Thurs. Feb 17, 2011
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(To read the first excerpt, click here.
To read the second excerpt, click here.
To read the third excerpt, click here.
To read the fourth excerpt, click here.
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.
(Note: This scene takes place about six months after the last one.)
And just as Dan was thinking about Victoria, there she was. Or was she? Maybe it was one of those New York mirages, where you’re thinking about someone and your eye picks out a likely person from the crowd to portray them in the movie of this minute of your life. There’s always going to be someone on the sidewalk, especially up here, Broadway and 82nd, that looks like whoever you’re thinking about; it could be any tall, loping, curly-dark-haired woman, but no, as she approached, he could see – he could feel – that it was Vic.
“Hey,” he said, reaching out a hand to stop her as she nearly passed him by. She drew back, then saw it was him and stopped; her face, which had been drawn in a concentrated frown, relaxed a little.
“Dan,” she noted. What do you want? He felt stupid, suddenly; burdensome, out of context. They’d just seen each other two days ago; they’d see each other again in a week. Why did they have to stop and talk now? Because he’d been excited to see her. He should have just said her name and waved as he passed her by – I’m here, you’re here, see you later. Preserve the mystery. Then she would have wanted to stop and talk, she would have seen what a busy guy he was and been impressed by his unavailability. What was there to say? I was just thinking about you.
“I’m surprised to see you up here,” he said. “Don’t you get a nosebleed above Fourteenth Street?”
She smiled at this old saw, more than it deserved, but it wasn’t really a smile, it was just a reflex. He had made this joke, she was supposed to smile. “I was…seeing someone.”
He felt like he’d been hit by a rock. “Really?” His eyebrows raised without his consent; he hoped he looked more bemused than stricken. What did he care anyway? He didn’t. He had no romantic interest in Vic, but that didn’t mean he wanted her to have romantic interest in anybody else. He adopted a paternal tone. “Well, congratulations. Will we get to meet the young man?”
“No,” she laughed, and he could see how tired she was, how heavy the bag on her shoulder was. He wanted to take it from her, walk her to wherever she was going. A woman clicked by on her heels, muttering under her breath, “Out of the way.” They were chatting in the middle of a busy sidewalk, it couldn’t last long. “Not like that. I’m seeing a shrink.”
“Oh!” His face lit up with relief. Did she notice? It didn’t matter, really, all that mattered was that she wasn’t seeing someone romantically. The rest was unimportant. “Well, that’s wonderful.”
“It’s all right,” she said, smiling wryly. “And…” And since we’re standing here, having a pointless conversation… “What are you up to?”
“I…” He should say he was seeing someone, see how she’d react. She wouldn’t react. She didn’t care. Or maybe she’d be offended on Imani’s behalf; he never really knew how much she knew about the affair and how it ended, he had no idea what she thought of him. Somehow he’d assumed that Imani told her everything, but now he wondered – were Vic and Imani even friends, outside of group? Were she and Dan even friends? “I was at my father’s. Special occasion – he’s got a new girlfriend he wanted me to meet.”
A lie, but so what. It had occurred to him to say it, so it must have been the right thing to say. And it was; he could see the sympathy register in her face. They were nearly bumped by a dogwalker; instinctively, she pulled them over towards the street, out of the way. The conversation would continue. But now there was nothing to say. They’d both explained their presence here on the Upper West Side, they would see each other in group next week. Well, good seeing you…
“Buy you a drink?” he asked. “I know I could use one.” The phrase “out on a limb” occurred to him; he imagined himself, on his belly, on the thin, horizontal branch of a tree, clutching it between his wrapped arms and his knees. She was standing under the tree, hoping he wouldn’t fall on her. She took a step back, re-shouldered her bag.
“Actually, I was going to grab some dinner, get some work done.” Drink a glass of wine, just one and no more. One and a half at most.
Well, I’ll walk you to the train. He rejected the idea, angry with himself that it had even occurred to him, and with such force of longing, too. He straightened up and looked past her down the block as though there were something more interesting happening behind her.
“Are you hungry?”, she asked.
He was, in fact. Even having just eaten, he had the urge to eat more, to taste and chew and swallow. “Famished,” he said.
And just like that, it was settled. He suggested the Chino-Latino place that had been there forever, and they set off in that direction, together now. Dan felt powerful, like a wizard, like he’d summoned her and she’d appeared, and he could do that with anybody or anything he wished from now on. They were silent as they walked, which felt strangely comfortable, and pleased him; she wasn’t desperate for someone to talk to; she was busy thinking her own thoughts. They didn’t need to make small talk for formality’s sake, they were both above that, and he was glad that she recognized that about him. A woman who didn’t always have to talk just to hear herself! He was aware of being very, very happy, almost laughing out loud.
He opened the door for her, and she laughed as she slid in front of him and entered. “Thank you, sir.” Sir, like one of the characters from her novel. They sat at a grimy table by the window, an elbow away from their neighbors. It would be too easy for them to talk about writing; it would defeat the purpose.
“So,” he said. “A shrink.”
“A shrink,” she repeated. “Doctor Bruce.”
“A male shrink.” He was surprised and impressed some more. Everything she said made her more interesting, more attractive. He’d been so turned off by her mannish shoes, her lack of make-up, her height; he never realized how exciting all that was. A woman who wasn’t a girl.
“He came highly recommended.” By who?, he thought, then let it go. She studied the menu, twisting her lips from side to side in a cartoonish manner. So unsexy, so unselfconscious. She was nibbling the inside of her cheek.
“Is it…is it helpful?” His menu lay open in front of him, unheeded, as he watched her, fascinated. Wrinkles in her forehead. He wanted to smooth them with his thumb.
“Mmmm.” She made her choice and closed the menu, looked up at him, met his eyes, blew out a deep breath, pfffffffff. “Yeah, it’s helpful. I just started a few weeks ago, but yeah. I feel better.”
