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Wednesday, Dec 26, 2004 - 4:46 p.m.

Sex. The penetration of another body is not the same as the copulation of thoughts.

The lie is that sex is an intimate act, with the physical proximity, the slamming of bodies - suggesting that one body leaves a psychic imprint of itself on the other. He understands this lie keenly. He has been having sex with his wife for almost forty years.

His wife is the only person he has ever had sex with, and there was only one girl-friend (Julia) before her. When he goes to the karaoke lounges with his clients, he clinically proceeds to show them a good time; his eyes have never looked at any of the girls, and he is careful to move slightly aside when one of their hands brush against his. He never gets drunk and has spent every night of his married life sleeping next to his wife.

He likes his wife, and there are no problems with his marriage, except for the fact that he wishes he had married Julia. He tells his wife he loves her, and she tells him the same, never noticing that his eyes are always focused on a point slightly behind her when he speaks those words. Their social backgrounds were compatible, and neither of them was getting any younger, so they married. And though she was an intelligent woman, she has never discovered what he understands and perpetuates - that the intimacy of sex is a lie.

By most accounts, they have a healthy sex life. They cuddle after the act, he whispers into her ears and re-assures her against abandonment (he has read many women's magazines). I will never abandon you, he says. That is of course true - how can you abandon someone you have never truly wanted? He thinks about the idea of 'abandonment' all the time, and is not quite sure if sex is a bulwark against 'abandonment', or its very manifestation.

It would be incorrect to say he is reluctant about having sex with his wife; perhaps it would be more accurate to say he is reluctant about having sex with anyone who was not Julia, and his wife, unfortunately, falls into this category. Over forty years, he has never looked directly into his wife's eyes during sex because he strangely believes that it would be a betrayal of Julia, though he has never declared his faith to this girl. He has many methods - blindfolding himself, turning the lights off, the nasal anesthetic so that he smells nothing, making his wife wear a mask on the pretext of being more adventurous, simply looking away at the point of orgasm. He does not imagine that the person he is having sex with is Julia; in fact it is the opposite: sex with his wife is a heightened realization that the woman before him - is not.

It is as if he believes that the more callous he is towards his wife, the greater the purity of the faith he bears for Julia.

With the girl Julia (girl-friend and not girlfriend, he reminds you, since they were never formally together, but what does formally mean?), the only physical contact they ever had was reaching for the same book in the library. His hand was on the spine, and her hand lingered on top of his for just a little longer than was accidental. To this day, he tries to recall the shape of her hand, the slight pressure, and his surprise that afternoon. It was a strange kind of surprise, one that he has never felt since. They were good friends but not close ones.

He felt happy (yes, he will allow us to use this word) when he was with her, doing all the mundane things like watching an occasional arthouse film, walking down the street with her, their inconsequential conversations, looking at the ends of her hair secretly. Once he even stole her camera from her bag for two days, uploaded the photographs she took to his computer, and then surreptitiously returned the camera. The photos were artful, and even artistic ones of the city, but always bereft of people. A pair of forlorn yellow slippers. The crisp edge of her own skirt. A dusk sky, empty except for a streetlamp standing at an awkward angle because of the photograph's composition.

To this day, he doesn't believe that he stole her camera. He was stealing her light, he says, the light that reflects off objects like streetlamps, the light that then falls into her eyes. He wanted to understand how she saw the world, how she understood the beauty of the world and framed it in her mind. How she composed the photograph, what she chose to see (in focus), and what she chose not to (out of focus or excluded), can be described with the literal metaphor of itself - it is exactly like the building up of a photograph, a record of the presence and absence of light.

He says he was happy with her, but that was not the point; happiness was merely the consequence of the point. And the point, as he argues, is that she is the one, the one person his thoughts should have been enjoined with. Then, he was deliberate about not looking for signs that suggested he should make her his girlfriend; he did not need confidence from the serendipitous meetings of objects. But still they came. He took a short trip with his friend to Taipei and on the day they left Taipei, they passed a shop called 'Julia' that was selling bridal gowns - her English name, a rare occurrence for so Chinese a city. It was printed in large, bold white letters on a black background, and was repeated along the exterior of the shop every three meters. It was like a visual incantation, in case the singular occurrence of her name was by chance (a concept that he does not believe in). And then while waiting at the departure lounge, his friend put down the book that he had been reading for the past four days, and suddenly said, "I just noticed that the main character's name is Julia."

He has thought over why these signs appeared - was it only his attention to all things bearing her name that increased i.e. the shop called Julia would always have existed in Taipei. Or was coming across the shop magic i.e. that the shop did not exist before he saw it. We (including him) cannot distinguish between either rationality or magic, and we can only say that the shop and the book were unlikely events. Therefore the work of fate, some might add, but he does not believe in fate either. He only believes that he and her are an extremely good fit, like one hand placed over the other. He could see them having kids, arguing, reminiscing, talking talking talking. He understood even then, that if he did not have her, he could not possibly want and have another woman in the same way; after her, all the others would be inconsequential. And he proved his own thinking right.

She was cryptic, and he was sure that to her, he was hard to read as well. It was with this lack of clarity and masked intentions that defined their relationship. There was a singular moment when he wanted to tell her what he thought about her - it happened as they were standing next to each other at a pedestrian crossing. But then the red man turned green and they started walking, not a word between them. He doesn't quite understand to this day, why he said nothing. It wasn't for fear of getting hurt, because he was fearless. She might have reciprocated and they could have had that future with the endless talking, but he was irrational and remained silent.

He remembers that all he wanted after they started walking across the road, was to see her cry. He wanted to see her in the various stages of crying, when the first tear slowly traces a path down her face, when the second, the third teardrops follow the bold wet line drawn by the first. There was no animosity in this desire to see her cry - he only desired her crying because it would be the moment when at last, she is completely honest, and completely revealed.


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