(To read the first excerpt, click here.
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To read the third excerpt, click here.
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To read the fifth excerpt, click here.
To read the sixth excerpt, click here.)
Eleanor wants to be helpful to Victoria after her mother’s death. Let me know what I can do for you. Vic can’t stand it, it’s too sad. She wishes her mother had been able to be like Eleanor. She wishes Eleanor had been her mother. And Eleanor wishes that Victoria had been her daughter, though Marian is more successful on the surface. Eleanor wishes her daughter was someone who was still struggling, instead of solidified in this tense mass, someone still soft enough to care for. She knows that if Vic was the mother, her grandchild would not be this shrieking, hitting disaster.
But Vic is having a hard time accepting anything from Eleanor. She keeps wanting to respond to the email but she can’t. She finds herself unreasonably angry at Eleanor. We had group without her at Eleanor’s, and while that’s what Vic wanted she also doesn’t want us to meet without her. She doesn’t know what she wants, and she’s a miserable mess. She wishes Eleanor were not so wifty and weird and needy; Eleanor is not perfect, and this upsets her. Also, if her mother can die, then Eleanor can die, and this can’t happen.
Eleanor writes another email. I don’t want to be a pain or to pester you, dear, but I want you to know that I think of you every day, every hour, and I miss you and I want you to know how much you are loved. I am so thankful that you started our wonderful group, and that you are who you are. I miss being in your apartment, and looking out the window into your neighbor’s window. I want the past back, and I know I’ll never get it, but it feels like it was right there. I am scared of things changing. I don’t want you to run away from us. I miss your novel, too. I miss Anne. I want Anne to have a happy ending, I don’t want you to give up on Anne. I want to give to you and not ask of you but I can’t help myself, I have to ask of you please just to reply and say a few words that let me know what you’re going through. You don’t have to say you’re okay because I can’t imagine that you are. Just say you are.
I am, Vic wrote. I am sad. I am so sad. I feel like I drank a bottle of cold medicine and I’m swimming through the air. I feel detached. I had to leave the apartment the other night just because I was starting to think there wasn’t anything outside the door and I walked through Union Square and it was busy, full of people, mostly young, and there was noise but it seemed far away, like it didn’t have anything to do with me, they might as well have been speaking Egyptian. And I wondered if I were dead and I was a ghost and I just didn’t know it. I felt like I wasn’t solid, like I was made of mist. I wondered why people didn’t just drive their cars up onto the sidewalk, plow through the crowds of people. Why not? It could happen, at any minute, any of the people driving by could just turn the wheel; that’s all it would take. And nobody does it. I feel like I must be going crazy to have thoughts and feelings like that. And then I think about Dan’s story about the guy on the train and I realize that everybody’s crazy, and we’re all just faking it, and that’s so sad and alienating, that we can’t just say to each other, I am terrified, I am unhappy, I can’t stop these thoughts, and I can’t stand that we have to put on deodorant and pretend that everything is mostly okay, and if it’s not we can only be sad for a Reason, that we can’t just be sad because life is sad, because animals eat other animals, because of loss and beautiful things and everything. Knowing that everyone is suffering the same as I am, it doesn’t make me feel any better. It makes it worse. We’re all suffering so much and none of us can talk about it.
She doesn’t send this email. She saves it and tries to type something else. Eleanor, I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch. I really do appreciate everything you wrote to me, I just…
And then she can’t finish. She just what? There is no just, there is no singular thing she can say. She opens a bottle of wine and drinks some. She thinks about buying a TV, something loud and stupid. She thinks about Dan’s story about the girl from the internet, about how you can find someone from the internet to come over and have sex with you, but she doesn’t want to have sex, she just wants to talk. But why not talk to someone she knows? She doesn’t want to talk to anyone she knows, she wants to talk to a stranger. She wants to know what she’d say to someone new, someone who didn’t know her when her mother was alive, someone who could help her to see the new her. A stranger who would go away, would melt back into the landscape like a snowman. Someone to divert her, someone to whom she’d owe nothing. An emotional prostitute. Wasn’t that Dr. Bruce? No, Dr. Bruce made her do work, he said things that made her uncomfortable. This person would agree with everything Vic said and that would make things better somehow.
She writes to Eleanor that night. Eleanor, I think of you every day and every hour too. And I feel your concern, I feel it like a hug, your arms around my shoulders, your heart beating against mine. Thank you for being so caring. I love you.
Have they told each other they love each other before? How is it that one of her best friends is this batty old lady? Proximity, chance. And something else. An affinity of spirit, whatever “spirit” means.
Let’s meet for coffee. I know you’re busy, but just a half hour.
Eleanor, I can’t.
Try. Nothing bad will happen. So what if you cry in public? Even if people see you, even if people you know see you, even if your worst enemy sees you, it doesn’t matter. Shame over sadness is so unnecessary. If you don’t feel sad sometimes, you should be ashamed.
She goes and meets Eleanor at the coffee shop. I like it here, says Eleanor. This is a good place. That’s why you put your flyer here, and not the natural foods restaurant down the block, or someplace else I wouldn’t have seen it. I love the sunlight, and they always have such nice people behind the counter, and when they're not nice, they don’t last. And they don’t try to chase you out the second you finish.
The handwriting on the signs, says Vic, playing along. Optimistic. The descriptions they write of the baked goods.
True, this place must be run by a writer. They smile.
You miss her, says Eleanor, and Vic swallows a sob. You miss your mother.
I do. I miss the woman who stood up for me – as crazy as she was, she was solid, she was real. She had authority. She paid the bills when I was a kid. I miss being taken care of, even though I barely was. I miss being someone’s child. I feel so adrift. I feel like the kid in the balloon, even though he was never in the balloon, I remember that day and watching the balloon float through the air, so untouchable, so light, and thinking about being that boy, scared, but flying.
Scared is just a typo for sacred.
I miss taking care of someone, feeling like I was doing the right thing, even when I didn’t want to do it. Because I didn’t want to do it. I knew I was virtuous because I was giving up my life, and that made me objectively a good person. And now that I’m not taking care of her it’s not so black and white.
Come back to group, Vic. Write more of Anne’s story. I know it’s scary, after what happened. But maybe it can happen again. Write that she falls in love, that someone falls in love with her.
I will, she says.