Hello? Nautilus Foundation. Hello? This is Nelson Mandela. Is Francois Bucher there? Yes, yes. Just a minute.
That was part of the magic of the place. A modern art castle in the North Florida woods. Gauguin's ladies. Ancient books. Skin puppets in an old trunk. A secret passageway. A ghost ship. Michelangelo's cold brained boy. A phone call from Nelson Mandela. A monster from my childhood. Einstein's couch. Avenging angels. Pick-up truck angels. A nun's room. A locked tower. Zillions and zillions of stars. A Minotaur. I began to pull away and Francois became bitter again. You don't wiggle anymore. He accused, his face turned away but his eyes cut to me. I told him I had to leave. Who will make me my smoozies? Of course he argued. I told him I needed to get a job, and that Lloyd was just too far out to work and to go to school. He told me that I was throwing away an opportunity. He told me that my studies would suffer, that my health would suffer. He told me that children who went to school and lived in apartments did more partying than studying and did not take school seriously. (I think he had forgotten that I was in auto mechanic school.) He told me I was not like them, that I would be unhappy. For the most part he was right. I loaded up my truck and moved into town. I got a job at a falafel place and an apartment with a girl named Nikki who ended up trashing some of my things and ringing up $906 worth of phone bills under my name that I had to pay. I dropped out of Lively Vo-Tech and TCC. I did not take school seriously. But I did have fun. I smoked pot out of a hookah with naked girls. I wore an evening dress and drank icy cold vodka while Nikki read aloud the works of Shakespeare and I rolled around on the floor in hilarity. We ate Chinese food till bursting and passed out in greasy stupors. I danced barefoot at drum circles and tried to learn to juggle fire. I did not shave my armpits. It was everything Francois was afraid of and more. The other day I was describing my time at the Nautilus Foundation to a friend of mine. He said that it seems so surreal, that it must seem like a completely different life. It does and it doesn't. My life immediately after I left seems more like a dream or something that happened to someone else than my time with Francois. When I lived in the apartment with Nikki (who grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and was far more foreign to me than Francois ever was) and worked at The Pitaria (real name, delicious falafel, shitty hommus) I was trying so desperately for the sort of youthful exuberant life that I thought I should have. It was fun, but it was forced, and I never felt like I belonged. Living with Francois was a bizarre and magical fairy tale, and I always expected the bizarre and magical. My brother and I lived in fairy tales when we were kids, and something like a castle in the woods was only a matter of course. In some ways I am more shocked at how mundane my life has become. It was that same year that I packed up and headed west. Those adventures were more my style, done alone and slowly with many many miles to absorb what I was doing and who I was becoming. I never saw Francois again. He died a couple of years later. I do not know if he died alone, or if someone else was there to call for an ambulance. If anyone ever wrote his memoirs they are not published. His body was placed in a concrete box on a slab between the pond and the main house. I went back once, to lay flowers at his grave. It was a bluesky sunshiney day and it must have been in the summer because I also went looking for black berries. I drove down the driveway and it looked much the same except the dormitories were condemned and there was a giant gate, like the entrance to a Shinto temple. The property had been bequeathed to Florida State University and I was stopped by a man on a riding lawnmower as I got out of my car. He told me I was trespassing, and had to leave. I stood and talked to him for a little while, I told him about living there and the wonders that were inside the building. I told him about Francois, and he was kind and listened. By the end of the talk he let me wander around a little bit. I walked around the building. I touched the rough cinder block of the walls and noted the wear and tear. I went into the woods but I couldn't find any trace of the Chinese junk. I stood for a long time by the box that held Francois. It is very plain, that box. If you didn't know it was a mausoleum you might think it held a pump or some sort of electrical gadgetry connected to the house. I put my face against it and tried to feel the man inside, but he was not there. I cried a little, laid my yellow flowers down and said I'm sorry. That was the surreal part, the part where I knew he was dead and cold and in a box and I was standing next to it. It was surreal that I could not just walk inside and find him sitting at the kitchen table, smoking and waiting to tell me something he had been thinking. I wondered what happened to the art, what happened to the dogs. I still don't know, and I haven't been back. FSU has now renovated the place and turned it into a conference center. The art gallery, which contains some of Francois's own work is named after him, but the center itself is not. When I look it up on the internet I find no mention of the things that really spun my brain, the valuable art, the little light green couch. The information says that there are four bedrooms and two bathrooms available for rent or retreat, but it does not say that there is a secret passageway to one of the bedrooms and I wonder, where are all of these bedrooms anyway? Do they really make visiting guests climb over a stage to sleep in the Nun's room? Did they put a bed in the tower? Or have they ripped the shelves out of the library and put bedrooms in there? It would be too strange to see it so changed and so naked. No doubt FSU has sucked the magic out of the place as best they could, they are good at that. Visitors don't want to be surprised by angels and spiders in the corners of the rooms. I do. I do. I want the angels and the spiders both. Francois lives in me so frail and whole, his naked skin, his purple scar. He is not a part of another life, he is part of this one. I could not give him what he wanted from me, but he did touch me and I touched him and we changed each other, even if it is just a little bit. To be honest, I do not miss him. But I remember him. I think that is a fine thing. When I die I don't want too many people aching for me, but I would like someone to remember the shape of my hands and the way I laugh. He did not wear his seat belt. He liked artichokes in oil. He had large knuckles and ropey veins in the backs of his hands. When Francois laughed, sometimes it was a bitter chuckle and a sideways glance, but sometimes it would burst so loud and unexpected I could hear it even if I was tucked up in my room. Even if I was walking away, as fast as I could.
