Lamp next to bed
Photo: Jonathan Barkat
Lights on, clothes off—that's the best practice for risk-taking, forgiveness, passion.
And so it came as a shock to me. I'd gotten ready for bed and stood stark naked in front of the man with whom I had undressed. We went tit for tat—he removed his shirt, then I removed mine, lest either of us feel the need to outdo the other. I loved what I saw. I made my way toward bed; he made his way toward the lamp. I heard him say, "On or off?" and before I could get sarcastic with him, say "Are you kidding?," I was staring into blackness. For a second I did not know where to direct my eyes, did not know where in the room he stood, and this reminded me why I have nearly always made love with the lights on. Not because I am afraid of the dark, no, but because to be intimate with someone I have chosen and to miss laying my eyes on their physical geography is like eating my mother's shrimp creole with a clothespin shutting my nose. Certain things, like crying, do not need light, I know. Sex, for me, is not one of them.

My mother liked to tell us 12 children that those things done in private are preparation for how one might show oneself in public. I do not know that my mother meant for me to go as far as this, but I have long felt that the bedroom was the perfect training ground, a microcosm of the world, since so much is exposed there, given and sometimes taken away. The thinking is this: If I can get naked in front of you here, stand fully in this body, with its inadequacies and niceties, its multiplicities, then how much more will I be able to do that fully clothed, out of doors.

I grew up in a humid city where one tried to minimize body heat by moving as little as possible, so that arriving at any one place took time. This taught me one good thing: No big and important place can really be arrived at tomorrow. Without the momentum of small movement, the bigger thing may never come. One must begin somewhere, and besides, in the bedroom there is so much to behold: I want to see the particulars of the person I am touching, notice what shadows the body can make, want to acknowledge the space this person takes up in the world and let them do the same for me.

In a few weeks, I will be leaving this country and living in Burundi. This move began as a germ of an idea. I know that the courage of it came partly from the small moments of affirmation in bedrooms with the lights on. Here I am, I said, and here is where I'd like to go, and so I will make steps toward that thing, and when I am almost to the end, the thing I'm headed toward might move or change shape and I might feel like a baby tottering and holding my diaper so it won't fall down, but even yet, even yet, I will be moving.

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