Five Meanings of I Love You

[This is Chapter 3 of an ongoing work of fiction.  Chapter 2 is here.]

1. I want to be closer to you

Evan had learned something about his mother that had robbed him of his smile, Kara couldn’t figure out exactly what, she wished to God she knew, it killed her that she didn’t know.

“What is it?  You can trust me.”

“I know I can, but…”

“That’s what I’m here for.”

“…but I need to sit on this one for a bit.”

“That’s what love is all about.”

“I know.”

“Then why don’t you tell me?”

“It’s just that—”

“Is it something about me?”

“No, it’s just that some things take time to process.”

The look on his face broke her heart.

It was like the ancient Rapa Nui written language.  They have ancient writings, but nobody knows what it means because the Spanish conquistadores killed all of the Rapa Nui scholars by 1888.  Today, we look at the writings, but they’re absolutely impenetrable.  That was sometimes how Evan seemed to her.

There were so many things that Kara wanted to do with Evan.  Go on a train trip with him.  The idea of bumpy train sex made her wet.  Life was all about rhythm, she knew, figure out how his rhythms counterpointed with her rhythms and make a song, and whether that song was a good song or a tired-ass clunker.  Rhythms explained everything.  Once, she had stood onstage with her lead guitarist playing a solo behind her, and just from the rhythm, she realized that his girlfriend had just broken up with him.  She turned around and looked into his eyes incredulously.

Really, her eyes said.

Yes, he nodded.

It was all there in the rhythm: details and concepts, math and emotion, pink and zigzaggy and booyah, everything.

The next morning, Kara wrote up a list of other things she wanted to do with Evan, too.  She so liked lists.

  • Hike in Red Rock Canyon till we’re knackered.
  • Sing him my best songs. In the living room.
  • Not talk about coke ever.

IMG_2102 smaller

2.      If I can’t love, I can at least pretend to love

After a set in the casino, someone with a loving face came right up to Kara and killed her with kindness.

Oh my goodness gracious, your voice is such a blessing.  You songs open up my heart, I can’t tell you how much.  We’re from Indiana.

But, Kara thought as she showed her lovely smile, she still lived in a crummy apartment and drove a crummy car.  Sometimes she heard somebody on television, some real person in an interview, who said to a girl, I will transform everything, and he did.  The guy who married Mariah Carey.  The guy who married Celine Dion.  The guy who wrote songs for Ke$ha.

I want to meet one of those guys, she thought.  I could pretend to love him, too.

Sometimes Kara wracked her brain for something that would change things—a new song, a new band, new chops, a new writing partner.  But the thought that tortured her was—What if I need a new heart?

3.      I have the right to take what I want

It was 8 at night and Kara was on her way to surprise Evan at his apartment, but for some reason, she veered into a Catholic church.  Inside, it was so empty and shadowy that it made her think of an ancient Italian cathedral she’d read about once that had a splinter from the True Cross.  She couldn’t imagine being that close to Christ.  She walked up the aisle and the tile echoed off her heels, the proof of her own aloneness.  Kara had never felt close to Him, only far away, so far away that He’d always been nothing more than a vague concept.  Written on a piece of paper.  Stored in a vault.  Bolted to the bottom of the sea.  On Jupiter.

The sound of her own heels hurt her so much that she started to cry.

There was a young priest there.  He patted Kara on the back and said, There, there.  They ended up at Ichabod’s for a late dinner, and then at her place at 1:30 am.  They nestled together on the sofa and he was saying, I’ll tell you everything, and then he did, not like Evan, who wouldn’t talk.  The priest was young and handsome like Jesus, but humble and kind like no handsome man ever is.  When he took off his clothes, Kara saw he had a scar on his side.

Is that where the centurions stabbed you? Kara joked.

He became solemn and spoke softly.

You know, there’s a lance in St. Peter’s Basilica that they claim is the lance that the soldiers used to stab Jesus.

