On November 16, 1989, I phoned the Soviet embassy in Paris and asked to speak to Mr. S. The switchboard operator did not reply. After a long silence, a woman’s voice said: “You know, Mr. S. returned to Moscow yesterday.” I immediately hung up. I felt as if I’d heard this sentence before, over the phone. The words were not the same but they had the same meaning, the same weight of horror, and were just as impossible to believe. Later, I remembered the announcement of my mother’s death three and a half years earlier, how the nurse at the hospital had said: “Your mother passed away this morning after breakfast.”
The Berlin Wall had fallen a week earlier. The Soviet regimes established in Europe were toppling one after the other. The man who had just returned to Moscow was a faithful servant of the USSR, a Russian diplomat posted in Paris. I had met him the previous year on a writers’ junket to Moscow, Tbilisi, and Leningrad, a voyage he had been assigned to accompany. We had spent the last night together, in Leningrad. After returning to France, we continued to see each other. His trajectory, which I pieced together over the course of our meetings, was typical of a young apparatchik: membership in the Komsomol and then in the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union), time spent in Cuba. He spoke French quickly, with a strong accent. Though outwardly a partisan of Gorbachev and perestroika, when he’d had a drink he mourned the time of Brezhnev and made no secret of his veneration of Stalin. I never knew anything about his activities, which, officially, were related to culture. Today, I am amazed that I did not ask more questions.
During this period, the only place I truly wrote was in the journal I had kept, on and off, since adolescence. After he left France, I started to write a book about the passion that had swept through me. I published it in 1992 as Simple Passion.
In January or February 2000, I started to reread my journals from the year of my affair with S. It had been five years since I had opened them. (For reasons that need not be specified here, they had been stored in a place that made them unavailable to me.) I perceived there was a truth in those pages that differed from the one to be found in Simple Passion—something raw and dark, without salvation, a kind of oblation. I thought that this, too, should be brought to light. I neither altered nor removed any part of the original text while typing it up. (The text below is excerpted from the original.) For me, words that are set down on paper to capture the thoughts and sensations of any given moment are as irreversible as time—are time itself.
Tuesday, September 27, 1988
Three scenes stand out. That evening (Sunday) in S.’s room, as we sat close to each other, touching, saying nothing, eager for what would follow, which still depended on me. His hand brushed my legs each time he put his cigarette ash in the container on the floor. In front of everyone. We talked as if there were nothing going on. Then the others leave (Marie R., Irène, RVP) but F. hangs back. I know that if I leave S.’s room now I won’t have the strength to return. Then F. is outside the room, or almost, the door is open, and S. and I throw ourselves at each other. Then we are in the entry hall. My back, pressed against the wall, switches the light off and on. I drop my raincoat, handbag, suit jacket. S. turns off the light.
The second moment, Monday afternoon. When I’ve finished packing my case, he knocks at the door to my room. We caress each other in the doorway. He wants me so much that I kneel down and lingeringly make him come with my mouth. He is silent, then only murmurs my name like a litany, with his Russian accent. My back pressed against the wall—darkness (he doesn’t want the lights on)—communion.
The third moment is on the sleeper train for Moscow. We kiss at the back of the carriage, my head next to a fire extinguisher (which I only identify later). All this happened in Leningrad.
Since my flight home yesterday, I have tried to reconstruct events, but they tend to elude me. All that I am sure of is that on Saturday, in Zagorsk, as we visit the treasures in the monastery, slippers on our feet, he takes me by the waist for a few seconds, and I know right away that I will agree to sleep with him. We leave for Leningrad by sleeper train. Meal at the Hotel Europe: I’m seated next to him, but that has happened many times since the beginning of the trip. (One day, in Georgia, when he was seated next to me, I spontaneously wiped my wet hands on his jeans.) On the visit to the Hermitage, we’re not together much. Crossing a bridge over the Neva on the way back, we’re leaning on the parapet with our elbows. Dinner at the Hotel Karelia: RVP eggs him on to get Marie to dance. It’s a slow number. Yet I know he has the same desire as me. (I have just forgotten an episode: the ballet, before dinner. Sitting beside him, I can think of nothing but my desire for him, especially during the second part of the performance: The Three Musketeers, Broadway-style. I’ve still got the music in my head. I tell myself that if I can remember the name of Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s companion, a dancer, we’ll sleep together. I remember, it’s Lucette Almanzor.)
