Sunday, November 23, 2014


Now and then, at really aimless moments, I still look for a trace of Geoffrey on the internet. There is nothing except some comment he made on a Bob Dylan fan site almost 20 years ago. Otherwise nothing.

I am not so stirred as I was 10 or 15 years ago to look him up. No, I won’t do that, but I do think of him from time to time and wonder what his life is, who did he become.

I imagine him alone in the large family apartment overlooking Washington Square, the same place I occupied as a 20-year-old in the 70s. The computer world no doubt suits him, its anonymity, its lack of need for any real contact.

I have even wondered if he was a threat to his two young nieces, born after my time. I have seen Geoffrey’s sister’s profile on Facebook – a lifeless profile, so constrained – and seen the profiles of the two adult daughters. Even from this great distance I can tell that one is more troubled than the other.

I remember Geoffrey liking white cotton underpants and small breasts and I have made the leap to wondering if what he really wanted was a little girl. 

In those harsh summer months back in 1977 when he had started his out-in-the-open affair with HB, a writer much older than either of us whom he’d met in a writing class, I took to reading his black and white copy book journal that he kept in the bottom drawer of the tall black bureau brought from – and still smelling of -- his childhood apartment. 

I read Geoffrey’s awkward stick-figure handwriting, pages of it, looking for clues to who he was, always with the approach of admiration. Geoffrey was an enticing mystery to me then. I wanted so much to enter and be at home in his world. I’d been trying for years. Though sometimes I gave up, preferring my own world more and more.

In the journal I read of a memory of his of being a child and being in bed with an older boy who showed him how to jerk off. Something like that. Sexual. With an older boy. He had never told me this story.

In the margins of his journal he wrote here and there: Hi Marta.

I used to dress in white tee shirts, no bra, and Levi’s, no make-up, long hair parted in the middle – it was how he liked me best and how I felt the best too. 

His sister, who is now a shrink in LA, was a provisional friend. First of all, the two of them were so tight I had to find a way to fit in.

During the first few weeks of meeting this new boyfriend he took me to his childhood apartment where he’d lived all his life. The apartment was in disarray, its three occupants all moving on – Geoffrey, his sister, their mother. His sister was on her way to college. She sat on her bed amidst half-packed suitcases as the three of us hung out, Geoffrey and her making jokes, me trying my best to be part of this circle I was so new to. Part of the challenge was that his sister did not have a shirt or a bra on. She sat on her bed, folding laundry and chatting with her large breasts fully exposed. 

I could sense that Geoffrey liked her toplessness for the coolness it implied and I did my best to take it in stride. 

There was a lot of laughter between Geoffrey and his sister, as if they could not be together unless they were laughing and I learned quickly how to crack the right jokes when I was with them to earn my keep. Much of their banter came from Geoffrey teasing her. Much of it came from her picking up the thread and teasing herself before he could get to her. Geoffrey was the prince of his family: the smart Ivy League boy. She was the girl, more plain of face, assumed mediocre though hard-working, who would have to fend for herself. Even her eventual PhD would never be able to compete with what we all took to be Geoffrey’s natural talents. 

Once Geoffrey’s mother, long and far removed from his life, a chain-smoking alcoholic from and living in Mississippi played a tape for me of Geoffrey as a little boy. He was saying, “Toy, toy,” and the grown-ups were laughing and saying, “No, Geoffrey, that’s your little sister.” “Toy, toy,” he kept insisting.

When I first met him – me 18, he 19 – he was so much more in command of his life than I was, a life with so much more contained within it – divorced parents, a stepmother, a stepbrother, a half-sister plus New York City apartments, a house in the Hamptons, possessions, friends. I had none of these things, my life so contained by my small family and its poverty. 

All I really had was reading and the dream of writing. Geoffrey already had a typed manuscript, a full novel. It didn’t matter that I didn’t like his book, that I didn’t like that he chose the title by lining up a few phrases that he liked the sound of and asking me to pick one. I chose “Pure Effect,” slyly giving my comment on the content. But he had written it. And he liked it. And I couldn’t write anything without tearing it up.

