TBIF, friends. In honor of the coming weekend–which for me will probably be sub-par, because I always place my expectations too high–below is another chapter from my widely-panned and thoroughly disappointing first novel, The Suburbs of Babylon. The first 9 and 1/2 chapters can be found elsewhere on this site…
In the absence of security, I made my way into the night. Stupid Cupid keeps on
calling me, but I see nothing in his eyes.—George Michael
I’ll tell you how I met the girl.
She was in the mall.
Ironically, she had been working at the very Gap where I would eventually stand peering across at the bebe girl, only pretending not to feel the nostalgia that tried to close in around me, whispering her name. Maybe that’s why bebe girl became so potent. Some kind of static transfer or boosting of feeling brought on by the lingering aura of the loveliest creature I’d ever known as I stood there between the denim and corduroy, hearing the phantom rustling of her pant leg, the cool tap of step that would eventually grow into a familiar symphony of love for my unsettled heart.
I remember what it was like to lay eyes on her for the first time, watching her at a distance as she folded sweater after sweatshirt, tucking jeans and straightening hangers. Every movement signaled a growing truth—each turn and reach and flip of her hair (lips slightly parted, jaw line pronounced above a lilting neck that screamed to be kissed) sent an imaginary peg into its corresponding-shaped hole in the child’s game (Perfection!) of my life. Delicate hands fall upon a t-shirt, a star slides into its slot. Finger reaches to put a stray strand of hair behind her ear, circle fills a respective void. Eyes casually meet mine across a rack of chambray, heart shape fits down with a resounding thud. Heavy sound.
Following that is a blur—somewhere is a smile, accompanied by a word on my part that came effortlessly on a fluke, which was the fact that I was caught so off guard by it all that I had no time to think it through, which would surely have ruined the whole thing. I told myself I’d seduced her, but now looking back, I think is was she who lured me in. She sensed a weakness in me, something she could take advantage of.
What ensued was a pinkish daydream of brief contacts over a series of days giving way to phone calls (I don’t recall how I got her number. I don’t remember asking) and finally a trembling, culminating, zenith-kiss in a lonely park one night, amid rustling trees, under winking stars, an event so anticipated by us both that it nearly swept us away. And with a start like that, I was sure it was all as it should be. (Never mind the alarms going off in the back of my head.)
What has expired up until this point, or rather what I have resuscitated, has been a kind of staggering through and failing to grasp the rational, until recently when the real has folded in on itself as if, in stumbling down the stairway that is my life, I somehow lost the feeling of the steps and managed instead to find—nothing. Limbo. “Leap, and the net will appear.”
The state that I was in with Jane was, in my bet estimation, Happiness. It is confusing right now to say exactly what it was, since my ideals and illusions about her and what Love existed between us have been thoroughly deconstructed. It is difficult now to say whether “H” and “L” were self-deceptions, temporary mercies, or truths lost in Jane’s search for her elusive self. She has no idea, so to ask her would be pointless. Moreover, she would interpret that as an attempt to undermine her goal of brainwashing me out of her life. At any rate, the minutes tick by. I watch the clock. Jane pursues her quest. I wonder what she has found.
* * *
Jane possesses such beauty that I disbelieve its profound existence when I am away from her, and am continually surprised and stupefied when I lay eyes on her again. She is so perfectly constructed that I would become giddy in her presence. I think that’s partly why I hesitated to believe in what I thought might be (whisper this–) Love and (scoff at this–) Happiness. I never fully accepted that she was real. I always assumed that she would one day leave, as any astoundingly beautiful woman would do, when she realized that every man in the world would kill to be with her. Which she eventually did, now treating me as though I am fodder beneath her feet, helping her to grow and then ceasing to be useful. I struggle with her new self, in contrast to the lover she briefly portrayed and who I wanted her to be, the one who treated me so wonderfully that I felt I was finally complete. Now though, I wonder if that was just a dream. The flippant cruelty she wields now can reach unreal proportions at times. The only thing I can do is dismiss it as her desperate fight to weave a life-lie, to bury me with her hope and love, as I represent the closest she has come to it and failed.
People ask why I love her. Why her? Of all the amazing women in the world, why does this poor thing, this lost little girl, receive the gift I give, a thing she rejects? I have no answer. I just do. I have never been more at peace than when she was with me, living a partnership, filling in what was missing all the time I’ve been alive. The only time my hunger ceased, the only time my heart felt a reason to exist. It could be that I saw myself in her—her inner solitude, her desperation to find peace of heart and mind. Her feeling that her life has no bearing on the world. Perhaps I think what we give to each other will create meaning for us—she of course does not agree. For her there will never be meaning. Only the search for relief from the thoughts in her head.
Now I fill in the void with transitory things. But I might as well be on a respirator. I am walking dead, a vegetable. Someone should just pull the plug. Not just because Jane is gone. It’s not that small an idea. I’ve just been barking up the wrong tree this whole time. Like taking a lifetime to walk a maze, only to find out you’ve spent twenty years going the wrong direction, and to turn back now and try another route would just take too long, and for what? To go another twenty and find that that way was wrong as well? I’d rather not play. Stop the game. I want to get out.”
Although I hate re-reading this manuscript, I do enjoy the snippets where the central character (me) struggles to fill voids caused by loneliness, heartbreak, and despair, because I can now contrast that angst with my current state–a state of total bliss in what is nothing short of Paradise on Earth: Thailand.