The geometry of love…of how the most complex things can be put together or taken apart. What ethereal geometry can make one heart from two, or piece together a broken heart?

Consider the person you love. Subtract one of his or her finer qualities, then another, and another. Do you eventually reach a point where you would no longer love what is left of that person? Did you find a quality or set of qualities that, if present in another person, would cause you to love that person instead of the person you now love? Or perhaps you never really got off the ground with this because you couldn’t get away from seeing the whole of the person you love, couldn’t break that person down into his or her constituent qualities. If so, you’re fortunate; it’s rare to be able to make the jump from apprehending a set of qualities to apprehending the whole person. It takes the spark of love.
At least that’s what we call it afterwards...

When you love someone, it’s okay to like some things about them more than you like other things about them; you’re the way you are, and you like what you like. But likewise, when you love someone, you have to love the whole person, not just certain things about that person; they’re the way they are, and if you love them, you have to love all of them, not just the things about them that you like in the abstract.

I have known many people, been many places, and done many things. And this is the ultimate I have found in life: a body that is comfortable to nestle into; a hand that is strong yet gentle to hold; a face that might have come from my sweetest dream; eyes that shine with happiness when I look into them; and a heart that burns with love, like a fireplace that fills the room with soft light and warmth and is always on whenever I come home. The last part is the best because it means the love is effortless and eternal. It’s such a beautiful thought, I have to wonder if it’s not what everyone wants most...whether or not they know it yet.

Last year I was in the early stages of dating a woman. We were at my place one night and she asked me if I loved her. I did not love her and I knew I never would. I got as far as saying, “Susan, for me love is—” and then she just got up and left without a word. I thought
Well, you don’t see that every day.

Her question was one you should never ask until you already know in your heart that the answer is yes, and even then you should ask it only playfully. Otherwise you’re virtually asking the other person to lie to you, and it shows that you know neither yourself nor the other person. A long time passed between when I first told Charleen that I loved her and when she first told me that she loved me. I remember she once wrote to me that I’d captured a piece of her heart, but that’s not the same thing. I never asked her that question because I knew she’d say those words as soon as she felt them.

I can tell you I love you, but perhaps I don’t mean it, or perhaps love means something different to me than it means to you. I can do, or refrain from doing, certain things for you, but perhaps I’m doing them for a reason other than love. The only way you can tell I really love you is in how I hold you. Even the way I make love to you is complicated by—almost tainted by—the sex itself, which is its own thing and is pleasurable in itself. But when you simply hold someone you love, it’s all about the love you feel. There are no other components to that feeling, and none are necessary; it’s both elemental and all-inclusive. And there is simply nothing like it in all of life. I imagine it’s similar to what deeply religious people feel when they think of being held within God’s love, of simply being in God’s presence. I don’t have that kind of religion; my religion is loving, and being loved by, the right woman. Whether or not that’s the work of God, I don’t know. Nor do I need to know; it’s enough simply that such a love can exist.

You cannot control love. You cannot
choose whom you love, and you cannot choose who loves you. The most you can hope for is that they’ll be the same person. My experience is that there is a one-third chance that these would-be loves will coincide in the same person. Now there’s a magic number if ever there was one, but alas it’s based on a statistically insignificant sample..

Love annihilates all. All boundaries, all parts, all qualities, all selves. And in their place it creates oneness. So is it an act of destruction or an act of creation?

When I touch a woman I love, it sets off a symphony inside me, one that follows an archetypal, seemingly eternal score. And my hands do their thing, following that score but improvising a little here and there to follow the subtext of
now and of her. It’s the archetype of love doing its thing.

For me, love is warmth plus romance. Most people would also include a certain amount of personal compatibility and shared commitment to the practicalities of living together and perhaps having children, but I think they’re getting into something different—more of a life partnership. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just something different.

Warmth is like this: you’re a tuning fork and you’re within the effective range of someone who makes you hum. Love is like this: both you and the other person are tuning forks and are within each other’s effective range, and it makes each of you hum.

