Some six months or more into our relationship, the strain of our circumstances, the inability to be with each other, begins to show itself as it does in this letter from Carol in February, reflecting our separation after an afternoon together. The reference to “Wed.?” might indicate a regular telephone call.
It wasn’t the time & distance, after all. It’s the feelings. (I call them the breath of the beast).
My feelings: I’m dropped off rather abruptly to wait 15 minutes in the rain for a train that’s going to be 15 minutes late anyway, and it’s not the rain that bothers me or the train, it’s the look on your face when we parted.
Your feelings (?) You looked like you were either embarrassed or ashamed to have spent the afternoon w/me.
Will you tell me what’s going on w/you? If you feel things that you think would be rude for me to hear (about us) (or about you)–deceiving me is the worst thing you could do. I’m left feeling angry and confused about what this whole thing means to you. I’d rather know than try to interpret looks. –(Wed?)
Emotions are like the stuff of volcanoes are made of: usually just earth & water–until some huge blast in the earth’s depths begin to tremble & move and the volcano erupts w/ the breath of the beast: the combustible elements of fire & air–Best to discover the nature of the beast.
Here is my response to her letter.
Another cigarette and the smoke curls its riddle into the quiet room turning my thoughts back to me in thin gray strands before disappearing, but I can read a shape there, somewhere between red ember and smoke, the figure in the curling wisps, of a woman in the blue of a late afternoon, eyes fixed to mine, marking a beginning, and then another puff, the figure reforming on another late afternoon beneath low clouds, and the eyes, troubled this time, but only memory tells me this clearly, as sharply etched now as the harsh glare of the lamps–too stupid, then, to understand that good-byes should be allowed to breathe if only a sigh against the rain and the cold and the distractions, feeling more now the distance unwittingly lengthened, the need forced beyond imperfect words that seem as cluttered and useless as these ashes, and as labored as my breath–inadequate to tell the nature of the beast that finds life in soft moments, but floats at others on the swiftly moving surface waiting to dive toward bottom to ride the slower and more powerful currents to find feelings stirred even n0w by the wisp of smoke that gathers in a subtly bending form in front of my eyes just a whisper from my lips, and near enough to lean a little closer to draw it in again, gently taste its richness once more and perhaps instruct myself how better to cherish it.
Carol wrote an extremely long (fully four handwritten sides) response which I think worth being presented in full, not least because it reveals how close we were to a tipping point that might end our relationship, something in the midst of the turmoil that was my life at that time I likely did not see. This letter includes a reference to “Olf,” an incarnate representation of frustration. It is her word, but I can’t recall when she first used it to describe our situation.
Wed/ PM in the lib.
Somewhere I think I went wrong –thinking it easier for both sides, if I kept quiet. Easier for you w/ your complex life & easier for me because then I wouldn’t tangle myself in insolvable complexities of emotions. I should’ve caught the word “easier right off, knowing from long necessity that things are only easier when they’re somewhere you can look at them–not hidden, pushed back into the murkiness of the unexpressed internal mud. Easier comes after extraction, & w/clarity, not before. It’s a false easiness that comes before & I’ve known that & ignored it thinking it easier. Nothing looks easy at the moment (the hour, the day, the week….)
There’s a man crying at the next study table I’m not usually moved by strangers’ emotions, except, perhaps, sympathy occasionally, but this crying–this quiet crying so that no one will hear him (* by its quietness is even more pervasive) is the saddest sound & I think that I’ll start too if he doesn’t leave off, but the emotion, w/ a subtle twist of complexity becomes sad & bitter in me at the same time & I think ‘You too’–It seems to be a good evening for it & the bitterness is just a little too bitter for no reason–no seen reason. Just a sad one.–
You said once (a long time ago) that you lead a fragmented life & that there’s a necessity for it–to separate (for example) home & professional life. I couldn’t see why then & it perturbed me (the thought of fragmenting one’s life), but I see why now.
