I can’t seem to finish. Or, start.
I’ve lost track of the number of times I have started this post. I first tried three weeks ago, three days after my last non-video entry. I couldn’t use my words. I surrendered to the block. Days passed. I began again, but couldn’t find any truth, any rhythm or tone. Stopped. Went away. Returned. Tried again. Failed again. I had a screen full of pieces of ideas, badly writ. Considered erasing. Thought that might not be going far enough. Considered deleting the blog and completely giving up writing as I’d given up smoking and drinking and the possibility of happiness. Took a breath. Or, held my breath? Lived in silence. Opened WordPress, read the drafts, changed the focus, considered making new points, revised, reversed. Still, no go. Stopped. Then, seven days ago I spent three hours attempting — once again — to write something worth reading on the assumption you were interested in an explanation of my ongoing absence. In the process of saving those paragraphs, I lost everything.
I lost what it was I couldn’t finish. Which included:
- mournful meditations on how all I seemed able to think about was the malignant cri de coeur that seemed to me to be my life;
- the arc of Sondheim roles I have played from Riff in West Side Story to Marta(y) in Company to Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd to the Old Man/Narrator in Into the Woods;
- there was a shooting at my local high school;
- I had a dream in which I was told of my own betrayal while standing in the yard outside my safest place in life, the house in Libertytown;
- The problem of having the constitution and habits of a writer, and so, when I suffer fear or confusion I turn it into a story; everything around my fears and confusions begins to glow with metaphor and symbol and my “real life” becomes confused with the story I am writing about my life;
- Jordan executing in retaliation for Isis murders — people thinking war is an answer — the poisonous political rhetoric and religious hate —
- the ridiculous amounts of money and attention given to sports, as in SuperBowl ratings being the highest for any television broadcast of any kind, EVER, in this world where all the NFL badness of the past year and the proven health issues football causes made public;
- Penn State and Joe Paterno being PR-ed back into pseudo-respectability after their unforgivable duplicity, complicity, GUILT in child-rape;
- Back to Sondheim: how I am like Phyllis in Follies: I had a little talent, but was born to cook, clean, amuse, throw dinner parties & wed my way out of doing any of it. Alas, I never made either the follies-equivalent nor a good marriage;
- Trayvon Martin would recently have turned 20 had he not been assassinated;
- Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird sequel made me furious, it seems so patently clear she’s being manipulated by money-hungry guardians;
But why could I not finish shaping any of these into a blog post? Here’s the thing, shortly after my last composed-of-words post, was a family gathering in celebration of my Mother’s 87th birthday during which my sister suggested I needed a gag and my Mother suggested that the easiest way for me to vanquish a foe would be to talk them to death.
And, you see, I know I talk too much. And write too long. And my stories ramble and digress and circle and do not ensorcel in the way I wish. But, it’s what I have. My words. If I can’t use them, if I have to give them up along with the smoking and the drinking and the having a home and my dog and all the other things I gave away, well … so I’m never going to be famous, rich, or in-love-d … can’t I at least talk without being attacked for it?
So, here I am. Going. Trying again. And having little luck.
Not that I am un-accomplished, mind you. I’ve read a few books. I made a cake with four layers, two flavors, three icings, four toppings, all modeled on a Take5 candy bar as requested by my darling, Kiki, great niece.
And, I was clever with a hot-young-boy at the gym. And that’s not code. Kid asks, “You know what a hipster is? Cuz you look like one.” I replied, “I was Beat before you were born.” This confused him. Despite his tempting bulge and free-of-lines face, I resisted urge to clarify and went on my never very merry way. Un-BEAT-en.
Ah, youth. As in the one I lost. Not the gym-boy, rather, my own. Youth. Wasted. It’s this Valentine’s Day business. You see, never once in my entire life have I received a Valentine’s Day card from an inamorato. In fact, I have never had a romantic relationship that could be even charitably called successful — or, actually, romantic.
Funny story. I was deep into another of those one-way Wuthering Heights-ish things through which I chronically suffered and sang, making a fool of myself over — let’s call him Dakin — when a Dakin-like past paramour — let’s call him Heathcliff — who’d also been reluctant to go public, who had, in fact, denied ever having had anything to do with me TO MY FACE after we had — well, HAD SOMETHING TO DO with one another, pulled me aside.
“Charlie, I have to tell you something.” By this point it was years after Heathcliff and I had done what he swore we’d never done, and I, broken-hearted, had run away from home. Again. “All those years ago, when I pretended not to know how you were feeling and pretended nothing was happening, remember?”
Well, yes. I remembered. His rejection had informed years of my life. He didn’t just NOT want me, he said, “Who in the world would want anyone to know they’d had anything to do with Charlie in that way?” Yes, I remembered.
“Well,” Heathcliff continued, “I knew exactly what was going on. I knew exactly what I was doing. And I was using you to get things I wanted. You wanting me, me turning you down, or, the rumor I had or hadn’t, depending, it was valuable. And I’m sorry. I knew I was hurting you and I didn’t care.”
It was more than a decade after the fact but its worth was its validation of my reality. No, I had not been crazy. Heathcliff had been showing interest. It hadn’t all been my imagination. Whatever the motivation, however bottom-feeding and cruel, it had happened. I thanked him. But he wasn’t finished.
“I’m telling you now because of Dakin. He’s even worse than I was. He’s using you. He’s going to hurt you. And he doesn’t have enough of a soul to give a fuck about it.”
I remember exactly how I felt in that moment. I knew Heathcliff was right. I also knew, with equal conviction, that he was wrong. I believed that my life had been long enough and hard enough with enough hits and sorrows and dues-paying that this time would be it. Dakin might not know it now, but, he would come to know that he did truly love me. Dakin might be using me now, but, eventually, he would see that he was just pretending to be using me until he could admit to his real feelings.
I laughed. I told Heathcliff I understood what he was saying. I thanked him and assured him I knew what I was doing. He disagreed.
“You have no idea what you’re doing. You see this impossible good in people you love. It wasn’t there in me and it isn’t there in him. And it makes you impossible to love. Because no one can ever be as much as you think we are. And it’s gonna kill you one day.”
You know what. He was wrong. It was there in him. It was there in Dakin. And although Dakin broke me in ways I will never be able to mend and was as cruel and cold and calculating and deceitful as Heathcliff warned, I still love both of them. I still believe in a different world they could have, would have loved me back. And I am not sorry for loving them. I am just sorry I didn’t love myself a little bit more at the same time.
And he was also wrong about it killing me. It didn’t. Although, in truth, I wish it had.
Happy Valentine’s Day friends. I hope you have someone, or had someone once, but, even more, I hope you have yourself. It’s something I have yet to learn.