Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Song with No Words for Love that Could Not Speak Its Name

The other day, on Facebook, I’d posted a picture of my friend Jessica drinking the Whiskertini we’d just invented (vodka, Chambord, white whisker from my cat Judy as a garnish). Amid the “likes” and occasional “ew” comments I saw his name, both warming my heart and making it stop. Ryan Farris was a friend of Jessica’s (true to FB friendships, she didn’t, at first, remember why they were friends), but he was far and away the most important boyfriend of my 20’s because with him, I realized the consequences of not understanding how you love. He was, to twist a phrase, the love that could not speak its name. “Could not”—so different than “dared not.” While the love that dare not speak its name is the closeted homosexual love, a love hindered by disapproval and the judgment of others, the love that cannot speak its name is what I had for this dark-eyed George Harrison of a man, a love in which I was the only hindrance, my judgment clouded by my first full immersion in an emotion I couldn’t articulate. I say “immersion” because loving him felt like drowning.

This wasn’t his fault. Ryan was the most loving, the kindest, the hottest. There was so much love. I understood that I had not, before, actually known what it meant to make love before him. He was good. It brought out the worst in me. We broke up (I broke up) five or six times over two and a half years before calling it quits for good. There’s a famous modern dance piece called “Kiss” in which two dancers swing towards each other in harnesses; whenever their ropes twist, the female dancer slowly, painfully pulls away, spinning away from the body against which she was, a moment ago, so blissfully pressed. After the first year, I felt like that every day—involved in an untangling, rather than a simple break-up. I fell in love with Johnny Horton (see “Paint It Blacker”). I fell in love with another Ryan. Every day, I would walk the Burke-Gilman trail to school and catalogue the lies I was telling to cover my affairs, those weak attempts my spirit made to show my weaker flesh this was not the man for me. “I am not a liar. I am a truthful person,” I’d tell my bewildered self each day. Each day, I’d hear my rational self swim up from the emotions in which it was drowning: “Then why are you doing this?”

I didn’t know—that is, I couldn’t talk about this love in ways that made me feel at home with my heart, but I knew it was love. But drowning . . . it also felt like drowning. I’m a Libra, an air sign. I’m at my best when I am in mental free play with someone. Ryan was a Taurus. Earth. The Bull. The first time we ever sat together on the shared porch of our group house (he lived on the top floor, and I, on the bottom), I started to ask him questions about his childhood, about what shaped him. “That stuff will just come out,” he said, stretching back on the ratty couch. “Let’s just hang out.” Startled, I leaned back and tried to enjoy the small talk. I didn’t. That wasn’t, still isn’t, how I hang out. I interview. I analyze. I try to reach insights—I don’t wait for them to drift past me like the warm air in the night. As we fell in love, I literally felt a cord between the two of us, much like the one the dancer struggled to unwrap from her own separate cord. That cord was real, and heavy.

Even in our music, that silence was present. Though we were both hippies, our words meant different things. For me, “hippie” was folk music: the Indigo Girls, Bob Dylan, and blue grass, while he favored world music and tablas or Jaco Pastorius, World’s Greatest Bass Player. That first summer, we rode around in his jeep listening to Akbar Ali Khan, and Ry would look at me all the things that could ever be said. He sang little made-up songs about me constantly, which I loved; our favorite was “Come and Stay, My Love.” It went something like this: “Come and stay, my love / You’ll never have to leave, my love.” We hummed it often. Once, dreamily listening to John Coltrane, I was startled out of my reverie by the realization that something was familiar. “Ryan! This is ‘Come and Stay, My Love’!” It had been subliminally remixed in his mind, those chords so deeply played inside of him that they were not longer recognizable as anything but his own heart. That stuff finally had just come out, unintentional plagiarism.

My favorite song in high school was Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” Why was it exactly that I couldn’t do with Ryan? Now I can see the value in just “liking” the photo of us with a Whiskertini, but I couldn’t then. I needed to know why my heart felt like it did, how that cord could hold me to someone without choking me, how, as in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” deep water didn’t have to mean drowning. That first summer, I didn’t know, and I would watch him silently as we slept. I didn’t sleep for months. One night, in the dark, I put on Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine” and tried to let it be enough to fill the silence I felt between me and this beautiful man, tried, as I would until the end, to trust in the beauty of a song without words.

“Fleurette Africaine” by Duke Ellington


Day 7 of The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook, a Meditation Challenge: Sullivan’s Cold Rice Salad

Oh, look at that—it’s months later, not, in fact, one day (or even one week later). Perhaps one of the trickiest thing about trying to develop a writing practice is that, in writing, you tend to lose yourself in time, which results in a heightened sense of Time as a Construction. We think we “lose it,” we think we never “have enough” of it, but really, as all writers know, it’s about “making it,” making Time, like you’d make a pie or a cold rice salad.