Really.  You know, I didn’t sign up for a sermon.

What I mean is, there’s another one in Paris.  And other ones in Vienna and Krakow and Istanbul.  So don’t worry about feeling far from God. 

Ah.

Kara pushed her head into his chest.  There was so much consolation in his attitude towards despair, as if despair were simply proof that we can be happy.  She made love to his despair more than anything else.  Afterwards, their conversation settled upon their pasts.  He talked about trying to please his Mexican father, who was so obsessed with not going to hell that his son wondered what horrible thing he had done.  His father had indeed done a horrible thing.  One day, he discovered what that sin was: him.  That’s what made him join the priesthood.

It was my way of committing suicide, he said.

Kara talked about what was consuming her, the old love that was ruining everything.

Harris left me.

Oh no.  Tell me what happened.

November.

What, you mean…last November?

Yes.  I always think about him when I’m making love to Evan.  Sometimes I start crying when he’s making love to me and I have to make an excuse, like I say, ‘Oh, I’m only crying because it’s so awfully beautiful.’ 

You do what you have to do.

Exactly.

I mean, I do what I have to do.

Of course, I paid her back…

Who?

My sister.  She stole Harris.  She dug a grave in my heart.

I’m sorry. 

My boyfriend Evan is a complete mystery to me.  I wish to God there were an Evan-to-Kara dictionary.

I’m sorry.

It’s so beautiful that you apologize.  I wish everybody would apologize to me.  All the time.

I’m a great apologizer.  Give me a sin and I’ll apologize for it.  I’ll apologize for Saddam Hussein’s sins.  I’ll apologize for the weather. 

We’re a great pair.  We fit into each other like puzzle pieces. 

Hey, you want to do some more blow?

IMG_2026 smaller.jpg4.      Don’t blame me, I’m a mess

Five days later, Kara made a list.

  • Organize papers
  • Do delicates
  • Never go back to church ever

Kara loved making lists.  She did it because her life was a shambles.  She made lists and she sang for the same reason: so that she could live with the chaos.  Singing elevated the mess into art.  She’d heard that in ancient Greek, chaos comes from the word sing, which made complete sense to her.

5.      I must control everything

Kara was out shopping with her friend BabyLynn, who was a costume designer for performers on the Strip.  They were eating frozen yogurt in the mall and talking about late paychecks.  One thing they had in common was they both worked in entertainment, and both their employers commonly delayed payment.  Another thing was sobriety.

So how are you doing with your twelve steps? BabyLynn asked.

Kara had forgotten that BabyLynn was her AA sponsor, they had so much fun together.

I don’t know.

That doesn’t sound good.

I mean, look, the Big Book says to be “searchingly honest.”  Why can’t we just be honest?  Isn’t that a bit obsessive, I mean, like, trying too hard, to be “searchingly honest”?

You are too much, Kara, that’s why I love you.  What brought that up?

Oh, I guess I’m having a little trouble with control issues.

Like what?

You really want to know?

Yes.

I’ll be searchingly honest, then, all right?

Okay.

Okay, here it is.  I want Evan to talk to me.  It kills me that he holds back secrets from me.

You think he’s cheating on you?

Could be.  All men are dogs.

What are you going to do about it?

And then Kara began to cry and people at other tables started peering over their shoulders.

I just…I just….

What?

I hate myself for loving him so much.

[Chapter 4 is here: https://whathappenstous.wordpress.com/2017/06/28/55-las-vegas-days/]

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[This is Chapter 3 of an ongoing piece of fiction.  Chapter 2 is here.]

1.     Confess and repent

Kara didn’t know, maybe she was losing her mind. After Evan came back from Seattle, they’d had a long talk on his sofa. She loved long talks. She dug in and concentrated on listening. She knew that listening wasn’t her strong suit.

Evan had learned something about his mother that had robbed him of his smile, she couldn’t figure out exactly what, she wished to God she knew, it killed her that she didn’t know.

