19 January 2009

No Two Alike

Pearlescent grey light seeps through my window, washing across my desk and my hands as they hold my head, rubbing my temples. Snow falls gentle and slow, the fat flakes drifting down to paint the yellowed grass in the yard outside. I was watching this languid dance as I absent-mindedly took books from the shelf to the right of the desk. I was of a mind to reorganize the collection and rid the books of dust, I don’t know why; perhaps the cabin fever induced a need to clean. Maybe it was the hope that I would find something old to become new, read so long ago that it was memory abraded, hidden under a drift of time.

It was there that I found you, the picture tucked between the pages of a book, drifting softly down to land at my feet. A snowflake, unmelted and beautiful after all these years. The book? It was The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. Don’t laugh, it’s true. Even funnier is that I had no idea who he was when I met you so long ago.

My habits are such that my books are full of notepapers, folded up bits stuck to pages and covered with the scribbled calligraphy of a million thoughts. Stuff I told myself I will remember, I’ll come back to later, it means something. All in the service of a fevered mind swooning under the weight of ideas, glittery and warm: a crow attracted to shiny things filling his disordered nest. You were not a note. I bent down to pick up the picture. It was face up on the floor. Your face came into focus slowly, like something rising from the depths of a murky pond. The breath caught in my throat, suddenly constricted and thick with the taste of your memory.

You, M., the second great love of my life. How did you find me?

I brought the picture closer to my eyes. They aren’t as sharp as they used to be, you know? Not as young as when we first met those twenty-five long years ago. And your eyes? The picture in that grey light, glinting across those eyes, pools of emerald opening up in my hand and I dove in again and you were there in the heat of that summer day when I saw you and I lost my breath and wondered what was wrong with me.

It was the farm, you remember, the farm that belonged to T’s father? T, your best friend, who all the other guys seemed to be more interested in? Well, that was just fine by me. That gave me more room in space and time. It gave me, background personified, a chance to actually talk to you, unencumbered by competition.

Sorry, my dear. “Competition” makes it sound ugly, like you were a cup to be won. That isn’t fair. I never thought of you as an object, I always thought of you as an idea in the shape of a beautiful young woman. A woman who, I should hasten to add, who would talk to me. Laugh at my stupid jokes, ignore the fact that I was the biggest dork on Planet Earth. I never thanked you enough for that kindness. How could I? Flowers don’t last, there is not enough gold, my heart could only hold so much but I gladly gave it all to you and searched for more.

Does that sound corny? Probably. You did that to me. Probably still would, if I saw you in the flesh. The very sight of you began to disconnect my synapses from my neurons, a rapid process that led to an amusing regression into ABC’s and primary colors, ending in tongue-tied silence in those moments when we could be alone together. You laugh, but it’s true. Why did you think I was so quiet?

The farm. Of all the places to meet girls, it was that farm. A blessing in disguise, because it gave me plenty of things to talk about besides us. I remember there were cows and hay, and that old shack that used to be a cabin or a smokehouse or something. And T’s grandfather living in it, smoking his pipe and painting landscapes. He seemed a nice man, although he was a little hard to understand with that accent. He was from Germany, was that what you said? Yes, Germany.

The cows were funny, lumbering over to the fence as we walked, us tentatively holding hands and offering them swatches of grass pulled from around the fencepost. Curious animals peering at us with those gentle bovine eyes that looked so kind and guileless. The warm feeling of their breath a symmetric heat to that from your hand in mine. We talked a little, you and me, wondering if the cows had names. “Violet”, you said pointing to one doe-eyed black-and-white female. “Violet? Why?” I asked. You just giggled and said “Because”.

We walked a little more until we came to a paddock with three horses standing silently, flicking their tails and nibbling at tufts of grass. The sound of bees rose faintly from a bank of honeysuckle along the farther fence. I hadn’t noticed at first at how quiet you were as we stopped at the fence to rest our arms on the sun-warmed roughness of the rail. Not knowing much about horses, I said the first thing that came to mind.

“Wow, pretty”. You were silent. I looked over. You were staring at those horses, pupils dilated and lips slightly parted. I felt as if I wasn’t there. I said “Pretty” again. You jumped slightly and looked at me with slight embarrassment. A shy smile graced the corners of your mouth, a flash of Mona Lisa as you said “Yes, yes they are.” The smile just barely made it to your eyes.

