Winter 1994, Volume 11.1
ARIANA-SOPHIA M. KARTSONIS
I can't tell you everything about Timbre; she is my best friend but there are shadows in her. Sometimes I know what it is that's casting them but not what they are casting upon and sometimes it's the other way around.
You see, this is what I've concluded is wrong with loving people. They are always leaving you at the exact moment that you needed them to help you deal with their departure.
I know that death is a given; it's just the most frightening kind of given, is all. What I mean to say is that when you come into life and the deal is: you just accept, even expect a thing like death; you must know it will be no day at the fair after that. Death and Timbre never seemed a likely pair to travel in the same circles, yet here I am in a seacoast town that isn't mine referring to her in past tense. I feel like I might have just misplaced her, that she'll turn up like my sunglasses always do just when I think I've lost them.
I met her when I moved into the old home next to hers. I wanted to live at the seaside for as long as I could remember. The love of my life had split and I came here because there was nothing left in the Mid West for me. Anyway, there were all these things I had wanted to try but couldn't because I had been in school. A watercolor class, Indonesian cooking, and the beginning ballet classes taught in Timbre's basement. Everything but painting lasted only for the first month. I am no dancer and certainly no great chef, but art has always come easily to me. By the sixth month, we had a single backyard. Six months here and you are a local, a year, and you can call yourself a native. It was strange being two of the only people for blocks that weren't tourists. The avenues were small, the kind I liked, and narrow, the trees on either side nearly touched, and when you walked it was like going through a green tunnel.
Timbre used to always say, "There's something to be said for being locals in a place like this. You still get sand in your shoes like everyone else but it's not such a significant thing. You listen to people say things about the place you live in that aren't really true, not if you know it."
Timbre moved differently than any other woman I had ever envied. Usually I liked movements like swans or cats, graceful like that. Timbre was graceful but it was an earthy, dangerous brand of grace, the kind of woman you know would be fabulous in bed. She moved like a snake, sensual like that, a woman in control of every muscle in her body. There was something a little ragged about her too, a little wild, not just in that soft, deep voice but something else, an entire presence that made me a little bit jealous. When think of Timbre even now, I see Native American jewelry, and a color like canyon walls, a burgundy, copper, rust colored mixture. I think of nightfall and water.
I have to tell you, I'm not a woman I admire. I mean I have my points and there is a steel thread that runs through me stronger than anything I ever believed I could possess. It sustains me even now. But I am still a woman who cries too easily. I lack mystique in all the right situations. What I was then, was a small girl bursting into tears for my love for things. I fell too much in love with everything, passionately, crazily, like a child. It was embarrassing to me then, though now I miss the way I would dance around and talk too quickly and constantly when I was excited. I miss feeling anything but worn down, eroded away.
Everyone around me had advice to offer. "You'll need help through this," they'd say. "It gets ugly towards the end." And it did. It wasn't the kind of death I imagined for Timbre at all. So strong and elegant, it wasn't the kind of death she would have chosen. Then there was God to think about; there were all these people saying, "Pray. Ask Him for strength. He'll walk beside you." But I was angry at God that year. I was angry with him and there were things I wanted to discuss with him. He always gave me the silent treatment when I wanted to have an argument. I wanted to tell him that Timbre shouldn't be going like this, that it was me, I was always excess. That I was the one that was always a little too frilly, a little too dramatic, that I never did things with quite the elegance she did. But God doesn't listen to me when I talk, and if he does, he doesn't answer. So I had issues with him and I wasn't going to speak to him all summer no matter what anyone said. Don't tell me it was only eight years of my life, that I'm an adult, that people go on. In all of life, there are probably fewer than eight entire good years.
"Degage, plie, releve, pirouette." I could always hear her voice carrying up from the downstairs of her house into the open windows of mine.
Timbre's house had a sort of austerity to it, while mine was filled with clutter. Most of our time was spent in the backyard that our little houses shared. Timbre had dragged out an old sofa, a mauve, rose and cream colored brocade that had once been her grandmother's. I brought my faux marble coffee table and we'd arranged an outdoor living room of sorts. If those times had ever made it in cinema, they would have been shot in some strange old lighting, something warm and rosy. They had a feel to them, a security and comfort. I was seeing a man named Matthew who lived an hour or so away; Timbre had Ambrose who went away on business quite often. On Sunday afternoons we'd drink honey lemonade and then plod down to the Artesian wells and fill jugs with water. She and I would always eat Brie cheese and liver pate in the late afternoon/early evening. Sometimes we bought pate sometimes we made it. The ritual was in the routine of it. Timbre loved pate Brie and water crackers. She would've served them at her own funeral if she could have.
Matthew was an architect; I saw him for about a year. He started to bring these blueprints of homes over, rolled into cylinders as vases for a single rose or carnation.
