take me apart (formerly the image of her) (excerpt)

 

MIRANDA

WASHINGTON POST

November 16, 1993

 

Miranda Brand, Acclaimed Photographer, Dies in Mysterious Circumstances

Brent Saxby, SAN FRANCISCO

 

Miranda Brand, a photographer famed for her feminist politics and experimentations with the grotesque, was found dead yesterday morning at her Northern California home. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. She was 33.

Despite her young age, Ms. Brand was well-known on the art scene for more than a decade. She shot to fame in 1982, when critics and crowds flocked to her MFA thesis show, Capillaries, which she staged in an abandoned hospital in south Brooklyn. The project featured bright portraits of women in normal environments—a diner, a theater audience—but with their faces and bodies caked with blood. One of her best-known early projects, Full, showed eerie images of empty spaces with women pushed to the edges of the frame.

She became a regular on the New York art circuit, but her mental health wavered. In 1983, after giving birth to her son, she was admitted to a locked psychiatric unit for two months for undisclosed medical reasons. Rumors swirled that the hospitalization involved serious postpartum psychosis, and it was reported that she had been institutionalized after attempting to kill her son. The paranoid tones of her 1984 series Fever Dreams caused several critics to speculate that Brand also suffered from schizophrenic tendencies.

In 1985, Ms. Brand abruptly stopped granting interviews and moved to rural California. Despite her newfound antipathy towards the press, she continued to produce photography in isolation. Most recently, her work turned towards self-mutilation. The controversial series Inside Me appeared to show lines and symbols sliced into her own flesh. Occasionally, her work was understated: a pensive portrait of a nude woman called The Threshold was among the works cited when the Guggenheim announced they would be giving her a solo retrospective. (Ms. Brand, one of the youngest women ever to receive that honor, did not attend the ceremony.) She received dozens of major photography prizes and was universally regarded as one of the leading female photographers of the past decade.

“Miranda was one of our generation’s brightest talents and a true visionary,” said Hal Eggers, her West Coast representative, in a statement on Monday. “Her compositions captured the abjection and privation of the female experience, and she will be deeply missed by the art community.”

An anonymous source close to the situation said that the gunshot wound appeared to be self-inflicted, but local police have declined to comment. A verdict of suicide normally requires evidence of intent to harm oneself. Dr. Lisa Torres, a Sacramento-based psychiatrist who never treated Ms. Brand, said, “Sadly, the effects of postpartum psychosis can be felt for years after the acute symptoms have resolved. It is not uncommon for sufferers to relapse, and women with a history of psychosis often require sustained supervision for the rest of their lives.” At press time, the death was still under investigation.

Ms. Brand is survived by her husband, the painter Jake Brand; her son, Theodore; and a rabid international fan base who were, at the time of her death, willing to pay up to $50,000 for an original print.

 

Chapter 1

KATE

California revealed itself to Kate as a series of spots, like a scratch-off lottery ticket, the forested hills emerging in patches as the plane lowered through the clouds. The purple mountains, the long oval of the bay. It was a view that only made sense in pieces, when you could hold each piece singly in your eye and concentrate on it. Just as the last wisp of cloud disappeared, the plane bounced on a gust, sending everyone’s breath into their throats, so that at the moment Kate first saw the whole view laid out beneath her, she felt fear and awe, and then, as the plane righted itself, gratitude. Then annoyance—at the turbulence, for tricking her, for taking away her first impression. The man beside her crossed himself and crunched a Ritz cracker.

“I hate landings,” he said, around the cracker. “Seems like no one knows how to fly a plane these days.”

Kate’s fingers were clutching the armrest. Only the left one—her seatmate had commandeered their shared armrest somewhere over Colorado. She forced herself to relax her grip.

“Did it used to be better?” she asked, to distract herself. Her eyelashes were matted together and her mouth tasted like dishwater. The morning—the bleary, hungover wait for a delayed plane; an ill-advised airport pretzel during her first layover—already seemed distant, sopped up into the grimy sponge of cross-country travel.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve been flying for business for thirty years. I only just started getting sick maybe, I don’t know, the last decade.”

“The planes are so much better equipped these days. More controls. I thought the rides would have gotten smoother.”

