Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On Keeping Turtles

There is a joke I love that, among my friends, only the German has heard of. It goes something to the effect of: "A boy asks his father, what does the world rest on? The boy's father answers, On a turtle. What does the turtle rest on? the boy then asks. Why, it's turtles all the way down! replies the father."

Tonight I am kept company by 3 turtles and tortoise. The boy(friend), in the throws of a chaotic move, asked rather innocently if he could spend the night, to which I didn't hesitate to answer: Yes! Then he asks if his two room-mates, and their combined menagerie of reptilian pets, could also shack-up. To this I was less eager, but still agreed to host this rather strange assortment of house-guests.

That was last night. Tonight, the turtles and the tortoise remain, while the boy(friend) and his room-mates are passed out in their new apartment. Or, are about to smoke a joint, and then pass out. Two days of moving, both nights ending in the dead of night (4.30am and 1.30am respectively), must be wholly taxing, and I didn't see any point in insisting they evacuate their hard-shelled companions. Plus, how intrusive can a turtle or tortoise be?

I was nervous about the slumber-party, though, mostly because I live in a studio apartment and these two ostensibly straight boys would be laying at our feet on the floor while he and I were in bed. I asked him if he would be ok with it, as he has a tendency to withdraw displays of affection, or even erotic recognition, when in the company of his friends. He acknowledged that it would be a little weird, and admitted he would probably be "distant," but I had no problem with that, and knowing where he was coming from allowed me to check my expectations. Though, it is hard to be in a bed with him and not want to pull him as close as physically possible. Still, when I reached for his hand under the pillow, he didn't hesitate to receive it into his own palm, and we fell asleep like this. In the morning, he seemed less constrained by the gaze of his room-mates, and I found myself welcomed into his curled body as we all struggled to resist waking-up.

I did find myself, however, bitching a bit about the hectic nature of their move. This is, I suppose, typical of me. But it is also typical of my father, and that gave me pause. Inherently there is nothing wrong with these boys moving when and how they can. Not able to afford a moving truck they were at the mercy of their friends' schedules. It is conceivable that one could blame it on poor planning, but what is gained by such a move? What is done is done, so far as I'm concerned, and I wasn't really inconvenienced. They are all polite, graciously thanking me for the place to crash and for looking over their pets.

What had me going, no doubt, was that my time was suddenly not my own, or at least it wasn't predictable. They didn't know how long it would take to move, nor could they calculate traffic or when their friend would arrive. I can't hold any of that against them. And, perhaps most importantly, I'm not the first person they should be thinking of as they are hauling boxes up stairs and lifting couches onto SUV travel racks. I wouldn't be giving the person in my position hourly updates, that's for damn sure. Instead I'd be complaining about how tired I was, and probably getting irritable and cranky.

I suppose, in a manner of speaking, this was a tangible metaphor for what starting a relationship is like. Someone comes into your life, asks something of you to which you assent, and then you are forced to adjust to the new topos of your life: your time is no longer exclusively your own, your space is no longer exclusively your own, but you want it this way, even if it doesn't seem natural or easy at first.

I haven't been in a relationship in a good 2 years, and it's been the same length of time since I've shared my space in any sustained manner. I've gotten used to living alone, having things in the places I want them to be, and to have those things be mine. I'm used to a work schedule, or a class schedule, or my own defined schedule structuring my day. I'm not used to interruptions that don't carry the obligatory valence of work. But I _chose_ to have him interrupt me, and I love it. I chose to be unsettled by him because I wouldn't want it any other way.

So tonight, when his room-mate called to ask if they could leave their aquarium-encased pets in my apartment for another night I didn't think twice before saying, Yes, of course. I called the boy(friend) shortly thereafter, just to make sure that the room-mate was simply being polite and asking on his own behalf (I was also asked to turn off the light over one of their tanks so the turtle wouldn't get confused). In fact, this was exactly the case, which I think speaks well of the room-mate (he asks for what he wants in his own voice), and speaks to my own standing in the little world of their friendship: I now get called as though I, too, were a friend. (When, incidentally, does one cease to be "as if a friend" and simply become "a friend"?) The order of the day was congratulations for moving into their new place, and so I left it at that. There is always plenty of time to sort out details, so I let them simply enjoy the satisfaction of completing a near epic move and wished them a good night in their new home.

The boy(friend) and I spoke for a good time, with relatively concrete plans to transport this live cargo to their new apartment tomorrow with the possibility of a trip to "the gay beach" with the Barrister in the offing. It is strange: I both want him too close, and a little too distant. Too close allows him to become one of my objects in my world, a "piece" I can fit into the predictability of my days, account for, calculate, rely on. On the hand, too distant allows me to collapse the erotic tension that I can barely stand (to be without). I am taking my cues from him, though, mostly because he has a life he lives, and so do I. I love that he is not abandoning his own little world for me, because it allows me to reciprocate, which is ultimately what I want to do: to keep my world, and to have him keep his, and to create out of the two, a little world of our own. He doesn't know, I'm sure, how much thinking I put into this, though perhaps that is unfair of me to assume: perhaps he can well imagine how much I think about this, because he, too, is thinking about it. In moments of anxiety I may trend towards paranoiac obsessional neurosis, but I am becoming increasingly adept at hypostatizing those currents and getting some critical distance on them. As it has happened thus far, in the time it takes me to effect such a move, he calls, and his call confirms the work I did to halt the free-fall of my anxiety.

I'd really like to spend 4th of July with him. I think it would be romantic to watch fireworks together, drink chilled white wine on the edge of the lake, and fall a little bit harder and deeper for one another. It is wholly conceivable, however, that obligations to his band-mates or family will intervene. But I'm not thinking about that. At least, not too much. Should that be the case, I won't make it a referendum on our relationship, nor about competing loyalties. It would be foolish, and arrogant. It would betray whatever trust I have in him to speak honestly to me, which he has always done thus far. Not always when I want to hear it, but then, truths are not things that can be forced or demanded, no matter how desperately one feels their need. I learned this, of course, through practical experience, but I recently experienced it lyrically demonstrated in Murakami's "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle"--the book he said I had to read. The book I did read, and am grateful for having read. Read/Read: the same word, but it points in both temporal directions simultaneously, distinguished only by context. Perhaps love, too, is like this word.

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