800 Words: How I Spent My Yom Kippur - Shul 4 - Bolton Street Synagogue - Part 5 - Part 2
In order to properly tell the story of Estrella Croquet, or Sonia Guimaraes, or whatever name she goes by now, I also need to tell the story of the other woman, the other 'other' in my life circa 2011, Amelia Rogers.
Amelia was as beautiful as Sonia, but beautiful in precisely the opposite manner. Sonia might have been of European extraction, but she looked as exotic as the night has stars, while Amelia was an Apple Pie All-American WASP from Texas. Sonia was perfectly proportioned - slightly below average height with a sensual physicality that comes from the fact that nobody could possibly understand the mysteries beneath which she so doggedly cultivated. Was there anything at all underneath the loquacious panache? Sonia would in my experience never stop talking, I sometimes wondered if she ever came up for air, but underneath the torrent of words was a personality as shy and self-concealing as Amelia was self-revealing. Physically and emotionally, Amelia the the most larger than life conceivable personage - she was no less ferociously intelligent and cultured than Sonia, but in her temperament she almost seemed more animal than human. Physically, nearly six feet tall and though not at all overweight, similarly full-figured, well-boobed and curved. There was no way that Amelia would ever, ever be ignored.
I was 29 years old when we met in Boston, and Amelia Rogers was the first woman who hooked up with me since the first half of my twenties. With a very few exceptions, I was far too depressed in my late twenties to date or pursue women. I don't doubt that were I a much more emotionally healthy sort, there are a number of female friends I could have been romantically involved with, but they saw how saturnine and malcontented depression had turned me (to say nothing of how overweight), and the possibility of anything but friendship was a complete non-starter for even the women who liked me best (and there seemed to be plenty who at least enjoyed my company). What was worst about this state of affairs is that I knew that very well that it was my own toxic inability to love properly that prevented love from entering my life. It was, and remains, a horrible Catch-22. Love would have no doubt helped enormously in combatting depression, but I was prevented by depression from love ever entering my life. As so often happens in life, the obvious solution to the biggest problems are completely prevented by the problems' very existence.
I was quite relieved to have Amelia in my life, but can't say I was particularly flattered or grateful, because by her own proud admission I was probably one of at very least a hundred. Sex with Amelia was, to put it mildly, bad, something she was not shy about telling me. If anything, my sexual frustration increased still more exponentially from the experience. I pleaded with her to let me meet up with her more often as only a desperate man who knows he may never get laid again could (which is, of course, the ultimate turnoff), and I assured her that I was, once upon a time, counted by the few who knew to be a very good lover - something that was fortunately corroborated quite well a few years later. She, however, assured me that in no way could she ever believe that.
Nevertheless, I really liked Amelia, very very much, and in the back of my mind, there was a small part of me that, against so much evidence to the contrary, really did think that if I simply persisted against my better judgement, she still might turn out to be 'the one.' She was introduced to me by a mutual friend as precisely that - my 'dream girl'. On paper, she absolutely should have been: she was a trained opera singer who was also a political journalist, well read and extremely cultured, but with a surprisingly vulgar, Texan, streak. From the beginning, I could see that she absolutely wasn't a girl I hoped she would be, but I was desperate enough to keep trying on the off-chance that perhaps I'd missed something. Was I really going to get another chance to find anything remotely approaching love? Will I?
The night I met Amelia was also the night that after seven years of working up the nerve, I made a terribly clumsy and obnoxious drunken pass at Estrella (much more a proposition frankly) that completely undid any chance we ever may have had. I doubt even a much smoother pass would have made much difference. Our best chances of a happy resolution (at least for me) were far, far in the past. I'll talk about the details of that in the next post or three.
Amelia was, at that time, a burgeoning opera singer. A Mezzo with the type of gorgeous, thick voice that from the stage of the Met could pin you to the back wall of the nosebleed section. She had a technique that was easily a hundred times better than most other opera singers, who were ostensibly professionals. By her forties, she could easily have turned into a Wagnerian soprano. She had just finished a master's degree in Voice at Boston University, and she was about to head back to Washington, where her parents lived, so she could take part in an opera production.
After having confessed my undying and of course unrequited lust for Estrella, it seemed extremely fortunate for me that Amelia, clearly the type of girl who was always up for adventure, was hanging around DC. We agreed to meet up that Saturday. Until we got drunk, it was, of course, more than a bit awkward. In spite of the fact that here was one of the few girls (people?) in the world who was on my wavelength, I was tongue-tied around this beautiful girl who clearly had a couple thousand times more sexual experience and knowledge than I had at that point in my life. After we arrived at a friend's birthday party (a once perpetually single friend like me who got married last week) she disappeared for a very long fifteen minutes during which I was sure I'd blown it... again... At the time, I honestly wondered if she didn't go to the bathroom to do some cocaine, because she was clearly a different, much more hyperactive type of person when she returned. At this point, my guess is that she was either talking to her friends on the phone and trying to ease herself out of this situation, or getting herself drunk, trying to make me into someone attractive and charismatic enough to merit her attention.
We spent the rest of the night talking and growing closer. During that night, I felt, truly for the first time in over ten years, close to a woman's inner life - as though we spoke the same language of music and books and politics, and joked with the same high comedy wit, and somehow it all fit together erotically. It was not her inner physical life I felt close to, though it had been more than five years since I'd been with a woman in any capacity, but her spiritual life which I felt was so close to mine.
