I had nowhere to go. With tears streaming down my face and the one ounce bag of marijuana in my purse, I firmly pressed the gas pedal to the floor and drove. I drove without a destination. I drove to get away from the south shore town, from my future husband and from this life that was spinning out of control. I drove for about twenty minutes before it occurred to me that I could get randomly pulled over by police and they would see me as a criminal. I could not go to my mother’s house because I was no longer her daughter. My brother was not an option as we had almost no relationship. By this time in my relationship with my future husband, I had pushed most of my friends out of my life. I was too embarrassed to continue explaining my future husband’s erratic behavior. I grew tired of making excuses, so I suppose it was easier to isolate myself. I decided to go back to the apartment. I feared that he would hurt me physically if I got rid of the drugs. But I turned the car around. In doing so, I was accepting what was to come.
When I arrived he said what I was thinking, what I expected to hear. So you decided to come back? You have nowhere else to go…. you’re acting like a baby and overreacting. It’s just pot, not crack, Maria. Everyone smokes pot. I didn’t smoke pot. People I called friends didn’t either. In fact, I turned away friends during high school who did smoke pot. People I worked with didn’t smoke it…did they? What if they sensed I was too much of a ninny to tell me? Not everyone smoked pot. He couldn’t be right. Could he? I didn’t say anything for a while. He kept mumbling things about how fucking ridiculous I was being and asking me questions I had no answer for. Why is this such a big deal? What is your problem anyway? Can’t you just fucking relax? I was beginning to believe his ridicule. No I couldn’t relax.
Eventually things simmered down that night and of course he rolled himself a joint, cracked open a can of Budweiser and began smoking and drinking in the living room. The skunk-like smell of the strange cigarette disgusted me. The T.V. was on and I wound up in the bedroom and tucked myself into the bed. My eyes were wide open for a long time. I was keeping watch over myself thinking of what to do when he eventually crawled into the bed next to me. Tell him to sleep on the fucking couch. Pretend you are sleeping. If he touches you, just go with it so the fighting will stop. I didn’t know how I would handle things and all the scenarios played themselves out in my head. At one point I even hoped he would slide into the bed next to me, wrap his arms around me and tearfully ask for forgiveness. No such luck. I heard him on the phone talking in his loud Budweiser beer voice as though everything were just fine. I couldn’t tell who he was talking to, surmised it was one of his cronies and eventually there was silence the familiar beeps of the phone dialing and a new conversation began. He ended the call with Alright, I’ll see you in a few. The next thing I heard were his feet clomping down the stairs and the door closing behind him. He left the lingering odors of marijuana ashes and open empty beer cans for me to stew in alone. My heart was racing. Where is he going? Will he be right back? Can I fall asleep now? In the morning I woke up alone with no sign of my future husband having returned to the apartment. I cleaned up the mess he left in the living room, got showered, applied my makeup and drove directly to the bookstore where I worked.
The sun was shining and I found my regular parking space. I pulled open the heavy brass-handled door to the smells of coffee lingering in the air and the sweet melodic sounds of Cole Porter‘s Night and Day pouring out of the speakers. Good Morning! One of the girls at the register called out to me. I gave her the biggest smile I could muster and returned the greeting. I was pretending to be cheerful. I pushed aside my pain, put my purse in the back office and walked out onto the sales floor straightening piles of books as I walked toward my post. I made small talk with my colleagues and cheerfully greeted customers. I joked with the guys in the stockroom and checked for special orders in the UPS delivery. I went about my business and loved every minute of it. I was beginning to live a double life.
I left work a little later that evening so that my time at home would be shorter. When I arrived he was waiting there, apologetic and told me he went down the block to visit his friend and hang out. He said he was sorry that I got so upset but that he wasn’t going to give up smoking pot because it was not a big deal and I would just have to get over it. He told me it was cheaper to buy an ounce that buying dime bags all the time and that he was actually saving us money. But he said out of respect for you, I won’t do it in the house. I said it was ok, that I understood. But I didn’t understand. And it wasn’t ok. I don’t know if I was trying to convince him or me.
A few months after this, I received two significant phone calls.
