I suspect I have had only one great beast, one noble animal; all the
others were petty sibling rivals, New York City street cats, and
pets that were plucked out of the air.
It is this last category that sets aside
a particular time in my life. When I was 25 years old, I decided
one night on a second date to get married. He was, like many people's
first husbands, a man who appeared solidly, in my eyes to be only
at his greatest potential, most human, in the company of my love.
Cruel, unforgiving relationships with his mother and other lovers
were excused away as the ones who couldn't understand him. This
was the genius, the gifted, the rageful boy. He came into my life
with the worst reputation and the cleverest dog I had ever known,
both of which reflected back on him, I thought, certain greatness.
In what seemed like a charming arrangement, he kept a nameless cat
as a pet for his dog. I looked at how he loved her and better still,
how she loved him, this perfect pet; and just liked that we formed
We were, all of us, nothing less than fabulous.
But this will not be a story of recrimination
or heartbreak, not this one; this is, by god, going to be just the
frame into which one or two illuminating anecdotes can be placed.
I will endeavor to keep this tight on a
leash, a veritable choke chain of lightheartedness.
These were the years of practice domesticity,
when everything I imagined was invented new for me, nothing a repetition
of last year, or the habits of generations past.
When a bird flew into my face in Central
Park, I captured it, thinking it fate, and I was certain when we
fell together to the ground that it was a magical blue messenger
flown directly into my fantasy. Not, as I found out sleepless days
later, after keeping constant vigil by the injured bird, that it
was merely the panicked runaway parakeet of some Upper West Side
kid with fur allergies.
Still, great musical scores and vintage
cinematic images accompanied me as I walked our dog through the
streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn where we lived, deep in the heart
of the Hasidic neighborhood. I was a lone westerner, parting the
seas of children in black hats and coats, who ran from me like I
was walking with a wolf. Only two generations myself away from the
shtetl, I now walked, not in the shadows, but vividly lit, completely
in control of this magnificent animal.
I was a conqueror of Cossacks. I was a
diva and a dybbuk. When we taught the bravest of the black clad
children to pet our dog, they formed around us, a circle like the
circus with the rings and gasps of a high wire act. When we tired
of giving the gift that was us, we moved on. My
young husband would brag about his physique, his agility, about
the skill in his hand eye coordination. He bragged when there was
only me to see. He was a painter, and that he could do with his
hand, what only his eye could see was already undisputed. With this
talent, he had won the endless round of competition between us.
We had, in our empty living room, clusters
of junk objects, dusted and placed silently back on the table by
our new immigrant cleaning lady, left that way, thinking it decor
for months. I lived in our bathtub with the displaced dirty dishes,
beside open cans of paint thinner, huge half filled canvasses, and
my own all black wardrobe. We were dandies, swatting the flies that
accumulated around our kitchen. We lived in that loft, dirty and
undecorated, elegant and languorous.
I am awed now thinking of the exception
to pain that I planned to be my life.
And this I remember, in the midst of losing
that belief. How in a frantic convulsion of my laughter, my husband
snatched a fly out of the air, caught it in his fist, shook it to
knock out its consciousness, grabbed one of the long hairs from
my head, and tied it around the fly. And when it awoke, how he walked
it through the air by its hair leash. In the most memorable of his
gestures, how he gave me one of these small sleeping flies, for
my own use, and I remember how I, too, tied it up, achieving perfect
dominion over my surroundings, and then tied a small banner to the
hair that read HELP. In one crazy jagged flight pattern, the insect
flew by usjust before it crashed its final warning into the
linda m. morgenstern