nudity and sex
'Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.'
Ralph Waldo Emerson
nudity and sex
'Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.'
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I almost decided on making a new bonfire and burning all my paintings, unconditionally, when I realized that the answer to Catherine's question was that they had no value at all. Not worth anything to absolutely no one -- except, perhaps, for Armand? But even that, now that he wanted to become a monk, was indeed useless. I would leave him a single painting, that which was hanging in his room, the one he had 'bought' from me.
And since he also wanted to leave the Île, I did not try to paint the walls, nor did I resume working in the garden, that had again become so desolate. It no longer seemed worthwhile to try to take away that ruined look from things -- soon, the house would be empty, occupied only by the wind, sand and spirits, and the garden would be nothing more than a wild tangle, without no one to look at it. So why should I care, why bother at all?
Was I still genuinely concerned about Armand's well being, when he did not show up for lunch? Or did I seek him in the corner of the island where he had fled to take refuge, simply because I desperately needed the money?
He had spent all day meditating at the beach, sitting on the edge of the sea. Hours and hours sitting straight without moving, without anything to eat or drink. How could he? I was unaware about that concentration skill from my friend -- as for myself, I had never managed to stay motionless for more than two hours, and after that, all the peace and contentment I would have felt with the meditation was extinguished, and there was only boredom and discomfort.
I was a little worried that he might have a heatstroke because the coconut tree shade he had chosen was not exactly a good protection against the sun, as I had warned Catherine.
I came to check on him a few times during the day, wondering what levels of contemplation he would have achieved to remain so long in meditation. And I finally realized, with a shudder, that the shade of that coconut tree beside him... It hadn't moved! Just like Armand himself. I felt goose bumps... The shade had stood all day long on the same exact spot where Armand sat.
All other shadows on the island had logically and naturally followed the solar motion. But not that one, which was fixed on Armand, providing him protection from the sun during his meditation.
Not without fear, I approached Armand. Was it me who was having a sunstroke? Upon approaching him, I felt a very intense scent of flowers -- but there was no nearby bush on that corner, nor was the wind blowing to bring that wonderful aroma from another part of the island. Anyway, that was a perfume like none I had smelled before, and it did not seem to belong to the Île du Blanchomme.
I went away, intrigued with that strong yet delicate scent, and truly scared with the immobilized shadow.
I knew how the story of the Buddha -- the prince who leaves his palace and kingdom, turning his back on a life of pleasures and ease, abandoning his beautiful wife and a newborn son, to undergo severe spiritual practice until finding enlightenment in his own Middle Way, that lead him to a definitive way beyond and out of illusion and suffering --, had impressed Armand. I knew how my friend had identified himself with the great spiritual master. Armand was almost a prince himself, and he too was willing to abandon his family, a life of luxury and hypocrisy, for a noble cause -- as an architect, he wanted to build quality housing for the poor. And he had come a long way already, living a simple life on the Île. And now, he wanted to move further on the path and become a monastic.
That night -- and only after having verified that Armand was still meditating at the beach -- I again made love to Catherine. Especially since it could be the last time, on the Île du Blanchomme. I was still horny from the morning, when I had tried to assault Armand. I tried as hard as I could to push that episode of violence away from my mind, as I concentrated on exploring Catherine's body.
She had spent the whole day teasing me, and I thought it was out of her insecurity in face of my relationship with Armand, and because of her desire for revenge. After all, why hadn't Catherine separated from me when she found out that I was poor? Or hadn't she understood yet? Why didn't she leave me behind on the Île? Not because she loved me, nor because she needed me to return to France. Just like she had arrived on her own, she would have returned alone.
The truth was simple -- she decided to keep because I had been her brother's love. She had confirmed her suspicions, upon seeing us together on the beach in the morning. And in the lifetime competition with her half-brother, the official son of Monsieur de Montbelle, for the first time Catherine had beaten him, by taking something from Armand that was very dear to him.
Me. In fact, while I was worried about losing Catherine and getting separeted from my son, she in turn was keen to retain her brother's ex-boyfriend to herself, like a prize.
