The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard-Katha-Upanishad (via W. Somerset Maugham)
The break-up occurred on May 10th, 1999. Then the real break-up, “It’s over. We tried it and it didn’t work,” took place about thirty days later. Then I dropped thirty pounds in thirty days. My friends came running, but I was too busy isolating to notice. I sat at home listening to Moby’s Play the soundtrack to my heartache. I didn’t start to cry until May 13th and then I couldn’t stop, just like that CD’s constant circling in its player. But I went to work. Work was my salvation the one place I always returned to. Like home.
Sometime in 2001 we bumped into each other. He was married, ran a marathon and had a dog. These were all things I knew would happen. I knew he would try to continue our legacy, but with someone else. They were actions taken “at” me. His appearance of a life fulfilled was done at my expense. While he’d spent time revenge run rampant. I just suffered. I feigned happiness for him and his brilliant accomplishments. At least by then I had put down the whip, picked up a fork and was living my life. He never bore witness to my incessant flagellation. 2001 came in sharp contrasts, I realize for all, and yet my star had risen. For me that was a very good thing, and not a thing he needed to know. I walked away feeling good about myself, and that was a very good thing indeed.
Two months before we broke up, I was working late when a colleague cracked open a bottle of Patron. I’d felt alienated after the merger. Interscope was the antithesis of A&M. I was swimming in the shallow end of unknown waters. I so desperately wanted a friend to help guide me deeper. My timing was awful, so was my methodology. I eventually came home, but two hours late and excuseless. The general hysteria that goes along with tequila incidents gone awry spewed out of me. I puked. I screamed. I puked. Why was he even with me? I was too old for him! He was a downtown hipster and, “I am totally uncool!” He cleaned me up. Put me to bed and left. As soon as that hangover wore off the breakup was on.
“You can drink. You don’t have to change. We’ll get through this.” He claimed to have lost two relationships to AA. Since I was his third the odds weren’t looking good. He couldn’t watch me go through it. “Too few people make it.” A day later, “I can’t believe I found someone so perfect for me.” A few days would pass, “I’m trying to work my way back to you.” I was convinced the dream had shattered in a bottle of tequila, a pool of vomit, and a bed full of denial. A close friend gently pushing me toward recovery, “Believe me he knows you’re an alcoholic and he’s known all along,” He maintained, “I like the way you use alcohol.” Solutions are rooted. We felt unworldly. Vaporous incapable of being trapped into something so solid.
On Place St.-Michel he pushed me. Took two arms and shoved me as if I were a pickpocket caught in the act. “Get off of me!” Ten days in Paris, the city of love, we had sex twice. Angry sex. Naked and hit by a belt, yanked around the hotel room, completely dominated, left simpering in a corner, and going to sleep with our backs facing each other. Years I fantasized over visiting The Muse’ Rodin with a lover. Standing so close we could have stroked The Kiss, “Maybe I’ll get a sex change operation and move to Paris.” Beaten down I was still trying to share even though he’d clearly decided there was no more “we” it would now be “I.” Two months had passed since the tequila incident. Sixty days I spent looking like a Camille Claudel sculpture.
Making love in a rooftop Jacuzzi while Grammy night lights swirled around us, cuddling up to a fire place at Long View Farms studio while an ice storm raged outside talking about everything we hoped for us none of which was true, driving to Boston telling stories about the past while the The Idiot played on rotation and we tried to hold hands across a stick shift Barracuda named Bernadette, those days were gone.
Sobriety requires a relationship with something greater than oneself. Over the weeks our conversations turned to seeking. He was didactic, an excitable boy searching for something beyond the experience of reality. I was often left mystified yet confused by his musings. Frankly I often found them sophomoric, dorm room fodder. Lacking clarity I did engage although I had spent far more time thinking about Led Zeppelin lV than about god.
Much earlier in the relationship he’d given me a copy of The Razor’s Edge. Claimed it was his favorite, and inscribed with many declarations about my eyes, my breath, rain. The final lines read; With you there are no walls. Together we escape burden, and culminated with Debbi- you make me cry. I read his page long benediction so often I never read the novel. I couldn’t quite make sense of how making him cry was a desirable effect. I decided the inscription had something to do with love, but he didn’t sign it with love. He’d also spelled my name wrong.
Eventually I read it. I indulged in anything, size don’t matter, he’d left me. Obviously Larry spoke to him, “I want to make up my mind whether God is or God is not.” I was an Isobel (is a belle), who wanted to meet interesting people, but not if it meant giving up her Chanel dresses. Larry (I wish I could interpret that name as ‘liar’ but I don’t think Somerset Maugham would agree) knew she would only be experimenting with, “a sort of cultured slumming.” Isobel could also give herself an orgasm just by staring at Larry’s arm. She couldn’t have him. She was forced to settle, and his would be a lone journey. In the end Larry finds his salvation. He escapes bondage. Poor Isobel, well, you can’t have someone who isn’t there. Dharma-bums, social strata, the ultimate question, none of that meant anything, the only answers I was seeking made habitat behind those blue eyes. Perhaps it should have been obvious that my boyfriend needed to find something, and he couldn’t do it with me. But I didn’t read the book.
