July 22, 2009

Let Sotomayor be the judge

When Judge Sotomayor was about to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, I was more interested in her love life. She lives alone now. The New York Times tells me that some time ago, after her divorce (she married young), she “had fallen in love with the dapper and gray-bearded Peter White, a building contractor and that by 1998, they were engaged and living together, though they put off a wedding until after her Senate confirmation [to the Court of Appeals]. Her induction speech turned unexpectedly moving when she spoke of him.

“‘Peter,’ she said, turning to her fiancĂ© at the time, ‘you have made me a whole person, filling not just the voids of emptiness that existed before you, but making me a better, a more loving and a more generous person.’

“‘Many of my closest friends,’ she added, ‘forget just how emotionally withdrawn I was before I met you.’

“With that, Mr. White helped her slip into a black appellate robe.

“Less than two years later, she gave a party at their newly renovated apartment for his 50th birthday. And not long after that, their relationship ended. He returned to Westchester County, bought a small boat and married a woman who was an acquaintance of the judge and 14 years her junior.”

Bought a boat? Gimme a break.

Let Sotomayor be the judge:

Nietzsche asks, Can you give yourself your own evil and your own good and hang your own will over yourself as a law? Can you be your own judge and avenger of your law? Terrible it is to be alone with the judge and avenger of one’s own law. Thus is a star thrown out into the void and into the icy breath of solitude.

… There are feelings which want to kill the lonely; and if they do not succeed, well, then they themselves must die. But are you capable of this—to be a murderer?

It took more than three years for my separation agreement to be signed. I don’t fully understand the delay as not much money was at stake, and I did want it signed. D. says he did too, but I think the agreement presented a finality that I needed and he didn’t. I could be wrong. Ultimately, he saw that signing it would help me to believe in him—and it did.

At first while it was unsigned—even though we lived apart—I feared dating or, as it turns out, screwing around because I feared angering D. and because I believed if I were not legally separated, I committed adultery. That may in fact be true, based on the ten commandments, a pretty good source. Do we read them literally? Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Honor thy father and mother.

Nietzsche says, The worst enemy you can encounter will always be you, yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caves and woods.

The first man I had sex with after D. left me was married and I knew it from the get-go. He knew me from my lecture work at the Smithsonian—took one of my classes there. I now wonder if I was giving off light the way a firefly flashes for sex. He would assert that some of the females eat the males.

He wrote down for me all the reasons I should not sleep with him. He was seeking a long-term, casual affair in the city: My new condo would be convenient. You’ve got to admire the honesty of this:

“Things a man seeking an affair but wishing to be honest might say. He would entitle this Love’s Labour’s Lost:

You do not want to be involved with someone like me. I could give you the Letterman 10 reasons but you don’t need that many. Did you know that I am:

The grand wizard of the order of remorseless philanderers
A love sucking leach
One who likes to toy with women and words
An emotional and melancholy romantic
One who loves love
Emotionally needy
Surely that is more than enough to make any sane woman avoid me like the plague.”

And he told me he had a long-term girlfriend whom he loved but couldn’t see anymore because he was ruining her life. He lives in DC. She lives in one of those New England states: Vermont or New Hampshire or Maine where he bought some real estate that he, on occasion, “must manage on-site.”

He buys and sells large apartments, including tenements, and office buildings—this career after a long distinguished career in one of the sciences (vague on purpose here).

He pursued relentlessly once he knew “my story,” as if I knew “my story.” But I was good at the poor-little-me-husband-rejects-me story when he invited me to lunch.

And I had all that La Perla underwear. And I owned a condo in DC. I never let real-estate-guy into it. Instead I did this:

I had unexpected—not excused—sex with him in a building he owned that was being changed over, for a new renter, offices being readied. He had taken me to lunch and said before he dropped me at the metro, might he make a quick stop? Come along. While he stood evaluating the progress of the renovation, he said he’d take me to his club (there are such clubs in DC, once called men’s clubs: Who knew?) on Monday after the weekend that he’d spend with his wife, that he’d take me there in the late afternoon, to an elegant room where he would meet me again the next morning. It seemed so civilized, so genteel, so considerate, his proposal, his mannerly adultery. That’s how it would be he said in the stripped-down office where we stripped down.

I removed my shirt after he kissed me. I removed my shoes and socks and trousers. My feet stuck to the floor because it had been treated with something that is done to floors before the final flooring is laid. He removed my panties that I’d chosen special to go with the bra even though they didn’t match. I wore the bra with the tiny pink ribbons, one on the edge of each strap, the black bra with pink-stitched quilting across my breasts. My panties were sheer pale cream with a scalloped edge of embroidered flowers. The flowers, rimmed with green embroidered leaves, were the same shade of pink as the tiny ribbons, so tiny one would think a fairy or an angel child had tied them. I thought, Angel fingers on my chest where the thin black straps lay, where the ribbon barely touched my skin. I thought this some time after I’d gone into the ladies room to tidy up and to clean the bottoms of my shoes which were covered with the sticky stuff. At home I washed my feet because they were also covered with the pale cream residue of the floor that had lain under the wood-brown Formica table where I’d lain while he’d stood and fucked me.

