West of the Fields

A tropical ecologist reporting from the field. Musings on life and art, botfly extractions, tropical plant identification, beer, parrots, machetes. Etc.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Adios amor

Around the time of my parents’ divorce I spent a lot of time reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. I must have been ten or eleven; those years blend together into one murky unhappiness, the first intimations of how vast and trackless the world becomes as we grow older. I loved the illustrations in the book, and the calm, rational tone of the text as it explained things like black holes, binary stars, the odds of finding other life out there. (One variable in the page-long equation for these odds, I remember it still, was the likelihood of said intelligent life destroying itself through nuclear war before it ever contacted us. We try to imagine other life, and we imbue it with our own worst characters.) The part that keeps coming back to me now is the one about the end of the world. A series of illustrations show what will happen when the sun burns out, returning the solar system to the dark. I always felt a shiver of—what? recognition? relief? The thought that no matter what happens, it all goes back to dark in the end. The first picture shows a deserted beach and some vague vegetation, the ocean Caribbean blue, the sky flawless. The caption, though it’s been years and years: “There will be a last perfect day.”

Well, we had our last perfect day. A last perfect week. We. It’s not we anymore, and it never will be. Here I go again with the confusion of pronouns, the long division. Franklin and I have separated. There, it sounds better that way.

I went down to Costa Rica for spring break. A perfect week of sun, sand, palm trees, laughter, and joys that I will leave to your imagination. We (again the pronoun; there’s no avoiding it) talked about the future. I was planning to try to finish my doctorate early, move down there in the fall. We were planning to get an apartment together in the town where I worked, and I was applying for a teaching job. Between buses in Limón, we went to a department store and compared prices on stoves and refrigerators.

And then. The day after I flew back to the US I got an email from him. He said he had had a wonderful time, he always had a wonderful time with me, but there was something I should know. Around the time I met you, he said, I was with somebody else. And so I wrote back to him to say, yes, I’m hurt, but it was so casual at first between us. I wish you had told me earlier, but what’s past is done and the important thing is to move together into the future with honesty and compassion.

And then. And this is the part that I still can’t get my mind around, though it’s been weeks now, almost a month. And then I got an email from her. Silvia. His wife. Yes, they’d been together for ten years and married since 2002. They went through a rough spot a few years earlier, but they were back together and trying to patch things up when she stumbled on my email to him, sometime in the week that we were in the Caribbean. And what she wrote to me was the most heartbreaking thing I have ever read, the story of their love and their life together and my part in destroying it. Coming from someone whose existence I had never dreamed of, because he was such a good liar. Coming from someone who, even in the depths of her despair and anguish had some measure of compassion for me, even when she thought I had been complicit all along.

I felt sullied, stained, horrified; an unwitting partner in a heinous crime. There are certain things I will not do, and one of them is to get involved with a married man. After my parents’ divorce, I swore that I would never involve myself in that, no matter what the circumstances. I am not a person who destroys. At least, god, I try not to be. I destroy to the smallest extent possible. And here I was.

I called him. I asked him how he could do this to her, to me. To himself. I’m an idiot, he said. I’m sorry. I don’t know who I am anymore.

Who he is: beautiful, funny, brilliant. A breathtaking lover. A liar. So profoundly lost. I told him, I can’t see you anymore, I can’t talk to you again, you are not the man I loved.

I put down the phone and started shaking, and even now the tremor comes back to me. For days I didn’t eat, didn’t sleep. It is as though the man I loved is dead, even though Franklin is still walking around somewhere. In a way it’s almost worse. I look back over the past two years, two of the happiest years of my life, and I think, what was real? Was anything real? Will I ever know, in the future, how to tell?

On the scale of social intelligence, I think my innate capacity is very, very low. What I know of human relationships I’ve learned by applying other intelligences in its service. I was a painfully shy and awkward child. There was a point in high school where I decided, OK, relating to other people is important. I will watch and see how they do it, and form some rational theory of human behavior. And over the years I became very good at it, to the point that I can feel like a truly social person. People enjoy my company, I can make friends. I can even fall in love like a regular person. And then this. Maybe I know nothing, really, about what is at the core of us humans. I only know my own heart, barren landscape. Compromised. And I can tell myself over and over, I didn’t know, I was taken in, I was fooled, but the fact remains. I did this.

