I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.
(Adrienne Rich, From an Atlas of the Difficult World)
The night hasn’t ended yet. I’m alone in my room. Of all the nights that have found me awake this night is the longest and the deepest. It’s my first night of love. I didn’t tell you that from the beginning because I didn’t want you to be nervous or embarrassed.
Though we’ve known each other for such a short time, we made love so wildly in that hotel room like we had been lovers for ages. I held you in my arms and you told me how you got to Canada, the entire odyssey of your failed attempts to settle down in France and your desperate job-hunting in Montreal. You also mentioned your relationship with D. and how she got injured during the Revolution in 1989 and how your love gradually turned into a sort of twinning till you both decided to leave the country, only that D. subsequently married and that’s where your lives branched off. I would have asked you more because I was eager to know how you could still be friends with a former lover, but you went on talking and talking so passionately that I hated to interrupt you. You also told me that you chose to hide your homosexuality from your parents and that you didn’t think of ever telling them about it. You even wept a little, your face in my lap. It was a fit of melancholy that gradually dissolved in our common pleasure.
Then you drove me home. Before we left the hotel I looked in the mirror and for the first time in my life I thought of myself as beautiful. My face was radiant.
Now I’m alone in my room and the night hasn’t ended yet. I could go to sleep, but that would mean putting a still and sad end to this wonderful night, admitting the fact that we don’t have a place for ourselves, that we must wake up alone.
Instead, I keep thinking of the words that have been uttered this night; there are things we couldn’t have written us because they need our breaths to blow them about, they are otherwise so perishable. I also think about all the sentences we left unfinished in our conversation and I suddenly feel the compelling need to open up with you, to talk to you about things I haven’t acknowledged even to myself. I need time and patience to turn certain feelings and moods into words. Writing is supposed to be an enlightening process, it puts our thoughts in order and whatever fails to be expressed must have been too insignificant to deserve it. Words can be sometimes ridiculous and impotent before life. But they can also be very powerful. For you they seem to be only an indifferent instrument. I know you appreciate such straightforward utterances like ’’I love you’’, ’’I don’t want this or that’’ etc. and mistrust any playing with the ambiguity of language. But for me writing can also be like making love. That needs an explanation, of course, and you’ll get it further on. Now just think that I might steal some of the words you’ve said and mix them up with my own. It would be like mixing up the juices of our bodies, a great fantasy of intimacy.
So, I’ll spend the rest of the night writing to you. Till dawn you’ll get a text. A texture, a tissue of my own body. Another sort of nakedness, a body of words you’ll be able to keep or burn, as you please.
When I first set out to make some sense of my life I feared I would slide over into magnification and distortion. And as a matter of fact I did. I had used what I thought it was the most direct and effective way of laying bare my obsessions and nurturing them at the same time. I had kept that diary for two years or so. The last time I laid hands on it I tried to read it as if it were someone else’s story. The name of J. appears almost on every page.
Have I mentioned J. to you? I must have, because I find speaking about one’s love history with a new lover very important. Then you must remember I told you only such exterior facts: that we met when I was seventeen and she fifteen, that I had a crush on her and yet we never became lovers in the physical sense, and that our romance lasted two years and a half, till J. left me without an explanation. That would be apparently all one needs to know about our affair. That would have been written in a police report as well, if our story had become a ’’case’’. I remember my mother was terrified I could be subject of a scandal in school, especially because J. was the daughter of my English teacher, and kept asking me questions about what we did or didn’t do.
I’ve often thought how people usually mind only the events of a life, its acts and rarely pay any attention to the written words. Since my friendship with J. ceased to exist I haven’t written a line. I just couldn’t find the strength. It was as if I had ceased to exist myself. I had been writing only for her; the stories I used to make up then were meant to please her or, I should say perhaps, to gratify her in an almost sensual sense. It was the only possible way of making love to her, since she didn’t allow me to touch her body. Therefore I decided to let J. lead the way. She had started to write those fanciful texts about the Italian castratos while she was still in high-school. She was obsessed with baroque opera and its sexual ambiguities. She, on the other hand, regarded herself as sexless. Indeed she had that strangely chaste behaviour, a sort of noli me tangere, in everything she did. She looked like those singing angels in the chapels of the Counter Reformation. Her androgynous charm was combined with an almost old-fashioned elegance. Her beauty was of a special kind, indiscernible at first sight. I must admit I considered her rather ugly at the beginning. Only later did I come to notice her bright blue eyes, piercing from behind the glasses. Her face, covered by teenage acne and framed by black curls had such a dignified air about it that almost every teacher regarded her as the best pupil in school. An impression which was not entirely accurate, of course.
