I hated the air in L.A. To my New York senses, there were no seasons there – no fresh Spring, no crisp Fall – just some kind of glue air, a glue that seeped into my brain and bones and made it very hard to feel that anything was ever working.
I used to think if I could just walk down Broadway for half an hour everything would be all right, but driving through the lights of La Cienega or past the billboards of Sunset, the Hollywood hills hung in the background, hazy and green, old dead green, not fresh alive deep-breath green.
And after two years when I finally slammed the door on the cottage with the lime-green-and-white shag rug and drove in the middle of the night to a new building, to the furnished apartment where I would live by myself – then I thought maybe Spring had come, maybe there would be newness now.
Back in the cottage, the boyfriend was always so occupied, his time filled in a way mine never was, where the best I could do was say, “Today I’m going to make a collage.” Someone must have said something about making a collage, someone I admired, maybe Thea, the friend back in New York who I wanted so much to be my friend because she was beautiful and because she longed for art, it seemed, the way I did, and maybe she mentioned collage and there was one day when I tried it – determined – I will not break down, I must make something, if I cannot write at least I will make something called art and it will mean I am somebody I want to be.
And I sat on the lime-green carpet in the small square living room, in a patch of carpet Jeffrey did not inhabit – it had nothing to do with the brown couch and the color TV or the coffee table with the round ceramic ashtray and the long blue pipe. It was a piece of floor where I stacked those magazines and went through them and glued bits down and made something – not large, 8x11, and I put it on the small shelf that was mine, propped it up there next to the hand mirror with the stem and the curlicue initials I had bought at the Salvation Army, but it didn’t seem like anything compared to the screenplay Jeffrey was typing up on his IBM Selectric or the music tape he was making with headphones and precision, he who made things without hesitation and loved what he made. I could say to Thea that I’d made a collage next time we spoke on the phone, my words like a paper airplane that sinks to the floor.
Perhaps in the new place with its robin-egg blue paint, maybe there.
I took myself to art galleries often on Sundays, alone, wanting to understand this impenetrable foreign language. I tried turning the boy next door into a boyfriend. I tried turning the women I knew into friends. I bought a stereo because it seemed important to have one, but it was an effort to turn it on.
And when, eight months later, the job asked if I would move back to New York with the company, a publisher of bodice-rippers, men’s adventure and something good thrown in now and then, I didn’t hesitate for a second. How perfect. I could leave. And they’d cover the cost of my plane ticket, something I had never figured out how to do.
But the boyfriend, still hovering, was furious. “You didn’t even ask me,” he said, blindsiding me, making what had seemed so unquestionably easy into a minefield.