Tuesday, November 20, 2007
My sister is coming from California with her husband Steve to visit my mother for a few days. My mother lives about 50 miles from where I live here in upstate New York. My sister and her husband are coming and they will sleep at my mother’s house, but me and my mother don’t talk about that. They will come and go and I won't see them.
Once or twice over the past week I have thought maybe I will send a little birthday card or present to this sister because it’s her birthday on Saturday. I could do it. It’s like a party trick I can do well so I am sort of compelled to do it, to please her. It is so easy to buy someone a present.
My mother likes to give presents.
It’s harder not to.
I thought about it as I raked leaves on Sunday. When I do things like that I always think of my mother, or my family. I guess it’s the only other time I’ve watched or done yard work. Both my parents did things outside, though never together and always in very different ways – my father liked the lawnmower. My mother liked kneeling in the dirt, digging with a trowel, transplanting things she’d dug up from the side of the road.
And I thought about this thing with my sisters as I drove home tonight too and the newscaster on the radio said there were airport delays in New York – my sister is flying tonight, and a switch went off and I thought maybe I’d call my mother, see if everyone made it in okay. You know, that kind of thing. The show of concern when you’re not really afraid, you’re just kind of calling because we’re all kith and kin and we stay connected.
No, of course I won’t call. That idea went out the window pretty fast, along with the one about the birthday present. It’s not that I have a huge festering anger towards this woman, my sister. Sometimes I do. I can work myself up into it if I want to. But mostly it’s just that I am on a soaring track – and she probably is too – if I just let myself keep soaring and moving, if I just let things be without feeling I must do something because I can do something – what will happen then?
I have thought in this last week – raking leaves, then driving home tonight – of a similar time back in the late 80s when I’d been abroad for almost 5 years, and they didn’t know where I was and I couldn’t tell them, and when I came back I took all of the repair upon myself without question, was convinced – by whom? by what? – that I was a bad person for having disappeared and that it was up to me to bridge the gaps that had grown between me and my sisters.
I wanted to bridge that gap so much that I joined up with their spiritual movement, swallowed it lock, stock and barrel, guru and all – never considering it important that I’d been steadfastly psychologically tortured all those years abroad, that maybe I needed something desperately when I returned to the States, that maybe my sisters weren’t more important than I was.
Not this time. I thought driving home tonight how they have never approached me to hear the story. They like to say I am bad for disappearing into Europe, then disappearing into Woodstock and writing, but they don’t try to cross over. I did. Or maybe I didn’t. I don’t know. It sure felt like I did.
But I’m going to sit still this time. And let things cave in or flourish, whatever they want to do. i
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I stumbled upon this book, written in the early seventies by a man who came of age in the thirties. It is beautiful and brilliant and delicate. And here is a very small piece of it that particularly moved me and I thought worth sharing with all who have a passion for writing their lives.
"In all the questioning about what makes a writer, and especially perhaps the personal essayist, I have seen little reference to this fact; namely, that the brain has become a kind of unseen artist’s loft. There are pictures that hang askew, pictures with outlines barely chalked in, pictures torn, pictures the artist has striven unsuccessfully to erase, pictures that only emerge and glow in a certain light. They have all been teleported, stolen, as it were, out of time. They represent no longer the sequential flow of ordinary memory. They can be pulled about on easels, examined within the mind itself. The act is not one of total recall like that of the professional mnemonist. Rather it is the use of things extracted from their context in such a way that they have become the unique possession of a single life. The writer sees back to these transports alone, bare, perhaps few in number, but endowed with a symbolic life. He cannot obliterate them. He can only drag them about, magnify or reduce them as his artistic sense dictates, or juxtapose them in order to enhance a pattern. One thing he cannot do. He cannot destroy what will not be destroyed; he cannot determine in advance what will enter his mind."
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Bennett is due at our house at 6 o’clock. I leave work early. It’s almost dark as I pull out of the large but rural parking lot and drive down the road through the woods that leads out to the main artery that will lead me to the next main road and the next all the way home.
I am watching the temperature gauge, that white needle that this morning was starting to swing way up to the mid-point and even a little past it. I had turned tense this morning, watching that needle, visions of the car exploding in my mind, willing the car to keep going, get me to work.
It did, but now it’s time to make the return trip. Within a few minutes, the needle is climbing and I feel my face tense into a mask. I turn off the radio – my source of distraction and pleasure – so that if the car starts making an unfamiliar sound I’ll hear it right away.
Cars don’t explode, do they? I’ve never heard of one exploding. People haven’t been warning me about that since I was a child. And they would have if it were a real possibility, right? Cars just die if they get too hot, right? But all that gasoline…
This is one of those times I wish I had a cell phone. When I turn left at the Exxon station I crane my neck in the opposite direction of where I am turning, trying to see if they have a mechanics area. No, just the convenience store.
I start across the bridge, a mile and a half (I know because I measured it once) spanning the Hudson River. There are several phones along the bridge. If I break down here and make a call, people passing will think I’m on the verge of suicide. That’s what the phones are for. People do jump off this bridge. A friend of mine saw someone hanging from the George Washington Bridge a couple months ago.
I cross this bridge twice a day and often think – not of actually wanting to stop and jump myself – but I think of it. I think of how I read once in an article about Golden Gate jumpers that hitting the water is like hitting cement –a survivor said so. Another survivor spoke about the flash of regret they felt once they were airborne. I feel death close by on the bridge, there if I want it – even as I look at the beautiful wide river or the sunset colored sky on the way home.
Come to think of it, I don’t usually have jumping thoughts on the way home when the sky on the other side of the bridge, spread out over where home is, is orange and lilac. Usually it’s when I’m going in the other direction.
But I make it across the bridge. The needle hasn’t climbed any higher. I am halfway there. I notice I am relaxing just a little. Not because I feel any safer, I note, but because I’m used to the level of fear. I think of people in a war, how they must just get used to the level of terror and live in it. I think of people still in Baghdad. They must be poor not to have been able to leave. I imagine myself one of them, saying, “Go? Where can I go?” and really not knowing where I could go and how I could get there.
Another ten minutes and I’ll be pulling into Woodstock. The Mobil station will still be open. I could go right there and ask them to take a look. Mike and Anthony are my friends. I brought them chocolate croissants last week when they had my car fixed on time. That’s the thing. The car was just fixed.
But I also have to get salad things for the Thanksgiving Pot Luck at work tomorrow. I can’t show up empty-handed, and salad isn’t something I can pick up on the way to work or something. I have to make it and I have to make it tonight. Plus, I have to get a couple of things for dinner. Bennett is coming and he’s a vegetarian. I was going to pick up some burritos, but that would be a good $20, and we are trying not to spend if we don’t have to. There’s the new car (well, not new-new) to think of, not to mention the mortgage payment, months overdue. I got an idea for something I could make tonight – it needs protein so I guess I’ll pick up some flavored tofu, but no – how about walnuts? That would be more interesting.
I am torn as I twist and wind down Sawkill Road, one of the most dangerous roads in our county, people are always getting into accidents on the Sawkill. What’s more important – making sure about the car or getting the Pot Luck? If the car’s no good, how’ll I make it to work tomorrow?
I pull into the health food store parking lot and leap out. Bennett will be at the house in half an hour. I move fast through the store, picking up a Romaine lettuce, broccoli – there’s Debbie. I haven’t seen her for about a year. I don’t tell her I’m rushing my pants off as we talk for a few minutes.
Out the door, back in the car and up the hill to Mike and Anthony. Great, they’re still open. The light is on in the office and I see Mike through the window, behind the counter. I pull up right outside the door and go in.
“Yeeees?” Mike drawls without looking away from his computer screen.
“Mike, the needle started to climb like crazy this morning.”
He looks up. He’s got glasses and a moustache. He’s wearing his mechanic’s navy blue coveralls. He comes out from behind the counter – this is JUST what I wanted – opens the door and steps out to the car, me close behind. He gets in the driver’s seat and turns on the car.
He looks at the white needle. “Is that as far as it’s going?” he asks, pointing.
“Yeah,” I say. “It just started this morning. It used to be way over on the left.”
Mike asks a few more questions. “It’s fine,” he says. “You’ve got nothing to worry about unless it goes way over to the right.”
I speed home. Steam the veggies. Saute the onions and walnuts. Make white rice instead of brown. Heat up that exotic-looking sauce I picked up on the weekend that will save the day I hope. Bennett arrives right on time. And dinner tastes great. Something I’ve never made before – a risk, a chance, done on the run.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
In the very early 80s I went to the supermarket one afternoon with my father, out in suburbia where he was still living with my mother. They were going from one rental to another after selling the house that had held us together, selling it – a fire sale – to pay creditors, and now my parents – my father jobless, my mother going from one babysitting gig to the next.
