It’s dark enough to be winter, the sky phthalo blue at 4:30 and pitch black by 5 PM, and I have trouble untangling myself from the mess of myself. Sometimes it’s fine and fifty degrees and I go out in a black turtleneck and a pair of slim gray jeans cropped at the ankle and I see my reflection ghosting past in storefronts and think oh here is a person who looks beautiful and confident. Sometimes it’s not fine and I wake up with a headache and I never want to get out of bed.
After I moved to New York, I ceased to wear color entirely. One December evening I took a big plastic garbage bag and went through my closet, winnowing out the bright pinks and corals I’d hardly touched in months. What remained was an astonishing variety of blacks and grays: soft velvety pitch, burnished charcoal, milky-white, pearl like a dove and ivory-pale. Now I had a uniform, a way of being that was as predictable and cool as the sun sinking earlier and earlier.
I’ve just turned twenty-three. The night of my birthday I sat in a bar surrounded by people who had been strangers this time last year and I felt so loved and I got so sick I threw up in the bar bathroom not once, but twice.
Chris and I talk on the phone almost every day. Sometimes he calls first, but lately, it’s been me. I leave painfully affectionate voicemails that go on for a minute or longer. When we talk I don’t do the thing where I close my eyes and pretend he’s next to me, which I’ve done before, which I thought I’d do. Instead I tell him stories and try to make him laugh. I also tell him it’s been rough lately and he asks what happened and then he listens and I can hear the quiet noises of his life somewhere far away.
I save the pretending for night, when I miss him. I imagine him next to me like a kind of parenthesis, bounding my body back into the confines of itself, which exists tautly next to his, which is mine because it is not his, and sometimes they combine, and I come, and he comes.
When you remove, however briefly, your bodies from a relationship what remains? I think now of the only thing I will ever retain from grad school, which is this metaphor:
Language is a dark vessel.
Language is a dark vessel. I only have a dim sense of what it might carry. I have my own trembling with its sparkling fluid, and you yours, and I, being a writer, try to show you mine, and you can only compare it to yours, and somewhere, in all this, we manage to make meaning even though what I feel is so complicated and so quotidian that even now, over weeks and weeks, I am still trying to express it.
Have you ever whispered something to someone and in doing so completely lost control of it?
We send each other letters and poems and other people’s letters, hoping that all these referents will add up. In a sense it is also maintenance, a semblance of continuity. When the physical drops away I find myself clutching at memory but worrying I will wear it thin, even the way I write about it grows old. The rope, the crop, the metaphors.
Plato compared conversation to erotic love because both require the same kind of absolute communion. The most ideal way to exchange thought itself was or so he hoped a kind of telepathy as one experiences in the heavens. We were to have pure transmissions between our souls and the trouble with that now is that our tool is language. That dark vessel. That blunt instrument.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s silly to tangle my emotions with someone else’s when I can hardly handle my own but if you begin to be scared of flaws at that level why even bother using words that someone is guaranteed to misunderstand? I feel as though I am engaged in two exactly similar projects. One is the project of loving and the other is the project of language.
A Sunday. We’re on the phone again. It is right now our best immediate way of touching something. I feel like a teenager. I think perhaps this breed of joy means always feeling like a teenager. I’m curled up on the couch and it’s sunny outside and I can feel it on my nose and cheekbones and I am quickly, absolutely, very happy.