MY INTRODUCTION

TO ROMANCE

from "Sharon & Steve (And Me)"

 

Yesterday my pal Will missed out on the Spirit award for best screenplay, which went to "Memento" instead. He came back to the hotel with Mexican food for his wife and son, and shrugged off the result. He hates these functions, really. He says nobody wants to talk to the writers, so he's left in a corner, humiliated. He's a taciturn guy, stingy with expression, choked by the twin effects of small-town Georgia and an abusive father. He'd rather watch the Oscars in a bar. He keeps saying this last thing even as everyone laughs at him. Not me, coz I know it's true. He would do it not to see himself mentioned on a TV in a bar, but to lose in a bar, to shrug the possibilities away while winning the sympathy of the other losers near him, those lonely folks soaked in alcohol and caked with nicotine, their time swirling down the drain.

Will wrote "Monster's Ball," with a partner, exactly as it is on the screen. And it is beyond disappointment, on the other side of despair. Everybody's yakking about it, including a bigshot black attorney who wrote on the op-ed pages in the L.A. Times that Will's movie is a fantasy for a Ku Klux Klansman. I wanted to track the attorney down and knock on his door and say, Okay, Sir, how would you like the movie to end? Will giggled when I told him this plan, but he didn't giggle for very long, coz he's known me for twenty-five years and knows a little loose laughter is often construed by me to be permission wage war on the newest windmill insulting my horizons. Will's been giggling at my battles since we met.

We worked as editorial gofers at McGraw-Hill. The company's newsletter center was located in the old National Press Building, which is now posh and yuppie-proof, but back then was loaded with wild entrepreneurs and bad journalists and impoverished scam artists, all buzzed with twisted schemes and too distracted to notice me and Will in the stairwells every day at lunch, getting stoned. He was older than me, and told me stories about demented football coaches in swampy Georgia whose star quarterbacks shot heroin between their toes or under their tongues to avoid tracks, or about acid tripping on a supply ship in the Navy while signaling transport helicopters (one of which caught on fire after a collision and went overboard to douse the flames with an expert dip of its tail into the sea, sending Will and his pals into a guilty frenzy until the pilot stood up for them and said, No, these stoner freaks didn't cause me nothin').

Will’s stories were license for me to embark on my own adventures, and Will more than anybody I know watched me spin off into the distance clutching imperfect blueprints for exploring the world. He knew them to be imperfect, coz he'd been there, buzzed, as I drew them up with no expertise or design, drew them up with little more than enthusiasm and energy.   

For example:
 
At 19, I drove on a fat motorbike to Florida and went around the baseball spring training camps to write stories about young ballplayers trying to break into the major leagues. Every spring was an adventure, and three springs gave me the balls to cover soccer's world cup in Spain for the Washington Times – from a tapa bar. Will got this report from an artist friend named Marcie describing my attempts to fast-talk somebody into letting me use their home phone to call in my story after Germany beat France in the semifinal in Sevilla. Then it was off to Ireland on a wild-goose chase after smuggling anti-Zionist pamphlets into London for a guy so rich all his first-edition books were upside-down in his Hampstead castle, but who gave me ten one hundred dollar bills because he admired writers, and in Ireland after the cash ran out, at a racetrack where St. Patrick lies buried in the infield, I wagered my last twenty pounds on a horse named Slate Quarry who the son of bookie supreme Barney Eastwood assured me was a tiger among kittens, and I made the bet coz you always follow a bookie's inside advice, and besides the bookie's son's wife was making a terrific scene trying to get me hooked up with her younger sister, so I just went along with it, and at the first hurdle half the bloody horses fell over and then at the second hurdle another clot went down leaving Slate Quarry and two others to fight it out, with Slate Quarry winning by 13 lengths at 50-1 odds while me and one other hoodlum shouted ourselves hoarse in the crowd, egging on our thousand-quid treasure. And then I took that money, bought everybody drinks, and left when the bookie's son's wife tried to seduce me in a hotel owned by relations of her family except on the way there she reached over to slap her three-year-old son who started slapping himself and peeing in fright, until I demanded she stop the car and come to her senses, and when she stopped she broke down in unhappiness while her son shouted "Look, ma!" and slapped himself again to save her the trouble. We went directly to the train station so I could scarper off to Limerick, where I hooked up with my pals who'd spent the summer with me in the Costa del Sol, betting on my ability to run faster than anyone on the beach ("Gwan, take ten yards if ye frigging wanta, Spikey-man will still run yer down before ye pass that pedalo, but give yer money to Isabel here, she willna thieve yer money because she's still Cat’lic –" "Am not!" "Is too, and I'll be telling yer Mam if yarnt") and in the Spotted Dog in Janesboro word got round that an Olympian was in the pub and was willing to take on whoever fancied themselves fast, and I was like "Hey, hey, stop the Olympic stuff," but soon there was a gaggle of people outside on the cobbled street ready to race the Olympian so I trudged out and we went through our marks, set, and shot off with every single little kid and his ma on wobbly ankles racing past me screaming their heads off waiting for me to rocket by, but I never did because the jets stayed dim even as I switched on the ignition, and I finished 51st out of 50, knackered, wheezing on my ass sitting against the wheel of a Mini Morris, while my perplexed pals went in to fetch me a beer so I might recover and then thought perhaps water was wiser when they found me upchucking my fool head off, listening to a redhead brat boasting, "Hey Mam, I've jest beat an Olympian," and these stories I brought back to Will by the bucketful as payments in literary brotherhood.

