If you would like to start from Chapter One, which makes some sense, even with my rambling affairs called books, click here.
You can find all my not in progress books on my Amazon Author Page.
Conversation with Val
Ghosts are always around. You’re free to ignore them — at your own risk, of course. Most of your neighbors do. Usually, ghosts just watch you, hoping you make the best of things, figuring you probably won’t.
Listening to them can jar you. Bullshit loses its wings where ghosts are concerned. The covers lift away when you edge that close; your stories go naked, their deceptions and dodges perilously like something out of Francis Bacon, not the philosopher, but the painter of raw, fleshy contours that make you want to look away.
Val told me how selfish I’d been simply and directly. I accepted it. She could get away with worse.
I was happy to see her, to talk with her again. Once close, our paths diverged after walking together started feeling clumsy with all the different paces and cadences. For years, I’d kept things going by tugging her along. Then, I lost her.
“Remember that Leonard Cohen song?” She asked. “Something like, ‘You who must leave everything that you cannot control. It begins with you family, but soon, it comes around to your soul…?’”
She sang it, but she was flat.
Sisters of Mercy — I got it in spite of her everyday tunelessness, a gift I just happened to share.
People probably thought Val was too pretty or, at least, too refined for me. Her hard to tame hair, thick and dark brown, told a different story when she let it trail halfway down her back. She was just as crazy as I was, but for girls, risky meant riskier, unsafe and unprotected.
“I remember it,” I said. “It was on the first Leonard Cohen album I owned. I played it about a million times. I bought it because I liked the lyrics from Suzanne so much. Then, all these other miracles showed up between the grooves. It was vinyl, before CDs or even tapes, scratchy as hell before I got rid of it.”
“You didn’t get rid of it,” Val laughed. “You left it behind when you walked out on Maggie. You gave up all those albums because you thought it was worth it to get unstuck. No baggage is what you thought.”
“I didn’t even have a record player, so I might as well…”
“You already had the idea, anyway. You knew that song was written for you, not just you, but for you for sure. Cohen was shooting straight at escape artists, including himself — and you. You even ditched me, in your own dishonest way. Then, you went around telling everyone I was the love of your life. ‘Woe is me! I lost the love of my life!’ Really, I was the out story that made nobody else good enough. I was convenient perfection. Right?”
“In my head, I thought you were, but I couldn’t make it work in the book. I couldn’t come up with a convincing way to carry it through. Too awkward, too forced, impossible to finish off. I finally just let it dissolve into the narrative. You know, it got lost. It’s one of those fancy tricks you have available when you write long stories. Readers forget. Like voters.”
“How could I be the love of your life when we didn’t even have sex?” she challenged me.
“We had sex.”
“Oh, we had the act, that once. That was just you wanting to get it done with me, to get over the hump.” She laughed. “Excuse the pun. Anyway, what you did to me in that motel room was mental, not physical. It took you ten years to get there. If I’m the love of your life, how come it took so long to get laid?”
“I’ve never really thought about it much. It was a long time, though.”
“Especially for you.”
“Yeah, especially for me.”
“I was your best friend, for a while before that mistake anyway. I helped you get through, but then, you left me to go back to your wife. You were miserable with her. You cheated on her. You were a now and then father, but you left me to run back home before she got suspicious.”
“You didn’t know that at the time.”
“Of course not, you were Mr. Honesty. All your idealism… Who thought you’d lie like every other cheating husband? But you did lie to me, the love of your life, about it. You had about a year there where you lied to just about everyone, especially me. Some love of your life I was.”
When she said it, it wasn’t as harsh as it reads. Enough time had passed, it was filtered with now-that-we-know-better humor.
“You think about turning points as where your life changes and starts getting better,” I said. “That was a turning point, but it was straight downhill. A reverse snowball. My life got smaller. It took another tricky year to shake out.”
“You should have stayed with me that morning. You’d have gotten through it quicker.”
“Too much baggage, and really, I didn't have the balls to tell you how much I lied to you. I waited too long, and I didn’t see any way to make it work.”
“That’s what I mean about you,” Val said. “It was easier for you to leave me than to, as you like to say, ‘stand tall.’ You’d already left your wife in so many ways, your son too, but Maggie’d take care of you. She’d take the blame for all the messes you made. You liked to think you were free, but really, you were just incompetent.”