And someone saw us. The renter perhaps? Whoever the suited-man was, he walked away. But his shadow remains on the inside of my eyelids.

I sat alone that weekend while he and he wife went out with friends and knew that my father was right, when D. and I were still together, when my father lay in a state of anesthesia-induced schizophrenia after his hip had broken and been repaired, when he said, “You’re a whore.”

I refuse real-estate-guy: The Formica table and the dirt on the soles of my feet.

Real-estate-guy responds: “Mary, you are a ball buster!! I need to see a crack in your armour my dear sweet lovely lady—I think.” Was the “I think” a comment on what he needed or on the question of my sweetness?

Later he pursued on issues of faith? I never understood. Catholics help me with this one. He said, “I need to convert you to a Catholic for whom hope and faith are enduring.”

He wrote: “Tomorrow is Lent and I will abstain until Easter the most wonderful holy day in Christendom.” What was he abstaining from? Visiting the girlfriend in Vermont or New Hampshire? She was Catholic. That he’d told me. A single mother who worked two jobs: social worker and hotel housekeeper (how he met her: she carried his bags) and who raised one child, a daughter, alone.

During Lent this year on April 16, my separation agreement was signed. During Lent this year, I had lunch at Zaytinya, a tapas restaurant I love, with real-estate-guy who asked, “So, is your agreement signed?” And I answered, “Yes.” “Well then,” he said, “let’s go to your condo.” I replied that D. and I were seeing one another. He said, “The only reason he would ever get back with you is to avoid paying you alimony.” I asked about the girlfriend. He told me that when her daughter had gone to college, she’d gone to an Ashram in India and when she returned, she broke off the affair for good.

That night I slept and dreamt: Heavy woman on road in Vermont, North Conway. She has a full round face. She is outside and so is her refrigerator. She is using a robotic cleaner, a small round battery-powered device that is washing the refrigerator and its stainless steel is spotless, gleaming when my mother and father and I come upon her and it. She does not seem to be the owner of the house but clearly is in charge. She invites us into the garage where she lives.

The woman’s mother and father live in a beautiful large colonial with gardens but the woman’s mother is not happy with the woman’s father. My mother leaves to talk with the woman who tells her that she must address the problem and the problem is that there is no sex in her marriage. So, I go with my mother to solve the problem. She and my father visit a whore. The bordello is across the street from a school. It is in the middle of suburbia. I am in the room with my mother, my father and the whore who gives us each a set of picture frames with family pictures that are not our own; each of us has a picture of ourselves inside another family. The frames of the pictures are red. The room has no furniture, no bed, just closets that line the stained walls. The whore is stocky with blond curly hair. She dances with my father. I cannot bear to watch and take my pictures and leave. My mother finds me and tells me that all is well. I ask, How did that happen? She says, The whore danced with me. You can live here with us in this beautiful house.

Nineteen years ago my mother lay stroke-stricken and dying on the hospital bed where I’d come to see her in the part of the hospital where the dying are left to die. She was asleep and would die the next morning. The sheet was off, her nightgown, up around her waist, her hand on her clitoris. I covered her with the sheet. The memory lies on the insides of my eyelids.

If Nietzsche is right that we must murder the feelings that want to kill the lonely, I had not begun that conversation with myself. I had murdered my body instead.

Meanwhile D. read fiction in the solitude of his condo: Twenty-two books of fiction the year I was in Missouri.

Let Sotomayor be the judge.

July 12, 2009

The elephant

It’s as if I have a large table with all the pieces for the jigsaw puzzle. It’s a question now of seeing how they all fit. And what about the elephant? He’s there, too.

July 11, 2009

Looking for the map

Jenny Sanford, wife of the governor of South Carolina, was quoted in my favorite rag The New York Times, as she ended one foray with reporters obsessed with her husband’s admitted affair with an Argentine woman, “I wish we had room on the boat for all of you, but we do not.” She is about to go on a trip, in the middle of the sea, to, presumably, get away from the media storm.

She appears to know where she is going, but I think somewhere along the line, she will need a map.

D., while looking for his map, told me that he had built his boat. How many divorced men do you know who live in Annapolis and have bought a boat? D. has built a metaphorical boat. He tells me he needs to figure out how to sail it. He tells me if I wait, the boat will be there. There will be room on that boat for me.

