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An excerpt from THE SPLENDID THINGS WE PLANNED: A FAMILY PORTRAIT

 

         But I liked Cathy. There was nothing not to like: she was sweet, she was smart, and while perhaps not a beauty, she had a cute little body and a big toothy grin; her whole face and neck would flush when she looked at my father, whom she wanted to screw almost every waking minute of the day and night. For him this wasn’t a problem. Sometimes, though, he had to work or whatever, and after her clerkship was over Cathy and I played a lot of afternoon racketball. We were pals. I found myself missing her when she left for Scotland that fall on a Rotary law scholarship; except for the constant walking on my part, she’d made our home a happier place.

         As for those walks . . . they served a purpose, perhaps. I took them sometimes very early in the morning, in the powdery twilight, and sometimes at night when our neighbors’ interior lights were on and I got little glimpses of how other lives were led. And how did I aspire to live myself? That question would hang in the air for many years.

         As one walked east from our house on the corner of Wilshire and Dorset--again with the English street-names, far more suitable in Nichols Hills than in our shabby old tract-house neighborhood, The Village--the houses gradually and almost aggressively became grander. Gatsby’s mansion in West Egg is described as “a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy,” and this would not have been out of place (indeed, when Nichols Hills was founded in 1929--so I just now read on the town’s website--the entrance at the corner of 63rd and Western was marked by “two stately towers of true Normandy architecture”); because the curving park-dotted streets had been laid along sumptuous prairie north of the city, there was much in the way of vast, Gatsbyesque “blue lawns” as well. The Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club was only a few blocks away from our house: it was pleasant to walk along the golf-cart paths at dawn, cheered by birdsong and the warble of little speakers concealed in the trees that played Muzak around the clock. The clubhouse itself was a sprawling Tudor, further east of which, the sky brightening, was an almost bumptious parade of prosperity--not just Normandy mansions such as Gatsby and Dr. Nichols had inhabited, but Greek Revivals, Georgians, Spanish Colonials, glassy Modernist castles, or composites of all these styles and more, a gallimaufry reminiscent of Nathanael West’s Hollywood. At Christmas the light displays were competitively dazzling.

         So I walked those many mornings and nights. And yes, part of me coveted the big houses, the verdant neighborhood, the never having to protest too much about one’s little importance in the world. But part of me could also see--could see very easily--a different kind of life: a little garret apartment, say, in some other part of the world, with nothing but books and a few souvenirs of the oddball life I’d led, and perhaps an occasional lapse into real squalor from time to time. Given my vagaries, it was all possible--the high and low and in-between. 

 

When Cathy returned from Edinburgh for a month over the holidays, I was amiably tolerated but encouraged, as ever, to make myself scarce. There was no question of my celebrating Christmas with them. My mother, whom I’d seen maybe five times in the past year, stepped obligingly to the fore. She too liked Cathy (or the idea of her), and in the interest of giving the happy couple their privacy, she gladly invited me and my brother to spend Christmas at her little condo in Norman. I viewed the prospect as one might view a bit of court-imposed community service, to be performed in a rest home or hospital. Christmas was the one time I couldn’t depend on friends; Christmas was family of whatever sort.