Monday, November 14, 2011

Waiting for something to happen

"There's so much stuff up here," D. pointed to her head, "I wish I could discard." Then she turned to face the wall. Cheap plasterboard. Prick of a landlord. The whole scene about as romantic as a rusty nail. She started to sob. "Sometimes I get this way."

D. came from somewhere else by way of someplace other. The world had shrunk -- it wasn't terribly difficult to notch experiences in Oregon, Rhode Island, Argentina, Turkey, and the Far East. Even distinctly vivid locales can bleed into each other after a while. A junior year abroad, volunteer work over a summer vacation, teaching English, camped out with other young men and women in the mist below volcanic peaks, eating corn cakes off a hot rock. D. had an easy relationship with animals and a pronounced vision of personal style. Her camera was her truest friend. Keeping an effin eye on things, then posting the results online.

"It'll pass." This was on the eve of her trip back to Portland. The Pearl of the Pacific was going home for the holidays. She couldn't spend it in Brooklyn even though Brooklyn was real, despite the bedbugs, the G train, and the prices down at the bodega. The family who ran the place was nice, but $2.50 for a quart of milk was too much. The only way you could deal with the city was to consider it a test. D. was good at tests, but this one was wearing her thin.

"I thought it would be different. It's not the money, it's the relationships." She hunched her shoulders and sniffled, still facing the wall. "No one wants to commit. Including me." I thought to myself, it's been a long time since anyone paid me a compliment either. "It's easy enough to get laid or to get drunk, but no one wants to be serious."

Maybe there's no reason to be serious. We've engineered a new kind of reproductive society -- babies can come from anywhere, anyhow -- sex, adoption, test tubes, next door or half way round the world. With science triumphant, we can pay more attention to our own happiness. The selfish genes will take care of themselves. D. read books about irrational behavior. She knew that people had no idea why they did the things they did. But it was no consolation. It made everything meaningless.

"I don't know how much longer I can stay here," she said. "I want a different kind of life." I looked at her back, her unruly hair against her sweater, her loose jeans and scabby heels. I touched her neck and felt her tension. I was in the same boat. Too much extra furniture upstairs, too much weight. But there was a big difference. She was just starting out, whereas I'd had a good run and was about to retire.

I said, "I can't help you decide what to do. Sooner or later you'll find out that you can't live somebody else's life for them." We stayed like that for a long time, sitting together quietly, waiting for something to happen.

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