From September last year, I did nothing else but wait for a man: for him to call me and come round to my place. I had no future other than the telephone call fixing our next appointment.Annie Ernaux – Simple Passion
These two sentences were a few of the sentiments written by Annie Ernaux that made me want to finish her 48-page novel called Simple Passion. This short novel details the author’s affair for two years with a married man. The passion and desire experienced on the pages gave me the sense that this woman thought of nothing, but her lover and slowly was overtaken by a strange form of tunnel vision that allowed her to see nothing else but him.
In “Getting Lost,” Ernaux delves into the depths of her journals, meticulously revealing an old affair and allowing it to oxidize as voyeurs eagerly consume the intimate details shared between lovers. Her novel “Simple Passion” was published in 1991, a couple of years after the affair’s conclusion. However, the book is strikingly brief and seemingly incomplete, offering no clues as to the identity of Ernaux’s lover. Some might argue that it barely qualifies as a novel, feeling more like a short, disjointed tale. In today’s context, one could imagine it being rehashed as a 50-part Twitter thread, presented as a collection of random musings.
As I read the first few pages of this book, I couldn’t help but wonder if the author was the same Annie who wrote “Brokeback Mountain.” However, that Annie was Annie Proulx, an American writer who shares some similarities with Annie Ernaux, such as the first name Annie, a French surname, and a penchant for exploring raw human emotions and experiences in her writing. Annie Ernaux, on the other hand, was born in France in 1950, and after studying literature, worked as a teacher before becoming a professor and ultimately winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her debut publication recounted the story of a woman undergoing an illegal abortion. Initially, Ernaux penned works that fell under the fiction genre, but later switched to biographical writing based on her own experiences. Through this, she produced a series of novels chronicling the lives of her parents and delving into her personal experiences.
In my previous blog posts, I’ve explored the intricate relationship between literature and cinema, examining how they influence and enrich each other. However, this time, I’m going to switch gears and draw from my personal experience to shed light on the tumultuous nature of passion. So, in this monthly blog, I’ll be taking a deep dive into my own emotional journey, recounting the time I spent anxiously waiting for a man to call. While I was not literally waiting for a man to call the terminology is one that allows me to believe that I was waiting on something to happen; whether it was a life changing experience, an exploration of passion, discovering a friend, or myself.
Be prepared for a raw and honest account of the highs and lows of desire, as I lay bare my innermost thoughts and feelings for all to see.
I spent a year waiting on a man to call.Annie Ernaux – Simple Passion
From the moment I invited him over, I knew I was heading towards this point. It was as if my subconscious had put my writing on pause so I could fully engage with my emotions and reflect on the part of my life that the local gossipers had deemed to be a cliché called the foolish female stereotype or trope.
On January 12th, 2022, I met CC while working in Germany. Having been there for almost six months, I had grown increasingly weary of my job and was ready to move on to greener pastures. That evening, I had a phone interview scheduled with a recruiter in Washington D.C. for a position in recruitment, where I would be responsible for conducting background checks and reviewing candidate packets for individuals in the clandestine services. Given my minimal experience in the field and the pandemic’s telework requirements, I didn’t hold high hopes for getting the job. Nevertheless, I gave it my best shot and had an almost flawless interview. However, I was asked to reapply after the pandemic subsided and regular office work and on-the-job training could resume.
Wednesday, January 12th 2022
On that cold, damp Wednesday afternoon of January 12th, I took a lunch break and stopped by to visit one of my favorite managers. As we chatted, CC unexpectedly walked into the office. He was clearly not having a great day, having been assigned an unpleasant outdoor task that required him to brave the frigid weather for hours on end. Seeking a brief respite, he sauntered into the office wearing a pair of slate grey or bluish-grey work coveralls that were pulled down to reveal his t-shirt underneath. Although I couldn’t quite recall the exact shade of his coveralls or the color of his t-shirt, I still managed to get quite a bit of information from his brief visit that day. For starters, I couldn’t help but notice his blackish-brown plastic-framed glasses and his towering height of over 6 feet. As he engaged in small talk upon entering the room, I initially didn’t think much of him, but his unique combination of glasses and beard seemed oddly familiar to me. I was sure I’d seen that combination somewhere before and if I could be exact, I thought it was back in October 2021 as his vibrant red hair and matching beard were memorable.
During our brief interaction, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something going on behind CC’s gaze as he looked down at me. Time seemed to slow down, giving me a chance to take in the rise and fall of his chest with each breath. Our exchange felt instinctual, like it was something he did often without even thinking about it. Although the moment was fleeting, it left an indelible mark on me, reminding me of Lars von Trier’s directorial style in his films “Melancholia” and “Antichrist.” Just as von Trier masterfully captures the raw emotion and intensity of his characters, CC’s unspoken thoughts and feelings seemed to be bubbling just beneath the surface, waiting to be unleashed.
To me, observing people is like admiring a piece of art – you need to take a step back to appreciate the overall masterpiece before delving into the finer details. If given enough time, we can pick out the nuances that make each individual unique. However, there are moments when you get a chance to examine someone up close, then you can see things that truly pique your curiosity. I remember one such moment when I was gazing at CC. At first, I was taking-in the big picture, but then my eyes landed on his. It was strange – I couldn’t remember the color or shape of his eyes, despite staring directly at them. There was an uneasiness about the situation that left me feeling unsure and unable to fully absorb everything that was before me.
As I looked at him, his physical form began to fade away, revealing a raw vulnerability that sent a shiver down my spine. Suddenly, my heart raced with such intensity that I wondered if I was having a medical emergency. It was as if I had seen beyond his exterior, beyond the flesh and bones, and into the essence of his soul. Perhaps it was the light shining from his soul, or maybe it was simply a trick of light. Whatever it was, it defied rational explanation. It was like catching a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye, a feeling that can’t be fully articulated. This momentary connection was broken when he had to leave the room, but before he departed, he paused, turned around, and left me with a warm smile that lingered long after he was gone.
