Los Angeles 2016/1986
Guilt is a funny old thing though. Even if it’s not in any way applicable to one’s present situation it has this way of reaching out of the past and asserting itself; a strong bit of pull. That’s my experience, if you’d like to know. Like, as in a candid, personal observation.
If you’ve spoken to any of my family about me, then my brains have probably come up in conversation. It’s never, “oh, Alice is a great baker” (which I think I am, by the way), nor is it “Oh, that Alice Pardee, she’s got a real eye for design” (which, if you ask me, I think I do.) It’s only ever about the Number, which my mother let slip once after I was tested. I admit, it is high, but I don’t’ think I’ve ever felt it — the high Number. Not as in a tangible thing, the way someone would be cognizant of simian arms or a visibly low body fat percentage. I don’t know what it’s ever done for me exactly aside from putting me on the losing end of soft ostracism. I suppose certain things come easily, but not all. It’s not omniscience.
The prominent memory associated with the Number is, and continues to be the expectations that came, or, still come attached to it. It’s not something I can take back once it’s out there. The G. Word is also, unfortunately, thrown out there from time to time, which I think is only applicable in a narrow set of circumstances. I’m no better a better pianist than my brother Douglas. Only practice could have done that, I guess is my point. Capacity doesn’t determine outcome, although not everyone looks at it that way. Helen took some offense, I think, at my refusal to submit my Number to MENSA. I know she’s a member, or was, rather, and I think it annoyed her that I didn’t put more weight on the public validation side of things.
I have this sculpture in the garden behind my house, in the backyard. I designed it. It’s one of these kinetic sculptures that bends in the wind. James constructed it in a surprising bout of laser-beam concentration on metalwork which lasted for three months. It’s made of aluminum, finished just short of a mirrored sheen. It’s a windmill, really, but not your usual tri-spoke design. The blades, of which there are four, are oriented in slightly different attitudes, each a bit of a different shape. One blade is conical, one a triangular sail-shape, the other two look like slight variations on my ice-cream scooper. When the breeze blows, they tilt and yaw and turn. It’s never a frantic or harried movement, all rather lackadaisical regardless of wind speed. Each blade has a counterbalance — a weighted rod that extends back beyond the fulcrum point, ensuring that as each gust abates the entire apparatus comes back to its resting and neutral position, a position in which the sculpture resembles a long-necked swan if viewed from a particular angle.
My parents were never over the top as far as unrealistic demands on me were concerned, just the regular amount. I may have also manufactured expectations of my own at some point. Being surpassed by peers whom I had been told possessed less “talent” or “capacity” or whathaveyou was my first deep-scale experience with disappointment and anxiety and guilt; guilt over not producing the effort my talent deserved; either in music or in school or any other thing. I was fortunate that rapid working came naturally. My mother hung the old Thomas Edison quote regarding inspiration and perspiration in our kitchen. I felt it was aimed at me. Being the middle child might have added to the equation, if you put any stock in family composition and character traits related to birth order. You would have had to ask Helen about that.
I felt the increased weight of those Number-based expectations as I aged and left the house. They (the expectations) began to germinate and find root within my own head — expectations I couldn’t live up to as a child and still can’t. I do like to believe that I’ve developed an improved sense of self-esteem since then. If I hadn’t, there would be other issues at play here beyond the pervasive guilt.
I’ve got this little quiver of conversational arrows at my side, ones that come in handy if I need to shoot down any intercourse that might begin to drift toward the Number or the G word. I like to redirect interchanges which begin to list that direction back towards something like the Daytime Emmy awards or maybe, depending on the composition of present company, in a way like, “did you read that article in (such and such Women’s Interest Magazine) about eight ways to improve your orgasm? That is not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. They’re things like that.
I believe — and I’m being as forthright as I feel I can be — that I would rather have never known the Number. Perhaps this is a grass is always greener situation, but that’s the truth. There would have been a great deal fewer unmet expectations maybe, from others as well as from myself.
