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