When you first meet someone, it’s only a glance. You fall in love with a sidelong gaze, a vague peripheral impression, fleeting eyes on the bus. Your first idea of someone is a disconnected image which floats around in your brain, and you look back now and then to make sure you got it right. Later, you notice smaller details. She looks away and you study her, taking in the structure of her face, the color of her eyes, freckles around her nose, which may jut or slope out at this particular place, with these such proportions. You watch her hair move, catch the light and hold it. Still later, there comes excitement from acknowledging each other. In small moments you make eye contact—you see her smile and you smile too. Why not? Your eye moves to her cheek, her shoulder, and then flits away to another object. During brief secretive moments, you check out the rest of each other’s bodies.
Gradually, you will come to know her body almost as well as you know yours. You are introduced; you familiarize. The shape of her eyes as she smiles, laughs, or frowns is embedded in your memory. While manipulating a shared object, you learn her hands, plotting freckles, hairs, and scars like points on a map. As you uncover her personality in phases, so do you uncover her body. You see her in less and less clothing, noting the curves of her stomach, hips, and legs. You append toes, arches, and ankles to your image of her, dropping her on top like an action figure on a pedestal. You make each other laugh. You spend more time together, and if the process of intimation continues, love is declared. She is the most important thing in your life, and if she can be trusted, you are the most important thing in hers. You consummate the relationship with sex, and in one moment of sweetness you acquire her, adding her body to your own. Now you may study it intimately, revere and examine it with a mute curiosity. It is yours now, just as your body is hers.
At various times, you zoom in closer and closer, discovering more. What are the shape and color of her teeth as they click together in her jaw? Which color is the back of her throat and tongue, compared to yours? How does her hair fall when it gets oily and dirty; what rivulets of scalp show through? What does her breath smell like at different times of the day? If she is tired, how does the skin around her eyes change? Does she have moles in private places? Is she fat?
For the most part, you have charted her body out as thoroughly as your own. Yet ultimately, this knowledge will never match the understanding of the self. Your empathy is insufficient. You are intimate, but not unified—you are separate. You can observe her pain, or share simultaneous pleasure, but you may never feel her body as your own.
Where there is a lack in sensory understanding, I seek to gain a vast analytical understanding. Maybe if you found out enough, you could put yourself in her shoes. Be thorough: What is the shape of every tooth in her head? What ridges cross her incisors? Find an equation that would plot it in a three-dimensional graph. You are now one step closer to discovering what it would feel like to run her tongue across her teeth, chew on a bite of hot dog and swallow. What angles do her teeth fit together at? Have you gotten them all?
Begin by performing a thorough visual analysis. It wouldn’t hurt to draw each part of her in detail. . . repeatedly. Study her genitals. How does the configuration of skin and membrane affect the sexual experience? Each fold, when stimulated, fires off a different set of frenzied neurons to the brain. Can you imagine switching places during sex? Continue by characterizing every hair on her body—break her down like an engine. Trace the veins and muscle fibers through her skin; note her bone structure and postulate models of her anatomy. Could you build her from the ground up? Given all the technology of God, could you assemble her from scratch? Poke around in her guts; posit the path of her intestines, and watch her stomach bloat and deflate depending on the rhythms of digestion. Watch individual droplets of oil pool on the microfissures of her face, and run together like so many streams.
Watch each atom of air dive into her beautiful lungs and be respired. Watch the chemical reactions of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen take place—watch her breathe, live, and grow older second by second.
Do you now know her?
* * *
I used to want to climb the whole world. If time were to stop on a dime, for eternity, I would learn how to climb up anything and everything. I’d start small—the big oak tree at the park, the mountains outside of the city, the stones cemented in the side of the local library. I would climb on top of every roof in town. Later would come harder things: shimmying up between flat wooden walls, crimping tiny ledges to flip on top of awnings, maneuvering like a spider around the inside corners of ornately decorated banks. Pull-ups and foot-jams. Toe hooks, heel hooks, body props—pressing, pushing, struggling, I’d ascend. Palm trees and marble pillars. Cliffs, boulders, and cracks. Kilimanjaro, Whitney, Everest. If I had eternity, my conquest would simply be a matter of time. I would travel the country looking for new objects to scale and conquer: skyscrapers, city halls and town-homes; large animals like elephants, giraffes and rhinoceri. I would know all these objects by experience—I would have mastered them. I would come to know the whole world—it would be mine.
After climbing everything reasonably possible, I would downsize. I’d shrink myself, maybe at first to one-quarter size. I would revisit my prior triumphs and be forced to find new solutions. Each reach would be further, each minuscule hold would become necessary. The handicap would be exciting, offering new challenges. After inevitably repeating my conquest (after all, we’re talking all eternity here), I would shrink to one-eighth size, one-sixteenth size, one-thirtysecond. I’d invent new routes, starting at home: the paint of my bathroom wall, once detailed but unremarkable, would be an effective El Capitan. Thousands of hidden routes would spiral up my sink, shower and toilet. I could practice on every fiber of my shag carpet. The stucco of all my neighbors’ houses would offer immeasurable depth. It’s a matter of scale and perspective; when I had previously climbed Mt.Rushmore, I would climb up the cracks in the skin of my lover’s inert face, maneuvering in and around pores and stopping for rest on errant hairs. At, say, one quarter of a millimeter tall, every texture in the world would be a varied, intricate climb.
As I shrank further down into minuscule sizes edging nonexistence, the challenge would become impossibly large, and I would know infinity. I would struggle up everything you can see or touch. Everything. Perhaps I would scale the sides of the smoothest metal sphere ever made by science. I would look for climbs like rock climbers size up boulders in the nooks of interesting molecules, the nuances of nuclei in individual atoms. After examining, learning, and summiting every particle on the physical plane, I would finally shrink down to the size of the smallest matter in existence, and thus merge with the universe at large, knowing that there was nothing else in all creation to learn or conquer, and that my purpose had been fulfilled.
I used to want to do this, but I don’t like the idea anymore. How sad it is to think that the world is finite and conquerable! How selfish! to think that this thing we call “I” could master all of the universe, the tangible and that which we have only speculated on, by dividing life into processes, projects, goals.
Is it possible to know love through analysis? If you knew enough about your lover to infer the sensation of kissing you on the lips, pressing her breasts and body close to yours, would that be the same as feeling it? Just as you can’t bridge the emotional gap of perspectival distance with knowledge, you can’t learn the purpose of the universe, the meaning of an atom, a boulder, or your life, by simply attempting to master it.
Detachedness precludes happiness, no matter how thorough you are. Be where you are, feel where you are going, and know that when you look into her eyes, you gain a worth and understanding that transcends an eternity of isolated study. Know yourself as you know her. Feel your life—this is it.