August 26, 2008

The Princess and her house

But first, we sell our house—against my wishes—and I buy a condo in the Penn Quarter of DC.

I live a short walk from the White House—my route to my teaching job at George Washington University. As I write this and look back to 2006 when my life fell apart, Michelle and Barak Obama live in the House. Go here http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/michelle-obama-gardens-47022002
to see a picture of the beautiful princess Michelle in her garden on the south lawn of the White House . A princess should live in a white house. She says, “Every single person from Prince Charles on down was excited we are planting a garden.”

I live in the condo I bought when D. and I sold the old lady of a house in Adams Morgan. But I was not there for the leaving of the house. I took a cab to the airport and flew to Columbia, Missouri, for a visiting writer's job. On the curb stood my daughter Sarah and her husband Ryan and my husband D. In the trunk was the big suitcase with as many clothes and books I could fit. In another truck owned by Town and Country Movers—the moving company that moved us into the house and would move us apart—were all my files, my computer, the chair I sit in now to write at the computer and one stuffed chair from my attic study. I was moving to what I thought was a furnished house.

D. would move the furniture and dishes and paintings and photos we had into our two separate condos two and a half blocks apart. But I would not live in mine for one academic year.

And what an education that year was.

In olden times, when wishing still did some good, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, who, indeed, has seen so much, marveled every time it shone upon her face. In the vicinity of the king's castle there was a large, dark forest, and in this forest, beneath an old linden tree, there was a well. In the heat of the day the princess would go out into the forest and sit on the edge of the cool well.

And so The Frog-King begins, and, yes, this is the same story as The Frog Prince.

We are in the game of Charades. Two different versions of the same tale: when wishing still did some good …

In June 2006, two months before I moved to Missouri to teach, two months before the actual physical separation, when our house in Adams Morgan was sold and I moved out of town, I made up a vignette:

Dreamlike.

In this less-than-perfect perfect town where the husbands take their bikes to the train or their wives pick them up in cars, where the storefronts have signs that say things like Simply Good or Hats Galore or Pink and Blue, the dream of adultery understood unfolds: Lily is having an affair with Gordon, her best friend’s husband. During a party that this friend, Skilly, is having, Lilly sits on Gordon’s lap. The adulterous pair Gordon and Lilly become entwined rapidly whenever they are together. They hide, skulk—a word Lilly heard in a British romantic comedy that describes what they must do to be together. But at the party Skilly can be seen more often than usual with Fergus who is married to Lilly. When Lily leaves the bathroom, she sees Fergus with Skilly, his hand in hers.

Suddenly Lilly knows they are all free.

She tells Gordon, “Skilly and Fergus. Yes, I know you don’t believe it, but yes, Skilly and Fergus.”

Gordon will ride his bike to the train in the morning but what will he do about Skilly when it is Lilly’s vulva that he craves?

Nietzsche says, But thought is one thing, the deed is another, and the image of the deed still another: the wheel of causality does not roll between them.

I knew when I made up the vignette that my husband did not want me—or so I thought. I created a fantasy that we would each find other partners and simply exchange.

Do Sa Do. Change partners.

Here is what Dorothy Parker had to say:

General Review of the Sex Situation

Woman wants monogamy;
Man delights in novelty.
Love is woman’s moon and sun;
Man has other forms of fun.
Woman lives but in her lord;
Count to ten, and man is bored.
With this the gist and sum of it.
What earthly good can come of it?

I prefer D. H. Lawrence:

But firm at the centre
My heart was found
My own to her perfect
Heartbeat bound,
Like a magnet's keeper
Closing the round.

Do Sa Do. Change houses.

Here is what I found in August 2006 in Missouri. Consider this a letter I wrote you after I’d arrived:

The furnished house I rented sight unseen turns out to be a pit owned by a tenured English professor and her poet husband—both writers. The first thing I had to do was buy a bed as they were sleeping on a 20-year-old futon and I woke the first night thinking I must be the princess and the pea as a stone is clearly sticking into my hip bone. But it was the futon that is hardened over the years into a substance not unlike cement.

Did you know that when you are desperate and have no car—am getting to that—you can order a bed over the phone? The kitchen did not have a working oven for three weeks. The owners didn’t want to fix it—but eventually came around—so as of today I do have an oven, only three of the four burners on the stove work, and the cabinets have virtually no glassware or dishes and every spoon is bent. They didn’t even leave me a can opener that works. But they did leave me the trash can in the kitchen—a metal outdoor can that is some twenty years old and filthy. The house is basically unfurnished and I brought with me only my books, my computer, an old stuffed chair and a small table that I was grateful for as I had a table for the lamp I brought—no side tables—no nothing.

They also left me their car as a gift: It had a flat tire when I arrived and did not have a rearview mirror on the driver’s side. It was filthy dirty, with no gas in the tank and a non-working muffler (I couldn’t hear if someone beeped; the radio was on but I couldn’t hear it except as some sort of odd additional noise and it wouldn’t turn off; only the window on the driver’s side operated. It cost me $125 to get it in some sort of order so that I could buy a few groceries. I then bought a used car by having the salesman drive to my house with whatever he had—desperate woman gives salesman the $5,000 she has saved in an envelope over 11 years of teaching and hoarding bits of cash (couple hundred bucks for my daughter, slipped in her palm, when she needed it, that sort of money)—and I gave him the car. The second day I drove the car, the air-conditioning died, but the salesman who actually stopped and bought me milk and orange juice when I asked came back and had it fixed (I hoped—not really) after I had signed the paper releasing him of all warranty and declaring the car I had just bought was a junker—a Missouri law. I am not making this up.

Then I drove to school: The university would not declare me as present and working without showing the strange fiscal officer for the English Department (everyone tells me she is OCD) my actual Social Security card. It did not matter to her that I know my number. She wouldn’t accept my passport or driver’s license. I had to come back to DC for settlement on the house in Adams Morgan and was able to locate my card, which I obtained when I began working at age 16—you do the math—and no one has ever asked me for and I have been working since age 16. As a result, I will now be paid eventually but I do not have the all-essential employee id number which would allow me to get paid and get an id card and use the library. Perhaps in a few weeks, I will have that number.

And G-d knows when I will get paid because I appear not to exist.

That is, I fear, a partial story, but here is the good news: I have held up, have only “hit the wall” so to speak once (cried all day the day I had no food, no car, and no way to get food—and that was one week after the initial move). But I love to teach and taught my first class this past Monday, and, as I said, I have a condo in the Penn Quarter (so does D; it is all very weird, I know) to which I will return as often as I can and permanently in mid-May.

But I love to teach and teaching began this Monday. I am writing this on Saturday morning as I wait for the cable guy for whom I waited last week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and who did not show up—no t.v. reception where I live without cable.

And the professor/writer Marly Swick has befriended me, read my collection and loves it, especially the story “Sine Die,” which everyone hates and I think is the best in the series of stories about one woman one day who could no longer cook. Marly has asked me to come speak to both her undergrad and grad writing students the first or second week of classes about that story and my book. I think I’ve made a true friend. (I did.)

And Missouri is unusually gentle: Yesterday, my mail lady rang my bell. She said, “I have been worried about you—the car was here but the mail was piling up. Are you okay?” I told her I had been briefly away, that I had been having a bit of a hard time here, but that she reassures me about the goodness in the world.

Nietzsche and the Brothers Grimm are not so different. This I am learning. I do wonder if Nietzsche is the reality check on wishes and dreams. I refuse to believe this while I consider the possibility.