musings

you

@2000 words

Mary came into the studio half covered in paint. Violet was there that afternoon, and she made cocoa for herself and Mary. They sat and talked awhile, as Jack was downstairs in the theatre, consulting with someone about lights.

Mary said, “I sometimes forget to change my clothes before I paint. At home, I just take off most of them, and paint in my underwear, but obviously I can’t do that at the shop. She grinned. “So at first I worried people would think I just never clean myself up, and then I decided they could see it as decoration, instead.”

Violet said, “That seems really satisfying to me. And if you’re wearing a blue top, but have a bit of emerald between your fingers or something, you’re actually pretty well coordinated.”

Mary said, “Exactly.” And they both smiled in contentment.

“Although,” Violet went on, “I expect there are people who do not actually cover themselves with the paint they are brushing onto a canvas…”

“Ah, but that’s just the thing,” Mary answered. “Most of the time, I don’t actually use brushes!”

She and Violet laughed again as Jack came in, and Mary said, “Yes, we were talking about you, in case you were wondering.” Then she whispered in a loud dramatic tone to Violet, “DON’T WORRY, I’LL NEVER TELL HIM YOU SAID THAT.”

Mary rarely shows a serious side to anyone but Kathy, her boss, and one or two close friends, and her children. Some people think she’s being serious at times when she’s having a laugh, which confuses her, but she’s mostly reconciled herself to it. She operates best under the banner of “quietly eccentric.”

Jack rolled his eyes. He asked Mary to sit on the stool he now had set up with a full microphone stand, and cautioned Violet to be silent. “None of your fussing around. Come over here and sit down, as a matter of fact.”

Violet obeyed with a smile, taking a seat on the luxurious Danish leather couch opposite the recording equipment.

Mary asked, “How many Danes were killed to upholster that couch?”

Jack answered, “Eleven, I believe.”

She grinned and said, “Okay, I’m ready when you are.”

“I heard this song the other day, which I had not heard in just years and years, and it’s been rolling through my head ever since. But my memories of it have come back slowly, like a stage at a time. I expect there’s more still, that I’ve forgotten and that might never come back.

“I tried so hard to be an ordinary kid. The fact is, I really was, but somehow never felt like other people saw me as one. I listened to the radio stations, wore the clothes, bought the teen fan magazines, went to the skating rink on Friday nights, and made sure Mom got the trendy snacks for my lunchbox at school. I collected Lip Smackers, gauze blouses, pukka shell necklaces, and toe socks. I watched the right TV shows. I don’t know, though, mostly I was alone. There weren’t a lot of other kids nearby, and maybe that made the difference. Maybe if I knew them at home, they’d have known me at school.

“It seemed to me that practically every kid in my class could have been a star athlete. They were all shiny and glossy and could run fast in their expensive tennis shoes. I felt dull and flat and slow by comparison. And I was really, really skinny. Strangely, this led people to believe that I, too, had athletic ability, but that was laughable. Every year we had a series of fitness tests we had to perform, and the only one I was really good at was sit-ups. For some reason, I could do an astounding number of sit-ups in a minute. But I was a slow runner, and could never climb the rope, and when I threw a softball to measure how far it would go, my gym teacher said “You throw like a fat girl, what’s wrong with you?”

Violet gasped. Jack stopped the recording. Mary nodded. “He was special, Mr. Repp was. I remember this very nice and talented girl in my class named Michelle. She was one of those girls who seemed perfect, but was also so kind and polite, you could never be jealous of her, just sort of happy that she was herself. And I remember that more than once, he picked her up and carried her around the gymnasium on his shoulders when we were in 4th grade. I have always wondered what she thought about that. He called her ‘Tiger,’ too.”

Violet said, “That sounds repulsive!”

Jack said, “Maybe he was actually her uncle, or something.”

Mary and Violet just stared at him. Violet said, “I have occasionally wondered how he ended up. Maybe he was just super clueless, like, to give him the benefit of the doubt, you know?”

