Sammy Sass, 25, was born and bred in Cambridge and currently lives in Boston, sometimes. She’s got her hands on the earth whenever possible, in the garden or on the potter’s wheel. Her ceramics can be seen here, and around town at SOWA open studios and local craft fairs. She spent four months living in Italy this summer.
On our first date, we sat in his little green car and made our way down the mountain to the sea. We stopped three times, each for an excessive quantity of different foods. First, five large water bottles from the public fountain that pours out of the old stone wall. Second, two large rounds and four slices of focaccia. Third, a kilo of prosciutto, some fresh mozzarella, a bit of goat cheese and some tomato. We were ready for excess: good, oily food, plenty of sun, crystal clear waters, tiny little bathing suits, and adrenaline from being together. Alone. All day.
The only thing we didn’t have in excess was words.
We didn’t speak the same language. I’d heard his only once in a movie, and he’d heard mine many times but didn’t have the incentive to learn all that much when there were cars to repair and food to be eaten and plenty of friends who already spoke his language. And yet, there we were, in that little green car with a new but real history of love between us, already many nights of sleeping in each other’s arms and many hours spent gardening together under the sun on the side of steep, steep mountains.
On this day of our first date, however, we didn’t have soil and sex and pasta to keep our hands busy. We had leisure. We had silence. Hours and hours of silence.
Not that it was silent for hours at a time. On our way down to the sea I asked him, maybe in response to the nuttiness of drivers in that country and the “two-lane” road that was barely large enough for one small car, “When do kids here get their licenses?” Of this question, the following words were new vocabulary for him: “when,” “do,” “kids,” “here,” “get,” “their” and “licenses.” It took 15 minutes to ask the question, and another five for me to understand the answer. I know this doesn’t count as silence, but I’m not sure it constitutes a conversation either.
Together we owned three dictionaries. One stayed on our bedside table, one was permanently planted in my backpack, and one we kept near the kitchen. We used them every day, at first for all kinds of words. Later, for the words that can’t be described using only other words, like “proud.”
Over many months we learned each other’s languages. Sometimes we’d have full-blown conversations where he spoke in his and I spoke in mine. Sometimes he’d say, “Hey, can you grab my sweatshirt from the house?” and then “Did you understand that?” I’d respond, “Totally! It was in English!” and then, both of us pausing with a shock in our eyes, realizing that neither one of us remembered what language we’d spoken.
Most of the time it was awesome to be building a deep friendship and loving connection with him, where the added bonus was learning a language that sounds like the rolling sea.
Other times it really sucked. It sucked when we were angry and hurt and had no way to explain why. It sucked when I was lonely and wanted comfort and didn’t know how to ask in words. It sucked when he said something that I couldn’t understand and I knew that if I had, it would have made me upset. It sucked that the friends and family we lived with couldn’t see the ways in which we did communicate, making me wonder if they saw our connection as shallow.
It sucked to come out as a lady-lovin’ queer, in a Catholic country, in a language I didn’t really speak, in a relationship where I couldn’t always understand his response.
It sucked to negotiate consent when we approached that rocky cliff between “Yes, I would love to be touched/talked to this way” and “No, I’m not into that.” Those two extremes were easy enough; we were simultaneously passionate and cautious about making sure we knew what the other was feeling. However, when we approached the in-between, the “Yeah, I might be into that, but first I want to know exactly what you have in mind and why it turns you on,” that was much, much more complicated. Sometimes we misunderstood and felt uncomfortable, sometimes it was laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes it was the kind of painful that made me wonder how I’d found myself halfway across the world in this man’s bed with no way to explain that my heart was pounding all the way through my chest, leaving me feeling very open and very raw.
I learned to rely less on the language of words. I learned to speak in other languages: the language of touch, of eye contact, of tender massage after a long day, of listening and listening and listening while another person made himself vulnerable trying out a language he didn’t know, of practicing a new language even when I thought I sounded unintelligent and wouldn’t be taken seriously. I learned the language of eating.
It took patience and practice.
Building that love and trust together changed me. I learned that despite years of sex and relationships and experimenting and being open to what comes, I was scared of the physical intimacy that blossoms in the absence of words, in the spaces where I am not able to rationalize and verbally explain what I feel. I learned that I am scared to be held, scared to be really seen. I learned that realizing these things about myself felt like opening the shutters in a really dark room and seeing my body bathed in moonlight for the first time.
I learned that I live in a world bursting with excesses of love. I learned to be slow. To take my time. And to be tender. I learned that once the shutters have been thrown open, even when the moon dips behind the mountains, I cannot un-see what I have seen.