THE THINGS PEOPLE SAID WERE ALWAYS ABOUT THEMSELVES
By Jamey Johnson Genna
A poet picked her up at a reading. She was new to this–married twice and most of her adult life, freshly divorced. Well, not so fresh–almost two years. She was surprised every step of the way. Mainly because he was younger than she was and she had never been “picked up,” although her last boyfriend had literally picked her up on their first date and hugged her so hard and swiftly that he had cracked her left rib. The one underneath her heart.
The poet gave her his book because she didn’t have any cash. She was rushing to get to the reading on time. She didn’t have her glasses either, so she couldn’t read what he signed. He talked to other women, so she thought his interest in her was a misread on her part. Then he sat on the yoga mat behind her. They were both eating the cheese and crackers after the reading, and he walked out with her, asked her if she wanted to get a bite to eat. At the wine bar where all they had were olives and apple crisp, she hadn’t eaten since two, he asked how old she was. So the line could be drawn, she guessed. How high was he willing to go? she wondered.
“It’s okay,” he said, “you can tell me.” Then he needed a ride home. He asked her to come in, so she did, and it was at this point that she figured out what was going on. Really–not until then.
It was really about the guy’s apartment. As they were driving there, he said, “I live in the Sunset District, do you know it?” She said, “Oh, I’m familiar with the Sunset District,” and as they got closer and closer, he asked, “Do you like your Prius?” She explained that this was the first time she had actually loved a car. This was when she began to realize they were even driving on the same street she used to take–the one with the divider where the road split into two lanes, and then the older expensive homes, and then the street that moved downward toward Ocean Beach. Cosmic crap.
The man who used to live on that street said:
“I’ll never eat at your dining room table with you and your kids.”
“That’s good,” she said, “because we don’t eat in the dining room. We eat in the living room in front of the TV.”
“Your older daughter will never forgive you. The younger one won’t know what to forgive.”
This poet’s apartment looked almost the same–different set-up of chairs and bed, different apartment structure and spacing, no orange vinyl chair, but same long row of bookcases filled with books in the garage hallway leading to the apartment door.
Same neighborhood, same street. Same crappy shower. The other man’s apartment had been three doors down. He didn’t live there anymore, though. Still, the universe was trying to tell her something–god, she hated synchronicity.
She and the other man used to smoke together afterward on the corner.
The one time, he reached into her blue linen blouse and cupped her breast. He was happy because he was going to go eat a burrito, but she was not happy. She was driving home to her husband and two kids.
Walking over to the convenience store for cigarettes–that’s about as public as they got. Except for the night they did go together to get something to eat in the Mission. Nothing was open or else everything was closing. They stopped to eat Miso soup at the Gratitude Cafe. Seemed like a contrived name, but she was so happy to hold hands on the street. She was ready to hold their hands up to the sky like champions, have him hug her openly in front of all his friends. The Miso soup was thin and lukewarm, with soggy gray mushrooms floating in the bowl.
He said: “I knew a woman once who got pregnant on purpose to hold onto her boyfriend.”
She thought about that one for a long time. How she had fantasized about having his baby, and now in the present, lying with this other poet, she could no longer have babies.
She could’ve had one more child a long time ago. He had said he wanted a child.
He also said random things: “My friend used to be addicted to heroin. Both he and his wife.”
She had a friend with a wife that had both been addicted to heroin.
He said: “Is your friend Mario going to pick up the pieces after this is over?”
Mario didn’t understand what being a writer was. Mario didn’t understand much, and that was too bad because Mario was sweet and Mario was handsome and Mario was charming. Mario encouraged her to sing on the bus taking them back to Bart after the Bay to Breakers. Mario was silly and happy, but she knew he wasn’t really all that happy, or at least not completely, or else why had he been so willing to hang out with a married woman all the time?
In this other poet’s apartment, she remembered everything: everything in pieces, everything at once, everything in hypertime, which was both superfast and superslow.
The first man read his journal to her, naked. She was shivering, cold with no clothes on. The blanket was packed for him to move in with the heroin couple. Where would she and he go now? He said he hated living in that apartment. He’d survived a terrible breakup, even had a relationship guru who told him to wear white robes and meditate. One night he had looked up from his meditation and the backyard/field outside was filled with stray cats.
She looked out the new poet’s kitchen window in the morning, but the backyard was empty–a plastic chair, a broken birdbath, scraggly weeds.
He had said: “How can we have a relationship? We haven’t even spent a weekend together. We don’t even know if we’re compatible.” Is that what he said? Did he really say those words? Or was it, “We don’t even know if we could be in a car together for three days.” She had imagined driving up to Mendocino…going through the town where The Birds was filmed. Stopping to see the schoolhouse. She wondered what possible argument could break out between them there in the school yard.
He kept asking her how she was going to feel after it was all over. He never said how he was going to feel. But whenever she started crying, he said, “That bad, huh.”
She hated that he kept referring to the when-it’s-over phase like it was a done deal…as if it would only hurt her, not him. Maybe she misread that. Because later after it really was all over, he sent her a long email saying how unfair it was that he never seemed to get what he wanted…that things never worked out for him.
Now, he was married, happy, to the fabulous whatever-her-name was, as he described her on Facebook.
Back then, she didn’t think about how hard it was for him, only herself.
He said that he felt manipulated when she told her husband. It was her therapist’s idea. She had gotten tired of losing weight.
Then he seemed nervous beyond belief when she told him she had decided to be with him, not her husband. He pulled her across the seat next to him in his car while he was giving her a ride to her car, but she felt his hands shaking. He even bit his nail.
And when she went back to tell him she had changed her mind again and decided to stay with her husband, her family, he took her to the ocean and they listened to music. He had the saddest version of the song, “Amazing Grace” by this blues player; she hadn’t been able to track down the version. Maybe that was for the best. She didn’t want a song hanging around that felt like she had sinned and he hadn’t.
And later, when she went to make some copies of a story at the university, he came around the corner and said, “Oh you’re here.” And he walked her outside and he said, “I just want to make love to you.” It was funny to hear someone say make love.
Things didn’t work out with her husband after all.
And here she was, in this apartment. This facsimile of what had happened years before, and this one was asking her if she was always with younger men.
“Younger than you,” she said. Might as well throw cold water on that topic right away.
“You’re not that young,” she said. “And you’re not that old.”
He asked her if she liked being divorced. Twice. As if he didn’t believe her when she said yes. Or maybe he just wasn’t listening. Or maybe it wasn’t about her anyway. Really, the things people said were always about themselves.
She didn’t suppose the other man had loved her. Maybe he had, because much later in the forbidden contact email, he said, “I was a little bit in love with you, too.”
About the Author:
Jamey Genna teaches writing classes in the East Bay area of San Francisco and received her Masters in Writing from the University of San Francisco. Her short fiction has been published in many fine literary magazines such as Crab Orchard Review, Eleven Eleven, The Iowa Review, Georgetown Review, and 580 Split, among others. Along with reading for many Bay area venues, she also hosts a seasonal reading series at the Bazaar Cafe in San Francisco called Summer Sparks: an eclectic mix of flash prose and poetry.