We are moved about by an invisible hand. One begins to make distinctions. There are those whose connections to us are conspired by circumstances fulfilling a design: call them players. Then, there are those whose bonds with us seem made for a deeper playfulness curving beyond our vision. Call that love.
Some are meetings that bespeak of threads spun over time; sometimes only briefly passing through this life. So who was that stranger looking at you so intently, hesitating as if to speak, then reluctantly passing out the subway door never to be seen again. Yet you can’t quite shake off the memory: an angel blessing you.
About a year ago Linda Klein finally tracked me down. She found my telephone number on my website; I had been doing my best to be unavailable. For forty years I had kept her at arms length.
Visiting New York in the summer of 1966, she came down to my West 74th Street studio to see how I had painted her in “Ship of Fools” and “Rose of Washington Square”. By then we had completed our brake, and Linda, having moved to Boston, was already dating her first husband. Ten years later I visited them in Saint Paul. That was the last time we met.
Back in 1966 I was left adrift. Linda, in squirrel fashion, had stuck me away, though she really didn’t plan on anything specifically. She probably would be doing this same tucking away of other guys down the road. In the meantime, I needed to ripen, mature. Half-consciously, she was already waiting on the future: “You’ll look terrific when you’re forty.”
There had never been animosity between us, though we did softly push and prod the other, for our relationship was based on friendship. Linda was just a seeker of mysteries, she burrowed for souls the way thieves robbed amulets from tombs. We were to be her muse.
A Libra, Linda was naturally flirtatious. She was both beautiful and intelligent. She reminded me of Picasso’s last wife, only much, much slimmer, for she had that Spanish, low-axle body with long midriff and great toshy. Dark eyes, dark hair, pale skin, and dark arched eyebrows completed her. You can understand my natural attraction to late Picasso icons of Jacqueline that borrowed images off thousand year old Byzantium sarcophaguses.
Linda had told me to read Lawrence Durrell’s “Justine” right before she entered a cab to go further uptown to her mother’s. Reading that forlorn, introspective story of unrequited love, whose jaded namesake was a dark version of Linda, only prolonged an obsessive period that simultaneously fed my painting. So when I needed a gentle Mary for an annunciation in “The Oratory Mural”, it was Linda’s face once again making an appearance.
I had forgotten how she made one accomplice to her thoughts now that we speak on the phone. On that first call, she had off-the-cuff proposed my coming to Brooklyn or her visiting me in Pittsburgh. I squashed that; she was not to be trusted. She pleaded only chaste intensions, and we dropped the idea of meeting. She’s been married to her last husband now for twenty years. His name is Rick. Both he and I said that that was just a little too close.
In any case she’s a grandmother. That completely astounds her career artist girlfriends in Brooklyn who are childless by choice. They call her an earth mother, and I can imagine that. But I prefer to remember her as a childlike goddess who’s pictured dancing around Shiva. How wondrously intense were our conversations, and how tender we were. I would just repeat to her over and over: “You’re so beautiful. You’re so beautiful.”
Reading Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet”, of which “Justine” is the first of four books, was a nostalgic revelry in vicarious clinging to the love object, a substitution of the lost love for an even more exotic persona and story of Justine. One illusion transposed onto another- a juvenile swamp of morose exultation. Even now in writing about it brings back an embarrassment of riches.
Through these books Durrell becomes my mentor, and I have carried his stories about for all these years. It has become Linda’s legacy to me, though long ago it ceased to function as the link to her, for the story of Justine’s insipid neurosis tarnished my seeing Linda in ideal light. Rather, the whole parade of involvements with players in different strata of society like those of Durrell’s narrator, Darley, becomes my own story unfolding in Paris and New York.
As the years come and go Linda recedes into the images that I made of her. These images themselves become historic icons of my early life, like looking at photographs from childhood in a family album with its fading memories.