March 22, 1999, 9:16 a.m. This is my assignment from our therapist. Write down everything that I like about you. Not everything that I love about you, because apparently the two are different. OK, here goes: You think certain combinations of numbers have magical connotations. You believe in omens. You drink your morning tea with an ice cube and a lemon. I like the way you smell after you take a shower. I like dancing with you. I like your brown eyes and your brown hair; they seem to be a perfect match. I like, and I've said this before, the sight of you in white underwear and white socks. I like your taste in clothes. I like, although sometimes I love, the sound of your voice. I like walking the dog with you, sorting laundry and reading the Sunday paper. That's it. Everything else I either hate or love. But that's another story, isn't it? It's actually not easy to think of things that I like about you. I don't know what this exercise is supposed to prove, but I suppose it's a way back to the beginning of our relationship, when we liked everything about each other. You liked me so much, you wrapped the ribbons from my hair around the gearshift of your 1979 Volkswagen bus, and there they remained until the bus caught fire.
I like to remember the first time we made love. It was our first date, sipping wine at a bar by the ocean. A full moon hung in the air, and I was impatient to get you down to the water, to the beach, so I could kiss you in private. Sufficiently lubricated after two glasses of wine, I finally suggested a stroll by the ocean. Not stupid, then or now, you agreed. I was surprised that the moment we got down to the water, you took off your clothes and dove in, wearing only your polyester beige bikini underwear. I knew that sharks feed at night and swim close to shore, but I kept my mouth shut and joined you. We kissed in the salty, sexy ocean for the first time and I knew that I loved you. Later, you dropped me off at my car, at the university parking lot, where I was a graduate student in comparative literature. I was studying Chaucer and reading the Canterbury Tales in Middle English. I like to remember going to class the next day, the salt from the ocean and your mouth still lingering on my skin.
When we were dating, I liked the way you showed up at my apartment, late at night after work. My long blond hair was still wet from my shower. You wore brown corduroy pants that I liked to unzip the minute you walked in the door. I didn't own a brassiere because my tits were so small and I liked the way you pushed your hands inside my T-shirt and grabbed my nipples. That was how you said hello to me. I liked that. One night you came over with a bottle of scotch and we drank half of it. Then I took you up to the roof of my apartment and danced naked for you. That same full moon hanging in the sky, smiling down upon us. I liked the way your eyes lit up, like the moon, the way they followed my every move. I liked how sexy and desirable I felt. Your eyes were glued to every inch of my body, smooth and naked and whitely shining on the roof at midnight. I like remembering all these things. It gives me pleasure, even now, 10 years later. But is it enough? Is love enough? I read somewhere that every seven years our skin has replaced every single one of its cells, so much so that we are practically different people. So the skin you kissed 10 years ago theoretically doesn't even exist anymore.
March 24, 1999, 2 p.m. On the train home this afternoon I sat next to an old woman, and I could not keep my eyes off her hands. They looked like the skin of an onion, papery, dry, mottled with dark spots, and gnarled like the roots of a tree. I couldn't take my eyes off them because I thought they were beautiful. I thought she was beautiful. The scuffed orthopedic shoes, the 1940s overcoat, the silver hair tightly curled.
Earlier, when I got to your office, they said you had gone to lunch. So I thought it would be nice to surprise you at the restaurant. I found you sitting next to a very young woman, a proprietary hand draped across her chair. I knew that you were not sleeping with her. No, no, no. Nothing as crass as that. But I knew immediately that you desired her. And when she excused herself to go to the ladies room, I could see why. She was wearing skintight cutoffs, and her thighs were taut and muscled, the tendons undulating as she crossed away from me. You couldn't keep your eyes off her legs and neither could I. They were simply beautiful, sexy, young. Ripe with possibilities. Taut with mystery, with fire.
And I realize now why I was so transfixed with the old woman's hands. They burned too, but they burned with history, with stories upon stories, like the rings of a tree, of a life passionately lived. I see myself, quite clearly, somewhere in between. I believe I will go on to have other lovers. I believe that my breasts will be cupped and kissed, that my thighs will be caressed and that I will be entered, made love to. But I know that my hands have also begun to burn with history, with pages from my own life, some as brittle as an onion skin.
It was painful to watch you watch her walk back to the table, her lips freshly made up, her chestnut hair brushed and shining. I could smell the smoke of your mutual attraction. And I am very sorry to have seen it, to have smelled it, because it was as real and as palpable as my hands writing these words. I don't begrudge you your passions, your attractions or your fantasies. I don't. I have them, too. Again, I am only sorry to have witnessed yours so cleanly and so clearly.
April 15, 1999. Two weeks into our separation, I'm startled and bemused to be living on my own. I walk very slowly and very carefully from room to room, as if I am afraid I might break something. I treat my body like a fine piece of expensive porcelain. I lower myself in and out of the bath very quietly and avoid looking in the mirror at all costs. I decline invitations from friends and co-workers because it feels important to get home as soon as possible. So I can shut the door, kick off my shoes and be assailed by loss. Listen, I know I cannot pace these ruins for the rest of my life, but for now I am oddly content to sit by the cold ashes and dream old dreams.
