Parties

It used to be that you would go to a party and then go home with someone and if he reached for a beer in the morning or otherwise became tarnished in your mind, or if he got up early and left a note for you to lock the back door, and then he never called, you would know that it had been a one-night stand. If, on the other hand, you both got up and out at the same time and went for brunch, then you had a Relationship. And the Relationship would chug along for months, which was a long time then, but it was a fragile thing, though it could be intense and you would spin a life together in the future, in your head, and then the Relationship would fray and fray and then break.

This is why you never got so good at arguing, at talking things out, because when things got tough, one or both people would bow out. It would be painful, and memorable--both the breakup and thinking about the breakup and the Relationship itself, and sometimes you would be teary and resentful for months longer than the Relationship had lasted. And then you would go to another party.

This was in the late 70's and 80's, before AIDS was a widespread threat. This was back when you had to choose which Halloween party to go to because you'd received three (paper) invitations, and there were always costume parties where people would dress up as A Shadow of My Former Self or Free-Floating Anxiety or John the Baptist with a collar around his head that was supposed to be a plate. When you could have a birthday party and ask everyone to dress up like a lizard and they would. When it was easy to make friends, because everyone was untethered, and moving, moving, into an apartment and making curtains for it, or into a new job that was absolutely perfect or a stepping-stone to one that was, and everyone had open calendars, and there was room to meet for lunch or dinner or even breakfast at Ann Sather's on a weekday at 7:30 am. The L was faster then, with its A and B and AB stops, and you could jump on at Belmont at 8:30 and be downtown easily in 15 or 20 minutes, like the CTA signs used to advertise.

This was also a time BP, Before Prozac, a time of anxiety so heavy it didn't float, it dogged you and settled around your throat--and your not sleeping enough made daily life even more difficult and brittle. But also more energetic and bright--you would leap and jump and run on the sidewalks on the way to your destination, day or night.

And then came Prozac and half a year later, L (the person, not the train), whom you met on a bright late spring morning, not at midnight at a party of a friend of a friend's, and he and you begat the longest Relationship you'd ever had, and then a mere nine years later, marriage, and one thing led to another and now there is the House. And the Rage. And you must talk about the Rage because this is a Marriage, it is supposed to be permanent, though of course you know the statistics, and a friend tells you that marriages often break apart after the buying of a home. L calls you passive aggressive and says in the past few weeks he's seen for the first time why -- and -- said you were mean, he'd never seen it before, and you feel like a failure as a person. And you say what should we do, and he says, get through it, and then you go on a long walk with J and V, you talking to J, and L talking to V, and J says marriage counseling works for some, and you think about it, and after the walk it's like it was before, BH, before the house, and the rest of the day, too, and the next. Though L still gets frustrated with you because he says you don't help him get his house ready for sale, which is partly true, at least, but you ask his advice on buying flowers to plant--one problem had been that he'd been so parental and all-knowing and bossy when he talked about not planting yet, like he was the expert, which of course he was, having tended his garden and yard for 30 years but still, you wanted to put echinacea and cosmos there in the corner to replace the dead bushes, and more geraniums in pots on the front porch steps to show possession. To prove to yourself that This is Mine. And His. To show the neighbors that you had arrived and cared about flowers. Which also means caring about the neighborhood, because your yard is public.

And you ride bikes to a party, a 50th birthday party, where everyone is supposed to dress up like the '60s, and you both are wearing your share of denim and old buttons: Labor for Hatcher, Pigasus for President '68, Question Authority, No Nukes--some from the 70s, most from L's past. The Pigasus button you just made yourself, to refer to the pig that the Yippies nominated as an alternative to Humphrey, when they gathered in the park during the the Democratic National Convention. You put on eyeliner, top and bottom, and put foundation on your lips so they hint at the chalk-white lipstick that was so popular back then. At the party you and L are the most decorated, everyone else is wearing party clothes, with a few love beads here and there. You dance to Cream and other '60s and '70s and '80s music, and there's a DJ and a disco ball and a light that casts bright green squiggles on the wall, and there's a birthday cake and cupcakes and fondue because it's retro and delicious, and there's someone who's had a 70th birthday party (which you weren't invited to) and your friend from Boston who helped shave your head and there's someone dancing around vibrant with a sleeveless top that fits closely around her real breast and the post-mastectomy one (she had silicone implants) and it looks 100 percent natural. You'd met the guest of honor years ago at another party, about 3am, at one of N's series of 39th birthday parties. Or was it 29th? In the summer of 1968 you had no notion of Pigasus, you were at summer camp, applying your eyeliner and mascara every morning, wheezing mightily, suffering from your asthma, and finally taking steroids for it, which gave you two periods in four weeks and you didn't wear tampons then. You remember your counselor telling you that Bobby Kennedy had died. A girl died at camp that year (or the next? your photo albums from camp are in boxes already), in a car accident on her way to or from a dental appointment in the nearby Ozark town, and when the summer was over the camp closed down and was sold and renamed. In early November Nixon won and a few weeks later you had your bat mitzvah, wearing velvet and taffeta inspired by the Franco Zeffirelli film Romeo and Juliet. And you wondered what your life was going to be like, if you would always be the tall one, and if boys would ever like you, and your father would tell you and your sister that when each was 35 he would buy you a Cadillac if your husband hadn't, (though no one in your family, including yourself, ever wanted a Cadillac), and you knew that at at 35 you would be so old you'd be impossibly frumpy, though your mother was 41 and elegant, and you planned after high school to go to Paris and the Pratt Insititute in New York and be an artist, or a writer, and you'd be famous, as famous as Louisa May Alcott, as you used to say to yourself, as you consoled your wheezy, asthmatic self to sleep the first time at summer camp, your head propped up on a mass of pillows the counselor had put there to help you breathe.

1 comment:

Susan M said...

Wow, Sandi. Even if you don't exactly know how to get through all the hard parts of life (and who does?), you sure do know how to write them.