treading water with walt whitman

The man I met today was a professor. He professed a lot of things but the parts that resonated were the bits and pieces about his family, existing and past.

Ten years ago the family he was born into died and he felt (and still feels) like an orphan.

His existing family unit continues to grow because that’s all he has…”the original set of kids have grown…let’s adopt some more…” kinda thing.

It’s not common on a first meeting to be invited into a man’s home to see his children’s drawings…watercolored landscapes of the rural town he grew up in…his collection of books.

As I came up from the stairs and looked for the corner office, I knew his experience was limited.

None of that typical pre-meeting mental bargaining took place. “Should I tell her where I work? My real name? Where I live?”

Maybe he’ll get stalked or blackmailed in the future…

Two and a half hours later, drained of any belief in my ability to be articulate by his effortless genius, I was giving very little. He could tell. “I don’t think I can hold your attention. I’m boring you.”

“The opposite. You’re the first person who’s become a “complete” person to me early on. Men in your position typically hold back the details.”



His homelife seemed sad. He was tired of the children (my peers) but in need of a family unit to distract him from the guilt of having left his family back home long ago. His mid-50’s had him thinking he was living a simulacrum of a life, and he couldn’t wait to escape on one of his many dreamed up solo ventures.

“Sometimes I fall prey to the slave fantasy.”

“The ‘slave’ fantasy?”

“Yes, you know…”

His knuckles were bruised and scratched. I get it now.

His office was warm and I found myself slouching and feeling flush. I was overdressed and he reminded me that I had had several opportunities to make myself more comfortable.

“You knew how warm it was going to be when you left the house, didn’t you?”

“You could have left your sweater in the car.”

“You could’ve taken off most of your clothing as soon as you had walked in.”

Harmless, I suppose, but in an act of defiance I buttoned up my sweater and lifted my maxi dress high enough to reveal combat boots and fuschia socks. In the most wickedly sensual way possible, I stretched out the fuschia to its full thigh high glory, unrolling it all the way up to my panty line.

We were both vaguely insulted.

“When I was a boy, I wished to be physically close to a moment like this. Do you know how difficult it is to peer through a cracked door at your mother putting on her hosiery when you’re a prepubescent boy? Only when you’re old enough to shave do you feel like you can hold the attention of a woman other than the one who gave birth to you.”

“My thing was watching my mom buckle me into the backseat. She’d lean over me, fumbling with the hot metal, and I’d watch her neck strain and her cleavage get close to my arm. Her cleavage was probably the only highlight of her being my mother.”

“Even at that age you knew, huh?”

Later, as the home tour turned into one endless circle of fenced in beauty, and polite rages against life, I heard my eulogy as I lay on my deathbed.

My story was a custom tailored version of his life story…and everyone else’s. I had somehow managed to avoid living my own life while taking in the stories of others. Living was the duty of all duties and I accepted the assignment with general disregard.

But the friends and family in attendance didn’t seem to mind. The scandals were juicy, the witch hunts were real, and the transitions between reality and fantasy were seamless.

I gave him the gist of where my mind was.

“Maybe I’ll start living when I’m 40,” I said. “I didn’t think I’d be around to see 30 and here I am, two years past, spending the hours in a constant state of incredulity.”

“Don’t start living when you’re 40. It’ll be much too late.”

He picked up his bottle of Snapple, half finished, and walked towards the trashcan.

“Not good, huh?”

“It was horrendous. I’m throwing it away.”

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