Thursday, September 29
Sometimes I can picture his face, but only fleetingly. There, now I’ve lost it again. I know his eyes, the shape of his lips, his teeth, but they do not form a whole. Only his body is identifiable—his hands, not yet. I am consumed with desire, to the point of tears. I want perfection in love, as, I believe, I attained a kind of perfection in writing with A Woman’s Story. That can only happen through giving, while throwing all caution to the wind.
Friday, September 30
He hasn’t called yet. I don’t know what time his plane gets in. How to explain the strange, silent accord of that Sunday in Leningrad, if it’s all meant to end?
Saturday, October 1
It was a quarter to one. His flight was three hours late. Painful happiness. I am afraid to die on the road between Lille and Paris tonight, afraid of anything that could keep me from seeing him again.
Sunday, October 2
Fatigue, torpor. Slept four hours after my return from Lille. Made love for two hours in David’s studio. [David and Éric are my two sons.]
Bruises, pleasure, and the constant awareness of making the most of these moments, before the departure, before desire wanes. Before the terrible threat of “I’m too old.” But at thirty-five, I could have been jealous of a beautiful woman of fifty.
Parc de Sceaux, the ponds and canal, cold damp weather, the smell of earth. In ’71, when I was here to pass the agrégation, I never would have guessed that I’d return to this park with a Soviet diplomat. He likes fancy cars, luxury, social connections, and isn’t much of an intellectual. This, too, is a step back in time, to the hateful image of my husband, but even that now appears to me in a pleasant light, because it corresponds to a part of my past.
How do I go about this so that my attachment doesn’t show too quickly and so that the difficulty of keeping me becomes apparent to him, at least once in a while?
Monday, October 3
Last night he called. I was sleeping. He wanted to come around. Not possible. (Éric here.) Restless night, what to do with this desire? The same goes for today, when again I won’t see him. I weep from desire, this all-consuming hunger for him. He represents the most “parvenu” part of myself, the most adolescent, too. He likes to “make a splash.” He’s that “man of my youth,” blond and unrefined (his hands, his square fingernails), who fills me with pleasure (and whom I no longer wish to reproach for his lack of intellectualism). Nonetheless, I really need to catch up on my sleep now. I’m at the point of total exhaustion, unable to do anything.
Song by Édith Piaf: “Mon Dieu, laissez-le-moi, encore un peu, un jour, deux jours, un mois, le temps de s’adorer et de souffrir . . .” The longer I live, the more I abandon myself to love. The illness and death of my mother revealed the strength of my need for the other. When I say “I love you” to S., I am amused to hear him reply, “Thank you!” He says to me with happiness and pride, “You’ll see my wife!” As for me, I’m the writer, the foreigner, the whore—the free woman, too. I’m not the “good woman,” whom one possesses and displays, the one who gives consolation. I can’t console anyone.
Tuesday, October 4
I don’t know if he wants us to continue. I’m on the verge of tears. How often have I waited, got ready, made myself “beautiful” and welcoming, and then—nothing.
My only scrap of happiness all day: being hit on in the RER by a young lout, and producing the right lingo, which came to my lips spontaneously: “Keep that up and I’ll knock your lights out!” etc.
Is the happiness with S. already over?
Wednesday, October 5
Nine o’clock, last night, a call . . . “I’m here, close by, in Cergy . . .” He came around and we spent two hours shut in my study, as David is here. Later, I could not sleep, could not detach myself from his body, which remained inside me. That’s my whole drama, I’m unable to forget the other, to be autonomous. I soak up other people’s words and actions, my body absorbs the other body. It’s so difficult to work after a night like this.
Thursday, October 6
Last night, he collected me in Cergy and we went to David’s studio on rue Lebrun. Semidarkness, his body both visible and veiled. The usual madness for nearly three hours. On our return he drove quickly, with the radio playing (“En rouge et noir,” a hit from last year), flashing the headlights off and on. He shows me the powerful car he wants to buy. He’s a little boorish (“The holidays aren’t over yet, we can still hook up,” he says). Misogynistic, too: women in politics are hilarious, women are terrible drivers, etc. . . . my strange pleasure in it all. After we’ve arrived at the gate in front of the house, there is one final scene, a superb enactment (it feels to me) of that thing called love, for want of another word: he leaves the radio on (Yves Duteil, “Le petit pont de bois”) and I stroke him with my mouth until he comes, there, in the car, in the allée des Lozères. Afterward, we lose ourselves in each other’s eyes. This morning when I wake up, I go over the scene interminably. He’s been back in France for less than a week, and already we’re so attached, so free with each other’s bodies (we have done almost everything that can be done), compared to how we were in Leningrad. I’ve always made love and always written as if I were going to die afterward (I longed for an accident, for death, as we were driving back to my place on the highway last night).