What is it? You can trust me.

I know I can, but…

That’s what I’m here for.

…but I need to sit on this one for a bit.

That’s why we pair up in this life.

I know.

Then why don’t you tell me?

It’s just that—

Is it something about me?

No, it’s just that some things take time to process.

I love you, sweetie, but you have to learn how to trust.

The look on his face broke her heart.

It was like the ancient Rapa Nui written language. They have ancient writings, but nobody knows what it means because the Spanish conquistadores killed all of the scholars by 1888. Today, we look at the writings, but they’re absolutely impenetrable. That was sometimes how Evan seemed to her.

Kara thought about it after she left his apartment, as she was driving around town, as she was soaking in a hot bath. She wished that there were an Evan-to-Kara dictionary. She’d heard there was a scientist who had identified 4,000 expressions in the human face, and that there was a meaning for each one. But Evan’s facial expressions meant nothing to her.

There were so many things that Kara wanted to do with Evan. Go on a train trip with him. The idea of bumpy train sex seemed like the most exciting thing in the world. Life was all about rhythm, she knew, figure out how his rhythms counterpointed with her rhythms and make a song, and whether that song was a good song or a tired-ass clunker. Rhythms explained everything. Once, she had stood onstage with her lead guitarist playing a solo behind her, and just from the rhythm, she realized that his girlfriend had just broken up with him. She turned around and looked into his eyes incredulously.

Really, her eyes said.

Yes, he nodded.

It was all there in the rhythm: details and concepts, math and emotion, pink and zigzaggy and booyah, everything.

The next morning, Kara wrote up a list of other things she wanted to do with Evan, too. She so liked lists.

  • Hike in Red Rock Canyon till we’re knackered.
  • Sing him my best songs. In the living room.
  • Not talk about coke ever.

 

2.     If you can’t love, at least pretend to love

After a set in the casino, someone with a loving face came right up to Kara and killed her with kindness.

Oh my goodness gracious, your voice is such a blessing. You songs open up my heart, I can’t tell you how much. We’re from Indiana.

But, Kara thought as she showed her lovely smile, she still lived in a crummy apartment and drove a crummy car. Sometimes she heard somebody on television, some real person in an interview, who said to a girl, I will transform everything, and he did. The guy who married Mariah Carey. The guy who married Celine Dion.

I want to meet one of those guys, she thought. I could pretend to love him, too.

Sometimes Kara wracked her brain for something that would change things—a new song, a new band, new chops, a new writing partner. But the thought that tortured her was—What if I need a new heart?

3.     An eye for an eye

Last year, Kara had thrown a Thanksgiving dinner at her apartment. Her boyfriend Harris was there, helping with the cooking, as only the best boyfriends do, ones you could imagine helping you get into your wheelchair when you’re 90. Holiday aromas filled the air. There were boiling cranberries and a discount turkey in the oven, and on the TV on mute, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Kendra was the first to arrive, and pretty quick, Kendra zeroed in on Harris. Months later, certain phrases were impossible to get out of her head.

Kara never told me you were so cute.

Isn’t anyone else coming to this Thanksgiving dinner? Kara, don’t you have any friends?

Oh, that’s just my cleavage. It’s a little bigger than my sister’s.

When they were 15, Kendra said to Kara, Somebody’s always gotta lose with us. Kara said, No we don’t. Kendra said, We’re twins. That’s it. You either win or you lose.

Two weeks later, Kendra and Harris were a thing.

I love you dearly, Kara, but I’m not going to apologize, Kendra said. Harris is not well suited to you. That’s my professional opinion.

For months, Kara felt drawn to religion solely because she had an Old Testament phrase rolling around in her head like an earworm: an eye for an eye, an eye for an eye.

