Take Another Look











{January 14, 2010}   The knife is in

The knife is in; does he have to twist it, too?

Magda and I are getting nowhere as usual. All my friends think Downey is something I should take out to the dumpster. I try to stress the complexities, and while I talk, I look for answers.

“You. Hampster. Wheel,” Magda says tauntingly.

“Please stop,” I order, with a bit of desperation in my tone. She reminds me of something interesting after I read her something I wrote seven years ago. In between our talk, I was searching online for a letter that a boy named Joe wrote me when I was sixteen. Magda had heard a lot about Joe, my first love, but it wasn’t about that. I wanted to see if she agreed with me on his ability to use words like a prodigy, not an 18 year old boy.

I wanted to show her how beautiful his lines were; how they had shaken my world of poetry upside down. His prodigious sense of grammar as well as how finessed his artistic aesthetic was, but all I found when I googled “Joe” in my email files were random emails mentioning the name Joe. Apparently Joe’s emails, along with all important writing done before the age of 19 had indeed gotten trashed when my mother threw my old computer into the bin outside without asking me first.

I did find an email I had written to Burdough though. Jack Burdough, my teacher, and one of my best friends, who I’d just happened to have slept with. Numerous but random times over a seven year period. In fact, I used to attribute my drug use to him. For if it weren’t for him breaking my heart, I would never have behaved self-destructively. Using elementary logic, that was true, but I stopped saying things like that because people mistook it for me using excuses. Then they’d start to argue with me. I just don’t like arguments. They upset me. Plus, it wasn’t Burdough’s fault- not anymore, anyway. I used to judge things simply and fairly. Now I no longer believed I could discover what was fair without significant luck, research, and outside intell. Also, I no longer even tried to do what used to come automatically to me- assess what somebody else’s personal responsibility was in any given situation.

“Can you believe I wrote this email?” I asked Magda, truly stunned at what I’d read aloud. “I mean, Magda, what kind of person uses these phrases! If all I had to read was this, I would have immediately assumed the person was crazy!”

“Well…” Magda stumbles, “there was a time when you would get really excited about something, and you would order people around. You would become a bit manic and demand outrageous things of people. It hurt some people’s feelings. I think it’s good that you aren’t such a megalomaniac now.”

“Another trait I lost,” I say as much to her as to myself.

“Before, you probably would have done to him what you did to Raptis.” She changed her voice quality to one of free-spiritedness. “You are pathetic, you have proved nothing, and you are not worth my fucking time you creep! Oh, and have a nice day, like you always say at the end of your emails. Do you know how fake that comes across? One day everybody at Jeff’s party kept making fun of that… Bye!” I believed her impersonation of me, but it still shocked.

“I never said anything like that to him! I simply chose not to be in a relationship with him! I felt bad, and I sometimes regretted my choice, but I never spoke like that to him. Or…. did I?”

“Well, no, not like that. But it was in self-protection or because somebody was an asshole- you used whatever weapons were in your arsenal. It was your masculine side.”

I sigh, feeling doomed.

“Now I don’t use weapons at all. But this email? I actually use the word jet setting? Oh no, I use it twice!” I laugh. “Well, first I told him to guess. He’d asked what was up! The first two possibilities were cleverly written actually. I told him about how the information was classified; and then I described a scenario where I’ve been captured by a white-slavery operation, chained inside the closet of an old black man named Lysol. I told Burdough that infrequently, I crawled out to his computer to send messages. Listen to this part Magda… I actually wrote this kind of shit to him all that time, I can’t believe this. I wrote, ‘Since your sweet lack of love for me was the closest thing to affection that I ever experienced, please rescue me from this drudgery. I believe I am being held somewhere in Tacoma. At least a place that smells like Tacoma.’

“Yes, I remember that email.. I helped you write the first paragraph about how quote the obviously communist source of your information is not a trusted or bonded client, and that any information received by you from such sources cannot be confirmed or denied by this office. Please forward future messages of this nature through confidential if not classified highly-trusted conduits.

“I love that you remember Magda!! So next is the part I can’t believe that I wrote.. I just cannot believe I ever could have been a person that wrote something like this. I told Burdough I was too busy with my jet setter lifestyle- (I was in the middle of reading a rich girl book from the sixties about sexual freedom, a famous book by the way, I can’t remember the author right now but remind me about it later okay) and that I was too busy hustling to deal with him and through my illicit “job” I’d met this contractor named Jeff. I then proceeded to tell Burdough every detail about Jeff, including how after he paid to sleep with me I called him and, in a quote unquote fifteen year old sounding voice, that I thought he was different from the others and I wanted to see him in a nonprofessional way maybe. And then, I wrote about how Jeff didn’t respond for two weeks, then suddenly sent me seven texts that we needed to see each other! But then, my phone wasn’t working so I hadn’t received the texts, so I was waiting to hear when Jeff would get a hold of me again.”

