The idea of Other is a powerfully frightening one.
Consider the act of kissing someone. If your significant other kisses you, it makes you smile. It can lift you to the mountaintop. Or, if you’ve just been fighting, it can bring you to tears.
In the photo above, my fiancee was kissing me, but there was clearly a subtext. Perhaps you can see it in my face. It was New Year’s Eve. I had decided to break up with her in September, but had forestalled the date because I’m the kind of card player who holds. On January 4, I would deliver the final news and she would explode, cursing and accusing. Go ahead, look, you can see that she had already become Other.
Bob Filner, the dethroned mayor of San Diego, has been the Unwanted Other many, many times.
I’m not saying Bob Filner is excused. What I’m saying is that it’s no wonder that nations go to war against each other. Often, it’s just the idea of Other that is offensive.
In my new novel, my main character Cat comes home one night to find a stranger in her apartment holding a gun on her.
Suddenly, he was walking slowly towards her and the calculus began to rapidly shift, and although he was talking, she was not hearing any of it, for his gun was pointed at her now, pinning her to the desk like a straight pin thrust into the thorax of a preserved butterfly. He took one slow, tiny step after another, until she had recoiled as far back as she could and was leaning back at an extreme angle and she felt the gun barrel against her left ribs and suddenly he was only twelve inches, if that, from her face. He dropped his cigarette and ground it into the hardwood floor with his toe.
“If you just hadn’t turned your back on the high life, we might’ve made it work.”
His breath smelled of Jack and cigarettes. His skin was smooth and she was close enough that she could see a spot on his chin that he hadn’t shaved perfectly. His eyes were languorous and imposing, like dark planets. The aura that hung about him was of a flooding amorality, like he had kicked down with boots every doorway within him that had stood between him and whatever he wanted, no matter what the thing was that he wanted, and that nothing could stop him now, not the law, not convention, not sentimentality, not anyone else’s will, no matter how strong, not people or protectors, not things or objects or emotion or anything.
“You’re everything bad that’s ever happened to me,” he said in a low, strangely tender tone.
Then, in a moment in which her vision was filled with the blue and black smudge and a smear of bright nighttime headlights and she could actually hear screaming, he leaned over and touched his lips to hers.
Consent. In the above example, it was clearly not granted.
But in other cases, it’s not so clear. When I was dating around, one of the most difficult things for me was determining consent. Of course, it doesn’t do to ask someone. You have to figure that out for yourself. In the end, you have to take a risk and just do it. Every so often, you get a strange reaction.
“You took a big risk there,” Polly told me in January, 1994, when I kissed her in a Mexican restaurant.
Polly had just been put out of her home by the Northridge earthquake and so had I. She had woken up to the shaking at 4:31 am, and had wanted to run and stand beneath a doorway. But there was broken glass all over the carpet and she had bare feet. I had had insomnia that night, and when the building started shaking, I jumped up and stood under a doorway, too. When I tried to return to the bed, I discovered that the bookcase had fallen onto it. Had I not jumped up quickly, that bookcase would have fallen onto me.
We had some things in common. But Polly had a few trap doors, such as a cocaine addiction in her past, or, possibly, she implied, her present. So it didn’t get far before it ended, and she ultimately became Other to me.
Over the years, I’ve collected in my mind a few offensive acts of Other. At a strategic moment, I inserted some into my newly published novel, What Happens to Us (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU):
- “After Dante left, Cat walked downstairs and found a curved oaken semicircle table set against an ancient granite staircase. She slipped into her spot, a quaint little reading light illuminating her space. She opened the book at random and read about an incident in 1282 during the time that the Frenchman Charles d’Anjou was ruling Sicily. On Easter Monday, a French soldier made a lewd comment to an innocent Italian bride during vespers. Her husband killed the cad, French soldiers retaliated, rioting ensued, and by morning, 2,000 people lay dead.”
- “In 1712 in New York, a slave named Rose was arrested for speaking to a white woman. The magistrates gave her 48 lashes at the whipping post and had her tied to a horse cart and dragged around town. In 1743 in New York, a mob attacked a Jewish funeral, stole the corpse, and gave it a Christian baptism. In 1689, New York governor Jacob Leisler led an early fight against the English crown, increasing colonist representation in government. Two years later, soldiers sent by the English crown beheaded him, cut out his heart, and gave it to a woman, who held it aloft and yelled out, “Here is the heart of a traitor!” Sometimes, it seemed that What Happens to Us was no more than a series of heads on spikes.”
I should point out, however, that this novel isn’t just a listing of historical events. It actually has a compelling story.
To download the new novel, What Happens to Us, for only $3.99, click here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU