Track 2, Reel 2
It was utopic, absolutely trouble-free -- for a while, at least. After the spring semester started, though, things started to get a little shakier. The sex was still excellent, and we still had long intriguing conversations, but we also started arguing. We even began physically fighting.
It began during lunch one day, outside a fast food place. I said something she didn't like, and she threw her Coke on me. I responded, in truly mature form, by throwing my root beer on her. The next day we had another, unrelated argument. I went to hug her, and she pushed me violently away. I pushed her back and she slapped my face. I had never been hit by a girlfriend before; I didn't know how to react. I just didn't do anything.
But the next week, the same scene happened again. I said something nasty, and she pushed me up against the dresser in my dorm room. I pushed her back, hard. Then she hit me, and I hit her back, harder. I was not at all ashamed to take advantage of my greater physical strength. Yes, once the pattern of violence was established, it was insanely hard to break. Petty arguments would turn into screaming matches, which would turn into fistfights. I have to admit that, probably three quarters of the time, I was the one who threw the first blow.
Before meeting Molly, I would never have thought to hit a woman. Certainly I would never have hit my previous girlfriend, Desdemona -- she would have broken up with me immediately, and refused to speak to me ever again. I'm not trying to say that Molly was "asking for it" -- I'm just saying that the whole thing developed in a very complicated way. I suppose there was some kind of vicious cycle involved -- each of us, individually, had only a slight inclination toward violence, but when you put thetwo of us together, things rapidly spiraled out of control.
The fighting didn't poison our whole relationship. Maybe seven eighths of the time we were soul-mates, more comfortable with one another than we'd ever expected to be with anyone. But the remaining fraction of the time we were cursing each other out, throwing things around, or punching and kicking each other like maniacs. It was savage and ridiculous, and it pains me now to write about it, but that's the way it was. My roommate moved out -- he couldn't stand the constant bickering and screaming.
The only time we got along was when we were sleeping. Even when we were at each other's throats during the day, the way her body moved to fit mine was a delight. While her eyes were closed, I secretly celebrated the way her ass cheeks moved in and out as I pressed myself up against them. I fell in love with the way her breathing gently modulated as I shifted to hold her more tightly. Her legs flopped across the bed with such elegant comfort that it was hard to imagine them standing up and walking. Waking up and touching her, everything would seem new, luminous, perfect, hyperactive. Ah yes, when she was lying there sleeping next to me, everything was perfect! She was perfection in a human body, she was the fulfillment of my wackiest childhood dreams! But then, when she woke up, she became that bitch again....
This is a very sensitive subject for me, and I guess I'm not being totally honest. I'm talking as though the fighting was just something that happened between a boy and a girl, independently of my strange philosophical theories. But in fact everything was all mixed up. After all, she was only a human being, and there was no way she could have lived up to the role that I was trying to place her in. Initially I worshipped her -- after all, in my demented metaphysics, she was the only true reality. She was the unique carrier of the famous magic look! But the longer we were involved, the more I started to pick at her. I started to wonder: well, if she is the only real person, if she is my perfect, transcendent soul-mate, then why doesn'tshe use her intelligence better? Why is emotional when she should be rational, and rational when she should be emotional? Why does she wear such tight pants? Why does she pick her nose so much? Why does she always look like she's not paying attention? On and on and on -- they were trivial things, really, incredibly stupid things, but they got on my nerves precisely because I was counting on her to be my whole world. My dissatisfaction with her put me on edge -- it turned our love into the proverbial accident waiting to happen.
So there, I've confessed it, Hypothetical Reader. It was my strange philosophical ideas that caused my incredible emotional attachment to her. And it was precisely these same philosophical ideas that impelled us to beat each other's brains out time and time again. "The hand which giveth taketh away."
But hell, you know, the more I write about this, the more it becomes clear to me that self-analysis is really a maze with no exit: you just keep going around in circles, relating this phenomenon to that, and you can never really isolate the cause of anything.... After all, I suppose it's perfectly normal for one's initial infatuation with one's innamorata to fade. The first few weeks or months of a relationship are always charmed -- it's only afterwards that you start to pick up on all the annoying qualities of your "perfect" lover. Probably my weird metaphysics just took this normal occurence and made it more extreme.... Christ, who knows?
Yes, the more I write about this stuff, the more I'm getting disgusted with myself. I've got to stop this constant self-analysis, this stupid obsession with getting at the "psychological cause" of every event. If there is a way out from my present miserable state, it certainly doesn't lie in self-psychoanalysis. That only drags me deeper and deeper into theabyss. What I need to do is to get at some actual facts, some specific situations.
The problem is, there are so many situations to choose from -- each one has its own particular character; it's impossible to isolate one as being "representative." It's sort of like trying to isolate a single person as being representative of the human race. I suppose what a real writer would do is to construct some kind of amalgam, combining the most important features of a dozen different situations. But I'm not writing a novel here; my objective is quite different. What I mean to say is, I'm not trying to construct an aesthetically satisfying lie, I'm trying to get at some kind of truth. So let me just pick a situation at random. For some reason, the fight that sticks out most in my mind is the one we had right after we got back from her mother's house.... Christ, that was one hell of a visit!
It was Easter break, I think; anyway, Molly had to go back to her mother's house to get some financial aid forms filled out. It was a stupid thing: her mother needed to sign a form stating that that, during the present school year, she had not supplied Molly with more than seven hundred and fifty dollars in support. The form needed to be turned in immediately; it was already overdue. I suggested to Molly that she forge the signature, and save herself the four hour bus trip. But she didn't think her mother would approve. She was going, and she asked me to come with her.
I had visited Molly's mother once before, and there hadn't been any trouble. But this time, I had a bad feeling from the moment I walked in the door. Eliza didn't even say "hi," she just took me by the arm and led me through her tiny, musty livingroom into her kitchen. She looked me straight in the eye, paused for a moment, and said: "Would you like something?"
I'm usually pretty good at interpreting body language -- but hers was totally foreign to me. Her posture was particularly baffling -- she was arched oddly backwards as though she had suddenly contracted scoliosis. I thought to myself that shelooked almost like a longbow stretched back in preparation for an attack.
