Dear, darling Dorothea, the world deserves no less than truth, a transparent portrait of our relationship, though I doubt its essence will be apprehended by most. Not amid today’s din of cynicism will many hear nor among the cloudbursts of vapid images will they see. In spite of this, I shall try. You merit no less. If posterity judges these words unbelievable, hold me in contempt of its court. A lifetime of their disbelief would be unequal to another moment with you. There are those who experience the world as you and I did. And they will understand. You were my gift; my god; my hardship; my warmth in winter; my evening lullaby. Day began and night ended with you, Dorothea. You were ecstasy and hell, originality and convention, reality and delusion. I again know what life means without you and will beckon your spirit until we are joined. Without me, you will not rest in peace, as I am in a state of war without you. Mine, mine, forever mine.
From our first breaths in each other’s presence, we were brutal in love and hatred. I can envision easily a scenario in which I never again spoke to the ill-mannered girl whom I met in that foul café, its chic soundtrack and nouveau riche customers. On the floor, leading to a flowery patio, I see the painted sign still, “This way—East—to Eden,” the same as we would someday have it. Why had I gone there? I do not know. I was a married man and did not eat or drink. I was alone, in fact, but not for much longer. A sheer white blouse exposed your tiny breasts. Had I a daughter, she would have been your age; and if you were she, I would have enveloped you in my arms and carried you away, cradling you homeward. But this was a mistake, was it not? I should have stopped you then, because you would never cover yourself, would you, Dorothea, regardless of my asking. You were discovered bra-less in that mangled mess, wearing a revealing skirt, and I hate to think what other garment you had chosen to go without. Listen to me: a silly, clichéd old man complaining of his young lover’s dress. I objected because I was jealous and was jealous because I loved you and the thought of there being another was enough to kill me. Perhaps, it was the style, and as you would say, you had little to show. But in my nightmares, Dorothea, you are seduced by an angel. You wore that afternoon, besides your tasteless blouse, tight-fitting blue pants and fading blue slip-ons. They will not believe my description of your face: its subtly thin cheeks, your plump lower lip slightly larger than the upper one, and vortical brown eyes. Then and there I wished I had never seen you.
I sent you an iced coffee, which you refused, attempted to meet your glance, but you turned your head. Was it my age, sweetheart? You saw my gray hair, the smattering of liver spots on my forehead and dismissed me as another horny codger, of this I am certain. But unlike those others, you allowed me to change your mind. I gathered my belongings, a vibrating phone and peacenik leaflet I was handed on the street, and introduced myself. You were eating a cherry scone from a chipped purple saucer. Crumbs were falling from your wiggling fingers as your head rose from behind the computer screen and you said hello without offering your name. For this I would have to wait. My girl, it is possible to know our destinies, in patterns repeating endlessly, signs and symbols making themselves more known in time. Surely you remember not allowing me to kiss your fingertips or taste the tip of your tongue or smooch the velvety pits of your arms until you, Dorothea, had decided otherwise. You recall, you must. Because of us, I no longer believe in coincidences. You were a painter, had disavowed materialism and formal education—yes, yes, anything you say, love, only tell me your name—rarely watched television and would not stand for the pledge. I was what you should have detested—a small businessman who abandoned his craft, putting a son through school, poorly hiding his wedding band beneath a thumb, and desperate to hear that precious word. Clumsily some worker took your dish away, fumbling it in one hand before gaining control of it with two. You followed him with your eyes, then sneezed into your hand and rubbed it along your pant leg. Apologetically, I confess to not remembering the very moment you said “Dorothea,” not your expression, the sound of your voice, the movement of your lips, but I know precisely what came next. The walls trembled. Above your head, a decorative tin water pot nearly quivered from the ledge on which it sat. Had it fallen, I was too wonderstruck to react. All of me was pulsating, soul, mind, and body, to the rhythm of the world itself. We know some will distrust this account, but their acceptance is unimportant. In my mind, the place where it matters, this instant is as clear as the line separating innocence from guilt.
What amazes me, even now, is the speed with which I overturned the order of my life for you, for us. That quiet, defenseless kingdom fell quickly to our merciless forces. My wife and I had given each other nearly three decades, what remained of our youths, a son, and promised one another our futures. Before you I could not conceive of there being another way; after 1 A.D., in the year of my Dorothea, that fallacy was evident. If there are naysayers remaining, they should know I refused to make you my mistress—we were chosen to share an eternity interrupted by this earthly life—which meant my marriage was finished and she would have to live elsewhere. No, I will never ask them, my son and former wife, for forgiveness and will not apologize because I am underserving of remission and unrepentant for what was done. There are no wrong choices with love. Hopefully, they will take that lesson with them, which, my heart, you also needed to learn.
