sidebrow

from A Book of One Hundred Days



Day Three


I wake up in a panic. I can’t remember my worth—will I always be alone? I want V, but of course V’s not for me either. I run to the kitchen and call B, bursting tears. But what I’m looking for is a spiritual guide. I pace between my couch and red writing table in my living room and wish for the tenth time this morning that I could have Jesus. Why does everyone get to have Jesus but me? If I had Jesus I wouldn’t feel alone, if I had Jesus he would carry me through these mornings, hoist me up or maybe he’d hang me over his shoulder, if I had Jesus I would hop out of bed and drop to my knees.

I guess I could drop to my knees anyway.

I drop to my knees in front of the unread stack of New Yorkers on the coffee table and ask god to help me get over myself and to give me the faith to take good care of two kittens.

The gray is out, green trees up against gray sky, the air full of rain.

I can’t grasp anymore, I can’t force.

Sheets of rain slick up 15th street. B talks about Sylvia Plath and we disagree about the structure of emotions. I say anger is a secondary emotion, perched on top of pain and fear and hurt. She says Plath suicided because she turned her anger on herself, Bell Jar isn’t a very good book oh but some amazing poems if you don’t despise catharsis.


My neighbor comes out of his studio cocoon across the hall. We never talk because he is inside himself. He is packed in gel. Sometimes on my walk to work down Market Street I walk behind him and we don’t speak but I send him human love and he knows I’m there. Or at least I imagine he knows I’m there. His legs turn out as he walks and he has small hips. He is small all over and he has curly sandy-blonde hair, and he has eyes but I can’t see them. The faded tape on his mailbox says his name is Andrew. Once I tried to send him a touch like in the German movie Wings of Desire when Peter Falk touched those in despair. I stared at Andrew’s back and wove a spell: may Andrew feel loved today, may Andrew not feel alone today. This could be extreme arrogance.

These are my kittens, I say. I introduce him to Spot who has no spots and Fido who looks nothing like a Fido and he bends down and wiggles his fingers.

Hello, he says.Hello.Kitty.Kitty.

I stare at him. Spot and Fido stare at him. I wish they would climb on Andrew and kiss his face, I wish they would leap into his arms and purr, but they back off and puff and spit. Andrew’s fingers begin to look ridiculous in the air so I throw their mouse out into the hall and they forget about dissing Andrew. I start to babble about how I’m trying to increase their territory and Andrew backs off into his apartment like he’s trying to get away from me.



Day Nine


I miss V, now thirty-two days gone, cigarette in her mouth, glaring at me—why would I miss someone glaring?

The truth about love is that we need it. I wake up and run to the kitchen to call B and then G and then S, and I cry and blow my nose. Later, after teaching undergraduates about epiphanies (rain again), I sit on the gray carpet and lay my nose against my knee and realize I don’t want to be in a relationship. I want family, I want community, I want interdependence, intimacy, security. But I don’t want sex or the expectation of salvation that sex brings up for me.

One day V and I went to the aquarium in Monterey and stood before the glory of jellyfish, floating orange plasma, the water passing through the film. I want that kind of spaciousness, the wind blowing through my skin. Green.

A Latina woman pushing a blue stroller, the baby sucking on a bottle, swinging her legs, being moved to the park. A man on a bicycle, pasty skinned, pedaling across the intersection ignoring the cars as if two tons of metal couldn’t hurt him—is that high self esteem or low self esteem?

The truth about romantic love is that it has little to do with peace or security. This is what I tell myself over and over. Security is illusion, my third therapist keeps teaching me. Peace comes from inside. People change, people die. The people I hate will die and the people I love will die and the people I don’t care about or know or think I’m better than or who think they’re better than me will change and die.

Jim Moe says god can take him anytime. This when we’re in a truck tootling out to Marin for catered food and he won’t put on his seat belt. But, I say, are you ready to live in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic for the rest of your life? Oh, he says. That.



Day Ten


Why am I so confused about the living and the dead? And identities? Terry Gross is talking to Roy Rogers on the radio. But I don’t think it’s the horse guy, because he’s dead, isn’t he?

I used to mix up Roy Rogers with Ronald Reagan. When the latter was running for president I kept thinking Roy Rogers was running and I couldn’t understand how he got to be a presidential candidate. I remember sitting in a broken recliner at Cole’s house out in Newton Valley, Wisconsin, the wood stove cranking out heat—we could have worn bathing suits in the middle of winter—and Sparky drove up in his truck full of electrical wire and marijuana lathes and burst in and announced tearfully that Ronald Reagan had won. We’d all voted for some wild independent radical. Sparky sat on the piano bench, which was unaccompanied by piano, and wept and said this was bad enough but if George Bush ever got to be president he was moving to Panajachel.

That winter, while chopping and stacking wood, I kept picturing the president of the United States on a white horse, throwing a lasso. Like so much of life in my twenties I just didn’t understand the requirements.

This Roy Rogers on the radio is dedicating his song to all the women who own bars.




Day Eleven


Last night during the French movie sitting next to S, who looked like a Spice Girl in gold satin pants and pink leotard, I started fantasizing that I had been raped and badly injured, maybe knifed, maybe beaten—but that was not the point. The mechanism of injury was not the fantasy.

Andrew is hauling something out of his room again.

