12 1/2 Months
by LINDA EDDINGS
January. He is the surprising replacement for the host's brother at a themed dinner party held by my oldest, most literal friend Janet. "Here is Simon," she says. "That is not his name, but it is what he likes to go by." I never ask the story behind it, because I am truly tired of the games we play, naming things, asking what everyone wants to be called.
Simon is dressed very finely, but only if you take careful notice. "My apartment just burned down," he announces to everyone, and receives a round of condolences. He is living in a hotel. He confesses that he could move out of it, live in a short term lease that would be less expensive, that offers more space, but he does not really want to.
I ask what it feels like to have all of his things gone, and what started the fire. "It feels terrible," he said, "but I don't remember what's gone. When they asked me to make a list, I could not even do it." "You had insurance?" He doesn't answer, but Janet tells me that he did. I ask her if she was ever in the apartment. "Once," she tells me. "It was a sty. I'm not surprised in the least that it no longer exists."
February. He asked for my number. I gave it to him, not really thinking much of it. Lately, that is how it goes with these flimsy meetings. There is never anything like an attachment being formed; all contact seems so preliminary.
He does not call until the middle of the month. He asks what I want to do. Whatever I suggest, he says he has either already done it, or was not interested. Finally he tells me to show up in Bryant Park. I come early to write; he is already there.
He walks around looking at all the people. I ask him what he does for a living, but he does tell me that either. It was not much of a first date. The only thing he wants to talk about are the other people. Who did I think they were, where did they live, what were they doing in the park in the middle of the day?
He asked me to show him my apartment. When I said no, he reached into his back pocket and gave me a little blank book, like some curio journal you would purchase in a small bookstore. He told me not to open it until I left. On the first page was a detailed, highly realistic drawing of my face.
March. Simon did not call me for all of March, and I figured I would not hear from him again. He left a message with Janet, who I gathered he had hit it off with, perhaps better than he had with me. She told me that he was in Los Angeles working on set design for a small film, but that he would be back in a month, and that he wanted to see me again.
I asked Janet, "Isn't it strange that he would use you to relay that message to me? It's kind of insulting." She said, "That's the way he is. Perhaps he sees me more accurately than you see me."
I bristled at the time, but now I think that is no doubt true.
April. He calls me the day he comes back, and he asks if I wanted to get dinner. I hate that stinking phrase, and I tell him so. "You're not the first eccentric person I've met," I tell him. "It's not funny, or more entertaining. Surprises aren't an artistic medium." He apologizes, and says our evening will not be like Bryant Park.
I wish I had not said yes, but I did. His body was surprising muscular underneath his light clothing. No one could be like that through no exertion of effort, of time spent in the gym or natural world. He showed no sign of this. He had, then, long blonde hair tied up. The one thing I did not like about that night was the apologizing. He seemed genuinely sorry about our previous meeting, but it went overboard. At first I thought I was seeing him as he is, but after some time I discerned it was simply another layer.
May. When he wakes in the morning the first thing he does is draw. He is basically non-responsive during this period, so I learn to do other things while he crouches over himself. It is a relief to not have someone desperately trying to get away from you. I am grateful he allows me into that space, and then I pity myself for being pleased by something so innocuous.
His mother visits from Sweden. She stays at a cheap hotel near Times Square. She is a small, insensate woman with grey and blonde hair who is always putting herself down. She strains her hip bending over to pick up a quarter she has dropped, but she won't let Simon take her to the doctor. "A little thing," she scolds herself, "a little thing."
His father couldn't make the trip, Simon tells me. I want to ask Janet if she knows what the story is here, but she is no longer returning my phone calls. The sex we have while his mother is here is multidimensional and very satisfying, like a lozenge on a sore throat.
"This is not exactly what I mean," Laura Riding wrote, "any more than the sun is the sun."
June. His mother flies out of JFK, giving me this weird, wooden hug. I felt embarrassed when it is the three of us. I want to explain how uncomfortable their coldness makes me. I'm not writing very much these days. It feels like my life is my writing, and my writing is my life, a state of affairs Levi-Strauss referred to as a "double-twist."
l am a bit tired, I start to think, by the time I spend with him. We have grown closer, it is true, but it is the kind of interdependence I have never sought from other guys. My friends tell me that they miss me, and suddenly I feel the same. I am not this kind of person to be so wrapped up in someone else.
