The Only One
The Only One
What choice had she but to go from lover to lover? And what difference could it make to her what her friends were thinking? Beyond accepting the fact that she could not live without a man, she never really gave it much thought. That she couldn’t, was enough for her. And so she had gone from one man to the next in quick succession. And in the young wake of her womanhood, many of them had become fraternally bound by her. Which never had bothered her. At times, in fact, it even made her smile. Especially since she could still remember every one of them by name, or by the peculiar, and sometimes ridiculous, likes and dislikes of the seventy-one men she counted before she let her counting go. And they continued to show towards her a friendly concern, which she knew was really a form of indifference. Just as they never figured out when or how it was they had failed to please her.
The songs with which she signed herself, the ones she would sing and the ones that could momentarily take her away from the task at hand, were songs always being played on the same minor key. They were always songs of a girl, more woman than child, who was self-assured for all the world, but for whom loneliness was the enemy. They were songs about a girl who was longing for a home she could never find again, and even if she didn’t know why she would be wanting to return to a place she couldn’t say she had ever been. Her songs were never very strong on their beginnings, just as they rarely encompassed an end. They were much like her, without beginning or end, and they were like the way she preferred her loving. And the man on whom she at any time bestowed herself would never really believe that others had come before him, or entertain the notion there could ever be more. He would swear he had never been so completely and freely loved. Which was how it was she could be like some left-handed paradise from whose garden a man could only be expelled alone and without any conceit of his supposed likeness to the divine. And it was in the way she had for falling in love for a song that took her men by surprise, even to the middle of her, the same as how she could so surprisingly go kicking a king out of her bed, and for no demonstrable reason.
Only once did she make herself lovely for something other than a musical theme. And she swore to herself it would never happen again. He was the son of a wealthy family, and she had felt certain from the beginning she was going to enjoy the money she thought he had. She even persuaded herself she could love him in the way he most needed, with the love of a mother. But it hadn’t taken her long to see that a love-time trick was being played on her, and that she would be doing very well to return to her accustomed haunts and places. It wasn’t so much the creditors that kept knocking on their door, or even the call girls he brought to their apartment from the big city for his friends. It was just when she realized how much time had passed since he had last been sober enough to love her in a way closer to what she needed that quietly scared her. It’s what settled the case against him. And what a gray day must have opened on him when, while driving him to the airport for the flight to his parents’ mansion, she told him she would not be there to meet him on his return, and that their apartment was no longer his home. Driving back to town that day, she told herself she still loved him, but that it couldn’t be helped. The thoughts she was leaning into, however, had mostly to do with the soft spoken race car driver she recently met, and who she would be seeing that evening.
She couldn’t say for sure, but she thought it was after the man with whom she had lived for three years that her love-time innocence started flowing away from her. Even if she still didn’t know why that would have to be. But she had had something going with him, something worth further exploring. And he was like the old man of the river for her. What he may have lacked in the way of surprises, he made up for in longevity, and in his way of turning them both over at each new bend of their time together. He had just shown her a kindness no man had dared show her before. She would still swear he had wrapped her up in a kind of slow intelligence that gave her the leeway she was needing to find that half-imagined notion of home. When she had been listening to what she had been saying to him, she knew she was being heard. It was some part of the way she found for sharing most of herself with him, while keeping back only those places neither of them knew how to reach. And it was just that they made a widening circle of their lives, a widening stream that for long looked as if it would never stop growing. She couldn’t really say when she realized she was even wrong about him. But he was fifteen years older than she, and she finally understood he had long ago stopped reaching for the things that still stirred her in the spring. And how could any man stay still for so long, she had wanted him to tell her, in the dock master’s chair that was the emblem of his job? And why didn’t he ever go a little crazy, just a little crazy sometimes, what with the tidewater river that constantly ebbed and flowed so nearly underneath him? Not to mention that thick-headed book he kept reading with a name that was something like Finnicky Wake, the one he finally put down long enough for her to see what was so interesting to him, and that had seemed like not much more than the familiar footfalls she heard while walking back down her own sleepy stairs every drowsy morning of her life. And when he started falling deeper inside those pages, she found herself becoming more restless, until the day came when she realized it was time to be moving on.
Leaving her river man was the only time she ever felt the need to say goodbye. What was needed, she decided, was to say goodbye with a party. And so she invited all of their friends to a special dinner at their favorite restaurant. And as the champagne was released from its strictures of cage and cork, they all invoked the imbiber’s patron saint of bitter-sweet journeys. “Dom de Dom Dom,” they intoned. And she briefly found herself wanting to change her mind, wanting to turn back to him, wanting to find a way of wanting to turn back over with him. It was the first time she ever seriously thought of settling down somewhere inside the crook of one man’s arm. But, seeing his son that night who had been away and traveling, seeing how nicely he was beginning to tone in his twenty years of youth, she soon found herself thinking of other things. Such as how it was her river man had not kept the faith with her. And it was only then that she realized how he had spliced his emotions in two, that he never had been wholly with her; and that he had done so, even with a sailor’s skill, long before they spent a first night together.
