is to be pure. What you get is to be changed.
Jorie Graham, Prayer
Walking the diagonal to her place. Up Gilford, right on Hotel de Ville. Ringing her buzzer. This door, so recently the door of a stranger. How foreign it was the first time, the boulevard, the traffic. The blue graph and spinning galaxies on the computer screen. The vaulted whiteness, the spareness. How impossible to love a woman who lived this way. Who was so poised, so elegant. So remote. Not to mention so beautiful. Yet why did this thought occur to me at all? Because already I was doing just that—imagining it. Now the distance has been breached. But the strangeness persists. Cooking together, eating together, lovemaking, waking up to each other… no getting used to it.
She the unapproachable. Unreachable. Unassimilable.
We like to eat out together. After two years of gazing into restaurants envying the people inside drinking smoking eating talking, now to be among them, to be seated across from my dinner companion, she with her wine, I with my beer, lighting up before dinner.
But not tonight. The new Thai restaurant on Laurier in Outremont. Her idea. All plate-glass windows, upscale. Ascending tiers, tables jammed, mostly with young couples. Professionals–it’s Friday night. Sudden aversion. Revulsion. What kind of life is she reeling me into? How well she fits in. Sitting back with her wine, gazing at me, enjoying herself. I can’t sit back. Can’t return her gaze. Won’t help out with conversation. Walking silently back to her place in raw drizzle. Slightly ahead of her the whole way. A bourgeois individualist, that’s what she is. A few more nights like this and I’ll be a bourgeois individualist too.
My class at McGill. Women and literature. I’m turning them on to feminism, the radical kind, Woman and Nature, Of Woman Born. They read passages aloud. When I walk in the room now the air is thick with complicity. Often there are tears. One night I stop over at her place afterwards. Hoping to convey some of this to her. Her TV is on with sound muted. Images of a French talk show host flicker on the screen. She leads me into her bedroom to show me her new $130 sheets. What was I thinking? I make an excuse and fly down her stairs out the door. Relapse into “can’t do this,” into recoil. Bad fit. Impossible fit.
She comes to see me on her break. She only has an hour. It starts slowly, with protests and feigning of surprise. Then it goes very fast. Off with her grey flannel pants, her black shirt. My sweater, my jeans, our bras, etc. The pile on the floor by my bed. Afterwards she pats herself down, checks herself out in the full-length mirror downstairs. I point to her face—telltale flush. She says she’ll put on some powder. I watch her being carried off in the cab. In a daze, in my robe and slippers at two in the afternoon. Whatever’s come over us?
Looking into her eyes again across the table at la Cucina, enjoying this again, being one of the anointed ones, drinking and talking, and feeling that unearthly shock at her beauty, that dark secret passionate self so unmanifest in any of her daytime personae. When it comes back it does so rushingly it seeps in through all the cracks, and the doubts I had just hours before. . . evaporate. Make no sense at all.
Stop, go. Open, closed. Fits, starts. There is no getting used. Distance between our two homes—a sixteen-minute walk—yesterday a blessing, today a torment.
The films we go see together: “l’amante,” “Damage,” “Un Amour de Swann,” “la Femme d’a Cote.” Always her choice, always a romance. Stormy. Dangerous. Bourgeois. Heterosexual. “Timeless,” she says. “Love doesn’t change.”
I rent “A Question of Silence” from La Boite Noire. Three women who murder a male shopkeeper and the woman psychiatrist assigned to their case. An initiation into the world of women’s silent suffering, and bonding. I’ve talked about this film in class, I’ve seen it three times. Now I want to watch it with her. We play it after dinner. She falls asleep halfway through.
Why? Why? What is the place where we meet? What is our third thing?
Next morning she’s on her exercise bike. Reading an English exercise book. Her hard white face, thin mouth betraying nothing (to think she’s accused me of being rigid). Did she even notice the distance I kept all night? Bodies never touching. Feeling of doom so familiar. No way out without great devastation on both sides.
I’m coming down with a cold. She will never care about the things I’m passionate about. When I try and talk to her about this she looks stricken. She starts to sniffle too. We are making each other sick. Time to admit I’ve made another mistake and cut our losses. This one is getting more costly all the time.
I dream of women who speak my language. I dream of earth and big trees and birdsong and forests in Maine and Vermont. Thinking she’ll never understand this part of my life, thinking I’ve got to find a friend to talk to who understands what I mean when I say feminism. Thinking I’ll die if I can’t talk about these things.
Reading about Christa Wolf in exile in Santa Monica. Wanting to explain to her: that’s what this city is for me: a place to survive, to keep on. After the fall. After life, it feels like sometimes. The meaningful part of my life being over.
Tonight when she touched me, put her hand on my forehead, put her hands on my hands, they were the hands of a stranger. Formal. Strangers trying to reassure each other they really aren’t strangers.
“You just want to be free… politics is just an excuse. An escape!” Her stony white impassive face. Furrow between her eyes so deep.
I put my hand on her forehead and she sighs, then tears come down, then sobs. She can’t stop. Says she doesn’t know why. Then she rubs my back and neck—they’re so tight—and I cry too.
We go to bed and there it is all over again. The fit of her limbs of her chest of her lips. The sweetness suffusing, enveloping. And I think she may have a point about my politics. Because when she opens she is so open it astounds me sometimes, and I’m so tight, so tense, she kisses me all over my face trying to let me know how she loves me but I know deep down I can’t take it in.
Coming in from the cold, “un frisson dans le dos,” she wants me to warm her and I do, we throw ourselves on the futon and I hold her and rub her and nuzzle in her neck. And am so happy. We make dinner and eat in front of TV, not really watching it.
Standing in her hallway putting on my boots. Late morning light. She on the threshold of her office, face pale, worried but rallying her arguments. Why she loves Proust, or any writer who tells it like it is, in all its complexity. Why she hates political art, art that tells you how to think. Finds it so narrow, reductive.
“But what if all we’re left with are the old ways of knowing? Of loving?” (Marcel and his obsessive fantasies.) “Don’t we have to look for something new when it comes to love?” Anticipating her answer. What’s wrong with the old ways of loving. Love is love. You could do with a little more of those old ways of loving. “Don’t you ever feel like shaking up the old order?” I continue. “Are you really satisfied with the way things are?”
“Of course not. But women are no better than men, look how they act when they’re given a little bit of power. Lesbians aren’t anything special we’re just a sexual minority. Why can’t you accept that?”
Wanting to cry violently, to get up and leave. I can’t love someone who thinks like this. One last thrust, boots are on. Wanting only to have my body all over hers to be all pressed up against her.
“This is no way to love,” she says.
I leave to get the Sunday papers. Out in the wind on the way to Le Lux. Am I just desperate? We don’t have a goddamn thing to talk about. All we have in common is sex. Music sometimes. We could disappear from each others’ lives without a ripple, the ties that bind are so frail, so few. We wouldn’t even write each other letters—what would they say??
Lesbians, she is saying, I’m back in her hallway taking off my boots. All your ideas about lesbians. But she’s opening her arms to me as she says this. She’s asking for forgiveness. Admitting she was bad. She was infantile, reactionary. All the things I’d wanted to say but didn’t. It was because she felt abandoned. She wanted to get back at me.
What begins to surface. The dark side the hidden. Soft vulnerable beneath the carapace. She the fourth of six children, too many for her mother to cope with, she used to pray to God every day before they came home from school “que je puisse les supporter.” A teacher once wrote on her report card, “Elle manque d’affection.” Easily feels abandoned.
“You’ve got to learn to be patient,” she says. “This is just the beginning.”
I say I’ll try and believe her.