Chapter 4: Correspondence
In our emails we bantered and flirted. Sometimes I carried one of his emails with me all day just to look at, to confirm that I was recognized by another human being out there. And to start projecting of course. Projection is a lovely part of any ongoing personal correspondence -- fashioning an imaginary soul out there who really sees us, understands us, gets us. That sort of thing.
Loving from a safe distance, in particular when it involves meaningful correspondence, often seems to be easier than love at close quarters. Understandable, of course, when with the notable exception of dancing tango, proximity usually involves tiresome details of daily living which, from the bird's eye view of safe distance, dissolve and give way to favorable fantasies.
"Sometimes I think I only dance tango because I don't really know how to deal with ordinary reality," Kevin wrote in his first email. "Unfortunately I can't take credit for that sentiment either. It's something Robin used to say. Tango makes everything a bit more intense and decorative. Also unreal of course. So I'm settled in here, with my pens and writing materials all lined up. And I brought some of Robin's notebooks. I plan to do a lot of writing while I am here."
"So you are on a writing retreat?" I replied. He still hadn't told me where he was and why.
"Not exactly. But I do plan to do a lot of writing."
I wanted to know more, but if he didn't volunteer, I didn't feel like probing. I remembered Bernard when we had taught dance together before his legal work allegedly took too much of his time. Actually, as it turned out later, his new involvement with my once upon a time best friend was the thing gobbling most of his vanishing time. In our erstwhile dance classes, he'd always been able to get every last bit of gossip out of everyone. And, oddly enough, the students, especially the women he danced with, seemed to like it. I on the other hand was completely inept in that regard. If somebody didn't volunteer information, I felt it was wrong to ask. All you have to do is ask, the world recommended. Don't ask, seemed to be etched in capital letters into my soul. Posturing interest and hinting at the availability of an open ear was the best I had to offer. People told me often that I was a good listener.
It was magical for me to have a distant email correspondent. True, at times it took me up to an hour to compose a short three-line email, but I never found the time misspent because it was time spent dwelling on all my own hopes, fears, and ideas.
"I do miss your presence at the club," I emailed after the second Friday night with Kevin gone and Doreen still head over heels in love with Jake and therefore effectively out of circulation for meaningful companionship. They were great fun to watch, sipping with straws out of the same large drinking glass, their heads always together when they sat at their table, Doreen's head on Jake's chest when they were dancing. She was almost a foot shorter than he was. I had danced with Lalo once and miraculously avoided a vocal observation of what little thing I could still improve from the eagle-eyed Maricela.
"Unfortunately I didn't dance much," I wrote to Kevin. "As a consequence, I had the opportunity to get really annoyed with the couple sitting next to me. Mostly with the man. I've never seen them at the club before. She so obviously wanted to dance. She did this thing of swaying her upper body to the music that we women do to indicate we want to dance. From time to time she tapped her feet. She was beautiful, too. Long blond hair. Dressed in a shimmering top with dark blue and silver sequin butterfly in front. Meanwhile he was holding forth on Buddha and enlightenment. It was so blatantly obvious she wanted to dance, it made me squirm. But it was also obvious that they were an item, and she didn't take her eyes off him, so nobody could send her any cabeceo invitations. He enjoyed himself immensely, what with having a captive audience to his almost exclusive talk. She didn't say much. Just a guess, but she probably felt if she engaged in conversation from her end, then conversation would take over entirely, and she was still hoping to dance, not to merely sit there and converse all night. I kept wanting to stand up and confront him: She wants to dance, buddy, not talk. Will you just please ask her to dance? Of course I didn't. I wouldn't have done her any favors anyway by pointing out that the sad situation was so horribly conspicuous. He might just have smirked even more and gloated in his power over female attention. Which is of course what it's all about. I miss you, Kevin. You're not like that. I hope. At any rate, if you gloat, you do it unobtrusively."
"Power and withholding. A deadly combination," Kevin wrote. "Here's one of the saddest skits -- in my opinion -- Robin ever wrote in her notebooks:
Had a problem with the system today. Our tech guy is on vacation, so they send Robert, the IT guy from the Dean's office.
At first I'm happy. I've always liked him. Even though he requires attention while he's working. He's brilliant at what he does. But he does like to talk. I can't do anything else while he's working on my computer. When he's run out of technical stuff to talk about, half of which I don't follow in the first place, he talks about anything at all.
He knows that I love to dance. I have two posters of tango dancers on my desk.
"That you and Kevin?" he asks.
"I wish. Kevin won't dance."
"Looks like you," he says. Then he tells me how he used to like dancing. "Slow dances, you know. But then it occurred to me: Why should I dance just to please a woman?"
He doesn't even notice how quiet I have become.
Kevin went on to write: "To think that I participated in all of this for so long, basically without knowing. Oh, Robin tried to indoctrinate me endlessly about the inadvertent misogyny she encountered all over the place. In dance. In her professional life. At home, sad to say. Everywhere. I once told her: 'If it's so awful, and so misogynistic, then simply don't go dance.' To which she replied: 'And then what about life? Seeing how misogynistic it is, should I simply stop living?' It chokes me up. She's made it safely beyond all this. Nobody can step on her toes anymore. All that remains is the flavor of her beautiful spirit, and a handful of poems and an armful of notebooks into which she scribbled day and night. She told me she had to write so much because all her life, from childhood on, nobody really paid much attention, everybody had more important things to think about, and she didn't want to forget who she was, so she took 'some' notes. Actually, she took copious notes. It makes me want to write down some of my own story. A memoir of sorts. If you want, I'll share it with you. It's actually easier to write something with an audience in mind. That would be you. Doesn't mean you're obligated to read it. Though it would be nice."
I wrote back to him: "Share away! I'm glad you offered. I'm curious. But, as you may have noticed, it's not in my nature to probe from my end."
Kevin's next email asked: "Do you know the medieval tale of Perceval -- lovely young dude, a knight's son. He was raised by his pious widowed mother who wanted to keep him away from knights and court and such, lest he, too, should perish in this hostile world. He ended up apprentice to some knight after all, and one of the things he was taught was to not ask too many questions. So when he ended up in front of the holy grail and saw mysterious suffering, he didn't ask. Had he asked he would have been the grail king's savior. Instead, he was kicked out with indignity and subsequently spurned everywhere. Not just anybody gets a chance to visit the grail castle, you see, and to ask the salubrious question. And he blew it. Because he followed instructions rather than his heart. Oh, well. Then, by a miracle, he got a second chance. Unheard of. He found the grail castle again, and this time he asked."
I wrote back: "I vaguely remember that story. Googled it, too. I think the necessary question is: Why do you suffer so? Here goes: Kevin: Why do you suffer so?"
Kevin replied: "Ah, yes, why indeed. We were the in-crowd, Robin and I. Rob-in and Kev-in, you see."