Word of the Day: Monday, December 25, 2006 Nonplus\non-PLUHS\, transitive verb: To cause to be at a loss as to what to think, say or do; to confound; to perplex; to bewilder.
When M arrived late Christmas night and handed her the small tan shopping bag with the burgundy Kay Jewelers insignia, Luna didn’t expect there to be jewelry inside.
M was too cheap for that.
Neither did she imagine she’d reach in and touch yarn, extracting two pairs of men’s gloves. One pair black, the other brown – the flimsy kind you find at the checkout counter.
Struggling to maintain composure, and to grasp what this all meant, she stared
at M. His name was Mark. Luna’s older son was also a Mark – named after Mark Antony
in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. (She thought he was brilliant: “For I have neither wit,
nor words, nor worth, Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech, To stir men's
blood: I only speak right on; I tell you that which you yourselves do know.”) She
couldn’t have two Mark’s in her cell phone, so she listed the newer as ‘M’ – which turned
out to also stand for ‘man of mystery.’
M was largely an enigma, giving out only the barest details of himself and his past. It was like Luna was watching a movie preview, but never got to see the whole film. Here are some of the things she’d gleamed about him, bit by bit:
Stats on M
Name: Mark Romano
Ethnic background: Italian and Spanish.
Martial Status: Never married.
Hair: Nearly none (Luna really felt he should shave it all and be done with it.)
Occupation: Computers, contracting, surveillance systems, pyrotechnics, and possibly other things she didn’t yet know about. He was always working, from early morning into the night, running from one project to the next, often staying out of town for days. Always on the run, like he was running from something.
Favorite physical activity: Given his enthusiasm, she suspected it was sex.
Other likes: TV – the only pastime he seemed to let himself enjoy. He liked to complain.
Dislikes: M could find something to dislike in almost anything. It was as though if he allowed himself to like it, it would let him down.
Religion: He didn’t appear to follow one, though he did believe in God.
Favorite writers: N/A – Books put him to sleep, literally.
Favorite Dessert: Pistachio ice cream.
Favorite saying: His own, which he found quite amusing: “If a man says something in the forest and there’s no woman to hear him, is he still wrong?”
Here was the latest information on M: apparently, he enjoyed bestowing completely inappropriate gifts. Grasping those gloves, Luna felt her face redden, as though he’d slapped her with them.
And maybe he had.
M laughed. “Extras,” he said. “People gave them to me, but I didn’t need them.”
Why he’d think she’d need two ugly, cheesy pairs of re-gifted gloves she couldn’t comprehend. For Christ’s sake (Or, as her best friend Sunny would say, Christ on a cracker!), if you were visiting an acquaintance on Christmas night you bought them a nut platter or something. She’d been his lover for four months.
Handing her nothing would’ve been better.
This seemed cruel. Did he mean to be cruel? Funny? What the hell was going through his head that would make this behavior okay?
How could the man who’d been so tender also be this rough?
Dr. Gold, her chiropractor, would say, “You should be glad you don’t understand callousness. That’s a good thing.” She knew because he’d said it when she’d described similar treatment from others before. Some might call this a pattern. Hers, theirs...all intertwined like the strands of yarn stringing together those chintzy gloves.
She’d spent countless hours trying to figure out bad behavior, looking for some kind of reason in all the insults and pain inflicted upon her. But the only clarity came when Dr. Gold, about to adjust her jaw for TMJ, said, “You’re assuming people are reasonable. They’re not.” That Dr. Gold, he was like Buddha, except he was thin and Jewish.
Pressing his fingers against the insides of her cheek he’d then said, “This is going to hurt.”
It did hurt. The pressure hurt so intensely she felt like her jaw might snap. But at least he’d warned her. That was really all she could ask.
It boggled her mind. Not the pain from the TMJ adjustment, but the fact that there’d been so many unreasonable people.
Particularly, unreasonable men.
Luna thought about that as she and M watched the movie he’d turned on - one of those The Santa Clause movies. M liked to chill and unwind before going to bed, and when he came over, he took over. It didn’t matter what she’d planned or wanted, things operated on his schedule.
M’s kisses, they tasted so sweet. She wanted them now, no matter what he’d done, how he’d treated her.
Flanked by the myriad of video games, dvd’s, books and toys the kids had opened that morning and left behind when they went to their father’s to open more gifts, Luna and M sank into the black sectional living room couch. They also sank into themselves. In the corner, the tree the kids had picked out but lost interest in decorating still twinkled with the lights Luna had literally thrown on (she hadn’t felt the urge to rope them all around the back – and no one saw the back anyway.) It was a good tree, everyone said so; even M, who rarely said anything was good. Its branches had settled down nicely, it had no unsightly spaces, and it had a perfectly sloped shape to it. Too bad it was dying, hacked and hauled from its home in the forest to spend its final moments in Luna’s living room. Today its robust pine scent filled the room; in a week she’d drag it to the curb, a trail of prickly needles its only legacy. This was in sharp contrast to Luna’s childhood years, when the trees, brown and brittle, would often remain next to the TV until Easter. Her mom couldn’t bear to throw anything away.
