Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Room of my own (from Poems from a Garden Wall)

Oct. 8, 1980

I had a lot of reasons to move to Montclair that late fall, 1972.
Most of all, I was desperate to get out of my one-time best friend Dave’s family house in Paterson.
His young hoodlum brother, Dennis, had kicked in the door to my bedroom whenever he wanted to fiddle with my stuff.
When I complained to his mother, the woman just shook her head and said, “You shouldn’t even have a lock on your bedroom door.”
“If I don’t have a lock, he’ll steal everything I own,” I said.
She shrugged and told me it was my problem.
“You deal with it,” she said, explaining why half the police force knew Dennis by site, and the other half wanted to shoot him.
So I dealt with it.
I found the apartment house on Valley Road that was close enough to a bus route I could get myself to work.
But I had no furniture, not even a bed, and that first day when I moved “my stuff” in, I stood in the door way staring down at the expanse of empty wooden floor, wondering if I had made a mistake.
Hank honked the horn from the street where he waited, wanting to go get a beer or find some girls.
He didn’t know what it really meant to have a place of his own, since the only time he’d lived anywhere other than his parent’s house was with Laurie, and most of that time in an East Village cold water flat.
I lived for a time around the block in a similar place with my then pregnant girlfriend, Louise.
But this was different. Since my breakup from Louise, I’d been living in other people’s houses, renting rooms upstairs or in their basements. This – with its sunlight ceiling light glaring at me – was all mine.
This was the place where I began to write bad verse in a cheap imitation of the poetry Rosemary wrote, some of it bemoaning the loss of Louise, some offering pathetically bad advice if not to myself than to someone just like me – some of it inspired even by Neil Young lyrics.

You learn to struggle,
You hope, and then you fight
And in the end,
Learn to lose,
You knock upon
Your neighbor’s door
Searching for something
You can never find,
The broken pieces
Of dreams or secrets kept,
Holding on with hope
You can put the dreams
Back together,
Only to watch them
Collide with reality again,
You search for love
And perhaps when
You find it again
It’s not the same.

While I was still standing in the doorway, contemplating my new home, I heard a voice behind me say, “hello,” and turned to see a short girl with very black hair and equally black eyes looking up at me.
“My name is Sue,” she said, extending a small hand for me to shake.
Her smile was filled with secrets, and seems to say something her words would not, a promise maybe or threat. She 14 but said she was 18, and then put both hands on her hips as if she expected me to do or say something I was at a loss to do or say. And then, she told me she lived in the room near the bathroom at the end of the hall and that I should come and see her sometime, saying it the way Mae West did, as if she also expected me to come bearing a banana in my pocket. She wiggled her fingers as she made her way back to her room, and smiled again before she went inside and closed the door.
Hank honked the horn harder, and I sighed.
When I got to the car, he told me that this move was the smartest thing I ever did, save for making his friendship that was,
But as close as we were our friendship had already frayed.
I began to see Hank as something stagnant, something that would never change or grow, while I ached to do both, even if I didn’t yet know how, even when I knew change would be gradual and slow.
Hank resented change. He saw it as a threat to his security, which of course it was.
“So what took you so long?” he asked as I closed the car door and he started off down the long sweeping curve of Valley Road.
I almost didn’t tell him. He had had so many girls, and I’d had so few, I didn’t want him stealing this one until I was sure what to do with her first. But then I told him.
“Really?” he said, giving me a side glance that I knew wasn’t hopeful. “I’ll meet her later. You can introduce me.”
I nodded, but wondered how I might manage to avoid it.
Hank was girl crazy, taking out his hurt of losing Laurie in gratification.
But then, he had cheated on Laurie the whole time we’d all lived in New York, never able to get over the Free Love concept he and I had embraced as teens. He had a power over women I didn’t have, and yet, I wanted. They flocked to him, even though he wasn’t good looking or even a fast talker.
Sometimes, it was the only thing he cared about, and I resented that, too, since he was the person in my life that had taught me what art is, and the pleasure of pursuing it, and how that hunger could overcome the lack of anything else, even love.
But in that I had already left him behind. He had wandered The Village, east and west, seeking to make his career as a singer, and somehow, he lost his hunger for it just as I was gaining mine, and seemed smaller for the lack of it. Where once he had seemed bigger than life, he now seemed shriveled and insignificant, and I ached for his art more than he did.
In Jersey, he lived his life going from slimy to slimy bar, and I accompanied him, not because I expected anything out of it, but to see what it was I was missing, and each time, finding I wasn’t missing anything at all.
On this night, he droved to Bloomfield and a place called the Dart Tavern, where a small stage had one somewhat lazy stripper trying to milk tips out of us and the other drunks.
Me, I kept thinking of the girl back at the rooming house, and the fingers she had wiggled before closing her door. All I wanted at that moment was to see her again.

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