Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Incredible Suspension of Disbelief

"You have sexy shoulders."  Her saying it makes it so.  All of life is like that, though.  It is the shared belief that makes things true.  All relationships are based on a willing suspension of disbelief.  "I love your nose."  What?  It has been broken a dozen times.  The cartilage is torn and crooked.  The whole thing leans west.  "You have beautiful eyes."  Well, yes, I know that is true even though I can't see them.  There was a bag full of creams and lotions and a scented massage bar.  The house began to smell like an Indonesian whorehouse. 

The terrible part comes when all the belief is broken.  My dissertation director was a great guy.  He was near retirement, but he was still a hellboy.  Many years before, he'd married a beautiful, crazy woman he'd met while she was riding a motorcycle across the country.  That is when he met her, and he found the whole thing terribly romantic.  And he was a romantic, too, having spent his life reading and looking at art and writing books on Hemingway and Kerouac and becoming a professor of the whole modern catastrophe.  They got married and went to Paris, of course.   There was a picture of them there after they had run a marathon.  I was in his office looking at a framed picture of that.  "That guy looks just like Charlie Sheen."  "It is," he said.  "We met him in Paris and hung out for a few days.  He was a great guy."  The woman in the picture was his wife.  I know why Sheen hung with them.  She was beautiful. 

The professor and his wife adopted a child and had another.  But there was too much madness, and in the end, she left him.  He fell to pieces completely.  One day in his office he had an anxiety attack so bad that an ambulance was called.  He spent some time in the hospital.  She had, I guess, simply changed her mind. 

I spent much time with my dissertation director.  We went to Paris and to Cuba together.  He was in all ways a man of great passions.  We had dinners with his friends.  They were always people who had abandoned one way of living for another, people who spent their money on travel and good food and drink.  They were not a dangerous lot but were refined in the way of well-educated bohemians.  The professor was not an especially handsome man, but I watched him with women, and many of them could not resist his charm.  It was fairly astounding.  Still, he was a man alone, a bachelor and a romantic.  And one day, he found something. 

She was a graduate student at the college.  She was in her late twenties and was from Spain.  She trained as a ballerina and had danced professionally, but as that career ended, she began another. He fell deeply and emotionally and powerfully in love.  "She takes off her clothes and dances for me," he said.  "You cannot imagine."  Oh, I'm trying, I told him. 

She finished her master's degree and entered another university about four hours away to work on her Ph.D.  There was a change, of course.  I could see it about him, and I dared to say, "You know how good she makes you feel?  That is half as strong as how bad you will feel when she's gone."  There was a recognition in his eye, for of course he already knew what he didn't want to think about.  He did not like my saying it. 

He would go up one weekend and she would come down the other.  At first.  Then, of course, it wasn't every weekend.  And then once a month.  And then the proclamation.  He was, I'm sure, imagining her dancing for someone else who was, in imagination if not fact, much, much younger. 

Recently I ran into someone I haven't seen for a couple months.  We were chatting, catching up, perhaps, when her phone must have vibrated.  "I need to take this," she said and waved as she walked away.  A few steps later, I heard her say, "Hey, how are you," the same way she used to say that to me.  I was, I knew, no longer the most fascinating man she had ever met.  That was all gone, forever done. 

The house still smells of lotions and potions this morning.  Or I do.  I have not been sleeping well at all.  "Let me give you a massage.  It will relax you.  Then you can go to bed and sleep."  Jesus, oh Jesus, how badly do we need the touching of skin.  "You need to drink water now," she said when she was finished.  "You have to get rid of the toxins."  I had only had a light beer with dinner thinking that it is the alcohol that is causing my sleep problems.  Maybe.  But truly, I think it is an anxiety disorder that I have recently developed.  After the massage, however, I was as relaxed as I have been in many, many months.  "There is nothing to worry about," she said before she left.  "Really, everything is taken care of.  Everything is fine." 

When she was gone, I poured a small whiskey. 

In the night, I still woke, but I was more relaxed than before.  I could smell the scents on my skin and feel the ease.  There was no sudden release of adrenaline.  I have nice shoulders, I thought.  My nose. . . well. . . still my eyes are pretty.

Saying it makes it so.

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