The guilt, then, perhaps, is what led to certain lapses in judgment which have popped up once or twice or maybe three times as I’ve aged. Certainly, not more than four times. Just a few; maybe we can leave it at that. I can quite completely mention that I’ve never been a depressed person. Well, let’s say I’ve always stayed out of the realm of medication. I don’t know if there are quantifiable differences between guilt and depression, or if one is a part of the other. Clinical distinctions must exist, I suppose.
Perhaps guilt leads into disappointment or a breath of depression sometimes, but I’ve not had any sort of diagnosis, nor do I feel like I need one. Any of my guilt feelings seem appropriate, especially lately. And if not appropriate, at least easily tracked down and identified and dissected. It’s not hard for me to understand. To have settled on that much brings along a modicum of mental comfort, like I’m having appropriate emotional and cognitive reactions to stimuli, which, in the broad spectrum of experiences would elicit the recollection of the guilt/disappointment dichotomy more often than not. I try my best to work through these feelings within myself or with Evie, if she is available.
I try not to be a burden, though. I don’t have a worry in the world about that girl, at least not regarding her abilities to function as a Woman and a Mother to her Andrew. She’s resourceful and bright and an Optimist; not to the Panaglossian extent, but to a tempered well-rounded sort of extent. We’ve never had her tested regarding her Number. She’s asked about it, as she is aware of my Number and has probably thought that maybe it’s a genetic thing. I don’t anticipate that it is, though. Shit, for all I know, Kenneth may have the highest digits in the family. I doubt it — and I say that with all of the love a mother can muster — but anything is possible. The Number means precious little if you don’t know what to do with it, and, oh, please excuse the language. I apologize. But really, the topic does get worn a little thin. It goes some distance in explaining the guilt origin though, so I felt it necessary to bring up.
So back to my own personal thing: I married young, to James. I was 19. Evie asked about it once. About — how did she put it? She has a mature way of speaking and always has — something like, how did James and I know that we were in love enough? I know the overarching purpose of the question, what she was driving at, was how I came to marry someone like her father, and, by extension how we remained married. Evie is an observant girl. It pained me to see her fall into some of the same adolescent traps that ensnared me at her age. I never wound up with a baby, though, at least not until I was 20, which I would chalk up to luck above anything else.
James wasn’t always like he is now, and anyway I couldn’t leave him. He would have to do the leaving, really, and even given the peculiar inheritance situation, in which he was pointedly planned around, he says he’s not going anywhere. He looks something absurd with his tooth chipped the way it is. He won’t see a dentist though, says he doesn’t believe in them.
I was involved with James’s brother first. Well, half-brother actually. It was an odd rebound relationship. I was in this state of grief after being left, broken-up with, jilted by an older and more distinguished man. I was abruptly dropped the summer before leaving my parent’s home to attend the University of California, Los Angeles. I went off in a spiral of sadness that began to, I think, evidence itself in a sort of self-manufactured callousness or cynicism towards the idea of love, as it then sat defined in my heart.
I’ve never had difficulty as far as attention goes — from men, or from the occasional woman. I don’t know that I’d classify myself as any great beauty or anything, but I didn’t want for invitations out in the evening, I think is how I’d put it.
It was post-Christmas and I was out, mixed company I guess. One of these was James’s elder half-brother Theo, or Ted. He was named for his father, James later told me. It was while in Theo’s company I met James, whom Ted called Jimmy, which I think he intended as a pejorative in that way older brothers have for younger brothers. I never called him anything besides James though. There was another brother, younger still, with whom I had no interaction and who had gone into the priesthood. Theo, whom I was dating, was fun and irresponsible.
My Number wasn’t doing much good at the time — underutilized — sorely. I was more interested in society than in academics. That I avoided my Evie’s teenaged pregnancy predicament was a small miracle, purely providential. I wasn’t concerned about permanent outcomes at the time.
Eventually, I think, every woman feels a need for some measure of predictability. Well, maybe that’s too stereotypical, but you know, I think stereotypes, as much as we would like to deny this, are born because they’re often accurate. So, let’s say that “often” “some” women feel this. This need or desire to have some clarity regarding their vision of the future. I wouldn’t call it maternal instinct or the biological clock necessarily, though those were the thoughts that passed through my head. For me it was a matter of detached curiosity, scientific wonderment. What would the next five years bring and so forth. Theo didn’t allow for any of that.
