Thank you, Susan Choi

Written By: sherridaley - • •

 

Thank you, Susan Choi, for writing about every single kind of love there is, short of interspecies couplings.

This is the story of  Regina Gottlieb as she powers through college and the years thereafter, racking up a list of relationships that would make my mother faint dead away, as if she didn’t have a hard enough time with the list I racked up … and wrote a book about …  and…  Never mind.

Susan Choi’s richly written novel tells of a woman’s experiences loving, being loved, not being loved, learning about love, and learning nothing, perhaps.

The affair that tore her to shreds is the one that hurt this reader most: the affair with the wife of her college professor, a woman 34 to Regina’s 19.  It is less about a lesbian relationship than it is about the kind of love that drives you mad, makes you sell your house and your car, quit your job, and move to another city to be close to the object of your obsession.  The kind of love that makes you weep and beg and bang on locked doors with your fists until they bleed, that makes you lose weight, drink till you throw up and wake up in strange bedrooms. The kind of love you think you will die from.  And almost do.  Die from the sex or the withholding of it. Die from anticipating it, needing it, wanting it, having it.  If you have never had this kind of love, you may wonder what kind of animal this Regina is.

She may have fallen into this abyss because the previous affair was a comfortable arrangement with a roommate (male) so benign it could hardly be called “an affair.”  And the relationship she dove into after the woman was a sort of bandage for both of them, Regina and the professor whose wife she so ruinously loved.  I won’t even type SPOILER ALERT because the publishers so idiotically did that already on Amazon and even on the book cover.

And if comfort, suicidal passion, healing, platonic, and “normal” weren’t enough (and they usually aren’t), Regina plows on to married love, Baby-love (which was hardly expected), and deep friendship sex. With whom I will not tell you so that there will be at least something you do not expect.

All this and the book can hardly be called pornographic. It’s not a dirty book.  It’s a deeply satisfying book about love.  But only if you’re ready for it. You can’t be judgmental and cruise through this book. It would be like deciding Gone With the Wind is a terrible book because Scarlett didn’t love Rhett the way you wanted her to.

Or the way you would have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The article that was the hardest to write

Written By: sherridaley - • •

 I love to write.  Not only do I like the process of choosing the best words and putting them into an order that works —  a couple of short choppy sentences when some power is needed, those hard consonants to convey an ugly thought, onomatopoetic words that sound like song – but I also like the way words charge and bounce on the page, the lovely white space I create with short paragraphs, and those adorable little marks of punctuation.

 It’s sick, I know, but it makes me happy, no matter what I’m writing about — until I decided to do what little I could for the families whose sons and daughters were off fighting in Iraq: I decided to write an article about them.  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  (Milton, On His Blindness)

 A mother myself, I thought about how hard it must be to know your child is in constant danger of being blown up by a roadside bomb or picked off by a sniper, that he or she could come home disfigured, disabled, blind, or permanently terrified.  How do these parents get through the day? 

 I wanted to honor them and the only way I knew how was to write about them, but what I hadn’t expected was the heartbreaking interviewing process.  The parents were proud, scared, patient, brave.  Braver than I could ever be.

 I could manage to get through an hour or so watching a mother’s lips tremble or tears form in her eyes, but when a man cried, I was toast.  After I took a few hasty notes, I’d stumble out to the car and weep.  If my 25-year-old son was in the house when I came home, I’d throw my arms around his waist and press my wet, snotty face into his T-shirt, declaring my limitless love and gratitude for his very existence. 

 The first time he was astonished to suddenly have his arms full of mom, but after while, I’d see him watching me through the front window as I tried to gather my wits about me before coming in the house.  Sometimes he’d come out and get me.  Other times, he would look up, register the red eyes, and say, “Another soldier interview, huh?”

 It was the hardest article I have ever written, but when the piece came out, it was, for me, a beautiful tribute to the men and women, fathers and mothers, whose lives are forever branded by an insufferable sadness; and I was proud. 

 

Z.

Written By: sherridaley - • •

My friend Susan fell in love with a man from India about the same time I fell in love with a man 15 years my junior.  Susan and I breathlessly shared confidences and personal terrors, although I was smug in my conviction that my love with Z. would most certainly outlast her love with M.H.  After all, an age difference is nowhere near as difficult as the cultural and social combat zone an interracial couple has to duck through.

For four months, I was happier than I had been in years.  Z. was mad for me.  We’d meet in the City and have a late dinner and coo at each other over wine at Elaine’s. Then we’d try to drive to his place in Brewster, NY, but invariably, we couldn’t make it home without stopping along the way to make love in the front seat of the car.

In Brewster, we woke early and went to a nearby green market and drank hot cider and fed each other sugar doughnuts.  Then we’d walk around town until we couldn’t stand it anymore and we had to go home and make love again.  For hours, we’d loll around on the carpeting and read poetry and newspapers out loud.  I worshiped his peacefulness. I longed for his balance.

He’d cook, and I’d read.  We bought each other CD’s and tore out magazine articles we thought the other might like.  He wrote poetry; I wrote magazine articles.  It was a match made in heaven.  Secretly, I felt sorry for Susan who was uneasy and worried that it wouldn’t work out with her and M.H.

So imagine my stunned disbelief when Z. – some four months later, at a trendy martini bar in the theatre district – announced that our personalities were too different, that our relationship was getting in the way of his writing.  I was, I don’t know, he said, too overwhelming. The sex was too much, the whole thing was too “edgy”, too — “much.”

