Extreme Temperatures Change the Properties of Things: I Am Changed Because of Him
JULIET: Dost thou love me?
I know thou wilt say "Ay," and I will take thy word: yet if thou swear'st, thou mayst prove false; at lovers' perjuries then say, Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo, if thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully: or if thou think'st I am too quickly won, I'll frown and be perverse an say thee nay, so thou wilt woo; but else, not for the world.
In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond, And therefore thou mayst think my 'havior light: but trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true than those that have more cunning to be strange. I should have been more strange, I must confess, but that thou overheard'st, ere I was ware, my true love's passion: therefore pardon me, and not impute this yielding to light love, which the dark night hath so discovered.
If I ever liked the darkness, it was that I had never truly beheld the light.
I was seven. My grandmother had been reading Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel, in her room most of the afternoon when I happened by her room. She asked me to draw the curtains shut so she may take a nap. As I did so, she told me, "Each of us are born holding a box of matches inside us, which we cannot strike by ourselves. They need the right environment, and to come to light, they need a rise in temperature."
I did not understand what she meant, because, when she picked up a cigarette, I struck a match against the side of the box sitting by her bed and lit it for her. I thought myself perfectly capable of lighting as many matches as I liked.
And I didn't want to light too many matches, either. I thought her room was so much more interesting in the semi-darkness, with the strange shapes of all the things she had collected from her travels casting large shadows on everything else.
As a child, I liked the darkness because it swallowed everything. I could not sleep with my sister in the nursery because she was afraid of the dark and required a night lamp. I moved into a room across the hall and had blinds made so thick that no light from the gardens could disturb me. I was hidden. Like thoughts, secret.
Phosporus, a non-metallic chemical element, is normally a white, waxy solid that becomes yellow when exposed to the light. It is poisonous and unites easily with oxygen so that it ignites without question at room temperature. The substance was discovered in 1669 by a Hamburg chemist searching for the philosopher's stone. Perhaps he was not far from the truth.
The name "phosphorus" comes from the Greek words phos, meaning "light" and pherein, meaning "to bear."
As my mother lay in labor with me, my aunt was beside herself to find, after many calculations, that my guardian angel was Lucifer. She told my mother I would be beautiful and vain.
But as my mother held me in her arms, any worry she may have felt dissipated. I was a small baby, so small, in fact, that my parents' friends called me "petit four," after the small cakes; my hair was black and unruly; my skin prone to blemishes; my eyes were black, and the left somewhat lazy.
November is ruled by Aphrodite in the Eighth House. The house of passion and desire. The Morning Star is, after all, Venus.
Mother was disconcerted when, at seven, she found me staring at myself in the mirror, hypnotized. The small limbs that had characterized me as a baby had lengthened; her child now had a frame like that of her father, tall and slender. After the corrective eye surgery, my eyes had turned green, as though they had lightened with the removal of a burden. My black hair had lightened, and in its place was a rich, golden-brown mane.
I did not recognize myself, though I knew myself better than anyone. I was amazed by the power I held over my body and the ability I had to control its movements. Yes, I thought, this was beautiful. The most beautiful and marvelous thing I had ever seen.
My mother realized that her sister-in-law had perhaps been in the right and sent me from the mirrored room, saying that if I didn't stop, Lucifer himself would appear before me.
Lucifer: from the Latin lux, light, and ferre, to bear.
I was curious, so after she left for work the next day, I had my nanny do me up and sat down to wait for my guardian angel. I waited twelve hours before the mirror until I was found out and sent to my room, all mirrors and reflective objects removed.
Mother sought to scare me when she mentioned Lucifer. I was born a Catholic, and I knew (and had known before I knew my own name) that Lucifer had been a beautiful angel who had fallen from grace. He had been proud and vain.
I was glad to have him as my angel, even if he was a fallen angel, because he of all people, I thought, would understand my plight. Why would God create something beautiful and not allow this thing to revel in its magnificence? In admiring myself, was I not paying tribute to Creation, and therefore, Creator?
So I waited for Lucifer. He never came.
I decided that if he had not come, it was that he did not exist. And if he did not exist, his name being used interchangeably with all things evil, then there was no balance of good and evil, and therefore God didn't exist.
In the dark of my room, I read everything the greats had to offer me. When "God" no longer sufficed, I looked for him under different names. No book escaped me; I read it all. Myth to understand entity. Culture to understand myth. Literature and philosophy to understand culture. History to understand literature. Geography to understand history.
ROMEO: Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear that tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops --
JULIET: O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circled orb, lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
ROMEO: What shall I swear by?
I had no interest in mirrors. I was sixteen and alone. All my time in my room had made me appreciate the solitude of darkness. I never saw the sun, and my skin had faded to ivory on this account.
