I wanted to be a writer not because my head was bursting with beautiful things I had to say, but because my most profound and meaningful experiences came through reading and I thought that if I could somehow become one of those people who could translate life into words that would be worthwhile. I’d be satisfied.
Sometimes, like now, when I am refusing every story that knocks cautiously at my door, I long instead for just strings of fancy words, some well hung phrases – the begrudgers must be at work, must be burping with satisfaction that they’ve got me out of action.
I see Jeffrey sitting up in the unmade bed, the NYC apartment window behind him, the hard blue walls of the room. I am standing in the doorway facing him. Maybe it’s the night we did acid and it was his idea that we color and draw while high and it sounded fun, but I could never get high enough to let go with the colors, and I couldn’t do it, but he did and I remember the drawing on an 8x11 sheet, horizontal, and there was a brown door in the drawing, opening or closing, and some words with the word “Tuesday” amongst them, and Jeffrey explaining something about how Tuesday is worse than Monday – and for me it is one more – not that I needed another – piece of evidence that he is the artist and I am not.
And I remember sitting at the round marble table in the apartment in Athens, on the bright shiny blonde parquet floor, giving Natvar a theory for why I had so many shortcomings, that I was like my mother, I offered, and could always provide material comfort to to thers, but nothing more. Natvar chewed my creative thinking with approval as he drank his coffee from the beautiful blue and white cup, part of the set he had picked out in Bloomingdales, picked it because one of his wealthy upper East Side clients had the same set, and we’d bought it on my mother’s credit card, and brought it when we fled to Greece. There wasn’t room to bring much. But we brought this coffee set and the IBM Selectric – things that set us apart from other people in Athens – crucial to Natvar that we appear to be aristocrats, something familiar to me because my father was the same – not so daring – my father wouldn’t have left the country because the cops were after him – my father would have turned himself in – though, he would argue, didn’t I get out of Hungary on the sly at the end of the war? Yes, Dad, but you were always so careful around authorities when I knew you, always careful to have your papers in order.
I see Natvar out on the terrace in Athens. Ythere were sliding glass doorsx in the living room. You stepped out onto terra cotta tiles, flowerbeds on the sides, a black railing overlooking the quiet, shady lane below. The terrace was spacious. Natvar grew bright colorful zinnias in the beds that lined it. There was a large basil plant every summer in a terra cotta pot. Natvar told us that in Greece everyone has a basil plant for the summer. You have to have one. The hibiscus tree flowered easily out there and a cascading wall-climbing vine with orange trumpet flowers. I see Natvar out there wrapped only in his silk robe, burgundy paisley, also from Bloomingdales on the card.
It had been part of the last year in NYC when it seemed Natvar was becoming a star, rich woman after rich woman enlisting his services as a private yoga instructor and confidante – some of them famous – and Natvar beginning to want and want the lovely things he saw in their apartments. The clothes for instance. He wanted us all to look good. Him first. Then Mark, his lover, and his two little daughters. Then Tracy and me. But we had nothing to spend except my mother’s credit card.
We went to Bloomingdales and Natvar bought three fancy dresses for each daughter. And after he and one little daughter ran away to Athens – when it was just Mark, Meredyth and me left for a few months in NY – Mark played Natvar, took me and Meredyth to Bloomies and bought us Tahari and Yves St. Laurent, clothes I had no idea how to even try on. “You can do it, Murtz,” Mark said. “See, how you look like somebody.” Wow, I thought. Is that all there is to it?
He sure looked like somebody when he wanted to, spiffed up as Natvar had taught him. He could look like a choir boy. And Tracy would put on the spiky high heels and make some lavish dinner and guests would come and we would present ourselves: Natvar and Mark, half-brothers, we said. Ariadne on Natvar’s lap, little blonde princess. Marta the secretary. Tracy the cute little cook. And the guest would be made to feel like royalty.
I would look back on my days with Jeffrey. Those had been meaningless. This what I was doing now was serious work. I believed Natvar had some secret access to something life-giving and important and I couldn’t back away. I was committed. There was no way out except to give up and say I can’t do this, I am an utter failure.
When I finally did leave it happened quickly. I sat at the kitchen table. It was London now and many things had changed, but that night I had realized that many things had not and never would. The fight had been huge. At the dinner table of course. Most fights were at mealtimes. The table in London was rectangular, not our white marble circle from Athens that we’d had to leave behind. And Natvar had cursed me, holding up his hand in the Greek gesture of fuck-you, the palm facing me, all fingers spread wide, blocking me from his sight.
I sat by myself in the kitchen. Ariadne was in bed. The dishes were done. Natvar came in, wrapped in the burgundy paisley robe.
“I’ll leave,” I said, frightened that he’d erupt again, but he didn’t. In the morning I left early, sneaking out, taking what I’d need for a few days, afraid still he’d block me, but he didn’t. I didn’t know where I would sleep that night. It felt like stepping off a cliff, taking the one step I had refused to take for seven years until it felt like the only one left. And when I did not tumble into endless freefall, when I did not die, the delirium of the next few months was sweet. It was happiness peace and pleasure that I had not even tasted for seven years.