Posts tagged wednesday
Posts tagged wednesday
I am already drunk when I am dropped off at the party. My roommate has benevolently agreed to deliver me to the spot. Presumably he knows I have been drinking, at the very least by scent, but I imagine he has underestimated the volume I have consumed. Many hours earlier, through my bedroom door I hear him return from work, plodding in his thick-soled boots past my door, pausing just long enough to alter the familiar consistent rhythm of his gait. It is unusual that I am home before him. It is unusual that my door is shut, and it is unusual that I do not greet him with an onslaught of questions about his day. These questions come from a place of deep care for this roommate and the great trials of his life and also as preemptive atonement for the many answers I will give him in response to questions he will not ask me about my day. This is an arrangement I think we both understand and accept. At any rate, this time I do not emerge from my room to ask or tell about anything. These are clues which suggest perhaps tangentially but undoubtedly that my equation includes alcohol as a variable, an exponent hanging around on the corner of some great bracketed sum of bad things. I realize what I am doing in sending these notable but otherwise mysterious signals, and if I drink a little more as a result, I do not recall. In kind response, roommate refrains from approaching me until well into the evening when I request without preface that he drive me to the home of someone who he does not know and I know only barely, and to this request he nods curtly, asks for a moment, and within ten minutes I am on my way. In the car, I exchange my attention for a steady, conditioned breeze with the vent with the broken horizontal slat, second from the top, an element of this car I notice most often in lieu of speaking. This occupied me until I find myself standing on the edge of the grass, looking strangely at these glowing windows and knowing well I have made the wrong choice in sound between the low murmur before me and the receding rumble of my roommate as he moves down the road. And yet, there, as the sound of the car is reflected infinitely between the parked cars alongside the back street and the trees and the modestly reverberant ranch-style homes and finally into the dense shapeless expanse of city sky, its absence takes its place. From there I move toward the party.
He was the sort that seemed to affect nonchalance at every moment. That is, he seemed to affect nonchalance if you were to notice him at all, and most did not; we see those who appear to us, by their own doing or not, through action, presentation, or otherwise, and he was physically normal, not so attractive as to draw the attention of women or the jealousy of other men but well-formed enough to avoid a silent reaction of revulsion or pity, of medium height and build, and he was a modest dresser. Many simply accepted his inoffensive presence without a specific effort or even thought to do so, and he remained an unremarkable fixture of the background to their lives, on the train, at a bar, moving or not moving on a sidewalk. He was quite literally a face in a crowd.
To the more observant stranger or the uninterested coworker or neighbor, he was pleasantly quiet; most weren’t sure whether they’d heard him speak before and forgotten all of the content of what he might have said along with the sound of his voice and, more surprisingly, how what he might or might not have said made them feel. But he was a quiet neighbor and in a city of eight million people, you don’t have to feel guilty about not getting too worked up about many people aside from yourself. Besides, having a quiet neighbor is rare enough not to go mess it up by allowing – much less inviting – that person to become something else.
Some people, though, noticed him, and they would passively comment on his nonchalance if they were asked or struck by it enough to tell. Say, for instance, some other man sits one stool over at a dive bar in the neighborhood where they both live, this other man recognizing him as living somewhere around there at the very moment a particularly beautiful woman comes between them to order a drink, brushing them both with her shoulders, her laugh with a musical quality, her hair cascading over her shoulders and smelling delightful, a rare one in a million type beauty that you wouldn’t typically find in a dive bar in their working-class neighborhood and yet here she is, ordering a dark microbrew of all drinks – this other man takse it all in on the peripheral, leans over and makes some remark to her, and maybe she thinks it’s clever and ribs him back a little bit – or more likely it’s crass or boring and she laughs without amusement – regardless, she grabs her drink and walks into oblivion, never to be seen again by either of them. Naturally, this other man looks over at his stool partner, the only other witness to this amazing beauty and his wisecrack and can you believe the goddamn women in this city, but damn is she beautiful am I right, I mean have you seen this woman before, only to find at first that he’s not even looking, he’s sitting on the stool and only at the sound of this other man’s voice after a slight pause and a sip of his beer does he turn with a barely audible breath and respond not with a I hear you, brother or a supportive get back in there, she’s not left the bar and she didn’t order her drink between us for nothing or even some condescending smirk at what this other man’s is realizing was a pretty feeble attempt to interact with a woman leagues beyond his league, but instead with a pure look, right into and possibly past the eyes, that makes the rejected man think he heard and saw the entire interaction and yet thought nothing of it, not about this woman’s beauty or the subtle touch of her shoulder against his or the comment the other man suddenly realizes was totally boneheaded, not about any of it. And then the other man watches with some now horror as he nonchalantly turns back to the bar and points at the bartender for his tab.