One night while discovering Plato, I wondered whether Socrates was right and that we found the divine in our objects of affection. Rumi had said it, too: The way you make love is the way you are with God.
Even to a recovering Catholic, the idea tasted of idolatry. And though the words of Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet came to mind, I did not say them.
I found God in neither lovers nor books, and I enjoyed a great many. Of both. Time passed and my lack of answers drove my desire to solidify my understanding of all other things.
Everything was a question. Everything had an answer, a logical explanation. Science replaced religion. Answers replaced the Mysteries. Knowledge replaced God. I chose to make use of the freedom this granted and devised a plan to accomplish myself on my own terms. Thus, I embarked the quest to own my life. Whether I rose or fell, it would be my doing.
Nothing could stop me. Nothing, except perhaps myself. My eyes were the first to betray me. Seekers of truth, they recognized a mirror image when they saw it.
And when his words met my lips, I was possessed with a fever of inspiration. I lost my bearings entirely as I never had before. The given was disturbed, formulas became recipes, chemistry became alchemy, and laws turned into mantras.
Never have I been more terrified. Never have I been unable to reason.
Despite my hesitation, my body spoke for me (the body never lies, Freud was right, as Darwin well knew); my heart swallowed him.
I still remember that weekend. Ironic that the City of Sin would bring me transcendence.
"Why are you coming here?" I demanded.
"Besides stalking you?"
"You're not just coming to see me," I said after a pause.
"No,” he said. "See me while I'm there?"
"You're annoyingly tempting."
"Words are words."
"Words are safe," I responded. "They can be edited. Life can't."
"True. But when the curtain closes on your story, you better damn well have shared the poetry of your soul."
"Meaning it's just a cup of coffee."
"It's never just a cup of coffee, Tristan," I said.
"Fine," I told him, finally, some days later. "I'll see you. But just for a coffee."
The room was dark, though outside the Strip pulsated with the light of a restless city. The bed was a soft shelter, white as salt flats in the light of a full moon. It's never just a coffee -- both he and I knew before our lips met. We knew this with as much certainty as we knew our lips would meet. We knew all of it with as much certainty as we knew the sun would soon rise (and set) over us.
It was the heat of his body against mine that set my core ablaze. It was the breath that escaped his lips that fed the fire. The sheets soon caught, then the carpet, then the curtains, until we were burning, burning brighter than any light I have ever seen.
Perhaps I'd liked the darkness because I had never truly beheld the light until I met him.
Afterward, I looked at everything in the new glow that had swallowed it, and I knew things incomprehensible to fathom by rational or empirical means.
Science is fallible. Upon its discovery, the atom was believed to be the smallest component of matter. Atom -- from the Latin atomus, that which can't be cut. The atom has since been split.
In the great fire we created that night, my skepticism turned to ashes. I booked a flight to escape him -- because I was terrified of what it meant to live without proof -- and then proceeded to miss that jet, only to catch another to follow him. That night, when I told him I'd follow him no matter where he went or how far, I blew these ashes into the sea.
Because the sea is, after all, the mother of all things, and the ruling element of the sign Scorpio, under which I was born, one November night.
The color of the sky that dawn, the color his eyes, twin to mine, like a tempestuous sea. The scent of each city we held between us, the scent of his skin, of cedar and desire, mingling with my perfume. The feel of the wind, the chill of winter, his hands at my waist —- no scientific theory could have explained the mechanics of the combination.
No, I think perhaps Socrates was right. And Rumi was right.
Extreme temperatures change the properties of things; I am changed because of him. This fire will blaze inside me always, even now that we've been cleaved apart. I need only hear the songs he's composed in the aftermath of this whirlwind for the sheets, curtains and rugs to catch fire, for the sky to turn light as dawn in the middle of the night ...
"Do not swear at all," said Juliet. "Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self, which is the god of my idolatry, and I'll believe thee."
Star-crossed lovers, he and I. So it goes. Still, how beautiful things are in the light. And how incredible to believe without proof.
What greater act of faith is there but love?
Breakup Blogs: Does Sharing Your Pain Just Lead to More Problems? by Susan Mernit: "As a blogger, the temptation to lay it all out there is somehow irresistible. It's as though once you make the decision to share, turning your thought processes off becomes almost impossible. And yes, there's that knowledge that writing your truth may hurt someone or totally piss them off."
How To Let Go of Someone You Love, by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen: "Accept your lack of control. Accept the role you played. Talk about it. Trust time. Get professional help. Accept that your loss may always hurt or confuse you. Start something new in your life. Remember both the good and the bad. Know you're not alone. Accept the ups and downs of grief."
How To Stop Feeling Depressed About a Relationship Breakup, by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen: "Remind yourself that the breakup happened for a reason. Learn the difference between mourning and wallowing. Think about your role in the relationship and breakup. Learn how to 'self-sooth.' Rebuild your personal identity."
AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.