Thursday, January 3, 2008


(A Paean to Beautiful Girl)

This is the girl who loves me no matter what I do and she is beautiful. There is a
scarf wrapped three times around her neck – there is always a piece of silk or amber there, in case her voice is stolen from her by the kind of spirits that respect talismans like silk and amber. Beneath the scarf, her skin is pale, she’s a hats and sunscreen girl, you’d never know she works outdoors except for the length of her stride. She’s from Appalachia. She was unpopular in high school. She has lived in tents and vans and little trailers with the original brown paneling painted periwinkle and violet and magnetic poetry on the tiny oven in which she doesn’t bake.

She still checks her ex-boyfriend’s email, and has lately been amused to note that someone else is checking it, too. She’s tempted to send the other checker a message, “Hey, sweetie, still the same blue-eyeshadowed slut?” but she refrains by thinking of her current lover, who, although he sighs and protests, will sometimes throw his arms out to look like Jesus when she straddles him. He is the Penis Flytrap, he is unmotivated and owns a dog and smokes too much pot and reads her journal and lies to her about things that don’t matter, and yet she loves him anyway, fucks him joyfully, lies there afterwards with the tiny nibbling feeling in her hindbrain that she is already tired of him, but is too trapped in the inertia of sweaty joy to send him away, tell him to slink off with his dog behind him, tails—well, you know. It wouldn’t actually be leaving him. You have to be at a destination to leave it, and she’s not there. Not from the neck up, anyway. The Flytrap has covered her with sticky botanical mucus from the neck down, and her body is so dissolved by him that she wonders if partial digestion by vegetation is really such a bad thing.

She wants to live in a Japanese garden, white walls and white rocks and pale pine benches weathered to a gentle grey, so calm that the space between breaths becomes important. Instead, her tiny studio in Ugly Southern City is cousin to the kind of used bookstore with a big metaphysical section and a brisk trade in secondhand crystals and sacred objects, a tarot reader in the back on Tuesday afternoons, mugs by the sink so stained with tea they never bleach, and really, when all you drink is tea, who cares? I think of her doing yoga in the morning, rising around 11 from a pile of throws and toss pillows and a puffy duvet with a cover made by a friend from textiles brought back from India and a clinging smell of a hundred nights on the road without a pause, the rhythm of non-home settling into the pulse that’s the feeling of home. I think of her in her pajamas, shifting through the poses, advho mukha svanasana, urdvha mukha svanasana, chatauranga dandasana, eventually reaching savasana, the resting pose, corpse pose in the literal translation, her hair fanned out like underwater, eyes closed, in the state of awareness and withdrawal.

I don’t know if she does yoga in the morning. Or what her bed looks like now. But her pajamas are old friends, veterans of mornings and tea and trailers and new locations for five weeks at a time, and I can see her pale legs in the light from the probably too-small window, pants sliding up her shins as she sits cross-legged in the wreckage of the bed.

I have met the succession of her boyfriends, invariably gorgeous or burning with passionate intensity, in inverse proportions. I know they have lived with her, slept with her, played in her succession of soulfully-named folk bands, taken her to swingers’ clubs, pierced her above and below the waist, and yet she remains virgin, the hymen of her heart firmly intacta. They’ve been down and pitched their tents in the valleys of the country, embarked on expeditions well-fitted or poorly supplied, returned home resigned or discouraged or embittered or confused or bewildered or simply tired, but they and all their sherpas have not made the final climb.

Don’t get me wrong – she’s been fucked. In many and righteously shagarific ways, just as she wishes on me. But there’s a note on the back of an envelope that begins, “My darling daughter, you are now two weeks and two days old,” a note from the woman who every day took her into the room with the changing table, and in the reek of her baby sister’s shit, told her, “This is what marriage does. This is what men do. Do you want to be anyone? Do you want to do anything? Do you want to get out of the mountains and away from boys with clumsy hands and girls who whisper as you pass because you’ve committed the ultimate sin of Not Being Like Them?”

Yes, she does.

And her mother’s hands swiftly diapering the baby who will be her sister, “Never marry. Never let a man do this to you.”

She is, of course, in therapy. She is also in school, and in the pit that is Ugly Southern City, and in thrall to the Flytrap, whose name is Sam. Sam is also beautiful, with a grubbiness that keeps him from being effete, and he plays the guitar with whichever group needs a guitar, and records with her, and works just enough to keep himself in pot and gas and dog food, but not enough to stop his ceaseless whining about being broke. This whining drives her crazy and makes her disrespect him as much as she disrespects anyone who whines without trying even the tiniest method of solving their problem, probably more so because after all, she’s still with him, and the self-loathing amplifies the disrespect. And yet they are committed, she is committed, not so much to him as to the next six months of work, Florida, Georgia, Chicago, Missouri, because singing for your supper beats working for it any day of the week, whether your accompanist is a whiner or not. It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s uncomplicated, and if it weren’t for the nagging feeling that she could do better, it would be fine.

I am deeply jealous of Sam. Perhaps she is, too. After a day of Music Tech 385 and Arabic 110 and an hour at the Financial Aid Office trying to make sense of the forms that will not only allow her but pay her to go to Morocco where she will chant with dervishes and play her flute in dusty souks and sing with the voices of a hundred other travelers as filled with music as she is, her evening is unrestful still, her desire to burrow in the bed prevented by the pile of paper that must be attacked and subdued to feel like she is Getting Somewhere. And Sam? Sam on the floor with the dog is an indolent reminder of the ease of a life in which one cares much less. A life in which one’s beautiful, soulful, tender man does not look up and ask “why are you so tired?” at the end of the day.

But I am also jealous for another reason. I think she could do better. I think she could do me. Ridiculously, I think of playing Toklas to her Stein, or perhaps we’d take turns being the one who is merely ugly instead of jolie laide, the typist, the cook, the cleaner, the keeper. I think of sharing a house, on the outskirts of the funky, mostly-gay neighborhood in some mid-size city with a good Ph.D program. I think of sharing meals. I think – when I dare – of sharing her bed. I see us in the evenings, books open, or she with a instrument and I with a pen, and she plays me a verse, or I read her a passage, and she laughs, her hands slim in light of the death of the evening, her hands gentle in her lap, fingers strong on the strings, fingers strong or gentle in my hair. I see us in the train on the overland journey to Pamplona. I see her going to India, to Morocco, to Spain, to all the countries that grow oranges and hide women’s hair, free in her headscarf and long skirt, free of Sam, free of me. In the end, one of us would have to be the free spirit and one the anchor (or the brick, or the rock, or the leaden albatross around the other’s neck), one of us would have to be Sam.

I turn my face towards her as I read this at the sushi bar, she, and I, and the musician, and the girl from the Peace Corps who doesn’t quite understand what she’s in the middle of (but unlike us, willing to admit it), and I see her blushing, and smiling, and touched, and teary, and in the end, knowing me like I know her. And that is, and will never be, enough.

(written a few years ago)

1 comment:

Autumn said...

such friends are a rarity of the most honest kind.<3