For the rest of our lives together, Catherine was never convinced that I had never had a romantic and sexual relationship with Armand -- in fact, she had to believe that it had been indeed lovers that she had actually separated, to make her revenge the more enjoyable.
Despite the inexperience and selfishness that I had revealed in our first time, she wanted to believe that it had been my first time with women only.
"We are much more demanding and hard to satisfy, darling! No wonder the sex you had before with Armand did not help much when you made love to me." Catherine's theory was that men who loved women had to be much more competent than men who loved other men. Thus she explained why gays had such a strong fetish in seducing straight men.
She herself, however, seemed to have a fetish in seducing a homosexual. For she felt content thinking I was gay, and that she had seduced me and 'made me a man'. It was another fantasy of power and control for her. And also following that track, Catherine went ahead with the pregnancy -- it was another way to keep me on her side, since she realized my attachment to that child.
To keep her trophy on the shelf became so important just because she had snapped it from her brother's shelf.
"Come to me... please..." Crawling across the night, a whisper entered my consciousness. Not a distant voice, but as if it were whispering in my ear... Or rather, inside me. I slowly crept out of sleep, amazed.
"What is it?" Catherine was angry when I startled, terrified, waking her up too.
"Did you hear that?" I asked, still scared, shaking. Was the island actually haunted? The unborn spirits... Or had the deceased Herr Weissmann being watching on us all the time? I checked that there was nobody in the room nor on the porch or in the bathroom, and I felt goose bumps. Had I listened to my own son, or one of the spirits trying to incarnate as him?
"Hear what? There is only this boring silence all day long..." Catherine was sleepy, and that's why she wasn't actually more upset when I said I would take a blanket to Armand on the beach. "Will you cover him, will you? Just go, then!" She sounded terribly jealous.
"Please... come..." I heard it again, and this time, being wide awake, I was sure it was a voice inside my head. "We need to talk..."
I'm not the kind of person who hears voices, much the less voices from within my head. I am the kind of person who won't even believe such thing is possible -- and yet, I was listening to... Armand's voice inside me!
Fearing that maybe my friend had already died from starvation, I went down to the beach. Even from a distance, I could smell that intriguing yet delicious scent of flowers coming from his direction.
I found him in the exact same place and position where he had been sitting since that morning, in deep meditation. Gently laying a blanket over his shoulders, I noticed how his face was illuminated by such peace and contentment as I had never seen before. I had never seen a monk meditating -- and apparently I'd go away from that part of the world without having had the chance -- but Armand's expression reminded me of nothing less than the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini.
"Come sit here with me... Do not be afraid, my friend..." I heard him say, but no sound came out of his mouth.
"Armand... You're scaring me!" I babbled.
"Don't talk. Just think." His commands raised softly from within my own mind. "Yes, speak with your mind. And do not use your ears to listen. Listen with your heart. In silence, our communication will be immediate. Inexpressibly perfect and clear, as it always is between minds..."
And despite the sweetness and calm in his voice, I almost ran away when my friend turned on himself -- first, his head and neck faced my direction, and then his whole body, as if it were smoke, twisting towards me, and he began to rise from the sand and up into the air.
Armand had begun to levitate. Was it an hallucination? An aberration? Another apparition?
As if expanding, he seemed disproportionately larger than me, and yet so intangible and diaphanous.
"What are you doing, Armand?" I still whispered, unable to just think in silence like he had asked me to. "Are you trying to scare me?" I was afraid that my friend was actually disembodying before my eyes.
"I just want to pacify you..." His voice was indeed soothing. "I asked you to come here so that we could talk without anyone knowing it, without anyone seeing it, nor listening..."
He could only be talking about Catherine, the only other person on the Île du Blanchomme, who was asleep... Or was he talking about the wandering spirits of the Birth Island? Was Armand... not one of them, I hoped... seeing them?, I thought, and I felt shivers.
