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a restart of tense

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“You huddle in, becoming
your deathless younger self
who will survive your dreams
and vanish in surviving.

Dream brings on its story
at the pace of drift
in twilight, sunless color.”

- Les Murray


 Dolores Martineau - Early-Fall 1975 to the 1980s

You sit at one of the typewriters in the library at Cooper Union, trying to dash off the last your letter to Konstantin, before someone realizes that you’re not typing up a paper. He wrote you three pages, so you’re determined to reciprocate. You’re nearly finished with it. Your three and a half pages should keep him occupied for a while.

Julien, you’d do well to stop reading over his shoulder here, if you don’t want me punch you in the face when I go to California during winter break.

Is he gone yet, Konstantin? For obvious reasons, I cannot tell.

Three semesters into your college education proper and you are just as conflicted. You keep writing. You write to Konstantin because you cannot stand being here, in New York City, while he is on the west coast.

At any rate, since my senior composition class exempted me from expository writing, I’m taking a semester long course in literature to fulfill my requirement even though high school and my own ability should have exempted me. We had to analyze this poem by Longfellow, and a certain stanza made me think of you.

“Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.”

You load another sheet into the typewriter and continue typing your letter.

I’d rather our correspondence be more comprehensive and continuous than it's been, given how much you mean to me, and how much important insight you have into our unique conditions, but there is so much I cannot express to you in this letter. You may not quite understand my meaning without me present to explain.

Julien, if you’re still reading over him, I ask you once again to look away again. And remember to soak the yucca for at least ten hours before you try to cook it. You should keep it in the water for a while to remove the possible toxicity. Got it?

Anyway, Konstantin, I can tell you that I am making excellent marks in both my Physics and Calculus III classes, successes that can only be attributed to you and some of the old Brooklyn Tech crew, if only I could drag them to class.

Furthermore, Cecily has set a date for her belated wedding reception, and expects both you and Juli to be in attendance, finals or not. June 10th.

Save the date. 

I'm doing my level best to fight the good fight here, if the good fight consists of riding from my house to the men's dorms for study sessions, getting walked by friends to the subway, and shouting at Xavier to go to Differential Equations before he loses his scholarship. I don’t understand. He has all the opportunities and yet and he wants to throw them away for some reason. He wants all to know what he believes, in the idea that the system is utterly broken. I admire his candor, although I wonder what it might for him in the long run. 

Also, you probably knew this already, but they’re continuing to withdraw troops from Vietnam. It appears that Nixon and Ford are finally listening to what their citizens have to say. Bipartisan support, too. Nixon's backed into his own self-created wall, that fraud Republican and reactionary snake bastard.

So, as usual, you were right that he’d fold. It took them all long enough, though. Haven't enough people died?

(Like your brother?  you think bitterly.)

There isn’t much more to say than that, unless I want to complain about all the boys who keep asking me on dates. Maybe I should do a Cecily and dress so masculine that they assume I’m not particularly interested, but I will never be like that. I am femme from my long fingernails, and my makeup, to the way I carry myself. I could be nothing else, even if I wanted to be.

Moreover, she and I, we have grown quite close.

Even if she does not want me to acknowledge it yet, the depth and devotion I want to show her if she would let me is almost painful. I love her more than she’ll ever understand.

Julien would tell me to give up, that Cece would easily put her marriage or career before me, but I don’t think I’d respect her any other way. She's ruthless and ambitious and it just makes me crazier about her. I'm sure you'll find a way to laugh about it when I see or talk to you again.

But no matter what you have to say, Kostya, unless you and Juli want me to wire you money, in which case you can both go to hell, I await your next letter.

Sincerely,
Lola Martineau.”

Once you’re finished, you walk away from the typewriters that will later be replaced by word processors in the library of the School of Engineering, after you conclude your message.

Konstantin will return to your coast during break, and before that, he'll send a response, to attempt to remind you of what it feels like to be nearly unconditionally loved.

You will read his reply and weep, even when Cecily deigns to answer your phone calls and gives promises you know she cannot keep if she wants to dodge prying eyes and the threat of being disinherited.

And yet you love Cecily. For helping you graduate in the top five of your class. For helping you realize things about yourself that you might have denied to the turn of the millennium otherwise.

Her placement in high society is steeped in a nearly-transparent farce.

Matt Perlman, her husband, homosexual as she, assures you that Cecily is half enamored and half awestruck by you, even if the declaration technically changes not a goddamn thing.