“I wasn’t aware you were feeling badly.”
“Well, good.” She laughed. “I didn’t want everybody to know.”
Like he was just “everybody.” Fair enough, he supposed. He’d never evinced an interest in her psychological well-being before, except implicitly – they knew each other, they were friendly colleagues, they had agreed to help each other creatively, they were in something together. But he didn’t linger after group, the way Eleanor did, fussing around with the chairs while Vic rinsed the empty water glasses in the sink. He’d never solicited her before. He wanted to know more, much more, about what she’d been thinking and feeling all this time, about all that was hidden from him.
The waiter came by, and they ordered, then they both leaned forward at the same time, forearms on the table. Funny, that kind of simultaneous movement, but she didn’t seem to notice. “Have you ever seen a shrink?” she asked.
“I have.” Her name was Harriet, and he was twelve. His father had brought him when his mother was dying; she was supposed to help somehow. Be some kind of substitute. Dan hadn’t liked her; he’d thought she was too old, too weird, too loving. She didn’t even know him; how could she profess to care so much for him so quickly? He’d shut down, and the experiment did not last more than six months. “Harriet. I was twelve.”
“Harriet,” she said, smiling. “What a shrink name.”
“She was very shrinky, yes. She wore her glasses on a beaded chain.”
“Curly grey hair,” said Vic. “Chin length.”
“Straight and shoulder-length,” he said. “But yes, grey.”
She didn’t ask him what he went for, she didn’t ask him how long it lasted. She didn’t ask him, as he asked her, whether it had helped. She looked at him, waiting for him to tell her whatever he felt like telling her. Almost like a shrink.
“My father wanted me to go. My mother was dying, and he thought it would help somehow.” He paused so that she could murmur something, I’m so sorry, but she didn’t, so he resumed. “She tried to talk to me about masturbation.”
“Needless to say, I was not eager to discuss the subject with her.”
Again, he waited for her to do what was expected, to ask more about his mother’s death, to express her condolences. She did not. She scanned the room, and he wanted to bring her focus back to himself.
“I wasn’t a particularly good patient,” he said. “I didn’t want to be there. It felt like I was being punished for my mother’s illness. I didn’t know how I was supposed to act, or what I was supposed to say. I was something of a petulant brat, as I recall.”
She arched her eyebrows – you don’t say. Was that how she thought of him, a petulant brat? His mood shifted; now he was grumpy. “Anyway, enough of that.”
Their food came, and he tucked into the plate of rice and beans, hunger diminished but still committed to eating. She wasn’t playing ball with him – was that it? He didn’t know. The silence that had seemed so natural on the walk over now felt awkward. Did she agree? He sneaked a look at her, diving into her own plate with aplomb, but she seemed content to eat and not speak. He put his fork down, struck by the urge to scrape his chair back and throw down his napkin and walk out – he’d been open with her, talking about his mother’s illness, for chrissakes, what more could she want?
“This is great,” she said, around a mouthful of food. “I was starving.”
And what was our friend Victoria thinking during all of this? That she was hungry. That she was surprised to see Dan, that he was funny. Odd. She found his criticism some of the most helpful in the group; critical though he was, he did seem to be able to locate the weak spots, and to express why they were weak. He knew her strengths. She might have suggested to Imani that they get rid of him after the debacle of their relationship, but he was too valuable, and she couldn’t blame Dan for being what he was: young. Immature. Desperate for approval. So was Imani. So was she, except for the young part.
She was puzzling over something Dr. Bruce had asked her: Do you think there’s anything you’ll miss when your mother’s gone?
Yeah, she said. The past forty-two years of my life.
(Oh, also, I warned you that my male characters are terrible people. So.)
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, this Sartrean nausea was not supposed to overtake him quite so soon. The good person inside Dan was horrified at the real person in him, the voice that could not be denied, the one that said, “Yuck.” The folds of fat when he pushed her legs up, the way the thigh and the stomach met in a vast, sweaty crease. Ugh. He had gotten past the newness of her tightly coiled pubic hair, the color of her vulva; now it just seemed as banal as paleness and freckles and moles. He didn’t want to be fucking, and he knew it, and his erection nearly faltered, especially when she opened her mouth and crooned to him – Stop it, he wanted to say; shut up.
He managed to finish, after her big show of coming and clinging to him and praising him to the skies. She turned to him, her cow eyes moony and wet. He felt angry and disgusted, mostly with her, a little with himself. There must be something really wrong with him, he admitted, but worse than that, there was something really wrong with her. If she couldn’t tell he was faking it, if she couldn’t read his disgust and dismay, then she was an insensitive clod, a dolt, a moron, a selfish pig. She stroked his neck softly, irritating, like a mosquito, and he shuddered.
What’s wrong, she asked.
Ticklish, he said. She wanted to smile and exult and squeeze him and murmur. He wanted to get up and yank the sheets so she would be tossed from the bed. He wanted her to disappear, not only from the bed, but from his life. Look at the way she looked at him, the expectation, nay the demand implicit in her expression. Say something loving and beautiful, it said; make me feel good.
Is everything okay, she asked.
Of course, he said, annoyed. Everything is great. An edge of sarcasm, a suppressed sigh.
Really? It seems like you’re upset.
I’m not. I’m just…exhausted. This whole thing has been exhausting.
She considered this, turned so she was on her back, staring at the ceiling as he was, looking for the same thing he was looking for, an answer in the overhead light fixture. He would not look at her, for fear he would see the one thing that would enrage him irreparably, a tear running down her cheek.
I’m sorry, he said, hating himself for saying it, and she melted. It’s not you. I feel guilty for asking so much of you. I…I don’t know if I’m worthy of you.
