“Half of what I say is meaningless….” That line from the entrancing song by John Lennon, and the song in general, became my mental background music for the romance with Simone. “But I say it just to reach you….”

Reaching her wasn’t easy. It had partly to do with language—and her voice. Of the four languages she knew, French and Arabic were no-goes. As for Hebrew, though good at it by then, I couldn’t understand Simone’s Hebrew because she spoke it in her low, muffled voice, one that almost seemed to shield itself from being heard.

That left English—at which she was no better than pretty good. That meant I had trouble conveying things when the word (or words) I needed was one she didn’t know; and she had trouble conveying things when she didn’t know the word(s). (Another song—in a way even more apt—would come to mind: “And I will say the only words I know that you’ll understand….”)

The problem, though, wasn’t just technical. Beyond language, beyond her voice that I strained to hear in any case, Simone tended to talk about herself in fragments and hints; she seemed both to request and repel attention. Meanwhile she raised a complaint: I was centering the relationship on me, I was more interested in my work, my daily ups and downs, than in hers.

There was truth to it, but it wasn’t the whole truth. But because I was in people-pleasing mode, I didn’t say that to her. I didn’t say: yes, but on the other hand, it’s not easy to draw close to you, you sometimes seem secretive and opaque. I would have been too scared to say that, scared of rattling the plate.

So I kept talking too much about myself, in what sometimes seemed like a vacuum; and trying harder to listen to her, hear her, understand her, which kept not working.