I have a little vignette in Whiskeypaper called “Boyfriend Like A Banyan Tree“.
“Every night before I sleep, unless I collapse, I think of you because I hope I’ll get to dream about you that way,” he says. Her grandmother is dying. Her dreams are vivid, of him, of them, of children they will have, of earthquakes, of poor fashion, of women who have judged her. He tells her that one night as he was falling asleep, the name Amrita Sher-Gil came into his mind, that he looked her up the next day and thought she might have been her in a past life.
“No,” she tells him. “I’ve spoken to you about her before. I have that biography.”
“I think you have a lot in common,” he says.
“No,” she says. “I don’t think so,” she says, like she hadn’t asked her friend to find her that book in another country, another currency.
She thinks of her grandmother, ferociously beautiful in her illness. She had never thought she resembled her until she saw her that way, her high cheekbones, her strong jaw, the way her body’s betrayal had sculpted her beauty back into it. When she dies her mother will go back to work in that same hospital, every day, and she doesn’t know how she could stand such a thing. She is always running away.
She decides to read their old correspondence. He writes grandiose things: I want to have you, as I have lungs and vertebrae. I want you to be so much apart of me that I won’t remember what it was like to not have you, and she sees that some of his mails have also been sent to an address he had created for her in her name. If she noticed this before, she must have forgotten. So she wasn’t the only one with designs on embalming. She remembers the horrible postcards she sent, the year she ran away from him, horrible because she wrote them knowing anyone could read them and she wrote them anyway. She wonders if he saved them, but that is a stupid question. He is the man who saved one of her toenails when she went away for a month. She was very cruel to have left him in that house with all her things, the most recent time. She hopes it isn’t the last time. She wants to always be leaving this man, always be going back to him.
The first time he wrote to her was the day after they met, and he wrote of Nicanor Parra and how if they were to never see each other again she should stay away from nasty pretentious folks and use her not inconsiderable gifts to the fullest. Within three weeks he would become her first real lover. She thinks of the Eliot he liked to quote back then. She remembers the slight shock she felt when she’d repeated the first line to someone she met a long time later, and he had completed the verse. Let us go then, you and I, while the evening is spread out against the sky, like a patient, etherised upon the table. How did she end up with this man so long? He seemed as brutal and as delicate as a necklace of bones now, or a surgeon.
Apart. A part. What had he meant, and was it what he had said? They were one but not the other. They were both but neither one. They were always, forever, running.
Previously: Stream of Unconsciousness.
In his dream, he was choking on an ice cube. He didn’t know what would happen first — if it would melt or he would die. He had been watching too much David Lynch lately. He called to tell her about the dream. She said, “You have a tendency of waiting for your problems to disappear. And sometimes they melt away. But there are times when unless you cough them out, no matter how painful for you or how much effort it takes, they’ll kill you, your problems.”
He had moved countries and cut off his hair. He was going to get therapy. He talked psychobabble now. More importantly, he paid attention when she did the same. It didn’t amuse her, as it could have, which meant she still cared. Sometimes she felt like she had his balls in her purse, and was desperate to return them, but that would involve acknowledging she had taken them in the first place. He was a watch collector, a failed auteur, a misogynist. She was the kind of woman who would crack a rib if someone looked at her too sweetly, and cry for six months if he didn’t, a masochist. They fit together, but with some effort, like Tetris blocks.
He was very far away. She didn’t smoke anymore. They were forever in freefall, forever maneuvering their positions in the hope they could land in some sort of coordination. Or avoid the other completely. They shared the hate of siblings. They were both alcoholics.
A million years before, a stranger had stopped them both in front of her college and told him, “This is a burden for the rest of your life. Your eyebrows and hers. For the rest of your lives.” Then he walked away. That made her very happy for a long time.
That was a million years ago. And now she saw the stranger was right. Burden. It was not a word lost in translation. Burden. He had seen it. He had known.