Thursday, December 31, 2009
I was sitting at two tables put together in a raised corner section at the back of a big coffee shop on 7th Avenue near 15th that I must have passed often though I had not noticed till very recently when it became one of our after-meeting hangouts. I was with Lena, whose sister had an art gallery for dealers, Annie who was breaking out of too many years being only a nurse, and Lewis Greenberg who had retired from teaching, and Arthur the art photographer, who said he was glad I had joined ACOA because "we need successful people too," and a pretty dark haired girl, so young she seemed to have baby fat, who was in the city as a nanny, and Sally the therapist who was looking less hang dog each day, and Paul, who looked pure preppy though his particularly vicious father lived and did bad things in Spain, and an enclosed, tense man named Jimmie who just seemed lost, but came anyway. The were all congratulating me on a white windbreaker jacket I had picked up that day at the army-navy store down Eighth near 13th. And I was also wearing an expensive, for me, green checked flannel shirt I had picked up at Saks, and also a thick blue checked wool scarf I got from Lord & Taylor, and in addition, from a store on 8th Street, a new Woolrich denim shirt and new Docker’s made of blue denim giving the allusion of Levi’s. The latter I liked best but I had credit cards left over from the marriage for Saks and Lord & Taylor, and what they had was anyway far better than what I was as used to.
For one day recently as I woke up I had realized that I hated the way I dressed. Prissy Wasp clothing that I had always detested but wore anyway. Like those clothes I had wound up wearing at Princeton.
At first in college I kept my hair a little long and slicked back, and I had worn ordinary shoes like my father’s military surplus shoes that you could buy cheap at Modell’s in Grand Central, and I avoided the thin, humble neckties that were in fashion then. This was was my style still one night on Christmas vacation in my first year when I had a movie date with a girl named Trish in Stamford who was a distanct cousin of Elysa’s and like Elysa went to Miss Hall’s up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
We came in late at Trish’s house, where the lights were on but very dim. Her father, who looked like an off-duty CEO, was sitting in the living room in pajamas chain smoking and taking little white pills. Trish and I went down to a warm, plush basement room, which we kept very dark, and it was my first time really getting under a girl’s bra, and Trish was what I had hoped for. The feel of skin. The girl scent. We rolled around on cushions on the thickly carpeted floor accompanied by Frank Sinatra on the console.
When we went upstairs at around 3 a.m. we were waylaid by the pajama-clad, pill-popping father who said he had something important, to tell me.
You don’t have that short hair yet, and you’re not wearing white bucks or cardigans, and you don’t have a charcoal gray suit jacket and khakis. And your shirt is not a button down and it does not look like Oxford cloth. You aren’t in uniform yet. He paused for another pill. But you will be soon, he said. Everyone at Princeton gives in. His eyes gleamed in what might have been triumph or might have been the pills.
Up till this time in early 1986 I had had prissy wasp clothing. I wore humble shirts (athough no longer Oxford cloth) that mixed fake fibers with cotton, cut-rate office clothing (though I had no office) from a chain of small stores named Bancroft that were spread around the Rockefeller Center area. When I started going to meetings it was before Saks and Lord & Taylor, much less that army-navy store down near 13th Street and a store on 8th Street that carried Woolrich. I was not wearing neckties, but I wore a sport Jacket with my old anonymous khakis of the sort for which I had no affection but which I had been wearing for 35 years. I owned very little. The two jackets I had, one a brown near Harris Tweed, the other an actual Navy blue blazer that had brass buttons with embossed nautical anchors, came from a thrift store near the 50th Street 8th Avenue subway stop. The sort of thing people wore way back in the flat Eisenhower era, but not so much now all these years later.
Why hadn’t I owned a decent scarf? The one I had before the blue Lord & Taylor one was dirty brown, so worn and thin a wind would go right through it. And caked with something that could be gum or coagulated gravy. It had probably belonged to my father 40 years back. These were death clothes, it now seemed.
