By Laura Jane Faulds
(Illustrated by Jen May)
That beautiful wife of his was absurdly pretty and I loved her. It was dumb of me to love her but I couldn’t help myself-
“I love the wife!” I told Adelaide.
“That makes no sense,” she said.
“Good!” I cried, “Good. Good, then! Nothing makes sense! Nothing of this entire situation makes any sense at all, so cool! Let’s just go with it! Let’s go with the flow! Who even knows, at this point? I may as well just go the fuck ahead and love his wife; who cares? All bets are off! I love his wife!”
“I see your point,” she said-
Her hips looked very wide to me, so Beyonce-brand slammin’ in that purple or blue or pink or green dress she wore: 1970s polyester, patterned with toucans or pansies or birds of paradise or just as likely something else. I would guess her Zodiac sign as being either Pisces or Virgo. I imagined a (maybe?)-inevitable future wherein my longer-haired self would already have stolen him away from her and, using all the imaginary money I believed he’d give me, would take her out for lunch. A nice lunch. Tucking wispy strands of hair behind my ears although my hair was never that texture, smoking cigarettes because in the story we’re either outdoors and it’s summer or, more interestingly, inside in some weird city where you’re still allowed to smoke indoors- I smoked then, and believed I never wouldn’t- and that’s when she’d forgive me. She would’ve forgiven me in her head a long time ago, but on that shining smoking afternoon she'd tell me and I'd be graceful while eating petit-fours in a world where I’d be graceful, where it’d be so easy for her to forgive me in a world where the Beatles were right and love mattered most, where we’d believe love mattered most because we’d have money, a world wherein I’d love him and he’d love me and she’d see it and she’d love us and we’d love her.
And in this world I invented she was the honey in honeymoon and I was the moon. Where shit makes more sense this way and every perfect thing always happens for the right reasons, where she’d find someone better, and fast. At tea I’d pour more tea into her cup and over its arc we’d unload tales of his most irritating he-isms until I’m crying for laughing and she’d have crow’s feet, I’d touch her ears and using my shoulders for leverage he’d rock back and forth on the balls of his feet and she’d be happy, I’d be happy, he’d be happy, and my belief in the probability of that perverse and dazzling happiness was the defining characteristic of who and how I was that summer.
“There he is,” we whispered, poking each other-
He’d gotten so pudgy since last time. It was in his face, a damp bubble, his chin, which made his lips look small. I liked to imagine him binge-eating sleeves of Oreos emotionally and thinking Ew Matt, you fat piece of shit or whatever. I made no effort to draw attention to myself; we would see each other when we saw each other. I noticed Bwsshnmnynya strolling around the corral, and didn’t realize they were affiliated. She wore cowboy boots. They never spoke. She was anyone.
Several hours passed. The theme of the weather was it’s supposed-to-raininess; everybody boringly talked about how it was gonna rain as we all do when the weather's not completely bland. It never rained and I watched the Fiery Furnaces play their show and then it was over, it never rained, the sun shone, and I performed a ritual. I called the ritual “Five Drags of a Cigarette,” and the embarrassing first sentence of the paragraph I wrote about it three years ago goes Whenever I’m scared to do anything, I’m usually smoking a cigarette, because I’m usually smoking a cigarette, which is so HA. I loved cigarettes SO MUCH, and it, the ritual itself, was basically just me smoking five drags of a cigarette, a babyish little task I invented so I could tell people “I have a ritual called Five Drags of a Cigarette I perform whenever I’m scared to do anything” and they’d think “Gosh, that is so interesting and unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Laura Jane’s a very interesting girl.”
It soothed me zero. The second through fourth lines of the increasingly more "potently" embarrassing paragraph read Those five drags of a cigarette grow increasingly more potent in their ability to imbue every molecule of one’s being with all the confidence and energy needed to do anything. That one last shock of cigarette makes you the best, most fearless human you can be. I came, I smoked five drags of a cigarette, I conquered. (or, “I know the words potent and imbue.” Anything should have been italicized, if not cut. What’s a shock of cigarette. Weird Julius Caesar reference.)
“Hold on,” I told Adelaide, “I have to do Five Drags of a Cigarette.”
“You’re just putting it off,” she said.
“Not true,” I replied, “Five Drags of a Cigarette is important.”
I smoked them, passed Adelaide the butt, and walked backstage. It was an outdoor concert on the river; much of backstage was the jutty grey rocks that frame the East riverbank. I spotted his back from maybe thirty feet away. He was wearing his favourite color, navy blue. Ugh, every fucking time, Navy Sweatshirt Bullshit! He tries so hard to be schlumpy and boring. He loves it.
