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Micheline Aharonian Marcom

Micheline Aharonian Marcom is the author of Three Apples Fell from Heaven, which was a New York Times Notable Book. The Daydreaming Boy won the 2005 PEN/USA Award in fiction and was named a best book by the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Blurbs

"Marcom elegantly shows us her search for [yes], a beautiful elegy for lovers lost within bittersweet recollections.”

– SFGate

"Like "the earth revolving around the sun" and the "ingrained blood song" of the migratory bird, Marcom elegantly reveals love and loss as constant, cyclical forces of human existence."

– Publishers Weekly

"In Marcom, style is the sign of that necessity; of an artwork’s urgent, internal need for its object to speak its own language, and no other.”

– Quarterly Conversation

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A Brief History of Yes

Even this, even all of it, you must love.

12/11/13

A love story told backward, the end of it. August to August. Dry, bloodless heat.

A Brief History of Yes by Micheline Aharonian Marcom tells the story of the end of an affair. He is a blond, blue-eyed American man and she is dark-haired, Portuguese-born. In her, she carries the memory of the city where she was born, near the Targus River in her native land; and of her father, full of rage and violence. And of her marriage to a man with whom she had a son. She left him, in the end. But now it is she who is left.

“Maria, you are not right for me,” he says.

* * *

“We were not good for each other,” is what he said. The first man who broke my heart. He had taken the train down to my apartment. He had slept in my narrow bed while I sat up awake all night.

This was long after it had ended. He was trying to make me understand something I did not.

I did not ask him anything more. I nodded as if the logic was clear, as though even a child would understand.

“It’s not that I didn’t love you,” he said as we climbed the stairs to the train station platform. “It was never that.”

And then he was gone.

My mother was born to Portuguese parents, her father from Lisbon, her mother an island girl – San Miguel in the North Atlantic Sea.

For a year, I took lessons in Portuguese language, the rounded guttural sounds gravelly and heavy on my tongue.

I remember those months as a kind of weight pressing down on me. A dimly-lit classroom in the afternoon. Fluorescent light. Struggling with unfamiliar phrases that carried nothing of my own history, Korean-born adoptee that I was.

But dutiful. Obedient. Well-trained. I waited for my mother on the concrete steps in front of the school building. In the car, I would recite the day’s lesson. Haltingly I might say in Portuguese: “In summer, the ships leave port. In winter, the men return.

“Let me tell you a story,” Maria says to him, “of a girl a boy who meet up on the California coast where the girl dreamed him up, dreamed him up.” “You dreamed me?” he asks. “Yes. I called to you, first to the full moon on the bluffs at Salt Point where I sometimes go when I am sad and sit there, then to you, and you arrived."

There is a Portuguese musical tradition called Fado. It is steeped in sadness. My mother took me to a restaurant one evening when she thought I was old enough.

Dark room. Velvet drapes. A low stage where a woman stood at a microphone while a man sat to her left, playing guitar. She wore a red blossom in her hair. Her voice was warm and low and filled the room with its vibrations. Old men sat at tables near the stage. Some wiped their eyes.

I sat across the table from my mother. Her hair long and brown. Her face turned to the stage.

On the ride home, she said: “I thought I loved your father. Maybe I did. I thought I knew. I thought if love was real, I would know.” And then she was quiet.

I had not yet met the man who would first break my heart. I was a blank sheet of paper on which the vagaries of love had yet to be written.

Maria has an old friend she speaks to on the telephone. After her divorce, he tells her, “Maria, you most open your heart. . . . There is no joy otherwise.”

Later, she asks him, “How do you tell, how can you, the truth of love from the illusions of it?”

When I met him, the sun was shining. It was summer. We were cast in the same play, a production of West Side Story. Although his hair was dark, he was fair-skinned. He was a “Jet.” And me, dark-haired, dark-skinned, I was a “Shark.” A dancing girl. Night after night, I painted my lips red, thrust my hips out and danced.

In the hallways of the empty school where we rehearsed. In the wings behind the stage. In the parking lot late into the night.

When it is over, Maria drives north to Salt Point where she walks the rocky cliffs and imagines, fleetingly, throwing herself against the rocks, or diving into the sea below:

Hello despair, she does not say (only the next day when others ask her of her holiday and she begins to weep).

Hello sea, air, sky, and black cormorants.

There is nothing good today in my heart. All is lost, all forsaken. My son with his father and the horsy faced girl. Me on these bluffs one-hundred-and-fifty miles from a city which is not my natal city, Pai gone, my uncles aunts cousins across the Atlantic in an old small inconsequential country where my old memories were made. I loved a tall, blond, blue-eyed American man; eventually he did not love me back. Looks again at the sea. Looks again at the sky. Lies next to the bush and would like to be the bush, the sky, the sea, seaweed, and cold autumn air.

It stretched on for years. There were others, between. But he was like a place I remembered from my youth and returned to again and again, recognizable. He was the path behind my childhood home that led to a broad ancient oak. He was the cool Atlantic waters that rose to meet me in long summer days. Something in him familiar and knowable to something in me. The way you might know that you will love someone even though you have only just met. And that it will not matter how long they love you, or how well. You know they will enter you, take root. That they will reside there, graft themselves onto your heart.

When it ended, it was in autumn. He was moving to New York. I did not yet know that this would be the end. I did not yet know that he would choose the dark-skinned, dark-haired woman he had loved for years. The woman alongside whom I had loved him in parallel. I did not yet know that he would take her with him to the rocky California coast. That would come later.

We spent the afternoon in his bed, the windows thrown open, the cool breeze chilling us. The leaves were turning and falling. In the distance, the wide Charles River flowed past. As night fell, I rode the bus home.

My mother’s mother was engaged to be married to an island boy who worked the sea. My mother’s father came to the island from the city and “the next thing anyone knew,” my mother would say, “they were coming to New Bedford.” City boy and island girl.

When she died, after fifty years of marriage, he followed soon after. As the story goes he said, “What is my life without my love?”

Her lover has a wound across his chest. A concavity where the bones did not form properly.

“It’s what you don’t understand,” she tells him, “how the wounds can be an opening.”

“In Portuguese, we have a word: saudade. In English you don’t have this word, and there is no accurate translation of it. Is it nostalgia? Or yearning for the absent one? Or the love that remains after the beloved has gone? All of this could be saudade.”

But he does not want to speak of love or yearning. He wants to go out. He tells her there is something playing at the cinema. And shouldn’t they go out. And she says Yes.

--

When it ended, I thought I could not bear it. That surely, the weight of his absence was enough in itself to crush the life from me, to break me, starting with my fragile heart.

But didn’t my stubborn heart surprise me with its resilience? Even as I lie there in my bed, willing it to stop beating?

I did not yet understand that love contains its end as life does. I did not yet know.

the absence created by the end of a love affair is another form of presence. And memory sings it, and singing it the blond blue-eyed lover returns. “Hello,” Maria says to him, “estou com saudades tuas.” And he, “Hello, Maria, I am here,” while he arrives departs arrives again until all things eventually arrive at their end.

And I did not yet know that a wound can be an opening. And that if one is to love life (and what is there to do but to love it?) one must also love these wounds, these openings, unbearable though we bear them.

Even watching as the train pulls away from the station. Even the rocky cliffs that lead down to the cold sea. Even the dying leaves of trees. Even one’s own stupid heart that knows no better than to keep beating, even as it is breaking. Ever breaking.

Even this, even all of it, you must love.

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