Even as Will left to New York to become an actor despite my advice that New York chewed everyone to bits, my stories served as bookends to the real literature we devoured together. We advised books onto one another as we sat stoned between the 7th and 8th floors of the National Press Building at lunchtime. Erstwhile writer and actor, we were already certain that the constructed conceits of our bosses – suburban house, rugrats, two-hour daily commute, retirement plan –  were nonsense to troubadours like us, boys of dreams and desires, fantasists, pirates unwilling to play by the rules for however long it took, even 25 years, until one of us, or both, might be able to claim the outtasight rank of Modest Poet.

When was the last census? Remember those people knocking at the door, asking about neighbors and how many residents are there living in the house with you?  The census takers walked eight hours a day, sat only at lunch and during short breaks, and they did it in the summer. In New York, where the residents are always darlings with any question unless the questions get personal, Will trudged around jotting down the stats coz he needed the cash. He was 42 or 44 or something – you know actors – and his baby boy was the fire under his butt.  Acting had long since dulled, not as a passion but as a profession, and now he was a writer, working the census and writing screenplays. "Monsters Ball" had already brought in some money, perhaps as much as a union bus driver makes, for several years, but nobody would actually make the stupid movie. He sold options to studios for the right to make the film. I've sold options on my own screenplays – to hopeful entertainment attorneys, never to studios – and the process is damned exciting. Once.
 
Before the census, he worked at law firms, as a typist, and starred in plays many offs away from Broadway. He came to the Imperial City for a role in one of my movies, and called me from the corner of Thomas Circle. I was in the middle of some sound problem – this might have been the moment my partner Eric and I learned a lot about movie directing when a scene was in tatters and the actors were watching us yak the possibilities around and I suddenly turned up the music real loud on the stereo; Eric asked why'd you do that with the stereo, and I said So they can't hear us talking and realize we got no idea what's going on – and I turned up late by more than half an hour on a cold night.  Firetrucks and police cars were gathered around the circle. I saw Will on the corner and pulled up. What happened? "Man, a car came careening over the grass, hit the statue and flipped over and burst into fire and a guy got out in flames and ran around screaming and I thought, Jesus is that Sean, looks a little too fat," and I apologized for being late, and Will said, "Cool, man, at least you're alive."

And when I met Will, I met Sharon. At the same time I learned to love literature, I learned how to love a woman.

Sharon was from a steel town outside Pittsburgh. When the FBI toured high schools looking for typists, they gave Sharon a phone number and told her to call if she ever got to the Imperial City. She graduated from high school and took Greyhound to a new job and a new existence as a young woman in the big city. She was the typesetter for the newsletters I worked on, and it was my job to go to the typesetters every Thursday and put the newsletters to bed. It was my exquisite pleasure to sit in the same room with Sharon for four hours while we worked the kinks out of the newsletters. I was eighteen. Sharon was 28. I was born on January 2, and she was born on January 4, nine years and three hundred and sixty three days before me.

