by Shauna Lee Eddy
Raconteur, he says.
Because I like words, he says raconteur expecting me to know. I don’t, and this amuses him. He laughs as he eats the black beans and rice on his plate. Next to the salad, I like the beans and rice best. The Torch’s Bar-B-Q chicken isn’t all I expected.
Raconteur has become his game of withholding, and he laughs at his own game.
I automatically laugh with him because he has always been funny. But I stop laughing because now I understand. It is funny not because it is a joke; it is funny because it is a game. I wonder if everything I’ve laughed at before has also been a game. Only later do I learn raconteur means storyteller.
I am surprised that he and I have become friends. He brings the stories he writes to my house. I wonder why he tells me these stories. Rather than ask, I silence my curiosity; I enjoy the time and the stories.
His story intrigues and warms me. I ask questions and I listen to the many stories that constitute his story. These stories, they are Cardstonisms—he knows them all and tells me some. For some reason I laugh hardest at “Saaaaaahh.” He and his friends say this when something is silly-too silly to be laughed at, really. I think it is funny. When he is with his friends and I am watching, they tell the same Cardston stories over and over. Laughing deep belly laughs every time.
I say, You should record these stories; you are a great storyteller. We are lounging in my bedroom when I tell him this. We are laying side by side on the bed. Not touching. He says, You know every thing there is to know about me now; you record them.
He turns over on his stomach and continues to tell stories.
This time the stories are about Holland-about the old man he met there. And he tells me the story about his accident there. It was the only time he’s every really been sick.
Another night it is elementary schools. He tells me how much the Black Foot Indian children from the reservation just outside Cardston touch him—how much their situation saddens him. He helps them and he reads to them. Because we saw Dances with Wolves, he tells me these stories as he drives his tan Jimmy 4X4 to my house.
While he tells me the Indian stories, I think I want to tell him my story as he tells me his—meshing and intertwining. I try. He listens and watches, inevitably writing bits and pieces. His voice feels familiar, natural. Does he understand his voice harmonizes with mine? Does he know he writes part of my story? I am nervous. I can’t let him know; if he knows he may take his voice away.
I say to my far-off self, Of course you are nervous—there has never been reason to trust. This is different. I promise.
Why do I always tell myself it will be different? My friends say they do the same thing. I wonder why.
Sunday night in Denny’s. ZZZZZZ: Vulcan mind meld, he says over hash browns and ice-cream. We are talking about Italian cinema. I laugh, taking hope and pleasure in our connection, in our melding. Part of me is really happy. I think it is enough of me.
Soon, I let the warmth of him envelop me.
Another night, I laugh my real laugh—my laugh-from-the gut-laugh—with little hesitation. We are sitting on the couch in my living room watching TV—probably CNN Sports. We always watch that now.
He winks at me from under his red corduroy cap. A hockey cap. I don’t know hockey. I have never even seen part of one game. But that’s okay, he says. He smiles at me from under this same cap. I tell him I like his smile and he smiles more. We run about the living room taking and giving the basketball. In a tumble, I bruise my right knee. I don’t care. He loves basketball.
It is his smile that makes me let go of fear a few weeks later. I think it is time to let go. I give fear to him to keep—to keep from me. I do not give it as I would give a gift. It is not a gift, in the usual gift sense. My trust is the gift, but fear is larger right now. Fear is trust’s packaging. I think he hides fear from me. I hope he puts fear in a safe place I cannot ever find.
But he does not understand what I have done with fear. And I do not tell him. I want him to know. But he does not know how much fear I have entrusted to him. This leaves fear angry and alone. My fear fights back with more power than I knew it had.
Sometimes we drive around in the Jimmy 4×4. One Wednesday night he can tell I am nervous; he doesn’t say anything—but he senses it. It makes him nervous, but out of deference to my feelings he is silent. Now we are both nervous: I am eternally the architect of walls. They are nice, elaborate; sometimes they have graffiti inscribed, sometimes porcelain; sometimes they inscribe me; but always they are thick and cold.
We are watching TV one Friday night in December after eating at Carousel. At first, it is normal. We are watching CNN Sports. Then he turns off the TV set to talk.
