Tuesday, May 04, 2021

"Yes, I have loved."

We humans are, in the end, stupid creatures who cannot help desiring that someone know us as we are. 

Our first night together, we made love for endless hours. The hallways creaked with other people's stories, but Room 205 was a haven from the early December cold. The city was in another phase of lockdown, so we'd packed a picnic supper; I don't remember eating. We inhaled each other. 

We stepped out into the night for a cigarette and a stroll, only to encounter hordes of homeless looking for Covid-free shelter. It felt apocalyptic, and possibly we were desperate to lose ourselves. Back inside, he drew us a bath and we washed away the sins of the world.

Finally I was tired and closed my eyes, and he read to me, in French, from one of his favourite novels. I drifted off to hazy images of a solitary man with a gun in early winter who is a hunter but not a hunter, in a muddle of what words mean and who people really are.

It's only now, five months to the day, that I remark how odd it was, that he should have brought with him this treasured book, to commune with me, essentially a stranger then, in a hired bed during such strange times. 

The Hunting Gun, by Yasushi Inoue, is a tragedy told by three players — the lover, her daughter, and the neglected wife — who revolve around a man with a hunting gun, once inadvertently captured in a prose poem. He is a symbol of solitude yet a gravitational force. (This 1949 epistolary novella tells of a love affair that began in 1934 Japan; the translation reads like a smooth and timeless classic.) All three letter writers yield confessions of a sort, acknowledging secrets and shame as the love affair is exposed from each perspective.

A man's lies can sometimes elevate a woman, you know, to the very level of the divine.

Everyone has a snake living inside them, the hunter believes, an idea that haunts his lover:

What are these snakes we carry inside us? Egotism, jealousy, destiny... the sum of all these things, I guess, a sort of karma too strong for us to fight. I regret that I will never have the occasion to learn what you meant. At any rate, these snakes  inside us are pitiful creatures. I remember coming across the phrase "the sadness of living", or something close to that, in a book; as I write these words, I feel my heart brushing up against a similar emotion, irredeemably sad and cold. Oh, what is this thing we carry inside us — intolerably unpleasant, yet at the same time unbearably sad!

The snakes are simultaneously sins and sin-eaters, I think. (The snake inside me eats all my words.)


To love, to be loved — how sad such human doings are. I remember once, in my second or third year at girls' school, we had a series of questions in an English exam about the active and passive forms of verbs. To hit, to be hit, to see, to be seen... and there among the other words on that list were two that sparkled brilliantly: to love, to be loved. As we were all peering down at the questions, licking our pencils, some joker, I never knew who, quietly sent a slip of paper around the room. Two options were there, each in a different style of handwriting: Is it, maiden, your desire to love? Or do you rather desire to be loved? Many circles had been drawn in blue and red ink, or in pencil, under the phrase "to be loved", but not one girl had been moved to place her mark below "to love". I was not different from the rest, of course, and I drew my own small circle underneath "to be loved". I guess even at the tender age of sixteen or seventeen, before we know much about what it means to love or be loved, our noses are still able to sniff out, instinctively, the joy of being loved.

When the girl in the seat next to mine took the paper from me, however, she glanced down at it for a moment and then, with hardly any hesitation, pencilled a big circle into the blank area beneath the words "to love". I desire to love. I've always remembered very clearly how I felt when I saw her do it — provoked by her intransigence, but also caught off guard, uncertain what to think. This girl was not one of the better students in our class, and she had a sort of gloomy, unremarkable air. Her hair had a reddish-brown tinge; she was always by herself. I have no way of knowing what became of her when she grew up, but now, as I write these words twenty years later, I find myself recalling, for some reason, again and again, her forlorn face.

When, at the end of her life, a woman lies quietly in bed with her face turned to the wall of death, does God allow her to feel at peace if she has tasted to the full the joy of being loved, or if she is able to declare without any trepidation that, while she may not have been very happy, she loved? I wonder, though — can any woman in this world say with real conviction, before God, that she has truly loved? No, no — I'm sure there are women like that. Maybe that thin-haired girl was among the chosen few when she grew up. A woman like that, I'm sure, would walk around with her hair in a wild tangle, her body scarred all over, her clothing ripped to shreds, and yet she would proudly lift her face and say, "Yes, I have loved." And then, having spoken those words, she would die.

Oh, it's unbearable — I wish I could escape it. But as hard as I try to chase the vision of that girl's face away, I can't do it, it keeps coming back. What is this intolerable unease that clings to me as I sit here, hours before I am to die? I suppose I am simply reaping the punishment I am due as a woman incapable of enduring the pain of loving, who wanted for herself only the joy of being loved.

I was the dying woman, but now I'm the thin-haired girl, with the forlorn face, always by myself. I needed so badly to be seen, I didn't know what it was I was seeing with my own eyes, my own heart, until now. I say with conviction, before God, that I have truly loved. "Yes, I have loved." Poorly and recognized too late, but I understand now that I loved him.

I know you as you are, V., and you are loved. Thank you for teaching me this.

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