The kitchen in the Nautilus Foundation was not state of the art. The oven did not work and the stove top was one of those crappy electric kinds where the eyes never settle right after you try to clean it. The refrigerator was of indeterminate color and probably from Sears, bought new sometime in the late eighties. There was no dishwasher, and when I moved in no coffee maker. Looking back I think that things must've fallen into disrepair when the girlfriend moved out, perhaps she took the coffee maker. I met the ex girlfriend only once, when she came to sort out a shipment of art they had bought together on a trip long before. Francois called me into the library to meet M. and see the puppets they were pulling out of a trunk. The puppets were made of human skin. M. was tall and lean with short blond hair and strong hands. She looked like a woman who would be more comfortable riding an elephant than cooking supper, and she barely registered me as she pulled the puppets from their wrappings. They looked like tiny angry mummies. I stood for a moment off to the side but left quickly, the air in the library that day was sharp and thick and I did not like the way that Francois was so giddy or she so absorbed in her task. She was only there a few hours. What made the kitchen wonderful wasn't the appliances. It was obviously a kitchen for a man of the mind and not the stomach. There was a butcher block and wooden table where we would take our coffee and meals. There was a back door that was always open for the dogs to come in and go out, and you could see the pond from that doorway. Against one wall was the giant hutch that hid the secret passageway, and up on the wall that the kitchen shared with the front room was a painting by Paul Gauguin. The painting was one from his Tahitian period with bare breasted ladies reclining in the shade of fat leafed trees. I loved those ladies, they looked so wise and so lazy, and I loved that I could reach out and touch the whirls of paint that made them. As soon as I moved in I insisted we get a coffee maker. At first Francois protested that instant was just as good, and certainly good enough for him, but I began too brew freshly ground organic french roast with cinnamon in the basket, and he began to hum as he drank it. I would find him there in the morning with his first cigarette and his coffee mug, naked aside from graying briefs, slightly reclined with one leg crossed over the other. I would pour a cup and start taking fruit out of the freezer for our smoothies. I made a smoothie in the morning for myself because I liked it, and I began to make one for him because he was intrigued and he had trouble with his bowels. Fruit, soy milk, flax seed, spirulina, he called it his "smoozie" and I think this is the first thing that made him love me. Company was fine, hot meals at night were good, but get him to take a morning shit and all was right in the world. He would hug me and call me his "Wiggly Girl". On the back of the stove were the few spices he had when I moved in. It was the first time I'd ever seen a shaker of MSG for private use and it just seemed wrong so I tucked it toward the back of the cabinet. There were salt and pepper and paprika and a small glass jar that held little silver lumps, roughly the size and shape of Hershey's kisses. One day, when I thought of it and we were both in the kitchen I held the glass jar up and said "Francois? What is this?" "Oh those? Those are teapots!" he sounded positively gleeful. "Sometimes? When I put the teapot on the stove? And I walk away for a little while? I come back and they look like that!" I was enchanted. There were about five in there and I had no idea how long it would take to melt down an entire teapot to a Hershey's Kiss shaped lump. "May I have one?" I said. After smoozie making and coffee drinking and talking talking talking I would beg off and drive to school. Auto mechanics was not going as I had imagined it would go and each day I would get a little more down. I liked the teacher, he was a good old boy local with thin white hair and sparkly blue eyes. Most of the guys in the class had been working on cars their whole lives and the teacher spent most of his time trying to break them of bad habits. "Not everything can be fixed by hitting it with a hammer" I remember him saying. We balanced and rotated tires, we changed oil, we tinkered with our own cars. I wasn't accepted as part of the group and spent a lot of time away from the garage and in the classroom supposedly reading my ASE textbook, but really writing letters to college friends. Sometimes in the morning I would pick up a dozen donuts from the Krispy Kreme for the guys, but though they ate them, they didn't smile at me. One guy let me help him rebuild the carburetor on his daughter's VW Bug, but that was the extent of my coed interaction, unless the prof made them include me. One day a car caught fire in the parking lot and we rushed out en masse to watch it burn. Just as we got there the teacher yelled out, "STAY BACK! THERE MIGHT BE A GUN IN THE GLOVE BOX!" and we all hit the dirt, expecting bullets to come whizzing out