This is the first in a two part series.
by LINDA EDDINGS
The boys and girls dominate a playground, flags wave at them, perilously, calling. My friend Mary was supposed to come into town this week until she saw the temperatures. She called me from her boyfriend’s place in the country.
“You wouldn’t believe how nice it is here.”
“I wouldn’t,” I said. I asked, what kinds of animals are there? She thought for a second.
“There are loads of bats in the barn,” she said, “but you can’t see them. They feast on the mosquitos. And I saw a yellow lab puppy. It was eating jello.”
Bats are not generally friendly to human beings, but it is a lot more acceptance than you can find walking along the East River. Yesterday I saw boys sliding across the wake of a container ship on colored jetskis. I read in the paper that one of them died next to the Statue of Liberty. Mary seemed nonplussed by the news. “I would want to go in an ironic way also, like choking to death in San Simeon.” She had to get off the phone because they were going to a farmer’s market.
Nothing holds my attention for very long, so I try to think of what would manage to occupy me for more than the moment it would take to make me think of something better. It’s not writing.
Running is difficult, but not as difficult as walking very quickly. I try to keep a more measured pace. On the way to the mayor’s mansion I spotted a homeless gay Indian couple sleeping back to back under the bridge. The amount of costume jewelry on hand is staggering. Even the dog park radiates echoes of disappointment, but I am not prepared to concede I should never come here while I am single.
I finished an autobiography by a woman who was a well-paid actor. She married a man twelve years her senior, I think he was a doctor but of economics, or some other social science. After she marries him, she never mentions him again.
It is hard to be reminded of places in the city that are familiar from another time, like the fake castle or the hollowed out church where we did spin. It makes me want to go to the country to avoid them. Mary said, sure! Come up. I take the worst train on the continent and I was still forty minutes from where she’s staying.
Her boyfriend’s name is Sam, and he has a relevant anecdote about almost everything. Here is an example: I couldn’t find my phone. “Oh, Sam used to work for Apple,” she said, “he’ll find it for you.” It turns up in the car, which is a BMW.
I asked what Sam does for a job now. Mary explained that he had invented a certain type of software that made it easier to develop other kinds of software. I asked what kind of software that was. Sam said, “Mostly security.” At the first opportunity, he bought seven eggplants. I thought, for what?!
Some of Sam’s friends came over and they all gathered around a fire. It was like parties at my high school, hiding behind the largest rock we could find to smoke, only there are only two subjects permitted as topics of conversation: Donald Trump, and the destructive elements of technological advancement. Deja vu reigns supreme.
Sam seemed to notice how bored Mary and I are and he details a game he sometimes plays to pass the time. The game is designed to encourage confessions from introverted or reticent people. It involves suggesting that you are, if only for a brief second, someone else.
It gives me an idea. Pretending to be a different Linda might hold my attention. Here are some fortunate qualities this other me might embody:
– she could outlast anyone at anything, even sex
– she could recall how often and well she hula-hooped in her childhood
– she could develop an everlasting appreciation for the opera and Cicely Tyson
– she could eat gluten
– she could be friend to man and beast, leaving her anxiety behind in the cold morass of dawn on the lilies
Gardening is a wonderful hobby. It’s simply not my hobby.
I decided to return to New York the second I saw it in the background of a movie about a woman who compared it, unfavorably, to wine country.
It stunned me to think I have suddenly become homesick for the place, especially when it is summer and the default condition of the air is exhaust. At my favorite park, it is best not to hang around at dusk because the rats prance out of their nests. A well-informed woman once told me they have no real fear of strollers, which is more than I can say for myself.
Maybe I should be thinking that I could be like these mothers, that I had someone in my life who would have made a placid, yet assertive sort of father. New York is not the place to try to find that type of man again, I’m afraid. It keeps you young, very young, much more youthful than your listed age until it suddenly catches up to you in one prophetic gasp.
I went to eat some blueberries in my fridge, and they were covered with fuzzy moss.
Mary finally came to visit. When she arrived, I forced her to admit she only made the time since Sam was in San Diego for a conference. It does not make me feel great, but it does not bother the other Linda as much as me.
After 24 hours, we have fully exhausted the conversation about Sam, examining the relationship from every conceivable angle. Mary’s chief worry, and possibly a valid one, was that Sam would prefer to be with someone more technically adept in his field. “You know what they do at these conferences,” she said, cutting an apple in half with my largest knife like William Tell with dementia.
“I have no idea what they do,” I said.
“Sex!” she said, “it’s just an excuse to have human contact with others outside the boundaries of marriage. Haven’t you heard of Sergey Brin?”
“No,” I said. “Does he know Sheryl Sandberg?” She holds my hips and stares at me like I was silly for playing dumb.
We devise a plan to confirm or deny Mary’s suspicions. It involves calling Sam at his hotel a number of times but never saying anything, just listening at the phone. Eventually he picks up, but we just sit there quietly, confirming or invalidating our worst fears.
Mary had her mother in the city for the day. Her mom’s name is Jeanne and she will not remarry, and she has been asked to do so very often. “It must be flattering,” I said, “that so many people want you for their wife.”
“Men get to the point where it is the only thing they want,” she explained, “if they have any sense.” I asked her if she was ever tempted to say yes. She touched my face and giggled like I was the most naive person on the planet.
You can get fruits or vegetables, any kind, cheapest in the summer in the right places. If you know where it is all coming in, which I have learned by now.
You might want to eat the fruit the second you handle it, especially if you have not had breakfast that morning. But wash it first, in your home, because I know a guy who ate a grapefruit he saw and the left side of his face looked like it was on fire.
I saw Mary’s number on my phone, but when I answered, it was Sam. He inquired for my advice about what to get Mary as a gift. He apologized that his friends talked about politics all night. “It’s the only thing that makes them feel alive,” he said. I suggested a pet.
Talking to anyone on the phone feels excessively intimate in these times, even when it is Jeanne. She wanted to know what perfume I was wearing that day two weeks ago. I am stunned into silence that so much time has passed. “I wasn’t wearing any perfume,” I said. “Mary was.”
In order to develop the kind of attention span that will suit me well in the years to come, I practiced standing completely still, especially while waiting for something to happen.
Mary announced that she does not care what happened in San Diego. I told her I was sorry. She said, “No, no, it’s not that.”
I said, “You know better than me. You’ve been through this before. I don’t know if there is a real chance of gaining that trust. But in order to do so, you have to be open to it.” I relate the phone call Sam had made to me the previous month and that it was innocent and sweet. But when you think about it for long enough, nothing in New York is really either one.
Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.