Loving Gatsby, Part 3

Disclaimer: This post is a mess, like a lot of other things; exhaustion and exasperation have outstripped my neuroticism.

This is the first line of the third part of whatever this is: I’d come to believe, in the way one now and then falls into beliefs, that The Gatsby Shoes would keep me out of reach of certain things, and that this was good.

About That Whole Good Thing.

Despite the similarities between Gatsby and myself, I believed there was one essential difference: I had no Daisy. Although I’ve been known to share Gatsby’s tragic flaw—that is, love things too hard and ruin them—I was convinced that this would be different. This was certain from the time I first walked out the door wearing the shoes, and only partly because I hadn’t felt a legitimate threat of intimacy in a long time. Mostly it was because I wasn’t actually anything like Gatsby—I grew up not poor but middle class, never been in the military, never moved to New York, haven’t yet become fabulously/disgustingly wealthy, don’t know anyone named Daisy, etc. The shoes gave me all the romance of Gatsby without any of the heartbreak. This I believed more than I do most things these days.

Their first time out, The Gatsby Shoes were featherlight and delicate, blue like the music, just as promised. The heels clacked across wood floors, tile, and concrete, more solid and reassuring than a stiletto and more assertive than a sneaker. They were present, but not needy. (This is what I told myself, conveniently overlooking the flourishes of ornate perforations on the powder blue uppers—the very definition of attention-seeking.) Gatsby was no longer behind my shoulder, but on my feet. In lockstep.

That night would be special, I thought. Walking out the door, I could have been Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Except my strut looked more like a chicken, because I was wearing booties made for cycling shoes, because it was raining.

The problem with that night and with the nights since was and has been that  expectations started to build up in my gut. This, along with most other things, got away from me. In more ways than one, intimacy bitch-slapped me back to reality.

I still sleep in a twin bed, for example.

Your Heart Is a Mess

Something told me, in Carroway’s voice, Really, what did these shoes promise that was any different than what you’ve already been doing? He had a point; I’d been wandering around parties long before lacing up the shoes. They didn’t keep me above anything, either; in fact, I’d since sunk deeper into what that life likes to drown you in, i.e. intimacy. Shoes don’t keep your friend from getting sick, or your family from falling into disrepair, don’t keep the hangovers at bay, or your mind from slamming into the thousands of small problems that are part of being a real person. The only thing the shoes actually changed was that I now realized how empty it felt wandering around a party without talking to a soul, and how I had the shoes to go places but not one place to go.

How does Carroway put it?

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”

It hasn’t collapsed so dramatically. Rather, it is crumbling like the Roman Forum—a piece here, a piece there, full of failing monuments that old men built out of the notion that bricks and mortar, piled sufficiently high and elaborate, would make them unforgettable.

And my head goes: who cares who cares who cares. Ad infinitum.

Listen: Out of my secret longing to be intrepid, magnetic, compelling, and hilarious, and out of my secret fear of being none of these things—or committing the cardinal sin of being boring—I’ve said and done lots of regrettable things. My brain is flypaper for everything except what should stick, and among the things that do is this:

“Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting, and modern.”

– Frank O’Hara, Meditations in an Emergency

And after all that, here’s what I’ve walked away with: If there is a Gatsby out there, he or she was made to be unapproachable. That’s the romance of Gatsby, and the tragedy of Gatsby. The one person you think could be the fix, or the last piece, or the secret ingredient, is only that because they’re ungetable. And being ungetable is a stupid thing to be.

And you know what else? I’m tired of walking around with blue shoes and a catastrophic personality.

And Gatsby can go to hell.

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your birthday, now.

it’s your birthday
when i wake up that day
but you’ve already moved out and live elsewhere and so
will be here only when i come home from school
to celebrate.
so i change into jeans and a t-shirt and i catch the bus at
7:15 only having to run a little to do so and i sit next to my then-boyfriend
who is also in 7th grade.
i almost fall asleep again in first period, and catch up with my then-boyfriend
after the bell rings
and we’re walking down the maroon-carpeted ramp
to our next class
swinging our books in our arms and laughing and holding hands talking about godknowswhat
when that kid Jared runs up and past us
yelling.

it’s 8:36 in the morning in austin, minnesota
and my then-boyfriend and i
smile
at each other
thinking it’s Jared and his antics.
and i squeeze my then-boyfriend’s hand and say goodbye and
step into my next class
and the room is dark and the tv is on and there’s smoke
billowing.
and it’s your birthday.
i sit in dark classroom after dark classroom and watch the news
the same reports
and the same clips
and listen to the same thing caught in everyone’s throats
and say nothing.
thinking instead
that the cake mom made last night
(filling the house with the chocolate smell that drives me crazy)
sits on the counter
saran-wrapped and still.

i get home at 3:22 and none of us says very much.
we sit at the kitchen island.
while mom frosts that cake and dad grills something out in the garage
filling it with smoke.

none of us knows how we can stand it, how we will ever stand it.

and mom lights the candles on thatcake—
they’re the colored, twisty candles— and the wax melts
dripping down onto our favorite frosting,
whipped cream and chocolate sauce mixed together, simple enough for anyone to manage

for pete’s sake.

and we stand still at the island,
so far from everything ever.
we sing for you,
many many many happy returns.
and it’s 7:23 p.m., and the sun still hangs out of our back windows over the cornfield and the brown, dead stalks drift this way and that in the breeze.
weather-wise it’s a perfect day.

dad slices the chocolate cake.
we eat it,
marveling at the mechanics of our mouths.

Punchlines

My life is a fitted sheet
Fresh from the laundry
To be folded–
Unwieldy. so
In the throes of impatience
I roll it up
into a fuck-off ball and
Toss it in the basket
Where my cat
Baptizes the white
cotton
With furvor.
Get it?