She opened her mouth and started to say something else, but I interrupted her and said "No, that's all right."
"Where's Allie?" asked Molly. "Is she taking her nap?"
"Yeeeeah. She just seemed really, tired, you know, so I decided to put her to bed. I didn't know when you were coming or I, or I would have waked her up!"
Eliza paused for a moment, and laughed to herself. "My God, Molly, I just speak so badly these days. I don't know what's wrong with me. Ooooh! I mean, I listen to myself talk and I don't sound educated, you know ... ooooh! Well, I guess it's just cause the only person I have to talk to is Allie...."
Allie was twelve years old, but she was severely mentally retarded. I was a little wary of saying anything about her, for fear of offending Eliza. But, from the look on Eliza's face, I got the feeling that my silence was being somehow interpreted as an insult. I didn't yet realize that the Catch-22 was Eliza's conversational specialty. She loved nothing better than getting you into a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situation. Finally, I said, "Yeah, I guess Allie doesn't care about grammar."
Of course, as soon as I opened my mouth, Eliza immediately assumed the expression of a wounded mother. "Oh, I don't know," she cooed, "maybe she does, you know. Geez, I mean, sometimes I think she's a genius, really! Like maybe she understands what we're saying but she just doesn't care to say anything back, you know? You know what I mean?"
Eliza looked at me critically, screwing up her eyes. "You never know!"
After that somewhat tense exchange, I was pleased to see little Allie, chortling as she stumbled down the stairs. I ran over to greet her. "Hey there Allie!!! Hey! Remember me??! Hmmmm??! You remember me??!!"
"Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!" squealed Allie. Her face was a flash of pure delight; it made me feel warm inside. She wrapped her arms around my neck in uncoordinated joy.
"Hi, Allie!" cooed Molly, taking her sister in her arms. "Yeaaaah! How's my little sister? Huh? Hello, you sweetie!"
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Gubbagoo!" answered Allie, with a grin.
"I love you too," Molly giggled affectionately. The way she smiled at Allie made me shiver all over. Allie's legs kicked uncontrollably in excitement.
I was very fond of Allie. She was extremely small and skinny, and she only spoke a couple words -- it was unclear whether she would ever be able to function as an adult. But her outlook on life was so vibrant and positive that watching her always made me glad. On an impulse, I bent over and "beeped" her nose (I took it between two of my knuckles and squeezed it, while making a squeaking sound with my mouth). Allie cackled and grabbed my nose, then Molly's nose, then Eliza's -- each time squawking hysterically. Everyone, even Eliza, was greatly amused.
"You know, she does that all the time ever since you taught it to her last time you visited," Eliza offered. "She does it to all the kids at school, and to her little dolls. The other day we were at the store and she walked right up to a little boy and just pinched his nose! just like that!"
"Does she like school?" I asked, curiously.
Eliza screwed up her face. "Well actually, you know, I think the people there are pretty stupid. She's going to UCP, but she doesn't have cerebral palsy so, you know, you'd think they should treat her a little differently, but they can't seem to understand...."
"But it's good for her to be around other kids," said Molly lightly.
We walked to the livingroom. Molly and I sank into one couch, summoning wisps and puffs and clouds of diffuse dust. Eliza perched on the edge of the other couch, as though she were leaning forward to get a good look at some particularly exciting event. A little later, Allie wandered in with a box of battered jumbo LEGOs. Molly put her palm on my leg and looked at me affectionately; not just a passing glance but a long, lascivious stare, full of that indescribable magic. I tried to think of an excuse to spirit her off somewhere and fuck her quickly, wildly. But there was no time of that. Eliza had us right where she wanted us. It was lecture time. "I was looking through some of my old psychology books," she began. "God, you know, I really hate that stuff so much. They really treat people as animals, you know, experimenting on them with electric shocks and things. I think some of those psychologists should be locked up for what they do."
At this point I should have done like Molly -- just shut up and listened, or, better yet, not listened. But I always have had a big mouth -- I'm congenitally incapable of passing up an opportunity to sound off on my favorite topics. "In Russia," I began with a knowledgeable air, "they really did treat mental patients like lab animals."
I paused for a second, and realized that Eliza was still talking. "A lot of them," she was saying. "A lot of them should be locked up. They want to treat you just like rats."
I let her finish her sentence, then started speaking again, a little louder. "I mean, they'd cut out various portions of their brains just to see what would happen, and stuff like that. But the thing is they've done some pretty good scientific work that way. I mean, not just with, like, Pavlov-style conditioning, but with some really sophisticated mind control techniques. They've got a machine that broadcasts electromagnetic waves on frequencies that are specifically calculated to influence the mind in certain ways. When they flick the switch to a certain setting, anyone under the influence of the wave cries. And when they flick it another way, anyone in range has to pee -- or gets angry, or whatever. The problem is -- or maybe it's not a problem -- the range is still very short. If you could put something like that in a satellite and broadcast it across the whole world -- you'd have total control, man! Total control!"
"That's frightening," said Molly.
"It's only frightening if the wrong people do it," I grinned. I was off on one of my all-time favorite tirades! "If I do it it's not frightening, it's wonderful. If you want to take over the modern world, you've got to use modern means!"
"But why do you want to take over the world?" insisted Molly.
It was an excellent question. What she meant was: "why are you so fired up about ruling the world, when you constantly say the world doesn't exist anyway?" Molly had a way of saying a lot with a small number of words. But I had no desire to psychoanalyze myself in front of Eliza. I just said "Why not?" and left it at that.
There were a few seconds of nervous silence. Eliza laughed quietly, and grimaced. She wasn't used to having another big-mouth in the house, you see! Finally she just refused to acknowledge that I had even said anything. She muttered disconsolately, "Psychology just makes me sick, really! They just want to treat people like rats."
Molly gave me a look which said drop it! I thought about it briefly, and decided that she was probably right. But it didn't make any difference what I decided. I took the bait again. "But you majored in sociology," I pointed out. "That's awfully close to psychology."