Back to that post-Christmas night. It was a January evening and cold. Well, cold for LA. It was 53* F exactly. We were on foot, on a circuit of party spots, known caches of weed that Theo enjoyed, and from which James abstained; A gesture of piety through which he could separate himself from the insouciance of his older brother. I don’t believe for a moment that it stemmed from some innate purity though. Not anymore.
We walked, Theo and I hand-in-hand with James trailing along two steps behind. He wasn’t as skinny then, James wasn’t. He was an appropriate size with an appropriate amount of body fat. This was before the advent of his diets of liquid caffeine and Adderall. He doesn’t eat much these days, and I’m pretty decent when it comes to the kitchen. He had, and still has this aura of potential energy about him. Like an imminent, nascent explosion kept in his chest. It might be his posture, how he walks with a bounce, his general ranginess. His presence was anxiety inducing and beguiling at once. A terrible magnetism whose origin I still can’t place exactly and within whose penumbra I needed to be.
I remember that he, James, that is, had these knit wool gloves which were fingerless, but had a little mitten cuff that could fold over and stick to the back of the hand via Velcro, so that if you needed your dexterity, there it was, but if you didn’t you’d have some mittens. Even in the damp January darkness, James left the mittens stuck to the back of his hands. It was strange, seeing his fingers take on the hard whitish tint of cold at the nails.
We wound up in Culver City — in the back of a furniture store in some out of the way strip mall. It was the kind of store that was perpetually going out of business and liquidating its entire inventory. There was a low-key thing going on in the back of the building, one of the roll-up corrugated metal doors opened halfway to expose the loading dock beyond. There was no railing or anything, just the expectation that no one would fall out. Theo and I walked in via the pedestrian ramp that ran zigzag adjacent to the loading dock and the semi agape maw of that roll door. We entered, I remember, Theo allowing me in first, a chivalrous gesture, followed by James. Theo was chivalrous from time to time. There were seventy four other people there. Enough to remain anonymous in a crowd. A guy wearing all denim strummed a guitar on a velveteen chaise lounge. He was playing a Rush song in the style of Bob Marley. Surrounding him were two women I guessed to be three or five years older than me, both wearing less clothing than seemed appropriate given the temperature and the setting. I envied them. A hookah was present, set on a coffee table that was still in its transparent shipping wrap six layers deep. Four bodies of mixed sex encircled the apparatus, each with a hose in hand engaged in clipped conversation with one another between inhale/exhale. I kicked at an orange extension cord that ran from a lamp to the wall socket. It didn’t disconnect. Other people were milling around, some pairing off and using the selection of furniture and darkness for their projects of mutual gratification, existing beyond the lamplight’s dim reach. I later heard that there had been some coke binging going on in a back bathroom, but I didn’t witness it. The tall ceiling of exposed steel I-beams disappeared in darkness above. The light refracted and dispersed before making the top. I felt we could have been beneath a starless sky, or in a giant Bedouin’s tent. The entire scene invoked this feeling of simultaneous intimacy and physical enormity, endlessness. The point of the existential needle, as well as the infinite, unless you really concentrated on looking through it.
Theo found me as I wandered, took my hand and led me to a kitchen table set. James was lost to us, intermingled and absorbed into the communal mass. I sat at the corner of the table, Theo at the head in a rustic farmhouse type chair, whitewashed and knotty. Across from me lay an empty Louis XII style thing, leather, which had been turned onto its side at some point before our arrival. Next to it sat two girls who appeared cozy with one another, sharing the same, similarly whitewashed, wicker kitchen chair, the kind that left imprints in the backs of exposed thighs. The girls were engaged in conversation with a man who looked older than anyone else I had seen there. He had the beginnings of a beard, maybe two weeks’ worth, and wore a navy suit in a flattering cut. Beneath the jacket was the requisite, white button-down Royal Oxford shirt. He wore his hair slicked. It reflected whatever soft brightness there was, a sheen of mellow gold on the crown of his head. He wore fashionable eye glasses, no tie, and the hint of an epicene gold chain visible when he leaned a particular way. He was telling a story to the two girls, who sat, pretending to be enthralled, I would have guessed, biding their time until being invited on to the next thing. Next to me was a girl whose arms lay out and crossed on the table in front of her, her head resting on the pillow of radii. She snored lightly, looking angelic, her unkempt head of hair splashed about her arms. The tip of her nose was red, like she had just fallen asleep after a day on the ski slope.