Living out here we ain’t got much of a context to explain something aside from the land that sustains us and the things we can see from the farthest reaches of the land we got. Not too many varied ways of describing any particular thing. But I’ve learned at least one thing from this basic world – this world you’d call basic – watching each season come and bring the things that it brings, some of it, the general sense of it, you can expect, and the details that are new each time around. And then the season passes and it takes a whole lot of what it brought and as if it was greedy it takes some of what was there before it ever came at all, too. It takes all that except what you get your hands grasped around and hold on to in the meantime, which is why we live out here in the first place, minding the land. And which is all there is – the meantime that is. The mean time.
I know you’re gonna leave. I know you want bigger things that what you can find out here. But let me tell you this one thing I’ve learned before you go off chasing what we know you’re chasing. The growing warm you feel inside of you ain’t nothin’ but weeds.
The winter’s been right cold – it always is and it only seems colder each year. Not to say it was cold or it wasn’t cold, but that’s sure the way it feels, that each one is colder and longer than the last. I know that well by now. And now the sun is coming up on the top of the sky and it’s warming up and the rain is coming around more often and all this leads to the green stretching out into everything, everything we can see. Things are growing, even the things we can’t see. The weeds come up first – they always come up first. And boy it feels good to see things growing again, to feel them growing again, even the weeds. They’re someplace first and everywhere soon. It’s not just that they can pop up damn near any spot of ground that grow anything at all, but that they will. They got an undeniable will, these weeds – a will without much thought. You can see it as they bloom and spread and bloom and spread and bloom, fast as a thing can, a true machine of nature. Hell the weeds might even look pretty good to you if you didn’t know any better, hadn’t seen them before. And when that spring comes, when the winter gasps and claws and finally ceases, it’s easy to forget that you know what it is, that you know what’s happening out your window, what’s the thing that’s spreading around everywhere.
Here’s what I want you to remember. I was just setting it all up, up ‘til now. Here it is, I want you to mind this good. Weeds are no cash crop. They’ll damn near overwhelm you in a wash of warmth and vital green and make you forget the truth, that they ain’t gonna sustain you. They come up so fast they outgrow themselves – they got weak stalks, and you can walk through the yard and break them down at the root without even knowing it if you don’t look down at your feet. What you got to realize is even if it’s the weeds that tell you it’s spring, it’s the spring that’s important. It’s what the weeds mean, what they signal to us. And if you can remember the season, you can follow it to the next season and the next season after that, the never-ending sequence that isn’t a sequence but a pattern, and seeing that pattern is the only chance you got to remember it. Ain’t nothing ever growed that didn’t die, wither and brown and die. It’s the path of every thing. Don’t waste the time you got on weeds.
Obligatory Leap Day Post That’s Not About Leap Day
In order that my entrance into the world take place on what is commonly known as “leap day,” the 29th of February, the mysterious day that appears to us but once every four years, twenty-nine years ago to the day, my mother elected to be induced into labor two days before I was scheduled to be born. What exactly compelled her to do this, I will never know; she passed away before I ever thought to ask her. I do know that she was a very odd woman. She was consumed by the fascinations and hobbies that she accumulated over the years, each one a more distant satellite to what most would consider normal than the last, connected by strange threads of commonality and held in strict orbit by her unwavering interest. At the center of her universe was time.
I don’t know how the whole thing started, long before I was conceived, but I imagine it often. A wristwatch that belonged to her grandfather, the centerpiece in her watch collection, her most prized possession, the first of three items she explained in her will that she wanted me to have. The innumerable clocks in my childhood home, digital and analogue; the large grandfather clock that wouldn’t stay wound; three alarm clocks in their bedroom and two in what used to be mine despite the fact that I never once had to use an alarm clock; clock radios in every room in the house that were left on public radio at various low volumes; a waterproof large-faced digital clock set by default to a timer function, placed on the back wall of the shower; three decorative sundials in the backyard. After she died, we let the all the clocks die too. Over time we’d grown so accustomed to the sound of the passing of time that we’d forgotten it completely; in its absence, the silence was profound, and it’s come as no surprise to me that time has seemed to speed up since then. The clocks were the only thing holding it back.