When you first heard him speak so frankly about Cecily's feelings, you took the revelation with shocked silence. Now, you wonder why she won’t acknowledge your existence at both her social and charity gatherings. Even if she touched you in ways so intimate on your 19th birthday that you cannot contemplate them without blushing.

Konstantin, the first person to tell you that love may neither lie in the heterosexual or homosexual, that there are distinctions beyond the two, he really does believe in living life authentically, although he apparently scarcely has time to call you. 

But his letters are five pages long, both sides.

A few weeks later, he makes a long distance call to you and assures you that he loves you from your Afro to your toes, that you'll do fine in school.

You love him and your heart swells. Were he to come back to the East Coast and make a marriage proposal, you’d accept without reservation, and not just because a heterosexual marriage would be the path of least resistance. In your upperclassmen years at Brooklyn Tech, he had the words to explain, though not for you to express the strange way you love others.

Bisexual.

A word scarcely heard beyond the two of you.

You adore him, nearly as much as Cecily, nearly as much as life itself.

You think being impaled through the heart might hurt less. At least it would be a quick death, rather than the way you may be wasting away from concealing aspects of your identity from even the people you purport to trust.

When Cecily calls you too young to understand love? Too young to know injustice? Too young to respond to the needs of a community whose periphery you exist upon?

Cecily Clark-Perlman.

Konstantin Vasiliev.

You adore them both so much that your gastrointestinal tract ties itself into knots when you think of them. You want to love them for the rest of your life. You want to devote yourself to them.

But they do not share your principles.

Konstantin throws himself into gay rights, and Cecily into lesbian ones.

And then Konstantin ends up with a man who shares his radical bent, a man by the name of Julien Renaud, and you cannot fault him. Juli was always more gregarious and kind than you.

Cecily goes from undergraduate malcontent to graduate researcher to activist to much more.

How do you feel so much for these these discrete, discreet people, neither of whom are willing to fully level with you?

The depth of their feelings toward you, lurks beneath the surface, in an attempt to preserve something they hold dear.

Yet outwardly, they act as if they’re willing to fight tooth and nail for gay power.

However, you are not gay, are you?

You are something else.

It will be a while before you call yourself all that you are, all that you can be, Dolores Martineau. Lola, Dolo, Martineau.

Bisexual may be a word, but not a nice one, with its implications even worse.

Promiscuous. Short-sighted. Confused.

The activists in your circles talk about living their truth, about "out of the closets and into the streets", and yet, they want to leave you behind.

You love women, but you have never hidden your love for men.

And that is dangerous, apparently.

So now only you will acknowledge how you really feel alone, mired in the throes of an identity crisis that you cannot escape, since you will neither pretend, disavow, or capitulate your strange orientation. Nevertheless, you can keep your mouth shut about the whole thing. You are exceptional at that.

One afternoon in 1977, Carolyn catches you in the Clark household while you're waiting for Cecily to finish talking to her parents. Stretching, in a leotard and ballet shoes, she asks you if you think she’s old enough to move onto pointe. Her ballet teacher was on the fence, but ultimately gave into her tenacity. You'd have no idea about it, to be honest. You tell her to ask Cecily, the only other Clark heiress, who is therefore well-versed in the intricacies of ballet, from all the lessons she took, even when she did not want to.

Once Cece's done reassuring her parents that she still has a future, that she's just fine, she and Carolyn go through old lessons, the younger Clark heiress determined to continue pointe practice by any means necessary.

Cecily has to bring her back down to terra firma.

"Well, you certainly have the proper turnout, even if you need to learn how to breathe,” she pronounces. She gets up and puts her hand on the barre. “Watch me. Relevé, Carolyn.

Carolyn moves to stand in front of Cecily, puts her hand on the barre, and rises onto the balls of her feet.

“And for God’s sake, breathe!” Cecily shouts, a smile in her voice despite everything.

Carolyn rises slowly further onto the tips of her toes, breathing in and out of her nose, shaking a bit, but maintaining her placement.

She repeats the motions several times, before deeming it decent.

“No, Caro, that’s quite good. A lot better than I was at your level. Give yourself some credit.”

“That’s not the best I can do,” Carolyn protests, about to try again. "Not even close."

“Save your best for your recitals, this is just practice, right?” Cecily asks.

Carolyn wrinkles her nose. “Right.”

"Rise to your toes more gradually again next time," Cecily tells her younger sister. "You have to walk, before you run. You have to build up dexterity and muscle. You won't be able to dance with a snapped ankle."

