In the few years after Levi left for the Academy we grew close, something which surprised both of us in the process. After that New Year’s Eve he would continue to come home on random weekends. My sister was at university so it was just us two in the big house on Old Smoke Road after my parents would retire to bed. Levi and I would drive to the movie theater stopping at Dunkin Donuts on the way home, the only place still open. The trip took thirty minutes and in those accumulated hours we discovered just how confined, almost quarantined the other had felt growing up in the suburbs. We recognized each other’s anxiety. Once it was unearthed, Levi and I had each other’s backs. We knew each other’s driving force because it was our own.
And so, we both ended up the black sheep of the family. We both moved out of the country, Levi heading off to far crazier locations than I. It seemed that each act of our defying expectations would surpass the other’s last. Stealing the momentary focus from our parents, we divided up their worry and pressure. We were allies even though we barely saw one another.
The doorbell buzzed, a loud flat sound wave cutting through my concentration. I had moved into a flat share after leaving my husband. There were four of us. A set designer, a computer programmer, a scientist turned tour guide and me, artist, bar manager, foreigner… lost. The bell rang again. It was late on a Tuesday morning. I was home alone working on a drawing. I buzzed in the mundane mystery person, expecting a postman wanting me to sign for packages. Leaving the door ajar I returned to my workroom and stared at the drawing. It was almost done. I tended to go too far, not knowing quite when to stop until the moment was clearly past. A reclining figure’s eyes were turned downward, reading. She floated in space, Chagall-esque if he had only stuck to black rather than picking up pastels. I lost myself for a moment.
A deep voice filled the space behind me. “It’s done, don’t touch it.” I turned, stunned. There stood Levi. “I got stuck in Frankfurt flying back to Uzbekistan, so I thought I would pop over and check in on my little sister”. He had never been to Berlin, though I had lived there for seven years. The last time I had seen him was in Portugal with our parents, the year before. We fell back into our comfort zone like a book slipping back into its place on the shelf.
“Want to take a bike ride and drinks some beers in a park?”, I said. “As long as it’s not shitty Russian beer I’m happy”, he laughed. I stuck Levi on my roommate’s bike, far too small for his long legs. He clambered down the path beside me, giggling at himself. His laugh was like a child invader in that huge muscular body and highly intelligent mind. It was pure freedom and delight. I watched him and a hard rock appeared in my throat. I had never been so grateful for someone to come check in on me.
“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation… Love is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world for himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.” Rilke, from “Letters to a Young Poet/The Possibility of Being”
I had asked Levi to read these words five years earlier at my wedding. They read like a premonition now. I loved the person I was about to marry but he did not know the whole me. I needed him to, but I was too scared to pull back that same carpet, to show him that part of me which Rinny had shrunk down, that part of me which Hebron had taught me was impossible to be. That in-between me, neither straight nor gay, female nor male, right nor wrong, just Ali.
The end of our marriage began with my resentment for my husband’s ignorance. I started using my body like a teenager again. I cheated every chance I got and I hated that he didn’t notice, that he didn’t even suspect.