I am in New York City. I have quit publishing and the 9-5 world and I am doing yoga now almost full-time and learning about things like raw food and juicing and I wear baggy violet cotton pants and spaghetti strap cotton camisoles and my body is elastic. I am powerful in that elasticity.
My father says something about how maybe he will go back to Hungary. My father seems like such a loser to me. I watch him having to have a drink every day. I watch him always wanting to lose weight, always eating – and I know so much. It’s easy for me not to eat. I have this unique group of friends in the city. We run a yoga school together and we are friends like no one else is friends. We are doing some kind of great work, something Natvar – who started the school – has really mastered and will teach us. Us. Anjani: small, and white-haired, dark-skinned and pretty. Me. Tracy. Mark. Eve. David. When we see each other we kiss on the lips. We are a little dizzy, like being in love. I bounce into the school, having tied up my bicycle down below and when it gets stolen I say it doesn’t matter – and Natvar laughs with delight that I can be so casual.
Natvar makes sure we clean down into the tiniest cracks, and he makes sure that Anjani brings up the lights on the dimmer and brings them back down just right during class, and makes sure that the books in the little bookstore – just a set of pretty display shelves that Natvar built before I got here – makes sure each book is laid out with equal space between each one and dusted though no one ever buys.
Hardly anyone comes to our classes besides us.
When my father says something about going to Hungary, I am dismissive. “You can’t run away,” I say on the check-out line, something like that, something like: that won’t solve anything. Something like: you have to stay and face yourself.
I am so sure. My father looks like such a loser. I tell him he should fast and he tells me he tried it, until about 4 o’clock.
Natvar tells us what we have to do and all I do is try to do it. It is like trying to climb a cliff and the ground keeps dissolving into gravel so you can’t get a grip, but I just start up the cliff again, over and over.
And I don’t think my father will make any progress, get any smarter, by going back to Hungary.
But he goes of course. And he stays. And twenty-five years later he is still there. And I don’t call him or hardly write. I let him go. Because I don’t feel like anyone is really there. No one has ever been there, behind his eyes. Not for me.
Yes, I think of his voice. I think how happy he is when I do call. It’s like a little flame goes up, I see it flash. And then it’s gone and the words that pass back and forth don’t touch me and don’t touch him. So I hardly think of my father.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
I am in the loft on 28th Street, between 7th and 8th, on the south side. The ceiling is high – a tin ceiling, imprinted with a pattern, something from the 19th century. There is thick burgundy carpet under my feet. We take great pride in this carpet. Or Natvar does. I take great relief. The day it was installed, the months of construction were over. Natvar is proud because he says he got a bargain because he impressed the head of the carpet company so much. It does look beautiful. Before the carpet everything looked rough.
Now I wear skirts here, mostly a narrow navy blue skirt that reaches past my knees. It is a hand-me-down from Regina and made of light wool. Natvar approves of it. I wear a pink blouse made of well-ironed cotton. It has pleats down the front and buttons in the back. I bought this. I liked it. Some clothes make me look pretty and some don’t. I thought the blouse did, though it’s prim. It’s not the thriftstore clothes I used to buy, the army/navy surplus, the funny jackets.
I’ve always been very purposeful in what I wear though it doesn’t always look that way. I liked to look elegant by accident.
But I dress differently now. Natvar didn’t like my big ballooney drawstring pants. In the beginning he liked everything about me. He seemed to delight in me – we made each other feel good. But now I come up short all the time. I never do anything right. I am ugly, my clothes embarrass him. He wants me wearing clothes from Regina, wants me dressed up, even made up, and I try very hard. I do look ugly now. He’s right. And these clothes and this makeup only seem to emphasise it. But I don’t know how to see.
I am standing alone here, moving towards the front door. I am alone in the mornings. Tracy goes to work for Regina in her apartment. I guess I couldn’t be spared. I’m Natvar’s secretary. He says I’m terrible at it. But Tracy is our little one, my little sister kind of – about six years younger than me – pert, brunette, petite. She has left her home on Long Island and her young handsome, chiropractor husband who she looked so in love with when she first came to our yoga school – she’s left all that and moved in with us, to the loft bed above Mark’s desk in the cubicle we built called the office. It doesn’t have a window of course. None of the little rooms we built have windows.
The only windows are in the lobby, up at the front, big windows that swing open and look down from four flights – the top of the building – to the street below. The windows at the back are in the meditation hall so they are blocked off.
Mark has gone out to meet Natvar. He often does that. Natvar loves him to do that and I know Mark loves to get out. He can only do it if Natvar invites him. Natvar leaves every morning after breakfast. He dresses meticulously, taking his yoga clothes with him in a colorful cloth bag that he treasures, that looks still like new, that one of his clients gave him. His clients are rich. He goes to their apartments one by one, changes and gives them a private yoga class. Then he comes back for lunch.
And I have to have lunch ready when he arrives. As soon as he comes through the door we both know everything will go probably go wrong, that he has had a wonderful morning away from here, going to all these rich people’s homes, people who give him delicious cups of coffee on beautiful china, people who tell him what a wonder he is, and then he must come home to me, homely, unhappy me, who still can’t make the rice right, who can’t get a simple meal together – fresh and healthful, delicious and cheap.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I speak to mymother on the phone in Lisa’s living room – the living room of the flat I am sharing. The telephone is by the window which looks out into a small inner courtyard that provides light, but not much else. I have never stepped into that courtyard. I think maybe it is possible to do so through Lisa’s bedroom, but perhaps it is sealed off completely. It has no plants, no bench, no fountain.
I am glad to hear my mother’s voice, to be able to reassure her that I am back, that I never really meant to go away, that it was a mistake. I want her to know that after many years of hiding from and lying to her, I am me again. She says her sister has just died, that she is going to British Columbia for the funeral.
Sometimes I sit in the living room and kitchen which are quite large, spacious and complete with things like a video player, comfortable adult furniture, the “mod-cons” as the London ads call them – modern conveniences. I sit with Lisa and her brother Julian. Lisa has long dark thick curly hair. She is pretty, not terribl smart. She has just bought a microwave and likes to talk about how great it is to come home after word and cook a whole chicken in half an hour. She is having a semi-affair with her boss who gets calls from his wife on the mobile phone in his car when he is giving her rides home. She will let him touch her large breasts, but does not let his hands go further.
Julian is handsome and trim, arrogant, sure of himself. When I need to buy pot the night Jeffrey arrives I call Julian and he comes to our door – Jeffrey and I are not staying in my room. We are staying in an exquisitely appointed townhouse that I didn’t know about until the drive back from the airport – a townhouse with several floors, drapes, polished furniture – everything cleaned, ready and empty. “Kitty said we could stay there,” says Jeffrey and of course it’s no contest though I’d been looking forward to being with Jeffrey in the room that is all mine, the one with the peach-colored quilt and the tiny shiny white bathroom. I call Julian from the townhouse and yes he comes with an ounce and I am proud in front of Jeffrey that I found pot in London when he asked for it and proud in front of Julian that I let him into this fancy palace with a cute boyfriend at my side.
At the office are two women – Sue and Linda – everyone excited for me that the boyfriend who has been faxing me a letter every day on the fax machine I just purchased for the office is coming to visit.
My office is separated from the front office where Sue and Linda sit by glass doors. The clients come into the front office to leave off the typing they need done. They are lone businessmen without secretaries of their own and they come to us: Kent, the American, who is trying to sell safes to hotels, Mr. Daniels, another American, but a plainer one, who rents an office downstairs; Mr. Tubbs, small, bald and British who rents an office and has for years upstairs. Sir Geddes – an old classic Brit whom we give special attention to because he is our only sir.
Upstairs Nigel plots his future. Nigel is my boss. I found this place in the yellow pages when Natvar told me it wasn’t enough to be in London with him. I’d better go out and get a job. Nigel was a big old plumy Brit with a red cheerful face, white hair and a corpulent body. He was happy to have me run the downstairs so he could sit n the conference room and work on the plan to develop some land in Marbella on the south coast of Spain, a vile tourist trap that he took me to for a weekend with his diminutive bohemian girlfriend Theresa.
Linda has short hair, a plain face and a big body. She has two little girls at home and a live-in boyfriend who will not last forever, but hopefully for a little longer. She works hard, tells me story after story about what her girls are doing and saying. “I had to call for help once,” she confides. “I thought I was going to kill my baby.”
Susan is older, a blonde who has pretty much traversed the path into gray, a single woman, smart, a little dry.