Violet said, “Yes, but the fat girl thing. You can’t have been the only girl he insulted, besides which, just, ugh, I don’t know.”

“There was a fat girl in our class. Not like it is now, with so many people struggling. We all knew someone who was just built large, or who fought their weight, but it wasn’t common. Which probably made it extra hard. Shawna was in our class, and I wondered if she heard him and how she felt. It angered me so much. But I just couldn’t throw a ball very far. I could roll one! I was often kickball pitcher for both recess teams, because I was lousy, otherwise, and other kids wanted to kick and run the bases, anyway.”

Jack said, “Hey, you must have always been a good bowler!”

Mary answered, “Actually, I was awful. I was just awful at everything until I was about 19, and then I bloomed or whatever they always said I’d do.” She smiled happily.

Jack started recording again.

“So then I went to junior high, and we had a girl’s gym class, and I was terrible at all the sports, and the girls were shocked that I didn’t have a bra yet, so my aunt gave me one my cousin had outgrown, because she and my mom were utterly clueless about these things somehow, and it had red piping on it, so then they made fun of that. And all the girls got leather clogs with wooden heels, but when I went to get mine, they didn’t have the right size. Instead, I picked out a pair of stack-heeled loafers which were actually very sharp, but they weren’t clogs, you know, so they were wrong.” Mary sighed, but rolled her eyes with a smile.

“At that point, I started to figure a few things out. I took charge of my style, and also my fitness. I had a frustrating year barely passing all the gym tests, and so the next year, I started jogging with my dog, figuring I could get stronger that way. I wore what I liked, worked on being a little bit avant garde, and ignored the girls who seemed to need to judge me for that.” Mary looked over at Violet, who grinned and nodded. She knew that same experience very well, though in her case, it stemmed from very different reasons.

“In eighth grade, we had to take this fitness test in the fall and again in the spring. I didn’t do so well in the fall, taking over two and a half minutes to run a quarter mile, but I ran around with my dog all winter, and rode my bike everywhere, and then when it was much warmer out, I put on jogging shorts and took off up an old road past our elementary school, sometimes running three or four miles at a time, at what was a pretty serious pace for me. I had read in a magazine about how important it was to keep a good rhythm while you run, so I used to play songs in my head like a radio. The song “You” by Rita Coolidge had come out, and it might have sounded sad at the time, but for me, that song was about my dog, whose name was Monty Python. We’d gotten him two years earlier, thinking he’d be a good companion for my older brother, but he bonded with me, and stuck by my side for five years, until he was killed in an accident. At age two, he could have kept up with me, though, for as far as I could run.

“And so I’d run, to that disco beat or to another, doing intervals, though I didn’t know that’s what they were. Every time that song played when I wasn’t running, I’d see Monty and I, breezing along in the sunshine together. When I heard it the other day, I remembered that, all in a flash.” She stopped and closed her eyes just then. Violet and Jack watched her, as she shook her head and began again.

“When the spring fitness tests came, I was so excited. I just knew I’d do better, and I told my teacher, Mrs. Bryan, about how hard I’d been working at it. She told me she expected good things from me. Well, what do you know, I was running next to the girl from elementary school, Michelle, who was very fast. She ran that quarter mile in about a minute and a half, or a little less, and set a record. But I ran it in under two minutes! I’d shaved an entire minute off my fall performance. I was giddy with success. Mrs. Bryan said that if I’d worked as hard as I said I did, I should have done better. She was just like that, I guess, and I tried not to let her make me feel bad. And I did receive a good grade for my effort.”

Mary saw the looks on Violet and Jack’s faces, and said, “You guys, this is a happy story! It was a victory, and I owed it to my dog, for whom the song ‘You’ could have been written.”

She went on, “But here’s an epilogue for you. My senior year in high school I was at a different school, and we had to run a mile to pass our one mandatory year of gym. I’d chosen a fitness class, too, because it taught us how to work on a weight machine, and aerobic exercise, and lots of other things, without ever having to be on a team. I wore fun Flashdance- and Fame-style clothes, and was one of the best in the class, blazing through sit-ups, and running the mile in about eight minutes, which is not even a little bit fast, but pretty good alongside all these girls who were lazy and walked half of it, barely finishing in the maximum fifteen.

