Wednesday, November 14, 2012
I walked home in the ambivalent embrace of the warm evening occasionally touched by a breath of breeze, but oblivious to passing cars and persons, and amazed at my detachment. What had happened tonight to shift the axis of my world?
This was to be the climax of a long and torturous emotional journey. Matters craved resolution and Stephen was waiting at home- likely thumbing through a book on Degas or silently sipping his Earl Grey. Perhaps he was merely indulging in a small tepid dose of late night television. I had just lied as there was no meeting tonight. My professed volunteerism was a cheap and easy excuse to separate a piece of time for myself alone. I had actually gone to watch Truth Or Dare again. It was something frivolous and distracting, but somehow compelling to watch that once motherless and fragile girl summon the strength to fashion a life that large… and to have confidence to speak or sing words that represented her truth. What was my truth? I was speechless tonight.
As I looked at my watch and quickened my pace, images of the past rushed up to me making the present more and not less incomprehensible. The loss of my family, years on the street fighting everyone- as well as savage loneliness- successes and failures, were all washing over me now. Suddenly I snapped back to the moment and thoughts of Stephen and his beautiful and once yearning brown eyes crowded all else out of my mind. I thought of the fourth floor of a particular distinguished though not ornate brownstone nestled tightly amidst others which framed the once gigantic old house now an illustrious enclave filled with lawyers, accountants, musicians, professors, students and all manner of others successful and miserable on that street where I lived.
I entered stealthily through the imposing beveled glass doors highlighted by a beautiful Tiffany-esque stained glass sunset among surreal and impressionistic looking trees. Past these and inside existed two worlds- a safe world and a schizophrenic domain. The bipolar décor precisely matched this- half ultra-sparse new wave modernist barely possessed of an aesthetic, and the other filled with rich and elegant antiques and lush paintings and drawings as well as stunning furnishings, slightly less than comfortable. The airy vacancy of my time juxtaposed with the sumptuous substance of an earlier age was unsettling. Regardless, it was mine- with all its flaws and glories. It was therefore safe. Bills were paid with money to spare, the wine cellar was stocked with a plentitude of earthly delights and the kitchen replenished as if by magic by the French delivery boy who looked like Pierre Clemente at nineteen. The atmosphere was thoroughly European, as secure and chic as the vintage BMW neatly tucked in the garage behind the house. Anything was possible here in stark contrast to an upbringing where financial independence seemed beyond impossible. Here the “if only” was a certainty.
After closing the heavy door shut and thinking of metaphors, I was greeted by the sound of a more threatening moment of Peer Gynt as the Grieg curled out of the study and up around the imposing black carpeted staircase. Mephistopheles the cat offered his welcome by intertwining through my ankles. Stephen sipped at his drink with lowered and concentrating eyes as I leaned in to kiss his cheek and laid my hand hesitantly on his shoulder. The moment was insufficient for any emotional exchange as I slipped out of the room and disappeared up the stairs with the swift light movement of an apparition to wash up.
Did he love me? The answer was yes. It was not a burning and passionate love and was, in truth, a bit less real for it. It was rather a love based on emotional need, respect born of shared experience and a desire for stability- and some hints of beauty to assuage longing. His cool intellect or some slight twist in consciousness or both seemed to combine into an anesthetic to passionate desire- or even passionate need. Stephen was fourteen years older than I- a former dancer turner designer and he had done well without being in any way tainted by the vestiges of fame and recognition. Despite a sharing of the basic expenses, all he had was effectively mine. He even gave himself like a tall tan fashion model archetype to me as a gift. He was comforting in bed and made love slowly, thoroughly and deliberately according to process and not spontaneity. I was not so much bothered by the absence of what I considered to be romantic ecstasy and joy as I was by his lack of need for them himself.
I laid in bed smelling of expensive soap and cologne and tried to read, but every book I reached for was a classic which involved some type of philosophical contemplation quite removed from the reality of the moment. I could not even relate to Byron’s words because I could not relate to myself. I could not see his poetic moon in the darkened sky above the Charles River outside the window.
Stephen entered upon the conclusion of his symphony and reclined next to me in bed. Of all the thoughts that came to me in a burst of recollection, only one touched me. We had both lived the extremes of life- gay and otherwise- and survived basically intact. Stephen knew who he was and so did I, but he was stable if not content and I was frustrated and restless. Somewhere along the way in establishing my personal hierarchy of important things, I had displaced what meant most out of simple fatigue, or the impotence which comes from not being able to express the deepest and most complex parts of myself with another. I had settled for security- for the fireplace out of the cold. There was no longer any risk and no longer any possibility of growth. I knew this elementally with no re-examination required.
The next morning was distinguished only by a grey and murky dawn. I packed my books and cds and an ill-chosen collection of clothes and walked out on Stephen and my dreamlike life. I walked out into the first thin line of autumn sunlight so far that day- slightly veiled, blurred and shrouded in the vapors of my exhaling breath. I followed the narrow street around the block to the river toward the city and then over the bridge into Cambridge. My backpack was only slightly less heavy than the guilt I was feeling.
A few days later, I followed the river to the sea. In front of its vast and timeless presence, I sucked in the salt and air and scent. I looked and I imagined I saw a different past. A life that could have been was suddenly a life that must be and I started walking towards it. The green light beckoned Fitzgerald-style on an imaginary pier and I let myself fall asleep on warm sand. Water rose and fell under the radiance of a pink and crimson sunset which touched my cheeks and brushed my eyes closed leaving me dreaming only of walking forward.
(I don't particularly like short stories... after all, what story is really short? And who likes to get engrossed and then have everything end after a handful of pages?? Regardless, this is my first and only attempt so far. All I will say is that regardless of all that might need to be told to answer questions, it only takes a few pages to stir a great many to ask.)