Don’t ask me how I came to love her so deeply. To a certain extent I was only following the general enthusiasm of teachers and classmates. I have always believed there are people who are simply born to be adored and who don’t need to make any effort to attract the admiration of others. J. is an incarnate example of what I mean. So, no one was surprised when we became so close; they found it only natural that such a wonder child should socialize with elder students. Besides, everybody knew I had my nose stuck in books myself, so we made a perfect couple. I can’t say exactly when I began to feel different about her. At that stage in my life, sex had never had anything to do with anyone but myself. It was nothing more than a secret activity I had discovered very early and which brought me a fleeting but intense pleasure I thought no one else had ever experienced. That I was often haunted and prompted to this ’’magical ritual’’ by the sight of a pair of breasts in a movie was in my opinion a rather marginal fact. I could only stick my eyes on details. For instance, I remember going once to the nudists’ area on the beach, a place I usually avoided out of bashfulness. Not wishing to be seen, I kept my slips on while trying not to look the other women in the eyes. As I trod carefully my way to the sea, I caught a glimpse of a dark tuft of pubic hair in strong contrast to the exquisitely white skin surrounding it. The mixture of dazzlement and exaltation I felt at that moment would always associate in my mind with the greenish waves and the salty smell of the sea. When I looked up I saw that the girl had long curled hair covering her shoulders, just like J. had.
Actually, I never masturbated while thinking of J. At least not during the period we spent together. My fantasies about her body came later, as a sad substitute for her real presence. While we were both in high-school, we were thought of as a sort of twins. It was precisely the time I began to hate phrases like “soul mate” or “bosom friend”, because they could not describe appropriately what I felt for J. At a time when her mere voice on the phone gave me almost physical sensations, I realized that my friendship for her had to be total and transgressive. I understood then that I enjoyed our encounters for reasons which had little to do with intellectual companionship. If I could see her, hold her hand, smell the musky scent of her hair and listen to her telling me a dream she had, I was perfectly happy.
And still, the truth is that I was in love with her mind. I had fits of enthusiasm verging on orgasm reading her stories about castratos and imagining I could fathom the depths of her soul. If there is really an eroticism of the text, that was entirely the case with our writings. As far as I’m concerned, I took great delight in writing stories that could give her pleasure and, at the same time, reveal the woman in her. I sought love and tenderness, the kisses and caresses of a woman; my desire was most common, but even more difficult to attain. I wanted what for others seemed to be the unthinkable. Meanwhile, J. kept nurturing her dream of a “marriage of true minds” in an ageless realm of gender confusion. The woman I loved was an angel – and I use the word in its most complex meaning. I just couldn’t conceive of her being something else.
Perhaps I should add that I was very reserved about my feelings. Actually I think I haven’t changed much in that respect, you must have realized it yourself. So, when I finally confessed my love to J., we had already been together for two years. I look at the entry in my diary. The words are cold as was that day of late February. J. wanted to embrace me for an answer, but I stepped back. I could discern the pity in her eyes and I would have preferred a thousand times the most terrible punishment instead. I’d rather she yelled at me, made me kneel before her and declare me her slave than concede me that distant, sympathetic gaze. My mind went completely astray. I think that’s when I realized that J. was only a woman who might just feel attracted to men and that our situation was by no means so extraordinary as I had thought. I felt so sorry for my dream of the sexless angel in a woman’s body, that I regretted ever opening my mouth to talk to her about my “unholy” feelings. I went home with a deep pain in my heart.
After a few days I got another reply from her. She wrote a little poem that might seem strange to other eyes, but which was very clear to me. She spoke about a tree she had planted before her window and looked for with the utmost care until it grew too high and obstructed her sight, so she was forced to fell it down.
You know the rest of the story, I won’ t repeat it. Dawn is drawing near, so I’ll make this short. I’m not sure if you realize how much this text has to do with you, to what extent it has been influenced by you. After all, language unceasingly affirms love and protects it from depreciation. I might have lost the real J., but the stories I wrote for her continue to speak about love.
Don’t think I intend to compare you to J. That would be absurd. One love succeeds another and one shouldn’t be ashamed of it. You just happened to be there when I was craving for the touch of another flesh, at a time when love and sex finally fused in my life.
If I call up now my amorous history is because I’ve met you who give me the strength to do it.
You might think that writing is a sign of unfulfilled desire and you wouldn’t be too wrong. If I were now in your arms I could whisper this story in your ear, you could feel the warmth of my breath and would encourage me to lead you through the meanderings of my unnamed fantasies. It would be a moment of utter fulfillment.
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