Posted from The Citrus Report
Initially I was going to write about him. Just him- Jean Genet.
I was going to go into details about how he was the son of a prostitute, that he was abandoned at the age of one, how he was a thief, a criminal, a whore, how he’s considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest 20th-century writers, how he spent half his youth in a prison, how he roamed Europe as a vagrant, a vagabond, how his work went from being banned around the world to revered or how, through the aid of a petition drafted by Jean Cocteau and Jean-Paul Sartre and signed and endorsed by Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti and a multitude of others, his sentence for being a long-time criminal went from being a life-sentence to a full and irrevocable pardon in France, how he inspired millions of strangers and persons familiar, from the aforementioned Cocteau, Picasso, Sartre and Giacometti, to David Bowie, Chris Marker, Patti Smith, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Bukowski, Jackson Pollock, Fassbinder, Jean-Luc Godard, André Gide, Jonas Mekas, Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith, Warhol, Mapplethorpe, Morrissey, Antony Hegarty, Foucault, Derrida, Stravinsky, Anselm Kiefer, etc.-
I could have talked about his writing, his films, his poetry, his plays, his literature or drawings, how he has been described as everything from a revolutionary, a criminal, a poet, an activist, a thief, a whore, a hero. But I didn’t, I couldn’t. Facts are boring- the truth relating to oneself around a person and his creations is always infinitely more entertaining. This then, is that.
The beginning of this story is for something else, a different time and a different place.
I can only give the setting and a few fragments of my former self at the moment that these events took place, when they took place- and they did take place.
I was young, younger than I am now. A few months had passed since I landed in Frankfurt, since I had walked from there to Paris, since I was close to being raped, since I had starved, since I nearly starved, since I found the true definitions to words I’d only known fragments of (hunger, cold, etc.), since I was living in the street, since I had managed to survive the winter, since I had broken into those homes, since I had lied, cheated and stolen my way out of starvation, since I had found that woman, since she had found me and since I was living in her house, going from being on the street and under the bridge to an apartment in the 1st Arrondissement overlooking the Seine with rent being several pages of writing a day. A few months had passed-
I was at the age where nothing was more terrifying and beautiful than a beautiful woman. She was a beautiful woman. Older, half-Italian / half-French, with voluptuous hair, and eyes, nose and lips perfect in their formation and feature. We talked for awhile in the falling light, her body framed by the architecture of the city in back of her. After awhile, she looked at her wrist, saying how she had to get going, “and what way are you headed back, perhaps you’d like to walk with me?”
I looked at her and smiled, saying that I had nowhere to be really, and that I was headed wherever she was. We walked down Rue Saint-Honoré, the buildings and everything around seeming to be so much clearer; my mind emptied of everything I had been thinking of earlier.
I walked her to her apartment. We sat on the staircase which led to her door and as night fell around us, she gradually began to get up, heading towards her door.
She asked me where I was staying and I was so mesmerized with the conversation, not that the content was anything spectacular, but just the fact that it was a conversation- I looked at her and realized that she was the first person I had talked to in months since my arrival in the city. It shocked me.
She asked her question again- where was I staying.
I looked down, taking my hands out of my pockets, the grain of the denim / jeans being imprinted on the surfaces of my wrists. I told her that I wasn’t staying anywhere. I began to elaborate, saying how tonight it would probably be under the tree or the bridge or, if it got colder, I knew of a bakery near the river I could break into where they don’t come inside until after eleven. She came down a few steps, coming closer to me.
“You really have no place to stay tonight?”
I shook my head.
“Well, you seem harmless and I have the space..if you’d like to come up for the night you can. It’s an invitation.”
I don’t know why, but I declined at first, saying that she was being too kind. She grabbed me by the hand however, shook off whatever feeling I was feeling, and together we walked up the spiraling set of steps, past the third floor and onto the fourth, entering her house and sitting on the couch together. She got up, my eyes following her figure and its curvatures of silhouette in the moonlight. She turned on the lamp and came back to the couch with two glasses of water.
“So,” she said, “tell me about yourself. I know so little.”
I talked for a moment but was interrupted by her weight which she had begun to place the majority of on top of the lower portion of my legs and eventually my thighs. She asked me a question, one whose algorithm I cannot remember for at the exact moment that I was to answer her, she brought her lips to mine. And just as one thing leads to another, one thing led to another- our actions and movements taking up the majority of our memory, the two of us waking later in the morning without remembering we had fallen asleep.
