Sunday, May 31, 2009


No lies. We were in agreement about that. I was afraid of lies, of what he could conceal from me.

We were on the phone the first time it crept in. I was in the small square dorm room with linoleum floor. It was night, late because that’s when the rates went down, after 11pm when everyone else I knew was still easily awake, but I could have been asleep two hours ago.

I am sitting on the floor between small desk and bed, beside the trunk with my stereo on top, the one cool part of my room – this stereo which I only had because by a fluke we had an extra one at home after my father gave up that apartment in Maryland, another futile venture.

Jeffrey was telling me on the phone how he’d spent the afternoon with the girlfriend he’d had before me, the one he’d sliced his wrists for, the one I’d seen black and white photos of – not her face, just a naked blurry breast, an arm, the girl who still went to the same smart-kids college as he did, the one who’d come over during the Dylan concert, who had seemed so at ease, had made Jeffrey laugh right away – that girl.

“Are you jealous?” Jeffrey asked and I said I wasn’t. I held onto I-am-not-jealous with a vicious grip. I must not be jealous.

I am just miserable and sad almost all the time. I don’t say that either. I must, I have to get some kind of life that I can show to Jeffrey, display on a platter – see: I am happy and talented and satisfied.

But there are no people anywhere. I don’t know where other people get their people. Where did they find someone to have coffee with, to walk with? I don’t even know who to sit next to in class.

So I sit alone. Always alone. I make a proud art form out of alone.

I find now and then a man or a boy. I know how to do that. I can fill the space with them. One will always eventually come along and say hello like the one who came when I sat outside on the first sunny warm day. He comes along, he is dark and older than me, a real man and he suggests we go for a stroll and for an afternoon I have company. This is familiar and it feels good to have someone to walk down the sidewalk with, to hold hands with.

Or I can start talking to a boy in class and I can ask him to go get something in the diner with me, and I can corner him into sleeping with me. But is it really possible to have people you like to talk to? People you can call up? I hunger for those, pretend to Jeffrey that I have them, describe whatever friends I do have as greater, hipper than they are.

Because this reality is embarrassing. If he really knew, this love he keeps saying he has for me would not be there. He loves me because he thinks I am someone else. He thinks I am like one of the people in his novel, people who chat and make jokes and know a lot of other people. This is what his life looks like to me, and it’s how he describes his years in high school.

I don’t eat so at least I will be thin. I don’t eat for as long as I can every day. I sit in the Choc Full O’Nuts and have coffee and one of their donuts, crunchy and greasy to perfection. I know how many calories are in that donut. I should not be eating it, it is a failure, but I can’t help it. Jeffrey will never know I was here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I am on a Los Angeles city bus in the morning, going to work where I will type someone else’s letters and answer their phone. On the bus I sit and look out the window. Los Angeles is a city for cars. Every person in this city has a car and they drive it. I don’t have a car. I just got here a few weeks ago.

Jeffrey is at home, still in bed, sleeping. He came to bed hours after I gave up trying to stay awake. He watches television while he cooks, then as we eat, and I go into the bedroom, our only other room, to read. I just don’t want to watch television. I sit on the bed and lean against the wall that has large squares of mirror stuck to it.

Within minutes my eyelids begin to close. I fight it. they close. There is such relief in letting them go down.

The only other thing in the room is a heavy wooden desk with an IBM Selectric typewriter on it. I never heard of anyone having one of these for themselves at home, but Jeffrey went and got himself one. Sometimes he sits at it and types up the screenplay he has written on yellow legal pads with his left hand curled. Sometimes he disappears into writing for a few weeks. I know he is happy and excited when he is writing.

Something in me goes sad, watching him write, because I never do it. I keep wishing and waiting for it to happen but all I see is this apartment, my job in the office building, the bus I ride and the weekends that always disappoint.

I can never wait to leave the office and then the weekend comes and I don’t know if I will survive it.

“You can’t stay awake, can you?” he sneers, passing through the bedroom on his way to the bathroom. I know he sees me as pathetic, he hates me and loves me at the same time.

