Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Scènes de la Vie de Bohème

We were the closest of friends: a group of young aspiring artists living in the East Village, moving from one provisional household to the next, drinking Hungarian red wine because nothing else was cheaper, staying up late into the night, sprawled across one another's sofas (which were generally old, upholstered with shabby velveteen, and draped with Indian-print throws to keep the stuffing from spilling out onto the floor), conversing animatedly about art and beauty and the other deepest desires of our hearts.  We were young women in our teens and early twenties.  We were generally both broke pocket-wise and broken heart-wise, except for the one or two of us who appeared to have found our soul-mates, deep wells into whom we could sink all of our intense need for contact, for engagement, for communion; not one of those unions now survives.  We were painters, photographers, writers, musicians, and performance artists.  We all worked together in the same cafés and bars and lived within a few blocks of each other, ranging from Avenue B to Avenue D and from East 14th Street down to Rivington.

None of us entered into this circle of friends unfamiliar with betrayal.  Some of us went on to betray each other, or our most deeply-held principles.  After three or four years we had all dispersed to different parts of the city, because the East Village had gotten too expensive -- a few of us went to Brooklyn, one to Spanish Harlem, one to Inwood (also known as Upstate Manhattan), one to Canada.  Having to move physically out of the charmed circle of our magic-aesthetic friendship dealt a heavy blow to its continued existence.  Our alliances with our soul-mates likewise crumbled.  Some of us attempted to settle down into more traditionally-defined domesticity.  One of us had come into the circle already married, but eventually took up with someone else; her husband became gay (I never knew if this was a conviction or a passing fad for him).  The two of them had had several abortions already, and when she got pregnant by still another man, she kept the baby, who's now a teenaged girl; sadly, I have heard that the girl's father is now a hopeless crack addict.

But there was one of us who was tough enough, driven enough, and ambitious enough (some would say opportunistic enough) to follow her plans through to the end.  S. is now a successful artist, whose works are in collections throughout the world.  She picks up plum temporary teaching gigs as a visiting artist, and is not infrequently profiled in the haute women's fashion magazines.

It's been years since I spoke to S., but she recently spent time with our mutual friend G., who now lives in Canada -- S. was there for the opening of a solo exhibition of her works (my friendship with G. is the only one that has endured from that time, and it has never wavered).  G. told me about S.'s visit, how S. is still the same as she was twenty years ago -- seductive, self-justifying, and somehow, at the same time, heartrendingly vulnerable and shy.  Then G. let drop that S. was pregnant (she is the single mother of a five-year-old), and I asked her about the baby's due date.  "There's not going to be a due date," G. replied cynically; apparently the baby was the fruit of a causal one-night reunion between S. and her son's father, but they generally loathe each other.  It felt like a blow to my heart.

I began storming heaven, asking the Holy Spirit, during the week leading up to Pentecost, to inspire S. to choose life.  I asked G. to float the idea of adoption in her conversations with S.  I wasn't thinking so much of our family, though we are in the process of adopting.  S. is the kind of person -- for all her accomplishments, deeply insecure -- who loves and admires her friends so much that she insinuates herself into their lives in uncomfortable ways, trying to become them, and one of the ways she's historically done this is by sleeping with their boyfriends, so I figured that if we adopted her baby it would all get very messy and complicated fast.  But there was a couple I knew, friends of friends who live in the South, a couple who wanted a child and who would be wonderful parents and were removed enough from S. for her not to cause any trouble.  Please mention them to her, I begged G.

I spoke to G. yesterday and asked her if there was any news.  It was too late, she told me; S. had taken the RU-486 pill, and it was already all over.  Besides, S. had told G. that she could never give her child to someone else.

So now, though S. is not Catholic, though as a child she woke up every morning to see her naked, bohemian mom sitting on a different man's knee, though, like so many women, it was easier for her to consider the unbidden, unwanted, unseen life she carried as something best to dispose of, I'm storming heaven again so that she will somehow be inspired to seek and receive the abundant mercy, healing, and forgiveness that Christ is ready to shower upon her.

Ironically, and also too late, S. has just sent me a friend request on Facebook.


mrsdarwin said...

Oh, heartbreaking. S. will be in my prayers.

Pentimento said...

Thank you, Mrs. Darwin.

Rodak said...

Artists are special people; but very seldom (it seems) moral paragons. King David, who (I'm convinced)is memorable primarily because he was a master psalmist, is perhaps the prime example of that.
Reading your post, I could almost taste the flavor of Alphabet City on my lips.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to judge your old friend. I know a lot of women who have chosen abortion, and that was when it was more of a brutal process. Frankly, I am ashamed that I did judge these women. I believe two of them married their boyfriends and I really did not understand their view. I really intended to write about betrayal. Why women do that to each other. Why can we be the closest of friends, and yet the worse of enemies?

Pentimento said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Rodak and Sinville.

Rodak, As for David . . . I think he's much more than that. He stands for the truth of God's mercy, lest we forget it. He provides a stunning example of the flux of sin, penitence, and grace in the sinner's soul. And since praying his Psalter is the basis of monastic life, the Catholic Church seems to have always regarded his example as something very important to the faith.

Sinville, your remarks require a whole book-length essay! I don't know how long you've been reading here, but if it's for a while, you'll already know that I had an abortion in those days too, and later married my boyfriend who was the child's father. Needless to say, it didn't work out, since, though I strenuously avoided thinking about it at the time, the abortion was the ultimate betrayal. But all that is long ago.