The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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For two years we moved around each other in the same social circle, just outside of reach. It’s true, I was intrigued by this man who rejected all my overtures of friendship, my invitations to join my inner circle. I was thirty-one, married ten years, with two kids. I had no idea that I had never fallen in love. If I thought about it at all, I suppose I consigned the notion of falling in love to B-movies and romance magazines, teenagers, and women who paint their toenails pink.
Then, he walked into my house one day, sat on my red sofa, and told me he would love me forever, die for me, jump over the moon for me, fetch me whale bones from the bottom of the sea. This man is a lunatic, I thought, and that was probably my last rational thought on this planet. He repeated to me fragments of conversations we had had, and he told me what I was wearing, or how I was standing by the dining room window or sitting in the lobby of the museum that time we said nothing. The quality of light in the room began to make a subtle shift. Pink, I swear it was turning pink, and I was falling. I had been memorized by another being. Some kind of Gatsby had walked into my house.
Yes, it was one of my favorite novels. I was a romantic, all right, just one locked in a heavy state of denial. Had he moved to kiss me, the spell might have broken on the spot. Instead there was a waterfall of words and I am a poet and words were enough. Still, I hadn’t said a thing. I just stared like some hypnotized deer, stunned by the headlamps of some oncoming Mack truck roaring down the highway toward me. I became frightened when I heard him say he would be the one standing beside me when all my friends deserted me. I think I made a nervous laugh and found enough of my voice to say he had to leave. I told him I wasn’t going to be his tragedy.
I was holding on to the mantelpiece when he walked out the door. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t speak, but I was listening to the romantic that had been loosed in me. She was saying, Daisy was a fool, only a fool would say no to the kind of love that walked into the room today. But what if it’s a lie? I asked. She said, I’ve never heard anyone lie so beautifully. I felt a Yes welling up inside me and all the agitation fell away. In that sudden calm I knew I did not have to run after him and call him back or even phone him the next day. It had happened. It was unstoppable. When I saw him next, there was that Look; words were no longer necessary. The friends deserted. A few came back, but he was the one standing beside me, and still is, ten years later, and I am still amazed.
Glenn and I met working on the undergraduate literary magazine. I was terribly reserved at that point in my life. We spent an entire semester meeting for lunch in the student union, looking around at anything but each other. We were so aloof. Once, he called to invite me to go parachuting, and he asked in such a roundabout way that I hung up feeling I had invited myself. One night, he touched me lightly as I got out of a car. I told my sister, “I think he touched me but I’m not sure. Do you think he might have?”
I became wildly interested in him and told everyone that I was madly in love. I had no plan for expressing this to Glenn. We kept up our strange ritual of restrained but persistent acquaintance. I began to wake fully in the middle of the night. I sat and wrote in my tiny efficiency until morning. I never fully admitted to myself the source of my intense and unusual energy.
Glenn made the first expression of desire. I often fantasized later that I had been bolder. Still, the reality of what happened was exquisite. I cannot find the words to describe delicately enough the strangeness and intensity of our coming together. I don’t know why it took us so long. Neither of us was the other’s first lover, so I cannot wholly attribute it to shyness. In retrospect, it is as though we were deeply and fully savoring a stage in the development of a relationship that remains, eight years later, one of the great joys and mysteries of both our lives.
My lover of seven years — those tender years from ages sixteen to twenty-three — was missing. She had left her home without a word and nobody had heard from her in more than twenty-four hours. She was not doing well emotionally at the time, and although “the worst” had clearly crossed all our minds, there were still other explanations as to where she might be.
About halfway home from work that night, I started hyperventilating. I had to pull over to the side of the road. She was dead. I knew it. She was dead. I wept uncontrollably, then headed to her family’s house.
After I got there, it took me a long time to leave my car because I knew of the impending news. When I went inside, even the air was dead. The unnecessary confirmation came in a few choking words: “She is gone.”
