by Eleanor Levine —
Marnie Gold was menacing.
She chased me all over the beach when we were three.
At five she called me “Salami” in Hebrew school, though my name was “Shulamit.”
At 10 she was reading Simone de Beauvoir and tried to explain what a feminist was—European style.
By 16 she had crushes on boys and chased my friend Max with her bicycle in the Foodtown parking lot. We were more frightened of her on the bike than other car drivers or pedestrians because she traipsed over suburbia as if she were in a rocket.
Before she went off to study math in college, Marnie and I did not talk senior year in high school. Indeed, I had more feelings for her when I wasn’t talking with her than when I was.
Marnie delivered, rather than participated, in extensive conversations that included a voracious laugh loud enough to swallow you alive.
“Salami,” she’d whisper in the girls’ bathroom during Hebrew school, “you pee in a very existential manner.”
“As you urinate, you experience it.”
She made me squirm and I left the bathroom quickly, sometimes not washing my hands.
When I went to summer camp, she wrote me biblical texts, much like her exponential monologues about feminists or boys she liked.
She was particularly fixated on a kid called “It,” whom she accused of stalking her. They were neighbors, and before everyone on their street became Hasidic, which is the present tense situation, Marnie and “It” lived across from one another in a perfect state of irreligiosity.
“It” was also my buddy and whenever we got together he laughed heartily about Marnie and other kids who comprised the I want to get into Harvard cult.
“Dear Salami,” Marnie began letters she sent to my Zionist socialist camp, which she called “Concentration Camp.”
“Hope you are having a good time at Concentration Camp. ‘It’ was out this morning waiting for me. I think he might ask me to his Junior Prom.”
Then she’d give an expansive thesis on how “Its” persistence would eventually get him in trouble after her father—whom she never spoke with—filed a complaint.
“It,” who was my friend, was a genius at math and never mentioned Marnie on an erotic level, so I was confused by her pronouncements. In fact, the only time “It” reacted to sexual matters was when we walked along the boardwalk with Max, and I announced to much of Seaside, New Jersey, at the custard stand, “Max! I want to have your baby!” “It” was in tears, giggling by the time Max’s face turned a radish color.
I saw Marnie in a dream last night, and she was quite furious with me.
It was reminiscent of the time I called her after our tenth high school reunion, which she did not attend, though she sent her biography for the class reunion publication: “Am a statistician for an obscure Chicago magazine where I turn derivatives into variables.” This was too complex for me, so I moved onto the football player, who, after being kicked off the Penn State team, was now a woman making hosiery in Brussels.
Most people in our high school would not have remembered Marnie except as a spidery creature whose webs fell when she walked. Others, like my friend Beth, who was in Marnie’s honors classes, feared that “M” was mildly radioactive.
I dialed her number.
“Hi, is this Marnie?”
“Susan Ryman. Remember?”
“Why are you calling me?”
“Why wouldn’t I be calling you?”
“You said terribly mean things to Max about me and your libeling has precluded him from sleeping with me.”
“So, you don’t want me to call you anymore?”
She hung up. It was worse than the time John F. Kennedy, Jr., hung up on me at Brown University.
Getting hung up on is never a good experience, so I phoned again.
“It’s all your fault!” Marnie screamed as I listened from the rotary phone, which would eventually be pulled out of the wall by a neighboring Hasidic Jew we’d sell the house to in 2011, which infuriated my brother K, who thought the Hasidic Jew had no respect for us or our phone.
“That Max got married to someone else. You said horrible things about me.”
“Listen,” she continued, “I don’t know how you got my number…. click…”
I do remember the first time they met.
Max’s house was next to the golf course. Marnie, not knowing who we were going to visit, excitedly rang the doorbell.
Max soon thereafter delivered a sanctimonious lecture on Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. Marnie was enthralled.
Max too (though he didn’t want us to know) relished the curves of Marnie’s diminutive body. There were many lads, some burnouts, who fantasized about Marnie when she visited their sisters—they’d stare at her in the kitchen.
Marnie’s bicycle escapades began in the summer. She knew the approximate times that Max did shopping for his mom, and because her house was only two blocks from the store, she’d rush over and hide behind Dairy Queen or Foodtown.
Marnie was not the kind of girl you wanted to cross whether she was an adult or prepubescent. She could make tiger lilies shriek or thermometers reach new and insurmountable levels.
You could feel Marnie’s threadbare gazes during French class, when she snarled at the nasalization of consonants by our teacher Mr. Flame. His mispronunciations caused turmoil in Marnie’s soul as she believed him to be butchering an ancient language.
Marnie was most mortified when Mr. Flame introduced the past tense because it reminded her of how I had fucked up her relationship with Max.
