2014-2016 Portfolio (Restated)
After I had fallen afoul of the powerful forces that, for close to two decades, had been driving me forward in society and propelling me financially ahead of the vast majority of my fellow human beings, the conviction grew on me that there isn’t such a thing as reality, whether or not of our own making, suitable to plot our lives on; that, even if we believe there is and consensus is assumed on what we mean when we refer to it, fiction is as valuable and respectable to help us negotiate and even shape our lives, and – but that’s a stretch – bring them to a satisfactory close when it’s our time. I’m not saying I will use fiction to deceive and turn my life into a lie. I’d rather die. What I mean is that in more cases than you might think fiction is a perfect means to make up for the lack of sense and morality and the manipulativeness and deceitfulness of what is commonly referred to as reality. If you’re looking for a Darwinian explanation of the power of imagination we have developed as a species, I offer you this: without it, given the way aeons of evolution have seen us, for whatever good to our survival, embrace the concept of reality to the point where it has deprived us of the ability to leave the facts to themselves, human life is impossible.
I’m alone a lot of the time lately. I may say things to my dog like: “It’s a housewife’s thing, Smith, that as soon as she has recovered from sickness [by this, in this case, referring to a migraine attack which lasted two and a half days, such as I come down with every six to eight weeks] she will start on the housework that she left unattended but has been unable to put out of her mind.” A thing like this I will say merrily, because after a migraine attack I feel wonderfully rinsed (and not just because I don’t eat anything and vomit all the time) and extremely lucid and very energetic; I can’t wait to get work done that mere hours before I couldn’t so much as lift a finger at. There is something euphoric in my voice, which I feel in my throat, rather than hear myself. But the dog registers it. Its tail goes up and it turns into that exuberant creature that follows me from the one room to the next I clean, jumps on every bed I make, yaps and snaps at sheets of paper swirling to the floor as I gather my daughter’s school books and papers from all over the place and arrange them in her room, and sits watching attentively (and a little impatiently, because there is nothing it can jump at or run after or stick its nose into) while I, precariously perched on a chair, clean the 1.3 ft. deep fish tank, which is mounted on a 4 ft. stand, which is also a cabinet for holding various fish tank paraphernalia. I’m not really a housewife, by the way. At the time my husband left me, I was bringing in most of the money. I worked 6 days a week, putting in 60 to 70 hours. He walked, or died; I don’t quite remember which. Perhaps he went to have a sex change. Anyway, the one thing (and never mind which) led to the other and now I am alone. But saying to myself I am a housewife – and no one will argue with me that I am as good as any – is strangely comforting.
Or I may say silly things, to myself mostly, rather than to the dog or, addressing them right through the thick glass walls of their tank, the fantails, that my daughter baptized Nemo, Mandarin, Minni, Molly, Tip-Tip and Silvy. I had better not write those things down, because they could strike a person as utterly offensive, improper, outrageous or outlandish, and so on. I have not mastered the skill to come across as being inoffensive or proper or moderate while I’m fundamentally none of these. But, at a cost, going a long way to explain my current state of semi isolation, I have learned to keep the dark side of me, which saying such things reveals, to myself. This may seem just as well for all practical purpose, except that it has me muttering to myself a lot of the time. I might be better off if I were able to soften up to my fellow human beings. But I simply cannot. Believe me if I say I’m not proud of that.
Or I may just lie in my bed on my back. To prevent the bright sunlight blasting through the French window style balcony doors, across from the footboard, from burning my eyes, I will turn either side of my head to the pillow or I may decide to turn on either of my sides altogether. But I will not close the curtains. The sun has a good case being out there, youthful and brazen and as bright as it can get, whereas I have no business being in my bed. But I will briefly doze off regardless and wake up an hour or so later, dazed and not feeling all too well. I do get up though and I shake off my misery because I will simply not allow things to get out of hand or worse than they have already. I will be there when my daughter gets home from school and make her that cup of tea and a sandwich or something, and I will ask about the homework she’s got and what’s her planning on it and help her with it if she lets me, and I will feed the animals (Smith, and the cats, whom my daughter ordained should go by the names of Cheat and Lucia, and the fantails) and think of what we will have for dinner and prepare what must be prepared in advance to cook it later and put it on the table at a decent hour. The understanding we have on this is I go to bed sometimes during the day because I need a little nap, not because I’m depressed or beaten up or desperate or anything. And there is more truth in this than I make it sound like here.
O, the way I spend, the way I dress, the way I move and keep my back straight, my shoulders limp and my head up! The way I make heads turn! The way I was destroyed, the way I’m myself destroying what is left of me! I could easily be the talk of many a town. But, if I act out downfall from stardom, what I never had was stardom. I am alone and all one sees of me are the consistent absence of a companion, my outrageous expenses, my expensive clothes, my slimness, my tallness, my erectness, and the impenetrability that I cannot shed if I wanted to. My motives are not pried into and my downfall goes unnoticed, fails to get recognized for what it is, and, stardom not being what I’m falling down from, increasingly falls short of affordability. What difference is there between me and the haggard looking woman of inestimable age I saw the other day from my car as I went downtown to shop more apparel, who struggled in the direction in which the gridlocked traffic I was in was headed, dragging a trolley shopping bag behind her, her eyes to the ground, wearing old jeans, a man’s coat, her face scarce that of a woman any longer, but gray and sexless? I’m pretty sure that I am not less clueless than she is. But having pondered the question I decided that, unlike me, she has given up and doesn’t care if defeat is all over her for everyone to stare at. I’m not saying I never considered giving up, that I would have never reached that point. But if I had, it would have marked the moment when I had taken my own life, not when I started to stoop, shambling along the streets.
