Tuesday evening 15 March 1988
It was a long day at work and you know the project has been going well, but with so many hours to put in as we prepare for Beta, I sit in my apartment and stare out the window in the dark until the tension begins to slip away.
I know. I am always in a serious mood when I write getting home late from the office, and it is silly for me to speak of all that when I want to share a lighter part of myself and imagine you laughing as you read. But I come home and I am still churning the latest figures and tests. I know you are on the other side of the equation and on the other side of the ocean living your life. But this was our first bridge, this common work, and it seems the easiest way in which to attempt my footing, to broach a difficult subject.
Oh, that sounds wrong and this may be another letter tucked away and left unaddressed and unposted, my words unspoken in either your language or my own, nonexistent really if no one ever reads them. So I pour out my heart and silence it à la fois, because I do not know your feelings yet. And there is the Atlantic that keeps us apart and more than that, as I am well aware.
I will say that your visit last week was a sweet surprise.
That you were able to extend the trip for four days wreaked havoc on my concentration but oh, the nights we had to walk the city, to whisper over dinners, to spend in bed together and with so much tenderness. This is not something I have known before and you will call me a romantic girl again but I am not that much younger than you, though I sense my inexperience – not in bed so much as in the complexities of life. What I do know with certainty, even if you tease me, is how treasured I feel in your company and how safe, with my head leaned against your barrel of a chest.
I did not know how much I needed to feel safe.
We do not speak of love and I will not venture the words, as it is much too soon. And I suppose that is what I wish to say and would never dare. I trust so little since my father’s death except for now, today, this one moment, and I am unwilling to project beyond it and wondering how long the fear will last. This inexplicable fear. This inability to sleep. This steely wakefulness.
Tu me dis que je suis naive et audacieuse à la fois et que tu en es ravi, mais j’avoue que je n’ose pas te parler de mes sentiments, je n’ose pas te dire jusqu’à quel point tu me manques quand on n’est pas ensemble, je n’ose pas, je n’ose pas, je n’ose pas prononcer les mots moi-même, à haute voix.
So I say nothing and push the feelings aside and when you smile, I feel lightened, the shadows lift, the nightmares recede. I say nothing when you appear with no forewarning, and I delight in the spontaneity of your moods and your actions. I say nothing when you grab me by my scarf and pull me to you, kissing me in the parking lot. I say nothing when you lean over the appetizers, kissing me in the bistro in Back Bay. You are gleeful when we are watched, knowing this is not the Latin Quarter or Les Halles or the Marais where kissing in public is nothing out of the ordinary.
You kiss me back to Paris each time, do you know that? And I am walking the summer streets to work, the pleasures of the city lit up for me in friendship: the Chilean translator who seemed a slip of a girl even to me, slowed by the limp she would never speak of. We dutifully performed our translations. We laughed and drank our coffees at lunch. I marveled that she was already married and had been for two years. Those were strange months and heady ones.
Loneliness marked the nights, I must admit. Nights that could have been filled with you and me if we had met then, though there is no going back, no undoing decisions, no negotiating with fate to rewind its clocks and poke you to one corner of the city and me to the same spot, no method of warning my father against that particular highway, at that specific hour, on a sunny morning in Connecticut.
There is no way to discern if we would have liked each other five years ago. I was different then. Less somber perhaps. Unaware of frailty.
I tell myself you found me when I needed you to find me, in my deepest well. It is as if the loss of my father has left me buried alongside him, unable to breathe in his sudden departure, in the brutality of it, and I know you tell me not to think of it or speak of it but I must write it out to make it more real or less real or, to steady my vision enough to know my place again.
You asked about my father’s wife but she is distant and I cannot reach her. Perhaps that is natural; it hasn’t even been six months. They had so little time, really, and they seemed happy which galled my mother of course. I roll it around in my head you know, the temporary nature of everything, how breakable we are, our crackable bones, our delicate tissues, our truths as we assemble them.
But you lift me with each visit and call. I shut away the words that want to spill out: je t’aime, tu sais, but I hold them back because I do not know if you are ready, I do not know their implications, I do not know if I feel love for you because I am in need of feeling love or because this bright collision is something that will flower past this wintry season.
I have been in love before, Jean-Marc, though now I see it was the outline of love, the first layers of love, those motions we try out when warming up for an event. But I was twenty-two and naive, though I am still naive and that knowledge is my protection though the mind mixes its pleasures because they ease the pain: the tides in your laughter, the games we play with language as you toss a word in French and I bounce it back in English; the way you kiss my cheeks and I am lost, you kiss my breasts and I am lost, you travel the terrain as you like to say, and I am lost.
Dis-moi, Jean-Marc – Is this love? Is there anything you might say or do to reassure me? Must I give these feelings a name at all or can I simply accept them, and be glad they fill the space for now?
Your surprise visit tells me much, or tells me what I would like to hear though I felt something different in you and I cannot place it. I know you pressed the business need in order to make the trip and I adore you for that. Was your hunger for me the same as mine for you? Did you miss this place and me along with it, a package deal of sorts? An escape from your responsibilities?
Spring will not come for another four weeks or longer, so I am imagining the crocuses forcing their way up through slush and ice. Do you know the crocus? Probably not. It has a small bud in soft purple with a yellow interior, and it signals a transition to warmer weather. I am so weary of the cold and snow.
How much longer until you return? It is now two days and nights since we held each other and your absence leaves its hollow.
I do not sleep when you are here, for good reason. I do not sleep when you are not; I cannot help but wonder in whose bed you lie when you are not in mine.