I felt light the moment I started throwing my regular clothes out. Why in the world did I wear these jackets and shirts if I had not been in a real office since the last time I was a job holder, which was briefly at Time-Life in the 1965 just before I flew off to Bangkok. Just before I began my life on the road.
My ex-wife had sent down a box filled with things I had left in our apartment when I departed. They had arrived in a box which had contained a color TV set, which told me that now she was able to have the kind of television she wanted. In the box I found a wool sweater. It must have been an old Christmas present. It was a sort of muted dark turquoise. Which was as stylish as L.L. Bean ever got. I went to a meeting on the West Side wearing no jacket, just the sweater, and felt I had taken 20 years of my age.
At coffee afterwards at a place on Broadway this very lively long-haired ACOA young lady at my table said how great it was that the sweater matched the color of my eyes.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
At first it has been impossible to talk at the meetings. Then a couple of weeks before Christmas an advertising guy had come up to me after the Saturday meeting at the Quaker place and asked if I would like to join a weekly men’s meeting that, unlike all the other ACOA meetings, was by invitation. I did not like the idea of segregating the sexes – the way it has been long ago at boarding school and college and the draftee army – and yet I found it easy to start talking here. I thought this was more because I has been invited than that it was a men’s group. I spoke now of my misadventures with the blonde photographer in the Bahamas – part confession and part subtle boasting that I had such a life. She had just called me from Puerto Rico complaining that I had not called her.
I also spoke of my years of roaming the world, and this was when it became clearer to me how I had been drawn to extremely dangerous places. Boasting again, yet something else happening when I brought what I was boasting about to light.
One of the members of this group was a disturbing gay guy who in meetings screamed “get out of my bed” as he described his mother getting into his bed. The advertising guy spoke of wrestling with relationships with women. There was an actor who spoke of depression. It seemed that everyone here had suffered from horrible depression.
The actor spoke at length one day saying we were not really going deep enough. It made me angry, using a session of this group, it seemed to me, the way he would use some confrontational actors' group exercise. Worse, he singled me out for the way I just sat there taking notes and talking very little. The next week he apologized to me and the whole men’s group. At the last meeting before Christmas he suggested we all stand and sing Joy to the World, which, to my surprise, felt pretty good.
So I was talking a little and getting some laughs. But now I was scheduled for what felt like a full performance.
This public debut was at St. Vincent’s. It was not the writing meeting but rather a much bigger meeting, currently chaired by Jenny who scheduled me to speak. The venue was a large conference room across Seventh Avenue in a building that before St. Vincent’s took it over as an annex had been the headquarters of the old seamen’s’ union. It was very close to where I had lived between Greece and Asia.
In this darkened conference room Jenny, seeming soft and happy, introduced me. I spoke from the head of a long table at which ACOA people were seated. And there were many more ACOA people further out in the near dark on folding chairs. Beforehand I was as nervous as I had been at 15 at Boston University before the finals of the New England championship tourney for high school and prep school debaters.
But this was no mere competitive debate. And, unlike a debater, I was not prepared to argue either side of anything. This was life and death, and here in this darkened room I spoke of how after my brother and I left home my parents got two kittens, named one good cat and the other bad cat. I talked about family pretensions, like the fake British accents. I went heavy on my brother, the good twin, and his colonial English wife and how they called the part of Virginia they lived in “fox country.”
With what I thought was quite good timing, worthy of one who had been a champion debater, I let it be known that my brother lived where he lived in Virginia because it was an easy commute to his job at the CIA – mention of which brought gasps in the audience. I talked about how when I was a child they had gotten angry at me when I was mourning the slow death of my floppy, silky brown dog named Brownie. And just as important, how they put me down for giving him such a regular person’s name. Brownie was hit by a car, came home to lie in our yard, had more and more trouble breathing, then after several days, died. I somehow related this to the motorcycle death long ago of Cousin Paul, and the cancer death in the past summer of Cousin Margaret, who said she wanted to die because of what they had done to her. And to the precarious state of all the other cousins.