There was this question of having four students from God knows where in the whole wide world stay for a couple of days with us. They take part in a model United Nations conference for senior highs worldwide. My daughter’s school is among the schools participating in this annual event, and so, even if my daughter is in junior high (she said she had been appointed to one of the admin positions for juniors), a ninth grader called me to ask if I would be willing to provide quarters to four students for just three days. I said yes, sure. I said we could lodge more, because I have a really big house with more spare rooms than rooms we use and four bathrooms etc. and that it’s just my daughter and I living in it. The senior girl, clearly a novice at this kind of thing, proceeded with a sort of questionnaire, and as I listened to her I could feel the effort to make sense of the questions as she struggled through the list. She asked things like can I cook vegetarian meals? (Yes, although I’ve never rustled up anything intentionally vegetarian short of leaving out the meat, but I can do better than that). Do I have a preference for males of females or a mix? (No preference, but FYI, we’re just two females living here). Do we own pets? (O, yes! And – diverging purposely as I added this information, because I felt elated and wanted the conversation to last – two mice and some stick insects, too, and an inchworm that came in from outside with the ivy that the stick insects feed on and that has outlasted two generations of stick insects already). What foreign languages do I speak? (French, German, Italian… No, not Spanish; désolée). And so on. My daughter is enthusiastic, but knowing she would be wasn’t the only reason I said yes. Another is that I so desperately, so desperately, want to reach out to people, even if I’ve hardly ever managed to get to be given anything lasting in return when I did, anything beyond a kind word, a thank you note, or a box of chocolates.
But now I’m here in bed with one of the students, a 17-year old boy. He’s from Brazil, where they speak Portuguese. His name is Adriano. He’s a meat eater, a naturally inveterate carnivore, if ever there was one. He has excused himself from the moot conference session today saying he was suffering from a nasty rash, like something from an allergy, he said, like they say is caused by cat hair, or synthetic nesting material for mice, although he wasn’t aware of any allergies that he would be suffering from. My daughter has gone administrating. I am aware the school will probably file complaint with the authorities if they find out I am sleeping with a 17-year old model United Nations Conference student who has been entrusted to my care. I will not be excused because he looks five years older, and there is a degree of sophistication in his lovemaking, which, if his passport would not belie the biological possibility, warrants the misapprehension that he has lost his innocence at least a decade ago and never missed an opportunity for erotic involvement since. After all, I did not simply pick him up from the streets. He was enrolled and registered at MUN, taken to my home and formally transferred to me with documents to sign.
“Adriano, you will understand how important it is that you do not speak to anyone, ever, about what we are doing here?”
“I will never say one word.”
But I can’t get my mind to dislodge and flush out the fear that he will, and that he will get a rumor started like a bush fire, which school officials will not tarry to get to the bottom of. When he restarts his lovemaking I tell him I have things to do and have to get moving.
“I can see you are worried about this.” He rolls himself on top of me.
“You mustn’t be.” He sits back on his knees and gropes behind him to grab my ankles.
“Please, don’t be worried.”
He squeezes my ankles. He releases his grip and moves his hands upward and when they reach my knees they continue to go up along the inside of my thighs.
“Do you think I would need to be bragging to anyone about this? Or that it would give me some kind of pleasure to expose you? Why?”
His right hand cups my vulva, presses it as the middle finger gently massages my perineum.
“No!” he says. And then: “O, no!” And still on his knees between my legs, he bends and kisses my lips.
You see, Adriano is not a stage prop or a bit part in this recount. He is a person, a principal character, and I allow him roundness, individuality, uniqueness. Absent Adriano’s uniqueness I am nothing in this scene. But when we are done I am being preemptive. I call school and ask to be put through to someone from staff involved in MUN and I tell that someone that Adriano, who is staying in my house, has reported sick and that I feel responsible for him and want to give a status update. I say that I had a call with our family physician, who, hearing of the symptoms, told me not to worry. I went on to assert that, in fact, Adriano, when he was still in bed in his room, called me from his cell phone to tell he feels much better already and that I, too, thought he looked better when he got downstairs to eat the lunch that I had cooked up for him and to which I had invited him calling him from my cell phone. When I have disconnected I return to my room where I find Adriano asleep, still and beautiful as in a genre piece of an Italian renaissance master. And looking down on him I think I see “O, no” still lingering on his slightly parted lips.
My daughter enters the bedroom, where she knows she may find me, resting a bit, when she returns from school. She is still in her coat. She is 12 years old. She looks at Adriano.
She says “I have a boyfriend and his name is Tom.”