Friday, 12.09:

Saw Nocturnal Animals with Taylor, 4:30pm with dinner after at Five Guys. The opening sequence was possibly the most riveting–and disturbing–five minutes of any movie I have ever seen. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal gave solid performances, but the writing, the writing . . .

Saturday, 12.24:

Stopped by Mom’s for about an hour after errands—getting checks ordered at the bank and braving the crush of shoppers at Kroger then stopping for gas—I had bought her 4 bottles of Perrier at two for $3 but she insisted I take a $20 bill. At some point as we were at the table I pulled out my phone as if to check it and turned on the voice recorder because she was telling family stories, some the same as I’ve heard before but I don’t have much at all written down.

She has a sore throat (as do I), but S and S are down with pretty serious colds, so we keep trying to reschedule Christmas breakfast. When T gets home, we’ll check his schedule for next weekend, but the problem is that S can’t meet on Saturday (when I happen to be off and T works in the afternoon) and I won’t have my Sunday schedule until Monday when I go back to work.

Saturday, 12.31:

one of us

When my friend John H was starting to go downhill—AIDS—I remember he told me about a party he’d attended where he casually brought up the topic of the movie, Dangerous Liaisons, which had recently been released. (I had seen the movie with my friend Jon B, who, during the scene where John Malkovich is about to kiss Glenn Close and she turns her face at the last moment and says, In writing, leaned over and whispered She’s a stronger woman than me!) John, at the party, said little but watched intently, casually, as he always seemed to do at parties, asking a question or two then gauging others’ responses—this made me nervous when I first met him because he was so intelligent and I felt that I had nothing interesting to add to any conversation that would approach his level of wit or significance. John was a spy. Not a real spy, but not simply an observer: in this case, he was using the film as a test to determine who his real friends were: those who recounted the evil machinations of the main character with delight at her nastiest moments were summarily erased from John’s mental book. He knew he could not count on them, he said. And this all happened without their knowing what he was doing. 

Another evening, David and I were at John’s apartment for dinner and he was having great difficulty managing the meal. He’d lost a lot of weight and his appearance was frightful, skeletal: because we’d seen it so many times in our friends that decade, it was simple enough to mask our horror that this time it was John’s turn to fall down the spiral. David and I offered to help—I think I stirred something on the stove and David sliced a baguette; I don’t remember the food at all, though I remember how John sweated so constantly and intensely that it struck me for the first time that he was burning; the fluids of his body were forcing their way through his skin to escape, like water from meat cooking in a pan. As we sat down to eat, John kept asking us to change positions to see where we thought the stereo sounded best (he’d just bought an expensive CD player and a sizeable collection of classical CDs). This was around the time that a fresh rumor had spread about an AIDS drug (I’m trying to remember which): the rumor was that the drug might be more effective if taken with fat (something about the lipids helping to get the drug dispersed into the body?), and John told us sheepishly that he’d bought four pounds of butter and then forgotten that it was in the trunk of his Honda. How did we manage to laugh in those years? It amazes me now, when so many horrors are lesser horrors yet we still get caught up in them to such a degree. I catch myself getting worked up with stress and worry and then I remember, this happened, this decimation, this culling of my dearest, closest, most brightly shining friends, and I survived. Why am I not taking advantage of this time to better remember, to witness what so many will never understand? 

At John’s table that night, he told a story about his student teaching days at Iowa: how, on the first day of the semester, he walked into the classroom early and sat at a random desk. As the room filled, he watched and listened as the students began to speculate about the professor: did anyone know him, had anyone taken his courses, how long did they need to stay if he didn’t show up? John sat, because he’d chosen to sit, until he could no longer put off the excruciating moment where he stood and walked to the front of the class in the sudden hard silence of his students whom he had betrayed, whose openness and trust and engagement would be that much harder to gain. John felt, he told us, quite miserable in that moment.

Did he resolve to never spy again? Or to become a better spy?  Maybe both, in that order? If so, how much time between the first resolution, the pushing away of the failed experiment, and the second, a refocus on what went wrong, how to gather information from others while cloaked: He’s one of us.

He was never one of us. He was always somewhere beyond, above. And only now do I see that this was nothing to aspire to. I admired his intelligence but did not see his coldness.

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