When I woke she was still sleeping. I looked at the window from where I was sitting, over the edge of the couch, watching the curtain slowly move in a recurring pattern resembling water on an evening shore. I unraveled my limbs from hers, shaking the blood back into them and hobbled over to the bathroom where I washed the sleep out from my face.
She was in a different position by the time I came back to her, having turned over the other way from the couch, a sheet covering her body though its outline still very much visible. She mumbled something that I didn’t understand and I grabbed my typewriter from my pile of things and went into the other room to write so as not to disturb her.
For every ten pages written in the morning, there’s only ever one that’s worth keeping. I wrote vigorously, madly- throwing out papers and crossing out lines. As I began to edit the text, she came in and sat down next to me. We talked briefly and she handed me a cup of tea while I watched the trails of steam from each cup spiral their way in a Fibonacci pattern toward the ceiling. She put her arm across the back of my neck, looking at me warmly. There are moments and fragments of a person’s face that you will never forget and this moment will never escape me. It seemed that just as she looked at me, the light from the spaces of the city outside aligned and made their way into the room in the only way that they could- perfectly outlining everything there was that was beautiful about her and amplifying it to different degrees.
“Stay here,” she said, “I’ll be right back.”
And just as she said, she came back, each hand filled with a plate of food.
“I’m guessing you’re hungry after all the moving around last night,” she smiled.
We ate together and as I was so young, new thoughts occurred to me that seem so common now but were a revelation then- just how strange this world is that it is and how it is that people can come together and share something, a piece or a part of themselves just through the strands of communication.
We must have fucked after that night for every night that she was there. She came up with a rental agreement for me to stay there in which she would keep all the writing that I was throwing out during the day. I would wake up every morning, some days she would be gone, a plate of cold food on the table by my head and a note, the same note all the time written in her small handwriting and small letters. She was one of those persons who used three exclamation points to accentuate a sentence instead of one. It seemed sweet to me. I would eat the food, every other day taking a shower, long and warm, after which I would come out and sprawl out on the floor, air-drying myself with the cold April breeze coming through the window.
Sometimes she would come back a few hours after I woke, other times it would be a few days, all the while while I was writing and working on my work.
Sometimes I would sit on the balcony, stare out at the city and its nothing for hours, my eyes following nothing and my vision perceiving no real depth- I just stared at the mass of the city in front of me, digested its aura and would go back in the room to write, taking in those quiet thoughts that occupy the spaces of one’s mind that can never be quieted down when they start and can never be started on contact whence quieted.
It seemed perfect, this time, but time can never be perfect for it is continually and constantly evolving, moving and changing. There is never a now, now is always behind you and you are the only thing that is forever.
One day, she came home. I was writing in the study and she came in, asking me what it was that I was reading and I realized that I hadn’t had a good book in awhile, not since I had been traveling in between Germany and France.
She told me to go through her library and pick through it- “any book you want,” is what she said. I scoured the shelves, a floor-to-ceiling full of books, each spine either drawing me in or repelling me. I looked around and out the corner of my periphery saw the word “thief” and reached my hand for the book. It was a used, second-hand copy of The Thief’s Journal, by Jean Genet.
I took it from down the shelf, read the first sentence and had to sit down- unable to put the book down, finding myself drawn in immediately. The library room had no windows and when I finished the book I came out into daylight, stunted by the sun and walking in that dreamlike state that a person has after they have experienced something that they know has changed them.
I reread the book over the span of the next several days, never noticing a curious inscription on the inner flap of the front cover until about a week later.
The book was inscribed to the woman I was staying with and signed with “Your Loving Husband, Georges”.
I was sort of dumbfounded. When she came back the next day I asked her about it and in the most nonchalant way, as if I asked her the most simple question, she answered with one breath and one word whether or not she had a husband- yes.
It felled me. I sort of collapsed within myself, not yet knowing, unfortunately, how common the acts of infidelity are within people. She sort of breathed off the matter, and when I asked her whether or not it ever occurred to her to tell me, she said that “it’s unfortunate that you found out.”
The whole thing was fascinating to me in its simplicity to her and its intricacy to me, something I assume can be attributed to our large age gap- her 41 and myself 17 at the time.
She gave me the book and after the book nothing seemed to matter, the city didn’t matter, my hunger didn’t matter, the fact that I had to leave Paris in order to help a struggling sibling didn’t matter- nothing mattered at all. Just the book. I devoured that book as though it were my last meal on death row and everything that Genet wrote it seemed that I was seeing around me, bearing witness to and living or experiencing in an offset way.
And that was my introduction to the work of Jean Genet.
- Jason Jaworski
Las Vegas, NV – 12/19/2010
Posted By The Citrus Report