Authors: Lawrence Block
Writing as Jill Emerson
The trouble with a diary is that you have to decide who you are writing it to. (I mean to whom you are writing it. No, I don’t. I mean what I said. If this is going to work at all, I’d be well advised to write as I talk. Which is not a matter of dese and dem and dose, because I am after all a literate and wordsworthy person, acknowledged to be fairly bright for a lady. But there is no point, in these pages, being a nut about grammatical perfection. Or sitting around hung up over the spelling of a word.)
Interesting, though, that the Personal Diary of Jan Giddings Kurland should begin
Interesting. Curiouser and Curiouser . . .
My lawyers. Curiouser and Curiouser, Attorneys-at-Law.
Confusing because I’ve been spending the morning and much of the afternoon pacing around trying to figure out how to start this. What tone to take. Whether to begin each entry “Dear Diary” as girls do in books—and thus probably in real life as well, life imitating bad art as it does. Or whether to write each day’s entry as if to Howie, if for no better reason than that the sneak will probably read this sooner or later anyway, and that if each entry began “Dear Howie” he could do so with a somewhat clearer conscience, assuming, that is, that conscience is still a valid concept while discussing Howie, that his has not atrophied from lack of use, like a nun’s cunt.
Howie is Howard Kurland, my husband. I am Janet Kurland, the former Janet Giddings. Howie is thirty-two. He is tall, he has brown hair, his eyes are also brown, he—
No, impossible. I cannot get hung up on things like that or this book will never get anywhere.
It’s probably too late anyway. The year is already a week old. The night before last was Twelfth Night. We put the Christmas tree out for the garbage. As it was, we had waited a little too long, but I’m a traditionalist. Every year when Twelfth Night comes we take out the mangy old Christmas tree, and I open my birthday presents! Christmas is officially over and I’m officially a year older.
When I was a girl (I don’t like that sentence, I mean phrase, I don’t like that phrase, not at all, the ring of it, the echo of an old woman’s voice speaking those words, I am still a girl, I want still to be a girl, twenty-nine is not that old, twenty-nine too old, twenty-nine years, my thirtieth year, God!). When I was younger (cheat!) it balanced off, Twelfth Night and birthday, because the end of Christmas was sorrowful, in a way, but the happiness of a birthday made up for it. Well, it still balances, but the other way around. I was glad to get that broken-down tree out of the house, glad to see Christmas over for a year, no more decorations all over the neighborhood, no more of the forced hilarity of the holiday season.
Being twenty-nine, having embarked on one’s thirtieth year, on the other hand, was the greatest drag imaginable.
So. I don’t keep diaries. I’m not good at it, I start off all ambitious (like everything else) and by the end of January I don’t want to be bothered with the job of recording each day’s trivia, and sometime in mid-February I remember that the diary, poor thing, poor orphan, is stuck up on some closet shelf, and I find it and destroy it unread, as if the future would be poisoned by the simple existence of the past, let alone its tangible presence.
(I don’t know what that last means. But I will not cross anything out. That’s part of what this diary is all about.)
And so to put down, now, once and forever what this diary
all about. Not a place to record everything that happens, not a source of guilt when a few days go by without an entry. But merely a place to write messages to the girl in the mirror.
I found myself, all afternoon, coming face to face with my reflections. Not my verbal reflections but with mirror images. Literally. The mirror over the bathroom sink, on the bedroom closet door, the car’s rear-view mirror, all sorts of mirrors. And I kept studying myself either critically or generously, and also I found myself just staring blankly into my own baby browns,
is I guess the phrase, while I tried to puzzle out how this diary business ought to be aimed. And then I decided to write it to the girl in the mirror.
Which is to say not to my own self, because the girl in the mirror lives in her own world, really. That world must be rather like this one, because the girl’s life puts the same lines in her poor face that Reality (I saw a hippie button that says “Reality is a Crutch.”) has been putting with increasing frequency in mine. So I write to you, Mirror Jan. To a nonexistent person who exists as another self or I. Thus I need only tell you the things I find interesting. I don’t have to describe myself all that much, do I? You and I must look at each other half a hundred times a day. And I don’t have to apologize for the occasional run-on sentence, or for other errors of style which would be inexcusable if this were pretending to be some sort of Capotene nonfiction novel.
