January 28, 2010

Breakfront

Here’s a recent conversation with D.: I recalled the line from the Richard Gere and Dianne Lane movie Nights in Rodanthe that I must admit is a truly awful flick with actors I adore. Spoiler here, so skip the next paragraph if you haven’t seen it. Oh, come on, read it anyway.

Maybe my problem is simply that Nights in Rodanthe is not a Rom-Com. As I’ve said, in the true Rom-Com two cynics meet, neither believes love works, one or both have been hurt or been screwed by believing that the open heart is a good thing. So one, or in this case both, have closed off that option: closed heart, closed heart. In the Rom-Com, you do not kill off the hero. That’s what happened in Nights in Rodanthe—to my horror, not my tears. Go figure, I felt betrayed by the film.

I have not wanted to kill off D., metaphorically, or G-d help me, literally. Thus, the open door, and open heart, despite all the breakage.

I quote to D. from the movie, “Any guy who would leave a woman like you—” I do love it when Gere says that to Lane.

D. interrupts, “Should have his head examined. No, wait—I did!” D. finally did go to a shrink and I think he’s now fully shrunk—is that a word? I, on the other hand, . . . Well, let’s just say, My process continues with my shrink.

D. adds, “I won’t cop to being an idiot as in, ‘Any guy who would leave a woman like you is an idiot.’ I will cop to have my head examined—as in ‘Any guy who . . ., needs to have his head examined.’ ”

I have been seeing a therapist through the whole writing of this memoir. In fact, there have been two. Kinda like two marriages—and I’ve had two of those as well. The first shrink Cynthia moved her practice to Wyoming. I cannot click my heels and be with her, but she did feel like home. With Cynthia I had what might have been the first truly intimate relationship in my life. For the first time, I came to understand something about being seen and that being seen constitutes intimacy.

Do you remember in Bridget Jones’s Diary when Mark Darcy tells Bridget something like this, “I like you just as you are”? That’s the Rom-Com version of what I have come to discover. Intimacy lies somewhere in that line of dialogue that amazes all of Bridget’s friends.

My second therapist, who has walked on this road with me, is Martha. Cynthia has worked with her and made certain that I saw her before Cynthia moved away—to be sure about the fit. Martha is less formidable or perhaps I am further on the road. Cynthia was a bit scary. Therapy is no easy process though it gets lampooned and satirized and rightfully so, with Woody Allen doing the best work on solipsism in life and in film.

But the real stuff has, I think anyway, little to do with navel gazing.

Martha has shown me the way to the yellow brick road and I have seen that there is no Wizard behind the curtain. Like the Scarecrow with no brain, the Tinman with no heart, the Cowardly Lion with no courage, I have been at a loss. But like them, I have learned that the Wizard lies within and that I am no wizard.

I can’t find my way alone. I have needed and sought help. I have been afraid.

Before I went to Paris, once I’d found the apartment, rented it, bought the plane ticket, and even had Euros, I went into an unexplained panic. My friend Marly said to me, “Mary, you’ve done everything. You even have your Euros. Now’s the time for anticipation.” It was a week before the trip. “Something new and different is about to happen to you.” I said, “Right, I’ll get lost or be robbed. But there’s the thing, my getting lost is not a new and different thing.” For almost a year while commuting back and forth to Missouri, I walked out my front door here at my D.C. condo and regularly got lost. Sense of direction in the literal and figurative sense is not my strong suit. So I said to Marly, “The new thing is that now I’m down to being robbed.”

What was that about? Certainly not logical thinking.

So I did what I always do when I can’t figure something out, I slept. I had this dream about sex and storage. Oh so you don’t think these two are related? I beg to differ:

In the dream, I wake wanting to make love but don’t say anything. D. does too and comes towards me, penis erect. I want his penis inside but he doesn’t want to enter because he says he wants to experiment. He wants my vibrator.

I am dreaming of the vibrator that I have had since D. left me, that never would have been possible for me to have while we were together. Because of our problems with sex—you know his rejection of me?—I assumed, incorrectly I now know, that he would have been offended by it.