And there is Fiona who comes when we need her, Fiona who has red curls, is a painter, has a baby girl called Medea and a young skinny husband called Peter who is a musician. When I travel across London one night to hear Peter and his band play he greets me, surprised and pleased. “What loyalty!” he says – a word I had not expected. I lik Fiona and their home where she has painted the walls and doors with colors and pictures, where the little girl is never put to bed because they don’t ever want to send her to school or to bed – at least, Fiona does not. I sense that Peter is flagging. And I tell Fiona that I will try to get her a show in New York when I go.
When I go.
I have been stealing money. When I go once a week to take money from the bank for the petty cash box I take some extra and I keep it.
I am still living with Natvar when I start doing this. It is before I leave him and all of it. It is when I am still essentially his. That I leave every morning and don’t come back til evening, that I bring home a pay check every week – these things make it borderline tolerable to live in the same apartment with Natvar, Mark and Ariadne. Tracy used to be with us too, but she has stayed behind in Greece. She has left us.
I am still here.
“You don’t get paid enough,” says Natvar. “You work all those hours and look what you receive. I make that n two appointments with Lady Russell.”
“You need better clothes,” he adds.
And so the first time I take the money and Natvar goes with me to Harrods and helps me choose two pairs of shoes, shoes I would never buy alone – high heels, open toes. When I wear them I look like other people – graceful, assured. “That’s better,” says Natvar with satisfaction.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
I must stay amongst those who do things correctly. I must work hard, make that effort. If I don’t I will slip and slide and be lost amongst the worthless.
Peach. The cover for the bed I buy is peach. I take delight in the smoothness of the color, of the fabric, bright in the drab simple room that has one window below the sidewalk. It is September and London and the light is always waning, the sky often grey, but grey in a way that makes the colors complicated.
Most days I walk in the park, looking at the shape of black leafless branches against the sky, the water of the pond with the straw-colored rushes, the gravel I walk on. I am eating with my eyes as if I have been starved for a long time. I do the unthinkable and buy watercolors and two brushes, a thick one, a small one and sit at the heavy desk below the window that looks up at people’s legs and I make colors on a white dinner plate and delight when I make a new mysterious blue, a green that has many greens inside of it. I dab the colors on paper. I don’t really paint pictures. I try the branches once – black against the sky – but not in London, a few months later one evening alone in Manhattan. I sit at the dining room table that no one ever eats at, high over Washington Square Park, facing a window that stares downtown at the twin towers and I try to recreate the London time, try to paint those black branches I can still see, and fall so far short that I put the paints away forever.
But in London I don’t try for too much – fields of flowers that are really just streaks of my greens, dots of my reds and blues, all of it so much prettier than I expected.
I have quit my job. That’s what I have done. I have opened my days wide open, left them empty. I don’t want to fill them with anything. They have been so crammed and stuffed and suffocated for so long that they are almost dead. I breathe life back into them. So I just walk every day. Not in the streets, but always in the park to look at colors and plants, the sky – things of nature that do not ask anything of me, that I can just look at -- and sometimes – once – I take the subway half an hour north to a different park, a wilder one.
Mixed with the pleasure of all this is here and there the fear that it will not last, that the sky will close over me again, but I peddle fast to keep it, to keep it open.
Lisa, who also lives in the flat, lends me her yellow plastic Walkman so I can listen to the tape that Jeffrey sends me – Van Morrison’s one called “No guru, no method,” and I listen to every song, every particle of every word and note as I walk and look. I want the new life I am preparing, the one in New York City, to have all of this inside of it, to continue all this delicacy. Jeffrey, I think, will be different this time. He has even told me that he has read some books channeled by someone called Michael, and this is so different from the Jeffrey I knew that I think perhaps his rigid adherence to the concrete, to his preferences of red meat and cold Coke and TV snapped on with a remote, maybe he will set that aside a little so something new can come in.
I read Kahlil Gibran’s The Propphet. I remember it form high school and although I have always dismissed him as lightweight he says what I want to say to Jeffrey, especially the party about how lovers must let each other go so each can live as fully and abundantly – I write down this chapter on love with a calligraphy pen that I buy and black ink on cream-colored parchment paper and I decorate it with my watercolors, and I send it to him and yes, he is very touched by it, he says, and by my painting, so I know something gis very different and I am hopeful. This is the Jeffrey I have always wanted.
I have two books during this time, these three months. One is a big expensive coffee table book of Van Gogh’s paintings, letters and his journal. I read him as if I am reading myself. What is it? His sadness, despair, desperation. His madness. His lostness. But always he paints.
And for Christmas Julian, who also lives in the flat, gives me Leaves of Grass and I want all of that too, I want all of it now.
“Can you help me in the afternoons?” How does it happen? I meet Mark and Natvar at some fucking party. What am I doing at one of these formal London parties where I don’t know anyone? But they are there. I have not seen or spoken to them since I left four months ago, back in September and it is December or January now. And they are friendly to me now. we are strangers now compared to what we were – seven years, living together, eating every meal together, every day ferociously together, our lives so interwoven there was not a drop of air. But now there is a little air. Natvar laughs when I make a joke. He tweaks my ear. Suddenly I am cute again. “Ariadne needs to be picked up from school. Mark and I work all afternoon. Could you?” His warm brown eyes. “My love,” he says. He smiles, catching the tip of his tongue between his teeth, as if he were just a shy little boy.
I am not working. I have no reason to say no. I would be saying no to a ten-year-old little girl, his daughter. How can I do that? I would be cruel if I said no.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I went to the stairwell. It was a lot of stairs to descend, but I couldn’t risk standing by the elevator. he might come out, start talking to me, get me to change my mind. He could always do that. He could always get me to change my mind, do what he wanted. I thought he should have been a lawyer. He could make a case for anything.
A few weeks ago he had told me that we were invited to some friends for dinner, people I didn’t know very well. On the way home, I brought home a pie from a fancy bakery to take with us. “No, don’t bring it,” he said. I really wanted to. Finally, he said, “I want it. Don’t take it. I want it.” On the way to the subway I was ready to stop for flowers to bring instead. I hated the idea of showing up with nothing. “Why don’t you wait til we’re nearer their house?” he said. We argued. He won.
Finally, on the subway, he showed me the two tickets he had hidden in his pocket – Bruce Springsteen at Madison Square Garden. That’s where we were going.
I told the story the next day at the office to the older woman I had become friendly with, emphasizing the surprise part of the story, but she didn’t smile. “Didn’t you think something was up?” she asked, puzzled. No, I hadn’t. Those little arm twists were normal.
I had come about six months ago. Come back after seven years, seven years spent mostly with Natvar in a nightmare. Coming back to New York City, leaving Europe, coming back to the States and to this boyfriend had seemed so fairytale like.
When, back in London, I told my friend Aliki that I had suggested to Jeffrey that I come back and live with him again, she said, “You shouldn’t have done that.” Aliki was so old I paid attention when she said things like that.
She had become my friend. Sort of. A conditional friend. An old woman. A wealthy woman. An aristocratic woman who brought her servants from Portugal. Greek she was, originally, but she had lived in England most of her life, had married a well connected Englishman, the cousin of Bertrand Russell, a man with a title. He had been the British ambassador to Spain. She had hosted the queen.
John, her husband, had died a few years ago, recently enough that he was still present in her mind. “You know what he told me once?” she asked me one morning, sitting in her bedroom which is where I always met up with her, the bedroom with the big double bed, the little vanity where she applied her make-up without looking because she couldn’t see much anyway, the TV she drew her chair to and sat two or three inches from the screen to see, the drawers where Natalia, her personal maid, a plain unhappy woman Aliki said she had saved from poverty, a woman with one Thalidomide arm and very little English, the drawers where Natalia folded every pair of socks perfectly so that when you opened a drawer it was always neat and in perfect order. “Aliki,” he said, “you have never bored me.” She smiled at the recollection.
Aliki had been a sculptor, but I didn’t like her creations, the ones I saw in photographs – cold steel abstractions.
Still, she had been excited for me when Jeffrey was coming to London to see me after six years. I took him to meet her. We had tea in her elaborate and tasteful drawing room. Afterwards, she chided me. “He s not good enough for you.” And I knew she was right, but but but, there was nowhere to go but straight ahead, nowhere at all to go except where I was determined to go: to New York, to my lover, to my one true love.
“Enduring love is so precious,” my sister had written to me from India where she was when I surfaced after having disappeared for four years. Yes, I thought, enduring love, that’s what it is.
