“Without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life.
Once her young daughter was asleep on the couch, Anne grabbed two blankets and I followed her out into the darkness beyond the door, across the yard towards a tree in the back woods. Chirping cricket songs flooded my ears, a soothing soundtrack swiftly drowned out by relentless barking of the neighbor’s dog.
Finally, beneath the tree, she placed the blanket on the ground and told me to lie down. I did, and then we proceeded to do what we do. We kissed, slid our hands around each other, stripped off our second skins. Insects feasted on flesh. The dog howled in the distance as I slid myself inside her.
This was our post-midnight sex picnic. Stings and sweat in the shadows. Orgasms beneath the stars.
She felt different that night. Sex felt different. Distinctly different, and it scared me. That unspoken thing, the venomous thoughts wrapped in those wretched emotions that she tried to hide from me, it was all swelling in her more than usual that evening. Like an itch you’re trying to ignore, trying like hell not to scratch, because you know if you do so you’re just going to open an old wound. Its just going to bleed like a gusher, pour out like a goddamned waterfall, and after scratching off the scabs you’re just going to have to start the healing process all over again.
Time passes. Cloths back on, blankets rolled up, we go back into her mother’s house and lay down on the cot near her sleeping daughter. As the sun rises, bleeding in through the windows, Anne finally says it to me. Face in the pillow, out of the blue, she asks where I see this going.
Stop thinking, she had told me. Just feel. Live in the here and now. I had been happy doing just that, too — being right here, right now. Now I felt as if she had murdered the moment by turning our attention to its inherent transience. The truth was that the here and now was dead. The picnic was over. It was all about tomorrow. Now that the now is gone and the future’s in sight, in my mind today is already yesterday.
I told her I didn’t know. That I was happy just doing what we were doing, seeing where this would go. I knew that wasn’t enough, and though I knew it would be a knife to the jugular when she answered, I asked her where she thought this was going, where she wanted this all to go between her and I. Sometime in the future, she said, she could see us moving in together. That was all I heard. The rest was a static hiss, an auditory blur, verbal vegetable soup, because whether she was inclined to say it or not I knew what she was really saying. Rarely do we have to talk to understand each other. Talk was just an obligatory ritual. Mutual masturbation.
My goal was independence. Self-sufficiency. To be able to emotionally, mentally, physically, financially be on my own and in control of my own life. This felt imperative. This path I was taking with her, the path I was following her down, I’d been trying to ignore the fact that this led in a diametrically-opposing direction. I won’t sacrifice myself to a life like that. I’m sick of riding coat tails. Of relying and depending on people. Being a fucking parasite. Being weak and powerless. Having no true freedom because I’m afraid to stand alone and take life by the reins. And her future would inevitably lead to that, I can see it now. She’s the strong one. She’s the one with the know-how in this practical side of life. She’s the one with ambition. She would be the bread winner. I would be a young child of stunted growth trapped in the body of an ever-aging man leaching off of a beautiful, intelligent woman.
I was thinking, what was wrong with me in high school? Why couldn’t I have had relationships like this back then, when we were all younger and no one was constantly thinking about living together and sharing finances and marriage and every other step we take from here on until we become worm food once again six feet down? Why can’t we just be like children here, my mind is asking her?
As if an answer, Allie, her beautiful daughter squirms in her sleep on the couch a few feet away. When she awakens, conversation stops, but what’s said is said. Its out in the open now. The cat is out of the bag. Its kind of like Pandora’s box has been opened, but I wonder if that last thing is really there in the box. The last remaining item in Pandora’s picnic basket.
Next, it’s perhaps a week later. My tired eyes open as I slowly crawl towards wakefulness. The jingle on my cell phone is the dirge song, the funeral song, and it was playing over and over throughout my dreams. I would be half awake and think, hey, I know that sound, but I would be unable to place it. Staring at my cell phone now, I note the time. Its morning for me, but afternoon for most sane people. I’m in the living room of the trailer, or maybe its a front room, its all the same to me. I’m on the couch and half awake, staring at the phone, at the over twenty some missed calls I have listed. All from her.
Yes, maybe she’s in trouble. Got in a car accident. Something like that, and that’s why she’s trying so desperately to get a hold of me. I know that’s not it, though. I will call her back and she’ll act fine and I’ll say a lot of nothing because I never have anything to say because nothing ever seems to get through the filter existing between my brain and my mouth. My stomach turned. My mind was black. It was now or never and I knew it. It had been brewing in my mind and now it was boiling over. I was irritated and I had to do this. This was not what I wanted. This was not what she wanted. This was clear as the vivid blue skies on a cloudless summer day and I was sick of playing the blind man.
So I scrolled down to her name, pressed select, and she answered. We both exchanged heys. And what I told her was, look, I know I’m the asshole, I know I’m letting you down again, and I’m terrified you’re going to turn your back on me and never speak to me again, but it’s dishonest to hold it in when the sole motivation is fear. I just can’t do this anymore.That’s what it played out to be in my mind, and what stumbled out my mouth as my voice failed me and words smashed into words and letters fell over one another was something analogous.