I punched him in the back of his shoulder. He pivoted on one heel and turned around, looking very much like a deer in the headlights, an ibex caught in the headlights. He was, and is, an ibexy person, ibexy being such the perfect made-up adjective to describe that elusive male body type which reminds me of an ibex and is, so far, only his. He looked like he was from a long time ago, a strapping young lad who played running back at Yale in 1917 and I’m looking at a faded black-and-white photograph of the whole squad on some Tumblr at noon on a Sunday and there is one particular dude who stands out as being the beauty, and it’s him. And everyone else would like the blond guy with sharp cheekbones who looks like the guy who played blah-blah-blah on that show about football everybody likes. But not me, no way, I'm into the schlumpy boring one; he's like a million years old I think, I noticed this weird thing was happening to his face where the veins next to his eyelids pop out a bit, his gentle old skin dying, it looked so rippable, like tissue paper. Hi! Hi! I'll rip it off your face and origami you some little your-own-skin rosebuds.
His chest was straight ivory and in real life it scared me. He’s way old.
His nose, an upside down seven, was sweetly sharp, the tiniest bit out of tune. Like uncorked wine the next morning.
"Laura Jane!" he helloed me, either feigning surprise or in possession of an appallingly bad memory, "I didn't know you were going to be here!"
We hugged; it felt like hugging a seal. I wanted to bite his shoulder.
"Did you tell me you were going to be here?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.
"I guess I forgot," he shrugged, and I frowned. We'd talked about it on the telephone twenty days ago- when I told him I was going to be here, here, today, at this rocks place, he'd said "rap session," that we were going to have a "rap session," and I thought, "You can't misremember the words rap session!" so I trusted myself. I remembered myself being myself and having to accept that he was, in actuality, a man odd enough to say "rap session" casually. I remembered liking him a little bit less for it, though forgiving him immediately obviously, and back at the rocks I thought to say "But you said we were going to have a rap session!" but I was too shy to say "rap session" out loud. I would have felt too stupid saying it.
"That's okay!" I said brightly, and before running off to go load an amp into a van he long-windedly told me a boring story about how he shares a van with his sister underscored by some extra boring facts about the van. I spaced out and imagined myself plucking out the errant coarse hairs between his eyebrows the same way I mentally adjust uneven stacks of books and straighten crooked paintings on the wall. He went to go do his thing and left me standing with his sister, who looked older but more beautiful than in photographs. She had kohl painted around the rim of her entire inside eyes and it sunk her eyes into her face like looking down a well forever. Her skin was a cowboy boot and she was so big, so broad, I felt like a tiny baby next to her and when she asked me what brought me to this "fine borough" (Brooklyn) I stupidly answered, "It was my birthday present!" like a child. I wanted to go die on the rocks.
We made small talk about the book I was writing with her brother that I never wrote with her brother. ("Should be good!" "A good book." "For good people!") When he came back he asked "Laura Jane, will you hang out with me?" and it was the sweetest saddest, the absolute softest. He was a drippy-nosed nerd hiding cross-eyed behind cocker spaniel ears and I swooned, wasn't twelve, was twelve.
"Yes," I said, and then that lady walked over, the absurdly pretty woman with the very wide hips and wacky dress made of toucans. She touched his hip, leaned in, and kissed his cheek.
She must be a lesbian friend of his, I hoped.
"Laura Jane," he said, "I'd like you to meet my wife."
It was like John Lennon on the Ed Sullivan Show: Sorry, Girls! He’s Married. I shook her hand like a champ.
"I'm Bwsshnmnynya," she said.
"Sorry, what's your name?" I asked.
"Bwsshnmnynya," she repeated.
I was puzzled; "Sorry?" I asked again.
"Bwsshnmnynya!" they said at the same time.
I looked helplessly at Matt. (I never knew how to properly explain how that moment felt until I was re-watching the entire series of Mad Men two summers later, when Don tells Peggy, "There are people out there who buy things, people like you and me. Then something happened- something terrible- and the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that. But you do. And that's very valuable."
"Is it?" Peggy asks, and I started to cry.) He was laughing because he thought it was cute. "Why are you making me do this?!?" I wanted to scream, "As if I give a fucking fuck what this woman's name is!"
“Bwssh-nm-ny-nya,” he said slowly, sounding it out.
“Bwssh,” said Bwsshnmnynya.
“Bwssh,” said Matt.
“nmny,” said Bwsshnmnynya.
“nmnynya,” said Matt.
“nya,” said Bwsshnmnynya.
I stared at nothing.
