48 – Sanctuary

On a quiet day back together again in Paris, Grissom discovers that even if he still finds it difficult to express his feelings to her, Sara loves him anyway.

Companion piece to The Loudest Silence.

Takes place between episodes 10×06 “Death and the Maiden” and 10×08 “Lover’s Lanes,”

circa November 2009.

*******

With thanks to A and family for their descriptions – as last time husband visited, he was fifteen and the last thing fifteen year old boys seem to be thinking of is appreciating gothic architecture.

******

Grissom

Normally, Friday afternoons are just Friday afternoons. Pending upcoming weekends or no, there’s no real reason to hurry home, apart from taking a very eager Hank out for his afternoon pee.

Today, however, is another story. For you are there to come home to.

And that is something to hurry home for.

And not just because it’s been more than a month since you were here last.

Although it has been a long month.

Even if we’ve gotten to speak almost everyday while you’ve been away, it isn’t the same. Not the same as having you here.

So it’s good to have you back, even if I know that this but an all too temporary sojourn.

You do realize though, that I will always maintain, despite all your protests to the contrary, that your begging off attending my afternoon Introduction to Entomological Applications lecture had more to do with your not wanting to risk any further teasing if you fell asleep in my class again.

When I arrive home, Hank greets me at the door with all his usual enthusiasm. Although when I call out for you, the apartment is unexpectedly quiet.

At least your absence is readily explained.  You’ve left an obviously hurriedly scribbled note in the dish where we keep our keys. Just a single word scrawled in that habitually nearly illegible chicken-scratch of yours:

Church.

Which strangely enough, requires little further illumination, despite there being quite a few churches in Paris, including several very notable cathedrals. But I know you haven’t gone to Notre Dame or St. Denis, nor Sacre Coeur or Saint Sulpice. For there is only one church you frequent and favor.

I never would have thought you to be the sort to haunt churches, but you do here. Although not from out of some newfound desire to achieve some greater nearness to divinity. No, you go for the quiet and the grandeur of the glass.

And nowhere in Paris is the stained glass as magnificent as it is at Sainte- Chapelle.

I give my watch a hurried glance. There is still plenty of time before they sell the last admission for the day.

*******

Located within the grounds of the Palais de Justice on the Île de la Cité, Sainte-Chapelle stands as gothically majestic as it has since the 13th Century, when Louis IX had it built to house holy relics from the Passion of Christ. It being November and not exactly the height of tourist season, the line to get through security was not quite as formidable as the last time we visited.

In spite of its lavish gilt columns and ceiling full of fields of fleur-de-lys, I do not linger long in the lower chapel, for I know I won’t find you there, but in the story above.

Truth be told, I’m not sure words actually exist to describe it, what was once the King’s Chapel. Photographs certainly don’t do it justice.

All I know is when you first enter, you can’t help but just stand there and gape wide-eyed and slack-jawed. It is that arresting to be surrounded on all sides by the soaring panes of stained glass, which seem to just hover there, barely suspended as they are within their delicate stonework frames. Alight both from within and without, they glisten, jewel-like in riots of rich reds and brilliant blues, so much so that the very air is alive with color.

The presence of which, coupled with the simple realization that nothing we will ever do will last so long or ever be so beautiful, is nothing less than breathtaking.

But as brilliant and awe inspiring as Sainte-Chapelle is, right now I really only have eyes for you.

Not that you are all that hard to find, even if you have chosen a folding chair near the far end of the nave, close to where the reliquaries used to be housed. I take the seat beside you and wordlessly cover your hand with mine.  You turn to me and smile, before in a hushed murmur inform me that my hands are cold.

I would have argued that they can’t be that cold, particularly as the last couple of days have been rather unseasonably warm for November in Paris, except you have already taken up both my hands and begun to rub them between your own and I am enjoying the feel of your skin on mine too much to be willing to idly protest it away.

Once you’ve managed to warm them both to your satisfaction, you thread your fingers through mine, saying as you lean in to rest your head on my shoulder, I wasn’t expecting you to come, but I’m glad you did.

So am I.

It is, despite the last of the milling afternoon visitors, serenely tranquil here.

Sitting under the vast expanse of the azure colored ceiling studded as is with golden stars, I am reminded of all the quiet nights we spent stargazing in Costa Rica together. Those were good times, despite having to worry about what might be contemplating having us for dinner.

