Sunday, December 04, 2011

Joanna, I Love You

[She's gone from my life now but I think of her almost every day. I'm a lesser person for her absence. Time has come to pick up the pieces and go home - but home is lost when the heart is broken.]

Everyone was in love with Joanna - including me. She was the rarest of women, the kind men want but do not begrudge never having. She is a fantasy, yes, but a fantasy understood it needs to be earned and deserved. That sort of respect was part of her earthly appeal. But maybe the best way to describe Joanna was by the wake she left, just as one can tell the size and shape of a ship by the wake it leaves in the water. There were occasions where I had the privilege to travel in that wake and I felt as if I followed an angel among the clouds.

I met her in her time of great pain, she was a young widow battling to resume her life. She had taken the attitude of, "Life goes on, no time for self-pity" because she knew that was the correct path to take but like any human she still harbored feelings of resentment and anger over her loss. You had to dig deep to find it but that thorn punctured her with doubt. How to trust again? I also knew the man who could pull that thorn would be the next lucky soul to have her heart. All of us guys in love with her knew it was our job to be honest with ourselves on whether or not we were that man.

In each of us a voice whispering, "If only..."

Joanna was a drinker by sport but in this time of anguish it served a dual purpose to relieve her from the daily misery of the struggle to regain herself. It was like watching someone learning to swim: you know you can't do it for them but you live and die with every stroke, naturally rooting for them. But Joanna had one helluva cheering section. Accompanying her to a bar that served as a favorite haunt of hers I felt I traveled with a touring rock star.

First evidence I had of that was the minute we walked in the door, the bartender lit up at the sight of her, greeting her not in a way of professional courtesy, but of actual delight, not bothering to hide his open affection. He was older, tall stocky and bald, a hulking presence reflecting a mountain of stability. He was the kind of guy you'd want in a fight - but it verbal or physical - but still retained the qualities of a lamb. I immediately liked the guy.

To Joanna, I was part pet and part something else, I'm not exactly sure what. We'd met in a book store where we found our interests and passions crossing as happens only a few times in life. In that narrow confine we soared and I kept hearing that excited little voice saying, "Is it true? Is it true?" Sometimes even friendship can be like falling in love. We had these amazing discussions, the kind you can only have with someone to whom you don't have to "explain" everything. I was walking around with this feeling of wanting to shout, "Hey, guess who I just met!"

But like a prisoner who befriends a soul through his jailhouse window, I could see no way to be a part of her life. The price of past mistakes, of running away when the right one comes along. Life in jail is generally spent dulling your senses, waiting for the nightmare to end, but meeting Joanna put the taste for life back in my mouth and suddenly my cell became an unbearable hell and long dormant feelings of suicide tolled my name once more. But time with Joanna was like a weekend pass from that torment.

Sitting with her in the bar I realized I was in a place of privilege, in the seat everyone wished to sit. I felt special and honored even while part of me secretly fretted over actually deserving such a place. Peter, the mountain man bartender was especially nice to me, as if to say, "Any friend of Joanna's is a friend of mine." Having her seal of approval carried a lot of weight. And I also felt that same sense of protection Peter had for her spilling over on to me, knowing if I came to harm it would hurt Joanna. Therefore, that was just something that could never be.

What a swirl of emotion I had as she shared this part of her world with me! My insecurities kept pestering me, asking me how I'd feel at that moment sitting in the bar without Joanna and the implicit blessing that came with it. I'd be just another loser slob lost in the world, of that I had no doubt. I might get the professional nod from Peter as I asked for a quick drink, but certainly not the level of instant friendship I had now. It was a wonderful, intoxicating feeling of its own but I also felt the pressure of living up to one being granted so many unproven accolades.

Most every man has his primal lust to deal with and Joanna was a subject to arouse those passions in the most extreme of ways. Many women are packaged well only to reveal a nasty surprise when their mouths open. But despite her long-legged charms, Joanna sucked you in with her personality. Had you never laid eyes on her, the feelings of want just as strong and passionate, like finding a cave of warmth in a freezing winter. Highly aware of my own urges and desires, what truly caused me to marvel was watching the way men put their lust in check around Joanna. (And if they didn't it was understood Peter would give a quick education on why one should.)

