In which I set out to write a novel detailing my unsteady course through life, which began promisingly in the cosseted suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland; moved through a childhood characterized by the sturdy but not overbearing love of both parents and the evident but not embarrassing admiration of a younger sister; rocketed through an entertaining and rewarding adolescence filled with academic, cultural, and athletic achievement that was shattered irretrievably by the death in a car accident of my younger sister when she was sixteen and I was eighteen; spent six months mourning her, not only in death, but mourning her retroactively in life, as it became apparent after her accident that she was hardly the model of sweetness and decorum I thought I knew but instead a rather wild girl who was, at the time of her accident, sky-high on angel dust and going down on a thirty-two year-old real estate agent who was in the process of driving her to a model house in Virginia for their regularly scheduled Thursday afternoon tryst; paused briefly in a hospital, not physical but mental, for exhaustion brought on by recurring dreams of murdering the real-estate agent, who was cleared of all charges in the accident and went on to become something of a tycoon in the neighborhood, developing several townhouse complexes, including the one in which I now live; then picked up again with a series of entertainingly self-destructive romances, one succeeding the other in such rapid succession that, viewed together they acquire the feel of silent screen comedy; and finally came to rest on the smooth, cool brow of a woman I met in a flower shop. (I was there buying flowers for another woman, a woman who was in fact my wife, but whose goodwill toward me had grown so attenuated that calling her my wife was akin to calling a dog who was biting me “my pet” (I told her this once and she said, “are you comparing me to a fucking dog?” and then she threw a cigarette lighter at me, lit, though it lost its flame the second it left her hand).) I took the flower shop woman to dinner the following week (we found that we made each other laugh, and that we looked somewhat good together in the mirror behind the bar), took her to bed the week after that (I must say that my performance was poor, due primarily to the fact that for weeks I had been making a habit, each night, of drinking a half-dozen rum and cokes, which my doctor was later to tell me was laughably destructive to what he euphemistically called my “physical well-being,” given that it robbed me of proper sleep and also introduced a mild toxin into my bloodstream), saw her decreasingly for a few months and then, for six months, not at all (she told a mutual acquaintance that she was not sure what she felt, but that she was sure that she felt enough negative things to outweigh any positive ones, and the mutual acquaintance, being a sadist, related the news to me promptly), then ran into her in a movie theatre, then began to see again, first for a few friendly meals, then romantically once again (this time with markedly better results), and then, hoping against hope, my heart clutched like a fist, in a small upstate inn at which I proposed an arrangement, not marriage exactly, given that I was still somewhat married, but an understanding in which she and I would spend a single evening together each week, building on our goodwill, ignoring the fact that I was still in something of a muddle and that she not only had the same name as my sister, but shared her hair color, her bell-when-struck laugh, and her penchant for lovely, if expensive, shirts that accentuated the shape of her body, particularly her breasts (the woman, not my sister, though I suppose it was true in my sister’s case as well, despite the fact that I tried my hardest not to think of my sister as a sexual being, even after the facts of her death came to light (let me also mention that this woman knew that she had wonderful breasts, or, as she liked to say, “grade A tits,” and that she wasn’t too shabby in the other departments either)), all contributing to a similarity between the two women that, had I had any foresight at all, I would have seen as psychologically problematic (and that’s not even counting the fact that this woman was, by any objective standard, a hard case, given to fits of rage and petulance, somewhat entitled, high in dudgeon but also, underneath the armor, sweet and perceptive and affectionate, if also somewhat self-conscious about her sexuality (when she was single, she once told me, she used to arrange evenings in which she masturbated in each room in the house, to which I said, drolly, “even the bedroom?”)), but instead ignored and moved blindly forward on a. . . cloud?. . . no. . . a raft?. . . no. . . a flying carpet of goodwill, trusting that my love for her would at length prevail.
November 5, 2002
Oh Mama!, Part One
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