“I have to go soon baby…”

“Wait, wait! I haven’t gotten to the best part! So I finish off the ‘third possibility’ in the email to Burdough by practically yelling at him that he must be assuming I’m a dumbfuck for thinking this guy could fall in love with me but that he is wrong, wrong, wrong, and that- listen to this Magda- Burdough, I just don’t like guys very often. There are normal guys out there that want to date me but for some reason there always has to be an element of dangerous intrigue. And they can’t be wimpy and cry on me when I tell them I don’t like sentimentality.”

I am the one crying and being wimpy now, refusing to pull the trigger. Trigger was the nickname Downey gave me. But he never used it the way he could have. I’ve never seen so much potential wasted until I entered a relationship that doesn’t meet the qualifications of a relationship anymore unless, and only unless, communication is the enemy of all relationships.

“Magda! This is insane! I’ve been stripped of all my confidence!”

“Well, what you had would only be good for politicians… and you’re not a politician. So what did Burdough write back to that one?”

“Burdough wrote back that he was not making a judgment, he was simply seeking clarification. How funny. Let’s see.. this was in 2007. I’ve forgotten how many emails have been exchanged over the years. I can’t believe how many things he has seen from me. No wonder he might be suddenly worried about me right now… These days I have lost all my bravado. But back to Downey, how could he not care when he wants to stay in the relationship? It makes no sense. None.”

“Well, he was drunk.”

“Downey was not drunk! He doesn’t drink! Oh.. wait. You mean he was intoxicated on the moment? After three years of celibacy? On lust? Or something? That makes no sense. He acts like he doesn’t like sex.. It’s complicated, and thinking about him and his silent sexuality gives me a headache. It makes no sense.”

“I’m saying it’s purely physical for him.”

“Nooo! It’s the opposite if anything. Maybe I need to trust Downey on this one… I want to be more physical with Downey so badly… but maybe it’s because I think being physical will solve things that we don’t talk about? I don’t know. But he won’t talk to me. I can’t get us to talk. He’ll just roll his eyes and turn the channel on his TV. Which is always on when I come over. And now we don’t talk on the phone. So I only see him if I randomly show up. And then I am in his territory. It’s all so terribly unbalanced, as if he is making it so we never had a chance anyway. And then, the worst part of me wonders, is he just prolonging this so that his wife won’t be able to say she was right, that this wouldn’t last?”

“Maybe he’s trying for a record. He’s going to be the worst boyfriend ever.”

“I just wish things were getting better, not worse. Just when I think they can’t get worse, they do. So there is this war in my head. Break up, don’t break up. I shouldn’t care- I mean, I don’t mind freedom- but the freedom is on his terms. When I was single for six months and I didn’t sleep with anybody, it was my choice. Now it’s his choice…but I have no compensation. No I love you. No I care about you. He doesn’t ask me to come over anymore. He doesn’t call me anymore. I didn’t know we could backtrack so far that we are way beyond where we started. We would have to drive over state borders just to get to where we started. The blank slate.”

“You. Hampster. Wheel. Who can show they care less? Who can show they care less?”

“Stop it Magda, that is physically painful for me to hear. Also, I already played the who can care less game with Burdough! The thing is Downey showed me reciprocation for the first time. Then he took it away. He took it away! How could he be so power hungry that he needed to do that? Did he just stop caring? If so, why didn’t he just tell me? Tell me he doesn’t like me anymore! Please please please!”

I lie on my bed in frustration, making a loud thump noise. Then I notice that my cat is over on the sofa sleeping. She is so involved in dreaming that my thump did not wake her up. She is making whimpering noises. She must be having a bad dream. I lean over and softly stroke her.

“How can I go to the stupid game now? You know that before Downey, I was willing to drown in my own urine just to feel reciprocation from Burdough. But it was too late and I had accepted that, but we had moved on. I learned that he cared but that situations were complex and that maybe he showed reciprocation the only way he could. But Downey? Now he is showing less reciprocation than a married man did with his mistress!”

“He beats his dog,” Magda said in that taunting voice.

“He DOES NOT BEAT HIS DOG FOR CHRISSAKE! He is disciplining his dog. And I know with all my heart that his intentions are good. What do you know about dogs? You don’t own one. Shut up! And also you know that sometimes the best of intentions end up causing bad, and that bad things sometimes accidentally cause good things. I’m not trying to ruin cause and affect here, but…. Magda, do you think I have learned to justify everything, that I’ve lost all sense of simplicity? You know what’s funny? Downey told me I needed a compass.. I got lost on his street trying to catch the bus.. I mean, I’m a city girl, and those streets were crazy turnaround style, and he was mean on the phone and to me and it made me want to cry, because I felt like he was threatening to leave without me, which in a sense he was if I didn’t make it back in time! So he told me to turn around and I did, then walking 10 minutes in the opposite direction, and then finding a kindly old man who gave me directions, while Downey finally looked up my instructions on his computer, and I went back the way I had come. The irony was I was two houses away from him when I called, but the addresses were such that the street I gave him on the phone he did not recognize. When I came back, my only frustration was that I had not caught my original bus- I would have missed it in any case because I woke up at 7:11 instead of 7 am. But it was because I put his alarm on some water bird chime instead of the annoying BEEP! BEEP! But the road system? Such is the place he lives. Anyway, he said I had ten minutes before he had to leave, but when I got back, he was not ready to go, and it was more like forty-five minutes. I didn’t have to go through all that stress of being lost and thinking he would leave me behind even though I was only a block away!! I guess it shows.. I dunno.”

