“I drove home calmly and safely, keeping the RPMs low as I navigated the steep hills. I stepped into enormous silence, so brilliantly alone, with the snow moving, but seeming so still all around me. I opened my mouth to taste and to let out a deep laugh. A perfect moment: I am grateful for this solitude.” — My Facebook status at 8:44 p.m. Jan. 8, 2010
Like many Cincinnatians, I grew up in Northeast Ohio. My superior driving ability during a snowstorm might be something I was born with: I swam through the Great blizzard of 1978 as developing fetal tissue. After 18 years in Akron, snow resilience was wrought as deeply into my subconscious as the mealy vowels that pollute my diction.
Most Cincinnati transplants from Northeast Ohio move here for in-state tuition at the university geographically farthest from home. I moved here for a guy, a vintage-scooter enthusiast. We tried to replicate the excitement of our long-distance, weekends-only fling inside the confines of a live-in relationship. Our upgraded tryst manifested poorly at close range on a plain-old Tuesday, which was the day of the week I left the Scooter boy five months later.
And just like the January night when I stepped onto a deserted street so surrounded by snowflakes that I felt like I was floating, just like that moment, I was suddenly, completely alone.
I was living in a onebedroom rental in a puzzling, socially padlocked city I’d just moved to, hours away from my family and my close-knit crew of friends from high school. A mere three weeks later, I met the man who was to become my ex-husband.
The Scooter boy and my ex-husband are two lovely, individual links in a long, uninterrupted chain of my life’s journey through serial monogamy. If this chain were a timeline, it would involve varying lengths, but instead each link has its own unique time and space. Each is its own universe. Each universe is populated by two: him and me.
Curiosity propelled me deeper into each of my lovers. I craved the excitement of unlocking, accessing, withdrawing and unraveling the heart of a unique human being, examining each individual fiber, holding each strand to the light.
That process would bring me closer to achieving the completely bare, honest and open mutuality, deeper than words, more spiritual than sex, a oneness that renders the lover your very own “second self.” The contemporary intent of marriage is that sense of lasting nirvana, that shared lifelong climax where each string vibrates together, fading together until the very end like the final chord in “A Day in the Life.”
How deeply fucking twisted and completely unattainable. Look, love is an asymptote: X can approach zero forever; X can never reach zero.
So I’ve loved heartily, deeply, passionately, loyally, forcefully, intensely, insanely, binding fervently with all the Great Lovers of My Life. I fell in love with each of their idiosyncrasies, the uniqueness of their figures, the individual organics of their scents, their hearts’ availability to me, each one’s willingness to answer a thousand questions one day and a thousand more the next. I’ve learned and loved each one’s concert T-shirt rotation, favorite movie quotes, family dynamics, allergies, insecurities and fears.
The exhilaration of the joyous, maddening lover’s journey to the center of the second self is the force that propels me through relationships of extraordinary intensity.
I held as talismans the unique physical characteristics of my lovers. For example, recently I fell in love with a gifted but troubled Musician whose body I describe architecturally: his thighs were the twisted cables of a suspension bridge; the pointing tips of his shoulders were minarets; his arms steel beams. He smelled sweet and spicy, like chicory, maple syrup and fresh-cut tobacco.
Those details of the Musician’s physical presence, along with the funny, sweet, dangerous, endearing and infuriating aspects of his personality, signify the sacred objects I’ll retain as I plunder the many lessons from that affair.
I spent the months of our brief relationship interrogating him, endlessly devising ways to impel his creativity, imagining us both finding the answers together, defying every suspicion that there is no such thing as the Redemptive Power of Love, convincing myself I could make us — make him — work. It hurt when I at last vocalized my ever-growing realization that the only chance either of us had to repair our lives was to start that difficult work alone, apart. Two fixer-uppers can’t fix each other. Two lean-to’s can’t lean to one another.
And guess what. I fell — better said, I dove headlong — for the Musician three weeks after announcing my intent to divorce my husband and three weeks before I moved out of my house into my studio apartment. The ink was not only still wet; it had not yet issued forth from its chamber in the shape of my signature.
So, the sacred objects, the calculus and the little universes of love, the thousands of questions, the heady dizziness of every first kiss, the aching saltiness of every last kiss, the heartache I have medicated with the infatuation of each subsequent affair leads me at last, finally, to ask myself a thousand questions.
To start: Why do I need to postpone heartache by pursuing new desires? Why do I crave another person to examine and understand when for so long I have needed to focus that inquiry inward? Why can’t I just be alone for a while?
My caustically funny, self-help-obsessed coworker and sometime spiritual advisor would interject, “The question isn’t why, but how. How do you be alone?” How? I’ll start by throwing my head back and laughing into the snowstorm, into the sky, into the universe, laughing into infinity.
CONTACT FRANCES L. HARP: [email protected]