As we sat, Theo made a point of listening in on the Suited Man’s story, all while working his hand a little further up my thigh. He would make little interjections, trying to pry his way into their interchange. A couple of my attempts to make conversation with Theo faltered as he stood up and made his way around next to the Suited Man and introduced himself to that group of three, falling into a grotesque performance aimed at splitting, I think, or winning the attentions of at least one of the two, cutting the group like a border collie. Theo was only ever interested in me periodically, and yet, there I remained.
The three of them, (the Suited man and his two girls) stood. The Suit smoothed out the front of his slacks and tugged the lapels of his jacket to set it just so. He looked around, self-satisfied, to see what attention he had attracted. Theo glanced at me and then went back to his project, standing and placing his hand on the shoulder of the Suit, making some comradely banter and walking off.
The sleeping girl didn’t budge. She looked terribly beautiful in her drunken repose, I thought. I was disgusted with myself for not being more insulted by Theo’s actions as I watched him disappear in concert with the group of three towards the front of the store. The nature of the tacit, unspoken arrangement that existed between us manifested itself: that he would come and go as he pleased, and that I could be along for the ride from time to time. I stood, intent on finding alcohol. As the legs of my chair scraped against the floor the sleeping girl stirred, lifting her head, squinty eyed in the gloom, as though she were on the beach at midday.
“Already sleeping one off?” I prodded. The girl shrugged and tilted her head at me, as though she either hadn’t heard or didn’t understand. She spoke through a cough.
“My head feels …”
“Just … it feels.”
“Can I get you anything then? For your … feeling?” I retook my seat.
“I think I’m already on it, to be quite frank with you my darling. I’m, yes. Quite sure of it, thank you though, you’re a dear, truly.” Her voice was quiet but rich, low.
“Water, maybe? That couldn’t hurt.”
“Oh, you’re a love aren’t you? Well, I’m not so concerned with the hurt, as it happens. Summer.” It took a moment to realize that she was making an introduction rather than referencing the season.
“Summer. I’m Alice.”
“Solo tonight, are we?”
“Funny thing, I came with two, and I’ve lost them both.”
“Well, you’ve found me anyway, so you’re just down one.”
“That’s true.” I paused a moment. “And You?”
“I couldn’t begin to know. I wasn’t alone, not earlier, but I expected to wind up this way, to be frank with you again. It happens.”
“Perpetually being left? “
“Constantly. It has to do with, I think … well, I’m impulsive is the thing, and being … well, I was, and this is an odd thing to lead with since we’ve only just met, but I may as well be up front here, I was disinvited to return to classes after, um, underperforming for the last three semesters. I haven’t mentioned it to anyone, and well? I’ve got time on my hands now. Not that I was spending a great deal of it on my studies as it was, obviously, what with the disinvitation from the administration and all.” Summer sat up, her head off of the table now, and brushed her hair back behind her ears where it fell off her shoulders. She was backlit; I couldn’t see anything beyond her silhouette. I thought it was odd, her way of speech. She spoke maternally, or like the drunken aunt at a family function. I anticipated a pat on the head or a prying question into my dating life. She was only a year older than I was, I learned, though to hear her speak she might have been forty-five.
“Who are you not mentioning it to?”
“My mother, foremost. She’ll loose it when she hears, I’m certain.”
“What make you say that? Sunk finances?”
“It’s that, but not only that.” Summer paused and looked around. I followed the turn of her head and saw James walking past the Denim Man, still strumming. “It will be the guilt trip to end all guilt trips, is the thing. She’s expert at it. At making you regret ever having put a foot wrong.”
“That’s sort of a mother’s stock in trade isn’t it? I wouldn’t pin my mother as the sort that ever wants anyone to feel badly, but did I ever know it when I didn’t live up to her expectations.”