So in the dream, when I reach into the side table at my bedside where I keep it when I’m awake, I have instead the side table from the bedroom set that belonged to my first husband and me, the one table from that set that I took when we divorced. Yeah, yeah, I know: Two strikes and you’re . . .

The vibrator is not in the side table. It is empty.

I live in a small condo with very little storage. Recently California Closets helped me create more storage but I still had to throw away many prized items I no longer had room for, mostly books—and that, the loss of a book I have read is a difficulty I’ve not been able to overcome—I could live in a library. I was able to save parts of clown costumes I’d made when my children were small and D. took home the clown costume I had made for him, but I couldn’t find my pink gingham clown costume. When my children were small I made all the costumes in different colors of gingham. D.’s was green. Sarah’s was red. Ben’s was blue. Sarah and Ben are, if I’ve not made this clear before, the children from my first failed marriage.

In the dream, my clown costume was in the long bureau from that bedroom set, long gone, sold at the sale of our house in Adams Morgan: the four-story Victorian brownstone. In the dream I found this bureau with its ridged top slider for jewelry and underneath, crayons and small blocks, small toys for children. (I have a brand new grandchild, Lila.)

Then I find my mother’s breakfront that ended up in the basement of the house before Kalorama, the house in Chevy Chase, the colonial that I loved where we bought my first mahogany dining room set that we took with us to the dining room in the old Victorian that dwarfed an upright piano—that’s how big the room was: a room where all my children and grandchildren could come to eat the food I once cooked in my chef’s kitchen. D. sold that mahogany table after I went to Missouri to teach, after he’d decided to leave me, after we’d sold the house.

I have seen mahogany trees in St. Lucia, an island of beaches and rainforests and a dark people with open hearts.

In the dream, the mahogany breakfront’s first drawer had a silver drawer like the one in my sideboard where I stored my mother’s sterling that my father gave me after she died. That sideboard D. also sold after I’d flown away to Missouri to teach fiction writing as a visiting writer. My first book had just come out. No book party. No sixtieth birthday party. Yes, my publisher sent the first copies out on my birthday, March 3. But there was no celebration. There was instead as my father said after D. and I took him, after my mother and sister had both died, to his first James Bond movie, “A lot of breakage.”

Last evening while I was washing my face

—D. slept over—I said, “You know what you gave me?”

“What?”

“You gave me a window into my soul and then you took it away. I know inside that I should be able to find my own window into my own soul. Isn’t that what all the therapy has been about?”

He listened.

I continued:
“Aren’t two people afraid stronger than one afraid and doesn’t the human connection of love—and I mean committed, sexual love—manifest G-d?”

Did I really say that? Yeah, I did. And I believe it, but it hasn’t been an easy thing to say aloud.

And D. spoke, “Maybe I just borrowed the window for a while.”

Here is something you do not know. D. has been reading this memoir the whole time I have been writing it.

I have often been afraid to post—as this book has been initially written as a blog. Great anxiety has accompanied the posts. Overcoming that fear has been part of being seen.

D. told me he’d been reading it when we were in Paris. I told him how afraid I have been.

He has a wit that charmed me from the get-go. He said, “Think about Confucius: Out of all the pain and craziness in the world, he got an enormous amount of material.”

I said, and here we see that I am not funny, “Confucius say: Confusion create pain in soul.”

But confusion does guide. This I have learned.

The bottom dropped out of my world much the way the bottom dropped out of the stock market with what is now known as The Great Recession that President Obama inherited. I mention Obama because he and Michelle appear to me to be the real thing: A true romance.

When that bottom hit and we all got hit, I wrote this to D., not realizing at the time that my subject was our marriage:

We must lead with our hearts and not our minds. I know this seems antithetical to what we are hearing in the news about how we should respond with reason to the crash, but let us not be held bondage to the intellect, which on some level says, all is lost. Let us lead with ours hearts—not emotion, not feeling—but our hearts that know that we shall weather this together and that we will hang in when all seems lost and hopeless and the bottom has dropped out. Because we believe that, to be trite but true, love is the answer even in the face of a market that appears to offer little hope. We do live in a forgiving cosmos even when all seems lost.