Disgusting, his hypocrisy; he didn’t worry that he wasn’t worthy, he knew for a fact that she wasn’t. And the grateful way she seized on his excuse only proved that further. She was no Abigail; Abigail had been sharp, she had been able to see through him and stand up to him. Imani was a lump, a fat dull lump in his bed, a responsibility and a chore and an obligation.
I know, it’s been so crazy. She nestled into his side, nuzzling. Her salty sweat wet against his ribs, the shrimpy smell of her all over the bedroom. It was suffocating, he felt his chest contract. I’ve never done anything like this. I’m usually the good girl.
He let her talk for a while, keeping his arm around her, his face to the ceiling, pretending it was all okay. She hadn’t known how unhappy she’d been, she was so grateful to him for seeing it and rescuing her from her sleepwalking; when she realizes she could have gone on like that forever, it’s like a bad dream. Mmm hmm. She feels so much more alive, so excited, and here she presses her damp mound against his thigh and he really might throw up, he thought, at the idea that she expected him to do it again, when all he wanted to do was humor her long enough to get her out the door calmly, so he could think.
But what needed to be thought about? His body was telling him everything he needed to know. He didn’t want this, he felt trapped. He’d had this feeling sometimes with Abigail, but she’d always managed to sense something and then say something cutting, something that brought him back to wanting and needing her. If only Imani could do the same. If only she were still with Benji, if only she had to run home so he didn’t suspect. He wanted to be the other man, or no man at all.
He kept up the pretense of listening, every word she said dooming her further, as the critic in him tore her apart. It was important that she not know how he was really feeling, because that would cause a scene, because he couldn’t explain it yet and until he could explain it, justify it, he couldn’t say anything. He was not going to be made into the bad guy just for wanting what he wanted. He was not the bad guy. She was not the bad guy either. Nobody was the bad guy. Why did women always have to have a bad guy? The way she talked about Benji now – he didn’t want to hear it. Not that she was explicit, just talking about her unhappiness, dancing around it, like if she said his name aloud then Dan would be jealous. Not jealous, just annoyed – rule one: don’t say another man’s name in bed. It’s unseemly. He kept his breathing regular, even as his chest began to physically ache with the strain of expanding. She reached down to toy with his penis, and he flinched.
Sensitive, she said.
Yes, he said, and forced himself to kiss the top of her head. Are you hungry?
I’m starving! And she rolled off of him, thank god. His rib cage sank and relaxed. She went to the bathroom, singing something he could hear through the not quite closed door. It was meant for him, it was supposed to enchant him, this singing. She was so happy, and he was so miserable.
She strode naked from the bathroom to the fridge, his fridge. Make yourself at home, he called, and she laughed.
There’s nothing in here! You’re such a bachelor. He could hear the indulgence in her voice, how she planned to change him for the better. Jesus. Everything she did and said had the exact opposite effect of what she wanted.
Let’s go out, he suggested. That would end this – they would leave the apartment and then she wouldn’t come back. She would go home to her apartment, and he would come back here alone, where he could sit down at his computer and jerk off, or watch a movie, some violent Korean film about revenge.
Let’s order in, she said. I don’t feel like going anywhere. Where are your menus? Started opening drawers in the kitchen, poking around. He jumped out of bed. She was unstoppable. It was obvious that she felt great, energized and liberated and reckless. A new life. And for him it was the same old life. Why could he not experience what she was experiencing? It’s what he had hoped for, he’d hoped that being with her would change him the way it was changing her. He’d hoped to feel endorphins and electricity. He located his stash of take out menus and pushed them across the counter at her.
Here, he said.
Are you sure you’re okay? She stopped now. Are you feeling guilty? Is this weird?
Why should I feel guilty?, he wondered. It would be convenient to let her think that he was such a moral man that being with a woman so recently entangled with someone else was upsetting to him. That his loyalty to a member of the male sex was so great that he could not reconcile his incredible desire for her with his principles. And yet he could not pretend that this was the case; it was insulting for her to imply that he had done anything with regards to her or to her ex that would compromise him ethically.
Do you feel guilty?, he asked. Implying that she shouldn’t, that maybe the reason she was acting so strangely (by quizzing him, for instance) was because of her own guilt.
No, she said. Not entirely true. She had expected to feel worse, she felt bad about not feeling bad enough. But she felt great. Except that Dan was acting strangely. Then again he was a strange duck. How was she going to explain him to her friends, to her mother? He had to be kept from Jasmine for a while, until he could be coached as to how to act – no, it would never work. He had to be kept from Jasmine, period, until such a time as they were ready to move in together – here, or in her apartment? She liked hers better, but she would understand if he didn’t want to live with the ghost of Benji. This place was okay; not really what she would want, but she could almost see it working. Or maybe they could get a new place together. She didn’t want him to see her ambivalence about his apartment, her fears about introducing him to her world; she didn’t want to be critical or make him feel weird. He would be okay; she could make him okay.
They ordered food, and despite the intensity and velocity of their interior monologues, they managed to converse in a seemingly normal fashion. Now that they were out of bed and physically separate, he could breathe better, he could humor her in what she was saying. He put on sweatpants and combed his hair with his fingers, nodding at her unceasing string of chatter. The buzzer rang, the delivery guy was dealt with, and to stop her from further encroachment on his kitchen, he pulled out a stool at the counter for her and said, allow me, then set the places for them. She loved it, batting those lashes, giggling. Jesus, was she thirteen?
They tucked into their food, her poking her chopsticks into his plate. The liberties! Abigail was fastidious, as was he, but not Imani. There was a piece of rice in the corner of her mouth, and rather than say anything, he just prayed for it to fall. It must have been stuck with glue. Finally it dropped. She was oblivious, that was her problem. Oblivious. And it seemed to him that this level of obliviousness was a form of selfishness.