at any second. That did not happen, and he calmly sprayed the car down with a fire extinguisher. "Let that be a lesson to you." he said. "You never know if there's gonna be a gun in a burning car." I never forgot that. Years later I saw another car on fire and I GOT BACK. I turned to the person next to me and said, "There might be a gun in there. You never know." I would come home in the evenings and do my homework and make supper. Francois was always eager for my return and often had something to show me. One time it was a Bible in Aramaic, over 400 years old. One time it was a video of a party he'd had where everyone was quite drunk and played the most intellectual game of charades I had ever seen. One time it was a cartoon he'd drawn, portraying him hanging off the side of a cliff and me up at the top, reaching down to take his hand. He told me stories about the things in the house, about Einstein's couch in the hallway to the gallery (which I jumped on one time when he wasn't home and it made a horrible SPROING! noise and I leaped off and one of the dogs looked at me like he was utterly disgusted). He told me about his wild and beautiful daughter. He told me about getting old. There was so much talking, and I was so quiet. I'd seen so little of the world and I felt I had nothing to contribute. He took my silence as fascination and maybe reverence, and one day he told me that he had been thinking he might let me write his memoirs. I wanted nothing to do with his memoirs. I wanted to be young and free and have adventures of my own. I wasn't a scholar, and the more he talked and the more he wanted me to stay home to listen the more I began to resent his need. I could kick myself now, but that's how it was. It frightened me to have someone need me so much. Anything that took me away from him was degraded. He felt I needed to cut the apron strings of my family, he felt that my friends were a frivolous distraction, he even tried to convince me that my long distance boyfriend was probably up to no good. "I just don't know about this Steve" he would say, which infuriated me because his name wasn't Steve. Perhaps he saw in me an intelligence, a spark that I've never given myself credit for. I'd like to think that, and not believe that he was just so lonely that he would have adopted practically anyone who showed him kindness. I think at one time he was a lion, and in my quiet listening and careful cooking, in my manners and naivete, he saw himself resurrected in my eyes. I hugged his old bones and made him feel young. I gave him an audience. I began to walk in the evenings as well, just to have some time to think. He decided he would join me, and so at night we would walk up the driveway to the road, back down to the creek, and back to the house. Sometimes I would go in with him and sometimes I would say good night and head out, walking fast, fast as I could. After the careful constitutional we shared my alone walk felt like flying. I felt I could just take off into the night and never come back. On one of those nights a storm came. I was about a mile and a half out when the stars disappeared and the sky let loose. The rain came down hard and fast. Thunder and lightning toppled all over each other with no break in between. The wind pressed the trees down sideways and threw branches on the road. I was afraid like I've never been, afraid of the storm and afraid of the cars because there was no sidewalk or shoulder, just road, gushing ditch, and fence. I followed the fence to a break and walked up the driveway to the house at the end. When I knocked on the door and asked to use the phone the woman there was wary and wouldn't let me inside. I was astounded that she would be scared of me, even after I explained who I was and where I was staying. It was as if she didn't believe that I was just out walking, even though I was wearing only a tank top, shorts and running shoes and clearly carrying nothing in my hands. I finally convinced her to pass me the phone, which she did through the crack provided by the chain lock on the door. I called Francois, but he didn't answer. Even though he knew I was out in the storm. I handed the phone back to the lady on the other side of the door and she told me to leave. So I did. I didn't know what else to do. I made it maybe another fifty feet down the road when a truck slowed and stopped beside me. The man inside was wearing a worn baseball cap and cover-alls and he opened the door and said, "Hey, you need a ride?" I climbed in. He told me he had seen me walking on his way home from work and mentioned me to his wife. When it began to storm his wife looked at him and said, "Bill? You better go get that little girl" and so he did. He carried me in his truck right up to the Nautilus Foundation front door and made me promise to never go out in weather like that again. When I got inside, soaked and shaking, I found Francois in the kitchen listening to the radio. He told me he didn't like to answer the phone at night. He told me he knew I'd make it home alright. "You're a smart girl" he said. I bid him good night, took a hot shower, and went to bed.
