Thursday, February 19, 2009

There and Back, Part 3: If I Were A Carpenter

I have never been the kind of person I've always found myself surrounded by, that is, the kind of person who has the assurance of certainty, whether it be in faith, order, justice, morality, or anything else. Those assured types who've surrounded me have not, I later discovered, always been right about what they believed, but their certainty was often enough to make me want to cling to them and follow them around in a chaotic world that made little sense to me. In this way, I stumbled and fell.

A marriage ending is often a tragedy. Although I'm married to a great man now, I will always feel marked by the failure of my first marriage. My grief over that loss, like my grief over other losses I've suffered, will not be resolved in this world. Like many people, I simply have to shoulder up my heart (to mix metaphors rather egregiously), even though it be battered by now into a completely unrecognizable shape, and go on giving thanks to God. The strangeness of my life, which is a sort of post-something-or-other kind of life that I am guessing is particular to converts or reverts, has nothing to do with the certainty of the people who surround me. It's nagging, haunted, mysterious, and wholly uncertain, and sometimes I feel like I speak a different language from those around me.

After my first marriage ended, I had a few relationships about which I was deeply serious and which I hoped would culminate in marriage, but which for various reasons did not. One was with a man who was a gifted crafstman, a carpenter who customized antique bars gleaned from old hotels and restaurants for private and business customers. He was sweet, shy and boyish, and not at all forthcoming about his life, so it took me a long time of piecing things together to get to know him well. By the time I had done so, I realized that he was hopelessly addicted to pot, and that he might have fathered the youngest child of a married couple with whom he was close friends. By that time, though, I was like one of the hapless, well-intentioned Jewish supporters of Bill Clinton that Jackie Mason once joked about. If Clinton came into this hall and shot a man dead right in front of you, he said to his Broadway audience, you would just shrug and say, "Everyone has to die sometime."

But A. had certainty. He was a committed vegan, as I found out the only time I gave a dinner party during our relationship, when I made bouillabaisse and he proudly declined to eat anything but bread (after the guests left, however, he furtively wolfed down a couple of bowls, which stymied me about his commitment to veganism, and should have stymied me even more, by inference, about his commitment to anything). He railed against the internal combustion engine, and yet he owned a vintage car that he reluctantly loved. His craftsmanship was of a very high order, and yet he ended up abandoning his business because of his certainty that making custom bars for rich people was immoral, his repulsion having to do both with wealth and with alcohol. And yet, after leaving his business, he went on to work sixteen-hour days at a pedicab stand in lower Manhattan without pay. I couldn't understand it, until I figured out that they were paying him in pot.

He pursued me relentlessly at first, and, after I succumbed, spent two years trying to convince me that he didn't want a relationship. He told me his fantasy was of making a rough journey on foot through the wintry countryside at night and finding a little house with a light on and me inside, but it took me a while to understand that my function in this fantasy was to provide temporary respite before he lit out again. His family pressured him to marry me. I was miserable. I tried to become the hippie chick that I thought he wanted me to be. Around this time I ran into an acquaintance who asked bluntly, "What happened to you? You used to be so pretty."

Once a month, A. would come over to my apartment and spend the night transferring his money around via various automated telephone calls in order to avoid complete financial ruin. I later found out he'd applied for a credit card using my address (though not my identity, luckily) and soon maxed it out. After we broke up, he told me that his roommate had been putting off the IRS, who were looking for A., at the door. He also abandoned his beloved vintage car, taking the plates off and leaving it in a parking lot, because he couldn't afford the insurance; the last I heard, a homeless man was sleeping in it.

The last time I saw A. was in 2005, several years after our relationship ended. I was looking out the window of a bus going up Madison Avenue, and there he was right below me, gesturing dramatically in a right-hand turn signal from the seat of his pedicab as he made off down a side street. I was newly married and pregnant. I felt like I had dodged a particularly scary bullet.

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