And I felt I was getting closer and close to darker things than these deaths.
Jenny said afterwards it was one of the best meetings ever.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
There was a sense that what was going on in Manhattan ACOA could not last. The program was always in danger of being taken over by orthodox 12-step people or by orthodox advocates of therapies that stopped short of meaningful results. They were already laying siege, much like literary critics and academy-approved novelists and small town failures who find to their horror that there are writers loose who are saying things no one should be allowed to say.
Scared representatives of convention were coming in from all directions attempting to bury with constructed generalizations what was real in the stories of my new ACOA friends. Sometimes these attacks came from AA people who said things like, “I used to blame my family but now I appreciate them. They had nothing to do with my drinking. I drank because I am an alcoholic. End of story.” Some AA people could get really angry about our probing the past and our showing anger about what we found.
More than once an Alanon person came to an ACOA meeting wearing a frozen smile, and said how much she admired the bravery of those who spoke, and then was never seen at a meeting again. And sometimes these anti-ACOA people got support from the very people they thought they had to subvert. One quite young woman who was overweight, a little pimply and clearly in pain talked in the meetings of the problems of being so pretty, then vanished from the meetings. I saw her on the street shortly afterwards looking anguished and no prettier than I remembered. “I’m fine now that I’ve stopped going to meetings,” she said. “I’ve stopped whining. I got rid of all that negativity.”
The policing and the self policing reminded me of what went on in other spheres. Again those literary and art critics who are so scared of anything new and strong.
I thought of my brother’s reaction at the start of the seventies when he heard Harper’s Magazine Press gave me a $5000 advance for a novel based on my wild time in Bangkok. My brother’s next door summer neighbor, my old friend Mickie, told me what he had said to her: “It should not have happened. Fred did everything wrong. He didn’t even go to graduate school!”
How similar, it seemed now, to what was happening with Manhattan ACOA, where people who had been nearly silenced were letting themselves be heard. Refusing blind obedience to past strictures, so much like the very best modern artists and writers who always defy the academy and the critical establishment and the publishers and dealers.
On sale with other literature at most ACOA meetings, however, was Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child – a take no prisoner’s approach which sided with the abused and not the abuser. She was uncompromising in going after real stories. And I had started reading her just as my life had seemed at a dead end.
At first other books on sale at the meetings seemed to back up Miller, but not for long. For these other books could have the effect of making real stories small by forcing them into very precise categories of stories, to bury your own story beneath some catch-all universal story.
This felt a little like what Plato did two and a half millennia back by forcing things that were real into idealized forms of things. No wonder that Plato felt the only art that should count was art that helped make people docile supporters of the state.
The other books on sale at the meetings were by therapist-writers who specialized in ACOA subjects – Janet Woititz, Claudia Black, Sharon Wegsheider-Cruise. They were proponents of the idea that families could and should be looked at from the standpoint of children falling into basic family roles – most often presented as the hero, the scapegoat, the mascot, the lost child. It was as if we were being told by these therapist-writers that if you dealt with something in its generalized form you would be safe.
I was immediately intrigued with this new, to me, idea. But I was not so interested in it as was Jenny, whom I found touching when she described the comfort she took from these delineations of family roles. She said one of the great things that happened when she entered ACOA was her discovery that there were these books in which "I could find myself." She said she was pretty sure she was the “mascot,” for although there was much violation of her spirit and apparently physical violation too, she had always been the one who distracted the family from its problems by being entertaining.
At one big meeting she got applause when she described how she had just gotten out of jury duty. She had told the judge there was something in her life that made it impossible for her to judge whether or not someone was a criminal. The judge asked what it was, and she said she did not want to say it aloud. The judge asked her to come up to the bench to tell him quietly. She went up and spoke one word and he said “Excused.” The one word was “incest.”
At another meeting one participant reported that over in New Jersey Janet Woitiz had just announced that incest was not an issue for either alcoholics or children of alcoholics.
