~ A Lexicon for the Sunday Morning Sleeper ~
by Vivian Darkbloom
Uber or Not, Here I Come!: This is a companion piece to the story "A Narcoleptic's Guide to Romance." It might be a good idea to read "Narcoleptic" first before proceeding here. Not that I'm telling you what to do. Okay, I am telling you what to do. Anyway, the story is mine, don't do anything like post it somewhere else under your name, because my avenging angel, LN James, still has an evil coin hat somewhere & she is not afraid to use it: "Behold, heathens, I dwell in the land of the Midwest; fear my polite, well-mannered wrath lest I, with my coin hat, smite thy sorry asses" (James 5000:273).
Here's the Thing: This story touches upon the events of 9/11. (None of the main characters die, so don't get your labia in a twist. Oh geez, I just spoiled all over myself, didn't I?) There are no big graphic traumatic descriptions of that day, but if the mere thought of 9/11 still wigs you out (which I can understand), give this a pass.
The Humpty-Dumpty Award: For gov, who meticulously picked apart sentences so that I could put them together again. If it still reads like shit, blame me.
Love & Other Catastrophes: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Lexicon for the Sunday Morning Sleeper
ALPHA. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (Revelations 22:13). See City; Revelations; September 11.
ANGEL. So James had dragged me to yet another fundraiser-this one at your mother's home. Knowing my hatred of crowds, he was ridiculously reassuring: "There'll be only fifty people." This wasn't much in the way of comfort for me; it was like saying there would only be fifty vipers in the pit. Fifty people fueled by alcohol and crammed into yet another too exquisite house, their dull questions jabbing me like cattle prods.
Once we arrived, the crowd seemed more like a thousand. I was sweating and swooning against Leo for support, secretly appalled at myself for seeking comfort from him as he muttered, "Whaddya doin'?" (see Leo)-even though it was evident I was doing nothing more horrifying than panicking. I walked away from him; he called my name; I opened a door. And then, you know what happens, you saw it there that night, the very I stepped through the doorway: cataplexy, a condition that can last 30 seconds or several hours.
When I awoke I was in a room drenched with firelight-your mother's "office." I was on a couch, hearing voices (here's a perfect opening for you to make a crack, Danny); one of them-distinctly, unfortunately-was Leo. When I craned my neck to see who was talking and laughing with him, I saw you-gilt-edged and beautiful, male and female, fierce and gentle, like all the best angels. Alpha and Omega.
BABYLON. "?Thus with violence will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down, and will be found no more at all" (Revelations 18:21). (See City; see September 11.)
I equated Babylon with your city, New York. (See City.) To your credit, you were amused by this. I doubt you still are.
CELLO. This is the instrument you played. You started off with violin when you were young; a few years later, when you expressed a desire to take up the cello, your teacher pooh-poohed this, thinking it ridiculous and impossible that a little girl like you could handle such a big instrument. Naturally, this infuriated you and so you switched anyway; the cello-and later, I gather, the viola da gamba-became your first passions ("You have left your first love"-Revelations 2:4). You had rough fingers from years of playing it and muscles in your arms from years of dragging it around, but you don't play in public anymore-why? You wouldn't play for me when I asked. Is it that you really don't think you're good enough, or that you wanted to withhold this part of yourself from me?
The cello was your dream girl, you said: Tall, dark, handsome, with curves to die for, inspired only by the beautiful provocation, the sweet, dark persuasion of your touch. This is how you made me jealous of an inanimate object. (See also Music; see also Viola.)
CITY. "Your city is being destroyed," my mother said, when she called me the morning of September 11th. (See September 11.) I immediately replied-in my mind-that it wasn't my city, it was yours, it was always yours.
The city is a woman: "The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth" (Revelations 17:18). And like a woman, it is easily misunderstood, it presents its mysteries with such matter-of-factness that many accept them with at face value and with little scrutiny. (See Women.)
