The Benny Poda Years
23 - Chicago
Long brown hair with the echoes of ambergris wafting through it and around the jazz in the evening. A summer night on a balcony in Chicago, sitting with Monica and sipping red zinfandel, Gene Ammons on the stereo inside. The kind of feeling that makes you neither alive nor dead, as the man said about the Hyacinth Girl. The heart of light. The silence.
The world is a wasteland or else it may as well be, but her hands were warm along my fingers. If I die, at least I'll die with you. Just this once, I am happy, unafraid.
How did I know her? How does one know ANYone? I didn't know her, not really, and she knew that. And I have walked the Earth to find her. In Paris, in Monmartre, once, I found the balcony from which a woman named Jeanne threw herself after the painter she modeled for and slept with and with whom she had an infant child died from Cancer of the Blood, otherwise known as TB, otherwise known, in this case, as alcohol poisoning. I kissed the ground where she fell. I was 35, the same age as her lover. This was after those Years were over.
But I didn't love Monica because she reminded me of late Modigliani. I didn't even love her for the musky smell of her thighs when my tongue kissed between them in the dark. I would say I loved her for Me, were that the case. But in Love there is no East or West. Love is Love when you're left without a reason for it.
She was like a composite of everything I'd ever loved but with a soul her own set somewhere inside her olive skin, and that I'd never see it is Love's furtive and elusive essence, a sip of wine dying across the breath. And yet she was real. And yet she breathed. One day she, like I, would die. And I'd cry when I left myself inside her.
Have you ever been to Chicago? Do you know where the public library is, the big one? Good. That's where I worked, shelving Books again, but without the cynical dalliances of countless Sacramentos. I didn't even play pool. I lived in her loft in the Loop and I lived outside my Body.
That's when I knew the Years were almost over. The Change in the air. And all your children are quite aware of the space they're going through, David.
Down the street from the library there's a gift shop. They sell coasters celebrating World's Fairs of yesterday, before the fish all died in Lake Michigan. They also sell little cards that I'd buy and write silly messages on and leave outside her door on my lunch break. Before I lost my hair and started waking up in the middle of the night with my guts and my body aching. That is to say, before Now.
For today, and JUST for it, we will not curse and we will not use drugs. Monica did, but I let her do it for me. I can't judge or condemn you, especially if I love you. After all, what have I done? Where is all the evil in the world? At the core of my own heart.
And it'll surface again through my skin, the dermis and the epidermis and the surface of the World, as will hate and fear and judgment. Chapter 16, I'm done with you. I wrote my Own Life. I'm not especially proud of it.
But I want it Back. Don't you? Don't you want your Life back? Well, you can't have it. The water only passes this way once.
And I knew it, so I loved Monica the best I thought at the time I could, which will have to do since it's what I did. She had a Persian cat and she liked Colette. Colette wrote a book called The Vagabond and she liked it. And she liked Winter's Tales, and who wrote it, I can't remember. And she liked Beethoven's Last Quartets, wine, drugs, Camels, Italian, Maria Callas in Lucia, and she liked for me to slip inside her over her walnut desk from behind, she liked the Act of Love at it's most specific preposition, and she liked ME. And deep down, I think, so do I. I liked it that she made me feel alive.
Let me tell you what it feels like when you start to die. When mortality becomes not a fact but an issue, a reality, when what you have always known becomes known to YOU. Think of the time you felt the most hurt being wrenched away from someone you love by the inclemencies of Life, when someone you loved was forever lost to you, and apply that feeling to yourSELF. The feeling I felt when my grandmother or my mother died, or when Monica and I were Over and I wound up my head in a pillow and bashed it against the wall.
She liked the cello concerto by Schumann, the Prelude to Bach's 6th cello suite. Know them? I didn't. They are about Loss, and Loss is only Loss in direct proportion to the Joy of having had. Go listen to them. Go to him, he calls to you, you can't refuse, when you know that you've got nothing, you've got nothing left to lose—or don't. Or don't, because there will be plenty of Time for that. The Rest of Your Life is Loss. You'll discover that directly.
Monica made great salads. With Romaine lettuce, the only kind of lettuce to use. It was while eating one of them that she asked me to leave. Why? Why is Love Love, for that matter?
I miss everyone I've ever known.
I left and I never looked back, save for nights like last night when I couldn't sleep and I remembered her smell, the way she rolled on top of me in the night. And I remembered her voice, and I remembered it saying things I will never tell you. And I remembered the way it felt just to sit beside her on the balcony, in Chicago, in the Loop, sipping red zinfandel and looking into the impromptu jazz of a summer's night.
And I remember ME. Memory can be a terrible, terrible thing. But yet we move. And before I leave a vague and impressionistic Chicago, I remember thinking, "If I died right now, with you, my life would have been worth it."
This is why we seem to live forever. That's why we can't sleep. So pour me a drink, Mia. You drive. We're headed back to Boston.