Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Letter

Priorities shift on rainy nights.  People drop money with more frequency.  They are rushing and careless and the sound of the rain masks the sound of things falling.  Fewer people show up at their gym.  They park cars carelessly, they drink more; they eat more.  It is a bad time to make a lasting decision; especially an emotional decision.

The sound of passing cars on a rainy night always reminds me of waiting.  I was glad tonight to get home early; I walked back not caring what the rain did to my hair or my shoes.  I took my time, picked up a few coins from the sidewalk, petted a few miserable neighborhood dogs who leaned sheepishly against their walkers, regretting that they asked to be taken out.  At a Madison Avenue corner, a coat and hat was draped over a mailbox.  As I got closer, I realized there was a body inside.  It moved, and I asked if I could help.  The man, who was not more than 35, waved me on-- reeked of whiskey.  Sick, maybe--- or just too drunk to walk.   Waiting, maybe.  For a text, for a car, for a bus… for someone who wasn't coming.  I stood under an awning and watched; he nearly fell into the road a couple of times, and managed to hoist himself up onto the steel curve of the box, like a human back.  The Federal Government helping someone in ways they never intended.  I couldn't leave; I was writing all versions of his sad story-- the diagnosis,  the long and unbearable last days of his terminally ill wife; maybe he'd just come from the hospital-- -the final night.  Or he'd lost his job, his girlfriend had had enough-- his kids told him he's a loser-- his boss caught him in an insider trading scheme…

When I was young and newly married in London, it rained for all 30 days of my first month.  The quiet of our flat, compared to the constant sounds of New York City, was oppressive and strange for me.  My husband was a journalist and worked late; I found myself cooking and waiting like a doll-wife in a doll-house.  I had no friends and even the telephone felt awkward in my hand.  I knew I'd never stay-- it all felt so unreal for me-- and yet I was determined to stay and learn how to play the wife.  It was both sad and happy when my husband came home; he always felt like a stranger.  I could never have married anyone more familiar because my whole concept of marriage was so outside anything that felt like 'me'.   And yet, I loved the way he looked, the way he spoke, and treated me-- like a television sitcom newlywed.  He would have a drink and tell me about his day.  We would go to bed and make love, and he would sleep while I lay awake listening to the rain and the quiet, trying to 'place' myself in the strangeness of the new city.

Of course I eventually realized we were both playing house, and despite a mutual passion, we never really 'crossed over'.  I missed my life.  I missed laughing with my New York friends.  I felt like a foreigner in the city where everyone spoke my language but no one seemed to understand me.  I missed my husband-- even though he was there, and was attentive and perfect, outside of a few drinks too many.  He felt my discomfort and began to panic-- to worry, to agonize, and then to stray.  I was relieved.  It gave me a reason to leave, even though I was already pregnant with his son.

I came back to New York with my huge stomach and the terrifying prospect of motherhood, and then I missed him even more.  I began to realize there was nowhere, ever, from that point on, where I would ever feel 'right';  that the clarity of the distant past is maybe elusive-- and maybe it was never there, although we are all sure of our first loves, and maybe even our second-- of our first heartbreak, and the pure joy of winning something.  But I still couldn't stay,  and whatever tragic consequences I've suffered-- the misgivings, the regrets, the bad dreams and the missing-- all the missing--- well, I am responsible, at least partially.

Tonight there are more sirens than usual; this is a rain-related phenomenon, too, I think.  I am tempted to go back out and see if one of these is for my mailbox man, but I stop and convince myself that a person who couldn't manage to face her own fairytale when it was there cannot possibly unravel the unhappy ending of someone else's.

I was born during hard winter.  I was always relieved that I wouldn't have to face a rainy birthday; it was either cold and sunny or snowing, which is a soft blessing, and not a disappointment.  I feel safe here at the moment; even the early morning birds are not singing, not warning me that I should have slept and I haven't.

So maybe the mailbox guy had to to vomit and needed an anchor.  Maybe he needed a short nap.  Maybe he just couldn't face his nagging wife and kids after a long day, and her resentment that he'd taken the time to have a few when she had slaved over a meal and bla bla bla.  I never stuck around long enough to get there; I feared someone looking at me the way the mailbox man looked at me when I asked if I could help-- with that screwed up crooked face asking silently who the fuck I thought I was to insert myself in his rainy night.

There's a woman on the 6th floor with a bulgy eye who is hostile and a little crazy.  She is bitter and has persecution fantasies and calls the police on her neighbors.  She doesn't pay her rent and defends herself in court and win or lose costs our building thousands.   I am kind to her but tonight in the elevator she accused me of conspiring with the members of the Coop Board.  The rain is affecting her.  I start thinking she could audition for a zombie B-film.  I want to ask her to mail a letter for me.  That makes me smile, and she turns up the volume until I get out on my floor.

Maybe the mailbox guy was one of those visiting angels who will vanish.  Maybe I wasn't supposed to see him; maybe it was a mirage-- a cartoon character who shouldn't have crossed over.  I am home now, getting messages from a booking agent who wants Blues.  Blues, he says.  Yeah, that works for me.  So we'll give him blues.  John Lee Hooker used to sing something about a letter.  He never learned to read or write.  I know I'll never look at that mailbox the same way.  It's become a symbol, the way that most things in our lives become when we just have had enough of what is real or what we want to be real, and we are tired of waiting and tired of missing, and all we have is the slithery sound of wet tires on asphalt and a pair of old boots drying like tired dogs in the dawn half-light.

2 comments:

Ludovica said...

In Ireland, it is "a soft day", where I live, when I was a child, it was called "Woodfidley Rain" that dank misty drizzly rain between relentless downpours that gets in every pore of your skin, every crack in your boots, every neuron of your brain to the very last sob of your drowning soul. Nothing happens on days like that, they wash everything away before you can take the imprint and process it. They're good days for funerals, they don't mock your misery as a beautiful sunny day tends to do, when you are compelled to feel guilt for enjoying anything on a solemn occasion. The rain makes robots of us all, rushing here and there without pause or thought, on a mission to fulfil the agenda. Your mailbox man, he wasn't messing around. His mission was clear. Sodden inside and out he locked himself into a world of his own. Ironic that his leaning post should be symbolic of communication. I daresay the last thing he expected to have happen was to have a lady, and a stranger reach out to him. How shocking to him in his tiny cell of not giving a shit any more. His solitude was maybe the only thing he cared about right then, your intervention a little surreal perhaps? :) We don't expect to be rescued. We all hope for it of course. Girls particularly are fed the standard diet of fairy tales of happily ever after. I was no exception. I knew I wasn't that person, but since so many people seemed to be so good at being married, surely it couldn't be that hard, could it? When I was a child, I was unaware that two of my aunts had been married to other people before they had the husbands I called my Uncle Ron and Uncle John. My cousin Simon, I knew was the son of a boyfriend of my aunt's.. That was all thought rather unseemly. It wasn't spoken of. My parents had no divorced friends, no divorced neighbours. On the contrary, almost every week they would go off to yet another wedding, some very grand affairs as my father's work colleagues and drinking buddies paired up with air stewardesses, secretaries, teachers embarking on solid middle class respectable existences in which the spectre of divorce had no place at the feast. Nobody ever told us we were in this life alone. All alone

Billy said...

Very very good, both of you...