A Punch in the Mouth for the Poetry Man: Part 2
I stayed with Amy in her comically small apartment in Chinatown. I tried some moves on her, sophisticated moves, old moves that used to work. Amy fended me off. Told me she was seeing someone now. Told me she had moved on. “We broke up,” she said. “Don’t you remember?” I was frustrated. Disappointed in myself. Disappointed that my sex moves no longer worked. Confidence? Gone. I was diminished. I felt like I’d walked into a buzzsaw.
I was desperate. Desperate to get what I wanted, what I needed. I wasn’t leaving here empty-handed. “Come back with me, Amy” I said. “I made a mistake. I was a fool. I want to try again,” I said. I acted like this was a big prize. As if I was telling her that she’d won the lottery.
Water fell out of her eyes. “Are you joking?” she asked. Told me that I had lost my mind, that I should seek professional help.
She put out the lights. Apparently, that was the last word for the night.
The room was the size of a hotel room closet. I could hear Amy breathing a few feet away. She sounded like a baby panda. Couldn’t believe how quickly she fell asleep. She had no conflict in her heart. I was not at all OK with these results. This was my first night in NYC. Sirens wailed from the street like excited ghosts. I was restless, frustrated. I couldn’t calm myself. Went to the apartment’s minuscule bathroom. Switched on the light. Exhaled into the mirror a few times. Now what? Now what? I thought. I never think about masturbating; usually I’m doing it before I realize that I’m doing it. I was in the middle of lowering my shorts when, through the filthy bathroom window, I saw a middle aged woman in in the apartment across the alley. She was Chinese. Her skin was a soft yellow colour, like margarine. She held a towel in her hands. A cotton candy-pink towel. She was crying. She buried her face in the towel as she cried.
Pulled up my shorts, went back to bed. Slept an hour or two. Made one last run at Amy in the morning. Yes, I got down on my knees. Yes, I begged. Said things like, “Please! Come with me! I need you, Amy! I can’t live without you!” Her answer was the same: No thanks. Then I got violent. Turned over a chair, which I didn’t expect to do. She told me to leave. She walked me downstairs, shouting the words, “PLEASE LEAVE, SCOTT, PLEASE GET OUT OF MY LIFE, SCOTT, YOU HAVE DONE ENOUGH DAMAGE ALREADY, SCOTT.”
Found a payphone on Mott Street. Called my writer friend with the car, the one who had given me the ride to NYC. Made a plan to meet up, to head back to the university together. I didn’t want to go back to the empty apartment at the university! Not without Amy, I didn’t. All those goddamn empty rooms! The impossibly high ceilings! The heating bill I couldn’t never afford! What choice did I have? I had to go back. Had to. Being an adult is going places you don’t want to go, doing things you don’t want to do.
I went back. I taught my classes. Wrote. I wrote long poems about the heartbreak. Even though I’d manufactured the entire heartbreak, even though I controlled every aspect of it (except for the grand finale in New York), I presented myself in the poems as a sympathetic narrator. I did feel sad. Amy had not left me; I made her leave. I felt entitled to the sadness regardless of that.
I was, of course, Orpheus in the poems. Was trying to get Eurydice out of the underworld, AKA New York. Formula was simple. Me: Orpheus. NYC: the Underworld. An irritated cab driver: Hermes. A growling garbage truck: Cerberus. It was melodramatic. But it was sophisticated, too (or so I thought). Because New York was sophisticated. And Greek mythology was sophisticated. And heartbreak was sophisticated.
The poems always ended the same way: with a confused Amy/Eurydice being returned to NYC/the Underworld, lost forever to Orpheus/me. Rilke writes: And when, abruptly, the god put out his hand to stop her, saying,/with sorrow in his voice: He has turned around — ,/she could not understand, and softly answered Who?
I presented myself as the tragic figure, even though I was not. Was this the only time I’d be a selfish asshole in a relationship? Sorry to say, it was not. I’d do it again and again, for many years to come.
Postscript 1: Where is Amy now? No clue. I tried to find her on Facebook a couple times. Googled her a couple times. Nothing. I wanted to tell her that I’m sorry for what I did to her life. Sorry for uprooting her from Chicago, the way I did. Sorry for being so selfish, so self involved, so insecure. Amy was a terrific person. I hope she’s doing alright these days.
Postscript 2: When I got sick in 2014, while I was in rehab in British Columbia, trying to jumpstart my brain again, trying to be me again, I remembered Rilke’s Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes. Lines came to me in my hospital bed. Lines that I’d memorized dozens of years ago. Hadn’t thought about that poem in decades. Being able to remember those lines really comforted me. Being able to remember the lines made me realize that my brain was going to be OK. What was me, what was my history, after the illness, after the stroke, was still intact.
Far away,/dark before the shining exit-gates,/someone or other stood, whose features were/unrecognizable.
Postscript 3 (and this is the thing that made me remember this whole story): I had a friend back at the university. Talented writer. Complete neurotic. A New Yorker, through and through. The first real New Yorker I ever met.
One day as I was riding in her car back in the mid 90’s, I told her that I had a fantasy about being the guy at dinner parties who always rose from his chair and recited a poem. My desire to do this was something that I had never admitted out loud before, not even to myself. “It would make me attractive,” I told her. “It would make me sophisticated and strange,” I added. I’d be a hot ticket, for sure. Everyone would want me to come to their dinner parties.
“I’m only going to say this once, so please listen to me,” my friend said as she drove. “Never do that. Never do that to yourself. Never do that to the people who have invited you to dinner. Are you listening to me?” We were at a red light. She turned to look at me. “Never.”
I tried to defend myself, weakly. “But it’ll be very charming. People will love it, I’m certain.”
“Please don’t,” my friend said. She somehow smiled and winced at the same time. Then she turned her eyes back to the road. She said it again: “Please don’t.” Then she hit the gas and we drove on.
Originally published at Scott C. Jones.