People used to tell Vanessa that she had to write about him, that their time together (she wouldn’t call it “a love affair” or even “a relationship,” even though it was both of those things) would make such a great story. She knew those people were right, that what happened that season with him would make a good novel, if not a great one. But she refused to make material out of him.
She had spoken of him to countless friends and acquaintances, and her compulsion to seize any opening to tell the story ashamed her, tainted her reverie with a film of guilt. Was she sensationalizing him? Cheapening his memory? Always at the part of the tale when, after the intensely romantic buildup, she revealed, “And then he died,” the gasps from whomever her audience was gave her a slight satisfaction. For that she hated herself.
Telling friends or penning grief-stricken letters was one thing, but now that years have passed, she refuses to describe their seduction in writing. Abstractions are the most she will offer. Like this: before she chose adultery, there were deliberations and rationalizations and consultations, all in rapid succession because every hour after the moment they met she was propelled to him. Within a fortnight they had made love and they kept at it every time they were in the same room until the day he died.
From the beginning she reeled, wondering who she’d become, surprised that she was capable rupturing the boundary of monogamy. She comforted herself by reading about Rainer Maria Rilke and his married lover, Lou Andreas-Salomé. Those sunny autumn mornings, Vanessa cried often and dwelt in Rilke’s wise Letters to a Young Poet.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
In the first few weeks, Vanessa inked large capital letters on each page of her journal, “FICTION EXERCISE.” It was her disguise for keeping a record, for processing what was happening. She didn’t name him, nor did she name herself. They were “He” and “She”: the ones who betrayed
her a fictional husband, the ones who crashed into each other at full force propulsion as often as they could. They saw each other as long as physically possible–for nine and half weeks–and she wished it could have been ten or two thousand, but nothing so short and cliché as nine and a half.
He did fully see her, she felt. Stripped naked each time she walked through his doorway, to keep the smoke off her clothes, she said. They took turns kneeling. They laughed and ate and cooked with basil and broke the bed and came and cried; and only towards the end did they argue.
Now that years have passed, her memories are more easily subdued (the onion, the road trip, the spilt wine and parsley; the massive purple bruise on her inner thigh; the slate floor; the window washing, the nose touching, the first kiss, the second kiss, the last embrace, the way his cheekbone …. No, she won’t write it).
The last time they dined together when she told him the thing she wanted most was to write a book, his expression was impenetrable. She didn’t mean about him; he must have known that. She hoped he did. Even alive, he was never mere material. From the start, their time together had been sacred.
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