“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; 35
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, 40
Öd’ und leer das Meer.
-The Waste Land, The Burial of the Dead, T.S. Eliot
It was late. Even as I write this – it is late – the late when the edges of the night intertwine with the beginnings of the morning; silent coldness. I remember that garden. And every morning, I sit here in my room, hearing the breathing, all too familiar now, a mechanistic thing lying on her side, only to wake in two hours and begin the day with, “I’ll put coffee on, but you really do need to take out the trash.”
It is only during these hours in solitude that I can remember the flowers and the leaves from the garden, the wet grass from the night’s goodbye and the soft smell of melting, which is when you came to me. You stood there, and I handed you the flowers – the blue hyacinths – you took them from me, and as we walked along the soft grounds, you whispered, “Should we go look at the fountain?” We walked to the fountains, your hair still wet, and me, glancing at you from the corners of my eyes, pretending that I was leading you but really just listening to your slow footsteps behind me. And we would sit near that fountain, on overgrown benches, lost behind last year’s leaves and this year’s moss, and you held those flowers close to you and said, “I think these will look nice in my room.”
You looked at me with your wet hair and your eyes, waiting, waiting for me. I was silent. I could not speak. It was the silence that filled me, inflating, a fear, I knew nothing. I had nothing. My words emptied, and I searched somewhere in the memories, somewhere inside me, and I could not find them. In short, I was afraid. I was ashamed. As I looked into you – heart of light – I had nothing but silence.
Thirty years later, and I am an old man with unstirred desires and a handful of old regrets, what’s left after thirty years of slow understanding, a prize for my ambitions. I do not recognize the woman asleep next to me, and my memory fails me even as I try to retrace the way you looked at me, your eyes staring and waiting, and my words, lost. Were you really there, waiting for me? Could I have held you, had you, been with you, or is that, too, an old memory stirring wasted, empty thoughts of a desperate man, regretful man. I do not know. I do not know. Wisdom plays chess with selective memory.
But you had stood there, your arms full, the flowers I had given you cradled like a child, and you had looked at me. In that sliver of time, which moves in one direction, the moments became irretrievable, like one moment lost after another, one word unsaid after another. The most terrifying thing of all – love – to say it, to actualize it, is to create a thing that can be lost by the pure existence of the thing itself; which is to say, we cannot lose what we do not have. And I looked at you, looked into you – heart of light – and I was silent. Old man with old regrets. Sliver of time after another. Where have you gone, my hyacinth girl?
I lie awake, my eyes on the ceiling, listening to the thumping breathing beside me (who will wake up and say, “Well, it’s another day. What should we have for dinner later?”). Wasted, deceitful memories, tiresome things, stirring the dead desires of the past of old men.
When we looked at the fountains, you had brushed my arm with your arm, and you whispered, “Is that a blackbird there? Drinking that pool of water?” And you laughed, and in your laugh, you said to me, “Forgive yourself, my dear, forgive yourself. Time only moves in one direction.” I look at you, now in my memory, and retrace the steps you took behind me, holding the flowers in the mossy woods near the fountain, sitting on the bench next to me, laughing and whispering, “Is that a blackbird there…”.