I apologize for my unexpected hiatus and my lack of updates. A funny thing happened when I left New York after school ended: I lost my inspiration. I'm originally from New Jersey, and I spend my summers at the shore. Being by the beach usually conjures up a lot of inspiration for me, but this summer it failed to. Also, I felt like my writing was something that I had done for me, and if I didn't feel like tapping into my creativity, then it wasn't worth doing. As many writers know, you have to be in a certain state of mind to write a story. Something has to blindside you, like a breeze that carries the scent of a sweet from your childhood, or a photograph that makes you think a different way, even if it's only for a second. I wasn't finding that anywhere. Luckily, about a week ago, I was blindsided after reading a terrific book called Smart Girls Like Me by Diane Vadino. It inspired me to pick up a story that I had begun writing just before I left New York. My writer friend Francis (which is what everyone calls him, but I call him Alex) had read the first part and urged me to continue. I couldn't until after this book.
So at long last, here is my story. Hopefully the proverbial creative juices will continue to flow and more will follow. If not, there's only three weeks until I return to New York.
My shrink told me to write you a letter, to tell you how I feel about all the shit that’s gone down the past few months. That alone is embarrassing. I can see you in our kitchen, just sitting at that dilapidated kitchen table you picked up on the side of the road and so lovingly restored, just sitting there with a cigarette between your fingers, shaking your head and taunting me: A fucking shrink, Louise? A fucking shrink?
Yes, I need a fucking shrink. I’m not like you; I can’t just pluck a few cords on a guitar, drink straight tequila and deal. I need to talk. Most relationships are based upon talking, but ours was never like that. I bet I couldn’t fill a one-subject notebook with all the words that passed between us while we were together. Yet we somehow knew more about each other than most people. Like I know that when you were 12, you were making out with Georgia Flannery behind a 7-11 and her father caught you. I also know that he chased you back to your house wielding his belt above his head, swinging it just close enough that the buckle made a whoosh sound next to your ear.
But that’s a verbal story. I could fill a five-subject notebook with stories about what goes on behind your eyes. I could publish novels based solely on the way you’d kiss me in the morning before I was even fully awake and the journeys your fingers made up and down my naked back. Ours was a love based on moments strung together by hand with emotions, like those ropes of popcorn we decorated our plastic red Christmas tree with in the middle of summer.
It was the most fulfilling, realistic, complete relationship I’d ever been it. It was also heart wrenching, twisted, blemished, rage-filled and nauseating. There were nights I would cry myself to sleep because I didn’t know where you were, where we were, what we were, what you wanted us to be or how we were going to pay our bills. But then I’d wake up with your curly hair in my face and know, somehow, that this was right. That we’d make it work, fill in the holes and sew up the tears. It would work. It had to work.
The way we met wasn’t glamorous or romantic like you read in thick paperback novels. I worked at an ice cream place on the boardwalk; you loved medium vanilla cones with rainbow sprinkles. The first time you stopped by, I fell in love with your big, crooked fingers that floated in front of your chest, waiting for your change. The second time you stopped by, I fell in love with your witty, sarcastic humor that I hoped you were putting on for me. The third time you stopped by, you asked for my number and waited around till closing. We drank 40 ounces on the beach. Our first date. We barely spoke, a foreshadowing of the relationship to come, but we spent the whole night lying on our backs and tracing constellation. Every once in a while, I’d feel those big crooked fingers wiggling through the sand, hesitating on whether or not to take the plunge and lace between mine. You told me you dabbled in photography and that you’d love to take my picture. I figured you were either a pornographer or the love of my life. I gave you a chance.
Our second date. You picked me up in your yellow Chevrolet Caprice from the 70’s that you had found on the side of the road and breathed new life into. I had a big Christmas bag filled with yellowing lace slips and oversized loafers. We drove to a junkyard and I changed in your backseat while you sat on the hood and smoked a cigarette. We spent the day taking pictures: me on a couch that was growing springs, me in a rusted out pickup truck, me holding an umbrella with holes like Swiss cheese.
With every click of the camera’s shutter I felt bits and pieces of my soul transplanting themselves in you. I was scared out of my mind, but I was drunk off the very idea of you. I knew in that instant that I would never be whole again if you ever left me. The truth is, no one truly understand that feeling until they’re standing in front of the person who has so neatly and completely embezzled their heart. No, not just their heart. Their entire being.
