Love by Emily DickinsonXXII
I GAVE myself to him,
And took himself for pay.
The solemn contract of a life
Was ratified this way.
The wealth might disappoint,
Myself a poorer prove
Than this great purchaser suspect,
The daily own of Love
Depreciate the vision;
But, till the merchant buy,
Still fable, in the isles of spice,
The subtle cargoes lie.
At least, ’t is mutual risk,—
Some found it mutual gain;
Sweet debt of Life,—each night to owe,
Insolvent, every noon.
We were the original Bourgeois Couple,
We drank fine wines from Chile and held lavish dinner parties al fresco.
We shopped at organic markets and ate seasonal vegetables; we used truffle oil and Parma ham
We made our own pasta from scratch and rolled it through the machine by hand
We laughed at ourselves with the confidence of those who cannot be touched.
We hoarded books by Austin and Dickens, Gabriel Garcia Marquez was so passé – we listened to opera on scratchy old records, Bach and Mozart,
We read the Mail and Guardian and the New York Times.
We discussed philosophy and psychology,
We were existentialists through and through
We prided ourselves on our ability to reject religious dogma
Yet when I found a lump in my right breast you went to confession for the first time in twelve years.
We were the ideal – married friends envied our freedom
Single friends wanted to be us.
I grew my hair long and wore gypsy skirts ordered from India, hand dyed organic cotton,
We shopped at vintage clothes stores and you developed a penchant for tweed.
We smoked hashish from a hubbly bubbly and sometimes rose scented tobacco from Turkey,
We had picnics in the Botanical Gardens, reading poems by dead poets sipping tea that had absorbed the sun.
We practiced yoga and meditation,
We were transcendental, incidental, confidential, monumental,
We gave to charity
We sent money to build schools in rural areas with names we could not pronounce,
We decorated our home with African art and black and white photos of ourselves
A holiday in Prague, Rome, Venice, Marrakesh.
You wore a hat, you listened to Frank Sinatra, you sang Mac the Knife in the Shower, you washed your face with expensive face cleansers and tried to avoid at all costs premature aging.
It was the time of our lives.
It was the best of times and the worst of times.
We holidayed in Cape Town; we burnt incense and smoked cigars,
You marvelled at the mountain
You felt small, insignificant, you were afraid you would die and no one would come to your funeral.
I’ll be there I said.
You shook your head. No – you’ll be long gone. You’ll slit your wrists in the bath and colour the water red. The neighbours will shake their heads and say “She stopped taking her medication”
We read the Kama Sutra, we practiced tantric sex.
I fell pregnant in June.
You were upset.
I had an abortion.
You started work on a novel – it was your life’s work – I didn’t like it, too postmodern.
You said “What the hell do you know anyway”.
I began to write religiously
I would type and type and type and still have more to say
It was like the words emerged from some vast place deep inside that could never be silenced.
I told a lot of truths
I told a lot of lies
I wrote plays, I wrote fairytales, I wrote deep, dark poems about tortured women.
I felt sad
I got published.
You stopped writing.
You said you felt unfulfilled. UnAfrican you said.
You went to become a Sangoma.
You started eating meat.
We went to an Ashram. We soaked up knowledge like a sponge.
You said “Maybe we should have a baby”
I said “I’m too young”
You became moody and sullen. You said life was passing you by. You were tired of suburbia, the city, our friends, and our routine.
You were terrified of regret – fear drove you to impulse and impulse drove you to action – it was natural therefore that action led you to guilt and best of all regret.
You met her in a bar, she drank absinthe and smoked a pipe. Cherry tobacco you said.
Her hair was the colour of wheat fields long down her back and she had legs all the way to nirvana.
She spoke like Marlene Dietrich and she laughed at your jokes,
She had a tattoo behind her right knee; she was fluent in Russian and French.
In her pussy you found heaven
In her breasts you found yourself.
She was your soul mate you said
You had waited your whole life to find her.
I cried in the bath
I cried in bed
I cried until the tears stopped coming.
You held my hand
It’s for the best you said
I will always love you but we’ve gone as far as we can go.
We have to be realistic about this.
We want different things
You’re right I said.
I want you and you want her.
Let’s come to some sort of agreement.
Perhaps you can have us both.
We’re not your average Joes, we read books, we are modern, we are open, we do not own one another.
I let you go to her
I let you read her your poems and wear your shirts
I let you come home smelling of her perfume
Your cheeks flushed when she called
You took her to the theatre and art openings
She’d really like to meet you, you said
I turned up the volume
I blocked out the sound of your voice
I stopped listening to our music
I bought albums by Indie bands and smoked grass in the bath
I went out alone and sat on park benches
I cut my hair and wore black
I found silence
I found peace
And then I came home and found you
You kissed differently after you’d been with her
You made love like another person
A person you imagined to be younger, smarter, better than you.
You cried in the bath
You cried yourself to sleep.
She moved to China
She tired of your smell
She said she was bored and too young for this shit.
You looked like a little boy staring out the window.
I made you toast soldiers with marmite and butter the way my mother did.
We drank sweet, milky tea and I listened.
I listened to you talk about the times you spent with her
I listened to you cry for her
I listened to the words float out of your mouth like bubbles and pop in the air.
I felt tired.
I felt incomplete.
I longed for who we were before it all began
We went to couples counselling
The therapists name was Audrey and she had long red hair
She liked the colour purple and dogs.
She listened to our stories, we laughed and we cried, we screamed at each other and ignored each other
We unpicked the thread of who we were, unravelling our whole relationship, we went way back to the first time we met, we did this so we could find a way forward
Audrey said she didn’t have a map or a compass
I asked her why the fuck not?
I wanted to stand still. I wanted to feel the wind on my face. I wanted to stop working at everything; I wanted a quick fix, relationship heroin.
We ate dinner in front of the TV.
We bought microwave meals and sat in silence.
I felt sad.
I wore my pyjamas for a week
I didn’t wash my hair.
I went on Prozac.
You worked late
You were always tired.
I couldn’t find you
I dug through the wreckage
I wanted to call the rescuers with the sniffer dogs – I wanted them to pull away the rubble – I wanted them to bring you back.
I lived in a cotton wool cloud
I stopped writing
I had nothing to say
You smiled but your eyes were dead
I threw my medication in the toilet and flushed it clean away.
I got angry when you came home late
I picked fights with you just so I could find something to say.
What happened to the girl I fell in love with? You said.
She’s long gone remember? She slit her wrists in the bath.
You stopped taking your medication, you said.
What’s it to you anyway?
You became vigilant, you followed me around the house, you were like some hungry, stray dog, you hid the sleeping pills, the razors were all blunt
You wouldn’t do anything stupid would you? You said.
I laughed at you – spiteful laughter
It’s too late for that. I’m involved with you aren’t I?
You just stared at me for a long time
I felt victorious and vicious
I felt like I could never hurt you as much as you had hurt me.
You started sleeping on the couch.
I started watching you sleep
I wanted to come over to you and kiss your forehead and tell you that all was not lost.
But I couldn’t
You left in April
Your life condensed into a few brown boxes
I watched you from the front door like I was the lead in some soppy romantic movie
I almost expected you to turn back and sweep me up in your arms and say, “I can’t do this. I want you and no other. Let’s get married and buy a farm, we’ll erect a white picket fence and have 2.5 kids.”
But you didn’t
You just kissed my cheek like some stranger, like some acquaintance.
Thanks I said. Thanks a lot.