The waiting is hard so he tells jokes:

A genie appears before an old Jew and offers him one wish—anything he wants. The old man strokes his beard, thinks for a minute and says, “Wait a minute let me get my map.” He brings out an old, wrinkled map of the Middle East, spreads it out before the genie and tells him, “See these countries here? They don’t get along. They have fought for thousands of years. I would like to see them all live together in peace.” The genie looks slightly taken aback. He says, “I’ve heard of this. I don’t think what you want is at all possible, even for me. Is there anything else—anything—that you would like instead?” A wistful smile crosses the old man’s face as he says, “Well, I’d like my wife to give me a blowjob.” After a long pause, the genie replies, “Can I see that map again?”

The elephant on the table sits in this joke.

When we were together, he could not tell me why pleasure was problematic. And I could not forgive him for not taking pleasure when I offered it. I am ashamed of this now—among many other things that sit in the shame box of the map I need. The shame box sits with the north, south, east, west compass. No way to find my way without it.

One Valentine’s day, I waited at home for him in the four-story house in Adams Morgan with the chef’s kitchen. I finished my writing and then made his favorite dish: Russian Chicken Burgers with Stroganoff Sauce. I roasted beets in the oven (if you haven’t done this, it’s worth a try: a roasted beet beats any beet you’ve ever eaten). I let them cool and then slice the beets and cut the slices with a heart shaped cookie cutter (It was tacky, but I’d been shooting hoops for too long). I cooked rice: the Stroganoff sauce loves rice. I set the table with the farm dishes I love: scenes of home and family like the drawing my daughter made in first grade of a cutout butterfly pasted and floating on background of scribbled chalk—sun, grass, house (right in the center)—now on faded construction paper. This childhood drawing hangs framed in the condo where I live alone now. It used to hang in my writer’s room and library in the four-story house where that Valentine’s Day dinner went south when I went south. We had eaten in the dining room and I came around the table to give him a blowjob: he shoved me away.

The shame of this is mine: I could not forgive him for this rejection. I don’t understand even now why he couldn’t accept, but I do understand how painful it must have been for him to push me away.

Salman Akhtar, psychiatrist and poet, has written in his book Broken Structures, p. 375, “The Parable of Two Flower Vases.” I hope he will forgive me here for paraphrasing the psychoanalytic phrasing of the question that resulted in his parable. The question was from a student who wanted to know (my version here) if someone who had lost his map and gone through the discovery needed to find it were compared with “a person who has always been psychologically well adjusted” would the two be indistinquishable?

Here is his answer: “Well let us suppose that there are two flower vases made of fine china. Both are intricately carved and of comparable value, elegance, and beauty. Then a wind blows and one of them falls from its stand, and is broken into pieces. An expert from a distant land is called. Painstakingly, step by step, the expert glues the pieces back together. Soon the broken vase is intact again, can hold water without leaking, is unblemished to all who see it. The lines along which it had broken, a subtle reminder of yesterday, will always remain discernible to an experienced eye. However, it will have a certain wisdom since it knows something that the vase that has never been broken does not: it knows what it is to break and what it is to come together. …”

Russian Chicken Burgers with Stroganoff Sauce: recipe by my beloved Pierre Franey who used to write the column “The 60-Minute Gourmet” in The New York Times where I found this:

The Burgers

1 ½ lbs. skinless and boneless chicken breasts
1 cup fine soft bread crumbs
1 1/3 cup heavy cream
pinch cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons corn or peanut oil (I use olive oil)
fresh dill for garnish

1. Cut the meat (remove cartilage) in 1-inch cubes and put in a food processor; blend to coarse texture.
2. In a mixing bowl, place meat. Blend ½ cup of the bread crumbs with the cream and add to meat. Add the cayenne, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Blend with hands.
3. Divide mixture into four balls, pat down to flatten, roll in bread crumbs. Press to make sure crumbs adhere
4. Heat oil in a skillet. Cook the patties until browned on one side. Turn and cook 10 minutes on other side.

Stroganoff Sauce

1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup finely chopped onions
½ teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup heavy cream
¼ cup sour cream
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add onion and paprika, Cook, stirring until the onion is wilted.
2. Add the vinegar and thyme. Cook stirring until the vinegar reduces.
3. Add the cream and cook until mixture reduces to about half.
4. Add the sour cream, salt and pepper. Heat to boiling point.

I am not able to make this dish in my condo. I am looking for my map and I don’t have a boat.

So what do I do? I date. I screw around trying to find out if I am desirable. I think that is the problem.

D. tells jokes. Special bonus joke:

What do you get when you cross a genius and a hooker?

Answer: a fuckin’ know-it-all.

Get me a map.