So you kiss a man on the lips, a student. The student is beside himself and reports the incident to your boss, the school administrator, a slack-jawed misanthrope who calls you directly, and with a certain glee lets you know you’re in trouble. It changes your life, the kiss, the phone call, and later that night, the woman who hears you laughing in the shadows of her backyard, the arrest, the gun the cops find underneath the front seat of your car, the lawyer, the plea, the loss of your house, the divorce.
You can say it started with an argument about Karl Marx. It’s a long-distance phone call with an old friend; the connection is poor. You stare at a pile of bills as your friend rambles on about capitalism, the free market, Pol Pot, Stalin, Faust. In regard to the bills, every month it’s the same exercise. The feast of life? You hang up the phone, doubt your friend notices. An investor in precious metals, you call him a little flower of fixed ideas. You roll a cigarette and smoke it, wish it was pot. The oranges in the basket are dry and the smoke slides into your lungs. You watch for birds outside the window, stare at the phone and think of your wife, think, thank God, without her you would perish, simply disappear. You eat an egg, take a shower and brush your teeth, walk through the large rooms of the empty house, a new house with a view of the city. It all feels like a dream. The thing is, you miss the old house, sure, and the yard, the deep narrow lot and trees, the cats that walk the fence, and Oscar’s old doghouse. Oscar, the best of dogs, poor Oscar, you had him put down, his wary eyes staring up at you as the doc worked the needle, the old hound confused by the whole damn thing, the truth of the world all there, in that moment between what is alive and what is not, and the ten thousand choices on the edge of that.
At home, in bed that night, you read William Law. Love is infallible, Law wrote, it has no errors, for all errors are the want of love. It rains the next morning. You are cold, overpowered by a pious need to breathe deeply through the nostrils, ignore your own history, listen to the earth crack and moan. Where your house sits, a hundred years ago was a farm, 16,000 years ago a rising sea.
You’ve learned some things, but don’t claim to know much, are certain about very little, so existential these squeezed nerves and sore shoulders, a sudden flick of memory, the child you watched running naked through the park at dawn, the sun breaking through the trees, the child’s white ass shining like a moon in a river of sky. One thing you’ve learned is to stay away from unhappy couples and small talk. In the summer, you drink two vodkas a day. Some people prefer the radio. There is no redemption in a bourgeois existence, but at least you hesitate, even if lost, even as you lose, day by day. Now you carry a gun in the car, a loaded pistol that you’ve never shot and never will. Everything is made of dust and water. One day it rains, the next the earth is dry.
[Continued in Confrontation 111]