“You haven’t posted for a while,” my friend Lisa observes. And it’s true; I’ve been cheating on the blog with the book, or I’m busy with my side-bitch, fiction. The blog sits home alone in a bathrobe, smoking cigarettes, worrying that maybe this time I’m gone for good.
Also, I’m writing in between panic incidents. Let’s not call them attacks. Too melodramatic. These are more akin to my psyche sneaking a pair of scissors onboard than to finding a bomb counting down in the toilet. They are panic incidents. But still, I’m taut with nerves and feeling like there is a tiger in every room, so I head to Spa Castle with Sketch to relax. I believe the Koreans that run the place must pump nitrous oxide through those saunas; there is no other explanation for why fifteen minutes at 170 degrees with chubby strangers makes you feel so good. By the time we stumble out, the terrorists that live in my brain have retreated, and Sketch and I are giddily recommitting ourselves to one another. He is calling me by nicknames I haven’t heard in a while, and I think of my friend warning me that I’m in the oxytocin baths, but it feels too good to reach for a towel. I sink in deeper.
Of course it can’t last. Saturday morning we’re with some people; among them: an unattractive woman who is hopelessly in love with Sketch. I’ve never met her before, and no one introduces us, but I recognize her instantly. I’ve heard that she credits him with saving her life a year ago, when she was busy drinking herself to death, and since then she joins him and his sober friends for eggs on Saturday mornings, jockeying, be certain, for the seat next to his. I try not to look like I’m looking her up and down, profiling her shoes and lipstick and hair. Middle-aged, with thick arms and a little on the jowly side, she waits until I am a safe distance away to come over and hug him. He kisses her on the cheek and says something warm that makes her laugh, and I find that I am glowering at her. It bothers me, seeing her look at him with love and longing, once he’s moved on to talk to someone else. Maybe it looks too much like me, and the way I look at him.
We are, both of us, immediately and murderously jealous of one another. I could almost want to bond with her over it. That’s the thing with Sketch; he makes you feel like the most important person in the room, but he does that with everyone, and everyone can’t be the most important. At some point you have to choose. But it bothers me that I am jealous. Petty fucking emotion, for people who remain stubbornly convinced that there is not enough of anything to go around. “She was crushing on me,” Sketch admits casually when I confront him about it. “I guess she still is. But we’re just friends.” He’s going over her house later this weekend, to help her put some bullshit furniture from IKEA together. Because that’s what friends do. I picture her handing him the Allen key, their fingers touching as she passes him the tiny Swedish screws. I wonder if she thinks about what accidents could befall me. After all, people fall in front of subway trains all the time.
“Why aren’t you angry at Sketch?” queries the therapist who lives in my head, in the same neighborhood as the panic-attack terrorists. “Clearly he is leading the woman on. Clearly he is enjoying being the center of attention. How is this OK?” All these voices are annoying. Just because I’m angry doesn’t mean I have to admit it or deal with it. If he wants to hang around with this woman who is all in unrequited love with him, it’s not any of my business. Really, having been there too, I should feel some compassion for her, or at least stop staring so pointedly at her jiggly arms. She’s not threatening me, so why am I threatened?
“What are you up to next weekend?” I ask him, trying for an offhanded tone and somehow still sounding shrill and desperate. He is vague. He is evasive. Eventually he admits that he is kicking it with this woman, and I lapse into silence. He’s drawing this woman’s portrait in his studio, which all sounds like that scene in Titanic. I know how he gets when he draws.
It makes me want to buy a plane ticket somewhere. I’ve been fantasizing about quitting my job and joining the Peace Corps. I could go live in Tonga and teach English, far from the circus of people-pleasing that my life has become. I’m so afraid of people losing interest in me that anytime anyone asks me to do something, my answer is YES, until I’m exhausted and frazzled. By the time I get home, I’m having heart palpitations and I feel like I can’t breathe. I keep thinking about Sketch uptown, drawing this woman who loves him. Tracing the lines of her face in charcoal, his affection for her making her beautiful.
All my emotions this week are the petty ones, although I do a reasonable facsimile of generosity and familial devotion. I go home for Thanksgiving, and as my mother has just had knee-replacement surgery, it is down to my stepfather and I to do the Thanksgiving meal. I love how people assume that because I have a vagina I know how to operate a stove. My stepfather, government bean-counter that he is, prepares a spreadsheet of various dishes and cook-times and barks orders at me. People arrive with their spouses and show off babies and photos of remodeled basements, while I try to figure out what to do with a potato masher. My mother is on all the drugs that I like, and I am jealous that she gets to spend the day on narcotics instead of worrying over a pot of squash.
I don’t get into her pills, because I would never climb out again, but I do turn the bottles around so I can read the labels. On the oxycontin bottle, in my mother’s handwriting, the word STRONG. I would love something STRONG right now, even though I know that it doesn’t solve anything. It’s like throwing a blanket over a bunch of dirty dishes. They’re still under there; you’re not fooling anyone.
Instead, I go to three yoga classes in a row, including an aerial class with a man who is at least 6’4” and looks to be pushing 70. This slab of an old man wraps himself in the silk hung from the ceiling and flips himself around and around until I feel like clapping. I also sort of feel like taking him home; he is old and agile and maybe he can explain things to me. Instead, I climb inside the silk like a hammock, cross my arms over my chest, and just sway in the cocoon for a while. I emerge, not like a butterfly but like the same motherfucking caterpillar that went in. This is not how the metaphor is supposed to work. I feel like I should have changed into something else by now. I should be living in Tonga, with a name in a foreign language. I should be spending Thanksgiving in a place where no one has ever tasted turkey. I should be at the very least over Sketch, or in enough acceptance that I’m not thrown into a panic by another woman mousing around for crumbs.
But I’m writing. There is that, words like entries in a ledger, adding up slowly, the one thing I can account for as proof that something different is happening. It’s an answer for the questions that creep out when I’m trying to sleep. It’s enough of a reason to keep going. And if nothing else, if anything happens to me, its a tip-off that it was no accident.