Melancholy, Edvard Munch (1894/96)
Nearly three months after we had broken up, my ex-girlfriend and I continued to see each other. Both of us were dating, but neither of us had found anyone we liked. You could say we were happy, not as a couple, but as two people who enjoyed spending time together. And the sex, well, you get the point . . .
Before we broke up, she lived with me in my house. In the beginning, it was exhilarating and rife with possibilities. This was the stage of the relationship when you picture living in Europe together, or on an island. But then, the novelty wore off and I wanted more and more time to myself. I started to say things like, "I want to be left alone tonight." By the end of the relationship, it seemed like we hated each other. That grim statement by Sartre, "Hell is other people," echoed in my mind. It wasn't going to work . . .
My difficulty was loving her. But love shouldn't be difficult at all. I've loved before; love is the easiest thing in the world. Love is effortless, a joy.
Maybe if I would have fallen in love with her, then I could have effortlessly loved her. You know, the romantic, feverish feeling, the tingling, anxiety, and butterflies--that never happened to me. We even talked about this. "I'm not head over heels for you," I told her bluntly on one of our morning walks, "But I do have feelings for you."
What were those feelings? I never really examined them. The feelings I did examine were the ones I didn't have. I was obsessed with the void, the emptiness, the missing piece, and I constantly brought it up, as if to safeguard myself from the tidal wave of her affections.
Despite my weirdly anti-social behavior, we grew together as friends, as partners, and I believe she accepted my shortcomings. We argued and disagreed on many things, but in truth, we were hopelessly entangled, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. Whether it was love or something else, stuff just happened, and Ariel and I were bound in some mysterious way.
Now that she has another boyfriend, I guess you could say I'm coming to terms with what I lost.
I remember one day in particular. We were spending the weekend in Chicago. At night we had plans to go to dinner and then to the movies. During the day, I wanted to take her to the Art Institute. It's the largest collection of art in the city, and my mother graduated from the School of the Art Institute. So, I loved being there. It reminded me of my mother.
Ariel wanted to be close to me. She loved me . . . I can't deny her that! I kept pulling back from her, though. I narrowed my focus, or I distracted myself with my obsession . . .
Did I tell you about my obsession? I have many, but on this day, I felt as though I did not love her. The entire day felt like a sort of pantomime, an act, and the mere thought of faking it was beginning to disturb me. What was worse I gazed at the couples who appeared all around us, radiantly attractive in their picture-perfect worlds.
We walked through the cold, granite park that day,This was January, and our faces were red from cold air. That's when I noticed all of the couples wearing knit hats and gloves. I stood by the ice rink and Ariel took a picture of me. It was too cold to smile.
ice-skaters breezed by in merry furies, loops upon loops,
maddened by the wind,
with bright shining faces and bright shining eyes,
and everywhere I looked
couples burrowed in each others’ arms.
I suggested the museum,The high school kids. I was jealous of them for being so blithe and carefree. They were oblivious. But I saw them, I peered into their self-contained world. The boy wore a jean's jacket with a chain hanging out of one of the pockets, and the girl had a seductively sweet face. The slightest thing the boy said made the girl laugh. Sulking, I continued through the museum with Ariel.
the first floor was empty
except for two high school kids who played hooky
and jested beside the glass of Renaissance art;
I stared at them meekly, as if I envied their sweet
adolescent rebellion. They were drenched in
whatever I wanted.
You lingered in the early art periods;
I approached a Grecian bust, once perfect,
scuffed forehead, damaged nose and some dust.
A security guard paced the length of a wall,
I asked what exhibit was showing,
“de Kooning just left,” said the Chicago accent.
The Girl by the Window, Edvard Munch (1893)
We walked through the galleries, and I noticed more couples in love. But I must have stopped noticing them because I was suddenly engrossed in art. It was Edvard Munch's, The Girl by the Window, which commanded my attention. The colors, a mixture of shades of blue, seemed to emanate from the canvas. Ariel was standing right next to me and we were both transfixed.
On the second floor, Munch’s bedroom girl,In the next gallery, a large crowd was gathered before a giant canvas spanning the entire wall. A hunchbacked curator gave a short lecture mostly in anecdotes about the abstract masterpiece. To me, the painting looked like so many random lines and squares with splotches of color. But apparently, it was a painting of a nightclub, and the story involved a preacher who came to the nightclub to see his mistress perform.
we both agreed, “a mystery of emotion,
haunting, beautiful, a dream . . .”
That brief instant was gone forever, like the day,
and the next, dominated by a hunchbacked curator
who lectured to the floor about floating blocks and cubes,
“both subject and
object moving,” (a preacher
went to see his lover, a dancer in a midnight club)
amorous obsessions, I thought.
Self-Portrait, Van Gogh (1889)
I strayed into the next room. Ariel was gone. Maybe she was still listening to the hunchbacked curator. Maybe she left the museum all together. It didn't matter; I found Van Gogh.
Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait:When we returned to my father's apartment, we fought, made love, and fought again. She wanted to know if I loved her--
I stood there in a trance
beneath the fixed stare of triumph or terror,
beneath the weary beard of jagged lines,
inchoate strokes . . .
Later in bed, you grieved.
I said what I loved
about the portrait
the sheer incompleteness—as if
the colors were still dripping, and the artist
"Van Gogh, Van Gogh, Van--" All I could talk about was him. He was perfect, and I was alone.
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