"I have to ask for forgiveness..." Armand's first sentence astounded me so much, and though I thought it was exactly the other way around, I was too confused and scared to grab that last opportunity to speak my heart out, to sincerely try to apologize... I just sat there in awe, listening to his beautiful, wise words that followed.
"I've created a fantasy of love, I now discern it. I impinged an ideal picture over you. Maybe that's why I haven't truly seen you, Carlo. I had my expectations about you. About us. Too many. And they collapsed not because of you... But just because I had created them in the first place. 'This is, because that is.' Such a simple teaching by the Buddha, yet so complex to grasp. 'Where there is sign, there is illusion.' I can now perceive it."
"I thought I desperately needed you, Carlo, in order to be able to finally overcome the suffering of my mother's death... it was so hard, so painful for her... And sometimes it seems that it was even harder for me... And that kiss, yesterday, made me so happy! Even if that happiness lasted only for a few minutes, it was a balm for my heart... It was then that I realized... You had already helped me overcome... Everything! Being present, in my heart and mind, since the day I left the Île until my return."
"During the whole time I was away, I remembered your last words... 'Whenever you feel lonely please think of this beautiful island ... think of me here, taking care of it for you... waiting for your return.' And you made me dream of this house made our home... 'When you face difficulties please think of how the breeze runs free on this island, and unreservedly wanders into all rooms of the house... that will be illuminated from within, painted white as you have envisioned it... Can you see it, already?' I haven't forgotten..."
"Neither have I, Armand! It was all true!" I could finally think only, and I had no doubt that Armand could hear me, because our minds were not two different entities anymore, and our voices occurred in the same place, neither inside nor outside of us. Just too immediate and interconnected to seem still split, or to be placed in time or space. "I was not lying... At the time--"
"I know that." Armand replied sweetly, trying to reassure me. "But what was it that went wrong, I thought, when I returned and your words hadn't come true? For a moment, I thought of confronting you with your own promises... Our house painted, a garden full of flowers like a vision of our beautiful life together as a couple... But who confronts God in prayers? What is the difference between the comfort of God and the comfort provided by praying to Him?"
"That's what I've realized today, while sitting here. Your loving words on our parting helped me cope with my mother's death, and again when I confronted my father about my future, and when he left for good to live with that..." He paused. "...with Catherine's mother... Until this morning, I thought of that woman with hatred... I thought she was responsible for my mother's death... Now I see she was my mother's best excuse to give up her own life, her struggles, her pain, her suffering... Having lost my own mother, how can I hate another person's mother, wish her any ill? And especially when that person is my sister... None of us is to blame for the lack of scruples of the man who unites and separates us... Nor am I going to blame my father for my own suffering, nor anyone else's... I have finally understood how much he must suffer himself. How he is like a tree bearing fruits that consist of the same suffering he is rooted into."
"My sister waiting for me on this island was a great surprise, and a great blow... and the greatest lesson of all! I should have looked for her earlier... She must have interpreted my silence, when we found out about her family's existence, as plain despise. Despise on top of rejection... Catherine must have suffered unbearably all her life, but until today I was too lost in my own selfish suffering to actually care about hers... When I came out to you, Carlo, a heavy burden was lifted from my shoulders and the healing began... Just by listening to me, by not rejecting me at that moment, for being as welcoming as you could have been... You've liberated me from my deepest suffering. What else can I expect from you? Sex? When you have already shown your love to me, to the limit of your capacity... Now the main question is how can I love my sister? And how to love her mother? How can I go from hatred to love? How to love, simply, thoroughly, in essence? I thought I knew love until I had met Catherine, but so far it has been just a romantic illusion... I have placed a huge burden on you, Carlo, and only upon you... I'm so sorry about it."
"The love I felt for you... A romantic love... so limited, so narrow that it included so few people... that is, if it didn't exclude everyone else but you, and especially my sister and her mother... who seems to be the love of my father's life... So much delusion, and so much suffering derived from it, involving so many beings... While I wished and longed to be back in your arms, Catherine was here, filling them already... That was no coincidence. And I finally realized that all you had already done for me... was everything that you could do! Being satisfied and content with that is my problem, not yours."