I go to bed early. I give up. He will be up for hours with television, pot, telephone, stereo. None of these things holds my attention. I slip away every time. I hold on for small amounts of time, sharing whatever it is that absorbs him for as long as I can stand it, and then I slip away, never to a place he wants to come to.

I try again. In the torpor of the afternoon while my boss is in a meeting I make myself write. I am at my bland office desk with its stapler and beige phone. I write on a yellow legal pad too because I like so much how Jeffrey’s look. I make up a story about a man who lives alone. He has pictures of girls – sexy and alluring – stuck on the walls of his room. I imagine him in that room at night, alone. He has no friends. He’s weird, he has no social graces. He is awkward, but I know him. I know exactly how it feels to be him.

So I pretend to be him and I write about how at night the girls come alive. They don’t leave their pictures, but they begin to talk to him. I didn’t know what happens then. I leave the story unfinished. The only part of I know is how it feels to be that man in that story and how there is one place where it is a little easier for him.


Jeffrey has a car. I don’t. Of course I don’t. I don’t have things, and I will never have such a thing as big as a car. I don’t have money and I do not have things. He does. He has from the beginning. In the beginning he had all sorts of things I didn’t: his own apartment – one in Manhattan and one in the town he went to school in. I had to hide that I d did not have things.

I was glad that my parents’ house looked, at least from the outside, a little bit grand. And our first time there – no one else was there so I could sort of pretend I had more independence than I did.

He came in the summertime, for a few days, this boy from the writing class in the college that I went to once a week. He took the train to my town and I picked him up in the green VW station wagon my mother had left for me. She had gone away with my two little sisters to spend a couple weeks in someone’s lake house. It was their vacation and I didn’t have to go. So I had this house and this car and this boy and I could pretend I had more.

We went upstairs to my room with the slanted ceilings at the top of the house and he asked to look at my records. I’d seen his records, cartons of them in red plastic milk crates. I had about ten records. I did not know how people got big record collections like his. One record emptied my wallet – and how to choose, one at a time?

I had one Dylan album though Dylan was my favorite artist. I just waited for his songs to come on the radio, but Jeffrey had all the records and they were beat up and well listened to and he knew which songs were on which album and what order they’d come out in.

I had the great hits double record. I had no idea what album each song came from I just knew all the words.

Jeffrey didn’t have a car then, but a year or two later his uncle passed one his used Mercedes. Jeffrey drove it out to my parents’ house. It was winter time and we had broken up for so many weeks that I had really thought that boyfriend was gone and I felt my heart was ripped out and sad. I had said we had to stop, but I knew if I didn’t say it he would, and that would be worse. How could he stay with me – when he had two ex-girlfriends to my none. When he had friends and so much in his life. I couldn’t bear waiting for him to realize how little I had to offer.

But he came back in the big white boxy Mercedes and picked me up and drove me into Manhattan where now I was going to live in a school dorm, and we went to the movies and we ate dinner in a restaurant and I thought maybe I could have this back, maybe he really would stay with me. He’d been crying hard when he called.

And a few years alter we prepare to drive to California. We live together in an apartment now, a fancy one his family owns and Jeffrey wants to go to Los Angeles where he will become a film director. I am certain this will happen for him. Things like that will not happen for me, but Jeffrey has already written a novel – it is a beautiful thick typed manuscript. It is so gorgeous to look at. I read it. I don’t like it. It is about people I don’t like – people who have a lot of friends, who have lovers easily and are much more blasé than I know how to be. These are the people Jeffrey likes, I think. And I know I’m not like them.

We will drive to California, says Jeffrey. I am going too. What else will I do? There is nothing else I can do. I cannot stay here in New York by myself. This boy, this passion, these words of love and sometimes hate are the only things I value that I have.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


My father and I are in the living room. No one else is there. He is putting on my socks and shoes, yellow ankle socks. He has never done this before. My mother is the one who does this.

It’s a dark living room with dark bookshelves up to the ceiling. I stick one foot out at a time. My father holds first one in his hand, then the other, fitting a yellow ankle sock over each one.

I go to the neighbor’s house. They are two very old people with gray hair. their house is white and dark inside. Sometimes I go there by myself.

In New York City the streets near where I live are very cold and a dark grey color.

