The Blue Notebook
[Another heavy black line. Then:]
The reason why I don’t want to write this is because I have to fight to write about sex. Extraordinary how strong this prohibition is.
I am making this too complicated — too much about the meeting. Yet Nelson and I would not have so easily been in communion without having shared all that experience, even though it had been in different countries. On that first evening he stayed late. He was courting me. He was talking about me, the sort of life I led. And women always respond at once to men who understand we are on some kind of frontier. I suppose I could say that they ‘name’ us. We feel safe with them. He went up to see Janet, sleeping. His interest in her was genuine. Three children of his own. Married for seventeen years. His marriage a direct consequence of his having fought in Spain. The tone of the evening was serious, responsible, grown-up. After he left I used the word — grown-up. And I matched him against the men I’ve been encountering recently (why?), the men-babies. My spirits so high I cautioned myself. I was marvelling, again, how easy it is, living deprived, to forget love, joy, delight. For nearly two years now, the disappointing encounters, one emotional snub after another. I had drawn in my emotional skirts, become guarded in my responses. Now, after one evening with Nelson I had forgotten all that. He came to see me next day. Janet just on her way out to play with friends. Nelson and she instantly friendly. He was speaking as more than a potential lover. He was leaving his wife, he said, needed a real relationship with a woman. He would come that evening ‘after Janet was asleep’. I loved him for the sense of the ‘after Janet was asleep’ and the understanding of the sort of life I have. When he came that evening he was very late, and in a different mood — garrulous, talking compulsively, his eyes darting everywhere, never meeting mine. I felt my spirits sink; it was from my own sudden nervousness and apprehension that I understood, before my mind understood it, that this was going to be another disappointment. He talked of Spain, of the war. He was condemning himself, as he had at the meeting, breast-beating, hysterical, for taking part in the Communist Party betrayals. He said that innocent people had been shot, through him, though he had not believed at the time they were innocent. (Yet as he spoke of this, the feeling kept going through me: he’s not really sorry, not really; his hysteria and the noise is a defence against feeling, because it’s too terrible, the guilt he would have to feel.) He was also at moments, very funny, with the American self-punishing humour. At midnight he left, or rather slunk off, still talking at the top of his voice, looking guilty. He talked himself out, so to speak. I began thinking about his wife. But I wouldn’t admit what my instincts told me quite clearly was wrong. Next morning, unannounced, he came back. I couldn’t recognize him as the loud hysterical man — he was sober and responsible and humorous. He took me into bed and then I knew what was wrong. I asked him if it was always like this. He was disconcerted (and this told me more about his sex relationships than anything) that I frankly spoke about it while he tried to pretend he didn’t understand me. Then he said he had a mortal terror of sex, could never stay inside a woman for longer than a few seconds, and had never been different. And I saw, from the nervous, instinctively repulsive haste with which he moved away from me, the haste with which he dressed, how deep was his fear. He said he had started psycho-analysis, expected to be ‘cured’ soon. (I could not help wanting to laugh at the word ‘cured’ which is how people talk, going into psycho-analysis, the clinical talk, as if one were submitting finally to a desperate operation that would change one into something else.) Afterwards, our relationship had changed — a friendliness, a trust. Because of the trust, we would go on seeing each other.