It’s so damn long ago that I started remembering myself from a movie. Walking around in circles in a widely-striped tan and white turtleneck sweater in the middle of the winter when I was 32. I had that one basic shape. Looking around, confused, nothing to do. I kept looking in mirrors. I didn’t know who I was. It was the middle of winter. I had gone to this place in the country to write. I think. That was the excuse for everything I’d ever done, but also you had been wanting to get away. I found someone walking down the street who had somewhere for us to go away to, his house in the country, out in East Hampton, in Springs where all those old painters went after they lived in New York. You can live there in February. Great.
I went away obediently, waiting for you, and then I learned in a few days about how you were betraying me back in New York, and I howled and screamed on the phone, I cried and cried and then I just walked around. I looked in this mirror and I looked in that. Is this how you start to get old I wondered. There was nothing in me I noticed when I looked at my face in the mirror. I think I never thought of anyone as mine before, so betrayal had not been possible until this moment.
Friends are always that, some kind of door that people can’t open themselves and then you come along easily doing the thing that is stuck.
My friend David couldn’t have been happier that I had landed here in this little house in the middle of winter. It was his hometown, this place, and he was going to tell me all about his life there, he would take me out for a ride in my friend’s truck which I was unable to drive because it was a standard, a stick people in New York say. I had been living in New York for eight years then but I still secretly thought in the language of Boston, or maybe even of my family, and in my family a car was a standard. And my mother didn’t like to drive it and I didn’t either. We took this blue truck out on the snowy streets and we had booze in our laps, beers and probably a pint of something or other, and we had our cigarettes, and David would narrate the streets for me as if one looked different from the rest. They were all windy and curly and tree-laden, and he was proud of his town because his family had lived here for generations and he was practically an old man and I for some reason was one of David’s favorite people in the world and he had taken time off from work in New York to show me around. I was always dreading David’s company a little bit because he talked and talked and he barely seemed to notice if you were listening or not, he was so happy you were there, someone that he liked as much as he liked me. I was a door. Friends are always that, some kind of door that people can’t open themselves and then you come along easily doing the thing that is stuck or you look like someone else, someone they lost and they’ve been dying to open that door for years. Here I am. I would berate myself, I often do, for my passivity. I am so interested in what other people want. I practically have my fangs hanging out over their appetite. Either mine is very small or so hidden because it was crushed time and again, so I only like secret and invisible things that are mine, absolutely totally and utterly mine like the secret world in which I write. It looks just like this world, but that’s what’s so perfect about my work. I set up a little world that is just little broken perfect slabs of the world we know, but in these perfect broken pieces that are mine, I am king. Not half king, but whole king. I breathe the world I know and make and everyone is in it, but I am alone. It is total and cruel. It is a brand of selfishness I am utterly capable of. Otherwise I will give you my shirt or my chair. Even my body. But this one thing is absolutely mine and if it is a thing you care about I completely shine, and I shined for David like that and he wanted it. So David would do anything for me. Loan me my rent, feed me, always always always bring me booze, kill me with it, but because he wanted it he married me. And I had no choice about that.
In this moment of him visiting—because he was a man in his late forties who was just about to start seriously dying of alcoholism—what it meant was that I would hear him shitting his guts out in the morning and I would hate him so much because I didn’t do that yet, not lately, and he would come out grinning and make some gruff joke about the brown coming down and suggest we start drinking immediately. But what he did early in the morning was even weirder. He would make me a cup of strong milky coffee with tons of sugar. And he would put a powdered donut on a plate right near it. He had probably been up all night, or maybe I had slept with him. It seemed to me I had been asleep forever, and he was up to no good, far away from me, being an alcoholic, but probably he was right next to me, probably had been fucking me just a little bit before—I didn’t remember and now he was enacting a drama from the early part of his life. He smiled and explained that his grandfather on the Edwards side was a fisherman and he would get up very early but he always made coffee for his wife. She liked it like this, he smiled, with three sugars and a sweet roll very much like this, maybe this is the one because the grandfather might have bought it from the same Springs general store. I just looked at his drunk red face in the morning light and of course the lamp next to the bed was on so I could clearly see my fisherman’s wife breakfast and I just thought oh god and went to sleep for another four hours and he was traipsing in the woods by then and I dumped the coffee down the sink and I threw that donut out.
But David was gone. This was Monday or Tuesday. He was off at work. Everyone in the world had a job or a purpose. I was someone, I knew that, but I couldn’t make out who.
I like living in my hole, usually. But tonight I traveled to the Birches.
I got on Mark’s old bike and rode up to that bar he showed me. If you get really desperate you can have a drink in there. The bartender’s name was Jerry. He owes me a favor, Mark winked. Everyone owed Mark a favor. For a long time I thought he knew everyone in New York. I’d go hang out with him the first year I was in town when I’d hang out with anyone. We’d be marching up steps and Mark would grin his little grin and we’d sit down on some green couch and usually there’d be electric guitars hanging around. Are they in a band, I asked as we headed down the stairs. No he smiled his quiet smile barely a word. I spent a lot of time talking with girlfriends who I thought hated me—she knows I’m a lesbian, I thought. Mark was a coke dealer. I can’t remember when I finally figured that out. It was like the big gaping hole in a lot of people. Like someone would teach and have a loft and have a lot of friends but there was just this extra thing like a private joke. Where does he get all his money, I asked, because I was just figuring out that some people are rich and some are not. People would raise their eyebrows and look away. It was never like one person was a dealer. Everyone was a dealer. I was probably the only person that didn’t know. Which was always the way I was special. Maybe the poet part was just a thing I put on the not knowing. Probably some poets know, but their poetry’s different. Mine is the work of one who doesn’t know. Even when I leave somebody, I’m later informed, no you got dumped.
I like living in my hole, usually. But tonight I traveled to the Birches. I was wearing these corduroy pants, probably the last ones I ever wore because all future ones reminded me of these, the last. I stole them out of his girlfriend’s closet, these grey Fiorucci jeans. They fit me really good. I guess maybe the sweater was hers too. I’m not sure. What I have is time.
It was deep blue riding down the street, deep blue through the trees. Snow on the ground. I had just finished the last of the scotch David left. Then I drank half a beer. I looked at Mark’s note and figured I could probably get his friend to give me some drinks. I had $3.75 I had scrounged around the house. They had a big bowl of change on the floor too but so far only Chris had taken from that. I would do it later. I was dull, dumb. The world was so much more beautiful than me. I wish I could ride forever instead of having to go to the Birches. I stepped in the bar and noticed immediately that I was the only woman in there. I knew what to do. Nothing. Hi Jerry, I’m Eileen, I’m Mark’s friend. He wiped his hand and leaned forward giving me his hairy paw. The hockey game was on. He was handsome. Hey I’m kind of in a jam, I’m waiting for a check and it hasn’t come and maybe since you know Mark I could get a couple a drinks on credit. He took this in the way bartenders turn to stone so you don’t know where your words went. He gave me his arm then he gave me his back, then he turned again, handing me a five-dollar bill. This was a very limited yes. But no bartender can stand the sight of a woman unable to drink and drink and drink. At a certain point in her life a woman is good for business or even just keeps the night interesting. So he would tap on the bar erratically and say this one’s on me. Then I would look at him like stone. Because male desire is predictable as alcoholism. She’ll drink anything. He’d fuck anyone. It’s a true story.