When my brother and I were kids, there was a brief time when our dad's band practiced in a warehouse on Gaines Street. This warehouse is now a bar, but at that time it was just an empty space rented out by various people for various reasons. Where the beer taps are now was used by a florist to store back-up stock, where the pool tables are now is where I would rollerskate while dad's band worked through their set list. The smaller room toward the back where they host open mike nights was used to store art, probably from FSU art school, but I don't know that for sure. The memories are hazy. What is not hazy is one particular piece of art in that back room that scared the heebie-jeebies out of me. It was a mannequin, laying face-up on a cot. Where it's head would have been someone had put a large black globe with moth-like antennae growing out of it and a hole in the face area. In the hole was a light bulb. I don't know why this thing scared me so much, but it did to the point that just knowing it was back there was enough to make me stop mid roll, look over my shoulder, and shiver. I probably only saw it in person a couple of times, but it never really left me. It had gotten under my skin. Which is why, after living in the Nautilus Foundation for a few days and I looked under a sheet draped over an object in the theater and saw it lying there, I was both terrified and not really surprised. So you've finally found me. I thought, looking at it's mute, empty head. I lived in the Nun's Room, behind the stage. Every time I got up in the middle of the night to pee, I had to climb up onto the stage, cross, climb down, walk through the aisles of chairs past the horrible thing beneath the sheet, go out into the room with the sleigh bed and the angel with the sword, and only when I got to the green marble bathroom would I find a light switch. I always carried a flashlight. God forbid I forgot to bring the flashlight with me in the morning and I'd have to walk all that long way back there at night in the dark when I went to bed. My room was furnished with an antique iron bed that had originally come from a 13th century Chinese hospital, but more recently had been hauled out from a concrete dome in the front yard which held about 20 more of the same. I also had a vanity that I brought from home and a peach crate containing some of my clothes. The rest of my clothes were housed in the Italian armoir in the front room, as I had no closet in the Nun's Room. My sewing machine and table were on the stage and looked like props for some homey little play, but when I used it the sound would clatter around the auditorium, so I did very little sewing during my stay. Francois Bucher was a retired professor of medieval art and architecture. Born in Switzerland, he had spent most of his life in the US, but he retained his beautiful upturned accent that made everything he said sound either like a question or a good idea. He had taught at Yale and at FSU and had been granted a Guggenheim back in the fifties, or in his fifties, I can't remember which. He spoke many different languages and had led an exciting life, but he never made me feel ignorant or lesser than. I think that by the time I met him a lot of his spark had gone out. He was lonely and depressed. It was hot in the Nautilus Foundation (there was no air conditioning) and soon after I moved in Francois grew comfortable enough to walk around in only his underpants, as was his habit when he lived alone. After seeing him the first time without his clothes, it really was no big thing to live with an old man in underpants. I kept my clothes on, though he assured me there would be no threat on his part if I chose to walk around in the nude. It was simple modesty that kept me clothed, although I would occasionally go skinny dipping in the pond out back. There was a pond out back, I've forgotten to mention that. In fact, there was a lot more to the Nautilus Foundation than just the main building. The grounds covered several acres of woods and fields. Along the driveway, back up toward the road was a gigantic round building under construction that was intended to be the dormitory for the scholars that would come. The round shape of the building was so that no one would would have a better room than anyone else, to create equality amongst the guests like King Arthur's round table. The driveway curved past the main building, over the creek, and into the woods. Past the stone carver's house, past the barn that held the construction equipment and materials, past the giant kiln, past a few more out buildings, up a hill and into a clearing was the duplex my ex boyfriend rented. It was no longer available to rent because Francois had built an observatory up there and he didn't want anyone polluting the perfect darkness with kitchen lights and reading lamps. In the woods there was an art path that had grown over from neglect. The sculptures that lined the path seemed to pop up out of nowhere and were themselves being reclaimed by the North Florida flora and fauna. In one part there was the sad remains of a full sized Chinese junk ship made entirely of multicolored rice paper. It had been vandalized by drunken locals not long after it's construction, it's great sides