It feels like I was seeing a feeling. The phrase “I was seeing a feeling” may be perplexing to readers, but it’s the only way to describe what occurred in that moment. Imagine that split second as the birth of the universe, the moment a soul departs the body, the instant a new life is conceived, the moment a mother falls in love with her newborn, or the moment a lost thought is retrieved. It defies all logic and borders on the mystical and fantastical.
As I drove out of the parking lot, my phone buzzed with a message from my manager. It read, “Looks like you’ve got an admirer.” The message didn’t come as a surprise, but I was grateful for the confirmation. The encounter had been so perfect; I could have never seen him again and I would have been very happy with just that moment. Throughout my life, I had developed a tendency to admire men from afar, as it allowed me to avoid rejection and the realization that my ideal lover may not be as perfect as I had imagined. Even though I experienced a rush of fear and desire during our brief interaction, I didn’t feel the need to act on it. I could have died content at that point with only that encounter. So, afterwards his message only confirmed my suspicions that he was accustomed to these types of situations and he was confident in his ability to navigate these types of situations.
As I left the office that day, my manager informed me that the guy I had been admiring wanted to get in touch with me. She refused to give him my phone number and instead requested that I return the next day to do it myself. The next day, I discovered his first name, and to my surprise, he already knew moniker. We exchanged numbers, and he even asked me to add him on Instagram. When he texted me later that day, I couldn’t help but notice his impeccable grammar and punctuation. It was unusual to see such formality in casual texting, especially since my friend Tara was the only one, I knew who communicated in that manner. Tara was an exception, as she had always been particular about her language, both written and spoken. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was putting on a show, and it made me a bit uneasy.
In our short text exchange, I was excited to discover that he was a dog owner from the United Kingdom who had been living in Germany for nearly two years. Amidst our conversation, there was one question he asked that stood out to me – “Are you happy?” It was an unusual question coming from someone I barely knew, but it intrigued me, nonetheless. In truth, I had been grappling with a sense of discontent with my current situation. The Sunday before I met him, I had confided in my landlord’s wife about my growing feeling of not belonging in Germany. I often found myself questioning the choices I had made and searching for ways to improve my situation. When she suggested that perhaps I needed a partner, I disagreed. Loneliness, in my opinion, wasn’t solved by simply entering a relationship or going out getting drunk and sleeping around. It was a result of a mismatch between the quality and quantity of social relationships. While my landlord’s wife was probably 96% correct, not every lonely person sought comfort in relationships. What I sorted after was quality partnerships that were reciprocal in nature, fostering growth and could lead me to a number of things that would elevate my life whether that is in knowledge, wealth, health, or happiness in the company of genuine people.
Through our brief text exchanges, I gathered that he was content with the results of his life so far. While he may not have been overjoyed, he didn’t seem disappointed and had a sense of hopefulness. I also learned that he lived in Southeast Asia, enjoyed traveling, and aspired to become a homeowner. His goal was to break away from traditional work and achieve a significant passive income, which would allow him to travel more freely. I was relieved that he had a personal goal, even if he didn’t have a concrete plan to achieve it. His passion for travel was impressive, and I could tell he was proud of what he had accomplished thus far. However, when he mentioned my travel experiences, I cringed behind my phone because my experience with men who commented on my travels had not always been positive. As a foreigner, black, and female, I’ve learned to take care of myself in many ways, including avoiding leading with my accomplishments as it can sometimes trigger frustration, competitive behavior, resentment, or the notion that I believe myself to be superior. Perhaps in general some men thought I would be somewhat out of their reach. But overall, there was a mismatch based on my demographic and the many given stereotypes causing people to assume that I lack refinement or have never traveled; so it often came as a shock to them when they learn the truth about me.
Who Are You?
As he asked me if I was happy, I retorted with, “Who are you?” He responded with examples of his work ethic and compassion towards animals. There was no right or wrong answer to this question, but it was an opportunity to get to know him better. I can’t recall my own responses, but I likely came across as inhuman. I didn’t smoke, drink, party, engage in promiscuous behavior, and had experienced death multiple times. I had traveled more than I had hoped to, struggled to keep myself from getting attached to anyone or anything, and lacked any real, lasting connections because I don’t like trusting people. As someone who always saw the end before the beginning, I wondered if he ever pondered his own reason for existing. I analyzed every moment of our interaction and wanted to delve deeper into it. I realized that for him, it was all automatic, as nature was driving him relentlessly towards his end goal.
I remember him mentioning the concept of karma and how he believed in the idea of past actions having consequences, and how he was working to make amends for his past mistakes. Although he never shared specific examples of these incidents, I could sense that there was a deep pain or trauma that had caused him to reflect on his past behavior. It was like an old wound that had never fully healed, leaving behind scars that were still visible. As we talked, I couldn’t help but wonder if he had ever taken a step back to examine his own actions and see the abnormality in what he had once considered normal. This conversation about happiness and karma was a refreshing reminder of the importance of self-reflection and personal growth.
It’s important to acknowledge and validate the pain and struggles of others, even if we may not fully understand or relate to them. During our initial interactions, I sensed a deep-seated trauma within him, and I wanted him to know that I empathized with him in my own way. As someone who has faced hardships in life, I knew how important it was to have someone who understood and cared. I wondered what he thought of me during those early days, as I was afraid, he wouldn’t want to get to know me beyond superficial conversation. I worried that perhaps he was only interested in me if it meant a quick physical encounter. I wanted to show him that I wanted to dissect him and really get to know this man.
End of Part I