Why do I say it was an exquisite pleasure? For most 18-year-old males, there is no diplomatic way to express a woman's sexuality. You look at a woman and see an icon to get close to, and then when you're close you hear her voice and listen to her desires and dreams and fill the role in the cinema of your mind of the boy who makes her smile, and as you watch and as you listen, a smell laced with the poison of pheromones cuts into your spine and you are left imagining the effects of Sharon on your other senses: taste and touch.
And Sharon overwhelmed my senses with a saucy pungency made half of stereotypical magazine looks and half of a chin-up who-me personality. How should I approach this odalisque? How could I make her see the "me" beyond the editor who fretted over statistics on fertilizers in Nebraska or coal mining accidents in Kentucky? No matter where I stood or what I said or what I wore, I could tell she wasn't noticing my pheromones.

One late Thursday night I turned temporarily insane.  Must have been a touch of tetanus, coz my teeth were clicking, jaw pulsing. Time to dive off the highest platform. As we leant over pages 8 and 9 of that issue of the International Fertilizer Review I asked Sharon if she knew what pheromones were.

Excuse me?
Do you know what pheromones are?
She smiled: Something you use to grow corn?

Pheromones are what animals have to attract one another, a secret signal that it's time to mate, and they carry these signals in their armpits and pubic regions and sort of puff them out into the air when they're ready to have babies, I said.

What kind of animals? asked Sharon.
Oh, you know, monkeys and dogs and cats –
Dogs and cats have armpits and pubic hair, huh?
Well, yes, sort of –
Do humans have phermones? she asked, quickly.

Well, I said, scientists haven't found human pheromones yet, but they will.
What makes you think so?
Well, you know, you've seen dogs and cats –
I have a cat.
Then you know what I'm talking about. Right?

From then on Sharon looked at me a little funny. In her eyes glowed suspicion that I was engaged in thievery, but she left her purse in plain sight. There was in her smile a suggestion of trouble, but I am naturally shy. There was in the skin of her arm gently touching mine the kind of turbulent electrical surface storms you see when you stick a CD into a microwave, but I was suddenly interested in exactly what the Malaysians were doing with diammonium phosphate that winter. I was too scared to act on the hints of her skin and the glints in her eye, but my blood raced whenever I caught her looking at me from odd angles, questions knotting her brow.

One night, Sharon said I smelled funky. I told her about the writers club in the stairwell at the National Press Building: me and Will and John Irving and Jerzy Kosinski and Frederick Exley and Albert Camus and marijuana. Sharon grabbed me by the hand and walked me out into the alleyway between 19th and 20th and L and M Streets, and we sat on the loading dock and got high together while the rats scurried beneath our feet. Just when I noticed the way the muscles in her arm flexed when she leaned backwards or forwards, just when I noticed the whorls of downy Italian hair on the nape of her neck, just when the tetanus moved from my jaw to my brain, just when –

"Can I tell you something, Sean?"
I smiled, drunken dog.
"You know I'm married?"
She giggled at my mortally wounded expression.  "My husband's in Lorton and he's coming out in two months and how old are you?"
Prison! A husband. How old am I?
"Twenty-three," I lied.
She was surprised: "You're a baby."

There passed a few moments of silence. Each moment was massive, concussive. Her arms were flecked with moisture, and I was drenched with sweat but thank my happy genes for my Norwegian face coz she told me later how surprised she was by my expression, that "you looked as if you were holding four aces," and it was this expression which caused her to add, as if on stage: "You’re just a baby, but I liked that bit about the pheromones."
There is a phenomenal essay by Lewis Thomas, a genius, written in 1974, wherein he asks: "But what if we have pheromones? What could possibly be the reason for us to carry such magic in tufts of hair around our bodies?" That's not the exact quote, and it was either in 1993 or in 1996 that scientists identified human pheromones and confirmed their existence, thereby excusing a lot of silly (and hopeful) behavior between the sexes, but I know for sure that pheromones played a big part in what happened between Sharon and me, coz the next time we were near each other she sniffed the air like an Italian and taught me the most vital thing every boy should know about girls: The smell's the thing, and Old Spice and deodorants and Hugo Boss perfumes will accumulate into a chemical nastiness every woman identifies as "dead cat" but is too polite to say to your face.