torn and dripping from it's skeleton, the masts broken and leaning heavily on the trees around it. Spiders and snakes and squirrels lived in it, poison ivy grew up between it's toes. I still wish I had seen it when it was whole. It would've been a rainbow ship, it would've been infused with light when the sun was overhead. Francois sounded bitter when he told me of the ship's destruction. He sounded like the whole human race was fucked if people would wantonly destroy something so beautiful. He was disappointed in humanity at large. He was also disappointed in his life. I could tell that no matter how much he had lived, he could not believe he had ended up so old and so weak. It pissed him off that he had to follow dietary guidelines, pissed him off and frightened him. He would ask me over and over as we ate supper if I remembered he could not eat vitamin K, if I had perhaps accidentally put butter in the pasta. He told me to feel free to drink the vodka in the freezer because God knows he can't drink it, Goddammit. He would look longingly at my greens salad (I don't remember why he was not allowed a greens salad) and tell me long endless tales of his youth. The time he ran away as a boy with his best friend and ended up on a raft surrounded by sharks. The days he spent with Albert Einstein discussing recipes and time travel (He was a fairy of a man! He said of Einstein.) The women he slept with. The stupid children who took education for granted he taught. And on and on. I should have paid better attention, but I was one of those stupid children. I was tired by the time we sat down to dinner, and I was young and he was old and I didn't want to sit for hours and be talked to. My days started early. When I dropped out of college I decided that I either wanted to be a midwife or an auto mechanic, so I enrolled in the auto mechanic program at Lively Vo-Tech and in an anatomy class at Tallahassee Community College. I had to be at Lively at 8:AM, so I was up at 4:00 to walk before I made us breakfast. I fell in love with walking in Lloyd. At four in the morning the world was dark and quiet and cool. I walked past old houses and farmland, past fields filled with giant rolls of hay that looked like sleeping woolly creatures. I walked past long stretches of barbed wire, past tangles of kudzu, past creeks and goats and trailers. As I walked my muscles would loosen up and I would wake up from my sleeping dreams only to fall into daydreams. I told myself stories about the people who lived in the houses and trailers, and I told myself more darkly made-up stories of the people who lived in the woods, the ones who made homes in wood rot and gopher hole. The ones who could hide in the Spanish moss and who blended in with leaf mold. I walked and dreamed for an hour every morning and found myself back home. I'd come in sweaty and get the coffee started and by the time I'd showered and dressed for class (in greasy jeans and a clean t-shirt) Francois would be up, sitting at the butcher block in the kitchen, waiting for me.
When I was nineteen I lived with a man named Francois Bucher. This was just after I dropped out of college but before I took off in my truck for sights unseen. When I called Francois I had no intention of actually living with him, I just wanted a place to stay for a little while with cheap rent and I was wildly inexperienced in finding lodging. What I knew of Francois Bucher was that he was a little eccentric and a boyfriend that I'd had when I was fifteen rented a place from him in Lloyd for the very fair price of $111 a month. I had good memories of the place- it was a little cracker shack duplex set inexplicably in the middle of a monks bald spot of a field at the top of a hill somewhere in the Lloyd woods. We would get stoned and wade in the creek just down the hill from the place and at night there were zillions and zillions of stars. Back then, people were actually listed in phone books and so that is what I did. I looked up his name, I called the number. (Later when I was living in my truck I employed this same method of detective work while in La Conner, WA in an attempt to find Tom Robbins. Don't try it kids, he ain't listed.) Francois answered the phone and told me that the duplex was no longer available, but if I was willing to drive out to Lloyd he might have something else for me. Francois Bucher lived in The Nautilus Foundation, a place he dreamed up and built of his own design. The intention of the foundation was to create a space for artists and intellectuals to live and work, a communal genius utopia. He lived there alone, with his two dogs. The main building was an asymmetrical castle in the abstract with a tower over the middle part that had one of those pointy roofs that one would expect on a tower on a castle, with a flag coming out of the pointy bit. This building was set far enough off the main road so that you couldn't see it if you were just driving around Lloyd and it surprised the hell out of me when I first drove up. I parked in a small parking lot and walked up the path to the main doors. Now I don't recall if I knocked, or if the doors were open, but somehow I got inside and was greeted by the man himself. Before we sat down for coffee he gave me the