I had Jeffrey’s tape to prove it. He had brought me a tape when he came to London, a mix of songs he had put together just for me. “You’ve been down to the bottom with a bad man, babe, but you’re back where you belong,” growled Dylan, and it seemed right. “Out of this world, out of the blue, out of this love for you,” sang someone else, in smooth yearning tones.
He must love me. It must be this romance. I showed Aliki the photographs we had taken of ourselves using a timer. I was excited to show them to her, I was filled with my week of visit with Jeffrey, wanted only to think of it, of its good parts.
My heart had dropped when he didn’t look back, walking through the gate at the airport.
Aliki and I walked to a tea place. Aliki liked me to walk with. That was one of the conditions. She put her arm through mine. I walked slowly.
I showed her the photographs. Jeffrey and I on the delicate embroidered couch in his stepmother’s fancy house. She looked at them thoughtfully. “He is very drawn to you,” she pronounced. And then, “How is the sex? That is very important.” I assured her it was just fine. And it had been. My first sex in six years. It was fine.
And so much wrong with the plan. So many boulders to overlook and climb over to keep my fairytale intact.
And when Aliki called me in New York to see how I was doing, I knew she knew I was lying and that it would be our last conversation.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
I did read one line in it though that has stuck with me. A friend of Krishnamurti, not Krishnamurti himself, says to the child that she should not kill anything – not even little bugs. “Their life is as precious to them as yours is to you.”
But I killed the mosquito at breakfast this morning. It had already bitten me once and was hovering, getting ready for more and though I knew it valued its life etc. I killed it.
In yoga they taught us that everybody has billions of lives and that if you kill a bug you can actually be doing it a favor, allowing it to be reborn, hopefully as something with a little more staying power and therefore a greater chance at etc.
I liked that theory, that souls come back in different forms. I still like it. Sometimes it explains things that nothing else does. But, while I used to accept reincarnation as true because they said so, I now admit I have no idea and I don’t think anyone else does either.
I was driving with my friend Yolanda. She was driving. It was a Saturday morning and she had picked me up to spend a few hours at her house helping her organize her office. She does a lot of things to make a living, one of them is to teach hatha yoga, the form of yoga that most people have heard of by now. You can buy sticky mats in supermarkets.
“I have to really watch myself,” she said as we drove down Rock City Road. “Sometimes I hear the things I say in my yoga classes – I have to be careful.” Her voice trailed off.
“I know what you mean,” I said. “I try really hard these days to only say things I know are true.” We talked about what I call New Age Fundamentalism which she recognized immediately and defined as, “You caused your cancer!” and contrasted it to Judaism, which she said was based on asking questions.
We turned into the lane on which she lives. Our mutual friend, Molly, was walking with her brown-and-white sort of fancy cocker spaniel, the dog she acquired sort of to replace the little black one who had been her sidekick for almost twenty years. The new little dog is cute, but somehow I don’t feel the closeness, the inseparability that was there with the first little dog. Maybe I will in twenty years.
Molly looked worn and unhappy. Yolanda paused the car while I said hi through the window. I wondered if Yolanda and Molly were getting along these days – they lived near each other – and I had the impression that sometimes they were better friends than at other times.
It was one of the hottest days of the summer. “Call me,” Molly said, waving me on. It was too hot to talk.
I know Yolanda’s dog had been killed on this lane about two years ago, hit by a car while Molly was taking her for a walk. It was an accident. Cars are always racing down this dead-end road. I don’t think Yolanda blamed Molly. Still, if that’s what I thought of, here on this road with the two of them, maybe that’s what they think of too.
My friend Yolanda wants me to streamline her office which is also her art studio and make it so that all the papers just land in the right places when the mail gets delivered, when she returns from her day with her bag bulging with fliers, announcements, contracts, instructions, magazines, articles. It’s a small, glassed-in porch and it’s gotten to the point where she just has things in piles. I go through the piles while she works on her computer. I bring the piles into the living room and I begin to sort them – bank statements, bills, stationery – and that’s about all I can do – put like things together. Maybe, I say, next time we can look at the space together and think about perhaps picking up some stackable trays – something to help keep things separated – there isn’t room for much.
Fred comes at 12:30 to pick me up. He knocks on the door. I call that I’ll be right out. There really isn’t room for him in here. When I go out into the damp heavy heat Fred and Irwin are not in sight though the car is there. I meet them halfway down the lane. They are talking about the Democrats as they come slowly walking towards me. Only Irwin, I think, would suggest a stroll on a day like this.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I placed the blame on my mother and tried to make up for her limitations. Otherwise, daddy might leave. I knew he wanted to, could sense his restlessness and eagerness to be gone. And he did go. He was the one who got to leave. On business trips. With great fanfare – the luggage, the passport, the airport, his flushed excitement. He was the one who got to leave.
I wanted to leave too. Just like dad. And I did. First chance I got. Nine years old, eagerly showing up for boarding school that was trickier territory than “High Jinks at St. Claire’s” or “More Fun at Mallory Towers” had prepared me for.
So when my parents divorced in their sixties it was meaningless, just a signing of papers. But my father calls my mother every weekend. She sends him Christmas and birthday presents and a little extra cash now and then. They turned out to be together forever, not creating – well, they did create separate lives – but never really letting each other go. Maybe because they’re in separate countries they can be so close.
I posted the first piece I wrote this weekend, the one from Friday evening, up on my random stories blog. I titled it “Harrassment.” Within half an hour two responses had come in, both threatening. One says, “It’s only just begun.”
As I put the mugs out on the counter I noticed my hands were trembling.
I imagined them starting to harangue my mother. I even imagined the stress of it shortening her life. It will freak her out if she gets much wind of all this. She’s trying hard to glide through her last years making the most unnoticeable waves. She might have to take a stand. She might vote with those who think this is all very inappropriate.
Not that I’m not trying to glide through too. I don’t think of myself as a big outspoken person – I think of myself more as someone quite like my mother. Usually, I just want to get along. This has kind of happened by itself. The writing did it, and I do put the pretty much first.
I dreamed a couple weeks ago that an ashram friend greeted me warmly and then drugged me. I felt myself going under, knowing that while I was unconscious the ashram was going to clean out my memory, take my writing away from within me, and I struggled with every possible ounce of strength I had to resist them.
Last night I shot a man in a dream, held a gun, surprised him, pointed it at his throat and shot him right in his Adam’s apple. I thought it would kill him, but it didn’t. I had to kill this man. It was him or me. I beat his head with a pipe as hard as I could three times. He was down, but not dead, and I had to run away at that point.
I don’t dream much usually. Lately, the dreams have been big and real. They kind you always remember.
My pen stops. I lose the thread. I wait. I can’t find it. Should I go back to childhood and the parents, where I started out? But I’m not landing in a scene, just the same ribbon of scenes I always see when I look.
My mother, young, with brown hair, seated on the arm of the sofa, an uncertain smile on her face, two or three guest women on the couch, clutching chunky glasses, laughing up at my father who stands, holding their attention. While one of the husbands, an older man in a suit, shows me magic tricks with coins.
The Armonk house. The dining room table only used on weekends when my father is home, symbol of odd formality. Eating in the kitchen with my mother and sisters is normal life. My father’s arrival on Friday night, he steps in and shifts the atmosphere, puts me on edge, I have to be more careful now. I am watched. “What are you reading?” I know the question comes not out of unselfconscious interest, but because cultured people discuss what they are reading. They exchange ideas back and forth. They debate and I will not. I answer with two words, my shoulders shrugging even as I don’t move. Leave me alone, I am always saying to him without actually saying it – partly because I don’t want to hurt his feelings, partly because I am afraid of his fury.
Or the house in England, the way you could hang over the railing that formed three sides of a square – all of it tiny – and look down into the tiny front hall with its black and white tiles and here I am a child, my mother is alone, my sisters are little, and my father is mostly not home.
My room is red because of the floor-to-ceiling drapes that open and close with a string, my sisters’ room is blue, my mother’s is pink, my father’s dark green. It is a rented furnished house, like a doll’s house with someone else’s reality, a reality where the wife likes pink and has a kidney-shaped, glass-topped vanity table with a pink-and-white striped skirt covering its drawers. I liked that pink-and-white striped crisp shiny cotton. It was pretty. But had nothing to do with my mother who slept next to it alone for five years.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
I have imagined being one of those people who is famous for a little while and then disappears from view for the rest of their lives.
And the whole fame thing? I don’t know. Yes, I’m reaching for it though not in the way that people who are really serious about it reach for it – like Madonna who is really famous just for being famous.
Some of the emailers accuse me of only wanting fame, and that is so obviously off-the-mark. They aren’t reading what I’ve written. They’re freaking out.