The night she seduced me, Sharon made a point of smelling my neck and ears and when she bit me all I could think was thank god for science, which is sort of an oxymoron, and the next morning casually spilling everything out of my wallet she went through the fake I.D.s until she found my driver's license and said "Jesus fucking christ you're only eighteen!" She stood on the threshold of the bathroom, puissant and sculpted, and all my senses were atingle; taste and touch having joined the others. She shook her head and walked into the bathroom and I buried my face into the smell of her pillows.

We went to breakfast and acted like adults and she held my hand and I remember all the big guys with square jaws and forty-dollar haircuts wearing loafers looking agog at Sharon in the shirt two sizes too small holding the hand of a punk, me, whose thought cognition was stuck on the miniature hurricanes on Sharon's skin, maybe a million billion light years short of Steve, her husband, literally crossing the days off a calendar, looking at himself in the broken mirror, happy to see the resemblance of his face to Charles Bronson, happy to know that he was leaner and meaner than Bronson could ever be, camera or no camera.

Perhaps a month after our initial tryst, Sharon woke up one morning in a pensive mood. I was feeling pretty blissful, as I had been since that first night. We held hands, we kissed in public, Will shook his head in shock when I told him I was hanging with the bombshell typist from Pittsburgh, and more and more of my clothes were finding their way into her closet. She adored me, always hugging me and cooing into my face until she'd say, "Eighteen! I'm an idiot, Sean. Tell me I'm a fool," and of course I'd say, "You're a fool," and she'd slap me on the shoulder in that curious way girlfriends have. I liked to dance, and this was heaven for her. And I would dance goofy as well as cool, and the cool dancing never seemed to get me anywhere but dance goofy and it was like throwing firecrackers into the grill. A month from being loose, the husband in Lorton might as well have been in another solar system. But on this pensive day of hers I thought maybe she was thinking about Steve and I'd better keep my mouth shut, until she said: "Don't you see I'm moody?" I was lying on top of her in sunshine, I remember.  "Whenever you see a woman acting moody, you know what to do, right?" I had no clue, but I nodded anyway.  "When you see a woman moody you better ask her what's making her moody."

Okay, okay, what's the mood?
"Don't sleep with women just because you can."
What?
"Don't sleep with women just because you can."
"I don't –"
"Forget don't, it's won't. You won't, in the future."
"Okay, I won’t –"
She grabbed my hair and yanked my chin off her breast.
"If you sleep with everybody who wants you to, you won't get to sleep with the person you want to sleep with."
"Ouch, Sharon –"
"It's too much to hope for, but the best thing you can do is refuse to have sex with anybody unless you're going to love them."
"Is that what you did?" I asked.

She pushed me completely away and sprang out of bed.  Her eyes were blazing but she talked to me in a level, controlled tone:
"I'm talking about you, motherfucker. Don't have sex with women unless you're in love with them, and maybe you'll be happy one day."
"Is this what you think every man should do, Sharon?"
"Screw them. I'm only interested in you. Promise me you won't sleep with women just because they're willing to."
"You mean, while you and I are together?"
"No! Forever, for the rest of your life."
"Okay, I promise."

She slammed the bathroom door shut and it took me an hour to realize she wasn't coming out. I went to a tavern two blocks away to pee, and she was moody the rest of the day. She told me not to worry about it whenever I asked what was wrong. By the end of the day, though, I saw her looking at me from one of her odd angles, and knew I'd be okay.

Needless to say, I didn't live up to my promise. I tried, I wasn't crossing my fingers at the time. Each time I didn't live up to it, I felt an ugly emptiness afterward, and gradually each love affair became a campaign of emotions and loyalty, building the one upon all the previous, until the point I met the romance writer, when three years had passed with only one passing affair, and the girlfriend before her also came after three years of refusing the possibilities.

I went to Spain when Steve was due to be let out of prison. An old girlfriend flew in from London, with Sharon's blessing. We understood our affair would be over when I got back to the Imperial City. It was Christmas. The schmaltzy music on the airplane killed me. The first night in Spain with the ex-girlfriend from London was a nightmare, though of course I gave in to the sexual temptation and felt as hollow and soulless as I ever have in my life in the minutes afterward, when the ex-girlfriend insisted on playing "Hotel California" on the stereo while she clasped her arms around me as if two years apart had been nothing more than a dental appointment. I got letters from Sharon every day, and in one of them she wrote: "I spent the past two days cleaning up the apartment trying to get you off my mind and now I wish I could see all your stuff lying around the floor." The ex-girlfriend asked me about the photo in my wallet: "Who's the woman with the boobs?" I told her about Sharon and the ex-girlfriend fell on the grass and threw up. The lessons were coming fast and furious.

