Lady Aeraillia did not marry for love. She spent the first years of her marriage establishing her household, learning her way about the mansion, and finding her voice among the servants. Much of what we viewed as her “coming of age” was more to do with her internal revulsion at having to do her wifely duty for her husband. Not that Lord Aerallia was a terrible man, he wasn’t. He was a kind and thoughtful land baron who executed his obligations, smoked only in his study, and was never so intoxicated that he was unable to climb the stairs himself. She knew he was a good man, but his hands were coarse, and his manner brief. They almost never discussed anything unless he had a problem with something she had overseen, or failed to attend to.
It was several years later, well into the public life of Lord and Lady that Madame Aerallia found herself wandering the gardens, clipping rosebuds whose petals were found days later, dry and curled in the pockets of her aprons, warm coats, and at times beside her bed. She would mutter the verse of Keats (who never did put his scarf on… bastard!) from very far away, and dreamt in paragraphs of Stendhal where palms were pressed and heartbeats raced, or images from Constantinople which she was forbidden to see, but had stolen and devoured without being betrayed. She would awake in the middle of the night, soaking wet and feverish and spend the quiet mornings saying soft prayers for the happy few.
Lady Aerallia had not married for love, it’s true, and the world appeared to understand these feelings. But it seemed as though had come to some other arrangements. Only an embarrassment to the family would consider doing anything other than what she had done. She had done exactly what was expected of her, and everyone considered her to be quite fortunate indeed.
And yet we make heros of beautiful women who surrender to what comes next… It is heroic to stay, to find decency and respect. It is heroic to leave, from this place of property into who knows what. The moral of the story seems to always be correct. No matter if she loves the gardener, the wife of the preacher, or having condemned the world, resumes her duty and tromps off into the mud of middle age without passion. She is smart for taking the money, stupid for following her heart, lucky if she gets away with it, blessed if she discovers love among the ruins. We cheer as she discovers herself, and does as she pleases… this is what men do, and why shouldn’t a woman do the same?
At middle age myself, perhaps more than the middle of my age… I find that there is no such thing as happily ever after. We do not arrive at some point of awareness and then continue forward as if the point in time is upon us, we are full, done, ding, and from here on out this existence will be a flat line of joy and lack surprises beyond the birth of grandchildren, and the ever blossoming fruit of our labor. No. Perhaps happily ever after means that the rest of the chapter went well. But the book is long, much too long to sit and read in one afternoon.
We awake early in the morning and begin to read and write. At times the sun is so bright we can not concentrate. Other times our tears blur the words faster than we can scratch them out onto the page. For as long as we live, these pages write themselves.
What would I be if I didn’t know you? Where would I be if I had never noticed that beautiful smile of yours, and said hello? Would this conversation, this strange and beautiful dance have never been? Or is it like all the grown ups I know seem to keep telling me… They smile and look away, or keenly into my eyes and say, “Yes but you have to be realistic.” And it’s never a question. They suggest that this business of soulmates never works out… that love and partnership are ideas, mere constructs of the ego, childish horse shit, nothing.
It’s possible that for those who find the beating of their hearts to be little more than “horse shit,” irritable bowel syndrome has become their love cry (strange as it seems, and certainly no less unpleasant.) I have always felt that our lives show on our faces, and I regret no part of my experience. Aside from the thinning of my hair in the spirit of the Scottish Mange, I welcome the hard lessons as they arrive below my eyes, cracking my cheeks and parsing my lines with texture. To my eyes it’s only horrible when these demarkations arrive as some kind of surprise. And then to tragically slather yourself in lotion, powdering it over, hiding yourself is perhaps even more horrible. But this is superficial. It is not my experience. I can not say (even though I already have, haven’t I. I trust in your forgiveness.)
What I do know is that my love has no windows or doors. There is no way to say goodbye, no more than there is any way to say hello, or even “No, no! Get out of here you bastard!” I have said those words, all of them, but it makes no difference. Love simply is. It can grow, but will never thrive without dialog, experience, and above all space and time.
I am no Madame Aerallia, though I read Stendhal as if I had a fever and my corset was much too tight. Yes, I was the woman and you were the man, the student, the boy. We had no idea what lie beneath the corset’s strings nor your own filthy trousers until we had them off completely, and the warm sunlight streamed in through the cracks in the wall. Are there really chapters in these books? Aren’t all of the pages blank? And aren’t we simply storytelling? Finger painting? Radiating from within our Tunisian palaces as we knock through the world singing and shining, and our secrets are betrayed? No? Is that just horse shit too? I never imagined myself to be a man who preferred the company of horse apples to those from the tree of life. Perhaps I have been mistaken.
This is the moment to sneak up behind you and whisper “Boo” into your ear, and then we smile, and laugh together… rolling off the heavy brocade from La Chartreuse de Parme onto the floor with a thump. This is where we whisper, and kiss tenderly. And when your heart is quiet, and I can see your love for me reflected back into my eyes, I softly tell you the rest of the story.