Account #1

Christopher Hellwig


The first woman that I loved aspired to be in law enforcement when she finished college. I met her only a few months before she was set to leave town for the academy—through a good friend of mine whom she had slept with a year before. I had had a few partners before I met her, but was still uncomfortable with sex. My temperament made it physically impossible to fuck in the way that many men my age must have fucked—although I have since learned to fuck exactly in that way, but only in certain circumstances and under certain conditions. I had read books by Henry Miller and James Salter, but they were little more than highly improbable masturbation fantasies, pornographic only in the depth of their deceptions. With this woman, I tended to burst into laughter when I was making love to her from behind, and so we usually faced each other and must have fallen in love very quickly. I knew that I loved this woman because when she left town I began to weep—the first time I wept over a woman. The day she left, another woman, who was in a committed relationship with the good friend that I mention above, came by my apartment—and found me sitting in a chair, a pathetic mess. She crossed the room to comfort me, but I did not stand up, and so when she embraced me we looked like this: my head was turned sideways, pressed against her belly just under her breasts, and she held it there while running her fingers through my hair; my arms were wrapped around her bottom. I have been thinking about this because in the last few months I have wept more than in all the time previous—ever since a very dear friend of mine died. I often articulate this loss to myself in this way: It feels less like a friend has died, and more like a lover has died. Whether or not this distinction is useful, or even has a trace of honesty, it makes me cry—and sometimes weep—when I make it. Once, I was out drinking all night and I returned to my apartment at about the time when my wife was waking up and starting to get ready to go to work. She was annoyed and angry with me, but it wasn't terribly serious—she knew I was just down the block drinking with a friend. I sat in the bathroom while she showered and told her I was sorry and that I could probably cry for her, and that it might make her feel better. This became a little game—me working up big round tears on the bathroom floor while she was in the shower, and her leading me upstairs to the bedroom where I watched her get dressed for work. As I was crying on the bed, she took pictures of me as I sang a pop song to her, making up the words as I went. Later that day, I texted a picture of myself crying to my friend who later died. When I received news of my friend's death, I was separated from my wife, and I finally reached her by phone a few hours after, very late at night. The next day, she left town early in the morning, as planned, to spend the weekend with her family and a couple of friends at a house on the beach. It was late winter, and when she returned to town a couple of days later she told me that she wanted to comfort me, and I insisted that she come to my place, as I knew that I would be most vulnerable there—my grief would be clear and transparent and heavy. I would burden her with as much as she could bear. Instead, at the last minute I told her I would come to her, and so I drove to the small apartment where she was staying with a friend, had coffee with her, and wept into her sweater in a strange little kitchen, telling her things that I knew would be upsetting and disturbing, but which I could not help but tell her. A little over a year after I am writing this, I will have a very short affair with the friend that my wife was staying with, and I will develop very strong feelings for her, and they will be returned. I will know this because she will narrate the progression of these feelings over the course of the short affair—first calling them "beginnings of feelings" and then eventually simply "feelings"—but I will be hurt by her nonetheless and feel devastated and humiliated. The day before I visited my wife in that apartment, I had visited a friend's painting studio, and I had said many of the same upsetting and disturbing things to him that I would later say to my wife. My friend and I were sitting in hard plastic chairs—which he had placed facing one another—and this was after we had already met in the doorway to his studio and embraced and I had already begun to weep. I told him all of these things, and at one point our foreheads were pressed together as I talked. Afterwards, we drank a few beers at a bar, and that is when my wife met us, fresh from her beach trip, and I proposed that she come to my place the next day.