It was, of course, the mirage of a desperate man - doubly self-deceiving because at no point was I under any illusion about the person Amelia truly was. And yet at that moment I was convinced, as so many besotted lovers of both genders have always been, that with enough gumption I and perhaps I alone had the magic words and actions that could bring out what I thought was best in this lovely woman. Even though there was so much about her that I, like the majority of all lovers the world over, found wanting about the object of my so strong affection.
As we were waiting for the check, I couldn't wait any longer, and I kissed her. She kissed me back. We simply made out at the bar and I became the person I always made fun of at bars - so emotionally unrestrained that chaos was one small step away. And suddenly, in this long denied moment of bliss, I found myself saying things my conscious self in no way meant or wanted to say. Instincts and urges I had long denied myself came pouring out, because there was no way that in this particular moment of happiness, I could ever allow myself to willingly go back to the way things usually are.
I knew she had many other lovers, and I asked her what I could do to convince her to abandon her ways and try me on for size. I did not mention the 'L' word, but I did allude obliquely refer to the possibility of it not being too far away. A girl with a 'normal' romantic life in our situation would have sensed something weird, but would perhaps wrongly have dismissed the concerns popping up in her head as being uncharitable to me. 'Ms. Normal' might have given me the benefit of the doubt that I'm not talking crazy, even if, like Amelia, I'd only met her five days earlier.
However, a girl of Amelia's temperament and background has no 'normal' life of which to speak, let alone a normal romantic life. A girl of Amelia's habits would, of course, be horrified that she was on the precipice of getting with a guy who wouldn't willingly abide by the rules of her game. Such spiritual intimacy was her stock and trade. She probably met a couple nights a week with a different guy so that she could capture precisely that moment when emotional and physical intimacy blends together. But I have no doubt that she'd long since discovered that such unrestrained moments among unrestrained people can lead to horribly ugly emotional messiness. There are few lives with more restraints than the lives of the sexually unrestrained.
As everyone in bad romantic situations has, I both meant every word I said and didn't mean a word of it. Until then, I never had an Amelia Rogers enter my life, but I'd known and watched hundreds, at Hyde, at AU, in Washington, and now in Baltimore. None of them had ever struck me as particularly happy, and most struck me as just as no less emotionally distraught and desperate than me. Many of them didn't even seem all that fond of their lifestyles. In terms of the procurement of sex, unattached women have it a hundred times easier than men, even if the sexual situations in which they find themselves could be incredibly unrewarding and even dangerous. Men like me who live with mental illness often live like monks, but women who live with mental illness can at least try to assuage their anguish with sex, and perhaps the often brief illusion of being loved that accompanies it. I don't doubt that had I been born a woman, regardless of how attractive or unattractive a woman I'd make, hypersexuality would have been a prominent part of the way I'd live my life.
There will be much more to say about Amelia in future days, the stories of Amelia Rogers and Estrella Guimaraes are completely tied to one another in my life, and you cannot tell the story of one without the other. I don't know which one is the more important and which is the shadow self of the 'other' through which my Jewish self tried to better assimilate to mainstream American life, but I cannot write about one without writing about the other.
But it was particularly, and truly amazingly, fortuitous that I decided to write about Amelia on today of all days. Believe it or not, I was already writing this post when I read the news that she was going to be the new Gender Issues reporter for Vox.com. I nearly fell out of my chair when I read it, the day I write about her is the day that she is launched into the limelight of our generation - she is now the reporter for the most fashionable issue of our day in the most fashionable magazine in our time...
...But that statement is incredibly unfair to Amelia, to gender issues, and to Vox. Vox is not just the most fashionable publication in contemporary America, it's also the best. Gender issues are obviously much, much more important than a passing fashion - it redresses a million years of human history in which all women and homosexuals and transgender got a terrible shaft. Such a monumental task requires a reporter as brilliant as Amelia always seemed to me. But as ever with so many of the people I see from my prison of a vaguely upper-class, vaguely unemployed, Baltimore perch, and as ever with the rage of people like me with an absurdly entitled streak, I can't help but be ferociously, insanely, disgustingly, deep sea green with envy.
Why hasn't anybody wanted me as a cataloguer of great events and moral imperatives in our time, or even small ones? Why can't I, a modern Uncle Vanya who fancies himself as having been anything in the world with a but slightly less rotten hand, not be able to be the cataloguer of the extraordinary which people always fed my head-in-the-clouds as being mine for the taking. But for one or two misfiring neurons which make my learning-disabled self unable to do nearly any practical thing I've ever had to do on every day of my life, what could I have been? In an infinity of parallel universes, I am either extraordinary or a cataloguer of the extraordinary. In this universe, I am a mediocrity unable to absolve myself for everything that's mundane about me.
In another infinity of parallel universes, I'm not even that. I sometimes wish to myself that I were born to a lower-class, or trailer park, or urban ghetto family. At least in those places, wasted lives are what's expected of you, and I don't have to measure myself against so many people I know who've surpassed everything about me. But here I am, born to a community where everybody except me seems to have a wonderful life. Even a person like Amelia Rogers, so seemingly healthy and successful and blessed and naturally gifted, but with such obviously horrific demons, can find something that justifies the suffering that was clearly a regular feature of her life. Where is that justification for me?