Generally I try to avoid “why me” in dealing with the intricacies of life because it’s simply not productive. Recently I began going through my sister’s artwork in an effort to find a painting. When I saw how neatly everything was organized, and the sheer volume of it I became immediately and thoroughly unglued. Her organization and thinking was in such stark contrast to mine. Just as her life was. In many ways we walked the same path, independent of our parents choices. Vegetarians, for a time. Masters degrees. Both married to successful men with PhDs. Artists. Mothers. Caregivers. Weirdos.
I think it was when I opened up her art supplies that I fell apart. Touching them. Looking at them. The impact someone leaves behind when they leave you too fucking soon.
It made me think of the last time I allowed myself a “why me” moment. Twenty years ago this year Tristan and I were headed to a Radiohead concert at the Black Cat in DC. The next day we had plans to attend the HFStival. We must have left after work because I was tired and let Tristan drive my car and man, that was a shitty car in the history of shitty cars. But when you leave home at 17 and become completely financially independent from your parents you do things like work two shitty jobs at a time and drive a Mitsubishi Mirage Hatchback that is inevitably a total piece of garbage. Anyway, Tristan commonly lacking in common sense found us lost, clueless, in a really bad neighborhood with him at the helm, and then me forcing him to ask through a bulletproof window how to get the hell out of where we were. Frustrated with his lack of direction, our lack of progress, his inability to sense danger, I canceled our trip further into the bowels of DC. The next day was going to be a long day anyway (and it was).
Currently I’m planning to see Radiohead in 2017 and this time I’m not going to get lost in a bad neighborhood on the way to the show. Tristan and I didn’t last much longer after that concert. I was 19 in 1996, and although I walked a different, more rebellious path than my parents, somehow I thought I was going to be like them. I thought it was perfectly reasonable for me to find myself a 51 year long relationship like they had. Even though much of the time they were really, truly terrible for each other. I remember laying in the dark with Tristan, in our living room. We had just watched “Play Misty for Me.” Which is a deeply unromantic movie. I mean, I can’t think of many movies that are an immediate turn off like that one. So anyway that seemed like the perfect time to ask him if he thought I was his soulmate. His answer cut me deeply. (Aside, if you ever want to know what it’s like to be cut to the bone, date an artist.) “No.” “NO.” He didn’t believe in soulmates. So then I said, trying to recover, well, Tristan, when we’re forty, let’s have an affair. Together. We laughed it off, but life continued and he did what artists do which is cheat on you in your own home that you had together and completely disassemble your heart. If you want someone to cut your heart to ribbons and then set it on fire and then send those ashes to space, love an artist.
He used to draw/journal daily in a Stillman & Birn. After he stopped coming home from work at the end of our relationship, I stepped over whatever decency that was stopping me from looking inside his journal for the year and a half we were together previous. Because I knew the relationship was ending. I saw the drawing of another woman. And then another drawing of her. And another. And another. And I knew that was that. We argued about it, me screaming and screeching like a hysterical banshee, him denying it, calling her a fucking bitch. But I caught them at home, him locking himself in his studio. The strangest part was somehow it was all my fault? I never could understand it.
Obviously we weren’t soulmates. Almost laughable now. But even 20 years later, he hurt me in a place I’ve not let anyone see or touch. The type of hurt I experienced, I don’t even know how to explain. On how our mutual friends would come to my parents house to check in on me because they were concerned, where I was cooling my heels until I found a roommate. How I’d sit on the front porch with various guy friends and sob my guts out. And how they’d awkwardly hug me, uncertain and nervous and worried. How my mom would come out and see the physical manifestation of a stoner archetype and death metal addict hugging me, and because he was wearing a grubby t shirt with tombstones on it that said “Testament” she decided he was a good boy. “That Joe is a good boy, you should hang out with him more.” Joe thought he was going to scrape up the bits of me that were left after Tristan blew my life apart, for himself. I declined.
I spent so many hours on that front porch, at night. Night after night. Wrestling with another friend, knocking off and breaking one of the large flower pots. Almost getting myself into deep trouble the next morning when my mom uttered “Your father was going to call the police because of the pot on the lawn.” Silent just long enough to realize she meant the broken flower pot and not pot, pot. Remembering the story of how she was going to call the cops on my brother, her own son, for a little pot, until my father came home from work and diffused the situation. I spent that summer living dangerously, skinny-dipping in lakes. Eating at truck stops. Going to drive-in movies. There was so much crying. Crying in the shower. Crying at work. Crying in the car. Crying while walking. Crying in bed, newly alone.
An artist is really never done hurting you. Somehow in their search for truth and beauty your heart becomes theirs and they have no qualms in crushing it, just to see what happens next. Twenty years ago, we broke up in the most horrible of ways. Eighteen years ago he died. Drowned in Crater Lake. We will never have any affairs now that I’m forty. We won’t see Radiohead, this year or any year. He’s long gone and still breaking hearts.
My last “why me” was about 6 or 8 months after he died. His cousin, who I had remained friendly with called me at the restaurant where I worked. That restaurant was THE place that taught me what good food tastes like. The clientele was upscale, the interior was upscale, the food. The chef was previously sous chef at the Watergate, working 100 hour workweeks after his formal training. I was surrounded by good food and I made good money. My mom stepped foot in that restaurant to initiate our reconciliation after I stopped speaking to her for four months because of a really terrible decision she made. I learned about wine and heard the word sommelier for the first time at that restaurant. Beurre blanc. Muffuletta. Asiago. Ciabatta. Pinot Noir. Cab Sauvignon. Syrah. I developed taste there.
So months after Tristan died his cousin called me to find out if Tristan’s cat, Pluto, the evil black cat that would scratch my tender legs in the middle of the night as I haunted the hallway on the way to our bathroom, had had his rabies shot. Because Pluto had bitten Scott and had caused a red streaking infection it was either find out who Pluto’s vet was to confirm rabies vaccination on record, or put Pluto down for tests. As that was the only way to ensure Scott didn’t require the comprehensive, painful, unpleasant rabies treatment regimen, I told him which vet. I knew Pluto was vaccinated. But, crying at work, I wondered, why me. Why am I the one who has to answer that question. And now, all these years later, looking through my dead sister’s art, I wonder, why am I the one that has to do this. Why is it me, cleaning up the pieces of my broken heart. Why do artists hurt. Why do they leave us. Why do they cause us this terrible pain.
The Universe has no answer.