Friday, October 7
Last night, I was sleeping when he phoned, which often happens. My name, murmured with that guttural accent that palatalizes and emphasizes the first syllable, making the second one very short (âni). No one will ever say my name that way again.
Saturday, October 8
The studio on rue Lebrun. Slight weariness at first, then sweetness and exhaustion. At one point he said, “I’ll call you next week”—in other words, “I don’t want to see you over the weekend.” I smile—in other words, I accept. I am back in the “day-after” state of disarray. I’m afraid of seeming clingy and old (clingy because old), and wonder if I shouldn’t play the separation card, double or nothing!
Tuesday, October 11
He left at 11 P.M. It’s the first time I’ve made love for so many hours in a row, without a lull. At ten thirty he gets up. Me: Would you like anything? Him: Yes, you. Back to the bedroom. How difficult things will be at the end of October, which marks the end of our meetings, with the arrival of his wife. But will he be able to give them up as easily as that? He seems to me quite attached to the pleasure we have together. To hear him excoriate sexual freedom and pornography, and the philandering habits of the Georgians! Now he dares to ask me, “Did you come?” He didn’t in the beginning. Tonight, anal sex for the first time. Good that the first time was with him. It’s true that a young man in one’s bed takes the mind off time and age. This need for a man is so terrible, so close to a desire for death, an annihilation of self, how long can it go on . . .
Thursday, October 13
Here, mention should be made of the constant interplay between love and the desire for clothes, insatiable. It was the same in ’84, when I continually bought skirts, pullovers, dresses, etc., never looking at the price—spending as if there were no tomorrow.
This waiting for the phone to ring, in addition to his total inscrutability—what do I mean to him?
And I’m starting to learn Russian!
Monday, October 17
Always presume indifference. Today, I’m certain that nothing more will come of this after the end of October, and it may even end before. It occurred to me that I haven’t asked his wife’s name.
Tuesday, October 18 / Wednesday, October 19
1:30 A.M. He left at quarter to one. He makes love (or rather, we do) with desire that is more and more acute and profound. He talks, drinks vodka, and we make love again, etc. . . . three times in four hours. Naturally, there’s very little thinking, or more precisely, thought goes no further than the present: flesh and the Other. At every instant, I am this elusive present—in the car, in bed, in the living room when we talk. Uncertainty gives these meetings an unbridled, violent intensity.
Over the day that follows, I remain entangled with this presence. In lightning images, I see us making love the night before. Then memory and numbness evaporate, and the waiting resumes.
Friday, October 21
No word since Tuesday evening. Never knowing why. Waiting.
Feverishly working in the garden. A few hours more and it will be too late for us to meet in Paris tonight. I haven’t wept, not even once, since the affair began. Maybe I will tonight, if we don’t see each other.
Saturday, October 22
Dreamed that I stole the Renault Alpine that we had nine years ago. Such a clear symbol, that car: an object of seduction for S., who is wild about fast and “classy” rides. What misunderstanding. All that attracts him is my status as a writer, my “glory,” and all those things that are built on my suffering, my failure at living, the very forces at play in our relationship.
Sunday, October 23
This morning, I’m almost alone at Les Deux Garçons café in Aix-en-Provence. No word from him since Tuesday night. No idea what’s going on. Such indifference from him, obviously, makes me fear the worst.
Monday, October 24
11:10 P.M., phone call for a Wednesday meeting (maybe). Obviously, these nocturnal things are less momentous for him than for me. I have too much time to think of passion, that is my misfortune. No absolutely mandatory tasks are imposed on me from outside.
Wednesday, lunch with the Soviet ambassador. S. is bound to be present, a situation both awkward and exciting. For him to come to me that evening, after a public ceremony where we’ve appeared utterly indifferent to each other, would be perfection.
Tuesday, October 25
I’m going to wear a black suit, a green blouse, and a string of pearls, the one I left on while making love (if he recognizes them when we’re at the table). I know I’ve never been as beautiful as now, more than at twenty or thirty—everyone tells me so, and men constantly hit on me, it happened again yesterday at Auchan. Now I remember what happened in the room in Leningrad. I went to leave, was just about to close the door behind me, and then I stepped back in. He must have been right there, because we immediately flung ourselves at each other.
Wednesday, October 26
How to describe the joy of that lunch? Of his being there across from me. Of knowing I’d see him in the evening, knowing we are lovers but letting nothing show (in fact, maybe not showing enough for my taste). It’s eight o’clock. He should be here in an hour or two. These hours of waiting are the end of the world—great happiness not yet brought to completion. Pre-happiness. That is, I know that anything can happen, that he may not come, there could be an accident. Piaf’s song: “Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! Laissez-le-moi encore un peu . . . Même si j’ai tort, laissez-le-moi encore.”
