October 31, 2010

The Lost Life of Kerri Kenner

It’s come time to talk fully of Kerri Kenner. It’s come time to talk about her visit to Vermont. There’s so much about Kerri Kenner that defies reason. She stepped into my life with lies of omission, but even these were forgivable. She had to lie; the truth only broke her a bit more. Only by lying could Kerri Kenner ever hope to emerge from the darkness that diminished her, that drew the weight from her flesh, that had turned her skin into ash, and her mouth brittle. It was what gave her tongue a metallic taint, and her eyes the limp look of a soul teetering between two worlds.

Her past was oblique. She had told me nothing about her childhood when we first met, except that she had grown up in Chicago. When I probed she shut down.

“A pretty ordinary childhood,” she said.

Soon after we met, she fled to another city. That was Kerri Kenner’s way of things. She hopped from city to city, tried to set down roots, failed, and then escaped, leaving broken hearts behind her. I’m the only one who understands Kerri Kenner. I’m the only one who knows her. I knew her even before I found out the truth. I knew her before I learned that she had changed her name, that she wasn’t called Kerri Kenner, but Naomi Mischl. And that she had grown up in Kraftsbury Kommons, Vermont.

I believed her when she said she was from Chicago. She had the traits of an urbanite: Vampiric, brutal, fashionable, worldly, and distant. But in truth she had grown up surrounded by farmland and cows.

“Let’s go on a road trip,” I suggested about a week into her visit. I had tried for two nights to entice her into my bed. She had bee-sting tits. All nipple from what I could tell, and they made me nuts. But each time she demurred, pretending she hadn’t heard me. Instead, she slept in the guest bedroom, though it wasn’t any kind of sleeping that she did. I could hear her at night, when my lustiness kept me awake, I could hear her walking around the house, going on the porch, listening to music on her laptop, hanging out in the kitchen smoking.

“Where? Road trip where?” She hadn’t let on that she was perfectly familiar with the sweet air and the winding roads unlit by streetlamps and crawling with moose and drunkards.

“I’ll figure it out. We’ll do a big loop.”

Kerri fiddled nervously with her cigarette; she had been chaining ever since she got here.

“Okay,” she said.

We set out the next morning, taking a state road north. Kerri looked out her window, keeping her face poised in deflection. Her fingers tapped on the opened window’s bottom edge, tap, tap, tap.

“Wow,” she said, “It’s so beautiful. It’s so, so beautiful.”

“I’m glad you’re saying that. It’s been losing its allure lately. I’m not quite as blown away as I used to be.”

“No, it’s like Eden. Look at those mountains, David. Look at them.”

I loved Kerri Kenner when she became like a girl.

We pushed farther north into Stephen King land. Ancient farms sinking into primeval brown earth. Dirt roads with lost edges. Few cars, fewer people. Then we got into a small town, a village, really.

Kraftsbury Kommons.

“Kraftsbury Kommons,” I announced. I said it aloud because the name resonated with history. Because I remembered it from somewhere.

“Jesus,” Kerri said. “How did this happen? I so didn’t notice.”

“Look at the houses.” They were old and stark, all of them painted white, like a row of ghosts. They surrounded the commons, a green circle on which you imagined once witches were hung and debtors shackled to stocks.

“Are you fucking with me?”

“What?”

“Are you trying to fuck with my head?” Her face turned red, her eyes got wet. She had pulverized her cigarette.

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?”

“I’m from here!”

“What?”

“This is where I grew up!”

“I thought you’re from Chicago.”

“No. No, David. I’m from Kraftsbury Kommons.”

“Shit, Keri. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because, David, I’ve been trying to forget.”

She didn’t tell me much. But when I got back to New York I found a newspaper clipping from the 70s. That didn’t tell me much, either, except that something terrible had happened here one Halloween night. It seemed as though the town had wanted to forget, too, just like Kerri Kenner.

I didn’t bother Kerri about it. I knew her real name now, though. I expected the rest of it would come out eventually.



The Kommoner

The Kommoner, November 1st, 1977



October 24, 2010

“I’m a Catch”

Eventually, of course, I came home from Vermont. Nothing kept me there: I had no girl and the landscape had gone dead on me. The soft light, the air perfumed by wildflowers, the colorful birds, the rolling grass fields dotted with bales waiting to be hauled off to the barns — none of these filled me anymore with wonderment. It was only during Kerri Kenner’s visit that it began to reawaken in me, this ache for Vermont’s primitive beauty, and only because she had been away from it for so long that her stunned awe helped me see it afresh. But even that wasn’t enough, and so I flew back to New York City, but when I got back to New York City I felt I didn’t belong here, either. In fact, I don’t know anymore where I belong, or where I should be. All I know is that it’s here where the work is, where the good restaurants are, and, frankly, where the greatest pool of prospects live if I have any hope of marrying before I turn fifty.