The city is you: "Walk the city. That's the only way you'll ever understand it. It's the only way you'll ever love it," you said. Even when you weren't dragging me to illegal chicken markets in East Harlem or for walks along Riverside Drive-which harbored its own music in the rustle of leaves echoing the soft swishes of passersby, the murmur of traffic mimicking the quiet rush of the Hudson-or through the narrow glutted streets of the Lower East Side, I walked it by myself, even downtown's frightening, wide caverns, now filled with ghosts. I like to walk at night-an inherently dangerous activity, but cheaper than having a cab drive me around until the pills wear off, until I reach that state of fatigue where I can at least feign sleep. (See Nocturnal; see Pills.)
And this morning-around 7, well before you usually wake- I walked past your brownstone. I looked up at your window. (See ZZZZZ?.)
DIRTY LITTLE SECRET. "You're the only story that I never told/You're my dirty little secret, wanna keep you so." You went through a phase of listening to a song with these lyrics-I've blocked out the name of the singer, another one of those short angry women-and you would sing (in your sad tuneless way-see Ukulele) these lyrics to me with your usual mockery. But you were right: You were my dirty little secret. Did I want to keep you that way? More importantly, did you want me to keep you that way?
DRINKING. It wasn't that you drank a lot. You just drank at the wrong times: your mother's multifarious social events, your NYU graduation, your sister's wedding, your father's engagement party in Rome. You paid dearly for that last one, didn't you? You ended up on your knees in the bathroom-not throwing up, as one might predict, but instead servicing the woman who would become your father's wife. (See Sabine.)
EARRINGS. When we first met (see Angel; see Leo), it did not occur to me that you had been drinking (see Drinking) until you strutted across the study and it became apparent-the smell of liquor crowned you like a nimbus. You were a Dionysus, drunkenly sumptuous.
You stood in front of me and as I sat mesmerized by the glint of the silver ring on your middle finger, you pushed aside a sheaf of my hair. "Nice earrings."
And so we began, utterly banal. Not that I blame you. Someone had to start it and after all is said and done, I am a coward (see also Leo).
I overcompensated for my abject attitude with rudeness. "Thank you. Are you drunk?"
The earrings were sapphires set in silver, a gift from James.
EAST VILLAGE. This was where you first kissed me. I'm not sure exactly what street we were on-it was one of those busy streets, maybe it was Houston? Or St. Marks? Wherever it was, we had a clear view of the Chrysler Building. You said it was your favorite building. It was also a romantic symbol of all those things New York is supposed to be. You had been holding my hand as we walked around and I didn't mind; I could pretend it was mere friendship and nothing else. I'd seen the way you hugged Saul and Bart, the way you kissed them-you were always affectionate. (See Friends; see Past Tense.) And you were always doing weird things like stopping in the middle of the street to make me look at a building or a sign that I didn't care about (see City), sometimes at the risk of personal safety: Remember the woman who lived in what was once Montgomery Clift's brownstone (somewhere in the east 60s, I recall), how angry she got when we stopped in the front of the building, pointing? Much to your amusement my poor-girl instincts made me claim the toaster she threw out the window at us (and you were right, it didn't work anymore, if it ever did).
And so that night I didn't think twice about it when you, o tender linebacker (I blame James when I use these sports metaphors), suddenly blocked me from moving forward.
"Look." I followed the direction of your cloudy breath. "There's the Chrysler Building."
"It's pretty," I murmured.
"Pretty?" You were incredulous. "Just pretty? It's beautiful."
"Yes, beautiful." I was trying not to look at you. You were still pushing against me, and I pushed back. "I'm cold, Danny. Let's go."
You wouldn't budge. "Do I have to tell you the history of that building?"
"Please don't. The history of the Empire State Building was bad enough." I didn't need to hear more tragic stories about strapping young men making fatal missteps on steel beams and leaving behind widows and children. But I stopped pushing and started giggling.
