Sunday, November 19, 2006
If I've Told You This Story, Stop Me
Here's a piece of flash fiction for your Sunday reading. It first appeared in a journal called Parting Gifts.
The Contemplation of Ruins
Okay, let's say you could do it. Meaning you have the capacity. Fall in love, have a baby, find a job, write a book, get a divorce, etc. First off, there's always some asshole telling you how easy it would be if you really wanted to. It's you that's holding you back. And so on and so forth. And when you're finished, there's somebody else telling you how you could have done it easier, less expensively, with more style, less mess. I'm tired of this.
Sometimes it takes every ounce of energy just to get through the day without coming out the other side as though I'm a passenger getting off a particularly long flight, rumpled and jet-lagged, waiting for someone to pick me up and take me home.
When a man wants to leave you, it's like when you're in a bathtub running the hot water and all of a sudden it's getting colder and colder until you can't stand it. You keep wanting to believe it's going to warm back up, but eventually you're forced to get out and put on your clothes just to quit shaking.
When I get letters for him, which used to be all the time and now is almost never, I always write "not at this address" on the envelope. One time my pen wouldn't work so I threw his mail away. When a pen really finally runs out of ink, all the shaking in the world won't bring it back.
Two weeks after, I dialed my old phone number to check my messages, not realizing it wasn't my phone number anymore, wasn't my message, wasn't anything. I felt like I'd been on one of those rides that goes up for a very long time until you're suspended. Just when you're convinced that you won't drop, you do. At amusement parks, I avoid those rides along with the ones where you're stuck with centrifugal force to a wall and spun around. Inevitably, those attract pukers. One of my childhood friends always rode the evil Whirl-O-Matic with the expected results.
"Why do you put yourself through that?" I'd ask as she leaned against the wall, her face pale after vomiting near the log ride.
"Because I think I'm going to get used to feeling bad when it's over."
One of my co-workers, Kate, got a divorce about the same time I did. It's been two years since that Three Mile Island summer of break-ups, and she's met a man from England through a pen pal page on the internet. Everybody around the office refers to him as Nigel, even though his name is Henry. He's coming to stay on the basis of one two-week visit. I'm as cut off from the meaning of this sudden action as anybody else.
"He's such a cupcake, a perfect little cupcake," she'd told me right after he left from his visit.
"After jerk-boy city, I didn't think it was possible that love could happen so fast or seem so right."
I didn't know it was possible for people to talk that way and keep a straight face.
After, I dated men who, well, wouldn't be described as cupcakes by me or anyone else. I dated men who coached basketball and soccer and hockey. My current has been known to yell "your intensity is for shit" at random points during the evening. He had a side of the bed in no time flat. He's a good time, or at least my idea of one.
When this man was looking for a different job, one of my friends asked him how it was going.
"The last time I made a cut was on my high school basketball team," he said.
It's his reduced expectations that get to me every time.
When I tell my current about Kate's description of Nigel as we're lying in bed, he asks when Cupcake is due to arrive.
I roll onto my side, facing him. "A couple of weeks. Before desire fails, before the silver cord is loosed."
"Where does that come from?"
"Ecclesiastes. There is nothing new under the sun," I say, as I put his hand on my breast.
"Thank God for that." Then we don't say anything at all.
Watching little boys and little girls playing with building blocks, the psychologist Erik Erikson noted that while girls concentrated on building houses and entrances, boys would stack blocks as high as they could and knock them down. I think about what the therapist said to me at my last marriage counselling session: "You're not mad at this man, you're mad at all men." I'd had quite enough, but my ex continues with her to this day. As Erikson wrote in his journal, "Contemplation of the ruins is a masculine speciality."
After, I try not to think about the future because that means thinking about the past, which is, well, past. Instead, I think of Nigel getting off the long flight over the ocean knowing at the end of the tunnel there will be someone waiting to pick him up, help him with his luggage, and drive him to a place he'll learn to call home.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The ballerina must not depend totally upon her partner for support. In most lifts, there is preparation that helps send her in the air -- and takes the weight off her partner." Barefoot to Balanchine
Drinking movie suggestion: Lady Sings the Blues
Benedictions and Maledictions