And D. wrote back to me, As usual, you speak goodness that must be the true guide to all of us who live in the practical world.

Whether or not you agree with me about The Great Recession, you may understand what I mean when I say that D. sees me.

John L. Hitchcock, physicist and Jungian analyst in his book At Home in the Universe says:

“This book is a declaration of love. It is not a declaration of my love, but of the fact that love is the heart of the universe. . . . [I]t is we who submit to the bonds of love. And since love sets its object free—since love is the very basis of our freedom—in submitting to its bonds, we also set free whomever or whatever is the object of our love. In a profound sense . . . submitting to the bonds of love can help release even God. We can love reality as it is, though it seems to throw obstacles in our way and wound us.”

I long ago let D. go. By reading this memoir while I wrote it, D. let me go. And I have been freed and seen.

Our marriage that was broken has had a solidity I could never have imagined. It is like a mahogany breakfront that holds all the broken china of our lives together.

Derek Walcott who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992, the year before my sister died, the year before we took my father to that James Bond film, was born and raised in St. Lucia, the isle of indestructible mahogany. In his Nobel acceptance speech, he said, Break a vase and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.

January 24, 2010

You cannot get out of the game

While I was dating, while the process of discovery unfolded, before Paris, D. sent me an article about the winemaker we’d met on a vacation to Napa: Soter’s winery is Etude: a word that evokes memory and music and a type of composition that was sometimes written as an exercise: to learn from.

That’s what we’ve been doing, creating an etude.

Over a glass of wine in Paris at Café Sevigny, after I’d let him into my apartment, after we’d spent a week together, walking the streets of Paris, D. said to me, “Mary, I look at you and I see your heart. You lead with your heart. Even into battle, you lead, fearless, with your heart. The world sees, but does not understand. Your brave little heart is bruised and hurt. But again you lead with your heart, and again, and again. I want to be the person who protects that heart.”

I don’t simply recall this. I now have it in writing because I recently asked him if he recalled that moment and instead of simply answering, yes, he wrote what you have just read and sent it to me.

It is almost as if he has been in my corner while I battled the world as a single woman, new to the venue.

After Paris, we made love for the first time after a ballet performance at the Kennedy Center where I have season tickets, where I have gone alone, treated myself to a box seat. He bought a ticket in the orchestra where he could look up and see me. The ballet does not matter, but I would have liked for it to have been Stravinsky’s The Firebird, which I have seen though not with D. My favorite is the choreography by Balanchine because Stravinsky and Balanchine knew each other and collaborated. Chagall did the sets that I have only seen in photos after the two reshaped the ballet for its premiere in November 1949, the year of D.’s birth, for the New York City Ballet. http://www.auburn.edu/~mitrege/russian/art/chagall-firebird.html
In Stravinsky and Balanchine: A journey of invention, Charles M. Joseph says, “…[D]ance and music were not always considered equal partners. Later, in the hands of Stravinsky and George Balanchine, they became so.”

D. with his perfect pitch often speaks of the inability of recorded music to ever exactly reproduce the same sound waves as live instruments. He is also schooled in the sciences. I suspect that he might assert, It’s an impossibility the way reaching absolute zero, the temperature at which all motion down to and including the subatomic level ceases, is impossible to reach despite the fact that it is a fixed and precisely known temperature and the object of much modern-day effort to achieve a laboratory reading as close to it as possible. This, the Third Law of Thermodynamics, seems to me an apt metaphor for the inability of a recording to reproduce exactly.

Similarly, if events can be said to have occurred in an exact manner, perception can never capture that exactitude. I put it this way: I recall the events that happened between me and D. but I will not “reach absolute zero” in the telling, let alone in my understanding of why he left me.

I remember when I lay in bed and cried over the Second Law of Thermodynamics, when my marriage had broken and I said to D. before he left, “That’s my problem. I’m going to entropy.”

But here’s the thing, he stayed in the game, pursuing the elusive me while I dreamed of the elusive D. He says I come to him in fire and music. He says he’s no hero. But I beg to differ because he has had the etude of our dance in his head.

