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  • Writer's pictureren-lay


I had good intentions over the Christmas holidays. Emma brought down boxes of artifacts for me to sort and I envisioned going through them to further the pressing job of dealing with saved stuff of this life while I still can. Before a coughing virus took hold, I found some writings that I thought were worth the read, but then spent nearly 8 weeks debilitated by that cough. It simply refused to be quieted. All I could do was to tend to it with various therapies and try to sleep it away.  


So I arrive at March with less coughing after many weeks of inactivity, but no solution to the constant pain in my left shoulder from arthritis, and an increased inability to walk easily since my left ankle was never properly repaired after being shattered by that speeding cab in 2011. I write this not because I don't recognize we all have challenges, but to give voice to those who hide their infirmities when the world needs to know where help is needed.


My daily reality has deteriorated into what I would call subsistence. I now rely on help to shop, prepare food and do the many other tasks I once prided myself in doing for myself.  Friends and angels fly to my rescue when benefits are threatened and I remain amazed there are so many who want to help, but the fact is I'm 81 with many chronic health concerns. Everything has dramatically slowed down. Showing up is no longer an option as I struggle to age in place in my customized survival unit of nearly 50 years, way too full of useful, meaningful and beautiful things.  


My offering to you this time is a short story, really an expanded memory I found hand-written in those boxes, circa 1978.  Names have been changed, but it happened.


Crocodile Sunset

We met smoking hash to a spectacular summer sunset on the Hudson River. His brother, a former lover and friend of mine was doing a show way up in the Bonx and the troupe all rode back to the city together in a big truck loaded with scenery and costumes. I knew immediately. Those sensations one feels when something is about to happen, those familiar, comfortable urges that draw two people together as if they were each someone they had known before. He had just arrived that morning from San Francisco and the western space revealed itself in his manner. He was on top of New York City in that way one can be when they have just come from somewhere else and are still protected by their own defenselessness. But such vulnerability never lasts long. The city quickly digs in underneath foreign innocence and in a few days the nerves begin to fray and you’re jumping at sirens and yelling at subway trains like a native New Yorker. Matthew was no exception.


 He later told me his brother had encouraged him to walk me home when they dropped me off, after a wild evening of truck riding and partying with the gang. Matthew had said, “I don’t want to get into that shit, man” and his brother responded with, “Jessica is not shit.”A week later Matthew called me. “What took you so long,” says I with my easy early-into-an-affair flip tongue. “Getting oriented to New York,” says he.


 That first night we talked for twelve hours and he went home.  I remember his parting words at the door were - “you take so much responsibility for yourself and you’ve never been in therapy!” It usually works that way with me. My initial contact with young men awes them. They are amazed at my age, the facts of my life and the strength of my choices. They are also a little more than usually afraid of my sexual energy - so Matthew went home. It was kind of nice, actually, parting that way, feeling our bodies touch but not give in - a kind of discipline which lent dignity to the impending affair.


 Two days later we went to Jones Beach. He told me the day before had been filled with dreams of me, feeling me beside him, waking to find me gone. He had slept all day. Well, Matthew’s Welsh blood gave him that blonde-haired blue-eyed look the sun envies so he got burned. I nursed him with Vitamin E and cold compresses and everything else I could think of, but he didn’t sleep too well that night, and it wasn’t until morning that we finally made love. He was scared, but I coaxed him and it was nice and free and we felt very close.

 The next day he was off to “experience” the sleeze scene on 42nd Street and when we met later that night for a movie we were strangers again. Funny how that works. Disbelieving such quick closeness, the first separation is often a time to confirm doubts, so when you see each other again the defenses are up. But we worked through it by talking all night again and made love in the morning. By this time we were both a bit blown away. I mean we were so close on so many levels that it was amazing and we could both feel it, and we even said so, and it was as real as anything ever is.


 That night I had work to do. I was writing reviews at the time and we spent a separate evening without even needing to talk but feeling the contact. I worked all the next day writing and Matthew came over in the evening. He edited my work, enjoying having something constructive to do, but it was clear New York was beginning to fray his edges. He complained a lot about the heat, the noise, the state of his life. He was restless and nervous and had been getting headaches. That day he moved from the place he was staying to another and his rootlessness and awareness that he was merely a visitor in this disturbing city certainly showed. I asked him to stay with me, but he said, “you don’t know me too well, you might get bored.” I reminded him that was my problem and what he was really saying was that he didn’t know me too well and was afraid he might get bored. This blew his attempt at tact. It was obvious he had begun protecting himself and wasn’t allowing the waves to wash over him for fear of the undertow, but he owned up to the resistance saying, “I don’t want to go home and think about you for eight months.”


 It was the next morning we broke the mirror. We were wrestling in my little studio/living room and he threw me and I rolled as my feet struck the full length mirror leaning up against the wall, smashing it. He thought I’d cut myself badly and was scared, projecting this might ruin his good time in New York. But luckily I wasn’t hurt. I just lay there, naked, covered all over with tiny splinters of glass, knowing that to move was the last thing I should try, and feeling helpless and dependent and incredulous this could have happened. The scene was a mess. Glass everywhere. Matthew running around feeling responsible, but hardly calm as he carefully removed every tiny sliver of glass from my sweaty body. I’m lying there wondering how I ever got myself into this state and doubting my whole approach toward life which was responsible for leading me to this pass. In an immediate attempt to deflect the reaction, our senses of humor decided to share the seven years bad luck by splitting it, so we each got by with only three and a half years to pay.


 When we finally got the glass and me cleaned up, I cried a bit and then dropped into a mood of fear and vulnerability. He was good with me. Took me out to dinner that night and wanted to spend time with me. We seemed close again and he encouraged me to talk about my sexual fantasies. That was when I made a crucial mistake. On reflection I was probably still in shock about the mirror and unconsciously wanting to push him away, but I found a doozy! I told him I had a fantasy of wanting to sleep with both him and his brother. He laughed and seemed to take it well, but things were never really close after that. People often can’t handle fantasy truths. It blows their trust in you. They lose a certain confidence that you will protect them from the possibility of that hurtful truth ever becoming real. So I had wounded him and from then on he was fighting our relationship with anger and fear. That night we slept together but didn’t fuck and he was up and out of there the next morning with some line like, “I’ve got to spend some time with my brother, see some other friends, do what I came to New York for.” So I retorted in my best whore-with-the-heart-of-gold bedside manner, “If I never see you again it will all have been worth it.” 


 I almost didn’t see him again. He didn’t call the next day so I called him, “have you deserted me already,” says I. He was still asleep at noon and half-heartedly invited me to the theater that night. After the show we had a wild fucking time and he practically raped me, but I was willing. Something still restless in me from the mirror incident roiled up, though, and I lay awake crying. That was the last straw. He couldn’t handle it, tried to talk to me, was kind and open, but at the same time he was closing off because he felt to blame and couldn’t really handle the intensity of my feelings.


 The next morning I felt better, and gave him a massage and we fucked something beautiful. Then I fixed breakfast, talked some about the origins of my tears the night before and felt we’d cleared the air. But obviously not.


 When I called that night, he said he’d thought all day about that crying in the middle of the night, and that he had had fun with me and didn’t want it to become heavy. He wanted his last two days in New York to himself to spend time with his brother and get ready to return to the coast with a clear head. Return, as he had told me, to a six month old relationship. He said something about not wanting to go right from one woman’s arms into another’s. I said I understood completely, asked for his address and told him to take care of himself. No more. What else can you say?


 But these pains are worth it - or so I keep telling myself, until something once more lasts long enough to endure the work involved.


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