On the Wolverine to Ann Arbor
Saturday night J. came over; the plan was to go to a good Italian restaurant on Taylor Street, but I diverted him to the Christkindlmarket because I wanted to buy something in particular and to see PuppetBike again. After we parked in an alley and as we were walking to the market, I told him what I was going to buy — only to find out that he had bought it for me after I had told him not to. Typical. It’s a metal bowl from Nepal with a carved wooden stick. Running the stick along the smooth top edge of the bowl produces a soothing meditative tone (you can feel the bowl vibrate). The larger the bowl, the deeper the tone. The simplest principles can be the most fascinating.
Leaving J. with his friends, the pewter people, I headed off to see PuppetBike. This night, all the puppets seemed to make an appearance. Until it started raining, it was a pleasant night for watching the performance — the temperature was in the 50s. It also seemed to be a good night for tips, but I found myself too shy to step forward and hand up mine (which I wanted to give up specifically to Lefty the Tiger). After about a half hour of trying to talk myself into it and failing to do so, the music ended, the theatre door closed, and it looked like PuppetBike was about to ride off in the drizzle!
But PuppetBike didn’t move, the theatre door opened, a new dance started, and J. came along shortly after. Seemingly to make up for my earlier shyness, I now handed Lefty and the others a steady stream of one-dollar bills that made my crush on the little tiger obvious. We didn’t drag ourselves away until after 8:30, by which time the wind had picked up and the rain had made itself felt.
On Taylor Street, nothing seemed to stand out. J. wanted to try something new, so we avoided Francesca’s. After a half hour of driving around, we found ourselves at Pompeii, which proved to be a giant version of the fast-food chain. Not at all what poor J. had in mind, but undoubtedly we were both hungry and tired and so we stayed even as he admitted his disappointment.
At my place, I served holiday spice tea as we opened gifts. One of my gifts from him has not arrived yet, but to no one’s surprise he unwrapped a Nepal bowl — from me.
For me, there were a breast cancer pin, a pewter ornament depicting a woman in an office (somehow even in pewter a computer fails to be quaint), a banana-leaf Santa, a very soft bear, writing paper from Ireland, a tin butterfly ornament, and the Nepal bowl. Then I unwrapped a four-gigabyte flash drive. That seemed odd — I don’t have a particular need for a flash drive — certainly not one of that capacity.
It turns out that it was in preparation for the pièce de résistance — an electronic photo frame from Kodak. Before he came over, J. had called to ask me what version of the Apple operating system I use, and I had said, “What are you getting for me that you shouldn’t?” It’s a great idea that makes me almost wish I had children so I could display their photos in it. But then there is always Hodge.
J.’s rewards for the night out and all this Christmas cheer and generosity were two pieces of pumpkin pie and a long, violent outburst of blind emotion and tears such as I have not displayed since I was five years old. We had been discussing something he had given me for my friends that he wanted me to take on my trip, which I didn’t feel was practical. He was being insistent, and I felt a little bullied and distressed by the idea that my practicality and resistance were turning a gesture that gave him pleasure into an ugly argument that was ruining his evening and that I can’t assert myself without becoming fundamentally unpleasant, even despicable.
It hit me all at once — the physical and emotional tension and discomfort of the prolonged PMS, a lifetime of loneliness and alienation, an old and recent history of broken promises and betrayed trust, a renewed sense of the gap that exists between me and my life and normal people and their lives, and a combined belief and disbelief that somehow, at some time, I have thought, willed, or done something to deserve the unhappiness that always finds me. It’s not the hopeless unhappiness of the poor, the war-torn, the ill, or the dying, but the hopeless unhappiness of the misfit piece, torn from the puzzle and tossed aside repeatedly in frustration and contempt.
With little warning, the dam of control that has been leaking slowly here and there gave way violently and completely, all the more be cause of the stresses that control creates and exacerbates. It frightened J., who doesn’t understand its source; it frightens me still, because I know it could happen again and likely will. Apply all the logic that I will, the rational mind is devastated by the destructive power of the emotions. Once again, I will exhaust myself rebuilding, and yet no structure, even a psychological one is without its vulnerabilities. Instead of becoming stronger and stronger, mine grows weaker and weaker.
I may be beyond even Lefty’s comfort.