“You’ve a benevolent way of looking at it, Alice. No, I’m certain I’ll be in for the haranguing of all haranguings once word of my … situation makes it back to … to home.”
“Clay County Missouri.”
“Like Jesse James.” Summer sat up straighter still. “What sort of blonde UCLA babe knows Jesse James is from Clay County?”
“One who grew up in Wyoming. My father has the definitive collection of cowboy ballads and trail songs on permanent rotation in his truck.”
“Well.” She cracked a deprecating little smile.
“Well indeed. So, not to intrude, but, what will you do in this indefinable space between being booted from classes and the time that your mother discovers?”
“At present? I’m twenty-one and making the rounds I guess. A far cry from O-Chem.”
“O-Chem? Medical track?”
“I can’t very well wind up a dentist in a family like mine. That’s for sure. Though I guess at this point they’d take a dentist over … whatever this is.” She halfheartedly motioned, sweeping the room with her outstretched fingers. “They’re all doctors, my Father, Mother, my older sister. They give my sister a hard time for being a GP instead of in surgery for fuck’s sake. What’re they gonna make of this?” Since she had evoked her Missouri heritage I keyed in on a suppressed accent in her speech. Maybe it was what I was hoping to hear. Summer produced a mostly drained 40 oz. of Olde English from beneath her chair and took a nip, setting the bottle back where it had come from. She didn’t offer me any. I wondered if she might cry.
“Do they, your mom and dad, I mean,”
“And my sister, don’t forget her.”
“Have they ever given you the schpeel? Not living up to your potential?”
“I have it memorized actually. It varies a bit depending on whose delivering. But yes.” Her voice dropped again, back to where it had been when she had first come to. Summer laid her head back on her crossed arms, but had her head turned on its side, facing me. With that, the roles had reversed, it was I who felt the maternal urge to stroke her hair, to hold her into me, to reassure her, to tell her that I knew what it was like, that I knew what it was to feel that pressure, and yet there she remained as a look ahead into my own future. Whether or not her situation really mirrored mine I didn’t know, but it was close enough. In feeling sorry for Summer I began to feel sorry for myself.
“I’m going to go find a drink. I’ll be back.”
“Don’t mind me. I won’t be going anywhere. Take your time.” The words came out tinted by that sense of self-pity and I reviled them. I reviled myself.
Heat from the overhead coils of the space heater came more readily than shared body warmth, and was less awkwardly sought out. I drank steadily there below the heater for thirty-eight minutes. The Denim Man continued to play, moving through his repertoire of upstrokes with the pick, quietly going through what I assumed was another Prog Rock piece done in the Caribbean style. I drank in the warmth of the overhead heater. I felt radiation enter at the crown of my head at a cowlick which left a little portion of my scalp exposed and then trickle down the inside of my body until, and I really do remember this feeling, I felt the tips of my toes warm inside my shoes. It may have also been the alcohol. As I went along doing this, I warmed to the point of discomfort and moved from the heater to the open roll door. I leaned myself up against the frame just in front of the door’s track, not paying attention to anyone I had left behind in the cavernous warehouse. The cold licked at me, cooling me where I had begun to sweat. I looked down from the loading dock five or six feet below, fixating through the muddle of drink induced quasi-stupor. I turned back into the room to try and see Theo and the two girls and the Suited Man, perhaps back at the kitchen table. None of them were there. I thought for a moment about where they might have gone off to, and whether Theo had perhaps succeeded in separating off one of the two girls for himself, or whether maybe he had ingratiated himself with all three of them and had gone off somewhere as a quartet. Maybe they had all gone their separate, uneventful ways. I was angry for a moment at the surreptitious disappearing act, projecting my expectations of Theo onto the hypothetical situation, but it passed. I turned back to face the outside wind.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of staring at something, not realizing what it is you’re staring at, even though it is a readily identifiable thing that you’ve probably seen a dozen times. This happened to me as I leaned in the frame of the loading dock door.