The great thing about love, the thing that separates it from lust and friendship and warmth—indeed, from all feelings except the love of a parent for their children—is that it’s good for you only if it’s good for the other person. That makes it an unselfish feeling.

Love is the source of both the greatest pains and the greatest rewards in all of life. It’s special because you can’t control it or even understand it. Everything about love is beyond the reach of will and reason...

Love is a near-mythical creature living deep in our hearts. Who knows what it feeds on or what its predators are? Some of us have never seen it. Some have caught glimpses of it now and then. Some know it only by its tracks, which are unlike the ones made by the creatures we can put a name to. And then there are those few who live an idyllic life, seeing that wondrous creature every day, talking with it, stroking it, knowing it on the most natural and intimate terms.

There’s no good fire, no bad fire; it’s all just fire. If you’re too far away, you’ll feel nothing. If you get close enough, you’ll get warm. And if you get too close, you’ll get burned. Similarly, there are no good hearts, no bad hearts; they’re all just hearts. If you’re too far away, you’ll feel nothing. If you get close enough, you’ll fall in love. But here there is no such thing as too close.

This is the opposite of love: uninterest and uncaring...doubt and mistrust...disillusionment and detachment...solitude and exclusion...remorse and guilt...sadness and anguish...rancor and renunciation....fear and anxiety...anger and hate. All the bad feelings in life...there are so many. And against all of them, only love. It is its fullness, it negates every bad thing.

A lifetime can exist in the difference between the words
I remember you and the words I never forgot you. And a lifetime can exist in the difference between not wanting to die and no longer wanting to live.

Sometimes I look up at the stars and I think of how science has taught us how far away they are. And I think of other distances, more relevant, that our experiences and our hearts have taught us are greater still, perhaps forever unattainable in the way the stars may one day be reached.

It’s comforting to imagine that all you have loved and lost in life has merely drifted away to a place you can no longer reach…like autumn leaves that have fallen to the ground and now lie beyond the reach of the shadow of the tree of which they were once such an integral part. And it’s similarly comforting to imagine that in death you can be reunited with all you have loved and lost. But is this comfort reason enough for you to believe? Can it make you believe, or can it only make you want to believe?

When you love someone, there is room in your heart for no one else that way. There is room for an infinity of friends because in a sense they share the same space in your heart, but the space occupied by a lover cannot be shared. In that sense, love is a selfish thing. It’s not you who’s selfish, it’s love that’s selfish.

Alternatively put, at any given time, your archetype of love can be tripped only by a single person. If there is a person in your life now who trips that archetype, no one else can do so until that person is no longer able to do so. (
A Part of All Things will explore the concept of the archetype at length.)

That slow, other-worldly look in a person’s eyes and movements is so attractive because it calls to mind a timelessness, an assurance, and a contentment in oneself as well as in rest of the world. A person who has that look seems to be a universe unto himself or herself. A universe another person might like to explore...

If you grow to love someone over time, that’s not really loving them. That’s finding and then liking some things about them—that they’re romantic, kind, intelligent, endearingly quirky, and so on. And that feeling will always fade because there’s not enough of the
person in all of that.

How much love do you need from another person in order to love them? I can only come to love someone who feels she loves me and who I feel loves me. It has to be right for both of us—we both have to feel it’s a maximal feeling. My love for her and her love for me have to grow up together, but not necessarily at the same pace. The first time I told Charleen I loved her, the words came unbidden to my lips. I know for a certainty I loved her before then, and I knew it at the time, but I wanted the words to overflow from within me instead of simply being something I wanted her to know then.

One of you has to be the first to say
I love you. With Charleen, I was the first to say those word; with Alma, she was the first to say those words. To me, it didn’t matter either way, but to each of them I think it did matter. And to me, it didn’t matter either way. All that mattered was the love.

When you’re in a relationship with someone you don’t really love, you need it to at least be a relationship of diversions. You need to go out a lot, you need to make love a lot, you need to always be doing things.
You need to fill the time. When I was with Charleen, we did a lot of things together, too, but I could spend hours just lying next to her with my arm around her.