To be honest, I had merely introduced them on his front porch near the golf course. Okay, maybe I had said, “Max, she’s on LSD without taking it,” or “Max, when Mom and I take her to the mall, she bumps against me.”
There was veracity in evil—and it was Marnie fuming when I passed in the hall.
Marnie still fumes, but this time in the imagination, when she tries to hang out with me, because she’s home during college, in the summer.
In college, her life would become immensely better. But here, in Lakewood, across from “It,” she wrestled with French feminists, her father, and not leaving the house much, except when the school bus came.
Though my father was a teacher and her father owned a button store—the Marnies were wealthier—we, unlike the other residents, didn’t travel much in the summer, except when I went to socialist Zionist camp in June.
In July, I’d hang with Marnie.
“Hi,” I said to Marnie’s mother at their door. We’d never met before. I didn’t know she was bald. In synagogue Mrs. Marnie had hair.
Marnie’s house smelled like a funeral home after a fire. Everything was old, including her family.
“Can I help you?”
“I’m Susan. Here to see Marnie.”
“Just a minute,” she said, slamming the door.
Marnie came down a few minutes later.
“Back from Concentration Camp already?” she asked. No one laughed at Marnie’s jokes except Marnie.
Marnie was the opposite of Hannah Q whom everyone had a crush on, even girls in suburbia who hadn’t spoken with her in 40 years.
They all rushed to be friends with her on Facebook.
Last night, in a nightmare, Hannah Q moved a block away from me, where my old neighborhood became Princeton, NJ, with paved sidewalks, omnipresent coffee shops, and a few communist groups springing up.
Hannah Q was a poetry editor.
She accepted my poems for a literary journal at William and Mary, where she attended college.
Hannah Q was reluctant to make corrections, though I emailed that she needed to correct the spaces and remove typos, which she had introduced.
Hannah Q felt that making such corrections would cause problems for her journal deadline.
A young boy, who wore Ted Baker shirts he purchased on eBay and lived on her block, also had his work accepted.
He and I went to Hannah Q’s dorm room, which she shared with other people who were far above my socioeconomic status, that is, the people who were not born in but now lived in my neighborhood.
Unlike Marnie’s family, which was fallen aristocracy, that is, they lived in a burned-out house that was bound to self-immolate through fire or bed bugs, Hannah Q et al had shag rugs and Fresca in their fridge. Also, cold cans of sliced peaches. Whereas Marnie had bottles of expired gefilte fish that the homeless in Fincastle, Virginia, wouldn’t eat.
Hannah Q had brothers who were delectable and judicious and only attended elite schools and once threw rocks at me while I delivered newspapers. Marnie’s brothers had jobs on Wall Street, before the market collapsed, and we suspected they might have engineered that.
Hannah Q was kinder, better looking, but more elusive than Marnie. Given the choice, one would prefer Hannah Q’s breasts to Marnie’s. For Hannah was sweeter, more scrumptious.
Hannah Q, who would have been great as a human milk manufacturer, didn’t want to publish me in her journal though she liked my poetry. She concluded that I place my work in a blog.
“We’d like to use you,” she said, “but we can’t.”
“But you sent me an acceptance letter…”
“Now it’s the blog. Either that or not,” she insisted.
I emailed her, informed her, that I would never put my poetry in a blog if she had originally promised William and Mary’s literary journal.
Plus, she hadn’t made the corrections.
This morning, after my Hannah Q bad dream ended, I looked at her Facebook profile: she is blank, and slightly less creative than Marnie, who had a photograph of a disheveled raccoon as her profile pic. Whereas I look like a dyke with my hat flipping back and forth—like those “Neolution” creatures in Orphan Black.
The nightmare about Hannah Q kept flashing on my screen at work.
There was a pervasive darkness in the neighborhood where Hannah Q held an encampment of men who wanted to sleep with her.
One of the boys said she was as old as me and had no boyfriend. That is always a possibility for me—no boyfriend, no girlfriend, and likes to be alone.
Hannah Q looked the same: thin, ponytail, white, Ecuadorian, and a metaphysical countenance that even Stalin lacked.
Hannah would sit with Amy Z when we were in sixth grade.
Nobody but Felicia Diaz, a big Puerto Rican girl who smelled like bologna sat with me.
“Mrs. Goldstein told us to sit with you because you have no friends,” Hannah and Amy, who were cheerleaders, told me.
“Will you be able to use this experience in an essay contest?” I asked them.
They ate tuna sandwiches.
Hannah was also a goody two shoes with PF Flyers made by smug human rights activists in Berkeley, California, where she had gone to graduate school to study pleurisy, before she accepted my poems.