In her office, along with the clocks showing every time zone on the planet (side note: my mother worked as an independent landscape architect and the entirety of her work took place well within the confines of US-Eastern time. As far as I know she’d never been west of the Mississippi nor any further east than coastal Maine.), a large bookshelf with an assortment of books on such subjects I will leave to your imagination, and an unadorned desk, a telescope sits by the window. Astronomy. I remember she would guide me through books full of star charts, through the constellations and their mythologies, and I would forget it all when it was my turn to look into the sky. Astrology. When I was a bit older, she would tell me how the stars we’d been looking at since before I could remember, the stars have another dimension of meaning, beyond their physical bodies alone and in relation to one another, beyond their brilliance and steadfastness, and that they color us in ways not easily seen.
The cakes she made for me on the two birthdays that she was alive to celebrate were decorated the same way; an Earth and a sun, side-by-side in black space, bearing toothy cartoonish grins.
I don’t know why she bore me on February 29th. I’m not sure she knew exactly why.
by my rock and roll band, Blown Stag.
Saving this spot.
Note: a long day at work today created some serious mental road blocks for me this evening. At the eleventh hour I was drinking beer and listening to Pavarotti and blog-hopping when I stumbled across this blog and then some post and then this photograph taken by Andrew Tomchyshyn of some sunflowers looking away from the horizon at dusk. And I saw the caption: untitled (things may get weird), 2009. And then this post came out and I don’t have the heart or time to edit it just now. Judge accordingly.
A very long time ago, during our senior year in high school, my sister Sarah and I received on the same day letters bearing the seal of Brown University. It was fitting, and not just because of our intimately connected bloodline – we were twins, identical in form and shape and essence and, at that time, in thought and love and execution. Brown was the dream school. It was beyond anything our parents could afford – we would need serious financial help to attend. Yet we were confident. Five of the six schools to which we had applied accepted us; only Brown was left. We had high test scores, strong essays, and a history of getting what we wanted by acting as a unit. It was a very important moment for us, though we didn’t quite know how at the time.
From the womb to that day, we had not yet seemed to diverge in any substantial way; we distinguished some preferences in boys and food and sometimes music as separate, but even on those topics she and I determined each other’s stances by committee, negotiating in hushed towns across the dark chasm between our separate beds. We maintained our unity despite the forces of the world that seemed intent on sending us in what felt like opposite directions; no matter what, there were always two of us, and strength in numbers was the unspoken general consensus, as it were.
And together we navigated, among other things, an unpleasant divorce during which both of our parents and a judge determined the fairest arrangement would involve our separation and opposite revolution around them like satellites around a decimated planet but by the end of which we had convinced all parties that our individual survivals depending on the presence of the other, no great stretch for symbiotic teenage girls. When a magnet school lottery conspired to send us to separate high schools, we wrote letters at a quality and volume that seemed to surprise the adults to whom they were sent: the replies that came from the administrators, school board members, and district officials were sympathetic. Sarah composed them and I edited them; she found the addresses and I copied them onto the envelopes. The quality compounded. It was my first experience with editing, which eventually became my passion and my career. I endured half a semester without Sarah, during which I spent the majority of my time writing in a pair of journals we would alternate daily. Sarah enrolled at the school when the first spot opened up and we were reunited by November. We never once doubted that it would happen.
We had both wanted to become famous writers after setting out to write and illustrate. My gift of proper usage carried me as the slightly better student to a certain point, but from the beginning there was no denying that Sarah was the better creative writer. I never understood how she became so creatively reckless, uninhibited at the typewriter, increasingly able to express her ideas; I feared making mistakes. I feared not being liked. Sarah was only afraid of not being heard; and so her output exploded while mine collapsed, and I gave myself to the writing of others while she went beyond it. It was – it is and always will be – the same world, but we never acknowledged that we inhabited separate camps. The fact that I loved and was awed by her writing intensified the insecurity I felt about my own writing and, by irrational extension, myself. If I’d learned by that time that the infinite variations of the person allow the world to exist and the color it, I’d forgotten it. And it’s easy to forget when you enter the world as a mutual reflection of another being, a mirror in a mirror, contained within itself and infinite and exactly one. What I found in myself appeared to be worse than what I imagined was inside of her. I realized much later – too late, in fact – that Sarah had misjudged her reflection as well.
