Friday, August 17, 2007
What happened to me on this trip was I decided I wanted to marry Amelia. I was vertiginous with fatigue by the time I finally dropped the car off at the rental place in Harlem. My road giddiness had been replaced by whirling exhaustion. After a zombie subway ride under the East River, I staggered the stairs of my apartment in Bushwick. It was seven in the morning and I had driven straight through the night from a writer’s retreat in New Orleans. I had spent a month in that ecstatic city finishing my first novel. My mind, aligned with my body, was but a soft and detached buzz, the effect of hours and hours of meditative fixation on the road, on life between the yellow and white lines. Bed beckoned my weary traveler’s soul as gently and straightforwardly as I imagine the white light calls us all in the end.
At times like this it was good to live alone. Just me, Mack Wilson, Baton Rouge born, blood writer, jazz lover, amateur mystic. No conversations, no explanations, no expectations awaited me beyond my door. I jingled the key into the dead-bolt lock and pushed through. I heard the sink running. Great, I thought, I’m being robbed. Again. Gentrification had yet to slow down crime in my neighborhood. Last time I was out thirty-five dollars and a brand new toaster oven. Moreover, I felt too tired to put up a fight. But why, I wondered, would a burglar take the time to wash his hands before making his escape? Ever so quietly I shut the front door, leaving it unlocked, just in case. My tiptoe down the hallway made no noise.
Suddenly I felt empty. My mind, not yet thirty years old, took a moment to judge all of life. Facing the threat of a murderer in my midst, I felt so completely exasperated with life, with yes, and with the renunciation of life, with no, and then again with life, and with the after-life or the next-life or the lack thereof, then with the renunciation of the after-life or the next-life or the lack thereof, then again with life, always again with life, with desire, always again with the sufferance of yes. Yes yes yes. Life was a great big yes. There must be some kind of way out of here, I thought to myself, and I was the joker and the thief was in my bathroom. Maybe a good joke would kill him. Maybe that’s what the thief wanted.
The thought occurred to me: this might be the end. And I didn’t care; I was resigned, humbled. Ready to surrender. The end comes, now or the next day, and though what comes next in my book is probably more of the same dream — my matter-energies conserved and transformed — it’s still the end of me. For I understand the end as the end of this, my soul and sojourn, and if this end was hiding, waiting in ambush for me in the bathroom, then so be it. In other words, I was in a rotten mood, courting my own death.
I picked up a black-handled knife in the kitchen and continued my creep toward the end of the hallway. The sink was turned off now and somebody was drying his face on a towel. Oh, the things people do, the things burglars do. Then the guy brushed his teeth. I shit you not. This was the unexpected twist at the end of my trip: a run-in with a hygiene-obsessed burglar. If only more burglars were like this one — patient, confident, clean — then I don’t know what.
I raised the knife over my head, pictured myself a warrior. I would not hesitate to murder this man. In fact, I’d always imagined killing another human would prove rather insightful, if done appropriately.
As I crossed the threshold of the doorway, I thought about God and whether I should settle my bets there.
But waiting around the corner wasn’t God and it wasn’t the end and it wasn’t a burglar. It wasn’t an angel either, though she had seemed to be one for a long time. It was Amelia, my ex-girlfriend, the love of my life. Damn woman still had a set of keys to my place.
“Well, well, well, Amelia,” I said.
I was home and here she was. In the moment, I finally realized my love for Amelia in all its glorious, ordinary fullness. I was ready to prostrate myself, to surrender myself, to go naked before her. For years, I had gone deep. Young souls must go deep. Boldly, alone, into myself, into my writing, into existential truths. But what was all of that now? What’s all of that when a man is in love?
Take a knee, I said to myself. I’d learned to depend upon my inspiration, to trust my inner voice, to have confidence in the secret unfolding of messages throughout my body and in the space around me. I’d learned to see how well the world flows of its own accord and how I merely had to pay attention in order to do the right thing, play the right note. And I’d learned how to take a knee when I had to, how to serve and be served. And so I did. I put my right knee down on the ground in front of Amelia.
