Pulling apart tiny segments of peeled citrus, I picture jelly-candy oranges, their simplified, stylized shapes so pleasing to tiny hands, the clean bite leaving long rows of teeth marks in their smooth, perfected centers. Juice seeps through the napkin and I worry, briefly, about the wooden desk beneath the paper — but orange oil, good for wood, no? — but the acid, bad for wood, no? — and then I remember accidentally slicing into a wooden table my first week in a new place, in a space that would later be yours. And I think of you, smiling and shaking your head at me. Which didn’t happen then, but happened many times after that. No one knew I’d done it, except for one person, and she never told. I was so protected there. When I think of that time I forget the rage, the fear, the abject humiliation. The tears. I remember warmth and grace, and a protection that seems incredible, in hindsight. I try to eat the segments slowly, but each taste is a shock: so full, so bright, so sweet, so tart, and I want to be overwhelmed by all of it. Instead I let each piece overtake me, or two or three at once, and I remember.
Every day, I’m astonished at the treasure around me: people who know me well and love me anyway, who love my child and family; a great job; a nice place to live; hot water to bathe in; healthy, delicious food within easy reach; more than enough clothing and shoes; all the books and music I could ever want; technology that makes my life so much easier and has given me a way to cultivate some of the greatest friendships of my life.
Ain’t it grand, though, in spite of everything?
It was time. She stepped outside, wary of jostling the recently-broken item, wary of turning her head too quickly. Walking carefully to the bus stop, she focused on how things would be after the item was mended. Everything would be different. Nothing would be the same. She closed her eyes and let her mind unfurl time, casting out a vast net that drew in all the dreams she’d crammed into hiding places. So many stowaways. They would breathe, soon. They would be free. And maybe they would leave her, with their newfound freedom, but that was the way of things, she thought. It seemed possible, for the first time, that whatever left her would be replaced with something to which she was better suited.
She arrived at the emergency room, ignoring the startled looks and one or two quick gasps. “My nose is broken,” she said to the clerk, peering through two swollen and already greenish-black eyes.
The potato was underbaked.
My aging oven, which had come with the aging, sagging apartment, was somewhat less than truthful about its temperatures. Like a maiden aunt, it kept its heat private and only occasionally let the truth slip out. I suppose I could have purchased one of those thermometers that hook onto the rack. I suppose that would have made sense. But life at that point didn’t lend itself to sense; my mental state was lacking, is what I mean.
Life was hard.
Poking half-heartedly at the potato with one of the three forks I owned then, I discovered it was still mostly raw in the center. I put it back into the oven and turned the temperature knob to 425. I set the timer—the oven’s one reliable feature—to 15 minutes, in case I fell asleep. (I did that a lot in those days, while waiting for things.)
Flopping onto the couch and wincing because I’d forgotten about the newly-useless springs in the seat, I thought about what to do with the rest of the day. The thrift shop had been picked over on Tuesday, immediately after the new shipment of old goods. It was too cold to go to the park. Liza was out of town so I couldn’t call her. I wouldn’t get paid for another week, so the movies were out. And, I further speculated, I couldn’t be arsed to walk to the library to take advantage of the wi-fi there. I stared out the window and after a minute or so heard a familiar voice floating up from the street.
Ten…nine…eight… Whose voice was it? Seven…six…five… I knew it, but couldn’t place it. It sounded lost somehow. Confident, but forlorn. Four…three…two… Oh! It was…it was… Lift off. I waited for the crescendo, but it never came. Instead the countdown began anew, isolated from the rest of—the song! It was that song. An old one. I knew it. What was it?
The countdown finished again, and began again, and each time I almost remembered what it was from, what it meant, but not quite. Next time it starts, I would think. It was hypnotic, strangely beautiful. After awhile it seemed to me that it contained all of my life, all of life, period; this endless starting and ending; lonely, plaintive, but certain.
Startled by the sound of the timer, I got up and checked on the potato. It was done. I put it on a plate and salted it before realizing the countdown had ceased.
Outside, the world was silent again.
Excerpt from a piece performed in 2002
That I deleted your last email. When I saw your name in my inbox I wondered how the hell you’d gotten through. Because I’d set up a filter so that anything you sent me would be dead on arrival. Because, in spite of everything, I remember how good the good times were, and that’s almost enough to make me want to see you again. And I just can’t do that. Because although you used all the right buzzwords, I was only important for the credibility I loaned you. You personify everything that’s wrong with Los Angeles: you want Depth and Substance and Enlightenment, handed over in a cloyingly hip package, and if you have to wait, they’re not worth it to you.
That I wish you were still around. Although we were never friends, and although I think we sometimes resented having a friend in common, I admired your independence; your unwavering solidarity with yourself. Sometimes I think I see you, and then I remember the car accident.
That it’s silly maybe, but the sweater you gave me for Christmas erased any doubt I may have had about whether or not you get me. I’ve wanted that kind of sweater forever, but it doesn’t look like me. It feels like me, but anyone not living inside my skin wouldn’t know it. I’ve never said anything to you about that kind of sweater; I’ve seen you so rarely these last few months that I haven’t wanted to waste time with inconsequentials. But you saw it and thought of me. So I know that you stick around because you get me, in spite of me.