Where I work now there is light. The wood of my desk is pale and there is a skylight overhead that lets a lot of sunlight into the room. In summer I have to tie a brightly colored piece of cloth over my desk for shade.

When I walk in New York City that first winter I wear a long brown coat with a hood. I feel like a glamorous fairy tale figure in it. It is perfect and different form anything I have ever seen. My mother bought it for me. We went to Macy’s together. It cost one hundred dollars. It is the most expensive piece of clothing I have ever had.

In Virginia my coat is red red red with white fluff around the hood. It is a ski jacket. My mother calls my coat a ski jacket. I picked it from the Sears catalog and she ordered it. Our house when I am wearing the red ski jacket is large and white with fancy furniture that doesn’t belong to us. There are fields all around the house, sometimes with cows. My mother buys my sister and I two baby chicks at Easter time. One is bright pink, the other bright purple. As the chicks slowly grow up, their bright dyed colors fade to the tips of their feathers, as if the color were washing away. We move again and the chicks don’t come with us.

To get to the house you have to drive up the hill from the main road on a long dirt road. at one point on the drive up you have to go slow over the cattle grid. It is a metal grate set in the road. Cows won’t walk across it because their hooves will get stuck between the bars. The cows belong to someone else. The land, everything, belongs to someone else who I never see. We just live here. We live here twice. We come and go, and come back because my father likes this house. We live in one house in the summer and the big white one in the winter.

In the summer the house we are in is dark and shady and musty and acts like no one has looked after it for a long time. Things don’t work in this house. It’s a bit like camping out. My father sits outside on the grass and drinks a beer there. He eats cantaloupe because it’s not fattening. My father its trying to lose weight. He eats Ry-Vita instead of bread. His stomach is big.

I walk home from school down a road through green woods and I think the whole time about the rabid foxes that all the grown-ups keep talking about. One will come out of the woods any minute. I know it.

My grandfather sits with my father on the grass. My grandfather does not talk much. He looks grouchy and sad almost all the time. Sometimes he cries a little. He is visiting from Hungary. He and I don’t talk to each other because he doesn’t speak English, but I don’t think my grandfather would say much anyway. His wife, my grandmother, talks more, and my father, their son, talks most of all. My father is never quiet. My mother is quiet, as if she can’t think of what to say.

My father buys a reel-to-reel tape recorder while we are in this summer house. He shows it to us in the dark living room. The tape recorder makes him happy. He likes to press its buttons and make it work. No one else touches it. It’s his.

Here too is when I take a test because they want to put me in a different school. My father tells me I have passed the test. He is pleased. This is good.

They want me to leave my school. The one they put me in is newer, more modern. with bright lights and hallways. The school I leave behind is dark with a staircase and kind Mrs. Turner who never gets angry with me. She has brown hair she wears pinned up in a bun. Her desk is at the back of the classroom. The desks are in long rows, one child behind the next. During recess I play jump rope – two girls hold each end, turning the long rope. I stand to the side, getting the rhythm of their turning until in I leap and I am jumping and we yell out PAUL JOHN GEORGE RINGO over and over, and the one that trips you up is the one you are in love with.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole

It is cold and not cold at the same time, the sun moving in and out of clouds, the wind whipping up from time to time, but the colors always extra clear in the moments of strong sunshine – white rock, new green leaves, lilac blossoms fragrant, pale and dark in places.

I walk with Fred, taking it allin. We walk slowly. It is a way to be together. When I am alone I walk quickly – not always at full clip, but I never walk slowly. I never amble.

But in this walk I am content to move differently, to stay connected as we move through the trees on the wide path, other people passing from time to time. Tamar the dog runs ahead, looks back to make sure we’re still there, then runs again. She too is happy to be in a new landscape, one she doesn’t know at all.

“Do you mind walking this slow?” Fred asks. He’s much more fond of this pace than I am. “No, this is good,” I say, and really I am glad to be together here.

I have many memories of this place that I have known for almost 20 years, and as I walk I remember being here with other people – the first time was with my two sisters and my mother. Anasuya brought us here that day, the sister who was living in the ashram then. I had only just moved in. I felt like the younger sister because she was so confident. She knew the ashram, she even knew this beautiful place to bring us to.