Also like any animal I felt an intense competition with my fellow males. Peter was the gold standard but the drop off was rapid from there. I raged with jealousy anytime a rival stopped to speak with her, catching up on lives I knew I could never have from my prison cell. But just like the men who put their sexual lust in check around her, I too had to swallow my instinct to lash out and cage her for me and me alone. Dare I believe the voice she somehow magically felt the same joy I do in her presence? Turns out, all life depends on facing the answer to that question.

Joanna had her obligations to the many souls who requested her time, leaving my observant eye to scan the bar and evaluate my ersatz companions. One pathetic beast caught my eye here at the watering hole, despising him instantly, resenting the fact he obviously was trying to escape life and its responsibilities one cold drink at a time. His slouched demeanor and whiny tone made me wish great white hunter would come along and shoot him right out of his misery, the fucking cripple. Then I realized the true source of my anger: that's me without Joanna.

But under her spell of love, new enticing thoughts entered my mind as never before. I pictured myself speaking with the crippled beast, letting him know we shared common woes in this world, creating a bond of brotherhood instead of arrows of antipathy. The withering creature would straighten up when he saw I understood his pain; I'd almost be his Joanna. I gazed upon her as she spoke with a passing friend, admiring her tower of strength rubbing off on me. I wondered if I could ever be the strong and generous person I just imagined myself to be - the strong and generous person Joanna actually was.

Luckily I was able to draw her back into the world of books and literature and I realized I filled a need for her in that regard. I also knew that regardless of the attributes of anyone else in the bar, only I could fulfill this need. Only later only did I come to realize she was actually a bit intimidated by my literary abilities. I always assumed: I'm a prisoner, I have nothing to offer anyone, when the weekend is over I have to go back to jail, useless to all. What need has the world of an imprisoned poet?

People talk of pointless politics and mandated morality to make the world a better place. But in this smoky room I saw in the presence of Joanna's heart every soul striving to put his best foot forward as if it were a matter of life and death. War, money, hate - the whole fucking world - seemed so irrelevant and laughably stupid when around her. Anything and everything centered around love and her sense of family as the obvious point to life and existence. No one wants to admit to leading a life of unfulfilled hunger - until a steak dinner is set before them, and then the facade drops in undeniable desire. That was the effect of Joanna

I only merited one other visit to Joanna's world, this time to her house as we stopped by to pick up a particular book. When she mentioned it was at her house I wondered if she'd trust me to know where she lived, me being a criminal and all. Plus, it would be one more glorious, thrilling sumptuous feast of seeing inside her life and her domain. The moment I walked in her townhouse I felt "home", wanting to curl up on the couch and never leave. I don't think I'll ever forget that overwhelming pull the rest of my weary, wandering life.

I hold too much fear from self-knowledge now to ever tread in her home again but I often mentally wander back. You can keep all the mansions of the world, hers was the "in" place to be with her quick wit and dazzling smile. As I think back on it I may have even blushed like a child as my nervous hands stretched out to embrace this wonderland of warmth. How could I ever tell her I wished to spend the rest of my life there? I was both living and dying at the same time.

With the massive perspective shift created from the wake of the SS Joanna, the question of, "Who am I?" pops up over and over. When Jesus spoke of separating the wheat from the chaff this is surely what he meant as this tortuous question does just that. Once love breathes on you, you just have to know. Like so many stuck shivering out in the cold I ran away, unable to face my fears and hopes. I tore Joanna out of my life in a false recognition of myself and now I only wish to blow away like a dry autumn leaf. But I still remember my time up on the tree of life and the beautiful, exploding sun of Joanna.


Max Silver said... can be quite the sadist, can't it?

Harry Homeless said...

Cowardice is the true sadist.