It was Sarah that convinced me to go to Brown despite the fact that she had not been accepted. The letters sent us down a course that seems prophetic and perfect and horrible in retrospect. I left our Midwestern hometown for Brown and studied comparative literature; Sarah went to the University of Iowa for writing and stayed for her MFA at the Writer’s Workshop. I got a job as an editor for a high-profile magazine; Sarah’s first novel, which was published less than a year after her graduation, was reviewed in my magazine. I met my husband and had two children; Sarah met the ugly addiction to alcohol that she developed trying to bury the demons she stirred up with and by her writing. I moved up the ladder quickly, despite my insecurity; Sarah fell right off, despite her brilliance. In a desperate, final attempt to be heard, Sarah silenced her voice in the bathroom of her Brooklyn loft, leaving behind a few spare pieces of furniture, a writing desk, and thousands and thousands of manuscript. In the ten years following her suicide, I culled from her writings two short story collections and three novels. These went on to be published to great critical and public acclaim. These things still don’t make sense to me.
We sat at the kitchen table, side by side. I picked up my letter, but Sarah just stared blankly at hers. I laid my hand on her arm. We sat that way for a while, and then Sarah turned her head toward me with a look I had never seen before.
“I’m afraid things may get weird.”
I can’t remember how I replied, but we both knew she was right.
I thought of the last time I was happy. I think.
About fourteen months ago I was happy for some time on a return flight from Seattle. This is when I was a middle manager in the logistics division of a natural gas utility company. You know which company it is I think, but if you haven’t noticed in our meetings I’ve made a little game of avoiding saying its name. Honestly I hope to completely forget it someday. I don’t know if that’s healthy or even possible, but there doesn’t seem to be anything of value for me in the memory except sadness and, well, sadness stopped being pleasurable a long time ago and as far as learning something from it, I’m a bit oversaturated. Anyway, they sent me to a bunch of these management theory conferences. Which I hated, but that’s not really important.
Note that fourteen months ago was about three weeks before mywifeex-wifedamnitthen-wife filed her papers. And while I was blind-sided by the news, it didn’t help how she delivered it - a very shortphoneconversationstatement over the phone with two hours to go at work on a Thursday - and also I just never thought something that was really possible, which she helped me learn is an offensively naive lack of foresight - I was blind-sided by the news, but things were distinctly not great. In fact, if I hadn’t realized that our marriage was over sooner, I should have realized then, which of course I didn’t. The things Ihave hiddenallow to be hiddenhide from myself. All of the things I remember I want to forget but can’t or don’t know how and the rest I forget before I even know in the first place.
That morning I had to rush past a long line of angry people waiting for their flights and convince security to let me through while some airline attendant called my name over the loudspeaker. I was somewhere in that gray area between intoxication and hangover. We’d had a fight the night beforeI’d spent one-fourth of the previous night defending my heart from her foot which had come through the phone and stomped its way through my chest and three-fourths trying and failing to get hammered enough to forget, one and a half drinks at the bar and then one and a half bottles of wine I bought from a gas station near the hotel. Suffice to say I felt like a ghost on the plane in a frightening combination of ways.
I didn’t mention this, but the weather was absolute shit in what I’ve always heard is typical Seattle fashion (although I’ve been to the city three times and had very nice weather twice). So after drunkenly harassing half of the employees in the airport to help me catch my flight on time, we waited on the runway for another fifteen minutes while rain came down in blinding sheets. Fifteen minutes of death glares from everyone on the plane with whom I made the mistake of making eye contact. Which I deserved for smelling like alcohol and shit. And for failing at my obligation to arrive at the flight one hour before takeoff and for doing what I found out later was $600 in damage to my hotel room and for responding so poorly to what I felt like was an all-out attack but what was actually the natural reaction from my then-wife to a retrospective compilation of failures and for sending an email to my boss that would have merely made me a very unpopular middle manager at the natural gas utility company had I stopped at one email and for everything else. But not for the weather.