I suppose it is a habit of mine—this staging of interactions—and what I find is that it is often, but not always, for the purposes of perpetrating mild degrees of emotional violence against myself and others. In short, I often look back at hours I spend in public as hours spent lying in wait. It used to be that children were warned of the terrible supernatural horrors—as in a Hoffman story—that awaited them were they to leave their beds, and that they must be still—prone, anxious, alone, and without protection. These children are in the most absurd, but perfectly believable, situation possible: lying in wait for one who is lying in wait. And so when I hear, for example, a news story about someone, for instance, being murdered while they sleep soundly and alone in their bed, I can't help but to wonder why I do not have a more urgent fear of drifting into unconsciousness behind a short series of easily opened—or smashed—doors. During the most painful, the worst, months of my life, I slept every night on an old sofa that I had had for many years, despite having a perfectly functional and furnished bed in the next room. I had eliminated the ritual of the act of going to bed, preferring to practice sleep as an only somewhat regular, and often erratic, accident. I have never liked it when people devote even a moment to the retelling of dreams, the writing of dreams, and especially to the interpretation of dreams, but during this time I had one dream that I could remember which I indiscriminately described to a number of friends, acquaintances, and strangers on a number of occasions, usually with no purpose whatsoever. In the dream, I found myself in a college dorm room, standing in front of a mirror with a necktie draped over my shoulders. As I proceeded to tuck the tie beneath my collar, and then to wrap the loose ends about one another, I found myself frustrated: the necktie was producing ever more loose ends as I attempted to make a knot, each of which demanded new attention, and what's more, each loose end had hanging from it a small bell—sometimes a cluster of small bells, like sleigh-bells or a bunch of grapes. To my astonishment, sleeping on the sofa had produced this dream, wherein my subconscious seemed preoccupied with the most frivolous of anxieties—some common dissatisfaction with my job, as I interpreted it. While it was true that my wife's absence did factor into the drama of the dream, since I could sense while standing at the mirror that she was nearby—in the hallway or perhaps in some other dorm room in the building—and while, yes, it was true that the necktie tight about my neck bore some resemblance to the circumstances of my friend's death, I was certain, I told people once I had described the dream to them, that it was clearly the expression of becoming somewhat bored by and uninterested in my job—the early mornings, the performance of professionalism, etc. Perhaps insignificantly, I continued to sleep exclusively on the sofa until I had an extended break from work for the summer, and then slept alone and drunk in the bed most nights. The first time after both the separation from my wife and the death of my dear friend that I took a strange woman home to my bed, I realized with some horror as we entered the bedchamber that I had not prepared, made up, or staged the bed in a manner reasonably appropriate for company—it bore signs of both eating and drinking, which I had become comfortable doing in bed, and throughout that night my forearms and thighs found and I became acutely aware of small patches of grit which had been carried into the unwashed sheets on previous nights. This staging of the bedroom only enabled what became an unapologetic psycho-drama of alternating physical verve and impotence on my part. I was, inexplicably, somewhat surprised when this woman would not answer my text messages, although I see her around town and sometimes she seems friendlier than I remember and sometimes she does not—depending on who she is with and how much I have had to drink.


A few months later I flew to Texas to meet up with two old friends who would be traveling the state for a week in their station wagon, putting on musical performances that few people would be able to aptly describe or sometimes even care to describe. What I liked—and what I still like—about these friends is that they rarely find it necessary to insist upon who they are, or to even talk about who they are. While I would not call them men of action, just as I would not call myself a man of action—as I try, after all, to avoid calling myself a man of anything—I would call them men in the nominative, while avoiding calling myself the same, although I do recognize certain similarities between me and them. One thing we had in common was that all three of us were close to my friend—or our friend—who had died; although one difference was that they had seen his body while I never had, not since he was living. When I arrived in Texas, I became so frustrated with bus and rail schedules that I took a taxi from the airport—an entirely different airport than the one I thought I was flying into—to an unknown neighborhood where my friends would eventually meet me. I had a cumbersome backpack and a guitar with me, and I was pleased to find a coffee shop where a middle-aged woman was willing to mother me without even being asked. After the coffee shop closed, I made it two blocks on foot before she caught up with me, insisting that I not continue in my intended direction for my own safety, but instead find a nearby bar where I could sit and get drunk by myself while waiting for my friends. She was sure that I would want to get drunk and even teased me about it: don't you want a drink, baby, she said, sure you do. And so she walked me—nearly taking me by the hand—to the bar where eventually I had a smiling reunion with my old friends. In one city my friends played to a small crowd of mostly high school and college students in a strip-mall used bookstore. A person I had met a few times met us there—more a friend to my two friends than to me—but I knew him well enough to know that he was living out of his car in various state parks, and that he didn't drink anymore. Perhaps because I was a little drunk, I was convinced that one of the songs my friends performed was in fact written about me—particularly about the poor decisions I had made and the reasons for getting married in the first place, which everyone seemed to understand except for me. My friends' friend, amusingly enough, was convinced that the song was about him—but it turned out that it was actually about someone that no one liked at all—a bad person that we all knew. When we got out into the desert, the trip seemed to suddenly slow—we were more content to plod and ponder. Now it occurs to me that those days in the desert were spent as if we were on a journey to scatter the ashes of our dead friend, only we were not in possession of his ashes, and so we hardly even mentioned him. It was nothing like, for example, the film The Big Chill, which I have never seen, but whose plot I know because my therapist once summarized it for me. One night in the desert I slept with a very pretty woman in a rented barracks tent—on a heated mattress—and I think I performed fairly well considering the long day and night I had had—my stomach had been upset and I spent most of the daylight in the backseat of a moving car with a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, and then at night I met this woman and we quickly learned that we enjoyed getting drunk together. Another night was spent out in the open, within sight of the Mexican border, and it began raining just as my friends and I slipped into our own profound sleeps. The next morning we were harassed by a border patrol dog who was trained to detect the smell of human bodies—and later that night we smelled so overwhelmingly of travel, when we found ourselves in a motel hundreds of miles from where we began the day, that we kept the door of the room wide open despite the strange—and at that time of night, menacing—human figures ghosting past on the walkway just outside. When my friends dropped me off at the airport I was in a gauzy state of dissociation, one which followed me through security and into the terminal, where I sat and cried for a few moments before boarding the plane. If I'm being honest, it followed me home, where I arrived just in time to have a drink at my neighborhood bar before committing to a long dead sleep in my bed. The next morning I felt as though something had shifted dramatically in my life, but that feeling became gradually more muted and distant, having little lasting effect except, perhaps, that I'm a little more vigilant about how much I drink and I try to write a little more now.