July 13, 1999, 4:32 a.m. I awake at the dangerous hour, the clock a loud ticking heart. In the corner of the room, my body is a large, looming dark flower. What a ridiculous time to fall in love with my husband. When he calls, I say, "Do you want to see me?" He says, "No." I say, "Then hang up. Hang up the phone, I have nothing to say to you." And so it goes. In the darkness here, it doesn't matter so much that I am half-crazy, that I can't sleep through the night. I've become quite fond of this time of day. "The still point," as T.S. Eliot would say. I can almost imagine that the world outside has stopped cold in its tracks. I don't know what I expected when he left the house, but I certainly didn't expect this. I didn't expect things to get so messy, so convoluted. I didn't expect to behave like a crazy woman, besieged by grief. I envisioned myself bearing up like nobility, possessed of an enviable equanimity. Instead, it feels like I am falling off a cliff in slow motion. I know I will hit the ground soon. I know I will hit the ground hard and fast. And when I do, I can only hope that I don't shatter into a million pieces. Love sets a marriage going, but it's not enough to make it last.
Had I known this? Had I known how badly things would spin out of control, I might have done things differently. I might have snapped up lingerie catalogs and ordered black silk underwear, push-up bras and negligees in red satin, grown my hair long. Rented porn films for further inspiration, accumulated a library of girlie magazines, imitated their dress, their makeup, their blank stare. Kept my man happy with thick steak dinners and blow jobs for dessert. I would have said alluring, sexy things like, "Hey, big boy. Coffee, tea or me?" It's too painful to walk into restaurants and nightclubs and know that I am no longer the most desirable woman in the room. There's a new crop of beauties out there. Maybe I should sleep with one of them. Find a woman. Cozy up to a pair of lithe, young breasts. Suckle on nipples, sweeter and redder than strawberries. Wrap myself up in tight thighs, warm and glistening with sweat. Maybe their lips are softer; maybe their tongues are more forgiving. Anything but this insanity.
I rode my bike past the old neighborhood where the seeds of this dissolution were planted, where we first stopped turning to each other at night. I remember the first night it happened. I do. And it's strange I could never see this before, but I see it now. Last September. I remember it clearly because, back then, our bedroom window looked out onto large maple trees. I was astonished by the color of the leaves, magenta and scarlet and bright orange. A panoply of autumnal color, infused with nostalgia, bittersweet. The window was open and a cool breeze filtered through the room when I heard the door click open. I remember thinking, We'll make love. Right here, right now, while the light is still golden. He walked into the room, kissed me absentmindedly on the cheek and turned on the shower. I took off my clothes and got under the covers; I fluffed up my hair and imagined he would join me there. He would kiss me and we would make love. I called to him when he finished taking a shower: "Hey, baby, come see what I got for you." I felt warm and sweet and loving, my nipples already erect. Minutes passed and there was no answer. I called out again, no answer, and then I heard the television roar to life. I couldn't believe it. I knew he had heard me. When I walked out into the living room, he said he was tired. I said I was humiliated. That was it, I think. The beginning of the end. It was a long, long time before we turned to each other again.
The sun is coming up and I am aroused -- not from the humiliating recollection of my marriage but because an orchid blooms between my legs, pliable, smelling like summer nights. What's left of the past besides a box of photographs? Nothing. I turn to myself, now, with the sun coming up like honey through the windows. I have to remember that love is not enough. I have to remember that I can learn to live alone again, pleasure myself, feed myself. I'll stroke my thighs and my breasts, lie back on the bed and dream.
July 18, 1999, 2:32 a.m. In my mind, I am married to a successful French financier. We buy a chateau outside Paris. I study French and, in six months, I speak it like a native. I go into the city once a month and buy fresh baguettes and cheese. I am delirious. My husband's suits are silk and business takes him out of the country. I am left alone for weeks at a time. I wander through museums, galleries and catacombs. I am a recluse, but I have re-created myself and I am happy -- happier than I have a right to be. I collect antique perfume bottles and freshwater pearls. Nobody loves me better than I love myself. When my husband comes to me at night, he thinks I am the most beautiful woman who ever gave birth to herself, and I do not disagree. The mirrors in the house are thickly beveled and cloud covered; they reflect only the beauty of my eyes, unblemished by heartache that is years in the past. He lavishes gifts of jewelry and clothing upon me. I never refuse. I am gracious. I am frequently dusted. My diet is steamed trout and baby asparagus with hollandaise sauce. I never cry about the past. I wake up every morning outside Paris, the city of dreams.
I am not an insomniac, sleeping with strangers as a way to assuage my grief. Wait! Yes, I am an insomniac and if I've slept with one man, I've slept with 10. Lately I've taken up with a painter who smokes three packs of cigarettes a day. His voice is deeply burnished by this, and his large hands find ways to titillate me in public places. I no longer care who sees. I laugh in a way that is totally unrecognizable to me. I even laugh when he tells me he is also sleeping with a junkie. Back at his apartment, he handcuffs me to the bedpost and goes at me with baby oil, hand-feeding me chocolate. He speaks French and drinks too much. The other night, he lit a dozen candles in the bathroom and turned on the hot water, so that the room was enveloped in steam. We stood under the shower for an hour, rubbing each other with soap and a loofah. Afterward, on his bed, we drank a bottle of sake. Feeling tipsy and sick to my stomach, I stepped off his bed, slipped on the polished hardwood floor, fell down and cracked my head open. I lay there like an unstrung puppet, thinking, At last, something to write home about.
