Monday, November 13, 2006

The Book of Hope 7: Burning Boyfriends

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that sort of falls between the cracks. I mean, my attitude toward it growing up was totally like, "What's up with that? Thanks for what? Indigestible food? Dysfunctional families?" But that year was the greatest Thanksgiving ever--because finally I had something to actually be thankful about. I was officially out of Hell House! The day before, all four of us had gone over to the rental agency's offices and signed a waiver terminating the lease. I couldn't believe how nice they suddenly were to us--they even returned our deposit and November rent. All we had to do was sign a legal agreement never to give out any details about the place to anyone (and technically I'm not, right? I mean, I'm not giving you the address or anything). So that's how it all ended, not with a fiery explosion or a vomiting devil or a whole bunch of deaths like in a horror flick, though when we went to pick up the last of our junk from the house (we left all our furniture behind because we knew we'd never get the fleas out), the front door slammed really hard on Christina on her way out and gave her a nasty gash on her shin. And also when I went next door to say goodbye to Mrs Grandy, her neighbor on the other side told me she had died the week before. So I guess there was a death in the story, after all. And I felt really bad I'd missed her funeral. There was something else I didn't know, too, and if I had I might not have been dumb enough to go out again with Will in order to thank him for getting us out of the lease. Or maybe I would have anyway. Whatever.

After that, our 'dates' followed sort of a pattern. He would AIM or text me at night and then sometimes I would drive someplace and meet him. He was living in the top of a big house he was having rehabbed, and most of the time, pretty much, we would end up there doing whatever. "Me, I'm leading a double life," he told me once when I asked him about this lifestyle. "See, the sabbatical arrangement with the university is definitely unethical, even if it isn't technically illegal. But I can make more money at my brokerage business here in a year than I will at my regular job in twenty. So this semester I pretend to go over to Dublin and make sure I keep my head down and not be seen about campus. In return, they pretend to pay me. They actually save money anyway when I'm not there teaching classes."

I was like, "So you have to sneak around all year and live like you're in a witness protection program or something? Or a spy?"

"Or a ghost," he said, winking. The amazing thing was, in spite of the business he was moonlighting in--and his degree in parapsychology--Will didn't actually believe in ghosts! That's right, he'd never even seen one. Or heard one. What's more, he didn't believe I had either. To him, Billy Draper was just a myth, like Sasquatch or UFOs. And here's the really weird thing--over the next few months I discovered that he was majorly into the occult, in fact he hung with the same kind of 'Thelemites' and 'OTO' types as our ex-housemate, the dread Sharon (he had even shagged Sharon during 'sex magic' rituals, I found out much later--and how gross is that!) But to him, magic was just a 'shorthand to the expression of the will' and a way of focusing and projecting mass delusions. He used many of the same techniques in his real estate sales, he told me, even performing fake exorcisms in front of clients in order to convince them that murder victims or ghosts or poltergeists wouldn't be hanging around. He actually bragged about this. Incidentally, if you're interested in the stigmatized property toolkit or in tips for unloading a problem home, here's a good link. At least Billy Draper never threw orange peel at us.

That's how William de Burgh became my personal 'ghost' and haunted my love life for the next few months instead of my having a real living flesh and blood boyfriend. So why did I put with it? Well eventually, I gotta admit, it was because I kinda sorta fell in love with him. But at first (and you aren't gonna believe this, I know) it was mostly because I was so amazingly happy. It was so awesome just to be out of that place and living a normal life again that I actually felt high from it all the time, especially after we moved into the new apartment on 67th Street. Instead of waking up to dozens of fresh inflamed little bites under my itchy long johns every morning, I woke up to the feel of soft sheets against my skin. Every day was like Christmas. Instead of seeing my breath when I used the bathroom, I could take long, hot baths. Instead of lying awake in bed every night too scared to fall asleep, I could relax, grade papers, watch TV, live normally. Even money and school pressures seemed like luxuries for the next few weeks--it was hard to take anything too seriously after what we'd all been through. And instead of driving us apart, the whole ordeal only made the four of us even closer. For one thing, we felt like we couldn't talk about it to anyone else. Kerry being such a bigmouth, she tried to at a couple of parties and just got laughed at. Chaz wasn't interested--no matter what you told him he was like, "Yeah? Bummer." "Chaz, World War III has broken out and we're about to get nuked!" "Yeah? Bummer." So basically, we only had each other.

Ever heard of a 'boyfriend burning'--you know, where you gather up all the stuff that reminds you of an ex and burn it? Well, that's what we ended up doing with most of our stuff from the house. Obviously, clothes could be washed and stuff like CDs or iPods and kitchen utensils didn't count. But anything that could carry fleas--any furniture we hadn't left behind already, pillows,vacuum cleaners, et, etc--and especially anything that Billy Draper could cling to, like he had to the postman's ankles, had to go. So we had a 'house burning'. And it was really expensive replacing all that stuff, too. Luckily the Mothership was in a (for her) pretty generous mood when I went home that Christmas. For one thing, I brought Christina back with me, because she had noplace else to spend it (unlike Jo, whose family was wealthy and had flown her back to Oz for the holidays), and the Mothership adored her. She actually even referred to her in front of me as "the daughter I never had" (!!) For another, she was fascinated by the whole story of Billy Draper. She quizzed me about it for days, and would go to the library and check out books on the subject to show me. I was like, "Mom, I don't need to be convinced that ghosts exist for real. I know they exist! I just want to forget about the whole thing, OK?" And that was pretty much the attitude of the others, too. But afterwards. I realized why she was so into it. Like a lot of formerly religious people, she really wanted to believe that some sort of life existed after death--you know, because of my father dying and all. So maybe I should have been like a little nicer about the whole thing.