4.     The Unbearable Sound of My Own Heels

It was 8 at night and Kara was on her way to surprise Evan at his apartment, but for some reason, she veered into a Catholic church. Inside, it was so empty and shadowy that it made her think of an ancient Italian cathedral she’d read about once that had a splinter from the True Cross. She couldn’t imagine being that close to Christ. She walked up the aisle and the tile echoed off her heels, the proof of her own aloneness. Kara had never felt close to Him, only far away, so far away that He’d always been nothing more than a vague concept. Written on a piece of paper. Stored in a vault. Bolted to the bottom of the sea. On Jupiter.

The sound of her own heels hurt her so much that she started to cry.

There was a young priest there. He patted Kara on the back and said, There, there. They ended up at Ichabod’s for a late dinner, and then at her place at 1:30 am. They nestled together on the sofa and he was saying, I’ll tell you everything, and then he did, not like Evan, who wouldn’t talk. The priest was young and handsome like Jesus, but humble and kind like no handsome man ever is. When he took off his clothes, Kara saw he had a scar on his side.

Is that where the centurions stabbed you? Kara joked.

He became solemn and spoke softly.

You know, there’s a lance in St. Peter’s Basilica that they claim is the lance that the soldiers used to stab Jesus.

Really.

Yes. And another one in Paris. And other ones in Vienna and Krakow and Istanbul. So don’t worry about feeling far from God.

Kara pushed her head into his chest. There was so much consolation in his attitude towards despair, as if despair were simply proof that we can be happy. She made love to his despair more than anything else. Afterwards, their conversation settled upon their pasts. He talked about trying to please his Mexican father, who was so obsessed with not going to hell that his son wondered what horrible thing he had done. His father had indeed done a horrible thing. One day, he discovered what that sin was: him. That’s what made him join the priesthood.

It was my way of committing suicide, he said.

Kara talked about what was consuming her, the old love that was ruining everything.

Harris left me.

Oh no. Tell me what happened.

November.

What, you mean…last November?

Yes. I always think about him when I’m making love to Evan. Sometimes I start crying when he’s making love to me and I have to make an excuse, like I say, ‘Oh, I’m only crying because it’s so awfully beautiful.’

You do what you have to do.

Exactly.

I mean, I do what I have to do.

Of course, I paid her back…

Who?

My sister. She dug a grave in my heart.

I’m sorry.

It’s so beautiful that you apologize. I wish everybody would apologize to me. All the time.

I’m a great apologizer. Give me a sin and I’ll apologize for it. I’ll apologize for Saddam Hussein’s sins. I’ll apologize for the weather. Hey, you want to do some more blow?

5.     Love limitless

Five days later, Kara made a list.

  • Organize papers
  • Do delicates
  • Never go back to church ever

Kara loved making lists. She did it because her life was a shambles. She made lists and she sang for the same reason: so that she could live with the chaos. Singing elevated the mess into art. She’d heard that in ancient Greek, chaos comes from the word yawning, which meant that every time she opened her mouth to sing, chaos came out.

6.     Control issues

Kara was out shopping with her friend Riley Ann, who was a costume designer for performers on the Strip. They were eating frozen yogurt in the mall and talking about clothes. One thing they had in common was they loved to talk about clothes. Another thing was sobriety.

So how are you doing with your twelve steps? Riley Ann asked.

Kara had forgotten that Riley Ann was her AA sponsor, they had so much fun together.

I don’t know.

That doesn’t sound good.

I mean, look, the Big Book says to be “searchingly honest.” Why can’t we just be honest? Isn’t that a bit obsessive, I mean, like, trying too hard, to be “searchingly honest”?

You are too much, Kara, that’s why I love you. What brought that up?

Oh, I guess I’m having a little trouble with control issues.

Like what?

You really want to know?

Yes.

I’ll be searchingly honest, then, all right?

Okay.

Okay, here it is. I want Evan to talk to me. It kills me that he holds back secrets from me.

You think he’s cheating on you?

Could be. All men are dogs.

