Last night Lacey got confused in her sleep.
“She was a teenager with Lem. And Ethel was his mom. And she was an idiot. And they almost made-out in class. …And Bobby Sr.. spoke through a woman. And Ethel gave her antique furniture.” says Michael.
Lacey is pretty sure Lem’s ghost was in that dream. And she’s pretty Ethel wasn’t in the dream, but instead that the woman was pretending to be Ethel… And Bobby Sr. was shy. …It was a lucid dream. Lacey knew she was dreaming.
“Were you still a woman?” asks Michael.
“Yes.” says Lacey.
“Everything is so deconstructed these days. It’s an obsession. People love to deconstruct solid things.” says Michael.
“Like saying that Halloween isn’t Satanic. It’s Samhain revisited.” says Lacey. “It’s not Samhain but it’s a revisitation of it.”
“Why does that bother you so much.” asks Michael of Lacey.
“Because it’s so willfully wrong to claim otherwise.” says Lacey.
“And it seems like people want to be willfully wrong?” asks Michael.
“Yes. My father who raised me calls it a spirit of anarchy.” says Michael.
“Do you think it is anarchy?” asks Michael.
“No. I think it’s poverty.” says Lacey.
Woody Allen agrees.
Michael does too.
“Wait! How is this not channeling?” asks a psychic.
“It’s far too close to channeling for my comfort.” says Lacey. “But if it’s not channeling it’s like the difference between channeling and schizophrenia. A schizophrenic doesn’t choose to see hallucinations. And there’s a reason I thought I’d lost my mind when this first started. Or I thought I was desperately sad and imagining people to care about me.”
“Her perfume hobby was a way to interact with the outside world. Like an old woman goes and gets her hair done and volunteers at the local school to read books to kids.” says Michael.
“But when jealous haters kept attacking her she gave up. She just felt too unloved to care.” says Lem.
“Loved? We weren’t all real friends. It wasn’t an actual family, even though we call it Fragfam. That’s just a cute thing to call it to sound loving for show. Truth is, we secretly all just want to be better than each other.” says a hater from the perfume community. “But we do care sometimes. For show. But you were supposed to know that as an adult!” They become indignant. “You were supposed to know we didn’t care. How are you a mature adult?!”
“Because as a mature adult I wasn’t taking each interaction as anything more than a pleasantry. But in a physical town…people who know each other vaguely do greet each other. They wave. They smile. They ask mundane questions. They may or may not care that much. But it’s cheerful and human.” says Lacey.
“And that’s all it was to you?” asks a gay hater.
“Yes. Why is that bad?” asks Lacey.
“Because now we have to let go of Lem as an icon in our community. Or we have to accept that he wasn’t our first first man. Secretly. And that we can’t get off egotistically by thinking we’re secretly better in bed than Jackie and women like Jackie. Because we do that. We have delusions of grandeur sexually. It’s partially a coping mechanism and partially narcissistic delusion. …But if Jack may have been the only queer one between him and Lem it does make that story much I I
richer and more dark and fascinating…but…it’s…not what we assumed.” He laughs.
“That Jack was possibly bi? And it was covered-up. And he was in love with Jackie? But deeply insecure and fooled into thinking Lem loved him through tragedy. And…incredibly lonely in his mind?” asks another gay man.
“And she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know! We’re all still alive.” the first man hastens to caution.
“But yes, thank you for suggesting that Jack…may have had a very lonely, tortured mind. And Lem was his possible false light. Possible. And he clung to that hope of true love. Like you’d hold a mother’s love in your heart when you were gravely ill. …And it may have, in the recesses of his mind, drove him mad at times. Loving Jackie but also questioning why Lem never loved him as more than a friend. Questioning why and how to live as himself .” says a gay man.
“And if that’s what really happened…it’s so painful. Because it feels real.” adds another gay man.
