water about two hundred feet. From the corner of my window I could see the waves, the lines of pelicans, white fingers of clouds in the sky. I could see the gardener come at ten each morning, and the man across the way turn the pages of a book, his wife enter the room and leave again. I could see the sun rise and the sun set, its red flare sinking beneath the horizon. People said there was a flash of green but I never saw it.
California boys went past my window, merboys with surfboards on their shoulders and wetsuits down around their long young bodies. They came out of the water eventually, I supposed or fell back into it, for all I knew, scaled and finned and part of the waves.
I was not sleek and full of wonder and anticipation. I was a storage shed of resentment. I wondered if there was a garbage-filI somewhere of old dreams, a stinking, gaseous pit of bad love. I had rented a house at the beach. James was in London.
I spoke to him, my voice, I imagined, carrying over and through the mist like the seagulls riding the sky, dark sentences traveling the blue ocean line.
"You didn"t see me," I said, "you didn"t hear me. I became invisible to you, became white noise; became that to myself. There were days I reached for something and asked whose hand it was, whose wrist, whose arm."
I listened for his answer, for his grievances, knew there were as many as grains of sand, tiny shells. Where would he start? Had I condescended too much, talked too little, let myself go? Was it the sex, was it something about my body, my mind, did I embarrass, or humiliate? Was I irritating, selfish? Was it the insurmountable things, the loss of admiration, respect, attraction; or was it the small things accumulated into one big ugly, mistake-laden ball?
What was if for me? I was trying to remember. There was nothing I could think of that disgusted me. I was not completely out of love, not horrified by his presence. It was the small things; the annoying little habits, possibly; the omissions, the insecurities. The way he crossed his legs, or forgot to hold my hand. The way he averted his eyes. Someone said, a Japanese poet, I think, that a person who does that is, in fact, including objects into the moment, the conversation; including in the chairs, the tables, the flowers, the plants, as a form of respect, so that nothing feels left out. I tried to think of this, assuming a Zen-like appreciation wherever I could.
"You never took my side," I said, a cloud passing over, the light darkening. "Actually, that hurt me a lot. You didn"t stand up for or defend me.
We were at a party, remember, and you were the one invited? We went together, of course, but when the hostess saw me she said she had not expected another person and hadn"t a place for me, then she stuck me at the end of a folding table and you between three single women. Remember? We should have left, but didn"t. You laughed. That was really terrible."
The wind picked up outside, scattering leaves, flyers of restaurants, housecleaners, yard maintenance. Across the way, the man sat reading, his wife coming in, going out. I never saw them speak, although they must have. Obviously she would know when to serve him lunch, what he would want, how much cream in his coffee, or none. Still, they did not seem to speak.
"You never talked to me," I said. "We functioned by signs," I said.
When do we get into this nonverbal communication? When do relationships become the raise of a finger, something in the eyes? When do we begin retreating from the snarl, the show of teeth? Are we polite in social gatherings, all the while our hackles are up, our ears flat, our hands inadvertently protecting our private parts? Do I ruffle my feathers, inflate my torso when another female comes near? Does his crow"s cock enlarge, his spine stiffen?
I tried to write things down, to make note, to possibly find ten points of reconciliation, ten points of abundance, gratefulness; ten points of ways to make us better should we have wanted to try.
"You were the best friend I ever had," I wrote, "and you were the funniest person in the world. I never laughed so hard with anyone else.
You were wonderful in bed," I wrote, "although maybe a little too practiced, if that"s possible. I mean I couldn"t help but wonder where and when ------ how many, etc., etc. But you were so handsome, so elegant, so smart. We had the same taste in movies, food, books. We looked good together, although you did take the spotlight, your voice a little too loud, you, a little too perfect always. You did have this obsession with grooming which was slightly compulsive," I said, "your nails, your hair. Once you got your hair cut twice in one day. And there was that time you wore a skirt, men"s of course, but a skirt, none-the-less." I realized I was writing in past tense; were, did, was. This is over, I remember thinking. Is.
We live in a world of infinite possibility; millions of people doing millions of things, fulfilling dreams or not, succeeding, failing, mourning, overcoming. We live inside ourselves with secrets and desires, with things that fill our hearts or diminish us: with echoes from our childhoods, or our primal memory. We know where we came from, but not exactly: some of us from stardust, some of us from mud. Maybe that"s why it"s impossible. We don"t know what makes each other tick; don"t have a chance in hell of getting along. Sometimes fascination binds us, as in ‘opposites attract"; the wonder of one creature in another, the curiosity of one alien to another, the one with feet of the one with wings. We"re all so different and we don"t have a clue. Where are we in each other"s lives, anyway, what"s really important? Are we second in line always, to something more important within another"s very being, something that can never, ever, be supplied by someone else? Would I, or for that matter, anyone, ever be touched with the same passion of fingers to guitar, fist to throttle or club? Would Madonna give up the microphone for the body part?
I listened again for his recriminations, what he might be telling his friends, or worse, telling someone else. I went back to the ten points of appreciation, not wanting to be negative, not wanting to dwell, to go forth in this new world without him with dignity.
"You were the best," I started out again, "you had a great walk, gorgeous hands, and a knock-out sense of humor. You had great taste in everything: decorating, music, art, concerts. What else? You had beautiful shoes, beautiful watches. You never bought me anything, however, not the smallest, cheapest watch, not the least expensive pair of shoes; you never came home with flowers or candles or perfume. At first you wrote me notes: "I"ll always love you," you said, "There"s no one like you," you said. At first my mouth was bruised from kissing you, at first we made love twice a day. But these are all small things in the scheme of life, I said to myself, these are things that evolve into meaningful, into longevity, into deep and abiding. Don"t be shallow, I said to myself.
So what went really went wrong? I asked, watching large drops of rain begin to fall, blades of glass bend. A silver outline drew itself around a cloud overhead, in California Positive, proclaiming where there was gloom there would soon be sunshine. This was the land, after all, of reinvention, of the Big-Make-over. I would not dwell. I would not harp on the past. I would transform. I would let bygones be bygones. Then with these proclamations, as if to welcome me into its all-consuming aura of optimism, the sun was hot again, not a sign of a cloud anywhere.
And up on the street, where I could see from another corner of my window, a dark gray Mercedes came to a sudden stop and pulled hurriedly to the curb, the driver jumping out, a doctor, lawyer, or an accountant, seemingly, peeling off his clothes, tie stripped, one-handed, a surfboard under his other arm, or was it something else, a newly forming addition to his body I couldn"t see? Jacket, belt shirt and shoes gone, his face enraptured, his smile wild and anticipating; picking up speed with every step, as if the next one would lift him airborne, dancing finally almost, out of his pants to become the creature he was born to be, the color of the sand and water; shimmering, blending, disappearing into the surf. I stood on my porch and watched, transfixed.
"You never ran to me like that," I said.---------------------------