This is the Life of a Redhead

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Excerpt - "Middlesex" Jeffrey Eugenides

This novel has been recommended to my by many people. I can think of three off the top of my head, and I'm pretty sure there's a few others who've passed the title along to me. Reading this in such proximity to One Hundred Years of Solitude had me worried. I didn't think I would be able to keep up with another generational novel. Well, sometimes we have to admit that we're wrong. (I could probably do a whole rant about my pride for admitting mistakes. Let's avoid that, for now.)

Anyways, I checked out the novel from a library, and I am frustrated that I cannot underline passages and write notes in the margins. I am extremely tempted to vandalize the book, but dog-earring the corners is as brave as I'm going to get. There was one passage, however, that I could not ignore. Thus, I am posting it here, to share with you, and to cement online for me.

pg. 217

"Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in 'sadness,' 'joy,' or 'regret.' Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, 'the happiness that attends disaster.' Or: 'the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy.' I'd like to show how 'intimations of morality brought on by aging family members' connects with 'the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.' I'd like to have a word for 'the sadness inspired by failing restaurants' as well as for 'the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.' I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever. I can't just sit back and watch from a distance anymore. From here on in, everything I'll tell you is colored by the subjective experience of being part of events. Here's where my story splits, divides, undergoes meiosis. Already the world feels heavier, now I'm a part of it. I'm talking about bandages and sopped cotton, the smell of mildew in movie theaters, and of all the lousy cats and their stinking litter boxes, of rain on city streets when the dust comes up and the old Italian men take their folding chairs inside. Up until now it hasn't been my world. Not my America. But here we are, at last.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Love Letters

I had this idea months ago. I'm thinking it was October or November, somewhere around there. The inspiration seems obvious, but in reality, I wasn't really experiencing any relationship turmoil at that time.

I don't know how to feel about the piece, either. When I was writing it, it deviated immensely from what I imagined, but then I started to love where it was going. Now, I'm not too sure. The ending is sort of what I want it to be, but I think it could be done better. Or, maybe not. Hmm.


"Love Letters"

June collapsed onto the coffee table. The ink smudged beneath the palm of her right hand. Her left hand carelessly sent a map gliding to the carpet. There were plenty more maps squashed underneath her chest. She covered Seattle’s metropolitan area, a panoramic of Canada, and a small-scaled reproduction of the Rocky Mountains with red ink winding through the most scenic route to the West.

“I don’t want to go back through cornfields,” June twisted her head to face Eric. Her cheek pressed up against Portland.

“But I’ve never seen Nebraska.”

“You’ve seen cornfields before. Remember Indiana?”

“I didn’t go to the dunes with you guys.”


They were quiet for a moment.

“It’s just that you always talk about that trip. Running around in the sand drunk or whatever.”




June rested her hand on Eric’s knee. The ink blotted his denim jeans, the dot of red screaming against its new, faded-blue background. June absently stroked the stain with her thumb.

“You know, we’ll talk about this trip so much that all our friend’s are going to be, like, ‘hey, shut up.’ You can exaggerate all the stories. You can say we were shooting up while behind the wheel. I’ll back you up.”

“No one’s going to believe that.”

“I’ll paint on some track marks.”

“Stop it.”

“No, hey, I took that stage makeup class. It’ll look really good.”

“Seriously,” Eric forced June’s hand away from him. “Stop.”

“Hey. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. It tickles when you do that. It’s actually really annoying.”

“Why didn’t you say anything before?”

“I did say something. I could only take it for what? 30 seconds?”

“No, like. You know. Months ago. The first time I did that.”

Eric shrugged.

The maps scattered off the table as June leaped onto the couch. She sat quietly next to Eric, arching her brows, scrunching her face into a melancholy expression. The focus was to shape her large brown eyes into those of a puppy, or, better yet, a deer. Doe eyes. Owl eyes. Squid eyes.

Eric laughed. He pulled the giant squid over to him, running his hands through her brown hair, fingers ruffling up her bangs, crowning her head, sliding down her spine. Her petite body almost got lost in his embrace, but June reemerged with a flurry of kisses attacking his rusty beard.

They stayed in their mode of childish foreplay for hours. Occasionally a foot or elbow would bump against the coffee table, but no traces of wet ink left prints on their bodies. Suddenly they came to a stop, June’s hands twisted around Eric’s belt and buckle, Eric’s hands trapped under June’s shirt, clasped around her bra.

June sat up, dragging Eric’s lanky arms to his side.

“I couldn’t do it.”


“I’m sorry. I tried, but I couldn’t.”

“We do this all the time. Wait. Couldn’t what?”

“I tried to write you love letters. I tried so many times. I couldn’t do it.”

Hesitantly, June stood up, staring at the maps scattered on the table and the floor. It was silent as she studied the ink, noting the bright circles drawn around cities with silly names: Zap, Nimrod, Square Butt. She left the room, went down the hall, into her bedroom. Eric listened to her rummage through drawers and knock books off shelves. She swore loudly as she stubbed her toe. June returned with a stack of letters in hand, tied together with pale blue string.

