|March 21, 1993|
You might have figured I'm going to ask you a question soon, a question offered on one knee, a question involving jewelry, a question about a big commitment. There is something I think you should know.
Normally, the idea is to get some friend to tell my secrets so they don't come from me, like my passion for domestic felines. In case you didn't like cats, I had Dorothy ask you about them so I could plan my strategy in case you were a cat hater. Fortunately, that wasn't a problem and I figure your cats and my cats will learn to like each other.
This time I can't do that because nobody knows about my night woman and our relationship of twenty years. Maybe it's a secret I could have kept to my grave, but I'm not sure I want it kept from somebody who might (I haven't asked the question yet) be my wife. Besides, it has to occur to you sooner or later that I never went on a date for two decades, showed up single at every social function for two decades, and yet am passionate about women in general and you in particular. From your comments the other night, you had to wonder how I knew so much about how to make you happy if I hadn't done it before.
It started with a piece of paper under my door in 1971 with a telephone number on it, just a single telephone number. Maybe I would be more cautious today with the World Trade Center car bombing last month, but things were easier in 1971 and I called the number. She explained that she wanted a relationship by night, entirely in darkness. She pointed out she hadn't seen me except from the back in a coat, so we were even on that score, I hadn't seen her and she hadn't seen me.
At first I was skeptical, was this some kind of gimmick? She said maybe it was, but she wanted to try a relationship that wasn't about what somebody looked like. I figured maybe it will last a month, maybe six, it's worth a try. I had the basement office on East 11th Street with no windows, so I told her I'd like to see what happens and we arranged to meet in complete darkness.
We were children of the sixties and free love, and that's what we did. There may not have been much love, but there was plenty of sex in that dark room the first night. Like you, Natalie, she was slender and fit and athletic and, like you, Natalie, she treated sex like an sporting event. I figured it was a one-time thing, pitch-black passion, but we came back a few more nights for a few more rounds, all in the complete darkness. I didn't see her in the light. She was my night woman.
After the first few meetings, we did more than grab each other's private parts. We talked about weather and the subject of travel came up. She asked me what I liked about France. I was about to say the Louvre and all the art, and then I realized this was a test of my commitment to the terms of our relationship. I talked about the taste of fine French wines, an experience and enthusiasm she shared.
Other travel discussions were about the smells of Italian cooking, the sounds of concert halls, and the feel of the ocean at the beach. She was well read and I've been to the library a few times myself, so we talked about literature and philosophy and music and even some pop-science. We really didn't need sight to fulfill ourselves together.
Sometimes one of us would memorize enough of an article or book to recite to each other in the darkness until we discovered audio books on tape. We often listened to a chapter and discussed it just as normal people do in lit lives. (As logical as reading Braille books seems, neither of us got into it.) We kept making love as we fell in love as months became years.
I love the part in A Wrinkle in Time where Aunt Beast says we humans worry too much about what things look like and not enough about what things are like. Was not seeing her and her not seeing me a more real experience for us? No, that wasn't it. We both led full, sighted lives, seeing just wasn't part of us together. We shared four senses instead of five and we decided to be happy with that.
I began to understand my night woman's frustration. She was a beautiful woman used to being shown off by boyfriends. It's fun being drop-dead gorgeous (and I'm flattered when you lie and say that about me), but she felt it would be nice to be appreciated for something else, or at least that's what she said. After a year, we found ourselves enjoying our time together with the comfort of a couple past intimacy and deeply in love. I put anterooms on both office doorways so we could enter and exit on our respective sides without ever seeing each other.
One time there was a spark of static electricity and I thought I saw her ankle in the flash. For about a month I fantasized about seeing more of her, how beautiful her ankle looked, and what the rest of her must look like. I realized this was taking away from our four-sense romance and I also realized that I really had no idea what that ankle had looked like in the brief instant of illumination. If somebody arranged a five-ankle line-up at the police station, I doubt my chances of picking my night woman were any better than one in five. My obsession with her appearance faded away with time, but it had been a serious distraction to me.
Since there wasn't ever anybody else in our dark room, we never called each other by any names. Any speech was to be shared with the room's only other inhabitant, so my night woman never had a name. Until now, I've never told anybody about her, so there was no reason to refer to her. Maybe she was Sally or Sarah, maybe Annabelle or Ashley, maybe Yvette or Yolanda. I never asked if she had other companionship in her lit life and never offered any kind of monogamy to her. She kept me quite satisfied, so I never looked elsewhere. Frankly, I felt above the whole dating scene with my secret night woman to keep me happy.
Our dark relationship lasted twenty years. We never defined terms of our relationship or how it would end. I guess I figured she would get tired of me and stop showing up, or maybe I would find other satisfactions and come less often.
It didn't end that way. I noticed a gurgling sound in her breathing and a different feel in her body, even different tastes and smells. She was not well and she didn't offer a lot of details. I pointed out that a twenty-year romance isn't asking a lot to share the last few unpleasant months, but she would have none of it. She said she had two cats die, both spent their last evenings in her lap and both went somewhere private to end their lives. Dr. Suess said, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."
After our last couple of weeks with her illness, we agreed not to see each other again. She said she might go into some great remission and find romance in her lit life and I was to look for romance in mine. I found you, Natalie, my day-and-night woman, for what I hope will be the rest of our lives.
Funny, but neither of us wanted to turn the lights on when we parted. I'm sure she was beautiful. I never really had a picture in my mind, just the four senses we shared. We both wanted it to end that way after twenty years.
So here I am, forty-five years old and falling in love with a beautiful woman for the first time, but not my first time in love. If that makes me unsuitable consort, I'll understand. It's a strange story and one I've never told before.
On the other hand, I had a relationship for twenty years. That has to be a good sign for us.
I want you to have thought about this when I get down on my knee and put a ring in front of you. I want you to know what you're getting and I want you to be sure in your choice. I also know I want to gaze upon you in the light now and for a long time to come.
Yours in love,
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