“Plus! This is why I paint. I was also always surrounded by all these people with loads of artistic talent, and I couldn’t even paint an owl on a rock for Mother’s Day in Girl Scouts. But it turns out, all the messes I made as a child, cutting and gluing and painting things that didn’t look like they were meant to really brought me a lot of joy. So I determined that when I grew up, I’d do something to help people enjoy whatever they love without judgment or grades, or competition. I teach people to bowl and to paint, and to grow tomatoes and peppers, and you do not have to be great at any of these things in order to take real pleasure from them. Maybe I’d have never known that if I hadn’t been so frustrated by how others perceived my efforts when I was a kid.”


we never say goodbye

2012

Shall I tell you a story today?

Do you like the sound of my voice in your head? I hope that, when you read my words, you feel the surface of what I'm touching and experience the taste on your tongue. And I hope I sound girly and strong and smart and sexy and funny, but mostly I hope I sound interesting. I hope my words are fragrant enough to draw you in.


Once upon a time there was a woman who liked to watch a man run. Any man, sure, but most particularly, this man, long and lean and earnest. She studied him as an artist studies a nearly-finished canvas. She watched his chest rise and fall with the cadence of his steps, and the way his shoulders moved up and back in corresponding rhythm, and even though she wasn't quite close enough to hear, she could easily imagine the increasing strain of his breath, the quickly exhaled puffs matching the beat of his sturdy heart.

Now and then he'd shake his head to fling the beads of sweat from his hair, and it reminded her of a boy she once knew and loved. Truthfully, that was a boy she imagined loving, not one she actually knew at all. But this many years later, the memory was just as good as reality might have been. She saw that boy in the man's face as he ran his hands through his hair, but she appreciated the sinewy strength of the mature adult he'd become. 

She saw all of this in her mind's eye as she sipped her coffee, sitting in the bookshop by the window facing the street. She had every detail memorized and for many years hoped that someday she and the man would meet so that she could marry reality with the short reel she carried in her head, but now, after so much more time passed, she knew it would probably never happen. So, she contented herself with building memories from the photographs he once shared, and from all those afternoon phone calls in years past.


He's older now, they both are, of course. He wears more lines on his face and she wears more heaviness on hers. But she knows the sound of his voice will have changed little; she remembers the shift in tone when he is optimistic and when he is concerned and when he is aroused. And she knows he is still strong and can still run fast and far. Those are the best things to know, for now. 


sleeping alone

January, 2011, 1118 words

First, the shoes. Proper shoes, from a time before men could get away with wearing so-called athletic shoes all day every day. Shoes that don't look quite right with jeans, because they were meant for something better. 
 
The digression spirals. It's a game I'm no longer very good at. At which I'm no longer very good. Further digression into concerns over syntax for sentences that were never going to be written, because they're all forgotten by morning. And then, as though I'm 17 years old again, bored in class and working over my list of requirements for the Composite Male, I suddenly start worrying about the feet inside the socks inside the shoes. Of course the socks are all right; a man with the correct shoes will naturally be wearing the correct socks. But what deficits do they hide? 
 
When you are 17, this can seem to matter greatly. When you are 45, it shouldn't even enter your mind. But it enters mine, because I can no longer easily trade in idle fantasy; reality intrudes and keeps me from sleep. Because that's all this is: an exercise for sleep, my own version of counting fire engines. 
 
The point is, or was, the shoes are a deal-breaker, or would be, should a situation ever again arise during which a deal might be struck. This is the theory, anyway. 
 
I've always been a very good sleeper. And whenever I have been not such a good sleeper, I play a game; the exact same game I have played for 30 years: creating a man to find in my dreams. At 15, these men were most often major league baseball players, classic film stars, or exotic Mediterranean men who were looking for just the right girl to coax them fully into heterosexuality. I had no experience with men at that time, of course, or even boys. I wasn't thinking about sex; that sort of hunger that takes hold of most of us just hadn't presented itself yet. I wanted to experience the tension that comes before the sex; the little tastes of pleasure that lead us toward more, though more of what I did not spend much time considering. It was largely about the drama, and it was also about the presentation. 
 