You steered us into a dark doorway, festooned with whorls of day-glo graffiti. People walked by, unconcerned. You could have been a mugger or a murderer, but fortunately for me you were intent on one thing and-should I confess to you now that I knew what you were going to do and wanted you to do it?-and you took my face into your hands and kissed me: your lips soft and cold, your tongue warm. In the form of one whispered request, you breathed life into my mouth: "Come home with me." (See X-Rated.)
I could not look at you, but I felt the weight of your patience, your persistence, and so I could not refuse you either.
Was Bart somewhere nearby, taking a shot? (See Photograph.)
FOUR HORSEMEN. "Four Horsemen. Four Planes. It makes perfect sense. There is a symmetry in it that is unexplained and it has the hand of God in it. You will at least admit that much to me, won't you?" This is my mother, speaking to me on September 11th. (See Mothers; see September 11.)
FORGIVING. The act of forgiveness is a selfish thing. I wanted you too much, I wanted your happiness as well; to not forgive you anything would mean denying you-to myself.
FRIENDS. Unlike your mother (see Judith; see Mothers), your friends didn't like me much. Saul-an old friend of your mother's-always overprotective of you-tolerated me. I think he may have worked up a fondness for me until I made that comment about his business (see Ukulele). Bart openly detested me-his vision of a major Republican Party scandal and world revolution dashed upon the rocky, deceptive slope of your slapstick heart. (See Photograph.)
FUCK. Your favorite four-lettered word. Your most blessed activity. Your religion. (See also X-Rated..)
GOD. Why did God put you in my path? Perhaps so that I could no longer ignore the complacency with which I accepted my faith? There were always limitations to my belief, uncertainties that lingered, questions unanswered. Were you the missing variable? Would you take me higher? It seems as if I have always been searching for this, since the start:
I was seven. On one of the first days of Bible School, the teacher asked who wanted to accept Jesus into their heart. Like an errant theatergoer crashing into a play and almost forsaking the usher, I eagerly volunteered to be rushed into this chamber of holiness.
So the teacher took our small cadre of the faithful-four students including me-out into the hall to pray, forsaking the heathens in the classrooms who were partaking of what passed for arts & crafts in the school: gluing yarn onto tin cans.
I might have sought solace from Satan himself to escape that.
In the hall, I prayed. In my mind I pictured myself running to Him. But He was, as always, elusive, distant, a shadow of a man buried in light. I prayed so hard I got a headache and started to hyperventilate.
Instead of thinking I was ill, the teacher was happy: "You did it, didn't you?" she had asked me. "The Savior is in your heart now, isn't he?"
Ashamed, I nodded.
Many years later, I told the story to James: "You went about it all wrong," he said, with his typically calm certainty. "You couldn't go to Him. He was supposed to come to you. I hate to use a sports metaphor, Katie, I know you hate them [and he also knew I hated to be called "Katie" too but did it anyway-you never did this, another point in your favor] but it's like when you're playing football, and you're waiting for the right moment when the ball is thrown to you. You always have to be receptive. You must be wide open."
While, as usual, he missed the point I was trying to make, he did chalk up a good one of his own. But when have I ever been wide open, except with you?
HABIT. I've stolen your habits, Danny. I don't have much else to remember you by.
I watch TV with no sound on, like you used to. I've convinced myself that it helps me fall asleep. There is something comforting about it, about the way images flick by like crowded subway cars, filled with shapes and colors yet devoid of meaning no matter how much I search or attempt impositions-fanciful in their desperateness-of my own. Frequently I am lulled through the night by the quiet, steadfast glow of the TV, a garish compass, a folding star.
HESTON, CHARLTON. You thought you could do a good impression of him. You couldn't. (See also Omega Man.)
HONEY. You liked to call me this. You also said I tasted like honey. This was one of your more touching lies.
ITALY. Your estranged father lives here with his French wife (see Sabine). (More specifically, they live in Rome, but I so desperately needed an "I" entry.) You used to like Italy; you used to like France for that matter, until sleeping with your stepmother ruined it all. You hate your father for his blindness to the incident, you hate her for seducing you, you hate yourself for succumbing to the temptation. I think you even hated me because I was willing to accept you regardless of your part in this. (See Forgiving.)
