In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Letter from a Former Mistress to Her Former Lover

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Dear Wayne:

You have been the ghost of the week, haunting my harried holiday mad dashes and work hour drags. As long as you are hovering above my day, I want to ask you something. Though I’m sure you have so much on your mind these days with the busy-ness of work and family, I’m curious to know if you sometimes think of me. Somehow I know you do. Although so much time, over twenty years, has passed since we were lovers, I wonder which of our moments you remember most.

I apologize if that makes you feel awkward or is inappropriate to even ask. The holidays do this to me, get me maudlin and reflective. Do you remember that about me? So much to do and so much forced cheer and obligatory reflection, it’s like being dragged to church or synagogue as a kid–an empty burdensome rote task. We’d all much rather be out playing with our friends. But I must continue the crusade, braving mazy parking lots and frenzied shopping herds synced to the mind-numbing messages of good cheer, reverential-looking reflection and commercially-convincing gratitude encoded in the music piped into my brain in every shopping mall. There is no respite from the prescribed mood of the season.

In my brainwashed holiday cheer, I am picking through the dollar section of Target trolling for knick knacks for the little ones on my gift list today. Dutifully feeling grateful for those cute little great nephews and nieces of mine, I flash on a memory of the time you and I were Christmas shopping for Jenny, who was 8 then. You held up those Mary Janes covered in ruby red glitter and recited verbatim the entire monologue of the Wicked Witch of the West flitting and flapping above her crystal ball calling upon her minions to capture Dorothy and Toto. You spoke those lines with pitch perfect voice, accent and gesture, imitating every eyebrow lift and evil sneer emblazoned on the 35 mm film cells and in the memories of everyone who watched the Wizard of Oz from childhood to their children’s childhood. I laughed so hard I cried. You remember?

Your total recall of movie lines was astounding. But I could never figure out how you could screw up song lyrics, except to make singing the lines as misheard malaprops another way to get me to laugh…Doing Gypsy, “Let me just disdain you…let me make you smile…” I was more amused at your thinking you were funny than at some of the lines you tortured.

That’s what came to me. I flashed on the glint in your eyes first, the impish grin and twinkle when you had just made a funny. Probably the most prominent feature of yours etched in my memory is that smile in your eyes, proud and amused by your clever comedy. I smile inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) the most about our laughing together.

That’s the way it started. You passed that note to me in class with a cartoon drawing of a shark with a bubble above its head repeating what the professor just said about mechanics liens or subpoenas. I don’t recall the subject now, but I remember suppressing laughter not so much for the joke but for the silliness of the act itself. We were both close to or over thirty then.

You knocked me off my throne then, from the sequestration of the fearful, from proud disdain for team sports, polyester laden high school football coaches, silly songs and Republicans. I was so serious, trying so hard to be someone, while you were comfortable in your skin, your brown skin and black hair and thick lips. I never thought I would find myself in half lit rooms with thread-bare hotel sheets enwrapped in you. But I was, and it was wild and breathy and loud and sweaty sweet, your voice a soft baritone lullaby as we counted the stars imagined through the stained motel ceiling afterwards. Do you remember asking me if I could live the rest of my days like this?

Christmas gifts were a problem. You could give them to me, but I could not give them to you because they would need a convincing story of their giving. Not even chocolate bars or key chains. And I didn’t want you to give me gifts unreciprocated, felt it was not in the holiday spirit. Besides, we had to wish each other love and warmth and a Merry Christmas through a long, loving embrace in a car or in a park on the 23rd or the 27th, because the 25th was spent with silent cheers and clinking of glasses to your health for the year past and ahead while I smiled into the face of someone who was not you and while you blessed your family with your laughter and the glint in your eye that made someone who was not me smile.

Jenny is 35 now and I am buying Chanukah presents for her two little ones. You are not here with me in Target in the flesh, just as you were not with me on those six Christmases, Chanukahs, New Years, Thanksgivings, Easters, Presidents Days, Valentines Days and our birthdays. It wasn’t you who gently placed a hand on my shoulder as I lay in bed face down in my pillow in convulsed sobs the day my mother fell ill. And it wasn’t you who ran into the street with the blue tipped pee stick to shout in child-like delirious excitement to your brother at the corner that a baby was going to be born in February.

No, you’re here as you were with me so much of those years of our time: in my grin when I would hear a movie line of one of the many movies you could recite scenes from and insert into most any conversation or in the salt of my sweat when I awakened from a dream of our last love making session so real that I turned to search for your face peering into mine from the shadow on the pillow next to me. I found you in the ache of song and the edgy wonder of what it was like to have a family who needed you home, present in body and mind and not distractedly longing to be elsewhere.

Your image is ghostly now because the love that infused our veins in the thickness of syrupy desire and amnesiac release is frigidly lost to the lives of Christmases and school days past. I loved you hard as you did me. Only the threads remain of that blanket we wrapped ourselves in to keep us warm and alive, to survive the blizzard that trapped us and threatened our lives like the anger of banging heads bloody on the filthy cement walls of the prison, desperate with no way out. But we are alive and free to remember how it was.

I conjure you up today as if you were flesh and blood. I know you’re smiling too when my ghost appears. And sometimes, I know once in a while, we smile at the same exact time over the same silly note or line playing on the radio or overheard in passing conversation between friends or lovers at a cafe.

Peace and Love–

3 thoughts on “Letter from a Former Mistress to Her Former Lover

  1. Sorrowfully touching with a trembling ache.

  2. I hope some day to be loved like that. I hope to be with a lover with whom I – we – continue creating such serene tomes to revisit together years later when the days become a mist floating us to our earthen cradles; to become memories so vivid and clear and rich and full for us to drift upon quietly braided as one to our beds of soil.

  3. Thank you for the comment and compliment of such a response to something I created.

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