Someone else reported that at a weekend retreat led by Sharon Wegsheider Cruise no one was allowed to leave the grounds of the retreat house because no one could be trusted to follow her absolute ban on sugar and so might try to smuggle that dangerous substance in.
I went down to Princeton to see one of Rob’s plays. I said I was looking into our family’s past. Rob said that if I found out anything disparaging he did not want to hear it.
He said he and his wife has been to Littleton for a visit with their mother and with his sister Deirdre. He said Deirdre, always a problem to them, had “suddenly gone nuts” while they were watching television. It was a TV movie with a theme of family sexual abuse.
Apparently her often violent brother Paul, long dead now, had molested her once and no one in the family knew about it. Rob did not seem to think this amounted to much.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
One day Janet from ACOA stops by my place for coffee. A sweet lanky girl from Alaska who uses no makeup. Her violent father is a failed Republican politician up in that godforsaken place. She is much younger than me though as well read and eager for beauty and experience, and it makes me feel not old but rather that we are coming into life together.
At this time we were each reading the Robertson Davies novels, and sometimes one of us would have a book to give the other before a meeting began. Lovely, and open, and I note the slight soft hairs above her upper lip, which has led me to flash on feeling uncomfortable with other imperfections intruding on scenes meant to be perfect in the past.
I talk about my new time in the parks. We decide to take the C train up to Columbus Circle. From there we walk all the way up to the park’s northeast corner, which is in Spanish Harlem, and where I have recently discovered an untamed body of water called the Meer, which is going to seed in this time when money is being g spent on parts of the park that border on where the rich people live. Like something in the deep South, on the Meer’s east bank grown men and women fish with worms, and on the north bank there is a ramshackle Greek temple structure scared from the elements and with graffiti.
Janet had a live-in boyfriend who worked, because he needed the money, in corrections, meaning prison guard, on Riker’s Island. It seemed to me that now I could be tolerant of anything. She said she loved to sing, and that she and her boyfriend were always singing, but they sang only out of season Christmas carols for these were the only songs they had in common. His work hours left her on her own much of the tine. We had met outside meetings once before when we went to eat in the West Village in a vegetarian restaurant – a place that related less to my New York past than did the Meer .
We found that as children we had both ridden horses – me one summer in Arizona and than taking lessons English style under the supervision of a leathery woman who had horses near the Sunset Hill House and a practice ring right down in front of the Sunset where the road falls off at a point just below a small viewing platform that had a copper chart with a movable pointer to show the names of the mountains. The Franconia Range that you see in front of you and the Presidential Range in the far distance.
The subject of riding comes up as we are passing the Central Park stables and making fun of the nervous faux Anglo young men and women coming and going decked out from head to toe in English riding gear starting with those derby-like hats. English envy gone wild. Janet tells me it is very different at the stables out in Brooklyn in Prospect Park.
So the next weekend we met out in Prospect Park, which seemed as carefully put together as Central Park but, unlike most of Central Park, looked like it had mostly been allowed to go to seed, like the Meer and like the small abandoned garden behind my small apartment building.
We used Western saddles on the two fat, elderly horses we rode that day. We sat on those horses taking in the warmth of winter sun as they strolled along an overgrown bridle path.
Back in the present in this ACOA time I keep going to the museums and galleries. And without planning it out, I am also going nearly every day to the parks. Sometimes I combine the two. Paintings in the Met, from Medieval times on. Behind the Met, trees and vast lawns in Central Park. On a rise the hieroglyph-covered obelisk that I had been told when was a child is called Cleopatra’s Needle.
And a 20-minute subway ride away, paintings in the Brooklyn Museum by people I had recently discovered, from Daubigny to Deibenkorn to Prendergast, and just outside the museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, new to me in this time. Orchards and stand-alone trees and bushes from around the world, and a Japanese garden so accurate that Japanese tour groups come to it. And plaques near the Japanese Garden for the “Brooklyn Walk of Fame” with such names as Barbra Streisand and Danny Kaye. And some Greek columns too, not far from a careful patch of woodland featuring local flora, such as I knew well in childhood roamings in Connecticut. These plotted out bits of the natural world fenced off from the possible chaos of Prospect Park.