For that matter, I trust you won’t mind if I cease herewith to address you in the second person—it does seem rather precious. And that you won’t be dismayed if days or even weeks pass without word from me. Because it seems to me that the reason I generally abandon diaries is that they turn into chores, and my track record with chores of any description is Not Good.
And, actually, I rather would like this to turn out well. I don’t know exactly what I hope to accomplish, but—
But bullshit. I know what this is supposed to accomplish. It is supposed to be therapy. It is supposed to keep the everyday housewife from going quietly or unquietly over the edge. From dropping out of her tree. From wigging out.
Why do we have so many euphemisms for unpleasant truths? So many cute ways to describe ourselves if, for example, we are drunk. Or if we go insane.
I am not going insane.
I am going insane.
I am sick of this, for now. I think.
Last night was horrible.
Howard came home with what I think the lower orders would describe as a hair up his ass. Just a wee bit too much aggravation at the office and just a wee bit more booze than he positively needed in the club car. When I picked him up at the train he started bitching at me for not having had air put in the front left tire. It is not flat, but then neither is it round, and we had decided that I would have them put air in the tire, a service they perform willingly when they sell you gas. Had I failed to get gas? No. Then I meant to say that I had gone into the gas station without getting the tire filled? Right, guilty. Well, what the hell was the matter with me, anyway? A good question, and one which, although I said nothing, was not entirely original on his part; I had been asking myself much the same thing all day.
He had a couple more drinks with dinner. I don’t exactly blame him. Dinner, let’s be honest, stank. A noble experiment. One of those packaged things with equal parts of dried herbs and poisonous chemicals. Betty Crocker’s Rice Galitzianer, perhaps. Sometimes I have fantasies of buying stone ground flour and organic vegetables and making everything from scratch, and then I cruise down the aisles at the Pathmark and fill the cart with all of this processed shit. I think there’s something insidious about the pictures on the boxes. God knows nothing I make turns out looking like that. Even when they taste good they don’t look like that.
The point being that dinner was a loser. After dinner he took a drink in to watch television by, like mood music. I followed at a distance. After the eleven o’clock news he turned to me. He was, I guess, about half in the bag. Half in the bag for Howie means he can still wiggle his toes if you give him a few minutes to work it all out in his mind.
Why am I being so bitchy?
Because I’m hostile.
No, let’s remember how this went. He said, “Jan, baby, this isn’t working out, is it?”
A moment of panic.
wasn’t working out? Our Vietnam policy? Our marriage? The new color television set? Rice Galitzianer?
“What I mean is that this is no way to start a family.”
“You can’t get pregnant watching television.”
“Unless we do it doggie style.” (I didn’t say this. Like most good repartee, it occurred to me twelve hours after the moment when it would have been effective. What we all need is the opportunity to go over our lives with a blue pencil the next day.)
(And cross everything out? Maybe.)
“You know something, darling? I love you.”
“And I love you, Howie.”
“Baby, let’s go upstairs.”
We live in a ranch house. Everything’s on the same floor. One’s speech patterns seem to derive from the culture in which one lives to the point where one summons one’s bride unwittingly to the roof. I used to think, when Howie first invited me to an upstairs which wasn’t there, that he had spent his childhood in a two-story house. Not so. He had never lived in a two-story house, had in fact never lived in a house before we moved to Eastchester. It was always an apartment somewhere or other in Brooklyn or the Bronx. When he and I had the apartment on Seventy-seventh Street, there was none of this
Let’s go upstairs
cuteness. It came with the house, like the thirty-year mortgage and the leak in the basement and the army ants or whatever they are. Sometimes he catches himself, and sometimes I remind him, but it doesn’t matter, he does it again the next time. Movies and books and television taught the poor man that when you live in a house you have to climb stairs to go to bed.