There is a kind of first impression recalibration you usually get when you meet people. There was the person you thought they were that first night, because they looked like somebody you knew in elementary school or your cousin or
an actress or an old girlfriend. The first impression can be completely positive and you barely notice it shifting in the days and weeks that follow, but one day you realize, with a kind of abrupt nostalgia, that this person who is now your friend or lover, your intimate in some way, was not actually who you thought they were when you met them that first day. Something has changed. They seem to have changed, or have been replaced when they couldn’t possibly have. It must have been you; you had created somebody who didn’t actually exist.
You’d hardly noticed it but suddenly they are actually different than you thought they were. It is the tiniest betrayal; it’s money borrowed from the dresser without asking and then replaced exactly without telling. But the coins are different. You could say it hardly matters because you liked them when you met them and you like them now, and so what, really? But break-ups are full of this secret, resentful confusion.
But when I met my wife I did not mistake her.
I knew her from the first. She was always herself. She was in that first evening who she remains now, a fixed personality, a kind of North Star for some steady orbiting planet, someone I already understood, straightforward and clear. She reminded me of no one. She was charming but she was not hidden there, masked behind a veil of illusions. I did not need to pin her down to get a good look at her face, to make her meet my eyes. My loose change lay untroubled on the dresser in the morning. The accounting of her was straightforward and direct.
She was a fresh white canvas of major proportions taking up a vast wall of a museum gallery, stretching out for a lifetime in all directions. There was much to be revealed in that canvas, vast unpainted spaces around the small filled-in section of her lovely eyes. Time had decades of sweep and detail to add; she could become a painting about anything, taking place anywhere, in any time, in any period’s costume, but the soul of her came complete. I could see then in her kind blue eyes an effortless femininity and sense of her own identity on that very first night just as I can see it today. (We are sitting on the little deck of an island rental in Santorini, playing a Greek CD I found in the coffee table. I am typing on my laptop and she just walked by moments ago, smiling, catching my eye, doing an impromptu Zorba dance on her way into the kitchen and making me look up and laugh.)
Such a huge canvas and yet her artist brings you always directly to the eyes, to the original spot, as if to say look only here, the rest just acting as a kind of funnel. If the artist stopped now years later, even with years of empty white space still running to the golden boundaries, you could still call the painting done. The artist had already succeeded. He would not need to guess at her; the big problems were solved; he would only need to quiet down and continue with a kind of secret delight in the artistic accomplishment already achieved. He could continue to paint what was simply before the eyes, the easy parts, maybe a wild sea would appear in the background or rolling dunes, maybe a sky at sunset or minor characters in robes on the marble steps of a distant temple.
But there would be no need to invent.
The less important parts would appear steadily and over time. There would be no re-dos, no paintings hidden beneath the painting. No mistakes. No artistry. No long pauses wondering if he should continue or just destroy it all. The interpreter had nothing to do but observe.
It is almost like she is painting herself.
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