Friday, April 02, 2010

This Is What It Was Like

My last few months in Los Angeles I lived below the Hollywood sign. You could look up the hill and see it there.

I lived in a two-story building. I had seen a For Rent sign there once, driving around, and the next time we had a door-slamming, middle-of-the-night fight I drove to that building, parked my orange-and-white Pinto outside, put the seat back and slept, waiting for morning when I could go inside and rent whatever it was they were offering.

It was a large furnished room with a real sit-in kitchen complete with built-in breakfast nook. The bed came down from the wall. The bathroom was a bright robin’s-egg blue. The rent was low. It would do just fine.

Rose, my landlady, was a frail old woman with dyed red hair who shuffled in a housecoat and never left her own apartment on the first floor.

I liked the adventure of getting my own place. I covered the couch with a new Pier One white bedspread and took black and white photographs of myself, emphasizing the long dark hair and the oversize black Beatnik sweater. On weekends I went to modern art galleries by myself, looking for something. I wasn’t sure what.

Geoffrey and I hadn’t figured out if we had broken up or not. We weren’t very good at separating beyond the initial fury. We had separated 1,000 times, but never, ever, not once, for good. I was 23 and I didn’t know anyone else who had had the same boyfriend for five years. We were an institution.

Geoffrey didn’t come to my Hollywood apartment. If we were going to be together it was at the little white stucco cottage that we had shared for the last couple of years. The one with the green-and-white shag carpet and the fish tanks that held his latest obsession, brightly colored saltwater fish. He bought them with the same rapaciousness with which he hunted for second-hand records, spending hours on the fine art of purchase.

I tried to fill up my new apartment with new friends and things to do. I invited the woman I met in a bookstore over for dinner, someone a little older than me, married, with pale strawberry blonde hair. She told me how a year ago she’d had a baby who had died in his sleep. It was the first time I heard how easily this can happen. And because we spoke so intimately I hoped we would be friends.

I tried to turn the boy who lived in the apartment next to mind into another romance, but it was just a blow job. Funny how Geoffrey could have affairs so easily with women he claimed to really like and all the times I tried to do the same none of the boys came even close to the urgency I felt being with Geoffrey.

While I lived in the furnished room there were times when Geoffrey and I still fought, didn’t speak, hung up on each other, or when I didn’t answer the phone at all, knowing it was him. And one time when, after not speaking for one whole week, I came home to a thick letter shoved under my door.

There were other times when I went over after work as if I still lived there, when I ate the dinner he always made whether I was there or not – some recipe he had honed since childhood, something with a lot of butter or cream or whatever it took to make it perfect. Evenings when he would sit as he always did on the couch in front of the television, the wide flat surface of his childhood Atlas lying on his lap as a counter top for rolling egg rolls, or skinning chicken, or chopping onions.

I joined in by smoking the pot and watching the television, stilling my uneasiness that came from not really having anything to do here. But for an evening now and then, the comfort of predictability and the plain comfort of physical comfort, of having Geoffrey’s well defined world to fill my empty one, was enough.

And in December when Geoffrey's family invited me to go with them on one of their well-financed vacations and when Geoffrey assumed I'd be coming, I let myself be included.

I would be leaving Los Angeles soon. The publishing company was moving back to New York and I hadn’t hesitated for a second when they asked me to come too, a decision that had caused the most recent explosion with Geoffrey. How could I not have included him in the decision? was his complaint, a question poised with so much menace it pierced my own fury at being questioned, causing tears of confusion as I held the phone in my hands in my small-but-significant office on the 22nd floor of the Century City tower, tears that caused my boss to do a dead-pan about-face when he walked in.

These were the worst fights – the ones where Geoffrey's thorned complaints doubled as evidence that he loved me desperately.

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