The first was from a Literature professor I became close with while doing my undergraduate degree in Literature. The phone call, despite coming just shy of a year after graduation, was certainly unexpected and caused me to recall a rush of memories. This particular professor taught a class called The Art of Autobiography which captivated me. We focused on the genre through readings by Jean Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin, Anais Nin, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf and Wole Soyinka. The lives of these writiers fascinated me and made me want to experience life at its fullest, richest possibility. Always having kept a journal, I fantasized about the many lovers I would hope write about later in my life like Nin, or zooming in on a tender memory of my mother singing and soothing me as in Proust’s Swan’s Way. In general, I longed to romanticize things about my own life, and things that never really occurred but seemed so nostalgic and romantic in the way only great writing and art can be. Words, thoughts, artistic expressions leaped off the page and grabbed me in the chest and demand that I was present in that moment. I recall over the course of my life, beginning in my undergraduate years, crying real tears for the frustration of not being able to express these emotions myself. Despite beginning my studies three years later than my peers, I was very young then, having the soul of an artist and the heart of a poet. Nothing agonizing had happened to me yet, though I desperately hoped it would. I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined how my life would turn out just a few short years from that very safe, over-romanticized period of time. I worked hard and wrote well and suppose I stood out for being knowledge-hungry and enthusiastic. I suppose, too, that starting a few years later and being one of the older students in the small private university made me stand out a bit for this particular professor. While I was in her class, she asked me to be her assistant at a conference which she was heading, focusing on the life and works of Anais Nin. It took place at the Southampton Campus of our University. I accepted her invitation, feeling very self-important and flattered all at once. I helped with everything from picking up guest speakers at the train station and delivering them to the dorms they would occupy for the weekend-long conference, to distributing programs and basically schmoozing with professors in between speakers. I made sure lunch was served on time and handed out bottles of water. I felt star-struck when meeting professors from all over the country who had written books and delivered papers on Nin. I met and listened to Benjamin Franklin V (yes, a direct decendant), deliver a paper on his research for an upcoming cook he was writing about the life of Anais Nin. There was even a group from Japan who studied the implications of Nin’s work in Japanese feminist culture. I was invited to an after conference party at my professor’s vacation home in Southampton. The evening played out like a Woody Allen film. Gossip amongst the professors about who was sleeping with whom, gossip about promotions within teaching departments and who’s book was rejected by publishers. I drank some white wine and got a little tipsy and had the most interesting conversation with a professor from a big university in California. She had similar observations about the crowd, loved my Woody Allen analogy, and asked me about my future plans, which of course included getting my Ph.D. in Literature. She shared some sage advice and we laughed a lot. I was very intimidated by the crowd and at one point thought my Professor’s husband might have been flirting with me a little while he was playing the piano. He probably wasn’t but at the time I thought he might have been. He taught at Barnard and later wrote a posthumous biography about a great American Poet whom shall remain nameless. It was on the bestseller list for something like three years, and wound up on our “New York Times Best Sellers List” shelf years later while I was the Manager of the bookstore I would begin working in after graduation. My attendance at the party also afforded me the opportunity to meet, speak with and exchange recipes with my professor’s mother – an internationally recognized scholar in the field of Comparative Literature, Symbolism and Surrealism, in addition to being a regular contributor and reviewer for the New York Times Book Review. I remember she had a mustache (as did my professor) of impossibly black hair and a giant bun atop her head and a big round belly that made me believe I was standing before Gertrude Stein herself. The longer I spoke to her, the more beautiful her face became, the more I wanted to be like her… the memories all came in a flash when I heard my professor’s voice on the other end of the phone call. She inquired as to where I had started my Master’s and where I would be doing my Ph.D.. I was silent at the other end of the phone, feeling very disappointed in myself because of my current circumstances. Should I confide in her and tell her about my abusive, alcoholic drug using future husband? No I decided almost immediately. I told her things were going well, that I had decided to take time off before beginning my Master’s and that I had met a fantastic man whom I moved in with. I could detect a bit of disappointment in her voice, but she was non-judgemental, and got to the point rather quickly. She wanted to know if I would be interested and available to be her sole research assistant for a book she was beginning to write on literary perspectives of Anais Nin – a body of work that would be a direct result of the conference I attended and assisted her with the previous year. My heart leapt when she asked me! She explained that she could not afford to pay me, but that I would get a mention in the acknowledgements page which would apparently be a great thing to add to my resume and applications to grad school. I remember looking around the small apartment, scrambling for what my answer would be and recalled difficult and happy moments with my future husband – my name in the acknowledgements page – my name in a book and the chance to do research for a conference I had attended and….. and I accepted the offer. She said she would call again at the beginning of the following week to firm up what she would need me to do first, and suggested I gather and review notes I may have taken at the conference. I hung up the phone, overjoyed and called