I called Dinah the other day. She lives in New Zealand so I don’t do it often. Her British voice came through on the answering machine – neither she, nor her husband, nor her three kids were home. I’d been feeling down, suddenly devoid of energy, a strange feeling, and I was looking forward to her great comfort. I didn’t tell her that on the message though. It was the day the first real avalanche of bad emails was coming in. Fred was away. I didn’t want to think that the cacophony of witch-hunters had anything to do with how I was feeling that day, but it was hard to ignore the synchronicity.
I had woken up with a muscle inside one of my shoulder blades freezing up so that by afternoon I was having a hard time turning my head. I wandered into town, something I like to do when I’m trying to take it easy. It makes me feel like I’m on vacation and it takes me away from the computer.
I passed by my friend’s little store where she sells her own art work. She’d left me a message a few days earlier, sounding desperate, going through some horrific emotional upheaval, so I came to see her. She said her shrink had upped her meds and she was feeling better. I didn’t contradict. I just listened. She looked defeated, but not as desperate and tearful as she’d been a few days ago. She had been trying to get off the drugs, she said, partially because her boyfriend didn’t believe in them.
I told her about my frozen shoulder and she sat me under a tree and pummeled my back with experienced fingers. “I guess I just have to accept …” -- her voice trailed away. “You don’t ‘have to’ anything,” I answered. I didn’t like the sound of “I have to be different, I have to change.” I wanted my friend to feel okay just as she was. And I could feel the strength surge back into her voice. “You’re right,” she said. “I don’t have to anything.”
I was wearing a bright red tee shirt. I wondered as I walked along the sidewalk if anyone drove by and noticed me walking, anyone from the devotee group here in town, perhaps the person taking the brochures. I thought of Barack Obama, always needing a security detail. How exposed you can feel.
When I came home the key that’s always on the front porch was missing. Someone’s taken it, I thought. Just that morning I had thought that I should hide that key more effectively, and now it was gone and I was locked out. I called Robbie, my friend and neighbor, to whom we gave a key several years ago because she was here so often, watching over Tamar and Mousie while we were away. She was in town, cleaning out the little house she’s going to be moving into in a month, and said she’d be right over.
She didn’t have the key anymore. Don’t know what happened to it – I tried every possible one on her heavy key chain. She’d gone round the side of the house and by the time I caught up with her was half-way through a living room window that I hadn’t been able to open.
“Oh, Robbie!” I was so happy as she opened the kitchen door from inside. “You are the absolute best!” And I told her of my fears that someone had taken the key. I checked my office, the library table – no key. So I hadn’t by mistake brought it in myself.
Then I saw it hanging tidily by the front door. “I’m a jerk,” I said. “Look, it’s right here.” And it was. I hadn’t been prowled upon. Life shifted back almost into normal.
Usually I hate being in the house alone at night and can hardly bear to go to bed. Having Tamar, the black dog, helps a lot, but still I feel vulnerable and paranoid. But that night it was suddenly easy. I turned all the lights out and slept with confidence, and the next day, though I wasn’t at all-systems-go energy, I was much closer to normal, and the frozen muscle had almost completely unclenched.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Big Judy was around in my childhood, the only daughter of a Hungarian couple with whom my parents were pretty good friends. We’d go visit them in Philadelphia and the Poconos. they’d come to see us – in Armonk , even down in Virginia I remember Big Judy coming to stay with us.
Big Judy was three years older than me -- almost precisely – and could beat me at practically everything. She wore glasses. I yearned for glasses, thinking they’d boost my adult qualifications, lying to the eye doctor about what I could and could not see, and even stealing some empty frames when my mother was in the eyeglasses store.
Now Big Judy is a professor of archaic Viking languages at a university in northern England. I haven’t spoken to her for about thirty-five years and my parents have almost lost touch with hers. But my father will mention from time to time Judy’s fabulous accomplishments that are so easy to define and I can feel his sense of something missing when he looks at me, that he is really looking at himself, wondering how on earth to tie the scramble of loose ends that are his life into a perfectly presentable package.
He lives in Budapest now. He has for the last almost twenty-five years. He went there kind of to take a break and think things over and no better option ever presented itself and now he finds himself stuck there, looking at death, planning for it.
In my mother’s note to me last week she said how my aunt – who lives with my dad, her brother – with the assistance of my baby sister – is planning how to prepare for the time when -- my mother details in her note to me – my father will need someone to come in and bathe him, how they might have to install a commode in his room, that so far he can usually manage these things, but.
My father has Parkinsons and is eighty-three. I saw him a year ago. He was still able to hold it together pretty well.
I have really abandoned him. There is really not much I can do to help. I don’t feel badly about this. I don’t think about it too often. It has always been a relief – since I was about twelve – not to have my father around.
He raped you, he raped you, he raped you – one unidentified emailer harangued this week. And I wondered for a moment, seduced by the anonymous intruder, did he? I don’t think so. Though a few days ago I dreamed of him, putting me to bed, leaning over me – oh no, I thought, he’s going to do it again and he comes closer and closer to kiss and I am trying to scream and my voice has deserted me.
I hope my dad dies soon. I know he doesn’t want to die. Of course, he doesn’t. And for that I want him to live. But if he slipped away tonight in his sleep I would not be sorry.
I don’t mind that my sisters have cut me out either. That’s a relief too. Ten years ago I thought of them both as my best friends. This morning I thought of Anasuya saying to me once, “In high school you always wore see-through shirts. You could always see your nipples.” She said it as an accusation, a something I had done wrong, some horrible flaw I had. Or the time I wrote about in the guru book when she said, “Other people thing you’re great. But you’re not. You’re a phony.” And both times I took these statements in as if I deserved them, like the way I dealt with Mukta, an enraged woman I had to work with for several years who screamed at me once, “All the saints say that anger is sacred. I’m just getting my anger out!” And I sat there thinking I had to be the good one, the understanding one.
Now when people write to me about what a bad person I am, how I need therapy and medication, I print out their message for the record then check Reject without the slightest pang of guilt that I should let everyone have their say because we’re all equal in god’s eyes.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Yesterday I had to thumb through all the stories I have posted on-line. Not the guru book, but my other blog. I had to go through those stories, ferreting out a small flood of vile comments that landed there, sprinkled amongst the different stories.
I saw all these pages of stories. It made me a little sad for a moment. Like, oh no, my writing life is over. I felt how precious all that writing is. And it’s always different to look backwards and marvel at all the writing that managed to make it through, and to look forward into emptiness. Will there really be more writing? How will I write if I get the full-time job I interviewed for last Wednesday, dressed in that super-sharp navy linen suit that I’d found for $10 at Woodstock’s consignment shop. Even my friend who met me right afterwards for a walk in the public gardens expressed a little surprise when she first saw me. I think I definitely looked like someone who wanted that job.
I do want it, but it feels very strange – strange and exciting – to be possibly on the brink of a full-time job again. I have images in my head of actually worrying about other people’s projects – or, not worrying about them, but suddenly my head being filled with other people’s endeavors instead of my own. I sort of feel like I will be an actor. I will go step into someone else’s play, but it actually feels like a role I’d like. I cold get into it.
They haven’t offered it to me yet, but at the beginning of the interview the woman was saying that she’d be inviting some people back for a second interview, and by the end of my interview she was saying she’d like me to come back. But I haven’t even gotten that call yet. I hope I get it on Monday.
When I spoke to my mother on the phone I told her I was having this interview. I knew she’d be happy that I was doing something as ordinary as looking for a job. In fact, she suggested I could go to Kingston to the unemployment office and check the listings there. She suggested this several times. I said I would. I am polite with my mother, and sometimes genuinely warm. But not so much the last time we spoke.
Somebody had printed out for her a couple of stories from my blog, stories that had to do with my growing up, the family. This person who is supposed to be my mother’s friend and who I once – about twenty years ago – thought of as my friend – printed out these stories and brought them over for my mother to read.
She read them and then wrote to me because she thought I had misunderstood a letter that my aunt had written to me. And she said on the phone, “And you wrote something about how it had been with me and your father and I thought when I read it – wow, that’s so sketchy. I could write much more about that! But then I thought, well, if that’s how you saw it, that’s fine.”
“You should write about it, Mum, that would be great!” I said.
“Well, if I did I wouldn’t publicize it,” my mother said. “Because it’s so, you know, personal.”
“Well, that what I like to write about,” I said, and I think we left it at that.
Except that she also asked at one point. “Weren’t you scared when the ashram said they’d sue you?”
“No,” I said.
I told her about the interview, but I didn’t tell her where and I had a fib lined up if she asked.
