Sunday, June 16, 2013


I sat on the lime-green-and-white wall-to-wall shag carpet in the large corner closet of the bedroom, here in this L.A. cottage. I sat in the closet not moving, not responding when Geoffrey spoke to me, urging me to get moving, to say something, anything. 

I couldn’t move. I had folded into myself in some kind of hopelessness and dread. It must have been a weekend, one of those days that the work week promises: on Saturday you can be yourself, on Saturday everything will be all right, on Saturday you will write.

Outside the sky was probably blue again. When you looked up from the small terra cotta porch outside you saw palm fronds, big green leaves printed against that blue sky, leaves from trees that didn’t grow back east, trees not in the business of giving comfort.

We had come to L.A. together from New York. I came because he asked me to and it was delicious to be asked, to hear him say that he had been waiting to leave until I was done with school. I had not known this. It had not seemed that way. 

We had gotten into his car, an old boxy four-door Mercedes, passed on from an uncle, in the snowy depths of February, the car filled with his records in red plastic milk cartons, his cat, two travelling cases of mixed tapes, a supply of joints rolled by his sister. I threw my new Army Navy duffle bag into the trunk.

Now in the corner closet the green duffle bag stands nearby. It’s still where I keep everything. 

Other people in the city are moving through their day, doing all the right things I think of our neighbors, Lenny and Nancy. I am sure they are breezing along – Lenny swinging a tennis racket, Nancy smoking a cigarette. They would not know what to make of me right now. No one would.

But I am here, doing all I can to be dead without actually killing anything. But I cannot bear any of it, this being that is me. Nothing is right – this secretary life, the pathetic writing dream, the days that just rotate: coming home every evening to dinner, pot and TV – though Geoffrey assures me nothing is wrong and I watch him being happy: checking off everything in the TV Guide a week in advance that he wants to watch, running out in the afternoons to flip through bins of used records, or to the aquarium store to pick out a new fish for the salt-water tanks that he just set up, or typing up a screenplay at his IBM Selectric, or staying up all night to get the segue between two songs micro-perfect on the tape he’s making. 

While I wonder what to do. 

Having to be at work at 9 and stay til 5 answers so many questions, but only the dullest person would work like this and not have weekends that burst with the kind of writing I am sometimes sure is inside me, but it’s gone when I sit down with a pen.

I sit on the lime-green-and-white shag carpet, frozen, maybe hoping I can make everything stop forever this way.

Finally, Geoffrey gets up. I hear him walk to the kitchen with its mustard-yellow linoleum. He stands by me now, holding the jug of oil he uses in the electric fryer. He is laughing. “If you don’t get up, I am going to pour this over you.” It is old oil. It’s been used at least a couple of times to fry chicken. I don’t move. I don’t care. I don’t want anything.

The oil pours down over me, over my hair and shoulders. I get up. 


Geoffrey sat cross-legged, back to the window, on his side of the bed, the side squeezed up against the stereo, so close you had to scoot down to the bottom of the bed to get off it. He was telling me he’d dropped acid or something a few hours before and my anger and hurt were so strong they showed. It felt so bad to learn that all afternoon or all through dinner – whatever it was – he’d been high and I had not known. I felt like I’d been lied to hugely, but my complaints went nowhere. Instead, he looked at me blearily and said – in wonder -- how much he loved me and though it sounded like he meant it, the way he said it, with a smile I wasn’t really part of, it did not soothe me the way it usually did. 

The old black bureau stood near the bed, pushed up against the hard blue wall. He kept his journal in the bottom drawer. Sometimes I read it. Sometimes I came across little scribbles in the margin – Hi, Marta! – shaming me. But I had to keep reading though it did not help, did not bring me closer or make me safer.

The black bureau was from his childhood. So was the low oval wooden coffee table that stood in the center of the narrow room, covered in anything that dropped there – mail, change, bag of pot. The room held what was left from the apartment he had grown up in, an apartment I had seen in the very beginning, but which had been cleared out when Geoffrey moved in with his father who lived a fancier life because of his second wife. 

Geoffrey kept his records in one of the closets – lined up on a shelf that was supposed to hold sweaters. In the other closet were rarely worn clothes – like a musty suit jacket for funerals – and memorabilia from childhood, yearbooks, boxes of letters.

I was supposed to be there a lot but have a home somewhere else where all my stuff was.

I had the cheapest room I could find, $50/month for a small dark room in an apartment with people I did not know. After 6 months at school in the city, friends had not really happened. That part was still a mystery, and so I answered an ad, got the room on 107th Street, proud of my Manhattan address.

I liked it better down at Geoffrey’s where the TV or stereo was always on, where he cooked dinner every night – manically, privately, but the food always delicious – and we smoked pot and watched Letterman -- and even if these were not my things, they were all his things, I knew this because when I was alone I did not watch Letterman or any TV at all – but here at least there was light and sound and this Geoffrey with his gravelly voice, black erratic hair, his button-fly Levi’s and black tailless cat, doing everything he would do whether I was there or not. 

Monday, June 03, 2013


You got to the ranch by following a long empty dusty dirt road, dusty because it was always summer when I was there, smelling of hot pine needles. There were several buildings -- my aunt's house and then the barn with a pond in between, and a little further on the small one-story house where my grandmother and aunt lived.

Except for my grandmother's house, things were in disrepair. As a kid I'd seen an older cousin's foot come through the floor of the hay loft above me, something that made the other kids laugh and keep going without pause, but I didn't like being in the barn after that, every footstep suspect.

My grandmother wore housedresses and her gray hair thrown up on her head with a few invisible pins. She spoke in a voice thick with cigarettes and a strong accent. She sat at the kitchen table with a round tin of tobacco and rolled a cigarette when she wanted one. She laughed easily and did not ask for much.

Neither did Billy, the aunt who lived with her. Known in the family as "mildly retarded" Billy was always a little off, but not scary. It was the other house that I tried to avoid without seeming to, the gray unpainted two-story house, dark inside, where no housekeeping was done, where the furniture was just whatever was lying around. Everyone else liked it there.

My aunt Moon lived there, smoking too, her hair short like a man's and gray, her face wrinkled and tanned, with a skinny body dressed in men's work clothes. It was her ranch, her land, the cows roaming, her cows. My mother, Moon's younger sister, told the story of Moon shooting a coyote that had been getting at her cows. Moon didn't seem to have much use for anyone who couldn't drive a tractor or throw a steer down on the ground for branding.

I prefer to think of this landscape as I have heard my mother speak of it in its beauty almost 100 years ago. Not the same piece of land, but close by. My mother saw the snow-capped Rockies every day for the first 18 years of her life, and she has described to me the alpine meadows they hiked to -- acres of color that have since been slaughtered by developers.

Though when she drove cross-country with my father in the first years of their friendship to show him her people and where she came from she refused to stop at  the house she'd grown up in.

I was present a few months ago when my mother's younger brother called and I listened as she went into what felt like a different mode, hunkering down with her brother who ran a paint store all his life and is a dedicated member of the Elks, or the Moose. She spoke to him of the place they'd grown up and though she always spoke of this place as I was growing up so that I felt like I knew it, when she talked to him the detail was finer -- specific roads that I had never heard the names of.