She sat up straight and stared directly at me, an offended look on her face. "Oh, no it isn't! I can't imagine why you would say that! Why, they have nothing to do with eachother!"
Molly glared at me. I looked her closely, her slender beautiful legs, her narrow, slightly sagging breasts, her impossibly enchanting face. In a flash I understood why Eliza was so bitchy today: she felt that I was stealing her daughterfrom her. And the thing is, she was right! I really was stealing her daughter from her. In the past it had been Eliza who had loved and abused Molly, and influenced Molly's opinions. Now it was me.
When I finally understood what was going on in Eliza's head, I felt a little relieved. After all, if she was just being possessive, that meant that whatever happened wasn't my fault! I felt perfectly justified, therefore, in continuing to argue with her. "I don't know what that's supposed to mean," I said in a condescending one. "Psychology studies individuals or small groups, and sociology studies small groups or large groups. I mean, the connection's as clear as anything."
"Noooo... I don't think you know what you're talking about. In psychology you look at the person as an animal, in sociology you look at the person as a person. The two are totally different! I don't know how you can say they're the same... that really makes no sense to me!"
"I didn't say they were the same," I replied, in a conciliatory tone. "Or if I said so I didn't mean to." Allie gave me a troubled glance.
"All I said," I continued, "was I thought it was odd that you hate psychology so much but like sociology, seeing as they're fairly closely related. I mean, they are both social sciences...."
Eliza shook her head in disapproval, and leaned further forward on the couch. I noticed her cheeks were turning red. "It just seems like you must think I'm really stupid or something. I mean, sociology is totally different than psychology. You know, I mean, a sociologist and a psychologist could never get along! You know what I mean? Like, the sociology and psychology professors at Stroudsberg State were always fighting."
"Hey," I said, trying to lighten things up, "my uncle is a sociologist, and his wife is a psychologist, and it doesn't seem to cause them any trouble."
I nodded. I couldn't believe it: she actually thought I was lying! She just sat there and stared at me for a good forty five seconds. Molly and I exchanged a knowing glance, and Eliza shot Molly a hostile look that meant: what's that glance for? She knew exactly what Molly's look was saying: "Don't worry about Mom, she's just acting crazy as usual."
Finally Eliza said, "That's hard to believe."
Suddenly I became angry. I forgot that she was Molly's mother; all I saw was an ignorant woman spouting nonsense and expecting me to accept it. "No, there's nothing strange about it at all!" I exclaimed. "But it's awfully hard for me to believe that anyone could possibly find it so strange! My uncle and aunt are just ordinary people living together and going to work -- there's nothing strange about it at all!"
"Well," she said, "if you ask me it seems like they must not really know what sociology and psychology are."
"Well, he did get his Ph.D. in it, I mean, he's published fifty papers in it, so I guess he must know something."
" Listen!," she shouted, " you seem to think I don't know anything! I taught psychology in high school, and I remember exactly what I told them. I wrote it up the blackboard; it's... it's elementary. I can't believe any educated person wouldn't know it. You're acting like I made this up or something! I didn't make this up; I'm just telling you what they taught me in college! I wrote it on the blackboard when I was teaching high school! Psychology is the study of the behavior of animals. Sociology is the study of human interaction. That's what they taught me in college. That's what I taught my students! You're telling me my education wasn't worth anything! That I lied to all these students! You're...."
"Look," I said, "there are lots of definitions of psychology. Every school of research has its own definition. What you're saying is B.F. Skinner's definition, the behaviorist definition. But...."
"Of course there are different definitions; you don't have to tell me that! But I'm not talking about anything like that; I'm just telling you the basic thing I taught my high school students, and you're telling me I was lying to them! I had psychology courses in college, you know!"
"Well, look, I took some psychology courses too, and I know for a fact that...."
"Uh huh! Uh huh! What other definitions are there, huh? Tell me how you would define it! Hmmm? I'll be interested to hear...."
It was completely insane. I didn't know what to do. Probably I should have just got up and walked right out. But I have to hand it to Eliza; she had me hooked. She had me getting white hot over some stupid academic question that meant nothing to me, nothing at all. "Psychology is the study of minds," I said. "That's how the Gestaltists... or the humanistic psychologists... would define it."
"But No! that's all wrong! Animals don't have minds! That doesn't make sense at all!"
"No, listen!" I said. "Now you're talking about the definition of mind. Skinner thought minds didn't exist, which is why he couched everything in terms of behavior."
"But animals don't have minds! A mind is just defined as what people have and animals don't! That's just the basic definition, the most simplest thing...."
Now I was on a roll. "Okay, well, how about chimps or Neanderthals. And anyway, how about opposable thumbs? According to your definition, thumbs are part of the mind!"
"Now you're just trying to confuse me," she said, bouncing up and down.
"I don't need to try," I said acidly. I looked desperately at Molly, but she had phased out. She was staring at something on the wall behind Eliza's head.
"You're telling me! I went to Stroudsberg State and my professors there told me all about psychology, about Skinner, andFreud and the Gestaltists and they knew a lot more about it than you do!"
"I don't doubt it. All I'm saying your definition is just one of many, and you're saying it's what you learned in school and therefore it's the Holy Exalted Truth or something. Christ, why don't we just drop the whole subject -- there's no point in arguing about it."
"Now there's a good idea," said Molly loudly. "Mom, really, don't...."
But Eliza seemed to have forgotten that Molly was there. "No, it isn't holy .. don't put words into my mouth! What I said...."
"Anyway," I said very loudly, "let's forget about it. Isn't it time for dinner?"
Eliza just stared at me: she was fuming. We went into the kitchen to eat: mealy potatoes and burnt roast. Eliza hummed some obscure show tune as she served it up. As we were eating, she passed around a dish full of grey mush. It tasted a little bit like lamb fat, but I couldn't be sure.
After dinner Molly suggested that we go for a walk.
"Oh, sure, just don't take too long," cautioned Eliza.