My mother has her feet in both camps. Many of her friends are ashram devotees. If my mother knew where I was trying to get a job it might leak to one of the fundamentalists who is trying to do me in and I can see phone calls being made. “Don’t hire her. She’s not what she appears to be.”
After the rain of nasty, distorted emails I’ve been getting from people who do not identify themselves, I am cautious. After noticing that someone is methodically removing our brochures from the local health food store, I am careful.
Friday, August 31, 2007
was a lawnmower.
I know this for two reasons.
I saw him use it alot
Saw him push it through woods
trying to turn woods into parkland
Saturday after Saturday
my mother silent in the kitchen
me under his direction
pulling weeds I didn't want to pull
not knowing I could refuse.
I feel it now when I mow
what he must have felt
how pleasing it is
and how easy
with a lawnmower
to make things look
just like you want them to.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
A friend says she’ll call a local journalist. She thinks the ashram’s threat is newsworthy.
Jonathan emails at 7 a.m., advising me to tell the agent who’s looking at my submission about the threat. He thinks it’ll help.
Part of me wants to fold up the drama into a tiny wad of paper, make it disappear and me along with it. Not most of me wants this, but I feel the strong urge to shrink back into the shadows, an urge that for a long time seemed like something good people, pious people, would follow. Let me stand in the shadows until someone peers into the darkness and notices me. That’s what I must wait for. Anything else would be unseemly. Now I push back against that urge to disappear and pretend I am not here.
It reminds me of my mother.
Lots of things remind me of my mother.
The way I worry about money, how even when I have it I am thinking that it won’t last.
My father went bankrupt. First, he spent a lot of money. Mostly in the life he had when he wasn’t at home. He had two lives and he liked the one that was separate from us better. in some ways. But he liked to come back to the house to rest and recoup.
He brought a leather handbag home once. He tried to use it for a little while. It was the seventies and I think there was a brief fashion attempt to get men to carry handbags.
He decided to call up one of those companies that publishes your book for you. He didn’t try to find an agent. I think he submitted it perhaps to one contact, someone his doctor knew and when that didn’t work there was no way he was going to go through the humiliating process of trucking that manuscript around. He’d do it himself.
He gave himself a party at the Waldorf Astoria and invited about fifty people to dinner where he stood and gave a talk about his book from behind a lectern.
And that was about it.
His book was about economics.
You talk to my dad for five minutes and you’ll get maybe a couple minutes of his actual attention and then he will pull the plug and start to talk about how they never should have moved away from the gold standard after World War 2.
My mother, in the years before the bankruptcy, my last three years of high school, split pennies, bought hot dogs, said one sweater is all you need and finally started answering ads in the Pennysaver to take care of invalids and old people.
I remember when she started doing that. It was strange. It had an independence to it, but also a giving up, a giving in as if all along there had been a voice in her head that who did she think she was, she wasn’t worth more than an hourly wage to clean up someone’s puke.
She wore a dress then, a narrow belt at the waist, the top like a button-down short-sleeved shirt, the skirt loose, past her knees – white cottony fabric with a pale red pattern. She’d gotten it from a catalog. Her slip showed beneath it sometimes. She didn’t look pretty anymore. I could see she had given up on that too.
And then my father on weekends running out to the fancy bakery before the guests arrive. Buying new wine glasses hours before the guests arrive. Credit cards.
“Going bankrupt was the easiest $50,000 I ever made,” he said to me, laughing as if it were funny but knowing it wasn’t.
They sold the house. That was the other part of the solution, the house he’d bought in 1960 for $10,000 and held onto for just over twenty years – proud of that house he was.
My youngest sister has a framed photo of that house on the wall in the ranch house on the cul-de-sac in Siloicon Valley that she and her husband bought about twelve years ago. When they bought that house I thought of it as two young kids buying a house so they had a place to sleep not too far from the office. It took me a w long time to realize that no, they actually chose that house. Two adults who wanted to live there. I thought I knew my sister, but I knew her only as a family member, not as an adult.
My father has the same photo of the Armonk house framed too.
I don’t. I dream about that house pretty often. And I drive by it every year or so though it has become something I don’t recognize anymore, dolled up to match the neighborhood.
I spoke to my father on the phone a couple of weeks ago. He said my mother had told him I had published a book and he wanted to read it. “It’s just on the Internet,” I explain, wondering why my mother mentioned it to him. “It’s not a real book yet.” My mother knows that my father wants to read anything I write and she has already told me that my book isn’t “tactful” enough, that I have “ruffled people’s feathers.” Why would she want to draw my father into it when it’s so easy to keep him in the dark?
“Send me your book,” my father says, with forced cheer, as if this is a happy simple thing. “I want to read it so much.” I say that I will.
And then my father almost begins to cry. “Life is short,” he says. “It’s over before you know it.”
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
They were such a picture-perfect family. I’ve seen the photos – my grandfather seated way over on one side, gruff, in a suit. Seated way over on the other side, my grandmother – pretty white curls, slim, dignified, faint smile. My aunt – pretty and dark haired draped near her dad, smiling. And my dad – handsome and suave in a suit – standing over his mother. All in sepia tones.
My aunt never writes to me. She doesn’t speak much English, but this is a full typed page with some handwritten additions. She explains that she got her goddaughter to translate.
It’s all about the apartment and what they should do with it. It’s all about money and how the two of them – my aunt and my father are roommates – will live. I’ll have to read it again to get the details, but I think my aunt is saying she has enough money for herself. So I guess that leaves my dad. She’s asking if I can send money. Otherwise, they might have to sell the apartment. Her grandparents bought it in 1928.
The bank is threatening to take my house back so I can’t help with theirs. I will send a nice letter. I’ll write about how I do love that apartment, but I don’t love it that much. and even if I did it’s beyond my reach.
She says that she and my father don’t agree on what to do with the place, how to proceed. It seems like she’s writing behind his back, but his signature appears at the bottom too. At least, I think it’s his signature. I looked closely.
This geographic distance between my father and me and my aunt is more than just geography. It’s not a coincidence that we live on different continents. My father says he never intended to be cut off like this, but he was cut off all along, even when we lived in one house.
I think of us, say, at the dining room table in the Armonk house. This was the house I’d known since I was three, though we hadn’t lived there solidly. We’d move away, rent it out, move back in, move away again, come back. Now it was high school and we were living there again after coming back from five years of relatively extravagant successful living in England, my father traveling to Switzerland and Morocco regularly. Now we were back and we were broke. There was a feeling of barrenness, of sparseness, of having what we needed but not a hair more.
My father really a weekend presence as he had become while in England, a weekend presence, a guest. It wasn’t just that he wasn’t there, it was more about what it was like when he was there, what it was like to be in the same room with him.
“Come on,” he’d say to me from the end of the table, a challenging smile on his face, not a smile of warmth and receptivity, but a smile that demanded some sort of combat, some sort of prove-it-to-me. Prove it to me that you’re smart, that you’re ambitious, that you’re winning, that you’re cultured and not just another useless all-American teenager. “Come on,” he’d say it a little sharply. And this wall would rise up inside of me that did not want to let him over, but I had to hide the wall, just like he was hiding his wall with that smile. “I’m a friend,” that smile was supposed to be saying. “I’m innocent. If there’s anything missing here it’s your fault.”
To get up and slam the door was not an option. And so I’d squirm and prove only that I was none of the things he was looking for -- not the bright conversationalist, nor the learned scholar.
Friday, August 03, 2007
My mother lives next door to the ashram in a community of people still loyal to the ashram and the guru that I’m writing about.
My mother goes every Sunday morning to chant the Guru Gita, a one-and-a-half-hour Sanskrit chant that I used to do every morning with a few hundred others before breakfast, before dawn.
My mother doesn’t chant in the ashram. People are not allowed to visit the ashram anymore so the local devotees have organized their own Guru Gita. It’s on Sunday morning in someone’s home or office and then they hang out for breakfast together, bringing food. My mother often cooks something and brings it. Pretty much all her friends are devotees.
My mother is not the pious sort. This is her first religion. But now and then in conversation she’ll surprise me and refer to Gurumayi as if she were a compass point, as a source of truth, as god.
On Monday morning this guy from the ashram, calling from about one mile from where my mother lives, called me to tell me to take my guru blog down or they’ll go after me legally. “Okay,” I said, hung up and went on with preparing the three chapters I was going to put up the next morning, and then, because eof the call, I added another chapter that otherwise would have waited a week, a chapter about the weird, ultra-secret rituals we did in the ashram to try and prevent the New York article form coming out.