He'd have a short, sharp haircut with dark hair that set off his angular features and well-chiseled lips. He might have a slight early bit of grey over the ears. With strong, squarish hands, he'd be slim and possibly lanky, standing four to seven inches taller than me, and he'd know how to dress and how to walk in what he wore. 
 
My tastes in this regard have changed little, though the typical baseball player's physique has changed considerably, and I'm no longer interested in showing any man on which road his sexuality should naturally travel. 
 
The thing about the shoes is that it demonstrates a particular strength of character; one that fits well with my own, indicates an attention to detail, and also reveals a becoming sense of self-satisfaction. So it's not just one certain style of shoe, you see. It is a manifestation of personal style. But to think on this too long spoils the game, and that's the problem I'm dealing with lately. 
 
When I was younger, it was enough to compose a picture of someone with an attractive countenance, and then decide what I wanted to happen next. I'd drift off to sleep in the midst of a cool or cozy date, and not unoften, end up seeing it played out in my dreams. Lately, burdened with a sensation of being permanently stuck on an elevator going down, I keep stopping at the shoes, mind wandering off in no good direction, restless and bothered by the heat of the pillow. 
 
Because, of course, now I know what comes next. All the excitement, pleasure, joy, misery, pain, loss, confusion and loneliness. Neverending grief over what was, and what was, what is, meant to be. But at night, none of that should matter at all. At night, only the sleep and the dreams should matter. The dreams should be composed of anything I like, and not merely the unravelling knots of consciousness that tangled themselves through another endless, relentless day. Even if the combination Jimmy Stewart/John Slattery/William Holden of my creation doesn't appear during sleep, and he rarely does anymore, the counting still leads to a more peaceful rest. Only the numbers, worse than appearing out of order, keep getting stuck at one. 
 
So. The shoes. I chose them for him, and although he wouldn't have stopped to look at them twice, he's delighted with how they fit and how he somehow thinks he looks taller in the mirror. I warn him they'll take a little breaking in, but once he has, he'll feel like they always belonged there. He strides away with confidence, attracting the eye of a woman younger than me as he passes out of the store and sets off down the sidewalk. She catches up to him and I watch them both laugh as they disappear around the corner.
 
Well, that's hardly the guy, is it? I never even got to imagine loosening his tie and unbuttoning his collar. Just handed him off to someone younger, the same way it happens to women my age in real life. 
 
No one ever tells you about that when you're 17, and that hunger begins springing to life. You think you'll be 17 forever, and, worse, you have no inkling of how much that hunger grows, demanding to be fed and to feed another in turn, only to learn that a man's hunger is often fickle, desirous of newer, if not always more raw, energy. Sometimes the hunger still comes alive at night, in dreams, and these are not the dreams of a girl fumbling through the newness of sexual identity. But neither are they, by now, the dreams that startled you awake, sated without quite understanding or remembering how. So, like Ernie counting fire engines, I surround myself with pillows and compose a scene that will never happen, but might happen, in the enchantment of sleep. It's a romantic scene I attempt to compose, but it is not the romance I had in mind before I'd ever experienced any of my own.
 
(I like meeting him in a cemetery. We talk about people neither of us know, it begins to rain, we rush across the street for cover, I order hot chocolate and he orders tea. This is because the cemetery is in England. I've never been there, but I've looked it up. )
 
(And a fictional man will always already be wearing the correct shoes, if he's the fictional man for me.)

evening alone

April, 2011, 590 words.

I sort of wrecked my painting, trying to finish it. I can reverse most of the damage, but not tonight. Then I painted my toenails with Revlon Tuscan Sun. Now I’m bored as well as lonely. I’m usually lonely, not usually bored. But this is a singular variety of loneliness, and with no new or interesting activity to combat it, here I am, typing away at nothing. 