JAMES. This was the man I was supposed to marry. I couldn't marry him, but I couldn't love you. (See September 11.) He found it surprisingly easy to let me go. Yesterday I saw a photo of him with the new fiancée: She's blonde and thin. Perhaps Bart will have better success using her to engineer the downfall of the Republican Party (see Photograph)-Leo tells me she's partial to cocaine.
JUDGMENT. As my mother said, if I am damned, they will find me. I'm not quite certain who "they" are. So far the only judgment I've endured is James's: When finally confronted with my relationship with you (for the record, Leo told him), he slapped me. I was exhilarated; relief poured out of me. We are always waiting to be judged, I think, and then to be forgiven, if not by God, then by someone willing and foolish enough to stand in His place. (See Forgiving.)
JUDITH. The mother you despise. (See Mothers.) Whenever you spoke her name (and I never heard you call her by anything but her first name) your voice crackled like fire, your anger the tinder that fed the flames. Are you angry because she did not save you from your baser instincts? (See Sabine.) Or that she has never accepted who you are? And by that I don't mean your homosexuality, I mean the fact you are your father's daughter-a hedonist, one of those careless people like Daisy and Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. You remind Judith too much of your father-the man who abandoned her, who needed to put an entire continent between himself and her.
Judith once said to me, about you: "She cares for you." Here she paused, taking in her own sense of wonder at this, "I never thought she would care for anyone."
KISSED. Whenever you kissed me, I forgot God.
LEAVING. It's hard to "leave" someone when they live in the same city. God knows I've tried. I'll probably walk by your brownstone again tonight, on my evening tour of Manhattan (see Nocturnal).
LEO. James's personal assistant. "Irretrievably cowardly," as James describes him; yet I was terrified of him. It had something to do with his accent. (More than New York itself, I hate how they tawk in New York.) His favorite question to ask me-no matter where we were, no matter how obvious my actions-was, "Whaddya doin'?" Like a centerfielder bounding here and there across the vast open space of my terrified mind, the braying, elastic cadences of his speech covered a plethora of emotional territory. In this example, the first syllable (wha) rose to eerie menace and teetered on the promise of bodily harm. The next two syllables continued that implicit threat, the very drop of the tone sinking in tenterhooks of insinuation. And the final word-doing-was stretched out on a rack of desperation like a heretic before the Inquisition, in an apparent last-ditch attempt to ream confession out of me.
Leo was coming on to you when I first saw you. (See Angel.) I woke up on the couch in your mother's study and had no idea where I was. The first thing I heard was laughter-yours. Then Leo spoke. Even in an attempt at undertone, his voice barreled across the room. "Can I get your number?"
You were still laughing, and the huskily rich timbre of this laugh indicated that you weren't the usual bimbo with implants that caught Leo's eye. "No."
"You sound like a two-year-old."
"Yeah. I'm a fuckin' two-year-old. I'm the horniest fuckin' two-year-old you've ever seen. Come on, I deserve an answer at least, don't I? I deserve an answer."
"Don't take it personally."
"Oh, shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. Here it comes-"
"I mean, really, it's not you, it's me."
"There it is! Oh yeah. Shit. It's always bad news when a chick says that."
Another laugh. "You're not encouraging me to open up to you, Leo."
"I'm sorry, really. I'm sorry. Talk to me, Danny. Tell me about yourself. I wanna know everything about you. I already know that you got money-at least your old lady does-and you don't like it. You don't like having the money but you don't like it that she has the money either. You're the poor little rich girl."
Sometimes Leo did not know when to shut up.
"Wow, Leo, has our fifty-minute hour begun?"
"Come on." This was another Leoism-quintessential New York, two syllables, the ultimate expression of disdain and impatience: caaaa-maaaaaan.
"Look: I'm not into guys. Okay?"
Leo cleared his throat. "Sure. Sure, I understand. You want your girlfriend in on it too."
LOVE. Since I never had the courage to say "I love you"-to you or anyone else for that matter-I don't believe I have the right to pontificate about it.
