So Long, See You Later

In Head House Books on South Second, with less than three days left in Philadelphia, I make an impulse purchase: a Gone with the Wind biography/critical commentary thing. It’s the cover that drives the purchase, the green fuse that drives the flower. Regardless of the logic of that sentence, it’s what came to mind. Language has musical qualities and sometimes one can’t help but rattle off the phrase that comes to mind, whether the literary reference makes sense, whether the reference preceded or succeeded the non-literary sentiment, whether or not etc etc etc.

The book is engrossing, in particular the talk about Scarlett's pluck. There's plenty of mumbojumbo and intertextual wanking, but it's not terribly offensive. There were certain statements that drew my breath -- that amazing feeling that starts to fade with age. The line that spoke to me in particular came from the introduction, the part where the writer wastes your time and you thank them for it. Between the onanistic jabber there was this crystal clear thought: that Scarlett O’Hara’s character is, despite the glamour and 17-inch waist, a tomboy. Further, she is a tomboy who has no qualms about sexualizing men. Brilliant!

It’s true, you know. Many of us gals don’t really see much shame in throwing ourselves at the objects of our desire. And how lovely to find many a man enjoys it! Not all, mind you. No, not all. Alas, alas. But some. And so, this line called to mind the summer of 2005, my last summer in the great city of trees and lakes called Minneapolis. It was then and there that I found myself involved with several different suitors. None of them was truly willing to sweep me off my feet, but all were willing to play along. I didn't feel like I was leading anyone on. See, I was moving to Philadelphia at the end of July and they knew it so, why not? I want to tell you about these men, because each of them was and is a story in itself, but out of respect I won’t. I’ll just say this: one was a photographer who rode a motorcycle; one was a very smart, sexy, sound-engineer person with a Cannes film festival award under his belt; one was a local musician, human rights lawyer, with coke bottle glasses and a cat named Kingfisher. There. That's all. When I left Minneapolis for Philadelphia I would speak with them on the phone, sometimes accept a letter in the mail, and it was all very sweet and made life feel full, and then due to things like time and distance, we lost touch.

And so this afternoon I was thinking of them. Of us. Of me, and them, at that time. I started to think of why it was I lost contact with them. It wasn't just chance. I met someone here. A man. I met a man. And unfortunately, the story of us is a buzzkill. Which is why I try not to think about it too much. The truth is, many days I spend thinking thoughts I’d rather not. Thoughts about the future, climate disaster, and the vile shit humans do to one another. And I think about how things could be different. I mean, how things could have been different. Sometimes these are grand thoughts. But I'll admit it. A lot of time, it's just me, my choices, my life. That day in the bookstore, I start going back in time. Back to the end of July in 2005, when I was still a very young woman. I'm remembering a conversation in the Xerox room in Anderson Hall. A bar on 15th. An empty apartment. A key twisting the lock. A drive up and down Delaware Avenue. Sitting at the IKEA café and staring at the huge docked ship, pretending I was in Scandinavia. I try and catch these thoughts before whole minutes have passed, but they’re slippery beasts, determined, and let’s face it, they know the way, the road is worn well with travel. And I go there.

She has this fear that she has no names that she has
many names that she doesn't know her names.... She has
this fear that if she takes off her clothes shoves her brain
aside peels off her skin... strips the flesh from the bone ...
that when she does reach herself... she won't find anyone ...
She has this fear that she won't find the way back

I got outside and shook it off and I thought to myself -- walking home from the bookshop, walking with my baby in her stroller, who was muttering to herself and pointing to the sky -- I thought: life is precious. And then: life is hell. And then I thought: there’s got to be some poetry out of that. Well, then, I suppose there is.

My plan was simple. My plan was this: I was going to get my MA in Literature and Creative Writing, become a very famous writer, and teach courses at colleges and universities out of the goodness of my heart. There would be a fee, of course, a charge, there is a charge / for the eyeing of my scars. I would get my love life together and marry a rock star. I would stay preternaturally sexy, fresh-faced and, somehow, thin. This would cause the man from Minnesota (not any of the guys referenced above) to realize: Whoops! I missed out on a real winner! I better self-mortify and beg her back into my arms. I better fly from Dellwood to Philadelphia and show up at her fiction workshop and show everyone in her class that she's not just a loser, but actually a goddess.

First the MFA, then the fame, then the money, then the men.

There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge   
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge   
For a word or a touch   
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.   
So, so, Herr Doktor.   
So, Herr Enemy.

Now. Here’s what actually happened. 
I met and coupled with a nineteenth-year Ph.D. candidate in literary theory. A person with a penchant for very, very young women. Let’s say it: girls. A person who had major anger issues (in the parlance of our time) and got off on delivering idle threats from the couch. I wrote him into every one of my short stories for workshop. These stories were parodic and tragically autobiographical and had titles like: Jane meets the Asshole of Creation and Self Destruction Pleasure Cruise. Despite actively questioning him and his role in my life, I also felt devoted to him. He was wickedly funny and had that telltale charisma that should signal RUN and he was cute in an offbeat, adjunct professorish way. Plus I was twenty-five, in a new city, and extremely nervous about my intellectual chops. He basically said: here, I'll teach you. And I thought, well I know I have a lot to learn -- OK. I soon was listening to him rhapsodize about things that felt important. I fell under sway of his slavish devotion to the Gods of pragmatism and bare life and spent a fair chunk of change on rare books, that I believe he gifted to his tweeny Intro to Poetry students.  Meanwhile, the Minnesota Madman, the Environmental Lawyer, and writer of elegiac songs for the cello -- the one who was supposed to ride in on his white BMW and save me from all of this crap -- never called.