Once you are done expressing your own pride in Carolyn to her, you make yourself scarce. You never quite know how to comport yourself at the Clark estate.

And you want to support Cecily, but a lot of times, you either want to tell her what the current state of your heart is, or leave her behind before you hurt yourself more. 

You are so wary of everything, except for your bubbling resentment that not a single person who’s dated you seriously has ever wanted to admit it.

Even Sandra. You learned a sinful attraction toward your fellow woman of color in the class of 1974, who subsequently went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, promised to call or write letters all the time, and subsequently left you in the cold.

Then, you found yourself once more swept up in the limitations of the love you received from Konstantin, when he admitted that he loved you more than most things, and insisted he'd love you as much as you needed, a year and a half ago.

Still, he left again. It's so much easier to be devoted when you're across the country.

When you later and finally lost your virginity to Cecily in all the ways that mattered, to the chorus of “Get Down Tonight”, on your 19th birthday, she said she could not help but want you, want to love you.

When you two lay in each other's arms, it was easy to ignore her insistence on playing at heterosexual - even as she wore men's clothing, and went to pro-gay protests - and it was easy to believe that perhaps you could find the sort of enduring love your parents had, so long as Cecily was in your life.

And yet.

All you have of her love is intoxicated fumbling interspersed with brief moments of bliss.

And yet.

And yet.

Your name is Lola Martineau, but those you hold most dear only moan your name during sex, while otherwise asking you to leave their apartments mere hours and a half before they must leave for their flights back to colleges on the west coast, or in time for them to get a ride to their NYU doctoral-level classes.

You understand why you must hide, and yet, and yet, and yet...?

You could let them continue to hide, never raising a word of objection.

Sandra Yoon, your first real significant other of the female persuasion, is going steady from a boy from MIT now.

Eyes now focused on boys living in California and married women living downtown, you have decided to ignore her.

It’s all your fault that you may have spurned your chance at happiness with her. You had the grades for Cooper Union, and that is where you are, continuing to make A's. So you could have transferred to MIT, told Sandra that you'd stick to her no matter what, but you were terrified of staying in Boston, so far away from your father, mother, and brothers.

So you, Lola?

You are, you are, you are and always will be the odd man out.

All you’ve wanted since you were a child was unconditional love. You have this sneaking suspicion you may not get it.

Figures.

On a night that she's at a demonstration, you climb the stairs to the roof of Cecily’s building, and stand on the edge.

“I would have given anything for and to you,” you think of your former lovers, gazing down a fifteen-story drop. "Just for you to acknowledge me."

Then, you decide better of your actions.

A time will come. A time without fear. A time without bigotry. A time without oppression. A time where you are no longer required to allot your affections, infatuations, devotions, and love to the “appropriate” gender. Or if, failing that, are no longer asked to display your love for women in a devoted way palatable to the less-accepting, either in a way that titillates men or poses no threat to them. 

You think of Cecily’s fingers moving in you in September 1975, the cries you muffled in her shoulder, and bite back your frustration, disappointment, and even as you stand at the top floor of her apartment, gazing purposely and purposelessly downward. 

But your anger is not worth dying over.

Not worth a high dive. Not worth the guilt you’ll award to someone else because of your despair. And not worth the static nature of nonexistence.

The dead seldom change minds or the mechanisms of a broken system.

You’ve lived so long under the intersecting forces of oppression designed to choke down those like you, that you owe it yourself to live for long enough to see them crumble. Or soften. Something. You owe it to yourself to live long enough to see something change, to see the next generation carry on what you have tried to accomplish.

So when you leave Cooper Union and your engineering program, and transfer to the school of social work at Hunter College, part of you wants to die for abandoning an old dream, but you refuse to be shamed. You refuse to be ashamed.

This is your life. 

And if no one will be true to you, if all the lovers you’ll meet in your life are teeming with closets, warnings, and endings, you owe it to yourself to forge onward without a partner. You owe it to yourself to be the only person, other than Julien, Xavier, and Sandra, and sometimes Konstantin and Cecily, who believes in you.

If you cannot show yourself unconditional love, who can?

You will never make promises to yourself that you cannot keep.

You will study Sociology now and make your own path. You will shove yourself forward into a profession of women, and therefore, a less well-paying path than that of an engineer. Moreover, you’ll take shit from high school friends who insist you’re taking the easy way out.

But it’s not about dodging difficultly, not at all.