As soon as we were half a block away, I started grumbling. "How the hell can you listen to that shit and keep quiet?!"
"Very easily," retorted Molly. "And I wish you'd do the same."
"But she says such amazingly stupid things -- I don't think I've ever encountered so much fucking stupid babble in my life! She just goes on and on and on and on and on and on."
Molly giggled. "Yes, she sure does."
"And she really believes them! It's like she'd defend thesecrazy opinions to her death! The stupidest things -- and she's obviously not a stupid person. If she were I'd understand -- it's not worth arguing with someone who can't comprehend anything. But she's obviously fairly intelligent... and creative -- god! she has to be creative to come up with crazy things like she does. It's just like something's gone very wrong in her internal logic mechanism. A bug in the program.
Molly gave me a disapproving look.
"What's the matter? You disagree?"
She made no reply.
"What? What are you thinking?!"
"I don't know."
"Well if you don't know, then who does? Come on, just tell me -- what are you thinking?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
"I mean I don't know what I'm fucking thinking, okay! Just leave me alone!"
I tried to put my arm around her; she shook it away. "You just don't seem to have any respect for what she's been through. She was sexually abused as a child, you know. My father beat her so badly she nearly died! She's been through a lot. I mean, she put herself through college after all that! It's surprising she isn't a lot worse off!"
"So, what are you saying? That there are reasons for her being such a bitch? So what? Look, Molly, every time you listen to one of her stupid pronouncements and don't say anything, she assumes you accept it. If you want to help her, you have to confront her with her own inconsistency."
"Oh, and is that why you argue with her?" scowled Molly.
"You just do it because you love to argue, that's all."
"What's your point?" I said, defensively. I knew she was absolutely correct.
"I have no point, all right! I have no fucking point!"
"You pointless being you."
She giggled. "I love you," she said, through her tears.
"I love you too," I answered, stopping to kiss her softly.
"This is so mixed up. Now I'm feeling mad at her for making us fight."
"Can't you just hold back a little? Please? For me?" She squeezed me tight.
"I'll try. But if she asks me a direct question, I'm not going to lie like you do."
"Ooh, look, here's the pool! You wanna go for a swim?!"
"It's closed. You mean climb over the fence?"
"You've done it before?"
"Yeah, we used to do it all the time."
"Ever get caught?"
"Unfortunately I didn't bring my bathing suit."
"Unfortunately or fortunately?" she laughed.
We climbed the fence and dropped our their clothes and dove in, cold and giggling. I entered her easily, more easily than ever, and moved my fingers around her buttocks in familiar waves. I bit her neck hard and she screamed. I said, "you're going to get us arrested."
" You!" she groaned, and I bit her again. She squealed,
"I love you!"
"I love you!"
"I love you!"
"I love you!"
"Oooh, god, you feel good!"
"Hey, I thought you were a Christian -- don't take the Lord's name in vain like that!"
"Oh shut up."
We climbed out, and shook ourselves dry like dogs.... We dressed ourselves slowly, and then we strolled home hand in hand, pausing to kiss every half-block or so, ensconced in silence, sharing perfect formless glances every now and then. When we got back Eliza greeted us suspiciously. "Oooh, gee, your eyes are so red! Were you smoking pot?!"
"No, we weren't," replied Molly, annoyed.
"Oh, really? Well your eyes are so red though, I can't see why else they'd be!"
"We were swimming," explained Molly, in a soothing tone.
"Oh were you," scowled Eliza.
"I almost never smoke pot," I chipped in pointlessly. I was sick of her crap and just wanted to annoy her. "I've never bought it myself. Which is funny because people come up to me all the time, I guess because of my long hair and the way I dress, and ask me if I've got any, if I'm holding, or something."
"Mmmmmm," nodded Eliza, clearly following some complex train of thought.
"And then people never believe me when I tell them I don't have any," I continued. "They think I'm holding out for more money! It's amazing the amount of money people will pay for an ounce of marijuana. That'd be a great job, if you didn't mind the risk of going to jail."
"Don't let Allie hear you talk like that, you'll give her ideas!"
I laughed uncomfortably. "Well, I'd never do that, anyway. I mean, it'd just be too much work going around to all your clients, standing out on the corner waiting and stuff -- I guess not so much difficult as boring."
"Hmmmm. Well, what do you want to do, Solly?" asked Eliza. "Molly says you're planning to become a professor?"
"That's what I'm thinking," I grinned (the idea sure seems funny enough now -- me a professor!) "It'll leave me all the time in the world for doing whatever I want -- writing, playing the keyboard, you know, whatever." I was glad to be off thesubject of drugs, and onto my favorite subject: myself. "I mean, what I really need is free time to develop my ideas, just to think, you know. Like in the summer when I was in high school, I worked at this phone sales place -- man, that was torture! And that wasn't even hard work, you know -- although really I think I'd rather go outside and sweat and build something, you know, than sit at a desk ripping people off all day."
"What do you mean you were ripping people off?"
"Well, here's how it worked," I began, pleased to have an interesting story to tell. "We called up owners of small businesses around the country -- we started work at five in the morning so we could reach the east coast exactly at nine. Owners tend to come in in the morning... we called them and told them, I don't remember exactly, something like 'Congratulations, we're calling to tell you you've been selected as a Grand Finalist in our huge summer giveaway. You've been selected to win either a brand new Suzuki little jeep -- they call it the Samurai! -- or else an all-expense paid Carribean cruise, with ports of call at San Juan, Puerta Vallarta, Antigua, Jamaica and other exotic locations, two for one, all food and entertainment included -- bring your wife if you want or -- well, some would say that's like bringing a ham sandwich to a buffet, if you know what I mean! Third prize is a Sony large-screen color TV, with remote control, blah blah blah and bluh bluh bluh... and you're guaranteed to receive one of these fabulous prizes! Absolutely, positively guaranteed!' And on and on and on like that; we had a pitch sheet to read so it sounded much better than I do now, but the content is pretty much like that; and then, eventually, after a long, detailed description of the prizes, we get around to the catch. 'What's the catch? There is no catch! Only, for -- fill in the reason of the week -- such and such a reason, we cannot give you your prize unless you buy a small, token order of our fine advertising specialty products. Would you like pens, caps or mugs -- all with your company name on them! Which one would serve your company best?' So, this token order was usuallyaround three hundred dollars -- each pen would cost three or four dollars, each mug would cost twelve dollars. I remember once Molly called an importer in New York, and he said 'You've got to be crazy! I can get those mugs for twelve cents; I sell them for a dollar!'. The catch was the phrase 'two-for-one', subtly slipped into the middle of the pitch. That means the cruise wasn't actually free, it was a coupon -- buy one ticket, get another one for free. These coupons were purchased from a travel agency for fifty bucks a piece or something...."