“If it’s real…it’s our actual struggle. Who really are we? What is love? Who can we trust? Are we insane or are we cursed? Or are we just different?” says another gay man.
“What does homosexuality actually look like? How do you tell what another man is? Because Lem acted gay. Jack did not. Possibly obsessively so.” says another gay man.
“People just love the narrative of Lem being gay. Jack being straight and possibly slightly bisexual. And Lem loving and seducing him into some sort of happiness for Lem in this waking life.” A gay man laughs. “But…there’s plenty of evidence, including your personal information, to suggest that that’s not quite what happened. And yes, that Lem was either straight and faking it as you believe you’ve been told by spiritual beings…possibly including even Lem himself…or bisexual and unhappy.”
“Bisexual and unhappy? asks a gay man.
“Yes! Why do we assume Jack made Lem truly happy?” he asks. “Couldn’t he have just been caught in a toxic bond?”
“And Lem only thought Jack made him happy?” asks a Boomer feminist woman.
“Why does that scare you?” asks a gay man.
“I know why! Oh! Oh! I know why. Because if Lem was bisexual and unhappily in love with Jack…and now as a ghost is in love with a woman, namely Lacey, it suggests a lot of scary things.” says a wealthy gay man.
“Hey! What if…we weren’t supposed to be questioning this right now? …What if…he was bisexual and that’s between him and Lacey. And if it’s not an issue for them…it’s our problem? Or what if…we don’t like the idea that old-money Lacey might be more alluring to old-money Lem? Or what? That big, buff guys might go for petite genuinely feminine women? Bi or straight. Or what? That romantic love between two adults can be real?!” He pauses. “Or what? What cozy lies do we cling to?”
“That…Red Fay meant Lem was bisexual. Or he was straight and psychologically messed-up. …But really, that we’ve altered history, including what people say and have been recorded as saying, to fit into whatever current narrative we like. And it’s a travesty. And it’s dangerous.” suggests another gay man.
“I mean, I respect that you’re really just interested in the truth.” says another gay man to Lacey. He’s Jewish.
“To clarify that’s petite, feminine women.” says a man, to clarify.
“But it’s near Thanksgiving. And Lacey, I’m sure you understand the desire to keep up certain traditions for the sake of enjoying them.” says the Jewish man.
“Yes! I do.” she answers sincerely. “But that’s just it, unfortunately. I’m not sure we’re even supposed to be having this conversation.”
A gay man laughs.
“No, because it’s maybe not what God had planned timing-wise.” says another gay man.
“Yes. Like, you were supposed to be wearing Chanel No. 22, dreaming of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the 1920’s, Lem if he’s a ghost was supposed to be sorting things out still with God, and…so many other things.” another gay man says.
“Yes. I worry that that’s all true.” says Lacey.
“Well, now we know Lem might have been straight and psychologically damaged. And possibly a rare person who genuinely thought he was gay for faulty reasons.” says a gay man. He laughs.
“But it begs the question of why it happened.” says Lacey.
“Yes! And why do you think it happened?” asks a gay man.
They think together.
“Honestly, I already know. It’s weirdly because people loathe your humility.” He laughs. “It’s offensive to them.”
“I’ve had that sense. That the perfume community hated me for being too humble. Like, it threw them off in their perception of me.” she says. “But sensing that and having literally anyone alive to discuss that with are two different things.”
“I wonder. Why were you raised to be so humble?” he asks. “Is that an upper-class thing? Or what?”
“It’s not a scam necessarily. It’s brutal frugality and wisdom. But it’s gone out of fashion.” says Lacey. “And it may be more common among the upper-class today than it was in the past. In the past a lot of people were like that.”
“You’re right. It was seen as good taste. For a reason. But every class had plenty of people who thought that way. About everything.” he says.
“It just isn’t the way people think people should be. Maybe it’s seen as being weak or not loving to yourself or too religious…” she says.
“Like, every man for himself, atheist, dog eat dog, cold-hard-facts…”
“Survival or the fittest.” they say together.