The plane took off without ceremony. There was a mother sitting next to me, holding an infant, and on the other side there was a large man in a suit. I recognized him from the conference. They were both leaning almost imperceptibly away from me. That’s one of the lowest lows I can remember, sitting on that plane, in between those nice people who didn’t deserve to deal with my shit, on a plane full of people who didn’t deserve to deal with my shit, and the rain was still coming down in sheets and the plane started experiencing some turbulence as we breached the clouds at about 5500 feet and I remember wanting the plane to just go down, waiting for an errant bolt of lightning or some confused bird to take out an engine, for the plane to lurch and lose altitude and for the masks to unfurl uselessly in front of our faces, and then I looked over at the mother who was sort of grimacing and the baby who was smiling and struggling to reach the seatback pocket and then I closed my eyes and squeezed my fists and just viscerally hated everything in myself and everything else in relation to myself.
And I opened my eyes and we’d emerged from the clouds. Out the window and over the banked wing the sun was suspended, brilliant and unobstructed. The mother shielded her eyes, turned her head away, and I just kept staring, even as it burnt my eyes. I kept looking until she pulled down the shade. And then I looked at the ghost of the sun, burnt and projected onto the inside of my eyelids, until I awoke as the plane touched down four hours later. That’s the last time, I think.
LETTER TO THE ESTEEMED EDITOR OF THE STANSVILLE DAILY EDITION. FOR IMMEDIATE PUBLICATION.
Friends, neighbors, and fellow members of the Stansville Chamber of Commerce, I can no longer ignore in good conscience the mysterious happenings that have plagued our township for the last two weeks.
A dark force has spread from the Walmart parking lot into our town. I do not know what to make of it except to say that I suspect some combination of witchcraft, black magic, and secret pagan ritual. After reading parts of at least two books from the public library on these subjects, I have realized that by way of this UNCHRISTIAN devilry, the space-time continuum has gotten itself all messed up right here in our humble township and now we’ve got a whole bunch of troublemakers from the Darkest Age of history, excepting of course the 1960’s: the Dark Ages. According to Denise Shepard, who as you know prefers to shop on weekdays before dawn to avoid the crowds, these medieval spirits arrived sometime last Monday night. And they arrived not galloping on the steeds of lore but riding in the mobile homes of Winnebago.
Many unusual characters have been emerging from what I hope is not but appears to be a semi-permanent encampment from in the rear portion of the Walmart parking lot. Their RVs are circled as though to fend off any would-be attack from the citizens of this town. These knights and knaves seem to be prepared for a siege.
“A chivalrous knight in shining armor! Perhaps it is Sir Galahad, right from the round table of King Arthur’s Court,” you might exclaim in wonder at the sight of the handsome young man fully decked out in a suit of armor. As far as I can figure, the only explanation is that this man is right from Camelot. I assure you, though: this knight is no chivalrous hero. Rumors have spread of nasty, sexually suggestive remarks he directs at every woman in sight. Sometimes he says these things into a cell phone, which he is talking on while standing in line at the check-out. How did this knight even acquire a cell phone? How does he know how to use it? These are questions we simply cannot answer at this time.
I myself have seen him relaxing in a folding chair outside their makeshift mobile fort with at least three different medieval wenches perched upon his lap. Once he caught me binocularly investigating him from across the parking lot and he responded with a lewd hand gesture and an exaggerated crunching of a Coors Light can against the hard metal of his helm. Is this a man you want talking to your daughters? I have seen him talking to several of them. I urge you to have your daughters visit the Target in Handytown so they are not subjected to this disgusting and dangerous man. These are not the actions of any chivalrous knight. This is no Sir Galahad; this is Sir Galabad!