The world rushed over my back like a wave. Like the waves that crashed over me in the ocean when I was a kid vacationing with my family on the north Florida beaches. Time, a gigantic wave, folded me into its story, my story, my life. Everything was distilled into poetry, for just a moment, and all the poets themselves cried out a great song of love from their perches in the watchtower. Yes, yes, they sang, an immortal refrain of yes.
Amelia was dressed plainly, in blue jeans and a plaid farmer’s shirt. White, toothpaste foam lined her small, proud mouth. Her ears looked longer than ever, her lobes delicious. Her face was still slightly wet from wash and a droplet of water hung from the bottom of her chin. Her eyes looked tired and beautiful and they said, Shall we go for one more swim, you and I, and see how far out we can go?
Either that, or, What’s with the black eye, Mack?
I opened my mouth, my heart jammed up my throat.
On my knee, I supplicated and I said it:
“Amelia, will you marry me?”
I will always love this woman. While love loves to love love, I love you, Amelia. This was the message my body was sending me and I only hoped she felt the same.
She wept. When I asked Amelia to marry me that morning, she wept. She broke down and cried. This was not what I had expected. At the same time, I saw the truth in her wet eyes: I was in too deep, I needed saving, I needed Amelia. For years, I had lived the life I had always imagined for myself. A penniless artist, like my father before me, who was a jazz saxophonist who’d spent his life on the streets of New Orleans. I had been a bachelor and lover of women. A solitary young man going deep into life’s mystery. As it should be and ever shall be. My soul was a sweet melody that I myself had written. A mournful, cheerful, be-bopping thing. But in this moment clarity struck: I was lonely and I refused to stay this way forever. I was woeful, adrift, steeped deep in the mystery, in the dark melodies. I had just driven home from a writer’s retreat twelve hundred miles away. Throughout the month, I had written brilliantly, like the fucking mad-hatter, and yet, for all my efforts, I had earned nothing. Not a nickel. But all that didn’t matter now.
I kneeled before Amelia, humbled and naked and changed. I had plumbed the depths and now I was returning to the surface. To the real, the factual, the everyday. What was clear was that I loved this woman. The rest, the mystery, would work itself out in time. From now on, I wanted nothing more than to have and to hold Amelia. I wanted to take care of her, I wanted her to take care of me. I wanted her to take this brilliant mess, this mad artificer, this soft, open heart. Take me, Amelia, I asked. Take me, save me. Save me, my love.
But she was crying. Things were not going well. She crumpled down to the floor, sinking into the corner, and cried. I crawled to her and put my hand around the back of her neck. She beat back at me, her half-balled fists flying at my face. She did not want me to touch her. Her feet kicked at my shins.
“You don’t have to answer now,” I said.
“Mack, no!” she said between tears. “Damn you, Mack!” Then she giggled — yes! a giggle! — and asked, “Why do you have a black eye?”
“I got slugged by a pimp,” I said. N’awlins was a tough town.
Amelia shook her head at me. I loved every last bit of this woman, unconditionally, absolutely. I loved how she shook her head at me. How she exercised her freedom. How she so straightforwardly demanded my total respect. How she moved through space.
“I can’t, Mack,” she said. “I can’t.”
“But of course you can, Babe,” I said. “I need you.”
“You need the world,” she said. “You’re married to the sea.”
She had it all wrong: I only needed her. Our love would drain all the seas, shipwreck every boat. The poets were right. Yes is the only word.
“Babe, you’re all I need,” I said. “Our love is all of God’s money.”
“If I come too close, you’ll lose your concentration,” she argued with me. She had listened. “You’ll lose your writing. You’ve said so yourself.”
“Come near to me and prove I’m wrong,” I quoted from a folk song that Amelia and I both knew and loved.
She shook her head no. She scrambled up off the bathroom floor, stormed down the hallway and into the kitchen. Her cheeks flushed, red, furious.
“Stop chasing me, Mack!” she cried. “Please! God!”
I pursued her down the hallway. She stood in front of the refrigerator and stared back at me. Even in the awful florescent light, she looked lovely.
“I can feel your longing in the middle of the night,” she said. “I can feel you lying in bed thinking about me. Don’t you know I can feel these things? You’ve been torturing me!”