I particularly loved traveling with her, seeing new things together. And I loved it that as soon as we’d checked into the hotel and went to our room, we’d make love on top of the bedcovers. It was a new place for us, but there was the familiarity of each other. What a beautiful combination...

What is the ideal number of sex partners to have in life? I would say five: someone who has average physical attractiveness and average personal magnetism, someone who has average physical attractiveness and intense personal magnetism, someone who has unworldly physical beauty and average personal magnetism, someone who has unworldly physical beauty and intense personal magnetism, and someone you love and are loved by. Only then can you really know what’s what. But when you find someone you love before you’ve found the other four situations, you stop there. You’ll never know if sex could have been better with someone else, but you don’t really care; it becomes just a point of philosophy then. For me, sex is by far the best with someone I love and am loved by. Next comes sex with someone who has intense personal magnetism, and finally sex with someone who has unworldly beauty.

The physical nature of sex is what it is, and it’s always the same. The things that differentiate your sexual encounters, from the average to the mind-blowing, are the things you’re particularly attracted to. With some people, it’s something in the face or the body, with others it’s something in the personality. With me, it’s love, and following that comes a romantic nature and then warmth. Love is first because my connection to the other person is at its maximum then. A romantic nature is next because it goes particularly well with sex; it also goes well with things like travel and creative endeavors. And warmth, which I’ve talked up so much all over the website, is last simply because it is its own thing and is so good in itself.

Most people want all kinds of stuff from a relationship. For them, the love is not enough. Some stuff you’ve got to have, like for the other person to respect you or to be a good parent. But people always seem to want you to tell them they’re beautiful or intelligent or good. I don’t need those things from other people; I’ve got enough of all that inside me. Besides, coming from someone else, it’s just an opinion.

The things given to you by the person you love can be taken away or no longer given. That’s why it’s good to need only love from them. But that, too, can stop...

The best things in life are feelings. When someone holds your hand, it’s not the holding that’s important, it’s the feeling they put behind it. If they were later to tell you they didn’t mean anything by it, it would lose its meaning to you.

In order to properly appreciate the things other people do for you and to you, you have to be able to feel their feelings. That’s why resonance is so important; it increases the accuracy of your ability to do that, the accuracy of your communication.

You can be
all that, but still you have to be with the right person, the person for whom you are all that.

When you reach a certain age and you’ve had some setbacks along the way, you become inclined to stake more on the smaller things in life and on the larger intangibles they’re suggestive of. Not that they’re ends in themselves, but simply that they’re good in themselves.

The phrase
spend some time is accurate because time is our most precious currency, and some things are better bought with it than are others. People can be beautiful mysteries, and with some you figure out more of the mystery than with others. So spend some time with someone, someone you love or someone new, and figure out more of the mystery.

The best thing you can say about someone is simply that you like them as they are, that you are not interested in changing anything about them. This statement addresses the whole person, whereas any other statement—that they’re beautiful or intelligent or humorous or kind—addresses only a part of the person. This statement is a fact, whereas any other statement is just an opinion, and there will always be people having different opinions. In this one statement, you cannot be challenged…there is no higher authority.

Even in the larger scheme of things, it’s still a joy to see a true smile and better still, to be able to make someone smile.

One has to wonder where one’s heart fits into the larger scheme of things…

Just to be able to see into another person’s heart is a rare pleasure. To find that you love all you see is a joy beyond comparison.

There are only three things in life you can never have enough of: love, friends, and health. Money is close because it enables so many things, but it doesn’t make the list because in itself it is nothing. Time didn’t make the list because it’s abstract—it’s not something you can have more or less of other than by dying sooner or dying later.

I think of falling in love as a spiraling together into a shared oneness that is made up of some of her and some of me. In reality, there is all of me and there is all of her. But love exists only in what each of us can perceive of the other, what each of us can share with the other. It’s the most important intersection in all of life...

Being in love is like being in orbit; you’re held in place by the person you love. But being infatuated is like crashing into the person you’re infatuated with; the other person overpowers you because you don’t have enough of your own stuff, enough of your own energy, to avoid simply crashing into the other person. But mostly, relationships never happen because neither you nor the other person passes within what is, for each of you, the other person’s
effective range.

