The binding

Only one time in my life have I ever let my guard completely down. It was, of course, for love.

“My guard” – please forgive the cliche. I mean, you know, that imaginary wall – “security barrier” if you like – that protects, indeed defines our autonomy as free and sovereign individuals. Or, in a less Kantian sense: the door that we prefer to keep firmly shut in order to avoid being overwhelmed and destroyed by Whatever.

What the imagination can build, I said to myself, the imagination can remove. Without telling my lover what I was doing I began, figuratively speaking, to strip. Looking full into her face, one by one I took off every mask, every cloak, every pretence – and I have many. I was enough of a would-be Buddhist to realize that there was no true face or essential self “underneath,” but I was determined to show it to her anyway.

It helps to know that she was a mind reader, one of two I’ve dated. (Both were women who had been abused as children; mind reading was pretty clearly a survival tool.) We were sitting in the back of a funicular car at the time. When we got to the bottom of the mountain some ten minutes later, I broke the spell. She said quietly, “That felt like a thousand years.” Which might have been sheer glibness (another defense mechanism of hers), but I think she meant it.

She was leaving Japan in two days, and I would be staying on in the Far East for another six months. Our relationship had never been more than another life experience for her – a circumstance for which I never blamed her, because she had been honest about it from the start. I, however, had fallen deeply in love for the first time in my life. The sex had never been that good, for reasons I wouldn’t fully understand until years later, when additional experience and the achievement of some measure of distance permitted a more dispassionate judgement. Removing my guard, letting her completely inside, was the only thing I could think of that might have a chance of making her as attached to me as I was to her.

In part, it was simply an effort at communication, true communication. You’ve heard, I’m sure, that “show, don’t tell!” is the poet’s dictum. I wanted to show her what actual love was like, and the only way to do that was by showing what it could do.

Even aside from romantic love, the fact is that we cannot communicate in any real sense without communion, without opening ourselves up – imitating Christ or Isaac or some other poor rooster, all potential wound on the altar of the soul. The exchange of information is either completely peripheral to true communication, or else our concept of information must be radically expanded to include such embodiments as breath and heart.

The Japanese understand this. They have a strong cultural preference for non-verbal communication, and tend to feel that if close family members or lovers depend too much on speech, it’s a sign that their relationships are weak. But as Butuki said recently about his attempts to negotiate with Japanese businessmen, the entire language works through innuendo. Definitive statements are rude. A typical sentence concludes with a diminuendo of self-deprecating qualifications: “you-know-isn’t-it-perhaps-I-wonder-but,” accompanied by the baring of teeth in a subordinate’s grin or the slightly more restrained and tolerant smile of the superior.

Wordless or otherwise, communication on the level I attempted that day cannot help becoming a form of sorcery, a manifestation of power. This was not, as the cliche has it, “naked power,” but power incidental to a demonstration of psychic nakedness. Had our relationship been more balanced, perhaps it wouldn’t have seemed like such a big thing. I imagine that anyone reading this who has been married for a long time will be feeling a mixture of amusement and pity that I never got beyond all the sturm und drang . . .

It almost worked. After her return to the states, she stayed faithful for what she later told me was a record for her – four months. As for me, I descended into squalor and drunkenness, changing so completely that by the time my parents flew into Osaka three months later, my own mother walked by me three times in the airport terminal without recognizing me.

I have hated Japan ever since.

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