"In times of greatest pain, I could reenact and again feel your embrace, and I was relieved. In times of trouble, I could recall the smell your body, and that secret pleasure gave me strength. And in times of loneliness, feeling your beard brushing against my face while your strong arms embraced me, always made me smile and dissolved all the difficulties... You were there all the time, next to me, behind and beside me... Inside me. Even before my father's eyes, in his presence, when I confronted him, you were there with me... Do you remember that line from Malle's 'Le souffle au couer', when Lea Massari tells her son Laurent... 'I don't want you to be unhappy, or ashamed, or sorry...' Do you understand what I'm saying, Carlo?"
"Last night, that kiss seemed to be a beginning, when it actually was a closure. To my romantic life. Finally! I now want to experience a greater love, the love for all beings... true love, unconditional, unrestricted love. And for this practice, the new challenge is my sister... How to love Catherine, who hates me so much? How to make up for a lifetime of frustration, rejection and inferiority complex on her part, and so much prejudice, ignorance and misunderstanding from my own?"
"I cannot give her this beautiful island since it does not belong to me, but I could transfer the government concessions for you both. But no, she doesn't want to stay here, I know it. I can help you two return to France, though, if that's what you want... You can take all the money you need from my office. There is plenty of it hidden in the false bottom of a box, the third from the top, at the stack closest to the corner..."
"And while waiting for your ship to France at the Elder Sisters Islands, you can stay at the hotel next to the harbor on my account... That's where I usually stay... Room 8. Not those noisy ones at the front, who are turned towards the port, but at the back, with a nice view of the city beach. Just give my name at the reception, and I shall pay the bill the next time I go there. And I don't think it will take long for me to pack here and to leave for Thailand... As a monk I won't be needing much, so that I could almost leave it all behind..."
"Carlo! Carlo! How much longer will you sit there? Carlo? Are you pretending not to hear me? Carlo!!"
Finally, as if coming from another world, Catherine's voice reached me.
I jumped off the meditative position. "I'm sorry, I hadn't heard you before!" I apologized. There was an urgency in her voice that made me stand up at once. Curiously, after having sat in meditation for so long, my legs and back did not hurt at all.
"How come? I've been calling you from the veranda for a long time! Have you guys gone mad? Do you like evading reality, is it so?" She accused angrily.
It was strange that she had dressed one of her finest Saint-Laurent dresses just to come down to the beach to fetch me. Was she ready to leave already? Because I knew she was eager-- but I had other concerns at that moment. "Meditation is not escaping reality... It's confronting it, instead... Calmly confronting reality..." But she seemed the more annoyed with my words. "Catherine, aren't you seeing it?"
"Seeing what? That idiotic man sitting there and pretending to be a statue since this morning? Is he in a trance or something?"
"Catherine! It is... a miracle!" I had never talked to her about spirituality, and I did not know how to introduce the subject, which was of great importance to me... She had mentioned her studies about that eleventh century orthodox monk, but she was primarily interested in him because it might have been a woman, and in the style of his/her writings, not in fact about that monk's spiritual practice... what would Catherine think and understand if I said Armand was achieving enlightenment?
"It will be a miracle..." she replied sharply, "if you don't catch a cold, having stayed almost naked for so many hours out here! And do not point your finger, ever... That is so rude!"
"Catherine..." I tried to make her see it "Don't look with your eyes..."
"Quit that bullshit. I'm still sleepy, Carlo!" And angry she was, too. "I've had enough of this nonsense! I'm going back to bed. I shouldn't have worried about you..." But in fact, Catherine's only concern was what I could be doing with Armand on the beach, for so long... in her imagination, she feared that she would find us naked on the sand, in the arms of one another, like lovers reunited...
True love, Catherine.
Don't look with your eyes.
Look with your heart...
Can you see it?
Author's note: having been imported from a former version of the story, some of the comments below are dated previous to this post. Once the plot has not been altered, just the pagination, I am keeping them since they are very dear and precious to me.