I forgot that everyone in New York is a bit deluded. Self-deluded. We’re self-deluded about how important we are and how much we matter. Maybe delusion is a requirement for living in a place that’s so noisy, so crowded, so coarse and filthy. People live in fear here, and it takes a lot of energy to put an indifferent face on that.

“I’m a catch,” she said at the start of our first telephone conversation. I liked the bravado even if I was skeptical. She claimed to be a bit of a freelance writer, and that somewhere in her brain there was a novel, but now she had a full-time director-level job that had something to with the Web and something to do with a big media company.

“That sounds interesting,” I said. “What’s the site?”

She paused. “I don’t know if I can tell you that.”

“No? Why not?”

“Well, it’s an important website. You know, you might start asking me for a job, because you’re a writer and you do web stuff.”

“I have more work than I can handle. I like being freelance. I don’t want a job. So just tell me. I’m really curious now.”

So in a hushed tone she told me, but I had never heard of the website; it meant nothing to me. And the media company was a traditional, old school behemoth, trying to catch up. So we moved on.

“There’s something else,” she said.

“Something else? You didn’t just leave your fiancé, did you?

“I’m not actually thirty-three.”

“Oh. How old are you really?”

“Well, thirty-seven.”

“Thirty-seven?” I couldn’t complain. I’m forty-five. I should be grateful when even a thirty-seven year old contacts me. It’s not an uncommon practice on dating websites to fiddle a bit with one’s age. Usually the excuse is so you show up in searches. There’s some kind of graduated age cutoff that people employ when they search for dates, and as they age their cutoff increases by that many years.

“It’s so I show up in searches,” she said.

“That’s cool. But you’re supposed to reveal it in the profile. You know, once people click on you.”

“Yeah, I guess. Also, one more thing.”

“Oh, what?”

“I’m not actually five-foot-three. More like five-two. And a half. Five-two-and‑a half.”

“Lucky. I can’t do five-one and shorter. Just doesn’t work. It’s awkward. I feel like an ox.”

“Oh, you mean you really are six-two?”

“Yes, why?”

“Everybody lies about their height.”

“Really?”

“You must have lied about something on your profile.”

There were lies of omission mostly. I didn’t lie about my height or body type. I didn’t lie about my education or income. But did I write that I was a mess? Did I write about my dead cat and that his photo is still my cell phone’s wallpaper? Did I write about how much I still thought about Clarissa, even though I hadn’t seen her in a year? Did I write about my stomach and its hatred of me? Did I write about all the little neuroses that added up to make me a challenge to anyone who wasn’t equally nuts? No, I didn’t.

I am not a catch.

For some reason we met for drink. She told me the idea for her novel, which mirrored her life, basically — yes, it was that important — but it sounded so insular that the story might have interested only her friends and colleagues. It was something about struggling writers and fame and backstabbing. Her character was the terrible victim of the Svengali-like manipulations of an established novelist-slash-misogynist. Like every idea that anyone ever comes up with, at the end of the day it’s all about execution.

“Well, it’s all about the execution,” I said pompously.

“I really need to get on this now,” she said.

I’d been working on a book for eleven years. I had thought it would take just one.

“I’ve got lots of connections in the business,” she said. She named a famous author. “He could easily get my novel published. Easily. I know lots of people who can help me out. I’d be an idiot not to write a novel.”

“I’ve written three novels. All unpublished.”

“Jesus, what’s your problem? Send them out. Get them published.” She looked at me as though she suddenly realized I was a madman.

For a catch, she turned out to have no money, she shared an apartment with a roommate, and she hadn’t written a word of the novel. Also, she consumed a daily cocktail of antidepressants. She hated her job. She took it only because freelance work had dried up. But the job wasn’t working out. Either she was going to quit or they were going to fire her. So she was a mess, too. A self-deluded mess of inflated self-importance, but you had to give her chutzpah its due.

“I need to be frank with you,” she said, her face becoming pinched, dark, and serious. “I don’t think this is going to work out.”

“Really? Why?”

“You just don’t strike me as ambitious. You’re a bit of a mess. The photos on your profile were all blurry.”

“I own two homes! I summer in Vermont. What more do you want?”

“You just seem like a slacker.”

I’m a slacker?”

I searched her face in that frantic way of someone trying to figure out a way to buy some time; I searched her anxious, black eyes; her mounds of black poodle hair that cushioned her face from reality; her fat red lips curled in judgment.

“Okay, fine, yes. I’m a slacker, okay? I’m a slacker.”

“See, I knew it.”

Her lips uncurled. Her eyebrows rose. Her back arched.

She was happy. She was self-deluded. She was happy.