“You look like you’ve lost weight.”
She eyes me up and down, like always, this Eastern European wonder that I am to her. The upright breasts, the tiny dancer’s waist hiding abs underneath the cozy fat of summer break from practice, the tanned arms resting on casually sweatpanted hips. She doesn’t know what to do with me. In body, mind, and presence, I should be less of an offense to her sensibilities, yet I am not.
“Nah, I’m the same,” I say.
I do what is asked of me. It is a request which I am left to divine for myself, without a “please” or “thank you,” more like an assumption that needs to convince itself more than anyone else. I understand. I understand that “please, can you help me” would have been weakness in the face of my foreign quasi-youth. I understand that it is an ever-so-slight groveling for control. Asking means that one can be denied. In a gesture of magical thinking and displacement of responsibility, an order renders a denial disobedient.
I make no excuses for why I was in bed at noon. I ask courteous questions from behind a vague smile that could mean a million different things. Her new place is nice and private and quiet, and she has not yet cleaned up her old place for the contractors. It’s been three years now of "trying to get things done." She tries to bond by comparing my writing to her gardening. She asks about my family, my work, my flight, my trip to Pennsylvania. She doesn’t mention the one thing that would humiliate her if she asked: how long are you staying?
“She is terrified. No one should feel this way.”
Yes, she is. And no one should.
Somehow, somewhere, something happened. Something broke, irreversibly. Her pride and vanity are now dependent on others to get things done. She has big plans that are pure escapism, a dream of moving from one hoarder’s den into another. She can’t stand the sight of her thinning hair and the fact that she has to apply tons of make-up to hide whatever she only sees and no one else cares about. The age and wisdom that would have gotten her compassion and love from those surrounding her if she had only been kind, she has turned into toxicity. Others’ happiness mortifies her. She wants to be invited in, but she eggs your house instead. The howling emptiness of her hyper-filled home makes her lash out at beauty and love. Whoever wanted to help was alienated.
It is a desperation of the saddest magnitude. I should not be a threat, yet I am. I never asked for this kind of power, yet she threw it right in my lap. I could crush her with one word, one Macbeth look, or with silence, and I would feel filthy. It is a dialogue, a relation, a puzzle that my open heart never would have expected, or accepted.
She is looking for a different kind of water to live on, hoping it will save her, hoping she can save herself.
“Good luck with everything,” I say.