(Fictional monologue for an actor)
I’ve never been to a shrink before, but I can’t quite keep still. I don’t know what to do with my body. You probably want me lying down. That’s why you have a couch here, instead of a chair. Okay, I'm lying down. Yeah, I see how this works. Minimize the eye contact so there’s no expectation of a regular conversation. I can see it’s more comfortable for you this way. Don’t take that the wrong way. I mean, this is a good posture, the correct posture, for a ….an examination. I’m exposed to facilitate a transparent process. Might as well do this.
Well, something is happening in my life, some kind of…fever that’s disabling me. I can’t sleep. Can’t eat. Somehow I still manage to smoke, although it’s hard to believe I have the attention span for that right now. What’s happening to me is sort of an out of body experience. It’s like my trunk, my core, is responding to my overactive brain. Trying to keep up. There’s a current of electricity through me. I couldn’t tell you the origin, but it recirculates. I can feel it. I could pinpoint it for you if you think it would help. I can’t take deep breaths, and I can’t wait for the kettle to boil, and generally I’m as useless as a teenager. Everywhere I go the view is blurry, the air feels like heavy syrup, and I have to remind myself to blink.
I can’t say this state of …midsummer’s insomnia is entirely unenjoyable, but I can’t possibly sustain it. Who could? Who could live their daily life this….. awake? It’s brutal to see things so clearly. Who’s that artist who never slept? Was it Michelangelo?
I’ve been in this state since the writing class. It was just a little workshop, “Brilliant Writing.” A Saturday department of rec. class held at the high school. The class itself was useful enough. Point of view, tone, intimacy. Dry stuff. And the instructor, who was a bit too ego-sensitive in her feedback and seeped a searing case of halitosis, was smart enough. It was a class. But I had a …an encounter there and I haven’t gotten it out of my head, or my body, since.
There was a poet there. Stunning. She had this sort of ...indescribable hair. A color with no name and extremely long. She was tall and handsome. No make-up. I noticed her when I came through the door. She was sitting squarely at her ill-sized, high school desk. She wore white shorts, quite skimpy ones, and green rubber gardening boots that needed to be hosed. Much too young for me. So when I saw all this I did what any weak, married man would do and picked a seat on the exact opposite side of the room. But it was a workshop and we ended up in the same group anyway reading passages of our writing to each other. She was a poet, or she wrote poems. That’s maybe a better way of putting it. Sentimental to a criminal degree. Her work was embryonic, but she was so…new.
We got into this heated thing about Nabokov’s Lolita and a story by Grace Paley we’d both read. I was saying that Lolita must have wanted Humbert on some level, even if she was trapped with him, just as Paley’s young character wants the older man in that story. (I’ll be the devil’s advocate even when there are feminists in the room.)
She slouched across from me, listening in those shorts. She had the most perfect thighs. A little muscle of her inner thigh was visible just below the hem, as if it had been poured there. It looked like a melting scoop of coffee ice cream. I had to hold myself back from touching it. I wanted to palm that flesh. I imagined if I did it would melt right through my fingers.
Not that I’m hung up on beauty. I’m really not that superficial. My wife is lovely in her own way; her beauty is just less …obvious. Her thighs are the color of uncooked chicken and they’re rippled with cellulite. So, you can see looks don’t matter to me.
Just about the time my imagination had me putting my fingers to my mouth to taste coffee ice cream the poet said, “You’re an ass,” and we both smiled.
Halfway through, the class took a break and she followed me to the smoker’s corner. We started talking about work, hers and mine, what we’ve published, what we’ve published that we were actually proud of, who were the best masters, who we couldn’t stand, what poets we clung to. She said she liked my writing; she used the word talented. Then out of the blue, she asked me to take off my sunglasses and placed the flat of her hand on my cheek, a grandmother’s gesture. She said something that really got me, while she smoothed my hairline with her palm.
“‘… light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. This is the only immortality you and I may share...’” She was quoting Nabokov. The first and last lines of Lolita. She was telling me we were both going to hell. She’d already decided. She had a tiny jewel glued to one of her canines and it glistened with saliva when she spoke. I’ve imagined what it would feel like against my tongue at least a hundred times. She asked me if I wanted to cut the rest of class and go somewhere.
“Are you married?” I asked.
“Does it matter?" she said. "You are."