MOTHERS. Mine: A religious fanatic who has not left her house in seven years and thinks bar codes are Satan's way of inventorying humanity. (She once described a Wal-Mart as the Devil's Warehouse.) Yours: A control freak extraordinaire, power-hungry and manipulative.
I'd like to get them together sometime. (See also Judith.)
MUSIC. You weren't exactly a prodigy; nonetheless, at the age of five, Judith shoved a violin in your hands and paid a bow-tied, sweater-vested repressed homosexual to teach you how to play it. Your mother showed me the pictures: a tousled-haired tomboy brandishing a bow like a weapon. She was proud of this civilizing touch upon her little wild child, who watched Daktari reruns and carried a Planet of the Apes lunchbox (see Heston, Charlton; see Omega Man).
Why did you stop playing? Why didn't you pursue that career? Saul, who knows you better than anyone, said it was because you thought you weren't good enough: "It was either be the new Yo-Yo Ma or nothing." Why did you paint yourself into such a corner?
NARCOLEPSY. An entry I'd like to skip, but it hardly seems fair. Everyone knows it as the sleeping disease. Yet I feel robbed of the true state of sleep; I am denied dreaming. (See Nocturnal; see Sleeper.)
NEW YORK. See Babylon; see City.
NOCTURNAL. "This deep world of darkness do we dread?" (Milton, Paradise Lost)
What kind of thing, what kind of person, becomes alive at night? The night holds a different truth for those who really live in it, who have failed to fit in the daytime world. They are swathed in darkness and jeweled light. They are the misfits and it's no wonder I feel at home among them. I've fallen out of grace-with God, with you, with James-and so here I am.
NOVA SCOTIA. This was where your rerouted plane touched down on September 11th. Was it Halifax?
It took hours of tremendous effort to get this piece of information out of Saul. At first that day, the phones weren't working properly-people could call me, but I could not call out. You weren't answering your phone. And when I finally managed to reach Saul, he hung up as soon as he recognized my voice. Subsequent times I got his voice mail. Finally, I walked downtown to his apartment building in Chelsea. I rang his buzzer. When he heard my voice on the intercom, he ignored it. I rang the buzzer repeatedly, half-expected a toaster to come flying out at me. (See City.) I took breaks from ringing the buzzer by sitting on the stoop and watching waves of dazed people migrating north: men in shirtsleeves carrying jackets, women limping along without their high heels. Some of them were anointed with the white dust of death and destruction. I thought of Ash Wednesday, how so many people walk around the city with a dark smudge on their foreheads; perhaps this dust, so white, so fine, represented a new penitence for us all.
Sunset tinted this new world a peculiar shade of vermilion. The clouds were still thick in the sky. Saul came out of the building and sat with me on the stoop. He was quiet for a few minutes.
"She's all right. She was in London, visiting Mary." Mary was your old college roommate-a former lover, now happily married. "The flight was supposed to land at Laguardia this morning, but they rerouted it to Nova Scotia." He paused. "She doesn't know when she'll get back." Finally his eyes met mine and at last I understood why you always prized his honesty, that toughness rimmed with a kind of tenderness: "You look like shit. Stop crying. Go home."
Before I could thank him, he went back inside.
OMEGA MAN. This was a terrible movie that you made me watch, something from the early 1970s with wildly inappropriate, slithering organ music during many a pointless motorcycle chase sequence. You thought I would appreciate the quasi-Christian symbolism of it all: Charlton Heston as a Christ figure, saving a post-apocalyptic world from itself. You started calling me "Omega Woman." It was funny only once.
PAST TENSE. Why do I write of you in the past tense? Are you really that dead to me? Do you want me to be?
PHOTOGRAPH. The first time you saw me was in a photograph.
Your friend Bart (see Friends) is a freelance photographer; apparently he took a picture of James and me at some fundraiser. I never remember these things because I am usually scared to death of having an episode (and I usually do, as you well know; see Leo) and I detest these claustrophobic gatherings anyway.