“It’s about the training,” he said, knowledgeably. “Are you from San Francisco?”

“No, no. I’m from New York. I’m out here for a job.”

“Oh, yeah? What do you do?”

“I’m an archivist.” The word felt unfamiliar in her mouth; she rolled it around, like a marble. “I work with old documents.”

“That’s a real job?”

“Yep.”

“You always done that?”

“No. I used to work for a newspaper.”

His expression cooled. “You’re a journalist?”

“A copyeditor.”

“Like with the semicolons?”

“Yes. And I checked facts, and things like that.”

She knew where this was going. He drummed his fingers against the armrest, scattering crumbs.

“Didn’t know anyone checked facts these days,” he said at last. “I mean, you read stuff in the media, it’s so biased. Basically seems made up. You heard the term ‘fake news’?”

“Yes,” Kate said.

“Yeah, I can’t stand that. I get all my news from people I trust—my wife, my friends. I like to have a direct line. Straight from the source.”

Kate pressed her lips together. He gave her a paternalistic smile.

“Anyway,” he said, “it sounds to me like you made a good choice, switching careers.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

The plane bounced again. A short scream came from behind them. The seatbelt light blinked off overhead, which couldn’t be right.

Kate asked, politely,  “What do you do?”

“Insurance. For farmers. I make sure they’re not undervaluing their land. A lot of site visits.”

“So you’re kind of a fact-checker, too.”

He looked at her like she was crazy. “No.”

The plane dipped. They were coming in over the water now, so low and close Kate felt sure they would topple in. Then the ground materialized beneath them, an asphalt miracle, and the wheels touched down.

“You know, I’ve been thinking,” her seatmate said, thoughtfully, as the plane braked. “Maybe flying wasn’t actually better back then. Maybe I was just younger.” He selected another cracker. “I used to not be scared of anything. Not a single thing.”

 

 

Outside, Kate shrugged off her jacket and scanned the congested arrivals area for her aunt. The lanes were a mess of honking cars, many of them shockingly fancy. Kate finally spotted Louise waving from behind the windshield of a recently cleaned Volvo. Louise parked the car and leapt out to hug Kate, which earned them a few sharp tweets on the traffic marshal’s whistle.

Louise looked exactly the same as she had three years ago, but more tan, like a deck that had been re-stained to a fresh but unrealistic brown. She was petite, with a metabolism that could process pig lard and turn it into sinewy muscle, and a head of tight, tiny curls that always looked just a little wet. Her face was similar to Kate’s, with the same long nose and crescent-shaped dimples.

“You must be exhausted,” Louise said as she opened the trunk. “Three connections! Did you eat? I have plenty of food waiting for you at home. If Frank remembered to turn the oven on.”

“I can text him from the road, if you want.”

“Oh, yes.” Louise nodded, as if Kate were reminding her about a city she had visited once. “Texting.”

Kate heaved her suitcase into the trunk and ducked into the passenger seat. She waited for the familiar relief of having reached her destination, but it never came. Instead, she felt oddly like pieces of herself were falling off onto the ground, crumbling into the balmy California air. If Louise was a renovated deck, Kate was a plaster wall under demolition.

Louise chattered as they wound slowly through the San Francisco traffic, endless loops of overpasses and underpasses, through the polite white houses of the Outer Sunset and over the Golden Gate Bridge. The clouds and the traffic both cleared once they crossed into Marin. Up there, the light was rich and liquid, more yellow than the light back East; it pooled on the huge houses in the hills, the boats in the marina at Sausalito.

“Frank knows the man who owns that boat,” Louise said, jabbing at the window.

“Which boat?”

“The big one.”

They were all big.

“Have you been out on it?”

“Once. I got sunburned. The bathroom was very spacious, though—and there were these little green soaps.”

Off the 101, eucalyptus trees at the side of the road threw shadows across the windshield, sending leopard spots rippling along Kate’s thighs. Then they disappeared, and the car came onto a series of switchbacks arrowing through browned hills. Below a steep drop-off, a pasture-dotted valley swooped low and broke into a floodplain, framing the ocean as a distant triangle, pulled snug across the furry line of the earth.

