I said good-bye to Geoffrey on the terra-cotta tiled stoop of the white stucco cottage, a bright Los Angeles February day, three years after we’d arrived.
We said good-bye as if I were just going on a trip. I had spent the night. He had offered to make whatever I wanted for dinner and I had asked for pot roast. His sister Buf was driving me to the airport.
Geoffrey and I said good-bye, not knowing what the next step was. I was just glad to be headed back to Manhattan, all of it paid for by my job. I was ready for wonderful new things to happen in the city where things happened. I had no lingering love for Los Angeles, the biggest suburb in the world.
On the airplane I read The French Lieutenant’s Woman and saw a young woman sitting, her eyes down, small headphones on her head, a small black cassette player in her hands. Wow, I thought. Very cool.
I took the bus and subway to the West Village, to Thea’s empty studio apartment. Thea, a friend from college, had inexplicably become a model and was often out of town.
I put the key in the lock, opened the door, put my things down. There was not much light in the apartment. The main room was empty except for Thea’s large loom with a piece of weaving in its strings, dark purples, blues and greens.
When Thea and I spent time together it was always at some little place for dinner where we talked about how our writing was going or not going. This was the topic that held us together. We both had a tortured sense that we weren’t making enough art and that life was useless if you weren’t an artist. During those conversations we felt like best friends, but then there were huge pieces of her life she kept hidden from me – all her other friends, for instance. Her boyfriend who I imagined as dark and ultra-cool since I never met him and his name was Milo. The art gallery crowd she worked and hung out with. I knew I couldn’t make it with those Soho sophisticates. Thea’s keeping me out confirmed it.
But I liked her, I thought. And I liked her unusual face – wide, and almost Oriental-flat with blue eyes that could become almost slits. She wasn’t tall and she wasn’t thin, but they’d made her a model. Salvatore Dali wanted to paint her.
There was one time that Thea invited me to Fire Island, to a small house she was renting with two men. They were pretty boys of some kind. I was aware of my plain navy blue one-piece bathing suit and my unmade-up face, something in me refusing to put on a show for people who obviously were all about show. I was confident that I was beautiful anyway and if the two boys didn’t see it, it would just confirm how lightweight they were.
“They said you were beautiful but that you didn’t know it,” Thea said later. It was soothing to know I’d been accepted that much.
Her single bed was stuffed into a small closet-room with no door, a few feet from the loom. The kitchen was a hot-plate and a coffee pot.
Outside I could hear the roar of Sixth Avenue and the whole city. I felt the huge impossible distance between what was happening, who I was, what I was capable of – and what I wanted. There was no way to get from one to the other. Like they were on two different cliffs with an abyss in between. This was going to fail.
And though it felt like going backwards or standing still, I called Geoffrey, settling for the comfort of his gravelly voice. “It’s going to be all right,” he said. I knew he never felt this way – desperate, at the end of the line – that it was easy for him to say, sitting on his couch, watching TV and smoking pot, that it would be all right. “Why don’t you go live in the apartment?” he asked. “It’s empty. No one is staying there.”
His family’s apartment on Washington Square Park. The one we’d lived in before L.A.