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 Ann Henry


In the beginning, there was complete chaos. I lived like a happy animal, in the explosive squalor of strewn cosmetics, hair stuff, books and paper. For fun, I sat around with the girls, drinking cheap wine and speculating about the nature of love. Sometimes I got lonely, spent hours in front of the mirror, looking into my own eyes. "Oh, you," I would say. "Oh, you." That self-consciousness business really got me down. So I invented men, and then he came along, in his ripped jeans, his torn sweatshirts, his earrings, his Gauloise smoldering from his lower lip, his copy of Artweek tucked under his arm.

I'm still not sure what he did, before he met me. A little gardening, puttering around with paint, reading Melville and coming up with these terrific insights he couldn't articulate. He made big art messes, I know that much, because later I cleaned them up. He enjoyed playing pool with his pals, and not eating properly. I fixed all that. I changed his diet, restricted his beer, and allowed him pool one night a week. I even got the Burnt Umber off of the sofa, the Cerulean off the armchair, but he wasn't one bit grateful.

So we met. In the beginning there was a giant love accident, this big bang of unfocused desire, this radical re-direction of planetary orbits. Aries picked a fight with Zeus. Dionysus ditched his bloodthirsty girlfriends and went to a twelve-step program. Aphrodite decided to stay home forever and write books on sex advice. Persephone got stressed out between the demands of her boyfriend and her mom, took to drugs and young men in a hotel in Purgatory called The Tarantula Arms.

But we were busy inventing dating. It goes like this: you get all dressed up, and you're so nervous, and then you go to a restaurant. We invented restaurants. Restaurants are places where all the nasty mechanisms of feeding are hidden behind flashy waiters and white tablecloths. They're like funeral homes and death, which we did not invent. We agreed on our first date that death was very bad, and the best solution was to ritually eat our dead in great restaurants.

We invented cocktails. Dubonnet, slice of lemon. We didn't like the drink, but we loved the sound. Cocktails. Dubonnet. We invented jokes and French. We invented Things In Common; we invented sunlight, movies, and credit cards. We had things in common we both hated too, things we hadn't invented, like cold weather, interest rates, alienated labor, Merchant-Ivory films.

We invented the shy, complicitous smile as an overture to fucking. We invented fucking, one gray afternoon by the sea, after we invented the sea, and a good thing, too. All the algae thanked us in benevolent acts of silent mitosis.

Don't ask me what happened, because I'll tell you. It was nothing dramatic. We were both a little bored is all, a bit stale. So some guy named Stan approached me at Woolworth's one day, when I was busy buying condoms and embroidery thread, a guy named Stan with a cobra tattooed on his bicep, flashing a gold tooth as the centerpiece of a smile which owed nothing to sincerity, and he said, Baby girl, come for a ride in my car, and I'll show you some stuff you can't even imagine. It was nothing, a few spins around the block in a red Jaguar, a quick lunch of sushi that left me permanently unsatisfied. OK, so it shouldn't have happened. So I shouldn't have invented lying, evasion, shifting the onus. But it wasn't all my fault, not entirely.

What happened, I think, is that we invented TV, after we were tired of one another, and fucking, after we had invented Los Angeles by mistake, huddled together, dreaming uneasy edge-of-sleep nightmares of cloverleaf freeways, the sinuous undulations of a gigantic snake forever shedding and replacing its skin. We invented sitting around together watching the programs we liked as kids on a zillion different channels. We invented the remote control, cuddling together at night in our flowered bower (we invented Laura Ashley prints, and we apologize for that one) channel surfing until we were numb. It wasn't any good. It wasn't any good at all. So many things spun out of control, were damaged and replaced by something lesser. Paler and paler imitations surrounded us in ghostly tangos. The world spun colder, smaller. We just gave up and bought new, tiny TVs for our separate rooms. You invented football, where monolithic males smashed into one another for no reason I could discern. I invented talk shows, where perfect strangers sat on little gray couches and discussed lives worse than anything we could ever invent.

"We need to talk," one of us would say, and we would be chilled to the bone. Those are the four saddest words we ever invented. We-need-to-talk. By the time you need to talk, there is nothing good to say.

I invented things on my own. I invented a cracker called Witz! that would make me smarter, but it wasn't any good. Lit Witz!, Crit Witz!, no good. I invented a cracker called Nit Witz! so I could relate to his friends. He didn't care. He invented the look of profound disinterest. I invented a cracker called Clit Witz! that would make me more sizzling in bed. He invented pornography, so I developed a form of housework called Death to Dust Kitties. It involved sweeping from under the bower, the unearthing of bad photos of strange women's shell-pink vaginas. We invented pointless domesticity. "Gotta go fix some tile," he would say. "Gee, the stove could use a wash," I would respond. We invented the missionary position once a week, whether we wanted to or not, and then I invented getting fat.