For a time I couldn’t tell anyone. It was too raw. I still haven’t told the whole story to most people around me, only those I can trust not to twist it into some horrid parody: Susan was sleeping around with a married man! Have you heard?

Why, then, am I putting it out here for all the world? I guess because the vast majority of people who visit this site are my friends and family, and the others don’t know me from Eve. And also because it is a kind of catharsis. Because it’s honest. Because it’s a reminder that this is the reality I wake to every day. A changed landscape.

I thought about just leaving this blog as it is, an unfinished monument to finished things. Better to let it change and grow as I do, though. It’s weathered one breakup in the past, though not nearly so egregious a betrayal, and chances are (if I can bring myself to go through this all ever again) it will weather more. A friend who has studied Buddhism tells me that violent, strong emotional shocks like this can become a force for inner change. That is what I am trying to do, to find myself again, to define myself outside of the dreams I carried for so long.

Two poems, to close. This devilishly intricate form is called a paradelle. It was invented by Billy Collins (in the late nineties, I think), as a sort of joke about the difficulty of poetry. I have appropriated it twice now, once for passion and once for loss, and there is something momently satisfying in the process of tying up so much human experience in the all-too-strict confines of these lines.

June 14, 2006

The river swallows the rain; daylight dwindles.
The river swallows the rain; daylight dwindles.
Twilight comes up from holes in the ground,
twilight comes up from holes in the ground.
Daylight, twilight, holes. The rain comes in,
ground dwindles; swallows from the river

lift up long wings in shimmering flight.
Lift up long wings in shimmering flight
and barely audible song,
and barely audible song.
Long flight, barely shimmering,
and up in song, lift audible wings.

Under the darkening leaves you hold me,
under the darkening leaves you hold me
like a drowning man holding a raft.
Like a drowning man holding a raft.
Darkening under you, a raft: hold,
holding a man leaves me drowning

in song, in rain. River twilight shimmering
up from under the drowning leaves.
A long raft dwindles, barely holes up;
the swallows’ wings lift, the darkening comes.
A man like audible daylight, you hold me,
holding the ground and flight.

March 18, 2008

What have I lost? I ask the sun.
What have I lost. I ask the sun.
No answer. The wind scatters dry leaves,
no answer. The wind scatters dry leaves.
What answer? I have no sun.
The dry, the lost. I ask; wind scatters leaves.

You, my night sky and morning,
you. My night sky and morning
rain, moving over me, blinding
rain, moving over me, blinding
me. Morning and night, rain.
You, moving my sky, blinding. Over.

In another country I loved you
in another country I loved you
beyond the fragile power of words,
beyond the fragile power of words:
I, you, another. Loved. Fragile.
Beyond power, in the country of words,

lost. The wind scatters you. What you loved
leaves me. I have no power
over sky, rain, sun. I ask and I answer,
my words moving beyond fragile:
of the dry night and blinding morning
in another country.


At 8:19 PM, Blogger Waterfall said...

Oh my God. Jackrabbit, that is awful. I am in shock. This is so tragic. And for you, of all people, to end up being a part of something so hurtful when you had no clue ... my heart cries for you, and for Franklin's wife. This is horrible. I am about to e-mail you at your hotmail account ... I don't know if you still use that e-mail, but I'll try.

At 8:33 PM, Blogger Waterfall said...

I just re-read my comment. "My heart cries for you." My heart cries for bad prose, too. Ack.

Hope I could make you smile there, a little bit. :)

At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, Susan, how awful! I'm so sorry... wow. I'm crying for you. Thanks for your beautiful words, for being able to write to all of us and share. I wish I could be there with you. Hugs. come up to Maine and visit! The Mufer and Toby and my aunt Sally are coming this next week (May 6th)....
I love you! Bess


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