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The leaves are changing in the trees in Tompkins Square Park, and on the ivy crawling on the building across my window, green morphing to intense yellow and deep red, a signal that time has passed since I've come back from France, inching toward hard fall and winter. Toward the unknown. A signal that things change and shift all the time. That time does its work.
Your anger: a given, since the morning we woke up together after making love for the first time in Dave's apartment on West 71st Street. We were making the bed and you pulled on the comforter a little too hard, testily, for no reason that I could figure out, anger flaring up in your face for a split second out of the blue, unconnected with what we were doing, which was smoothing the comforter on the bed, but I felt it rippling through me, superimposed on your smile and the touch of your lips on mine, like a shot of vodka in cream sauce. It surprised me. But I didn't mind. It added an ingredient of danger, unpredictability.
And now here is your anger again, blown out of proportion, teetering, vindictive, unleashed. Killing rage. Not only directed at me, but at your film agent who hasn't gotten you the screenplays you were up fornot yet anyway, and maybe never. Toward your parents for being old and sick and goddamned needy. Especially toward your mother for crying all the time. Toward yourself maybe? The anger fading sometimes to a dull ache, to a garden-variety anger. As if some days you were just getting tired, your energy flagging. How long can anger last if isn't fanned, fed? Doesn't a fire burn itself out, eventually, running out of wood? Or can simmering, buried rage be forever rekindled?
One night you said to me: by falling apart and crying you are trying to get something.
By "falling apart and crying," I think you specifically refer to that time last Spring when my last novel was turned down the same week you sold your own novel and you found me sobbing at my desk. Or all the other times when I burst into tears when I got a rejection letter. Or my obsessions about everybody's health. Even after Juliet completely recovered from her blood disorder, I was so shook up that for years after that, whenever one of us was sick, I worried that it might be a fatal illness. The spectacle of my vulnerability is odious to you.
You mean, I am being manipulative?
Yes, you said. Manipulative.
It was one of our night talks, 4 AM, lying down in the dark, side by side.
What was I trying to get from you by playing up my weaknesses, my neediness? Maybe I wanted you to tell me you loved me no matter what, you would forgive me, you would not hurt me, you would always be there for me. Maybe I was afraid to threaten you if I showed you how strong I could be. Maybe I was trying to disarm you.
And you, what are you trying to get with your rage? Is it the rage of the warrior, burning everything in his path, like Attila the Hun? Is it the righteous rage, like that of Saint-Just, who, when he finally took power during the French Terror, sent all his former friends who had crossed him to the guillotine? Is it the helpless rage of the child who has developed that fool-proof weapon to keep the world at bay? The rage of the rattlesnake firing off its poison when threatened?
They say Pisces take on the problems of the world, they absorb the energy around them, good or bad, they have trouble with boundaries, they need to protect themselves from other people's unbearable intrusion. Is anger your armor, your hard shell, protecting your vulnerable soul?
How the pain comes back, so fast. How your angry silence unsettles me. How helpless I feel, how lonely. How I thought your love was forever, even if we didn't talk that way. How secure I felt in that love until about a year or two ago, when you started acting as if you wanted to fuck every woman you saw.
You did love me. You did shower me with love. You adored me. You told me I was the woman of your life.
The house, when your mood pitches black, seems to fall with you, darkening, sucked of life. I have to go around and turn the lights on to bring it back from the dead.
Saturday afternoon, coming back from shopping, Juliet asks me: where's dad? And I say, I don't know, he's never here on week-end afternoons, is he?
Maybe he's having an affair, she says, helping me take the bags out of the car.
I hope not, I say.
She looks at my face and nods.
No, she says. It's not his style.
I don't smell another woman around you. Flings maybe. If you were in love with another woman would you still make love to me like you do?
Me, going into your studio drowned in darkness, as you are finishing your work-out, asking you: what are you doing tonight, and you saying, as I expected: going out to watch the baseball game (it's the sixth game in the World Series). And me, saying: I might be going out with Lola.
I put my arms around your chest, which is softer than it was a year ago, not as buff. You pull your head and neck away from me, not wanting any closeness. And I say, I know, it's hard right now.