"B-W-S-S-H-N-M-N-Y-N-Y-A," she sighed, fed up with my bullshit.
“Oh! Bwsshnmnynya!” I enthused, miming hitting myself in the head with a shoe like a caveman idiot, “That’s so beautiful!” and she smiled. She forgave my being a lunkhead once I called her name beautiful, and then we were all laughing; what a screwball little event!
They loved me. I was their daughter, their dog. How sweet can life be?I? “I’m Laura Jane! Even his wife fucking loves me!” How neat and lovely. Everything in the entire Universe was 100% cool and fine. She was affable; I affected affability as I felt my heart break,
HERE IS HOW MY HEART BROKE
2) It broke "instantly," instantly to mean that it happened in an instant;
3) I was in shock. I barely even noticed it happened at all.
My heart before that night was heart-shaped: not like a human's heart, but like a charm. My heart before that night was an enamel charm, a heart made for a necklace- when they first made it they thought it was going to be a necklace but then after it was finished they decided "Nah, it's cool, it's really not necklacey enough, I'm sure a human could handle having it"; one guy wondered "Are you sure it's not too delicate?" but everyone else was all "Yeah yeah yeah, whatever," and then the alarm bell went off to signify my being born and so I was the baby who got it.
"Thanks," I thought sarcastically as it thrashed and banged its way to the ground. Everything, I thought, is exactly like an ocean.
"Laura Jane and I are writing a book together," he told her. She'd never heard my name before, those three stupid names in order.
"Sounds like fun!" she exclaimed, and I felt sorry for her. It must suck to find out that your thirty-seven year old husband is writing a Beatles Book with his twenty-four year old fan.
"Yes," I said.
"Laura Jane is a writer," said Matt.
"That's nice!" said Bwsshnmnynya, "What kinds of things do you write?"- a question as redundant as the statement which preceded it.
Beatles Books with your husband, I imagined myself telling her; I don't remember what I said. "What is happening?" I wanted to ask him, "Is this an accident? Is something blowing up in your face? Is she mad at you? Am I your girl on the side? If not, can I be?"
Her hair was pulled back into the desperate ponytail of a woman whose hair has finally grown out to the minimum length a ponytail requires. I listened to them murmur back and forth: she was going out to dinner with people, I gathered.
"My wife's going out to dinner with people," he explained. I nodded enthusiastically, as if to say "Dinner! Wow! That sounds so great!"
"I'm not going to go with her," he told me, sounding very somber, "I'm going to hang out with you instead."
"I'll call you," he said.
"I'll put my phone on vibrate," I said, accidenti-sluttily.
Adelaide asked: "So?"
I shrugged, "He's married," sounding shockingly undisturbed I'm sure. Already my head was writing the sexy new "girl on the side" version of the tale; I was a hopeless romantic as well as being stupid. I can't justify the nonchalance with which my younger self chased after married men but hey when all else fails blame your parents. Mine had an unhappy marriage so it's something different, "the institution of marriage," something I find it very easy to poke holes in. And at the same time married men love me- I can't help it! They just do. I make a fabulous fantasy- dark-haired writer with devil-may-care attitude who'd probably be into kinky shit I bet; they're bored of their dull wives I mean lives and so I represent a certain freedom. I hate representing things but I'm a person, so when dudes like me I like it. I don't go after married men anymore because now I'm too lazy to deal with getting in all that trouble, but when I did it I did it to avenge my little kid self, which is sweet of me and I like how I've figured out a way to have done something awful but still make it seem like I'm a good person. I'm a good person. I'd think back to my seven year old self drowning in summer sunlight while crying in a bedroom, how sad it was to spend my time around the way they treated each other, those clipped and nasty voices they used, the way my friends never wanted to come over to my house because their shitty energy was such a bummer to be around. I liked the idea of Myself as Other Woman because maybe I could help dissolve a marriage that needed dissolving and I saw that as a good thing, a good deed. Maybe I could save some unborn kid from being me.
For dinner we ate macadamia nut bread pudding, French fries with mayonnaisey dressing and cucumber sangria. He kept his promise, called while I was in the bathroom. I called him back and he didn't answer. I freaked out and then he called me again. And then we left and I saw him standing where he told me he'd be standing, on the corner of N. 6th and Berry Streets, kicking at the dust in the air and waiting. I loved him; I gasped. He was so perfect and there was no one else in the world he'd be better-suited to waiting for. He touched my shoulder, and we walked.
"Are you surprised that I'm married?" he asked.
I said, "I'm neither surprised nor not surprised." (Seven months later he asked me "Are you a sadist, or a masochist?" and I said "Masochist," laughed, "Obviously." The joke was funny because he treated me like shit and I was obsessed with it.)