On a path near Columbus Circle at the southern end of Central Park I meet a red-headed nurse, Annie, to discuss travel plans. I need to go to California for an article I am to write for Penthouse about the Philippines’ near civil war, and Annie is trying to break out of her nurse’s world by getting into the travel business. We sit on a park bench and chat not so much about plane tickets as about ourselves and people we know from these meetings. Close up, she seems to look out on life with a certain confidence, kind but knowing that much of what she sees is the raw material for jokes. A comfortable body, not exactly young but with youth still in her. I like her.
There is scattered snow but the uncovered grass I can see is still very green. She talks about Astoria, where she lives – her amazing view from across the East River of the Manhattan skyline. She says she is sure she will be in relationships again, but now she is concentrating – like me – on overcoming the past – which for her started in a big boozy Irish urban family in some outer borough that sounds to me now remarkably like my past in a controlled size Anglophile family in the summer version of the White Mountains. Though these two places barely share the same planet. I echo her words when she speaks about not being interested in new relationships right now, citing my very recently and bitterly ended marriage and not mentioning the time afterwards with Jacqueline and then Susan. When I say I am not interested, I do not believe what I am saying.
But that is not the only thing on my mind. Annie was one of the first people I heard talk in ACOA, which was barely three months ago but seems like years. I had not even considered liking her then. It was as if I heard my relatives, being nasty about the mundane place and people she came from. It was as if the only way I might be able to talk with her would be to adopt my brother’s or mother’s or Cousin Rob’s special tone for outsiders who do not seem quite real, much less up to certain standards.
And then in that the first time listening to her I saw her a wave of liberation swept through me. Maybe I would never again have to think this way I had been thinking. And this possible liberation raised questions about what aliens were resident inside me – questions I had not asked in all the years since I had at some point in early childhood decided to be the bad twin, eventually going way beyond the family, even at the expense of being seen by them as coarse if not dumb.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
We got back that summer in time to go to the White Mountains in August. Nana was still abroad and White Pines was shut down but we had an invitation from Old Mrs. Gibbs, who had a big, raised summer house that had steps leading up to its porch, with lattice work covering the empty area from beneath the main floor down to the ground. Her property adjoined that of the Sunset Hill House and had the same view of the Franconia Range, which was also the view from all our family houses.
Mrs. Gibbs came each summer, bringing children, grandchildren and loyal old Irish servants with her. One of the servants slept in a small separate house for the children, used now by her four grandchildren who were in my age group. From Baltimore, the Bowdoins: cheerful Harry and sweet faced Alice, on whom I had had a crush when I was 11 that I never quite shook off, though by now she was an out of reach good girl. From Boston, the Perkins: dapper Jimmy and his tanned patrician sister Louisa, with whom I had had a correspondence, her boarding school and mine, when I was 15 and had not met Kitty yet – nor for that matter girls in the winter from our north country sister school.
Gibbs and Pooles had know each other forever. I was amused that on the back door of the telephone room in White Pines a genealogy chart showed that Peter and I were some sort of cousins with these kids who had been our friends since we were very small. I had wondered fleeting if maybe cousins should not date. And I had flashed on the seemingly inbred farm kids in the isolated township of Landaff, where everyone looked hangdog and alike, these poor kids who came, open mouthed, to stare at us when we summer kids arrived at their tumble-down house-barn complex for our annual hayride.
I was less than a week away from Paris and here I was back beneath these mountains. It was not as if Europe had never happened, but more that it did not relate to anything else. And here I was, looking out on the same unchanging view of the Franconia range – this the reality I could cling to. For now without Mother and Dad and Grandmother Clark to back up Peter, I was popular again, though this time it did not seem so secure.