Steve wasn't out of prison when I got back. Even my mother knew. Call Sharon right away, said Mom, coz Steve hasn't been let out yet and she needs to see you. Sharon and I went to our favorite spaghetti place and they could have fed us barbed wire for all we cared. At one point, Sharon referred to my staying at her place that night, and I pretended to balk.  Couldn't do that, no no – She swept around the table and grabbed my face with her hands and said very coolly if I didn't come home with her right then she'd kill me in the restaurant and the guys with the big jaws and the loafers looking on agog were whispering Just a punk and this time I had a nasty smile for all of them as we dashed out into the next exquisite three days before Steve was given fifty bucks and his jean jacket back to walk outside and see his fantastic babe in candy red nervous in the snow wondering how she was going to tell him about the punk who turned 19 a few days before.

Four nights later Sharon came to my Mom's and told me she and Steve weren't breaking up. She loved me, but she owed Steve a shot at a future together. She was his only chance at going straight. Of course she loved me and always would, but Steve had been her main squeeze for several years, almost four, and we just had to be realistic about those nine years and three hundred and sixty three days separating us. I was devastated. That night driving around in a shock I heard the newest song from Rod Stewart: "Do ya think I'm Sexy."

The months ahead turned into years, and Steve kept a calendar on which he'd marked that week they'd delayed letting him out. "If I'd just gotten out before that punk got back, everything would've been different." Because the pheromones kept leaking, and Sharon and I had to work together, and sooner or later Steve always screwed up and got her upset or treated her badly and even though she didn't think it was right we'd be holding hands again and when Steve was incarcerated for parole violations Sharon and I fell into another level of passion, this time loaded with the memories of all that had gone before. Anticipation is to sex and sensuality the same as it is to hunger and eating.  Four years of this! Steve in and out of prison, Sharon and I in and out of love, betrayal and deceit.

Sharon was pregnant, my seed. I was 21, just back from Florida's baseball camps. In the alley behind the abortion clinic I pleaded with her that I could be the best father, that I was good with kids and didn't blink an eye whenever my cousin put the apricot pit in the glass of milk and I drank it down by accident.  Sharon agreed. But Steve was coming out in a few weeks, and she wasn't sure how she felt. I was enraged. If she wanted Steve she could have him! She was surprised by my vehemence and instantly conceded that she didn't really love Steve and that she loved me, but that I was too young to be a father. Would Steve make a better father? I yelled this at her.  Steve didn't make me pregnant, she said, and then she got sick and had the abortion anyway and got sick for the whole time before Steve got out with a final warning and this time I kept my distance and wished him bitterly good luck.
Six months later, Sharon knocked on my door. Any women around, she wondered. No, I hadn't seen anybody I thought I'd fall in love with. Sharon was trembling.  She had a bag with her. I didn't say anything and she moved in. It took several nights before she could sleep without nightmares, and still I didn't say anything. But I noticed that first night a huge welt on her buttock, a purple and yellow circle as big as a dish. For the first time, I saw Steve as an enemy and not my rival.

"This can't go on, Sharon."
"I know."
"It's been more than three years -"
"I know. He's on the run. He's missed parole and he's been stealing and shooting up and next time he goes in it will be for a long time. Years."

"Things have changed between us, too. I love you with all my heart but I want to go to Spain next year for the World Cup, and I want to travel around the world, start writing novels and stuff, and I don't know how much I'll be around."

Sharon started to cry, cutting off the sobs until she was gasping in hiccups.
"I always knew you were going to go. I expected it," she said. "Someday some woman will get you as a man and she'll be a lucky bitch, but I already know it won't be me. I've always known it." I held her and felt that swirl of misery when you feel compassion but not the conviction to help a friend in desperate need. Not because you don't want to, but because you are too helpless yourself.  

"I didn't mean what I just said, Sean."
"What?"
"You're a man now, I didn't mean you'd be a man later," and for some reason this set her off to weeping as I stroked her hair and tried to soothe her.  
"I know, Sharon, and so do you. Who do you think made me a man?"

