Dodecahedrons of color and flavor and sound. Synesthetic sensations, startling when you realize that smells don’t have a sound, though in the next instant you recognize that, now that they do (they do!), it’s somehow more proper like this, it’s somehow fitting that the aroma of coffee emits a long cool orange tone (the sound is cool and composed, even though the smell itself is warm in your nostrils). And you lean back in your seat, one of those high stools that perch invitingly before a granite-topped counter, beyond which lie the bright French windows that lead out to the back garden of an Islington walk-up, whose exact street address you won’t remember unless you dig through a hundred journals to find out if you bothered to write down the address of the house where you lived for two months, one summer, years ago…

These sensory confusions only toll on the edge of consciousness. They will not be parsed. Elusive, like the more refined pleasures (which don’t enjoy being named), they dart away like little fish when you’re not looking. So that, then when you stride forward mentally, with the purposeful intent to feel them? You are left disappointed, and not remembering exactly why.

There are many things that toll this way, on the edge of consciousness.

How, for example, do we learn the habit of abstraction? How do we come to this tendency to flick away the bright world? To dismiss it as so much noise and color and blurs of motion? To say, oh yes, synesthesia, how diverting. To say, oh yes, I remember when I was 23 and had fallen in love with a British man I met in Portugal. We spent two weeks traveling through Spain together, then he headed back to England to work in a seed factory in his hometown of Framlingham. Two months later I took a train and then a ferry to England, too, ostensibly to meet my mother, who was touring with an American choral group. Eventually she went back to the U.S. (a miserable visit; she was more interested in flirting with all the surprised-looking Englishmen she met than in talking to me, the daughter she hadn’t seen in over a year). And I headed north, to visit Stuart in Framlingham. And soon found myself sleeping with him in the small bed he had slept in years ago, when he was a child. His mother called me “Pretty Face”; I took her out for tea, and on our way back to the house she kissed me on the cheek.

When I wasn’t staying with Stuart in Framlingham, Suffolk, I was living in Islington. A man I had met––Max––was renovating his mother’s house while she spent the summer in Aix-en-Provence. He lent me an empty bedroom on the top floor of the house and a set of keys. I came and went; sometimes, in the morning, we’d have coffee together. At times, then, we’d look at each other in the pauses in the conversation, considering. I was in love with Stuart, of course, so I didn’t consider it seriously. And I liked living in London, coming and going, without complications.

Stuart was jealous, living in Suffolk, working at that seed factory before he left for New York, where he would be starting his graduate degree in political science. I liked the irony: he was a self-professed communist (in the way that one could be a communist, in England, in the eighties, before the breakdown of the USSR and opening of Eastern Europe). But Max’s mother had been an actual communist, in Mexico, with Che Guevara and Fidel. She was one of the girl comrades. I asked how it happened that she now owned a house in Islington and summered in Aix. Max told me that she had turned on the communists because they (the male leaders) claimed that, in the spirit of rebelling against bourgeios notions of property, all the women had to sleep with any man who desired them. This was sexual communism, emancipation of (male) desire. And so Max’s mother ended up leaving the group, and marrying a rich London banker, many years older than she. Layers and layers of irony. But that is not this story.

Eventually, Stuart left for America. I went to Morocco. We were apart for months, and I marveled at the ache inside me. “The physical manifestation of feeling!” I said, marveling. And four months later, found myself in New York also.

The intensity of our feelings, when we were face to face with one another, startled both of us. Stuart and I loved each other in a way that completely eluded both of us. In what I will call an unconscious way. We had no idea what we wanted from each other, no sense of our effect on one another. Needless to say, we made each other miserable.

He didn’t know how he knew me, what it was that he loved or recognized in me. It made him angry and full of desire, at the same time. That much I understood. But it was all complicated by the fact that I too wanted to know what I knew. I too wanted to be in control, to understand and feel comfortable (read: secure) in my self-knowledge. It’s so hard not to want that!

He didn’t know, and I didn’t know. We got married. We said we did it to get him a green card. We were young, early twenties. We had crossed oceans to be together, we had made arrangements. But at the same time the world had been obliging to us, it had carried us, again and again, to a series of different places, together. Our meeting in Lisboa? I saw him three times, the day I was leaving Portugal for good, in three different parts of the city. There were enough coincidences bringing us together, keeping us together—that when it came time to make choices we simply didn’t know how. We lacked the crucial experience of choosing to be together. We didn’t want to admit to wanting to make it happen.

