Saturday, December 23, 2006

Where is the Love?

Primordial Love

“It’s like standing on a high dive,” your mother says, “and there’s no water in the pool below, but you insist on diving, believing that there will be water when you get there, even a little water to save your fall, but it’s just concrete, it always is.”

Phone call for Mz. Wagner

You are with your family on an enchanted island. Your mother’s house, a Japanese fortress of glass and wood sits on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. Beyond the lanai there is a bright green lawn and purple bouganvilla spilling down the cliff. This is paradise, a chance to take a break from your worries, your anxieties. You were glad to get away and especially from certain dramas back home. The salty, sea air will be healing. The ocean waves will be baptizing. You’ll have sex with your husband, lose a few pounds, take a break from the ensuing drama of your lover’s wife. Beauty and bliss surrounds you. So why are you checking your cell phone and your email?

Where is the love?

In the supermarket in Waimea you and your husband see a young, curly haired woman who has a purse just like yours, only not hot pink like the one you have, but beige. It’s a hard purse to find because it’s only made by this woman up in Canada, and so you chat the woman up and find out that she has been flown to the island from Seattle to cook for a family who lives near your mother’s house on the beach. “Who is the family?” you ask, wondering which family is rich enough to get a catering staff for three weeks. “I can’t tell you,” she says, “I’m not allowed to say.” Rock star, movie star, politician. Could be any one of them. You’ve seen Neil Young on the beach before. Michael J. Fox too. Suddenly a trip to the beach or to the gym is filled with promise. Maybe you’ll see one of these important people and more importantly, they will see you.

Are you my mother?

You are pumping free weights and he walks in. Is it Dana Carvy? Beck? You can’t tell because he’s got his jacket covering his mouth, but the messy, sandy hair seems right. He’s so small. Beck, you think. The aerobics instructor is playing his music in the next room. Maybe she has seen him too. Your arms look so good today. Hope he looks over. Who are you? Who is that woman with the blue bandana and the lean, tan torso? Does he see how hard you’re working out? Has he noticed how you do the whole weight circuit and then run on the treadmill, and then do the whole thing again and then again? Has anybody noticed? Who is this marvelous, important creature that is you?

Soups On

Your mother has brought back chicken soup from Costco because you felt woozy all day. Everyone else is eating salad and chicken for dinner, but the glutenous, thick soup is for you, her first born. It doesn’t look very tasty; all goopy, with huge pieces of white meat and thick slices of carrot and celery bobbing in the broth, but you’ll eat it anyway because it is a gift from your mother. As you’re preparing to take the last of the dishes out to the lanai so you can all sit down to eat, you, in a very prompt and grown up way turn to her and say you, “You know, I don’t feel like the soup tonight.” And it’s not that her face falls, and it’s not that it’s turned hard either, in fact you don’t wait to see her expression at all. You simply realize, in an instant, in anticipation of her possible upset, that you can’t afford to say no to her offering. You will drink the soup.


He wants nothing for Christmas, he never does. Sometimes you bring him books on the Middle East because that’s his real interest, but even then, he’ll have already read them or he’ll say a light “thanks.” He’s a hard man to please. So you tell him, “My gift to you this year is a walk.” You sacrifice your morning workout, your chance to see Beck or Dana Carvey or whoever that sandy haired person at the gym was, just to walk around the hotel and the beach with him. He is slow. He’s older and there’s a paunch around his middle. But you love your dad, you always have, and every staggered little step he takes you take too. Screw your glutes, screw the sweat, you’ll work out later. And it’s not that he doesn’t ask about you, he does. And it’s not that he puts you down, he doesn’t, never has. But somewhere along the walk you both fall silent and you realize, this is it, this is my relationship with my father and it’s just what it is. He loves me enough, but even his love, the love that’s supposed to save me, won’t.

The boyfriend

You’ve been meaning to tell him that you want to spend more time talking, being together to balance out the fucking, but the first thing he tells you when you call from the enchanted island is how much he enjoyed the sight of you sucking his cock last week, the way your hair hung down around your face, your little ears, how beautiful that was. The conversation turns light, it always does. You manage to tell him toward the end of the phone call that you don’t just want to just drink and fuck, that in the New Year you should vary the dates, do other things. “But I took you to the opera!” he shouts in mock protest, referring to the date with his son and wife, the two hours of tedium in the opera house and the family dinner afterwards. You laugh, “sure you did,” you say. He agrees to more proper dates but you’re sad after the call. You wanted something and you’re not sure what it is. You wanted something and you’re pretty sure he can’t give it to you.

Glutes Away!

There’s that Beck, Dana Carvey guy again. He’s speaking to that woman by the free weights. She’s kind of pretty with wavy blond hair, nice enough body, but she’s not special, not rock star special. Maybe it’s not Beck. There’s another guy by the leg weights, he looks like somebody from t.v., Can’t remember his name. Ray something. He’s looking at you. Maybe he’s a movie star. Maybe they’re all movie stars. Maybe they think you’re a movie star too.

The family dinner

If you can just manage to keep it to two meals a day, no, a meal and a half, you’ll still look trim for the family party on Friday night. If you look fat you’re sunk. If your dress is wrinkled, forget it. Hope it’s a good hair day. You’ll wash it the day before so it’s slightly distressed for the party. No time for a pedicure, maybe mom has some clippers and polish. The idea is to look tight, together. The idea is to look perfectly beautiful wonderful. The idea is not to give anybody any reason to gossip about you, your hair, your dress, your body, any imperfection. The idea is to be adored, admired, envied. If you can manage this you will stay safe. You will get the love.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sleeping with the enemy

When we discovered the big butcher knife lying under the covers of the master bed when we turned down the sheets to get into it, we were naturally shocked. If you walk into a kitchen and see a butcher’s knife you don’t think twice. But when you pull down the covers of a big, fluffy down bed and you see a knife lying there it stops you, and it takes a moment to reconcile what you see; bed, knife, knife, bed. You generally don’t put the two together unless you’re watching a horror film. Or living in one.

