Friday, July 25, 2008

The Sabrina Letters

(From "The Sabrina Letters: A Memoir In Correspondence" This is a manuscript I've been working on for years...a work born not of Book Deal, but love. I'll eat my hat if it ever sees the light of day...)

Dear Sabrina,

Let us talk of love. Let us talk of that thing that makes people exercise. The thing that makes them wear paint and the dyed hides of animals, that makes them cry out and procreate. The thing that makes them take too many pills one desperate night in some seedy motel while plastic glasses and small wrapped soap slivers stand mutely by as if to say, Well, what did you expect?

Love is a crusher. That’s something they don’t tell you in fairy tales, although Sleeping Beauty does brush with the truth.

Let us talk of that thing, Love.

It is craven and perverse. It is not always good for you. Spinach is good for you. Love is not, necessarily. Yet there are places in the body, cells that need both spinach and love to multiply and divide properly.

It is as unavoidable as utility bills. Sooner or later it is going to catch up to you, no matter how many times you move. I can feel it sometimes, Love, breathing at my back as I walk away from something that is not love. I could feel it with my last boyfriend, waiting, arms crossed in the back of the bedroom. It wanted to know when I was going to get serious. It knew I was just messing around.

Love waits, throughout all the petty distractions that include thigh highs and jazz cd's and perfume lingering on skin and linens. Love has no concept of time. It will hang around long past what's appropriate, like relatives. It will loiter. It knows it is just a matter of time before you notice that you're missing out on it. And it will whistle Cole Porter songs while it loiters, hands in its impudent pockets. It will drive you fucking crazy, tempting you with the promise of it.

Love will wave toward the future as if it will appear magically there. It will taunt you from tomorrow. It will hold out a sly carrot and say, Maybe tomorrow you'll find it, maybe you haven't been looking hard enough. So you'll say Yeah, maybe so. You'll wear something uniformly uncomfortable and black, with pointy toed shoes that pinch your feet as if to nag you about things you haven't gotten yet, man-wise, love-wise, romance-wise. You'll wear the tight and the black and the pointy, and go out to a trendy bar where brown-eyed Spanish waiters with slicked back hair glide through the room like eels, silent and hard to catch. You'll meet no one, although the Parade of the Unsuitable will go by several times as you watch, wooden. You'll meet no one and go home and order Chinese. You'll tell yourself you didn't need it anyway.

Then you'll escape to sleep and Love will follow you there like an ambulance chaser. Love will make sure you wake up with a vintage Nat King Cole song running through your head like a freight train. It will be "Nature Boy" or "Unforgettable", because those are the songs that hurt, those are the songs that to hear while alone are like falling down a flight of stairs. It will choose the songs that hurt. Because Love is unscrupulous, like a politician. It will campaign. You will dream of the perfect man you have never met. Love will infest your dreams. It crosses over effortlessly into your subconscious. It has no compunction about travel.

Love is insistent. It will not be put off, you can't just pretend it isn't there, like Guilt. It's not stupid, like Lust. Lust you can palm off with anybody, you can come home with someone who looks like a crash test dummy and if he has good legs, Lust will be satisfied. But Love is strident. Love is shrewd. Love knows when you're not in it, and it does not appreciate the omission.

Love dies, by the way. Sometimes it doesn't, but usually it does. Love struggles on for a long time, looking worse and worse and losing all its original luster. Then, finally, it just ups and dies, whispering, Too bad.... as it slumps into the bed sheets.

Tough luck, murmur the pillows.

Love dies hard. And it makes the decision to die unilaterally.

One day you're living with someone and everything's fine, I mean you're not throwing things at him and you're still having sex every Saturday, although you're not exactly hanging on it. It's maintenance.

One day it's like that, and you're dealing with it because it's easier to do that than to decide who gets the house and the plasma TV. It's easier to pretend you don't miss Love than it is to admit that you've settled for someone who will disagree with you as a matter of form. Or maybe they don't take the time to disagree any more, maybe they passed the Minimal Respect sign five miles back. Maybe by now they don't really care whether you're happy or not, they honestly don't, so long as you don't leave, so long as you don't make them decide who gets the house and the plasma TV.

Because if you're not in tight with Love anymore, the only real issue between you anymore, the only actual burden lies in who makes the decision to admit that you're not in tight with Love anymore, that you've moved into maintenance. Who will make that call, and then be blamed therafter for pointing out the obvious? Who will stop pretending first?

Tick tock.

One day you're way out of Love and way into maintenance but you're both pretending that Love just stepped out for a
cigarette. Nobody wants to admit that Love is halfway to the border by now. Then to top it off, relationship amnesia kicks in and at least one of you can no longer remember what Love even looked like, or what it wore. And nobody is saying anything about it, they'd rather die than admit the huge failure they're steeping in.

So you have dinner together on Sunday and you look mutely at one another and say Pass the salt and What's on TIVO? and you hope that he is going out of town very soon so you can breathe deeply again. It's a Mexican Standoff with you on one side and him on the other and a set of professional Circulon and an integrated Bose sound system and walnut armoires stacked in between you like sandwich filling. You can spend a lot of time in that position, years can go by while the items stacked in between you multiply. One day you look up and there's a standing freezer in there and a four wheel drive utility vehicle that never gets out of two wheel drive, and now an actual Rottweiller, a dog the size of a small horse is in the sandwich filling, and you say How has this happened?