"I don't see how that's ripping people off," interrupted Eliza. "You didn't lie to them, you told them exactly what they needed to know."
"We didn't lie to them, but we intentionally misled them. We distracted them with descriptions of the prizes, which we knew they had almost no chance of getting -- like, the cars were given out twice a year. And the operative phrase, the catch, the 'two-for-one' cruise which was given to ninety nine percent of the customers, is snuck in and said so quickly no one knows what's going on."
"It's not your fault if they're stupid!"
"It's not my fault if a cripple is crippled, but that doesn't mean I have to take advantage of it and beat him up!"
"That's not the same."
"Well, the annoying thing is that these are business owners, so you'd figure they might have some business sense."
"I've been in the telemarketing business for ten years now, and I've never ripped anybody off."
"Well, I mean, you sell photographs, right? You told me about it before.... You lead people into thinking they're under no obligation, but then the salesman who comes to their house tries to give them a different impression. I mean, that's how Molly explained it to me...."
"That's not my business -- what happens after I hang up with them is their problem, not mine!"
"But you intentionally mislead them."
"So??!!! They lie to me all the time -- they say they don't have any money when they do; they say they've got to go because the door's ringing when the door isn't ringing -- they're not honest people!"
"Okay, okay... all I was saying was that I felt bad doing that -- I mean, I would let the sale go if the person sounded too pathetic. I couldn't do it, you know."
"So, what, are you saying I have no conscience and you do?! Would you rather see me starve in the street, or live on welfare?! If all those welfare cheats would work like I do."
"No, listen, you're distorting things. I never said you had no conscience. But I'd be surprised if you didn't feel a little bad when you sold someone something you knew they didn't need and didn't want. But in your situation, if you're good on the phone like you say you are, telemarketing is probably your best alternative. I mean, how else could you make money while you stay at home with Allie?!"
"You're saying it's good enough for me but not good enough for you, that's all!"
"If I were in your situation I might well do the same thing. But I'm not."
"No, you'd probably become a welfare cheat or something, I don't know."
"I don't know why you always like to go on about welfare cheats -- ninety nine point nine percent of welfare cheats are poor women with children who get AFDC while working at some shit job. The combined income from the two is still barely enough to pay basic expenses."
"I don't know where you get that information from," she said, shaking her head. "Didn't you hear what President Reagan said on TV about these welfare queens driving Cadillacs and wearing fur coats? This woman was collecting welfare under twenty-seven different names! That's why I voted for him -- I don't think people should be allowed to do that. Now that's ripping off -- not what I do!"
"That may have happened once or twice, ever. Besides," I added gratuitously, "before you told me that you voted for him because he has nice eyes!" I was looking for trouble!
"Oh, did I tell you that?!" she sneered.
"Yes, you did."
"I don't know, it seems like white people don't have any respect for me anymore, because I almost married a black man. Because I had two black kids."
"What, you're calling me prejudiced!? That's a weird one. You think I never noticed Molly was black?!"
"White people always give me these nasty looks -- I just want to spit in their faces when I see them! When I lived with black people in Brooklyn I never had any problems, everyone was nice to me, they talked to me all the time, but I think there's something wrong with white people! I just, I mean, we were perfectly comfortable around eachother, listening to music and cooking and everything -- I, really, I don't feel like I'm white anymore, I lived with blacks so long. I'm not white anymore, really."
"You sure look it," I laughed. But Eliza was in no mood for laughter.
"No, I'm not! White people are so stuck up -- they have no respect for you as a human being! I don't know what's wrong with them. I guess maybe they still want us to be slaves for them or something -- yeah, maybe that's it. I just hate them so much! the way they look at me! the way they talk down! I mean, you know, I'm an educated person you know! I put myself through college and got my B.A. in Education and I'm an educated person and white people just, you know -- they shit on my education, they just think I don't know anything, you know! I work at my job, and you tell me I have no conscience because I try to make money and live! You think I'm supposed to cheat and steal -- you're telling me how good it is to deal drugs! you think I should do that instead of working for a living, is that it? It's like you white people think that's all I'm good for! My God, youjust have no respect for us -- no, I'm not white! I'm black! I'm as black as Allie."
"That's right, you are," I interrupted. "In case you haven't noticed, she's totally white."
"... as Molly, I mean! You think you're so smart because you distort everything I say, but you're not so smart at all -- you don't know what you're talking about. Molly's twice as smart as you! If you didn't make her pretend she was stupid, she'd show you! I know she would! You white people will never let us show what we can do!"
"I don't know what you mean by that," I said heatedly. "You don't know the first thing about my relationship with Molly. And how would you know how intelligent I am -- you hardly know me at all!"
"I can tell you're not intelligent as you think because what you're saying today just doesn't make sense, you know... you're saying the same things uneducated people say."
" Who's not making sense? Who's saying they're black when they're white, huh!? Let's talk about basic logic."
"I am black. I'm not white. I'm not like that -- all haughty, looking down, wanting everyone to serve me."
"Do you mean you're culturally black?" asked Molly nervously. "That's what you mean, mom, isn't it?"
"No, I just mean I'm black! Black black black black black black! I belong among black people!"
"But look at yourself!" I insisted. "Your skin is white as mine!"