tour. The first room I entered was large and dark and had very high ceilings. There were no windows, but there were two doors along the wall to the left, one door to the right, and one straight in front. The room contained a large sleigh bed made up for company, a red and green painted armoir, and a statue of an avenging angel on a pedestal. One of the doors to the left took you to a bathroom completely lined with green marble, the other to a hallway. The hallway sloped downhill to the art gallery which was made from an old silo that had been cut down and bolted on with giant metal bolts. The door to the right in the main room entered into the auditorium style theater (where the plays of geniuses would be performed, I suppose) which at this time was being used mostly for storage of strange objects de arte. At the back of the theater, beyond the rows of chairs and up and across the stage was a small door. That door led to a round brick lined room with one tiny window that Francois called the Nun's Room. Back to the main room and straight across was the kitchen. To the left of the kitchen was the library. The library was something to behold- chock a block full from floor to ceiling with rows of books on shelves made from boards and bricks and so cram packed that there were even stacks of books on the floor and in trunks and boxes yet to be unpacked. There were two small desks, one at the front of the library against the wall that led to the kitchen, and one at the back that held a lamp and a small statue of a young man whose cranium you could remove to expose his carved wooden brains. The statue, Francois told me as an aside, was made by Michelangelo. Upstairs from the kitchen was Francois's bedroom, personal bathroom, and the way to get to the tower. You could get to his bedroom either by climbing the obvious wooden stairs in the kitchen, or by going through the secret passageway hidden behind the hutch. It was in the kitchen that we sat, had coffee, and talked. Francois had recently gone through the break up of a long term relationship and a quadruple bypass surgery. He was afraid that if he were to have another heart attack it would be his last, and he would die alone on the floor with his dogs standing over him, unable to reach the phone to call for help. His proposition was that I would move in and cook suppers for him (following the guidelines provided by his doctors) and in exchange receive room and board. I thought about the library, about the marble lined bathroom, about the secret passageway behind the hutch. I looked over my cup of instant coffee at this old man with an angry purple scar stretched tight across his chest and the doorhandles of his knees pushing against the worn fabric of his trousers. He sat like a man defeated, he held his hands with fingers curled. I was nineteen and all of life was a grand adventure. I said yes.
I never did eat those chocolate covered bananas. Too messy, too sticky, too much really. That was all the way back in October and I was beginning to think that maybe my man fast had gone on too long. It's good to take some time and reevaluate (or in my case, write down every sexual experience I've ever had, acknowledge where I've been selfish, dishonest, or caused harm, and read it all aloud to someone else while they make comments and laugh at my expense, all through the good of AA) but there comes a point, babies, where you have to get back in the game. [Back in the game? I deplore sports metaphors, I'm more than likely to mix them up. Let's give it the old college try! Time to knock that ball through the field posts and try not to get fouled and end up in the box! You can't get a touchdown if you try to steal third! Let's bogey this sumbitch and take 'er home! Match, set, love, where's the motherfucking ball boy? Why am I the one who always gets drenched with Gatorade?] ahem.... Back in the saddle. [Better. Now I feel like a cowgirl.] I realized last night at my meeting that I may be the only female in my homegroup (which is large) that has gotten through two years of sobriety without sleeping with anyone else in AA. Even very old women with white hair who spend their hour knitting and nodding and speak in shaky voices full of wisdom and experience are out there getting more action than I am. I see the way they look at the gentlemen! It's like a goddamn sober sex party and I was invited but decided instead to wash my hair. Now I am seen as this font of self control and piety, when really I'm just clueless and awkward, like I've been my entire life. Not that I want to sleep with recovering alcoholics, those people are cra-zy. Besides, whenever I find myself attracted to anyone from AA I find that he lives at the shelter or he just got out of jail. I don't judge! I'm just sayin'. Very recently I decided to take a man up on his offer of love and found myself alone and wearing foolish nightclothes. It is a very chilly thing to wake up in an empty bed in silky bits expecting company. He said all the right things, but there was no follow through. It feels like lies when there is no action to back the words up, and makes me feel like a back-up plan for if the night gets lonely. It made me angry. I love words, I have words, I have all the words I need.