Down the line of roll-doors towards the end of the building, hidden somewhat between the lip of the last loading dock, furthest from me, and some landscaping, I could make out two figures, and then three moving behind the silhouette of a parked car, two female, and one male. One of the women seemed wedged beneath the male figure who moved in a hunched posture over her. The second female figure stood erect behind the male figure. I looked away, back towards the kitchen set. It was still empty save for Summer, who had been retaken by sleep. I returned my attention to the outside. The man had half-turned and was being spoken to by the second girl. She had an arm extended in my direction, as I remained half exposed in the doorway. The man’s head followed the languid line of the girl’s naked arm, and found me. He had apparently completed what he had been doing, and stood up, reconstituted himself and his wardrobe, which had gone slightly disheveled. The second girl pulled the man by the hand and the two of them were gone. The form of the first girl, the one who had been on the ground, remained there, moving slowly. I ducked away, back into the room.
James was the first person I came across. He had fallen into conversation at the hookah, and was speaking with a quiet, intense expression on his face. Real earnestness, real conviction in whatever he was talking about to the three other strangers, all huddled around the table. He still wore the woolen fingerless gloves. The mitten flap on the right hand had come loose and dangled pendulously as he brought the mouthpiece to his lips. His left hand gestured in tight gyrations. Theo was nowhere. I came in and sat down quietly, saying nothing, announcing my presence with a touch on his shoulder. He looked at me, nodded, and went back to conversation. The night wound on and I stayed next to James moved by a mixture of unsettled emotions. Unease at what I was pretty sure I had seen outside, (at best an awkward group hookup, at worst, rape) and unease at the notion that the perpetrators had seen me see them. That James was there when Theo had vanished meant something to me. I’m not sure I knew what it was, or if I was just out of options. Then it was morning.
Bodies filtered out of the building in groups of twos and threes, here and there, until James and I were the final remainders at the table, the hookah long since burned out and cold. Theo failed to reappear, and I insinuated to James that I could go, if he wanted to. We walked together through the streets of Culver City, keeping to the inside edge of sidewalks lined with looming palms rustling brightly in the early winter’s morning. That his brother had not reappeared didn’t concern James, who judged him capable enough to find his own way home. We moved on in the direction of his apartment. I felt cold despite being dressed for the weather, and kept in close to James, who finally made use of the mitten feature on his gloves. I felt warmer knowing that his fingers were covered.
We reached the apartment door. James was two paces inside before inviting me in as an afterthought. Theo was not there. I realized that I felt nothing for it and followed James inside. Through his window, the hills appeared trimmed in a waxing golden haze. The apartment was standard bachelor fare, or so I figured. Minimal furniture, a small table in the linoleum lined kitchen, laminated counter tops chipped at the corners, and a variety of cereal boxes on top of the white refrigerator. In the freezer lay a bottle of Smirnoff, which I snatched a bit greedily, and turned back to the front of the place. In the living room a television sat flush on the carpet, faced by an orange sofa and a matching orange creamsicle glider chair, both armrests soiled by an unknowable dark grime. James fell into the glider, and I made myself comfortable on the sofa. I turned on the TV and opened the bottle, which was cold in my hands.
James is funny in that he’s both a talker and a silent type. It depends on the company. In groups of three or more he feels the need to command the room, to make entrances and to be taken seriously. Theo also liked attention, but he didn’t much care whether he was taken seriously or as a bit of a clown. I guess seriousness has its place. With me that morning he was more the silent sort. Probably because I was ostensibly his brother’s girlfriend, or casual hookup or whatever the label back then might have been, but there was some boundary cast between us by that pre-existing condition. I offered a few weak attempts at conversation. James asked that I pass him the remains of the bottle and drank quietly until he was asleep.
I remained unmoved on the sofa until I was prevailed upon by the overwhelming need that comes after having taken in a shitload of liquid, beg your pardon. The toilet and the bathroom did little to alieve the crystalizing feelings of failure that were edging in. I had subconsciously avoided the bathroom in the past, keeping to a track between the front room and Theo’s bedroom, and back again out the front door, never loitering long enough for anything involving kitchens or porcelain. The lino on the bathroom floor was yellowing, the hue of spread custard. Rust had accumulated around the toilet, the linoleum peeling in bits behind the foot. A slick of toothpaste residue embedded with beard shavings ran down the front of the sink like a mudflow.
