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?


  1. I'm having trouble separating fact from fiction. I will look to you in real life to sort it all out for me when we meet up.

    I kept envisioning myself in the many places you mentioned. The museum was open when I was last there.

  2. I am waiting to find out whether this is, indeed, the last place you look.

  3. I don't know that anyone ever has the key to another's heart until it is given willingly. That is the beauty and inherent vulnerability of love - the trusting of someone with the power that is the key.

  4. Beautiful work, Mary. I'm lingering on whether or not your picture is first in order now, or if all three are together on your nightstand?

    I also wonder if your story arch has been entirely organic, or have you known how it would be shaping up in advance?

    I'm sensing the answer is in between, as you're an experienced writer and teacher, yet seemingly so open and courageous. Learning and discovering by doing, versus by more comfortable and conventional methods.

    For me as a reader your unfolding expeiences and perceptions of them and of yourself feel entirely organic, but with an intuitive sense of recipe and and of making something fine. See wine and cheese...

    This makes your work truly compelling and your personal growth so promising, regardless of (because of?) your age.

    Thanks, Phil

  5. Restaurant Refugee, Phil, Rayna, and Barbara,

    I had to learn what you write here and I had to learn it outside the marriage: I had to be tossed out to learn it.

    Rayna, you understand the disorderliness of creation: Keep those recipes coming along with your art. Great blog.

    Barbara's blog wanders her life and discovers.

    Restaurant Refugee has a blog to savor: follow it if you are not already doing that. And you are wise here.

    Phil, you give me courage in both life and the work.

    And readers like you three make it worth writing the story of great difficulty and discovery.

    In your debt,


  6. I have been waiting for D. to return too. It does make a good Rom Com scene, D. showing up at your doorstep, suitcase in hand.

    It was a lot to go through but he arrives back with a different heart. I think the journey must be grueling to "arrive where you are", as Eliot says.

  7. I am struck by the sentence about Del wanting to find a life without you, but that his life did not fit anywhere without you.
    It is very touching and a very real expression of love that one's life is so tied to another person, and that without that other person, there really isn't very much.
    I think of the comment I heard many years ago of a globe-trotting foreign correspondent, who spoke poignantly of how, when she came home from abroad, talking with high officials, there was no one to meet her at the airport, no one to share her tales of travel with.
    How immportant it is to have just one person in one's life to listen to have a shoulder on which to lay one's head

  8. I'm baffled; that was not what I was expecting, but I am pleasantly surprised. And written so beautifuly as well. I suppose it does happen like the movies...sometimes. Did D really have those films in his hand? How funny. It is amazing how odd T.S. Elliots words make sense and how true they prove to be. The most profound things come from the unexpected and uncontroled.

    I'm not sure if this is it, because it could be, but I have enjoyed reading these past few months.

  9. Dear anonymous, Harvey Black and Jon,

    Anonymous: How wonderful you are to refer to a character in my book--at least I hope that's what you meant! Other folks, here's what I mean: Eliot appears twice in The Woman Who Never Cooked. Golly, I feel lucky, anonymous whoever you may be, that you have taken the time to read me here.

    Harvey Black: A tender, insightful comment that makes me think even more about what Jon then says ...

    Jon: In some ways what I've written here: all the entries: feel like a manuscript though I do need to now rewrite it and am doing so, but I don't think it's finished. But maybe it is.

    Don't you want to know how D. and I get from this point to a more realistic point of joining or even if that can happen now? I do.

    Do others think I have finished here as in a manuscript, regardless of what life actually offers? All comments welcome.


  10. Mary, maybe there is a "last dream" about you and D. that suggests a different dynamic between the two of you will evolve going forward, but still somewhat elusive and requiring the reader's self-reflection to interpret.

    Another "last dream" to consider is of course about your father. A different relationship with him going forward is just as meaningful in some ways to the story arch as your relationship with D. and, through each of these, with yourself.

    Also, you touch on your daughter and her family's life, and that is the other life that seems worthwhile to develop further as you evolve this into a manuscript. I'm not sure that means the ending is extended or if the entire flow is enriched by your touching it throughout.

    The other people stories are all properly left as far as I'm concerned.

    Thanks once more for everything so far,


  11. Mary, one more thought is to reinterpret a rom-com or two that you earlier introduce, perhaps as you watch it with D. by your side, perhaps as you interpret it together now.

    In my earlier comments, for example, I was startled that you focused entirely on Sandra Bullock. Her dynamic with Ryan Reynolds, the space between them, is something I feel you would agree is quite extraordinary, and it unlocks the film's most essential qualities and its deeper joy.

    Wine and cheese...


  12. Phil,

    This is such great advice. What a good reader you are! Please see what I've done in the new post: Hang in there: Interruptus (of sorts). I am rewriting and reorganizing: All the pieces are here, as a I say, with a new gloss on "Elephant." I see it now! I'm not sure how it all turns out. But I am certain that the rewriting I am doing from the beginning ... . Ah: To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
    You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

    Thank you. I do hope we shall meet some day soon,


  13. Now, I wonder why D. wanted to find a life without you. And if this was fiction then the narrator could delve into his thoughts (omniscience if I'm not mistaken, as one teacher once taught me).

    Excellent piece to your evolving book.

  14. Mary – the reaction to D’s return is, "There is no room for you.” This immediately reminded me of a poem by the Indian author/poet Tagore. Do you know it? Reading the poem might be interesting for you, it’s entitled "Lovers Gifts VIII: There is room for you." It opens, "There is room for you. You are alone with your few sheaves of rice. My boat is crowded, it is heavily laden, but how can I turn you away?" I see the same dilemma here: even an open heart can be crowded and sink under too much weight, but how can you turn him away? Read the poem and let me know what you think.

  15. Mary, I read it all. There are a book, a movie and many paintings here.

  16. We are still lost about D and what moves him to go to Paris. Why Paris? Seriously: Why Paris and not home?

  17. It is so heartening to feel as though both you and D have found yourselves more during/through your apartness, and will bring yourselves more truly/fully to togetherness, in whatever way that togetherness unfolds. The process of self-discovery, the opening of the heart to self and thus more fully to other, feels a heartening aspect of the larger arc of the narrative here. I am hopeful.


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