What are you going to do about it?

And then Kara began to cry and people at other tables started peering over their shoulders.

I just…I just….

What?

I just love him so much.

 

Meeting Cute Chicks on New Year’s Eve

Yes, of course you can meet cute chicks at New Year’s Eve parties!

David and Angela drunk 1aAbout 20 years ago, I was performing magic on New Year’s Eve at a party at a Hollywood restaurant.  There was lots of noise and partying, and in the performance of a feat of magic, I seemed to establish a connection with a petite young blonde named Sheila.  Meaningful gazes and grins were shot in my direction.  I caught them and pocketed them for later redemption.  When midnight struck, I gave her a nice little kiss and asked for her phone number.  Walking away from the gig at 1 am, I was excited about the prospects, even though Sheila lived way the hell out in Hemet, a desert community in Southern California.

We made a date for the second week in January.  I drove the hour out to Hemet and got off on some godforsaken exit off the Whatever Freeway.  I knocked on Sheila’s door and was greeted with a lovely, smiling blonde.  She didn’t look exactly the same as she had on New Year’s Eve–nobody does–but she looked lovely, nonetheless.

We got into my car and drove to the Olive Garden.

“It’s the only halfway interesting restaurant in all of Hemet,” she said.

The conversation stalled a bit, and I glanced over and noticed she looked a little nervous.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“It’s been a rough week,” she said.

“In what way?”

“Well, okay, I didn’t expect to tell you this early, but I have a confession to make.”

“Okay,” I said, smiling.

I like confessions.  They not only allow people the opportunity to be honest, which is a rare commodity these days, but they also allow you the opportunity to forgive.  Fact is, I’m quite a forgiving person.

“I’m pregnant,” she said.

My silence surprised even me.  In fact, I had never had quite that kind of moment on a date before.  Not many people have, I’d venture.  It was kind of like her saying, Do you want to just skip all the good parts of the romance and jump into all the angst, pain, and drama?

Turns out Sheila had slept with a guy a couple months earlier.  The relationship, or whatever you call it after one night, hadn’t worked out.  Then the previous week, she’d found out that she was pregnant.  Apparently, termination wasn’t even a remote possibility.

“I’m from Texas,” she said by way of explanation.

“Okay.”

“On top of that, he’s not the kind of guy I would want as a Dad.”

Then why don’t you consider termination?  I thought.  Why would you want to pass on his loser genes to your own child? 

Oh yeah.  She’s from Texas.

Sheila’s solution, she explained over dinner, was to move back in with her parents back in Shameonyou, Texas.  Okay, fine, whatever.  What does this have to do with me?

We finished our strange meal at the Hemet Olive Garden and then I drove her back to her place and walked her to the door.  That’s when she gave me that look, the one that in normal times, you so desire to receive.

“Would you like to come in?” she asked tentatively, looking at me sideways.

What?!

It was a long drive back from Hemet.

Who Sez He’s a Dog?

In a previous post, this reader called my character Dante “a dog.”

Image

Some people are so eager to point fingers.  How can one be unfaithful to someone who’s never been your girlfriend?  Someone you’ve never kissed?  Someone with whom you simply have an unspoken attraction?

Once, a woman showed me a book she had bought.  It was called Men Are Pigs and Deserve to DieI thumbed through it and discovered that it was a spoof of feminist books.  The author, Sonya Steinem (a sure giveaway that it was satire), wrote page after page of humorous invective pretending that men were the root of all evil.  But the woman who showed it to me thought it was serious.  As hard as I tried, I couldn’t convince her it was satire.

See for yourself.  Download the novel onto your Kindle for only $3.99 here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU

What Dog Hath Wrought

Image

The woman who texted this to me had just found me on Facebook.  In high school, we had worked on the newspaper together.  In the years since, she had become very religious.

