It is Sunday. Newspaper day. As a child, I spent most Sundays with my aunt, Sissie, in Libertytown, where came the Washington and Baltimore Sunday papers. They would be sat upon a red-metal step-ladder stool, where they’d stay until the next Saturday. So busy was Sissie’s life of caretaking and working that it often took her a week to finish them. She read every word. She didn’t want to waste anything.
For some reason, I am missing that stool today. Which is just another way of saying I am missing Sissie. Today I miss her because I did something stupid last night that she would have turned into a story about how special I was. Am. No, I’m not, you see. Not since she’s gone. Which is why I miss her – I need someone to convince me (or delude themselves) to believe again. To take me into a world where my Twitter profile is closer to the truth.
There, in my Twitter profile, I hubristically proclaim myself the love-child of Jane and Paul Bowles. Which also has to do with Sissie.
I did not discover this spiritual lineage- indeed had never heard of the Bowles – until 1981, when the damaged, tender boy-man I was had flown home, prodigal-nephew-like, to my aunt, Sissie, landing neither for the first nor last time on her doorstep in a state of spiritual dishabille and despair. That boy I was knew he’d be welcomed there, knew he would have no need to beg forgiveness there, because there, in Libertytown, there, with Sissie, he was not capable of sin. We – Sissie and I – fell easily (again) into our private world. She was someone who but for the vagaries of the needs of others might have been (should have been) Edna St. Vincent Millay, and having sacrificed herself on the Catholic-altar of duty and convention, determined – fairy godmother-like – that the same would not happen to me; she would foster my inchoate genius and mordancy, her plan being to treat me as if I’d already become Truman Capote/Tennessee Williams/Marcel Proust/Dorothy Parker and thus was excused the expectations of polite society and obligations of real-world adults.
With her, for her, to her, I was a star.
We spent – some might say we wasted – many decades and dollars on this literary, faux-Algonquin Round Table fantasy of ours, and it was 1981 after my having run-away from whatever it was in my life that had crushed me then – the details are hazy now and my journals are lost somewhere in a storage unit at the moment, but I recall it vaguely as being about my younger sister having left the East Coast for a Hawaiian idyll, Tequila-sunrises in plastic pitchers, and men who sported chest-revealing, Quiana shirts emblazoned with Marilyn Monroe astride a swan – to California at the behest of friends who thought I’d find solace and my heart in San Francisco.
I did discover Barbara Cook and my incompatibility with yet another culture – the gay one – and a paralyzing fear of earthquakes. After a Californian Thanksgiving-weekend spent with a soldier my friends picked up for me when I dissolved into weeping having spied him sitting alone at the restaurant where we were all pointedly not having turkey, and his explaining as he left on Monday morning that we would never see one another again – he thought I’d understood that – HA – that is something I have YET to ever understand, even when trading fake names and stats with Craigslist and Grindr tricks post-tryst – I flew home.
Not a star. To anyone. But, Sissie. And like Sissie not having been Millay, I was, then, on that return, not Armistead Maupin – another name added to the list of all those I had not and would not become.
Missing, then and now and still and always – or, so it seems, here in my implacable decline – the point that I might have spent less energy trying to be those others and more being just myself.
That post-Californian-Thanksgiving-soldier-return, that not being Armistead Maupin adventure in fail, was the one during which Millicent Dillon’s biography of Jane Bowles, A Little Original Sin, was published. Sissie and I read a review and bought it and I devoured it in one of those hardly-any-sleep, blizzard winter weekends when the world went silent and the wood stove kept us warm. After that, I delved into the collected works of both Bowles, obsessing, wanting my own shady, exotic Tangier-ian lovers who I would share with their wives.
Careful what you wish for. While none of my poor choices were from Tangier, there was much sharing – and hiding – and while I didn’t approach matching Mr. Bowles artistic output or gift, when one compares our habit and pattern of messy emotional involvements with needy lunatics – well, I’ve said enough.
Enough. You see? Without Sissie, without our wood stove, deep reading, shared-discovery weekends, without our papers piled on the red-metal-step-ladder-stool, I have devolved into this lumpen mass of myself – and there is so little of me left – such energy I have spent trying to be those others, trying to please so many others – I can’t focus. I can’t find where I am – was – should be?
And so disconnected am I from reality, so busy trying to be other, that last night I set all the clocks back an hour. Why? Because I am such a delusional Anglophile that the majority of people I follow on Twitter and the websites I troll are located in the United Kingdom. So, all day yesterday I kept reading about and being reminded to set back the clocks, unaware that I was being fed these things by U.K. sources. It took me until 9:30 this morning and a not pretty bout of raging at my laptop and smart-phone about how NOT smart they were for not re-setting as they ought – that I realized what I’d done.
Sissie would have said, “Well, you really are British at soul, anyway. Very Evelyn Waugh Brideshead Revisited and Noel Coward. That’s why.” And made me feel all sorts of all-over powerful. As if my idiotic behavior was somehow a gift, a blessing.
I miss Sissie. And I want that stool back. It, like my journals and my belief in myself, locked away somewhere, in storage, waiting for me to find a place I can call my own home again.
Sunday. Bloody fucking Sunday.