This is your home now, Kate thought. It wasn’t, of course. She was only here for a few months.

“How’s your sister doing?” Louise asked.

“Fine. Well, she’s Becca.”

“Poor thing.” Louise clucked sympathetically. “But your mom said she’s doing great at work. It sounds like she’s really found her niche. It helps a lot when you discover the right thing, you know?”

Kate’s eyes slid over to her aunt. “Yep.”

“You’ll find it, too. The other job just wasn’t the right fit. It wasn’t your passion. Otherwise you wouldn’t have… you know.”

Kate changed the subject. “Have you met my boss yet? He said he was coming in Wednesday.”

“No.” Louise frowned and gripped the steering wheel. “Actually, he hasn’t come down into to town much at all. My friends think he must be like his mother.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, reclusive. Anyway, I guess Roberta saw him at the general store on Thursday, but that’s about all.”

“Maybe he’s busy with the house. It’s only been a few days.”

“Probably,” Louise allowed. Then, realizing she sounded negative, she ratcheted her voice up. “Not that I think there’s anything wrong with him! I’m sure he’s perfectly nice. His father basically raised him. So you shouldn’t worry about… you know. Anything from his mother. I would never have set you up with a job with someone who I thought was… odd.”

“He didn’t seem odd on the phone.”

“Although, to be honest, I don’t really understand why he couldn’t advertise on his own,” Louise said, ignoring the fact that she had been the one to foist Kate’s résumé on Theo Brand’s cleaning woman. “That seems a little suspicious, don’t you think?”

“I think he didn’t want a lot of journalists descending on him. The collection must be really valuable.”

“I hope Callaluma sees some of that money,” Louise said. “I mean, we’ve been the ones keeping tabs on the house, all these years. Anyone could have broken in.”

Kate was having a hard time following Louise’s pinging around. She pressed her palms between her knees and yawned. “I’m sure he appreciates that.”

“Oh, here!” The car swerved, then corrected. “Here’s where it gets really good.”

She meant the view. On the other side of the flimsy guardrail, the ocean silvered and coruscated beneath a white evening sky. Gulls stretched their wings and dove towards jurassic cliffs, dark tumbles of rock, long stripes of sand. An impression of limitlessness rocked Kate from her head to her fingers. It was not an entirely pleasant feeling. Once, she might have looked at that unbounded sea and seen possibility. Now she saw a heaving beast—billions of tons of water ready to subsume you. You wouldn’t stand a chance against its roar.

 

 

There was no sign alerting Kate that they had arrived in Callaluma. Kate only knew they were in a town because the speed limit dropped to 30. Several abandoned-looking nurseries and ceramics shops erupted from the side of the road, signaling a form of civilization. Then they were taking another left, then a right, and Louise pulled into a driveway, which Kate supposed meant they had reached their destination.

Louise and Frank’s house was a sweet bungalow on the kind of street where residents were engaged in an unending, unspoken battle over whose garden was the most picturesque. Louise and Frank were noncompetitive in this contest: their dog Olive had uprooted most of their poppies, and the rose bushes had withered under constant streams of dog urine. But their house was painted a powdery blue, the windows were hung with chintz fabric, and Louise seemed generally prepared for the possibility that a reporter from Better Homes and Gardens might descend at any moment to photograph her kitchen for a September spread on “California Cottage Living.”

“Oh, man,” Frank kept saying as he wrestled Kate’s suitcase out of the car. He was a short, balding man with wraparound sunglasses pushed up on his head. Kate had always liked Frank. He was preternaturally inoffensive. “Oh, man, I can’t believe you’re here!”

Over a dinner of steak and salad, he and Louise quizzed Kate about her flight, her family, her romantic life, the weather in New York, the last movie she had seen, her favorite ice cream flavor, the warranty on her suitcase, her daily vitamins—everything except her getting fired. The absence was too noticeable to be accidental. Kate suspected that her mother had told them not to talk about it.

As Louise cleaned up the plates (“you need to rest,” she said to Kate, too solicitously), Frank showed Kate to the spare bedroom. It had floral wallpaper and tan carpet, and a wide window that looked out over the front yard. Half-finished quilts were draped across an armchair; a completed one, with a pattern of six-pointed stars, covered a narrow daybed.