I asked her if she’d cheated before and she said sorta. I was thinking sorta meant just a kiss. I contemplated just a kiss.
But I’m a man with a wife and a mortgage and a leaky carburetor, so I didn’t run away with the poet. Didn’t even kiss her. And that is really the problem. I can’t sit still now. That's why I’m driven to see a shrink. Why I have no appetite and can’t fall asleep. Because I didn’t, because we didn’t, my hands will not stop moving and my body will not release. I can’t stop thinking about her. How much I wanted to, how much I still want to. If infidelity is the cure for love, what’s the cure for lust?
My wife is a true saint. She trusts me, of all things. I don’t know how she can manage this …act of faith. But she does. I went home after the class and told her the whole story. Every last detail. I paced the room and shed tears made of guilt, which I did feel. I told her all about it, the coffee ice cream and the boots and the Nabokov. I told my wife that nothing happened, but I really wanted it to. I wanted it so much it sacred me.
Smiling to herself she said, “I don’t see the problem. You were tempted. You did the right thing. You should be happy you passed this test.” Then she turned to load a dish into the washer. “We’re all tested at some point, my love.”
My wife doesn’t like art or literature. She scrapbooks. That’s her thing. Scrapbooking. She goes to conventions for it all over the country.
Now I linger in this state of electric shock…therapy. I can’t stop thinking all these lightening notions that seem to only address the poet. Writing is like…losing your keys, at some point you just can’t go anywhere until you stop everything and find the one small detail you need. In this case, her.
See? That. That is exactly the type of thing that my wife does not get. This poet, my muse, wouldn’t need an explanation and that’s what I crave. Like when I find the right word to describe a smile, or the way a man sits in his chair. Or something in my writing finally clicks, lifting it off the ground. When I find the elusive—the only thing I want is to find this poet and tell her about it. We’d be naked, of course. It would be the correct posture, exposed to facilitate a transparent process. There’d be a bathtub or a fireplace nearby, and maybe I’m feeding her grapes, dangling the bunch above her face while she smiles and reaches for them with her tongue. And my body is finally focused. I'd know what to do with myself.
Perhaps this crisis is simply that my muse has finally come to me. And, in that case, shouldn’t I follow her? Isn’t that what a true artist does when they’re too restless to work? Is it possible that my body won’t calm until I have her? I can’t just give up my art for the sake of my marriage. That would be rash.
If I hadn’t misapplied my self-control that day, the poet and I would’ve had sex. At her place while a roommate was out of the house, or worse, in my car. And it would have been good in a minimal way. My throat would have tightened with arousal, giving the words fuck me the right tone, and we would have been at each other quickly, a slightly violent act of consumption. I would have done some of the stuff my wife doesn’t goes for. Afterward, I know I’d have felt full. I just don’t know if I’d also be disgusted with myself. Perhaps not. Do you think wolves ever feel full to the point of regret after they devour their kill?
The irony is I know how to solve my problem. The cure for my condition. How to regain control of my appendages. I could find the poet, today let’s say, and take her to bed. I could have her any way I wanted for a full afternoon. I could talk about literature and art. Read poetry to her. I’d enact all the fantasies I’ve conjured. But I know she wouldn’t smile in shock at me when she came like she does in my head. She’d do something more predictable, maybe something my wife does. The poet wouldn’t tell me the things I want her to in the throaty voice I hear in my head. Her clothes wouldn’t slide off silently, but there would be zippers and eyehooks. Worst of all she might have to help me. She’d insist on a condom. Of course, she would. And there would be the foil to get open and the smell of oily latex on my fingers.... All this would be disappointing, but would bring me back to my body. It would end my crisis once and for all, and I would soon be napping after eating a big meal.
Then I’ll know the cure for lust. It’s the same as the cure for a muse. Sex makes them both disappear. I’ll be stable then and go home to my blank pages. When I arrive, my wife will be sitting at the kitchen table, scrapbooking. She’ll raise her glue gun as I come in, and ask if I’m hungry. She’s saved leftovers for me.
“Eggplant again,” she’ll say. “Sorry. I know it’s not your favorite.”
I’ll stand still in front of her. All my ticks will have receded. The current drained of its charge, I will tell my wife, “Yes, I am hungry.” Then I’ll eat the damn eggplant.