To someone and for someone

Love to me was being a responsible person. To someone and for someone.

from “An Oral History of Love in Contemporary America: Selections from Us #3

There’s a picture of me on a friend’s camera (Or there was? I’m not sure if it’s still there) from last summer. I was getting ready to leave his apartment, tossing things into a handbag as quickly as I could and making other things small enough to fit into another tote without having to hassle myself with folding, all the while trying to make sure I didn’t forget anything (I still managed to forget my toothbrush), as the drill usually goes when you’re moving from one place to another over the course of a few weeks. There was a train to catch and a few blocks to walk before that. And he said, “Alice,” and as soon as I turned around I heard a click.

“Deer in the headlights. I love it.”

Before that we were talking about breakfast, about the agenda for the day while relishing the lack of an agenda. I just had to catch the train back, he was enjoying the last of the weekend. I was enjoying not knowing what we were or what I was doing there or what I would be doing next.

“You’re welcome to stay longer,” he said. Still, I didn’t. I don’t know what part of sticking to a plan while not really having one factors into our responsibility to other people. The best part of being on vacation is usually that commitment to myself and to what I know I want to do. And even before he asked, I had already quietly promised myself that I would leave by noon and play the rest of the day by ear without him.

A lot has been written about love, but I just happened to start reading about it with Raymond Carver, and grown to appreciate the dynamics expressed about relationships in his stories – two people, claustrophobic tension coupled with a comfortable inertia, alcohol – these are just some of the things that regularly figure into Carver’s work. Two people together create a separate identity from the individual selves they regularly present to the world, and this in itself is a responsibility. How do you sustain that identity, enjoy living in its skin, and building on it until it eventually takes over what you previously wore? I wrote that summer about having no use for an identity I’d eventually leave behind the minute I packed up and said my goodbyes, but while transience poses these kinds of conflicts, they add to you, too. Those pictures on other people’s cameras are just part of the equation.

Being three months on the side of a mountain with somebody twenty-four/seven, you better get along. When you live in a truck… I mean, we’d go to bed and one turn over, the other turn[s] over. That’s the way it was. Because the bed was only so wide.

I didn’t know what I was doing there. I mean, I did, and I didn’t. I just knew I was there for myself with someone else. I liked who I was with him, but I usually like who I am with other people. I didn’t know who I’d be for him, or for anyone. I’m used to being a teacher or any other job title I’ve adopted over the past couple of years. I’m used to work. I date, I have fun, I go home and work some more. It’s nowhere near as melodramatic as it sounds here, it is what it is: and what it is is just another way to live. When we only have one life to live, the people we give our time to become as much of an investment as our careers and our education. They are part of our education and pictures can testify to what we learned.

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