"Don't try to twist what I'm saying -- I can't even listen to you, you make no sense at all! I'm black and I hate all white people! I hate them so much -- God, the way they look at me in the street I sometimes think I should just kill them all! You know, they just have no respect for me no matter what I do! One of these days I might just go down the store and get a shotgun and go out and kill all the white people I see -- shoot 'em down, one by one! They deserve it! the way they look at me! that'swhat I should really do, just get a shotgun and kill them all! Hah hah!"
"Yeah well, I hope you start with yourself." My face was burning with frustration.
Molly's face was covered with tears. "Let's go to bed," she said. "Goodnight, mom. I hope we're feeling better in the morning." We walked upstairs in silence.
"I don't feel safe here," she whispered beneath the covers, returning my embrace. "I mean, the way she's talking, God! you know, what if she comes in here with a knife, you know.... Usually after a big fight she stay up all night, or most of it, just staring or pacing around."
"I'd love to leave right now," I said, a little calmed by the feel of her flesh, "but there's no bus until tomorrow, and anyway, we didn't get the forms filled out yet."
"Yeah, that's right," replies Molly. "Those forms. Those fucking forms."
"The whole reason we came here."
"Yeah, I'm not looking forward to that."
"But you have to do it -- ASU said you can't be considered for financial aid without her information."
"Yeah, because of all that ridiculous shit. Stupid-ass policy!"
"I love you."
"I love you."
The morning passed by uneventfully. I was only minimally awake, and Molly was tense but silent. Allie fell asleep at breakfast. Eliza went on and on and on about how well people dressed in the old days, about how intelligent people are alwayssuch excellent cooks, about the way black folk have a certain way of saying "Mmmm mmmm mmmm" which a white person could never imitate, and so forth. I stifled my powerful anti-TV instinct, and tried to concentrate on the television sitting behind her and its endless repetitive news footage.
As we cleaned the last scraps from our plates, the TV flashed a picture of the Beatles first arriving in the States... and then an excerpt from the Magical Mystery Tour... and then the three surviving Beatles as they look today. "What the hell's the big event?" asked Molly skeptically. "Why put them on the news, you know?"
"Did you notice how thin their noses were in that last picture?" asked Eliza. "In the first picture they were all fat and broad, and then when they were older they were all pinched-up and scrawny. You know what causes that?" I started to say old age, but she cut me off and continued. "LSD, that's what makes it happen! I've noticed that, over the years, that all the people I knew who took lots of LSD, their noses got real thin and funny looking. I mean, I remember sitting around with my friends listening to the Beatles -- and then when they grew long hair, I mean, the Beatles did and my friends did, and starting taking all this LSD and stuff. I mean, I think that's really neat about them, the way they changed along with the young people. They did what we did, and we did what they did, you know."
"Mmmm hmmm," I said. "It was a feedback reaction -- they saw some people doing a certain thing, so they did it, and then a whole lot of people saw them do it and so they did it also. I guess they served as sort of a catalyst for already-existing trends, you know."
(That's the way I liked to talk then -- I threw around every big word I could think of, even when it was totally unnecessary. I must have sounded like a real asshole sometimes, but was just trying to impress people, and I must say that I succeeded pretty often.)
"Yeah," Molly agreed.
"But did you ever notice that," persisted Eliza, "about LSD making your face get all scrawny and pinched-up?"
Molly just smiled wanly.
"Did you ever notice that, Molly?"
"No, I didn't," said Molly reluctantly. She much preferred to be agreeable, but even she had certain limits.
Of course, Eliza professed to be shocked. This was something I had noticed before: I was allowed to disagree with her, she would argue with me; but with Molly there could be no argumentation. Molly had to accept the party line one hundred percent, or else.
"Oh no?" Eliza exclaimed. "I'm surprised at you. I always thought you were real smart. I mean, you know, maybe you were smarter when you were two. I mean, your sister was always really stupid, you know... I think maybe Allie is smarter than her at some things -- I mean, even when she was fifteen or sixteen, you know, she still couldn't fold sheets and wash dishes and stuff right, you know, and Allie can do that stuff ... I mean, Joey was smart too, but really, I always thought Molly was a genius -- when she was two she could speak better than most adults. But, uh, gee, what was I saying? Gee, you know, I can't remember..."
Out of pure spite, I reminded her. "Something about LSD making the nose grow thinner."
"Oh yeeeah. Solly, did you ever notice that? Did you?"
"Uh uh. I mean, junkies and speed freaks will tend to be thin all over, but I know for a fact that LSD has virtually no physiological effects, except on the brain and the eyes.... Physically speaking, it's just about the safest drug known."
"Oh noooo! You're totally wrong there. If you'd lived through the sixties like I did, you'd know! Thousands and thousands of kids died from LSD overdose. It just makes me mad to hear you talk like that! Oooh!"
"Oh, come on!" I exclaimed. "That's a bunch of crap! No one has ever died from an LSD overdose! Physically it's about the safest drug known. I mean, psychology is another matterentirely -- I'm not denying it can make you crazy! And in a few cases it's been known to make someone suicidal. But I mean, a thousand times more often it's led to profound religious experiences."
"Noooo, no, I don't know where you're getting this stuff. Did they teach you that in college? Cause where I went to school, you know...."
I looked down at my watch, then looked over at Molly. "It's time to leave soon; we'd better deal with those financial aid papers."
"Yeah mom," agreed Molly. "I need your 1982 and 83 tax forms, and I need you to sign this...."
"What is this?" Eliza scowled, grabbing the papers from her hand. "It says you've been financially independent of me for the past year. But that's a lie; I won't sign this! You were living here all summer, until the semester started. I could go to jail for that! You're trying to get me in trouble or something. Oh, no, I won't fall for that! I'm not that stupid!"
Molly took a deep breath. "Listen, mom," she insisted quietly, "in order to be classed a resident of Arizona I have to be judged officially independent of you for a year. That means a year before next fall, not a year before now. The summer doesn't count."
"All you need is to be judged a resident? But you don't live here now, you live there! Just tell them that, and I'm sure there'll be no problem! Is this form the only reason you came out to see me? Gee, I guess you didn't need to come all the way out here then... ho hee hee hee...."