“Not bad, right?” Frank asked, nervously.

“Not bad,” Kate agreed. That seemed insufficient, so she added a smile. “Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.”

Frank waved this aside. “You’re family!”

He left, and Kate flipped her suitcase onto the floor and began unpacking. Twelve shirts, three pairs of pants, six dresses. A few books, a box of chocolates she had forgotten to give Frank and Louise. A hair straightener, her electric toothbrush. Kate had never been one to accumulate things, and living in New York had pared her belongings down to the essentials, but even she was a little astounded at the paucity of it all. Almost everything she owned was still back in Danbury; who knew when she would have a place to put it all, how long it would be before she ripped the packing tape off those boxes.

Kate heard herself make a sudden, pained noise, like an animal caught in a trap. Her chest went tight and her eyes got hot. She set down her toiletries bag and crawled up onto the bed. Of course it would hit. All day she had felt distanced from her body, from her own mind; she had told herself the shock was coming.

“Kate?” Louise called, through the closed door. “I put your washcloth and towel in the bathroom. They’re the pink ones.”

Kate tried to make her voice sound normal. “Thanks!”

She ran her hands over her face. Her cheeks were wet. Her breathing was loud, too loud, as if her lungs were chasing her down. She reached over to crank the window open. The air was colder than she expected, and salty, too, the kind of air that works its way into your fingers and nose, never lets your socks dry out. The click of a dog’s nails on asphalt as someone walked past the house; the steady call of the wind; the plucked, rattling sound of cicadas strumming the air.

 

 

The previous night, Kate had been at a birthday party in Bushwick. No one she knew: her best friend’s girlfriend’s roommate, turning thirty-three. Kate was staying with Natasha that night and Natasha was obligated to go so Kate went, too. Natasha had said she would ditch the party to throw Kate a going-away dinner, but Kate didn’t want that attention, not in this context.

The host lived in a trendy loft with high ceilings and, shockingly, central air; the kind of place Kate had envisioned herself living when she was in college and dreaming of the much-discussed “real world.” The guests discreetly passed around medical-grade marijuana and discussed politics. The windows were all pushed up to let out the smoke. Everyone seemed to be treating Kate tactfully, but that must have been in her imagination. She had only met a handful of them before. 

Around midnight—long after Kate should have left, given her early flight—the party had hit its tipping point, the playlist shifting from indie electronic to nostalgia pop, the alcohol from terroir wine to PBR. Kate stood by an open window and studied the skyline. A sea of flat roofs stained with bird shit swelled out into the black snake of the East River. Beyond lay the tiered glow of the Williamsburg Bridge, the starry needles of Manhattan. The liquor store sign fizzing neon on the opposite corner. The smell of plantains and jerk chicken rising from the late-night Jamaican place down below.

Natasha found Kate there, watching a helicopter whir half a mile off, thump-thump-thump. Spotlight hunting its prey. Natasha tapped a cold can against Kate’s shoulder: a new beer.

“I thought about it,” Natasha said, dragging her braids forward over one shoulder, “and I decided you probably shouldn’t leave.”

Kate smiled. “You already rented my room.”

“I’ll kick the new guy out.”

“No way. You told me he volunteered to clean the bathroom last weekend. You can’t throw that away.”

Natasha sighed. “At least I can come visit you. I’ll stay with you in one of those pink Victorian mansions and watch you rule the San Fran art circuit.”

“Your vision of my life is… flattering.”

“Just wait. After you find who killed her, you’re going to be so famous. You can write a book.”

A few days earlier, Natasha had watched some made-for-TV special about Miranda Brand, every detail of which she had reported to Kate by text. Natasha was especially interested in the conspiracy theory that Miranda’s death, which had taken two weeks to be ruled a suicide, was actually murder. She was convinced that Kate was going to prove this theory over the summer. Kate had secretly entertained a similar fantasy, but hearing Natasha say it aloud made the idea feel stupid.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Kate said.

“You never know.” Natasha leaned her forehead briefly on Kate’s shoulder. “Ugh. I’m going to miss you.”

“I’ll miss you, too.”