We walked to a rock and sat on the rock until a cop kicked us off the rock.
"Did you have, like, a wedding?" I asked.
(They, like, did not. Unromantically, they'd gone to City Hall.)
"Did you wear a brown suit?" I asked.
Because you always wore a brown suit when you married me in my head- "I don't know," I shrugged, "I guess it just seems like you would."
(Three years later I will know I love the next man I know I love after watching him toss a wadded-up paper towel into a trashcan. He threw it underhand and from behind; everything I loved about him was in that shot. Precision, ease, masculinity, control.
There is nothing you can say to congratulate the man you just realized you’re in love with for doing a sexy job of throwing a paper towel in the garbage. “Nice shot”? I’d rather fucking die. Just slouch around behind him with your mouth agape as your eyes well up with tears. Understand that you'll get to watch him land that shot again as you’re dying on your deathbed, watching your whole life flash before your eyes.)
We got up off the rock and walked. I watched the J train caterpillar across the bridge and I asked him if he’d ever taken the J Train. My last year in New York I lived in Bushwick and took the J Train to school every morning; I wanted to tell him about it. I wanted to tell him how before I got sick I’d stop into the Myrtle & Broadway Dunkin’ Donuts and buy a coconut iced coffee the size of my three of my faces, inhale it as I flew across the river, waking up to the sight of the Manhattan skyline: icy and tired, ever-effective.
But he didn’t hear the letter “J” I’d said, and answered my question as if I’d asked him, “Have you ever taken a train?” and I wondered of what a wild world that would be! A world wherein I’d be so boring that all I could think to ask Matt Friedberger was if he’d ever taken a train. In his life.
“Oh, yeah!” he replied, “I take the train all the time!”
(Three years before I watched a man throw a wadded-up paper towel into a trashcan I watched a man kick a seemingly-empty pack of Camel Lights across a sidewalk. I loved him a little bit for kicking garbage; every dude's the star of the story I'll eventually write about living that day or a couple of them and I liked the idea of writing a leading man who's a garbage-kicker but that wasn't how I knew I loved him. The pack turned out to be nearly-full and the cigarettes spilt all over the street like Crayolas on a Playskool table I gasped and yelled "Sweet!"- as a smoker I hated Camels, loved Marlboros, but I'd sure as hell smoke Camels, or anything, if they were kicked by a hot foot and free off the street, or even just free off the street.
Matt laughed. "You want those?" he asked.)
Three months later I deconstructed the cigarette pack and pasted the pieces into my notebook. On one inner flap of the flip-top are printed four circles in a square-shape. Two on bottom, two on top. Light brown, dark brown, blue, and yellow. I have no idea what they mean but I see them in my head almost every day of my life. Every circle I see reminds me of those circles and think about how often you see a circle.
(Yes, I wanted them. I wanted them terribly.
He got down on his knees and picked up every fallen cigarette. He put them all back in the pack right side up; he took that care and he took that care for me, which meant even more because he didn't smoke and never smoked and he gave me the pack while he was still on his knees as if proposing and I thought I'd rather be the girl to whom he gave those cigarettes than the woman to whom he gave a ring. I noticed he didn't wear one.
When I got back to Toronto I told that story to my friends and I told them that was the moment I knew I loved him for real, and I wasn't lying, but I was wrong.
I thought I loved him because he did that nice thing for me, because he got down on his hands and knees for me. I thought I loved him because he cared, but really I loved him because he didn't. I I loved him because he was down on his body getting dirty and it meant he was chill enough not to give a fuck about how I'm chill enough not to give a fuck about putting all that dirt in my mouth. Most people would think it was nasty and unhygienic to smoke street-dirty smokes but between us it was so obvious that out of the two of us nobody gave a fuck. I break the five-second rule once per day minimum and touch my eyes after touching garbage and sit on toilet seats without putting toilet paper down and nothing bad has ever happened to me in my life. In this world I believed we were creating we could be disgusting and free together, and all I'm ever after is a man I'd be free to be disgusting around. Going back to that binge-eating sleeves of Oreos thing and the schumpiness of his personal brand he hell of seemed to fit the bill-)
"Where are we walking to?" I asked.
"Right here," he said, and pointed to a white bench.
“Let’s talk about the Beatles,” he suggested, “Let’s practice, for our book.”
