October 27, 2009

Bedtrick

Last week I reminded D. about Canada and he answered, Clive Owen. One of Owen’s movies we both love is entitled Duplicity. No one is who they seem to be.

When we were together we often spoke in code to one another. For days on end we couldn’t remember the name of the actress in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, a movie we both love because no one is who they seem. We’d come up with Lee Remick when it was Eva Marie Saint. From then on whenever either one of us couldn’t remember something, the other would say “Lee Remick,” as code for the problem and the movie we both loved and we’d laugh .

Neither of us is who we seem: separated and free to choose. Learning this has been a journey that seems a bit like The Wizard of Oz, the movie most of us grew up with where Dorothy wears ruby slippers, magical shoes that she does not learn until story’s end will send her home with a click of her heels.

We were two years separated when D. asked me to go to Canada with him: French Canada: Montreal, Quebec. We entered the elegant Hotel Nelligan on the old street near the water, 106, Saint-Paul West. French spoken everywhere.

We ate soft boiled eggs in the morning, croissants that we tried unsuccessfully to resist and drank good French wine, ate good bistro steak salads or Asian salmon in the evenings, sitting on their upper deck trying to remember Clive Owen’s name.

We slept in a double sheeted bed on 400 thread count linens. In the best hotels, your blanket lies inside a duvet with another flat sheet on top so that all you feel are the crisp clean sheets each night you climb into bed.

But I felt short-sheeted on this trip. Remember that prank? Short-sheeted because I waited for D. to make love to me: We were on vacation together. We were sleeping in the same bed. On day five of the trip, I asked, “Will we make love?” He answered, “I would like to.”

This makes me think of Wendy Doniger’s book The Bedtrick, where she begins this way, “You go to bed with someone you know, and when you wake up you discover that it was someone else—another man or another woman, or a woman instead of a man, or a god, or a snake or a foreigner or alien, or a complete stranger or your own wife or husband, or your mother or father. This is what Shakespearean scholars call ‘the bedtrick’—sex with a partner who pretends to be someone else.” In her prologue she refers us to plays we know where not knowing who is who intrigues and answers: In Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and the film version Roxanne, a movie with Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah that I love. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a play I often return to for Feste the jester’s words when accused by Maria, Olivia’s lady-in-waiting: My lady will hang thee for thy absence, and Feste answers, Let her hang me. He that is well-hanged in this world needs to fear no colors, with its proverbial dare and its double entendre and where the fool is anything but.

Let me embarrass D. further by telling you that he is indeed well-hung—thus, my despair in Canada.

We were a long way from Paris, my metaphor for the Rom-Com ending.

Let us now use Canada as the metaphor for marriage.

When we return, I assume that we are reconciling. But he tells me all must remain the same. He is not ready. I am inconsolable. I seek counseling. I seek an exit strategy: Emergency egress. Do not retract dead bolt.

I write him. It is a last ditch effort that speaks for its desperate self. Trust me: What follows does not speak well for me:

Dear D.,

I miss you. I’ve been missing you for a long time I now realize.

I know I am angry but I am still very much in love with you. You have hurt me so deeply that I fear I may never recover, may never be able to love another and may never be able to fully part from you. I sometimes think I am going to die from this heartbreak and what I perceive as your coolness towards me. You have been cool towards me for so long that I don’t think you even know how long. But I have waited. I was waiting. I am still waiting. I am quite mixed up and what I write will probably anger you. I fear that anger so profoundly that I hardly know where to start. But I cannot help the fact that I still must admit that I love you even if I can never have with you what I thought we once had and maybe did have.

I need to be loved again, desired again, fought for, if you will. I know that is too much to ask.

I am offering my hand to you. I know that I offer that hand with much trepidation and that I want some things to be made up to me, childish as that is.

I can no longer cry my way back to you. I have done too much of that over the years and have been deeply wounded by weeping in closets and on floors and in desperation to get you back. I can no longer have you that way. I don’t want anyone that way; I don’t ever again want to be humiliated the way I have been. But I still believe that we may have something that we built and that is worth saving. But I cannot keep trying to get you alone. I must know that you are trying to get me, too.

Eventually, I may wear out and move on, whether or not I can find love. I may move on out of loneliness. I may have to as I crave intimacy so, don’t really find life worth living without it. I don’t mean that as a threat. I mean it as E.M. Forster says in his epigraph to Howard’s End: ‘Only connect …’ He defines who I am in the world and who I must be. But you are inside me, and that will never change.

We will live apart. We must now. I finally understand that. But what I have written is worth saying, I think.

Mary

His reply: Of course I’ve saved it, for here is the bedtrick*:

M,

My reaction to this is anything but anger. I don’t react angrily to much anymore. On the contrary, what you write is so heartfelt, it is deeply touching. I know I have been cool, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have similar feelings for you. I could not have gotten so deep inside you without you getting just as deep inside me. My coolness is, I guess ironically, part of my healing, at least initially. I know you are frustrated by this and want to be ‘engaged’ and part of my healing. But I am afraid—afraid of doing the same things to you that I did before.

The potential for damage and setbacks is still great. I need get to some level of confidence about myself. I don’t know that I can explain better at this point, but I hope you can somehow accept that, for now. I do want to be engaged with you, but it may be less intimate right now than you would prefer. Please know that I am aware of that—I am beginning to understand what intimacy is. And while it is not yet what you want, please also know that I am trying to get there.

D.

I have come to understand that what I think I know, I don’t know.

