You know me like I know myself, multi-lingual due to bilateral parenting, though the storyline always takes too long to tell.
I just finished my third round of chemo.
I throw up less.
I look like shit.
That’s basically ‘it’.
I am only 46 but my hair falls out. Tobacco-stained and spiritually beaten, welcomed daily with newly-fallen hair in my bed, and yes: I beg for sex.
I was once a fairly famous anthropologist, charting the life spans of natives in distant lands. The woman I live with is from one of the cultures I examined way back then. We once had sex. She grew older than life expectancy under my protection. We live together due to economic hardship. We share a house but do not speak. We look separately for sex.
Not satisfied as a fairly famous anthropologist, I quit to follow my dream of being an artist. My work metastasized into charting side effects of pharmaceuticals. I claim, in this piece of writing, to place art and illness in one place.
I live between two cultures: utter loneliness and attempts at communication. No futile attempt at explanation is worthy of words. But please note: I would like to place all the dark Etruscan lore of my depressed self into the womb of The Metropolitan Museum.
“Etruscan lore” are words I read in The New Yorker.
Manhattan is a place that smells of words in place of sex, a place where sex is a collection of stolen words scribbled on dirty paper napkins, found on the floor.
I need only an afternoon to feel included as part of the scent of Manhattan. As one who lived here once – there is a tribe of us – ones who bent themselves to choose another womb to be born in.
I choose the womb of the Metropolitan Museum. I choose the cafeteria below. The tuna fish. The Buddha Room. The Persian Room. Degas. Monet. The New Wing with contemporary art, whose makers’ names remain unknown to me.
The inclusion of mutual and separate life cycles are seen in the city.
I am invisible here. I am part of the air.
I, like many artists of my fading generation, am absent from the gallery scene. Art is a short-lived profession in terms of commercial possibilities.
Writing books must be worse.
To be placed in the remaindered section of a soon-to-be ‘out of business’ bookstore…
My paintings are in storage on Staten Island.
The crude room in the hotel where I stay allows me to thrive for a time. It’s a few blocks from Zabar’s. It’s too far to walk to get my morning coffee. But I am able to work up enough energy to go there later in the day, repeatedly amazed at the emptiness of the place in comparison to when this was home.
I do not want to take the subway into Brooklyn. I do not want to see the new that the young do. I would rather watch the magnificent way the old man behind the counter at Zabar’s slices lox with intensely consistent precision, with respect for the fish, for a dying breed, like me. He may even know I am someone who pretends to live in the city for a few weeks a year. Perhaps he’s aware of the pretense of the imaginary pattern of a life I invent for myself. No sightseeing for me. But, just like a true New Yorker, sitting alone in a room, looking out of a window smudged with fingerprints; a view of the world, always below.
A world I used to know.
I am here to merge into an imaginary ‘me’ as I look below at the too-many children in strollers, the too-many men strapped into suits and the abuse of ambition, the too-many art galleries steeped with imitations of imitations seen by people with secondhand information.
Only the stores for lipstick matter. That female search I’ve observed, the search for a perfect shade of red. I walk through the cosmetic stands, inhaling the possibilities of a new mask.
I watch women transform themselves from bad to worse.
If I am seen as an object, I suspect someone might remember me at my death, weep over my demise, though they would avert their eyes if they saw me on the street, the way they did when I quit anthropology in favor of art. The colors on the canvas were all that mattered. The Manhattan air. Pearl Paint. When people told me to, Think of the future, the future, was my next painting.
Please pray for my success at death, even though I still love life. Death is not a pretty sight but neither is life. To realize you have it in you to lose your mind and be a burden. First, and last, I must see the old man at Zabar’s, slicing lox. One last time.
One never knows who means the most to any one of us.
Of course I’ll simply ask for a sample. He’ll slice me a sliver of lox, hand it to me with a smile as he always does. He is angelic in my eyes and the last sight I want to see. I’ll look him squarely in the face, knowing the rare kindnesses of life are the only things I ever wanted in this world.
But that was before.
Bobbi Lurie is the author of four poetry collections, most recently the morphine poems. She is currently working on a book about Marcel Duchamp. @BobbiLurie