Romance cannot be said to be synonymous with love. This much should be quite clear to the average American. Recall hot fumbling evenings in strange beds with strange people, heart pounding exhilaration at what feels preposterous and euphoric at once, giving yourself to the one you don't know, and will never know. Frequently, the smell of alcohol emanates from the bed and congress is stymied by a kind of lack of experience. Trudging over new terrain, over which you shall not pass again, footing is lost, you become bogged down by the combination of the natural (oh, so natural) act of walking and by seeing a new place at once. It is romance, devoid of knowing love, and an indispensable experience. One trips and falls and finally rolls out of that foreign place never to return.
No, romance is not the same as love, nor can romance even be said to be the child of love. Romance has no father. No matron. Romance was born of blood itself and has existed since the beginning of time, a contemporary of love, and occasionally a bedfellow of love, but unrelated.
The marriage of love and romance (romantic-love) must then be set apart from love and romance themselves. My words here are redundant in the sense that all humans are required, under threat of being robbed of the title "human," to have understood these things before almost any other. Yet, still, this frequently unsaid but commonly known thing bears repeating. Take note, poets and lyricists: you sell a lie when you write "love" where you mean "romance" or "romantic-love." I would be much obliged if you could find your way to correcting this maddening mistake. Generations have been thrown briefly astray by this.
I've known a lot of love. I've known a little romance, here and there, spread across the expanse of Colorado, in mountains and seedy apartments and in the backs of parked cars. I've also, precisely once, known romantic-love.
Love trumps romance, and the notion of romantic-love. But romantic-love trumps romance, in turn, and yields an almost unworldly set of gifts, almost completely unrelated to those extracted from love.
Here... let me tell you.
It's about what you can see. What you watch another person do.
She sits on the brown carpet floor, which needs to be vacuumed soon, in a pale, thin, blue night-tank-top, a garment which you are sure has a proper name that eludes you. Her blue shorts ("booty shorts," perhaps they're called) you bought her in Panama City Beach, Florida. The bottom of the shorts, obscuring her own bottom, is studded with tiny diamondesque rhinestones in the shape of a pair of flip-flop sandals, and in the shape, below that, of the words "Panama City Beach." The shape of her butt causes the letters in the middle to be pulled slightly from view, thus: "Panam Beach." One of her legs is extended, her left one, out before her and to the left slightly, right leg tucked in close to her body, laying evenly on the floor. Before her, a 14"x11" painting canvas rests flat upon the brown, unvacuumed field. She's commandeered a blue plastic cup that you have been drinking from since you were maybe ten years of age, filled it with water, and rinses her paintbrushes in its contents. Oily pigment collects on the rim's edge, creating a bizarre rainbow all the way about the circumference. She has a palate of disposable wax-paper sheets to the right of the canvas, and a few smudges of paint have been squeezed out there, in no certain alignment, but neatly, anyway. You don't know anything about painting, but it occurs to you that she is conservative with the material. You've been told that it was expensive, but it occurs to you that you would spend all you had on paint for her if she wanted it. Her lips are pursed at times, and she sits back frequently, cocking her head slightly to one side, looking at the thing. The brushes move in ways that make you at once envious and, in some sense, proud. "I'm in love with a painter," you think. No. Wait. "I'm in love with a woman who paints." Perhaps this is closer, and you wish she would paint more because there is a glow of serenity coming off of her face, which isn't smiling physically, but appears happy, undistracted, even hypnotized. You're not allowed to look at the canvas. She insists upon these things, and thrives on surprises and big finishes. Excitement to see the finished work pales in comparison to the Godly painting of the girl as she works. It's as if you aren't there, and seconds in a row, or even sometimes minutes, can be stolen away from time staring at her without so much as an upward glance from the woman. Venus. Venus. Venus! You love to watch her paint.
