GORILLAS IN OUR MIDST.
Book, DVD, iPad graphic novel, audiobook, all in a beautiful wooden box with stones and artworks collected in the countries in which Blue and Ananda Shields fell into a fatal affair. The box also includes enough money to buy yourself a coffee in Uganda or Norway when you wake one morning to find out that Ananda has stolen your heart and given away your money to somebody who needs it more than you do.
The mind plays such tricks with memory.
I remember the day clearly. There was an issue with the hotel keeper. We were getting ready to return to our friends, pressing the eject button in a fantasy we'd made ourselves, something like a movie. I've shot a lot of sensuality, but not many pictures caught this kind of intimacy. She doesn't care what she's wearing, and she knows I am looking at her, hoping for something suggestive and provocative. She gives the pose as a gift and shifts in her seat as I shoot; I wonder what she thought I was looking for? The vulnerable comfort in which I'd first seen her on the streets of Kathmandu?
But the sheer white shirt in this moment is not as important as the moment a decade later when I come across the picture and look at it in surprise. When did I take this? Why can't I remember more than the moment the camera clicked? Yes, I recall the hotelkeeper and the weather in Biarritz. But I don't remember how she was feeling. And what good is an image, no matter how gorgeously private, if you can't know everything she was thinking?
She was a mortgage specialist when I met her, helping business people to buy their properties. The dot.com bubble hadn't burst yet, and her future seemed rosy, except she kept having fantasies about Africa and its mountain gorillas. Would she ever get there? We ran into each other in the middle of one her longest daydreams, around her 28th birthday, when it seems that every woman buries the idea of Prince Charming once and for all.
We meet in the Mayan ruins in Oaxaca.
Rather, I see her there in a see-through white tank top, and we meet actually on the Internet months later, when I begin writing her about my dreams and projects. It turns out she wants to go to Africa to see the mountain gorilla, and I want to go to Africa to see my ancestors, the first humans, on the edge of the Impenetrable Rainforest. The affair begins around this conceit: We will make a movie about falling in love in the Pyrenees and in Oaxaca and the Yucatan, in the Arctic Circle and in the Himalayas and among the gorilla. Easy, says me. She raises an eyebrow but keeps listening to me talking about the possibilities: Her curiosity kills her, but she will give her skin if it means having her passions tickled. And I am a tickle, she knows right from the start, from tease to torture, a temptation she cannot miss.
From the Burn + Scar book:
She is working in a bank and she is 19 and already a mankiller.
At the pre-Christmas party, a balding accountant draws her name to give his holiday present. His face is crimson and he barely looks at her when the office manager reads off her name. He shrinks from view. Now he has to come up with a present for the babe everyone adores in his workplace. He retreats, stooped, a man backing into his guillotine.
Ananda doesn’t notice. She drinks a vodka and tonic and goes home with a headache and cannot remember the name she has drawn for her own gift-giving. Her boyfriend is waiting up for her. He is agitated, nostrils full of her pheromones, and as he has sex with her she tries to remember who she must buy a present, and this causes her to think of the balding accountant who must give her a present. As her boyfriend climaxes she barely notices because she remembers the accountant's flustered face and dreary embarrassment. She must remember to say hello to him the next morning when she goes into work.
To her surprise, the accountant works nearby. He must have seen her every day from his cubicle, she thinks, but she knows nothing about him. He is bald, wears glasses, plump, and coughs a lot. She goes to his cubicle and introduces herself. Hi, I’m Ananda, and we’ve never really met. He stammers his name and gets red in the face but smiles and seems to her to be relieved about something when she walks away.
The next day, the balding accountant asks her discreetly if he can give her whatever he would like to give her for Christmas. She doesn’t understand. He says he’d like to give her something special, but doesn’t want her to get the wrong impression. Ananda laughs. Give me whatever you want, she says. It’s Christmas, don’t worry. He smiles and seems relieved again.
She says hello every day as she passes him in his cubicle, and he says hello as well. The day before the Christmas break, she finds a wrapped box on her desk, with a card from the accountant. He is not in the office. She opens the box and finds expensive silk. Underwear and garter, stockings. She’s shocked at the expense, but digs the quality. She wants to thank him, but he doesn’t come to work for a few days and then it’s Christmas. A few days after New Year’s, there he is in his cubicle, red-faced when she thanks him profusely for the gift. Nothing, nothing, he mumbles.
The boyfriend likes the silk. He asks her to dress in it so he can undress her. They are meeting for happy hour the first Friday night in the new year, and the boyfriend begs her to wear the accountant’s silks. She walks in that Friday morning and sees the accountant staring at her legs in silk stockings. She grins and winks and gives him a thumbs up and laughs out loud when the accountant’s face turns red. Six times she walks past his cubicle and lingers, smiling, until the accountant smiles back and gives her the thumbs up. Thank you, she says. Glad you like it, he says. He is very happy.