It’s gotten to the point that before I can begin a relationship with a woman, I have to feel as if I’m standing at the beginning of a long and beautiful road, that the road leads to an enchanting place, and that everything along the way will somehow be equally enchanting. And that’s just to feel comfortable going in…

In the early stages of a relationship, I move so slowly that by the time I act, the relationship is already at the next stage and there’s nothing to segue into. It’s more that I‘m finally noticing where things already are. Each stage of falling in love is special in its own way, and once you move on from one stage, those things…
the view from there…can never be the same. It’s lost forever, and that makes me reluctant to move to the next stage because with someone you’re coming to love, all the views are good. Perhaps none are better or worse than others, they’re all just different…and irreplaceable. I never want to leave one stage until I’m comfortable knowing I’ll never again see the view from there; it’s not enough simply to feel that the next view will be better.

What’s the point of love if it’s not forever?

To love someone forever. A long forever is better than a short forever. Forever ends only when you die or when the other person no longer loves you, and that can happen sooner or it can happen later.

The whole person is the same as the big picture. Some things keep you from seeing and experiencing the whole person, but you always get the whole person, so you’d better be able to see all of that. If not, you end up in a disappointing relationship and you’re left wondering what happened. Well, it happened because you didn’t see the whole person, but what you did see was so good it drew you in.

Somewhere between luck and perseverance, you may find love. Somewhere between wisdom and commitment, you may hold onto it. And if you don’t, you’ll eventually find that all the years have fallen away, leaving you with only what you have become, no longer with all you could have been.

I used to think that love didn’t require commitment, that it either was or it was not. After my time with Charleen, I realized that love requires a certain commitment to the other person’s happiness. You can’t continue to love someone merely by being committed to the relationship, but you can continue to make them happy by being committed to their happiness.

When you lose the ability to feel what another person feels for you, that person’s actions no longer carry the weight of their feelings and intentions, and you see their actions in a generic way.

When you reach the point that your love for someone has been broken, it becomes like a siren’s song calling you to what you had once but can never have again...or perhaps to what you never had. Now
that is plaintive...

In general, there are two grounds for taking someone back once your relationship has ended. One is that you’ve changed or they’ve changed, and this time you both feel it’s gonna work out forever. People think that just because some time has passed, things have changed. Things are always changing; they change when you’re together, they change when you’re apart. But the things that are thematic, that run deep, rarely change.

The other is that you’re both willing to settle for a lesser relationship, one that’s possible between the two of you. It’s necessary that each of you know what the other wants, and you have to want the same thing. But no one’s ever really content to settle, are they? For
now, yes; it happens all the time—for a night, until the children go off to college, or simply until something better comes along. But no one ever settles in the long run; you may end up together forever simply because neither of you found anything better, but even so, whatever you will have felt for one another over the years will never have been love.

I knew in my heart that I would love Charleen forever, and once you’ve been in love, you can never settle for anything less. What I had with Alma was very close, but still it was less. We both knew that up front, and we just enjoyed our time together without expecting it to last forever.

I knew in my heart that I was falling in love with Julie and that that feeling would turn into love. But that’s not the same as being in love, and it’s why I was able to move on without her. If only I’d met her early on in London, where I stayed for two months; that would’ve been enough time for that feeling to turn into love.

With everyone else, it’s always been a lesser feeling, and I’ve always known in my heart that I would never be able to love any of those women.

As long as you love someone, you’re never really parted from them. Whether they die or you die, or whether they simply stop loving you, you’re never really apart from them. Love outlasts all else in life...

I wonder if people who fall out of love eventually come to think their love was not really a true love. How else could they hope to one day have a lasting love?

Can a second love ever be as good as the first? Not if the first relationship ended because one of you fell out of love. Because then your idea of a love that can last forever, either for you or for the other person, is gone…
forever. But perhaps you can assuage yourself by trying to believe that your first love was not truly love. Perhaps

I’m open to having another love like I had with Charleen and Julie, but I’m no longer looking for it. My experience has been that you can’t find something like that by looking for it. It just has to happen….or not. There’s still a glimmer of love left in me, and I wrap my soul around it as I would cup my hands around a candle in a storm at night. So that it will not go out in difficult times, so that it may one day lead me to another love….or lead another love to me.