It’s about who you are, and who you want to be. You could have fulfilled your requirements and become a civil engineer easily, but your heart was no longer in the study.

You need no parents, no friends, and no lovers.

You owe it to yourself to keep going, because you can find your own way.

And you do.

You survive a miscarriage that renders you sterile, you spend a while higher than god on diazepam to ignore the pain, and then you recover from your depression and return to your caseload.


1983 to 1995- Dolores Martineau

Years later, when a boy that you're watching, who speaks more Tamil than English takes your slim hand in his chubby one, you’ll love him more than everything you’ve ever loved. You'll listen to the fluidity of his first language, his halting yet inquisitive English, and wish he were your biological son. He is such a sweetheart.

Once, he tells you that he loves you, that he hates it when you have to go home, even as exhausting as watching him is.

You stop a little short, before you say, "And I love you too, my Krishna." 

You are not afraid of hard work. You may not effect all the changes you want in the world, but you’ll make sure your voice is heard. That is what you must do. You fear nothing but love. All love is, is pain disguised as mercy, or a way of binding you to obligations.

Your name is Dolores Martineau and you are so used to being alone that you can scarcely fathom the alternative until a little South Asian boy you’re babysitting takes your hand and asks you to talk to him - although he does most of the talking - and finally telling you that he loves you in the pure way that all children use the word "love".

Your heart fills with frayed nerves and fear, fear that you will never compare to his biological mother. but all he does is smile, and ask you to tell him bedtime stories. Sometimes he pretends to be asleep and sits in your lap while you read up on graduate-level literature. Whenever you have to leave for the night, once his father comes home, you want to cry a little.

You love. You love. You love.

You want him to be your son more than anything

And, God, you want his entire life to be nothing but beautiful and kind. Wonderful occurrences that befit a sensitive and thoughtful child. If this world tries to chew him up and spit him out, you might just have to kick some teeth in. Shout them deaf with megaphones. Render them silent with your lived experience.

Please - you ask a God in which you no longer believe - let Krishna always be as compassionate, optimistic, and concerned with justice as he is now, but please, make sure the police try not to make a lethal example of him.

He hits the double-digits age wise, and you get even more worried. Age does not temper his politics, it intensifies them.

You are terrified for him.

Then, you start a job as a guidance counselor at one of the best high schools in New York City.

It pays well. Your students are delightful, even the more trying ones.

You do not see Krishna as much as you used to, but you make sure he eats at least dinner every night, and that he irons his clothes when he has school the next day.

Loath as you are to admit it, something is still missing.

You imagine Cecily’s easy butch self-assurance, the way she could make you laugh with a quirked eyebrow, swallow your nostalgia, and try to keep yourself together.

Masae does not need that from you, to hear you read from the litany of your relationships that could have been.

Focus on the present and future, Lola.


Dolores Martineau - June 2012

Cecily unlocks the door to your house with a key under the welcome mat, and apologizes profusely for having missed what was right in front of her for so many years.

You'd told her where to find it when she said she'd drop by.

You can’t choke back your sobbing when she kisses your eyelids and enfolds you in a tight embrace.

“I fucked up, Lola. I'm selfish. I always have been,” she says. “But, please.”

You think you know what she’s asking of you, so you pull away. You are loathe to be sucked into a relationship with a woman who will always choose her reputation and her ambition over her fair-weather feelings for you, every time.

But over the last few years, she's been more friend than potential lover. Listened to you laugh, and listened to you cry. Taken you out to Coney Island, the two of you drinking beers on the boardwalk and marveling at how much that place has changed.

“Please, what?" you ask.

“I don’t know,” she admits. “But, Lola. When I think of what my life might have been, so much of what I see is you. And I understand if you’ve moved on.”

You don't know how to tell her that you haven't, quite. Not really.

You kiss her softly, swaying in place. She holds your shoulders the whole while, and you gaze at all the silver in her hair.

It's been so long since she, twenty, expressed her unconditional belief in sixteen year old you. Moments that predate your feelings for each other, where you were trying to cram for College-level Precalculus and she was doing her damndest to remember enough about the class to help you.

"It's been so hard," she says. "All this time."

Oh? It's been hard for her? 

Does she have any idea...?

You lay it on thick, that you’ve loved her for nearly forty years of your life, that she chose to drift in and out of it the way tides might, that you’ve pretty much given up on her, that you have Masae now, even if Masae loves more freely than you'd ordinarily prefer.

“I get it,” she says.

Maybe if she’d said, “I was too late,” you would have straight up retaliated with the obvious.

