Dostoevsky as lover
Looking for Alice, part 2
This is the second part of a series that began with “Looking for Alice.” You don’t have to read that to understand this. But it’s cute. There is also a third part called “Relationships are coevolutionary loops.”
A summer ten years ago, I spent all day every day talking to Johanna.
We were 23. Her laughter was like a shotgun. She could lure out a hidden richness from the people she met: faces that would have just passed me by in the street with Johanna turned into characters in a Doestoevskian novel.
When they saw us in the street, the homeless would come running.
“What happened to your hair?” she’d say.
“I fell asleep on the stairs of this house and when I woke up someone had cut it off, folded it beside my head!”
They would tell her the most remarkable stories. As would the shopkeepers and the dog walkers and the archivists at the university library. Which was interesting, because Johanna herself was introverted and largely kept her thoughts private. But she had the same effect on me: the words that came out of my mouth when I talked to her continually surprised me. I didn’t know I had so much in me. I hadn’t known who I was until I talked to her.
In January 2023, I published an essay about Johanna, who is now my wife. I named the essay Looking for Alice as a homage to Gertrude Stein who, when asked if she was a lesbian, said that no, she was not. She just liked Alice. That’s how I felt about Johanna back then: I didn’t want her as my girlfriend, I just wanted her as a human being. I just wanted her around. I still feel that way.
Looking for Alice was about the years before we became inseparable. It ended the summer I first woke up beside her. It ended, in other words, when the real work of our relationship began.
This is the second part.