When you find love, it is not always going to be forever. How do you know when to say goodbye?
When I was twenty two, I met Pablo Picasso’s son, Claude at a party in New York. Two days later, the phone rang.
“Hello, Sara? This is Claude. We spoke the other night at Margaret’s party.” My heart fluttered. “I wanted to know, would you like to have dinner tonight?”
“Would you like to come to my apartment in Brooklyn?”
“Sure,” he replied warmly. There was a pause. “Where is Brooklyn?”
I gave him the train directions and he sounded so eager to make the trip. I began to run around searching my closet for something sexy to wear. I scoured the cabinets to find something to cook for dinner. He had never been to Brooklyn, he had never even heard of Brooklyn, but I was excited he was going to make this adventurous trip to see me, and frightened that he was actually coming to see me. I was sure that he would get lost on the New York subways but he arrived about one hour later at my front door. He was wearing a handsome felt gray coat and held a box of French Marrons Glace in his hand.
“Oh, what are these?”
“Sugared chestnuts,” he said with a grin. “They are a favorite in France.”
I turned the exotic box over in my hands, staring at the bright inks, the words elegantly scrolled in French. In an instant, I was in a new land.
I set my small kitchen table with mismatched blue and white plates and paper napkins. I was a bit embarrassed because I assumed that he was used to a more elegant setting, after all the French movies I had seen. I knew that he lived in a house that had real cloth napkins and large wine glasses, where salad was eaten first and freshly baked baguettes were always on the table. I made spaghetti with a store bought pasta sauce and placed one of my African violet plants on the table. Because I was never allowed in the kitchen of my parents’ home, I really didn’t know how to cook, so I was a bit unsure how everything would taste. But he politely ate his servings of spaghetti and thanked me. After dinner, I couldn’t resist and asked, “May I open the chestnuts? I’m so curious!”
“Yes! Please, please do!” He was delighted. I put one into my mouth and instantly tasted the intense sweetness on my tongue.
“Oh, they are delicious! I love them.” He had a huge smile on his face and would not lift his eyes from me. We stared at one another, the sweet sugar still on my lips. Suddenly I got up from the table to get some water and stumbled on the leg of the chair. I tripped a few steps, but steadied myself. I took a deep breath. Trying to be casual I asked, “Had you ever even heard of Brooklyn before tonight?”
“No, but I’m happy to have found it and to be here with you.” I glowed a bright shade of pink.
“Do you want to see my bedroom?” I blurted. “I could show you my books and what I’m studying.” He erupted in laughter. Then he took my hand and we went into my room. We walked over to my bookshelf and as I went to get a book, he leaned over and kissed me. Slowly, he began to undress me. I pulled my sweater over my head, revealing my new bra. Then he took off his pants uncovering his adorable striped boxer shorts. I had never seen boxer shorts before. His upper body was muscular but his legs were short. He took his finger and began to trace my body from my neck down to my hips.
“You are so beautifully proportioned,” he whispered sweetly. He studied my body like he was about to draw me. Then we gently made love. I didn’t expect this to happen but he was so caring that I immediately trusted him.
We stayed up most of the night talking in bed. He shared his excitement to be working with Richard Avedon and living in New York City. He told me about his grandmother’s house in Neuilly and about his sisters and mother, Francois Gilot. I heard an ache in his voice and noticed his eyes brimmed with a soft sadness when he spoke of his family. I reached down and held his hand.
I never mentioned my family to him. I wouldn’t know how to explain them. Even though we were together in Brooklyn, where I grew up, my family felt hundreds of miles away. With Claude, I was entering a new world.
I felt that I could listen to him talk about anything that night, the weather, his photography, sugared chestnuts, just about anything, just to listen to the music of his voice. Though our stories were so different, and we came to each other from such opposite worlds, I didn’t care. We were lying under the same window filled with stars and I thought how far a distance he had traveled to come to me that night, from Manhattan and beyond that, France, then to Brooklyn, a world unknown to him, my home.
* * *
The next two years were like a fast moving storm: Claude and I fell in love, got married, and quickly grew apart. We had been fighting about the differences in the ways we wanted to live.
“You are so angry and judgmental!” I snapped. “You have so little enthusiasm for life.”
“These friends are a waste of your time. The way you are acting is so immature”.
“That’s it!” I finally shouted, “I’m tired of your criticisms and restrictions.” Silently, he walked out of the room and I felt an ocean rise between us, getting larger and with no land in sight.
A few weeks later, when I was visiting his photography studio, which I would do sometimes to see what he was working on, we tried to discuss our differences. He looked at me with calm eyes. “You know the student always leaves the teacher.” His demeanor was surprisingly calm. It seemed we had reached a peaceful acknowledgement. He was finally being respectful of my right to find my own way.
Claude and I were in our dining room standing across from one another, the large table between us. He was getting his cameras ready for a shoot the next day, I was going through some paperwork, my hands busy with the pile of bills. There was a silence between us, something in the room that neither of us wanted to talk about. I put down my papers and looked up at him. He caught me staring and put his camera down. I breathed for a moment and looked away. Then I slowly began to speak.
“I’m having an affair with a man named Douglas.” He looked down, shaking his head, muttering, “No, no.” Then he slowly walked away from me, pacing along the wall. I stood still, waiting for some big reaction, the volcano erupting, the bomb going off. He breathed heavily. Suddenly he raised his arm and punched his hand through the wall. I stared for a moment into the jagged hole he left in the wall. Then he ran out of the house. I followed him, screaming to him, “please let me talk to you! Claude! Please stop running!” He ran into the subway station, darting in and out of the parked train as I desperately tried to stop him. I was out of breath with tears streaming down my face. Then he stopped running and I caught up to him. We stood on the platform trying to catch our breath. Without a word he inhaled deeply and walked out of the station. I followed him until we reached home.
The next few days blurred together in slow motion. The air in the house was thick with silence. I knew there was little I could say except to apologize. “I can’t tell you enough how terrible I feel to have hurt you so much.” Claude would not look at me. “I felt strangled by you and I needed to break free.” Somewhere I felt the courage to continue, “I know I have no right to ask for your understanding but I want to try and fix our marriage, can we go for help? ” After a long silence he raised his head, slowly exhaled, and said, “I don’t know what I want to do.”
A few days later, Claude came home with a Felix the Cat wall clock. It was sparkly black and had a tail that rocked back and forth with the movement of time. He went to the closet and got a hammer and a nail. He walked into the dining room, not saying a word, and approached the hole he had left in the wall. When the nail was in place, he hung the cat clock on the wall, the narrow body barely covering the hole.
A few days later, as I was feeding our cat, Claude came into the room. “Sara,” he said, looking directly into my eyes, “I am going on a trip.”
“When will you be back?” I asked.
“I will return in a month,” he said, “but I need time to think about what I want to do.”
Then he was gone. The house was empty. Every week, a postcard from a different city arrived in our mailbox with no message, just “Claude” signed on the back and underlined. He never lived with me again.
Sara Lavner’s Book is The Glitter Factory, The Making and UnMaking of Sara Picasso A Memoir by Sara Lavner and can be found on Amazon. Click here to visit her website.