It was true and not true. Kate felt like she had been wearing a mask for years, and suddenly the elastic had snapped, and now she couldn’t hold it in place. She would miss Natasha herself, infinitely. She would not miss the embarrassment she felt when Natasha looked at her. The shame of having been seen at her worst.

“I think California’s going to be good for you,” Natasha said. “A good change.”

Kate was saved from responding when two arms wrapped around Natasha from behind: Natasha’s girlfriend, Angela, reclaiming her.

“You have to dance with me,” Angela said, sweatily. “It’s Flashdance. Natasha! It’s Flashdance.”

“In a sec.” Natasha tipped her head towards Kate.

“Hi, Kate!” Angela peered glassily over Natasha’s shoulder. She had already greeted Kate six times that night, each time as if she had only just noticed her.

“Hi, Angela,” Kate said, gamely.

“You should dance too!”

“No, I’m going to hang here, I think. But you go ahead.” She smiled sincerely and tipped her beer toward the dance floor. Natasha put up her hands and Angela tugged Natasha away, and they disappeared into the joyous crowd.

Kate leaned further over the rail, gazed down eight stories to the sidewalk below. Cracked, dirty, a Styrofoam takeout container discarded on the pavement and smashed underfoot. Two floors down, someone’s hand flashed in and out of view as they gestured over the rail, like a minnow thumbing through the silt. She had a sudden image of her body splayed out against the pavement, head twisted ferociously to the side. The blood seeping outwards, through the cracks in the concrete, down to the soil below.

 

 

Now, tucked in the narrow daybed on the other side of the country, it took Kate hours to fall asleep. Fingers knotted around Louise’s quilt, breath shallow. The clutch of wanting in her chest, like her heart was a wild horse with nowhere to run.

 

MIRANDA

Series 16, Lynn Toby-Jarrett Papers

Sub-series 1, Correspondence with Miranda Brand

July 30, 1993

Lynn —

I was in the darkroom today and I thought of you. I’m not sure why. Something about a particular shadow, maybe. The arc of a line. The chemicals brought you to the surface, and suddenly you were there with me, the red light strobing your face, or my memory of your face, which is much less pure.

You have been so much to me. A best friend, a soulmate, a help. Sometimes I think I was never as happy as those days in college when we would hang our arms around each other’s necks and breathe in the dense city autumn, the promise of love before winter. Our futures like ripe, soft fruits.

Logically I know I was happy other times, too, but all those other joys are corrupted now. Splashed and stained by what came after. That early happiness, our happiness, that stayed safe. That is intact and shining in my mind.

 

Do you remember when we were lying awake that night in February? Window open because our room was so overheated. The frat guys running around naked in the quad for some stupid reason. The whine of sirens in the distance.

And you said, Miranda, what’s your deepest fear?

And I said, Nothing.

And you said, No, really.

And I said, Really. Nothing.

I was telling the truth.

I didn’t know fear then. I didn’t know how it could shape you. Make you do things you didn’t want to do. I didn’t know how it lives in you like dye, like a spill that will never come out. How it works its way through you until your blood is made of fear, until it is fear that pushes oxygen through your veins, fear that pumps your heart, open and shut, open and shut.

I know now, though.

I know what my answer would be.

And I am afraid.

 

Miranda

 

Chapter 2

KATE

It all started the summer Kate was twenty-three, living in a five-bedroom in Windsor Terrace and working at an admittedly unimpressive private museum in Park Slope. The museum had an eccentric collection of opera costumes and faded daguerreotypes; the sole curator wore a bowtie every day. There was a middle-aged man who came every Tuesday and, if she was upstairs, asked her vaguely inappropriate questions about nineteenth-century contraceptives. There was a mother from the neighborhood who brought her baby to the portrait gallery and rocked her stroller back and forth as she gazed at the paintings. There were endless annoying school groups. Kate liked the place fine, and planned to stay there for the foreseeable future, until the day a college friend emailed her an announcement for a job at the Times

Assistant Copyeditor, competitive salary + benefits, B.A. or equivalent required, research experience preferred.