“What a nice man. Such a fine gentleman he is.”

“Stop it,” I plead with her, the urgency in my tone crystal-clear.

“Magda, what’s funny is the compass comment. It’s like you could put me in a place where it’s impossible to get lost and I’d get lost. I think I need a compass in more than one way. Magda, what makes me sad is I want to talk to Downey more. We never talk anymore. And I can’t point this out. I can’t say anything that even suggests that I have human needs that could compete with his. Months ago we decided that at least, we’d talk once a week and see each other week. But then he broke that promise too. I can’t think of a single promise he has not broken anymore.. except for when he showed up to have dinner. That was so nice. But then he wouldn’t stay the extra hour… and he would have before. In the beginning. I know he would have. I’ll compromise no sleep to see him. I’ll compromise pretty much anything, even my best client. He doesn’t know that and it’s my choice. But he won’t compromise anything. Magda, why aren’t you telling me to just break up with him? You aren’t saying that.”

“Well, you seem to feel pretty strongly about him, even if he is a sadist. But I do suggest you come up with a petty nickname for him. How about buster the mean nine-year old boy who likes to pull girls ponytails and has a frog in his pocket and he poops in his pants and likes it? And he has one missing front tooth.”

“Uh, that’s a bit long for a nickname.”

“Buster. So fat he has to wear his dad’s bathing suit. But why he is so mean? Why is he a mean nasty little boy? Why is he mean? Why is Buster so mean? Why does he capture bugs and burn them under magnifying glasses and pull their feet off? Why? Because he is mean. I don’t know if Buster is the right nickname for such a nasty little boy.”

“Wow. That is awful. You really think he is that bad?”

“No,” Magda says, managing to sound innocent.

“Everything is an exaggeration,” Magda explains. “Think about Irwin. He needs exaggeration almost as much as he needs food. Thank God Buster is only a figment of our imagination, for if he existed he would grow up, and he might have kids, and there he would be, Mr. Buster. I’m sure he would be republican. And a grown up Buster could never exist of course. I don’t know anybody like that, do you?”

“Is there actually a cartoon character you are basing this on or something?”

“No, but a lot of cruel, spoiled, greedy, mean little boys exist around the world, and I’ve met a few of them. Maybe there is a Buster gene.”

“But I’ve seen Downey be really, REALLY compassionate, too. When he wants he is so empathetic…it’s all I can do not to reach out. But that’s all I do anymore. Reach out. To nothingness. To his back.”

“Well, then maybe it’s not fair to call him Buster. Or maybe the Buster level in his bloodstream is not very high. Or maybe it is. It probably isn’t. He is a wonderful man. You’ve seen him be compassionate! That settles it.”

I cover my forehead with my hand. A silent gesture of sublimation.

“Buster,” Magda whispers. “He is the boy who unplugs his mothers freezer so that everything rots.”

I feel a chill go down my spine.

“Anyway Magda, give the Buster crap a rest, OKAY? Downey said things would get better once he moved. It hasn’t. He breaks anything he says. Last week, he said he would call me. I answered, ‘You said that last week.’ Then he said “I know,” and I left. Well, it’s been a week. I tried to call to set up getting together but he didn’t pick up. I can’t keep doing this. And I can’t keep wondering what I’m going to do. Before, during the holidays, he said he would come back to Seattle. He also said he’d get me my birthday present. Why do I wait? But I can’t explain it. With Downey, he makes me laugh.. and-”

“I thought you said Cutright or could make you as happy as Downey in terms of comic relief. But maybe you said that before Downey.”

“I don’t know that- I’m an experiential learner more than anything else. Sometimes I feel like Downey has traits I used to have- the arrogance, the having things his own way… I used to do that. But there is just so much richness… so many memories; so much we’ve shared. It makes whatever the next move is feel fused with so much meaning, even if it doesn’t have any. Maybe…maybe Downey is teaching me how order creates meaning,” I say brightly.

“Whatever you want to believe, dear. I have do go now, my mom needs to talk to me about something.”

“You have to go?” I say, already lost in my next thought about what I should do. “I was hoping we’d reach a progression…an answer. Oh, well, okay.”

“Talk to you later. Bye.”

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