Thursday, October 27
Wednesday, October 26, was a perfect day. He listed: his Saint Laurent shirt, his Saint Laurent sports jacket, his Cerruti tie, Ted Lapidus trousers. A craving for luxury, for things they lack in the USSR. As a former ill-clad adolescent, consumed with longing for the rich girls’ dresses, how can I blame him? And it seemed to me that all those clothes of his were new, and that he wants to dress even more smartly. The courtship display. All this, too, is beautiful.
Now, I no longer seek truth in love, but the perfection of a relationship, beauty, pleasure. Avoid saying things that wound; in other words, only say things he will like.
Sunday, October 30
I went to La Rochelle. Clear skies on Sunday, the opening of the port. On the train, I tried to read, obsessed with the fact that his wife is about to arrive. Last night, he called at around half past midnight, wanting to see me this week, Monday or Tuesday. And then, after his call, I said aloud, several times, “What joy!” This afternoon, I thought about the day in December, age sixteen, when, in order to meet G. de V., I managed to soldier on in class for a whole day with a fever of 102.2, and was prepared to go to the cinema the following day with a fever of 104. Then he couldn’t go. I went home, got into bed, and fought pneumonia for two weeks. I haven’t changed.
Wednesday, November 2
Evening. It’s been a week. My feeling, then, that nothing will ever be so powerful again. I fear this more and more.
The feeling that it will all slowly end. I don’t speak his language. He never calls me except to make love (I was going to say fuck, it’s more to the point).
Friday, November 4
The anniversary of the October Revolution . . . A sad little crowd from the Soviet embassy, the “bunker.” S. asks, “Can I come around this afternoon?” I hadn’t expected this, hence the lack of waiting and dreaming. Beautiful weather, I close the shutters and his body is returned to me.
Anxiety about the dinner at the Élysée on Monday with Charles and Diana. So it will never end, there’ll always be something even more daunting than the latest society event? The ordeal of the most recent Gallimard lunch, with F. Mitterrand, will be outdone?
A new notebook. Wishes: to have a stronger and stronger relationship with S.; to write (as I yearn to do) a bigger, more sweeping book, starting at the beginning of ’89; to not have money problems.
Tuesday, November 8
Raging anxiety at being late, the fear of not getting there on time to be “in the mix,” weaving in and out of traffic in the Renault 5 down the Champs-Élysées and avenue de Marigny. Was Prince Charles real to me? The royal dinner, music . . . It crossed my mind that this old-world “entente cordiale” may one day be swept away by other powers—I was thinking of the USSR and China.
Perhaps last night we resembled the people of 1913 or 1938, gathered in these same gilded halls—or, fleetingly, those at Madame Bovary’s dinner in Vaubyessard.
S. was born on April 6, 1953. My mother died on April 7. Éric was conceived on April 2.
Again I long to see him. And yet what it all comes down to is this: he fucks, he drinks vodka, he talks about Stalin. I picture him as a middle-aged man, with a bit of a paunch, gray at the temples. What will I have become in his memory?
Thursday, November 10
I learned yesterday from my aunts that my mother had met a “good” man in Annecy and thought about remarrying. Now I know why she went to see a psychic: there was a future still, at sixty-five, beyond that, even. I am the daughter of a woman who was full of desire she dared not take to its limit. But I do. I’m waiting for S. now. Éric’s presence is unbearable. He stays until the last minute, keeping me from dreaming and waiting.
Evening. I regret having shown S. the beginning of this journal. Never say anything, never show too much love: Proust’s law of desire. S. knows it instinctively. But I saw that he returned the passion, with some help from the half bottle of vodka he drank. He will probably leave in a year. He says, “It will be hard.” At first, I don’t quite understand, but he adds: “I hope it will be hard for you, too.” And that’s his way of saying he cares about me.
Friday, November 11
I realized that I’d lost a contact lens. I found it on his penis. (I thought of Zola, who lost his monocle between the breasts of women.)
Tuesday, November 15
The wait begins as soon as I wake up. Life stops from the moment he rings the doorbell and enters. I’m tormented by the fear that he won’t be able to come. The beauty of this whole affair lies in its continuous uncertainty.
4 P.M. I’ll remember these magnificent sun-filled afternoons in November, waiting for S., for the sound of his car that heralds our entry into that other time in which time disappears, replaced by desire.
