The Color of Change

The first time I woke up next to a woman was in a hotel bed.

The first time I woke up next to a woman was in a hotel bed. It was dawn, faint light eking in along the edges of the thick hotel curtains. She was asleep, her body on the edge of illumination. The previous morning, like all the times in my life I had slept with a lover, dawn revealed a man next to me. Now here lay a woman, fleshy arm, shadowy dimples on her thigh, press of breast against the pillow. This contrast was made stronger by the memory, the visceral echo, of my boyfriend’s bony angularity.

My boyfriend, a scientist who worked late into the night in his lab, didn’t want me to make noise in the apartment until noon. I blow-dried my hair in the kitchen, brushed my teeth over last night’s dinner dishes in the aluminum sink, pulled the living room curtains slowly across the rod. I watched the sun rise, glowing orange into the blue swimming pool. If he woke before noon, I wasn’t to say “good morning” because he’d feel obligated to reply. He didn’t want to speak until he was ready. As he put it, it took him time to unthaw.

It wasn’t only mornings that he didn’t want to talk, though. Sometimes when he fell into his self-described “black moods,” he’d turn on the T.V., don headphones blasting Led Zepplin, and sit on the couch, slowly turning the pages of a book on Leonardo da Vinci. A Leonardo scholar, he not only collected books about Leonardo, he also collected incunabula, books published before 1500. His goal was to own a copy of every book Leonardo was believed to have read. This was his hobby, when he wasn’t doing whatever it was he did with proteins in the lab. (“Your boyfriend’s going to win the Nobel Prize one day,” one of his lab buddies once said.)

Dawn with David shed light on my aloneness. When I woke not to his face but to a pillow over his head, when I climbed gingerly out of bed so as to not touch him or make a sound, I knew more than a pillow separated us. He was an East Coast intellectual who couldn’t wait to get out of California once his post-doc was finished. I was a California native who loved to talk about my feelings. He subscribed to Playboy; I was a staunch feminist who decried the lack of women’s roles in literature and film. He wasn’t sure if he could ever marry a non-Jew; I was raised Catholic. We met in the swimming pool of our apartment complex. My skin was bronzed; his was so white it was almost blue.

A year into our relationship, I got a job teaching in Yokohama, Japan. He didn’t try to stop me, but he didn’t want to break up with me either. He thought it was a good idea, that I could use a cultural experience to broaden me. After I lived in Yokohama for three months, he came to visit me. Our reunion was fierce, sexy, a connection I craved even as it was happening. The next morning, when the sun was just sifting through my apartment’s sliding glass door, he reached for me. But on our trip to Kyushu, he began hiding his head in pillows, not talking until the afternoon. I spent mornings in our hotel room, carefully writing in my journal, trying to mute the scratching of my pen.

Back from Japan with no job, no car, no money, I moved in with him. Not that no job, no car, and no money is an excuse. I loved him, in the way that . . . well, the way that a woman who isn’t sure she is loved, loves.

Life must be lived forward but can only be understood backward, someone once said. I didn’t know it at the time, but when I decided to take a poetry class, everything changed. That was where I met Annie, the woman I woke up with in the hotel room, the woman who has been my lover, my life partner, for twelve years. The first time we made love, I turned over to sleep, and she said, “What are you doing?” She wanted us to hold each other, to talk a little even. We drifted off to sleep mid-sentence, it seemed, and the next morning when I woke, I watched her in the blue light. As though she could feel me watching her, she opened her eyes, said “Good morning.” Smiled, even.

“Good morning,” I replied. The words felt foreign in my mouth. I felt like a teenager doing something my parents had forbidden. Funny that I’d feel that way about waking to talk, given that it was the first time I had slept with a woman. But sex with her, and sleeping with her, hadn’t felt forbidden at all.

Now we often wake at dawn, just when the light is filtering into the bedroom. Annie pours us mugs of coffee, brings them back to bed. The dog snores on her dog- pillow on the floor, the cat squeezes into the crevice between our bodies. We lean back against the headboard and watch the unfolding light paint the room. An artist and poet, Annie has taught me a few things about the dawn. Through the window we observe the morning fog, the white house next door.

“Look at the white and gray beginning to brighten,” she says. “Shadows are becoming more pronounced on the door. The sky is mixed with the same neutrals. Dawn makes neutrals. Even the green pine behind the house is a neutralized dark, cool gray.”

We watch for a moment in silence. Then she tells me that, because of the fog, the gray, we’ll see the sun open up from the top of the sky, rather than at the edge of the earth, the horizon. Gray, she says, is the color of waiting, the color of change.

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