To her surprise the accountant is also at the bar at happy hour that evening. Most of her office is there, and her boyfriend politely keeps his hands off her body while the office higher-ups are around. She excuses herself and approaches the accountant. She says thank you again, and he is smiling. He’s drunk vodka and so has she, a shot too much. She hikes up the hem of her skirt until the accountant can see the wide dark tops of the stockings on her thigh. Terrific, he says, terrific. Your boyfriend is lucky. Ananda wants to know why, teasingly. Because he gets to see you in all that silk, says the accountant. She tells the accountant to follow her and they go to the back of the bar into the handicapped toilet, where she lifts her skirt and takes off her shirt to show the balding accountant his Christmas gift, wrapped around her youth and blooms. To both their surprise, he begins to touch the silks, and one touch becomes a clutch and then a taste, and she is thrilled by his hunger. For a few minutes he handles her like expensive luggage, and she spins into him like a ride at the county fair, bumping. But then he stammers again, and she slips on her skirt and shirt and walks back to the bar and her anxious boyfriend.
A few days later, she is in silk again, teasing the accountant in his cubicle, but he is not in a cage and at five o'clock they are fucking in his van in the company parking lot, and she laughs while she watches her co-workers walk to their cars to go home, stooped, as though to their own guillotines. And this end-of-the-workday sex in the van happens a dozen times before Ananda gently and politely reminds the accountant she has a boyfriend she is quite fond of. He goes back to stammering and the silks stay put away, but she makes sure to say hello every day until one day the balding accountant is not there. He has been transferred or left for another branch or bank. Ananda doesn’t know, and doesn’t really care. But there should have been a small goodbye, except she remembers that, yes, she doesn’t really care.
The images above are of the da Vinci bridge on the border of Norway and Sweden. On a lark, we head North to visit this design, and stumble into the aurora borealis and a search that will take up a lifetime.
A few months later Ananda comes into work and finds her colleague Angie distraught. The accountant is dead, a suicide. Ananda hardly hears the details. She is trembling, and goes home at lunchtime and lies in bed the whole afternoon wondering when she is going to throw up. Her boyfriend makes the mistake of fondling her when he comes home that evening, and she snarls at his touch. He leaves to watch football, and she cleans the apartment.
This is one of many true stories about Ananda Shields. People wonder why I flit still around her flame, and this story is part of my reasons. Perhaps the story is more about my weakness than it is about her power, but I don’t care; her stories fill me with anxious jealousies, and I will feel this way until some magnet of humanity is extinguished from the roots of my personality, and I am neutered or killed, whichever comes first.
Her adventures are small flames and each one hurts, but the scar Ananda has left on my instincts and intellect are a burn that warm me still. She is my bruise. And everyone knows that a cure for bruises is to keep touching them with concern and a little provocation, as if releasing a little pain with each poke brings a faster heal. But I wish the bruise stays, because I love its hurt.
Jealousy Becomes Her
We all have our small treasures of self which only a lover can discover. We undress our dreams and give them as kiss and embrace and receive smell and warmth and whispers into our necks that become the sort of memory that shape the future. Which lover does not wish to be remembered by her partner, years from now, when he is in the hot smelt of sex with somebody new? What action ensures that sort of memory in your lover's head when you are no longer the affection in her sights?
Wouldn't it be fantastic to embark on an affair that lasts 90 days, and on the 91st day you exit to the right and I exit to the left, or vice versa? You give everything, and become everything for this person, knowing that on that 91st day you will deal with their permanent absence, suddenly, by repairing yourself alone with the memories you have been cooking during the past three months?
"You are insane, that is a terrible idea," she says, but she too is smiling, and she has a finger on my lips, as a sort of measuring rod of my impulses, and tells me I am insane and the idea of being together for 90 days and then separating forever is equally insane, but she is concentrating on the bump of my words against her touch, delighted as lovers are by the simplest of intimacies, making science out of the way an idea trembles on my lips, and she is sketching her belief in my intentions with her fingertips . . . but finds herself wondering if I am really serious. She stops looking at her science experiment and looks me in the eye with impish warning, affectionate danger, and says: "If you fell in love with me, you could never walk away on the 91st day."
She doesn't know it, but in that moment I do fall, headlong into her dreams and fears, into her nourishments and thrills, and somewhere along the way, on day 53 or day 67 or day 78, the love becomes a nightmare and we seem to be living under a microscope, our own little culture in our own little world in our own huge universe, where contempt and jealousy boil into an eruption that leaves us as polar opposites, traveling the same destinies we were traveling before we met and fused into a bond that no matter how you measured it added up to somewhat less than two whole people. On the 90th day we totaled 1.25 people, or something similar, as all couples are doomed to become, diminished by attachment, and then on the 91st day, alone, we seemed to be more than 1.33 people each! Our original self, and some part of the lover that was now burned into our weight and being. And this sort of brutal expansion causes enormous breakage. Dreams, bones, bank accounts: we look for sanctuary to brood ourselves whole.
And when we talk or see each other, now, a few years later, it is amazing how a glimpse or a touch or a fleck of sweat or spittle or a sentence freighted with clues transports us instantly into a past moment and we look at each other and wonder: Is this day 16 or day 37? And warily, we approach each other like animals whose mating rituals require the destruction of one of the pair: yes, this is day 90, even if we remember it politely, and the teeth start clicking as you study the geology of your lover's neck and the fingers she puts on her jugular to check that the blood is still ticking, and if you could rip your eyes from this tiny ballet to look into the ocean of her gaze, you would see her smiling, even though that 90th day was something you swore at the time you hoped would never be repeated, not even to an enemy.