Now she was talking about the Gentle Readers, of course she would call them that, about how grateful she was for the group, not just because it had brought them together, but because it had opened up her writing. When she thinks that she almost passed by Vic's flyer, she feels a sort of retroactive fear, a fear for the past, for the Imani who hadn’t made the right choice, and she shudders. Fortunately, she had just read The Artist’s Way, and that had opened her up to the idea of a creative support group.
The Artist’s Way, he scoffed. That book is responsible for more bad art…
Have you read it?
I’ve read about it.
But have you read it?
No, and I never will.
It’s a great book. It may seem ooshy-gooshy, but it’s really good. It’s right. It’s like a science. It says things that can be qualitatively proven. It’s not bullshit.
Not everybody is an artist. Not everybody is meant to be a writer. Do you think Eleanor is meant to be a writer?
Who wants to read that shit?
I do. And it doesn’t matter. It’s important to her to write, it’s changing her life.
And it’s changing mine, for the worse, because I have to read that crap.
You don’t really mean that.
I do, don’t tell me what I really mean and what I don’t.
Our first fight, she says, trying to make it cute, trying to make it a bonding experience.
This is perfect, this is great. This is his out, The fact that she believes in this new age shit, and he doesn’t, this points to a basic philosophic difference between them that can not and should not be reconciled. He doesn’t want her to change her mind, he says; he thinks she is wonderful the way she is. Nor does he want to change his mind. Why should he change? He is very happy the way he is.
You don’t look like a happy person. You look like an uptight prick.
Well then obviously you don’t want to be with me.
I do want to be with you! How can you say that? I ended a six year relationship so I could be with you, there’s a guy sleeping on his friend’s sofa right now because I wanted to be with you so much! I don’t even know how I’m going to pay my rent next month, but I don’t care, because that’s how much I want to be with you! Stop eating!
You’re becoming hysterical.
No I’m not!
Stop making me wrong! I’m not wrong!
How did this all go so badly? Why is he smiling? There’s just a hint of it around the corners of his mouth. Is this what turns him on, conflict? She wants to go to him, to have him embrace her and tell her that everything is going to be okay, but it is beginning to dawn on her that it is not okay, that this is not a fluke or opening night jitters, that this is him, and that he does not want to keep her, he wants her to go. She starts to pull on her tights, her shirt, her fingers so fat with pounding blood that she can barely button. She waits for him to say stop, I’m sorry, let’s talk about it, and he doesn’t, he just watches her, as though he is curious. He is a monster, she hates him. She can’t believe this. It’s like he just ripped off his human mask and she’s staring at his alien face, rows of shiny teeth, slavering silver spit.
Call me when you figure out what you want. She has been reduced to stealing lines from Benji.
Imani, don’t… His patronizing tone, his weariness, his frustration. It is a token protestation, but she will take it. She stops and waits for the I’m sorry that will put this back together, but it doesn’t come.
Don’t be like that, he says, as though she could be any other way than how she is. As though any of us can.
I think we need to talk. The worst sentence in the English language. You don’t even need to talk after you say it, because the listener immediately knows that whatever you want to talk to them about is the last thing they want to hear.
We have to talk, Imani practiced to herself on the subway. She’d walk into the apartment and say it. And then what? Assuming she could even get out that sentence, what could she follow it up with? I’m not happy. But then he’d just offer to change, and that wasn’t what she wanted either. She didn’t want Benji to change, or she did, but she didn’t want him to do it now, when it was too late. She wanted him to change the past, she wanted him to change what had happened with Dan, and yet she didn’t – no matter what happened from here, she would always be glad she’d kissed Dan. You only get a few kisses like that in your life.
No, she didn’t want Benji to change, she wanted him to leave. And she wanted him to want to leave. What a relief it would be if he were having an affair, she thought, then recognized at the incongruity – last month, if she’d found out he was cheating, it would have destroyed her instantly like a ‘50s space laser, left her as a handful of black sand. Now it would be her first wish on the genie lamp, before even the trillion dollars and the world peace.
But Benji wasn’t cheating. He loved her. Not enough to get a real job, or work out, or stop pissing on the toilet seat, or do any of the other things she’d wanted him to do for years. But he loved her, and he didn’t understand why she was being so bitchy and mean lately, and that made her feel even bitchier.
We have to talk, she said.
Why? Because people need to communicate information to each other across distances, and talking is the most effective way.
I just…I feel like, you know, like I need to change some things. We need to change things.
Change them how?
I think you should move out for a while. Temporarily. Just so that we can get some space and some perspective.
Because nothing has changed! We’ve been together for six years, and I don’t think either of us is growing.
Can’t we grow together?
I think we have, and that’s stunted us.
So you want to break up? We can’t even discuss this?
We are discussing this.
Yeah, but we’re not, because you’ve already decided.
I haven’t decided anything, I just need some space, I need some room.
You’re seeing someone else. Of course. Obviously. It’s Dan, isn’t it.
I am not seeing anyone. This isn’t about someone else, this is about me and you.
Where is this coming from? Two weeks ago we were talking about going to Puerto Rico, now you’re telling me you want me to move out? I’m not moving out. You move out. You want space? Take as much space as you need! Go out there into the world, there’s a whole bunch of space! So wait, we won’t live together, but we’ll still be together? And then when things change we’ll move back in together? How’s that going to work? Imani, why are you doing this to me? I love you so much, you’re my wifey. What the hell am I supposed to do without you? This can’t be happening.
Nothing’s happening, forget I said anything.
Forget that my girlfriend came home after six years and told me she wanted me to move out because she needs some space so we can change, and by the way she’s not seeing other people, it’s just because she can’t stand to be around me anymore? Is that supposed to be a comfort?
