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Sunday, February 20, 2000
By Paul Ford
I ain't famous, but won't you think I am?
If I married for true, unique love, I would already be divorced four times. I don't think love glues us very tightly together. Lovers are spinning magnets, pushing and pulling relative to their poles. A man in bed with a woman is a celebrity; the air glows with the electric heat of a movie theater.
People leave love behind. You pack up your toothbrush, grab your socks from the floor, and go, with or without drama. You ask yourself: "Did I just forsake the best thing?" Or you say, "Thank God, I'm free." You'll say these things again, year after year, crediting your deepest bonds to a great mystical force. We preface marriage and childbirth with examinations of the emotion exchanged. If it exists in sufficient mass, working with other economic and social qualifiers, it insures a success.
I disagree with this method. Not love, but affectionate compliments are the lumber that hold up the facade. When people merge, they work like airbrush artists on each other. Perceived ugliness and shame fade away, along with secrets, love handles, and fears. In bed, on the bus, going to a movie, we trade up a kind of salvation to our signifying others.
The tall white muscular bankers join in the quest, too. Go look at them, coming off the train at the World Trade Center in the morning, their eyes as white as bone. Like the rest of us, they want to be seen as bottles filled with passion. So does the woman with eleven teeth, asking you for spare change at the same subway stop. When the manager at your office goes home, taking all his power and authority with him, he wants his lover to look into his eyes and say, "You are beautiful, you have chosen your life well, and I am wise to have chosen you." If she won't, he asks someone else. Prisoners, priests, republicans, liberals all need that hand on the chest and the sweet, simple kiss, or its equivalent in lust or violence. And when we see the faces on the screens of theaters, twelve feet high, phosphorescent, we see ourselves as that beautiful, too, adored and wanted.
Me, I have some nasty secrets, and I tell them to each of my lovers after some time. These women take me in their arms, into their bodies, they rest my head between their breasts. I am forgiven. It suits me, but during this last relationship, freshly ended, I saw one woman's cold sarcasm as the truth, and we forgot our compliments for a feigned honesty. With her, but by my own design, I turned fatter and colder, my sense of spirit and the sacred was like an apricot on a drying board. I chose to believe her: God never existed, the way to peace is calm and prosperity, to spend much time looking inward is to fail the rest of the world. I was above the mysteries, which weren't mysteries when you saw them through a different lens.
Love waxed and waned, a slowly oscillating wave in the lowest tones of the spectrum, but I never felt safe, clean, or good with her. She kept an ever-growing checklist of accomplishments that, once complete, would result in my approval. But I could not pass muster and gain entry to that life; there was always one more rock to push up the hill.
I was also, at times, a total asshole to her, looking for some weak revenge, because I regretted believing her instructions on how feel and live. It seemed safer to follow her directions, because she had a safe home and wanted solid things, like a job and babies.
These things were not often bad, but the criticism killed, the love came and went, and nothing held us up. She smirked at the pillars that held me up. We knocked them down, laughing and confident, and at the end became a Hollywood ghost town instead of a community of two.
She and I both needed that microcelebrity, but wouldn't admit it. I am nowhere above needing it, even if I pretend to see myself objectively.
Sickness comes when one loves the errors more than the remainder of another person. I look for errors, finding mirror-women who will show the same scars as I show.
This will not work, so I'm taking a year away from love or lust and the attendant confusions, and investing that time into this journal, becoming a passable writer, and my own health. In that duration I hope to admit, as I begin to admit here, that in the bedroom, in the kitchen making soup, on my bicycle, I want to be a bit of a hero, a famous man worthy of fantasy and jealousy. I know better, but she, whoever she is, shouldn't. I plan to return the favor, appreciating faults as virtues and trumping successes into masterpieces. It's the least I can do. By leaning into one another, we prop each other up. And after we hold still for a while, and vines have grown sturdy into our trellis, we can stop advertising one another, then halt our voices long enough to listen to things already speaking.