It’s All Relative


Terms
February 24, 2009, 1:17 am
Filed under: 1

 

I remember the angled slope of the roof above her bed. Above that single bed shoved into the space between the chimney and the wall. The triangular white of the plaster coming down at your head. The ceiling so low that on top, she had to bend over me, her hair hanging in my face.  I imagined her sleeping there. A claustrophobic comfort alone, with two, it felt like squeezing into the back seat of hatchback.

 

We got to the park early. The grass was still wet on the ground. It seems so early now. There were elderly people out for their morning walk and half awake parents with toddlers running up and down the paths. I remember birds and long shadows. It was almost cold when we arrived and I didn’t take off my jacket until later.

 

I’m suspicious of my memory. It seems a bit too idyllic. I can hardly imagine why I would have been there so early.

 

 A picnic blanket laid out and we sat on it and talked. Almost a year to the day since I’d last seen her. And we sat and things seemed so much the same. 

I had just wanted to come and say hello before I left. I was trying to cleanly bookend so many relationships and commitments. I had this absurd sense that things were actually ending and that the me that returned later would be so different that this was the only chance to say goodbye.

 

I’d come as a friend. That was the stated purpose. We both had resigned ourselves to circumstances. But sitting on the blue and white on the green, it was the same. It was immediate and available and clean. I was happily just there, in that moment. 

 

I don’t remember if I kissed her then or back at her house. I shouldn’t say ‘I’ kissed. The best thing about her was how mutual everything felt. And not in the clunky mechanistic agreement to agree. In the most spontaneous and miraculous sort of coming together. Just matching up, before and without a need to say it. 

 

And back in her room, I almost wished we weren’t. The physical so overwhelming that the memories jumble together. Not so clear and bright as morning in the park. That image I can hold so immediately. The sex just runs together.

 

I was housesitting in Queens the next weekend. She came down, slipped out of her graduation ceremonies and family parties. Came down to New York and we bought a $14 six pack at the bodega down the block and we sat on the couch.

 

So for a moment neither of us was visiting. We didn’t need to be introduced around or stand patiently back while the inevitable small things of the other’s day to day passed above our heads. We were in a space just together. We made dinner and she stood behind me with her breasts against my back and her arms around my waist. Her head turned to the side, ear against my spine as I stood over the stove. I think we drank two beers. 

 

Touch is so practical a sense that I forget how much more than a tool it can be. There’s no picture for holding someone in the dark. For feeling their ribs and skin as they breath slowly and regularly. For feeling their heart and for some reason yours too beating at the same time.

 

She was parked down on Broadway. She’d somehow found free overnight street parking in Manhattan and I was amazed. I was sure that the car would be stolen or towed. Goodbyes are so often a sharpening of the things we’ve felt. We’re pushed to say these things that we haven’t because we’re out of time now and we can’t wait anymore for the right moment or the right way to say them. But I didn’t have that. The crowd was swelling off the sidewalk into the street and the cabs were backed up four deep in front of the intersection. Her window rolled up and it was ten minutes before she got far enough into traffic to disappear from sight. But I wasn’t sad. Some part of whatever that was was continuing in me. Underneath everything else. 

 

And away, when I was gone, I just had the pictures, the tiny space of them on the back of the camera. The same video of us that last morning over and over until it seemed like a caricature of itself, like grooves in a record worn deeper and deeper by playing until the sounds draws out and lengthens. And the things you say sound dumber each time you play them over. “We sucked face.” I said. And I said it again and again and again. And each time I cringed as I watched her smile and laugh. 

 

Pictures strip our living memories of their vitality. They reduce them to blunt, frozen details. Like a sinkhole swallowing houses, they pull in the living memories of a moment until it’s reduced to a dry and tidy object. Until that morning was no more than a series of stills and a single 35 seconds of voice and movement; the time in between evaporated and the pictures piled atop one another like a gap-filled flip book.

 

Her presence in my life has been so isolated from everything else. Each visit or encounter a strange and vivid island in the midst of routine. Maybe that’s why cutting things off seemed to make sense. Maybe that’s how I rationalized it. I was just compartmentalizing it for later, the same way we had before.

 

When I called her in January her number had changed. She was hesitant to talk and her voice had this hollow warmth to it. I’m the one who did it, I know that. I’m the one who refused to bend to the moment and denied the present. And then I came back, expecting we could just put aside what I had done. And her response was reasonable. My request was ridiculous. I’d stopped things in May. Why would she wait for me until January?

 

Since I’ve told her I feel diminished. I feel relief too, though a part of me misses the pressure. The urgency has gone and I wonder what this calmer echo means. If it’s a fever I’ve burned out or the first in a series of involuntary attacks.

 

She said no. And maybe that’s not the end, but it’s close. 

 

She called me once, while she was waiting to go on. She stood in the wings and we talked in hushed tones, the pronounced voices of the performance in the background. I guess I still imagined her there. I had this image that she would wait for her cue and that we would be together when I was ready for it. I imagined that the world existed on my terms and I could have all the things I wanted in the order I preferred.  

 

I can’t. It isn’t. I had a chance when she came in May to choose something. I held it in my hand and decided to put it down. It’s gone now. 

 

I can’t take that back.

 

I keep thinking of the park. Maybe because the day was so crisp and clear. Maybe because there are no pictures to harden the simple details. Maybe because it was before the image of how things ‘ought’ to be got in the way.

 

A meeting of mutual affection in the bright morning sun. A whole day ahead of us. 

Whatever it is about that moment, it’s there and I’m here. And it’s getting harder and harder to see where the two will meet again.