Jessica

February 17, 2005

I’m sorry to hear that, I said. She was telling me how she was molested as a child and used her triumph over sexual inhibitions in a story that was unreceptive in a room filled with art-inclined feminists. I’m very sorry to hear that – but what was it I was sorry for? She unwound the mauve scarf from her neck, then thought differently and twisted it twice, tight. I had not come to her performance because I was busy working that evening. I very muchly should have skipped it – I didn’t get any thing done – but felt pressured to at least feel busy. She says she hates those who view writing as leisure, simply throwing words on a sheet and calling it a sentence. I tell her I dislike those who call it work, view the act as a terrible strain. I suggested it be more like breathing, a natural act. Either she didn’t see that I was trying too hard to be insightful, or she didn’t care. When I think of it more, the closer I feel I was speaking the truth. You breath in the air around you uncontrollably; sometimes it’s heavy, sometimes very feint. You process it complexly but when you let it out of you again it’s become something someone else can use. Some exhale loudly, obviously; others softly, deeply.

She intimidates me. It’s been a while since a person has been able to do it. Should I admit it? She’s talking about maturation of women in her pieces and I’m fumbling for synonyms for “interesting.” Her words have bored into my head to reveal the emptiness I feared. My stories were good, she said; but how many times have I used those same words falsely? I revised during winter break, she says, wrote four more stories. It’s quality not quantity, I remind coldly. She smiles that damn white smile, and I start to wonder again what her dominant Hispanic blood is mixed with. Then have them, she says, fumbling through her backpack for papers. I keep mine a secret, exclusive, too ashamed to make public and permanent. What would people say if they knew? Insults, claims of slander, isolation, depression. It’s fortunate – she hands her work to me – I have these copies to be criticized by professors. She meets with strangers, too, for advice? Her determination is upsetting. It doesn’t even matter now if her stories are engaging or not: the fact that she is proud of them freely should speak volumes about her character. And you, you wretch! What have you done – or better still, not done? Much.

We should get together, I beg. I hide my desperation poorly, interjecting unintentional pauses consciously. We should stick together; it’s hard to find people like us, I coax. Absolutely! It’s always important to find new critiques and opinions. In fact, I’m part of this campus-wide network for writers. Every month we swap stories, then get together and discuss them. Now my head is twisting. Now I need my drink to distract me. How did you manage to find a group like that?, I whisper. The professor I volunteer with – You volunteer?, I panic – Yeah, I teach 3rd graders how to read. The professor in charge heard about my writing and told me…

I stop listening. I begin to dry heave. My entire basis for wallowing in self-worthlessness was assuring myself that no opportunities were available; that no matter how terrific the passion that time should still be accumulated. And here, sitting across from me, is a perfect specimen of the exact opposite. She’s telling me she does pastels of her poetry, has paintings up at Fisher. She’s telling me of her past, because I asked, because I want to know, and she’s telling me of her present without stopping for a curiosity check (though I know better by now than to reveal openly my emotional position on any issue). I am studying the mirror image of myself, and in her completeness I find my cracks.

I just really want to get published now, she says. Her eyes, I notice for the first time, are set too wide for her face. The other half is Eastern European, I decide. I submit to the local magazines around here, but they don’t respond, not even the Latino ones. You are trying to be a Cisneros, then, I laugh. Man hollering that he’s in shit creek, I muse. She doesn’t think it is very funny. How grateful I am for her sympathy, for her dismissing the completely justifiable question of And what have you done since we got out of Intro together? She must have seen me stammer, then, must have interpreted my head-turning as it being a sore subject. She would have. And it is, by all means. The trash I turned in there matches up to nothing I would have liked to show. She, who has stood against the pain of lust and announced it openly to anyone who could hear…

I realize I am exaggerating, but exaggerations are how I deal with extremities. And as I sit here writing this, recalling something that feels as though it happened in a completely parallel world, I wonder what she would think if I showed this to her. Would she be offended, or flaterred? Would she disagree, or verbally mock me? Further still, have I skillfully expressed my fears? There she is, spending thirty minutes discussing how overjoyed she is at just rejection; and here I am, wailing to an uninterested audience about my own desperate situation. I do not try, so I do not succeed. She tries, and does not succeed; but she tries. That is a verb I hold dear to my heart. I’ve grown numb to pain, know its cycles well, but am no longer deterred by it. I’ve cried and screamed enough times to prevent or force change. Now, I waft. Now….I wish I had lived my life differently. I hate what it’s become.

These are the thoughts that go through my head, when I am too busy starring at an elderly couple playing chess instead of paying more deafened compliments to you.