I ran to the closest empty room — a room where we had spent many, many hours together, lifetimes together for adolescents. Like a dog, I lay on the floor under a desk, pushing myself into the corner of the room. I have never felt such pain. It felt as if two sharp sets of claws were ripping my insides out. The tears weren’t easing any of the pain. It was the most difficult moment of my life.
I ran outside and lay in the field and I asked God why she took her own life. Was it because of something I did or didn’t do? I asked her the same question. There was no reply. I was completely shattered. I needed love, time, and healing.
The night before, when she was missing, I had dragged my phone into my bedroom in case she called me. The following night, after I knew she had taken her life, I didn’t have the heart to move the phone out of my bedroom, as if she still might call. I left the phone there for a few days, because I loved her. I still love her.
Everyone in my family told stories. To this day, an event isn’t as real to me when it happens as it is when I have told someone about it, or written it down in my journal. People in my family told stories about the world, about other people, and about each other — their favorite topic of conversation. But this is the only love story I ever remember being told in whispers.
Nanny (my mother’s mother) was in love with a man who was only half Jewish. It was the right half, his mother, but he was raised as a Christian, so Nanny’s father wouldn’t let her marry him. They pleaded, and finally my great-grandfather said that they could get married if the man converted to Judaism. He agreed. Then it turned out that he hadn’t even been circumcised. So he agreed to do that too. In the end, however, my great-grandfather wouldn’t allow the marriage. This was during World War I. My grandmother’s beloved enlisted, and almost immediately flew his plane into the side of a mountain.
When she told me that story, Nanny was already an old woman. Her marriage to my grandfather hadn’t worked out. They divorced when my mother was five. I couldn’t understand why she hadn’t run away with the first man. And I wasn’t entirely clear about why he had killed himself.
For years after she told me that story I used to wonder who I would have been, or even if I would have been, if Nanny, instead of marrying Grandpa Lester — whom I saw only a few times in my life, and who smelled funny — had married the handsome man in the cardboard photograph, with the big moustache and the big, dark, piercing eyes.
Brooklyn, New York
That mint, that kiss, that joy-dispensing gypsy who smoked Old Gold cigarettes and smelled of cloves and taught my brother and sister and me to play poker and bingo: my grandmother. For her, anything was a metaphor for grace or mirth — mud, a dream, the color of an eye, a soup can label, the scent of talcum, towel-dried hair, thrice-warmed coffee, toenail clippings. I remember her stooped like a peasant in a van Gogh sketch, coaxing huckleberries from low bushes. Our shadows grow long across the field. She stands, and the dress that hangs on her like a worn-out wing is suddenly struck through by a stray beam of day’s end light. She motions and says — what? I don’t remember. Or does she smile? I don’t remember: I am watching the sun set at her hem.
Her face was strong-boned, yet delicate — this due to her wide, full mouth, high cheekbones and thick, black brows beneath waved, white hair. Her eyes were blue and beyond description. In them was something clear and substantial, so that she often seemed to be seeing more than what she was actually looking at.
The last time I was with her, morphine was fogging her. I kept talking, talking, to fill the room and fog my own pain. My words sounded stupid, specious. Finally, I just shut myself up. That was so much easier, just being there with her in the stillness. After a time, I stood to go, and I reached down to her. She was so small: cancer, that great shark, had eaten away so much of her. Her arms reached up and pulled my face into her neck. We stayed like that — joined without words — for minutes; then she whispered, “I don’t want you to feel bad.” Tears I hadn’t known were there slid out of my eyes, wetting her loose skin and her loose nightgown. I tightened my arms around her, tightened my closed eyelids, and promised (lied), “I won’t.”
Rusty C. Moe
Love is a hope, a promise, a band-aid.
Once, she’d rush to you, the giggle of her arms raised to yours, the sweet breath of her day held gently around you. Evenings, the moon sighed as you read aloud, her mouth moist on your arm. You stayed up late to protect her dreams, to smooth a forehead, to tuck a tender blanket.
“Am I pretty?” she asked, twirling around you. You wore her beauty in your face, measured it with your voice.