It started with the occasional midday apple and escalated into long days of aimless snacking. It goes like this: you're alone, right, nobody loves you, so why not go get some ice cream. I invented ice cream, the measured licks reinventing the crenulations of the brain. I saw the face of God in ice cream.

He didn't like that, so he invented infidelity with some anorexic adolescent who was busy inventing desperation. I was very upset, so upset I invented sulking and revenge fantasies. I felt like Medea, but couldn't bear to hurt our cats, Cain and Abel. We invented cats, which, next to fucking, was our best idea ever, only like all our ideas it sort of went wrong.

We invented quarreling, an invention involving tears, slammed doors, threats of major physical damage perpetrated by flying soy sauce bottles. Imagine, inventing soy sauce only to have it turn on you. That hissing sound was driving us crazy. It was getting louder all the time.

We invented good-bye, our worst invention, the one that never worked, even though we invented sad songs to make it easier. We invented Motown, girl groups, an emotional range only adequately expressed by a chorus that goes oooh waah waaa doo. Set me free, why don't cha babe. Get out my life, why don't cha babe.

We invented exile. I invented Home of Mom, claustrophobia, sadness exacerbated by offers of unwanted dishes of Jell-O. We did not invent Jell-O, but whoever did was on to a really bad thing. We invented drifting, waking up in a strange but familiar room, knowing you wouldn't recognize the face on your pillow, the face on your passport, until you look at the face in the mirror and think, Am I this? Am I me? And then you feel the sort of expansive self-pity which is likely to keep you indoors for weeks, wallowing in Motown, taking Patsy Cline songs very personally, regretting every one of your inventions.

We invented despair. It goes like this: you're sick to death of being alive and you don't give a rat's ass what happens to you. It's a form of dust, a form of giving way, and it goes on until you wake up dead alone, in some Tijuana fleabag with some guy named Stan, hopelessly hung over and idly speculating as to the location of your clothes, or else in Tokyo, teaching English. After careful consideration, we invented guarded return.

"Everything will be different," he said. "Unless it isn't."

"It's just that I got depressed. And you kept me company," I said.

"Were you, then, my God?" he said coldly.

To come, chastened, home is the end of every story, the loyal pets who still recognize you, the guilty threads littering the bedroom. Stepped out for a paper, did you? And now you've come crawling back. No one wants to hear about how you surfed this Scylla, that Charybdis. Nobody cares about how cleverly you ripped off the Cattle of the Sun God. And as for Circe and Calypso, no need to bring up your dyke phase, OK?

Everything is just the same and then again it isn't. It is newly cold, all the furniture rearranged by some outer-space teenager who sensed she was about to be evicted. "I kept myself busy," he said. "I tatted our shrouds." We sat together on the sofa and invented middle age. It's a story that begins with a massive apology, and then goes nowhere in particular.

The hissing was louder. We agreed to ignore it. They raised the rent, impossibly high. They demanded everything we had, plus endless acts of pointless contrition. They have this way of demanding acts of atonement once every blue moon, and then laughing up their sleeves.

The cats were fighting constantly, hissing in corners. Hell with it. We packed up and moved out, because one or the other of us had a hot new job in the land of Nod. The rent is cheaper and there aren't a lot of questions asked.

"Darling," I say, unpacking our toy telescopes in this bare and drafty apartment, with the unshaded light bulb and the radiator hiss, Cain and Abel squabbling in the corner, "this is clearly one hell of a fallen world."

"Shut up," he says. "Shut up." He gets out our vast cache of little plastic animals, the ones we used to fondle wordlessly, like blind children, each convexity and concavity its own undefined world. "I have dominion now. It's a big responsibility. Now this is how things are. This is a cow, do you see?" He clutches a rooster. "Cow," I say.

"This is a giraffe," he says, waving a rhino under my nose.

"This is a giraffe, I agree."

"Giraffe," he says. "We agree this is a giraffe. Zebra," he says, clutching a pig.

"Rhino," I say. "Rhino," biting back a laugh, choking off a hiss. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth laughter, suspended forever and again between words and the desperate chaos of their absence, between love and freedom, between self and other, and the hiss becomes the chorus, and we invent the song.

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