I would watch him talk to girls at parties and feel a jealousy and self-loathing that felt nearly lethal. We'd get home, I'd throw a fit, and he'd berate me mercilessly. He'd go to bed and I'd chain smoke out the window, behaving like some kind of red room stomper. Who? Oh, her? She's no one. Back to what you were saying about being a governess... ibid. In my most frantic, hopeless moments I considered lighting our place ablaze, or rending my clothing while tearing apart with my ragged nails -- but I didn't know if I was ready for the institution, yet. Things were bad. But regardless of the multiple unflattering details of our union, there was a bigger, more general problem. My life. I knew I was not living a life I was proud of. Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? the famous poet asked. And I tried to hide. I tried to avert my mind from the question. 

One night after a party with fellow hard-drinking grad students I stayed up late and sat in the kitchen. In the morning I saw I had finished the wine. Fuck it, I thought. Then I checked my phone. I gazed with horror at the outgoing calls. I’d called the man from Minnesota. Yes, it happens, but at this point years had passed, not like six days. I railed at the gods of misfortune and torture: WHYYYYY!!!! I looked to see the length of said phone call and noticed with clearing eyes the number I'd punched in. I’d misdialed the last digit of his phone number. In that moment I felt something I rarely experience. I felt something like, pride.

Maybe, I thought, maybe this is a turning point.

And it sort of was. At least professionally. After graduation, I got a job in higher ed administration. I’d read in a money magazine that this career was one of the top ten careers for twenty-somethings and I was pretty sure the wheel of fortuna was finally spinning me straight. When they sent me up to Boston on a business trip I asked my significant other if he wanted to join. Naturally, he declined. He needed to stay in town and attend some poetry readings, naturally. On my last night in the Back Bay I met up with an ex-boyfriend, a very cute guy, but more importantly a very nice guy. We’d broken up a couple months before I left Minneapolis. I confessed t o him the horror of my current existence over nachos and Sierra Nevadas. Perhaps because I’d hurt him several years before, or perhaps because he was now seeing someone normal, or because he simply had no interest in being my shoulder to cry on he shrugged, wished me well, and pointed me to the trolley stop. It was too fair. I wasn’t upset with him. I was upset with me. For being a fucking moron. On my way to the hotel I walked past the library and read something inscribed in a stone pillar, hoping for inspiration, or simply direction. Instead a tall guy with a shaved head asked if I had a cigarette and we ended up doing shots at a crappy college bar. He talked about patent law, or something, and I talked about my novel. He was, of course, a lawyer, and a drunk. So, basically, my type.

The next day on the train back to Philly I felt something good. Something I hadn’t felt in nearly three years: I felt hope. And it felt fucking amazing. Two days after returning, I was speaking to the philandering Agamben-quoting sociopath on the phone. I was at work. He was at a coffee shop. "Who did you go to lunch with?" I asked. "You know what," he said, "this isn’t working for me." I spun around in my desk chair and said: "You're right. I’ll move out this weekend."

He said he would be back and we'd drink wine together
He said that everything would be better than before
He said we were on the edge of a new relation
He said he would never again cringe before his father
He said that he was going to invent full-time
He said he loved me that going into me
He said was going into the world and the sky
He said all the buckles were very firm
He said the wax was the best wax

I won’t go into the next few months in toto. Be assured the ex quickly realized he lost his financial means, his on-call ego-stroker, his office support staff (oh the printing, Xeroxing, faxing I did on his behalf) and he also lost something like love, but that’s really his story. And I don’t know if he’ll ever tell it. Even to himself.

This was the year 2008. The year I started therapy (finally!), moved into my own apartment, with my own dog, my own bills, my own vision of me—not filtered through the eyes of an emotionally and sometime physically abusive monster. I went to Greece with a girlfriend. I travelled by myself and stayed up all night in a hotel room in Athens watching a TV show called Las Vegas. As the years went by I finished an unpublished novella. I read Bleak House. I met my husband, moved into our first house, had a baby—Oh! And I paid off my credit card debt!

Is there any other true criterion for success than a balance of zero?

The part that always gets lost in my stories is the good time. Yes, good time. Singular. It was a time I had all these really funny, cool girlfriends and we used to meet at one another’s houses and apartments and sometimes even out on the town. We shared a big part of our lives and I won’t forget that. Not ever.

One other day comes to mind, I was crossing the Walt Whitman Bridge reading the last pages of THE ROAD. It made me cry. Drivin' and Cryin'. I tried to tell my friend Chris about the passage about how strange and mysterious the world is. "The world isn't strange and mysterious," he said. "It's a Stephen King book written in really big type." Maybe. Maybe not.

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

And now my husband is yelling: "WHAT ABOUT PACKING, HONEY?!" and my baby is wrapping herself in twine and it is the present moment. May 12, 2014. A nice day. On Wednesday, Mittwoch, we are taking our leave of this great and historic city. We are headed back to the lands of hinter. The land of ten-thousand lakes, as they say. The husband, the baby, and I. We are shipping out! We’re leavin’ Las Vegas / Leavin’ for good. We’re headed west. We have a tank full of gas and a case of seltzer and just like Lot’s wife and Orpheus – we ain’t looking back!

… wait.

Goodbye, Philadelphia. Thank you for everything. Be well.

And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

:) Love you guys!