Midnight. A crazy night. He had too much to drink. At half past ten, the car wouldn’t start. Stupid, dangerous maneuvers. I beg him to wait until the engine is no longer flooded. He cannot stand, or not very well. He wants to make love in the hallway, then the kitchen. Upside down, very interesting—the ludicrous acrobatics of man and woman, meant to signify love, to enact it, over and over again.
Even more desire. He said “my love” once but will not say “I love you,” and that which remains unsaid does not exist.
Wednesday, November 16
Yesterday, as usual, a slight taste of the abject. The last time we went upstairs: the acrid smell of beer, him saying “Help me” (to ejaculate). Then after the car trouble, once more, in the vestibule, half-dressed, against the radiator, and in the kitchen. He was visibly drunk, French words escaped him, and he’d almost ceased to speak, simply wanted me.
Earlier, he’d talked about his childhood, and about Siberia, where he worked on log drives. About the bears roaming free. He is somewhat, not to say very, anti-Semitic: “Isn’t Mitterrand Jewish?” (!) It’s as if I were unable to believe it, putting it down to sheer indoctrination, for which he cannot be held responsible.
Thursday, November 17
The cycle begins again: a doleful, lethargic day when I’m unable to do anything creative. Then the waiting returns, the desire, and the suffering, because I’m at the mercy of his phone calls. And I have to write about the Revolution of 1789. Horrible.
Friday, November 18
Woke at half past four and thought, He didn’t call. Time marches on—only two weeks since the reception at the embassy for the October Revolution! I was so anxious, then, about meeting his wife, who did not come in the end. He “should” call tonight. He usually does three days after our last meeting.
Saturday, November 19
I really ask myself, must I continue to live this way, between expectation and chagrin, apathy and desire? Complete similarity between my behavior at the time of my mother’s death and now: I’m always doing something for him (as I did then for her). I’m going out to buy vodka now, and maybe a short, tight-fitting “fashionable” skirt (especially since I know his wife doesn’t wear that kind of skirt).
Tuesday, November 22
Tonight, a party at Irène’s. He’ll be there with his wife. Ordeal. Especially since we won’t be able to be alone together later. Last night, he calls me, obviously drunk already (so this is becoming a frequent occurrence? I hadn’t noticed it in Moscow), and groping for words. Twenty minutes later, he calls back and starts with “Me too,” as if responding to something I said during the previous call, perhaps an “I love you.” He is muddled, laughs too much. But he says “I love you” at the end, though only after I had said it.
Evening: difficult, indeed. I looked for the source of the pain, the infinite sadness I felt on returning from the evening at Irène’s.
Maria, S.’s wife, is not very attractive—definitely “sturdy,” as people say of fabric. The sadness has to do with knowing, through unconscious memory, some of what she might be suffering. I “was” her, in the old days, at parties where my husband showed interest in other women and G., his mistress, was present. Several times, S. fixes me with an intense gaze. So I suddenly decide to talk to his wife. We “converse” at length, S., his wife, and others. Acting so congenial, when we’re really two-faced bastards. Which explains my sadness. That and the fact of having to wait until Thursday to be alone with him.
Thursday, November 24
(1) He still hasn’t said the tender things I’ve been waiting for.
(2) After the France-USSR association event, he left with the girls from the embassy without driving me back to Cergy.
And I realize that my article on the Revolution is appallingly bad. Sleep, yes.
And I’m already wondering (but with revulsion), When will he call?
Friday, November 25
Two amusing examples of behavior: I light candles in churches for success in love, and this afternoon I went to the Sex section of the book department at the Printemps. I leaf through the pages, people come and go: a man who is browsing, too; a woman who brushes against me so I think might be lesbian. Then to the cash desk, with Le traité des caresses by Dr. Leleu and Le couple et l’amour: techniques de l’amour physique, seventy-five photographs, eight hundred thousand copies sold. Women stand in line behind me. I remain poker-faced. The clerk wraps the books up. I do not pay with my bank card, so no one will know my name, and I won’t read these books on the RER.
Sunday, November 27
Is this a life? Yes, it is probably better than a vacuum. I wait by the phone for the call that may not come. I do not open the books on “techniques of lovemaking,” afraid to fall into the torture of desire without certainty of when we can be together, like the people in the books . . . Admit it: I’ve never wanted anything but love. And literature. I only wrote to fill the void, to give myself a way to tell and endure the memory of ’58, the abortion, the parents’ love. If he doesn’t call by tomorrow evening, that is, four days after our last meeting, I think I’ll have to start imagining the end, and, if possible, make it come more quickly. This week, remember: coming into possession of his big new car will certainly occupy him more than any thought of me.