As I walk with Fred I remember that day, mostly the photographs we took. My mother wanted photos of all three girls together. Anasuya led the way all day. She had been bossing us around for 15 years since the day she took us by surprise and swallowed a bottle of pills while we were all in the house with her. She scared the hell out of us though none of us knew that.

So we trod carefully around Anasuya. When my mother asked us to pose for the photographs, Anasuya struck a goofy pose and Esther and I followed her lead. I have these photos. I can see my forced smile that is supposed to say I am having fun, that my sisters and I knew how to have fun together. I will go to any extent she asks of me to prove this is true. I don’t care about anything else. I am ready to throw myself away.

As Fred and I are nearing the end of our walk – after we have sat on white rocks and looked out over the whole valley and I have asked Fred to take pictures of me and Tamar, realizing as I ask him that it is new for me to ask for photos, usually I take them.

I don’t want to get to the end of the long oval trail, and I let our pace get even slower. Fred begins to tell me about the book he is reading about a man who almost became a priest and I am so glad that Fred is talking because often I know his mind is full though he isn’t speaking, so I am glad that he is spontaneously telling me about what’s in this book except now we are walking even more slowly and I feel my old impatience rising. I want to go a little faster, but I can’t because I am with Fred I think – and suddenly I am with my father and he is walking much more slowly than me and he is talking at me as if he cannot see me about the book he is reading, and I am pulling inside to race ahead and escape, but I can’t, I must stay here, crawling, and I can’t tell anyone because I am feeling the wrong thing.

Now I want to get to the car immediately. I am tired. I am not interested in the little girl who wants to pet Tamar. I am cold. Fred mentions the color of the water and I respond with a distracted word or tow. I want this all to be over. I want to sit, be warm. I want tea and cake.

“Do you want to walk down to the waterfall?” Fred asks. Another walk? Is he crazy? “I can’t,” I say. “I’m sorry. I’m just suddenly out of energy.”

Fred looks a little disappointed and I feel I am cutting something short, but I don’t know what else to do. We get in the car and Fred asks me to drive down a lane to the side to find the place he parked once in the eighties – I am sure we won’t find what he is looking for, everything is in the wrong place, he keeps saying things I am sure are wrong.

“Why are you objecting to everything I say?” he asks, and I realize maybe it’s not just all him.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I don’t know.”

Sunday, May 10, 2009


My mother had the big bed in her room. She put my baby sister on that bed when it was time to change her diapers. “Watch she doesn’t roll!” she almost sang to me, saying it with the same lilt as if it were a nursery rhyme every time. I knew I was to watch my baby sister and make sure she didn’t roll off the bed for the few moments that my mother left the room.

This was also the room where I stood in my party dress with the stiff petticoat beneath its skirts. My mother’s room was for special things. The narrow closet held her dress-up clothes, the narrow sleeveless dress, a cream colored background, a burgundy pattern, a line-like texture.

This was the room my father was in one morning, in the bed by himself, my mother up long before. My father lies in the messed up sheets. He smells a little sour so I don’t want to get too close. He is happy. He is singing Hungarian songs and wants me to sit on the bed and listen. I don’t like this song he sings. It is sad and slow, but he likes it. The song lasts a long time. I wait and wait for it to be done so I can go.

When my grandmother comes she stays in this room. I walk in one morning and catch her only half-dressed. I laugh at this old lady in her strange bloomers. It is fun to see my grandmother like this. My mother comes in and shushes me and scoots me out of the room as if she were embarrassed.

The stairs that lead downstairs are narrow and steep. They have a brown rubber mat down the middle, covering the middle part of each wooden stair. My sister squeezed the hamster on one of the stairs while I was taking a nap. It was an accident. She didn’t mean to.

My sister has blonde hair and round red cheeks. She is my mother’s child the way I am my father’s. She falls off the tricycle that is mine. It has blue and white long plastic streamers attached to the handlebars and she falls off it and my mother spends the whole night with her because she has cut herself and it hurts a lot. My sister hurts herself often.

We re stuck in this house. My father brings gifts from his trips away. He brings presents that are like magic, sweet perfume from inside his suitcases.