So she could feel my spooky action at a distance after all. I stared into the truth of her eyes. She was volatile and I feared the possibilities of the situation, feared failure. I crossed the room, grabbed her by the shoulders, and pinned her against the refrigerator.
“Marry me!” I screamed. She shrieked an incomprehensible noise. It was these two words: marry me. These two words incensed her.
“Dammit Mack, marry you!” she cried. “Now you ask me! Now! Are you mad?”
“No, I’m not mad,” I said. “I’m crazy with clarity. I see what I want now: you. Marry me.”
“I’m not your savior!” she cried.
But she was. Amelia was my savior. There was no salvation outside our love. The poets were right. Yes is the only word. We have our share of paradise in this life, but only a lucky few ever find the secret valley, the sacred world. In a flash, all this became clear to me.
I let go of Amelia and she sank down to the floor, to the base of the refrigerator. I swear I wanted to kick her. If we could just get through this fight, even if I had to kick some sense into her, I knew we would find the secret valley, we would secure a happiness previously undreamed of, we would realize our share of paradise. And I was going to fight for it.
I fell down beside Amelia and pleaded, “Amelia, please. To hell with everything, I want love. I want our love and nothing more. Do you hear me? To hell with everything else, let’s you and me live happily ever after. That’s enough for me. More than enough!”
Again, I propped myself up on one knee.
Ringless, I asked again, “Amelia, love of my life, will you marry me?”
Through a bout of fresh, hot tears, “No, Mack,” she muttered. “No.”
Oh, damn her to hell, I thought. Why not?! Why the hell not! Granted, Amelia and I had been non-committal for five years; we had never fully let go into each other. Ours was the open love affair of two brutally honest artists. Our work was our passion. We had already shared and enjoyed one another for what seemed a lifetime. This was our story. We had even scoffed at the idea of marriage, of family, of settling down, more than once. Moreover, I hadn’t even seen Amelia in a few months. But time is bunk and love is forever.
“Why not?” I cried, taking her face in my hands.
“Because I can’t,” she said.
“Yes, you can,” I said.
“I can’t,” she said.
“Yes, you can,” I said.
A beat of silence.
“Why not, Amelia?”
Amelia, shaking free of my hold, looked down.
“I love you, Amelia.”
She looked up and through my eyes to the truth. And then she said it.
“Yes, I love you, too, Mack.”
The words hung there, a perfect reverberation of space, into which my soul dissolved.
And then she wept again.
“But I’ve fallen for another man, Mack,” she stammered. “He’s asked me to marry him, just last night. And I said yes.”
The words left me hollow. As if I’d witnessed my own soul peter out, witnessed it escape my mouth with the breath. I fell over my knees, bent over myself. She was saying no.
I felt emptiness, the gap. The sound of a single gust of wind passing through a tunnel. Amelia covered her face in her hands. She wept; endlessly, she wept. My body hurt all over. My heart freaked out, beating insanely. And yet, despite the pain, it felt good to have Amelia near. I felt my love and my panic, my desire and my loss, as a single tender ache. In the final analysis, all emotion, both pleasure and pain, is suffering.
I was on my knees, bent over the ground in front of the refrigerator. Amelia threw her arms over me, nuzzled her head in the small of my back, and wept.
“I’m sorry, Mack,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
“I'm sorry, too, Baby,” I said.
Amelia was lying to me. A taxi bellowed. The world is mysterious, uncanny, supra-logical. A magnet fell off the refrigerator and hit me on the head, Amelia burrowed into my back, and I said to myself, The girl is in trouble. I don’t know what kind of trouble. Amelia’s own brand, to be sure. And she won’t tell me what’s wrong. And she won’t marry me. Tricky.
I sat with the silence. Then I tried to seduce Amelia.
To bed her: that would fix everything. Bed, the eternal cure. Something in me would not give up. Love, desire, yes-saying. We were crumpled before the refrigerator, me on my knees, bent over forward, as if in prayer, and Amelia too on her knees, slumped over my back, her hands dangling down by my face. I took her palm in my fingers and began to massage her skin. To touch her skin was divine. Each rub slowly moved down the full length of her finger. I was mesmerized by the texture of her skin, its softness, its give. I worked my way up her wrist.
