I used to wear glasses. In fact, I used to like wearing glasses. In many ways, they defined me. I permitted (and often encouraged) this condition.
Some years ago, I got tired of the headaches from squinting at the computer screen and finally relented. But, ever the eccentric, I insisted on being different. Mind you, they were different when I first gave birth to the idea: some sort of cross between Lisa Loeb and Drew Carey and Buddy Holiday. Clean, simple, classic. Different.
I couldn’t find them anywhere. And by anywhere, I mean the ubiquitous Lens Crafters, America’s Best and so on. Mall places. I subsequently deployed, crestfallen at my lack of success.
Of all places, I found them in Bahrain. Yes, Bahrain. (After all, it’s a bit more European than Augusta, Georgia. For that matter, I suppose Birmingham is more European than Augusta.)
I wore them religiously for the next several years, transcending eyewear style.
“Justin, I want you to meet someone. Come on,” said FM, a fellow teacher in the Persian department.
“You’ll see. A student. She’s Baha’i, too. You can be hypocritical together,” dryly joked the Muslim who worked part-time as a liquor-store attendant. And tipped himself in fifths.
“Aieeeeeee! I’m so glad to meet you. You’re going to join me the day after tomorrow at Feast, okay?” She wrapped me in an intensely personal hug. I hadn’t felt such warmth for years.
“Umm… okay,” I sheepishly replied. She was gorgeous. And she wanted to spend time with me? Already?
S later told me that one of the first things that she found attractive in me was my glasses. She thought they were so cute… like a cute dork (a badge I proudly claim.) From that day on, I wore them for her. I never left the house without them; I religiously placed them in a wooden valet each night before I prepared for bed.
As I said, I don’t wear glasses anymore. As I was packing for this deployment, I realized that I didn’t want to fuck with the constant on-glasses, off-glasses, on-sunglasses, off-sunglasses routine anymore. Not here. And really, I can see just fine. Since I wasn’t going on det with the hopes of attracting anyone, why pack them? That S loved them didn’t even enter my mind.
It has been over three months. No headaches. Yet I feel good about myself. Attractive, even.
I don’t think I’ll wear glasses again. I don’t need them. Even in the short time I had at home after S left, I continued wearing them. For some reason, I clung to them as though they were a life preserver. I physically felt naked without them. They simultaneously served as something behind which I could hide, and as the one thing I thought I knew was still attractive about me.
But when I looked at myself in the bathroom’s mirror today, I realized that I look just fine. And I didn’t miss them.
Funny what we do for others. Like a woman wearing a skirt someone once convincingly complimented though she herself is tired of it, I wore those glasses because S loved me for it. Today, I’m taking back my eyes.
There’s first love and there’s second love. The experts can distinguish between them, even if sometimes they’re hard to tell apart, because each has a logic of its own. They can exist side-by-side, not without conflict, until something comes along to turn them against each other. And then it’s goodbye.
First love preserves throughout a marriage the bright, living kernel of falling-in-love that engendered it, that outgoing of the heart by which the lover recognizes, sometimes instantly and sometimes by progressive stages, the human being who can soothe or satisfy his deepest desires… And though, when he falls in love, the lover may know little about the beloved, whose soul may be a mystery and whose body may hide beneath its clothes… a scar yet to be uncovered by his desire, still he is bonded to his beloved blindly and trustingly and is ready to die for her even before he has seen her nakedness. This is the meaning of the expression “falling in love,” found in so many languages, for the lover has as it were fallen into a deep pit (at the bottom of which may lurk a snake or scorpion), and there must build love for himself.
And even after the outward signs have yielded their inner promise in all its glory or poverty, its undreamed-of heights or insufferable depths, the glow of the first falling-in-love continues everywhere and all the time. Yes, even when the beloved is in a wheelchair in an old-age home, diapered and connected to tubes, even then the flash of a smile in moldering eyes, the ancient movement of a veiny hand, the heard-again lilt of a dear voice, even a single sentence containing the right words, can resurrect the first falling-in-love in a twinkling – that love that unconditionally and in advance forgives every weakness and failing, if only for the reason that in advance it knew nothing about them.
Such was my love for you. This is why I am still stranded in it, waiting for another falling-in-love to set me free…
And yet… her conception of love is of the other variety. And this is why what happened to us was inevitable.
And that’s precisely what I need: to understand calmly the necessity of our separation, so that I can say good-bye for good, graciously and with a light heart.
It seems that your kind of love has to do with choice. That’s the great difference. Perhaps yours is the more developed variety, skipping love’s primitive and dangerous “fall” for what is deliberately and courageously chosen – not because it is the best choice, since there is always a better one, but because it has potential. Rather than marriage as a first flowering of feeling that lasts only until the next falling-in-love, the love of choice offers something less passionate but more stable: responsibility. In a moment of crisis the first kind of lover declares emotionally, “What’s done is done – I fell in love with you, and so I forgive you,” but whereas the second kind says coolly, “Yes, what’s done is done – I chose you, and I am responsible for my choice.” But – and here’s the rub – while love of the first kind can by its nature overlook what it doesn’t like, love of the second kind is incapable of such evasions. And so when something bad shakes the foundations, “responsible love” is too weak to support it – and at that point the whole structure collapses, and all that’s left to say is, “You’d better pack your things, and go to your grandmother’s.”
Once, some two years ago, a month or two after I arrived in France, in a moment of deep sadness but also of intermittent hope, I decided to write an itemized account of the horribly quick parting that you subjected me to after forty-two days of struggle. I bought a big yellow notebook, which went well with the yellow light gray Paris in August ’93, where I found myself after my expulsion from the Paradise in which you lived with your father, mother and sister.
Anyway, you and your family were cloaked by my imagination in the late-summer light that I remembered from the brambly little hill near the gazebo under which we were married. That’s how I had imagined Paradise back in Bible class in grade school, perhaps so as to give it a Middle Eastern touch: a lush green oasis fed by springs and surrounded by soft, friendly desert.
And so I began to write the story of our separation, from the first moment: thoughts, conversations, facts, things we did, the weather, the political situation, even a dream or two that I remembered, such as one in which I forced your father to let me shave him with an old electric razor found in a room of the hotel.
I wrote from the heart. The result was an indictment, a defense plea, perhaps even a proposal for an out-of-court settlement – but only on the left-hand page, because the right-hand page was for your use, so you could add your story to mine. I still hoped against hope that setting down our two versions in the same notebook might help us reach a new understanding…
It was exciting to put everything down clearly on paper and give my suffering a form
The Liberated Bride
A. B. Yehoshua