[my love is like a tempest tossed the sparrows up against the wall...]
[if tender feet I do not have to place inside my lover's palms then I will have the poetry, I will have the words and songs]
I am hesitant to write in all seriousness about love because it is an embarrassing and private thing, unless you are in love and then the world loves with you and smiles on your shining face. And there are those who will say I had my chance, that love was there for the taking and I walked away. But love for me, like anything because I am too sensitive, is hard and tricky. I want it to be right. I can't be easy, I am not easy, and it is not a comfortable thing to be this skittish, this sober, this self conscious all the time. I envy those girls who have three-ways in cars and end up sleeping in fireplaces (that actually happened to a girl I know. slut.). Not the experience itself, a three-way in a car strikes me as decidedly uncomfortable, but the ease and laughter that goes with it, the shrug of shoulders and wicked smile- that I envy. There's a Jamaican man I knew who used to say "Don't fatten a fish for another man to eat", meaning don't wind your girl up and leave her wanting, she'll satisfy herself somewhere else. Or maybe it doesn't mean that, he also used to say "You know what time it 'tis" and I would smile, desperately hoping that I at least looked like I did indeed know what time it 'twas. Anyway, I feel like a fattened fish that grows cold on a plate. I yearn for sweetness, for ease, for warmth. I was self contained before but now, woken up I am needful. A need without fulfillment is no fun and not funny. I feel useless and at a loss as how to find what I want, which is strange for me. Alone is not lonely until you don't want it anymore. A few weeks ago I picked flowers and cleaned my house in anticipation of company. Perhaps he thought that my house is always so shining, that I always keep a jar of camellias and eucalyptus by my bed. Or perhaps he did not care. This week I cleaned my house again and washed the clothes and made the house smell like lemons. Before the freeze I went out and picked camellias, arm loads of creamy perfection so lovely they seemed edible like they were made of fondant, and rosemary, and lavender. Now though it is so cold outside and all the flowers have fallen from the bushes and the sky is so blue and thin it looks like it might crack with the effort, I have a garden inside. For me and me alone and for my eyes to rest on something beautiful and gentle when I wake up. Though I love them, the flower's faces are so pretty, the gesture now seems as empty as the sky. I was more content when I was all so self contained, but I don't want that contentment back. It's alright to yearn in winter. And be fragile. And crave warmth. Things happen in their own time. I may as well crave spring, and I do, but I think this longing in me has made me more whole. I feel more tender toward myself and toward others. I fell asleep last night thinking of Mwa and Danielle and Jo, thinking of the snow of Europe. I heard on the BBC that people in the Netherlands and in Germany were being advised to stay indoors because it is so dangerously cold. I worried about them, about you my friends. Do you have enough to eat? Do you have warm blankets and wool socks? And so perhaps this softening, this need is not useless after all. When one is hard and self contained there is no room for others to get inside. I want to let this softening happen, and not try to be so tough. Which I think, perhaps, is finally the point of this post. I am afraid to open myself up and say I am tender, I am soft, I have a happysadness, because that is not cool or smart, and there is no protection there. But what do I have to protect? I am not so cool and smart, I am just a girl. I like flowers, I like poetry, I like the words "kiss" and "touch" and "pink". Perhaps I am coming into who I am again, and this time soft and on cat feet. If one is lonely, one must let others in. So simple and so frightening. I started out this post meaning to be funny, and I end up so timid and serious. Perhaps this is why I don't write so often. I am in awe of those of you who write so well about your feelings, whose words are their honest hearts. I am going to end this here, where there is no ending, so I can go to the library and go to the grocery store and cook the food and go to work, but I am going to post it anyway, neatly done or not. To post and hope that I will write more, I will be a part of your brave circle. I hope you all are warm today. When I come home tonight I'll read your words and worry about you and smile with you and we will all crave spring, and that will take the edge off my foolish little loneliness.
