A GHOST STORY.
The first woman I dated in New York City - and the first woman
to make me laugh uncontrollably in a good, long while - is dead
now. In fact, L. has been dead for over a year now. The distance
is, I'm sure, no great comfort for those who were much closer to
her - her family, friends and her most recent boyfriend. I have
so much misplaced guilt that I even went so far as to ask myself
if I deserved to grieve over her openly. I didn't attend her memorial
in New York last year because I wasn't sure I'd earned the right.
We dated for only four or five months, and we both asserted very
early on that the relationship was doomed for failure, as our attraction
came quickly on the heels of her breakup with a very long-term
boyfriend. (the first time i visited her home, it was still their
home. i refused to go back until she moved into a new place, as
i was unable to rest comfortably with all those traces of their
love surrounding me. i couldn't even put paper down between myself
and the bed, because it might have been a paper he'd read - or fucked
- that morning.)
Of course, I was not an innocent. I did not behave heroically.
I, too, was attempting to get over the most serious love of my life.
(L. and I probably found safety in that instability.) My girlfriend
had recently vacated a shared apartment, then moved to New York
City together to scatter the ashes of our relationship. Doom out,
doom in. Morrissey would have been proud. Moon - a name I gave her;
I used to joke her head was as large as a celestial body, right
before I kissed it on the curls - was still very much in my life,
and we had our own ghosts to contend with.
Making an additional spectral appearance was Moon's dad, who chose
to die poetically. He left us suddenly; the evening prior to Moon's
twinned escape from our desiccated relationship and her failed return
to undergraduate studies. Moon was preparing a quiet retreat upstate
to her parents' (now parent's) home the next morning. Her bags sat
packed at my feet, and I kicked at them unconsciously as I received
the call from her mother. In the following months we remained broken
up but, between death and depression and addiction (hers) and recovery
(mine), necessity made us closer than ever.
For L., I was an experiment - could she start over? I represented
not a mutually dependent adventure, but her own independence. She
probably wasn't ready and, as a result, I was secreted away. L.
kept close to friends inherited from her old relationship, and there
was no place for me there. So, apart from a few dinners and drinks
with her friends, and a clandestine series of sleep-overs at a somewhat
famous television personality's West Village apartment, our time
was more private than public. I understood - or at least that's
what I assured her so I could buy more time.
I was an artist's sketch to L.'s social circle but my friends
knew her, and loved her. She was quick and sly, with a loose-limbed,
pre-adolescent frame surrounding a mouth that could make David Mamet
take notes. The most horribly funny things would spill out of her
but she always managed to temper her acute profanity by chasing
it off with a look of total Midwest shock, a mischievous giggle
laced with menthol rasp, or a censorial hand to her mouth. As I
said, people who knew this minister's daughter loved her.
The brief time I spent with L. was wonderful and sad. She introduced
me to drinks before noon, pvc boots, Billy's Topless and dirty talk.
She was the first woman to good-naturedly encourage my inner-pervert,
and the first woman I ever yelled at in anger. She was the first
person to leave me feeling sick from hurt when it ended predictably,
with name-calling, ignored phone calls, and a discomfort I don't
think either of us ever fully abandoned. And if she were here today,
and we were still speaking, I hope we'd both be able to piece together
the impossible timing, age difference, and crowded cast of ethereal
extras, and see it for what it was: a complicated period of grieving
for the two of us.
It was strange to discover L. again, after fumbling around,
after being angry and estranged, and after learning of her death
many years later. But a few nights ago, a mutual friend asked, "did
you see L. in New York magazine?" I never see anything
in New York magazine, and I've always considered that one
of my better qualities. She then went on to explain that New
York had just published a feature about the life and tragic
death of L.. It was filled with familiar names and recollections
of L.'s character that, had they been about a total stranger,
I would have dismissed them as nostalgic and perhaps false but here
they all rang absolutely true. Wild, funny, ballsy, adorable. I
wish it were always as easy for me to remember the living that way.
I felt like I was a ghost in that story, drifting silently above
all the names and events from her early months in New York - a dalliance
between an old life and a new one she was constructing before her
death. I really do miss her, privately and, if you'll excuse me
for a short moment, publicly.