Equally troublesome is the jester who took it upon himself to pester innocent citizens of this town as they waited in line at the DMV. My aunt did not appreciate his impromptu series of rhymes on the subject of the large red hat she carefully chose to don for the new picture on her driver’s license (my aunt, as you know, is the venerable chairlady of the Stansville Red Hat Society). The lyric, she tells me, featured the rhyme, “Spinstress old with the big red hat/Friends alone with a big red cat/Each eve they dine on a big dead rat/Almost as sad as her rear is fat,” as well as several lines that are simply too profane for me to include in this letter. According to last week’s police blotter, this jester cart-wheeled into a rack of informational pamphlets and was “incapacitated,” apprehended by Steve the Police Officer. Out of control gymnastics and the smell of alcohol on his breath, which according to a book written by medieval experts that I skimmed may have been honey mead, some mysterious elixir. I don’t trust it. And how can I trust that our police will deal with this serious problem when a jester insults a citizen, cart-wheels dangerously, only to be released on a meager $25 bail! The jester has now posted up on the front steps of our public library – with regret I will be boycotting the institution until this fiend is tossed in jail for good! And rest assured I will be appealing to Terry in regards to any late fines that may accumulate on the Rick Steve’s promotional travel DVDs and Burt Bacharach’s Greatest Hits I special ordered from the Handytown branch over in Huffam County! I suggest you do the same.
I have attempted to contact Mike, general manager of the Walmart, to no avail. No doubt some black magic convinced him six months ago to choose this month to visit Costa Rica on his “mission trip.”
People of Stansville, I ask that you not be swayed by the fanciful tales of dragons and damsels sung over trash-can fire behind the post office. Do not be charmed by this foul, womanizing Sir Galabad. Do not laugh at the petty songs of a demon jester! Let these spirits know that we good citizens of Stansville will not stand for antics of this sort, nor for their supernatural presence in the parking lot of our Wal-Mart.
Vice-Secretary Chamber of Commerce
Semi-Professional Photographer, Bobby Frank’s Headshots
Neighbor of the Year 1997
Sarah rides the public bus three times each day.
The first time is in the morning, a twenty-six minute ride from the stop two blocks north, three blocks west from her apartment to the stop one block beyond her office building, where she disembarks and backtracks the one block over the hot grates. Sarah is not what one might call a morning person. At this time in the morning, her normal self-consciousness has yet to reassemble itself fully after completely diffusing the night before at the exact moment her thoughts heaved and gave way to sleep. She completes her morning functions. She is presentable and will become increasingly so as the morning moves on and her actual and knowable and deep red vitality catches up with the mindless but ordered and thorough preparation of her body, her face, her hair. This all occurs without a scant thought; she steps and steps and climbs on and sits and leans as commuters come and go and briefly dozes and is shaken and stands for a woman older than she and quickly sits for a man either less polite or slightly slower than she and climbs off and walks and feels the hot air warm her every step. Not once does she think, really.
The second time Sarah rides the bus is in the late afternoon or early evening, depending on the erratic though invariably foul mood of her immediate supervisor, though she recognizes, sometimes with gratitude, that an unpredictable and unpleasant mood is better than the obstinate and disgusting pseudo-sexual advances that several of her close friends receive from their supervisors. She notes that this is one of the few instances in which she is thankful for the faint ten-year-old acne scars at the base of her cheeks, for the faint jiggle in upper arms, for the flaws that seem either to have slowed or stopped accumulating altogether or to have been reconciled in some unknown way. This, the second time Sarah rides the bus each day, is more eventful than the first. The self-consciousness is back, having reformed anew by the nine o’clock meeting. Sometimes her face is flush and skirt askew from the catching of the afternoon bus, whose schedule she still does not fully understand, even after four years of riding it each day. Sometimes her face is flush and skirt askew from enduring the wind that always seems to blow right through the bus stop, regardless of season, temperature, or specific weather pattern, and from sitting on the bench with her legs crossed tightly as she waits for the bus, which sometimes she does not need to run and catch or fails to run and catch. The wind, she notes, is a more tolerable aspect of the bus stop than nearly any other, including her fellow commuters and the time that she spends waiting. Time seems very tangible and unpleasant at this bus stop.
Sarah climbs aboard the bus and sits. To distract herself from the work she is carrying with her, the work one-o’clock Sarah promised to finish before the end of the day much to the chagrin of four-o’clock Sarah, who actually knows by one-thirty that she will not finish this work – to distract herself from these thoughts, she looks at her fellow bus riders. She attempts to look without reserve or embarrassment or judgment, though sometimes these sinister elements sneak into her observations, distract her from the reality of the people on the bus.