This text is a testament to how different readers read a novel differently.  When I was writing the novel, I never thought of Dante as “a dog,” but in all ways a nice guy.  However, he does fall in love with the protagonist and then not act on it.  While he’s living with her in exile, he ends up getting a girlfriend and spending nights at her place.  He’s unfaithful to a woman he’s not involved with.  He’s sleeping with another woman whom he’s not married to.  Does that make him a dog?

???

To download this novel, What Happens to Us, click here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU

27 Nights

The 1st night, Evan asked Kendra when she had first been attracted to him.

“About three seconds after I saw you,” she said as she ran her fingernails through his chest hair.

The 2nd night, they were walking around the mall.  Holding hands was their new thrill.  Evan was holding hands with a therapist.  He was holding hands with a leggy brunette.  He told her about Kim Philby, the MI5 agent who had betrayed all of England by passing all their secrets for over 20 years to the Soviets.  She told him about Alice Miller, who had developed a theory about the gifted codependent child.  They were giddy but tired from having slept only three hours.

IMG_6627 smaller biggerThe 3rd night, Kendra sat down and calculated that they had been together for 56 hours straight.  It was like being drunk without drinking.

“My life is going to hell,” she finally said.  “I have to get back to my life.”

Arriving home, Evan took a 20% off discount pizza hanger off my door handle.  He watered the spider plant.  He threw away the brown meat in the fridge.

The 6th night, she told him how much trouble her father had been growing up.  Once, just to cause trouble, he had put his mistress on the phone with his wife.

“When he gets a little liquor into him,” Kendra answered, “there’s no stopping him.”

Later, she said, “Troublemaking runs in my family.”

Evan didn’t know whether she was serious or just being cute.

IMG_6336b smaller

The 9th night, Kendra told him about her meek, accommodating mother, and how she had made a decision never to be like her.

“The only thing that sustained me through all the craziness,” she said, “was my twin sister Kara.  You really don’t know what love is until you’ve had a twin.”

The 13th night, Evan met Kara at a gig.  She looked just like Kendra except for something, he didn’t know what, maybe more concern in her brow?  No, that wasn’t it.  A loneliness?  Perhaps.  She was a singer in a country-rock band and looked good onstage, her long, dark hair cascading down her back as she swayed to the music.  In between sets, Kara sat with them and turned down free drinks from her fans.  She had a more fluid way of looking at things than her sister.  He chalked it up to seeing everything through the lens of the music subculture, melody and flow, as opposed to Kendra, who was fluid in a different way, seeing everything through the lens of personality types and decision points.  At one point, Kendra said, “All you need to know about someone is the decisions they’ve made.”

“How did your parents tell you apart?”  Evan asked.

“There are differences,” Kendra said, then added with an unexpected bite, “but I’m not going to get into that.”

Kendra made it sound like he was asking their breast sizes or something.

During the course of the evening, over the course of a few beers and three sets, Evan studied them both.  Obviously, the original blueprint had been the same, but along the way, some developmental variation had crept in.

 

The 16th night was a Tuesday.  Evan and Kendra were in bed at his place when he pointed out his journal on the bedside table.  He was proud of his writing, and so he read to her something he had written about her.

She’s like the smart kid in class whose intelligence is beautiful and mysterious.

She accepted the compliment with a humble smile.

The next morning when Evan left for work, Kendra was still asleep.  Smiling at her in her slumber, he decided he couldn’t disturb her even to kiss her.

The 19th night was a surprise.  While sitting in a sidewalk café, Kendra became quiet.  After a few minutes, she emerged from wherever she had been.

“I read your journal,” she finally said.  “I read the part where you wondered if you had chosen the right twin.”

Evan stared at her.  He didn’t know what to say.  It sounded like she was confessing to an indiscretion, but that wasn’t the tone of voice she was using; there was no repentance in it.

“I read the part where you questioned whether you had chosen the right twin?  Where you wondered if we made love in the same way?”

Kendra’s voice was steely and cold like Evan had never heard it before.

