Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Way We See

You see better in the dark. When things sting, when they prick at you, when your husband is still on the phone to his girlfriend after an hour, when you see one of their emails and how bold and sexy she is, writing things like, “Do you still want me?” When you wake up from a bad dream where you’ve gone too far and kicked your husband out of the house, when you’re driving like a freak-head through the streets of your town looking for a smoke instead of getting to the Brownie Court of Awards ceremony, anytime you walk on the school yard and into the sea of mothers wearing holiday sweaters, the way you try to diminish your longings for your lover, the way you fight your feelings and then how you give way to his body like you did last Sunday, both of you fully dressed and in a mob of people at your house. It was only a hug but you released yourself and everything you have tried to hold back.

You like the dark; you understand everything better when you see its complexity, its trouble. It’s just the way you are. When the stone from your wedding ring fell out last week and was lost, after the momentary panic you smiled because it perfectly symbolized your marriage; loss and beauty; everything you hoped for and what happened instead and how only marriage can take you down that bright, shadowy path. And mostly whom you have needed to become to live into that.

After a day you stopped looking for the stone because the story about its loss was so much more compelling than the possibility of finding it.

But darkness takes its toll. Cement boots. Bad dreams. Agitation. A desire to smoke. Close down. Shut people out. Valerian and amino acids at night to stop your thoughts, and then waking up every morning at 4:30 to roll out your dark observations; does the lover love me? Not enough. No more emails or phone calls for him. Do I have the energy to teach today? God, I have nothing for my students and have they figured that out yet? Will I ever finish that book proposal? Do I love my husband enough? Am I screwing up the kids? Have I always been this unhappy?

It’s not that you don’t seek the light or appreciate sweetness, you do, it’s just that even when something has loveliness, like last night when you and your husband went to see your kids in the summer production of Beach Blanket Banana, even though you were moved by how beautiful and talented your daughters were, the way they’d memorized their lines and sung with such expression, what captivated you was the way your ten-year-old held hands with Rat Dog at the end of the show when she finds out he rides a Harley, and the way you watched her holding hands with this boy, the way you examined those clasped hands, like tea leaves, reading into the future. You see everything, you see too much. You always have.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Choosing a Dress

Why she has brought him along, asked him to come to the dress shop she does not know, can't remember, but suddenly the dressing room feels too crowded and the dresses keep coming and are piled on the chair, on the table, hanging on the hook and she can't change fast enough before the salesgirl, a brunette with sparkling green eyes, brings another that he has chosen and wants to see on her.

It hadn't been her idea to come. She'd been saying, whining really, that she had nothing to wear to the party that night. He'd been sitting there reading the paper, holding it up between them and at first she thought he hadn't heard her but then she realized he wasn't listening and so she said it again, pretending even to say it to herself. Nothing to wear, nothing to wear to the party. "Fine!" he'd shouted, and throwing down his paper had called to Mac, their driver, who appeared ever the ready. "We're leaving," he said, "we're going to find Virginia a god damn dress!"

She'd sat there with her cigarette and coffee, regretting, regretting the moment wishing she could take it back because it wasn't what she meant, the dress, not what she wanted, not the dress, but she couldn't say what, and in the next moment he grabbed her cigarette out of her hand, tossed it into her coffee and turned to her, “Get yourself ready, we're leaving.”

Now, in the dressing room, rushed and hot and obedient, the clothes were coming too fast, like a punishment and her own clothes, the ones she had worn in were lost in a pile, drowning in dresses, too many beautiful offerings, and there wasn't time to see them all. If only she'd kept her mouth shut about the party, she hadn't wanted to go but then there was no choice.

The salesgirl kept knocking, "Mrs. Jacobs?" She'd say, “your husband wants to see you in this one,” and she'd oblige, in her nakedness, breasts hanging, underwear, and bra loose, to open the door and receive his offering.

“What the hell are you doing in there?” he shouted from the show room and then there was laughter and she could see them out there, he and the salesgirl, him lording over the place, dictating with his cane, “over there” he'd say, “bring out the green one, I want to see that one.”

And how the girl brings everything he points to. “Virginia!” he calls too loudly and she shrivels. The clothes, they were too much, too fast, too many. She hardly has a chance to assess herself, to stop and face her own reflection in the mirror, to decide if she likes the color, the fit, hardly has a chance to feel the fabric on her skin before the sales girl is opening the door to the room singing, “Mrs. Jacobs, come out, come out wherever you are.” And there she is, the good doll, daddy's girl, exposed, revealed stepping out into the light, into the circle of eyes, his and the salesgirls and now the other customers who are assessing her, then looking back to him, then back to her, then to him, waiting for his answer. There is a silence and the salesgirl guides her to the mirror so she can see for the first time who she had become, what was possible. And maybe it is the light or the fresh air of the showroom but she thinks she looks pretty. And she likes particularly the way the pinks and the purples of the flowers ring around her neck and how pretty the bones of her collarbone are as they meet the edge of the fabric and a smile spreads over her face because now she is happy, at first taking the skirt of the dress in both hands and swinging it a little like a doe see doe and then like a ballerina, on her toes twirling a little like one of those princesses on the jewelry box, and she's ready now, to thank him, to have him see her and so she turns like a child excited, hoping her excitement will make him forgive her for the whining at the breakfast table…but he's gone, not there and she searches the room for him, a little breathless and sees him finally, behind the counter with the salesgirl, laughing at something. And as if in a dream she's become invisible and unsure and her hand reaches up to the pretty place by her collarbone as if to reassure that she's really there, and the reach becomes a rub and the rub becomes a tug and she's aware of the material cinching around her waist; she's unable to breath and she has to get the dress off, has to get it off now…can't wait another second and she reaches her hand back for the zipper…in the dress shop with the saleswoman and the laughter and the kaching of the cash register and the little bells as the new customers come in and are greeted and then a phone and she whimpers, “I can't get the zipper, it's stuck. The zipper” she whimpers, “can't get it loose,” and she feels the heat and the shame and then the anger because she is trapped in the dress and begins to cry and she can't say, can only cry, “zipper, zipper, zipper.”