This he has never done.
Nothing, not even my own body, seems near me. Fragmenta tion. I can’t touch, see, or hear anything clearly. Fuzz. That’s what I sense. I see, hear, feel, and say fuzz. When I am like this, people think I am talking to them, touching them. But I can’t hear or feel them or me. I am on automatic pilot; I am not really there or anywhere. I am far away.
He speaks of eroticism, of intimacy—its elusivity. He says, Intimacy never makes sense. You can’t determine who you will be intimate with. It just happens or doesn’t happen. I think he is explaining why, though we spend all our time together, we will never really spend all our time together. He thinks I expect some thing more than he expects. In a way, it is true. I don’t expect more. But I want more.
He speaks of loneliness and pain. As if I don’t understand. As if I don’t know them more intimately than he does. As if I didn’t hand them (I can do this because they are parts of me) to him for my safekeeping. Maybe they are new to him and he wants to tell me. But I already know. Maybe in the newness he dropped them and they came back to me for real safekeeping. Or maybe he already knows, too, and is giving them back to me because he already has too much. There are no more hiding places.
He speaks and his words float beyond me. I can’t find them; I don’t hear them. I just see him giving them to me. No. I see him launching them at me. Now he is distant enough to launch words in my direction.
I don’t see some of them, and they sneak up at erratic intervals. I feel them and they hurt. I can’t keep track of them.Too many come at me for me to watch all of them. I think I will cry, but they keep coming.
Crying isn’t enough. Crying isn’t what fear demands. Crying is too easy, says fear. My tears stop trying to come and the pain penetrates fully. Only then do the words stop coming. Because pain has penetrated, the words stop surprising me-they lose their significance.
As his words fade, everything (actually THE big thing that controls all else) comes back, more horrifying because I know I will tell him-because I trust him enough to tell him. I feel I must tell him ifl trust him-if we are going to ever be “we.”
I can see him talking to me, but I don’t know what he is saying.
To console myself amidst his words, I tell myself that I won’t really tell him. I will not tell him of the white-haired man in the dusty blue overalls who first had his way with me. I won’t mention the weight, the smells. I won’t tell him I was nine and that I have been alone ever since. I will not tell him that my nine-year-old self is still there. I will not tell him how blue overalls make her tremble, even though I know differently. Blue overalls can hurt her-they do hurt her. Every night. Nor will I tell him about the greasy black hair and the foreign sounds at sixteen. I won’t tell him that in a Lisbon city park these things also had their way. I will not tell him I am still sixteen-the me who is sixteen is terrified of travel, of change, and of daylight and parks.
I think that telling him even one detail would be too much. I think telling him all would kill him. He is too sensitive for that horror. I will protect him from the harsh reality, but I will let him know reality. I am too sensitive, too. But I am no longer. Only fragments of me exist. Independently-apart from each other, only occasionally bumping into one another. And it is my parts that will protect him.
I will tell him. Not the details. But I will tell him.
Before I tell him, we are opposite each other. He has just turned off the TV.
Because he asks, I try to tell him about what I want to do and what I think I must do. I say, You see, I have to go out there and help them-those who are like me. But I am too afraid. This fear makes me a failure.
He doesn’t respond. He is silent, which makes me more nervous. He is never silent like that. Finally he says, you have an irrational fear. I know you up to that fear, but beyond that I do not know you until you tell me about this fear.
I tell him.
And I think that in his sensitivity he understands. I think I have found someone who understands. I think, This me is no longer alone. I think, I can come back. I think, I can end this schizophrenia, this fragmentation, of I and me and my many parts. Because of this, I relax. I break down—almost in a frenzy—the thick wall I have so carefully crafted. Frantically, I pull and tug at the bricks.
Perhaps in my frenzy I didn’t really see.
You can make a difference here—for those really like you, he says.
Don’t give up hope, he says.
I like hearing this from him. I think he understands me. (But now he looks at me oddly when the topic comes up-and he always brings it up. What can this mean?)
Don’t give up hope, he says again.
But he takes my hope with him. We exchange hope and fear. Does he know this?
