(This is an excerpt from my most recent novel: One Hundred Open Houses)
The apartment was a big studio with a step down living room. The kitchen and dining area were on the upper landing. I was thinking, why don’t I just buy this and be done with it but what gave me pause was the location. It wasn’t just about the apartment; it was about what happened when you stepped out the door. It was about being in the heart of a neighborhood that delighted your senses. It was about what they call psychic amenities. I can’t describe it completely, but there is a sense of well being, of feeling special and optimistic, that comes with a neighborhood. You feel it when you are near the center of the New York grid downtown. Sidewalk cafés may be filthy inside and bogus, too, but they give you a sense of drama. Walking on streets with no building higher than five floors fires your imagination about what is possible and romantic in this world. Townhouses with even the straggliest window box or the most tarnished brass knocker on the door, makes your heart sing. 233 West 20th was just too freaking far west. Seventh avenue just didn’t do it for me. It was a good buy, no doubt about it. But it was not the place that would fulfill what I needed.
Also, there were painful memories embedded in this part of New York for me. My marriage was coming apart when I had walked these streets. I had only agreed to look at the apartment because the agent had promised to show me how much value there was in the area. I was gloomy driving in that morning. Max had called the previous day to tell me his dad was in the hospital. I had tried to call him but there is no answer in his hospital room.
When I finally reach the ex, we have a surprising heart to heart during which we both admit, we can’t take in love. Here’s how we arrived at this strange confessional. They have not yet diagnosed his high fever, so I emphasize how much his children love him. He seems surprised and says, “You know how hard it is for me to accept love.”
“Get in line,” I say, just to be agreeable. I have no idea if I can accept love or not.
“I can’t accept it either.”
“You can’t?” He says astounded, as if he just met me. “Maybe that’s my fault.” I’m not sure it’s his fault but say nothing. And then, because I’m at work (although that has never stopped any indiscretion before) I say some other sappy things and try to close on a good note. He finishes off by declaring. “The day you drove off from this house for the last time, you said, ‘I still care for you.’”
I, who have a mind that retains everything have no recollection of such a leave taking and am astounded that he has tucked that scene away all these years when he forgets almost everything else. I might have said it. I’m crazily nice sometimes. I tend to want to finish off a scene in a memorable way.
Then he starts rhapsodizing about how great all the kids are and we are so lucky. Rather than nit pick, I agree. The truth? I’m embarrassed by this kind of confessional. I feel as if we’re trying to say something important to fulfill some psychological blueprint put out by Dr. Phil. If I never hear the word “closure” again it will be bliss. The whole concept is misguided because it would take years of hard work to get to a one-sentence wrap-up of where we went wrong.
Now here’s where I can document that there is something big missing from my make-up. I don’t see any point in talking about all this unless we are going to take it down to the last rung. And that last rung is really dangerous because it is the simple truth but sounds horrendously callous. Oh, by the way, I married the wrong person OR perhaps I’m not the marrying kind, so, no matter how much you can or can’t take in love, it wouldn’t have made any difference. OR, when I married you I was in a trance and then, it sort of seemed okay for a while, and then all those kids came and I was distracted. But now we’re done, you know what I mean? OR, don’t let’s forget all the hormones that kicked in during all those pregnancies and possibly distorted all emotions.
Do I care about you, do I not care about you, what does it matter? I live far away. Most days, I handle life on my own and you handle life on your own. We’re not each other’s problem anymore. Of course I said none of this. It wouldn’t be polite, to say the least, and would have caused resentment as the truth often does.
Some might see this as a cold, unfeeling analysis of our lives. But let me just remind you that we all want to hit it out of the ballpark. And how can we do that if we let all the misguided sentimental untruths keep us in perpetual dawdling. Many of my favorite lines come from “Gone With The Wind” and the adjective “mealy mouthed” uttered by Scarlett and the opinion “it ain’t fittin” uttered by Mammy, come to mind. I don’t want to be mealy mouthed when I explain my emotional life. It ain’t fittin’. I cry sometimes and I can even sob but usually it’s when I think how the boys will feel when I die. Maggie will be sad but it won’t crush her. As for my marriage? I don’t know what that was all about. I really don’t. And maybe I don’t need to know.
You have only to remember Willa Cather’s My Mortal Enemy. - where there’s a realization at the end of life that the person you’ve been living with is your mortal enemy. And suppose the person is you? Of course it’s you. Now that I think about it, it has to be you. That’s why you have to take care of these things while you still have a chance. You don’t want your dying words to be “Oh, bummer! The murderer? It was me all along.”