“Why did you do that?”  he finally asked.

“Do what?”

“Read it.”

“Jesus Christ.  You wanted me to read it.  You read to me from it.  And in the morning, you left it right there.  It was a total setup.”

Evan was stunned.  Kendra was the therapist, so maybe she knew something about his intentions, he didn’t know.

By the 23rd night, Evan was going through a certain amount of withdrawal.  Sitting at his kitchen table eating a 20% discount pizza alone and listening to some stupid podcast about spies, he suddenly spoke out loud.

“You’re not supposed to read another person’s journal.  They didn’t teach you that in shrink school?”

On the 24th night, Evan finally got ahold of Kendra on the phone and she didn’t hang up.  At first, she was cold, but after he mentioned that he still felt that she was beautiful and mysterious, her reserve melted away.

“I miss you at night,” she said.

“I miss you, too.”

The rest of the conversation rested on apology.  Evan didn’t apologize, even though he knew she wanted him to.  It was a standoff, like two gunslingers standing in the middle of a dusty Texas town, their hands resting on their pistols.

“Goodbye,” she finally said.

Evan wondered if she meant goodbye or goodnight.  He wondered if she was finally firing her pistol.

“Goodbye,” he said, firing back.

IMG_6187b smaller detail

The 25th night, Evan got a call from Kara.  She was in tears.

“My sister isn’t talking to me,” she said.  “We talk every day, but for the last eight days, she’s refused all my calls.  I don’t know what’s the matter.”

The 27th night, Evan asked Kara at what point she had been attracted to him.  He looked into her big brown eyes, which somehow seemed bigger and prettier than Kendra’s.  It was like being with Kendra, but at the same time, not.  Kara smiled gently.  She stroked his chest.

“I’ve always hated my sister,” she said, “and she’s always hated me.”

 

The above story is chapter 1 of an ongoing piece of fiction.  Chapter 2 is here.

If  you like this fiction, you’ll like David’s newly published enovel, What Happens to Us.  Download it onto your Kindle for only $3.99.  Click here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU

Cover What Happens 1d

Read excerpts from the novel here:

https://whathappenstous.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/a-moment-of-stunning-and-naked-honesty/

https://whathappenstous.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=272&action=edit

https://whathappenstous.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/getting-alcoholism/

To Kiss a Stranger

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.

Patrice and David kissing NYears Eve 1a smallerBut if a stranger kisses you, the moment might haunt you for years.  It might be considered a crime, either harassment or worse.  Your emotional reaction might be repulsion, panic, or even violence.

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.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/15/bob-filner-guilty_n_4101496.html

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.”

Cover What Happens 1d

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

I’m Beautiful. Buy Me Something.

As a teen, I didn’t have much luck with girls.  Part of it was that I didn’t come from a line of glib conversationalists.  I didn’t dress snappily.  I used words like snappily.  I focused mostly on studies.  For Friday-night fun, I belonged to a Christian youth group, which might best be thought of as a group prophylactic.

Once, I called up a girl named Barb who sat in front of me in Physics who was smart, pretty, and deliciously cynical.  I asked her if she wanted to be my girlfriend.

Graduation photo 1b smallerThere was a long silence, and then her voice changed.

“The problem,” she said “is that I have a lot of schoolwork this semester, and….”  Blah blah blah.

One day, I was rummaging through my mother’s mementos and discovered an old photograph that intrigued me.  It was a picture of my mother’s old high school friend Betty.  She was devastatingly pretty.  I couldn’t take my eyes off her.  I imagined that she came from fascinating parents with interesting pasts.  Maybe they had been aristocracy in Mexico before the revolution, and then lost everything with the onslaught of Pancho Villa’s army.  I imagined that he was a European Languages scholar or a rancher.  There was a twinkle in her eye that seemed to imply she and all her people knew things I didn’t.

