Nine months ago I went to the Met Breuer alone on a weekday and saw an exhibit about absurdity in art in times of political turmoil. It was a time when I was worrying a lot about politics and not about the state of my personal life. I stopped listening to political podcasts a month later.
The only thing I remember from this exhibit nine months ago is a small painting or maybe it was a print, it looked like nonsense cursive, the size of a normal piece of paper. It’s title was something along the lines of “It’s impossible to write a logical letter to a general.”
I found this poignant because I was very paranoid about North Korea and was thinking often about names like Mattis and McMaster.
That week as weeks do has taken on a lot of extra significance in the intervening months. I know, logically speaking, that I had not yet met the person who would throw my life off course. And yet, when I remember standing at the Met Breuer in my billowing pink pants and a strappy black top that really shows my chest, I remember it as though I’d already met him. Time is stupid and not real and a trick.
Two or three weeks ago, so still May, my best friend from college was in town en route to a wedding. We also went to the Met Breuer. A month before that I went to the regular Met with another college friend when he was visiting on the five year anniversary of our college graduation which is also 4/20. Before those two Met visits I hadn’t been to a museum since I was in France in the fall.
Outside the Musee Orangerie I was trying to take a seflie and this man started following me and trying to talk to me so I walked faster and faster and I got into the museum and paid my admission and I saw him waiting by the doors. It’s a small museum. There’s a gallery in the basement but the main attraction is two large rooms with Monet paintings lining the walls on the ground level. Half of me was trying to fall into the paintings of water and half of me was calculating if I’d been inside long enough that the man by the door had probably left.
I relayed this tale to another man, how a creep followed me into a museum, playing it off as the classic combination of hi I was in danger and also well look I’m hot and it’s so hard to travel as a woman and look this is really fucked up and don’t you wish you had been there with me and hey aren’t you catching on here’s the scheme the man I confided in was and is absolutely more dangerous than the man who followed me into the museum though he was dangerous also.
When I returned to the Met Breuer with my best friend from college three weeks ago, we went to Flora in the basement first and I ordered and absurd anchovy appetizer and she got a citrus salad and then we split the halibut. I got the halibut nine months ago too. It was a little different. Secret: fancy restaurants keep the same proteins but change the accompaniments.
Then we went upstairs and watched an open rehearsal for a dance exhibit. We marveled at how young the dancers seemed. “They must be just out of college, and already preparing for a performance at the Met.”
The main exhibit was about bodies.
Someday I will write about the past nine months. Wait, I already have. I wrote an essay. I got it workshopped in Hudson four weeks ago. I forgot that I knew how to write an essay. But the women who I’d never met understood what I was saying. They were surprised that I’d written the essay in two days. They wrote annotations that are the same as the annotations I usually write in the margins of essays I read by other women: “I hate him.” They also wrote annotations that I won’t bore you with, about plot devices and interpersonal psychology and carefully placed details. See, like Ali Smith said, How to Be Both.
Some of my friends are fucking thrilled that I wrote that essay which yes I will eventually try to publish. Other people, (ah, yeah, which ones do you think,) said, “I hear you wrote an essay.”
I said exactly the response someone like me would have but which is also true: “I’m an artist, and this is how I process what happened to me. Look, don’t be nervous, it’s more about me than it is about him. Don’t worry. You come off fine. Don’t worry! I’m going to make sure that everyone who could be affected reads it before I consider publishing it.”
God, I love to spend time placating friends of abusive men that they personally will not suffer from being friends with abusive men.
This weekend I guess there’s another panel about freedom of the press. Oh did I mention, that’s the other thing that happened the week of the Met Breuer and the letter to a general. A panel on freedom of the press. I don’t want to say that’s where it began because I know now that things do not begin in discrete moments, but.
I started to wonder if there was a rip in the space time continuum. Did the past nine months not happen. Am I living in a scratchy film loop of bad men and the Met Breuer and panels where progressive men pontificate and then turn around and
And then I remembered a therapist (a male one!) who I had during the summers between college who to be honest is the person who most taught me what mental health means and how when I’d go on my long rants (ha, see my offset of Longreads, Longrants,) about dramatic friendship issues, he’d say, sometimes all you can do is shrug.
I’m simplifying how good he was. But this one thing was simple and true. Instead of searching for the meaning of the panels and the museums and the coincidences—well, it fucking happened, time is a flat circle.
You can't write a logical letter to a general.
You can't have a logical conversation with a sociopath. Good thing I saw that exhibit, I guess.
I always loved books but no one told me how much of my life I’d spend trying to rewrite horrific narratives into something acceptable. I didn’t know that something as simple as ‘enjoying an experience’ would contort in my memory into tar, because I’d realize that what I saw as an equal interaction was just a man manipulating me as an activity.
Sometimes I remember men who I went on one or two dates with who were maybe decent and I think why did I drop that? Why did I run away? Was it really that bad? And then I’m at a bar and a decently attractive man wearing a shirt patterned with poinsettias is telling me how women just need to ignore men and create their own art and I nod and smile and think yes wow what a genius solution.
And then walking home slowly in wedge heels I recall exactly why I could not physically force myself to text any of the men back.
Despite what happened, this time, or any of the other times, I’ve been so fucking lucky.
If I didn’t preserve the cave I’ve been given by running away from people who threaten the small things I hold—
I’d be a fucking fool.