We opened the Playhouse again, our summer gang. And soon Kitty was in Sugar Hill with her parents and brother, and it was almost what it had been the previous summer. Not quite so safe as before, and also not quite so uncritically appealing, for sometimes now I had to strain to make myself feel it was the best place in the world. Still, we were using the Playhouse. And we and the whole gang hiked up to the Gibbs cabin to cook over a campfire and play capture the flag, which had been one of our childhood games up there.
The same but not the same, for now teasing was something sexual as we boys chased and were chased by these girls on a summer night on a sloping field in mountain woods. It felt fine that I was back in my element, though not so fine that I was so impossibly far away in time and space and maturity from the Rue de Capuchins.
One night at the Playhouse, a couple of days after Kitty had been taken to Canada by her parents, I met a tall, dark visiting girl with sweet lips and I necked with her out the Playhouse porch. Little Peter Mallory, Grandson of Gaga’s old college roommate, followed me about afterward, his eyes and voice full of admiration, asking an irrelevant question for which I had not answer: “When did you know you were in love with that girl?”
We all went to the regular Saturday night dance at the Sunset Hill House, where Grandmother Clark was installed for the end of the summer. The old people sat on chairs in a circle around the brightly lit dance floor in the summer white room they called the ballroom. That night, as often in the past, there was also entertainment. This time a hard looking, slick looking, aging pair of professional dancers who worked the summer hotel circuit put on a demonstration of the rumba and the samba, none of which seemed to have anything to do with us. The woman wore a backless dress and she had plenty of fine skin even though she was not young. The skin was tight and as smooth as I it were a wax version of a girl’s body. Paris seemed so out of reach.
On the big circular terrace outside the Sunset’s ballroom college boys who worked as summer bellboys and college girls who were summer waitresses necked greedily with experience that we were just building up to when we maneuvered in the dark on the Playhouse dance floor. And after the Sunset dance, which never went later than 11, Kitty and I and two other younger couples made our way down across the street and down a dirt drive to a low lying shingled building called The Pioneer. It had a juke box for dancing, and served soft drinks, mainly as setups for the slightly older kids who brought liquor. The neckers from the Sunset passed a bottle to us so we could turn our ginger ale into real drinks, just like real adults, though adulthood seemed was almost as out of reach as Paris.
On another evening we went with our host friends over to the movies in Lisbon, a town with a formal bridge over the stream that ran through it. We were driven by Connie, Alice’s sister who was old enough to have a room now in the main house. We saw 12 Angry Men with Henry Fonda.
One day we hiked to a big pond halfway up Cannon Mountain. One night we went swimming in Echo Lake down below Cannon. Our meals were carried over to the children’s house, where we had a tabletop hockey game with figures you could maneuver with handles on the side batting a ball down towards the enemy’s goal or protecting your own goal. Peter got a lot of laughs whether he was behind or winning by saying, in a Negro accent, “Bring up de colored troops!” I hated such prejudice, “nigger eyes” and all the rest, as much as I hated the never ending anti-Jewish jokes and slurs. But I was not sure what the real world was.
So I thought a lot about Paris. It was as if I had to compartmentalize my thoughts. There was Manet and Monet and Renoir in the Jeu de Paum, and the sweep of grandiose marble on the Place de la Concorde outside of the Jeu de Paum. There was the walk up the Rue de Capuchins to the Casino de Paris and those girls who had not clothes on, especially the happy looking girl who danced over to touch a boyfriend waiting in the wings.
Family would appear in my thoughts of Paris. Mother and Dad and Grandmother Clark and Peter. Dad had been in London most of the time on publishing business. I peeked at a letter Mother was writing talking of Paris as a city of love, so out of context, it seemed, this unlikely flirtation between my parents. Mother spoke French. She had spent her junior year from Smith at the Sorbonne (before something happened – running out of money?) – and she had had to become a day student at Barnard in the city.
One day in Paris she had her old landlady around for drinks. A fat women dressed in black who spoke mainly of the war, and said if the Germans came again she would kill herself.
