Mornings are the worst for insomniacs. Facing a new day without a transition, no way to leave behind the problems of the one that came before. Up all night, woken by the heater, my neighbors on the stairs – about once every two weeks I become convinced I’m going to be the victim of late-night home invasion, and spend a sleepless night tensing at every human sound delivered with such aural precision up the airshaft outside my bedroom window as to sound quite close, quite personally threatening. Woken is an exaggeration; more accurate to say I was yanked back from that brink of sleep, a state warm, calm, and pleasant only in the anxious retrospect of having been cast outside of it. Like God’s sight.
I read a book of Kurt Vonnegut essays, appropriately thought-provoking but not insurmountable - easy reading for my simple, sleep-deprived mind. But they were all of war. I can’t fault him there; if I had spent time dragging soupy human remains out of the bombed remains of a city, I’m sure I’d write about it too, on any number of sleepless nights. I dropped off around 7 in the morning, having completed the entire book – no great feat of Vonnegut, but some small concession to accomplishment, in my mind. I know that I dreamt, and feel that, in dreaming, I was on the brink of a great discovery, which immediately flew from my mind as I was woken by the telephone. My landlord calling to tell me a dishwasher repairman was coming between 10-12. He sounded amused and condescending to have woken me at 9:45. I was rather less amused, especially as there was nothing wrong with the dishwasher that turning it off manually couldn’t solve, whereas there was something clearly wrong with my sleeping. No matter. I made coffee and corn muffins for breakfast and await the repairman. Assuming I can stay awake as far as sundown, I will sleep quite thoroughly tonight.
I don’t remember how it came up. Matthew and I were sitting in his car, late but not too late - probably around 12:30 - watching the Ice House. We should have been freezing it, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. It should have been cold enough to freeze - the thermometer we’d tacked to the window outside said 26 degrees - but there was a light snowfall that brought precipitation into play, so every time we left the car to water down the house with the hoses arranged around it, it just cracked and dripped away at the 3/4-inch of ice we’d already formed over the last 36 hours.
He was frustrated - a land artist without the consent of the land - and I guess maybe he was trying to bait me. I get the feeling people do that a lot and I always fall for it. What else is there to do for hours in a car at night? Well, not what you’re thinking. Matthew has a girlfriend, who he’d slipped up and mentioned earlier, so just talking, then. He asked me if I thought I would buy a house, since property is so cheap here. I told him I wasn’t really ready to take that step, and he pressed me on the issue. I guess there were other things I could have said.
“I need to make sure I can make it here before I commit like that,” I said.
“That makes sense,” he said, “but it’s pretty low-commitment, considering the price, even if you don’t stay.”
“Well, but the cheap houses, you have to fix up,” I said. “I don’t know how to do that.”
“You could learn,” he said.
“I could,” I admitted, “and I hope I do. But I don’t really want to take on a project like that alone.”
“Ah, so, ” he said. “What about friends?”
“What about friends?” I said. “Friends will help sometimes, if they’re good friends, but they won’t be committed to your project in the same way. It has to be someone who’s in it with you. It has to be a boyfriend.”
“I think you’re making this about a relationship, when it isn’t,” he said.
“I don’t expect you to understand,” I said.
“Enlighten me,” he said. I should have just let it go. This is always the part where I mess things up. But then, what was there to mess up, really? Just a guy I couldn’t have, killing time in a car with me because his girlfriend wasn’t around. Just another one of those, and I am so, so tired of those.
“As a woman,” I said, “making the decision to buy your own house is resigning yourself to live the rest of your life without a man.” He snorted. “And maybe that’s my future, but I’m not ready to accept it yet.”
“If you say so.” There was no point in having the conversation any further. Nobody likes having arguments about gender, everybody so quick to bring up exceptions to the rule, how all people are different, and OK, fine, all people are different, except what I’ve noticed is that no, people aren’t different; they are all basically the same. Men want to provide for women, give them a house, and doing that on your own acts as a big fat “fuck-off” to them all, even the enlightened ones, even the broke-but-honest ones, all of the ones except the complete deadbeats. End of argument, except Matthew wanted to continue the argument.
“I mean, even if you did meet a guy and he had his own place, too, you could always sell your place.” I looked at him. I had sort of liked him before - not in a way that would have led to me sleeping with him, even if he hadn’t had a girlfriend, but enough that it was OK to spend an evening or two talking about stuff, secretly relieved he had a girlfriend so there was no need to sleep with him - but now he’d made the reveal and all the like was draining away into that wrathful place, deep down, where I know men (yes, all men) think I am less because I am woman (yes, any woman). All of a sudden, I felt fierce love for my house, my own place that I’d built with my two hands and what friends I had that really counted.
“I see. So you think after spending my time, money, and energy to build a perfect place designed to suit my life and feed my soul, that I’m just going to sell it so I can go try to make it work with someone else?” He blinked at this turn. “It’s one thing to build a place together - then it will be for both of you. But if I build a place for me, then I only have two choices - live just-for-me forever, or let love for someone else take away my place just for me. I can’t allow that.”
Matthew stared at me, dumbfounded. It occurred to me I might not be talking about houses anymore.