After a while, you whisper, You should have been here earlier. The sun was out. It was amazing.

I can imagine.

You lucked out really. It’s been rainy and foggy every other day for more than two full weeks, something I’ve been told is typical for Parisian Novembers. It seems you’ve brought the sun along with the warmth with you.

You smile when I tell you as much.

But your grin falters ever so slightly when I ask if you’ve been here for long and your Yeah of a reply is more somber than anything.

Still, I ask if you’ve come to think or just to enjoy the glass. Although I already have a pretty good idea of your answer even before you make it.

Work? I next question.

To which you sigh, Yes – and no.

I figured as much. Even all your smiles on the way home from the airport yesterday were unable to counter the fact that you were quieter and looked far more tired than the last time you were here.

So I am equally unsurprised that when I inquire if you want to talk about it, you shrug and say, Not really.

I nod.

But you only take a deep breath before saying, But I need to. Just not here. Later.

And the two of us enjoy a few last minutes of calm and quiet company, watching the sunset illuminate the grand rose window until the announcement is made that the chapel is closing for the day.

*******

We are walking home along the lamp and last of the twilight lit Boulevard Saint-Michel, you with your arm threaded through mine, when you suddenly stop short and tug me over to one side so we do not block the path.

That you blurt out, I almost forgot, doesn’t do much to dispel my puzzlement.

You begin to rummage through the pockets of your jacket for a moment before apparently finding what you were searching for. That you are next telling me with an almost playful smile that you have something for me isn’t all that reassuring.

You must sense this, for you only smile and tell me not to worry. It was just something you saw that made you think of me.

So when you tell me to hold out my hand, I do so, but not without reservations.

Wholly unnecessary as it turns out. For the cool medal slightly smaller than a quarter that you press into my palm turns out to be a simple saint’s medallion engraved with the image of a bearded man holding a book and accompanied by the figure of a lion. Without my reading glasses on I squint slightly to read the inscription.

St. Mark the Evangelist.

Disciple of Christ. Writer of the Gospel of Mark, I begin to mechanically rattle off. Patron saint of lawyers and prisoners. You trying to tell me something, dear?

You purse your lips and shake your head in amusement before interjecting, And stained glass workers. Also protects against insect bites.

At first, I think you’re joking, but no, your expression, although grinning, is as genuine as ever.

Considering your profession, you add, I thought it might come in handy.

Would certainly have in Costa Rica, I have to agree.

Except you seem to think otherwise, for you reply, Although with your curiosity, perhaps not so much.

It appears you are unlikely to ever let me live down the fact that during my first week in the rainforest I managed to fall out of an acacia while examining its rather large colony of Pseudomyrmex ferruginea. That the ants hadn’t been all that pleased when their home had been disturbed was an understatement. But at least they hadn’t been bullet ants.

I thank you for the gift and mean it. Although I do have to sigh as I rub my thumb over its face before slipping the medallion into my pocket for safekeeping, I suppose I should be happy it wasn’t St. Jude.

You only smile, take my arm again and tell me, Gil, you were never a lost cause.

*******

I am still thinking of those words of yours nearly six hours later as I sit propped up in bed, ostensibly to read. But I have tried reading the same paragraph at least a dozen times in the last ten minutes, which has been the sum total of my progress since you returned from your shower.

Never a lost cause.

I’m not so sure I can completely agree with your assessment.

Yet that doesn’t seem to keep you from loving me anyway.

That chat we had after dinner tonight is perhaps a perfect case in point.

Even with the warmer and drier than usual weather, it had been a little too cool to dine al fresco, and afterwards we carried cups of tea up to the second floor sitting room, the better to talk. Both of us knowing all too well that later couldn’t be put off any longer, we took our customary seats on the sofa and a few tentative sips of tea before you began without any prodding with an apology of all things.

A wholly unwarranted one. As were your fears about spoiling what little time we have together.

For you most assuredly were not. And I did not hesitate to tell you so, even if I know I could tell you this a hundred times and you still wouldn’t believe me.

But you get it out — all of it.

What has been weighing so heavily on your mind. Confessed the difficulties of the last couple of weeks. The frustrations, not so much with the work exactly, although that had been trying enough at times, but with yourself. All the things you hadn’t told me about during our calls, not that I blame you. I can understand not wanting to talk about them over the phone.