I listen to The Firebird. Stravinsky switches between the ominous themes in minor keys and the glorious themes in major keys, with large variations in volume for both, much of it played at the extremes. These forces struggle throughout for the upper hand, and the outcome is not clear until the end like a good movie. While we generally know which is which (ominous and glorious), things get complicated. Some of the quieter glorious passages have an ominous undertone. Some instruments serve as an “instrument” of the ominous at some points and the glorious at others. There are some steady voices—the horns repeatedly sounding caution; the oboe as the only consistent (almost without exception) expression of hope.

It’s like the movie North by Northwest, which is not so different from The Firebird—all tug between good and bad, with the good guys and bad guys clearly drawn. Deep down, we know who is who even when it seems we don’t. The only thing we don’t know is who will prevail (theoretically, if you put aside the fact that it’s Cary Grant).

A frantic battle ensues—this is pretty late in the piece—the fifth section; the sections are short and the whole piece is only forty-one minutes, twelve seconds. The next scene moves into a lush melody with a strong hint of foreboding, or even despair, with cries and pleas from solo instruments.

Now that I have found the Paris that is not on any map and the one that is, now that I have been through a long process of self-discovery that is far from over, logic tells me the Laws of Thermodynamics rule.

Once, when we had that chef’s kitchen, D. complained that the new dishwasher—a German-made product that supposedly was built to last—wouldn’t drain, “The damn thing is two years old and broken.” I laughed and said, “You forget the Second Law of Thermodynamics.” On the day I wept, when the marriage was broken, when he went away, he said, “But you forget the First Law, the Conservation of Energy: Energy can be neither created or destroyed.”

I didn’t understand.

I only understand this—and it has been a long time coming: The only path D. could follow was to leave to discover himself. But he never forgot the Laws of Thermodynamics.

C.P. Snow provided this shorthand to remember the laws: 1. You cannot win. 2. You cannot break even. 3. You cannot get out of the game.

But if you stay in the game, you can dance even when it seems that the dancers have all gone under the hill.

January 10, 2010

Hang in there: Interruptus (sort of) UPDATE

Dear Readers,

I think I have the story in the right order now. I am reading to nit-pick edit/cut more if needed (I did a lot of this over the weekend while I re-ordered). Golly, worked non-stop this weekend on #1 below, barely slept because I see now how the pieces fit. So here are the tasks I have set for myself:

1. Rewrite this blog as a narrative that makes chronological sense. The story I have written "live" I am putting in a chronological order I could not have achieved while both living it and writing it. But now, after Paris, I have the psychic distance to do that. You may see the result if you go to the sidebar: Read from the beginning...". Do let me know what you think in comments or e-mail (address is a link on my website that you may link to from here; scroll down and click on "Mary's Website" to find that address/link). I do listen. So, write me!

I have added more links and photos to many of the posts, particularly in the beginning.

2. And I will continue to post the final entries.

Please note: While I am doing this some earlier posts that you might click on in the side bar: "Read from the beginning..." will not appear because I am working on them: nothing is wrong with the blog or your browser. Hang in there with me: I am rewriting!

And thanks for being with me on this journey of despair and hope and perhaps (I am hopeful) reparation: seems like a miracle, but perhaps it is happening.

With my gratitude to every reader who has been on this difficult journey with me,

Mary

January 02, 2010

The last place you look

Music from a window in Paris, a pianist’s ringing tones, notes cascading on the air like cartoon quarter notes slide down a music staff from the open window: I have walked from 7 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois along Pavée Payenne, stopped for a cappuccino at my favorite Café Sévigné at corner of Rue du Parc Royal—not on the street of its name—and thought once again that nothing is what it seems. I did not turn onto Rue de Thorigny toward the Musée Picasso because it is closed for renovation until 2012, believe it or not. I was gifted with the music by choosing by chance (the museum closed) R. due Parc Royal: With the sound of D. that was not D. When I’ve been to Paris before I did visit the Musée Picasso and loved its orderly chronology of his work that results in the disorderly invention that is his work as if chronology will reveal. But discovery does not come in order.

