The Wrong Side of Paradise
I had been in a foul temper all week. My students had utterly failed to follow simple directives on the first draft of their cover letters. And while some people have said of me that no one since Darius the Great has had such high expectations of her fellow human beings, when I say things like "DO NOT, WHATEVER YOU DO, PUT ON YOUR COVER LETTER THAT YOU HAVE NO EXPERIENCE IN YOUR FIELD" I expect that they will have the intelligence not to write that. Yet I received no less than five cover letters that feature the sentence, "Despite the fact that I have no experience in the field." It's moments like this that make me want to drink the drano martinis. I'm tempted to tell my classes, in these moments, that my cat could eat their cover letters and barf a better one.
Yet I resist.
But then to go through all of that and come home to an empty apartment night after night. No one cares if I come home on time. In fact, if I was to jump a plane from JFK instead of going home, I wonder how long it would take anyone, aside from my cat, to notice that I was already gone. I'm come home exhausted and starving and remember what life was like Then. When I would get excited to see the lights on because it meant that Eric was home. When I was particularly exhausted, he would put a peanut butter sandwich on the pillow next to my head. We would read on the couch together, occasionally reading an interesting passage out loud.
Truth is I don't know if I would recognize his voice if I heard it, but still I remember these moments. I wish I didn't as alone at night after a long day at work I weep and weep with the loss, asking the universe if I could have just a LITTLE luck, even if it is to finally forget. For all the years that have passed, the sharp edges on these memories never seem to soften-and when I consider them even briefly, I find myself bloody and bruised.
While going through my university email, I find an email from a undergrad student who wanted to know if I had any tips for her about NYU's MFA program. I could have just emailed her back, but instead I offered to meet her for tea. Why not? I mean, it's not like my schedule is so jammed packed that I couldn't make time for it. We arranged to meet friday afternoon for tea at Teany.
Before meeting with Hopeful MFA, I went to the movies with Office Elf who, with graduate school and a new girlfriend, has been quite busy. We saw the movie Igor, and it was like old times-we end up ordered a gynormous tub of popcorn which he will throw at me, I make fun of his reactions, he does a spit take over one of the lines. One of the characters, Scamper, is a brilliant immortal, but suicidal rabbit voiced by Steve Buscemi. In short, my dream mate. After the movie OEs girlfriend calls and they chat briefly before we head to lunch. After lunch, he is texting her as I wak to the subway.
It's sweet, of course. I remember what that was like, and yet when I see this there is a voice in the back of my head saying "No one ever loved you that much." I try not to be bitter. I try to silence that voice. But I'll be going home to an empty bed that night. An empty apartment. Again.But I know this is the natural order of things. I saw this coming. OE is too thoroughly decent a guy to remain single for long-so I try to tell all my resentment to save it until later that night when I'll be drinking as much as possible to keep it quiet long enough for me to sleep.
I leave Office Elf outside of the Virgin Megastore and head over to Teany to meet Hopeful MFA. She's a sweet girl, who has been woefully misadvised by the academics at the university who apparently know fuckall about MFA programs. I tell her about Sharon Olds making a doll for one of her poetry students and that Seamus Heaney has a reputation for being a "sweetie." I talk to her about how the poetry students would go away on weekend retreats together, while the short story students would argue about paying the tab...every week after crit. I confide in her about my hatred of Joyce Johnson, and the supportive and strangely mystical advice of my thesis advisor, Chuck Wactel. She soaks it up, eyes large.
Over her shoulder, there is a couple that I find myself watching as I talk to her. The girl is perhaps 19 with straight, luxurious blonde hair falling over her shoulders-her eyes are a transculent blue. She kisses her boyfriend over the table, both of them book in hand. Hers is "This Side of Paradise" by F Scott Fitzgerald while her boyfriend read a thick tome of a book bound in black. I couldn't make out the entire title, but the word "corpse" was part of it. Looking at her-her slender elbows resting on the table, making eyes over her book at her oblivious boyfriend, I thought if only I could be her-I would be happy.
Hopeful, it turns out, spent 10 months in Paris and so we end up chatting about my adventures there. I tell her about how I met the Sauvage and running into Marco again. "I lived there for 8 months, and that never happened to me." I'm tempted to tell her "Listen honey, I wanted to die. Only a person with a death wish would do what I did, so don't envy me too much." But I find myself smiling and thinking that perhaps I HAD been lucky after all. She becomes so comfortable with me that she confides that if she doesn't get in she's going to give up writing.
This gives me pause. For every set back I've experienced, I would never give up writing. I can't. I'm a writer before I'm anything else. Without the paper to confess to, I wouldn't know who I am. It doesn't matter me if I have readers or publications or not. I need to write in the same way that I need to eat, which is to say fairly regularly, perhaps more than I should. I explain to her that I've lost a great deal over the years from my writing-prospective boyfriends and several friends. "Would you ever be in a relationship where you wouldn't write about the other person?" "I've been in relationships where the other person ASKED me to not to write about him, and I've respected that request. And you know what? It was always a huge mistake. I tell people now this is the risk you run with me. Everything you do or say is potential material. If you can't handle that, and I respect that some people can't, it's best if we are not friends." It's possible this isn't an entirely fair thing to ask of my friends and lovers, perhaps this is why I end up so alone, but as the Sauvage would say I've been this way for so long, it's unfair for you to ask me now.
She thanks me for the advice and says she'll send me for statement of purpose for me to revise. She's blissfully grateful for the advice and the support from someone who knows better. It's more than she hoped for, and her enthusiasm is contagious. I feel pretty wonderful about myself as I walk towards the bus. I remember how I was when I applied for an MFA. No one advised me on how best to get in. I operated blind, simply sending in my best stuff and hoping for the best. I got in.
Maybe I am luckier than I think, I reflect on the ride home. Maybe quite a few things went right for me that could have easily gone wrong.
My would be lover asks me how the tea went and I explain what a help I was. "Such a nice girl" he texts back. "Don't tell anyone" I warn him, although he knows better than most that I'm far kinder than I would ever let on. That whole Jack Palance meets Caligula act I put on most of the time is precisely that just an act in order to protect myself. David Bucknam, one of my best teachers, said to me once, "You have a heart of gold, but you would rather die than let anyone know that." He was absolutely right. Although, more likely these days, if someone were to say that to me, I would cut out their lying tongue as an example to others.
I stare out the window thinking of what my lover had said to me the night before, that we were both lost people. "You said when I left, you forgot who you were" he reminds me. I don't want to tell him not to take what I write too seriously. I've been known to smudge reality a bit to make a better story. "Don't lose yourself in these other people," he warned me. I told him I knew exactly who I am, but do I? Who am I without these other people?
I would be the girl who still took time out of her day to sit and talk to a hopeful young writer for no other reason than she wished someone had done that for her and because it's the right thing to do. I'm not lost at all.
Bad Bunni posted at 9/21/2008 02:23:00 PM