She is late, and she did not have to be.

But Cecily believed in you when no one else did. She threw herself into making sure that you'd have a fighting chance to be first in your high school class, that you'd not only survive, but thrive, in college, and even got you a job that wasn't in that clinic on Atlantic Avenue.

Ebb and flow aside, you respect her. You respect her presence. You respect her achievements. You respect her reasons for never getting close to anyone. And even with the ebb and flow, you cannot help but wonder what it would have been like--

(a snippet from an ee cummings poem - "to love and be loved by me")

--had things panned out differently from the beginning.

So at the next senior prom, the both of you carefully watching the students for their usual tricks, you slow dance with her, and can scarcely tear your eyes away at how dapper this woman looks in her suit.

Masae bumps shoulders with you and insists that you keep it going with Cecily, that you two look radiant on the dancefloor when you're not self-conscious.

And you do.

You hold Cecily close like it’s 1975, your 19th birthday all over again.

All she does is stare at you, her eyes glistening, as if she might cry.

“I am so shore-y,” she says, finally. “For jerking you around.”

You don’t quite accept her apology, but you would never ignore it. No, not now.

In mind’s eye, you see her in her wedding dress, all set to marry Matt Perlman because the both of them were gay, and her undeniable apprehension over the whole thing, the way her anxiety seemed like it might get the best of her, until you - one of her bridesmaids - assured her that everything would be alright. You had no way of knowing, but you never wanted to see her as nervous and despondent as she was at that moment.

Perhaps you and she will never be lovers again.

You bear too much distrust toward her. She is too regretful toward that which could (and maybe should) have been.

However, that does not stop you from straightening her tie on the dance floor.

When prom is finally over, she takes you to a nice restaurant, holds open all the doors you might pass, and pulls out your chair. 

“You're the pinnacle of antiquated,” you tell her, over a light dinner of shellfish and seafood.

She raises an eyebrow.

"Would you have me any other way?"

"Of course not."

When you two go back to her condo, nothing happens, but you nevertheless sleep beside her in her queen sized bed. 

The heart wants what the heart wants. And you two have aged so much. You do not yet feel like a woman in her mid-fifties. When you take advantage of her stereo to play songs you suppose are vintage at best,  she dances as if she hasn’t lost any practice whatsoever.

She is still the young woman who shouted at you to go to engineering school, with her boundless belief in your potential.

And you are still the young woman who told her that her life could be more than a grand pretense of a marriage.

You make oatmeal, and she kisses you lightly on the corner of your mouth.

The both of you cry, apart.

You in her hallway, and her in her bathroom.

Lost years, lost closeness, lost chances at companionship.

“Stay,” she tells you, once you’ve put on your casual daytime clothes, done your hair, and are ready to leave. She adds, “Please, Lola. I’ve missed you.”

You take off your jacket, hang it in her closet, and watch her beam, observing as your lower body grows simultaneously warm yet weak.

You lay beside her until you must leave to water your plants, but promise to come back.

She insists that her door is always open. To you, anyway. You blink back the tears that threaten to run down your face and undermine your composure, taking the 4 train back to Kingston Avenue.

You two have run parallel for so long, like subway lines.

Perhaps now, perhaps now that you are older, perhaps now that neither of you are ashamed of who and how you choose to love, you can afford to let certain lines intersect.

It’s not love, the way it might have been in 1976.

It is similarly not a passing infatuation.

Your name is Lola Martineau, and you have finally learned to love yourself.

You are no longer terrified of the way your heart operates, and refuse to be terrified of the future.

You’ve lived too long for that.

She’s lived too long for that.

When you return to her place, she lights your cigarette, and asks you if you'd like her to turn back on the music.

You dance with her to music you haven't heard since you were twenty, and let her lead the whole time. She kisses your hand at the end of it.

Oh, God, she is so endearingly OFOS. Old fashioned, old school. 

You dance with her for hours, and when the two of you are stiff from all the exercise, complaining freely as you two did when you were best friends - fit as the both of you are, this is not "back in the day" anymore, where you two could have danced and laughed from dusk to dawn - you put your head on her shoulder, and smile. So does she, the handsome lines in her face, and the crinkle at the corners of her eyes positively wonderful to behold.

It's not the same. But it also is not quite over.

For the first time in a while, you feel perfectly at peace.

Eternally neurotic, you want to ask her if she feels the same way, but perhaps you should just stay silent for now. You're here, and she's here.

Everything else is secondary.