"No, that's not true," I interrupted harshly. "We already tried that. It didn't work."
"Well I don't understand that."
"Well you don't have to understand it! You just have to sign the forms!"
"In order to be judged independent of you," Molly continued softly, "I have to prove that I didn't live with you for morethan seven weeks, or accept more than seven hundred and fifty dollars from you."
Eliza rose to her feet. "Oh, sure I did! What on earth are you talking about! I paid for your food when you came to visit here, you know, and stuff like that. I mean, all kinds of stuff!"
"That doesn't total anywhere near seven hundred and fifty dollars," Molly said cautiously.
"But I don't understand what all this stuff is about," protested Eliza. "Of course you're not dependent on me -- you didn't live here and I didn't support you, no matter what the exact amount is! You were in school, not here. So I don't see what there is to do about it... I mean, I don't see what I have to do with it! Of course you're independent of me!"
I was beginning to see the hopelessness of the situation. But I decided to try to be civil, one last time. "In reality," I said carefully, "she's completely independent of you. But we're not talking about common sense, we're talking about the financial aid office. According to their definition -- as opposed to the common sense definition -- according to their definition, which we have to accept in order to get financial aid money from them, she's not a resident of Arizona unless you sign this form."
"But I can't understand what you're saying -- she's not a resident here because she hasn't lived here, and she's not dependent on me -- any idiot can see that! So what's all this stuff for? You think you're so smart and such a good arguer, but you're really not good at all -- you always twist around what I say, you know, so much that I can't even recognize what I'm saying when you repeat it back to me! You never argue against what I say, you just argue against something you make up, you know...."
Now, Eliza was a fairly intelligent woman, so it was totally obvious that her incomprehension was faked. She was just wounded that she had to admit to being poor -- so poor that she couldn't afford to give her favorite child $750 a year to help her throughcollege. But even though I realized what was going on, I dealt with the situation in the stupidest possible way: I spoke my mind. "Look, forget about that, will you?!" I yelled angrily. "For Christ's sake, you're not a fucking moron! The point is that they told us if these forms aren't signed she can't go to school next semester! We tried to argue with them, but they wouldn't listen, so we said hell with it and came up here to get the forms because there wasn't time to wait for the mail! Now we've got to get the forms back down to ASU tomorrow or she's dropping out of school, at least for a semester!"
She leaned toward me angrily and pointed her finger, nearly putting my eye out. "I don't know why you keep changing the subject! It's really a sign of stupidity, you know!"
"I keep changing the subject back to these forms!" I yelled at her, finally letting loose. "You keep rambling on about all kinds of things, but the fact is we need these forms now -- we don't have time for idle conversation!"
"Oh don't you?!" spat back Eliza, so harshly that Allie started to cry.
"No, I don't!" snapped Molly. "Come on, mom, just sign the fucking forms so we can get out of here! This is getting ridiculous! Come on, just sign the fucking forms!"
"No, I'm not signing anything!"
"You mean we came out here for nothing?!" I shouted furiously. "Because you refuse to accept the state's definition of independence, she can't go to school next year?! Is that really what you want?!!"
"Get out! Get out of my house! No one speaks to me like that in my house! Get out of here!"
"Gladly," I scowled, heading for the door. "I'd much rather not listen to your inane schizophrenic bullshit for one more minute!"
As I stalked away from the door Molly made one last try. "Please, mom, just fill out the form, mom, please!"
"No, I'm not going to!" shrieked Eliza. Molly gave up andtried to hug her, but Eliza pushed her away with all the hatred she could muster.
Now Molly was angry. I hated to see it, because I knew that it was basically my fault. Yes, Eliza had been ridiculous, but there was no reason for me to have accepted all her invitations to argue absurd points. "Fuck you," Molly hissed. "You're a goddamned disgusting fool sometimes, Mom! You really are!" True, it wasn't much of an insult -- but I doubt if Molly had ever insulted her mother before.
Eliza tried to say something -- I think it was something like "You don't talk to your mother that way, young lady!" But her voice was cracking so much it was impossible to understand her. It wouldn't be too far off to say that she was growling like a dog.
Molly, however, apparently understood some fragment of what her mother was saying. "I'll talk to you however I goddamned well please!" she said. "You've never done a goddamned thing for me! I don't owe you a goddamned thing!"
Eliza reached out and smacked Molly across the face. I just stepped back in shock; I didn't know what to do. "Come on, Molly," I said in a low voice. "Let's just go."
But Molly had her own idea. She slapped her mother back, even harder. I thought I was going to witness a typical catfight -- biting, kicking, hair-pulling, and so forth. I grabbed Molly's arm and tried to pull her away from the door. But instead, something completely unexpected happened. Eliza reached out to slap her again, and Molly just pulled away.
I recognized the look on Molly's face -- it was the same look she got every time we had a really really bad fight. Her eyes popped out, her cheeks turned bright red, her nose flared out, and her lips grew stiff. She lost the ability to speak in complete sentences -- sometimes she went hours without speaking at all. It freaked me out every time; I really couldn't understand it at all. Often she would just hit her head against the wall, fifty or a hundred times; or she would rip handfuls ofhair out of her head.
I grabbed Molly by the arm, hard, and we walked away to the bus station. She only said three words that day, and that was after we were lying in bed, ready to sleep. Even in the morning, she wasn't quite her regular self. I hardly slept at all that night; I was consumed with guilt. I felt just as though it had been Molly and I who had been fighting. For I had been toying around with Eliza, playing immature intellectual games; but for Molly some deep emotions had been at stake.
When we got back from Eliza's house, Molly just forged her mother's signature on the form -- as I had originally suggested. But the visit with her mother was a bad omen for our relationship. Two days after we got back, we had an awful fight that almost separated us for good.
