grape leaves

Amidst all your bounty -- and it was bounteous, the way you always had homemade goods to distribute, bottles of wine to share, a smile and a limmerick for drunken friends and strangers alike, sharing of your sweet bread and mellow wine -- you were the stingiest man I've ever loved.

You masked your withdrawal in droves of generosity, you drowned your guests in welcome, and you made me feel the most welcome of all. At the same time, you obfuscated with your eyes, circumnavigated with your words, and did everything in your power to appear open and willing while doing nothing in your life to be so. It was the perfect ruse, and you wore it as well as you wore those sexy cutoffs you gardened in (a spectacle appreciated by neighbors and friends of mine alike, who always seemed to stop by when you were outside glistening with a light coat of sweat and orange dirt accentuating your tan).

I don't know if you loved me at all; it took years for us to finally speak about it. After too many longing grope sessions, too many half-spoken and anguished non-coversations, too many drunken if onlys; after I'd broken up with my boyfriend, and then that one ambivalent something other in your bedroom. I had always felt, in the end, that you used me, and not for anything whose value I could easily assess by the going rates. I had always felt that your obfuscation was more than just our miscommunication, more than just my neurosis, more than just a vague sense of being pawed at existentially in an inelegant manner. Let's face it, it's a poetic story that you sat in the downstairs apartment playing that song relentlessly, pining for me, while I tred upstairs with a man I no longer loved, hearing that same song, thinking only of you.

So, after it all seemed to no longer matter, it (or we?) came back; an evening of celebration ending in the first real night of connections that weren't crossed awkwardly between us. I'll admit you caught me in the middle of a time of rampant and wanton wanting-nothing-more than to enjoy what I had going, defiant after a heartache brought on by another. But I was open to all the we's I had imagined we might make in years before, and ready to find you if you were honestly looking to be found. And then you gave me a thank you card, more or less, although not Hallmark. What it said exactly I no longer remember, but it hit me like a sting of distance, a misplaced sense of propriety, as if addressed to any number of numbers; and what's worse, it was a reminder of a previous Christmas card during our tumultous unspoken love days, when you had just fucked my best friend and not thought it important to tell me and yet wrote me in dulcet tones, saying everything just right. It struck me the wrong way, that morning after card and its tone of gratitude. I was a hurt and thus ungenerous reader, granted, but it felt as fake as the openness I had always found suspicious, tasted as dry as the crumbs of bread I'd found on the porch days after our long nights in the olden days. It felt like the door to your inner sanctum was slammed shut while the text proclaimed loudly "please come in" in a formal but hospitable voice. If there was another reading, I failed to find it. This was not the first or last of my failures with you.

Instead of addressing the situation, I opted for an attempted replay of the past, only succeeding at the drunken part of the past; we ended up with a sad fight whose contents I didn't remember upon waking, but whose sensation I have never lost. Pain, accusation, anger: pot, kettle, black. I do remember vividly that you accused me of precisely what I believed to be true of you: "you don't want what you say you want." The cardinal sin among the passionate yet rational, to those like us with equal allegiance to the mind and the heart. It was painful and/or silly and maybe it meant nothing, but it ended with a kind of fixity that erased the need for further interpretation. There we were, at a stalemate. And all my suspicions felt confirmed; I added fuel to fire my narrative of you as master hoarder of love, taking it from so many women, giving it back to none; you, offering of your bounty and yourself, but pulling the latter back at the last minute, just when a hopeful mouth had almost closed warmly around a string of your heart. You, jealous of any context that wasn't immediately favorable to your re-ignited-by-long-absence desire.

Any woman who loves you, I thought then, must find herself in the unique and unsettling position of feeling like the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. Finally taken and seemingly enjoyed, only to be immediately cast aside because some greater stake has caused her to taste bitter to your sensual mouth. And there's no discussing of details when the immortals fall: there is only mortal silence. In the end (and in the beginning), I failed because I viewed you as a deity and not a man; as some antique god come back to create love anew, a dazzling mix of Apollo and Rimbaud. The weaknesses of a mortal man were not enough to trip you up in my eyes; only a flaw of mythic proportions and based on hubris would have been enough. And I found or invented one, as this narrative attests.

Yet, even now, many years after our uneasy parting, I remember sitting alone above you and longing for you before I even knew exactly what I was longing for in you--sending out poems to a kindred. I remember a stolen kiss on the sunroom floor that was so electric I felt as if Zeus had punished us with a thunderbolt, delivering extreme delight before decimating us. I remember the grape leaves you harvested from the back steps, turning them into exquisite dolmas and offering them up for awed communion. I remember all of this, and I'm ashamed. Ashamed that I never shared with you the simplest doubts, asked the simplest questions. Ashamed that I never let you reassure me, never gave you a chance to be reassured by me. Ashamed for judging you simultaneously as godlike in your generosity and small in your stinginess, when all you were was beautifully flawed. Ashamed for never finding out what your real flaws were.