March 2, 2000
On Tuesday I took my first ever college class: “The Writing Process.” There were eleven of us, including the teacher. I was the youngest by twenty-two years. They were all insane. There was a ninety-year-old Jewish anorexic who could only talk and write about being thin. She read a paper about how using fresh-killed chickens in soup helps you lose weight. She and her mother used to watch Saturday’s meal get slaughtered every Friday afternoon. Blood would splatter from the chicken and drip down the shochet’s beard. An eighty-year-old man who made Hannibal Lecter sucking noises and had to be shushed by the teacher claimed the chicken story needed “more blood.” As the three-hour class unfolded, I went on to tell everyone their paper needed more blood. No one believed me or even realized I’m really funny. What are the odds there was a little blood in every paper. Our fifty-five-year-old princess (she acted like a little girl and her face was smooth and pretty) wrote about practicing speed-typing to procrastinate writing; she damaged her wrists in the process, and they bled. A stigmata of boredom! The Vietnam enthusiast wrote naturally about a five-year-old boy hiding under the floorboards and watching his mother and father get kicked to death by enemy soldiers. Then there was the desert man who slept through most of the class and who, when he did stir himself awake, brought new depth to the word laconic. He wrote about running over a snake with his truck.
The desert man and I are born enemies. I always want the approval of silent people, and to get it I bother them. I kept asking him questions, knowing he wouldn’t answer. Then I earned the ire of my entire class by telling the princess lady she was not allowed to write about watching squirrels. They soundly defended her right to do so, and the teacher informed me that there is no rule saying writers may not write about watching squirrels. I could have taken it back and said I was kidding, but someone had to take a stand. “No squirrels!” I repeated. I marked it on her paper, too: “No squirrels.” I was not invited to Benjamin’s for after-class cocoas.
The class ended at 9:20 p.m., and I had a long ride home on a road so black and forest-y my high-beams were like twin penlights. After taking on those ten senior citizens, and then negotiating this icy danger-zone, I felt like a commando inside one of the Vietnam guy’s stories. I felt like Donkey Kong. I felt like having sex. On top.
As soon as I got home I told Dave all about my class in one breath. “They’re a bunch of fruitcakes!” I concluded.
“Wait . . . you told them they couldn’t write about squirrels?” Dave said.
“Well, someone had to!”
“How about your teacher? Does she like you?”
“She hates me most of all. I’m very dominant in group situations, Dave.”
I expected Dave to understand this meant, “Go in the bedroom now, you sexy husband.” I’m an agonist. We thrive on conflict. I wanted to do some thriving right then. This group of students who may or may not still be alive at the end of the twelve-week course made me feel like a spring chicken. My flesh plumped up, moistened. I became succulent in Writing 201. But Dave did not understand. Instead he said, “I didn’t want to tell you because you were so excited to go, but . . . night classes are for losers.”
“But I love these guys!” I said. “They have nothing to lose. They are the most interesting ten people I have ever met. I want to be trapped on an island with them. A writer isn’t supposed to write to the elevated few who understand them. The kooks in that class are America. I’m writing to them.” And besides, I added silently, Have sex with me right now, David.
Why didn’t I just say what I wanted, if I’m so dominant? Because I also felt psychic. I was trying to burn my message into his third eye. Plus my period was coming, and I was sensitive. A sensitive commando. I was all agitated by the writing class. I was sure that while I was away in Mexico, the old people would bond without me and band against me. I was a hundred bundles of nerve endings. All the bundles wanted to have sex, but each in a different way. Some cried out: “Hang me upside down like a chicken on her way to a kosher slaughter, Dave, make your chin drip with my blood!” Others said, “Stroke me like a lover, for I have been disinvited to Benjamin’s by the group.” So I paced, and stared him down. Poor Dave felt fear. He knew he was doing something wrong, but what? Could he figure it out before it was too late, and the dreaded twenty-four-hour silent treatment began?
I remember when he used to sass me all the time. He used to make me suffer. Not giving an inch in arguments (but giving plenty of inches all around Boston!). He was always running off with other women and then telling me the details. In one short year, how far I had worn him down!
He said he was going to bed. I went to bed, too.
“What do you want to communicate?” I’d written in the margin of the desert man’s paper before handing it back to him. It was a good story subtle, but never urgent. “If you were to die tomorrow,” I scribbled, “what would you regret never having said? Put that in everything you do, even if it’s implicit only, even if you say it in a joke.” It was a very corny thing to say, and Desert Man had probably thought of it himself before I was even born. Why must I try to make everything the opposite of what it is? That princess lady probably never hurt anyone in her life, and probably never will. Why did I want to take away her cute little clichés? I wanted her to see what she could see if she stopped looking at the things nice lady writers are supposed to look at out the window while they procrastinate (squirrels in trees, of course). But not everyone has to be fierce and bare. Somebody loves that princess exactly as she is. A whole passel of people, probably.
Then I noticed Dave wasn’t trying to have sex with me. “What’s wrong?” I said.
“Nothing. I just feel like holding you, that’s all.”
“You never just feel like just holding me,” I said peevishly.
So he tried to have sex with me, but by this point I was so upset about the world I pushed him away. Then I decided I wanted him again, but this time he rejected me. So we had a big fight and each retreated in silence to the far corners of our big bed.
But then I pictured his penis. It grew in the black bedroom until it was a giant oak: mighty, silent, purposeful. Oh god for this, I would swallow my pride.
“Dave,” I said in a tiny voice, like the princess probably uses with her husband when she wants him to love her again.
“What?” he said begrudgingly, probably like the Vietnam vet talks to any female ever.
“Can you make me feel normal?”
He didn’t say anything. Maybe this time I’d really done it, maybe he was finally tired of me. Then he sighed and said, “Okay.” He pulled me to him and made me normal again.
Lisa Carver and Nerve.com, Inc.