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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 5 chapter 12)

2006-08-22 20:49

  12

  At about the same time, he had the following experience: He had been meeting a young woman in a room that an old friend put at his disposal every day until midnight. After a month or two, she reminded him of one of their early encounters: they had made love on a rug under the window while it was thundering and lightning outside; they had made love for the length of the storm; it had been unforgettably beautiful!

  Tomas was appalled. Yes, he remembered making love to her on the rug (his friend slept on a narrow couch that Tomas found uncomfortable), but he had completely forgotten the storm! It was odd. He could recall each of their times together; he had even kept close track of the ways they made love (she refused to be entered from behind); he remembered several of the things she had said during intercourse (she would ask him to squeeze her hips and to stop looking at her all the time); he even remembered the cut of her lingerie; but the storm had left no trace.

  Of each erotic experience his memory recorded only the steep and narrow path of sexual conquest: the first piece of verbal aggression, the first touch, the first obscenity he said to her and she to him, the minor perversions he could make her acquiesce in and the ones she held out against. All else he excluded (almost pedantically) from his memory. He even forgot where he had first seen one or another woman, if that event occurred before his sexual offensive began.

  The young woman smiled dreamily as she went on about the storm, and he looked at her in amazement and something akin to shame: she had experienced something beautiful, and he had failed to experience it with her. The two ways in which their memories reacted to the evening storm sharply delimit love and nonlove.

  By the word nonlove I do not wish to imply that he took a cynical attitude to the young woman, that, as present-day parlance has it, he looked upon her as a sex object; on the contrary, he was quite fond of her, valued her character and intelligence, and was willing to come to her aid if ever she needed him. He was not the one who behaved shamefully towards her; it was his memory, for it was his memory that, unbeknown to him, had excluded her from the sphere of love.

  The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful. From the time he met Tereza, no woman had the right to leave the slightest impression on that part of his brain.

  Tereza occupied his poetic memory like a despot and exterminated all trace of other women. That was unfair, because the young woman he made love to on the rug during the storm was not a bit less worthy of poetry than Tereza. She shouted, Close your eyes! Squeeze my hips! Hold me tight! ; she could not stand it that when Tomas made love he kept his eyes open, focused and observant, his body ever so slightly arched above her, never pressing against her skin. She did not want him to study her. She wanted to draw him into the magic stream that may be entered only with closed eyes. The reason she refused to get down on all fours was that in that position their bodies did not touch at all and he could observe her from a distance of several feet. She hated that distance. She wanted to merge with him. That is why, looking him straight in the eye, she insisted she had not had an orgasm even though the rug was fairly dripping with it. It's not sensual pleasure I'm after, she would say, it's happiness. And pleasure without happiness is not pleasure. In other words, she was pounding on the gate of his poetic memory. But the gate was shut. There was no room for her in his poetic memory. There was room for her only on the rug.

  His adventure with Tereza began at the exact point where his adventures with other women left off. It took place on the other side of the imperative that pushed him into conquest after conquest. He had no desire to uncover anything in Tereza. She had come to him uncovered. He had made love to her before he could grab for the imaginary scalpel he used to open the prostrate body of the world. Before he could start wondering what she would be like when they made love, he loved her.

  Their love story did not begin until afterward: she fell ill and he was unable to send her home as he had the others. Kneeling by her as she lay sleeping in his bed, he realized that someone had sent her downstream in a bulrush basket. I have said before that metaphors are dangerous. Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.

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