An insecure man would have loathed your contradictions, wanted to expunge one half of Dorothea until she was as simple as a grape. Not me, darling. That you acquiesced to my frenzied pawing and kissing, lay beneath my frantic exertions in the very home where you initially refused to live after I had gotten rid of my wife was intoxicating. You drug, my addiction, I was delirious and you knew it. Dorothea had too much power. “Unreasonable” was the first word of the first sentence of your first response when I asked you to move in with me, after which I stopped listening to consider why. Your living arrangements were irredeemable. You had three roommates in an apartment where two people could comfortably stay: a sallow, unattractive girl with an ugly personality; and two boys, an Arab actor or musician who could not be trusted, and an innocuous homosexual. Why did you say I was moving too fast? Why were you adamant about splitting rent and Chinese food with these people? Your commitment to that situation is as bewildering now as it was then.
I have speculated about your rationale and am always frightened of the answer. Our separation has lessened its importance, but I must know why you forced me to not take no for an answer. I cannot suffer ignorance, call it my second weakness. After our reunion, I beg you to answer truthfully, lover. Your last refusal finally brought me close to tears, which forced me to step from your bedroom to compose myself. You remained, half-standing against a nightstand. Somehow I was then in your kitchen removing the microwave from the counter; you looked up and asked what I was doing as I placed it in the doorway of your room. My actions were frenetic; I saw a small bookshelf, grabbed it, spilling its contents, and put it atop the microwave. “If you want to live here, you’ll be here until you die!” I screamed, “You’ll never leave if this is where you want to be!” You called me crazy—I was, I was and am, sweetheart, because of you, this causes no shame—and rushed toward me and raked my face and chest and slapped me four times exactly. But I pushed you down and continued to grab what I could to build your barricade—couch cushions, a toaster and paperweight, dishes shattered against the floor. You then said okay. On your knees, almost under your breath, you promised to live with me. Tell me you remember how I tore down that wall, threw myself in front of you, and now weeping, thanked you and said how much I loved you, and tell me you love me, too, Dorothea, I need to hear it, I starve without these words.
A living room portrait of my former wife, son, and I was replaced by a painting of yours of an idyllic little garden with roses and lilacs and unkempt walkway, which greeted us each morning as we came downstairs. The garage became your studio; I made you waffles on Saturdays. We slept side by side each evening. From bed I watched you undress through the ajar bathroom door; you watched me leave for work from an upstairs window. I did not propose but vowed we would marry; all eyes looked at us enviously. Dorothea, no price would be too much to make this the only life we knew, but it could not last: like many before us, we were punished for discovering the passion only gods should feel. Had I loved rationally, our strife may have prepared me differently for your death, except reason was not a choice. My infatuation was irrational, unbendable to argument, not even from you, my love, because I valued us more than anything I had known before or since.
Not any language invented by man could express my fear of losing you. Where had you gone, Dorothea? You did not respond to my calls or texts. For lunch, where to Dorothea? I thought you felt ill today. Why there and with whom, Dorothea? I was told you did not like that place’s rice. Were you two alone or joined by someone else, Dorothea? Was not this the week she visited her mother? Your reluctance to assure me persistently and unendingly that there would never be someone else fueled my mad devotion to you, caused me to ache with jealousy from toenails to pate. Whenever you were not there, you were inevitably being tempted by the Middle-Eastern boy or that waiter whom you followed with your eyes as I sat across from you or some other loser I had never seen and could not imagine. Love of my life, I admit, when I was told you were dead, thrown against the windshield in a roadside ditch, I first thought, “This is best, she cannot deceive in heaven.” Honesty is all I can give, even your death left me in doubt.
You left the front door unlocked, your purse behind, and were driving much faster than the limit. My suspicion is nearly uncontrollable when I wonder who you were going to meet.
That infidelity may have killed you haunted my thoughts. I was denied solace for your death and affirmation of your devotion; my only recourse was to think less of you, to pass each day the markers of your existence—items of clothing, brushes, and paints—without seeing them. I could not bear more weeks like these and begged you to make it different. This is how I know you heard my prayers.
