Jennifer and David

Jennifer and David

“It’s always the same,” Jennifer says. “Whenever I get close to anything good it turns to shit. Two IVFs with David and when the third one took a miscarriage. ‘The story of your life,’ my mother tells me, then she throws in the abortion I had in my twenties. Now she says, at least I’m not as fucked as my brother who’s going to jail for embezzlement. Still thinks I don’t know she took mustard baths when she got pregnant with me. David says I’m lucky she never bothered to learn about IUDs.”

When we first started working together, Jennifer told me about a kid walking home from school who got ambushed by three older boys who raped her. She’d just turned eleven. Her words pricked me like needles as she told me the story. She’s never told anyone except David what happened. Jennifer is an expert massage therapist adept at softening adhesions in the deep tissues of others. Today as the chunky forty-year-old woman with stringy, unwashed hair sits on the couch in front of me, I see those boys latched on to her like snakes pumping her with venom. “Last week they told me I’m on probation,” she says. “Another sick day and my office go to somebody else. But I wake up in the morning and can’t move my legs.” Her eyes glaze over as she says the words. I see the paralyzed little girl lurking in her hippocampus, diminishing her to the point where she feels like a cripple.

David dressed in a threadbare shirt and frayed jeans like to phentermine online usa describe himself as a vintage Timex that takes a likin’ but keeps on tickin’ or when he’s in a darker mood, the Energizer Bunny. He puts in 14-hour workdays hauling grips and dollies around movie sets and goes out of his way to protect the people around him from the heavy electrical equipment. Each night he limps home with stabbing pains in his lower back. Last week he made an appointment for an MRI but slept through it. He once told me that when he was five and broke his arm, his father glared down at him and called him a weakling. He stopped crying instantly. Whenever his father threatened him, his mother would comfort him in his room late at night by massaging his penis and sticking her fingers inside him. After his twelfth birthday, his mother and father would take off for days at a time leaving him alone with nothing but stale crackers in the cupboard and sour milk in the fridge. Most nights when David gets home from work, he finds Jennifer lying on the couch. More often than not she hasn’t bathed. “Look on the bright side,” he says, “my ex-wife was bi-polar.”  

Each week they come for the conversation. They tell me this or that in well-articulated lines as I look at the lines around their eyes, listen to the tone of their voices. I see Jennifer’s body tighten as she speaks of her brother about to be sentenced for stealing money from the shareholders in his company, the opaqueness in her eyes the few times she wonders about David and what he’s feeling. I see David’s labored breathing, his jumpy leg when he mentions his father who’ll soon die of cancer, the weariness, and resignation in his face when he speaks of his daily life with Jennifer.  They recite their words clearly, concisely, leaving me to imagine what they’re feeling inside, where they’re feeling it in their bodies.

David and Jennifer have arguments but not like most couples, certainly not like Molly and me. Today they give me a good illustration when I ask Jennifer how she feels about her weight. She’s gained 30 pounds in the last three months and must now weigh close to 200.

“Yesterday I was walking naked around the apartment,” she says, “and caught a glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror. I felt embarrassed and stopped looking.” Her eyes cloud over as she says the words.

David, exuding a cheerful complacency reply, “I feel you’re sexy and beautiful and I tell you every day.”

“I know he’s being nice,” Jennifer answers with a placid smile.

“Do you feel like he’s really looking at you?” I ask.

“I never think about it,” she says, then adds in an understated pout, “He’s not always nice to me. He gets curt when I tell him how to drive. But it passes quickly.”

“Seems like you never get mad at her,” I tell David.

“I once did,” he answers, “I was building a shelf and she started micromanaging me, on my six, telling me how to hammer each nail. I grumbled about it, she said ‘Fuck you!’ and I walked out on her. When she curses at me, I get sick to my stomach.” His body tenses as he says the words. 

David and Jennifer live day to day like the couple in the France is in the Air commercial sung by Glass Candy. Two lovers on swings gliding past each other in a pinkish haze, lips grazing blissfully, each lost to the other. David vanished long ago in the thunder of his father’s voice, the terror of his mother’s sexual abuse, his own voice lost to him now. Jennifer brainwashed, steeped in the conviction that David is blind to her like her mother and the rest of her family, that for all they care she can go to hell.

David chose Jennifer believing she’ll give him scraps when he needs a three-course dinner. Jennifer chose David expecting he’ll never ask for anything that matters. I know David will never be inspired to show his need until Jennifer shows her strength, that she’ll never be galvanized to claim her strength until he dares show his need. I imagine them having a moment of triumphs like Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene in Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. At the end of the story, Gabriel informs Bathsheba he’s going to America because he’s lost all hope of marrying her. She answers, “But Gabriel, you never ask!” 

