We feel such tenderness. Its endearing, really. Inescapable. The first touch, the first kiss, the first married man. Even those first pangs of boredom setting in take on such sweetness, the kind to savor till novelty no longer endows with surprise.
I remember the first dinner with my first married man. Id made soup that tasted decidedly bland and a spinach salad, because I knew he had never eaten spinach raw, and even though the meal was mediocre at best, I ate with great gusto and pleasure and enjoyed the feeling of this man watching me as if in his watching he were satiating a body that up till now had been ravenous.
This took place in the first foreign country where Id spent a significant amount of time. Id already lived there for several years when I met the married man, a professor of economics who looked at me like no one before or since. My first impression was that he seemed like a sad and honest man. My last impression was that he seemed like a sad and honest man. He spoke kindly of his wife. He hated his job. He taught on a campus that seemed to me a dull and treeless place and eventually, long after Id left him and that country where wed met, I took a job teaching, too, on a campus rich and abundant in trees and I have often thought of him as I walked across my tree-filled workplace, often wished from time to time that the world was such I could send him by mail the very things I imagine he needs: a few maples, a hickory, a grove of pines, an oak. Something large and leafy that would provide him with the relief and privacy of shade.
When I met him he was married for the second time, which wasnt the norm in the country where he came from. The first time he had married for all the right reasons: because he was in love, because he loved her, because he loved everything about her, how she looked and how she wept, how she ran her tongue over her teeth when she concentrated hard, how she liked to sleep late, how she preferred her eggs soft, how she hated too-sweet wine. He never ever tired of her. He never imagined she would tire of him.
The second time he married to avoid the pain of the first. His first wife had left him for another man. His second, he knew, would never cheat.
I balked when he told me this. You can never know who will cheat. He nodded politely but I knew he didnt believe a word I said.
I was the first woman hed loved other than these two women hed made wives. He called me his miracle as I said, his first and surely his last. I remained very very still when he told me that and accepted what he said. There was no history of irony in his country and so, even if I had wanted to scoff at his remark, his earnestness and that word miracle how could I? Irony lives to assert the gap. Its pleasure is derived from when the audience claps. This man had never heard of such a show. Irony to him seemed only a conspiracy of ill-spirited souls, the kind who trash a place that they would never want to own.
His miracle. His first. His last.
He said as much. And so it was so.
There is a great deal more I could say about this man but because I come from a place where irony is prized, where love is a commodity that seems in short supply because of this, words are difficult and my inclination is to keep things holy and spare.
Let me say this: One night, before I knew I would be leaving his country, this country where irony had no enduring place, we parked his car by the side of a dark road. Someone drove by that night and the headlights from the car hit us and bathed us in a flash of white light. He held my hand and said it would be okay and even though I hadnt been scared, I found myself believing him anyway, believing he was right. Instinctively I turned my eyes away from the headlights of that passing car, lowering my head into the darkness of his shirt, taking him in, as an animal might, smelling him, marking him, not as my own exactly but something elsethe first of something I would never quite be able to pronounce. Hashimette. A fleeting and fragile and amazing place.