Given the kind of history she was stowing away for herself, there is no wonder how, at first, it should seem strange to her that the only time she didn’t feel the need for the accompanying pressure of a man’s contact was when she was walking on the beach. She would go down there early in the morning before the sun’s glare mastered the cooling currents rising from off the sea. And she wouldn’t have rounded the edges of her face with her creams yes, nor delineated the curving glances of her eyes. Sometimes she would go running to feel how lightly she could imitate a white ibis’s easy grace, and sometimes she would be hunting for the purple and pink coquina shells with which she would adorn her hair. And she never felt as if she was alone there. She was never aware of any of the empty spaces echoing inside her. For awhile she thought it was being so near the swollen ocean that could satisfy her senses, and that could satisfy the deeper places inside of her where all her senses led. But then she thought maybe it was the evenly white plane of the beach, the same as what could lead her eyes regularly across the water to the place where she could effortlessly slip between the skyline and the sea. And what a mothering motion it was that always enfolded her there. Her heartbeat would not be pounding so uncomfortably against her ribs, and it was as if she was being taken up inside a larger rhythm that she thought might never betray her. The salty glaze that stuck like brush strokes against her bare arms, and the powdery sand that always tickled the soles of her feet, they were just the things giving to her, for the one and only moment in her day, a sense of having found in herself a beginning and an end.
But then she gradually became aware of a second awakening on these mornings. She couldn’t say how or why. And it seemed to her there was still something more to these moments than the constant pleasure of currents running through her, that she was still not alone. There was just the presence of a thing, whatever it was she couldn’t yet name, that shadowed her with a delicacy of attention she had never really known. And she soon started to think of it as a secret lover, a lover more unthinkable than all the others. And it was as if she was conjuring an incubus out of the white water waves in a form more definite, even more lasting, than flesh’s own. Then she discovered, she thought, that no matter if she was walking or running, whatever he was made of would still be there beside her, in front of her, behind her. It was how he came to be a twin image for her, a likeness so unlike her that he was showing her places of wholeness she only dreamed about before.
And so there would come the mornings when she ran down to the beach before the sun had risen. And it was just to see her brother coming out of the ocean in the silver glory of his smooth desire for her. Then there would come the other mornings when she would swear he had been waiting for her with an excitement that infected her like laughter. He just seemed to know her so well; knowing when, where, and how to find her, and with a knowing that, for once in her life, didn’t frighten her. She never did feel he was trying to take her away in the way that all of the other men in her life had tried to take her, or in any way similar. Just as he didn’t seem to need her to open the flood gates of his own inside passages. And still he seemed to want her company all the same. On days of gray ways or blue, he could match himself to her moods. He could gently tease her into leaving her stranded shores behind, he could nudge up against her in the warm water swells rolling around them. And sometimes he could just quietly follow behind her, keeping close to her as he traced her footsteps along the waterline. He would lift the burdens of love that were settling on her brows. And he would effortlessly persuade the cords of her hair whipping around her face, like so many furies reveling in young love’s disgrace, to go lightly dancing on the breeze of his finger tips. She finally understood he was the perfect lover for her, that there never had been another lover quite like him, and that he would never roughly ask of her more than she could give him. Maybe it was then that the badness set in.
She found herself starting to long for him with an unspeakable aching that was new to her. She even found herself trying to talk to him. But he would just smile at her then, and he would kiss her on her neck while lightly brushing up against her. This only served to make her want him more. And then she began to look for him in places he would never be. She was forgetting of what stuff he was made, and she was thinking she could find him in the beachside bars of slim chances, in the kisses of all the others, and in the desires that were more and more closely pressing for her. Except that she was becoming more sad faced on their mornings, which meant he was becoming sad faced too. They would then slowly walk together, or sit in the sand almost hand in hand, until she was again hearing the pounding behind her ribs. The surf that so lightly before found the response in the rhythm of her body was soon beginning to whine. And soon it was lowering down over her like a cloudy sky. And on the day she found herself crying, she somehow managed to look up and around. She saw that he was crying too.
He was the only one who ever cried for her, and she couldn’t move from where they were sitting or even scold the spaces their tears were filling. A new tidal sense was breaking open on her, and she felt how the love she had known before him was become a routine for her, its prickly warm spots not even a consolation. And she knew he would stay there with her through the long season until she could find a way to make her love new again.