I watched The Artist is Present alone in a dark theater a few months ago. I was supposed to see it with two of my closest friends, who were busy falling in love with each other at the time. They didn’t show up. A week earlier, the man who haunted most of the last decade of my life attempted to pick a fight with me, to see if I was still inhabiting that lonely satellite in his orbit, armed for an ongoing mutually assured destruction that has lasted through a marriage (not ours), a divorce, various relationships. I never wrote him back. It was one of the harder decisions I’ve made.
The look between Marina and Ulay: I recognize it. I think most of us do. It’s the look of recognition, a recognition of trying and failing, of grasping and striving for something you’ll never be able to name or explain. It’s the acknowledgment of a tether between you and another, across the years, across time and space, across burned letters and silent phones. Across the Great Wall of China.
Plato once wrote,
And such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to him. And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives together, and yet they could not explain what they desire of one another. For the intense yearning which each of them has towards the other does not appear to be the desire of lover’s intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment.
I have a tattoo I share with the other half of that tether, a tattoo we got together in the urgent throes of a rainy Tuesday at midnight, after we had broken up for the umpteenth (but nowhere near final) time. “Let’s do this,” he said. “Let’s never forget what we had. Let’s do it right now.” The tattoo is of Plato’s visualization of a soul mate: two eternal halves, split, who only fit each other. Puzzle pieces. On my back and on his arm, you can see how the two halves fit, but they hover maddeningly out of reach of each other. Sort of like we always did. One has a blue eye. One has a green eye. They stare at each other. They recognize. Years later, I got words from a poem by Richard Siken tattooed around the image:
“Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us. Tell me we’ll never get used to it.”
I think about these words often. I think about them when my heart gets crushed, when I feel myself going hard around the edges. To remember: it’s okay to be ruined. It’s okay to be gutted by another person. Because what else do we have as real currency? Think about it: what do you really want, beyond knowing what it is to be truly known? These are the stakes. For years, I thought (and sometimes still do), that my preoccupation with this particular relationship was tangled up in fear: fear of moving on, fear of never being gotten again. And maybe that is all true. But when I see the look Marina and Ulay exchange, a look that no words will ever do justice, I see that recognition right there: “Oh shit, it’s you. I would recognize you in this lifetime or the next.” And through marriages, divorces, quiet spells, through it all: here is a connection that is at its core transcendent of the trappings of pain and love. And it is okay to let go, because that tether will always remain, and it doesn’t need a name, it doesn’t need a title. It’s carved in our skin, it’s carved in our initials in the sidewalk on the corner of 14th and Guerrero, it’s a traceable thread across the Great Wall of China. We will live our lives, perhaps many times. When I am an old woman and I catch a glimpse of the faded ink on my back, I’ll remember and smile. Even if only fleetingly, I will know what it is to have been truly known, and I will know that the ruin was worth it.
Thank you, love.