BRENDA CULLERTON has a tiny tattoo of an open book on her left ankle. She blogs instead of jogs, shops occasionally, reads compulsively, and is no longer wise beyond her years. She lives and works in New York City. She also writes books:
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Love. I’ve been thinking of love a lot lately. Maybe it was my week in bed last week. (It was illness, alas! not passion, that put me there.) Back there in bed, I remembered all the “unhealthy” relationships I had in my  youth. Long distance love affairs that friends  often said were driven by fear; by a need to evade and avoid  real feelings. All of them with foreigners, far, far away from my mother tongue and native land. A shrink would probably have also suggested that this pattern of loving and leaving, of never unpacking, had something to do with repeating a childhood loss or a terror of abandonment. And back then, I might have agreed. 

At the moment, I’m not quite so sure. Because it was the almost unbearable intensity, “the ferocity of feeling” that I recall so clearly now. The exquisite poignancy of waiting (does anyone remember, waiting?)and the expectation… Jet propelled across the ocean towards the unearthly beauty, the embrace of Paris, training across all  of Siberia and Russia for a rendez vous in the cold, stone city of Stockholm, clutching the rails of a ferry on the English Channel with that taste of salt in the wind and the white cliffs of Dover ahead. Always enroute to the romance of other lands, other lives…

These were the years of my own joyriding. Of living with total abandon. No seatbelts. No helmets. No thoughts of an anxious future. As a woman who currently struggles with “control issues” (a polite euphemism for control freak); this notion of living with total abandon; of surrendering to “world-size emotions” (Osip Mandelstam) haunts me. 

But I  wonder…If I hadn’t experienced these anarchic affairs, these extremities of despair, loneliness, and euphoria; of exaggerated emotions that defied even the need for language, for words, would I have been open to the somewhat (and I stress, somewhat) more stable, conventional love with R. that came later? I say stable and conventional only in the sense that this love I now share with R is an anchor. An anchor that permits me to drift, but only so far. (That’s when it’s not dragging, of course.)
Would I have discovered that another human being can become, at least, for a time,  as mysterious and immense as the world itself? Joseph Brodsky may claim that “It is a small world and no man or woman makes it larger.”  Thankfully, I would have to disagree. 

I’m also convinced that ‘successful’ relationships, like life, are defined and constantly redefined by movement and that when that movement stops, there is stasis. My own love for R. was launched the night we left the Gare de L’Est on board the Orient Express. While I slept, R stayed up till dawn, shooting pictures of moonlit villages as we sped towards stops at the baths in Budapest, the snowy mountains of Romania, the dusty, marbled hammans of Sofia, and two weeks, climbing the claustrophobically narrow, ancient streets of Constantinople.(a/k/a Istanbul) 

These were still the times of rigidly guarded borders: German shepherds straining at their leashes, the far from benign beam of flashlights, a knock on the door, and the echo of hammering as sinister men in shades of grey and olive green searched for hollow, hidden spaces beneath our train carriage. This aura of danger, entering a great, potentially hazardous unknown, only added to the romance. Because there is nothing in life that pulls a couple closer than sensing some sort of threat, some danger, from the outside. Sometimes, I believe that this is the glue that continues to hold us together. This aura of danger. Plus the prospect or the promise of exploring the hollow, hidden spaces that remain within each of us.

After Istanbul, we were blissfully stranded on the Turkish side of Cyprus, waiting to hitch a ride on a freighter full of chick peas. We sailed on a rainy evening from Famagusta for the port of Ashdot where I woke with the muzzle of machine guns pointed at my face and the relentless, rat-tat-tat of questions from Israeli soldiers. Collapsing in a flea bitten hotel on the beach in Tel Aviv, a friend raced to the rescue and brought us to her medieval house in the Old City of Jerusalem. There,  I ate my breakfasts at dawn, overlooking the Wailing Wall and Dome of the Rock. This was the first of too many journeys to count with R. A man who even mapless in the pitch dark labyrinth of Venice never fails to find us a way home.     

There are fewer long distance journeys these days. But there are times when I am still astonished by the mystery of  those ‘hollow, hidden spaces that remain within each of us.’ Oddly enough, that mystery reassures me. Because for as long as there is mystery, there is movement and desire. In the meantime, R. has planned a very special Valentine’s Day trip/ tour for me. We are travelling all the way out to Queens to visit the gorgeous Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant that you see above. (More on that later.) The critic, Cyril Connelly, once wrote: I wish for a mind that moves in everlasting daylight; in hectic brightness.” I wish the same for the heart.