Friday, September 21, 2012

two stories

two stories
after Anne Beatty's 'Snow'

I remember the cold night you crapped yourself walking home from your Nana’s house, how I always belittled you for calling her Nana instead of Granny, Grandma, or just plain Grandmother. “What’s that smell?” I said, as you rushed in the front door and went straight to the bathroom without taking your winter boots off. The odor went through the dining room, into the kitchen, across the living room, and stopped at the fireplace, as though it had made this trip before. This would be difficult for anyone to believe, except perhaps someone already familiar with the depth, substance, and navigational skills of your in-exquisite flatulence.

Our first month together was spent sharing recipes, cooking each other’s favorite meals; like Chili con carne or spaghetti and meatballs. Late at night, in the kitchen, you would stay up for hours, preparing for our next gourmet breakfast, while I slept soundly with an increasing waistline and a contented heartbeat.

When you made Eggs Benedict for me for the first time, I suggested a spinach salad on the side, with real bacon bits, like the brunches I remembered going to in the village before we moved in together. The day of our first big dinner party, when you had to prepare for seven guests and couldn’t find your recipe for stuffed mushroom caps and asked me if I had a good one – you, wide-eyed and frantic in your mother’s apron, like an insane chef in some televised cooking competition.
Our friends loved coming to our dinners, prepared especially for them in our little converted carriage house. So many friends visited, and the fireplace made them all want to stay very late and drink in excess and tell stories about their most recent romantic escapades: the accountant who met an ex-astronaut who he took to the Mars café for lunch; the beautician who kept ending relationships with really nice guys whenever she noticed a nose hair dangling from their nostrils; the transsexual flight attendant who was afraid the pilot she was flirting with would discover her ‘secret’ and have her fired; the bellhop who was screwing an enormously wealthy government official from an Arab Emirate and wondered if their relationship would ever amount to anything.

Did our friends think we were interested in their stories because we fed them and listened intently as they slurred their words and spilled red wine on the carpet, costing us our damage deposit when we moved out? Now I think they probably knew we would never last. We were as hopeless as we had been as children, two boys playing in the same schoolyard, peering at each other through glazed innocent expressions, wondering what we would be allowed to feel for one another next.
Remember that night at your Nana’s, the ice was so treacherous and you said we’d have such fun holding each other up the whole way there, but I refused to go. It was like we were totally devoid of metaphor and were literally sliding away from each other, but you insisted it would all be okay. Later that night I tried to drive over to her place to get you but the wheels of my car just spun in the glassy driveway. I fell twice on my way from the car to the back door.

You have such different memories. You recall how beautiful the bridge was as you crossed it alone, like a small girl wearing a red hood in a fairy tale on his way to grandmother’s house, looking for icicles as you peered between the openings in the cement railing, hoping to find a magical one to put in the ice box for her to save for her Christmas tree - and how our love was frozen in time like some eternal chunk of winter glass.

By our fireside our friends would tell such silly stories about love and romance. One night, giving me instructions on how to love, you told me, “A love will die if you don’t treat it like God treats snowflakes, like a fine chef treats every entree.”

I went back to the village not long ago, after moving to a basement apartment not far form the carriage house that we shared. It was the end of June, and so many of our old friends were there, all dolled up and enjoying the annual festivities. Geoffrey, the one who always brought a dreadful homemade dessert to all our dinners, had just passed away that week. Despite all the stories and the drunken mishaps, Geoffrey had always been there, smiling and ready to help out with those nasty red stains on the pale gold broadloom, hoping, I believe, to stay late enough so I would fall asleep and he could have his way with you, when all he had to do was ask. I sat with Geoffrey’s widower, looking across the street at the thousands of revelers, and there were three of our old friends, sitting under the beer tent, laughing and sipping wine from huge plastic glasses, slopping cheap red dollops on wooden picnic tables like they did by the fireplace in our rented home. It started to rain heavily, and he put up his umbrella and locked arms with me, pulling me closer and out of the sudden downpour. When I left him, once the rain had stopped, I walked through the square and glanced at all the names. Three or four stood out – collections of engraved letters identifying some of the people who had passed through our lives. I felt sad. Even if they had been with us that day, we had no place for them to come to dinner.