That I was afraid. I was certain, although I didn’t know how, that if I got too close I would fall in and drown, the way a drunk knows to avoid passing any bars on the way home if he wants to make it there on time, and sober. You sat in your little space sneering, eyes squinting against what little sun came in, and I felt myself succumbing to a sort of fast-forward trance. You hated everyone but you liked me because I was ruthless, which made me want to keep you warm and well-fed. You terrified me, and when I said “too different” what I meant was “too much alike.”
That your boyfriend doesn’t look anything like Kurt Cobain.
That earlier on, as this began unfurling, I thought a lot about that weekend road trip to Las Vegas. It was 1985 and I had no idea my life was about to change. There was an unbelievable thirst, like I was housing a desert in my ten-year-old body, which was newly thin from all the glucose sitting around with no transport available. A thirst that would not be quenched no matter how many liters I drank. Like clockwork, the need to stop at a gas station bathroom or squat by the side of the highway every thirty minutes. The cool liquid felt like heaven as it streamed in, but gradually my stomach would fill, then bloat, then threaten to explode. Meanwhile my throat was no less parched, no less delighted at being soothed. It was an embarrassment of riches. It was a nightmare. And so I wondered whether this would end up the same way. How far, I wondered, does the invitation extend? Beyond the front door, certainly, but then what? Just into the foyer? Can I hang my jacket up? Should I step on into the kitchen, or stay at the entrance? Should I call ahead? There was always the worry that I’d overstepped my boundary, overstayed my welcome, laughed too loudly. But one day I caught a glimpse of something on your face that startled me. And it had been so long– I reached back into memory to decipher what I was seeing. And when I realized I had somehow managed to make you proud, this overwhelming sweetness rose, backwards, from my belly up into my throat like a negative of that weekend.
I guess it’s simple, this thing you’ve done. Like mending a leg on a chair: there’s no dramatic announcement, and no one notices except maybe the first time you sit down again. After all, a chair with legs that work is just a chair. Maybe you don’t even know what you’ve done. But it’s fixed. That thirst exists only in memory now.
That the worst thing about tragedy is that everything still needs to get done, every day, like the day before. The things that happen, happen, and we go back to our menial tasks, feeling the ripple of aftershock as they re-settle our lives, the way a room feels different after being dusted by someone who didn’t quite know where everything went. But I can’t let the dust settle the same way this time. Now that keys to the castle no longer seem to be everybody’s inalienable right—now that it’s painfully evident that our invisible safety shield was invisible to everyone—I won’t shut my mouth against the things I meant to tell you. So—fair warning. You’ll be hearing from me, my friend. Just in case tomorrow gets canceled.
- The Business of Women Conference
- Seeing my girl Jane again
- Meeting my girl Abby for the first time
- The arrival of the latest Jo Nesbo book
- A secret fun thing I can’t talk about in case the person reads this
- Visiting my friends Bob and Lisa in upstate New York
- Watching Broadchurch on the plane
- Life slowing down…dowwwnnn…doooowwwwnnnnn
Borrowed from TomboyStyle.com
- If not in Los Angeles, I would live in… California’s Central Coast, or Rochester, New York.
- My dream vacation would be to… Rome, Paris, and London. And then a second one to New Zealand.
- Current obsessions:
- Food: Hummus
- Fashion: Black ankle boots. Also this massive, incredibly gaudy cocktail ring I got recently.
- Retail Stores: Does Etsy count?
- Music: 1960s French pop
- I channel my childhood self when I… Write. Sing. Ride my bike. Make collages. Play with my son. Laugh with my husband.
- The fictional characters I most relate to are… Sara Crewe and Cayce Pollard.
- If I had to be outdoors all day I would… Nap under a tree.
- My favorite quality in a man is… Kindness.
- My favorite quality in a woman is… Kindness.
- I’m terrified of… Losing my loved ones.
- My dream car is a… Black Lexus IS.
- My cocktail of choice is… Hendricks & tonic.
- My celebrity crush is… Daniel Craig.
- My beauty product of choice is… Water. And red lipstick.
- My friends and I like to… Solve all of the world’s problems in a single sitting. Over a bottle of wine.
- If I could go back in time for one decade it would be… The 1920s, assuming I were rich. Otherwise, no thanks.
- As a teenager I was totally into… Writing poetry, man.
ring in my ears,
a shout, a drone
a phrase I don’t quite catch.
The century is collage
and time is relative, we know
but timelines can’t be edited,
and this is why theory
I want you with me.
I want you to know
that I survived
that maybe you’d be proud
that I think of you all the time
and that you’re still real,
The trouble lies in our mistaking the thing for the person. An exciting or fascinating or otherwise resonant thing we see in someone’s work, their persona, their repertoire. A thing that creates in us a deeply-felt reaction: someone understands! And then we race off towards that person, sometimes (often) expecting them to recognize us and to be that thing for us, continuously.
But a person is not a thing. A person is many things. There’s a human being behind the sounds, the words, the visuals, and we fail to recognize that what delights us is our own reflection. It’s difficult to see beyond the pure pleasure of thinking we are not alone. We’re alone; but art helps us to be alone together. And that is a thing. And it is beautiful.