It was mother who has taken us the first time to the Jeu de Paum. She knew the impressionists from her junior year. Strange that I had never heard of them. She also led us to an exhibition of people called Fauves who came a little later and painted in unrealistic bright colors, great slashes of paint, maybe more real than if they had been realistic. But mother had no history with the Fauves.
There was an American man with a big mustache who was full of energy escorting a group of American women through the exhibit speaking enthusiastically about how the Fauves gave up all “the past crap” and were something new and exciting. He was worked up. He seemed like one of those bohemians I had read about and wanted to be. Even so, it was as if I were being pulled to the side I wanted to reject, for I heard in my head family voices saying this exuberant man was just too, too pleased with himself.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I knew certain visuals.
It was my best summer ever – up in the mountains with this gang of girls and boys who let me be in the center. At the center with Kitty, who taught me the 20s revival Charleston when she was 13 and I was 15 – the only time in my life when I could join a casual baseball game, step to the plate, and sometimes actually hit the ball and run bases. The summer after that one they took my brother and me off to Europe, thousands of miles away from the White Mountains and the summer gang.
And suddenly it was as if nothing had ever changed, for I was back in our Connecticut family unit – back with Mother, Dad and Grandmother Clark, and my good boy twin Peter. I was getting letters almost every day that Kitty had sent to American Express in Paris and Venice and Paris again, and the family thought that was the silliest thing they had ever encountered. They laughed.
One evening at dinner at the hotel on the Rue Saint Honoré there was a big vase of black-eyed Susan’s on our table and Grandmother Clark said, Look, Nigger Eyes. And Dad saw my face and berated me for having the potential to cause trouble, and they went along, keeping the awkward peace, with Grandmother Clark when she said, in a very loud voice, right here in Paris, "I have called them Nigger Eyes all my life and I won’t stop calling them Nigger Eyes now."
And I was back in the place I thought I had escaped, despite all the trophies I had been winning, despite having a girl so kind and desirable she was outside their own experience – despite my surprising popularity, despite my leaving the world of the outcasts, despite all this, everything was still the same, as if nothing had happened, as if nothing could ever change. I knew I never should have trusted anything.
Though my life was not so empty now as they may have thought. I did find a few things to trust that summer. I trusted what I felt when looking at Monet and Manet and van Gogh, all new to me, in the Jeu de Paum. The intensity of it was my secret almost, for in this family visual art was something I could have for myself if Peter was not in the way.
I started to hang out at the Jeu de Paum, which was an exciting walk from the hotel through all the marble in the beautifully proportioned and grandiose Place de la Concorde. I would remember for the rest of my life the exact placement of the paintings there – up and to the left in one room Manet’s artists have a picnic complete with nude model, directly in front of me as I entered another room Renoir’s girl on swing, who seemed to me not on a swing but on a path where she had stopped to cock her pretty head and connect with me. The Jeu de Paum, and also the Casino de Paris, which was a little farther away but within walking distance or a quick Metro ride.
There was something to trust here in this old theater too – the waves of desire that passed through me as I watched these happy seeming naked girls – plenty of coyness though no coy striptease, for they were naked before the dancing began – and one of them has a boy friend in the wings – I can see it all from my seat high up and to the side. I see her dance over to a place where the sky blue stage set ends, her arms high, and she has a girl’s cutely cropped brown hair, and rounded arms and legs, and she has these breasts, not too big and not too small, and with assertive nipples and she has a pubic hair triangle, and no tan line. And she reaches out to her right while turning her eyes in that direction and smiling, she reaches to her right again and she and the guy touch hands, this girl and her boyfriend, their touching out of sight except from my privileged spot in the cheap seats. This sweet naked girl and her not-so-secret private life. And I had this fantasy version of my own life. I would not go to college next year, I would return to Paris and become the poet I had started out to be in boarding school, and I would have a girl like the naked dancing girl, and I would live in a garret like artists in the movies, and have intense relationships with people I would meet in tiny bistros with checked table clothes, each table with a candle dripping wax that built upon the side of the wine bottle in which it was stuck – and I would be myself always.
They warned that I should pull myself together.