This is not the way love should unfold. As you told me, love, like food and snowflakes, should be carefully prepared. We only had the beginning, the rest melted away, like fine cheese in the bottom of a fondue pot or snowflakes on mittens. It’s pointless to speculate upon what might have happened. Who expects things to last anymore – did anyone ever? But people do remember our dinners. They amount to something in the minds and memories of a chosen few; the ones we selected from our respective address books, and cordially invited to our home to share one of the many kindnesses we bestowed upon each other.

What I remember most is the night you came home with your trousers filled and frozen. The ice. Still, just saying, “the ice,” I laugh and my lips kiss yours like magic cylinders stuck to something that attracts them and yet becomes so painful once separated.
No further mention will be made of your ‘accident’, the way you said “Oops” when you came down the stairs after showering, dangling a laundry bag filled with all your clothing, and how we laughed by the fire, spilled wine, ate homemade pretzels, and made love as you recounted a tale of frozen feces, and how, that night, when you were  on your own, they accompanied you all the way home from grandmother’s house.

I don’t know how to love him
Should I speak of love / let my feelings out / I never thought I’d come to this /what’s it all about?
Tim Rice

It’s an old story and not a very interesting one. A man of a certain age suddenly comes to the realization that he has had so much casual sex with acquaintances and strangers, and so little with people he has gotten to know, that he has developed no real talent for conversation with long-term lovers. So he starts to make a conscious attempt to talk to the people he is sleeping with. The list is considerable. He is still attractive and has no difficulty finding other ‘like-minded’ individuals. And except for one ill chosen remark about hair color during sexual intercourse, in the eyes of the seventeen odd people he is currently seeing, there is no noticeable change in his interpersonal skills. His sexual cohorts have never noticed him lacking in the art of social dialogue before. But therein lies the problem. To him it seems like dialogue – on the page. He is reciting it like a well-trained film actor. Not too loud, not too emotive, the camera will do some of the wok for you. When the time is right an outpouring of emotion will be extracted carefully and subtly. This isn’t the stage. You don’t have to project, or reach the heart and soul of the shop girl in the back row of the balcony with the windows to your soul. She – the filmgoer of your dreams - will desire you wholeheartedly if you simply follow the foolproof maxim - less is more.

But he doesn’t feel them deep inside – the things he says – and can’t figure out why. He’s had so many women before, and although in very many ways each new encounter is just one more, he has always prided himself on his special love for all of the women he has slept with. So now, at the moment in his life when he has decided to make a conscious attempt to develop new social skills around intimacy, why does it all seem so hollow and unfelt? Because he has already done it by rote so many times in a world that privileges the concept of one and only? And by considering the emotional trappings of the so-called ‘normal’ world of courtship and romance so late in life has he inadvertently rendered himself a mere shell of a man filled with nothing but the memories of extreme sexual fulfillment with a variety of beautiful and exciting women?

He doesn’t believe any of that crap. He looks around at his men friends and sees their long-term relationships and they are not all train wrecks. But they are also not entirely fulfilling. There is nothing wrong with them. They just don’t strike him as something he longs for. So he decides to carry on with the business of learning how to consciously speak tenderly and meaningfully to people he knows – the people he is already sleeping with and the people he may one day sleep with after learning, through heartfelt conversation, all kinds of wonderful things about them. This does not stop him from continuing to sleep with near strangers. With time they may become the people he knows. He is simply making a mid-life adjustment, akin to buying a new belt when you feel your old ones are all just a little too tight. They feel fine, but they could expand a bit. He is aware of the objectifying nature of his metaphors but does not feel that they present a problem in his daily life. He knows that a woman is not a belt.

So now, when he walks into rooms with a paramour that none of his men friends have ever seen before, and he notices their smirky smiles, with a trace of envy marking their tone of voice when he greets them, he always remembers to introduce his date by clearly stating her full name and her profession. It may seem a small step to many, but in his world it is a giant foot forward as he comfortably and confidently makes his way toward the end of a life that he has absolutely no intention of ever making any apologies for. 

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