Ninety minutes the discussion goes on, until they’re both so weak and devastated that they’re begging each other. She is hungry. He is infuriated anew by this. How can she think of eating at a time like this? She must be heartless, because she’s starving. She’s already said over and over that she wishes she hadn’t said anything, that she was wrong about the space and forget she said it and she was sorry and she would make it up to him. She tried to kiss him, but it was so awful and dead and miserable, there was a shiny slick of snot on his upper lip, and his breath wasn’t bad but it was overly warm and moist and worst of all familiar, and she couldn’t breathe. She felt like she was being strangled, and he backed up and looked at the look on her face, and his own face crumbled. I can’t stand this, he said. I can’t believe this is happening.
The only way for the discussion to end was for one of them to take a walk. I need to take a walk, he said.
Let me come with you.
It’s not going to help if you come with me.
Now all of a sudden she can’t let him go. She has to know that he’s okay, that she’s forgiven. He bristles: You think I’m going to throw myself into traffic? I’m not. You’re not worth throwing myself into traffic over. I’ll live.
Just let me come with you. I want to, please. We can get something to eat.
Jesus, you’re a piece of work.
She will be losing not only him but his mom and dad, who love her, who she loves. She can’t imagine how this will work.
So they go out and it feels strange to be walking around outside when they’re both so puffy-eyed and hollowed out. They wander around the streets for a while, trying to figure out where to go. They don’t want to go to their usual places, they don’t want to be seen with red eyes and runny noses, they are like refugees, castouts. They find a new diner, one they’ve never been to before, with yellow walls that portend the congealed grease that covers their food, and the food is awful, because no food will ever taste good again in this new version of the world. Every once in a while he will remember what’s happening, and he will stop, and she will feel a pang. But she can’t take it back. She said it, and it’s out there.
It’s not somebody else. It’s me, she says, like she read it in a women’s magazine. I feel like we’ve been us so long I don’t know who I am. And she’s realizing she’s right, she doesn’t know anymore. This is the healthiest thing she’s done in years, to try and get some perspective. Things don’t change unless there’s a crisis.
A weird truce between them as they go home. He is torn between exhibiting his anger and exhibiting his sadness. When he exhibits his anger, she almost loves him again, but only for a second.
So where do we leave things, he says.
Let’s just go to bed. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.
I want to talk about it right now. Are we living together, or not?
Yes, we’re living together.
For how long.
For…I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry I said anything, all right?
And then she throws a hysterical fit, crying until she can’t breathe, not because she’s sad but because she’s so angry. Why doesn’t he just fucking disappear? She hates him so much right now. And then he winds up comforting her.
You know this scene in and out. You have been at least one person in this play at some point in your life, if not both. You have either been the dumper or the dumpee. It always goes the same. You feel for both of them, though you should really only feel for Benji; he’s the one who’s going to suffer the most. Or is he?
All day Imani waited for the email from Dan. About last night... It didn’t come. She checked and checked and checked, like she could make an email message appear by refreshing the page. Her mood sank with every passing half hour. She was happy to take on stupid tasks as long as they kept her from checking her email for fifteen minutes at a time; every time she got up from her desk to do something, she thought, well it has to be there by the time I get back. And then it wasn’t.
She grew angry. What was he doing? How did he spend his days? What did he do for money again? She couldn’t remember. Had they ever discussed it? Something at Columbia. Something related to journalism. What did he do? And what kept him from emailing her? Was he not thinking about her? He had to be thinking about her. With the amount that she was thinking of him, it was impossible that he could not feel the psychic pull. He must be playing a game, she thought, and she hated his guts for a half hour. She would play the game right back, she would show up at group next week like nothing had happened. She would ignore him and he would be miserable. Then another fifteen minutes passed with no email, and she thought she might go crazy, she thought she might spontaneously burst a blood vessel in her brain. She wished something terrible would happen to her physically, she wished she would collapse and stop breathing at her desk so that Benji could come rescue her, and then the group could hear about it next Wednesday when she didn’t show up, and she’d be in the hospital recovering from her near-death incident, and wouldn’t Dan feel awful then?
It was a good thing it hadn’t gone any further than a kiss. He was an asshole, such an asshole. She hated him. And she loved Benji. She was going to go home tonight and make Benji some steak and potatoes, and then she was going to suck his dick right there on the couch, because she loved him so much and was so grateful for him. She pulled out her phone and texted him – Sorry I’ve been such a cranky bear lately. I love you, boo. Then she felt great for fifteen minutes. Then she checked her email again and there was nothing and she felt awful. And Benji didn’t return her text.
And she wondered what life would be like if she were single. Not if she left Benji for Dan, but if she had nobody. If she woke up alone and went to work and went home alone at night. What would she do? Hang out with her friends? She hadn’t made one-on-one plans with any of her friends in months; she had to do that right away, start putting friends in the bank. She was afraid to be single, and that disgusted her. She had to make some serious life changes right away. If nothing else, this experience was helpful because it had showed her that. And then she checked her email again. And there was still nothing.
Furious, she started to compose one herself. Dan, I’m not sure what happened last night, but I think we need to talk about it. She kept adding sentences – As you know, I’m committed to my relationship – and deleting them – was she? That remained to be seen. I don’t know what these feelings are that I have for you – delete. Nita hovered, waiting for Imani to stop composing her private email so she could ask for something inane, and Imani wanted to kick her in the shin.
“When you get a second, Tomas needs hard copies of the monthly reports.”
I’m not sure what happened last night, but I think we need to talk about it. Send. The end.
She opened the monthlies, hit “print,” and strode over to the printer, sighing. Now what. She felt better for a second, then she felt worse. Now she was waiting again. Her phone buzzed in her pocket. Benji. He loved her too. She felt sick. She dropped off the “hard copies” at Tomas’ desk, sat down and checked her email. The day would never end. Life was way too long.
(For the first excerpt, click here.)
It was during this relatively tranquil and productive time in the group’s history that Victoria made a horrible discovery.