My crack-daddy neighbor is moving out this week. No, no, not the sex couple (who would not meet my eyes at the Publix the other day, do they read my blog? Do they know my name? Have I been walking around in my altogether too much?) who live across the courtyard. This is the person who lives right across the hall, my closest neighbor who has been there for years. When I moved in the apartment manager warned me about him, saying that he was an alcoholic but a harmless one, and may sometimes park halfway over in my spot. This is all true. Sometimes he does park halfway over in my spot, but I'm just glad he made it home. Melvin's (not his real name) apartment is a bachelor pad de-lux. There are velvet paintings of black panthers and leopards on the walls and heavy dark blue and maroon rugs stapled to the hardwood floors. Ashtrays shaped like wild psychedelic glass vaginas share space on small rickety tables with lamps filled with shells and scented candles half burned down and blown out. One time he invited me over to see a painting a woman he knew had just given to him. It was in the bedroom, hanging next to his bed, and showed the headless (I imagine this is more from the limitations of the painter rather than a stylistic choice) intertwined bodies of a man and a woman floating in a green and red (bed? sky? Christmas sex cloud?) background. The man, he pointed out, was him. He was quite flattered and pleased. And what man wouldn't be? The painter may have had no talent for hands, head, or feet, but she had a fine and clear memory for cock. Melvin is somewhat of an ambassador of the apartment complex, he has a wonky-eyed charisma and an easy laugh that has made him an acquaintance, if not a friend of all who live here. I have only met a handful of my neighbors but Melvin knows each and every one. Somehow he is harmless, even when he knocked on my door one day, a pair of my panties pressed tight to his face and making noises of pleasure, I knew that he was simply returning something I dropped in the laundry shack and not being stalkerish or creepy. This is his gift. For a while he had his sister living with him. They seemed to do fine for a while until he brought a lady home. The lady was bottle blond and had a hard life living in her face, but her eyes were freaky blue and I could see the beauty she had been. She wore clothes better suited to a college girl with loose morals and looked like the entire town of Panama City, FL wrapped up in one tired body. She and the sister did not get along. They all drank, they all fought, sometimes the cops were called. Melvin seemed bewildered and frustrated at his lot in life and I could tell he was not a man who enjoys having two bickering women living under his roof, upsetting the peace and strewing their flea market potpourri around his living room. The sister left in the night, knocking on my door one final time and having a talk with me in the hallway. She was drunk out of her mind and her body had loosened to a point where it appeared she had no bones and her face moved in such a way that it seemed she had mice roiling around under her skin. She talked on and on about how she was worried about Melvin, how he could get in trouble, how this woman would bring him down, and how now that their mom had passed she (the sister) was all he has. She clutched at my arms and begged me to keep an eye on him. She insinuated that something sinister beyond my imagination (because I am a good girl) was going on over there. I didn't like the feel of her hands, it felt like something sinister was going on in her body, and I kept carefully taking them off of me and placing them on her own shoulders, her arms crossed so that she could hold herself in and not go spilling out onto the floor. I told her that it was none of my business, and wished her well. Melvin kicked out his blue-eyed girl a few weeks later after her mom and daughter moved in. I suppose he realized that was not an improvement. I was not sad to see them go, they were always stealing my mop bucket. But now Melvin is moving out, the cold has driven him away. Our apartments do not have central heating, they have giant crackling radiators that are our responsibility to light. I had to have my Superman Brother-In-Law come help me with mine as it is tricky and scary and really a two man job. I tried to help Melvin with his, but no matter which of the two tasks I gave him he just couldn't get it and I left him there in the cold. I felt bad about that, but he's lived here longer than I have and I thought for sure one of his friends could come do what I could not, but next thing I know he's signed a lease for a one bedroom in a newer complex, one in which the heat is central and the utilities are included. Melvin is not a man who needs to be playing with fire, and I believe he knows his limitations. He will be fine. He'll move his portrait and his velvets, he'll tear the rugs from the floors (or not) and cart the ashtrays and the lamps and the coasters and recliners and framed pictures of his mama and President Obama across town and crank that heat. He'll sit back in his leather chair with his radio on in nothing but a tank top and tube socks, light a joint and raise a glass of amber oblivion, and laugh that crazy rooster cackle at his supreme good fortune, at his new bachelor pad deluxe. And I know, because he told me, that he will revel in the fact that it is only a ONE bedroom, and there is not space enough for any sisters, mothers, or daughters to move in. I'm sorry Baby, he'll say, this is our love nest. Your moms has got to go. Here's to you, Melvin. You will be missed.
Rugs hold onto dirt and catch your high heels. I have no time for rugs, let's roll them on up. Let's throw some sawdust on the floor. Let's put some music on. Let's wake the children, rouse the neighbors, and see who has the rhythm in 'em. It's time to dance.