Case in point: Did you know that Dorothy’s shoes in L. Frank Baum’s book were silver?**

We had been to Canada. Where is Paris? It is not on any map. That is the bedtrick.

To find Paris, ask this question: Who needs ruby slippers?

*When I told D. I wanted couples therapy not to get back together, but for an exit strategy, he said, “I don’t want an exit.” He sought his own therapist. We were then both with separate psychiatrists: Were we in a Woody Allen film? All together now, let us click our heels.

**You can follow the yellow brick road or listen to Nietzsche who says, He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.

October 08, 2009

Hat trick

After seeing the movie Paris with D. last Saturday, we go to sit on his balcony and drink good red wine that I cannot name though I would like to say it was French, suspect it was Spanish—we are a little drunk. His apartment is near the Verizon Center and the Capitals are playing. We are so close that we can hear the blare of horns. When he checks the scores, we learn that the Caps are beating Toronto three-zip. D. thinks that Alexander Ovechkin may have a “hat trick”: three goals in one game. But it turns out that Ovechkin has two goals and one assist. Not bad. Final score Caps 6, Maple Leafs 4. I read the next day Washington AP: “By the time the game was 77 seconds old, Alex Ovechkin scored the first time his stick touched the puck, earning ‘MVP!’ chants from all those red-clad fans.” Surely he will get the hat trick again the way he did in May 2009 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

I am stuck on the hat trick. For me the movie Paris is Cédric Klapisch’s and his favorite male lead Romain Duris’ hat trick: L'Auberge Espagnole (filmed in Spain) and Russian Dolls (Paris, London, St. Petersburg) and now a window on Paris from a non-Rom-Com view that includes Romain Duris’ view of the city from a taxi. In that one scene we see Rom-Com Paris: the Tour Eiffel, the golden statue, a Rom-Com collage but not as I have ever seen anything in that much-filmed city filmed—not as I perceive the city by then. For Klapisch has closed with the hat trick.

What we have seen by then is the refrigerated fruit and vegetable outlet while in most Parisian movies we see romanced markets in the street. We see them here too but with the gloss from the grit of living. We see refrigerated meat lockers. We see flowers pushed on an industrial cart by a strong young working-class woman. We see academic Paris. We see dancing, dream-like Paris (Romain Duris, slim beauty in red) and tiny apartments that bespeak living in the spaces of the heart—not the spaces of Architectural Digest.

No villains and no heroes. Humanity on full compassionate show culminating in the simple exchange that brought me to full tears: “Merci” and “merci aussi,” built on the relationship of the characters played by Romain Duris and Juliette Binoche who speak these words.

When we leave the theater, D. asks me, as he makes a note to himself in his Blackberry, “It was Bach’s Minuet in G Major?” And I am struck that he hears what I do not hear, that he brings music to me. He seduced me with his piano, the one with the crack in its sounding board, the one he sold when he married me. He had little furniture when I met him, had placed his baby grand as the centerpiece of his living area.

In 1984 he called me and told me he had a gift for me and I should come over from my place, a tiny house in Garrett Park estates—meaning that all the old big Victorians were in Garrett Park and that I lived in the estate, the extensive land where the poor live near the rich. We used to call his apartment up on Pooks Hill California because the kids and I went there to swim in his pool, to sit on his balcony, to stand in the shiny-like-marble glistening lobby—a world apart. I came that day and he played Beethoven’s “Pathétique” and then without words, with instead the simple silence that follows the end of a piece, the laying of his hands in his lap, he looked at me. And I wept. I’d wept from the first melodic chord.

This was the last time he played the piano for me—twenty-five years ago. When we lived together, I often heard him work on Schubert’s Impromptu in G Flat but he’s never played it for me all the way through. The barren period. Music in silence. When I heard him play, I’d be upstairs in our large Victorian house in Adams Morgan—we’d come such a long way but not come through.

All the silence would seem to me to be gone when I heard him play.

A piano teacher once told me the story about the man who was lucky enough the night before a concert to get a hotel room next to Rubenstein, or was it Horowitz? She’d forgotten which, the name did not matter. What mattered was that the man heard through the wall the same phrase played over and over and over, like a needle stuck on a scratch in a record.

D. and I are stuck like that.

Before all the loss, when I watched him play that day he seduced me, I saw the muscles in his shoulders, his forearms, the angle of his back. The movement of his brow, the corner of his mouth, the line beside his eye. I watched his body move through the piece. He leaned into the bass. The melody rang from the keys, shifted in tone, in softness and loudness with his touch. His back curved into the music, his brow softened, his shoulders rose and fell with the thematic repetition. His neck bent and relaxed.

What he does not know is that when I heard the Schubert in G as I lay in the bed where I waited for him, where I often fell asleep before he came to bed, I did not hear the missed notes, the imperfect phrasing that he explained as the reasons he could not play for me or anyone else. I thought I heard his heart pulse, but knew it was my own.

I am stuck on the hat trick: Will he pull Bach’s Minuet in G Major out of his? Will I pull Paris out of mine?

When Alex Ovechkin pulls the trick, the ice will be full of hats. This tradition owes its history to cricket when a bowler knocked off three wickets and was awarded with a hat.

I am reminded of my favorite Rom-Com The Thomas Crown Affair—not the first one with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, but the second with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. Tommy hides by wearing a bowler hat and filling the museum with men in bowler hats, an allusion to the painting “Son of Man” by René Magritte: a man who wears a suit and a bowler hat with an apple on his face.

When we truly see, we see what has been hidden: the hat trick.