“And that’s where Michael emerges.” says Lacey.
“And we see the flaw in Edith Wharton’s novels.” he says.
“Because that is reality. But it’s not all of reality. In that exact order, possibly.” says Lacey.
“It’s that redemptive arc.” says Lacey.
“And out of order it doesn’t make sense.” he says.
“It’s the fall and then the redemption.” Lacey says. “Not no fall. No redemption. And then a magical, impossible, meaningless unnecessary redemption.”
He laughs. “Yes. First we have to accept the concept of sin. And then we can sort the rest out.”
“Yes, and it’s funny. We’re describing the Bible untouched. And the Torah. But it sounds revolutionary.” she says.
“But death is real. And the Boomers have yet to fully grasp that. They still think they’re 20. Nobody else…really has that delusion.” He clears his throat. “I don’t hate them. I just wish I too understood why they decided to go backwards and call it forwards?”
“Maybe forwards was too scary.” says Lacey. “And now we don’t even know where we were anymore.”
“When did we first start to get too scared?” he asks.
“In the 1940’s, I bet. Before that Edith Wharton wrote about Harold Loeb as a Protestant. But we still knew. But things got too scary for the entire world in the last world war.” suggests Lacey.
“So we just took 80 years to circle on back?” he wonders.
“What was it we were trying to figure out or grapple with in the 1940’s?” he asks.
“I think the Boomer idea is that it was a social issues problem, mostly.” says Lacey. “But while those are certainly valid points I’m not sure that was the root.”
“Getting rid of God doesn’t keep the Holocaust away.” he says. “Necessarily.”
“Well, and if God exists, it’s impossible to do anyway.” says Lacey.
“What is it then, do you think?” he asks.
“Well, John Knowles thought it was about the evil in our hearts. He framed it as a war between good and evil.” says Lacey.
“In A Separate Peace.”
“Yes. Although, come to think of it in Peace Breaks Out he writes about power. A lust for power.” says Lacey.
“And that means what?”
“He may have been subconsciously reconsidering it all. Peace Breaks Out is about Joe Jr.. Literally. He refers to him by name.”
“And Peace Breaks Out…came after A Separate Peace. And you read that when?”
“In the 9th grade. 1999.”
He smiles. A noise. Then leaves falling and swirling around.
“I think it’s about power. And poverty.” She says. “The poverty of evil. The loss of power through evil.”
“The root of World War II is about death itself?” he says.
“Yes. Evil. Our inability to live well without God.”
“But in the framework of death. The loss of resources. The loss of structure. The loss of strength. The loss of sanity. The loss of land.”
“Yes! It’s modernity turning around and looking itself in the mirror and seeing it’s mortality.”
“And so we invented Post Modernism to cope.” he says.
“They invented lots of lies to cope.” says Lacey.
“But it didn’t work.”
“What is the problem?” he asks.
“Evil. Evil really is the problem. But…imperfection via evil.”
“We can’t easily create Heaven on Earth, if it’s possible at all.” she says.
“And yet, in accepting that, we get closer to it.” he says. “Because we should still try. It’s just hard work. Grueling, thankless, painful work. And people die. And never come back. And we die too.”
“But we have a survival instinct for a reason.” says Lacey.
“Yes. It’s a beautiful gift to instinctively want to live.” he says.
“It’s just that we can’t dig enough oil or coal or eat enough organic food or write enough…to expand the size of it all. To go fast enough. To make it all something it’s not through alchemy. And those limitations are depressing. Profoundly depressing. Because collectively we’ve been counting on the great future being tomorrow. Just tomorrow. Not in 50 years. Tomorrow. For hundreds of years now.” says Lacey.
“Is that why you love perfume?” he asks.
“Yes. It’s from the past. When we had to think about the present. And get sick. And grieve. And look around.” says Lacey.
“Yes. I agree.” he says.