Posted Monday, June 7th, 2004
Meeting an Old Friend in New York City
I love men with afflictions—lisps, unruly hair, missing limbs, any kind of vulnerability. I had a roommate once who lived on a mattress in the back room. He was the son of my Shakespearean Literature professor and we'd found a place off campus where we could live for cheap.
His bed was covered in Playboys and gummy Raman noodles. He had a lamp on his dresser filled with dried beans and there were always fruit flies around the lamp. Sometimes the door would not be shut all the way and I'd watch him singing Billy Holliday into the mirror.
I loved his soft broken bits. I thought, sometimes, how I had this gift for loving people who weren't used to being loved.
We fought plenty. He had a large collection of imported records, which he paid for rather than paying rent—a problem since the lease was in my name. We also fought about the phone. We had one wall-mounted phone in my bedroom and when he used it to call the phone sex number, it was my wall that got crusty.
But the more usual phone call came from his father, begging him not to be so average and I'd listen to him, taking it in, not saying much at all. In the evening he'd lay his head in my lap and I would comb through his hair with my nails. He'd hang his feet over the end of the couch, always in his fluffy cashmere socks, and we'd talk literature and heartbreak and improbable dreams about becoming important, memorable people. If he had tried to seduce me, I'd have fallen.
But he never tried. I caught up with him a year ago when he was visiting my town. We had a great many-hour talk in a park near Madison Square Garden. I asked him, though I'm married now, why he never asked me out.
He worded things carefully, something he never bothered to do when we were younger. He told me I was so much more than a pretty girl back then, that there was too much going on inside of me, things he wasn't equipped to handle. I watched his feet as he spoke, comforted only by the fluffy socks, at least something was the same. I wanted us to fight like before, but I no longer had the upper hand.
He walked me to my train. I like being the compassionate one, the one that puts the wounded bird in a shoebox and says nice things to it while it expires, the one who weeps over it when everyone else has gone about their business not noticing. My old friend kissed the top of my head and waved as I boarded.
On the train, the lights often go out. No one knows why or looks alarmed, and the signs glow green and people hold their books in place ready for when they can see the page again. When the lights are out, you can get a good look at a dark shadow of yourself in the window. Sometimes you have such large ideas about yourself, but in the dark, seeing yourself seated alone, you notice you look very much like those around you.
Comments [post a comment]
Posted by jocelyn johnson on Monday, June 7th, 2004 at 10:19 PM
Posted by Tom Jackson on Tuesday, June 8th, 2004 at 11:16 AM
Funny, visceral, heartbreaking. Ms. Henderson's an amazing writer. Each of her stories seems to be even better than the last. Looking forward to seeing what she writes next.
Posted by Terry Bain [ firstname.lastname@example.org
] on Tuesday, June 8th, 2004 at 5:18 PM
Gorgeous and lovely and all the other good words, as always.
Posted by Dave Clapper [ email@example.com
] on Tuesday, June 8th, 2004 at 5:48 PM
Beautiful. I love Susan's work and this is certainly no exception.
Posted by Claudia Smith on Tuesday, June 8th, 2004 at 9:45 PM
There are so many funny, true details here. The ramon noodles, the crusty wall, those luxurious socks. Those are little sharp details that stick out the way things often do, in memory. I love the way the story deals with the passage of time, and that train at the end.
Posted by Gail Siegel on Tuesday, June 8th, 2004 at 10:28 PM
Once I thought I loved a man who was quite unattractive. There wasn't a single thing of physical beauty about him. His skin was like an oiled gravel road. His features looked as if they'd been fired in a kiln where a pot exploded. He was fat. Yet he was funny, brilliant, insightful. As a child, he read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica for amusement. I thought loving him was a challenge that reflected nicely on my big heart. Of course, I was only in love with my delusional sense that I had an outsized capacity to love. It's not the same story as MEETING AN OLD FRIEND. But it made me think of that long ago time, and realize that I could never have written a story about it as elegant as this one. Thanks, Susan.
Posted by Robin Slick [ Robin81700@aol.com
] on Wednesday, June 9th, 2004 at 6:34 AM
Susan Henderson is the most amazing writer. This story is magnificent and everyone should check out her other work, which can be found just about everywhere (as well it should!).
Posted by Jeff Landon on Wednesday, June 9th, 2004 at 9:07 AM
The last paragraph here is just painfully beautiful and exactly right. The switch to second-person is so smooth and necessary--it's heartbreaking but also reassuring--and look at the perfect blending of darkness and light.
Posted by Xujun Eberlein on Thursday, June 10th, 2004 at 12:49 PM
The ending paragraph is impressively brilliant, revealing a truth with the image of shadows in the train window. The impact of time passage in one’s life is stirring. One thing I wonder: what is the relationship between a woman’s compassion for vulnerable men and her large ideas?
Thanks for the great read, Sue.