In 2003 he called with an invitation to dinner. He requested that I come that same evening. So on an indifferently cold evening I walked west to east arriving at the same building. He was cooking fried chicken and corn bread. An aside, by the end we had both gained about 10 pounds. We feasted on food instead of flesh. We swallowed up all the truth so there was nothing to say. Rib roast, homemade bread, macaroons one of my favorite things, were all forced on me. I didn’t want any of it, except the macaroons, but I ate anyway. I would take anything he offered. I finally figured out what happens when you’ve been consumed, you start consuming. Once you gain 10 pounds you get depressed and your doctor puts you on anti-anxiety meds, anti-depressants and sleep aids. Then you refill those fuckers as often as you need. By the spring of 1999 I was a beggar with an extensive medicine cabinet who could no longer fit into her jeans.
Whatever this dinner was, it was not going to be a hostile takeover. Thanks to a couple of green pills my emotions were well barricaded. I entered the same building but different apartment. That helped keep a few sensory triggers at bay. His red hair was long, and greasy. He was wearing some make-up along with tight red glam pants tucked into Paul Stanley’s boots. The most striking piece of his countenance was the perfectly plucked eyebrows. The brows becoming the entrance to his face, replacing what used to be blue eyes. The lightening bolts on his cheesy boots were enough to strike me silent.
He fried up chicken and rambled on about his ex-wife. She was now the dumpster for all his rubbish. She wanted money and she took her dog. Aside from the dog it seemed her best asset was the ability to apply make-up; then they would go out together. I immediately imagined her in a suit and him in a dress. Our gangster and gun moll act done in reverse. I was thankful for her. He no longer had a reason to do anything “at” me. I snuck a peak into the bedroom. It contained the double sized bed we’d bought together. Seeing it there with the same headboard did beget sorrow. I could still see my hands wrapped around the poles. Still and all, we had been living perversely different lives for seven years. I owned a new bed, an extraordinarily expensive one at that.
“I’m having a sex change operation.” I don’t know why I was surprised. It was in my face throughout our entire relationship. In Paris he had said the words. If that statement were spray-painted on the wall my reaction would have been, “Wall? What wall?” Hear, speak, see…no! If I had to be The Three Monkeys I would, and then swallow another macaroon. My eyes welled up but I didn’t cry. I squeaked out, “But why?” This was his razor’s edge.
“I always knew I would do this. That’s why I had to break up with you. I knew you couldn’t live this way. I knew you need a man.” Larry needed to find truth. Isobel needed to live within her comfort zone. But we were not the characters Maugham created. And it was never the tequila, and it certainly wasn’t a relationship that fizzled after the excitement of the first 60 days. There was always a thread between us that we tangled up, like the necklace you carelessly throw into your jewelry box every night even though you put it back on the next day. If you never pause to fix it eventually the chain breaks.
During the months our break-up dragged on, before, “It’s over. We tried and it didn’t work,” he also said, “I know how I feel about you. I just don’t know how I feel about us.” “I’m trying so hard to work my way back to you.” “I need to take a break from this relationship and I don’t even believe those are my words coming through me because I could never say that to you.” I also wondered where those words had come from. How could I know they came from she not he. He said he couldn’t see himself in the mirror because I was standing between him and the mirror, “I have to remove you if I’m ever going to see myself.” My boyfriend wanted to be me. And thank god he managed to remove me, because eventually he decided to look like Brittany Spears.
I got to bear witness to some of the process. Throughout the next year or so she helped me sell off some records, she helped me move some boxes. When I lost my job her new girlfriend helped me look for a cheaper apartment. She finally acknowledged my success when she started playing in a band that loved Queens of the Stone Age. Gone were the days when my cell phone was an embarrassment. I was even invited to the studio a couple of times. The make-up, the breasts, the hair, the nails, never fully disguised the man. Eventually I heard rumor that the transition had been wholly consummated. Over ten years have passed since I last saw her.
“I knew you couldn’t live this way.” I was never given a voice in the decision. Maybe I could have. Maybe I would have stayed. At the least we could have tried to live in the truth. Maybe I would have walked away. Maybe I wouldn’t have made him cry, and he could sign a novel With Love. I always wished him to be happy. That was the unselfish piece. I wanted him to love me forever. That was selfish. “I knew you needed a man.” Well thank you for making the decision for me. I’m not going to go on a tirade about gender specific roles. I only know I’ve had plenty of men (and a couple of women) since, and not one has ever given me an ounce of what he did. I’ll never know what she could have.
I silently mourned his death. I didn’t starve myself, I didn’t over medicate, I didn’t worry my friends. But, I did mourn. I will never again see that blue-eyed boy I loved. There was a time he came to me almost nightly in my dreams. Like Peter Pan visiting Wendy. To be perfectly honest, fleetingly he still comes I wake up happy. He managed to crawl up inside me. Inside of me resides a beautiful blue-eyed boy who ate candy for breakfast and called me “Kitten.” But outside there is no grave marker. He simply faded away never again to be. I miss him terribly. Yvan-you make me cry.
Addendum: For many years I wondered if this entire saga unfolded in my head. One evening my intern entered my office and closed the door. She was young, zaftig, with long black hair, punk rock clothes and a beautifully kind face. She had a story for me, but she approached with caution. This could be dangerous territory. A few years after he and I broke up she walked into a bar on Avenue B. He stared, and I have made it quite clear those eyes were no joke. He appeared to be awestruck. Once she settled on a barstool he said, “I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.” I looked at her, yes, I could see it at a distance he would have seen a ghost. He continued, “I thought you were a woman I had a relationship with years ago. It was the most intense experience I’ve ever had.” They chatted some. Her drink was on the house.
-For Molly who got to live twice