“That’s a little rough.”
“…And a coward and an escape artist. What did you call it? Yeah — you were a skater, a human neutrino. You didn’t hook in like all those weak people do, and you hurt them. You thought it meant you were strong because you always held back enough save yourself from major damage. You have quite of list of injured, if you’d like reviewing it, starting with Joyce… Or Ginny, if prefer the more obvious…” She read something in my face. “It’s okay to talk this way now, isn’t it? I mean, the way we are…”
“No reason to hold anything back,” I conceded.
“You left me for Maggie, just for the record, but the opposite is true, too. You might still be married to her, if you didn’t have me.”
I understood what she was talking about. Bookmarks, I’m convinced, start with something memory does. We leave bookmarks idling in the chemistry, suspended, ready for instant recall. One such bookmark got parked on the morning of the day I married Maggie.
Conveniently arranged by fate, Carl — what ordinary people might call my best man — was so deep in a protracted hangover, he barely managed to open his door to let me in before crashing back into bed, leaving me to bounce around the rest of his apartment without interference. With no sounding board to remind me how unstable I was, it came to me that I was about to do a crazy thing. I was easing up to a full stop with my engine revving and a full tank of gas.
Where was Carl, my wreck of an alter ego? Between his introvert/extrovert swings, he was an exacting gauge. He laughed at me when I took myself seriously and swung avuncular when I didn’t. Right now, he was facedown in his pillow, brown hair spread around his head like a spill.
My objectivity awash with emotions, I could have used his reality check, objective intellect and lubricating humor, but he was still too drunk to properly do any of the best man things. I wasn’t convinced I could get him shaped up even in time for the wedding.
So, I asked myself the question I should have asked before I twisted Maggie’s metaphorical arm to coax her to marry me. My laser beam of persuasion allowed nothing disempowering.
Almost too late now, I asked.
What about Val? If she showed up right now and wanted me to go with her instead, what would I do?
It was a fucking dreadful question. What would I do? I’d go with Val, of course, letting my wedding blow up like a bag of feathers. But here was the kicker: if there was any way for her to make it more clear that she didn’t want me, God hadn’t thought it up yet.
“I offered you perspective,” she reminded me now, “not a way out. You had a choice.”
And I chose to get married but not completely.
“You weren’t fair to Maggie. You always held something back, and then you blamed her for it…”
“It was a two way street, Val. Come on now, it wasn’t all me…”
“Doesn’t matter, does it? No matter what she did or didn’t do, you held out. What was the first thing you did, after you broke up with her, later on? I mean, the first time.”
“I wrote you a long letter…”
“…And you told me your believed we had ‘a continuum’ running through out lives. Where did you get that and how was she supposed to deal with that? Maggie didn’t even know. You and me? We hadn’t seen each other in years or even wrote or talked.”
“Intuition,” I said, it was so obvious. “I just knew, but you threw a knife back at me.”
Standing on the front porch beside mailboxes for all the apartments in our building, I read Val’s letter immediately, too eager to wait to read it indoors. It was a spring day, but cloudy, cool.
I’m sharing my life with a man, she wrote furiously, then went on to tell me to take my continuum and go fuck myself, although not in those words.
“Not my style,” she joked now.
“That was one of the worst shots of my life. It knocked me out.”
The next few days, I reconsidered, asking myself how I’d gotten it so wrong. The truth of it between us had seemed clear. Trust in my inner voice, in my strongest intuition, took a beating. I thought I had to reorient everything.
I wobbled, began to steady, and…
“Then, a few days later, I got your next letter. You turned around completely. ‘Yes, we have a continuum running through our lives.’ You agreed. Wow! Not for a second had I thought I’d get you back. I thought we were done forever.”
“It’s important to be truthful. We had unfinished business.” She paused. “We had a good year after that, until you screwed everything up.”
“Frankly, though, when you look at it, Val, you were maybe a little fucked up too.”
She laughed harder than she had all day.
Previous: I Never Left Binghamton
Next: Heartbroken Universe
Find all my books on my Amazon Author Page.