"So what do you say?"
"I like this place, my studio."
"And of course, your neighbor."
"It's not that kind of love," I told him.
"Good God, Phoebe, how many types do you think there are?"
We were sitting on the old couch. I had made raspberry spice herbal tea; Timbre pulled some fresh mint from the garden and brought glasses of ice. We were discussing our first love affairs. I told Timbre it was a
time when days seemed to go on that way.
"And even if you were the type to know with utter certainty about the temporary nature of just about everything, this was the one that you could be with and hope a little. I was there leaning against tapestry cushions in some ornate restaurant drinking wine with the man that I loved, loved more passionately than I would anything in this world. If I couldn't have known then about the excellence of this love in its entirety, I felt I knew at least part of it, because there was something that tugged at me. I felt nights like that could go on forever, that it almost seemed possible then no matter what else I knew."
"One only loves like that once; it can't be done twice that way, it takes too much out of a person," she said.
What I wanted once was to master the art of Timbre's sparse loveliness.
"Mine I met when I went to stay with my father in Wyoming. He worked on the next ranch from my father's property. He was seventeen, I must've been fifteen or so. He wanted me to ride on the same horse with him, and when we got to the end of the orchard he kissed me. I didn't want to ride on the same horse because there is a moment when you are horseback riding that you become one with the animal. You fully expect to look down and see your legs hoof-tipped and satin brown, something like the archer, the centaur."
"Oh," I said, "like the sign of Sagittarius?"
Somehow everything I ever said sounded stupid in comparison. And though we had been close to the same age, I somehow always felt younger, a child in comparison. Which is why it was so strange, when she became sick and I became the mother, the grandmother, the caregiver.
"I think that love, like the sea, transcends gender." I was always smoking when I contemplated the larger issues in life. Timbre wouldn't touch them for anything, though she loved to tease me.
"Phoebe, you hold that cigarette like it is something more reverent than it is, more fragile."
It never looked right on me; I never really looked at ease with the habit. I always felt like it was the bathroom of Catholic school and I was thirteen and dressed in blue and green tartan. I smoked the slender cigarettes then and my lips were full; maybe it was the contrast that seemed odd, overwhelming. It sounds funny but I think that grief does things to thin the lips. Mourning makes the face do strange things like begin to swallow up the eyes whole, like eggs.
"You're never afraid of anything," I told her. "How is it you are braver than I am, even now?"
"Death," Timbre used to say, "is just too inevitable to fear; it is like fearing the sky. It seems more reasonable to fear things that might exist or occur: the thing that grabs stray wrists and ankles hanging over the edges of beds, tornadoes, sunstroke. These kinds of fears are more interesting. They may or may not happen, probably not, which keeps the fear itself alive. Death, by its own occurrence, upstages itself."
Matthew had become more and more cynical and I can't say I blamed him. I had known for a long time things were getting that terminal feel with us. Once I was devastated by things like that. Now I am surprised at any duration of things, not at their termination.
"What it always comes down to with you is water, Phoebe. You want a cottage by a stream, a gazebo by a lake. Everything has to be fluid," he said
"No wonder you are so damned afraid of commitment."
It was the water that drew me here. Waterfalls, fountains, the ocean at night are different in color from one another. They have different voices, their ink varying in form and color. I am no scientist and I know little of the hydrogen and oxygen that make such magic, though there are words: Fluid Mechanics, Aquatic Chemistry, as lovely and foreign as Timbre's cabriole, glissade, developpe, to dissect such things. I know even at night the transactions that take place. Sky to earth to ground again, how midnight is swapped for indigo and back again. Van Gogh got the night sky down; I wanted to learn the language of water at night fluently like that. I do know about the cessation of all things, the starting and stopping, the moodiness and mood swings even the sea has. I know about blood and how it is unreliable. Water, though, can be understood; its nature is to run.
There were six plates of concrete that both connected and divided my house from Timbre's, and yesterday the new people began to hose down the murals. It was after we had seen Mary Poppins for the third time; Disney movies were my favorites. Anyway, Timbre and I bought the deluxe package of sidewalk chalk and spent all summer doing the murals. I think now that those times working on the pictures were as good as it gets. The air off the ocean, all of our philosophy, and those colors. On the first sheet the one closest to my house, we did a boardwalk like the one up the block from us. The strange thing was, the difference in our artistic vision gave the murals all of their charm. My faces were neat with a dreamy quality and Timbre's scenes were rough, almost childlike in their naivete I called Matthew last night to help me rebuild the fence that used to divide the yard.
"I have to see you."
"I'm having my love seats cleaned," I said.
Things had begun to fall apart with Matthew a month earlier. When he'd reach for me at night, I'd curl away from him in embryonic positions up in the far top corner of the bed. Or I would pretend to be asleep sometimes, when he knew that I wasn't or when he'd go ahead and wake me up anyway.