We return, thus, to The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook challenge, and on this final day of the “week-long” challenge, I reflect on Sullivan’s Cold Rice Salad. Sullivan was the grandson of Thisbe’s/Erin’s grandmother’s neighbor, and their visits to their grandmothers coincided enough to make a friendship of sorts evolve. (How often we make something out of what we have: mountains out of molehills, love out of nothing at all, friends out of random boys when there’s nothing else to do.) When their grandmothers’ neighbor Myrtle died, the authoress and Sullivan found themselves reunited, sitting shiva together, sharing the food brought by other mourners and their collective, if limited past. Erin/Thisbe brought Wacked-Out Will’s Chicken Wings (another recipe in this cookbook), and Sullivan brought a cold rice salad. It sounds really good—it contains almonds (I will eat anything with almonds), and, best of all, it makes use of leftover rice. You always have leftover rice. The authoress insists that it went extremely well with her chicken wings, which led her to contemplate whether she and Sullivan would have gone well together romantically, if things were different. But they weren’t, and nothing romantic ever happened, and so they grieved and ate together.

Moral of the story: Making do can be more than enough, but we always wish there could have been more.

As the super moon last week drew near, the man I’d been dating the past six months broke up with me. Just as the distant, shining globe of a moon pulled itself closer, an urgent partner interrupting a slow dance, Dan came suddenly into contact with the realization that he was done with our own dance. We’d orbited together, illuminating hours of the night I’d known only in insomnia instead with hours-long conversations and acts of intimacy. As the orbit drew its nearest to the earth, though, he noticed something he hadn’t in awhile: other girls. And it was time to go back to that world. He did it gently. “Please don’t tell people I broke up with you just so I could see other girls,” he groaned, and I know it wasn’t just that. He wants to be present for his age and the experiences it brings, instead of in a private universe of two. I miss him, but I don’t fault him. Whenever you date with a considerable age gap between you and your lover, there are some things you accept—not as inevitable, but as probable and possible.

But I’ve been surprised by many friends’ easy dismissal of this relationship. We began dating shortly after my major break-up, and to some, it might have seemed that he, like Sullivan, was simply sitting shiva with me, a lover found simply by looking to the side and picking who was there rather than by a vetted and careful deliberation about suitability and shared interests. Even Dan shared this perspective, to some degree: we first kissed over the drinks we were having because he’d heard about my break-up and wanted to check in on me. We had a lot of drinks. But we also discovered we went really, really well together—like chicken and rice. We are both quick, both curious, both able to shift topics and make connections in ways that create new things, instead of just fragments.

Primarily, though, saw himself as a companion to me during a difficult time, a fragment disconnected from the larger wholes of our separate lives, visitors thrown together, like children visiting their grandmothers. When I asked him, near the beginning, how he imagined our relationship ending, since neither of us envisioned a longer-term relationship with each other, he said, “I imagine you will meet a Spanish intellectual who will whisk you away and be the partner I can’t be. And I’ll find my ax wench who wants to live in a basement and play D and D with me, when we both don’t need five hours of alone time.”

So, we had dinner every Monday and Wednesday night: pizza and gin or Thai food and white sheets and cool white wine. We were reading Tennyson’s Idylls of the King together; we were up to “The Marriage of Geraint.” We had a cafe and a place to get Stockholm Buns, which we’d eat as we walked on Golden Gardens beach on Thursday mornings. I made him CD’s, even though he said he didn’t like music, and he made me a Valentine, which he walked over to deliver to me on Valentine’s Day proper, even though I wouldn’t be getting home that day until much later and wouldn’t see him. I wrote him poems. “Brynny! I deserve humorous limericks! Not beautiful poems with complex rhyme schemes and intricate imagery,” he wrote in response to the poem at the end of this piece.

But that’s what happens sometimes. The person you thought was simply beside you is a real person, and I love real people. I found that I loved this real person: full of confidence, able to make me laugh uncontrollably by imitating his dog becoming suspicious while eating, someone who claims to be bad at conflict but who was often first to offer a useful solution, the deep voice in the dark night, a man already, despite his own ambivalence and the hobbies he claimed would always keep us apart.

At some point, we all think that what we DO is who we ARE; we believe our hobbies and beliefs MUST be shared, in order for someone to prove they know us well and that they approve of what we know. How else would we know how to play, when we are small? I have Barbies, and you have Legos; it can be hard to share a landscape, even in imagination, so we begin with what seems most obviously to hold us together. But what I know at this point in my life is that it’s not the toys that make the landscape: it’s us. And even if we start out side by side, accidental friends in our grandmothers’ apartment complex, sometimes we find the way to real love, our differences complementing each other, as do spicy chicken wings and cold rice salad. We need others—not just to define who we are through difference but to have our own flavors enriched.

Rice salad alone . . . it’s ok, I guess. But, having had enough, I would rather have more.

“Terza Rima for Dan”

Once-near star, his lost light
lingers, fixed by all cold space,
still, vast, and endless as a blight.

New star, I look upon your face,
our constellation from a different sky,
now shining in this place.

The Southern Cross is flipped
like a light switch. I’m in darkness there,
on fire here, an ember dipped

into the ether. Your hair,
my legs, our lips erase
the stars, leaving this night.