I’ve never led a fragmented life ’til now. If I became involved w/someone before, it was an open act–perhaps almost political, a declaration of freedom. It was ridiculous, & unnecessary of course, because it hurt the people I was close to. In my seeming need for simplicity (to balance, naturally what was never simple) all the pieces & parts of my life had to fit together in some whole manner & openly. An escape, I think but that’s another thought. My understanding of the “system” I had set up for myself changed, but the system remained & when I met you I came into supreme conflict. I still could not justify an act unless it’s an open act, except (the mind circling itself again & again offers a resolution of sorts) the act itself has great meaning & feeling.
That’s where I went wrong. I mistakenly thought that if we don’t go through any emotional shenanigans & simply enjoy the conversation & the physical, that that, of sorts, would suffice. It would be my declaration of freedom & I wouldn’t be pulled apart by entangling, interweaving emotions . It would be enough, but it’s not that kind of act. That kind of act has no meaning–or very little–for me. It’s the emotions, as entangling as they can be, that give substance to the conversation & the physical. As difficult as it is to separate my life into parts & fragment it, it’s better than trying to live w/out emotion & w/out meaning. I should’ve known I couldn’t life w/out these two & that it would eventually start to tear me apart.
I knew something of all this, but not coherently, from the start I knew it better a few weeks ago when I figured I couldn’t continue seeing you w/out feelings beginning to show themselves. So I made a not small decision–Olf had just shown up in full force & a decision of some kind definitely had to be made. The decision was to trust you w/growing feelings–knowing it might not be wise w/ all the other responsibilities of your life demanding your attention, thinking that this relationship could very well just be conversation & physical for you, & thinking that you might become resentful if I tried to move it into something that you didn’t want it to be. So I kept quiet. (Fear is the calling card–one of–for Olf). But I was trusting intuition that you didn’t seem to be the kind of person who would live any part of your life w/out feeling or meaning. But there was uncertainty. (What is the nature of the beast that lives almost completely out of sight?) Could a person, you, live part of their life w/out feeling or meaning–but have feeling or meaning–or only a surface meaning–but have feeling & meaning in other parts? I didn’t know for sure–just thought not.
And the day came–my silence on the subject more glaringly obvious than ever–an outrageous mistake on my part because I was left (by my own volition) to intuit a situation that looked uncompromisingly bad. I had felt good being w/you on Friday, as I always do, but the distractions on your part were interpreted as unconcern: a lack of feeling & meaning in at least this part of your life & a quick dismissal to back it up. And I thought by my own uncertainty that I was wrong about you after all: that you could not only fragment your life easily, but live a part of it w/out feeling or meaning. I felt that my trust had been betrayed & I had been deceived & that after all that decision-making & the growing feelings & the struggles with Olf that there was nothing at all–that I had been wrong again–there was only conversation (good conversation) & the physical (good intimate physical) but nothing more for you–no depth to us, no feeling, no meaning. I couldn’t live like that or continue seeing you if those were the conditions. (I thought for a moment, in my last letter, that I could, but I’m wrong–I can’t). Driven on by my fondness for you I thought somewhere–underneath that surface something grows & shakes its furry coat & stretches a giant lion’s claw toward other human beings to enfold, embrace, to touch, a need for even this creature–? whose own beast stretches, incomprehensibly sometimes, the long distance between wind-blown Ariel & the more deeply embedded lioness who trembles quietly below the surface, who erupts occasionally, bewildered then by her own intense leap for the surface–the need to embrace, to touch & feel & give meaning–the growing recognition of feelings that were already growing important–& she discovers that there’s no other beast in sight–just her own fur ruffling in Ariel’s breeze. A bitter lioness & a very sad one.
But I was wrong on that score too–& right the first time about the kind of person you are. Your letter show hints & wisps of need & want & (w/ a little clever detection) I sense just the softest touch of fur on the lion’s back. But who is this beast–why does he hide so close to himself–like mine, out of fear? Or has he not been stroked in a long while? Has no one embraced him because he guards himself too well–the claws, though retracted, still sharp against another’s breath on his cheek; or is there more (which I surmise) that’s not up for offering?
Click on the Covers for Steve and Carol’s Books