this is why i can't write
The third person isn't someone I knew in college, but right after. The woman who wrote these stories, Lucy Corin. I knew her in Durham when her name was Lucy Hochman, and I have wondered why her name is Corin now, if it's a pen name or if she married a girlfriend. She'd already published quite a lot under the name Hochman, so it seems strange to change it at all, frankly, for any reason. I remember one night, maybe the night I met her, she pulled journal after journal off a shelf, showing me where she'd been published. Have I told this story before? I think I have. I love this story. I sat right down in the floor and started reading one of her stories right then, despite the fact that I was supposed to be on a date with her housemate, Crazy Beth. Crazy Beth ceased to exist in my mind as soon as I began to read.
That was the night I realized we (meaning, the publishing house where I worked) were publishing one of her stories in our annual anthology, "New Stories from the South." It was was one of those bizarre coincidences that I am never able to believe lack meaning. They are nothing BUT meaning, as far as I'm concerned. I'd met Crazy Beth at some queer youth gathering (because, back then, I was just barely still a youth, maybe 23). I hardly knew her, I went out with her once and then I went out with her again, this time she invited me to her house and that's when I met Lucy. It was during our initial getting-to-know you conversation, when Lucy asked where I worked and I told her, that we realized our connection. "You're publishing me!" she said. And I couldn't believe it.
I ran home that night and dug out my galley copy of New Stories, the unedited proof I'd brought home from work. I found Lucy's story and I read it through three times right then and that was it. I was absolutely in love. What does "in love"' mean? I don't know. I felt like lightening had come and ripped a hole through my chest and instead of a charred shell, what remained was a furiously burning fire. That's what it felt like.
Next time Crazy Beth invited me to her house, I eagerly accepted and hoped Lucy would be there. She was. Crazy Beth and I were trying to figure out what to do that night and Lucy offered to cook us supper. I was beside myself. Lucy was, I think, depressed back then. She'd just been the victim of a random act of violence in the neighborhood: a young man fleeing a robbery ran through her yard and shot her dog for no reason. There they'd been, having a peaceful time together in the grass, and next thing she knows the dog she'd had for years was just dead. I think she was in a bit of an emotional daze. But what do I know? This is just conjecture, about ten years after the fact.
Anyway, Lucy cooked (I can't even remember what, probably pasta) and we talked about literature and writing and words, meanwhile Beth sat in the corner and drank wine like water. By the time the food was ready, Beth was throwing up in the bathroom adjacent to the dining room. Lucy went to check on her once, then came back to the bar in the kitchen where we'd decided to eat and we exchanged knowing looks and kept talking.
Nothing ever happened between us. I tried. I knew I didn't want to see Beth anymore, but I longed to see Lucy again. I concocted a brilliant plan. My publishing company had a photograph of Lucy that she wanted back. They'd taken it from her to put in the anthology, but someone had a change of heart and decided not to publish pictures of the authors. We didn't need it and I'd offered, at some point, to retrieve it for her. I found it, asked permission to take it and give it to the author, permission was granted, and I left with this photo in hand:
*Sigh* I think I had that photo for three or four days before I took it back to Lucy. Needless to say, I stared at it breathlessly, like it was some kind of totem or oracle, like it would come to life and grant me wishes or something. I wanted to return it to Lucy, but I didn't want to run into Beth. I wasn't sure what to do. I considered putting it in an envelope with a note explaining that I'd really enjoyed spending time with her and would love to have seen her again, then sticking it in her mailslot while they were both at work. That would have been the better move, probably. I had hope, you know, despite the fact that Lucy had a sort-of girlfriend and they both taught at Duke. I was *clearly* over my head.
But then fortune smiled upon me. Beth called one day and told me she was going to a conference out of town that coming weekend. Perfect. I'd just drive the photo over Friday evening after work, Beth would be gone, maybe Lucy would be home... and the rest would be history. I was nervous and naively excited as I drove over that day. I sang along with the radio, I chewed gum. I hardly knew what to say when I walked up to Lucy's house and found two women in the yard calling out the name of some animal. It was their cat, they were looking for their cat and wondering who I was and where I'd come from. Lucy suddenly emerged from the dark of the backyard and stopped when she saw me. She looked at me like she was seeing an unpleasant but not unexpected apparition.
I gave her back the picture in an awkward fumbly way and spent the next fifteen minutes wandering around calling out for a cat I'd never seen before and wondering what to do with myself. Once we'd found the cat, Lucy asked me if I wanted to come inside. I knew, then, that somehow the whole thing had been a big mistake, a bad idea, but it was too late and so I followed her into the house. I don't remember what we talked about. I think I probably said a lot of stupid things, just trying to make conversation. Then the front door opened, and Beth walked in.
Beth walked in and saw me, the woman she was "dating," standing in her front hall, looking at the shelf full of journals Lucy had been published in. Beth saw me standing in her house on a night she wasn't supposed to be home. It looked bad because it was bad. I made a hasty explanation and then I left. I didn't see Crazy Beth OR Lucy again. And that's a shame.
So, every now and then, I look Lucy up just to see if she's published anything new. And when I read what she's written, I get that feeling all over again, that feeling of lightening tearing through my chest. At this point in my life, I want to believe it's a love affair with the words I'm after, but it feels so much like a crush (crushing me for sure), I have never been able to separate my love of the words from my love of their authors and when I sit down to write and invoke these old muses of mine, Lucy or Elizabeth Wren, the first poet I ever knew, instead of helping the words come, they just haunt me with longing and the memory of unrequieted desire.
I write all this and in the back of my mind I hope Lucy (or Elizabeth, for that matter) might be out ego surfing one day and come across this post and feel moved by it. Which is foolish, really, I have Lucy's email address and I wrote her after I read her novel "Everyday Psychokillers." She wrote back but she didn't really remember me. Why should she? She was certainly positioned to impact me in a huge way, I was just a blip on the radar for her.
I guess I have to ask myself what I expect would happen if "it" happened. What would happen if she read this, was moved. What if she came to Portland, what if we sat in a coffeeshop and talked for hours? What if we fell in love and had a wild, passionate affair? What difference would it possibly make? It would be nice, fun, moving. But the only lasting difference would be a difference in my writing. It is better for me to dedicate myself (and all that crazy, passionate energy) to writing than to chasing down old phantoms of old crushes. All that's just a searing, bittersweet waste of time.