I am fat with love! Husky with ardor! Morbidly obese with devotion! A happy, busy bumblebee of marital enthusiasm. I positively hum around him, fussing and fixing. I have become a strange thing. I have become a wife. I find myself steering the ship of conversations- bulkily, unnaturally- just so i can say his name aloud. I have become a wife, i have become a bore, I have been asked to forfeit my Independent Young Feminist card. I don't care. I balance his checkbook, I trim his hair. I've gotten so retro, at one point i will probably use the word pocketbook, shuffling out the door in my swingy tweed coat, my lips red, on the way to the beauty parlour. Nothing bothers me. Everything seems liek it will turn out fine, every bother transformed into an amusing story to be told over dinner. 'So I killed a hobo today, honey...hahahaha! Ah, we have fun!
That night at the Brooklyn party, I was playing the girl who was in style, the girl a man like Nick wants: the Cool Girl. Men always say that as the defining compliment, don't they? She's a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she's hosting the world's biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot.
Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom. I have known so many sick women all my life. Women with chronic pain, with ever-gestating diseases. Women with conditions. Men, sure, they have bone snaps, they have backaches, they have a surgery or two, yank out a tonsil, insert a shiny plastic hip. Women get consumed.
New York was packed with writers, real writers, because there were magazines, real magazines, loads of them. This was back when the Internet was still some exotic pet kept in the corner of the publishing world--throw some kibble at it, watch it dance on its little leash, oh quite cute, it definitely won't kill us in the night.
Natalie was buried in the family plot, next to a gravestone that already bore her parents' names. I know the wisdom, that no parents should see their child die, that such an event is like nature spun backward. But it's the only way to truly keep your child. Kid grow up, they forge more potent allegiances. They find a spouse or a lover. They will not be buried with you. The Keenes, however, will remain the purest form of family. Underground.
I didn't think past the first step of anything, that was the key. I drank a Coke and didn't worry about how to recycle the can or about the acid puddling in my belly, acid so powerful it could strip clean a penny. We went to a dumb movie and I didn't worry about the offensive sexism or the lack of minorities in meaningful roles. I didn't even worry about anything that came next. Nothing had consequence, I was living in the moment, and I could feel myself getting shallower and dumber. But also happy.
For several years, I had been bored. Not a whining, restless child's boredom (although I was not above that) but a dense blanketing malaise. It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word as a criticism is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't immediately reference to a movie or TV show. A commercial. You know the awful singsong of blase: . I've literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality really can't anymore. I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared scripted. It's a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless automat of characters. And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul mate, because we don't have genuine souls.It had gotten to the point where it seemed like nothing matters, because I'm not a real person and neither is anyone else.I would have done anything to feel real again.
She has that voraciousness about children. She swoops in on them. Even I, in public was a beloved child. She'd parade me into town, smiling and teasing me, tickling me as she spoke with people on the sidewalks. When we got home, she'd trail off to her room like an unfinished sentence, and I would sit outside with my face pressed against her door, and replay the day in my head, searching for clues to what I had done to displease her.I have one memory that catches in me like a nasty clump of blood. Marian was dead about two years, and my mother had a cluster of friends come over for afternoon drinks. For hours, the child was cooed over, smothered with red lipstick kisses, tidied up with tissues, then lipstick smacked again. I was suppose to be reading in my room, but I sat at the top of the stairs watching. My mother finally was handed the baby, and she cuddled it ferociously. Oh, how, wonderful it is to hold a baby again! Adora jiggled it on her knee, walked it around the rooms, whispered to it, and I looked down from above like a spiteful little god, the back of my hand placed against my face, imagining how it felt to be cheek to cheek with my mother.
Yes, I am finally a match for Amy. The other morning I woke up next to her, and I studied the back of her skull. I tried to read her thoughts. For once I didn't feel like I was staring into the sun. I'm rising to my wife's level of madness. Because I can feel her changing me again: I was a callow boy, and then a man, good and bad. Now at last I'm the hero. I am the one to root for in the never-ending war story of our marriage. It's a story I can live with. Hell, at this point, I can't imagine my story without Amy. She is my forever antagonist.We are one long frightening climax.
But one day I will wear him down, I will catch him off guard, and he will lose the energy for the nightly battle, and he will get in bed with me. In the middle of the night, I'll turn to face him and press myself against him. I'll hold myself to him like a climbing, coiling vine until I have invaded every part of him and made him mine.
It was that summer, too, that I began the cutting, and was almost as devoted to it as to my newfound loveliness. I adored tending to myself, wiping a shallow red pool of my blood away with a damp washcloth to magically reveal, just above my naval: queasy. Applying alcohol with dabs of a cotton ball, wispy shreds sticking to the bloody lines of: perky. I had a dirty streak my senior year, which I later rectified. A few quick cuts and cunt becomes can't, cock turns into back, clit transforms to a very unlikely cat, the l and i turned into a teetering capital A. The last words I ever carved into myself, sixteen years after I started: vanish. Sometimes I can hear the words squabbling at each other across my body. Up on my shoulder, panty calling down to cherry on the inside of my right ankle. On the underside of a big toe, sew uttering muffled threats to baby, just under my left breast. I can quiet them down by thinking of vanish, always hushed and regal, lording over the other words from the safety of the nape of my neck. Also: At the center of my back, which was too difficult to reach, is a circle of perfect skin the size of a fist. Over the years I've made my own private jokes. You can really read me. Do you want me to spell it out for you? I've certainly given myself a life sentence. Funny, right? I can't stand to look myself without being completely covered. Someday I may visit a surgeon, see what can be done to smooth me, but now I couldn't bear the reaction. Instead I drink so I don't think too much about what I've done to my body and so I don't do any more. Yet most of the time that I'm awake, I want to cut. Not small words either. Equivocate. Inarticulate. Duplicitous. At my hospital back in Illinois they would not approve of this craving.For those who need a name, there's a gift basket of medical terms. All I know is that the cutting made me feel safe. It was proof. Thoughts and words, captured where I could see them and track them. The truth, stinging, on my skin, in a freakish shorthand. Tell me you're going to the doctor, and I'll want to cut worrisome on my arm. Say you've fallen in love and I buzz the outlines of tragic over my breast. I hadn't necessarily wanted to be cured. But I was out of places to write, slicing myself between my toes - bad, cry - like a junkie looking for one last vein. Vanish did it for me. I'd saved the neck, such a nice prime spot, for one final good cutting. Then I turned myself in.