I took my position on the plastic seat and thought over the previous night, the scene at the loading dock. While I tried to mentally explain away what I had witnessed in a variety of imagined scenarios, my alcohol-ridden brain wouldn’t let go of what I very well knew: that I was likely the sole witness to a nefarious and base act of degradation. My thoughts ran from that deduction to calculating the likelihood that Theo was involved in any way. That I hadn’t witnessed him on the scene was a comfort, but what, then, had happened in between my leaving him alone, and that final act? I sat, staring across at the shower curtain, opaque with scum, the ringlets at the top encrusted by iron deposits where they met with the grommets in the curtain itself. I cursed myself drunkenly, and, I think, out loud. It had been suggested to me at various times in my life that my Number was somehow a super power, something that could free me of the mundane vexations in life, from piss poor decision-making. That being possessed of the G Word would elevate me above those common complaints, and yet, here I was seated and exposed in a, I would say, sub-par situation as far as glamor goes, as far as a physical situation which might match what I have been told my brains deserved, drunk off a mix of whatever had been handy at the furniture store and the vodka from the freezer, witness to what was probably a crime in which the criminals knew what deeds I had seen, and beyond that, I had only managed to pull like a 2.9 in the second quarter, which would probably be the most disappointing thing to anyone in a position to have those sorts of expectations. Not that my mom or dad would have been nasty about it, but if they could have seen a snapshot of me at that moment, they would have likely sunk into despair. At that moment, at the moment of the hypothetical snapshot, I felt a great dyspeptic upwelling in my guts and before I was able to move off the toilet to any other place, I vomited between my feet, in a great wretch, splashing the front of my dropped jeans, and the unfortunate locks of hair which had escaped from beneath my knitted cap, hanging loose and unfettered in front of my face, a splash of bilious liquid pooling in on the already muck encrusted floor. I thought very little of myself at that moment.
Theo never addressed that night with me, and within two months was gone, somewhere in Inyo County according to his brother. I continued slogging through my studies out of a sense of obligation to the Number, and James was … well, he continued to be available. I think I was somewhat drawn to his intensity, his ability to become convicted to something. It didn’t matter to me at the time what the conviction was to, or how long the conviction was to last. As tends to happen, you spend enough time alone with someone who is even remotely sexually attractive; eventually extropic biological forces will bring you together. No matter what anyone might suggest to the contrary, I believe this to be a firm rule of the human condition. The perpetuation of the race depends on it. There is no exception to the rule, and so as the balance of time spent in close proximity due to availability continued to turn in the favor of the laws of that human condition, I succumbed, as all must who are not cyborgs or not genetically predisposed to desire sex, whom I think are very few and far between. It was then that I got pregnant.
James and I wound up married a little more than a year after that night. Theo moved to Russia in ’93 to, as James said it, “resolve an issue with my father.” I wasn’t certain how that was to play out, nor was I certain that his father was, or ever had been in Russia. I later learned that Theo had contracted an illness and lay confined to a bed in Staraya. James never indicated an interest in going to visit him. He never went into the dealings between Theo and their father.
I won’t pretend that James has been, or ever was, for that matter, a sterling example of chivalrous love and attention, or that he has been an attentive father to his son and daughter. He has been neutral, I think, on balance, and neutral is far better than bad. I can make up the difference. He’s never raised a hand against me or my children, which I believe is in defiance of his temperament. I give him credit for that.
We’ve remained married, and not through any mislaid belief in “sticking it out” or anything like that, at least not on my side. We’ve never discussed the various marital issues between us, his temper, his unpredictability — so I’m not certain what James believes or feels in that regard. I guess I feel like water finds its own level. I said that to my mother once and she broke down in sobs. The old guilt of underachieving came flooding to the fore. I think it’s always lingered somewhere inside me, and still does. When those feelings surface, and they do time to time, I look at the byproducts of my life, I try to see two healthy children, both of which face their own challenges, but who are bright spots, on balance. In the face of my Number and perceptions regarding those tagged with the G Word, I hope that will stand as achievement enough. It’s all I’ve got.