Group was breaking up for the week, that twilight time after the work had been done and the administrative details attended to, when we all relaxed and smiled at each other and yawned and stretched, when Eleanor hustled to the “washroom,” as she called it, while Imani and Vic bussed the table, and Frederick and Sabrina gossiped (about who? Who did they have in common? Or were they talking about TV? Probably TV…). Dan never lingered; he always started packing his things and patting his pockets while we were still discussing the next deadline and meeting, and as soon as it was decided, he rose from him seat and gave his funny little bow – “Good night, all.” – then swept out the door.
But the rhythms were off tonight. Imani had beat Eleanor to the bathroom, so Eleanor had started telling Vic about something her daughter Marian had written – so talented, Eleanor’s daughter was, and Vic hypothesized that it probably ran in the family. The detail, said Eleanor. Just wonderful, so creative. Her daughter Marian inspires her so much.
Vic smiled at Eleanor. It felt good to be around someone who enthused, instead of critiquing all the time; it was a nice antidote to all the skepticism and sarcasm we might have fallen prey to without her there. If there were disagreements, as there sometimes were, Eleanor was quick to step in and take a side. And in a way, her entering the conflict mollified it. While we would all be bitchy with each other, there was no way we were going to be bitchy with the old lady, and so contentious tones became more even, the agreement to disagree reached much more quickly. Vic wondered if Eleanor knew how powerful she was.
Eleanor went off to the washroom, leaving Vic to look around and notice that the glasses had been collected, while Frederick and Sabrina scorned some absent party named Bethany. The coffee table was smudged, so she went to the kitchen for some glass cleaner and paper towels. And there, to her great dismay, were Dan and Imani. Kissing.
Oh, bloody hell. She yipped in surprise, and Frederick called out from the living room, “You okay?”
“Yep!” Dan and Imani moved apart, Imani flushing and pressing her lips together in a line, Dan moving back into the living room, fluidly leaving the scene. Imani looked up at Vic, helpless – Please don’t think badly of me. Please don’t tell. Vic drew her chin back, eyes open extra wide – Well, well, young lady. What have we here?
They could hear Dan in the living room. “Good night. See you week after next.” Vic gaped at Imani – He’s leaving? Just like that? Did I just see what I think I saw? Imani cringed and shrugged a little, elated and miserable in equal degree. Vic scooted past her to the cabinet, got her cleaning supplies, and went back out into the living room. Eleanor, Frederick and Sabrina were standing and waiting for Imani. Dan was gone.
“Imani, you taking the train?”
Vic wanted her to stay, wanted to hear what she had to say for herself, and she could tell that Imani wanted to confide in her too. “Actually, Imani, can you hang out a minute? I want to ask you about your yoga class…”
“Oh, yeah, yoga.” She moved to the couch, and the rest of them took their leave.
Vic waited for Imani to start. Imani seemed to be waiting for Vic. She looked like a little girl about to be punished for stealing a cupcake, a cupcake she had obviously wanted and enjoyed very much. Vic didn’t want to punish her – she didn’t know what she wanted. Her first instinct was to warn Imani against Dan, but mostly, she wanted to hear about it.
“So,” she said – supportively, she hoped.
“Please, please don’t think I’m a terrible person.”
“I am. I am a terrible person. I have a wonderful boyfriend, I know.” Vic thought back to Benji – sweet, but mediocre at best. “I don’t know…I’m just…”
“Hey, it’s okay. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. I just thought, if you wanted to talk…”
“I do.” Her head hung and she started to cry. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She wasn’t apologizing to Vic, or she was. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“When did it start?”
“Just now! When you walked in…” There was the edge of accusation, when you walked in and spoiled it. “I mean, I guess it’s been…brewing. But we never said anything. We never planned it.”
Was that true? In a way, yes. They’d never said anything. But they’d said enough of nothing. Three meetings ago, he’d pretended to have some business in her neighborhood, he’d walked to the subway with the gang and sat next to her on the train and got off at her stop. She’d known, even before she asked, as they emerged onto the sidewalk – “So, wait, where are you going?”
Nowhere, he’d said. I just wanted to talk with you.
I have a boyfriend, she could have said, the most hackneyed thing in the world to say. But he knew that. And he hadn’t said he wanted to fuck her, or to kiss her. He just wanted to talk with her. He made no motion to touch her. And suddenly she wanted him to try, very badly. But she couldn’t, it wasn’t up to her. He had to make the first move.
Well, he said, it was a pleasure. And he gave his funny bow, and went back down into the subway.
Since then, nothing. Not an extra glance in her direction during group, but neither did he avoid her eye. No emails except those sent to the group. Not, “I enjoyed our subway ride, I’d like to do it again,” which is the email she composed in her head, the one she wanted to receive, if not to send. She’d hoped he would join them again after group, walk towards the subway with them, the two of them trailing behind and talking, but he resumed his usual habit of disappearing as soon as group was done. She’d even gathered her things quickly last meeting, thinking she’d slip out with him, but he was too quick for her.
And then tonight, he’d lingered. None of them had noticed, but Imani noticed. He had not packed during the denoument. He was sitting in his chair, relaxed. She went to the bathroom and her hands were sweating because she knew, he was waiting for her. She looked at herself in the mirror and it seemed to be someone else, someone much younger, looking back at her. She went back into the living room, and picked up her glass from the table, and brought it into the kitchen, where he was waiting. They didn’t say anything. He just stepped forward one step, and…
“Wow,” said Vic.
“I know,” said Imani.
“He’s really good.”
Imani looked startled. “Have you…?”
“No! No, I just mean – he’s very…” She had to tread carefully, she realized, as she was talking about the man Imani loved. “Persuasive.”
“He didn’t say anything. Neither of us did. It was just like…” She shrugged, and her shoulders stayed up, like she was hugging herself. She let them drop. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Vic realized that this revolting development, which was sure to fuck up our lovely group, was almost exciting and welcome, not just for the novelty and the intrigue, but because Imani was confiding in her, like a friend. “What do you want to do?” she asked.
