From time to time I show up in myself just long enough for people to know that they are not in the room alone. Usually, these are people who expect something from me--a near future, a not-too-distant future. What I tell them is limited to the people I have already had myself married against. Everything I say is to the best of my knowledge and next to nothing. It comes nowhere close.
My first wife, my blood wife, had no background to speak of, no backdrop of relatives, customs, scenery. She arrived sharp-spined and already summed up. We ate out all the time and spoke lengthily, vocabularily, about whatever got set before us, especially the meat, with its dragged-out undersong of lifelong life. There was no end to the occasions on which the woman and I got along in public and in private. I remember a smell she had on just her arms, an endearment, something that she had been born with or that had traveled a great distance to land on her. I am almost certain that there was much more to what there was of us--I think we had a house, some coverings at the very least--but the night she gave me what was obviously a severance fuck, nothing needed to be said, nobody needed to be told off. I left right away. The time I looked back, the evidence was slight.
It was the second wife who drank. It was always up to me to cart her back and forth to work. The job titles she had during the time I was married to her could be listed either alphabetically or chronologically; I am not sure what difference, if any, such a list would make. But the addresses--we moved from house to house, although they were never houses per se, Just blunt-roofed, boxlike constructions with garages beneath a sequence of airless rooms that I sometimes tried to work some pertinence into--could probably be mapped out to clarify the prevailing direction, which was toward something else.
This was a wife with sunken teeth and runny eyes and a face that darked up when she was finished talking. She had bangs--a blindfold, practically, of black hair. Nights, I watched her watch the babiness go out of her children. I think she was waiting for them to bleed together into a single, soft-boned disappointment. There were three of them, and they all had the same problems with time--not Just with telling it, but with knowing that it had passed, knowing what it separated.
Late one night when the woman had drunk herself snory, I gathered the children in the living room. The four of us sat together on the sofa, a sleepless immediate family. I decided to do justice to the children one by one. The youngest often wet his bed, so I told him, "You sweat a lot, that's all. Who doesn't'?" I assured the middle child that he ate constantly not because he had a worm but because his teeth needed activity. And the oldest, whose teacher sent home notes saying that the girl had started speaking up in class about her "stepdog" and her "stepself": I had to let her egg herself on until she got a feel for the busywork of my heart. Everything came out of me in what sounded like a father's voice. I was good at stringing myself along.
The woman eventually brought her disturbances of mind to bear on getting herself under some auspices--some high-up, steep-eaved auspices for a change. There was a man made of money who owned more than one automobile, and she found a way to take charge of the one he liked the least. It was radish-colored and underslung. One night she took me for a ride in it and explained that the man had put her to work in a vast hall, someplace altitudinous, auditoriumish, where desks were arranged on risers as far as the eye could see. She was careful to keep the man himself out of the description.
I remember looking out the passenger-side window at the mirror and the lopsided traffic it was cupping out for me to take notice of. Decaled in ghost-white letters across the face of the mirror was the claim "OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR." This I crowdedly assented to.
Then I did a dumb thing. I moved into an apartment house and grew concerned that the person living in the unit above mine was following me, upstairs, from room to room. For much of the day, my life would be down to just this one concern. I would walk from the living room to the bedroom, or from the kitchen to the bathroom7--I had Just those four rooms, in that order--and there this person would be, right spang overhead, the footfalls clumpy but compassionate, solicitous.
Sooner or later it dawned on me that this person had divined how things were laid out in my rooms, had rearranged the furniture and belongings and outsweepings upstairs to correspond to my own--so that if, during a passage from room to room, I abruptly stopped (lowered myself to a region of the floor where a tossed magazine had landed in a rumply heap, for instance, and then lingered over it rehabilitatively, smoothing out its pages, restoring as much as I could of its flat, unread, newsstand inviolability), there would be, at that very same spot twelve feet or so above me, a parallel distraction for this person, a consuming project of his or her own.
In other words, there was my life, my offgoings from room to room, and there was the clomping reiteration of it being carried out upstairs. So this is how I got married vis-a-vis my final wife: I moved myself and the person upstairs out of our apartments and into a house in another city. This wife was young enough to give birth. The birth was quick and thoughtless.
The child went through life with expressions on its face that were not its own. Bus drivers and crossing guards and food handlers demanded to know whose they were. The best I could do was to see everybody's point, then look away. There was always something waiting to be looked at, something missing out.
As for the child, unresolved questions of attribution drove it far enough out of sight for me to hold down a job. There is almost too much truth in the words when I say that I was holding the job down. The fact is that I was a weight on it, keeping it from getting done. There was a heavy, flattening incorrectness that eventually found its way to the attention of somebody not too high up.
Then came nights when, lying awake beside my final wife, I would spend too much time putting my finger on what was wrong. I was wearing the finger out.
What was wrong was very simple.
Sometimes her life and mine fell on the same day.
copyright 1994 by Gary Lutz; appeared originally in The Quarterly