You make a little snorting sound of assent, or maybe of disdain, I can't tell. The room is dark. You like to turn the lights on as late as possible, letting yourself go to the night, hiding in it. The sadness of dusk is seeping deep into the house. I know I have gone to you because I don't want you to drift too far away.
The sadness I feel tonight. The blues. Peine d'amour. Lovelorn.
And Juliet who is so angry at me, aggressive, sick of the whole thing, sick of us, taking refuge with her friends, going out every night of every week-end.
The house, deserted, as if it oozed poison.
And me, tonight, unable to give it life. Deserting it, too.
Maybe we'll all leave, abandoning the apartment behind, letting it die. Maybe the four of us will break up. You on one side, Juliet on another. Me and Lola in yet a third place.
Tonight I want to leave. I can't keep the fires of home burning. The cheerfulness, the warmth. I don't have the heart for it. Tonight I want to jump ship too. Pack up and leave.
I am not as afraid as I was. I don't feel I live every day as I did at first with the sword of Damocles over my head. Because the issue has shifted. It's not about you leaving or staying. It's about learning how to depend on my own self. It's about growing up without you.
I've always been very seductive with you, especially the last couple of years, when I started being afraid of losing you. Dressing up for you, showing myself off to you. Turning you on. I'm not sure how to be in the house, around you, now.
Everything between us has loosened up. I have the sensation of floating, of not being firmly anchored, tightly embraced and looked at. As if your gaze had held me together. And the surprise to discover that I can keep going without that loving gaze, that I feel freer without it. Yes, you were holding a mirror up to me, that's what happens in love affairs, in relationships. I was looking for your approval. And now I have to do without.
You don't seem to look for my approval anymore either. You hadn't even told me you were giving portions of your old novel to your editor to read. Apparently she thinks it could make a big, commercial novel and that you should rework it. I'm trying to keep my jealousy in check about her.
It feels as if we've moved into a much bigger house, wide open to the outside world. We don't know how much space or how much distance we need. I can see you testing: how much to tell me, how much not to tell me. How much you will share or not share with me. How often you go out at night. How domestic you will be. How friendly toward me. How angry. How much sex you will allow yourself to have with me.
You remember, I said, in July last year, you told me I was the woman of your life? In that little bar on ninth street. You told me it was great living with me, that it was so unpredictable, changing all the time, that you never got bored once with me, that the sexuality changed all the time and was just as exciting?
Yes, you said.
And you started going out with her a few weeks later?
Yes. It had to happen, you said. When you start having affairs it's the sign that things are wrong in a relationship.
I thought I should lash out on you, unload my rage and my anger, at the very least throw some books against the wall. Make a scene. Destroy some furniture. But I didn't do anything. I told myself I didn't want to make a racket, I didn't want to wake up the girls. The truth is that I was dead inside. You had dropped a bomb. Right on the old wound: the fear of being abandoned, of not being loved, of being left behind.
You got up and made coffee. I took a shower and got dressed. I was going to teach that morning.
When I came downstairs to the kitchen, I was cold, frozen. I remembered what I had felt when I had decided to leave my French boyfriend Olivier, how I had faced the breakup. I made myself hard and tough.
I said: I cannot accept that. You are going to have to leave, you know that, right?
And you said: yes.
I still didn't get angry at you straight out. I felt a cold rage, implacable. I wanted to spew out torrents of rage, and I couldn't do it. I felt numb. I thought of not going to Florida, pack up your bags when you'd come back on Monday.
I had to leave right away: drop Juliet and Lola off at school and go to Hofstra University.
During the drive to Long Island, I try to imagine packing your bag and leaving it outside our front door. Another cliché scene: the betrayed wife kicking out her philanderer husband.
No way. I can't play that scene.
I never packed your bags in my life. Why would I do it today, of all days?
Some women lacerate the guy's best suits with a razor blade, cut up his boxers to shreds. I visualize pouring bleach all over your Agnès b. shirts. Streaking your Armani and Hugo Boss jackets with day-glo paint. I see your black bag lying on the mat outside our door, but I cannot see myself kicking you out. My anger is frozen. I can't believe it's over between us. I will drive back to the city this afternoon and it will have been a bad dream, you will wait for me with your arms open. It's not true, you will say to me. I lied to you. There's no one else.