In silence, I explored Amelia’s hands and arms. In her fatigue and shock, she permitted me to do so. Perhaps she was turned on. I don’t know. I didn’t always know what went on in Amelia’s mind; this is why I loved her, for her depth, her mystery. For a moment she responded to my advances with an openness. The thrill of which struck me in the bottom of my spine. The familiarity of this touch. The terrain of her body, a cascade of physical memories. The karmic spark of sexual desire, as if this were meant to be.
I brought Amelia’s hand to my lips. As I kissed her, I felt her entire body lurch and something released and she fell down upon me, more so and deeper now, relieving all of her weight onto my back. We were still in an awkward position, with her hunched over me on the kitchen floor, but such physical details were obliterated by our focus upon the kiss. I turned her hand over and put my lips to the hollow of her inner wrist.
Amelia wanted to make love to me. I believed she still loved me like that. But I was wrong. At that moment, when I kissed her wrist, she pulled back from me, tearing her hand from my grasp. Abruptly, she stood and ran her hand through her hair, as if to dissociate her hand from my caresses. She stood and straightened herself, yet from my vantage point on the floor, the whole effort appeared in vain. We were shaken to the core, and no cosmetics would cover up the raw wound we had just reopened. A spark was still alive.
I stood. She backed up, a step closer to the door. She shook her head at me, her hair falling before her eyes — she looked ravishing in her distress — and she turned to unlock the bolt (it was already unlocked). Then, before either of us could give voice to our desires, to our regrets, she was gone.
In the stillness of my apartment, I took the time to absorb the sudden emptiness, to take stock of the savage scene: a washcloth dripping from the sink, a knife dropped in the hallway, refrigerator magnets knocked to the floor. A pile of envelopes left on the kitchen table: Amelia’s mail. I perused the stack. Each was addressed to her apartment on Powers Street in Williamsburg, where she had lived since had moved out of my place six months ago. The first was a bill from ConEd for a total of $53.72 for the month of July, meaning Amelia had not been using her air conditioner, like a good, green girl. The second was a brochure for a writer’s retreat in California beginning the following week. Amelia, too, was a storywriter. Next, a mass mailing from a 2008 presidential candidate promising Hope is On the Way, A Better America is the Future, a prospect I considered unlikely. There was a postcard from Amelia’s best friend, Ally, writing from the deserts of the west. You’ve got to come to this year’s Burning Man, Amelia. It’s going to be AMAZING. Plus, I miss you. I miss you all over. Next, a blue ValuePak envelope full of fantastic coupons. And lastly, an unsigned letter, with no return address, already opened and read, from someone who had only this to say: Amelia, 2012 is nearer every day. Where are you?
This last letter freaked me out. Was it a joke? A call for help? A lover’s beckon? I had heard enough about the many metaphysical predictions about the year 2012 to know that the year would likely prove whacky, if not exactly apocalyptic. I didn’t believe in the apocalypse. Though, as a committed mystic, while I affirmed a fundamentally esoteric view of the cosmos, I also considered myself a sane man. If one can even says so, if one can validly say anything, about one’s self. But we create our own reality to a degree, so every prophesy, even mad 2012 soothsaying, carries with it at least a speck of self-fulfilling potential. But this was all besides the point. What was important was that, apparently, Amelia was hanging out with a kooky crowd. I wanted to hide her away.
I stood in the kitchen, stared out the window into the alley, and fingered the letters. A mouse ran across the floor, squeaked under the fridge. It’s a tricky world. Dark times. Oh God. Then a melody from a show I’d gone to see my last night in N’awlins bopped through my mind and I began to move about. I stuffed the letters, along with a fresh change of clothes and a cold re-used bottle of water, into my backpack. In the bathroom, I brushed my teeth with my stillwet toothbrush and splashed some water on my face. I turned off the lights, stepped outside and bolted my door. On foot, I made my way towards Amelia’s apartment. Miraculously, I was no longer tired.