People who are in love for the first time, or to a lesser extent, people who are still looking for their first love, like to think there’s one perfect love for them in all the world. That’s absurd. What if your perfect love lived a thousand years ago? What if she lives now but in a part of the world you’ll never manage to get to, or what if she lives just a mile away from you and she takes the same train line in to work as you do but she’s always on the train just before yours?

I once had the thought that there is only one perfect love for you—not that there’s only one person, but that there may be any number of them, and the one who ends up being your perfect love is simply the one you find first. In this thought, love is like a fuse in that its path can be traveled only once and then it is gone and no one else can ever ignite that path again. But then I met Julie in France and that was the end of that line of thought. The hard part is to find those people, and not to settle for less somewhere along the way. Not finding them may eventually kill you, but finding them will allow you to fully again live.

For the first year after Charleen, I dated a lot of women because I wanted to find out if it was possible for me to love another woman. It never took more than fifteen minutes with any of those women for me to know I could not love her, so I gave up dating for a while. I went three years without making love to a woman, then I met Julie in France and I knew it was possible to love again. But I was in the early months of a year of travel, and I moved on without her. I met a few other women in the course of all that traveling, and those times could be considered dates. When I got back to Chicago, I didn’t date for nearly a year. Then I met someone interesting and it led to romance, and I found that I could enjoy romance with a woman even if I didn’t fully love her. I had to like her a lot, in a certain way, but I didn’t have to love her...
friends with privileges.

I’ve got a funny story about friends with privileges. One day I called a woman I’d dated a while last summer, and I asked if she wanted to do something. She said okay, and we went to a Sushi lounge. Then we got some Chinese takeout and a bottle of cava. We were eating it back at my place when she opened her fortune cookie, frowned, and handed it to me; it was a dud. I hadn’t seen her in a few months, but we were
friends with privileges and I was thinking about how to invoke the privilege that night. The problem with that kind of friendship is you never know when the privilege has been revoked. So I opened my fortune cookie, and it was as if I’d been flying a plane in the fog at night and then suddenly there’s the runway all lit up nice and easy. The fortune was something like Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. She knows how to read fortune cookies (you always add the words in bed at the end of whatever’s on them), so I laughed and passed it to her. She read it and laughed, and I said, “Sooo...?” She laughed again and said she didn’t have anything to do for the rest of the weekend. Those fortunes can be uncannily accurate...

My first date with her was an all-time classic. We were on the couch at my place, watching what had to be one of the most boring movies either of us had ever seen. It was absolutely anesthetizing, and eventually we both just fell asleep sitting there. When I woke up in the morning, we were lying on the couch and I could tell my hand was on her chest...
under her shirt. I thought Uh-oh...I know it wasn’t there when we fell asleep, and I started to slowly take it out of there. Turns out she was already awake, and she said it was all right, that it was sweet that I’d just been holding her. There you go...even unconscious, I’m still The World’s Most Romantic Man©...accept no substitutes. It’s a gift...

A year later, we were watching the movie
Milk. It’s about former San Francisco city/county Superintendent Harvey Milk, the first openly homosexual man elected to public office in the U. S. (He was assassinated in 1978, after just one year in office.) I was interested in the story because I’d been in college in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time.

The movie starts in 1970. Milk is living in New York at the time, and one day he’s going down the steps to get on a subway and he passes a guy he finds physically attractive, perhaps charismatic. He strikes up a conversation and ends up getting the guy to celebrate Milk’s birthday with him that evening. Milk said he didn’t want to be alone that evening, and it reminded me of the last time I was looking at being alone on my birthday; I ended up calling Alma for a second date and the rest is history. Anyhow, Milk and the other guy are kissing just minutes after first meeting each other; they don’t even know each other’s name yet. Later in the movie, after that relationship had ended, MIlk meets another guy and the same things happens again.

