The artist, or aspiring artist, scopes out the lonely man by the curve of his limbs and the stoop of his shoulders, the spectacles sliding gradually down a hooked nose turned inward. He spots the secret smile of a beggar child who has just spied a stray kitten from underneath a pile of rubble and newspapers. He is always attuned to the quiet moments of contemplation. He can recall the reddish tinge of passion on flushed cheeks and preserve the memory long enough to recreate it with peach and violet hues.
The artist views his art as a more exalted form of reality. The details do not escape us, rather, the details are what we find most captivating, for it is the details that distinguish one person from another. Taking time to truly observe the form of a man — how he sits, whether his eyes meet yours, whether he clenches his fist or lets his fingers fall — all of this lends insight into who he is. Henry Miller once wrote that “to paint is to love again, live again see again…” The artist and the writer both observe the bald patches on the head of a man on medication for his alcoholism; one traces the smoothness of the exposed cranium, the other wonders how it feels as the hair comes off in his hands – gently? all at once?
Compassion is born from attention to detail.
I think the reason we never worked was because I was so similar to his family. I was just another person who read a great deal, engaging in what he deemed “solitary activities,” reading, drawing, and the like. Poor boy, he just wanted to be loved for who he was, without being bound to some standard. He once said that he was afraid of reading a story of mine because he knew how much his opinion meant, and he “didn’t want that kind of pressure.” I understand. We were happiest when we were in our rawest form, simply enjoying the warmth and tenderness of each other’s bodies. But distance is too great a burden for that kind of love because that kind of love desires and requires proximity. One day I will write a book, and I will turn him into a character, and he will exist within a different dimension, perhaps perpetually eighteen. We grew within our love as well as without it, and it has shaped us like sitting shrinks the spine. We withdrew into ourselves to better understand what it meant to care about somebody so different from ourselves. But “loves asks for some of the future,” as Camus wrote, and love transcendeth not all barriers. I will always miss pressing my face against the warmth of his smooth cheek, and feeling the soft, fragile skin around his eyes and lids. It still surprises me, grieves me even, at times, to think that I will never touch him again.
The hardest thing about first love is the fact that you grow with it. It is like a wooden pole that supports a young plant; as it grows the plant’s leaves curl around it and they exist as one entity. It is like a metal insert placed inside a broken joint; in a few months the cartilage has melded to it and it is indistinguishable from the rest of the limb. What was once important remains eternally important if it changed you irrevocably at a certain point in time. In retrospect, one grows to feel almost as if this first pain of love were as vital as an organ donation.