You lay stretched across the bed. She is folding her laundry. This is a thing of unrivaled beauty. Tanned skin protrudes from her simple blue shirt, and these arms never seem to stop moving. Sometimes, in moments like these, there is passing conversation. What should you make for dinner? What should we do to pass our evening? What will the weather be like on the morrow? But the most elegant and picturesque minutes are those in which you don't say a thing, and she doesn't reply. She folds laundry at a rate that appears, at first glance, manic, but her brilliant eyes seem to exude caution, care and a cooling calm. They don't dart about, like her arms and hands, frantic and disoriented. They operate with precision, selecting the next garment from the cluttered pile of clean clothing sitting next to you, and focusing on it as if it were the only thing in the world, until it has been folded and placed away on a hanger or in a drawer. Each drawer is opened and closed a number of times, and in this way and others she appears to act as a machine, programmed to do these things in the most particular of ways, all this closing and opening of drawers. You are entranced by this. You think to yourself, sometimes, that this is "zen." This is the relinquishing of the self, and of the world, and the surrender to nature. It is as though she is disappearing in her action, and the contradiction between her manic arms and her zen face create something that seems impossible. She dissolves, and ceases to be, and becomes the act of folding, the way she does when painting. Only briefly, you're distracted by thought about how you, yourself, fold clothes. Oafishly. The drawers hang open until they absolutely must be closed. No fold is exactly like the subsequent or prior, and your eyes betray impatience. Short movements with the feet, and no motion seeming deliberate but instead labored and exhausted. No hint of zen when you fold. A weird feeling, to wish you could fold clothes like another, but you feel it. The moments when she disappears into the closet to hang a blouse upon a hangar next to its myriad brethren, you wish she would come back, or perhaps that you had chosen a better vantage point, from which you could watch the dresser and the hangars at once. You despise her absence from your eyes. When she returns, you feel warm with no blanket and safe with no lock and this, you think, is better than Broadway. You love to watch her fold clothes.
It's two o'clock in the morning. She's in bed and you're awake. Many nights, you can't sleep, as the world rushes past the mind's eye many times over in the span of minutes. You go to look at her. Not to wake her, but to just see her. A heavy blanket and a soft sheet cover her, and she appears snuggled and quiet. Her eyes are closed, and the light shining dimly into the room from above the kitchen stove gives your eyes just enough leeway to see her face. In sleep, she looks more like a child. Skin is softer and her freckles, which are sparse, appear somehow to contrast more heavily than they do in daylight. Seraphim. Burning angel. You can feel from two feet away the heat of her sleeping form. She's pushed the covers down slightly below her chest in her sleep, and despite her hair being tied up tightly behind her, whisps and tendrils of dark brown drape themselves here and there across her forehead, around her ears, and even in one case down to her upper lip. Noticing her lips, you desire to kiss her, but refrain. Her eyelids twitch every few seconds, and she is dreaming. She's unraveled. No longer a woman, but only now the substantial act of dreaming. She is half smiling. You know it is not just an effect of the way the pillow tugs slightly at the skin on her face, because the half of the smile appears on the side of her mouth opposite the pillow. Every now and then her nose wrinkles itself up, offended by some itch or odor, and you can see at those moments the tiny dimples on the end of either side of her nose. You believe that this is sleeping beauty, and denounce any prior impostors. As if through some ethereal osmosis, your eyelids become heavy from hers, and you feel heat washing down your skin in waves. Everything is slow and perfect and the only person you could ever imagine sharing a second like this with is her. At these thoughts, your mind drifts to the metaphysical, and you imagine yourself in her dream. In her dreams, in your mind, you are unworthy and afraid to speak lest you disturb an atom in her body. All things defer to her calm, and her glance silences the storms of man and earth. You venture a kiss. One kiss. A peck.
You venture a tiny little kiss on her forehead. When your lips touch her flesh, you can smell her. Sweet. Very subtly sweet. This is romantic-love. You love to watch her sleep.
There are degrees and variations to love and romance. I could only know these degrees and variations in totum when I found the one I loved to watch.
This is for Jera.