The main thing that happened to me this year is that I became romantically involved. Previously this man and I were best friends. Everyone’s reactions were kind and interested, like they were rooting for us, or felt it was a good match for the community. The names were good: Declan and Darcy. The whole thing was charming. This was the happiest I’ve ever been. I was happy for about four months in a row, my PB. Getting used to having something you spent a long time wanting is the easiest thing in the world and causes a profound rupture with your previous self, the wanter. The wanter becomes alien the way other people are alien. Unknowable. Then he moved away. Everyone told me they were sorry for me and what a stupid thing he did. I told everyone, “We are staying together.” A woman priest we’re both friends with said, to reassure me, “You’re two of the most intuitive people I know.”
Declan works in an open-plan office, like everyone in Silicon Valley. It’s more rustic than most, I think, from the photos I’ve seen, which are few. He doesn’t communicate much from work, because he’s working. But there seemed to be wood on the walls, in the photos, or walls made entirely of wood.
Visuals are rare and I covet them, I wear them down smooth in my memory. What we do for the most part is talk on the phone. I’ve become a phone talker, something I never was. When I was in college I admired the women who walked around campus talking on the phone, and I never understood who they were talking to. This was a profoundly different era, nine years ago. I am the only person currently living who is in acute danger of ’00s-style cell-phone brain cancer from pressing the phone to my head for more than thirty minutes daily.
Silences are emptier on the phone. Conversation is transactional: if you aren’t talking, you’re listening. My friend the priest tells me, “Don’t get scared when you run out of things to say on the phone. It’s not an indictment of anything.” But I’m proud, for a while, of how little of that problem we have. We’re very talkative with each other. The jokes don’t dry up—just the opposite, they get a little manic. Storage Warts, we say, will be a show about Mr. Frog and Mr. Toad having to put their extra lily pads in storage. I feel smug for succeeding at this.
After two months, Declan tells me a troubling anecdote about the dog in the office. In the office there is a little white dog, stained brown around the eyes and mouth, who is so close to dead that it lives permanently in a tote bag and the owner carries it around the office, he totes it. It is completely blind and incontinent. Darcy the dead dog, Declan says, hehe.
Darcy? I say. Darcy?
Yes, it’s true. Declan has been working for two months in a log-cabin-looking open-plan office with a dead dog whose name is the same as mine. That’s it, I say, I’m coming out there.
Declan’s landlady considers me an enemy, which is fair. We have different goals. Her goal is to make living with my boyfriend as much like living by herself as possible, and my visit pushes that goal afield.
She has a beautiful home. Middle-aged people often do. A home with plants is a valuable lesson that beauty requires dedicated care, not just inspiration. She has hula hoops wrapped in ribbon tucked behind the bookshelves. The Wi-Fi password is sfnative. A beautiful Maine Coon has no desire for physical contact. Its name is Yoni although it is male.
No door in the house is normal. The door to the kitchen is a pair of swinging saloon doors suspended in the doorframe. The door into Declan’s room is a panel that slides into place, in a style that may or may not be called, “barn.” The bathroom has two doors that fold in on themselves, more impossible to master the more you have to pee. All of these are weapons, in their turn, in the landlady’s war against me:
Urinating after sex is an effective way to prevent UTIs. I learned this belatedly and then developed a certain rigor about it, as the convert often does.
The landlady communicates with Declan exclusively by email. It’s crisp and on-the-record, and allows her to say precisely what she means. Dear Declan, writes the landlady. It’s difficult for me to sleep when you use the bathroom so much in the middle of the night. After I have gone to bed, I would appreciate it if you did not shut the bathroom doors; they’re too noisy. If you need to use the bathroom, just turn the lights on. I will see the light and know the bathroom is occupied.
I pee once facing the abyss of the whole dark house, and thereafter decide to risk the UTI.
On the third morning of my visit there appears glued to the side of Declan’s doorframe a small cube of rubber. The sliding door can no longer be slid all the way shut. This is, we surmise, to muffle an offending noise, but the cracked open door allows much more of our noise to leak into the landlady’s house. Actually, it’s romantic and apt: we rediscover silence. It is so full when we’re together. We love gesture. I’m constantly telling my students to fill empty spots with gesture to make them into beats of silence, and now here I am doing it. Declan puts his big hand on my leg and I have a moment of connection with my dead former self who wanted, who would look at his hand spread out on his own leg and think, he could put it on mine.
That night we do it in silence and it’s very good, until it’s interrupted. We’re too distracted to notice the silver paw wedging its way into the space afforded by the small rubber cube. The door rumbles open with the noise of a garage door. Yoni greets us in silence. We give up. I entreat him and Declan tells him to go, but he stands in the doorway. Almost like he’s on orders.