Before I do anything, I try to talk to Simon about it. He is placid, then excitable, like a child who has never had to defend his playtime. (Somewhere in there he cut his hair down to a low buzz.) My therapist says this behavior was probably returned to him by his mother's visit. It scares me that someone I care for is so transparent.
With a start one night, I recognize the taste of the herbal tea his mother drank at every meal.
"We spend all our time in my apartment," I say. "Don't you think that is strange?" Cowed and dutiful, he finally agrees to take me to his hotel room. Drawings and whiteboards are everywhere. Plates of eaten and uneaten food. Stack of burned and bruised pages float on trays and underfoot. It is a mess, the kind you would not know how to start cleaning up. "I have another week here," he says, and reclines on the bed, his eyes darting back and forth like ping pong balls.
July. This is the month that I end it.
Before that, I let him keep everything salvageable in boxes within my apartment. A few of his friends show up to help him move; a Bangladeshi girl who could have walked right off a runway, and a medical student named Artis who chuckles when he sees the scene. "This is nothing," Artis tells me. "You should have seen what burned."
I am surprised at how much these two know about me; his mother barely remembered my name. We sit down for dinner in a Burmese restaurant where no one comes in for anything but takeout. Janet shows up unexpectedly, practically jumping into my arms. When I tell her that I missed her she says, "Yes, me too. Second place is the first loser."
Once Simon finds a new apartment with a roommate who is a lawyer in midtown, I tell him how things are with me. I force myself to breathe. I think he might cry, but he never does, just watches the people walking by, swiveling his head to get the full view.
August. By next week he has taken it in stride and asks if he can still see me at all. I hesitate - those last few times we had sex resembled a light frenzy, like the last burning off of a storm's horizon.
A few weeks later he wants to know what they all want to know. It is the word that haunts every romance that has never been witnessed by others, that remained hidden from view. Something that is half a secret is still a secret. If he doesn't know why, Simon says, he will never know how to grow from this. "How can I stop thinking about you?" he asks me. I tell him that I will let him know when I figure it out.
September. It is so hard to be alone again. Sundays are particularly unbearable. The only comfort is knowing I was right. Wasn't I?
I had to close the curtains because the trees lost their leaves.
October. Janet tells me that Simon has found a new girlfriend. Do I want to know who she is? At first I resent her for putting it to me in this fashion. It's not like I would have found out if she did not tell me. But I would have wondered.
So often now my curiosity is satisfied again and again. This constant satiation never happened in another age and time. I wish I did not know the end of every story, although I suppose I may never know what has become of Simon's mother, or why she came to visit her son at all if she was not going to touch him. I could write it myself, but I do not wish to do so, this time.
Simon's new squeeze is an artist, small and blonde, of intensely tiny paintings. In what Janet regards as a solid put-down, she informs me that they represent the size of the painter's world. She graduated from a New England college where she could not have amassed much more information about life than a squirrel does from living in one tree.
These are Janet's observations only. I go to see the paintings myself one morning when the gallery opens. Despite being of ordinary objects, for the most part, they are so finely focused I find myself staring in utter absorption before having to look away.
November. Simon calls me before Thanksgiving. He is living back in Brooklyn now, he says. He has a new place. Would I like to come over? The first time he asks, I manage to decline.
Almost everyone else I know has left New York to visit friends and family. I am not going home for Christmas. The city empties out, stores and restaurants are closed. The avenues are left to tourists. Wood floors in his apartment shine, newly buffed. He is not seeing Jacqueline any more, he says, if he ever was. She had another boyfriend, a businessman who travels a lot. The man promised to work from the home office from now on. His choice changed my life.
December. I say, "Some women want to know there is a specific type of future available, one that they can comfortably fit into. Maybe she did not think you were capable of providing that." Even as the words escape my mouth, I realize that they are meaningless.
His smell. One whiff is like the next day after you roast nuts, but just a bit sour. I cannot believe I was ever able to escape from this sensation of someone so fine, interwoven through and around me, an irrestible aspect of Linda. Without meaning to, I have impressed myself.
January. I turn him away when he comes to my door. At the end of my building's hallway, a mirror shows his despondent face. "Thought looking out on thought makes one an eye," offered Laura Riding.
Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn.
Paintings by Edite Grinberga.
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