A couple of days go by, filled with messages form the internet, offers of support – financial and otherwise – should I need legal help. And I figure I better call my mother. It had been two weeks – that’s about as long as I ever let it go, plus I thought she must have caught wind of all this. I better check in.
My mother wanted only to talk about the little girl next door, the zucchini recipe my sister was sending, the new job she was starting tomorrow. I went along with the chit chat, thinking, okay, maybe I just have to break in and say something, but it was as if my mother was building a stone wall between us and each stone was saying, “No, don’t talk to me about this.”
We spoke of the book about a month ago. She’d read at least some of it. Her main, unexplained comment back then was that I should have been more “tactful.” I could tell my book made her uncomfortable.
But last night she didn’t say a word about it. Didn’t ask how’s the book going? And I was stunned. I didn’t bring it up. I could have. I’ve done things that require much more strength than that. I could have said, “The ashram doesn’t want me to keep publishing,” but then she would have had to take sides, I guess, and she really doesn’t want to.
It’s okay. But it was very strange mouthing that conversation last night. When she asked me how I was doing I could tell by the reluctance in her tone that she didn’t really want to know. As long as I had enough to eat.
It’s good to know where I stand. To see my mother more and more clearly. She wants this much but not more.
I guess it’s funny too because I was more willing than usual to be more open with her. We’ve been friendly lately. I needed some help a few weeks ago and she helped me easily, no questions asked. In the past she has always told me I was too private, that I never told her anything. And it was true. And I was ready last night to open up something real – the call from the ashram – but the stone wall was there, mounting, one stone at a time, those gray, moss-covered, rounded stones like you see in New England.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
We stayed two years. I was six and seven and eight, and it seemed like a long time to me then. We lived in five different places during those two years. I had my tonsils out, went to two schools and my mother gave birth to my second sister. A disappointment. I’d been hoping for a brother. My grandmother from British Columbia visited for the birth. My grandparents from Hungary came out of Communist Hungary for two visits, or maybe just one. I played at being a cripple – walking awkwardly on sticks the way the blonde girl, Claudia, walked in our second-grade class. I was envious of her crutches. They seemed exotic, interesting.
The last place we lived was a skyscraper and it felt temporary even to me, a little like staying in a hotel. I had never lived in an apartment before. I liked it. I liked the elevator with the buttons you pressed and the pool downstairs I could go to by myself and I liked the way there was a gang of kids and we could roam around the building, doing what we wanted.
We could buy PayDay candy bars in the lobby. We could meet in the basement and look at Playboy magazines.
I started piano lessons that summer with a woman in the building. I had two books – one for playing, one for learning how to read music.
I practiced on a toy electric organ that I’d had since I was three. The teacher was angry when she heard after a few weeks that this was all I’d been practicing on.
When we left the apartment and came back to our old house in New York, my mother got a second-hand piano with a tall straight back and put it in a corner of the living room by where the stairs went up.
I had asked for a long time to take piano lessons, but now I didn’t want to, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. It was third grade and my father had gone to work in England. I didn’t like being with my mother and two sisters much. My mother could get angry very quickly, very harshly. I didn’t like that. And things were not exciting around my mother the way they were around my father. I don’t remember missing my father, but when my mother asked if we should move to England too, I said yes, of course. I thought it was the biggest non-question I’d ever heard. Of course we should go.
We did. I was nine. I’d just had my first holy communion in church. It happened on a Sunday. I wore my blue jumper with the white smocking and a white blouse underneath. And the priest asked me to come up the aisle first before everybody else came for communion because it was my first time. I was shy walking up there by myself, but I was glad to finally be able to take Communion, the most fun part of Mass, the part you had to be old enough for and now I was old enough and could go up with the adults.
But not my mother because she wasn’t a Catholic. She’d almost become one. For awhile in Virginia she’d gone and talked with a priest – she liked him and talked about him at home – Father Parera he was called, but we moved before it all got finished.
On my birthday I bicycled to the church by myself and after Mass my bike was broken, run over by a car and I had to go back in the church after everyone had left. I had to find the priest, had to knock on the door of the room he went into after finishing Mass. It was terrifying to knock and ask him to call my mother. She told me to wait in the store down the street and I waited all morning before she found me. A dog had leapt at me that morning, barking and growling, as I rode the bike on the way to church and years later my mother held up the coat I had worn that day and said, “Look, the lining is all torn. That dog must really have been biting at you,” as if she was believing me for the first time.
We went to England and my father was there and he brought us to a small little house that he had rented for us, except he wasn’t there very much. He had an apartment in London where he stayed during the week so he wouldn’t fight so much with my mother. He came home on weekends, but I saw that all later.
At first, I just went away to a boarding school. I left my mother and my two sisters just like my father left them and I went away by myself to a school, a convent school, twenty-two black-and-white nuns with not a scrap of hair showing, with long flowing black skirts and long black veils down their backs and a little black sort of cape that hung gracefully over their chests.
I liked it there. Again, it was a little like a hotel, and more exciting than home.
I learned about periods in this school. And about sex. Though when I heard about sex I realized that’s what my father had been talking about on one of our weekend walks back in Virginia when I was in first grade. He’d told me that the man’s wiener goes into the woman’ goo-gah when they are sleeping, but it didn’t seem very likely and I had semi-forgotten about it.
I had four main friends in boarding school. We were a gang – the smartest, most interesting girls in the class. It was like that for two and a half years and then something happened almost overnight it felt like – my friends turned cruel and mean, they made me feel that I was not as good as them and I asked my mother if I could switch schools.
I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go back home and start at the school my little sister went to. I knew it was a more ordinary place. It felt more ordinary. I didn’t want to do these things, but I could not stay at St. Mary’s and face my cruel friends.
So I came back to the circle of my mother, my two little sisters, my father on weekends. It surprised me that I didn’t like it when my father came home on Friday nights. He acted like a guest. I had to treat him like a guest. He wanted attention when he came home, wanted me to stop, interrupt, come talk to him, his stilted conversations – teasing that was not funny, questions. I always felt defensive, an under-the-surface anger that felt wrong, pulling to be allowed to return to my room, my book, my game, my TV show. I didn’t want to pay attention to my father like the way you have to pay attention to company when they come for lunch.
My father liked to go riding on weekends. He was no sportsman. He’d just begun to ride, always had a big horse he could ride like sitting on a couch. When my mother took me to ride it was some scruffy pony in a scruffy field. My father liked the stables in Windsor, he liked Mr. Dent – the cranky World War II veteran who wore tweed and hobbled and yelled at the stablehands. Mr. Dent came out with us. He and my father rode ahead of me, side-by-side, talking, down the Long Walk with Windsor Castle behind us. That was riding for my father – a nice way to be outside, in pleasant surroundings, with symbols of wealth and grandeur on the horizon.
There’s a small stretch of grass in front of my mother’s house and then the road and then a large fake-Tudor house directly opposite. Inside the Tudor house lives a couple in their young mid-fifties and their adopted daughter.
The couple is a little bit like my mother’s kids – they often act like a daughter and a son-in-law – and the little girl is the closest my mother has to a grandchild. The girl has real red hair. She is nine years old and pretty big for her age. They’ve had her since she was a few months old.
The woman and the little girl are going to move to Iowa where the woman’s parents live. The parents have each had strokes and the woman wants to go take care of them. She has always at least half-wanted to move back to Iowa and the country land where her original family is. The husband doesn’t want to go. He is going to stay. They will visit once a month. They say they are not separating or getting a divorce.
It makes me a little nervous. I guess because having the couple and the little girl across the street has always seemed to me part of the fragile structure that has come into being almost of its own accord, the structure that takes care of my mother.
When I arrive my mother is ironing for the woman across the street, something she does for pay. She keeps ironing as I sit on the couch and look at old photographs she found lately – pictures of my grandmother back in Uruguay as a teenager. I read a letter my grandfather wrote to his sister in 1907. My mother stands for a couple of hours, ironing. “Do you hate ironing?” my mother asks. “Most people tell me how the one thing they hate doing is ironing, but I kind of like it.”
“I don’t mind it,” I say, absently. “I only iron one thing at a time.”
I wish the woman across the street wasn’t moving away with her little kid. It seems mean, breaking up the family for the sake of her parents. I know the man will miss his daughter terribly though my mother says she’s been hard to raise.
I don’t like the colorless dress that my mother is ironing. My mother holds it up, without judgment, just showing me and it makes me angry, the grey-blue dress with the floral print from the seventies. It makes me mad again at the woman across the street. She should wear things with more style.
