Sunday, September 25, 2005

feeling beautiful

When I was twenty, I wrote a book in the second person, addressed to my future lover, as yet unknown. “Saying I love you,” it began, “is saying I want to be your mother. I want to tuck your collar into your coat, push your hair behind your ear, brush breadcrumbs off your lips, make our bed clean with soapy-smelling pillowcases softened by handfuls of dryer sheets. Flannel sheets in the winter, crisp ironed cotton in the heat. Let me rub your back when you are tired, draw a bath for your homecoming after long days, squeeze you Valencia orange juice on your way out the door. I will buy the toilet paper, our peanut butter, massage oil, and my birth control pills. I will take care of the magazine subscriptions, The New Yorker, Vogue, our daily Times.
I will dress myself up for you, I will dress myself down, shave my legs, pay for and survive Brazilian bikini waxes, keep my eyebrows threaded into perfect arcs. I will purr for you, play geisha for you, schoolgirl for you in my kilt and knee socks, polka-dotted panties, kama sutra picture book open on my lap.
“Teacher, I’ve read the chapter and I’m ready for the final exam.”
“Open your book to page sixty-nine.” Love me, I thought, you just love me, and it will be enough and I will take care of the details.
You will never have enough of me, I thought; saying you love me is saying that you will never have enough of wanting.”

I’m five years older now. I read all the pages I wrote and they strike me as dramatic and too sexualized but then, I stop. I think, “With my lovers, with all of my lovers, I am nurturing and maternal. I feel most attractive when I am giving, when I am making the people that I care about feel good.”

When I think about my ex-girlfriend, Shannon, what I remember most is one night in February several years ago, when she was sick with pneumonia. I came over to her apartment – trampled through the snow and waited for the G train to take me, in the time I imagined someone could have cooked a turkey, from Ft. Greene to Greenpoint. Back on the street, I pulled my wool cap further down my forehead and got lost looking for her street. When I found it, twenty minutes later, she answered the door in flannel pajama bottoms with skiing penguins on them; her hair loose and tangled, and her glasses perched on the tip of her runny nose. In one hand she held a wad of damp Kleenex and in the other, her cell phone, on which she was talking to her mom about her brother, David, who had been getting into bar fights in Australia.
I dropped my bag, pulled off my boots, and unzipped my coat before settling into the corner of her velvet couch. She has never looked more beautiful to me than she did ten minutes after that when I said, “You’ve been lying in your bed all day. Let me change your sheets.”
She hesitated. “No, no,” she said. “I can do it.” She held onto the doorframe to steady her self. “Shannon,” I said, “I am going to change your sheets now. Sit down.” And she did. In her bedroom, I cleared off library books on lexicons and poetry, the black leather handcuffs tangled at the bottom of the bed, abandoned there in the early hours of Sunday, two weeks earlier. I put a jar of fish food on her bedside table, carried the dirty water glasses to the sink, and came back to fluff her pillows.
She looked beautiful to me that night, it’s not because she was vulnerable and sick and told me that she needed me. She never said that; she never would have. What she meant when she said that she would do it was, “I don’t need you. I can take care of myself.” And what I meant when I scratched her freckled back while she fell asleep after feeding her single wedges of a Clementine was, “Thank you for not feeling that you need to be strong all the time.” If I had taken a photograph, I don’t think it would have come through, how beautiful she looked, and it’s better this way besides, because I was the only one who saw.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the time it took me to read this piece - the time it takes you to steep a mug of tea - I decided that yes, you can be my mother. Her contract is up and I think I will not renew.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous camille said...

Damn! You can write!
I am going to read everything and probably comment on everything in the next few days.
Love you!

9:16 PM  

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