Nor hadn’t I sensed there’d been something, even before that strangely awkward voicemail you’d left me a couple of days ago. I haven’t been deaf to the weariness in your voice of late either, just not able to do much about it. No matter how much I want to be there with you, to be able to hold and comfort you, all I can do from half a world away is listen. Which doesn’t feel like nearly enough.

But you tell me. About what you just couldn’t say to Nick. How it was what remained unsaid in your time with Craig Mason that worried you more than all the mistakes and misunderstandings of his case.

How that no matter how long and deep you bury some things, the ache, the memories and most of all, the silence remains.

Silence.

I understand silence, I do. We both grew up with it, you and I. And keep them too, even now. They may be silences of very different sorts, but neither it seems are all that easy to surrender.

Yours I can comprehend. Mine is not quite so excusable.

I was thinking of this when you peered up at me. From the tightness in your voice and after your gaze had been so long focused on your lap, I expected there to be tears in your eyes then. But there weren’t. Your eyes were bright with something else entirely and your smile warm as you took my face in your hands and said, Thank you.

I didn’t get the chance to ask What for? For your lips were unexpectedly upon mine in a soft, gentle, drawn-out sort of kiss that was nonetheless arresting.

As sudden as that kiss was, it wasn’t half as surprising as the one you’d given me in the arrivals terminal at Roissy the day before, when I hadn’t been able to resist coming to get you, no matter how many times you’d told me that I didn’t need to. In truth, I hadn’t wanted to wait to see you.

You’d just come out of customs, carryon in tow, looking the more the worse for wear, when I’d called out to you. And while you had been startled, you brightened instantly and then to my surprise threw your arms around my neck and kissed me without any reservations. Confessedly, I had been momentarily taken aback, more by the very public nature of the gesture than the affection, but it was Paris after all, and if you couldn’t be passionately kissed hello by your wife in a Parisian airport where could you?

Still, this evening’s kiss had been sweet for all of its tenderness.

And next you pulled me tight to you and whispered, For everything, into my ear.

Then some time later, time there and then being of very little real consequence with you beside me again, you added, That you stayed that day.

You hadn’t needed to elaborate; I knew which day you meant. The day you first told me about your family.

It took a lot of courage for you to do that. But then I was always the cowardly one, not you. Still, I know, too, how much it must have cost you to talk about it then.

It meant a lot, you know, that you trusted me with that, even if it had been so heartbreakingly hard to see you ache in that way.

Of course I didn’t tell you as much then. I couldn’t. As so often when it comes to you, I found myself unable to say anything, anything at all. Nor be able to do anything that day but take your hand. It felt like such a hollow sort of comfort. It still does.

And there had been so much I had wanted to say to you then.

More than a year had passed before I was finally able to confess as much to you, about not having the words. You had only replied that I hadn’t needed them. Maybe I didn’t, but I wanted them.

Wanted them even more tonight.

There is still so much I want to tell you, and yet not nearly the words to do so. Sure, there are other people’s words, but none of them seem to ring quite true and I do not want them to be borrowed, the words I want to have for you and you alone.

I wish it really was as simple as la poétesse française, Marceline Debordes-Valmore maintained:

Entre deux coeurs qui s’aiment, nul besoin de paroles.

Two hearts in love need no words.

But it isn’t, at least not for me.

I settled on telling you, I love you, as you slowly drew away. You smiled at this.

Your hand still on my cheek, the warmth of understanding in your eyes, you replied, I know.

Except I am not so sure you do, not really.

And my heart wanted to burst once I realized just how little you really do know. How little I’ve ever been able to convey to you because of my own silence.

Sara, you don’t know the half of it. Of all you’ve done for me, been to me all this time. What this life we have together — even when we have to spend so much of it these days physically apart — means to me.

Admittedly, before you, I hadn’t had a lot of practical experience with passion, or at least the proper expression of it.

But I am not about to rationalize it away, this inability of mine to express my feelings to you. Even after all this time, all these years, all that’s happened, I’m not any better at it.

I can’t in any case, rationalize it away. I don’t know the why of it anymore than I did when I tried to tell you as much in that letter I wrote to you from Williams (and yet never sent). Why I can’t. Why you always seem to leave me tongue-tied. Why words are so difficult when being with you is so easy.

