Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lunch Time

here's a piece of fiction i wrote a few years ago that never got published.
xoxo robin

By Robin Crane

Later, for at least a couple years after the surgery, I felt so bitter. And despite the gang of neighborhood cats that often followed behind me on my daily strolls as though I were their giantess captain, and other bizarre examples of enchantment, all I could do was obsess about swallowing poison, or being fucked by so many men I would eventually turn into a doll, and be left in peace in the warmth of a child’s bed, finally safe. All these damning thoughts came after they performed the operation on my heart, but before the operation, it was the fear of dying on the operating table that obsessed me.

“Maggie, do you want to go home, or take some extra time for lunch?” my boss asked me. He was standing at the opening in my cubicle, gazing kindly at me, in all probability trying to telegraph the thought: “You Should Believe in God.” It was the day before my heart surgery.

I did take extra time for lunch, walking down the block to a bus bench where two nine or ten year old Hispanic girls in school uniforms were sitting, and I sat down on the bench as well. I have a childish mind, and envied the children for having the companionship of one another, while I believe that a normal adult wouldn’t even have noticed them, or would have noticed them but only to wonder what two children were doing outside of a classroom unsupervised on a Tuesday afternoon. I was trying to make myself think like a grown-up and to stop feeling that I would rather die tomorrow, after all, than to not be able to go back to when I was nine or ten, and relive all these years, this time not wrecking everything on purpose. But I couldn‘t stop the way I was thinking, it’s just how I am. I am me. Maggie Sheppard. Twenty seven. Overeager, fragile, twice-suicidal white middle class me. Me. It was hurting to breathe. My lungs were aching. It was hurting for my heart to beat. I leaned back on the bus bench and watched the girls in their brandnewness and amazement at the world.

The taller girl’s family lived on a hilly street, in a shaded white house with aqua-painted steps leading up to the porch and a cage of canaries hanging near one of the pillars, a house which belongs in a nostalgic dream. Or else the two girls were sisters, and they lived in a large brick apartment building near downtown. All the women in their family had hair that fell past their shoulder blades, in pony tails or wispy brunette streamers. White women would see the two girls walking back from a nearby convenience store where the girls had spent forever just deciding what pieces of candy to buy, and the long hair would seem to these women something extraneous or religious, like a nun’s wimple.

At this moment, while the girls sat and waited for the bus, one of their mothers was trying to take a nap, and was watching the gauzy pink curtains dance drunk on their own weightlessness in the breeze from the open bedroom window; she thought for a moment that everywhere in this city, on second floors of different apartment buildings, curtains were doing this same dance and strangers were distractedly watching it all. The mother kept an ironic smirk on her mouth but her eyes were kinder and seemed to be saying, “It’s all a sort of wry joke. I do not really hate anybody- I am only disappointed with my life.” And at this moment, one of the girls’ younger brothers was playing with a plastic giraffe in a day care center. One of their fathers was having lunch with his oldest friend at work, he was tasting the wet taste of tomatoes soaked through the bread of his sandwich. A cloud drifted across the sun and blocked out the light. He stopped squinting for a moment.

Then, there is my own life. During the time I was sitting at the bus bench, my boyfriend had a break between classes at the community college, and had come home to our apartment, to eat his lunch. He was sitting with his food at our computer, thinking about a girl in his Life Drawing class who he was falling in love with. After a few minutes of this, he wrote her a love letter:

You are Wonder Woman, Joan Didion, Aphrodite, Peter Pan, a rhododendron and The Supremes, all rolled into one. You are magnificent.

This is the letter I found saved as a file on our computer a few weeks after I was released from the hospital, my bony chest now accented with a bumpy, pink vertical line of scar tissue; before packing my things or mourning the end of love, the resentful thought I had was that he had plagiarized my irreverence and my style of writing letters that were lists.

Also, while I sat at the bench, with the two girls sitting next to me, my father sat in his office, gazing at the Bank of America skyscraper he saw in the distance and thinking dotingly of my stepmother. The phone rang and he thought it might be me who was calling. My mother sat in her apartment with a cat on her lap, seeing but not really watching the news on TV. My closest friend was on a break from her job at the mall and was standing in line for a coffee. My grandparents were three hours later in their day, on Eastern time. My first boyfriend from college was shooting up heroin in an alley, thinking of nothing, just feeling anticipation. My sister was sitting in a library in Portland, taking a break from reading, doodling a rose in the margins of her notebook. My mother turned the TV volume down and went to stand at the window, where she could see all the bunches of little flowers another tenant had planted in a strip of dirt that used to be ignored and unadorned. This is love.

The girls caught their bus, and I sat at the bus stop for a long while, feeling uncomfortable to be out in the open like that with drivers and passengers absentmindedly staring at me, but unwilling to get up and walk back to work.

I didn’t die from the heart surgery. I lived, and still looked like a healthy, leggy twenty-something year old to the naked eye. But under my blouses, I was a plowed stretch of land, and it didn’t feel good. I went a little crazy. I was hospitalized at a sort of famous mental health and rehab place; you may have heard of it. One day, it was a Friday afternoon, we were having our weekly Friday music group therapy session, and a shaky, weepy older woman brought in a Led Zeppelin cd. She played this one slow Zep song I’ve always liked. The facilitating therapist turned off the lights, us nine crazies closed our eyes and practiced our deep breathing like we were supposed to, and then, like some weird magic, we all began to sob, all at once and for a long time. I don’t know exactly why, but for some reason, life has just seemed better and easier since then.

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