Artie Shaw is playing, and I’m wishing there was a tie here that needed loosening. But it’s just me and the angry cat, who is snoozing her life away on the corner chair, probably dreaming of killing one or more of us so she can lap up our blood in tyrannical satisfaction. 

There’s no use hiding the fact that in my imagination, the tie is being loosened from around the neck of someone who looks exactly like Bill Holden. He’d be 1950-attired right down to his skivvies, whatever passed for those 60 years ago. Um, no. Make it 1954, when the profile was leaner, the tie was longer, the shoes more casually elegant. Or elegantly casual, is probably the thing I mean. He smells faintly of shave lotion, Wildroot hair oil, laundry soap, the glass of Scotch he had at the train station bar before the ride home. The combination is subtle, yet coaxing. The back of his neck is sunned except right at the hairline, which is crisp, razor-sharp from a lunchtime visit to the barber. I know the texture of that skin so well, I can almost feel it under the weight of my fingertips as I press these keys. 

The tie is discarded, collar unbuttoned, and he leans in to hum lightly in my ear as he pulls the clip from the back of my head, letting my hair cascade onto my shoulders and down my back.

I just realized it’s no longer thundering or pouring rain outside. The wind seems to have calmed, as well, and the silence is palpable after an evening of water hitting the roof, pouring out of the drains, rattling the windowsno, not quite silence, but it’s all background noise that emerged when the rain ceased. The clock ticks, the cat snores, the old TV hums as I’ve muted the music channel in order to properly think some of these things through. And asthma lingers. You can’t tell your lungs that since the weather has improved, they should instantly work better. But in 1954, I don’t have asthma, and my sharp intake of easy breath is stopped short as he tips my chin up and kisses me, teasingly tugging on my lower lip, pulling it in, and I bring my arms up under his to grip his shoulders, pressing against him now. More thunder rumbles outside, interrupting my thoughts. 

Where were they going to go, anyway? I can imagine the roughness of his cheek against my own, and I can imagine the somewhat unusual yet resonant tone of his voice as he whispers silly, intoxicating nothings in my ear. Right now, imagining much more than that would turn this loneliness into a kind of prison, which it already is, and the acute awareness of that is turning my thoughts from sensual fantasy to a kind of inexpressible nihilism. How ironically post-modern of me.
 
Can I not fully conjur it because it never fully existed? Oh, there’s the rain again. It’s swiftly, in half a minute, built from crawling and clamboring to a full stampede.

jpeg

2004, 365 words.

I see you viewing your self in your bedroom mirror, with evidence of comfort casually spread around the room, but I cannot tell if it's comfortable or only time-worn ease, which is nearly the same thing anyway. It's not my space, and in just looking at the phone and other objects on that dressing table, I feel intrusive. But when I look at your picture, I don't feel anything but a desire to touch you, to be embraced by you, something, it seems, which will never happen. I'm supposed to not care about that; this amusement we afford ourselves is finite in origin and finite in result. Yet now and then, I do care. To the point that I can feel it crawling over my skin, and in the tear ducts beneath my eyes. And at that point I want you, want to be with you so badly I have a hard time thinking of anything else.

And I cannot tell you. The idea that I'd be willing to make it even that much more real upsets the balance of your tidy world.

And yet, and yet it grows stronger with each passing season; this desire for the real, corporeal you. It consumes me and drives me until I take hold and manage to shove the whole mess of feelings into the back of my head again, so I can go on back to our sweet and silly friendship, never scaring you with the intensity of my true feelings.

Edging too close to reality makes you uncomfortable, and I understand about that. You have a strict world to maintain and a well-put-together life to protect. The merest abstract discussion of disruption puts the worry lines on your forehead, which I can see even over the internet.

If I could pull you out of that world, like, out of time somehow, where it didn't matter, I'd do it, just for a little while, and when you got back to reality, only the sensation of a memory would remain, with no thought of what it all meant or where it all would and could not ever lead; just a dream made real for one brief period of time.