Barack and Genevieve

“The sexual warmth is definitely there — but the rest of it has sharp edges, and I’m finding it all unsettling and finding myself wanting to withdraw from it all. I have to admit that I am feeling anger at him for some reason, multi-stranded reasons. His warmth can be deceptive. Tho he speaks sweet words and can be open and trusting, there is also that coolness — and I begin to have an inkling of some things about him that could get to me.”

From the 1984 diaries of Genevieve Cook, one of Barack Obama’s ex-girlfriends 

I don’t know who she is, but I respect and admire her tremendously. And I will buy this book in hardback and read it from cover to cover the day it comes out. If I could, I would buy Genevieve Cook’s diary.

This morning, I read this post in the NY Times, which led me to this article in Vanity Fair, a magazine I stopped subscribing to but will now pick up again. 

I thought about a lot of things: first, that I should be more serious about journaling, not because I am dating anyone on the verge of greatness (though, who knows… perhaps I am) but because, as Genevieve Cook’s diaries indicate, a lover writing of her beloved produces some of the sharpest, most lucid and beautiful prose. The kind that blurs the divide between poetry and prose.  There is no audience – let me correct myself – the audience is the writer herself. 

“How is he so old already, at the age of 22? I have to recognize (despite play of wry and mocking smile on lips) that I find his thereness very threatening. Distance, distance, distance, and wariness.”

Lucid does not mean accurate. Barack’s demeanor to her could have been and probably was completely different from what he showed others, but I doubt any biographer, reporter, or profiler could get as full an account of anyone – especially someone as reserved as the President is portrayed to be – than a lover who writes. Barack was a lover too, and he wrote, but I doubt his pen was as focused on their love as hers was. And even if the focus was tantamount, Genevieve, I think, saw more. She had foresight:

“I’m left wondering if Barack’s reserve, etc. is not just the time in his life, but, after all, emotional scarring that will make it difficult for him to get involved even after he’s sorted his life through with age and experience.

Not only could Genevieve see herself from the outside, but also she could see beyond them and see into two separate futures. I’d like to say this is a woman writer’s prophetic talent, but it has nothing to do with being male or female and everything to do with the nature of ambition and the limits of introspection. Barack loved her but more so he loved a long brewing idea of himself – a portrait he, a consummate artist, was still painting. 


Self Portrait, 1930 Edward Hopper Oil on Canvas 

This limited his view of her. The irony is that this period in our President’s life is seen as one of growth and development, of shape-shifting. He was contemplating the road less-taken (and truly, is there a road less taken?  Only 43 had traveled that road before he did), yet without knowing it, was molding himself into someone strangely predictable despite his perceived mystery, someone whose future partner could be found and fitted in snugly, like the missing piece of a moderately difficult jigsaw puzzle.  

And here is Michelle, succinctly drawn up even before Barack meets her

“Hard to say, as obviously I was not the person that brought infatuation. (That lithe, bubbly, strong black lady is waiting somewhere!)”

 The young serious lover has a special perch, which, if I were asked to place it on the human body, would be roughly, where we as elementary school children pressed our right hands over our hearts during the Pledge of Allegiance. That is essentially where you stand as a hopeful young-but-serious lover: closer to his heart than his head, but not so far away from the latter that you can’t sense something stirring, some thought or ambition that could take him away from you. Sometimes it is a role so distinctly defined that once he assumes it, there is no looking back. The suit is buttoned, the tie tied tight, the papers signed and delivered that life stepped into, like a hot, steaming shower with a heavy glass door. Sometimes another hand turns on the faucet before you can say, “Life.” You are either with him or not.  

If not, you no longer stand on his breastbone. You, outside, can only put your hands on the glass and wonder at the figure shrouded in mist. 

“Barack — still intrigues me, but so much going on beneath the surface, out of reach. Guarded, controlled.”

I have been a young lover, but never a young, serious lover. I have written seriously my
share of studies of real men I have come to know and then not know, my writer’s conscious crouched near my heart, in the hollow of my collarbone, at the base of my throat. I have turned real men into fictions and watched, with a calm acceptance that surprises even me, as the real men walked away or I away from them. 

This has nothing to do with being male or female but with a very different kind of role. Am I more like Barack or am I Genevieve? At what point will I say, I am who I am meant to become and find the missing piece? Perhaps never. 

So for those who are loved by writers, be wary. Don’t be afraid to love her back, but be wary. Know this: a writer will consume you with every sense at her disposal. From the moment you meet, onto paper, blogs, stories both true and not, and into her memory. You are being written.  

Jo Painting 1936, Edward Hopper Oil on Canvas 
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