Then he was young with a quick tongue and it was all going to happen for him in the future. And now we are in that future and I am pretty sure it has not happened for him. I imagine him in shadow and alone with no more youth to protect him. Everyone else really did grow up and get a life. Geoffrey never thought he would have to. I imagine he still laughs at the expense of others and keeps the steel chains across his character and history firmly in place, making him dangerous, vicious and someone I now know better than to go near. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


My mother says that my sister will go to Hungary in the spring to visit our aunt, my father’s sister. Uh-huh, I say, blandly, and don’t think about it again until tonight when I am driving home in the dark and the rain, railing against the black heavy curtain that falls like lead in the middle of the afternoon. Early darkness has never bothered me before. I thought back to London in the late 80s, just this same time of year I was there, walking every day through parks, looking at everything with pleasure – the colors of wet bark and brown grasses, noticing that the days were short – “the sun goes down before it comes up,” I quipped – but it didn’t touch me the way these fall days do, and I rail against what can’t be changed and feel like I am in prison.

You can spend half the year in the other hemisphere and have it be summer all the time – it’s not the cold that bothers me, it’s that impenetrable darkness that says, “It’s over.”

We brought a little black dog home last week and after naming her and really thinking for 24 hours that we had a new dog, we realized we could not sail the rough seas of bringing a new and young dog into our home. And so we gave her back. I like to think she had fun with us – a couple of long walks in the woods, a wonderful time digging up the foam cushion in the window seat, and working it out with the cats. We had to give the little black dog back, sheepishly. That Sunday, surrounded by dogs who needed a home we had wanted to take two, but they had rules against that, and then even the one had been too much.

We plan a trip to Florida, a place for which Fred has had nothing but scorn ever since I’ve known him. “The two worst writing topics,” I’ve heard him say, “are ‘money’ and ‘Florida.’” And now we find ourselves planning a trip there because for several years we have said we must go South and get some heat in February, and year after year we don’t do it. I haven’t been serious about it for one thing, but this year it seemed crucial to me. Mostly, I want it for Fred.

We scour Florida for a place we can stand – all the other options are just too economically challenging – and yesterday we think we find it, and today too it has held, despite inviting people on Facebook to talk us out of it, no one has, despite alternate suggestions. It appears that we will go to St. Augustine, which promises to have art, architecture, and personality, plus the ocean, plus a state park.

It was while talking to Dinah last week that I put it into words. Up till then the working plan had been to drive through the Florida Keys, but walking with Dinah, my friend since 1969, with about a 40-year hiatus until the Internet reunited us, I could bring to speech things that were floating in my thoughts without form.

“I want a cottage by the ocean,” I said, “and I just want to stay there. A place with our own kitchen, and the ocean right there. I want a place to rest, not a week when we are moving the whole time. I’m not tired, but I want some stillness.”

I can say things to Dinah that I don’t say to anybody else. I only see her every few years. She lives in New Zealand. This was our first visit when it was just her and me, and it made a deep impression. It meant a lot to have her here. I think we have a lot of love for each other. It comes as a surprise. When we were 13 and 14 we were in the same foursome, but we were not official best friends. We each had an official best friend, but these were arranged marriages, marriages of convenience that could not be cut asunder. I think I knew that I liked Dinah the most back then, but I couldn’t act on it for fear of hurting her best-friend-spouse and mine.

We talked about it last week for the first time, almost shyly. It was her determination to track me down that got us back together. She just spent five weeks traveling through England, Scotland and Scandinavia, seeing people from her past, not willing to let these bonds go, and I know I was – though it scares me to say it – pretty high up on that list.

When she boarded the bus for the airport in the dusk I got back in my car and burst into tears, and that loneliness comes back from time to time as the days go by.

It’s strange these tears, like the tears I still cry for Tamar who I miss so much. I don’t understand these things. I’m not much of a crier normally.

At 4:15 this afternoon I tear myself from the poisonous computer screen to walk in the dusk and the light rain, fast, and I think of how I used to walk in London, how the darkness didn’t bother me then, how I was living on pure fantasy then, a make-believe romance that sustained me for months.