But I wasn't man enough to help Sharon the way she needed it. I was unwilling to trust her with my flaws any more, since I thought I could improve myself better, alone. She held no such hope for herself, and hoped privately, silently, that we could make each other better, if for no other reason that we would have each other as examples of self-improvement. I knew how much she'd given to me in love and energy, and perhaps I would always be like this, sucking the life-force from other people, but if I ever learned to give something to somebody, some kind of inspiration or motivation, even a well-placed kick in the ass, it was to this person I owed at least part of it, this person bruised and miserable, lying in arms which loved her but differently from before when all I believed was Sharon Sharon Sharon, more mother maybe than sister, but lover completely, able to seduce me into a man while able still to protect the child every male carries into his fearsome future, when he is supposed to fight and compete, to win those badges of masculine idiocy!

Sharon was always able to coddle the child in me, so I could deny the dreary responsibilities of modern life, but when did I recognize the child in her? How is it that every female is weighted so fully with the expectations of adulthood?
 
We moved into her apartment when the cops started looking for Steve in earnest, and she knew he wouldn't be around. It was convenient for me, and my socks ended up in the dresser instead of on the floor. And one night we had Will over for a spaghetti I made, and we talked books and got a little high but Sharon wasn't much of a reader so the talk stalled and she and Will shared their impressions of small towns in America, and Will left a few days later for New York telling me I should come visit often and soon. I told him he should come with me around the world, but he wasn’t listening to any magnet except his own.
 
On the night John Lennon was killed, Sharon and I made a curious sort of love, during which I would have been happier watching the news reports about the Beatle's strange shooting. She sensed this, and insisted in greater passion from both of us. Making love to her would become a chore, although I didn't know it quite then. In post-coital calm we laid together until Sharon shot out of bed. "It's Steve, I hear his voice. Call 911." What? "Call 911," she said, double-locking the front door. He was on the pavement outside, six stories below. How had she heard him? Had her ear been cocked for his voice for these past three months? I put on my clothes and called 911 and looked at Sharon for further instructions, but she was by the door, listening, so I told the operator what I thought I should tell her and hung up. There was a soft knock at the door. More knocks. Sharon shook her head. "Go away, Steve. I called the cops and they're on their way."

"Come on, Baby, open the door."
"Go away, Steve, the cops –"
"I just need to get some things, open the door."

This conversation continued several minutes, and far away I heard a siren. I shouted through the door: "Listen, man, the cops are coming! Can you hear them?"
"Who is this?"
"Who cares who I am? Get going. Use the back stairwell or they'll catch your ass."
"Who is this?" demanded Steve from the other side of the door.
"Steve, get going," pleaded Sharon.
"This isn't right, Baby. This isn't right."

He banged his fist against the door, then left and Sharon held her breath. The back stairwell was closed for repairs. We heard shouting from the pavement and then Sharon started crying, panicked. We looked out the window and saw Steve rammed into the back seat of a cruiser. Sharon gasped. "He's going away for a long time!" Tears streaked down her face. She was shaking and hardly heard the knock at the door. Police officers stood in the hallway, and two of them entered her apartment, asking questions and trying not to stare at Sharon's body barely covered by a sheer bathrobe. Sharon said nothing to the police, and then they asked me and I shrugged and sat down on the couch. I knew nothing, I said.

"Ma'am, who is the man we've got downstairs?"
"D-a-v-i-l-a," said Sharon, "Steve Davila."

It took all her might to spell Steve's name, and as she did it I saw it was the biggest accomplishment of her life. The anchor against her aspirations and industry was lifted from her neck.

And the cops said thank you and left a card which I took coz Sharon was shaking too much and they left and there was a silence in that apartment I never heard before, until the sirens went away wailing and Sharon started crying again. I stood next to her and put the palm of my hand on the small of her back, but she shrugged it off.

"You know what the worst thing about that was?"
"No."
"When I spelled his name your semen was running down my legs."

She cried by herself, standing up with her forehead pressed against her arms, leaning onto the back of a chair. Her body heaved with sobs and after a few minutes like this I put out my hand to soothe her and try to get her to lie down but she snarled away from me like a panther and slammed shut the door of the bedroom, where she lay crying all night. I sat out in the living room and thought about what had happened, and about going back to Spain, I have to admit.