The pile was three inches thick, a combination of loose-leaf, stiff envelopes, miniature notebook pages, sketchbook paper, and cardstock. The items on bottom were frayed and faded. Most of the paper had dog-eared corners, or small tears from where they were ripped from their binding.

“I couldn’t finish a single one. Some I worked on for days. Look,” June untied the string. It fell lazily to the floor, winding around the border of North and South Dakota. She pulled up the first letter, purple jelly-pen on clementine-scented paper.

“It says, ‘my darling, don’t ever shave. I love the way you smell, even at 3 in the morning when your breath reeks of Chinese take-out. I was watching a movie with Clark Gable in it, and it made me think of you, so I thought I would send you a letter because…’ and you know what? That’s it. I couldn’t think of a reason.”

June tossed the letter aside. She pulled out another one, from the middle this time. It was a small napkin with an orange stain circled. There was an arrow pointing to it, and a label, “Curry hut! Yum!”

“This one just says, “Eric,” with a heart. There’s nothing else. I wanted to be spontaneous or romantic or something. I imagined your mailbox overflowing with these cute reminders. I thought maybe, like, maybe you would start being silly. You’re always so serious now. It’s like, no matter what I do or say, you make me stop. It’s like you’re embarrassed or something. I remember when you used to be proud to have me around. You’d take me to, I don’t know, a museum or something, and you’d be so affectionate. And now you’re concerned about holding my hand in public.”

“What’s this all about, June?”

“I liked you so much. When this all started I couldn’t even believe you noticed me. And now it’s been, like, almost two years? I said I loved you after six months, but I can’t write it on paper, and you know I think there might be something to that.”

June tossed the letters onto Eric’s lap. Without its string, the stack scattered in all directions.

“I’m going on the road trip with Alex.”

Eric thumbed through the letters that had landed on the couch. One managed to exceed three paragraphs. Another only said, “Hey—” It didn’t even have his name. It could have been for anyone.

“Who’s Alex?”

“Some guy. Well, more than some guy. But to you, a guy who lives around the corner.”


“I don’t know. He was at some party. I bumped into him. Literally, almost knocked him over. Said I wasn’t too good with directions. Somehow it segued into the road trip and he was just so enthusiastic. It was like meeting you all over again. So excited, charming. Said he loved the idea, always wanted to go to Seattle, and I was all, “me too!” He wanted to go to Vancouver, and I was like, that’s it. That’s the deal breaker.”

“Because I don’t want to go to Vancouver?”

“Because you never want to go anywhere. Not with me. Not anymore.”

“If you want me to go, I’ll go.”

“No, that’s not the point. It’s not like, I don’t know. It’s not spontaneous. It’s always pulling teeth with you. And I’m sorry. I can’t force it anymore. I tried to force this trip on you, and I tried to force the love letters. It’s a disaster. I’m miserable. With you, I’m miserable.”

“I didn’t want to make you unhappy.”

“Yeah. Maybe. You know, for fun, I tried to write a love letter to Alex. Something sweet. Innocent. Nothing too serious, just wanted to excite those flutters I get when I see him. And you know what? I finished it. It’s like, four pages, I think, and I knocked it out in fifteen minutes. I’m not going to send it. I burned it, actually. But, you know? This is important, I think. And, like, sorry, but I’m not even sorry.”

An aching silence swelled in the room. June stood across from Eric, looking away from him, down at the maps and letters that covered the floor. There were miles between them, entire states, provinces, Pacific regions blotted with red ink. Love letters swirled in the ocean, the air conditioning pulling up the frayed corners and gently sweeping them into currents. They were tattered and torn and crumpled. They drifted for thousands of miles, drifted until they were completely off the map.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

In which Renée references the Usual Suspects

I squeezed my way into the crowded car. Getting caught in rush hour on the Blue Line was never an enjoyable experience. Like me, most of the passengers would be heading far out into the suburbs, keeping the train packed until near the end of the line. I spotted a pair of empty seats, and dove for the one on the aisle. People are usually deterred from snagging the window seat when it’s mate is occupied. They like to avoid the awkward moment of asking a stranger to stand up for them, watching the commuter pull her purse tight to her body as she sucks in her stomach distrustfully, the requester tripping over her before falling heavily into the seat.

I enjoyed my solitude for only a few seconds. A nervous looking businessman stumbled onto the train, narrowly making it past the double doors. He scanned the car and I saw his eyes examine an empty seat next to a homeless man sleeping in back, and then to mine. I quickly moved to the window seat and immediately glued my eyes to the city blurring past.

“Thank you, miss.”

I glanced at him and smiled politely, and then turned back to the window. I had seen the terrain many times before. The peeling billboards and orange graffiti no longer interested me, and the only sights that delighted me these days were the glimpses of scruffy, plaid-wearing men waiting on the Damen platform.