I got to thinking again about why it is that homosexual relationships, at least those between men but perhaps those between women as well, seem to move so quickly into the physical stuff. Years ago I was in the Chueca district of Madrid; it was known as a gay hangout. Scores of men would hang around in the plaza at night, meet someone, and then off they’d go together. I thought about it at the time, and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t take some time to get to know each other before having sex. Madrid didn’t seem to be intolerant of homosexuality, so there would be no need to rush into what others may feel was the illicit part of their relationship. I wondered if there was something about homosexual relationships that made them predominantly sexual encounters—perhaps simply that, both people being of the same sex, there was somehow less for each to find out about the other, less to misunderstand and less to mistrust, less to grow comfortable with.

Milk that night, it hit me. I may be mostly wrong, but it’s the best explanation I’ve been able to come up with. It’s because they’re both men! Most heterosexual men would love to have that kind of cut-to-the-chase encounter with women every night, but they’re forced to drag things out because women move more slowly. So if they’re both men, they’re both good to go right away. It’s unfortunate in a way because it must lead to a lot of short-term, one-dimensional relationships. During the time that a heterosexual man is working on getting a woman into bed, incompatibilities often come up that stop their relationship before it gets to the point of sex. Generally, that makes sex more meaningful when it does happen, simply because it’s with someone you’ve grown close to in a larger way.

However, if homosexual women move as quickly homosexual men, that would refute my explanation. I haven’t known or observed many lesbians, so I don’t know one way or the other.

Statistics...In all of life, I’ve had the feeling I call warmth for eight women and one man. I’ve loved three women but there were differences between those loves—one I loved fully; one, because I met her while I was traveling, I wasn’t able to be with long enough to come to fully love her; and one I came so close to loving that I have to call it love if I want to explain it in less than a thousand words. I’ve made love to a number of women, ranging from some casual encounters in my youth to some of the women for whom I felt friendship to some of the women for whom I felt warmth to all of the women for whom I felt love.

I was thinking about the best lovers and the best friends I’ve ever had. The best lovers are Charleen, Julie, and Alma; they had different styles and desires, but I loved them all and that makes them the best. But if I had to pick just one, purely as a lover, it would be Alma; if there’s a better lover on the face of the planet, I’ll almost certainly never be with her.

The best friends are Charleen, Alma, Lori ( a former coworker and a continuing friend of many years), and Karen ( a current
friend with privileges; she’s sweet but not just sweet, so if she reads this she’s going to be mad that she’s not on the list of best lovers). I simply didn’t know Julie long enough to include her. What makes them the best is that in one way or another we loved, or came close to loving, each other, and that we enjoyed simply being together, spending time together and doing things together.

There have been four times of surpassing sweetness in my life. The first occurred during my first picnic lunch with Charleen. We’d been coworkers for years, but it was only in the preceding year that I’d come to the brink of loving her; all that was left was for her to love me, too. At the time, I found it incredible that I’d come to love her based on so little knowledge of her, so narrow a slice of experience with her. It was only later that I came to know that love was all about, and only about, the way I resonate with a woman. That resonance meant I didn’t need to know a lot about her, I didn’t need to have a lot in common with her or for there to be certain things in her that complemented certain things in me in a way that somehow extended me, and I didn’t need to have spent a lot of time with her. I needed only to have a small set of experiences with her in order for that resonance to develop...or not to develop. At the time, it was beyond understanding, almost beyond belief— even though there it was—that I could have come to love someone, more than I’d ever loved anyone else, based solely on such a small amount of time together. There was just something about the nature of our time together, just the two of us...

Back to the picnic...We always took turns picking the restaurant for lunch. This time it was her turn, and she planned something different because we both knew this lunch was probably going to be different. First we went to a deli and got some sandwiches and beer to go. Then we went to a nearby park. She laid down a blanket and I was popping with anticipation. I can tell when something means a lot to me because I feel that anticipatory pull, and I felt it enormously then. After we ate, she lay back on the blanket. I don’t remember if she was looking up at the sky or if her eyes were closed. I looked at her and then I looked off into the distance...
at nothing, at everything. Then I lay down, partly beside her, partly on top of her. I put my arms around her and lay my head on her chest. Eventually I looked in her eyes and kissed her as gently as a kiss can possibly be. What I felt then was something I’d never felt before, but somehow I already knew exactly what it would be like. It was the archetype of love. Those four hours with her that afternoon were enough to make my entire life worthwhile, even if there had been nothing else good in any of it.

