Two Women Meeting
I discover your diary, the one you bought at MOMA, in the lobby of my therapist’s office while I’m waiting for my appointment to start. The pages inside are dated for all of 1982, but you gave up halfway through January.
Today Carlos tells me, “I think it would be good for you to have a panic attack in public,” and I think about quitting therapy. I know what he means, though. I’ll see it’s not so bad. I’ll see that I won’t die, not of embarrassment, not from any of the dozen ailments I imagine might plague me when my mind’s at its cruelest. Apart from my husband, Carlos is the only person I’ve spoken to in weeks.
After my session, I pluck you from the bookshelf and take you home with me. It’s the wildest thing I’ve done all year.
Beside your handwriting and, more often, between the empty spaces, there are paintings and photographs pulled from MOMA’s collection, all variations on the theme of “two” – two people, two buildings, in one instance two formless globs of paint. The cover features a series of photographs from a Muybridge study: Two Women Walking, Meeting and Partly Turning. In one image, the two women connect at the center of the frame, one figure fully obscuring the other. If you looked at that image out of context, you’d never see the women’s smiles that mark the meeting as a happy occasion. You’d see only a woman who’d turned her back on you.
I don’t know your name, but I call you Rachel. Even from your brief, aborted confessions, I glean that we’re a lot alike. We’ve come from neighboring flyover states – you from Indiana, me from Kentucky – to take up the time-honored tradition of Being from Somewhere Else in New York City. You write about a guy, Ray, who reads like the blue-blood version of my college boyfriend. He won’t bring you to the opera with his friends, but if you go on your own and run into him at intermission, he’ll gladly fuck you afterward. You like movies; so do I. You like musical theater; so do I.
I spend the next week learning you.
I watch all the movies you mention having seen, and then I check the New York Times archives to discover where each might have screened that winter. The French Lieutenant’s Woman at the Festival. Pennies from Heaven at the Ziegfeld. Ragtime at the Baronet. All uptown. You go to them alone. I imagine you there, your big 80’s hair and shoulder pads casting a formidable silhouette against the screen.
You go to Dreamgirls. You mourn a plane crash. You swim – where do you swim in January? You call Ray an asshole and then sleep with him again.
When I can’t read your handwriting, I’m miserable, because I am missing pieces of you.
I take myself to a movie at the Angelika, buoyed by your moxie. Twenty minutes in, tension has my shoulder in a knot. The knot is pulling on the side of my face, and I can’t feel my lips. I worry that I’m having a stroke. I stick out my tongue; it’s straight. I smile; it doesn’t feel lopsided, but without a mirror, who can know? I know I’m not having a stroke. I worry that I’ll keep worrying that I’m having a stroke. I slide down in my seat, trying to get comfortable or close enough to it that I won’t cry. I’ve lost the on-screen plot, but out here I’m dangling from a cliff, clutching a fraying rope in one chafed and aching hand. It would be such a comfort to let go, but I reach for you.
Did anybody ever lose their mind at the Festival, the Ziegfeld, the Baronet? Did you ever?
There are only six other people in this theater today. Is one of them you? Are you here, Rachel, now, in the dark with me? Are you seeing what I’m seeing?
In my next therapy session, Carlos makes me close my eyes and visualize the cover of the book I’m failing to write. Later he instructs me to pick out clothes at random the next time I get dressed to go out. I agree to both of these things enthusiastically. Anything to get better.
Sutton Strother is a writer and English instructor living in New York. Her writing has previously been published in Natural Bridge, Fogged Clarity, and The Washington Independent Review of Books. She is currently working on a novel.
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Image: Eadweard Murbridge USC Digital Library Public Domain