The fantasy was post injury. I was in the hospital and people were visiting me: B and G and S, who in the theater was eating popcorn and taking cow-eyed, concerned looks at me for no reason. In the fantasy, my friends hovered over me and whispered to each other: Our Nona...how will she go on...we love her so. People coalesced in worry about me. (Maybe T will show up, long lost T—surely S will call T—is that what I want?)

The point was I lay in my hospital bed looking out from unspeakable, unquestionable grief.

Then I wrote about it, and this was in the fantasy too, I wrote: This is the story I have to tell. I wish it weren’t my story. I don’t know how to tell this story. But this is the story inside me. And now it will be inside you.

Andrew has closed his door.

S leaned into me and asked did I want some more popcorn and I must have looked forlorn because she put her hand on the back of my head and I could feel all her silver rings. The French man fell in love with his own fiction like only the French (and this narrator) can.

Maybe I could just get hit by a car.

A longing to give upheaval, rising tension—a thermonuclear reaction.

A longing for an earned state of grace. To be a protozoa.

Or jellyfish.



Day Eighteen


Clifden Moth, earwig, true bug, ant yellow mother, cockroach, house cricket, glowworm, bush cricket, dragonfly, walking stick, squash bug, ground beetle, goat moth, leaf hopper, rove beetle, true bug, tiger moth, ground bug, praying mantis, checkered beetle, honey bee, ladybug, weevil, human flea, horsefly, dragonfly, fire bug, diving beetle, stag beetle, homet, caddis fly, longhorn beetle.


Two Mormon boys wearing backpacks walk toward Guerrero. They look clean, nice. They appear to have no grit or irony. One of them seems, for a moment, to offer a promise of sullenness, a slack in his walk, the hem of his pressed blue pants almost touching the sidewalk, but I think it’s just his shoe isn’t fitting him right.



Day Twenty-two


Yesterday, while walking home from the Castro, I had a premonition: I am going to run into someone I know.

In the intersection of 16th street and Market I saw V, and V saw me, and I thought Ah, the fulfillment of the prophecy.

V looked happy to see me—her face woke up and she tipped onto the balls of her feet—oh, hello—as if I were her personal discovery. It has been thirty-six days since we broke up; we were together for a year.

She was still tall. She looks like a gangly, broad-shouldered teenager, or a muscular Patti Smith on the Horses album, her choppy black hair wagging in her angular face. I had forgotten how, when her hazel eyes, black eyebrows and smooth Irish/Canadian skin all fall together, she’s lovely. She can be ugly too, the blunt jaw and sharpness and fear take over. V is like one of those psychology illusion pictures: princess/witch, princess/witch.

How are you? I asked.

Oh, I’m fine, she said. Hey, my sister got a goat. She laughed and fanned her long fingers at each side of her head. It has little goat ears and a little goat mouth. I got to feed it a bottle, just like in the movies, you know, Heidi or something. She laughed again—it made me happy to see V laughing.

Two months ago she would have come back to my apartment and we’d have fucked in our jeans on the couch, these prehistoric sounds coming out of my throat—who knew those sounds were in me? V made me marvel at my own body; I thought anyone who could elicit such primal music would save me from something, the everyday I guess. Once, we talked about adopting kittens and buying a house together, and then my imperceptible unhappiness evolved into gross unhappiness. A week before I started this project, I adopted Spot and Fido on my own.

V lit a cigarette but did not give me her strong glare—only this far away, disappointed look across Market Street as smoke drifted between the gap in her front teeth. I was sorry to see her smoking again, but I said nothing, because it would only make her mad.

In Harvest Market I bought a ginger beer, then I walked to Petpourri and bought Spot and Fido a crocheted ball stuffed with catnip. At home I tied the ball to a piece of white string (the one that was hanging from the track light on the ceiling) and dragged the ball into the kitchen. The kittens chased it. I dragged the ball into the bedroom. I dragged the ball from one end of my home to the other until the string let go and the ball flew off and got lost in all my junk under the bed. Then I propped pillows on my couch, read student papers, and stared out the dirty windows.

The wild, renegade parakeets are squawking in the palm trees on Dolores, and on 15th Street a young man breaks into ballsy gospel at the top of his lungs. He flings his arms into the air.

V is still in love with me, which makes me feel sad, but also happy. And for a moment, while I lie on the couch surrounded by student papers, I feel a bloating. An irresponsible, iridescent shine.



Day Twenty-three


Dr. Richter looks like Beethoven with his saucer of wavy dark hair and broad Jewish German forehead, except Dr. Richter exudes a youthful earnestness that makes him seem translucent. He grins and says, Call me Gary, which makes me like him.

He looks into Spot’s eyes and purrs. She allows Dr. Richter to rest his chin on her head and probe for lumps and irregularities. He listens to her heart with his stethoscope and tells me she sounds good. Then he does the same with Fido, who falls into his hands as if she were warm clay. But when he takes the kittens’ temperatures, Fido, who is usually the more passive one, fights harder than Spot, and Dr. Richter instructs me to immobilize her torso by placing my hands and forearms along her sides like a splint.

It reminds me of holding calves for my father while he branded their hind ends, the calf bucking its head and bellowing into my chest. Dr. Richter says good, that’s good, in a soothing, melodic voice, and for just a moment I imagine Dr. Richter is my father and we are in a dark, hay-filled barn.

On my walk home up Dolores in the sun, while Spot presses her nose out the carry-box holes and Fido hides in a corner, I think about the surprising softness of Dr. Richter’s hands, how his knuckles are so beautifully couched in baby fat.