It’s all in the details.
When I first met my husband, I couldn’t stand him and worse, we had to work together in the same publishing house. I remember interviewing with him and feeling at once attracted and repelled by what I perceived as an arrogance; here was someone who liked to “strut his brain” as one friend put it, and that was dead on the money.
He sat there, or we sat there, as the afternoon ended all about us and the sun angled lower in the sky, and we argued about Chechnya and the camps there. He argued for the sake of arguing and I, in my youth, argued out of a sense of outrage and righteousness. For two hours we did this, and I thought of the penguins who stare at each other for a period of time before they decide whether it’s okay to mate or not. That was us — two penguins, each of us wondering who would lose the eye contact first, who would lower or drop their gaze.
I remember I was wearing – a longish blue linen skirt and an ivory silk blouse and how in those days, I didn’t wear a bra because it never really occurred to me because I still felt like a kid. After a time at the office, I did begin wearing a bra when I noticed other people noticing. I ran to Saks during one lunch hour and bought myself a pair of espadrilles and a bra, both totally over-priced but the closest shop to the office and the easiest. I still have both to this day – the ankle-laced espadrilles with the rope bottoms and the peach colored bra with small flowers on it. Both were delicate and beautiful, and I put on both when I returned to the office and oddly, felt more confident.
For the whole of two weeks, I still looked for other jobs, despite the fact that I had already been hired. I worried that he and I would not be able to make it work and since he was a director and so was I, we would have to work together, and closely at that, which at the time struck me as pure hell. I even went to New York for a job interview at The Nation and thought seriously about taking it. But by the time the job was offered, I was beginning to make my peace with our editorial director, and I had grown to love my job as well and loved the high-ceilinged space we occupied with countless shelves covered in books both new and old, rare and dusty and smelling of paper and binding. I turned down the other job offers, and prayed I had not burnt any bridges.
I will never forget that first interview with him – how we spoke about everything but the job. How we spoke about Yugoslavia and how he had an Audubon print about his desk of a great horned owl and how his own eyebrows, arcing skyward, reminded me of that owl. How his blue eyes shone and flashed white and blue and how the iris was surrounded by a glowing amber color and how a tangle of hair came from the top of his oxford and how I was so curious. I remember how different he was from me. How he was darker skinned, how his hair waved, how he had that hot Mediterranean blood that could be traced through Italy, Greece and even a small part of him Arab.
But what I remember most is how he smelled. How I could smell the fading scent of his European cologne, which reminded me of walking through Paris where people smelled of neroli and lemon and sage and slightly of a better version of Eau Sauvage. How he smelled faintly of cigarettes because at that time he smoked, but only a little bit. How he wore deck shoes with no socks and how I loved the color of his ankles, so unlike my own – they were golden and olive – not pale and freckled. I noticed how his hair curled in the late spring humidity and how, even then, even hating him, I wanted to kiss him and more, knew he felt the same way. The whole thing was like fencing, or as he would later write, “Dancing on one toe at the edge of a cliff,” a reference to Tansy.
It was a game of “go away closer”, the game one plays in grammar school in which you toss a spit ball or something at the boy or girl you like. How you pull her pigtails or ponytail (how he pulled mine), how you wrestle and fight and stamp and kick because you cannot make sense of or process these feelings.
How curiously we behave; how juvenile at such times. Yet there I was, a full-grown adult, just as he was, acting much like a child. Soon, we took to lunching (his idea) in some effort to make peace, and so we did.
We lunched while waiters danced all about us and the silverware clinked and clanged and I began not to hate him anymore, but to simply desire, just as I saw his own mixed feelings turn to desire (or was it just lust then?) when he offered me his coat on the way back to the office and it was spitting rain. I remember him standing beneath the linden tree, balancing on the curb and me standing under the same tree in the rain. How there was no other reason to stop other than to simply spend more time with each other. I pulled his coat tight around me and inhaled the scent of him that emanated from it. You don’t offer your coat to a co-worker, no matter how gallant you may be. Such a gesture says something of the feeling there, an implied intimacy.
I suppose I think of all this now because it is a new year, for one, because I am still absurdly in love, because I hate how time slips away (as I’ve already written) and because part of me wants those days back but part of me knows that you must live in the now. That the now is what counts and the now is when you create the new memories that will become the treasure of tomorrow. I’m okay with that.
I know that there will be many good memories to come, and though it is hard to fathom they can ever be as good as those first early memories, I know deep-down that love only grows and deepens, if you’re lucky that is, and thank God, this time around, I am lucky – what a miracle! Because we all pay our dues, we all have our unlucky relationships, our mishaps and misadventures and yet we somehow survive (though we never think it possible at the time). Every break-up feels like a little death when it is happening, yet we do survive, and to some, that’s the hardest part. To me, survival is hopeful. It tells us we can be independent, that we do not need another to make life more meaningful and while it’s nice, it’s not necessary for our happiness. Know that and your chances of being in a long term relationship increase.
When I met my husband, there was so much in life I had not done, so many things to explore, and while I was not eighteen or nineteen – I was twenty-seven or twenty-eight to be clear, and still remarkably naive for a young woman of that age – I had been involved with the same person since I was eighteen, so that left little room for “dating experience” or any other kind of experience for that matter.
Suffice to say that once I met my husband, much as I hated him at first, I also felt a clear and hot-cool electricity and more, a cat-like curiosity that I could only pray was not apparent or obvious. I wanted to play it cool, to remain aloof and businesslike, yet that’s not in my make-up. I wear everything on my sleeve, and when he spoke to me, I blushed, and when he walked into the office each morning and I tried to play it cool, I would fumble and again, the crimson giveaway.
I had never led a sheltered life. Growing up in the projects was by no means easy. I was streetwise, yet naive in the ways of love and of loving. For the most part, I was afraid – afraid of this man, because anyone else I had dated (and there were few) had been a boy and there is a difference between a boy and a man — a man seemed slightly threatening, yet he got my blood sluicing rich as claret, pumping hard through my veins.
It was exciting and frightening all at once. I recall the day he asked if I wanted to go to the park after work and how we rode the train together, bumping into each other the whole way, neither of us pulling back. How once there, he took to throwing acorns and linden berries at me. How he literally was chasing me, and fast, until I slipped on the wet grass and I lay there for a minute, looking up at the sun through the great oak tree.
He ran over quickly, worried, leaned over me and said, “You’re bleeding” and kissed my forehead. Then after that, he leaned over and kissed me in a way that I had never before been kissed and how even now, I can’t say how long we kissed, only that it must have been a long time because soon is was late and we both had to rush. It was Monday, July 25th. There was a key difference here and I felt my body respond almost as if this were nectar of which I simply could not get enough. He said, “You’re so responsive,” then put his mouth over mine again before I could answer.
Love is truly in the drape of an arm, a lover’s profile, the golden color of their skin, the shape of their head, the way s/he wrinkles his or her nose, a crooked smile or even crooked teeth a la David Bowie. Love rests, in part, in scent – in that primordial instinct that tells us whether a mate is right for us or not. A subtlety yes, and so one on which we pick up subconsciously, not really understanding why it is we are drawn to this or that person.
If you have forgotten all of this in your marriage or relationship, then perhaps it’s time to revisit it because it’s worth the trip; or if like me you never forgot, then go into the next room and hold that person for a while. It’s so easy to let it slip away from you – to let love slide and the days pass without comment or incident. I always though that that is the beginning of the end. Don’t let it happen to you. Real love comes but once, they say. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that I’m not willing to take the chance.