Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Catholic Boys

NB: This is the second essay (See 8/21/06 for the first) in what may or may not become a series of open letters to people who were once in my life. Like many writers, I tried to distill these people into characters, hoping to expand upon actual events and create some decent fiction in the process.

I failed. Glossing these people into facsimiles was like stuffing a ball gown into a duffle bag: swags and frills and folds kept escaping; the entire mess refused to zip up neatly.

So, creative nonfiction.

Names, dates, physical identifers, and actual events have all been altered to protect privacy.

Because this is a long essay, I will post over several days.

1. Openers

This happened once before. I was writing about another person. I tried fiction, failed, ended up moving to non-fiction and writing an essay I loved, one that caught the necessary nuances. Maybe I can do this with you, and with the others. A bizarre collection. Or recollection: People I’ve Known. Of course some of you are still alive, requiring some alterations—fictionalizing—on my part. You did not ask to be written about.

You in particular asked for none of it. My memories of you are laced with stinging humiliation. But I will talk more about that later, in this non-fiction, altered-to-protect-your-privacy document.

I tried to write about you, many pages of an intended story: I could not get inside your head. The question is why I ever wanted to be there to begin with.

It’s twenty-two years since we were together. Next month you will turn forty-five. You were seventeen when I met you. I was thirteen. The year we were together you turned twenty-one; I, seventeen.

Your hair must be gone. It was thinning even then. Thick glasses: you had them then, so you must now. You are not the type to consider laser surgery. People don’t do that where we’re from. Vanity. Wasted expense.

By now you must be wearing bifocals.

Your face is the same. Wide nose, thin lips. Clean-shaven. A few more lines. That’s all.

And your body? Back then you had a lean, muscled build, a teenaged boy’s body. Now maybe you’re softer about the middle, with the beginnings of a beer gut. But not a huge belly. I don’t see that. You weren’t much of an eater. You were a drinker. I’m certain you’re more of one now. So am I. That would surprise you. Back then I had a prissy disapproval of alcohol. I hated beer. Now I drink nearly every night.

Sometimes I imagine you seeing me today. Your surprise. As a teenager I was overweight. I did not know how to dress, did not care for my fingernails, and had terrible teeth. I am not fashionable now, but possess style; I wear long skirts in dark colors with high boots. My ears are pierced. My nails are short and unpolished, my cuticles manicured. As for my teeth, the braces come off in three months. The extra twenty-five pounds you knew me with are gone. Recently, somebody at my office recently referred to me as “skinny.”

Skinny was important to you. You never asked me to lose weight, but let slip your disapproval. Your ideally pretty girl was your roommate’s girlfriend. She was tiny, blonde, hipless in a way Jewish girls can only dream about. You once told me you got hard just from watching her walk past you.

I never evoked that response. I wasn’t your type, even when we were together. There was just too much of me, those large breasts and wide hips, topped by that Semitic face. Which has only grown more Semitic with time.

But you were my type. You still are; you were a prototype, an imprint affecting my future dating choices, even the man I married. His eyes are the same color as yours; you are the same height and build. Both of you are shy with strangers.

Were you my type before I met you, an inborn inclination, or did I fall in love with you and then you became my type? Was I born to fall for blue-eyed Catholic boys?

2. A list:
--French maid costume
--Caribbean Queen at 6 a.m.
--Miller High Life mirror
--Mandy’s fingernails
--Glamour Magazine. Guns and Ammo.
--your parents
--old photos

I made this list one night. I was trying to capture the essence of that moment. I still thought I was using it for fiction. In the end I did not, but kept the list. It alone successfully evokes the feeling I am attempting to convey.

3. Chronology

The chronology is dull. A little over a year, an ecstatic beginning, a drawn-out, hideous ending. So overdone. So adolescent. I never ended a relationship that way again. Instead I snip them off neatly, as if the bonds of love or friendship can be severed simply by ceasing communications. Even my divorce hurt less. Of course I did not love him. He was rebound. From you.

4. A beginning

I met your oldest brother first—Jay. I was eleven. I wore a long-sleeved blue t-shirt and jeans. Isn’t it funny what one remembers? I remember that blue t-shirt, its heaviness and drape. I sat quietly, listening to him talk. I liked him a great deal: he was warm and funny, he a great honking laugh that made everybody want to crack him up, just for the joy of hearing him.

Later I met Ryan, your favorite brother, and Marcus, a roommate. Ironically, I don’t remember meeting you. I know I was thirteen and passionately attracted: I don’t know why. It was random, inexplicable, there from the moment we met. You were not handsome. Pleasant-looking, slightly built, shy. You had little to say for yourself. Yet I found you immensely attractive. Looking at the photos, I still do. And I still have no idea why.

5. First dates

Over the next three years our circles touched through drug dealing, parties, the occasional home repair: you or Jay or Ryan, turning up to fix the roof or get under one of the cars. I made a point of being wherever you were, coasting on those small exchanges for weeks. I spent hours daydreaming about you, vast amounts of mental time I no longer have. Well. Here I am, daydreaming about you once more. God help me. This at least is aimed daydreaming, daydreaming with intent. Writing is a wonderful excuse to exhume, revisit, embroider.

To daydream and convince yourself you are acting with intent.

I knew you would never ask me out. There was your shyness. Our four year age difference. The real reason, which I did not see then: it never occurred to you to be interested in me. So I called you. Suggested a movie. You agreed.

6. A present interjection

This morning, while I was driving to work, AC/DC came on the radio. Bon Scott screaming at seven thirty on a Tuesday morning as I sped to the office. I do not like my job. It is the near-meaningless employment of an upper-middle class, middle-aged liberal. So there I was, listening to Bon Scott, twenty-seven years dead, screaming about shoving your nine to five living and your collar and your tie, and sticking your moral standards, which were all a dirty lie, and agreeing wholeheartedly. Around me were dozens of unhappy drivers in an identical state. When did we lose our ground? Become middle-aged? When did our music go out of style? All of these things have happened since we knew each other, since our skins were fresh and unlined and we hoped for better lives than the ones we live.

But I project. Perhaps you like your work. Your life. Accept the creeping indignities of middle age. You did not yearn the way I did. That is, you did not yearn for the same things. What did you yearn for? I never looked past my image of you long enough to find out.


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