My darling friend, with whom I sat in the passenger seat of my own car, as he drunkenly drove it up the hill, from downtown Kansas City, to wherever we were going, it didn’t matter, the top was down, and I put in “Kind of Blue,” an entry-level, amateur jazz album, but the only level at which jazz admitted me. We had been there to see each other embarrassed. We trusted each other to be weak, on occasion– a rarity for both of us. He drove, because he could drive a stick, and he could drink more than me, because I was a woman, and so I got to put my hand out the window, and feel the air above and below my palm. The lights were behind us. Not the caverns of lights that are Manhattan, but the sofa-sized picture that is Kansas City’s lights. We were having a time in the small jazz town, long after jazz, and times, had left it.
He is the friend I would get as drunk as he would get me, which was very, very, which was whiskeys and whiskeys and I knew he would care for me. I threw up in his bathroom.
Wine, wine, wine at either of his regular place, then whiskey, when your tongue and throat are softened to accept it. There were always drinks, and with good company, they made me loquacious on the topics of opera, crossword puzzles, politics. Then they made me mournful. Then they made me disclose: I’m afraid I’ll never. I’m not sure that I. And he told me secrets, too. And we didn’t hold them against each other.
Then there was a night he didn’t remember where his apartment was, and I did, and I thought, this isn’t right.
Then I met him and tried to talk him through his trembling drying-out anxiety (I should have realized this was dangerous, it was), and walked him around the neighborhood on a cold, snowy day, on the iced sidewalks, and hugged him before he went into an AA meeting, in the basement of a stone church, just like in the movies.
I get a message from another friend. He told me he had been beaten up. I have known these men who are so dangerous to themselves, who I think show me how to take chances with your body, chances I am not brave enough, or foolish enough, to take. What if my primary concern was not protecting myself, because I am a slight woman.
I took a few small step chances, I mean, I do. I will walk in any neighborhood, I took the subway at all hours, I talk to strange men, but I will reject their advances. I will draw strong lines, and not mind being a bitch, not a bit. I swam naked in the Atlantic, and lay on the roof like Bathsheba once.
Not the same.
Men’s bodies, I always thought, were the ones in danger.
“I don’t understand why you are guys are always talking about wars,” I said.
“Because if it happens, we’ll have to protect you, dummy,” thus said my friend who is a man, and I became a little less dumb that day.
This has changed. Men my age, now, will not be called to fight for me. Now, many of the men I know have been throttled, in combat with others, physics, or themselves.
It’s different, though I’m not sure how, that my female friends have certainly suffered. A gallbladder lost. Babies pushed or cut out of them. They’ve been continuously shaken with unnatural anxieties, had blood vessels in their brains spout, had their backs opened up and rejiggered. I don’t know why a female body seems so hardy to me, even in death. Too many pictures and statues of Jesus?
Once my father was in the emergency room on Easter. We had already celebrated with him, and were at our next engagement, with my mother’s side of the family, and left for the hospital. He had chest pain.
My father is a rhino. He has a tough skin, he can pull anything down, put anything up, stay up all night, stay up all day. Annually, he personally re-blacktops the parking lot in front of his law firm. We got to the hospital, and he was the one in the bed, and my whole being rejected this notion. He looked like a paper doll.
He was always the one sitting beside a hospital bed, whether my mother’s, when we kids were born, or my stepmom’s, as she went through various operations, or when I had my appendix out, or when my sister needed an IV for a flu, whatever it was, he was a person who visited people in the hospital, not someone who would be admitted. I thought they would say, “Not you,” when he went to the front desk.
He had a pulled muscle from his persistent, awful cough that winter. When he put his arms above his head, the pain stopped. When they noticed this, they sent him home.
I knew it was a mistake.
Image: “Large Blue Horizontal” by Ilya Bolotowsky, Metropolitan Museum of Art.