You told me that you loved horses, which you had been riding since you were a little girl. Back home, you said, you really did live on a farm, surrounded by soybeans and corn. But your father was good to his little girl and there was a small horse barn with four stalls and two beautiful horses of your own. I was amazed; I grew up in the city and I rarely saw horses in the flesh. You, on the other hand, fed them, watered them, rode them. It was more than just riding them around the farm, though. I could tell by the way you looked at those horses: your eyes were unfocused and somewhere in your mind you were on horseback at a flat-out gallop.

“What’s the deal with horses?” I asked.
“I don’t ride them just because. I am… I want to be in the Olympics, in the equestrian events.”

I am afraid I laughed. To this day, I am sorry for that. It’s just that, for me, the Olympics were just something on TV; no one actually was in them. At least, no one I knew. I turned and I could see the faint look of hurt in your eyes. I backpedaled furiously, stammering out some lame apology and pleading for you to tell me all about it. To my immense relief, you relented, and I could feel the spear ease its way back out of my heart.

You spent the rest of that afternoon telling me all about it. Dressage and training and riding every chance you got. You even told me about mucking out the stalls, something I couldn’t begin to fathom as fun, but seemed not to bother you. It was more like you saw that as a small price to pay for the privilege of riding. When you talked about the horses and what it took to make the leaps, I could see something in your eyes: fire and a beautiful mane tossing in the wind. It made you alive and, my god, so beautiful.

I fell in love with you, then, swallowed up by that dazzling, deep jungle in your eyes.

We talked until nightfall, startled to find ourselves on the dirt road leading back to the farmhouse and late for dinner. You were staying in the house, and I unfortunately was sleeping in a tent out in a nearby field. I didn’t sleep well, and it wasn’t because of the rocks digging into my back. It was your eyes, and the image of you on horseback, leaning into the wind and racing across a field of tall grass.

The rest of the week went too fast, a blur of walks in the woods, visits to the horses, and campfires. T was getting loads of attention from my friends, and she seemed to be loving it. You and I, we sat quietly in front of the fire trading shy smiles and leaning into each other. It was that last night that I finally worked up the nerve to kiss you. Soft, sweet and not as nearly as awkward as I had feared. I can taste it still.

Cheep, cheep” and I shake my head at the sound of sparrows outside the window. I am stock still at my desk, the picture cradled in my palm like a feather. I find I have been holding my breath, and I let out a breath in a rush as I move to the window for better light. The light an oystery lamp, I see that your eyes are not symmetrical, which I had forgotten. The right eye slightly at an angle to the left. Subtle, but powerful and it draws me in like a whirlpool. Perfect. There is a thud in my chest as my heart flips over at the sight. I said you were the second great love of my life, but you were the first I ever actually said “I love you’ to. I am amazed still at my bravery; stunned that you didn’t laugh, but instead you said it back as you kissed me.

I remember the day we left, you heading south to your horses and me heading north back to my books. We held hands discreetly (if that was possible) and said our goodbyes. I waited until no one was looking and pecked you on the cheek. It wasn’t enough; I wanted to pull you close and bury my face in your hair and breathe deep of you, smelling of hay and horses and all warm good things under the sun. I wanted to disappear behind emerald doors, never to be seen again.

It wasn’t the end exactly. We knew we would see each other again, just not very often. We told ourselves that we could overcome time and distance. Not even lack of a car would stop us. We worked it out. You would hitch rides with your dad when he came up for business, I would figure out how to meet you. It worked for a while, maybe the infrequency increased the intensity of experience. Every time I saw those eyes everything fell away: distance, time, absence. I could content myself with the phone calls every week, knowing that at least once each month I could see you.

That summer I lost weight. I lost sleep. When I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about you. Do you remember how amazed we both were to discover that we had made it that far in time, while being so far apart in space. I told you I was going away to college, and you said you would be at home, helping on the farm. You were vague on the details, but it sounded like the Olympics were becoming a dream deferred if not denied. There was trouble with money and training and your parents. I held your hands and we smiled, swearing that we could make this work. You gave me the picture I now held in my hands, and told me to not look at the back yet, not until I was at school. And I didn’t. I put it into my pocket, to set it in my desk once I got to school. I forgot to look at the back of it for a long time, as the year wore on and our letters back and forth became more infrequent.