She was figuring out her schedule for the next fall. I forget what the exact courses were -- she wanted to take French, Spanish, history, English and psychology, or some similar array of liberal arts courses. I got up on my high horse, saying "That's ridiculous -- five bullshit courses! You've got to take at least one math or science course!" and stuff like that. I picked up the catalog and started reading her course descriptions -- chemistry, physics, linear algebra, advanced calculus, and so on. I asked her what she planned on doing once she got her degree in French or Spanish. She said she wanted to be a translator. I pointed out that it was near impossible to get work as a French or Spanish translator -- if she wanted to work as a translator, I said, she had better learn Urdu or Tagalog or something more obscure. And so on and so forth.
It was a stupid argument, and we both got too worked up over it. I mean, it's true that I had no business telling her what courses to take -- but on the other hand, she should have just told me so flat-out, instead of quibbling with me over thedetails. As usual, anyway, the way the argument escalated into a full-scale fight had nothing to do with the actual content of the argument.
She was yelling at me about something, I can't remember exactly what, and her voice started literally giving me chills down my spine. I yelled at her to "Shut up!" ten or twenty times -- but of course she didn't listen. So finally I spit in her open mouth, as she was berating me.
She was offended much much more than if I had hit her. She picked up a chair from the floor and tried to smash me in the head. I parried the blow with my foot and the chair knocked against her, smashing her down to the floor. The bruise on her leg was huge; she sat there nursing it and crying for over an hour. It wasn't much compared to serious cases of domestic violence. But still, it was by far the worst fight we'd ever had. Neither of us knew how to deal with it; we just sat in different corners of the room, mortified and staring at the ground.
Eventually I collected my wits and asked her to leave my dorm room. She refused, muttering "I love you" over and over and over again. So I picked her up and after a serious struggle physically threw her out. It was a terrible situation, truly horrifying. I think at the time she really did hate me. Looking into her eyes was a frightening experience. The recognition was still there: she was still so beautifully, vividly real. But yet all these adversarial emotions kept me from embracing her and kissing her, as a part of me so passionately wanted to do. These violent emotions were despicable to me -- I desperately wanted to get rid of them. But I could no more easily just abandon them than I could just abandon my fingers, or my nose.
At the time I didn't make any connection between our fight and the visit to her mother's -- but now it seems awfully plain. I had won the war with her mother, I had carried her off as the prize -- and she resented me for it. She didn't want to be won in a battle, she wanted to be independent. She wanted to be "herown woman." And yet, if she'd been honest with herself, she would have had to admit that she was not by nature independent. She would have had to admit that her whole personality was based on the premise of symbiosis -- symbiosis with a powerful, intelligent, eccentric personality! Yes, Eliza and I have a lot more in common than I would prefer to admit!
That fight might well have been the end of our relationship. But Molly was wilier than I would have given her credit for. The moment after I cast her out, she immediately felt obliged to sleep with someone else. That night she went to Humberto's room, intent on having sex with him. But she decided he repulsed her, and walked out in the middle of foreplay.
Then, the next evening, she and Clara went to my next door neighbor Will's room (he was a jock, who always had women following him around). I listened to them very anxiously through the wall. They were all giggling so loudly, it was hard to tell what was happening. I decided to bust in on them. In the middle of the floor, under some dirty clothes and mouldering food -- the room was a terrible, hideous mess -- I found the leg to a broken bed frame. I picked it up and smashed it through the wall. But it only went halfway through. They banged back on the wall.
Then there was a knock on the door. I assumed it was someone annoyed with all the noise. But no, it was one of Clara's friends, asking me for help with her calculus. I told her I was too busy doing my own homework -- but, if she really needed help, Molly could help her. She asked where Molly was; I told her Molly and Clara were next door with Will. Bingo! My door closed, and there was a knock on Will's door. Will opened the door, sounding relieved.
The following night Molly came to my room with a familiar line. "Even though our relationship didn't work out," she saidwith a serious look, "can't we still be friends?"
I couldn't believe that she was there in my room, saying something like that! If I had been honest, I would have said "No, you fool! I can't stand the sight of you! And I can't stand the thought of being your friend while you sleep with someone else, either! Why can't you just hibernate for the goddamned winter!"
But I didn't say anything.
She just stood there for two or three minutes, staring at me and pouting. I stood there and stared back at her. The emotional bond between us was incredible: our bodies just hung there like lifeless sacks; the only living parts of our bodies were our eyes.
Finally, she said in a low monotone "I don't have many friends, you know. You're the best friend I've got here. I need to have someone to talk to sometimes."
"All right," I said, unhappily. "We can be friends, okay? But I still think we should probably stay away from each other for a couple days."
But she wouldn't give up. "Friends can hug," she said. Her face was expressionless. She stood there for ten or fifteen seconds, and then she reached out for a hug.
Of course, I saw the next step coming from a mile away. But my resistance was worn down. At the moment that she had outstared me, she had won the battle. I was powerless; I was her pawn. "Friends can kiss," she whispered.
We made love. She slept in my room again that night. And after that things went straight uphill. We still fought a good bit more than we should have, but not so constantly and severely. I suppose I needed a taste -- just a tiny little taste! -- of what it would be like to know that she was sleeping with someone else. It was not as though she had taken the upper hand in the relationship -- given the nature of our personalities, that would have been impossible. But she had definitely restored the balance of power to a more even level.
The funny thing is, if she had actually gone through with her plan and slept with someone else, it would have been an entirely different story. Then we wouldn't have been on an equal footing -- she would have been a "woman of the world," whereas my sexual experience would still have been limited to her only. For sake of pride, I wouldn't have been able to get back together with her until I, too, had slept with someone else. And who knows how long that would have taken me! Perhaps in the interim she or I would have found another serious relationship. I know it's absurd -- but that's the way male pride works, or my own at any rate. Yes, consciously or unconsciously, Molly was clever! She demonstrated just enough sexual and emotional power to put me in my place, but not enough to alienate me. Call me sexist if you wish, but it seems to me that this kind of cleverness is hard-wired into young women's brains! All of a sudden I was much more willing to accept her with all her annoying foibles. The fusion of magical goddess with ordinary woman was complete. For the first time, I was able to love Molly for herself.
Converted by Andrew Scriven