April 23, 2009

Lennie looks happily toward the river as George shoots him in the back of the head.

When I was 21 I moved to New York with a guy I met in a bar. I really just like saying that out loud to people and watching their expressions. In reality, yes, I did meet Dan in a bar, but it was 8 months later that I moved to New York with him. And 11 months after that, I called my parents and asked them to come get me.


My late teens and early twenties started out normal enough – part-time job at a clothing store, enrolled in college, steady boyfriend, but over the course of a couple of months, things went radically wrong. I kind of started to break apart. I quit my job, I dropped out of college and I broke up with the boyfriend. My three older sisters were all out of the house, so my parents decided to sell our house and move into a smaller place. For several months, my only job was painting their kitchen cabinets. I cannot begin to tell you how long it took me to do it, but I think I averaged 1 cabinet door a week. I would take it off the hinges, bring it into the garage, sand it and paint it. The whole operation took forever because I would smoke a bunch of cigarettes and drink beer the whole time. Eventually, I would have enough beer that I would not care about the cabinet and would just go inside and watch TV.


Can you imagine how disappointed my parents must have been? Actually, looking back on it, I’m not even sure they even noticed what was going on. They both worked full-time, they had 3 out of 4 kids married off and out of the house and were just so relieved my “big news” was that I dropped out of college and not that I was pregnant, that I could have been canning human beings in the garage and they would not have cared.


It was around this time in my life that I met Dan. I was hanging out in this bar called Le Bon Temps Roules on a nightly basis. My sister Emily went with me most nights, but some nights I went alone. Mostly, I went with people because I liked having a ride home. Generally I drank until I passed out, so driving drunk wasn’t really an option for me. I met him playing pool. This is what Em and I did most nights, went to Bon Temps and plated pool. She was the pretty, funny one and I was the brooding mean drunk in the corner using the pool cue to steady myself. So, it was surprising when Dan started talking to me and not her. Everyone talked to her, people just tolerated me.


He told jokes, he may have bought me a beer, maybe I won the pool game…who knows, it is all a long ago blur. He was nice to me and that was something most people weren’t as I generally did not attract a good caliber of people. We stayed out all night, ending up at a breakfast joint where I knew for sure he would leave me when I went to the bathroom. But, he was still at the table when I came back. This only confirmed by suspicion that he would kill me before the night was over, but he didn’t do that either. Instead, he asked me for my number and said he would call, which I was certain he would not, but he did.


He was a senior at Tulane and we dated until he graduated and moved back home to Long Island. I was crushed when he left and I returned to drinking every day, something I had managed to avoid while dating him. We talked on the phone and I held back my tears so he wouldn’t know how desperately I needed to be with him. Drinking every day wears on a body, even a young one.

When he asked me to move up to New York with him I said yes without a moment’s hesitation. With him, I felt smarter and prettier than I was. I knew I was a fraud, like I had fooled him into thinking I was something, when, deep inside, I knew that was a dirty lie.


And so, I moved to New York, with the guy I had met in a bar.


And looking back, it was one of the bravest things I have ever done. I left home, for the first time ever, with $800, 2 years of college under my belt, and a 1984 Toyota Tercel. I had no job lined up and knew no one except Dan, who had a job that required him to work somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 hours per week. I wanted him to fall to his knees and profess his undying love for me. I wanted him to love me more than I did myself and I wanted him to validate my very existence. It’s a tall order for a 24 year old recent college grad from a background as dysfunctional as my own.


Still, I assumed his silences were him thinking how repulsive I was and that his time away from me was his reaction to my very existence. In the years that have passed, I now realize none of these things is true. We were young. We didn’t know how to tell each other the things we felt inside. I didn’t know how to tell him he made my knees week and he was as capable of telling me he loved me and he was of spontaneously taking flight.


The point is, we did it any way. We went out on a limb and gave it an honest try. We played house and discovered both the joys and exhaustion of a constant partner, and then we called it quits. Well, it was a lot more dramatic than that and involved one last fling (no really, this is the last time…,) a stalking and a set of slashed tires, but the end result was the dissolution of a relationship that had been dear to me.


I am not that brave anymore. I won’t sign up for heartbreak of any kind and not just because I am now married and not “out there.” A friend of mine once said making friends as an adult is a lot like dating. You swap numbers, wonder when is an appropriate time or reason to call, make a “date,” and then wonder if you talked too much about yourself or chewed with your mouth open or divulged too many of your secrets. And then, you wonder if the potential friend will feel the same way. Will he or she reciprocate with a call or an offer of another get together? And then, even after you invest all the time, sometimes, people end up not being who you thought they were or wished they were.


I am scared to make the investment. I don’t want to be hurt or left behind. So, I keep you at arms length, but all the while, all I want is to grab you and put you in my pocket and take you with me wherever I go. I am, at my core, Lennie Small. But I spend most of my day pretending to be aloof and confident.


I keep looking for the clever way to end this post, but really, there isn’t one. I just likened myself to an overly strong and affectionate mental retard. I can hear the crickets from here.

1 comment:

Autoglass said...

Claire, this is Steve Q.

You write beautifully and evocatively. And you're an old soul.