You have your teeth cleaned and pay the insurance and focus on what you can deduct at the end of the year, your only joint pleasure now is screwing the government. And it's so overwhelming and sad and relentless without Love. You have become an institution, a unit, a primarily grim pair.

Now you are almost enemies, almost lovers, neither to any satisfaction, linked together by groceries and appliances. You can't get your arms around any of it, the bag of dog food alone is too big for you to carry. You can't breathe in a room with all that dog food, and all the thoughts of the dog food to come. Something's got to go over the side of the boat. You hope it isn't you, but you know that it probably is.

Love will wait with its lips pursed. Love has all the time in the world. One day you look up and the Mexican Standoff is still there and so are the items in between the two of you, except now there is a Motown vinyl collection and a line of equity credit, which is when things really start to get big, scary big.

Then Love begins to speak louder, it has to speak louder over the din of all the possessions you've garnered. You added all these things in a kind of blind panic, you added them as if to add ballast to your ship which is now, actually, about to capsize.

You see now, as at the end of any journey, that you should have traveled light.

You're going under, despite everyone's prayers, oh yes indeedy-do. Because without Love you can forget about the high seas, you can forget about even floating in a shady slough. The best you can do without Love is to tread water and hope no one hands you an anvil.

Of course, one day someone does hand you an anvil and you go down, the ship goes down. Then the Standoff ends and you finally, finally separate, and there is much talk of friendship, which is a big relief because friendship is something you can do without sleeping together or even necessarily talking much ever again. You can have the illusion of friendship with an ex, which is something you could never have as long as he was staring you down over the breakfast table, while Love shouted from the top of the refrigerator that you were kidding yourselves, that it was dead.

Time will pass. You may have brief, bizarre dalliances with strangers and even friends, convenient and attractive friends who eyed you all along like a holiday deli plate reserved for someone else's party. You may have tender nubiles, whose vigorous, athletic sex lulls you to a mindless sleep. You may have those things just to heal yourself, just to get over that death thing. But after all that, Love will come around the corner. It knew just exactly where to find you.

Love will come for you.

It dies and is reborn, in its own unbearably sweet time.

There will be a man who smells of smoke but to you that smell will be like sage burning on a mountain while the sun comes up in a blood red rapture. This man will be of average height but to you one more inch would spoil him, would make him ungainly. He is a Matisse cutout, he is a Calder mobile. One adjustment of any kind would throw him out of whack. He is deeply flawed and that drives you wild in the same way that perfection once drove you wild.

He will smoke cigarettes from packages the color of wine. Seeing that brand will make you remember him in a large wave of emotion, in a way that verges on the schizophrenic. Love will take you to the country of the insane, and you will embrace that because you have been sane for far too long and it has done absolutely nothing for you.

Your mind will become a Viewmaster. When you were little you picked one up and looked into it and it took you to the Egyptian Pyramids, or the Grand Canyon. You could see the Seven Wonders of the World wherever you were. In this way, images of him will be at your disposal. Images of him will make your eyes glaze over and your breath warm. There will be one where you see his arms the color of wheat. There will be another with just his hands. His hands will be the most beautiful you have ever seen. Love will make sure of this. Love will wave madly from across the street and cry, This is it.

Love stands by on Audio Control. Love makes sure that his voice will be like a thousand winged black moths against a fifth of Jack Daniels. He will speak and your skin will feel brushed with the tongues of craven angels. His voice will take you to a far place. You could be sitting in a dark room and his voice will be a gold sun, taking you to the Eleusian Fields. He will say your name and you will step forward and offer to die at that exact moment. You will. Don't say you won't, until you have heard your name spoken in Love.

It may not be easy. You may not get him in tight with Love. He may be involved in his own Mexican Standoff, or maybe you're just too afraid to say it out loud. Maybe it's like voodoo for you. But by this time Love will have moved in. Love will be sitting across your shoulders like a backpack with everything you need to survive in it. Love will be delivering a constant narrative in your ear. You will want to kill Love.

But by now Love has attached itself to you. By now the stakes are quite high. By now you have discussed books with him, you have shared your own writing with him. Words of love have crossed through electronic portals; soulful poetic emails have passed through the air and have mingled with the elements and gained great power. Anything one writes down gains muscle. When it is sent into the world, when it leaves your head and your fingertips, it becomes nuclear.

You can read these same letters out years later and they are radioactive, they are just as deadly and lovely as they were ten years ago. You may read them and weep, the memory of his eyes coming at you in the dark like missiles.

I still have every one of my first love's letters. In their original envelopes.

It is deadly, Love.

It demands you to grab it while you can. Because Love is vengeful. You don't want to be looking back at it years later with a lump in your chest that wants to explode, that wants to go back.

You don't want to open those letters that are glowing with power in the back of your closet or, God forbid, those printed emails and photographs; photographs that hold every single feeling ever exchanged or dismissed. Photographs which, every year, show you something a little different, a little more than you could originally see.

Love will not fuck around with regret.

Love says Fuck you to regret.

Love is of the most extreme treachery. It is very hard. It knows how good it is, and can afford to be uncompromising. That is its great luxury.