Other Men’s Girlfriends and Other Vexations

certain friends refer to this as "the look"

I didn’t go to cause him trouble, but loneliness and culture shock do not make for clear thinking. The first few months at my Peace Corps were not going well. The headmaster asked me almost every day to repeat French phrases I didn’t understand. My students threw themselves on the floor if they any paid attention to my lessons at all. One of my balconies faced a mountainside and I could never see enough of the sky or the sun. My apartment got water only a few hours a day and my Florida skin couldn’t get used to buildings with no heat.

I had to take my whining somewhere. Why not take it to the man who’d been my traveling companion? We were supposed to be friends. That’s what he said–we’d always be friends. Surely his girlfriend wouldn’t care if a friend came to visit.

When I asked if I could come visit, he said yes, doing an admirable job of hiding his hesitation. The four bus ride to his site gave me plenty time to regret believing he was my best friend–all those adventures we had!–and wonder what I would say to the girlfriend who had traveled thousands of mile to stay with him–all that planning she was doing back home while he and I traveled!

He was supposed to meet me at the bus station, but after waiting a while, I walked on to his place. I did, after all, know the way. The love of his life answered the door. “Hi there! You must be Marta! I’ve heard so much about you!” She glanced around. “Isn’t he with you?”

“Hi. Um, no. I must’ve missed him.”

“Well, let’s go find him together,” she said, taking my backpack and setting inside. “He’s going to be so thrilled to see you–or maybe you want to go find him on your own so you two can catch up.”

“No, no,” I said. We’ve got all weekend for that. Let’s go together.”

She smiled brightly. She filled the walk to the bus station with cheerful chatter, asking me questions about the stories she’d heard and laughing easily. “He said you were funny,” she said.

A few minutes later we found him. He jumped to his feet, looked to me and then to her and back to me. “Hi,” he said. “You found each other?”

She grabbed his hand and kissed his cheek. “She missed you and so we came here together to get you. She’s been telling me great stories about you.”

He might’ve flinched. “She’s full of stories,” he said.

Wicked things to say came into my head, but I said none of them.

Later, I noticed that pictures of me had been removed from his photo album. There hadn’t been many and I was surprised he’d given me enough thought to think that necessary. There was nothing revealing about any of them.

That night, when they put on their matching pullovers and she called him a pet name that ended with –ee, he gave me a look and rolled his eyes as if to say he didn’t really go for that sort of thing, I laughed. I felt much better.

When I write, I often don’t understand why I write what I do. Where did that come from? What was I thinking? What is my motivation? I can no more answer that than explain why I went along with my traveling companion’s whims. How important is it to answer these questions?

Do you ever look back at something you wrote and wonder–where the hell did that come from? Or does it always make sense to you? When I’m in the midst of writing, it makes no sense at all.

10 thoughts on “Other Men’s Girlfriends and Other Vexations

  1. Oh – all the time. Sometimes it feels like the words and characters just turn up fully formed and have little to do with you. It’s interesting how people pick up on things in your work that you weren’t even aware of – that makes you question things definitely. Right now, writing is the only thing that makes sense though. Nothing else does.

  2. I purposely write to try and make sense of something, at least in nonfiction. In fiction, I may wonder where something came from, but I don’t feel like “it doesn’t make sense.” I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing- it coudl mean I’m not letting myself go enough. What I do know is that thinking about why I’m writing or why it’s coming out the way it is or why I wrote what I wrote, can be self-defeating. So, to answer your question, I’d say it’s not that important to answer those questions. The questions become distractions and the distractions become blocks. For me, it’s best to just plough ahead and tackle the sense of it all, later, when it’s time to edit.

  3. I don’t like to question where things come from… with fiction anyway. Maybe something about not looking a gift horse in the mouth. I trust my subconscious to make sense of it. Although I do sometimes think about my literary influences. But often it’s so big and large that I can’t get around the edges of the story to find out where it came from. Does it even matter if it hangs together on its own?

    Strangely, I do a lot more analyzing of my artwork. I pick it apart and look for the meaning and the questions that were going on in my head and where it comes from. I use my paintings almost as tarot cards and then use them to make meaning of my life.

  4. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to analyze my writing too closely; I’m liable to scream (inwardly), Aiiiiieee! You stole that from [insert famous author’s name], you doofus!

    For a real shock, go back and read something of yours that you haven’t read in ten years or more. Well, I should say it shocks me, anyhow (others may be different); writing aside (and one hopes it’s gotten better), it’s hard not to think things like, “Wow, you were a snide little bugger, weren’t you?”

    But in general I think I agree with one thing Rowena said (well, at LEAST one thing). When I’m reading something someone else has written, and I’m not reading it for critique or other formal purposes, I tend just to read and let myself get carried along. Notoriously bad at catching things like literary allusions, symbolism, hidden meanings, all that, at least on first read. But when looking at a work of art it’s almost like I can’t help really looking at it, y’know, even in the spaces between the brushstrokes and so on. I sometimes wish I actually knew more about art. (Until I think the old “So much to learn, so few brain cells” thoughts.)

  5. There are many things that I’ve tried to write, and I wonder why I’m so hell bent on writing them even though I may not have much experience with the subject matter or kind of characters I’m writing about. Then there are things that I know I’m writing simply because the subject matter or characters interest me very much. I’m not sure I’ve ever thought, “Where the hell did that come from?” Though I’ve had many dreams that I’ve wondered that about!

  6. Kate, you’re right–nothing else makes sense.

    fairyhedgehog, I can only hope the reader likes them as much.

    Sarah, I don’t consciously try to make sense out of any fiction I write, but it must happen on some level or no plot would ever come together.

    rowena, I never analyze my art work. That makes me feel like I’ve nothing worthwhile or intelligent to say.

    JES, I don’t think snide. I think idiotic.

    shelli, if you’re hell bent on writing them, they connect with you in some way–and those are the things that must be written!

    Squirrel, then that’s a pretty cool person deep inside there.

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