my future husband…. he was not nearly as excited. Why would you do anything for free? What kind of hours does she want you for? You don’t have time for that shit, you need to work and make money. I started to think about it. His cool reception to my offer made me think like him – yeah, why couldn’t she pay me? Was she taking advantage of me? Maybe I should just say no since he’s so upset about it. When he came home later that evening, he continues to rant about what a ridiculous idea it was. She must’ve thought you would be her nigger bitch and do all her work for her for free, he said. I don’t know why it was so easy, but I started to believe believe he was right. I started thinking my professor had bad intentions of taking advantage of my time and skills…. the next time I spoke to her I told her I was simply too busy with my full time job and dedication to my relationship at home to give her the time she was asking me to devote to the project. I shut my eyes tight as I lied these lies to her. She said it sounded like someone was making me say those things – she was smarter than I could have imagined – and asked me if I needed help. I told her no, and everything’s fine and this is all my decision.She asked me if I was sure, and that she would have another teacher’s assistant currently her student, available to do the research work, but really thought I would put the passion into it. No, I said, I’m sorry but I just can’t right now. And that was the end of that. I would hear from her again in four years time. i arranged a book launch and signing at the bookstore after I became the manager. She and her writing assistant, the student teacher that took my place, arrived all smiles. The professor’s husband, who I swear flirted with me at the party in The Hamptons, was also in attendance. I swear he just had that look flirtatious look about him again. A week before the event, I admit I tore open the box of books from the publisher, plowed through the acknowledgments and forward to search for mention of the teaching assistant’s name. When I found it I found myself reading three whole sentences about her over and over, and rereading it replacing her name with mine to see how it rolled off my tongue. The hours of work necessary to complete this book were made shorter and more bearable by my faithful research assistant, and assistant in all things academic ________ _______” Your love of literature and determination to see this work through until its completion has been much appreciated and admired. From the bottom of my heart, I am so glad I found you. Thank you! Damnit, that was four sentences. My name was forever omitted from any historical connection to my professor, the conference and Anais Nin.
The second phone call I received around the same period of time was from a former friend of mine whom I had not spoken to in nearly ten years. I knew her from summer camp which I attended in Sag Harbor, Long Island from the ages of eight to sixteen when I became a Counselor in Training (CIT’s for short). We were only acquaintances during my younger years at camp. She was definitely one of the “cool” girls at the all-girls Catholic camp located in the sleepy former whaling village nestled in the heart of The Hamptons. She had, I heard, a reputation for being wild since she was from New York City. There were only a handful of girls from The City that attended. One of them was the daughter of a director who I hadn’t heard of at the time. One year Yule Brenner’s adopted children attended camp with us, though they were much younger than I. I was curious about my friend before I met her until it finally happened; she spoke to me first and we became friends almost instantly. She dared me to steal ice-cream from the kitchen after hours, and together we plotted with other girls to stick one of the younger girl’s fingers in a glass of cold water while she was sleeping. Apparently there was a rumor that poor girl had a bed wetting problem and we wanted to make that happen, for sure. I ran into that poor bed-wetting girl in London nearly six years later when I was entering a theatere in Victoria to see Me and My Girl. I was shocked to see your beautiful blue eyed face and golden blonde ringlets as she got up on her tip-toes to call out to me. I tried to hide from her vision, embarrassed by my past sins against her but eventually my mother saw hers and we all stopped to chat for a bit. I felt so small, so horrible. She was lovely and sweet. How could we have done that to her. She never knew I was involved. This ultra cool trouble-causing friend also got us to sneak off camp grounds to wrangled us into a local club on Reggae Night where dred-locked Jamaican men were dancing and openly smoking marijuana on the dance floor. We were very much underage and not supposed to be there anyway, but somehow a Rolling Rock beer wound up in my hand and I began to drink it. Eventually another came into my posession and by the time I started feeling my knees go warm and weak, I was deathly afraid of getting caught by the nuns at camp more than getting kicked out of the club but figured if that were to happen, it better be for a good reason. Some of the other CIT’s puffed away happily, dancing to the lazy Reggae beats. And then round about one o’clock in the morning out came Rick James – Rick James as in, She’s a very Kinky Girl (SuperFreak). He was dressed all in gold, chest exposed and both shoulders flanked with platinum blondes with highly glossed red lips and not much else on. I could not believe my eyes, or the effect his performance was having on me… so naughty so dirty, so freaky but I liked it! I danced along with my stoned friends. When my Former Friend called me, all the memories rushed back. I was excited to tell her of my new life, living with a man and working at the bookstore as an Assistant Manager by that time. I thought I might sound impressive to her. She told me she was coming out to Long Island and could she come stay with me for a night or two? Of course! I said, what fun! I had to explain all this to my future husband, but he said a visitor made no difference to him. As it happened, his old friend from The Bronx would be moving into an apartment down the block from us, so he would be busy with helping him anyway.
I had no idea how poorly the stars aligned themselves that night. My former friend did not leave for another three years. When she did, she left with my future husband’s crony,both Crack addicted by then, her belly swollen with his child and five thousand dollars of my money.