We were inseparable. It was only a matter of weeks before I moved into your place. Of course you would live in a trailer. It would be impossible for you to even think about maintaining a home. But I didn’t care. Our lives quickly meshed into one another, and before I knew it I was eating mashed potatoes with hot sauce, like you, and you were clipping your toe nails over the toilet, like me. We bought a cat and named him Tiddly Winks. He slept on a doll’s bed next to ours. You and I fell into a routine. I quit my job at the ice cream stand and started working at an antique store in Point. All day, I’d sort through old dresses and jewelry and spatulas and coloring books. I started taking old black and white photos of babies in basinets and big Italian weddings, framing them and hanging them around our house. We pretended they were our family, since we really had none: Aunt Madge, cousin Hector, grandma Natty. But we didn’t need a family. We had each other.
You got work at a furniture store and worked on restorations. I’d love rubbing your callused fingers after a long day at work. I loved you, and you loved me. You spent your days smoothing over cracks and imperfections in tables and chairs. But it was only a matter of time before our own cracks and imperfections started to show. We tried to smooth them over. But they were a little more stubborn. Your paychecks were minimal, which didn’t make sense because you worked 15-hour days. The nights we used to spend together watching Land of the Lost and drinking white wine started to dwindle. You’d come home, shower and go out. I didn’t think to ask you where you were going. Sometimes when you’d come home, your lips would be chapped. I tried to smooth over the cracks. I loved you so much.
The first night I woke up to you cooking crack in the kitchen, I wanted to die. Your eyes had been looking distant, and I wanted you to love me again. But you were just sitting in the kitchen, cooking crack. Next to the pan of uneaten lasagna I had made for dinner. I felt stupid, standing in your Metallica t-shirt and bunny slippers. Like I was in middle school again, and we were watching that sex-ed video, and everyone seemed to know what a period was and how a penis gets hard before sex, and I didn’t. You looked at me and gave me a scary smile. Your teeth were yellow. I went back to sleep.
Things got worse. I’d come home to the sickly scent of burnt Brillo pads and know. We’d make love, but it wasn’t like before. It was violent and painful. Sometimes afterwards, I’d look down at the twisted Superman underwear around my ankles and feel like a rape victim. Since I couldn’t hate you, I started to hate myself. I still loved you, and I hated myself for loving you.
I was alone, watching Land of the Lost with white wine the first night you hit me. I don’t even remember the reasoning, but it was quick and I saw streaks of silver. My cheek swelled. I left it like that. A battle wound. I deserved it. I deserved it for loving you. And it made me hate myself more.
The day I knew our relationship had to end was the day I had to charge American cheese to my Visa. The old lady behind the counter looked at me with sad eyes that seemed to say I know. Looking into her eyes, I felt no self-pity. All I could think about was how I never wanted my eyes to look old and tired like that.
I came home and made you grilled cheese, like you’d asked me to. It was one of those stretches of three days where your normal self would return. You’d be loving and attentive and you’d fix the kitchen table chairs you’d broken on your last binge. We’d re-hang the pictures of our imaginary family that’d crashed to the ground the last time you threw me into a wall. I’d make us Hamburger Helper and you’d make love to me like old times. Watching you eat your sandwich from across the table, I started to think, maybe, just maybe, you’d stay this time. I’d help you stay off the drugs, we’d move out of a trailer and into a cottage on the beach, we’d have a babies and name them after J.D. Salinger characters. Life would be good.
With a mouth full of grilled cheese, you looked across the table and said I love you.
I packed up and moved out that night. You were asleep with Tiddly Winks.
It’s been a month. You haven’t tried to look for me. Or if you have, you just haven’t found me yet. Maybe you didn’t even realize I’d left. Maybe you finally overdid it with the drugs. All I know is, I still love you. And I don’t hate myself for it anymore. I know that you love me, too. Maybe one day you’ll come back for good. Maybe the drugs will end. If that day ever comes, I want be here waiting for you. My shrink says that’s not a healthy plan, but I don’t care. I’m perfectly content with spending my days sorting through the rubble of our relationship, wondering what you saw that night on the boardwalk. And why you lost sight of that.
I love you, too.