Of course I know it's true. But I can't bear to lose you. Not yet. I am not ready yet.
I call you from Hofstra.
I love you, I say. Maybe we can work it out. I couldn't accept the situation to go on for any length of time, and you will have to make a choice, but maybe I can try to live with it until you make up your mind.
Thanks, you say.
You sound relieved, I can tell in your voice.
Then I say: I'm still going to Florida.
Thanks, you say again. I couldn't have faced my parents on my own. They would terrify me. I need you there.
I backed down from the confrontation and you know it. You will pull on the string as long as I will let you. We are two animals in the quarry. You've tasted blood and I didn't fight back. Morals don't apply in this case. It's going to be a fight to the finish.
Is knowing better than not knowing? Is not knowing worse than knowing? Everybody has opinions about that. It's better to know. Knowledge is power, or is it????
Let me make a case for denial, just for the sake of argumentation. How it protects. How it lets you pretend that what is there is not there. How it protects the status quo. How it keeps everything in balance, however precarious, for a while anyway. Howfor the pretenderit allows things to go on with just a little bit of accomodation, making room for that place where the dark hole of unacknowledged knowledge festers, temporarily jacketed. Denial: a rejection or refusing to acknowledge. How it allowed me to keep my jealousy from destroying me. How it allowed me to deal with an untenable situation without losing control. How I accommodated myself to it like one accepts a blind spot. How it kept me from collapsing. How we both, unconsciously, milked it for maximum erotic pleasure. How we both tacitly accepted it to protect our relationship. To protect our love, maybe. How we were both accomplices in denial: that which is not spoken doesn't exist.
Between the two of us, you are the most relieved, that you don't have to lie anymore. And me now, carrying the burden of knowing. You crying coming down the stairs, telling me how sorry you are for the pain you have caused me, for your cruelty. On the couch, you telling me that I am again the woman you fell in love with.
My strength came right back, I said.
Yeah, you said, but I am not here anymore.
There was regret in your voice.
We talked about our feelings again, something we are not very good at. I suggested you clean up your office upstairs, carve out some peaceful space to work, temporarily, until you decide what you're doing.
But this morning, the swing of the pendulum. I think I should get out of here, you said, find a studio somewhere or borrow an apartment to sort out my feelings. I would come for breakfast and take Lola to school, come in the afternoon to be with the kids. But don't have any illusions. Things will never be the same again between us.
And me, feeling the rage: if you leave, you leave. It's over.
But I don't tell you that. I'm still holding on to you.
I couldn't sleep after we made love last night, you said. It was a moment of weakness. Sex is like a bandaid covering up our problems. I don't think we should do that anymore.
You want to break up our sexual relationship?
Yes. I should move out to sort out what I am going to do.
If he leaves he will come back, my shrink said.
I don't know.
I am trying to get a feel for the apartment without you. How it would expand, lighten up maybe, without your tormented presence. Without your face brooding over The New York Times. Without your toe fungus medicine on the night table (I wonder how romantic that will be on hers?). Your office, cleared up, emptied out. I could take a roommate, have a built-in babysitter as well as extra cash. The accumulation of eighteen years of living together, fifteen years in this apartment. Your books everywhere. The other day you were looking for a book and talked about the need to alphabetize, it was impossible to find anything. You are still at home here.
There will be a moment of truth, when your back will be against the wall. When you will face the void: when you will tip over to one side or the other. Or when I will make you choose: stay or leave. When I will have to kill my love for you. When I will look at what you've done, how you've destroyed our relationship to the point of no return, and despise you. When I will look at you and decide you're not anymore the same man I fell in love with.
There will come a time when you will pack your bag and walk out. Forever. Or not.
All week I have imagined this scene: you, folding your clothes, dropping them into your black bag on the bed. All week I have been afraid of coming back home to find you packed, afraid to witness your final steps to the door and the door slamming back on you.
But what if you were afraid of taking th