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April 6, 2011

Not leaving

You may well wonder why I wanted Boris at all, a man who tells his still-wife that he's shacking up with his new squeeze for "practical reasons", as if this shocking new arrangement is simply a matter of New York real estate. I wondered why I wanted him myself. Had Boris left me after two years or even ten, the damage would have been considerably less. Thirty years is a long time, and a marriage acquires an ingrown, almost incestuous quality, with complex rhythms of feeling, dialogue and associations. We had come to the point where listening to a story or anecdote at a dinner party would simultaniously prompt the same thought in our two heads, and it was simply a matter of which one of us would articulate it first. Our memories had also begun to mingle. Boris would swear up and down that he was the one who came upon the great blue heron standing on the doorstep of the house we rented in Maine, and I am just as certain that I saw the enormous bird alone and told him about it. There is no answer to the riddle, no documentation - just the flimsy, shifting tissue of remembering and imagining. One of us had listened to the other tell the story, had seen in his or her mind the encounter with the bird, and had created a memory from the mental images that accompanied the heard narrative. Inside and outside are easily confused. You and I. Boris and Mia.
- From The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt.

Siri Hustvedt's The Summer Without Men starts with Boris leaving Mia, and follows Mia's summer of interacting only with women. It's about mothers and daughters, old friends, new friends, and the cruelty of teenage girls. And it's about what happens when your Most Important Person over the last thirty years just leaves.

I haven't known anyone for thirty years, for obvious reasons. But as always, Hustvedt's characters seem so real that I find myself relating to them anyway. I told my mom - who's known my dad since they were seventeen - the story of the heron, and she could relate.

And I can certainly understand the feeling of losing part of yourself when you lose an Important Person. Or rather, feeling like you can't let that person go, because even if you never see them again, your personalities are so entwined that they will always be with you - in your memories, your associations, your tastes, in the way your mind works.

In another book I recently read, love was defined like this: "Love means not leaving." Maybe it is that simple.

More posts about Hustvedt's books:

Image: icanread

Posted by Julie at April 6, 2011 10:51 AM

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