He would get up much before I. In fact I can only recall one morning that I found him next to me, the white down wrapped around his body, his face still, his brow surprisingly unfurrowed. It was one of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept in. The mattress easy to form the curves of our bodies, the sheets, creamy and softened with age — only in the winter when it was too cold to be sleeping close to the window, and he would insist on suffering a moment in the freezing cotton — was I uncomfortable in his bed.
He was right though, heat came when we were touching.
There were many nights in the beginning when sex was an impossibility. Despite being aroused, his mind fastened to habit of thought, to self consciousness, created an inability to surrender inside of me.
In the mornings I would find him in his blue robe. Soft flannel, thick and heavy against my rested, warm body. Sometimes he was writing, other times making coffee, and the creamer and single sized coffee pot came to represent our most joyful moments. Taking slow sips, savouring the acidic flavour, and the morning light, and conversations, and the occasional kiss. The blinds were more often closed than not, hiding the mirror of yet another bored, brick apartment building. I often wondered why he kept them closed, maybe I should have opened them.
The dark blue of his robe matched that of his couch — the lines of which could trace the memories of our relationship. My body would become soar after hours of rotating between — reading together, from Ovid, Montaigne, Aurelius — sitting up, and stretching out on it’s surface.
Typically he sat on the side closest to the bedroom. But at first we stayed quite far from one another. I in the corner of the couch that would become his, and he in the imposing brown leather arm chair.
With knees curled up as if to hide my insecurities, I played the interviewer, the journalist, or the student. Hiding my ignorance of worldly things behind a line of unending questions.
His voice was smooth and still, containing baritonal warmth, the expression controlled so that the song of his speech had but few tones. But his words and their rapid flowing of complex, intellectual ideas, washed over my mind like great waves, leaving me grasping at the punctuation of shells and sea weed.
Despite my discomfort in the beginning — created by the constant effort of effecting the allure of sophistication — it was the contrary in his space.
Immediately when I saw the white bookshelf, lined with alphabetised CD’s, and neat rows of the classics, I felt an eager knowing, a feeling of home. The shelves and the dark blue couch, the faux-persian rug, all reminded me of the home of my voice teacher when I was a girl in Sacramento. The whispering of things unknown, and sounds unheard, sitting aesthetically on shelves, made my heart leap for the possibility of intellect.
There was something listless to the space, which was accompanied by a feeling of longing I was never able to run away from there. Whether it came from the sparseness of furniture, or the silent un-read pages filling the rooms, or his cold blue eyes, or unfulfilled poetic hands, I still don’t know.
Longing would rise sighs that I practiced repressing in his presence.
Months before I’d met him, I’d been writing notes on the edges of my planner, “Research old Singers,” reminding myself for some future time when the struggle of the academic year would subside. With him, that curiosity would be satiated. Typically evenings were not spent socially, at bars, or in the company of others, but mostly together, and alone, listening to the golden voices of singers who have passed and taken with them their secret pathways to olympus.
The flawless yearning of those sounds, Flagstad, Kipnis, Ruffo, McCormack, Caruso, would all penetrate my body. Lying on the floor listening, either at his feet, or beside him, yet never touching, I would feel longing — tightening around my throat — for many things.
The desire to hear those voices through his own mind, having full faith in his musical fluency, and feeling myself attempting to understand a language I’ve always doubted my comprehension of.
Melodies endlessly churning around us. Old songs and arias, all of them holding with that thing stuck in my throat. Sehnsucht. The need for him to reach out and touch me, to not fee alone in those monstrous voices.
The desire to ascend into ecstasy like the melodies themselves. To become a silver thread of tones leading straight to paradise, nirvana, god… or just some other place.
He would teach me to turn over those sounds, hold them up to the light to be scrutinised, understand their meaningfulness in the world, ruins of a dead art, their force, their embodiment of wings, of things that are free. He would teach me how to listen for the delicate secrets of quality, of refinement, and what the soul of bel canto really sounds like. He would show me how such a pursuit of perfection can steal the light from your eyes, and the wonder from your thoughts, and sighs of awe from your lips. How to cut off a sound before it’s even made its first timid steps of vulnerability. How to be unhappy. Because perfection isn’t attainable, but it’s the only things worth living for.
The drive toward the ultimate, the pinnacle, the glowing look out, was instead pulling him blind folded toward madness. Psychotic egoism that slowly moves and spreads through the mind and eventually the body. Parasitic an terrifyingly unidentifiable by the host.
When I did see life express itself in his features, it was of a uniquely powerful beauty. As rare things usually are. And I would crave it in the same way I might wait and watch for the sun to dispel the fog in San Francisco. His smile was hot iron, branding my mind. I in a subconscious determination pursued his joy, with both purpose, and sonambulic awareness of what I was doing.
The naive confidence of youth, the arrogant assumption that my wilfulness toward joy could rush in and fill caverns made by 43 years of striving toward dreams which remain unanswered. Echoes of failure reverberating in canyons that stretch beyond. The struggle not to be swallowed up by that insignificance.
The affair ended badly. It had begun, for both of us, with a feeling that it would go just that way. But despite a lifetime of intuitive knowings, and failings at love, both of us, in an effort not to feel as alone as we are, would sink into his white sheets, and wake up at different times of morning.