Now, she slams her face closed. Your words are dried crusts, forgotten, undelicious. Your arms are an outgrown T-shirt, your ideas a Beowulf. She sees you as a series of untranslatable Olde English phrases.
Still, you remember the way she used to look at you, the everything you were to her, and wish you could find again the promise of love in your daughter’s face.
We fell in love at a rock ’n’ roll bar. I was the bartender. Chuck used to come in for beers after work. He had blue eyes and nice biceps.
I didn’t see what brought him to the LayZ J Saloon. It was an awful place. Once the band kicked in, you couldn’t hear a thing. People leaned together shouting at each other, communicating only the most rudimentary messages. The ventilation system didn’t work, and on Saturday nights people fainted on the dance floor. Bikers had started coming in, and sometimes there were fights. People threw up in the bathrooms.
I assumed Chuck came to flirt with a skinny, blond foozball player named Starla. Aside from that, he seemed to find the LayZ J amusing. On Saturday nights he’d take blotter acid and stand at the bar, grinning from ear to ear. I’d catch a glimpse of his face in the crowd and he’d laugh. He laughed at everything, including me. He thought my boyfriends were idiots. Maybe he thought I was an idiot, too.
I liked to drink beer with him during my breaks. He had eyes that looked back when I looked into them. If he left me in the dust intellectually, he didn’t seem to mind. In him I found a human presence — a heart in that environment of duplicity and compulsion. Though I didn’t know it, being with him was showing me glimpses of who I was, or who I might be. Until then, I had seen myself through the eyes of the other men on that side of the bar.
“I like a man with a strong jawline,” I told Chuck. He didn’t take me seriously; he had a girlfriend who didn’t hang out in rock ’n’ roll bars or drink too much or wear clothes that were too tight. She belonged to a utopian feminist collective. She was part of a worker-owned feminist bookstore. Her dog was a vegetarian. Who could follow an act like that? She sometimes came to the bar with Chuck and her other boyfriend — they all had a house together over on the east side. They were anarchists. Chuck told me he didn’t believe in the psychology of love. “Hmph,” I said.
One afternoon Chuck stopped by to talk to me about an article I’d written for the local alternative paper. It was a criticism of the medical industry. He handed me a paperback book, Tools for Conviviality, by Ivan Illich. “One of my favorite books,” he said. “I think you’ll like it.” It was happy hour and we were standing at the bar, rows of drunk men in baseball caps on either side of us. Outside it was autumn, the leaves just turning, the sun shining. I took one look at that little book and another look into his eyes — blue and serious — and that was it, forever, I was in love.
Why, as I drink red wine, do I think of him? It’s odd that it’s red wine. For ten days that summer, we drank white wine in the mountains and at the beach. One day, he packed some into a styrofoam chest of ice with two crystal goblets and put it into the back of his truck. We drove to the beach to watch the full moon rise over the waves. He was going away. We lay in his truck bed on my black futon under the new stars and the full moon, and we drank glass after glass of wine. And when we were done, he tossed his goblet into the rocks like an ancient king. “So be it,” his gesture seemed to say. It shattered amidst the roar of the waves and I could still hear it. I threw mine into the air after his, and it splintered too, bright shards catching the light of the moon. So be it.
I wonder why I still thirst for him, why I have to restrain myself from shattering my empty glass against the windowpanes in this quiet Italian restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway at 1:10 in the afternoon on this Thursday, the twenty-third of June, in this year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and eighty-eight?
My husband and I had been married less than a year, and it felt like our relationship was coming to an end. Communication was difficult, fights were frequent, and I wasn’t feeling my love for him.
So we went on a pilgrimage, starting at Mount Shasta and arriving at the sacred ground of the Hopi. We camped high on the mesa. It was a full moon. The setting was perfect, with San Francisco peaks in the distance, and old Oraibi silhouetted against a starry sky.