Betty 1aIn college, I continued my long tradition of striking out with women.  Sometimes, I thought it might be because I never wanted women who wanted me.  In some way, it seemed to imply that they didn’t deserve me.  That was a pattern that happened again and again.

“You’re too intense,” my friend Michael said.  “You should loosen up a bit.”

One of the few times I smoked dope, I lost track of time.  I wandered around in a tunnel of timelessness.  Looked down at my feet and saw my 7-year-old bare feet.  Had a profound revelation that implied exactly the same thing Michael had advised: Loosen up.  Never forget this lesson.  It will transform you.  It is the answer to everything.

I was high for three days afterwards, but after I sobered up, it still seemed like a good strategy.  One day in my senior year, I interpreted loosening up as getting drunk.  It had worked for Hemingway, Chandler, and my father’s favorite author, Thorne Smith.

“He wrote the Topper novels,” my Dad said.  “They say he couldn’t write unless he was drunk.  He wrote a novel about a man who marries a witch.  They turned it into Bewitched.

They say that I threw up on my date.  They say that she jumped up, screamed, then ran outside and jumped into the pool.  I didn’t end up with that girl, either.

A few years later, Chloe was a very different kind of beauty.  She was a blonde beauty who did everything with grace.  She seemed to float through life on a cloud of I’m Beautiful and Nothing Else Matters.  There was an angel motif in her apartment.  As we began dating, I tried to get to know her, but very soon, it became clear that it was like trying to get to know a brick wall.  We took long walks and I used my journalistic interviewing skills on her.

“What’s your first memory?” I asked.

Patrice and David kissing NYears Eve 1a smallerIt took 20 minutes to get there, but she finally came out with it.

“I was four years old and I remember a lamp flying across the room.”

But not much else was forthcoming, and when I tried to push it, she became angry.

Liquor had no part in that relationship, but dysfunction did.  It finally foundered when I discovered, nine months after the fact, that I had been The Other Man when we had first started dating.  Soon, it became clear that she was playing both of us.  And that was the end of that.

Five years later, I got together with Claire.  She didn’t have that cold, forbidding beauty, but instead, an alert-eyed, ever-present beauty that doesn’t attempt to game you.  I’ve had to train myself that cold beauty is usually a mask for lamps flying across the living room.  There seems to be a direct mathematical relationship between the amount of makeup a woman wears and her degree of manipulativeness.  Claire’s beauty walks down the stairs in flats and looks you straight in the eye.  Claire’s beauty says Hi, not Buy me something.  Claire’s beauty is that she’s always present, always open, always loving to everyone and everything.

IMG_0759c smallerYears later, I can finally say that I’ve mastered this loosening up thing, and without ever drinking.  I’ve never thrown up on Claire.  In fact, yesterday Claire asked me if I wanted to have a beer with her.

“I’ll have a sip of yours,” I said.

“I was afraid you’d say that,” she said.

“It’s empty calories.”

“I know.”

Beer doesn’t transform me, I’ve realized, it just transforms my waistline.

Recently, when leaving a Thai restaurant, she waved at the aquarium.

“What were you doing?” I asked.

“Waving at the fish,” she said.

“Why?”

“I just wanted them to feel acknowledged.”

(In a way, this very post is like me waving at Claire, the fish in the aquarium: “Fish Girl, you are acknowledged.”)

Once, I was talking with a married male friend and we saw a poster of a superhot Sports Illustrated model.

“Yeah, she may be as sexy as hell,” he admitted, “but somewhere, some poor guy is putting up with her sh*t,” he said.

Betty, I’ve been told by my mother, got married to her high school boyfriend and they had a family.  Once the kids were grown, she was so demanding, selfish, and arbitrary that her husband left her.  Surprisingly, none of her children even wanted to be around her.  Christmas and other holidays are now spent alone in her big old house.  She’s miserable with everyone.  She’s in her eighties now.  She never gets out.  But once, she was very, very pretty.