“Dan.” They laughed. “Don’t laugh. I mean, I know I laughed, but…is it laughable? I mean, he’s…weird, I know.”
“His work speaks volumes.”
“I know! I know! I could barely stand him the first few weeks! I can barely stand him now! I don’t know what I’m doing. I really don’t.”
“What about Benji?”
Imani groaned like Vic was the world’s worst killjoy. “I think I’m going to throw up. I don’t want to hurt Benji. I love Benji. We were just at his mom’s the other day, and she was all like, ‘When you two have kids…’ And I used to want that, you know? I mean, I still do, part of me, but it’s like everything changed in a month. In a day. Ever since we took that subway together...”
(This is an unedited first draft excerpt from a novel about a writers' group I wrote in November of '09 for Nanowrimo. Further excerpts to follow.)
Eleanor came early to our first meeting at Victoria’s, bearing with her some of those rainbow layer cookies from an old Italian bakery whose name she couldn’t remember, damn it, despite the fact that she’d just been there an hour ago. She’d too obviously been looking forward to this; she’d only retired a few years ago, and it was driving her crazy, nobody to talk to. Most of her friends had moved, some had died, and though she took a writing class last year with some very nice people with whom she meant to keep in touch, somehow that didn’t happen.
“I brought cookies. I figure everybody loves cookies. And if anybody’s on a diet, I’ll eat theirs. I don’t diet any more. I used to be so slim, I used to wear a twenty-six waist, can you believe that? But that was years ago, when I was running around so much all the time. My daughter Marian, she’s a tiny little thing, she runs marathons, she’s even done the Ironman competition. I cheer her every year when she comes to town to do the race, me and my friends from the Y, we make a sign and we go and watch her run…”
This is only partially true. Three years ago, she got Paula, one of the other regulars from her water aerobics class, to come with her to cheer on Marian, but Paula complained the whole time about the cold and the crowd, and how hard it was to see, and how she hoped Marian would be along soon, would hurry up and run her miles quickly so they could go sit somewhere indoors and drink something warm. Whereas Eleanor loved the marathon, the way strangers cheered each other on, looking at everybody’s homemade shirts that said why they were running, and for who – this one for breast cancer, this one for better schools, this one in memory of Patricia Horn – it made her throat swell with kept tears. How hard people ran, how hard they were working, the pain on their faces; it was a metaphor for life, all these people doing the same difficult thing at once in their own ways, at their own paces. She clapped and she cheered for everyone: Go purple! You look wonderful, purple! And purple would pick up a weary hand and grimace and wave, and then be gone from her life forever. It made her hopeful, seeing strangers cheer for strangers; it made her think that crowds weren’t always terrible stupid things, that people were essentially good.
And always the anxiety to see Marian, fear that she would miss her, though in six years of cheering her daughter on, she had never missed her. But the feeling she got when she spotted her daughter running with her Autism Awareness t-shirt, such an overwhelming sense of pride, fear, love, completion – “MARIAN! MARIAN!” – who knew she could yell so loud? “YOU’RE DOING GREAT, MARIAN! I LOVE YOU, MARIAN! I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!” And her daughter, red faced and sweating like a woman in labor, raising a fist and smiling for her, grimly through her pain, but smiling for her mom – you too, Mom. Tough, wiry Marian, with her shrieking and angry little son, the baby they’d wanted for so long; Marian who never said she loved Eleanor except this once a year, you too, Mom. Her daughter passed and faded from sight, and Eleanor turned around and doubled over and sobbed. And there were people in the crowd who passed her tissues, told her her daughter looked great. Thank god for New York; Florida might be warm but New York was the only place where things happened this way. As long as Marian was right there in Jersey, she would stay.
“You’re close to my daughter’s age,” she said to Victoria. “You’re exactly her age, I’ll bet; no, you’re younger. How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“You look so youthful.”
Vic smiled. “It’s the sneakers.”
“You say that kidding, but you know it’s true, because I bet you do a lot of walking, and that helps to keep you young.” She wants to say more; she is sad to hear that Vic is forty-two and so obviously single, no children, and now it’s too late; even if she could still bear them, it’s not a good idea, look what happened with Marian and Alex, she waited so long and then… They shouldn’t have waited, she’d told them, they should have done it earlier, she would have given them some money if that was the issue.
“So who else is joining us this evening? I’m so excited, I was up half the night last night, writing a poem, so I would be able to keep up with everyone.”
Vic started to tick them off on her fingers. “Well, there’s Imani…”
“Imani, what a beautiful name. You know, it’s a Swahili name, I think it means strength. When I was working in the schools, you know I was a guidance counselor in the public schools for almost thirty-five years, before I retired, I met so many young people with wonderful names…”
“It sounds like you have a real wealth of material,” said Vic. The buzzer rang, and she went to get it.
“Do you have a plate? Do you mind if I make myself at home in your kitchen? It’s such a lovely apartment, so cozy and welcoming. You’re going to have trouble getting me to go home.”
Imani and Benji arrived, bearing pomegranate juice, her flush with excitement, her voice high and musical; him smiling despite his reservations. He looked around the small apartment, the fortyish spinster-type with her cacti and her throw pillows, the old lady babbling to them about what a pleasure, and was Imani a Swahili name? She knew it! Oh, the pleasure it gave her to know this. This was the reward for all those Times crosswords, all those evenings with Jeopardy in the background. You stayed sharp, you remembered things, and then people at parties and gatherings like this, you had something to say to them. They couldn’t just write you off.