We were at a meditation retreat and we were supposed to be keeping noble silence, but my friend who I was sharing the bed with, she gasped. Our eyes went wide and our jaws went slack. “Shit,” she said.

At first I thought it was a joke.

And then I remembered that the knife belonged to the woman who owned the house, who slept in the bed, who wasn’t at the retreat with us, but whose husband, our friend, was.

My friend’s wife sleeps with a butcher knife beside her in bed. I need to say that again because it’s so grave and has so many implications, not to mention the affect it might have on my friend’s love life.

My friend’s wife sleeps with a butcher knife beside her in bed.

I knew it was hers because my friend had mentioned this knife in passing once when he was trying to drum up compassion for the plight of his marriage. He wanted us to understand just how deep-rooted his wife’s paranoid fears were. “She sleeps with a butcher knife beside her in bed!” he implored.

“Sure she does,” we said, not entirely believing him. I mean, hearing about someone sleeping with a knife can sound like a metaphor, you know, knife in the bed, elephant in the room, until you actually see that knife lying in the bed you’re about to climb into. So we were sort of half listening because we couldn’t picture this knife and also, we knew his wife well; she was our friend too and we were fond of her. But here it was in living color: The butcher knife.

For hours after we’d discovered the culinary weapon I kept thinking about what it must be like to be someone who sleeps with a butcher knife. I’ve slept with the phone near the bed. I’ve occasionally slept with a heavy flashlight when my husband was out of town, but never a knife, and I wondered what it would be like to live with that degree of fear. I could feel it in my belly, how being so afraid would color everything.

It was easy to put my friend’s wife into the crazy corner, to see her fear as a sickness, a sign of how far gone she was. And it lived like that in me for a little while, but as I say, we were at a meditation retreat and so I got to sit with myself which meant sitting with this monkey-minded drama going on in my head that I was obsessed by. It involved some of my friends and it had something to do with sex and who had said what to whom and who I thought I could trust and who I couldn’t and what I was going to stop doing and what I would do more of. I sat there for the first whole day of the retreat scheming how to keep myself from being hurt by these people.

And all this scheming got very tiring and so I welcomed the knife and the diversion it presented.

I knew about some of this woman’s fears; how she thought the roof of the house was going to collapse on them. How she was sure her husband was going to separate her from her wealth. How the palpitations of her heart were a sure sign of a heart attack. I knew how many times she’d been taken to the emergency room because she thought she was going to die, only to be sent home with a sedative. And although my fears were different and seemed much smaller, the thing I realized I had in common with this woman was that we both believed the things we feared were real. She to the point of sleeping with a butcher's knife, and me, who had begun shutting out the people around me who I loved because they could not be trusted. And I realized at that point it doesn’t matter if you’re sleeping with a knife or sleeping with an elephant. You’re in a horror film and it has become your life.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Leftover Stew

Leftover Stew: When you’ve run out of time to write a good piece and instead have to pull yesterdays moments from your head, scrambling like you do for a matching pair of socks when you should be out the door, hurling undies and bras and stories out of your drawer, out of your head and over your shoulder like some cartoon character

Here’s what you remember:

1. the slight lilt of guilt and pleasure you catch in your friend’s voice on the phone this morning because you know and she knows that your husband is on his way over to see her right now so they can get in their hour or two of sex because her children are at school and her husband is at work and because you saw your own boyfriend the other night and might even see this same friend’s husband next week.

2. how California that sounds.

3. how you will have to tolerate the little smiles and nudges these two give each other tonight when she comes over with her kids for dinner, and even though you love them both and are happy they are lovers, you don’t, just say it, take pleasure in witnessing their little moments of reverie. You just don’t. It’s a private thing and has nothing to do with you.

4. the pleasure, the thrill, the shock of being 46-years-old and having a husband and two lovers and how sometimes you have to say that out loud, sometimes to your friends, which might annoy them and which should embarrass you because you’re bragging, but really, you say it because you can’t believe it, because down deep you still feel like that fat, squat little girl standing with her legs together at the dining room table letting her father check to see if there’s a space between her thighs, which will dictate whether she can have dessert or not.

5. there has been so much dessert lately; the apple pie and the pumpkin pie and there’s chocolate in the freezer. You feel your tummy rolling over your jeans. Everyday is a new scheme to stop eating, to trim yourself, to reduce, especially with Hawaii coming up, and next weeks date with your friend’s husband. Trim, reduce, deny.

6. the shock and the surprise of listening to your 8-year-old in therapy yesterday talking about her own tummy rolling over her jeans, the way she sat there looking straight at Steve, her therapist, telling him what it was like to wear daddy’s shirts to school because then her tummy wouldn’t show.

7. how you told Steve that thing about your thighs and your dad at the dinner table. The way, when the session was over, Steve looked you straight in the eye and said, “there is nothing wrong with your body, your body is fine,” like he was trying to cement that in on your last session together, like if he said it real nice and slow like that you might hear him, and the way you looked back at him, appreciating what he was trying to do, but didn’t smile in agreement, didn’t shake your head wearily like a dope, just looked at him from a million miles away, from a place he could never imagine.

8. no one believes how small you feel sometimes. You compensate so beautifully.