From “A Kiss is Still a Kiss” by Edwin Dobb, published in the February 1996 issue of the American Harper's Magazine.
None of the separations S. and I have experienced was due to a violent car wreck, to be sure, or to the grim exigencies of war, though a couple of them felt that way.
I do not mean to suggest that watching a loved one walk out the door is equivalent to watching her step over the threshold beyond which there is no prospect of return, but I will wager that few of us have failed to hear the echoes of mortality that accompany certain departures.
Every leave-taking is a reminder that nothing lasts. A romance like ours, in which absence and presence alternate like night and day, allows little opportunity to forget this fact, and that is the most notable difference between an affair of such starkly defined seasons and conventional arrangements, in which the temperature fluctuates less widely and the cadence is harder to detect.
Essentially, all love is made on the verge of departure. It always has been. Today, however, many more people than ever find themselves in decidedly unconventional arrangements, living under separate roofs, on opposite coasts, with different lovers at various times, and for us the domestic symbol of modern romance is not the marital bed or the kitchen table or the family room but the doorway.
Whatever permanence we may find comes by embracing the transient, a paradox that we somehow must make our own. If there is a tragedy in this it is not that we die unto each other, or that we actually die, but that we act as if this were not the way of the world. Nothing is more contrary to romance than the presumption of constancy.
But to face up to the inevitability of loss does not require that we submit to it without protest. “Rage, rage,” advised Dylan Thomas in his well-known poem about his dying father, a prescription a great deal more to my liking than cold showers and purifying candles, and cause enough to turn away any healer or spiritual huckster who might further darken my own deathbed with enfeebling nostrums about natural processes or divine will. To hell with Nature and to hell with God, too.
I want a defiant, drunk-on-life songsmith to utter the last sounds to reach my ears. I want someone who appreciates the black gulf between all that I might have been and the little that I actually was, who recognizes that the soul cannot range freely, cannot realize more than a particle of itself in the hopelessly cramped field that is a single existence, someone who knows from long experience that the best solace for the unfinished, untidy business of being human is the company of another human being. I want S. Then as now. Now until nightfall.
Oh where, oh where can my baby be? To my immense surprise she stands in the doorway, electrifying the short distance that still remains. “Did you miss me?” Miss her? I whistled myself silly. This time we wandered so far apart that I lost sight of S., and she me. Yet I am once again looking upon her luminous face, a face whose wonderful innocence is yielding to a seasoned beauty that is all the more enthralling, a beauty now abandoned to me, grace upon the lost and rudderless, life-giving breath unto an unworthy wretch.
We draw near. Our lips touch, a first kiss, first among many firsts and deepened immeasurably by all the farewell kisses that have preceded it and resonate within it. Beat after beat after beat. However our partings may have come about, they have given this affair an unusually robust pulse. They have taught me that passionate love endures only if it continually transforms itself, that transformation is achieved through the rapture of arrival, and that there is no arrival without departure of one sort or another.
More than anything, romance is rhythm. We exhale so as to inhale again. We withdraw so as to approach anew.