It implies weakness, to feel desire of that sort. It means that you are dependent on someone else for your sense of yourself. It is terrifying. That much Stuart and I agreed upon. I loved him, but I was not going to follow him from New York to wherever he did his PhD. He loved me, but he wasn’t sure enough about how he felt to be willing to compromise, to talk seriously about the best place for us both to do PhDs.

Later he was sure. Later, when it was too late. Because then, of course, you can afford to be sure.

A person can bear any tragedy about which a story can be told. Stories have beginnings, they have reasons, they have logic; most importantly of all, they have endings. They have lessons. Lessons do not exist in the bare history of events, but in how the storyteller tells them. They are hence as much about forgetting as about remembering. This is how we can bear any distress in our life, when the events are over and ready to be made into a story. This is what we mean by "closure".

Around the eighth or ninth time I met my last girlfriend was when she realized she could love me. She says she can't remember exactly when it was and I can't either. All I know is that it was around the time that I realized that if I met the gaze of the girls who served coffee in shops around town and smiled just so, their eyes sparkled back. Much later I learned that some girls - the tricksters and those who have themselves been tricked one too many times - make a living from simulating that sparkle.

Some time around that eighth or ninth meeting, that sparkle crept into Holly's eyes with increasing regularity until I barely saw her without it. I knew I was on the brink of either glory or the abyss, and yet it never occurred to me that it is the fate of almost all love affairs to encompass both. I was no stranger to infatuation or what passes for a relationship between under-eighteens, but only just on the brink of understanding that these flings were born out of a combination of desperation and bravado - the all-permeating ache to know oneself, to know one's capacities for love; the ache constantly denied by the pretense of already knowing.

When Holly met me she thought I was conservative and prudish. Certainly no bore nor unsure of myself, but unsure of my capacity for love. (Later I told her that perhaps I needed to be taught. No, she said, you just needed to be shown.) She said my poems reminded her of Oscar Wilde and this was no compliment - she meant they were unadorned and rugged. The work of a man and not a poet. I met her gaze, I smiled just so, and I told her that if we were getting into the business of literary comparisons - a dangerous one, to be sure - then she was a Jane Austen novel and that I knew of no higher compliment that I could pay a vivacious woman. To my surprise, her eyes sparkled and she kissed me and our story began.

We lived in one of the most beautiful cities in England and I began to notice this for the first time as we walked through it together. Later an African told me that East Anglia was boring, it was ugly - there were no mountains, he said, the terrain was flat, and our river moved at the pace of a pond. He wanted chaos and combat from the land, he said.

I thought of all the blood that had been spilled over the African steppe and I sighed that if he thirsted for chaos and combat from nature, I envied the peace that must reign between him and his fellow man. I told him that nature's serene beauty lies in the constant repetition of her simple cycles. Nature allows us to escape from the chaos and unpredictability of everything that happens between one another into her warm, reliable, indifferent arms; just like a lover. I told him that nature's completeness and the elegant simplicity of its elements in eternal cycles was exactly the pattern of love, exactly what we all sought in each other's embrace.

When you start to realize things like this, you have begun to see how each person you love transforms your understanding of both yourself and the world around you. They make you realize that you might have something called a "soul" after all, but that the priest does not understand it. You realize that religion and philosophy are onto something but that if the eternal lies anywhere it is not in lonely discourse with yourself or an indifferent God, but in that sparkle in her eyes. You know what it means to be a human, naked amongst billions, alone in this world, stripped of all pretense, but at the same time lucky enough to have found all the protection you will ever need.

Then when it is over and you really are alone amongst billions, when the fervour dies from her eyes and becomes mere affection, slowly cooling after being removed from the fire, you drink and you talk and you smoke through the love hangover, and you nurse your stories. You ask: How can this truth have led to nothing? Was it no truth at all, but a falsehood? And you are crushed by the weight of the past, playing over every detail in your mind until they are banal by repetition and you have interpreted them in every possible way. And when this yields nothing you are forced, finally, into a surrender to theory.

For there has never been a man who could bear the sheer unprocessed weight of his past, of his lost love, without altering it. Stories may have a logic, but we do not. And when the intensity of the emotion has gone and your soul's connection to another is severed, what is left? Only your cold reason, attempting to make sense of a fate and a path which it is wholly incapable of grasping. And so we become storytellers. We impart logic, we invent causality, we pretend to have "closure". Our pretense returns, this time saying we are wiser, we have learnt lessons, oh look how much better we write! This is the way we make meaning of the past.

And then we go and do it all over again.

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