My husband went to sleep in the dome tent. I stayed up to make a fire and pray. I desperately needed help. When I finished praying, I knew I had touched a place so deep and so honest that I was surprised when nothing dramatic followed. I half expected an eagle spirit to swoop out of the sky, or a feathered dancer shaking a rattle or snake to appear in the flames. Instead I went to bed, looking wistfully at my husband’s sleeping face. A healing dream would come that night, I thought, and the next day would be different.
I awoke untransformed. Disappointed and depressed, I went outside and started breakfast. Suddenly, a green pickup truck came barreling down the road in front of a huge cloud of dust and pulled right up to the campsite. There were two native Americans in the cab. The passenger appeared passed-out in his seat; the driver got out and staggered toward me. He was a big, rough-looking man with wild eyes and the scrapes and smells of someone who’s been bar brawling all night. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” he demanded. I was petrified but managed to say, “Cooking oatmeal. Would you like some?” My husband appeared from the tent, having finished his morning meditation. He said cheerily, “We’re here for God.” Inwardly, I groaned. “Don’t say that to him,” I thought. I was expecting the worst when, to my amazement, the Indian softened and asked, “You mean, our Lord?” My husband nodded. The man smiled and began to tell us his story.
He had indeed been drinking and fighting all night. As he was leaving for home, feeling dead tired, Jesus called him and told him to come right to this place. Apparently, this man had been schooled by missionaries as a youth. All his life, he had asked Jesus to use him. But not until tonight, when he most wanted to go home and sleep, had Jesus called him. Resentful and angry, he drove for miles, only to find two white folks. But now he knew he had come to the right place.
My mind was reeling. Could this possibly have anything to do with last night? The man looked closely at my husband and said, “No, not you, you’re OK.” Then he turned to me and said, “Oh. It’s you. You’re the one who needs help. You’re the one whose faith is not strong.” I could not believe it. What a sense of humor God has. I wanted a traditional messenger, and instead I got a drunk native American evangelist.
With one arm around each of us, he pulled us close to his alcohol breath. He sent up a beautiful prayer: “Dear Lord, I know I drink too much, but the flesh is weak. You know I love you. I love you! I want to pray for this woman here. Her faith is not strong. She has doubts. She doesn’t understand that she’s supposed to be with this man. That all the trials and tribulations are your tests of her strength and she must be stronger!”
Tears were streaming down my cheeks. I was so overwhelmed, I didn’t hear exactly what else he said. He prayed for us, and for the Hopi people, and for himself. As soon as he finished, he shook our hands, got back into his green pickup, and took off up the road in another cloud of dust.
Our lives changed after that. Six years have passed, and my love stays strong.
I’m forty-two. It’s a year and a half since my second divorce, and I am just catching on that love doesn’t require anything but a willingness to feel. No second or third parties are necessary.
With some serious help from friends and my own desire to feel love somehow, I’m getting it: love isn’t something I catch like a cold from someone I’ve chosen to catch it from; it’s an unfolding of what or who I am. After all the anger, fear, avoidance, and grief are exhausted, if I’m still sitting here when all the dust settles, what arises is the sweetest feeling I’ve ever felt. It must be love.
I met him when I was nineteen. I can still remember seeing him across the room and knowing deep inside he was the one. We were together in Minneapolis for only three weeks. We talked about seeing, knowing, and believing. He would read to me from authors like Castañeda and Watts who articulated things of the spirit that I was only learning to think about. He was the only person I’d ever known who understood my thoughts better than I did.
He was gentle. He had soulful eyes behind round metal-rimmed glasses. He stood straight and firm; he seemed so sure, so steady. Three weeks flew by, and we separated to travel distant paths, I in Europe and he in California. He was my very good friend, and we wrote a lot. While living in France, I knew a girl who also had a good friend. When she spoke of hers, she always said she was in love with him. It struck me that perhaps I too was in love. He laughed when I told him of my discovery over the fuzz of long distance. We wrote long letters — not love letters, but letters in which our individual searches brought us closer to each other. My heart would race at the prospect of checking the mail. Almost two years after our first meeting and dozens of letters later, I declared that I’d had enough. I couldn’t write anymore; we had to meet. We did. We lived together, married, and had a child together.