That time was a rite of passage into love. In those few hours I discovered how to really
feel...I discovered how deep things can be, how to make a real connection to something outside myself. It was fundamentally different than my love for my children because I’d always thought of my children as somehow not being entirely separate from me.

Later, I got a piece of athletic tape and wrote
JOLEEN, a contraction of John and Charleen, on it. I put in on the park’s entrance sign, right above where it said Rockbrook, and there it stayed for years.

The second time occurred in that same park with that same woman. It was night and we were cuddling, and suddenly I said the words I will never forget:
In my own quiet way, I love you. It was the first time I told her I loved her, and never before or since have I felt so full, so complete, so warm, and so in love. It was the single densest, most intense feeling I have ever known. Every sensory input was subdued then; the night was dark and quiet, neither too hot nor too cold, and when I touched her, it was in the softest and gentlest way possible. That time was the closest I’ve ever come to creating a work that is purely of the heart.

Those words just bubbled up from inside me then, the overflow of my heart. It was an absolutely magical moment, bringing together all that I had felt for her up until then, all that I felt for her at that very moment, and all that I knew in my heart I would feel for her forever. It was almost ineffably romantic, but in those eight words, I found a way.

I still remember
exactly how I felt then. And whenever I remember that time, I have that feeling again in some way. Like when you remember that Thanksgiving smell—you can kind of smell it even though it’s not there now.

The third time occurred with Julie, whom I met while I was in the third month of a year of traveling. It was on my last full day in the small town where she lived and worked in southcentral France. It was very hot and I’d been walking for hours over hilly terrain. Early in the afternoon, I went into a small store to get something cold to drink. I was pleased to find diet cola; all the other stores in town only had regular. I took one look at her behind the counter and felt

We talked a bit; her English was marginal and my French was limited to a few words I could string together without anything even approximating correct grammar. Then I left to continue my exploration of the town, but I soon found my way back for another diet cola...
the heat. We talked a bit more, and eventually I left to finish my exploration. Afterwards, I stopped by yet again, but this time it wasn’t for a drink, it was to see her. I asked if she’d care to show me some of her town, and she said she would but that she’d have to get someone to fill in for her at the store. She asked me to come back in half an hour. When I did, there was another woman with her behind the counter. I took that as a good sign, and it was. Off we went.

Not long after it got dark, we were standing by the side of the road, looking not at the surroundings but at each other. I was smiling and she was smiling. Neither of us was talking. Because of the difficulties of not having a shared language, it was so easy, so comfortable, for us just to look at each other. Sometimes I’d imagine what she might be thinking, or what I’d like her to be thinking. Then a smile seemed to slowly blossom on her face, as if it were some kind of exotic night-blooming flower, the kind that blooms once every hundred years and if you happen to see it one in your lifetime you’re unbelievably fortunate. It was the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen, and there are very few things about which I can say that one particular instantiation of them is the most beautiful I’ve ever encountered. I can’t say what it was that made her smile so beautiful. I suppose it just somehow fit perfectly into everything that was happening then. She reached up her hand and gently touched my lips, as if she were blind and were trying to tell by touch what my face looked like. She said, “Petit...garçon...sourire.” I knew those words...
little-boy smile. My heart melted then. I’d known her for only eight hours and already I was in what I later came to think of as the free fall of love. It’s as if you’ve just stepped off the roof of a tall building; you haven’t hit the ground yet, but you’re going to. Nothing else is necessary in order for that to happen—just time, and time isn’t really an ingredient, it’s simply the unfolding of what’s already there, in the way that a cup of hot water and some tea leaves eventually turn into a cup of tea. You can also think of it as the burn-in time required for a new archetype to replace the existing one.

I wonder how many more of those little boy smiles I have left in me. Or more accurately, how many of those smiles will be drawn out of me.

