My affair with Sketch is the longest, distance-est relationship I’ve ever had. He’s just across the river in Manhattan, but he may as well be ten thousand miles away, living in some place where the toilet flushes in the other direction and people eat with things that are not forks. It’s Distance: things happen over there and I only get the reportorial headlines. His cat died on Tuesday, that skinny black rag of a feline that for a decade jumped up and insinuated itself under the covers every time Sketch and I were done fucking, the cat that served as my favorite metaphor for our weird relationship and as a reason to be glad we no longer lived together. I never could sleep right with it walking on my pillow.
But it is sad, of course it is sad, and I should be there with him, but I’m not, I’m just working, and I get in trouble for using my cellphone before my students have left. After work I go uptown to find him, trying to strike the right balance of sympathy and nonchalance, knowing he will recoil if I overdo it. He’s hurting but I strike all the pathos from my voice, buy him a tuna melt at the diner, try not to cry. I think that the diner is playing all my favorite music, and I amazed that a midtown diner would have such an awesome playlist until I realize that actually the music is coming out the tinny speakers of my phone in my handbag, not from overhead. As with all things, it takes a disturbingly long time to realize this.
I’m planning to go home with him, to help him with all the depressing chores that one has to do after bringing home an empty cat carrier from the Humane Society, but he says he wants to be alone, and so I hug him and leave him on the corner and go back to my own selfish pursuits, trying not to think about the cat.
When Sketch and I first met, that cat was a kitten; the length of our relationship was something’s lifetime. But I guess that can be said of anything, even the week I was wrapped up with the hot Roman journalist who lives down the street from me. There are plenty of things that only live for a few days.
But everyone’s favorite illusion is that you can find something with someone that will last forever. And there is irresistible sweetness to that idea; witness last Sunday, when I dance with Sketch at a close friend’s wedding. Our knees bump because I am a terrible dancer unless my partner is a pole. I tell Sketch that I love him, my throat a little tight, because I am oversensitive and I cry at sentimental things like weddings or when you put glasses on a baby and it sees clearly for the first time. I like to claim that I never cry, while unconsciously flexing my biceps, but this is a lie. I well up all the time, eyes big and wet, I’m just good at pushing that shit back down.
Sketch and I sneak off to go explore the reception hall, and to our delight we find the room for staged photographs: a fake fireplace with coat of arms, a bridge with mock foliage and trellis, a home with a white picket fence so that one person can pretend to be carrying the other over the phony threshold. I could stay in this room forever, pretending. Pretending that I am only pretending.
A friend sidles up to me after the bride and groom take the dance floor together and tells me, inclining her chin at Sketch, that I need to cut the cord, and I tell her that I can’t. “He is disturbingly charming,” she admits. I love to watch how smoothly he enters and exits conversations; whatever table he is at, that will be the fun table. People defect from their own tables, carrying their chairs over. I asked him about it once, and he told me it’s because he is genuinely interested in people and people like it when you are interested in them.
The bride, her face so beautiful it looks airbrushed, tosses the bouquet over her shoulder and I stand on the side, out of range, partially because I am mortified when I try to catch something and miss and partially because these are not the things I long for, children and marriage. It’s kind of nice to go home alone and read this biography of Joan of Arc that I’m really into and fall asleep under the electric blanket without worrying that anyone else will dream they are burning to death. Joan of Arc: her virginity didn’t protect her from shit.
This week I will talk to Sketch and I will tell him a little about what’s going on with Connecticut, and we will see what is what. “We’re bad at being together,” Sketch says. “But we’re fucking horrible at being apart.”
What are you going to do, people have been asking me since my last blog post, as if I know the ending to this whole story and am just keeping everyone in suspense. I do not know what I will do, and I do not know why I am not more bothered by not knowing. Everything has an outcome eventually, and then I will be just as surprised as you. Maybe someone comes to a dramatic realization at the end while standing on a mountaintop. Maybe someone dies at the end, a person or a cat, or maybe everything explodes. Or maybe it is one of those endings where nothing really happens and you’re left with the sense that someone just got tired of writing about it, and stopped.