Sometimes, men look at her on the bus, in different ways. Sometimes twice, up-then-down-then-away. Sometimes they look because they are trying not to look at something more compelling but also more embarrassing – another woman, perhaps, more beautiful but arrestingly so, knowingly so even. And so they look at Sarah. Sometimes they look at her hungrily, looks about which Sarah generally feels ambivalent, depending on the looker.
Once a man looked at Sarah in another way but she did not know how to describe it then and certainly does not know how to describe it now. This particular memory falling into the same trap as other memories, where she remembers not the thing itself, only her response to the thing – in this case, her response was to deny her substantial urge to speak with the man, to open her mouth and say, it, something – she denied this urge because Sarah believes that the only thing worse than a bad thing is a good thing since any good thing to come of saying it to the man she would take with her as she stepped off the bus or else later.
The third time Sarah rides the bus is the return trip from the park to which she walks each evening to sit and from which she does not remember ever thinking to walk home alone.
Am I supposed to reflect on our last meeting? Aside from me, you’re the only one reading this, and coincidentally we’re the only ones in our meetings unless you count the fish floating around in the in-wall aquarium. The first time I saw it I thought the aquarium was a little overboard. Surely there’s some obscure branch of psychology, some distant cousin of the branch that determines the wall color in McDonald’s most likely to make me supersize my meal, which says you shouldn’t have shit like that in a shrink’s office. An aquarium. The first day I walked in I thought – and I really mean it, these were active, conscious thoughts – I thought: desk and trim on the walls a rich mahogany – check; dark brown leather couch with a pattern of deep, buttoned recesses and angled upward comfortably at one end, where I am to posture, to play my assigned role – check; ceiling-high bookshelves lined with books I’ve never heard of, whose titles I cannot pronounce, and which I have no real interest in reading not only because of the content of the books themselves but because reading has always made me viscerally, profoundly sad – check. And then I saw you, and you threw me off. I thought you’d be tall and thin, draped in a mute cardigan, hands folded in front without pressure and your hair would be thin and gray and wispy and upon your large nose would be a pair of low-strength spectacles in sparse round frames – altogether I thought you’d be a dignified man of advanced age. Instead, you were short – shorter than I am and I stand five foot six on a windy day or on a day that my regular physician throws me a bone and records five foot six on my chart. More shocking to me though was your age – or rather is your age, as it still shocks me. I haven’t asked – perhaps after reading this you’ll tell me – but you are much younger than I. And I felt humiliated, though you didn’t cause that or even exacerbate it in any way. By the time I sat down in the waiting room, where I was surprised to find the regular waiting room magazines but no receptionist or other patients, I had more or less moved beyond embarrassment regarding my situation. At some point, there’s no other realistic choice aside from death, and I reached that point and found within myself either a great cowardice or alternatively a will to live. Probably the former. At the time I didn’t have too good a sense of why I did the things that I did and frankly I still don’t. On that decision to live I built a new foundation, and then I felt the hope that things would get better, before then always abstract and unhelpful, flicker and turn tangible. I could feel it and I ran with it and set up an appointment online with you, with your low rates being the deciding factor, as I had lost my insurance when I lost my job and the house and basically any remotely liquid funds available to my name. But you know all of this already. What you don’t know is that I felt very confident about this whole process. I had sunk to the bottom and then the bottom gave out and I sort of exploded on the pavement like a bagged lunch. Embarrassment and shame were left behind, gave way to their more serious counterparts. But I felt profoundly embarrassed when I saw you in your office, young and fit, twenty-twenty vision, a thick head of hair, not overly handsome but a definiteness of shape and contour and a serious-type look that made you seem more handsome than you are. And you had a wedding ring on your finger and on your desk were pictures of your children. And worst of all was the look on your face was not a look but the absence of a look. A look implies something. There was nothing sent. For as long as I could remember I had received either a look with some meaning I could not decipher or could decipher and was displeased by or I hadn’t received a look at all. Not knowing what to do, I turned and saw your degrees were framed on the wall next to that aquarium. The aquarium. And I thought, that’s just too much for me, that aquarium. What was I writing? Oh. No need to reflect on our last meeting. Because we were the only ones there aside from the fish. And I don’t count fish.