And he has lost me. He now talks to and relies on the me who is not me. Does he know this?
Enough, enough, enough. Now I will just listen.
Because telling him has made all the difference, I take refuge in listening, in an outward silence. I pull back from the language that is not me. Inside, I attach myself to music. Not to music generally. There is no swelling symphony of sound. Nothing that dramatic. It is a deceptively simple piece I hear in my gut.
Rachmaninoff wrote this piece that speaks to me as no other music speaks to me. He calls it Vocalise. Though vocalise is not even a word in English, it is powerful; maybe it is even more powerful than fear is. Vocalise in French means voice exercise; however, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise is a voice ascending and descending scales, but the scales are turned upside down, twisted, set aright, changed, undermined, and presented. And it is piano music, notes, intertwining with the voice and its scales.
The beauty of Vocalise begins to encompass me, making me part of its art. I think he is talking to me, but I cannot tell. Maybe I am even talking to him. But I only know Vocalise right now. Vocalise captures my pain and the pain becomes Vocalise. But it does not become an exercise. It runs too deeply for mere exercise. Vocalise becomes notes without words—a voice no one can understand. It becomes notes that penetrate and hurt like his words. I both want to hear and don’t want to hear it more. It is me. Its fragments are my fragments. It is the me that hurts and cries. It is me. I try to take pleasure in knowing me. I hear it again. Over and over. It is inevitable.
I am just listening now. No, I am doing more than just listening. We are braiding—this music and I.
The voice and the notes intertwine, mix, move in and out of each other-almost like a game, but too connected to really be a game. The intertwining, the mixing and moving is smooth. Right now it is languid. Because it has made me part of its art, because it has encompassed me, I complete the braid of voice, notes and me: Vocalisesque. We move in and out, up and down, penetrating and then leaving behind everything but ourselves.
I am sitting on the couch we used to share. He is sitting on the tan chair across from me. The TV is off. We talk. Actually, he talks. He cries and I believe in his soul. Maybe I even believe his soul. I try to listen, I try to pay attention, but Vocalise pounds louder in my mind, forcing everything into the background. The notes use their power and take over. I let them enter. They are familiar. We begin the braid within me now. The languid movement increases in tempo. My fragmented soul weaves its way in and out of the notes and the voice.
He is still talking about intimacy. I wish he were Sixo and would say, “It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.” I wish he would believe that. Though it is true, it will disappear before it reaches his mind. I wish that he would believe these words so that he would say them.
But that is fiction. The world-as-it-should-but-never-will-be.
He says, Everyone needs intimacy, but intimacy isn’t right between everyone. He means, You are not attractive enough for me. Or maybe he even means, You are not attractive at all to me. I wonder if telling him what I have told him makes it this way. But it is definitely an issue of attraction.
I wonder how women might speak of being and failing to be sex objects. I wonder why we haven’t really tried to honestly tell our stories of failure and success. The truth of our stories has never been told-the truth of our stories remains shrouded. We don’t speak of it as women. Women, if they spoke ofit as women, would not allow it, would become indignant. But we don’t speakofitaswomen. We only feel it. I think if we spoke ofit, if we told our stories, we would no longer fail. But we continue to fail-even in our success, we fail. But we fail more in our failures.
Sex objects. Pathetically, wrongly, but undeniably, my life is reduced to objectivity of the sexual sort. I fail, undeniably, inevita bly, here. No success can compensate for failure of objectivity of the sexual sort. The mind merely accessorizes objectivity of the sexual sort. All minds are accessories. Well, all female minds are accesso ries. Male minds are the essence. Sometimes, the female mind is too loud and takes away from this brutal objectivity. Objectivity of the sexual sort, that is.
He is crying.
I don’t want him to hurt, but mostly I don’t want him to take any more of me with him. Ironically, I want fear back. He doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t need to hurt. I can take his hurt and fit it to mine, add it to mine.
I tell myself, He hasn’t hurt me; I have hurt me. I’ve decided I am the only one who can hurt me because I befriended fear. I have no option to believe otherwise. If other people can hurt me, they will. If it is fear, then I am part of it, and people have no control when I am paired with fear.
