Tuesday, January 04, 2005

dancing with tears in my eyes

All becomes clear.


In the first short story he ever published, 1939's Life Line, Robert Heinlein invented a machine that can predict when a person will die, and introduced an image that has stuck with me and informed my thinking since I was a teenager. The idea is that our lives extend forward and back from the present like the ends of a worm, and we only see the cross section that is the moment we're in. But that doesn't mean there isn't more worm. Dr. Pinero's machine can see the whole worm, from birth to death. I'm not explaining this well. Old Bob, crusty misogynist reactionary that he was, did a much more graceful job.

Anyway. I've taken to seeing our lives--maybe not my own so much, since I don't really plan for the part of the worm more than a few months away--but those of my friends in this way. It's really obvious when I get close to someone; I become fascinated with photos from their childhood. I'm a nut for baby pictures. I want to wrap myself around their whole life, pour the affection I feel for them now on the child they were, hold them as a baby, reassure their teenage self that things don't suck nearly as badly as they seem to. AX in a fedora and suspenders and the exact same bushy hopeless hair I had that year, glaring at the camera from among the ranks of the chess club (sorry, babe, it's important to the story). Snufkina in her cheerleader garb and feathered hair (ditto). Almeida in Damascus, and then as a muscled twenty-something showing off for her boyfriend. MonkeyScientist as a tiny towhead, surrounded by German relatives, dour and unsmiling as trees. My mother with her father and his bird, her eyes huge and dark, her face shy. My father--no more than three feet tall--dressed in a heavy coat and a hat with flaps, holding his father's hand on a Chicago street.

There is a yogic partner meditation where you gaze into your partner's eyes and imagine them in the moment after their birth, and then as an incredibly ancient person. It's a similar idea. When I've done it, I've been thinking I hold and cherish your whole life. I am here, and I am there and there, and everywhere in between. Although you didn't know it then, and may not remember in the future, let what I have to give you now flow out in both directions.


My friend was still wearing his wedding ring the first time I took him home. Which should explain why I haven't talked much about the situation, which should shed some light on the past few months. I am not the reason he's divorcing: it's really the other way around. I took up with him because his wife was leaving him, and it was the best thing, as a friend, I could offer him in the way of support and distraction. You took him because you wanted him, interrupted my mother's cousin C when I was telling her this story. C's just shy of eighty, beautifully preserved, wearing her third wedding ring. She's sharp. And she was right, that's also true. But it was not something I'd ever planned to act on.

Because although I was attracted to him from the first time I saw him, and although our subsequent friendship was occasionally a strain as I struggled with my own impulses, I honored his marriage. I believe in the part of the wedding where the officiant asks everyone present to help the couple honor the bond; as Naiad once pointed out to me, that's a heavy part of the ceremony that not everyone realizes is the heavy part. Also, raised as a feminist, I do my best to honor my sisters. I try not to compete with other women for male attention. I fail a lot, but I do try.

Point being. I took him home because he was realizing that his marriage was over, and he was in pain, and I wanted to ease that. Yes, I wanted him. Terribly. But that wasn't what was in my head the night he almost beat me at pool, and then scratched on the eight. I'm not offering sex, I said as we stood on Geary shuffling our feet with the traffic and the homeless people winding by, but if you want to come home with me, maybe I could offer some comfort.

I've offered a lot of comfort over the past few months. And he's reciprocated, despite his own pain. Remember that with the loss of my father, I have not been whole myself lately. I have needed something my friend was in a position to give. It wasn't just the obvious, though; he's cooked eggs for me, I helped him ship some boxes, we made sock puppets. I made him laugh, he made me feel like I knew what I was doing. He cheered me on when I needed it, and I tried to do the same for him.

And I have became attached to him, more than I expected. He turns out not to be as square as I'd thought; I think I turned out to be slightly less crazy than he thought. We've known each other long enough to be relaxed with each other. He keeps saying, We should stop before this gets heavy. And I respond, I understand if you need some time to yourself. But I feel better being with him than without, and remind myself that knowing something will end doesn't mean we can't enjoy it while we have it. Because everything ends, in parting or in death; I have had the rare good fortune of having a slightly better idea than most folks of how and when, exactly, I would lose my lover.

Thursday morning, the particular worm that is his life is about to stretch out in a very different direction. He's leaving the country for an undetermined length of time, possibly years. He is going to make a new life for himself in a cold place whose language I was raised to hate, words that feel like betrayal of my family and my history when I turn them in my mouth. And unless someone offers me a job and a work permit in Berlin, there's a very real possibility that I will never get to spend this kind of time with him again. As the lover and not the soon-to-be-ex-wife, I don't even get to see him off at the airport, and I can't begin to express how painful that is.

In the past when I've written here about friends leaving, this is who and what I've been talking about, this parting: the fact that no matter what I do or say or want, I have to watch him go. Even if I feel as though he's jumping out of a perfectly good airplane when it comes to the time we spend together, to the warm space we create between us, the laughter and the affection, the admiration I have for his strong mind and spirit.

This is what we do for our friends, if we love them. We let them go when they need to go, no matter how much it hurts. I learned this the hard way last year with my father; I have been learning it again since the moment my friend tentatively put his hand on my leg and asked if I was wearing my work pants, and I kissed him.

I can hold his past lightly in my hands, and the past few months that he has shared with me more firmly. But his future is very likely closed to me. Had he stayed married, maybe at least we could have continued as we were before, lunching and laughing with each other. But for a little while we got more than that, and now I will have less.

I knew this would happen. And I put myself forward anyway because I saw that there was something beautiful and good shining in the rubble, and greedy magpie that I am, I wanted it.

And I am not sorry.

Goodbye MonkeyScientist. Auf wiedersehen und viel Gluck, liebchen.