When I asked you what you did, I’m sure you told me how you made a living, but what stuck with me from the beginning was the writing. You were always writing something and talking about writing something else and had conducted a few workshops affiliated with that writers’ association of western this or southern that. But it was the play – the one you’d written with your friend Mike – the one that had gone on to be produced in New York City– that really caught my attention. I think at first you threw it out into the conversation as part of your plan to get into my pants because after that had been achieved and you’d established that I was quite wildly devoted to you, you played it down. I’d ask you about the play: What was its title? (Oh, I don’t know, something about skeletal remains – but it was bad)…What was it about? (I don’t remember – but it was bad) …Did you see the production? (No, it was bad.)…What was it based on – anything real? (I don’t think so, it was so bad)…Are you sure you don’t have a copy of it? I would love to read it. (It was bad, K, it’s gone)…Does your old writing partner have a copy of it? (No way, it was terrible, let it go).
As I write this a manila envelope rests on the desk next to me containing what might be the only copy left of that terrible play – Human Skeletal Remains – written in 1984 and produced in NYC on July 29, 1986. I received it a few days ago – more than a year after your death. Would it surprise you that I finally got my hands on it? Would it surprise you to know that Mike and I are friends now or did you have a hand in that? He put that idea into my head and I’m attached to it.
So finally, I can read the play. I only wish that at some point over the years you’d said something like, “You’ll read that awful play over my dead body, K.” That would make this more fun.
Mike was here last week, drawn to Manhattan after an intense reconnection with his teen-aged love. He was here and immersed in the depths of this surreal romance – the kind that makes you write poetry – love poetry – and in the weeks leading up to his visit, he spoke about this love of his in a language I knew so well that at times I would close his emails and cry for all that I’d lost. We were going to get together, your old writing partner and me, on the Sunday morning before he left town. I was torn. One minute I wanted desperately to be in their proximity – hoping that I might vicariously recapture that buzzy feeling in my head and the warmth in my stomach; to dwell again for the briefest moment in that cloud of ours. And the next minute I found myself completely petrified by these lovers who now possessed this thing I’d once had. I didn’t think I could handle being a bystander and I backed out.
Mike returned to Colorado and now he writes, as you know Mike does. The man is a machine and a genius, you did not overstate it, and he’s writing this love story of his.
And I’m struggling with how to tell ours. I’m using this space to hash it out, but find myself frustrated and perplexed by how almost everything I’ve written here feels littered with regret, loss, and pain. Where is the wonder? There was really so much more good than bad, more laughter than tears – sitting on the phone line in splendid silences, nights spent sleeping softly against you wishing dawn to stay away, our book club for two (I’m so pissed you died before we got to Lolita and Sabbath’s Theater, you kind of hogged all the picks with Vonnegut), reunion kissing…even the goodbye kisses were sweet in their own way. Why doesn’t any of this show up in these lines?
I remember very clearly one night I was on the phone with you, in bed in my apartment in the middle of the night. It was one of our marathon calls during which we’d sit on the line for hours, our communication coming in tides that slipped from casual conversation about my journalism professor or your coworker before fading out to quiet — the only sounds on the line our breath. I’d close my eyes and bite my bottom lip, running my fingers along your favorite spot, that concave bit of flesh between the rise of my pelvic bone and ribs ( I still do that), waiting for the first command that would melt me. Under your direction my body would open up completely and my mind would bail. You’d take your time until I was begging you for release and then you’d take even more time until I was pleading and crying and you’d say, “Give it to me.” And then it was like being transported and I would cry your name as I worked through it and all along you’d whisper “I love you, I need you, I love you, I need you.” My God, even writing about it now, with my office door open and my assistant 20 feet away I’m aware that my breathing has changed, assuming that rhythm only you could produce, and I’m chewing on my bottom lip. Old habits die hard.
Mike and I joke about how you used the writer thing to get chicks. But on second thought…it was definitely not the writing. If you were alive you’d be amused by the fortune that this terrible writer is making with her BDSM novels that are softened versions of our sexual exploits. We could have been rich if we’d had an inkling the rest of America was as twisted as we were.
Anyway, that night on the phone I was recovering from my second or third orgasm and our conversation had turned to writing when I asked why you never wrote about us. You confessed that you did – all the time – but that it never came out right. That we did not translate to paper; you said you were incapable of producing anything more than “one unflattering portrayal after another.”
Do I look fat in your prose? I joked.
You told me to hold on and then you emailed me an example — an excerpt of something you’d been working on. I pulled out my giant Dell laptop and read.
She was probably one of the toughest chicks I’d ever been around. It was damned odd because she did not pose a physical threat. She was petite and that’s the really nice way of saying it. Fact was, Kris was tiny. Teensy tiny, wearing her black hair long and flowing with the biggest eyes that have ever looked into mine. She wielded a sundress like a weapon and she was careless with her heart. Yet she was or seemed to be so powerful. She had a way of stopping me in mid-step and pushing me back a pace or two. God knows I, and a lot of brighter, braver men than me, were terrified of her.
She was one of those people that just looked like beautiful trouble. One peek and you knew you didn’t want this in your pocket or lit and standing behind you. She was crazy like that and dangerous like that. She crackled and threw sparks when she was just standing in the middle of a room and there were a lot of people who’d been burned by them. Collateral damage, most. Nothing she’d set out to do, they just happened to be in the way when she got started and she didn’t have any way to control it.
But still, I wanted her so fucking badly that I found myself for the first time willing to change. I was anxious to do whatever it might require, bending and twisting and shaping myself to be the one she loved.
I was a silly son-of-a-bitch. Let’s face it. I was doing things that a kid with his head pumped full of pot and fantasies would be likely to do because he didn’t know any better. I still wanted what I wanted so badly that it was worth doing whatever I thought was going to help, no matter how misdirected and wrong I was.
In the case of Kris, I was totally misdirected. She would love me the way a woman loves something fragile. She would love me knowing that most of the attraction was contained in the way she could hold me in her hands to admire, and twist me to break up the beams of light in the lamp, but if and when she was ready, it would all be over as simply as dropping me. Not even thrown. Not even a hard toss toward a solid brick wall or a rock ledge. Just a few feet with the pull of gravity and there’d be nothing left of me. She knew that.
I did not.
I read it a few times and sat quietly with it while you puttered around your house, feeding the fish. I pictured you in your dark living room all full of books, your face illuminated by the light of the fish tank. After a while, you said, “You see? Just doesn’t come out right.”
I was confused. I didn’t understand how you could get it so wrong, this idea that I possessed any power at that point in our relationship let alone all of it. But I think I told you I liked it because there is no talking to you when you’ve made up your mind. And also because I did kind of dig the way I seemed to be this mythical creature – a dangerous, if pint-sized, man-eater instead of the reality: a college girl with daddy issues.
Now as I go back and read over these posts, though, I get it.
It just doesn’t come out right.
But I’ll keep trying.