Perception, Skewed

He had the misplaced gall to accuse other writers of stretching the truth, of going beyond the appropriate limits of embellishment. He openly berated Brenda LaMieux, in particular, who had found some moderate, hyper-local New York success with her debut novel, The Heart Shrinker, about her five-year relationship with him, and how it wasted most of her twenties on someone who was inevitably going to jump ship when the right opportunity arose.

Somehow, in Martin Krause’s mind, he could do no wrong when it came to incisively “re-creating” verity; he was convinced his memory was razor sharp, though ask him about details that occurred mere hours ago and the story that would come out of his mouth would make it seem as though you had experienced an entirely different event with him. He genuinely saw what he wanted to see, believed what he wanted to believe. Which is, Brenda guessed, why he could convince anyone he encountered of anything, including his constancy. But she knew better by now. He could flit about at a moment’s notice, change the excuse for why and always leave you wondering what the fuck actually happened—what truly motivated his actions. Maybe even he didn’t know for sure. He was the great riddler, far more elusive and arcane even than the one played by Jim Carrey.

Yet this didn’t mean she didn’t want to make nice with him. She was in her thirties now, and holding grudges didn’t come off half as “cutely” as it did when in one’s teens and twenties. It wasn’t “mature” or “adult,” and even though she so badly wanted to keep hating him because of how profoundly it helped accelerate her metabolism, she knew it was time to make amends, to forgive him for leaving her in the lurch with three more months on their lease so that he could accept a writer’s residency Upstate and then figure out how to proceed from there. But if we’re being totally honest, the real reason behind her desire to expel her former indignation stemmed from learning that Martin had landed a teaching position at Columbia after so much time spent in self-exile from New York. His return to the city would mean that she would invariably have run-ins with him at “literary” parties and readings that were just masked networking events built on the premise that anyone gave a fuck about literature or fully read other people’s work. And if she was going to see him in already such unfavorable milieus, she was going to need to at least have the presence of mind to recognize that any bad blood between them would only be a detriment to her own career.

In anticipation of this, she invited him out to dinner, expressly offering to treat him, even though she already knew this is what he would expect anyway. It had been just over a year since he had returned to Austin to, at the age of thirty-two, live with his mother. Because Martin was like so many others of a common nature when it came to deriding it, she never imagined he would come back to New York–a city that tended to cast out the weak-willed. Or was it that other factor? That delicate spirits could never sustain a full-time existence in such a cruel metropolis. And, for all his callousness, he was a delicate spirit—perhaps cloaking himself in the shell of callousness as a result. But the shell became real.

******

She arranged their meeting at a restaurant in the West Village they had gone to before together. He didn’t remember they had until she brought it up to him. Another case in point of his highly selective memory. He ate the artichoke appetizer he ordered with gusto. Artichokes were his favorite, though she never could prepare them adequately for him in her stead as live-in girlfriend when they were together. This was probably one of the many minutiae that contributed to his eventual absconding.

As he chewed with his mouth open, he instructed her, “No one cares about your domestic bullshit. And what’s worse, you don’t even want to be domestic. You’re always gallivanting, accusing other men of betraying you, when really, you get off on the slights, prefer them to actually having to deal with the monotony that comes post-‘happily ever after.’”

This was in reference to what she told him her next book was going to be about: a couple living on the Upper West Side going through their first year of marriage after six months together upon meeting in a philosophy class at Fordham, only to realize that they both have feelings for other people that manifest at separate times throughout the novel.

He practically spit out his artichoke in disgusted response, concluding with, “That’s been so done to death. Why don’t you do something that challenges your abilities? I can’t even get past the first few paragraphs of most of the shit you write anyway—it’s all the same storyline with these two-dimensional characters based on us.”

This from the man who only ever wrote bad versions of her with hideous names like Delia or Sarah Carpaccio (perhaps a less than subconscious dig at her love of meat, as in dick). At least she had the decency to give him noble monikers like William Reingold, even if she did portray him as something of a tweed-wearing twat. But whatever, he portrayed her as a whore, damned—at first, one he could save, and then one doomed to be washed up. And so their caricaturized perceptions of one another would never be changed. Trying to convince one person of another viewpoint, of opening their minds to a diverse concept even an iota would have been harder than convincing a Hasid not to eat kosher.

Maybe that’s how they ended up being attracted to one another in the first place. And yet, often, the very qualities that attract us to a person can be the very ones that make us loathe them and leave them. Except in Brenda’s case, who only looked at Martin’s faults (which he saw as virtues) as a small portion of the larger puzzle she wanted to be a part of, pathetic though it was at this juncture.

As they finished the dessert course—an especially tart lemon custard—Martin insisted, “I only want the best for you. That’s why I think you should write something out of your wheelhouse. And if you keep writing about me, how are you ever going to move on?”

She took up her napkin to wipe some errant crumbs from the corner of her mouth. She then calmly admitted, “I guess I never fully will.”

He shook his head at her in a combination of pity and chastisement. “I don’t know why when your ‘love’ for me was never about us. It was about you and how you could use it for your little stories.” The pot and the kettle reunited and it felt so good.

And, thanks to her admission of her continued hate-tinged love (or was it love-tinged hate?), this would most likely be the last time he allowed them to commune together in such an intimate setting. But she was the one who would have the last laugh, probably a diabolical one in front of her keyboard. Because her truth, even if it was objectively as skewed as his, was grounded in a reality far more relatable: the spurned woman. Very few can feel empathy for the man on the other side of that spurning. That is, unless, the woman he’s scorned makes a lifetime hobby of his skewering as recompense for his own perception, skewed.

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