Write a book. Same thing we do every night, Pinky: Try to take over the world. Held a private workshop today, one of my favorite things to do, so we know I can talk the talk, but can I write the write? We'll see. I'm going to absent myself from society for the next two weeks, see what good that does me; in the meantime, I've been picking out some draft excerpts from last year's nano-novel, which will be automatically posted to the site every few days. I thought I'd put them up in their raw, unedited form, so you can see what goes into a first draft of mine and what I skip over and save for the next draft. For instance, when I write the first draft of a conversation, I just write the dialogue and the broad strokes, and it's usually very "on the nose," and I don't skip lines between speakers or add quotation marks, nor do I add much in the way of attributions or stage directions ("he said, throwing the spear at the ninja burglar"), so it winds up looking like this bit, which I posted last year:
Nothing I do is right anymore. She wants to be reassured. When has that ever been his role? Did he ever promise to be the guy who reassures people? He sighs. I never said that. But you indicate that. You indicate it all the time. Abigail, you’re making things up. Don’t negate my reality. He can barely keep his eyes from rolling.
For ease of reading, I've broken down these passages so you can keep track of what's said and what's thought, and who the speaker/thinker is, as such:
Nothing I do is right anymore, she complains.
She wants to be reassured. When has that ever been his role? Did he ever promise to be the guy who reassures people? He sighs. I never said that.
But you indicate that. You indicate it all the time.
Abigail, you’re making things up.
Don’t negate my reality.
He can barely keep his eyes from rolling.
See? You’re rolling your eyes at me.
I am most certainly not rolling my eyes at you. I am trying to determine what you’re trying to say here, and how I can possibly convince you out of something you’ve decided is real.
You could convince me by acting like you like me every once in a while.
That’s neither accurate nor fair, he says. I gave you keys to my apartment; isn’t that an indicator of how I feel? I’ve introduced you to my father. I’ve told you, I’ve never had a relationship like this one before, and yet you keep telling me it’s not enough. I’m starting to feel like I’m the one who can’t do anything right.
His father's genes in him. He would have made an excellent lawyer.
In a second draft, I would spend more time setting the scene, both externally and inside the head of the guy, from whose point of view the scene is meant to be set. I'd show them moving around the small kitchen area, her seated on a stool by the counter while he paced back and forth in front of the burners; you'd hear their voices and see their faces, their mannerisms. I'd rework the line about keeping his eyes from rolling, because it's an overused phrase; and I'd try to find a subtler way to introduce the thoughts expressed in the last two lines. And I'd definitely take out him saying "Abigail," as I've found that most people don't use each other's names a lot in conversation unless they're trying to sell them something.
So this is probably way too arcane and who cares, but I'm generally curious about the way other writers actually work, the logistics of it, in case they've found a way to make it any goddamn easier to write that I could use for myself. Here's something that makes it easier for me: writing first drafts with placeholders, rather than wringing out the perfect word and phrase for everything as I go. It's like drawing: First the face is an oval, then it's an oval with lines all over it, then it's an oval with lines all over it and eye holes, and then after a few more steps you erase the lines and start working on the eyelashes. You don't start with the hair at the left side of the head and work your way across the face, you know what I mean?
Anyway, placeholder scenes from an unfinished novel will be popping up on the site for the next two weeks; make of them what you will, or nothing at all. I will be unresponsive via internet through the weekend of the 16th/17th, but look forward to returning to the blogging world with yet more placeholder scenes from unfinished novels to my name.
Happy new year, still. Happy all year 'round.
I was ecstatic last night, I couldn't fall asleep. I'd eaten a bunch of cheese, chocolate and fruit, and drunk two glasses of champagne; I'd had a great night with Bill, getting home before the madness got too maddening, watching the ball drop on TV and opening the window to hear the faraway gasp of the crowd, a mile away and a half mile long. We got into bed around two a.m., shut the light off and kissed goodnight, and then I was just flipping over on each side and grinning and plotting and feeling happy. So I got up again around 2:15 and wrote for two hours.
It's been a really tremendous two weeks. I met two very sympatico women for two separately wonderful lunches, Stacy Pershall and Jessie Sholl, both candid, caring and smart memoirists around my age, no kids, tons of overlapping interests, and I felt so comforted by the idea that these were my neighbors, that for all the dogshit and screaming and mental illness New York City foists on me everyday, at least I am surrounded by actively good people to whom I can intimately relate.
Also in the past two weeks: Blessings, both local and national. First I had a breakthrough in a very important friendship that had started to go off track -- a real Hanukkah miracle. Two days later, I heard from the main "character" in my second book, who, as you probably know and I nearly forgot, is a real human being walking around out there, not named Sam. I don't want to say too much -- I've already said so much about someone who is not me -- but since just about everyone who's read the book has expressed concern and compassion and a desire to see her happy and safe, I wanted to let you know that she is both alive and well, both forgiven and forgiving, and that I could not have asked for a happier resolution. So...THERE'S THAT.
Then, in the final days of the year, I go to meet an old friend for lunch, and he hasn't mentioned that this might happen, but there's a really pretty brunette in his apartment offering me tea, so I just roll with it and don't ask any questions, noting all the while as we three chat that she is extremely bright and gracious and sweet, Jesus, so open and smart, and within ten minutes she and I are talking about the nature of human suffering, the sacred gift of consciousness, how to cope with the existence of cruelty, finding purpose in a purposely purposeless life, etc., all with tremendous sympathy of outlook. And we weren’t even on drugs! We sat around with our tea for a while, then walked over to a restaurant a few blocks away, and she and I had a few moments on our side of the sidewalk while our friend forged across through a snowbank, and she said she was 29 and she didn’t know how to be an adult and I said I was 41 and I didn’t either, and it was like she was going to take my arm and jump into my lap or the other way around.
Today is a new year, sort of (it's Jan, 1 while I'm typing this post, but I'm probably not going to get it on the site before midnight). Nothing's official except what you deem important. January 1 is arbitrary, and so's August 29th, the beginning of my personal fiscal year. Every day is a new blank square on the calendar.
I resolve not to forget that.