Now, when I say 'the others', I mean all except Jo. Of the four of us, she had been the least affected by the ghost. In fact, except for the door opening in front of her, she hadn't personally witnessed anything supernatural herself, except for the blood, fleas, etc, etc. So after her success with the lines of salt, she became sort of interested in the subject and did a lot of research and stuff--though thankfully, she never got into it like Sharon or Will did. Speaking of Will, have you ever noticed how when somebody breaks up with you, they always do it at the worst possible time? In my case, that was traditionally during mid-terms or finals. And sure enough, right in the middle of mid-terms that winter was when he dropped the bomb. What he did was this: he sent me to his office to pick up some papers and books for him "because I can't be seen there. But don't worry, I'll tell Krystal you're coming." Oh and by the way, that graphic below is from a cute article called 'WritersMap' ( of UChi that lists all the books set on the campus, like Saul Bellow's or Philip Roth's Letting Go. So I'm not the only one who associates that place with heartache.

'Krystal' (and I'm totally not making her name up!) was, of course, the skanky office chick with the purple hair, who apparently was in on the secret that he wasn't really overseas and was helping to cover for him. That wasn't all she was doing for him, either, as I quickly found out. Which was why he really sent me there in the first place--I'm not that dumb! Obviously, it was her job to get the dumping process underway for him, a job she seemed to enjoy, pretty much. First she took me to lunch at the union, then she started mocking him to me, relating little anecdotes and certain affectionate phrases of his that made it plain he'd slept with her at some point, too. I got that message loud and clear. Next she started a thing about what a liar he was--he'd never even told her he was married. His wife's name was Emily. Well, what had I thought the 'E' in 'WEdeBunker' stood for? I guess I'd hoped it was a middle name, you know, like 'Edward' or 'Edgar' or something. But deep down, his secretiveness had always made me a little suspicious.

"I thought they were separated," I lied bravely.

She was like, "Oh, he says that to anyone who finds out about her. But he'll never leave her, he just pretends he's going to. She's like a really rich lawyer downtown--it's her money that started his dinky little company. And he's way too into their kid."

"Their kid?" I said.

"His son, William. He's like nine months old. When she was pregnant, he even asked me if I wanted to move in with them and be their 'slave'. Like I would ever do that, even if I am a sub!"

So after that convo, I had a choice: I could confront him--basically totally ending the relationship--or I could say nothing and just be miserable. Which, to be honest, I've had some practice at. So I decided, hey, why not? Go with what you're good at. And besides, it would have almost been fun, if only I hadn't been quite so hurt, to watch him squirm. It almost was anyway:

Him: So, did you say anything to Krystal?
Me: No, not really
Him: What exactly did she say to you?
Me: Nothing, really. She seemed really nice. (Ha ha!)

But of course that tactic didn't work for long. A few days later he gave me this little speech about how 'different' the two of us were. He was a serious person, I preferred to stay childlike. He lived in the real world, I still believed in fairy tales.

"But if you didn't believe what I told you about the house then why did you even help us?" I asked him. My voice sounded sort of pitiful, even to me. I made a quick mental note to myself: maybe he was just a little bit right about the childlike thing. I was so gonna get get over that! After about a month of eating really expensive Belgian chocolate, I mean.

"Me? I never lifted a finger. It was that defrocked priest of yours, McKenna. He phoned the agency and threatened to tell the whole story to local TV--he's worked in the film industry and has contacts there, apparently. I'd love to know what that old sod does with all his money." This really hit me hard. For months I'd felt like I'd somehow, you know, prostituted myself with William or whatever in return for getting out of our lease. Now it seemed I wasn't even interesting enough for him to have paid me! Plus, I'd have called Father Mac and thanked him if I'd known. Meanwhile Will was blabbing on: 'If I could offer you a bit of advice for the future, Hope, it's this: you need to stop living in that little dreamworld of yours, all those gods and ghosties and wee monsters you believe in. Give real life half a chance. Be more practical. Meet some nice fellow your own age."

So I said, "Great, I'm getting dumped and counseled at the same time."

"If you're serious about needing counseling, I can refer you to someone." I just stared at him with my mouth hanging open. It wasn't the most dignified last impression I could have left him with, but it was the most honest one, for sure. The saddest thing of all was this: a few weeks before we'd had a boyfriend burning for Chaz--but when I got home I realized I didn't even have a single thing of William's to burn. I guess for the guy, that pretty much equals a perfect relationship.

Continued here...


Blogger Isabelle Ashford said...

I loved this, very interesting!

1:49 PM  
Blogger Hope Muntz said...

Wow thanks!

And it's all true! ;)

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:48 AM  

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