"I simply don't feel like it."
"Phoebe, do you know how long it has been since you felt like it?"
I said the only way I wanted to make love with him now was to go down to the water, to lie where the tides come in, where it is dangerous, to make love right there at that shoreline.
"Phoebe," he said, "you know I can't swim."
Timbre and I were in this little Middle Eastern joint on a Monday afternoon. The walls were covered in nature photos done by a local. We sat under an empty space on the wall with a title card for one which had sold titled "Twilight Prowler." We tried to imagine what it looked like. She said it must've had a cat in it and I said there was a mountain and darkness.
"I wish I could've seen it; I love the color of twilight," I said.
"It's okay," she said, "but it reminds me of the lousy stage in a romance."
"Matthew, we are at the twilight of our relationship."
"You must have had lunch with Timbre today."
"That isn't what it is. It's the feeling I don't have any more when I reach the on ramp of the freeway. There was a time that I could be driving, anywhere, accelerate, have Bach playing Brandenburg on the radio and feel
exhilarated. Do you know what I am saying?"
"I don't understand. What's the matter? I don't understand. I thought we'd sort of worked into something comfortable here."
"That's just it," I said. "You've simply stopped astonishing me."
"You know," he said, "I really wanted to stick around."
"I'm beginning to think nailbiting is a form of cannibalism."
Timbre was a dancer, she was graceful and gracious, a winged gazelle, but she was a woman of deserts too. The red sand left marks on her cheeks, sparks of light in her hair. There was something like earth that slid against all the silver bracelets on her wrists. Timbre had a voice that sounded honest, low, a little raspy and certain. And then there was Ambrose whom Timbre had been seeing for around five years. It was what I termed the perfect relationship. He was the one I might have dreamt up, had I had the imagination to think up a man like him. Ambrose traveled a lot with his business, particularly that summer, but he adored Timbre. Sometimes when he was home, Timbre would have me over for dinner with the two of them. We would cook spaghetti together, I would bring the wine, he would run out to the store and get thick crusted French bread and make garlic bread. We would sit up for hours then, the three of us drinking red wine and laughing. He told incredible stories. He had lovely hands, he moved subtly like a man who knew himself really well. He loved Timbre, anyone could plainly see that. I'll say that even now, even now when I've grown to detest him, blame him for everything that happened last summer, all those lies. Ultimately, though, I don't think he loved her well enough and maybe it's true that nobody could love her well enough to please me.
"He was the child I dreamt up," she said, "the navigator prince to accompany on all my journeys. He had to have a beauty, a mystery about him. He had to be smart and a little sinister, there had to be parts of him that I couldn't know well or couldn't understand. Someone who had all the answers but kept some of them secret. He had to be the one who always got us where we were going. You have to know, Phoebe, if you meet a man like that and you're not five anymore, he's dangerous. There's no moderation with men like that. They get into your soul."
"How are you feeling?" I'd say. Over and over, as if the answer would improve.
"Entrechat, echappe, lift, efface en arriere, failli," Timbre called down the corridor.
"Your medicine, Tim, here's your medicine."
"Sex," she said, "seems like a faint memory of something I used to have and might have enjoyed. But now, I am chilling in the middle of July and the only version of wet dreams I have are night sweats."
"Careful," I said when we reached the stairs. "Three steps down, ready?" I held her forearm lightly as if it might break.
"It's just chicken shit, that's all Phoebe, when a doctor can't even give you a real word, when your own body and your lover conspire and give you a lousy acronym to cling to. Necropolis, now that's a word."
I hadn't the energy to even run away this time. All the bad sort of bled together, my senses have been saturated with ugliness. I try to read books on art therapy, though I don't concentrate very well and my attention span is shot. I've lost fluency in the language of sleep and I never dream anymore. My friend told me it will be a cold winter because the crickets have matured early this year.
Last night, I was walking at the edge of the water. Timbre used to collect shells with me. We'd fill our shoes with them and saunter back home in the late morning. I am remembering the day we sat by the sea, always too close to where the waves came in and watched the sun come up. I am thinking of how we strung beads, emerald, amethyst, topaz, in color, and made bracelets for one another. How I wondered then if life could ever get to a point, a peak perhaps, maintain and not lift up, fold over itself and crash. It seemed that our lives were like that then, a soaring series of days strung together in colored light. Timbre would grow wild sometimes, would dance on the sand, chaines, chaines, grande jete and water would spring silver around her ankles. She didn't want to grow feeble-minded. She always wanted to die in the water, never called it drowning. She said she wanted to be an old woman with a long, silver river of hair that trailed down her back. She wanted to dance on the sand, then to simply walk into the sea.