I can clock my love life by the timing of these mini-essays– something ends, bam, a big one, a-sock-it-to-you-hard, motherfucker of an essay, a see-what-you-can’t-have– Virginia Woolf meets Borat: you will never get this, you will never get this, all dressed up in lacy stockings and some little language such as lovers use, only now, we’re not lovers anymore; something starts, and there are three, four, five essays in a row, maybe twice a week: Scheherazade, writing for her life, me singing for my supper: I will make you love me with these words, you won’t know what hit you;
But fall in love, stay in love, for three, four, five months at a time, longer, even, and I go silent, the blank spaces a testament to something that’s working, or at least beginning to, the emptiness my chief way of saying I cannot speak, perhaps, of what is deepest in my heart, that the daily sweet grind of loving someone is the thing we keep closest– this silence present in everything between us, a joke, even, about the way we make love– he is incapable of dirty talk, something I always loved. I thought this would bother me, in the beginning, thought I would default to it, and he would say nothing, and I would feel like a fool. But, no. I forget it was ever even something I enjoyed when we are together. I forget everything– not quiet, but filled with wordless sounds, echoes–
Since June, now, in love with someone who defies every expectation of every thing I ever claimed to want, younger than me, no formal education, unsure of what he wants to do with his life, reserved and shy with people he doesn’t know, raucous and crudely hilarious with those he does. Poor. “A poor,” he calls himself, jokingly, whenever it comes up, as it does, with more frequency than I sometimes like. Loading the dishwasher at my house, he looks askance at it, says “Honey, where does this shit even GO?!”
“There’s not like, a rule to where you have to put stuff. Just shove it in where it fits,” I say, laughing.
“This is white people shit, babe,” he says.
“YOU’RE WHITE!” I bellow, laughing.
“Not really,” he says, hitting on another frequent topic of conversation between us. His father is half-black, his mother was white. He looks white– I’d have had no idea without his telling me, and certainly it makes no difference either way. But he grew up in uptown Atlantic City, the only white kid in school for most of his life, or at least until he dropped out in high school. If I was having a conversation about this with a fellow academic, I’d say he “passed.” When we talk, as in he and I, we have those kinds of conversations, too– just in a different language. With different words. If I said “Passing. You pass,” to him, in reference to the color of his skin and the “color” of his bloodline, he’d say “Explain it, babe.” And when I would, he’d say, “Oh, ok, sure.” Mr. Tattoos is smart as the proverbial whip, but he low keys it, his big brain hidden beneath his sloping brow and his colorful veneer, his quietude. “You should go back to school,” I am always saying to him, to which he nods, to which I think he secretly yearns for, another chance at a life that was taken from him– but it never goes far. We move onto other things.
My parents, of course, do not like him, do not like us– they have tried to adjust, tried to be kind; after all, he is lovely and sweet and great to his daughter, great to my son, to me. That should be all that matters. Except it isn’t– in August, it came to a head, my father unloading every anger, every anxiety, every fear he had onto me in the middle of a hot summer day, at the picnic table in his oasis– behind him, the coi pond glinted in the sunlight and the orchids, blooming, hung from the birch tree’s wide, banyan like branches; what was it Plath said? hanging its hanging garden… I stared blankly past him, my crying eyes hidden behind my Ray-Bans, stomach and fists in knots– If that’s as high as you wanna aim, fine. If he’s the best you think you can do, fine. But it’s fucking ridiculous. You’re a college professor. How’s it gonna go down when you bring him with those fucking ridiculous ears and tattoos to a Stockton function? Huh? How? Up above us, just past our gated yard, in his second-story apartment, I knew he could hear every thing my father said, knew his daughter could, too. As high as you wanna aim, huh? Sometimes, I imagine him hearing that, and it’s all I can do not to lose it, banish my father from my life. Another impossibility. Another reason to stab at synthesis. To back off.
To be quiet.
Somehow, after that, things were never quite the same. I knew it would be like that. I told him. This is gonna destroy us, I said, hanging onto him for dear life, smelling his neck. He said nothing, holding me back. Months have passed, with me never feeling like I’ve regained the footing I had when we were first an official couple in the summer, the total certainty I felt that, yes, indeed, this is exactly right. We are exactly right. We were, too. We are. I love every inch of him, and I know he loves me back. But the angry sounds of others stretch between us, sometimes. This morning, he stood next to me as I put my make-up on in the bathroom mirror, in my bra and panties, hands shaking.
“Every morning,” I said, finally, “I wake up terrified that I will lose everything that means anything to me.”
“Aw, honey,” he said, pulling me close to him. I wept for a minute against his sweater, smelled his neck. “You must chill, babe,” he said. What he always says. His winter beard rubbed against my cheek. What a strange thing, to be loved. To be accepted, unconditionally. What a strange thing to try and finally accept– I think back to my housewarming party in the late summer, the end of the night, grabbing his hand and sneaking him back to the laundry room, kissing him with an open mouth as the party wound down in the next room, moaning loudly– shhh— he said, quieting me, firmly. Even now, I think about it, and practically swoon; he quiets me, and I am full of desire. All in. Saying nothing at all.
Later, I stand, Hank-less for the afternoon, folding laundry, watching reruns of Gilmore Girls, the one when Emily tries to break up Luke and Lorelai, because she thinks Luke isn’t good enough– he’s not formally educated, he isn’t a proper stepfather…— and he finally bails on the craziness that is her huge, rich, overprotective family. She says she’ll abandon them for him. He knows this is impossible. She knows, too. She has a dream. She is watching herself and Luke sitting at a table, with champagne flutes in front of them. “I’m all in, Lorelai,” he says, referring to their relationship. “I’m all in.” She stares back. She says nothing. “Say something,” watcher Lorelai hisses. “SAY SOMETHING!” Everything is quiet. She wakes up.