My father teaches me to tie my shoes. He takes me to the bank on Saturday with a silver dollar that we give to the man there. I sit on the counter. He takes me to a house and we buy a blue bicycle form a man there and bring it home, my first one with two wheels that you have to balance on. My father reaches down to the ground and picks up a pale green leaf. He separates the nub in the middle and shows me how now it will stick to my nose. He says that’s what they did when he was little.

My father is home on weekends, outside, in sunshine. Sometimes he pushes a red wheelbarrow that only adults can pick up and push. It looks easy, but I have tried and I can’t do it. Just like I can’t put my foot on the shovel the way my mother does and get it to go into the ground. I show my father my somersaults as he goes by with the red wheelbarrow.

My sister stays near my mother. There is something a little bit wrong with them. I can tell it is my father that people like. I don’t ever want to be like my mother, the way my sister is: shy, they call it, quiet. My mother likes plants. She looks at leaves and birds closely and says their names. There must be something wrong with that. My father simply marches through the outdoors, taking it in with spirit and pleasure, enjoying the scent of the air.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


The living room always had one wall covered with book-filled bookshelves up to the ceiling. They were there when I was little and there again when we returned to the house a decade or so later.

The bookshelves were made of dark wood, not shiny. My father’s books, almost all of them.

I look at those books, my eyes trailing along the spines, during afternoons when the house is quiet and I must find something to do.

I do it a lot in the English house where the books are up on the second floor, on the landing that overlooks the staircase that winds up from the little hallway below. Here the books are in white bookshelves that have glass doors you slide back and forth. I search for something to hold my interest. I look and look, looking at the same lined-up spines I looked at last time, hoping to notice something I have not noticed before.

The carpet is flat and a dull green. This is a rented house, this one in England. The landing is narrow. There is only room for the bookcases and a narrow space to walk. The landing is bounded by a railing – white posts with a black shiny railing along the top. Without that fence you would fall into the hole made by the staircase.

At the top of the stairs there is no bookcase and a little more space. My mother has put there a large black trunk that we used when we came here. You can sit on its broad surface and your feet don’t touch the ground. There’s a long window above the trunk with a white window sill. My mother has a row of plants along the sill. She has African violets there and when one of them blooms she says, “Look!” in a high voice. “A flower!”

I sit on the trunk with my little sister. I have an idea for a newspaper we could make. I can see this beautiful newspaper we will make and I can see how we will be able to make it every week. We will make it and sell it and I see this beautiful thrilling future that will inject my life with that mysterious ingredient that kids who live in books have.

My room is at the top of the stairs, its door right by the big trunk. My mother bought me a desk. She painted it white. It didn’t have any paint when it came from the store. She painted it and put it behind the door of my room. She got me the desk because now I live at home. I used to go to boarding school but I am back here now. I didn’t want to come back to my mother’s world. I thought I did for a moment. Being in boarding school was like being in my father’s world, the world outside the house.

But that didn’t matter when my friends at school turned mean. I didn’t want to go back there. I asked to come back here. I imagined it might be like Little House in the Big Woods and that I’d sit at the dining room table every evening doing homework with my sister, with soft lamplight. But it wasn’t that way.

The curtains in my room are a deep bright red. They go down to the floor and you open and close them by pulling a cord. This is fancier than our house in America. It feels like a hotel. My bed is in the corner, under the window above the garage so I know when my parents come back on the nights they go out. The babysitter is downstairs but I do not feel safe in bed until the sound of the car pulls in under my window and the headlights fan across my dark ceiling.

Along the landing is also a door. When you open it it’s just a bunch of wooden slats you can hang things from. It’s extra warm in there because of a water heater or something, and my mother hands wet laundry in there to dry. She calls it the drying cupboard, another strange English thing.

My father goes on business trips. Hanging on the wall on the landing are two small drawings, each framed in gold wood. The drawings are like scribbles in black ink on white paper. My father said he got them from a friend, some man he met on one of the trips. The man was scribbling during their meeting and my father asked him for the drawings. My father described how the many shrugged, sure, not seeing them as something of any value. The two pictures hang, one above the other, by bookcases, near my father’s room. They aren’t pretty, but when I look at them I remember that my father goes to other places and meets people that the rest of us will never see.