Bart fancies himself some sort of guerilla left-wing activist, I know. His idea was to have you seduce me so he could photograph us in some compromising position-a brilliant, ready-made scandal: The Republican candidate's girlfriend cheats on him with another woman! How shocking! If Bart had really known what he was doing, he would have known that such an elaborate setup was highly unnecessary: The corruption of the Party hides in plain sight. There is always an easier way.
You were game, of course; you saw my photo, thought I was pretty, figured it would be easy enough to manipulate me-"especially when I found about the narcolepsy," you added-but you didn't count on developing feelings for me. Of course, you played it down when you eventually confessed it to me, as if it had been a massive joke, a put-on of sorts, another one of Bart's half-baked schemes. (Is he still campaigning to have New York recognized as a city-state, like an American version of Vatican City?)
PILLS. Ever since I found out what I suffered from was narcolepsy-I was 23 and just beginning graduate school-pills have followed in the merry wake of that diagnosis. The latest prescription is for Ritalin. The problem now is that I am too awake and I really can't sleep at all. I find myself wandering around New York much as I did when I first came here. (See City.)
QUATREFOIL. It's unpleasantly ironic that the church James and I attended in New York was St. Bartholomew's-St. Bart's, as it was called, always reminding me of your decidedly un-saintlike Bart. (See Friends; see Photograph.)
It's a beautiful space for worship, almost too beautiful-I would lose myself in the design, my eyes caressed arch and column as if I had built the church myself. It's another failing, this loss of faith-if I ever really had it. (See God; see Nocturnal.) The language of the architecture reflects the innate, organic beauty of the church, as if they were obscure body parts, components of a voice box or larynx: The apse. The narthex. And the quatrefoils-my favorite detail: Dainty, scrolled lobes, four-leaved clovers traced within arched, stain-glass windows. Within the quatrefoils' blossoms I always found possibility-of accepting your love, of reviving my faith, of finding what made sense for me in this world.
The last time I was there, it was a Sunday service. We always spent our Sundays apart, you and I. I indulged in the fiction that was my life and you slept in, waking up just shy of noon and spending a couple hours nursing a cup of coffee while arguing with Saul over whether or not you would go out for brunch.
It was a Sunday service-the Sunday before September 11th. I was lost within the curve of a quatrefoil and trying to find my way back, trying not to wish that the hand entwined with mine was yours and not James's, when suddenly he blurted aloud (but not too loud), "Love."
The parishioners around us tried assiduously to ignore the strange outburst. Who dares speak of "love" in a church?
He lowered his voice, cloaked with sadness. "You still love her. You must."
"I never said that I did."
"You don't have to."
This was the one time when he got the point. As you might say, Danny, it was a hell of a time to finally figure it out.
REVELATIONS. See Alpha; see Four Horsemen; see September 11.
RICH. You and James had that in common. I was living off ramen noodles and tuna-and seriously contemplating a sampler of dog & cat food-when I met him and he paid for my last year of graduate school. Have you ever had to think about money in your life?
SABINE. Your French stepmother, a mere two years older. You slept with her (four times, although I must ask, does oral sex in a bathroom count as "sleeping with"? The proper sexual terminology eludes me) while she was engaged to your father. No doubt Saul described her best: "A miserable chain-smoking Frog, a walking vagina dentata pickled in Campari who would fuck mud for a new pair of pumps." Your laughter dovetailed into a wince when he said this; I'm sure he didn't really mean to compare you to mud-but please tell me you never bought her shoes, Danny. (See Friends.)
SEPTEMBER 11. When the phone rang that morning, I had no idea who it was, or why they would be calling. James, Leo, practically everyone called me on a cell phone and not the penthouse's regular phone. The phone's loud, shrill ring woke me out of a stupor and I imagined my heart rattling and railing against my rib cage as a convict might do to the bars of his cell: Let me out. I ain't guilty, I done nothin' wrong, see?
"It's here. It's come to us at last."