Now I am living all the things with this man I dreamt of and longed for. We’ve grown up together through varied versions of co-dependency and unrequited love. It’s never what you think it will be. . . . He laughs when he tells me, “So here you are, married to the man of your dreams.” He’s right. But I often forget that. The memory gets lost beneath the piles of dirty laundry, dirty dishes, and frantic schedules. New baby and old family issues dominate the focus. But every now and then, seeing his penmanship or looking at him reading across the room, behind his metal-rimmed glasses, I feel the young girl of nineteen who fell in love with him. Grown up now, I fall in love all over again. But this love is a deeper one, born of all the efforts of conflicts resolved, communication achieved, joy and pain shared. It’s a love that fills all of me and all of my life.
It was 1966 and the Vietnam War was on. I would graduate from a New York Catholic college in two weeks and be commissioned as an army officer.
Into my philosophy class came a recruiter for the Catholic church’s equivalent of the government’s VISTA program. I volunteered. I asked the army for a new reporting date so that I could do this work I was drawn to, and it was granted.
I was sent to a small, dusty west Texas farming town where I was to work for the only priest in the county. I would be his liaison with his scattered Mexican-American parishioners. When I arrived, I was met by one of the outgoing volunteers. He stayed on an extra week to introduce me around, and he told me about her. She was the smartest girl in town, he said. At the time, she was in California picking fruit with her family. I felt drawn to her.
One Sunday a station wagon arrived at the church and she stepped out. I knew it was she. Her Indian eyes and cheekbones enchanted me. Her mere presence was energizing. I spoke with her whenever I could, but kept a respectful distance. She was fourteen years old. I was in love with her. I did not see a teenager, but a woman who was intelligent, vibrant, and my equal.
I did my time for the priest and went off to the army. When I received orders for Vietnam and proceeded to California, I decided to detour through her town. She did not know I was coming.
Having hitchhiked into town, I went first to the church where I used to work. She happened to be sweeping the church hall. Why wasn’t she out with her boyfriend or shopping in Lubbock with her family? She asked for my address so she could write. She was sixteen years old.
We wrote for the year and a half that I was in the war, and then continued for the year I was back in New York working for the telephone company. I waited until she was eighteen to tell her that I was in love with her. She replied in kind.
I quit my job a few months later and returned to west Texas. Two weeks later we were lovers, and seven months later we were married. She was nineteen.
A year ago, on our seventeenth anniversary, she left. I was still in love with her. She said she needed to grow and it had to be without me.
I look at my thirteen-year-old son and remember the way I loved her for twenty-three years.
Frank J. Pezzano
Cedar Crest, New Mexico
Sparrow is a regular contributor to The Sun. So is Ellen Carter. (Ellen is the woman whom Sparrow fondly and frequently refers to in US pieces as Violet.)
Together, they publish an unusual community newspaper, The 11th Street Ruse, which mixes social commentary, poetry, and humor. (You can get four issues for $1 by writing to 322 East 11th Street, #23, New York, New York 10003.)
Since Sparrow and Ellen wrote the following, they’ve added a chapter: they’ve gotten married.
We’re writing on the platform of a subway, heading south toward a Max Roach concert in Staten Island. Roach is the most prominent bebop drummer, and bebop figures large in our alliance. We, as a couple, have heroes. Charlie Parker is one, and so is Cezanne.
Cezanne looked at bowls of fruit and said, “You are a bowl of fruit,” and painted them, and when you look at them you feel great that life is so real.
Charlie Parker played music that sounds like nonsense at first, like “spackle make the moonman good,” but when you hear it again and again, it’s like learning Italian.
Languages, especially French, are a cause with us. We just tonight read a Pierre Reverdy poem together — it was sad, like knocking your boot against a wall to shake off the dirt, at dawn, when you’ve worked all night, and you’re coming home with a quart of milk under your arm.