We sat on a white bench that I walked back to a summer later and found had disappeared. It wasn’t gone for any cool or interesting reason, which was the worst or best part in that it was the part that was most like life; it just made boring old sense. Sense. How awful! So life of life, being all life about itself, using its uncompromising boringness to brutally fuck with my being a writer, poor poor writer now faced with the challenge of “How to make the most boring reason our white bench could possibly be gone because of” into something less boring, or- why even bother? Honestly, all that happened was that a plant shop opened up next door. It was an outdoor plant shop, a nursery- so hip so adorable- “soooooo Williamsburg.” I suppose the piece of sidewalk that the white bench used to sit on now belonged to the plant shop owners, and I suspect they got rid of the bench because, boringly, they didn’t want loiterers hanging around outside their cool new plant shop, because they were boringly afraid the loiterers wouldn’t spend any money there.
Worse yet, across the street from where the white bench now wasn’t, somebody'd painted a mural of cartoon sharks across a building wall, and isn't that just perfect? Cartoon sharks.
"Okay," I said, “Which Beatle would you be?”
“How do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, like, each Beatles is an archetype. Like the elements, or Zodiac signs. Everybody fits neatly into one of them. It’s always really obvious.”
“I'm Paul," he said.
“That’s not true!" I yelped. "You’re totally a George.”
“I'm not,” he insisted, “I’d be Paul McCartney.”
I let it go, believing that he hadn't fully understood the question. I think he just thought, "We're both good at music."
“Do you like Paul McCartney better than John Lennon?” I asked.
“There’s no John Lennon without Paul McCartney," he said, "But overall, I reject that whole dichotomy."
"Weird," I said, "Weird dichotomy to reject."
"What people don't understand," he went on, changing the subject somewhat, "Is that John's the better singer."
“You think John Lennon’s a better singer than Paul McCartney?" I screeched, "That’s the most brazenly retarded Beatles-opinion I’ve ever heard in my life.”
“No it’s not,” he shrugged, “John Lennon’s the best white rock singer of all time.”
“I like George,” I said defiantly, “I think the best singer in the Beatles is George.”
No, I thought. I'd only just said it to be contrary.
“Totally!" I said, "He had this weird voice thing, this really cool, like, voice thing, this totally unique to him, George, voice thing- it’s like, where he always sang, like, really high-ly? But, like, not in, like, falsetto. Just this, like, above your normal voice-voice. John kind of had it too.”
(That's how I talk in real life.)
“Yeah,” said Matt, “I know what you mean.”
“You know what else was weird about George?” I blathered on, “How young he was! During Rubber Soul, he was, like, two years younger than me!”
Matt chuckled, and accused George Harrison of looking like he was “some crazy age.” It was stupid of him to say that; I made a little bit of fun of him aloud. “Some crazy age,” I repeated.
I've never been prouder of myself for anything more than I'm proud of myself for becoming the woman who allowed that night to be upstaged by the picture of the man throwing the wadded-up paper towel into a trashcan. I will consecrate both nights in my mind forever, but only one remains the Norwegian Wood of me. I burnt that bench down and he burnt that bench down and life burnt that bench down and now it's a yuppie nursery. When I watch it back in my head I've seen it so many times I can see it through his eyes or from outside the both of us or as myself, as the girl that I was. I can see his face as I looked up at it; the half-moons beneath what I liked to cutely call his "Strawberry Fields Foreveyes" (because they were or are the same swampy hazel as John's and Paul's and George's in the "Strawberry Fields Forever" video) as if you'd pressed the mouths of plastic cups around them, the Gerber baby curvature of his bottom lip, and what of that night was white and what was red or navy blue and I remember screaming KILL ME by his lovely blue-white fingers, so skinny compared to the bulky rest of him tracing the word McCartney across my arm and does he still remember the red dress I wore and are his fingerprints on my skin still visible by blacklight three years later?? I believe so. And his shoelaces were an interesting color.
He swatted a fly and killed it in his left hand. I was quiet and lazy.
He said he would send me some new songs he wrote and I could tell him what I thought of them. I said I would love that but he never sent them. Ivy crawled along the wall behind us and the sun set at sunset. There is nothing I could have done to make it turn out the way I wanted.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked, “In Toronto?”
I told him I didn’t.
“Is it because you’re into girls?” he asked.
I told him it wasn’t.
"Why, then?" he asked.
Because I'm in love with you, I thought, Because it'll be you until it isn't you anymore. I picked up my tote bag and tried to hide the way the strap was stained brown and tried to hide my bit fingernails. A pack of boys my own age walked past as if on cue and I watched them watch us: girl in red dress sitting on white bench next to man in a navy blue sweatshirt. I crossed my left leg over my right leg and stared them down.
"I ought to buy you a drink,” he sighed.