Setting the Christmas scene in the house was pretty easy. A sacrificial tree, some lights, a few decorative doilies and wreaths strategically placed, and you were golden – halls decked out in holly and pretense. M had actually helped out with the festivities, by depositing a large blow-up Santa on her front lawn a few nights earlier. Santa now waved incessantly at the Jewish neighbors across the street, the only audience on their dead-end.
The difficulty lay in feeling the Christmas spirit internally. She could capture it briefly, like at 6:23that morning, when her kids rushed downstairs flushed with excitement – it leaked through their pores. Dylan, her seven year old, squealed with delight at all Santa had left him, while twelve year old Mark gave her a big wink of thanks. But by 6:58, when her sons finished ripping through wrapping, the illusion was shattered. She was left with the cleanup, and the truth.
And now she had those lovely gloves.
In the movie she and M watched, Santa brought a woman the same kind of doll she’d loved as a child - one of those baby dolls that ate/cried/laughed/peed. The woman was overcome with renewal of hope and love - typical Hollywood b.s.
Luna had gotten dolls like that. She’d always received the gifts she’d wanted, except the gift of company. Every year she spent Christmas Eve with the TV because her mom waited ‘til then to buy a tree and do her shopping (possibly, she kept the tree ‘til Easter in compensation.)
But why should Christmas Eve have been different from any other night?
She’d been alone then and sitting next to M, she was alone now.
She wanted to say something – to scream, even, but she just sat there, muted and numb; her mind and her heart frostbitten from the accumulation of disappointments they’d endured. She leaned against the couch cushions, ran her fingers across the smooth material as though instinctively trying to find some sort of relief, but her sub conscience vetoed comfort.
There was no familiarity in comfort.
It was then that the panorama of men started, flashes of faces through her mind – pricks on parade.
The pricks of Christmas past.
Frank had been her first. Twenty-four years old to her seventeen years, he was engaged to her best friend’s sister. She met him while sleeping over at her friend’s house, in the middle of the night. She’d crashed out on the couch and woken to find a figure standing over her. In those first few seconds between sleep and consciousness she couldn’t think clearly enough to register fear.
“What are you doing?” she asked. She could see him pretty well, the hall light glared yellowish-white behind them. He was tall and lean, with dark hair that framed his face. She couldn’t make out his features, though – like the color of his eyes.
“I was just gonna cover you,” he answered in his slow Floridian accent, showing her the woolly lump in his hands. “You looked cold.”
When Frank unfolded that blanket and draped it over her, it was akin to seduction. In the months that followed he courted her with friendship – she was giddy from all that masculine attention - and then with more. The ‘more’ had started around Christmas – the holiday hugs and kisses he’d bestowed had sent her reeling. It was a week past her eighteenth birthday when he had her, on St. Patrick’s Day. It hurt, but at least it was done swiftly. She just wanted to be with him; she would’ve done anything to be with him more, no matter the pain.
At his wedding, Frank passed Luna on to his married friend, Ed. “This is my little fool-around,” he’d said.
Resigned to scraps, she’d gone along with it – squeezing her eyes shut even though they were in the dark and wishing it was still Frank, she loved him so - but her body hadn’t cooperated: it clenched up and wouldn’t let him in. And before he had an opportunity to try again, she met Nicky.
Here was someone who could be all hers, theoretically. He wasn’t sleeping with anyone else, and yet he insisted they keep their relationship a secret. It was like he was embarrassed or something. Luna went along with it, taking what she could get. He told her, “You’re lucky I put up with you. No one else will ever want you.” And she believed him.
A few months later he moved in with her, more to escape the insanity of his family than because of any great feelings he had. Again, she accepted anything, because he was willing to be with her. That was all that counted. They wound up living together for nine years, during which time he proposed by dangling her engagement ring on their Christmas tree. It seemed like things had improved greatly, like he really cared. Did she care for him? Yes. Did she love him? Yes, at least a little. It wasn’t an all-encompassing love. But how could she know what was lacking if she’d never experienced it? A few months later, she caught him on voice-activated tape, cheating with a mutual friend who closely resembled Miss Piggy. Perplexed and angry, she nevertheless took him back. After all, it was obviously the pig friend’s fault, somehow – if she could just go with that, she wouldn’t have to face the rest. She wouldn’t have to be alone.
Eventually she married him. They were together over twenty years in total if you counted the years in the end when he didn’t touch her at all. He simply hadn’t the time. His schedule was booked to the max with internet hook-ups, which Luna learned when she wised up and downloaded some computer spyware.
After her passionless marriage came men in many ages and forms. They were like enticing Christmas presents Luna quickly reached for, to find what was inside. Inevitably, they all wound up inside her. And like a child surrounded by a mountain of gifts, she’d loved them all. Some briefly – during that thrilling unwrapping moment - and some, still.
But it had all started with her dad; perhaps the biggest prick of all.
Causes Selene Castrovilla Supports
Bargemusic Ltd., Smiletrain, American Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animals