Winding Down

By Alexandra Van

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She didn’t know she was having an affair until she broke up with her. There were moments when she would have left her husband. Quiet moments, almost silent moments, when she would have ended her marriage. For what? For nothing. For something that existed only at the margins, in the imagination.

What will she remember about her? A seemingly honest laugh that wanted to fill the room, but was always stifled. An endless curiosity. A soul-wrenching once-in-a-life-time curiosity that felt ceaselessly flattering. A charm tinged with vulnerability that she knew was irresistible. A razor-sharp intelligence, so often on display. An uncommon understanding, whether real or imagined, that was at once thrilling and piercing.

How did it end? With nothing. With yet another agonizing retreat. With yet another silence. There was no conversation. No yelling. No having it out. No so-called closure. Just a fading of so much into so little. Into nothing.

What will she not remember? What will tragically fade so that she cannot remember why she once again resolved to end it? The retreats. The holding back. The sorrowful tug. In short, the impossibility of anything lasting and sustainable. She will forget all of this and wonder why it ended and why she cannot have it back.  

The relationship comes back to her now in a series of flashbacks. Their first meeting. A student charming a professor. A student revealing so little and wanting so much.

And of course the beautiful dance that happens in any relationship. The chase. Here it was a student hunting a teacher. A teacher too susceptible to being prey. A teacher too easily flattered. And despite the difference in age and position, the student was always in charge. She set the rhythm of the dance. When it got too fast, it was the student who turned the music off. The teacher would have continued.

She remembers how the student used to spin. She twirled. At first it was childlike and whimsical. It evoked, as so many of her other actions did, a maternal instinct. The student must be protected. The child must be protected.

But then it became a sign of more distressing things to come. What was once fanciful became ominous. What was once charming became threatening.

She twirled and the vortex opened. Her warmth and adoration folded in on themselves and became coolness and distance. She twirled and the winds gathered and the havoc began. She twirled and the winds made her impenetrable. She twirled and the winds knocked down everything in its path. So worried about rejection that would never come, the student twirled.

And then she wished the student would stop twirling. Wished the winds would stop. Wished there would be an opening to get back to her. Because when there was a path to her, when the winds died down and she was accessible, well, then she found what we all search for. To be understood. Fully. To be loved. Intensely.

But she twirled. The student twirled. The child twirled.

The winds gathered and she twirled. That brightly lit path was darkened. Nothing could be done to calm it. The student was impermeable.  The child had retreated. The addictive warmth of understanding was dimmed and cooled. Only the aftermath of a windstorm remains.

– Alexandra Van