Anticipation is the drug the Internet traffics, especially online shopping, the elixir of an imagined future, more perfect, more serene, pain free. I wanted that this morning with a clawing hunger, desperate, grubbing. What did I want, exactly? I wanted to go on the website for Savvy Rest, and find out if the layers of latex were three inch Dunlop or two inch Talalay. This could change everything. I wanted to read reviews of latex beds, to find out if latex does work better for sleep, if there is fire retardant in the box springs. I wanted to plan a vacation in Barcelona, find book reviews of Natalie Ginsberg, and something I couldn’t quite place– maybe yoga pants, maybe fruit fly traps, maybe sheets. I woke up in full flight, running from something, hungry for escape. Not just a little hungry. Flat out. Ravenous.
Kate said that I waste time with BOTH voices. The one that says “you are a shitty failed excuse for a writer, and don’t think you’re going to get anywhere because you won’t.” And the one that says, “please stop bothering me, I’m just trying to write, how can I ever write when you are being so mean?” She said, I wish you could just sneak away and let them fight with each other and do some writing.
Sara doesn’t like to think of herself as a ghoulish person, a person who reads obituaries, although she does, every morning at breakfast, the way some people read sports. She is less interested in the stories about the famous people who die, the people who rate two columns, with photos, their small contributions polished to shiny significance, certainly greater than anything she could do herself– the woman who walked across the United States to raise money for Leukemia after her son died of Leukemia, the first such gesture (according to the obituary) of its kind in the country, or the man who patented Velcro. She finds photographs of young people, and then scans the paragraphs looking for clues—cancer? suicide? Did they leave anybody (wife? husband? children?) behind? If the writing is vague—died at home, or just “on Saturday morning”—she imagines, frustrated by lack of confirm-able details, a bottle of pills, a car skidding off the road, co2 poisoning.
“Why do you do that?” Teddy says, coming into the kitchen from the hall outside the apartment, sweaty from running, wiping his armpits with his terrycloth headband. Same headband, not washed, not even rinsed, left hanging to dry on a hook by the door, and pulled over his curly blonde hair tomorrow morning, as yesterday, and the day before.
She says it’s interesting, like walking through graveyards, studying headstones, trying to get a sense of the lives that have come before her, other peoples’ struggles, it makes her own life seem less baffling and punishing. If Edna St. Claire had a daughter who died at two, and she died three years later at 34, how can she, Sara, complain about the fact that she works at a coffee shop, steals tips from the cup to pay for parking, because she hasn’t had a raise in the two years she worked there? If Vince Marlowe got cancer at 19, after being accepted at Harvard, and didn’t even get to go to his first year, leaving behind a loving mother and father (still married) three sisters and five nieces and nephews, how can she mind the fact that she flunked the take home English exam from the shitty community college she goes to, even though the correct answers were written on the study packet, which she was allowed to refer to, if she needed to jog her memory?
Teddy says there must be a better way to make your life feel meaningful, like volunteering in a homeless shelter, or learning how to Salsa. He’s standing at the refrigerator now, drinking pomegranate juice from the bottle, which should be fine, since she never drinks it, but drives her crazy, because what if she did? What makes him so entitled that he doesn’t even worry about whether or not she would?
Teddy is her brother, and they live together, with his sometimes boyfriend Leo, the first of Teddy’s boyfriends she has ever wanted for herself, he’s that hot. Not smart, but as long as you don’t talk to him much, you can imagine anything.
She reads the obituaries because you never know what you’ll find there. In New York City, obituaries are a perfectly acceptable way to find rent controlled apartments, and how else are people who work in coffee shops, with no raises, and no tips, supposed to pay the rent? She wonders if she might shock herself awake one day, seeing the death of her second grade best friend, or the high school English teacher who used to tell her that he wanted to be acknowledged when she won the Pulitzer prize. And then, when the news hits her, like a good slap brings a panicking person back to her senses, she will wake up from this stupor of indifference that has held her for the past year, since Panil disappeared.
That would be the thin line that divides her life, before and after, before, when she was purposeful, and focused, some might have said driven, and now, when rinsing a dirty cup in the sink so she can microwave some of yesterday’s coffee for breakfast seems like a PhD defense.
Who, you want to know, was Panil. Was he the love of her life, met at the baggage claim belt the way her best friend met her South Asian husband? Was he her mentor, the professor who read her short stories with such ruthless scrutiny? You might, given his impact on the shape of her life, assume that he was impactful all along. When in fact, he was almost nothing, the son of the woman who cleaned her building, lived in its basement, whose husband was the super, a boy she had known for only two years, from the time she arrived, when he was three, until this past November, when his mother woke the whole building with her screaming, screaming that he was missing from his bed.