Declan has to go to work at least sometimes. He calls me from his lunch break and it reminds me of before, when all I had of him was phone calls. The effect is disturbing. Over the course of the day I forget what he looks like. I roll around in the bed trying to find his smell, but the landlady keeps a scent-free household: he no longer uses the shampoo or the shaving cream or the deodorant or the laundry detergent I used to know on him. All are invisible types now, and all I find in the bed is my own hair. I begin to feel as though I live here alone and Declan lives somewhere else. I go to fix my own lunch wearing a big jammie shirt and underpants and see, through the saloon doors that hide nothing, the landlady fixing her lunch. She is wearing a big jammie shirt and underpants. Both our breasts hang loose in our shirts like people who are alone. I go back into Declan’s room and starve.
Dear Declan, writes the landlady. Darcy is an uncommon woman. However, I hope you’ll understand that, during work hours, I prefer she not be in the house.
We are desperate to have sex. There is nowhere to do it except a clawfoot bathtub twenty miles away. Declan is so tall that his knees come up fully on either side of the steering wheel when he drives.
We do learn later that the people of Bolinas are open in their reclusiveness. There is a whole history of removing road signs that say “To Bolinas.” Unfortunately, like a lot of Deadhead libertarians they have a certain proud disinterest in technology, so they don’t realize no one consults road signs to arrive in Bolinas.
The town is one street where children skateboard back and forth and pickup trucks do U-turns wherever they want. Aram Saroyan used to live here; he is the author of a poem that Declan and I love and all our friends hate, “coffee coffee.” There is nothing to do in Bolinas. It’s empty on the sidewalks, like a long Sunday in a country where everyone is religious. There is a park where the grass crunches icy underfoot, and a gazebo with a warning sign about the roof of the gazebo being insecure. We eat peanut butter sandwiches here for breakfast and then walk to the waterfront. There are signs along the dock saying meet someone here to buy lobsters, but no one is around. Declan and I hold hands, fingers laced, which I love doing. We do it at the expense of our knuckles which get red and then crack. We joke that holding hands fingers-laced is for the sexually normal, and hands-clasped is how true perverts do it: the chastity implying something unseen. We say hello to a man with a Labrador who doesn’t say hello back. We return to our little rented room and put on the matching white robes we find there, then take them off and have sex. It’s loud but not good. We’re troubled and we leave Bolinas early.
We eat oysters for lunch and oysters again for dinner. Technically, by certain standards, oysters are vegan. Their aphrodisiac properties are overstated. They’re absolutely nothing to make a meal out of.
The last thing we do together is visit Point Reyes. We walk along a small one-person path two abreast. We’ll have to check for ticks later. Declan has gifted me a beautiful new pair of hiking boots which were expensive and are excruciatingly uncomfortable. The backs of my feet are rubbed raw and a certain amount of blister pus has been incorporated into the shoe leather. I did tell him I was trying to phase leather goods out of my life but it is a thoughtful purchase, and they are beautiful, as I said. We walk down to the boathouse in silence, but it’s locked.
“It’s nice here,” I say.
“It’s beautiful,” he says. We stall out. Tomorrow morning I am going back home, which is making it hard to talk about anything or feel that the silence is a content one.
We lean on the fence overlooking the little beach and there’s immediately a hideous snorting and a loud toilet noise below us. We look down and on the beach is a huge elephant seal. I think it’s a young one because it doesn’t have the big ugly nose yet, but it’s gigantic nonetheless. It snorts at us again. It seems pissed off. Its head is wedged between two rocks.
“Is it stuck?” Declan says.
It doesn’t seem to be struggling. It only makes small movements, its blob body wiggles and shifts. It has big black wet eyes and they blink. We look at it for a while. The sun sets and the seal screams at us. It’s cute, but we don’t know whether it’s good or bad. We leave without taking a picture. Declan and I have never taken a picture together at all. There are no pictures of both of us. We never think of it when we have the chance. It’s only on the plane ride home that I do think of it. The seal only six feet below us, maybe us in danger of it, maybe it in danger with its wedged head. But I didn’t take any pictures of the trip at all so I start going over all the images, smoothing them down, like pressing flowers into books. Something, incidentally, I did a lot as a kid, but I never remembered to retrieve the flowers. How’s that for prescient. I get so depressed on this plane ride home I forget to be afraid of dying in a plane crash.
It’s cute, but we don’t know whether it’s good or bad. I’m back in our old time zone, alone twenty-three hours a day and on the phone for the other. Declan writes a polite email to the landlady and moves out, moves into a huge chaotic house with eight people and two dogs.
It’s so hard when he makes a change in his life, so hard to visualize. Describe it to me, I say, give me a walkthrough. I’m constantly telling my students that a walkthrough of a house does less to describe it than a rich image.
A rich image, I plead.
He says “The Seed 2.0” plays incessantly because his roommate always puts it on for his signature date night, horny pizza-making. He says the dogs have photorealistic fish dollies that they leave in the bathroom. He says his room is starting to smell normal again.
I know what he means, with the smell. Peppermint shampoo, coffee beans, sun-warm dust. I feel relieved. I inhale deeply, pretending to smell it. I think that when my best future arrives, in which he comes back to me, it will be effortlessly easy to get used to. We’ll be so happy that we will have no memory of any of this.