I cried way too loud and hard for public and the waitress brought me handfuls of Kleenex and linen napkins and Z. got the check and that was that.

When I got home, I threw up, embarrassed that at my age, more than 50, I was behaving like a schoolgirl. I was spared making those late-night weeping phone calls because he disappeared.  Poof. His phone number no longer worked, my letters were returned to sender, and I had  (barely) too much pride to call his parents in Maryland, who were, I figured, probably nearly my contemporaries.

Time went by.  I got over it. I quit throwing up.  And then he wrote me.  Nearly three years of silence and I get a letter from Elkins, West Virginia, in his crawling, lilting script that edges around the page and dips and floats and becomes little illustrations and blossoms of words.  “I have finally realized what love truly is,” he writes, and my heart fairly bursts. “… even though it may have seemed a one-way street – you giving to me – in time, the great Soothsayer painted yellow rings around the heart and touched love out of love.”

OK. Make what you want out of it.  I thought that it meant after all that time, he had decided that he loved me after all. I wrote him back — to a P.O. Box.  (Red flag? I didn’t see it.) What are you doing in West Virginia? I asked.  I can’t wait to see you!

He wrote me back.  The letter practically oozed out of the envelope, the first few sentences harmless enough — about what he was writing, the peace in the mountains, his connection with the Great Spirit out in the woods where he was living. Sorry it took him so long to write back, but he only goes into town about once a month. Other than that (Here, it starts to get strange.) he lives in a pup tent about 6 miles up the side of a mountain, where he writes his poetry and reads and communes with the Great Spirit. He has given up sex because it stands in the way of the true spiritual love of Nature.  He lives in the woods, celibate, eating trail mix and writing verse about bears and spiderwebs.  For the last three years.

I can’t breathe. I stare at the letter and think I may have made this up. Then, tantamount to slowing down and peering at a highway accident, I write and ask can I come visit.  He says yes.  He knows a nearby bed & breakfast where I can stay. He reminds me that he is celibate.

This is where I should have got professional care, but I don’t. I pack a bag and drive ten (10!) hours to West Virginia. I have at this time officially lost my mind.

All the way there, I am losing confidence, faith, and credibility, in that order. My friends and family back home won’t even talk to me.  I am on a solo mission.  I am going to visit a forest monk, a madman, a poet.  I have no idea.

Z. is waiting for me at the B&B when I arrive, standing outside in his khaki shorts and hiking boots.  He has a full beard and he is thin and sinewy.  I want to throw myself into his arms and bury my face in his neck. I want to make love to him until we both faint, but the space around his body screams, “Don’t touch!”  I stand about 6 inches away, and he takes me into a chaste hug.

I want to get back in the car and drive home, but it is like picking a scab.  I can’t stop.

I put my bag in the room upstairs while he made smalltalk with the proprietor.  Then we take a walk around the sweet little town of Elkins.  As usual, we talk about books and music, philosophers, poetry, things we hate, good food, and the way things smell and taste.  Pretty much things are the same except he lives in the woods and I am normal. I think I am normal. He introduces me to his friends: a calligrapher, a weaver, a restaurant owner, a musician.

I want to die.

He tells me about the Great Spirit and the balance of Earth and Sky.  He tells me he is going to try to live in the woods throughout the winter this year. Before this he rented an old aluminum trailer (no heat, no electricity, no running water).  This year, he thinks he can do it in the pup tent.

I can’t think of a thing to say.

He tells me about the flash flood last year where he lost everything.  He climbed a tree and watched the water tear away his tent and his little gas stove and boxes of books and matches and bags of dried fruit and almonds.  He hiked around afterwards and recovered what he could, dragged it all back.

He is 40 years old. I ask him what his family thinks.  He tells me that they are making peace with it.  I nod.

After dinner, I buy a bottle of wine and retreat to my little room at the B&B with a book.  Z. drives his old beat-up car up the mountain.

In the morning, I decide to leave before he shows up, but Z. is oblivious.  He shows up, all bright and eager to show me his paradise in the woods.  He has brought no one else there. No one.

It takes us nearly an hour to get there, counting the barefoot hike through the grass and moss, and it is beautiful.  Breathtaking. Trees as tall as the sky; moss like thick carpet, thicker than carpet; a pool just bathtub size fed by a clear mountain spring-fed stream; fleshy yellow flowers; low-growing herbs that send up deep fragrance when you step on them. The sun powers through the trees and makes shards of light that cut all the colors into pieces.

In somber contrast, his little tent is dirty and it smells bad.  His bedding is grey, but I still want to pull him in there and make love. He shows me his little stove and box of books.  He says he needs a new flashlight so he can read.

On the way back to the car, we stop at a stream and sit down. Z. recites me a poem that he wrote about a bird and a bear.  I think that if he would touch me on the arm, I would explode into hundreds of pieces of plastic.  Then I think that if he had asked me to stay and sleep in his dirty tent, I would have stayed.

When I got back in the car to drive home, I set my hands at the 10 & 2 position on the steering wheel and decide I will not cry. What the hell was that? I think.  What the hell was that?  Somewhere in Pennsylvania, I stop and buy a bottle of wine which I drink out of a paper cup the rest of the way home. while I keep thinking, what the hell was that?

Susan and M.H. are still together.  They have a terrific relationship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best book title ever

Written By: sherridaley - • •