I wish, if only for a moment, you could see yourself through my eyes. Then maybe you could know what I cannot seem to say.

That you, too, have been my home, my heart, and yes, the other half of my orange, and indeed so often, the better part of me.

Maybe I’m not any less emotionally unavailable than you rightly accused me of being that same day back at your apartment all those years ago, and yet you still dare to love me anyway.

But I had wanted to try tonight. And while borrowed words wouldn’t do, maybe memory might.

So I gathered up your hand, pressed a kiss into your palm and asked if you remembered the first time we visited Sainte-Chapelle. For I did. Remembered that afternoon. Your overcome speechlessness. How so full of awe and wonder you had been then.

Which is why I told you, Sara, when I’m with you, I feel like that all the time.

*******

Obviously, when you insisted that I didn’t need to stop reading just because you’d come to bed, you had no idea just how much of a distraction you can be, even sound asleep and almost, but not quite, snoring.

That you decided to use me as a pillow, I don’t exactly mind either.

Although that hadn’t meant that once you’d slipped beneath the sheets and proceeded to snuggle up against me, I wasn’t above teasingly inquiring if you were comfortable. Your Very had only made me smile all the more. But it was your final murmur of Goodnight, Gil, that had done it. Made it absolutely impossible to go on reading.

For you had said it as if it were the most normal thing in the world for you to do, for you to climb into bed beside me at the end of the day, which strangely enough, it both is and isn’t.

I’m not sure I will ever get used to it, you here asleep in the bed beside me, and not just because most of the time these days you are in Vegas and I am here.

Ultimately, I give up the pretense of reading. Right now, Jean-Paul Sarte’s various treatises on existentialism just aren’t quite as riveting as usual. So the volume joins my reading glasses on the bedside table.

And I try as I might not to disturb you as I slide down beside you, you stir anyway. But only slightly, before thankfully, you settle back against me, your head coming to rest on my shoulder and your hand over my heart.

I can’t resist breathing in the scent of you, your still slightly damp hair redolent of lavender, before slipping an arm around you and placing a kiss into your hair.

I do have to own that your absences are getting harder to bear. It certainly hasn’t gotten any easier to watch you go. To hang up the phone. To fall asleep without you. And no, Paris really isn’t the same when you aren’t here.

But you’re here now. And I cannot help but relish in the quiet comfort of your company.

Well, quiet apart from your deep, even breathing, and Hank’s shuffling snores from his spot at the foot of the bed.

And what I find, having you near again like this, is that what I feel most is peace. One of those sorts that really does pass all understanding.

The sort of peace that exists not in the absence of fear or pain or sorrow or the past but rather in presence. In the presence of that sense of safety that comes with the surety of love.

Something I have really ever only known with you.

Something I have always so longed to grant you in return.

Perhaps, that is why that had been the word I’d chosen to close that letter to you, not Love, but Peace.

I love you, Sara. I do and always will, but love doesn’t begin to cover it, what I feel when I am with you. What I feel for you.

I meant it, what I said about what it was like being with you. It is awe and wonder and wordless breathlessness, for you really are light and color and warmth and breath and life.

And I never knew love or life could be like this before you.

Comfort and hope and tenderness and for the first time really, peace.

No love doesn’t come close at all.

Honey, I’m not expecting things to be perfect, or even easy. I just want to share it with you, this life every day. Even when you are thousands of miles away.

But right now, you are here.

And there is nowhere on earth I would rather be than anywhere with you.

*******

Have a question or want to leave a comment or concern and don’t have a wordpress account? Please feel free to email me at kadhmercer@gmail.com

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. mbonthecorner
    Mar 15, 2010 @ 18:12:51

    I know you have been working on this piece for a while, since it has been a while since you first mentionned it to me. (the French references are flawless, as far as I can tell!) So… I’m sure you are looking ahead to what you might write in the future. so far, everyone has assumed that Sara’s reference to a canoe trip taken by her and grissom on their honeymoon must have been in Costa rica. But of course there are canoes and bugs in france, as well. Are you up for the challenge? (BTW especially enjoyed your references to St Mark-it is the name of my brother as well as my son!) take care, Marcia

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