Touch, remembered

Can we ever really know someone else? We can touch; we listen; we see. That smell that only she owns, precisely hers, that instantly takes you to a place that once had meaning. Was that love? That only touching her caused instant tumescence. Was that lust? Was it knowledge? Did I ever know her?

A tear in my heart, healed over, is only the memory inside of three women. They were the only ones.  The scars aren’t visible. Once painful, no more. Nothing lasts. Not this. People break apart.

Touch, I remember touch
Pictures came with touch
A painter in my mind
Tell me what you see

Snapshots of other days. I take them out of the past drawer and look long and deep into the faded technicolor, looking for a sign, something that hinted at what was missing. Late afternoon in the Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo, light streaming through the ceiling windows, an organist playing: I couldn’t stop crying, spontaneous tears that flowed and flowed in quiet sadness, provoked by god knows what—the light, the music, the mystery of faith no longer held– maybe the knowledge that so early the seeds of an end were growing and that a great mistake had been made. Another year, the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, closed, arriving too late in the rain. I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t speak. I stared out of the taxi windows on the way back to the pensione on the Piazza Navona, the rain streaming, Roman streets a blur, my life a blur. My eyes as wet as the rain. Her anger had subsided; she tried to recover the moment. Silent, a great weight lodged deep inside, leaden.

Why is this on my mind, anyway? I was thinking about the frustrations and the disappointments of life, of which there are a very great many. I haven’t been entirely honest with you about that.

A tourist in a dream
A visitor it seems
A half-forgotten song
Where do I belong?

Years later we returned. Redemption? Shelley’s heart.  My heart. That day there was light, yet bittersweet , reconciling what couldn’t be put back together because it had never been of one piece.

Tell me what you see
I need something more

Kiss, suddenly alive
Happiness arrive

Another snapshot: another woman, another time. Walking in the Mission, a man stopped us and said we were a beautiful couple. We were a beautiful couple. Love was the answer, then. The only time in my life. San Francisco was a dream. She was that dream.

Hunger like a storm
How do I begin?

A room within a room
A door behind a door

I remember her touch. I didn’t need more.  Then I needed more. Happiness arrived for the first time, true happiness. Amsterdam in the snow. One time out of all time.

Touch, where do you lead?
I need something more
Tell me what you see
I need something more

Was the more I wanted too much? She thought so, said so.  It’s what she saw and it frightened her. The expectation was too heavy. It was too heavy for me, too, and nearly sunk me. JP said happiness is a small boat on a very rough ocean. The boat made it to safe harbor. That life departed, another began. Short-lived. Unlucky triad.

My own dark time, as I call it, the time of my loneliness, was most of my life, as I have said, and I can’t make any real account of myself without speaking of it.

Hold on
If love is the answer you hold

Touch, sweet touch
You’ve given me too much to feel

If love is the answer, what was the question? I was always asking.

Sweet touch
You’ve almost convinced me I’m real
I need something more

This is an important thing, which I have told many people…When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, what is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person.

Grace: free to be, free to act.  What would that look like in my life? Would I be a different man? Would I take another close to my heart? Would I choose differently? Try another way?

I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep.

Thanks to Daft Punk (Touch) and Marilynne Robinson (Gilead)

The Dreaded 9th

February 9th. The dreaded 9th of February. I wonder if she remembers?  I didn’t.

February 9, 2019. Today’s the second-year anniversary of the afternoon Brenda told me she no longer wanted to be married, didn’t love me anymore, wanted to be on her own. Ironically, we had been to Bobby Roper’s memorial service at the South End—ironic because it was Bobby who named the 9th of February the Dreaded 9th, allegedly the day when the water in the Bay is the coldest.

We got home from the memorial and Brenda said, “we need to talk.”

Cold water on a cold day.

And it didn’t occur to me today until a friend mentioned the cold water reference. Two years past, one in Boston. The days were long at first, the nights painful. Then the days slipped by unmarked by memory.

Regret? No, not much. The times it was good it was lovely. Then it wasn’t. I don’t think she could help it, the outcome was ordained. I chose not to see the signs, the patterns that ought to have been so evident. Only in hindsight.

Love is cancelled. Never again. And it’s okay.

Sunday Night, January 31, 2021.

Another birthday milestone passed. A new year begun with the old catastrophe worsened. Like Odin’s ravens seeking news from an oracle who can only weep at what she sees. This is the world today. I’m glad not to be young.

It’s cold tonight in Boston, low single digit temperatures. A snowstorm is predicted for tomorrow through Tuesday. Winter in New England. I’ve now been here a year, a peculiar year of pandemic lockdown. In so many ways 2020 was a good year despite the virus, a better year than the misfortunes of 2019. Adam recovered in 2020. I recovered in 2020. I settled into my small apartment, overcrowded with books and pictures and my painting easel in the middle of it all. Ray’s CDs added a wall of music. It’s warm and cozy and a bit eccentric, the way I like it and couldn’t live when sharing space with Brenda. The wounds of her memory are healed. If I were a praying man I would pray for her but I am not so I don’t. Her soul is hers to redeem which of course it always was. And since she believes in neither souls nor redemption there’s nothing left to ponder. The Chairman gathers his misguided children in mysterious ways, to the peril of those who may mistakenly fall in love with them.

Here on Bennington Street in Orient Heights I swam in the harbor across the street at Constitution Beach most days of summer and fall. Lucky for me since all the pools are closed, and Walden Pond a drive away. Many mornings Sam would join me, a strong companion as we navigated our course from boat buoy to boat buoy, a zigzag swim between the beach and the western runways of Logan Airport, empty planes from Europe descending like giant swans landing on still water. Other days I would swim alone in late afternoon after work, always the only swimmer at the beach.

It’s hard to imagine the next ten years, maybe twenty. Decline will come, perhaps not harshly. Not yet anyway. Miles to go before I sleep. I’ve been visiting my longtime friend JKD across the state and slightly south in Columbia County, New York, and take inspiration in her 93 years, never a day not working on a project, a plan, a new venture, a new idea. May I have more years with her yet.

Still, for all my creature comfort, I feel the country is at an end of time. Not that it will collapse, as social order has collapsed under Trump, but that the cataclysmic reckonings of the past years will take a toll that cannot be repaid. The divisions are too deep, the wounds too deep to heal without jagged scars.  Some will never heal and will bleed forever until the victims die.

I see this every day in the microcosm of my work at Fletcher. Civil discourse among students and alumni is a quaint memory. That diplomacy is a founding pillar of the school now stands as some kind of antiquated relic.

Meanwhile the winter storm warning is in full effect. Snow hasn’t begun to fall here in East Boston but over west in Worchester it’s coming down hard. Tufts has closed for the day; I’m waiting to hear about Hult.  My classes are late afternoon and likely will go remote. I missed these closed-in snow days in San Francisco. Living in an apartment I have no snow to shovel or cares about the roof—unlike the years in Briarcliff Manor when a snow fall meant hours of snow removal and worries about ice dams in the gutters. Here, I can simply enjoy the silent snow, watching the frenzy of house sparrows at my balcony feeder. They will be grateful for the food today.

That’s the irony of the time we’re in: gratitude within this pervading atmosphere of gloom. Today’s a day not to look too far away into the future. Stay home.  Be warm. Let the snow cover all the ugliness of this decaying world, at least for a day or two.