How can I ease David and Jennifer off their swings? Whisk them out of their pinkish haze? Nudge David into asking Jennifer for what he’s terrified to ask of her? Rouse Jennifer to break free of her paralysis, tap into her pristine power, and have moments of triumph giving David what he needs? Impulsively, with the best of intentions, I imagine instigating a good fight between them, a spirited argument like the one I had recently with Molly which was actually more debate than an argument. The topic excited me: Why we should stay together after 15 years of marriage. I took the affirmative and Molly took the negative in three successive rounds, both of us meticulously adhering to the English rules of debate which I love because the affirmative gets to have the first and last word. It took place over a dinner of poulet rôti infused with garlic, abundantly lubricated with a delicate Château Margaux, in our favorite French restaurant in the West Village. We finished the last round sprinting back to our apartment, then proceeded to have the hottest sex we’ve had in years.

If I tried egging David on to have an Andre-Molly fight with Jennifer, he’d respond as he did in a Google five-star review he once posted for me. “Andre has a talent for seeing through my everyday guise,” he wrote. “He has a direct approach laced with humor and anecdotes designed to trigger my feelings. He does triple summersaults trying to press my buttons and I’m always grateful for how hard he tries.” David would surely approve of my good intentions if I encouraged him to have a suitably satisfying fight with Jennifer. He’d do so with impeccably courteous condescension until I was ready to scream at him.  

Jennifer also posted a five-star Google review that leaves me with a much different feeling. “Andre’s counseling techniques, his warm, fun personality make me comfortable,” she wrote. “His location is convenient, he accepts credit cards, and always processes my insurance reimbursements on time.” I’m tempted to add to her review, “He also provides Uber service to his location.” In my weaker moments, I imagine Jennifer’s Air France swing collapsing under the crushing weight of her self-absorption.

Today as we’re about to finish, David surprises me, or maybe he’s trying to tell me something. He brings up a film, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete.

“You’ll find it interesting,” he says, “Twelve-year-old Mister’s drug-addicted mother takes off, leaving him to scrounge for food and play cat and mouse with Child Protective Services. Five-year-old Pete’s mother also split, depositing him with a baby sitter who burned his back and sexually molested him. Mister takes in Pete and the two boys live each day dodging the housing project police, dope dealers, and stealing food from grocery stores.” I’m struck by the stoicism in David’s face, the fatalism in his tone of voice as he summarizes the plot.

“Jennifer, have you seen the film?” I ask.

“He mentioned it once to me, but I never got around to it.”

“Make you a deal,” I say. “I’ll watch the film in the coming week if you both agree to watch it together.” 

“Mister’s a tenacious little fucker,” David said as they walked in today. “He smacks that witch of a baby sitter who burned and molested Pete, wrecks the store of a mean ass grocer who won’t give them food, then crows to Pete that he makes it all look good.”

“As Freedom blasts away on the soundtrack,” I say.

“Yep, Mister’s Jimmy Hendrix moment.”

“Jimmy Hendrix died of a drug overdose,” I say, “So did Janice Joplin and Jim Morrison.”

“You forgot Billie Holliday” he answers smirking at me.

“David, we both know Mister’s too clever to get dragged down by drugs. He can always be counted on to deliver a winning performance. Like when he cons another grocery store owner into giving him food for his mother’s fictitious birthday. ‘We shop when they sleep,’ he whispers with Pete standing beside him like a ragamuffin right out of Dickens. The store owner near tears hands them a big bag of groceries. Out on the street, Mister gloats to Pete, ‘And the Oscar goes to…’

“The kid really means a Tony for his live performance,” David says.

“Right as always,” I say feeling my usual irritation with David, “but even stars have off days.” Jennifer’s eyes soften as she watches us.

“Did anything move you about the film?” I ask.

“Yes, when Alice, the older girl who lives in the projects, tries to comfort Mister after he gets beat up by a drug dealer. ‘You think I’m a charity case!’ he growls. She sees right through him. ‘You know, it’s not always about you!’ she tells him. Later, she brings food to him and Pete. When he asks her why she answers, ‘You’re my friend, get it? And don’t make me feel bad for wanting to help you.’ Jennifer’s eyes well up in tears. “I think I gave up trying to reach you years ago,” she tells David. You never cried, not once, leaving me to my gluttony.”

I felt hopeful after they left today. David had made the first move. It was his idea to use the film to set up a debate with me over Mister’s character which I was only too happy to engage in. I can anticipate the satisfaction in his face next week when I congratulate him on choosing so fine a metaphor. The boy who never cries. Will the man ever let Jennifer see him cry, broken down as only a lover can do? Today Jennifer cried for the first time I’ve known her. For a brief moment, she broke free of her greed and enlarged herself for David. Can she do it again?

It troubles me when I feel I’ve made more headway with David, immersed in the fun of my triple summersaults and spirited debates with him. Jennifer strains my patience when she looks at me and her eyes glaze over, eyes the color of my mother’s. Much older now, well trained and seasoned, I want to believe I do better with her than the grade school kid or teenager ever did with his mother.

As I leave this evening to join Molly, for a cozy, reassuring dinner without debate, I think of J. Alfred Prufrock in the poem by T. S. Eliot, of Prufrock’s sad love song and how Eliot gives him time, time for indecision and for a hundred visions and revisions. And I know the best thing I can do for David and Jennifer and me is, give us time. Time to heal.

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