Winter semester, and I had your letter in my hand. You were still hopeful, I recall, but I…well, I was not. I had finally flipped that picture over, and read what you had written. It felt like a knife in my heart, because the day I got your letter, I was sitting at my desk in the grey light filtering through the dorm room window. Winter in the mountains was cold and cloudy too often. There was a thin film of ice on the glass, like feathers. I was writing a letter to you, telling you that it was too much we were too far apart and I was here and you were there and by the time I got out of here we would be very different people that we were already very different people, no, no, it isn’t like that I don’t not love you but we are too far apart. In space, time and pathways. I didn’t want you to wait for me, nor me wait for you; life was too short. I am surprised to this very day at the wisdom of my assessment.

You wrote me back, saying you understood. You were sad, I know, but you did a good job of hiding it. You said I was right, it was too hard, and unfair to the both of us. I think it was the day I read your letter, that I put your picture in that book, away and out of sight.

The picture. My forehead is against the cold glass as I stare down at it, trying to free myself from the whirlpool again. I am sweating and shaking in the chilly grey light streaming through the glass. The sparrows twitter and bounce in the grass outside my window. I raise my hand to rub my eyes and the little birds burst noisily into flight at the sudden movement. I pick up the book and put your picture back into the pages; I didn’t notice the numbers. I tell myself I should get rid of it, my life is very different now. But I know I won’t. I rearrange the books on my shelves as the bird tracks fill up slowly, blurring and fading under the snow.




20 comments:

  1. I LOVE the way you write, Irish. Haunting.

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  2. that was great - it made me think of someone I knew a long time ago when I was a different person - life is funny you never know what's going to happen next.

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  3. I'm sorry, but weren't you bitching about being tuckered out yesterday? What the hell is this? Forget about the Interior, I'm recommending Press Secretary.

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  4. Like I said... Not enough words to describe such beautiful work!!

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  5. Another beautiful piece of writing. It will stir memories in many of us, lovely memories of times long gone. Very wistful.

    On a different note, I particularly liked the paragraph about the cows. I love cattle and you made them very real for me as I was reading it. :)

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  6. Ack. Now you've got me thinking about photos that lurk between the pages of my dusty books. Damn you, Gumbo.

    Brilliant writing as usual.

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  7. Aaaah. So sad and bittersweet Irish.

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  8. That was beautiful and touching.

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  9. That was heartbreakingly wonderful.. and perfect inspiration for a story I'm mulling over in my head these days - I just need to work up the courage to write it.
    Thank you for sharing, friend. :)

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  10. That was amazing. Haunting and poignant. Loved the whole thing, but that opening. Wow. And the end with the girl's writing.....

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  11. Wow, how beautiful! It makes me wish somebody felt that way about me at one time!

    You have such an amazing way with words! Thank you so much for sharing!

    Melissa

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  12. SK: Thank you! I hope it doesn’t keep you up at night or make you jumpy.

    Tony: Thank you. I was shocked at how different when I saw that picture.

    CD: That was yesterday. Today, AHH, fresh air and sunshine worked wonders! Does the Press Secretary get a car?

    Chris: *blush* Thank you!

    Lesley: Wistful, yes. That picture was a shock. Braja has me thinking about cows a lot these days…

    Sunny: Glad you liked it!

    VM: Whew. Thank you!

    OAM: Better check those shelves! Thank you.

    Belle: I seem to have a knack for that stuff.

    Shabby girl: Thank you!

    MD: Thanks . I find the truth easier to write ;)

    CPM: Glad you liked it, and happy to be an inspiration! You are most welcome.

    PHST: *blush* Haunted is right. I crossed the border into the kingdom of WhatIf. Sort of reached inside and twisted a bit.

    RTT: Thank you. If they already haven’t, perhaps they will. I’m not sure which side I want to be on! And you are welcome. I appreciate you dropping in.

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  13. I love reading your stories so much. I can't turn away from my computer right now because my co-workers will see the tears just sitting on the edge...waiting to fall! My thoughts automatically went to a card I keep nestled in a book. It came from a great love and says, "Whatever our souls are made of, yours and mine are the same." Not his words, of course, but it was his way of saying good-bye yet letting me know he would always love me. *sigh*

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  14. One can't read that without remembering their own tumbles into first loves. And weren't all of the early loves our "firsts"? I love that you saved the picture all these years and not only should you keep it tucked into that book, you should print this entry and tuck it into that book with the picture. Imagine someday your grandchildren or great grandchildren coming upon them and understandng. I know I would love to find such a thing in one of my grandmother's books. Ahhh....how cool would that be>

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  15. as always, I am amazed by your style!

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  16. Simplicity: Sorry, my dear. Just tell them the Sun was in your eyes.:)

    Melissa: What a wonderful thought! that would be cool.

    Krystal: Thank you!

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"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."


-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...