I came across the detail of the Klimt purely by accident and, had I seen it before, I would have remarked it, the way one remarks a pleasing if not familiar scent—something unbottled from a perfumery perhaps, or a satchel of potpourri from the bottom drawer of a chiffonier. It was a detail of a woman’s face done up in blues and yellows and greens in Klimt fashion, the unlikely mottling he employs to suggest an otherwise even tone; face ovoid; eyes closed. A male face is also featured in the detail, and despite the bolder use of color, the angularity of his nose and jaw, his stern expression, he is background to the woman whose face is sideways in the frame. It is just a detail—I don’t have the full painting to reference, and quite frankly it doesn’t matter—and the fact of the woman’s tilt suggests she is in repose. If so, the overlap of figures insinuates that she is lying on the man’s shoulder, but—most notably—that she is happy doing so. It’s the smile which catches my eye, the smile that tugs at memory with the incessancy of cicada wings in summer. Just as Mona Lisa’s upturned mouth is decidedly coy, so too is the woman’s—upturned at least. Coy is not the right word. Her eyes are closed so what could be demure is actually a contented smile, one that reaches just the corners of her mouth.
I’ve seen this face before, and it is a welcome one. Its familiarity stirs a deep nostalgia, an almost painful remembrance, for it is a return home to a halcyon time, when things were simpler, when happiness was distilled perfectly into this, the smile the woman wears. Jenny wore the same smile on our honeymoon, which is why it is so familiar and so resonant of memory. She wore it in the Berkeley Rose Garden , this barest of smiles, while laying on my lap in the Northern California sunshine, her hair spilled over my thigh and my hand stroking her from the forehead to mid-scalp, just running my fingers through her hair, in total bliss. Jenny has her eyes closed to the sky, which is flawlessly blue, a San Francisco rarity, and it seems we have brought the weather with us, sunshine for the whole trip. We are staying in a curio of a bed and breakfast, so decorous with hidden treasures—singing bowls and Oaxacan figurines and spindly mobiles—that it is a wonderland, our bed a depositing in some fantasy wherein we communicate both our foundling love and future togetherness. We are husband and wife, a fact which is now signified by the reassuring <clink> of a wedding band against the rim of a champagne flute; it is signified in the ease in which we are together, sometimes in silence for, as fate would have it, on this trip my voice is gone—Jenn has to order me green tea at a Chinese restaurant for fear that if I attempt to do so, I will collapse into a coughing fit—so we talk in telegraph, but in full sentences with our bodies.
And this day in the rose garden is no different from our wedding day, our persons cleaved like opposing charges—she the ebullient one, me voiceless and not without greater discontent with the world, a discontent that makes her all the more important to me as she is the princess saving the prince—we are natural in our repose, and her head on my lap is most reassuring and we are happy. We are happy, and this is why the Klimt piece evokes such strong nostalgia, its particular pain in returning home, for why are we not any longer, or at least why is our love different? Why has ‘cleaved’ become its other definition, in which we are breaking apart, our charges suddenly repellant? I look at the Klimt piece and long for that smile’s return, but I know now it will be lent elsewhere, and not afforded me–just not in the same way at least–with the Bay sun shining and the rest of our lives ahead of us as husband and wife, when our rings were intact on left-hand fingers and every toast was ‘to us.’ We will be separated, alone but still together, just by different bonds, and I will be the one to have disappeared that smile, and left with the unflagging question, ‘How did it come to this? Why is the Klimt piece reminiscent of a ‘then’ and not a ‘now’? Why did Jenny’s smile downturn and, dear God, what have I done?’
I need acknowledge Jenny’s dispiriting, which is not a sudden thing, though in the finality of her leaving, and considering my then state, Octber 13th came as a seismic shock. Not exactly seismic, actually, but something post-. It was like most earthquakes in that I didn’t feel its magnitude, didn’t feel the ground quake at all actually—but was left with the eerie quiet after. The house was left standing and everything was in its right place, but the quietude was unsettling, like existing on the other side of a heart attack when the heart’s return makes you suddenly aware that a great machinery had stopped momentarily, and wow. That you were in effect dead for a minute, and what life is by contrast once brought into stark relief.
A great machinery stopped when that door closed on October 13th, but I can’t fool myself into thinking it was a grinding halt. I may have been suddenly left in the post-seismic quiet, but the quiet had to have been precipitated in a noisier time, when my actions spoke loudly, when I was unaware as to the import of their effect.
I was obliviously happy, then Jenny was suddenly at her father’s, then in Long Beach, then unexpectedly in a place of her own (a place I would be barred from for two months). Then her family, who I was disallowed from seeing and who I didn’t want to see anyway, descended and gathered furniture and clothing and accoutrements from our home like so much harvest, leaving me the orange leather chair, the chair in which Jenny nursed Cayden when we were a burgeoning family, three and not two. The orange leather chair where I would be suddenly one and not four. It was where I marinated for a good month, soaking up what I do not know, for it was not yet regret. I sat in that chair; I slept in Cayden’s bed. I couldn’t bring myself to sleep atop the marital mattress without Jenny next to me and I refused to open her closet for fear that, in its emptiness, a great something would be comprehended, the sudden realization that could have ended me right then and there, like a golden lightning bolt out of a Bernini sculpture. A realization so ego-destroying I would’ve writhed uncontrollably like St. Terese on the bedroom floor, just not in ecstasy but rather in some existential anguish.
The realization that I did this.