U.S. Open, Day 11, 6:30 p.m. Lawrence and I were sitting in the empty stadium as Michael practiced for his singles quarterfinal later that night. The grounds were being emptied of day-ticket holders, the sun shone at a more forgiving angle, the TV crews were eating dinner, so here was an hour and a half or so of peace, of being left alone, before the night crowd streamed in and it all geared up again.
Slumped down on my tailbone, baseball cap pulled low over my eyes, legs slung up over the seat back in front of me, I settled into a well-worn stream of weltschmerz. “I don’t know, Lawrence; I don’t know . . . I want to do something that means something, you know. If not, well then just live by the ocean with a nice garden and lots of cats, no harm done, you know . . . I think . . . yeah, people and pets of a gentle persuasion.” I raised my right hand into the air, and stared at it, wiggling my fingers aimlessly, as if this would somehow conjure the desired results. Lawrence looked heavenward for escape, but I was on a roll. My hand dropped down to my side and I turned back to him. “Instead, what are we doing, Lawrence? What are we doing, huh? Rattling around like dice in a never-ending board game, tossed out here, snatched up there, tossed out yet again in another spot. We’re all bound and gagged to Michael’s fortunes . . . we have no independent scope.” He knew what was coming next. “Everything’s done for TV now anyway . . . people are so limited in their thinking. Why is it okay to be just about the big bucks now? Huh? Why is it suddenly okay? When we were in school . . .”
Lawrence rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand, “Don’t you ever get tired of hearing yourself?”
I looked at him. A hard man. I wanted him to think well of me. “You don’t like me, do you?”
Staring straight ahead, “I’m not paid to tell you what I think.”
I continued to look at him, silently pushing him, and he turned further away, uncomfortable, shrugging his shoulders. I was irritated now. “Just say what you have to say. Just say it.”
He turned back to me, “Do I like you? No I don’t. No, I don’t.” For the first time he dropped his public façade with me and it unnerved me. “You’re always bitchin’ about this and that, but you’re just sitting on your butt here; you’re not doing a damn thing, y’know what I’m saying? Is that what they taught you at your all high and mighty school? How to lie on your back and balance the accounts?” I couldn’t believe he said that. “Oh, right, right, you’re some kind of artist or something. Yeah, right. Some kind of ‘Oh, I speak Spanish’ bleeding-heart kind of person,” he wiggled his own fingers effeminately, mocking me. “I don’t see you working in the barrios.”
“Well, I don’t see you there, either!” I swung back, stunned and hurt, sitting up abruptly, putting my feet back on the ground, and scraping one leg badly in the process.
“I take care of my business, don’t you worry about that; don’t you worry about that. What I’m saying is, I don’t go around whining about everything day and night, boring everyone. Things don’t suit you; they don’t suit a lot of people. You’re getting all the goods here—all the goods. That’s your job apparently—so do the girlfriend bit graciously, or at least quietly, for Christ sake.” He stuck a cough drop in his mouth, holding and displaying it clenched in his front teeth before snapping his lips shut, and gave me a devastating look over. “I don’t see you doing nothing . . . but taking what’s handed to you.”
And I saw right there that Lawrence was a big man because he respected Michael and defended him even though he himself had never been handed nothing and Michael had gone on athletic ability where he could not. Yes, Michael was respected, a man who didn’t parade his dreams, but got things done. And Lawrence had his own dreams, I guessed, jewel-colored and fractured, valuable and painful. That’s why Lawrence had no respect for me. I seemed motionless to him, lazy to him—my tremendous expenditure of energy was invisible to him; it was all going on inside my head. He had merely pointed out the truth as he saw it, but his truth was not mine. These dreams . . . Michael’s dreams, Lawrence’s dreams, my dreams . . . I wanted to be of consequence, but it had wound round askew, terribly out of kilter. There had to be something better than this. I was so sick of it. Sick of windows you couldn’t open, of rooms that weren’t home, gotta-have-it girls and stars void of their senses—sick of Michael’s parents, sick of him, sick of myself.
“Michael! Michael!” I leaned forward and screamed as loudly and obnoxiously as I could, making Lawrence flinch, reclaiming my authority. “You’re only going cross court. Hit some down the line.”
There had to be some place left somewhere, a universe of grace and beauty spinning under its own power, I thought sullenly, falling back against my seat again, rubbing my bruised shin. I wouldn’t give up wanting it.