He insisted I go to the hospital. I declined his gracious offer and asked if instead he would please drive me home. Mostly a very sweet, but a very damaged man, he acquiesced and dropped me off at 3 a.m., the witching hour. I took three aspirins, fixed an ice pack and felt so profoundly grateful to be home in bed, alone, it was almost a religious experience. Prior to this, he called me at work and quoted passages from T.S. Eliot. He cooked me dinner and massaged my shoulders after a long day at the office. He took me to dinner and bought theater tickets. When I had friends over for a cookout, he presided over the shrimp and the chicken like an impresario. He refilled glasses, gathered up the trash and served dessert. And I hated him for it. I hated him for all of it. I could not reconcile in my mind that he was not my husband; I just couldn't separate the two. So I am grateful for the stitches in my head, for the concussion, because at least this feels real. At least this is something that is palpable, visceral. I can put my hands on it and say, "This belongs to me."
Listen, somebody ... please. Bring me a young lover, very young. So young he still dreams in black and white. So young the muscles beneath his skin are corded and taut, a thoroughbred horse. So young he is shaped like mandolin, with a broad back, a thin waist. And with hair like a rough shank of silk, black and gleaming. So young that when he takes me in his arms, there is no history that clouds our embrace, and when we kiss our tongues speak the same language. A young lover would be sweet to me; he wouldn't care about the heartbreak etched upon my face. More than anything, I want his innocence, his purity.
July 21, 1999, 3:01 a.m. Letter to my husband: I think I lied to myself about how much I loved you. I think I thought it would be easier to walk away. Maybe you thought the same thing, I don't know. I used to say to myself, "This is not a tragedy. This is not so bad. People break up every day. Life goes on. I'll fall in love again." But now it seems that the world, our world, ends this way -- with alcohol, with one-night stands, with fleas, infections and hangovers. Strangers exiting the rumpled bed at 2 or 3 in the morning, washing themselves off in the bathroom sink, taking a shower. Helping themselves to ice, coffee, shampoo, towels. I saw all this as if I were watching a movie about someone else's life. One night, after I made love to a man, he decided he needed ice cubes for his drink. He swore when he saw how badly the refrigerator needed defrosting. So he rummaged about in your tool drawer, found a hammer and hacked away at the ice for two hours. After a while I got tired of this ridiculous spectacle, walked into the living room and turned on the TV. It was ridiculous because he was naked the entire time. Later, he proudly announced the job was done, and wanted me to go down on him. So I did. And I chose to pretend, time after time after time, that this was not me. Lately, however, I've come to realize that it is me. All of it. And this is not easy to take.
I can't seem to move forward and I certainly cannot go back. I am stuck, frozen. Sexually, I find the most fulfillment at my own hands, in my own bed, my eyes closed, transported to exotic foreign lands. I cannot keep up with the various and sundry things that my lovers need to get off. I am tired of doggy style, handcuffs, baby oil, vibrators and unfamiliar tongues snaking through my mouth. Initially, you understand, there was this rush, this tingling of sexual tension. It felt dangerous and sophisticated. One man in particular -- married, happily so, with no intention of ever leaving his wife -- was hot for me. And I was hot for him, in retrospect, because he was married. The game of getting him to my home and my bed was more intoxicating than the sex itself, which was fraught with guilt and anxiety the second we had all our clothes off. But civilized men and women don't stop midstream, or rather midfuck, so we continued and went through the motions. And I was glad to say good night to him. Sometimes I think you wouldn't recognize me, and this scares me more than the fact that I stopped recognizing myself a long time ago.
I miss our friendship. I miss the farmers market on Saturday afternoon, buying organic vegetables, a bouquet of flowers, homemade jam. The easy camaraderie as we made our way through the crowds, sometimes touching hands, sometimes your arm draped over my arm. I miss the sound of you washing dishes in the kitchen while I watched the news. I miss taking a shower, the bathroom already warm from yours. I miss eggs, coffee and bacon on Sunday morning, the paper sprawled before us, but not being read, our easy familiarity. I miss the sense of history with you. I despair of ever finding that again, of ever letting myself fall back into the promise of love everlasting. I don't think that I can ever trust that level of intimacy again. Right? Because ironically it's that very same intimacy that allowed me to be cut in half when you walked out four months ago.
Nobody touches me anymore. Oh, my breasts are touched, my thighs and my cunt are touched. I am entered and stroked. I am kissed and caressed. I know enough about myself now to know that I am sexually desirable and attractive. I know enough now to know that my sexuality isn't frozen. No, no. On the contrary, it seems to have taken on a life of its own. It is bigger than me. It owns me and at times seems to control me. It is like a drug, the drug of touch, of orgasm. This thing, this incontrovertible life force, runs very hot through my blood, with a fury I never thought possible, and that scares me, too. Perhaps it was easier to keep it under lock and key. Keep it domesticated, keep it married, contained. Yes, perhaps that was easier. But you know me, love, I could never do anything easy. I write to you today though I will never send this letter, because I am afraid that you will come running back to me and I will come running back to you. I'm afraid I would say, "Save me from another night in another man's shower, save me from concussions, sake, chocolate, unlubricated condoms, unreturned phone calls. Save me from loneliness, depression and insomnia. Save me from financial disaster, sexual disaster. Save me from myself, from incipient alcoholism, if not insanity. But that would be the easy way. So, no, I will not send this letter. Better, I think, to continue this journey. To see it to its conclusion, whatever the price. Love, your wife.