I think of her often. Someday I’ll go back to her town and see if she’s still there. The single greatest mistake of my life was that I didn’t either stay there with her or take her along with me. With Charleen, I made several mistakes, so I guess I’m improving. Then again, I was with Charleen a lot longer.

I’m going to digress a moment and talk about one of the mistakes I made with Charleen. At the time, we’d been living together for about five years. It was customary for us to take an evening walk through the neighborhood for exercise, and one evening she asked me if I ever thought about her and me getting married. I said no. It’s at this point in the story that, whenever I’m telling it to a woman, she always looks at me with something close to stunned disbelief, and whenever I’m telling it to a man, he always laughs. But the thing is, and I went on to explain this to Charleen, what I meant by
No was simply that I didn’t think about it. I could not have loved her more than I did then, and neither could I have loved anyone else more. I simply didn’t think about marriage because, for me, it would have added nothing to the love I felt for her. I couldn’t make her see that, though, and it was the beginning of the end for us. As for me, I should have been able to see that marriage would have added something for her, and I should have been able to see it before she asked me that question. If only she’d asked me if I wanted to get married...I’d have said yes. Not because it would have added something for me, but because I would have interpreted her words as I want us to be married and to be together forever. Do you?

The fourth time occurred when I was making love to Alma. The condom broke and I could tell that that had happened. I said I would get another one. She said, “No, stay with me.” I felt her arms around me, I looked into her eyes, and staying with her was as easy as anything I’ve ever done. Of her I’ve written, “It may look full to you, but the cup knows when it needs one last drop in order to really be full.” I would have given anything to have been able to fully love her...for my cup to have held that one last drop of warmth.
It was that close...

There have two images that, for me, are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in all of life. One was Charleen coming out of the ocean in St. Croix, 1997. She was wearing a silvery blue maillot and that presence of was absolutely glorious. It reminded me of Botticelli’s
The Birth of Venus, which I saw years later in the Galleria degli Uffizi.

The second was Alma’s face when we were dancing in an outdoor space at Oakbrook Center, 2008. I remember only her face, not what she was wearing, because that’s all I saw then...
tunnel vision.

The other day I happened to hear the Bruce Springsteen version of the song
Stay. I immediately thought of my early times with Charleen, when it was hard for us to find time to be together. Oh won’t you sta-a-ay, a-h-h-h, just a little bit lon-ger-er...please, please, please sta-a-ay, sa-ay you will...for the rest of my life would’ve been wonderful, beyond that would’ve been even better. I sang that song for several days, and whenever I got to the a-h-h-h part, I got my roguish smile going, like when I was trying to cajole her into a few more minutes together...just like that. Given my voice, it’s a good thing the Springsteen version doesn’t have all the high notes of the Frankie Valli original, but I was singing it my way anyhow, with a bit of a Caribbean flair similar to what Jimmy Buffett did with Van Morrison’s classic Brown-Eyed Girl. The other tune that always makes me think of her is Glenn Miller’s In the Mood. It’s old-fashioned but you’ve got to love anything that has a jammin’ beat like that. I request it whenever I’m in a lounge that has live piano music.

Then I got to thinking about the other songs I always associate with certain people. Eric Clapton’s
Wonderful Tonight always makes me think of Alma. It’s hands-down the most romantic song of all time, and she was hands-down the sexiest and most romantic thing I’ve ever seen in all of life; no one else is even close. She was sexy and romantic in a way that excited my body, my mind, my heart, and my soul. I also think of her whenever I hear George Harrison’s solo version of Here Come the Sun. She and I sang that song over Christmas 2007; I was playing it on my iPod and each of us was wearing one of the headphones and we were singing and dancing and smiling and laughing.

I’ve never particularly cared for French songs, but whenever I hear one I think of Julie and of our time together...walking at night in her town and, later, cozying up together in her house. We didn’t listen to any music together, but she was French so it’s a natural fit.

2921...that’s the total number days I had with Charleen, with Julie, and with Alma. It’s a long time for someone to be as happy as I was then. Most people don’t get even a fraction of that happiness in life. I’ll take 2922, though...