The weaving of my Vocalisesque braid enters the range between G below middle C and E above middle C. Minor sounds. The voice opens, the notes plummet. My fragments race in and out, up and down.
I let go of imposed order, letting the invaders just speak, let them continue the braid: Who would you pick for me which one should I take out something must be wrong me I can tell she likes me he can tell I like him too I stayed awake all night thinking of sex it’s an obsession my hand still smells like Susan I’m a physical person your hair-it’s nice I like it I like it I like it it’s beautiful you’re cute with your hair like that sometimes you’re really silly-can I say that? (you did) sure, I am silly sometimes can I come over tonight she’s cute maybe my brain as accessory overstepped its bounds I can’t find his words but I feel them they are more familiar than I am they become bitter-sweet
Talking like this-it helps, but it is not enough. It is musical, but it is not enough. Music can only approach-not reach-me now, unless it is Vocalise. It would seem that Rachmaninoff, a man, has taken over. He won’t let anyone else near enough to help. He, too, laughs at his power. A musical game. Everything is a game to laugh at.
But Rachmaninoff doesn’t control-he can’t take over. I have heard Vocalise many times on many instruments. But it is not Rachmaninoff who controls: it is a woman’s voice using his notes and intertwining with me that controls now. The braid equals power and control.
When I go home to Lakewood, the women at church say, I like your hair-it’s cute. Now if you just lost weight, cleared up your face, hid your brain [maybe forever?], acted like a girl, dressed like a girl, and giggled like a girl, your life would be perfect; you would have a man.
Would that make my life perfect?
I am thinking about these women while he cries in his chair across from my couch. I am registering another failure in their goals for me.
I try to remember why he started crying.
The first thing I ever remember him saying to me is, I am deeply affected by your voice.
I am deeply affected that he heard my voice, because I did not think my voice would affect anyone. I think, he must hear the voice of my soul. This I like.
I remember the time he told me he liked my voice. I wanted to show some of my dinner guests my house, but he grabbed my arm and said, You have a nice voice. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. I responded with my eyes, but sometimes my eyes speak a different language and people don’t understand.
I tried to say something, but I didn’t say anything, just, Do you want to see my house? That isn’t really anything. It is not something I would say ifl were going to say something.
From his chair across from me, he says, I like you a lot.
He cries harder. I tremble more.
He says, I don’t want to lose you. I rely on you for so much.
I want to rely on him. I have always thought friendship and reliance are mutual things. I think, since I want to rely on him, I have to rely on him.
And I try to rely on him.
I tell him.
I tell him about the men, I tell him about the pain. Still, I did not give him details. I try to hide that, even from myself. It is after I tell him that he asks me, that he says, What do you think of me? I cannot answer first because I do not know how, and second because I cannot forget the dusty blue overalls and the greasy black hair.
He says, What are you thinking? What do you think of me?
I say, I think you are nice; I think you are wonderful…
No. That is not what I meant. That is not what I meant at all.
(It is, however, what he said. He said, What do you think of me?) I have to remind myself to keep myself.
I meant, What do you think of us?
He makes me make the first move. He forces it, though I don’t think he meant it to be this way. How could he know? And I don’t understand that I was forced until later. I can’t answer because I am too afraid. No one has ever bothered to ask me before. I can’t answer: I don’t know how to talk-I forget all syllables, letters, and sounds. Something hidden deep answers. Something over which I have no control, but that takes over for me when I forget where I am. I am too busy trembling. I want to say, “Do you dare to eat a peach?” I am momentarily and slightly amused at my own allusion.
I begin the trembling, and this time I can’t stop. I curl my legs up and try to wrap my arms around me. They don’t go all the way around. In the stories he writes, he would probably explain my inability to hug myself with Physics. Physics is a subject very important to him, I think. Despite the laws of Physics, I need my arms to go all the way around. I hear Vocalise pounding stronger penetrating deeper. The braiding stops, and I unite with the voice.
I need someone to hold me, even if it is me. I am the only one who will. Am I the only one who can? But I can’t. I try as hard as I can, but I can’t.
