Thank you, The Untrained Librarian, for including Edie Richter is Not Alone in your list of Spring 2021 new releases to look forward to!
I don’t have any tattoos. I admire some tattoos – very few to be honest – but some. My favorites are the ones that are not thought out in advance. The ones that are sketched in a dark bar and inked that same night. I also love the roses. So many roses on so many bodies, and why not? They are beautiful and thorny. The only thing I envy about tattoos is the concealment. You order a coffee and the barista has no idea you have a snake on your hipbone. A coworker pulls up his shirtsleeve to reveal a lyric from a Taylor Swift song. The secrecy and subsequent disclosure are exciting to me.
My secret is Edie Richter is Not Alone, my debut novel coming out in March 2021. This is a story I’ve wanted to tell for many years. It is not my story. It is fiction. But ever since Edie appeared in my mind and persistently tapped me on the shoulder, I have held her close and not shared her with many people. I didn’t know if I could write a book. But it turns out, showing up every day, writing a lot of words, and then eliminating most of them, works.
Edie doesn’t have any tattoos. She probably wouldn’t see the point in trying to make something permanent out of something so temporary. But she would certainly notice them and wonder about the inspiration. She might ask someone an uncomfortable question, like how they feel about regret.
Feeling alone is something we all understand. Especially in 2020. But of course, as Edie learns, we are never alone. We have each other. And some of us have snakes on our hipbones, and faded roses on our arms. And it’s all beautiful, and we’re all going to be ok.
[Edie Richter is Not Alone (Unnamed Press, March 2021) is available for preorder at most bookstores. If you live in the states and would like a signed copy, please order through Green Apple Books in San Francisco.]
We’re all learning lessons about resilience and gratitude and isn’t that great. Last week my 15-year-old flopped on the couch and said, “Remember when we called it sheltering in place, and now it’s just life?” I squeezed her knee and closed my eyes. Later that afternoon we drove to her high school to pick up last year’s yearbook. A school with 3,000 students and famously crowded, chaotic hallways, the stained gray building is now deserted with a red digital sign flickering, “Congratulations Class of 2020.” On the ride home, my daughter quietly turned the pages looking for friends. A pop song about a sweater was on the radio. At a stoplight, she raised the book so I could see. There she was at a school dance with her arms around two girls.
The next morning, a man swam into me in the Bay. I had been sighting every four strokes, looking for buoys and seals, but he came out of nowhere. Bam, his fist into my side. Wearing a black cap and red swim trunks, he kept swimming, as if through me. “Hey!” I yelled after him. “Hey!” Nothing. I treaded water for a while, adjusted my goggles, and glared at the man’s shiny back heading towards the beach. I fantasized about chasing him, throwing myself on top of him like a rodeo champion and demanding an apology. But of course, I just swam.
That night I called a friend in Australia whose children are playing field hockey and spending the night with friends. I told her our flights to Perth had been canceled. She sighed and said I would have had to spend two weeks quarantining in a hotel room. “By then I reckon you’d have to go home.”
Frustrating moments are piling up like dirty dishes. Some days I ignore them. Other days I look around for someone to blame. Like the man in the water. That’s why he fled. If he had started to apologize, he wouldn’t have been able to stop. I’m sorry for the President. I’m sorry for the racism. I’m sorry for the pandemic, the deaths, and the ignorance. I’m sorry you can’t go to work. I’m sorry pop stars are writing songs about cardigans. I’m sorry your children can only see their friends in old photographs. I’m sorry I swam into you. I didn’t see you.
“I am not waiting another fucking half hour for you.” A woman is sitting on a step, in front of the ATM. She is wearing workout clothes, a paper mask, and holding her phone in front of her face. Her screaming is so loud I can hear her from across the street, up one floor, through a closed window. “You need to get home, feed him, and then get your fucking ass over here.”
After a brief pause she continues, “I said feed him! Then get over here!”
Feed who? A child? The dog? An elderly person? Now I am stressed. Someone needs to get fed, and someone else is in big trouble.
I am reminded of the time I screamed at my husband (then boyfriend) after waiting for him in a car in Harvard Square. That was more than 20 years ago, and I remember I waited exactly 45 minutes.
Today it is unsafe to be outside. The air quality is poor due to wildfires and the pandemic rages on. Schools remain closed. Nonetheless, today’s top news story is the death of a famous socialite. The article mentions the deceased’s nephew who was kidnapped in the 70’s and held for ransom. The family paid after the boy’s severed ear was sent to an Italian newspaper. I touch my yellow beaded earring given to me by a friend who Kondo-ed her jewelry collection. As a child, I was scared of being kidnapped. My dad told me not to worry, that we weren’t wealthy enough to warrant a kidnapping. Still I slept with a knife under my pillow for several weeks. It occurs to me I could have cut my own ear.
The screaming woman has calmed down slightly. She is on the phone with someone else complaining about the first person. “Can you fucking believe that shit? I KNOW.”
This morning I awoke with my nightgown twisted around me like a broken corset. I rolled over and wrote the words Nuanced Nuisance on the pad of lined paper I keep next to my bed. Then the cat came over and sniffed my face. “I don’t know what it means,” I said to the cat while scraping some black gunk out of his eye corners. “I must have had a dream.”
Now I look out the window and the woman is gone. Did she get picked up, or did she storm away on foot? I hope everyone got fed. This is the time of unresolved everything.
I thought the era of funny things was over. This is the age of fear, sorrow, and fed-up-ness. This is a pandemic.
I was walking home up the hill, just past the yard with the artichoke plant, across from the hoarder’s house. My neighborhood is pin-droppingly quiet which is why, at this particular moment, my cloth mask was hanging from my wrist and not strapped to my face. I was alone.
A black car drove past, then turned around and pulled over beside me.
The window opened and a man called out, “Is your name Denise, by any chance?” He had a bushy moustache and thick black glasses. He was smiling at me.
“No,” I said, and kept walking.
“You’re not Denise?”
I paused. I hadn’t slept well in several nights. Could my name be Denise? Had we all been renamed?
“No,” I repeated, moving my bag to my other shoulder.
The man asked if I used to live near SF State. He seemed happy and hopeful.
“Really?” He stared at me and shook his head. “You are the spitting image of Denise.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I hope she’s a nice person.”
He laughed. “Oh, she’s the best,” he said reassuringly. “I haven’t seen her in twenty years though. Funny thing, because I’ve been thinking about her recently and then – I drove by you, and I swear – ” As his voice trailed off, he kept staring at me, head cocked.
I put down my bag. “Maybe that’s why you thought you saw her?” I was no longer in a rush to get home. This was my first spontaneous chitchat with a stranger in five months, and it had nothing to do with the virus.
He asked what I meant. I explained that when someone is on my mind, particularly someone I miss, I see them everywhere. For example, in every older man who smokes a cigar, for a split second I see my dad.
Moustache ran his hand across the steering wheel and looked wistful. “Denise had a great sense of humor. Really funny girl. I always wondered what happened to her.”
“I hope you find her someday,” I said, meaning it.
“Thanks. You too. I mean – ” He laughed and shook his head before driving away.
Back at home, I told my husband about the encounter. He questioned the plausibility of Moustache’s story while adding I look different from twenty years ago, which I found both rude and beside-the-point. But everyone’s sensitive right now. It’s a pandemic.
Maybe this isn’t a funny story after all. Denise is nowhere to be found, and my husband thinks I look like an old lady. Maybe it would have been funnier if I had told the man that, yes, I was Denise, and hopped in the car with him. We would have had a lot to catch up on.