So, she says, I guess this means you won’t be coming over.
She says it as if its a joke and my first thought was, this is not how I expected you to react at all. I’m not joking. This has been eating me up inside, and I mean it. I’m breaking up with you. I’m thinking, what you want is someone you can rely on, depend on. Someone who’s going to be by your side through thick and thin, and I’m too busy drowning in myself and trying to disentangle myself from the web-work of my mind day in and day out. You want a partner, and the whole aim of my life right now is to find independence, self-sufficiency. You want someone who will pick you up and take you out to dinner and make plans and take initiative. You want someone who calls you out of the blue or on routine or for reasons beyond the fact that you called them twenty to thirty times and they thought that meant you wanted them to call you back. You want someone dedicated and involved and engaged in the relationship, willing to nurture it. You want someone who’s going to bring you flowers and make reservations for two and bring you wine and dance with you in the cold rain.
Not someone who you’ll drop by to see after work who, after forty-five minutes of talking and smoking and teeter-tottering will say, hey, why don’t we go up to Denny’s. And then you eat with him and follow him home and you have sex. And then smoke and drink water as he stares into space, answering, `nothing’, whenever you ask him what he’s thinking, which you know is a billion light years from any semblance of truth. And then you have sex again.
She tells me that I’m just in a bad mood, though, and that I should calm down, that I should relax, and that I should just come over. She has made some of her Mexican style food, spicy just as I like it, and its going to go to waste if I don’t come over.
Stop being calm and controlled. Stop being the rock, the island. Stop having everything roll off you like rain. I am cradling an emotional whirlwind and she is the bamboo, bending but never breaking.
I tell her no, I don’t think so, I’m not going to come over, not this weekend. And here I’m crying like a fucking ninny, as she’s so calm and serene, and I’m thinking, who am I really betraying here? She says, okay, and she says it in her I-give-up voice. And she goes, I’ll talk to you later. We exchange goodbyes. Ten minutes later she calls me back, still all calm like nothing’s ever been wrong, and says that that television she let us borrow that I said I could return if she needed it, she could use it. Her little television, the one that used to be in Allie’s room, it doesn’t have the hook-up for the DVD or the X-Box or something. So why don’t I just bring it over and eat the food.
After a short pause, I say okay.
So I drive to her apartment. It’s the first time I’d ever drove there. I’m terrified, and its a long drive, but somehow I make it without taking a single wrong turn. Which is absolutely fucking amazing because my internal compass is forever bound within the confines of my subjective Bermuda Triangle, needle spinning like a top.
I remember her door. I finish my cigarette, I sigh to calm myself. My hands clammy and my knuckles are still white from gripping the steering wheel for dear life all the way here. Body drenched in a cold sweat. Heart thumping. That perpetual lump in my throat that throbs with every beat of my heart that I can’t cough up or choke down. Lungs black and wheezing every time I take a breath in, no doubt from all the cigarettes I high-speed chain-smoked all the way here. Face and body numb and strained from the tension, the anxiety attack I had between my place and hers.
I knock on the door and she answers in her Korean bathrobe, reds and whites and flowers. Beautiful and so perfect for her it seems to scream her. And she smiles warmly at me as she always smiles, eyes twinkling as they always do, concealing things within them as they always will. And we say hi. And our arms wrap around each other and we hug tightly and melt into each other.
That moment I’m thinking, lets forget all of today before right now. But I don’t say it.
Her daughter, Allie, below she’s running up to me and screaming my name. She makes me melt. I’m wondering as all this is happening, why does this all seem like some depressing nostalgic memory? Like I’m looking back on this with this infinite sadness from some vantage point in the future? As if this is some happy moment overcast by this horrible, dark storm cloud? Its like I’m in the back row of the movie theater again, watching this idiot in this scene with this beautiful girl and her beautiful daughter, and wondering what the hell is wrong with this idiot, wondering why he’s shooting himself in the foot.
Allie looking up at me with bright eyes just like her mothers, that perpetual heart-warming smile, again, just like her mother. Why do I have the feeling this wonderful child is going to grow up and if she remembers me at all will remember me as a fuzzy figment associated with disdain?
We get the television and we sit down at the table. The food is, of course, excellent. She hasn’t made any dish I haven’t liked. And as I eat nervously and Allie’s running around, Anne crosses her legs and she looks at me. She says, Ben, does this mean you don’t want to have sex with me?
Every action, every word today from her is surreal. I’m waiting to wake up from this fucked up dream to the sound of my little blue cell phone playing the dirge song any moment now.
And I don’t know what I said exactly, I cannot even imagine how I responded, but it was basically the truth: no, no, no, in no way does this mean I don’t want to have sex with you. Its gotten to the point now that I can’t imagine not having sex with you. I’m around you, I breathe sex. And I feel guilty about sex. And I feel guilty about wanting it. And sometimes I don’t want to want it.
I don’t know why, but everything is deja-vu again.
If only feelings were enough to prove things. If only emotions didn’t have a habit of betraying me, leading me off the edge of a cliff right after I spent all that time climbing back up the fucking mountain. But I can’t trust my emotions. I can’t trust myself. So I can’t trust my feeling of trust in myself, and I therefore can’t trust my feelings of trust in anyone or anything else.