Steve stayed in prison three more years, got out, got cranked one night and smashed his car to pieces against a bridge. He wasn't paralyzed but he spent the last year of his life in a wheelchair. Got his blood transfused, got AIDS, tried to call Sharon and ask for her forgiveness and then just gave up one day and told his sister and brother his life wasn't worth living and passed away the next day, right there in the wheelchair, in the sunshine in the nursing home he was forced to live in.

Sharon and I broke up for good a few months later, and the very next boyfriend she had, a Chilean named Francisco, got her pregnant and this time she had the baby, and even though she had her suspicions about what kind of father he'd make she got pregnant again and had that baby too, and right after he went back to Chile to the horror of his family, who'd promised Sharon he would do the right thing. Typesetters went out of vogue and Sharon learned some graphics, I think. I saw her twice more. We went for drinks one night several years later and she wanted to re-ignite the old flame but I'd just met a young woman I would fall in love with and I used Sharon's rule as a defense and then listened to her crying in her bedroom while I laid in front of her TV in a blanket, trying to sleep.  The last time I saw her she came with three pals to a premiere of one of my movies in Georgetown. I didn't recognize her until she was right in front of me, smiling. There was a crowd and a lot of noise and Sharon said, That's all right Sweetie I'll talk to you later, but I never saw her again.   

* * * * *

I told the romance writer about Sharon's rule in one of the first conversations we had.  Ananda listened to the story and caught the emphasis I placed on Sharon's rule. I've never asked Ananda if it made an impression, but in general all of our conversations did, and by the time we met last July at an airport we were already flustered with flirty nerves and the first time we made love six days later it was completely natural for me to say "I love you," and for Ananda to reply, "I love you."
 

* * * * *

When I arrived in Santa Monica last Thursday and checked in with Will, he asked how everything was going. Cool, cool, I said. But then I had to mention the romance writer, and I wanted him to understand the scope of the romance and what I had learned, and all I compared the romance to what had happened with Sharon. But what had taken me four years to learn with Sharon, I had consumed in only half a year with Ananda. And what I learned about myself during this improbable, crazy love affair with the romance writer has left me more sure of who I am than I have ever been, even if I don't like the final result, of what happens to the romance writer and me. I have a nature, and it has been empirically confirmed. If I give in to it, I will be in pain. If I try to harness that nature to my own intellectual ends, I will cause pain. If I ignore it, I may accomplish a kind of freedom I have never even read about. My nature is to possess and be possessed. But I want to feel and express love. And love is never possession.

I have to find love, without allowing possession.

Will, as he reads this, arches his eyebrows.
Ananda, as she reads this, frowns.
I smile, as if at a good trick.

* * * * *

Will did not win for best screenplay. As he said would happen, the writer for Gosford Park won. Good thing, perhaps, because Will went to the thrift store and spent $38 for his tux. Maybe America needed to see that. On the other hand, Halle Berry won. She did a great job. But there's no clapping without a story. We all know that, right? Isn't it the story which focuses our concentration on the performance?

* * * * *

The romance writer reads this story, and writes me an e-mail. She has never been an addict, she says, to anything, and never understood why addicts act the way they do. But after reading this particular story about Sharon, Ananda changes her mind about seeing me. When can I come to visit? She needs to see me, she says, because of something in her blood, something compelling her to want me, not something she can control. And she doesn’t care what is causing this feeling, and doesn’t want it explained, and when can I get there, how soon, now?

____________________

 
 
 
Sharon was from a steel town outside Pittsburgh. When the FBI toured high schools looking for typists, they gave Sharon a phone number and told her to call if she ever got to the Imperial City. She graduated from high school and took Greyhound to a new job and a new existence as a young woman in the big city.
 
How could I make her see the “me” beyond the editor who fretted over statistics on fertilizers in Nebraska or coal mining accidents in Kentucky? No matter where I stood or what I said or what I wore, I could tell she wasn’t noticing my pheromones.
 
 
Steve wasn’t out of prison when I got back. Even my mother knew. Call Sharon right away, said Mom, coz Steve hasn’t been let out yet and she needs to see you. Sharon and I went to our favorite spaghetti place and they could have fed us barbed wire for all we cared.