After a year spent in the Third World, everything at home seemed strange: food, TV, supermarket, smells, weather, piano, and home itself, the studio on my parents’ property. But nothing was as strange as the man before me.
Upon arriving from Haiti, I fell immediately to retyping my book. I didn’t contact friends. I wasn’t ready for New York yet. Nevertheless New York came to me, as my formerly-married lover stepped off the train and got in my car.
I was reminded of those Haitian zombies wandering the back roads. He had the twitchy off-keel look of the re-animated, like a dead man surprised to find himself in motion.
His marriage had collapsed beyond repair after a year of trying to court back his wife, after she discovered his affair. No amount of apology, self-recrimination and groveling worked; even though he swore to her he’d broken it off for good, she was obsessed with finding out who the other woman was. His friends closed ranks and kept omerta. In the end, she went a little crazy and he couldn’t deal with her anymore. An acrimonious divorce was underway, the wheels of law and property grinding them both up. And then I came back.
I had long prayed for this moment, when we could finally, openly, be together. He was free, he said.
But it was hard to believe. He was free like a fugitive – eyes darting about, ears pricked for the baying of hounds. He certainly was in no shape for love.
Soon it became clear that he wanted to date me.
I pointed out, rather mildly, that it would be kind of bogus for us to go all the way back to flirting. Really, though, I was in my own kind of shock.
For over a year we’d had no contact. Without renewal, love inevitably becomes the memory of love, and thus takes up residence in the imagination. When face to face with my lover again, I groped for the old feeling inside, only to locate it in the home of illusions. I simply couldn’t remember if it was real, because for so long I had been reduced to imagining it.
I still loved him. Iron removed from the flame is still iron. But it is cool to the touch.
I tried to play along and go back to frolicking, but after one such date I wrote him a letter laying out my terms. When he was ready to give the whole heart and nothing but the heart he could tug on the rope and I’d pull him up. Until then I’d go my merry way.
By merry way I meant I’d go back into hiding. I said to my agent, sell the book; I’m off to Thailand to write another.
I got as far as Hawaii, where I lingered for a month of writing. Then I got a pair of calls that changed my plans. My agent reported that he was unable to sell my book. My accountant telephoned to say my money would run out completely before the year was up. “You’ll have to get a job like everyone else,” he told me bluntly.
Thus ended my life as a novelist, another in a growing list of short-lived careers. I flew back to my studio in the Connecticut suburbs and gazed around at my options. How could I make a living through writing that I hadn’t already tried? Books, no. Songs, no. Theater, no. Documentary filmmaking, no. Journalism, feh.
I hadn’t tried screenwriting. I did have an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, which I’d won at the tender age of 26. Surely that could still get me into someone’s office. I concocted a dark little story about a young woman, a professional psychic, who falls in love with one of her clients and pursues him obsessively. My agent got me a meeting at MGM. They bought my pitch. I now had a new profession, one that I couldn’t afford to fuck up.
Something else would have to change. The time had come to stop hiding. It was no longer healthy for me to live with my parents. I sublet an apartment in New York, leaving my Grandpa’s grand piano behind in the empty studio in Connecticut, the place where I’d churned out so much music, lyrics and prose. I never moved back.
Where was my grandfather during all this? After all, this is a ghost story.
After I moved away, my mother called to tell me that something peculiar had happened in my old studio. One of the sliding glass doors was found completely shattered, yet completely intact. An intricate web of cracks covered the entire surface. There was no center to the design, no locus of impact. No dead bird or fallen branch outside. If you pushed on the glass, it didn’t collapse but rather remained as sturdy as ever, up to any weather. Fractured and abandoned, but ever protective. Message received.
Anyone else would have replaced the pane. But my mother declared it was beautiful. The door stayed shattered until she became elderly, descended into dementia, and forgot she ever lived in the house.
(To be continued.)