“The whorl of the shell went the wrong way. The spirals were reversed. It looked like the mirror image of a shell, and so it should not have been able to exist outside a mirror; in the world, it could not exist outside a mirror. But, all the same, I held it.” Angela Carter’s words from the short story “Reflections” from a book that sits on my shelf far from here. In Paris I’d begun to long for my book-lined condo with the exposed brick, the exposed duct work—air-conditioning and heating tubes that circle my flat. Carter’s story, my apartment reflect recent memory: When D. left me, as I have said long ago here, I got out of town, went as a visiting writer, a low-level job actually, as I am not famous, at a distinguished writing department where no one noticed my existence, as if I actually did not exist. This sense of not being known fit as if I were on the other side of a mirror.

I have been lost.

I’ve come to Paris, without transition, over water in a cold land (Paris in December). Once there I have put my passport in a drawer and think it may soon be nowhere to be found—no way to return. On the front of my passport is a picture of my father. My picture under his, under my mother’s. Remembering from where I’ve come has helped. My father’s love, my mother’s love, my childhood with them lay inside that passport to my destination. I’ve boarded a plane whose destination remains unknown. Inside the plane, stuffed chairs in fours, banquets, tables and chairs, the kitchen I lost. I look for a comfortable man, a man I know, a man who would let me lay my head on his shoulder to sleep, but that man is nowhere to be found.

A fantasy. A wish. As if I am in a strange tale of my own making.

While my daughter Sarah was pregnant with Lila, I dreamt that she was born and at barely a month she speaks, words and sentences that we can understand. She runs and I assure Sarah that a baby will not run more than a hundred feet from its mother. The baby knows not to let the parent out of sight. I think now that I dreamt this because I have known that letting go is first. We are born when let go.

I let D. go when I had no choice. And now that I do have choice, I have let him be gone. I am comforted that the music of his piano will drift from stranger’s windows.

I have sat cold in Place des Voges to consider.

I have walked Marais to discover Le Marché des Enfants Rouges at 39 rue de Bretagne

where I ate sardines and eel, drank green tea and returned to my apartment to sleep.

At 6:30 in the morning my cell phone rings and it is D. He is outside my apartment building’s door. I give him the code to get in that door. My apartment looks out on a courtyard that he must pass. I stand in my filmy white cotton robe, white hair loose and mussed before the window that looks out on the courtyard and speak to him. He stands suitcase in hand. I say, “There is no room for you.”

“May I come up?” he says.

“It’s a lot of stairs.”

“I’m good at stairs.” He is standing below the window here in a doorway talking on his cell phone to mine.


We look at one another.

You may ask, How does he know where I am? Before I left, he suggested I give him my address in case of emergency. Seemed wise.

An emergency? No. We have lived through that.

He has brought gifts: Rom-Coms: French Kiss, Charade, Something’s Gotta Give. He says he will go to a hotel post haste. He has packed lightly.

I let him stay.

My bed is a double bed and he is tired. We lie down and sleep. We do not make love. When we awake, we go to Café Sévigné for omelets, croissants and cappuccino. He tells me he has never left me. I beg to differ. He tells me that he was lost, that the time he’s been away was a time to find, to search, to understand. He tells me that he thought he would find a life that was separate from me but what he found instead was a life that was his and that did not fit anywhere without me.

We walk the day into an evening winter. Near midnight, smokers: couples, singles, the street made safe by a habit that is banned indoors. The light of the match, a young man smiling at his girlfriend as she tries again and again to get her smoke and the flame breathing as she breathes in.

What he will tell me and what I tell him is to be revealed, for time is needed to discover, but in Paris I learn this:

In what I imagine is their reflected light, I hear D.’s words and in the dark see on his chest a small box. It is a box that I have seen before but that box was locked. I used to think that some day I would find the key, for the key was lost. Now the box is open. Inside the box, his heart beats: open heart, open heart.

I have not had the key.

He has come to Paris by the route T.S. Eliot describes:

To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive where you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

I have come to Paris this way.

We have met.

Where we’ve arrived is not on any map.

I now know the answer to this question: Where do you find what you have lost?