“Aw, he like really fucked you up, didn’t he?” This is the mildly condescending sympathy Irwin offered Olivia when she explained to him that the love of her life left her for another woman: his mother. After living with Ethan for one and a half years, he abruptly packed his bags one day and confessed, “I can’t deny where my heart truly lies anymore Olivia. I need to be with Mummy.” When he said it with his British accent, the Oedipus complex somehow sounded even dirtier. And yet, she couldn’t say that she didn’t see it coming. The way he video chatted with her every day, how he made her surrender her place in the bed when his mother visited so that she could “be as comfortable as possible” and “maximize the time” with her son. It was all so obvious that there was more to their relationship than the mere mother-son dynamic. Thinking about it now, Olivia almost gagged on the cupcake she had taken a bite out of, sprinkles and vanilla frosting grating against the back of her throat with the same unnaturalness as Ethan caressing his mom.
Irwin handed her a napkin for her to spit her food out in. “He took something from you that you can’t ever get back.”
It was true, Olivia had to admit. Ethan hadn’t just taken her mind and left in its place a static and sinister photograph of him to flicker as though on a projector for all the rest of her days, but also her already scant to begin with faith in humanity, in the idea that you could trust a person close to you not to abandon you.
“Life is easiest for those who have extroverted tendencies. The people who don’t hate themselves a little more each time they engage in the fake behavior required to succeed. I think life must be very hard for someone like you,” Irwin assessed.
Though they had known each other for just fifteen minutes now, he had the advantage of pure objectivity and the intuitiveness of first impressions on his side to make an accurate appraisal of the being that was Olivia. She was much younger than him and her 80s era Betsey Johnson style looked incongruous next to his 60s New York beatnik look. But isn’t it always those who are different in aesthetic most truly bound in like-mindedness? It seemed to be the case as Irwin and Olivia sequestered themselves off in a removed corner of the party and spoke of things that one wouldn’t even be likely to tell their closest friends. That’s the thing about strangers–they’re just so damned easy to talk to without caring as much what they think as one does about those she knows.
It was because of this that she learned of the period he spent working on a boat in Montenegro for five years during which time he communicated with very few people other than the captain of the ship, a surly old man who only spoke the Montenegrin language, a bizarre composite of Serbian and Croatian, that Irwin could never fully master. When he returned to New York, he found it near impossible to go out in public for the first six months of re-ingratiation. “It was too loud everywhere I went. And not just the noise, but the internal emotions I could feel radiating off of everyone. I felt like I was having a panic attack every time I stepped outside.”
This is how he ended up buying a house in Connecticut, commuting from New Haven whenever he had business or social affairs to tend to in the city. His appearance at the party that night stemmed from a recent feeling of overwrought reclusivity and isolation. It was thus that Irwin seized the opportunity to reconnect with proverbial society and the host of the gathering, Priscilla Panettone (a stage name, clearly), a Broadway legend celebrating her miraculous recent procurement of the role of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother in Gypsy.
Priscilla offered him her spare room to stay the night so that he wouldn’t have to worry himself over returning to New Haven. She was a rare anachronism that occasionally still materializes in New York if you look hard enough or happen to know the right people. The type of woman who could be classified as a broad, had lost count of the number of divorces she went through and the associated alimony payments for each. In short, she was the type of rich that was elegantly bombastic, a combination that doesn’t exist among the banal upper classes of the present. Olivia’s acquaintance with Priscilla had been made, like so many acquaintances, by mere happenstance. She managed to orbit her realm after she took a job as a stagehand out of desperation and in an overt admission that she was not ever going to make it as a theater actress. She was 31 now, after all. The ship had left the port with one of her feet on the boat and one on the dock. She was no longer going to allow herself to be split between dreams and reality. That Ethan was on the ship without her only added to her contempt for dry land, but still, it was better than getting the bends from submerging herself in his insanity. Or so Irwin assured her as they made their way up to his room for the night.
It was one of those things that seemed to happen out of nowhere yet somehow had been building toward this type of denouement for the entirety of the evening. The comfortableness felt with a stranger then suddenly becomes the awkwardness felt with the familiar removal of clothes and side-eye glances at genitalia. Like staring at direct sunlight, it’s best when one doesn’t look too closely at a penis.
Waking up next to Irwin, she thought of Ethan and wondered if there would ever be a time when he didn’t cross her mind while she was with someone else in a sexual situation. Olivia waffled between staying longer and pulling off the Band-Aid of leaving. If she stayed, it would only get weirder in the harsh light of sobriety. If she left, she would once again be alone, in search of someone to stave off the always lingering sentiment of heartache. She opted for a slink out, popping into the bathroom on the way to the exit to use the finger method of toothbrushing, a desperate means to dental hygiene she used too often for someone who never went to the dentist and was not in her early twenties.
Confess your sins to strangers and your mind will find absolution for a night. Tell them your deepest secrets and your worst memories and you can achieve the catharsis of therapy. But, in the end, you still have to leave the party. Go back out into the world where those secrets and memories funnel back into your body, endlessly recycled into an internal energy that makes you a gaping open wound.