Talking to my mother is always like this, like being plunged into the world of the TV once you turn it on and start randomly changing channels. Nothing makes sense initially, but as you go through each channel and return to the first one, eventually a tortured pattern emerges out of the incoherent fragments and you can follow the ruptured lines of thought, a cracked kind of narrative becomes available.
"Kate? Are you there?"
The temptation to hang up existed. "Yes."
"You're alive. You've been spared. But you must get out of there. It's happening. It's happening right now."
I coughed into the receiver.
"You remember when we read it. Don't you? Of course, of course you must, I read it to you so many times because I wanted you to be prepared for this moment. I tried so hard to prepare you, but I don't know-I don't know if I have. I don't know if you've read it since then, but judgment will come to all, judgment will come, it doesn't matter where you are, if you leave, and if you are damned, they will find you."
I could say nothing.
"Do you remember Revelations?" The voice sharper now, demanding.
"Yes," I repeated. Mother isn't a Baptist but she has practiced her own version of Call-and-Response ever since I was tumbling about in the womb.
"Did you see it happen?"
I pictured my mother standing by the phone in the kitchen wearing her dirty old powder blue slippers, the color edging into the twilight of worn phantom gray, and twisting the goldenrod phone cord around fingers gnarled with arthritis-as if it were rosary beads. (My Catholic-phobic mother-firmly believing that nuns hoarded guns in rectories throughout the world-would detest this image.)
"Did you see it? Do you see now, what is happening?"
I looked at the TV. There was an infomercial on for something called "The Crusher" and I hit a button on the remote repeatedly as stations flew by, not stopping until one image started to dominate: a smoking hole in a very large, very familiar building. A large building only a couple miles away.
I walked to the window and pried open the Venetian blinds that faced downtown. A massive gray cloud hovered above the southern tip of the city, unfurling into the bright blue sky.
"Do you see?" my mother repeated.
My fingers twitched against the blinds, like antennae recognizing the change in air. And my mother was there to usher in this new reality, whispering it low and breathless against my ear: "The apocalypse is here."
All I could think about was you.
SLEEPER. As you well might expect, I've divided the world into two kinds of people: Those who sleep well-whose sleep is more or less untroubled and unperturbed by illness, nightmares, weak bladders, and neuroses-and those who don't. The former group I've dubbed, quite predictably I'm afraid, Sleepers. I can always tell the two apart; I've spent entire social events idly picking the Sleepers out of a crowd. Sometimes you can smell it on them-the scent is not unlike freshly baked bread, this quiet fermenting of life and spirit that, I imagine, is true sleep.
You, of course, were a Sleeper.
THIGH. But sometimes when I lay beside you, unable to sleep, I would hear your breathing shift and I knew then you were half-awake, and that you knew I wasn't sleeping; you would lay your hand on my thigh as if it were some sort of offering, an invitation not necessarily for sex but comfort. This was persuasion enough-more than words-that you loved me.
TITANIC. "Jesus Christ, Kate, you hit the floor so hard, like the fuckin' Titanic, I thought you were dead. I thought, how the hell am I gonna explain this to James?" This was what Leo said to me after you both noticed I was awake and sitting up on the couch in your mother's den. These words accompanied your movement toward me as I sat there stupid and numb upon the couch, and as such I recall them fondly, as if they were a sacred song. (See Angel; see Earrings.)
UKULELE. Saul had one in his wretched shop (what you call an "Antique Store" in Manhattan is known as a "Junk Shop" where I come from; unfortunately Saul did not appreciate this distinction). Imagine my astonishment-for this was long before I knew much of your complicated history (see Music)-when one afternoon you plucked it off the wall and started playing it. You sang off-key-you may have been a wonderful musician but could not sing to save your own life-"Alabama Bound" except you replaced Alabama with North Dakota in honor of my home state.
VIBRATION. The strings under your fingers, my body against your mouth. (See X-Rated.)
VIOLA. You kept a viola da gamba under your bed.