Just like I want not to want, all my feelings are compound, dualistic, frayed, dichotomous. Every thought or emotion has his evil twin of equal intensity.
No, I think, as a matter of fact I want to have sex right now.
And when we did have sex, she told me to stop thinking about it, to stop worrying. Trying to alleviate my guilt. This was her choice, to let me have this, not mine. There is nothing wrong with this. Sex is a recreational activity, she always said. She doesn’t know if we could be around each other and not have sex, she tells me, and I had been wondering the same thing. Worried about the same thing. So this is the solution. I want you in my life and I’m willing to take what I can get, she said, or implied enough for me to imagine her saying. And so it seems she wants this. And I feel I need this. So we keep on doing this.
Sometimes it was as if that day had never happened at all. We weren’t really broken up. What it ended up feeling like was that I was getting all the benefits of a relationship but none of the obligations. I knew that’s how I was going to feel, and I knew that was going to compound guilt, and for good reason. This made me a total asshole. Every weekend, or every other weekend we saw each other. Hung out, got a bite to eat, had sex. And I’m thinking that this cannot be making her happy. But I kept doing it, because all motivations are fundamentally selfish. Welcome to human nature.
One weekend, she came online and tried to talk me into coming to her place. I was in a funk, as it is all too often, and I didn’t want to leave. The outside world was dark and cold and threatening. I wanted to be by myself, to create. She was doing well on luring me there with sex, but I fought with myself.
Then she tells me to go online, to stay on the phone. She puts up her webcam. My computer is shit, so the video was choppy. Buffering. Her fingers were in her, out if her, segue lost in cyberspace.
There are many firsts with her. I lost my virginity to her back in 1999, and she’s taken my virginity in many other experiences since. That day she took another.
I could see her, but she couldn’t see me. I could hear her, but she couldn’t hear me. As she played with herself in front of the camera, I played with myself, listening to her from the phone I placed beside me.
I think the distance began to increase here. Erecting walls, building boundaries. Hiding behind a monitor. Watching as a detached observer, just playing with myself.
It was more than just a metaphor. And it was only the first step back, the first step away.
So finally I check her online journal. There are a few entries, and I hadn’t realized she’d been posting any at all. I hadn’t checked it in awhile. So she writes that she’d just recently gotten her divorce. Its official. She writes how she’s back on the market. Then about her second date with this one guy. She had written how she could potentially play both sides of the fence, be with him and be with me.
As I’m reading it I’m feeling hurt and angry and at the same time thinking, what the hell right do I have to feel hurt and angry? I don’t own her, she’s no possession. We’re not married. She’s not even my girlfriend, for fuck’s sake. I broke up with her, after all. Still, she never once mentioned this. Why hadn’t she told me? She should have told me. Because she’s not playing both sides of the fence. No way. Why, I don’t know, but damn it, its just not happening this way.
So I write a few poems to sort shit out, as poetry is a good way for me to do that for some reason, and then I email her. I tell her that if she’s having sex with him, that’s fine, that’s her prerogative. If she wants something more substantial, I understand. But I don’t want to have sex with her if she’s having sex with him. I don’t want to write this as I’m writing it but I’m writing it, I don’t want to send it as I’m pressing the send button, but I’m sending it. I’m thinking of writing back and saying, okay, never mind, play both sides of the fence but don’t ever mention he exists, make sure we never meet, and let’s pretend I just don’t know. I don’t do it, because that’s stupid and I know it.
She writes back and explains it fairly well. And what I get from it is that she loves me, she gets the impression I don’t love her back, she’s sick of pretending otherwise and she needs to find a suitable replacement and move on. And this guy, if not an end, is a good start.
I understand her position. I just don’t get my own reaction to all this.
So we write to each other over instant messenger and talk to each other over the phone. And we were supposed to see each other just before my birthday, but I called it off. Couldn’t see her, as this is all just too fucked up and I’m too much of a wuss to handle it. I don’t think I’ve heard from her since. A few days later I go to check her online journal, and its gone. Erased. Her poetry, save for one poem, vanished from an online forum.
For a time we would speak to each other on the phone, then that fizzed out. A few years later, she friends me on a popular social networking site. Perhaps a year passes before I send her an email to ask how she’s doing.
She informs me that she only friended me because she wanted me to look at the pictures on her page and agonize over what could have been, that she has no desire to make contact with me and has now decided to sever this final tie with me. Her and her boyfriend are going to buy a house within the year. She’s going to marry him. She can only go forward, she says, and refuses to live in the past. And I am the past. I am yesterday, like I was before all this happened between us again. I remembered all too clearly the last time this happened, too. I remembered the years of anger, and I tell her that she’s not going to make me angry at her. That she should do what she needs to.
Still, she fascinates me; she always shall. Sometimes it seems as if the girl is pure will, always overcoming herself, refusing to live with regret or provide excuses. Qualities I always found enviable. Where she refuses to hold on to things, where she embraces forgetting, I struggle to let go.
I strive to remember.