In the corner above the garden painting, a spider had begun to weave a web; but for inexplicable reasons, I let it be. Had I visitors, Dorothea, they would have marveled as I did at its creation, the way in which singular, faint ropes of silk joined one another as the arachnid moved nimbly about. Many times I stood motionless, on the verge of rapture, as this delicate, harmless creature produced its work of art. An arabesque of pentagons and triangles was becoming larger. I only had to wait for its completion. It would be beautiful. Destroying it someday never occurred to me, my dear—never, ever occurred to me. On the first day of a weekend—I recall because I planned to make your favorite—the web was finished. None will believe what I saw: where the ceiling meets the walls, the web formed a “D,” suspended amid a latticework of lines which ran toward it like veins to the heart. Was this what it seemed? It if were possible to change what I did next, I would do so one million-billion-trillion-quadrillion-gazillion times. With my bare hands, I tore it down, clutching and grasping at it until nothing remained and I was striking and clawing the walls. No chemical went unused against what had been there—air freshener, dish liquid, bug repellant, disinfectants were squirted and sprayed into that corner, leaving it pockmarked, stained, and web-less. My girl, despair is my defense. Your leaving left me unprepared for your return, and a broken man cannot be held responsible for what he does. I went to our bedroom and shut myself inside. On our nightstand, the picture of us on a carriage ride, I turned face down. Your paintings were ripped from the walls; a self-portrait, the experimental one in which you have blue hair and red eyes with meandering streaks of neon in the background, I stomped on viciously, countless times. Dorothea, a man who loves with all he has can admit this horrid truth: at that instant, I detested you and wanted nothing more than to efface every bit of you from the world in which I lived. Some will call it ridiculous, but I was unsure if your death had been purposely done. You alone could make me that way.
I cautiously returned downstairs, partly expecting the web to be there. Peeking into the room with lengthened neck and frightened eyes, it was not. But love is madness, a delusion inside a dream, and having a partner in insanity affirms it to be. What I then saw was a reality because you caused it. I am nuts and so are you, my dear. Look at what we have done to each other. In front of the love of your life, an old man with a heart weakened by loss, you placed a spider as large as a German Shepard—glistening a black and silvery pattern were its head, thorax, and abdomen, which bore some ink blot design; while its bristled legs appeared too thin to support its weight; I could not count its orbs and almost vomited. The insect flitted, and I ran, ran faster than I had since my youth, Dorothea, to our bedroom again. Any and everything in my reach I grabbed and propped against the door. I went to the windows and shouted for help but was unacknowledged. They went about—holding conversations, gardening, jogging—as though I was not there. I kept shouting, pleading for help, but none of them reacted. Was that it I heard coming up the stairs? Taking my phone from the dresser, I placed my back against the barrier that was buttressing the door and called the police, my former wife, and son. “Please, for Christ’s sake!” I yelled, “Please, somebody help me! A spider is going to kill me, I can hear it outside the door! I can’t keep it out much longer!” Dorothea, my dear, darling Dorothea, no one came. I watched the day fade to black believing my soul had been forsaken.
Your lonely lover cannot say how many hours he remained in that room. Stubble from cheekbones to chin and along the runway of my Adam’s apple had appeared, and from soreness, I knew my eyes were bloodshot and puffy. When I stood, the ligaments in my knees felt as though they were being torn apart, my vertebrae fracturing into pieces like a dropped artifact. Leaving upstairs I fully anticipated the spider being there when I returned. And it was. Fangs exposed still, it began moving toward me—so clear even now is the sound of its claws tapping the floor as it walked—but I did not budge. I behaved as a coward, my love. I shut my watery eyes, then thought of you, your face, your heart of gold. I rediscovered your devotion. Its legs started to climb my body, and you died in my thoughts, soundlessly time and again, and I rediscovered your devotion and knew you loved me more than I could love myself, and your face, your heart of gold, and solely death was powerful enough to divide us, and I opened my eyes, and you, my gift, had taken that monster away.
My love, you twice saved a despondent man from his own existence, and he searches eternally, fruitlessly for just repayment. Life for him is now a waiting game and he welcomes his winter years because they bring him nearer you. Until death rectifies your parting and he can kiss your lips again, he shall wake your ghost by calling for you: Dorothea! my gift from god, someday soon, someday soon!