“Ill advised though it is, I start trolling for a beau –– forget the semaphores Patti flaps in warning before my face. Reading St. Augustine’s memoir, I come across his seminal line: Give me chastity, Lord. But not yet.
Which is my battle cry by the time David of halfway-house fame shows up. He leaves Boston to rent a boxy monk’s cell spitting distance from my house. Ponytailed David with his gangster Timberland boots and red bandana holding his head together. Not yet thirty, with the habit of referring to his less than bright local bed partners in meetings as the Bimbo Brigade, David must’ve seen me –– a single mom in academia –– as some final doorway toward a cleaned-up act.
He’d looked like an old friend when he’d first rolled in that summer with a pal. Both were shopping for a cheap place to hole up while finishing freelance writing projects they’d taken advances for. (A prodigy like David did Harvard philosophy as a mere detour.) Over cheap Chinese, we all sat for hours reording green tea and bowls of deep-fried whatnot till fortune cookie slips confettied the linoleum booth top.
Back in Boston, we’d always talked books –– nobody had read more than David. When I’d whined in early meetings about not writing, from across the room, he’d shoot a conspiratorial grimace. He edited Joan’s dissertation before it was published, and a year later, he and I even swapped and slashed up each other’s first, sober work. But he’d seemed like a stray and forlorn undergrad on Easter when Warren and I had invited him over.
In Syracuse, I must bat my eyes at him or fluff my hair like some cartoon seductress (What a ma-yan!), for right after, David starts packing my mailbox with bulging envelopes. Logorrheic, he calls himself. Words just pour from his pen. His yards-long letters come handprinted in weensy, meticulous mouse type, painstakingly footnoted. Soon he’s pleading his troth, signing his missives Young Werther (after a tragic swain in a book and opera, with a crush on an older woman.)
David is the only guy rash enouhg ever to get my name tattooed on his bicep –– in a heart with a banner. Even before we’ve kissed on the lips, he does this. Watching those flesh-colored band-aids peel off in a phalanx to show an arm scarred and bloodied, a thinking woman would’ve hied for the hills. My response is more pitiful. I think, Wow, he might really like me –– a thought nobody past grade five gets to have about anything bigger than a hamster. I plant a big wet Texas mouth on his.
It’s a sad testament to my virtue that an inked-up arm is all it really takes to bed me. (As one friend said later, You gotta love a date willing to do stuff he’ll regret.) Proof of David’s undying conviction, I take it as, though Lecia points out cynically that any Mary tattoo need only Blessed Virgin carved above it for reason to remount its throne. That and David’s move to my block prove, in my moronic head, some divine power’s orchestrating our future together.
For a week or so, it’s bliss. Any night I don’t have Dev, David and I smoke cigars in our tree fort or read Russian short stories aloud till dawn. We watch movies where stuff blows up exclusively. Within the month, he phones Mother to announce, Mrs. Karr, I plan to marry your daughter. Mother’s heartless comeback: Didn’t you just get out of some place?
Then one day, almost like a switch is thrown in us both, reality sets in, turning the whole deal inside out. I’m raking leaves, waiting to borrow David’s car for after-school pickup, but he slides alongside the curb, rolls down his window, and announces he’s going to the gym instead.
Can’t I drop you at the gym and then get Dev? I want to know.
David prefers to pick up Dev himself, then work out.
But I’m trying to shelter Dev from David’s presence in my life, which David resents. He wants to plug into the husband slot right away. Words get sharp. I throw down the rake and stalk inside. He follows.
The ensuing fight rocks the rafters –– a worse tussle than Warren and I ever dragged through. And soon our every day is a rage, the whole romantic endeavor flip-flopping from cuss fight to smoochy-faced makeup –– the reversals coming too fast to get down in a diary. When Dev’s home, I won’t let David sleep over, which pisses him off to no end, as does my leaving early from a research trip he takes me on. I’m mad he doesn’t fit into the slot marked reliable.
(Of course, his temper fits are as vivid to me now as my own are invisible. No doubt he was richly provoked, for I’m nothing if not sharp-tongued in a fight, and however young he was, neither was I in shape to partner anybody.)
If David enters the mindset he calls black-eyed red-out, he’s inclined to hurl all manner of object –– book and backpack, not least. And as a verbal opponent, he’s a colossus, once driving me to the lowest of schoolyard attacks –– personal appearance: At least I’m not a four-eyed, broke-nosed fop was one of the many sentences I had to apologize for.
Not that anything I utter warrants his pitching my coffee table at me, my sole piece of intact furniture splintering on the wall. After, I ring a lawyer girlfriend to send him a bill for it. He fires off a check with a note arguing that since he’s paid for the table, isn’t it his? I shoot back that the table’s still mine, but he’ll own its brokenness for perpetuity.
(Years later, we’ll accept each other’s longhand apologies for the whole debacle and resume the correspondence that held the better angels of our natures.)
Disaster, my teacher Bob explained to me once, can translate as something wrong with the stars. Our stars –– David’s and mine –– badly misalign, yet we can’t escape each other’s orbits. He climbs on my balcony and bangs on the bedroom window. I slip heartfelt notes under his windshield wiper. Coming across each other at a meeting, we wind up making out in the parking lot.
By Thanksgiving, we’ve both changed our phone numbers to escape each other’s stalkeresque calls, and we’re burnt out enough to let go, though we’ll reconnect for a few sloppy goodbyes before he moves away that spring.”