I went to open my shoulder bag, ready to pull out my book and catch up on Humbert Humbert’s fevered road trip with his little Dolly, Lo, Lolita, when I noticed that my range of motion was severely cut. I tried to move my gangly arms gracefully, and found my elbow bumping into the flesh of the man next to me.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, casting another quick glance to the man next to me.

He shook his head and smiled, but said nothing. His teeth were a dull yellow and his lips were chapped. Those teeth were awfully close to me.

For a moment, I recalled articles linked by angry BBWs who had to pay for two seats on an airline because they were too large to fit into one. I would have been forgiving, me being petite and barely taking up an entire seat myself, but then I noticed that his huge torso eclipsing my view of the aisle was none to big at all. I looked for the space in between our plastic seats. All I saw were his thighs. This bastard was willingly taking up half my seat, cozying up to me, a stranger, on the crowded el during rush hour with no other seats to spare.

Even among my favorite people, I am not a touchy-feely person. I glued my face to my book and squirmed in my seat, pressing my body as close as I could to the window, reaching an unflattering angle to avoid my neighbor’s graze.

That’s when the shaking started.

His elbows cast shadows on the pages of my book. They shook frantically and caused the words to bounce and jumble together. I imagined the grey shadows and white pages causing an epileptic sensation. The pages flickered back and forth; grey white grey white grey white. The man had wrapped his arms around his briefcase, now hugged against his chest. The tremor spread to his legs, and then the entire seat trembled with him. I wanted to tie him down. I was trying to devise a way to acquire rope on the train when, to my horror, I felt his elbow drill into my breast.

His face red, he whispered, “sorry.”

He did not stop shaking. I could see him sweating, concentrating hard, and I could only assume that he was desperately trying to make his body come to a standstill. He looked so embarrassed, so helpless.

I decided that he had Parkinson’s disease.

Yes, that was it. It was an unfortunate situation, and neither of us could do anything about it. I tried to relax, press myself closer to the window, and look out at the city as his elbow occasionally touched my boob and we both pretended not to notice.

I considered leaving the train a few times. My first idea was to bolt out of the train when it reached Divisoin, run to the car ahead, and continue my journey. I wasn’t sure if I could make it in time. It would be difficult to climb over my seatmate, especially without being groped in the process. The stops were quick, and I would surely miss the train all together. I thought that maybe I could just leave the train and wait for the next one, but I grew self-conscious. I imagined my neighbor watching me leave, glaring at me as I stood on the platform. He would know that the only reason I got off the train was to get away from him. I, the cold-hearted bitch who couldn’t be sensitive to the needs of a middle-aged man with Parkinson’s.

“Are you on your way to work? School?”

Apparently my neighbor was determined to torture me. I thought we had a silent agreement not to acknowledge each other. I thought my discomfort was obvious. Regardless of his condition, I had no intention to chitchat with a man who kept fondling me with his elbow. I felt his breath on my neck.

“I had an interview.”

“Oh, really? What for? Congratulations.”

I shrugged my shoulders, which caused me to bump into him this time. “Thanks.”

He didn’t continue his interrogation. Finally, he sensed that I was at my breaking point. I turned my head from the window to the map of the Blue Line, mentally crossing off the stations passed. California: check. Logan Square: check. Belmont: check. Occasionally I would catch the man looking at me as I tried to look past him.

I grew anxious. There weren’t many stops left to go, and the excitement started to take over. The businessman and I shook together, our bodies bobbing up and down in perfect synchronization. We were quite the pair.

The car mechanically croaked out, “Harlem,” and I nearly jumped out of my seat. My stop was next. It was perfectly acceptable for passengers to stand by the exists before they reached their station, even if their was a five minute interval between stops. I thrust my book into my bag, knocking elbows with the man, not caring this time. Let him touch me all he wants, I’m getting the hell out of here. As politely as I could, I gestured towards the exit, already halfway on top of the man as I tried to climb over.

When I reached the aisle, he gently touched my arm. “Is this your stop? Thank you.”

I didn’t understand why he was thanking me. Maybe he had a long history of young women abandoning him on trains. Perhaps I made his day, his week, his year, by toughing it out and enduring the entire ride. Suddenly, I was proud of myself. I, the good Samaritan who kindly ignored businessmen suffering from Parkinson’s.

But then, as if in slow motion, the man leaned over slightly and lifted his body off the part of my former seat that he had encroached upon. He rolled his shoulders back and relaxed. The briefcase hung loosely from his arms, his hands grasped firmly about the handle. His feet were planted to the floor. The plastic seat was silent. No more tremors. Not a single twitch.

The bastard had gone Keyser Soze on me!

The train rolled into Cumberland. I stepped onto the platform in a daze. I endured that ride, forty minutes of hell, sympathizing with a man who faked uncontrollable shaking just so he could get free shots at my chest. It shouldn’t have been worth the effort. Why molest an A-Cup when there’s double D’s abound? I trudged to the staircase, thinking about the three showers I would take later that night. On Monday, I’d have to head back downtown. The Blue Line would be packed again and I would most likely have to surrender my seat to yet another pervert preying on my polite social graces.

Fuck it. I’m taking Metra.