I suddenly feel more alone than I have ever felt outside of the night terrors-the night terrors of blue overalls and greasy hair. It is the same distance and muted sounds that surround, invade, and haunt, but this time they are stronger, distancing me even more. Fragmenting me even more. This loneliness lingers, echoing; it blends with the voice and notes of Vocalise. The more intricate braiding begins, accumulating more power in its intricacy.
I believe his tears. I really believe his tears.
But then he says, Thanks for an enlightening evening. What can he mean? Doesn’t he know how I felt all along? What has been revealed? What have I revealed? I cannot distinguish the revelations I have obviously made.
The me who is not me says, No, thank you.
For what? Why did I say that? Why did I thank him? Why did I say everything is okay when nothing is okay?
After the heart-to-heart in front of the silent TV, I tell my friends I still believe in him-I tell myself and I tell him. He cares. I know that he cares. But he cares his way. I do not know and I do not understand his way. I want to ask, but I am too afraid. He does not explain. Maybe he does not explain because he does not see the need to explain.
Because he tells me he doesn’t want to hurt me, I tell him he can’t hurt me because he doesn’t want to. It is the last words we really say to each other. Everything else that comes later will be periph eral-a game we both engage in. I am good at this game. I know it well. All too well.
The next day, I think, Of course, I should be healed. I should encourage him in his womanizing fantasies; they are to be expected, they are normal and a friend would. I find this reasoning powerful.
Powerful enough that I try.
He drives my roommate to the airport. On the way, he tells her we are better friends after our heart-to-heart. Was his heart there? Ifl believe his tears, it was there. But then, ifl believe his tears, my heart was there, too. My heart was there at first. But later, my heart was trembling, far from his.
Do I still believe his tears? Do his tears acknowledge my heart or his heart? I don’t think it can be both. But I think I still believe his tears, though I don’t know what they mean. I do not even know how or why I still believe. Do I believe because I think I am supposed to?
Two days later, he comes over to tell me about who he wants to seduce. I should be numb to his biting humor about sex, though he knows I don’t understand—though he now knows why I don’t understand. He even knows why it not only confuses me, but also why it scares me and makes my nights worse. Though we continue our conversation, knowing silences him for a time. I have never seen him silent like that. I think it is because it hurts him that I am afraid. Is this why intimacy won’t work?
Despite myself, despite my nights, I should play along. It is always expected by those who don’t know. Sometimes it is expected more by those who do know. They think, Telling me should dismiss the pain, should dismiss fear; telling me, especially me, should be enough. Everything should be okay now. The fragments should be permanently in place now. They think, Even the cracks between the fragments should be healed-invisible.
Do they really believe this?
I should play along. I tell myself over and over: I should play along.
The dreams, the night terrors, come back. They are more powerful. Because I told him? No. Inevitably it all becomes one again. I can never displace or decenter it because it is everything. I am alone, and I crouch.
Sometimes loneliness can’t be explained. You can’t say, I feel alone; I feel lonely. That is not what deep loneliness is. Deep loneliness comes when people are around you, even talking to you, but you can’t be there-you are far away and can barely hear yourself. You definitely can’t hear others. Just yourself. Barely.
The night terrors bring this loneliness: their loneliness that wanders around me, finding me at every turn. A loneliness that mutes the sounds I must hear to be with people, to be part of people, for people to be part of me. A loneliness that pushes everyone and everything away from me-so that they cannot hear this loneliness roaming and wandering inside of me.
My repetition of loneliness begins weaving through the Vocalise braid, making it even more intricate and powerful. I want someone else to join this braid-to hear and feel its beauty-but they must know of the braid. And it is too hard for others to hear the footsteps I can barely hear.
At The Torch, we talk about loneliness. I think he understands, and this makes me sad.
It is a deadly serious game we laugh at. It is a deadly serious game he has created. But I think it is only deadly for me. Despite the intricate braid I have weaved, it is deadly for me-maybe because he is part of the braid. For him, it is just a game to make you laugh nothing more and nothing less.
Raconteur. Yes, he may be a raconteur, but he doesn’t know this story, can’t tell this story.