I’m a Jew and she’s a half-lapsed Italian. (Her father’s real name is Ciliotta, but he made it “Carter” to fit in.) Both our mothers are American-Americans, though. I grew up in a housing project in Manhattan; she thrived in a suburb of Poughkeepsie. We met in a poetry class in the East Village in 1985. After class, most of us dined on soup at the Yaffa Cafe. I never stopped talking. She never started. For this reason, we fell in love.
Now we live together on 11th Street, with a bathtub in the kitchen, and I still talk all the time, and she still listens, mostly. (Though last night she described two Kurosawa films as if she wrote them.)
This morning I asked, “Who was your favorite Beatle?” and she said, “You mean right now? Or historically?”
“Paul, then John.”
“My favorite is Ringo, ’cause the rest seem like frauds, while he was a working-class — what’s the word? — opportunist.”
I’m sick of the Beatles — with their Positive Thinking and song titles like Protestant sermons: “Let It Be,” “All You Need Is Love.”
Ellen’s a Theravadan Buddhist and I’m in Ananda Marga. When we meditate in the same room, our heads both explode.
We’re spiritual people — in quotes — but we still yell at each other a lot. Maybe it’s spiritual to yell. Who do you ask to find out? In India, they yell a lot.
In March, we decide whether to marry and give forth a child. I think we will.
Today at my poetry workshop nobody liked my poems, and I got sad, and tonight I think, Ellen is a friend in this carnival world.
New York, New York
This may be our last Saturday night out together for a while. We’ve been going to movies and visiting couples, and the latest is he thinks I’m getting too dependent on him and need to spend more time with my own friends. We go through phases of this, swinging back and forth, separate, together, clunk heads, fight, make up.
Now I see he’s writing about Cezanne, one of my new obsessions, although I discovered him on my own. (I’m out to prove here that I am not his “sidekick” as he claims people see me, though I admit I’m defensive because I know it is my tendency to hang back and wait for him to lead. I guess I was trained that way, and it’s hard to un-train myself, but of course I am a separate person even if I don’t always act that way, and of course he’s embarrassed too that he wants a sidekick and has trouble, finally, standing on his own without one.)
But he was right, I was getting isolated from my friends, so I went out with Cory last night to two Kurosawa films, and one was about two young lovers who wanted to marry but were broke and kept arguing about money, and it kept reminding me of us because we’ve been fighting about whether I should get a full-time job programming capitalists’ computers (he thinks he’ll thereby lose me ’cause he’s a quasi-hippie). Also, she kept trying to cheer him up when he was aggrieved and wouldn’t talk to her — well, we take turns at those roles. At the end she hugged him in the band shell after he pretended to conduct Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony.” I thought, “They’re going to make it,” as I do about us so often.
Next ferry departs in six minutes. I’ve never ridden the Staten Island ferry with him before. But he needs to meditate on the boat. We can’t meditate together because he uses a mantra, and I do an insight meditation. When we try to sit together, he gets a headache, and I feel like there’s a pair of headlights shining in my eyes. Still, it’s a bond, that we both meditate. And it was Sparrow who got me back into it after an eight-year hiatus.
Our sex has been good lately. It, too, has its phases. At first we had this mild S-M routine, but our therapist in London got me to stop trying to please him so much (I mean in life, not just in sex), and then the S-M stopped working. Now he’s the one obsessed with not trying to please me so much. It’s amazing how similar our neuroses are, even though they look totally different.
Another thing we have in common is, of course, writing. I’m more of a poet, and he’s more of a proseist, luckily, so the competition doesn’t get too cutthroat. Although I’m working on a novel now, about a mind-reading device that drastically alters twenty-first century society. We both want to alter this society, but Sparrow is more systematic about it (I mean political) than I. We write The 11th Street Ruse with this end in mind. I don’t know if it’s working, but it’s made us slightly (although pseudonymously) famous — more than forty subscribers already. This issue’s late because we decided to photocopy instead of mimeo it, and then Ira’s Xerox machine broke, but now it’s fixed, so the issue will be out quite soon.
And here comes Max Roach. Sparrow takes my hand.
New York, New York