Wednesday, March 09, 2011

San Francisco tomorrow for grad school interview. Bought a dress to wear. Gray silk, very pretty. Was supposed to have lunch with the engineer today but he bailed on me by text right before. I was at work, giving the sink a final wipe-down with dilute bleach, last thing I do before I go home for the day, when my phone buzzed in my pocket.

Working. Can't do lunch. Can leave early and meet your somewhere though.

He wants to give me money. He brought it up when I told him last week I was going. For traveling he said. Spending money.

I pretend I don't know this. Pretty busy this afternoon. See you when I get back, OK?

Want to give you some cash.

That's so sweet. I don't need a thing, tho. See you when I get back?

My next text back to him is going to say, I'm not your fucking daughter. I don't know why this money thing is so loaded for me, if it's just compulsive self-sufficiency or what. I wish we could just hang out.

Last time we had lunch he felt me up over coffee, grabbed my knees and spun me to face him across the corner of the table. He said, "You don't wear a skirt for me for a year and now you have to go and ruin it with tights? That depresses me." His thumbnail found a rib in my tights and traced it up the inside of my thigh.

"How's Beth?"

Beth is his new girlfriend. The three of volunteered at a shelter for stay dogs over Christmas. She seems nice.

He straightened slightly, kept hold of my legs. "She's fine. We're not seeing much of each other, actually."

"Really? Why?"

He shrugs. "I don't know. She wants to - whatever you say. Take it to the next phase. I try to tell her I'm too messed up to be in a serious relationship. I can't make anybody else happy if I don't know how to be happy myself, right?"

I nod, because this sounds like a sensible thing to say, but I've heard from him it a million times now and I don't nod as much as I used to. This is a re-occurring theme of his, this not being happy, not knowing how. It comes up at every turn, like his bitterness against his mother, like his chronic pain and the shifting roster of pharmaceuticals with which he attempts to manage it.

"You don't feel happy when the two of you hang out?"

"No. I mean, I like her. But I don't feel anything lately, about anything. I don't even care about sex anymore. It's like I'm watching myself all the time."

"Huh. Well. She really seems to like you."

After I say this I wonder if I mean it or if I just think it's a nice thing to say. He is not an easy man to like -- exacting, tactless, with a spiteful sense of humor and a childish pleasure in being difficult. He is also, in the long-run, a very good and loyal friend but to notice this you have to watch the things he does and ignore the things he says, and this can be trying.

We went to dinner after we left the shelter, he and Beth and I. I watched him pick her apart until she finally slumped forward over the table, burying her face in her hands while I compulsively read the menu over and over and over like I was ten years old having dinner with my parents. When I couldn't stand it anymore I got up and went to the bathroom. Beth came in while I was washing my hands and something about the way her eyes met mine in the mirror made me say, "You know, Maurie's bite is really a lot worse than his bark."

"I know." She tossed her head, leaned forward toward the mirror and seemed to be examining her nose. "How long have you two known each other, anyway?"

"Gosh. Uh. A few years, I guess. It doesn't seem that long, but it is."

"Uh huh. So how did you meet?"

"In a yoga class." As far as I know, this is still the cover story.

"Oh, right. He told me that."

Good. Great. "Yeah, we just kind of hit it off."

Her eyes meet mine in the mirror again. I think I see a tinge of disbelief. "You guys seem close."

"Yeah, well. He's a great guy. A good friend. We have a lot in common, I guess."

"Really." I think she wants to ask me, like what? But I dry my hands off and pick my purse up off the counter.

"See you."

"See you."

She has a right to her suspicions. In truth, it is actually all far more sordid than she probably imagines. Her boyfriend met me like most men meet me, by paying me to take my clothes off. The road from there to here was long and winding, checkered with permutations of loneliness and companionship and affection and hostility, the undue influences of money and sex, the fear of death, and the milk of human kindness. And now we are friends. What the things are exactly that we have in common I couldn't tell you, but we are mutually concerned with one another's well-being, and if there's more to being someone's friend please tell me what it is.

So she is right to think it's fishy but at the same time if there's anyone whose legs her boyfriend could be groping under a table over lunch she'd might well want it to be me because the reason he likes me is that he can't make me cry and the reason he can't make me cry is because we are not and have not been and will not ever be in love.

I wish he'd let the money thing go, though. My phone buzzes in my pocket again and I don't look at it because I don't want to know what it says. I finish wiping out the sink and throw the dishcloth in the hamper. My coat is by the door. San Francisco in the morning and a gray dress to wear.