I know the couple. The man’s name is Daniel. He chose the house they live in. I remember when it was for sale, almost twenty years ago. I passed it often. “Baba slept there,” people said, referring to Baba Muktananda. I wanted to buy that house. How impossibly wonderful, I thought, to live in a house in which a saint had slept. I was surprised that it took over a year before the For Sale sign came down.
Daniel had bought it. I didn’t know him very well. He worked in the vast Purchasing department of the ashram and I heard he had a real estate license and I asked for his help when I saw the little white house across from him for sale a few years later. My mother had asked me to keep my eyes open for something she could move to. She couldn’t stay for free in the Curry’s garage apartment forever. She’d have to find something cheap to buy and Sullivan Country is about as cheap as you can find.
Daniel bought the house at least partially because Baba had slept there. His wife was never such a passionate devotee. I don’t think the house meant as much to her as it did to him. I slept in the room where Baba slept one weekend when I was housesitting, the weekend I rented Trainspotting, during the years I was getting ready to leave the ashram but didn’t know it, knew only that I was craving hardcore art like movies about heroin instead of just yogic treatises.
For a few years there I’d stuck to a diet of yogic treatises, convinced that I could grit my teeth and tighten my belt for as long as it would take for the cosmic pay-off, and then I started to think that maybe yoga wasn’t about just who could follow the rules better than anyone else, and I started to find ways to have my own things inside the ashram world until it led me all the way out of that world.
I watched Trainspotting in the house where Baba slept.
And then I moved in across the street – not into the house my mother was living in now, but the almost identical one next door – a perfect writer’s cottage – I’d meditate and write and copyedit for money and trust in Feng Shui and live next door to my mother, a nice simple life that because it was so different from what I’d just torn myself away from – ten years on staff in the ashram – seemed fabulous and daring and full of possibility. I knew there wasn’t much going on around me in this deserted corner of New York State, but I’d pump it full of meaning – I’d find art in the smallest places and make this a town worth living in.
But I only stayed six months. The vista of Woodstock beckoned, so much larger and more colorful. It was almost as if I tried to start life over, to keep it small and in the corner, something I could manage with my eyes closed -- just my mother and me and my birds -- and it stayed in place for a few months and then got out of hand all over again – huge and vigorous and consuming.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
It wasn’t so easy getting out of L.A. Jeffrey made a huge fuss. When he didn’t like things I did he had a way of throwing them back to me as crimes, like all of a sudden he loved me in ways I’d never imagined and I must be the most cold-hearted person in the world. So he had me crying a lot and freezing up into depressions, trying to twist my insides so that when they showed they looked right, but I made it out of town because the company was waiting and even Jeffrey couldn’t take on the company. So I flew out of town in February 1981, 23 years old, reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman and seeing someone with a Walkman for the first time on that plane.
I thought it would be so easy. Slide into Manhattan, join the crowds with their brand new Walkmans on the sidewalk. They would propel me along with them.
But the very first night, my first night back in Manhattan, I am in my friend Thea’s apartment. She is out of town and letting me stay a few nights and she’s not that great a friend like I had once thought. She’s a Vogue model now, traveling round the world and buying $500 cowboy boots in Soho when she feels like it. Her apartment is a squalid, dark studio on Sixth Avenue just north of Eighth Street and I’m stranded. I don’t know why. Now that I’m here, it doesn’t seem so easy to go out and join those crowds on the sidewalk. They will not take me in.
I call Jeffrey back in L.A. and there is his sweet familiar gravelly voice, the only person I can say “I feel terrible” to. “You’ll be okay,” he says. He is watching TV. I know he’ll fill up the bong and make dinner on the couch. He will just keep on going. He doesn’t need me for his routines.
I don’t think of the word “lonely.” No, I think of words like: what is wrong with me that all I know to do is to go to bed at 9 o’clock? How come I don’t know how to be part of all that noise out there? I feel like I’m in a foreign country, not home – and I am ashamed and must not let this feeling of being on the outside show.
It’s like when I was in high school and I did not know how to join in. Now I’m in New York City and it’s the same. I don’t know how to join in.
Thank god for the office. And that’s what I hate most of all. That I need that 9-5 corporate office to get me up in the morning, to give me a place to go like everybody else. It’s all I have, that warren of offices for people with no imagination.
I like walking to work though, wearing sneakers with my skirt, walking so fast in the fresh morning air that I feel like a sprinter, my body elastic –and I feel a tremendous new energy surge through me at times that I know has nothing to do with my old life with Jeffrey, an energy that only runs free when I am away from him because such things are too wholesome to interest him.
But more than anything , I must find a new boyfriend. I can’t bear that Jeffrey will be with some new girl – I am sure it will not take him long, he likes so many girls – I must beat him to it, must find someone just so he knows I am strong and happy and independent – and so I know it too – but even the one or two boys who come around, the ones I corner at parties where I don’t know anyone – maybe they look cute for a minute or two – but they never feel like home the way Jeffrey feels like home. I don’t let myself call him though I long to.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
When I first met him, a few years before when he was 19 and I was 18 he suggested I go see a shrink. The possibility had never ever occurred to me. But Jeffrey said he saw one and I could too, and it wouldn’t cost anything if I went to the school clinic. Jeffrey was a Psych major. Not because he wanted to be a shrink but, I think, because it was an easy major and he was mostly interested in things like the effects of hallucinogens. He liked being told how people’s minds worked and being able to explain things. His sister – almost his twin – was getting her PhD in Psych, on an unambivalent express path to becoming a shrink. She added generously to Jeffrey’s stock of theories.
I was about 23 when Jeffrey told me about Sugar Blues. No one had ever said anything bad about sugar before except that it made you fat, of course, and gave you cavities. But depression? That seemed so weird.
“You have to stop eating any sugar,” Jeffrey said, throwing a bottle of coke into the freezer, and of course I had to try. Otherwise, it would look like I wanted to be unhappy. Maybe it was that simple too. Maybe I just had to stop eating sugar.
I reached for crackers at the office, then thought to look at the list of ingredients. They had sugar in them. Most of the things I picked up to eat – even if they weren’t sweet – ended up having sugar in the list of ingredients. I thought if I swallowed any at all I’d be guilty of welcoming depression.
I got up early in the morning to be at work by 9. Jeffrey stayed in bed. He didn’t have an office to go to. He could spend all day in this one-bedroom cottage with the wall-to-wall lime-colored shag carpet, but I had to put on a skirt and panty hose. I walked out to my car that was parked on the street. No one was around. It was L.A. and early morning. The street was lifeless. I drove one block north to the huge supermarket on Sunset that was open 24 hours a day. I went in and bought a large bag of cheese doodles and ate them as I drove to my office. There was no sugar in cheese doodles so I could eat as many as I wanted, but it felt wrong, like masturbation, something I wouldn’t want anyone to see, me driving, eating a whole bag of cheese doodles before 9 o’clock and feeling finally spent as I park my car – not in the office parking lot because that cost money, but several blocks away.
My car is an orange and white Pinto that a friend of Jeffrey’s gave me. They say they blow up if you get rear-ended. It is not insured. I know nothing of insurance. It leaks oil. I don’t take it to a garage to have it fixed because I am certain this will cost money it would be impossible for me to pay. The only money I have is the paycheck I get every two weeks and every penny of it is gone by the time the next one comes. I keep cans of oil in my trunk and pour one in every day.
I walk to the skyscraper where my office is up on the 22nd floor. There are two skyscrapers in this part of L.A. – Century City – and my office is in one of them. When earthquakes come the buildings sway and if you’re in them it feels like you’re on a ship.
I have my own office. This was a triumph. When I first came I was a secretary with a desk outside the office of the editor-in-chief. Now I’m an editor. It’s the first time I have my own office and my own business card. I get to write copy now and I see the words I have written on paperback books in stores.
Part of me is ashamed that I am so not an artist that I have an office in a skyscraper – while Jeffrey who is unquestionably an artist can stay home all day and be happy. He always know what to do with himself. He gets high, watches an Errol Flynn movie on TV, goes out to buy a new fish for his tropical fish tank, plays some tennis with Leonard, an actor who lives next door. When I am home I don’t know what to do. I wait for the weekend all week and then I become desperate because I can’t do anything. If I just get high and go to the movies with Jeffrey I don’t have fun the way he does. I feel a clock ticking inside of me like a bomb: empty time, empty time.
It disgusts me that I sometimes catch myself taking comfort in the office. I cannot roll up into a ball here. I cannot stare at the wall. I am grateful to have things to do here – photocopies, phone calls, chit-chat – though here too I hear the tick tick tick in my ear. I want every minute of my life to count, but it is rare that any minute feels well spent. And so even without sugar the despair remains, unabated.