All the joy there is in life

He talked and talked – I said something, but he did not know that I had. He talked – I found myself absent-minded, then with my attention half on what he said, realized I was listening for the world I in what he said. I, I, I, I, I – I began to feel as if the word I was being shot at me like bullets from a machine gun. For a moment I fancied that his mouth, moving fast and mobile was a gun of some kind. I broke in, he didn’t hear, I broke in again, saying: “You’re very well-educated about children, have you been married?” He started, his mouth was slightly open, he stared. Then the loud, abrupt laugh: “Married, who are you kidding?” It offended me, it was so clearly a warning to me. This man, warning me, a woman, about marriage, was quite a different person from the man compulsively talking, compulsively spinning out intelligent words (but punctuated every second by the word I) about how to bring up a small girl to be a “real woman”, and quite different again from the man who had undressed me with his eyes on the first day. I felt my stomach clench, and for the time I understood that my anxiety state was due to Saul Green. I pushed aside my empty coffee cup, and said it was time for my bath. I’d forgotten how he reacts, as if he’s been hit or kicked, when one says one has something else to do. For he again scrambled off his chair as if he had been ordered. This time I said: “Saul, for the Lord’s sake, relax.” An instinctive movement towards flight, which he controlled. The moment of his self-control was a visible physical struggle with himself in which all his muscles were involved. Then he gave me a charming shrewd smile and said: “You’re right, I guess I’m not the most relaxed person in the world.” (…) Lay in the bath, clenched up with every sort of apprehension, but watching the symptoms of an “anxiety state” with detachment. It was as if a stranger, afflicted with symptoms I had never experienced had taken possession of my body. Then I tidied the place up and sat on the floor in my room, and tried “the game”. I failed. It then occurred to me I was going to fall in love with Saul Green. I remember now I first ridiculed the idea, then examined it, then accepted it: more than accepted it – I fought for it, as for something that was my due.

 

(…) This evening, sitting opposite to me, he said: “I have a friend back home. Just before I left to come to Europe he said to me that he was tired of affairs, of getting laid. It gets very dry and meaningless.” I laughed and said: “Since your friend is so well-read, he must know this is a common condition, after too many affairs.” He said, quickly: “How do you know he is well-read?” The familiar jarring moment: first because it was so obvious he was talking about himself, and at first I thought he was being ironical. Then, because he jerked into himself, all suspicion and caution, as over the incident with the telephone. But worst of all because he didn’t say: “How did you know I was well-read?” but “he was well-read”, and yet it was clearly himself. He even, after the quick warning stare at me, looked away as if staring at someone else, at him.

(…) Later he came back to the “friend”. Just as if he had not mentioned him before. I had the feeling he had forgotten talking about him, only half an hour before. I said: “This friend of yours” – (and again he looked into the centre of the room, away from us both, at the friend) – “does he intend to give up getting laid, or is it just another little impulse towards self-experiment?”
I had heard the emphasis I had put on the words getting laid, and I realized why I was sounding irritable. I said: “Whenever you talk about sex or love you say: he got laid or they got laid (male).” He gave his abrupt laugh, but not comprehending, so I said: “Always the passive.” He said, quickly: “What do you mean?”
“It gives me the most extraordinary uneasy feeling, listening to you – surely I get laid, she gets laid, they (female) get laid, but surely you as a man don’t get laid, you lay.”
He said slowly: “Lady, you surely know how to make me feel a hick.” But it was the parody of a crude American saying: You surely know how to make me feel a hick.
His eyes gleamed with hostility. And I was full of hostility. Something I’ve been feeling for days boiled up. I said: “The other day (…) you described yourself as the original puritan, Saul Galahad to the defense, but you talk about getting laid, you never said a woman, you say a broad, a lay, a baby, a doll, a bird, you talk about butts and boobs, every time you mention a woman I see her either as a sort of a window-dresser’s dummy or as a heap of dismembered parts, breasts, or legs or buttocks.”
(…) “I supposed this is what you call being a square, but I’m damned if I see how a man can have a healthy attitude to sex if he can’t talk about anything but butts and babies being stacked or packed and so on and so on. No wonder the bloody Americans are all in trouble with their bloody sex lives”.
After a while he said, very dry: “It’s the first time in my life I’ve been accused of being anti-feminist. It’d interest you to know that I’m the only American male I know who doesn’t accuse American women of all the sexual sins in the calendar, do you imagine I don’t know that men blame women for their inadequacies?”

Well, and of course that softened me, stopped my anger. We talked about politics. For on this subject we don’t disagree.
(…) I was able for the first time to joke with him, so that his laugh wasn’t defensive. He wears his new blue jeans, new blue sweater, sneakers. I told him he should be ashamed to wear the uniform of American non-conformist; he said he wasn’t adult enough yet to join the tiny minority of human beings who didn’t need a uniform.

I am hopelessly in love with this man.

 

I wrote this sentence three days ago, but I didn’t realise it was three days ago until I worked it out. I’m in love and so time has gone. Two nights ago we talked late, while the tension built up. (…) At last, he came and put his arms around me, and said: “We’re both lonely people, let’s be good to each other.” (…) I’d forgotten what making love with a real man is like. And I’d forgotten what it was like to lie in the arms of a man one loves. I’d forgotten what it was like to be in love like this, so that a step on the stair makes one’s heart beat, and the warmth of this shoulder against my palm is all the joy there is in life.
That was one week ago. I can say nothing about it except that I was happy. I am so happy, so happy. I find myself sitting in my room, watching the sunlight on the floor, and I’m in the state of mind that I reach when I play “the game” – a calm and delightful ecstasy, a oneness with everything, so that a flower in a vase is oneself, and the slow stretch of a muscles is the confident energy that drives the universe.

(…) For a week he didn’t come near me, again no explanations, nothing, he was a stranger who came in, nodded, went upstairs. For a week I watched the female creature shrink, then grow angry, grow jealous. It was terrible, spiteful jealousy, I didn’t recognise in myself. I went upstairs to Saul and said: “Which kind of man is it who makes love to a woman with every appearance of enjoying the process for days on end, and then switches off without so much as a polite lie?” The loud, aggressive laugh. Then he said: “What sort of man, you ask? You may very well ask.” I said: “I suppose you are writing the great American novel, young hero in search of his identity.” “Right,” he said. “But I’m not prepared to take that tone of voice from inhabitants of the old worlds who for some reason I don’t understand never have a moment’s doubt about their identity.” He was hard, laughing hostile; I was also hard, and laughing. I said, enjoying the cold moment of pure hostility: “Well, good luck, but don’t use me in your experiments.” And went downstairs. A few minutes later he came down, no longer a kind of spiritual tomahawk, but kindly and responsible. He said: “Anna you are looking for a man in your life, and you’re right, you deserve one, but.” “But?” “You’re looking for happiness. It’s a word that never meant anything to me until I watched you manufacturing it like molasses out of this situation. God knows how anyone, even a woman, could make happiness out of this set-up, but.” “But?”” “This is me, Saul Green, and I’m not happy, and I’ve never been.” “So I’m making use of you.” “That’s right.” “Fair exchange, for you-re making use of me.” His face changed, he startled, “Forgive me for mentioning it,” I said, “but surely it must have crossed your mind that you are?”

He laughed, a real laugh, not the hostile laugh.

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

 

 

 

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