None of my love interests, including Hannah Q, were like Anna R.
I knew her phone number.
I called her.
Anna R was more intriguing than lipids.
More lip-smacking than pot pie.
More compelling than a classics poet trying to decipher modernist poetry.
She was frequently in the elementary school parking lot, doing yoga, expecting me to transpose my mind into her book.
Sometimes she read good books. Other times she laughed like a daffodil too silly to fall in love.
After I graduated college I read that Anna R had gotten married and I was thrilled to speak with her, but quite remorseful after the conversation.
“Hi,” I said.
“Who is this?”
Anna R recognized my voice.
“You’re still alive?” she giggled. She hadn’t heard from me since the time I defended her honor against prickly big shots in fifth grade. I’d still have defended Anna R’s honor had she not been so asinine. “Asinine” transforms eclectic chicks who were once beauty queens in elementary school into inarticulate ladies who shop at Whole Foods and make snubbing/squeaking/grunting noises like primates if you veer too close to them in the strawberry section. In fact, some of these ladies have “service primates” because they have neurological difficulties, which prevent them from loading items into carts. The monkeys are trained to help, though sometimes they eat the fruit before it gets into the basket.
Inarticulate ladies, however, give you more room to breathe than Marnies.
Marnies are insufferable, whereas Anna R and Hannah Q types dismiss trifles such as boredom and make you feel as if there is room, even a possibility, that sleeping with them won’t divest your soul of enzymes.
But my incubus revealed that I was more likely to sleep with Pee Wee Herman if he were Hitler than Nicole Kidman if she were Eva Braun. You may not know that Marnie is the future Hitler, but her accessibility makes it so.
People such as Marnie, who were likely Hitler in a previous existence, which makes them excellent candidates as Hitler in their next existence, are so available and easy to sleep with me because they are the only ones who will. Others, who have green hair and soft dispositions, who laugh loudly at Zyklon B jokes and make reference to your inability to be paranoid, are likely to leave you despondent in a motel room.
Because those fleeting moments with Hannah Q and Anna R were transparently unreal, I shall return to the wonder zone of Marnie and recall how one day, while babysitting for a teacher who claimed to have been part of the French Revolution, we, that is, me and Marnie, were almost molested in his Chevrolet.
This was the same person who tried to have sex with his wife’s colleagues.
Females always know when a man is trying to rape them, whether these men do so in the ice cream parlor or the cannoli shop.
Eventually said females will discuss how said perv tried to ply their virginity in a phone booth, and how they screamed so loud, that instead of physically abusing them, he verbally fucked them over.
In this case, he was not a looker, nor was his wife, but he was the man who was supposed to transport me back and forth from my house, in his Chevrolet, to babysit his daughter, who would later become a drug addict and change her name to Cannabis.
We were in his car, Marnie and I, when he scrutinized us in the rearview mirror.
Neither of us wanted to sit in the front seat with him, least of all Marnie, who speculated that he should be on a Sex Offender’s List long before New Jersey passed Megan’s Law.
“Dracula is picking me up this evening,” I said to Marnie, “because I have to babysit his daughter. I need you to come over.”
Dracula, the perv car driver, was not okeydokey when he saw two of us leave my purple-shingled house.
He was not expecting James Joyce or any of the characters from Dubliners. He was, however, envisioning just me, my knee, my ability to say nothing, his ability to extend his hand.
Dracula was a landed gentleman in our town.
His family owned a plumbing agency that specialized in draining unquenchable prunes from the drainer.
World over, and even in Ripley’s Believe it or Not, his family was known for plumbing feats that surpassed the average plumber.
They didn’t “plumb” themselves, though their father, Dracula Senior, was so proficient in plumbing he hired numerous liberal arts majors from the tristate area. The only requirement was that you have a slightly intimate knowledge of the quirky and bitchy prose of Erasmus.
“What is she doing here, goddamnit?” he pointed to Marnie.
“She’s my friend.”
“You need a babysitter assistant?” he queried.
“No, Drac, er, Mr. Plu—hey—I forgot your name,” I said.
“You don’t know my goddamn name and you’re babysitting my daughter?”
I looked at Marnie, and Marnie looked at me, and Dracula made shrill noises. We stopped at the corner of my street.
“Excuse me,” Marnie said, slightly nervous, “would you please let us out?”
“Excuse me?” he countered.
“Please let us out at the corner.”
Before Dracula could turn on the children’s lock on the car door, we jumped out of the Chevrolet.
Marnie took my hand and we ran to my house.
It was like when Max and I, in his car, drove fearfully away from Marnie on the bike, but this time I didn’t look back.