One week before you left, you aggressively turned to me in bed, your hands gripping my hair, your legs pinning my legs. I don't ever remember feeling so aroused. You bit my ears, pinched my breasts and entered me so forcefully, I cut my lip on my teeth. You whispered over and over, "I'm close to you now, aren't I?" We made love the way strangers make love, no strings, no history, no recriminations. You descended down upon me like a dark cloud, all limbs, all muscle, all desire. Like Zeus descending down upon Leda. All those strained silences at the dinner table, in bed, over the phone, were forgotten, transformed, melted down to pure gold. And every second you were inside me, and every time you thrust yourself deeper into me, and every time I cried out in pain and in pleasure, I knew this was the last time I would ever hold you. And it made me smile, because I thought, "This is the way the world should end, messy, sexy, a tangle of sweaty limbs, raw nerves, a bleeding lip, abraded skin."
In truth, that therapist was never going to do anything for us. Not in her prim and tasteful office, with her chignon, her beige suits, her pumps, her gold earrings. She should've said, "Go home and fuck like rabbits. Ten years is a good run. Fuck like crazy and go your separate ways. These things happen. Sometimes a world crumples, sometimes a marriage ends and sometimes it's the same thing." Wouldn't that have been a relief? Then we wouldn't have wasted all that energy pretending everything was going to be OK. It was never going to be OK. The tag was on the toe and the body was cold.
When we finished making love that night, I felt so exhilarated. I wanted to shout from every roof: "My marriage is over and my husband just fucked me! He didn't make love to me, he fucked me. Making love is so domesticated, so pure, so classy. Who wants that? Nobody wants that. Fucking is what we want." I didn't say that. I didn't say anything. I just lay there in your arms, out of breath, not moving, trying to make the moment last and last, at least until the sun rose. But I must have fallen asleep at some point because I woke up and the bed was empty. I got up and saw you sitting in the living room, the lights from the street illuminating your pensive and quiet face. I wished I had gone to you and said, "It's all right, darling. It really is. Sometimes the world crumples, sometimes a marriage ends and sometimes it's the same thing."
May 16, 1999. The sunset today was a sublime mist of yellow and rose light. The days are longer now of course, and I have become a connoisseur, of sorts, of sunsets. Tonight as I walked west, I was positively transfixed. I track the time in my journals; I think it's a way of reassuring myself that I still exist. Listen, I made love to a man who was not you tonight. And it was like child's play, a romp. I have been dating him for a month now. He is not at all like you. He is tall and bald and speaks with a thick accent. It is strange to be coveted by another man; it is very strange. He lives in a large loft covered in theater posters and antique furniture with oddly no place to sit. After dinner, he pulled me down to him and kissed me full on the lips. My tongue reached out, tentatively at first, and explored his teeth and his lips.
He's been single for 20 years and I have been single for six weeks, so we are not evenly matched. He laughed broadly when I told him I did not know how to pull a condom over his grinning, fat erection. He said, "You're how old?" So it was very playful and very comic, and it meant absolutely nothing, and I was anxious to go home when it was over. Shouldn't sex always be fraught with something? Shouldn't it signal the beginning of something, the end of something? Shouldn't it be infused with love, with hate, with passion? And the answer I learned tonight is, no. I am surprised to learn this, not happy, not sad, just surprised. I am surprised to find that sex can be just a game.
He said I had to get on top because I wasn't working hard enough. So I got on top. Then he said, "Stroke my balls." So I stroked his balls. I turned this way, I turned that way. It was athletic and invigorating, and sexy and engaging. Afterward he said, "God, that was great," and got up and made coffee. I told him next week was my birthday and he said, "I don't know how old you are, and I don't care." I laughed and laughed because I would never have any history with him. No past, no present and certainly no future. I have been on a total of four dates with him in noisy restaurants and couldn't even begin to spell his last name. While I was fucking him, I didn't know where to look. It seemed impolite to close my eyes, but I certainly didn't want to look into his.
Despite his protestations, I left after coffee because I wanted to call you. Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary, 11 years. I'll never forget how we drove to the church in your Volkswagen bus, smoking a joint while I gave you a hand job. And later, in our hotel room, two doors down from your parents, we took a shower together, our matching pink underwear strewn like rose petals on the bathroom floor. In the shower, I knelt down in front of you, and you wiggled your hips so that your cock flipped back and forth, gently slapping me in the face, the hot water pouring down our lovely, young bodies. Eleven years later, we have stumbled into a strange land where love is elusive, sex is a game and spectacular sunsets ease the pain in my heart, just long enough to allow me to go on.
Part 3: Dating is sexual warfare.