Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prowling around with tomcats

God, it's been a long time since I've been here, fully present, ready to bring something to this party. Last Friday, I went to Liza's 30th birthday party, at a gallery in Chelsea filled with framed black-and-white photographs of slippery male bodybuilders; I came early, with Andrew, and left before they cut the cake. When the elevator doors opened on our way down, Suzie was getting off. I couldn't tell you how long it's been since I've seen her. Or rather, there was that one time last spring, when I was having lunch at Delicatessen, on Prince & Lafayette, with Purva, after going to Virayoga with Colombe. And Suzie walked by the glass, we waved hello. Her book came out last March, a memoir written entirely in the second person, with a pink hardback cover, and I emailed her soon after, to say this:
Dear Suzie,
Hey! Funny to see you yesterday through the glass -- I've been meaning to write and congratulate you on your book. It's a terrific story -- full of your surprising humor and grace and energy and sparkling revelations -- and I'm so grateful to and secretly so proud of you. Bravo!
I hope this is a magical time in your life.
And she wrote back, "Aw, thank you, Sarah! I appreciate it. You helped in the birth of the book too, so I hope you take some pride/pleasure in this time too. It is very fun. xx Suzie"

I guess that's as good a place to start as any after close to three years away from this site. I was in graduate school when I started this blog, still so deadly in love with Robert I couldn't find my way out of a paper bag, blowing around after him like I was Ahab and he was the white whale. That's a whole long story, I guess, but it's funny to revisit these entries and see how, even then, I knew on some level that waiting for him, the whole engagement thing -- six years that might as well have been an extra day in February. So I guess I'm still trying to find my way out of it, free and clear, but it's been broken now, along with my friendship with Suzie.
That was a funny thing, with Suzie, because she wrote this whole long manuscript, worked on it for years, then one day in July of 2007, after she'd emailed it to Phoebe and me, she invited us over to her place in Ft. Greene for dinner on the roof and to critique it. I didn't know so much about books then, or publishing; the whole thing struck me as far away and impossible, even though Phoebe had hit it out of the park with her own memoir. So the three of us sat outside, Suzie's cat slinking around under our lawn chairs, while Suzie grilled vegetables and we drank wine I'd brought from the Green Grape, and Phoebe had picked up two kinds of insanely delicious ice-cream from Philadelphia, the dessert equivalent of a couture gown, in a cardboard container. One was sorbet, I think, and the other creamier. I kept coming inside to check my phone for texts from Marc Gerald, who I'd met at Jason's and been corresponding with obsessively, in this heated frenzy of sexual tension and conversations about books and plans for me to visit. Robert and I, even then, we were on a break that summer, still talking sometimes, and I kept hoping and hoping he would make up his mind about me and DO SOMETHING, come all in, see my bet and raise me a marriage.
Critiquing Suzie's book, I was both very, very honest and also totally disingenuous, the latter because I couldn't be objective about just how NOT objective I was being. I mean, I was IN the book, a stiff character, and Robert was in the book, and Phoebe, too, so there was that, but mostly, and most honestly, there was Suzie in her book, a narrator writing in the second person, and she wrote about all the things I'd seen her go through over that year, the most troubling of which was this weird sort of self-starvation, fueled along by a lack of Bronx boxing and obsessive cigarette-bumming from strangers. There's this one line in her book (which, for this private record, I never did end up buying, not even for half-price at the Strand) or maybe it was just in an email to me, I can't remember, or maybe she said it in conversation. It's about how she hadn't eaten in so long, she'd lost all this weight, and finally one day she stopped by McDonald's and bought a small order of fries, came back outside, and the wind almost blew her over, out into the street, because she was so skinny. I had hated this period of her life, hated hated hated seeing her disappear, seeing Suzie fall away from Suzie, leaving this skeleton there, sucking hard on borrowed Marlboros, her Red Cross bag slung over her shoulder, nothing there to hug. And this is touched on in the book, this whole period of denial and getting lost, and I had been too close to it to over any judgment of merit; I had no business criticizing her memoir, especially when I felt so deeply that I had failed her in some really basic way, failed, as her friend, to somehow witness and be present and save her life. Writing it now, it sounds trite and stupid, but that night, eating dinner out on the roof, I took off my kid gloves and didn't hesitate; I went straight in for the jugular without even consciously knowing that's what I was doing, or understanding just how pissed off and angry I was that she had done these things to herself and then made a big fucking joke about it, hiding in the second person. I thought what I was being was real; I thought hard truths meant authentic friendship; I was completely wrong. Phoebe did it better -- Phoebe almost ALWAYS does it better -- she went wide instead of deep, offered solid comments and suggestions, instead of abstract negatives.
And anyway, what I remember best about that night happened after we came inside, sitting around Suzie's kitchen table with our bowls of ice-cream. Phoebe told us that she'd decided to have a baby, and that she would either be pregnant by the end of the year or else she would have started the process of adopting a baby from Haiti. She said that she was going to do this with or without Andre -- though hopefully with -- that motherhood, having a baby, was more important than their relationship. Or maybe I'm just adding that last line, all conjecture, because that's what I inferred from her declaration.
I took the subway home and called Marc when I stepped up onto Spring Street off the 6 train. Suzie and I never really did speak again, not for my lack of reaching out to her for awhile after that, and to apologize, but she wouldn't have any of it. And I see now, in hindsight, that I made that dinner unsafe; what I know now is that the best way to criticize a friend's work is pretty much to stick to what you want MORE of, not the inverse, and definitely not to criticize her life. I know that now and I wouldn't do it again.
Still, when the elevator doors opened on Friday night, she put a tight smile on her face, I smiled right back. "Hiii," we both said, and I added a "How are you?" as I stepped inside, pushing the button to the lobby. The doors closed. I looked up at Andrew. "We used to best friends."
"Whoa," he said, and I thought about how it was true and not true. Yes, the friendship part was true, but neither of us is the same person anymore, so it seems odd even to use the word "we." It's like there should be a word to describe who you were, in the past, but I know that's impossible, it would change all the time, you could never keep up or have the right word. And sometimes maybe there is no right word for what it is you're trying to say to friends, not lovers, when you can't just take them to bed and show them with your mouth and body. I guess you just keep showing up for each other, making toasts and unpacking your days, slow and steady and basically autonomous. And when people get a little too vulnerable for your comfort, the worst thing you can do is flinch.
It's probably not the last time we'll wave at each other, through the window of a restaurant or shuffling in opposite directions. New York is funny that way, big and tiny. I thought about her a lot over the weekend, and I wish her well, but I don't miss her, because that would imply, at this point, that I want to go back to who we were, to our old lives. I love those girls, the best friends we were in graduate school, but I don't really know them anymore, and don't wish to.