I see you in black and white. I see you against a tall and narrow wood framed house; the type built in the 1920s and 30s; narrow windows, narrow doors with the prairie grass growing right up to the field stone foundation. I picture you standing in front of the house my grandfather and grandmother were married in. I see you in black and white; the monochrome that hides the fact that the shirt you wear is one hundred percent cotton and the pants are not pants but trousers and the smile you have on your is sort of shy because a camera was an odd thing and the word itself was still associated with an actual room in some parts of the world.
I see you in black and white because I so desperately want to. I want to stand there next to you in front of a small house with quarter paned windows that settlers on the prairie would have thought folly. In the dead of winter with no wind breaks, perhaps they are folly.
I want you there, our bare feet wedged against each other, and our skin the only heat we feel in the back bedroom, while the winter wind howls around our house. I want your hands in my hair telling me it’s okay, that I’ll be okay as we lock into each other in the making of another generation.
In my reality, however, I see in shades just less than Technicolor. I walk to work and I breathe into my thick, ninety percent cotton scarf, just the right shade of pewter blue; it matches my eyes and I get a few stares or two.
I have an ego.
I wash out the scarf once a week in my studio apartment, washing away the faded but expensive perfume and I wash away my own respirations while walking to work during cold January days in Chicago.
A car backfires and people scuttle for cover and then we wonder at the thought that we pay taxes to send young people to die for others, and we die on the streets unprotected.
That’s when I see you in black and white.
I took down all of my art work, I don’t believe in it anymore, and had the walls painted stark white. The landlord didn’t care, I pay my rent on time and he can see that I’m here with no intention of leaving. I hated to, but I painted my walls with dusty looking flat paint – the kind my grandparents used.
You know, I dated a guy that works at the Art Institute of Chicago. No, he wasn’t a prig or overly anxious. Don’t be alarmed but I was in it so he’d help my hang my old black and white photos.
He asked me why the frames. He knew a guy who could take my photos, enlarge them and really make them look like museum pieces. No, I told him, the old photos needed frames. A frame, like the frame of a house, was and is to me foundational. The world crumbles without a frame of some sort to give it shape, personality, security.
He looked at me hard and then asked if I’d come to bed. Somehow I’d moved him and he was serious during sex. He telephones every once and awhile but the photos are all hung in their black and white glory so I don’t return his calls.
What time I have alone I think of you standing there next to me within the picture frame. The wind is caught in our photograph. You can see it in the background, pushing our hair out and away from our faces, moving the creases in your trousers just off center and wrapping my skirt around my legs. The wind never leaves the prairie, it cleans the air that surrounds us.
I walked the old farm with my grandfather once. He was glad to be back in North Dakota. We walked and he showed me how to make gum from the heads of wheat and pointed out where great-grandfather’s farm house used to stand – the barn was still there. I was thirteen and that was the only time that year I forgot about myself, my chemically suppressed acne and the flabby bulge around my midsection that the pediatrician explained to my mother was caused by my “eating problem.”
I didn’t lose my virginity until I was twenty-five. I’ve told that to no one until I told you. Okay, that’s a lie I tell anyone I’m intimate with, you’re the only one who didn’t joke about how long it took me.
By twenty-three I swore I’d be celibate for the rest of my life. I met a man in the library, we were what you might call “nodding acquaintances.” He would read in the library, not just browse the books and take them home.
He was twenty-three years older than me, married and with three children. I learned these facts much later. For a year we would meet at the library, walk to my place and fuck. It was intense and I don’t think he noticed that first time I was a virgin. I cried when he left but the next week I couldn’t wait to see him. I felt that way for a year, a drive that never culminated in “I love you.”
He invited me to a dinner party. I was introduced to his wife and he smiled while we shook hands. He then started to introduce me to his friends and I could tell suddenly that I was being assessed. When I went to the open bar for a glass of sherry and stood off by myself his friends came up to me one by one. They were nice, asked me for my number, said they appreciated someone clean, considerate, that they’d take care of me.
I, of course, am very careful but I do invite a few in, outside their circle. I keep my daytime job but I make sure they pay any out of pocket medical. There are some evenings I look forward to with the select group, but not too often. I still feel at times that need, that drive, I felt at first. Yes, I know, they may grow tired of me but they are growing older, I think, sooner than me.
One night, the heaviest of them was working hard, sweating profusely, his hair, shock white, hanging in his face moved to the rhythm of what he was doing and my Technicolor vision suddenly went black and white. I was struck with the thought of you, whoever you are, having a bad day on the farm, coming home to me, pushing up my thin cotton dress, holding me down on the sturdy kitchen table – just like this guy was doing – but I was on the prairie, where it mattered, where it worked.
One of them asked me, just the other day if it didn’t bother me to have all these old black and white pictures looking at me while we “played.” “No,” I said, pulling at his tie, “I’m working to return to the wind and wide open spaces my grandfather was glad to see.” He told me I was good at my work.
Actually, I wonder if I’ll ever feel the wind again.