One morning I picked my jeans off the floor by the bed and a deluge of change poured out from a pocket. I was on my hands and knees clawing quarters off the parquet when I saw the lovely scrolled head of the instrument jutting toward daylight, trying to escape the darkness and the dust bunnies.
You padded into the room and suddenly your bare feet were beside me. "Kate?" Razor stubble rose and fell with the flexing of your calves. "What are you doing?"
I pointed under the bed. "This thing here. Why is it here?"
"Oh." You knelt beside me. "It's a viola." Then shrugged. "Viola da gamba-treble." This was muttered, as if you were embarrassed, as if you thought it so insignificant it wasn't worth mentioning, particularly to me, the person who thinks an oboe sounds like a recorder.
This was the corpse under the bed, a husk of your past life: I now possessed new information about you and you were evasive about it. This was your dirty little secret (see Dirty Little Secret): that once upon a time you cared genuinely, passionately, for something other than women, sex, money, and martinis. (See Music.) Up until this point you had been cavalier about it: "Why'd you stop playing?" "Got tired of carrying the damn thing around."
Then I saw the viola there, shunted away like porn.
"It shouldn't?really be kept like that, should it?"
You were already up and walking away. "They can always make another one."
When you were alone, did you take it out, regretfully, dust it off, and play?
WOMEN. Once I asked you why you liked women. You said because they were "interesting." Then (not fishing for a compliment) I asked if I was interesting. After you were done chortling for a good five minutes, you said that I took the cake, whatever that meant.
It's strange but ever since I've left your bed, I've felt devoid of whatever defining characteristics that I believed were the basis of my womanhood. Perhaps because now, more than ever, I hover, nebulous, between what people expect of me and what I think and feel. Women aren't supposed to love other women, this was what I was taught, so it's easier for me to pretend I'm not one.
X-RATED. That night we first made love, we took a cab to your apartment (see East Village). It wasn't far away, but the cold and the gravitas, the immediacy of our undertaking, compelled it. In the dark of the backseat, you held my hand; it seemed subversively erotic, to touch like this, in this public space, so close to a stranger.
I had no idea what would follow.
I didn't enjoy it. First, there was the vulnerability of being naked-no one had ever looked at me the way you did-your eyes writing screeds of me to memory. Then there was the loss of self in orgasm. (I'd never had one before.) And I didn't like that you kissed me afterwards and I could taste myself on your lips. Later I tolerated it. Then I liked it. Then I would demand your mouth on mine as soon as you were done, as soon as I came, if only so I could touch your face, so I could bask in the ethereal steam that emanated, unseen, from the dampness of your cheeks, the soft burn of your lips.
Additionally, I've never enjoyed being in situations where I didn't know what I was doing, and God knows I hadn't the faintest clue about what to do with your body. My hand wandered along your hip until you guided it-here, touch me here-and when your belly rippled with pleasure and your eyelids wavered like a flag caught in a sudden wind I knew, then, it was a sacred thing to be inside you. (See Your Body.)
YOUR BODY. My aching wish to know that body was a slender thread embedded in me that, if pulled, threatened my undoing.
Your body was a wondrous deception. For an entire season-that hard winter of 2000, you remember?-you were swathed in layers. Undershirts, short t-shirts, long t-shirts, sweaters, short jackets, long johns, a parka. You were like an onion. I had expected androgynous splendor, always hoping that the masculine elements in you pointed toward some subliminal desire for a man. Instead you rewarded me, robustly, with curves: full breasts and wicked hips. You kept a woman's body hidden under your boy clothes, under those baggy corduroys and sagging sweaters.
ZZZZZZ?.Here it is, the Omega, the letter that represents that elusive, regretful, erratic state that I simultaneously crave and loathe. It's the sound of sleep, a nonexistent note on a musical scale. I think you are playing this note right now: It's Sunday morning, the time of thick newspapers and churchbells, of half-emptied cups of coffee growing cold, of dogwalkers in the park, of you curled among your bedsheets, in the inviolate sleepers' world, with each soft breath, blissfully unaware.
The Athenaeum's Scroll Archive