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A Passionate Undertaking

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 PERSONAL ESSAYS








A Passionate Undertaking

by Marisa de los Santos







It happened over and over. It almost never didn’t happen. A
leave-taking. Furtive slip outside the moment, outside the sphere of

grip and mouths and tearing breath and skin-smell. One quick pulse of
guilt, then no guilt, then a far, bright floating. Cool moon orbiting a
hot planet. Thinking, “Flesh and bone calligraphy.” Thinking, “Shadows
bruising the hollow of his hip.” Thinking, “Outside, sky the
bleached-green of luna moths.” Even turning the here and now of orgasm —
my own — into little streams of language, endless conjugations of the
verb “to come.” Sometimes my words, sometimes someone else’s: “I am
poured out like water.” Metaphor a silver pin through the experience, a
way of holding it in place, a way of having it.


    

I see now that it was at the very least a breach of manners, a failure
of generosity. I forgot them, those men. I was simultaneously there and
gone, an absence with too much black hair, deft hands and eyes that
pretended to pay attention. I don’t think it was because I didn’t love
them, although I often didn’t. It was just the way it was. It was that
way for a long time, and then it changed.


    

The night I met my husband, David, I went to bed with him. It was late
fall 1989, Charlottesville, Virginia; he had long hair and blue sheets,
and I spent the whole night wide awake. I was twenty-three years old,
and on this night, I began to live inside my body.


    

The change wasn’t sudden. What began that night was an easing in, a
watchful, sometimes tentative process punctuated by bright, ringing
moments of pure transubstantiation, the wafer of my body made radiant
flesh. And while I use the language of religion here, it would be
inaccurate to call it ecstasy. I mean the reverse really, a return to
the body, an inhabiting.





* * *


I grew up in a house where no one repaired anything. Large broken things
went to the repair shop, small things — alarm clocks, toasters — to the

garbage. I am watching my lover of six months fix his motorcycle. He is
fitting a small piece of motorcycle into a larger one. There is a spring
involved, and the smaller piece keeps popping out. He tries it again and
again and again. I am amazed at the immensity of his patience, the sheer
capability of him. He knows he will make the piece stay where it
belongs, and it stays. The motorcycle is Italian. I tell my friends,
“His motorcycle is Italian. Motorcycles made in Italy have this quiet
muscularity. And they’re fast. They’re far more subtle than Harleys,
which are really so obvious.” I know nothing about motorcycles. I
imagine the Italian kind to be like shoes: pieces chosen, handled,
finely stitched. A man at Moto Guzzi gathers pure curves of gleaming
metal, tightens one bolt a hundredth of an inch, leans back to survey his
work, black eyes narrowed, lashes long. A sun — orange, Tuscan —
hangs heavily in a window, slides saffron light into the room where the
man is building the motorcycle. I watch David work on his bike and think
corny, vivid, improbable thoughts like this. It has to do with the force
of his focus, an absolute which begins in his face and runs down through
to the ends of his fingers, a fullness he might turn on anything and
does. It’s a thing I’ve watched so many times: objects turning precious
under his hands.





* * *


When you see tapes of Ella Fitgerald singing or of Mark Doty reading his
poetry aloud or of Hakeem Olajuwon’s turn-around fade-away baseline

in-the-face-of-David-Robinson jump shot, you know that Descartes had it
wrong. Mind-body dualism means poverty. The only way to really do
something is to do it with everything: fingertips, muscles, cerebrum,
breath. This is the way David writes a novel, an essay, a screenplay,
listens to music, argues with me about William Blake (the first of my
lovers not to defer to me on such subjects), eats, speaks to his
grandmother on the phone, runs, presses me hard and suddenly against the
wall of the elevator before the doors even shut. He is there. The
opposite of distracted.


    

I am learning this, not easily. When I met David, my campaign to pare
my body down to pure geometry — planes, angles, lines — was at its peak.
Odd combination of self-denial and self-absorption. My body was the bad
twin sister whose eyes I never met and hands I never took, although I
made a study of all of her parts — arms, thighs, breasts, face. I
arranged them like fruit, choosing colors, knowing how to bring flutes of
collarbone into starkest relief. At night, I slept the thin, fitful
sleep of the hungry, brain going and going, beating ideas into words,
heart beating like a bird’s. When I think about myself now, I see that I
was pieces — good pieces mostly — but loose, moving in different
directions.


    

I’m growing to love my body for its nerve-endings, the places they
collect.





* * *


When the Egyptian god Osiris, son of earth-god and sky-goddess, was
murdered, his body was torn into pieces and scattered across Egypt. Isis,

wife and sister both, mourned him bitterly, her tears causing the long
Nile to overflow its banks. After a while, she stopped weeping and,
propelled by the longing to keep him, gathered her husband, walking over
the damp land, rowing her boat among the upright and tangled reeds to
find him, taking up each part in her own hands. When she had found them
all, she knit them together and swathed his cold body in white linen
bandages. Then, she fanned him with her wings, and Osiris, made whole,
lived.


    

When David and I make love, I remember him and he remembers me; we are
both Isis, both Osiris. Remembering, the opposite of
dismembering, the opposite of forgetting.





* * *


We are lying in our bed after making love. As always, I am sharp,
clear-cut and dazzled, while he is nearly asleep. I begin to describe
what orgasm is like for me, that there is a kind of Doppler effect
involved. That it isn’t being lit like a match, a sudden conflagration,
but like watching a hard wind come across a field or a body of water; it
flattens the grass or sends a shiver across the lake before it gets to
me. I tell him that I love this approach of pleasure almost more than its
peaking. He doesn’t say anything, then asks me if I was thinking this
as it was actually happening. I say that, no, I wasn’t; I had just now
thought of it. And I had.





* * *


Sometimes, friends ask me about marriage: Why, how, for how long? What
makes it work? they want to know, as if it were a clock. Wheels with

tiny teeth catching each other, setting each other spinning. I know
this: our marriage is a passionate undertaking. Passion, a word I
once thought meant helpless, wild-eyed voracity, a kind of spontaneous
double-devouring of subject and object. I was mistaken. It is nothing
so slight, so ultimately lusterless as that. That kind of obsession
doesn’t so much burn itself out as get bored with itself. Passion is
giving something your undivided attention, is concentrated generosity
shot through with wonder, a kindness that is not mild.





* * *


Now, we’re making a baby. That’s what we call it, “making a baby,” as
though we are assembling it a little bit at a time, carefully fastening
the tiny, pulsing synapses, linking vertebrae one to the other like a
bracelet. I am afraid it won’t happen and only slightly less afraid that
it will.





* * *


After over eight years, his voice, the proximity of his body still act on
me like alchemical agents, warming me, settling me into myself. This is
inexplicable, has always been true, and doesn’t change. He is like
bread, whiskey, gulf stream, Nile. He is like nothing so much as
himself.








For her husband’s side of their story, read
What She Hungers For by David Teague.






©1998
Marisa de los Santos
and Nerve.com