Kate had applied, of course. How could she not? She had been reading the newspaper since she was nine. She remembered her braids dragging in her cereal milk as she hunted through the dictionary for a definition of some grown-up word like aesthete or decriminalize. Only later did she learn that businesses preyed on kind of symbolic weight, leveraging your memories to justify paying you thirty-five thousand a year with no dental. When she got the job, it didn’t occur to her to negotiate.

It turned out she was a good copyeditor. She found fixing grammar and punctuation oddly soothing, and the fact-checking taught her a little about everything. Five, six years later, she still liked it just fine. The problem was, you weren’t supposed to like your job just fine. This was a world of internships and networking and call-you-about-this and lateral movement. Move jobs every two years, three if you’re on a project, climb the ladder, test it out, do what you love. Or what pays best. Whatever you do, don’t stand still.

Somewhere in those seven years, the ground beneath her feet began to tremble. One summer she had two weddings, then three, then five, like Fibonacci himself was penning the invites. Her friends got promoted, moved in with their partners, broke up and moved out again, took up expensive hobbies. It was no longer fine to ask for the cheapest bottle of wine. Kate went to dinners made up of four couples and her. Roommates cycled in and out, getting engaged, getting transferred, getting tired of the city’s pace. People finished law school, med school, got real jobs. Quit those jobs to go join the circus or whatever. If people didn’t have money, they had passion; if they didn’t have passion, they had money.

All Kate had was placid enjoyment, and even that was under threat. Copyediting was dying. Facts were dying. You couldn’t open Facebook without seeing an op-ed about how this was the “post-truth” era. Politicians lied baldly on Twitter and millions accepted it as gospel. No one trusted “the mainstream media,” whatever that meant, but they absorbed information from billboards, television ads, a friend’s timeline. On social media, people corrected Washington Post stories with absurd headlines from sites with names like The Daily Piss. Wikipedia counted as reasonable verification. If someone made a mistake, it was forgotten the next day, when a new bucket of chum was dropped into the water. Fact-checkers were passé.

Her bosses railed against the state of affairs, but behind closed doors they started talking about reorganization. They said one thing and did another and still they thought—really believed—that they were being consistent. “Post-truth,” everyone said—that wasn’t the problem. Really the problem was that everyone wanted the truth and no one knew how to get it. No one wanted to pay the people who did. People thought the truth should be free, when really the truth was the most expensive thing of all. 

Kate’s world narrowed. Her senses dulled. The conversations with her sources became stilted. She started to dread going into work, not just the usual Sunday-night resignation, but an actual dread, bone-deep, paralyzing. But the weekends were also terrible. At first, the little things annoyed her: having to pretend to be excited about a new cocktail bar she couldn’t afford, having to take the subway an hour to see a friend she barely knew. Then it got bigger. Panic when she saw her roommates, panic when she had to go to the grocery store. Calling sources at work, nosing into a story, fixing a writer’s mistake—it all required an energy she no longer had.

Tomorrow I’ll figure it out, she told herself, but then tomorrow came and it was just another today, too immediate to touch. It was as if she was tied to a conveyor belt, moving inexorably towards a grinder that would chew her up, and although she could see the clashing jaws of the grinder, the orange sparks and the grating metal, she could not get off the belt. She could not find the button to make it stop.

One chilly morning, ice blossomed on her room’s single window, fringing a circle of heat where the radiator blew against it. Dishes clinked and doors slammed as her roommates got ready. There was a shout from the kitchen. Natasha had laid a trap for the small, intrepid mouse who had taken up residence in their walls, and from the sound of it, he had finally been caught, the wire snapping his fluid bones to mush. The kitchen rustled now with the hunt for a plastic bag. Underground, Kate’s regular subway train rattled past, filled with commuters wrapped in sweaty scarves and bleary light. Across the river, work started without her.

And Kate didn’t get up. She didn’t move. She just lay there. She just stayed.

 

For the next few weeks, she lived in a numb, exhausted state that later, once she got better, would disgust and frighten her. Waking up often felt physically impossible. It took twenty minutes of self-encouragement just to drag herself to the bathroom to pee. Afterwards, she’d collapse back into bed and sleep for hours. Her hair started falling out. Tangled clumps clogging the shower drain, when she remembered to shower. She lost ten pounds, then gained twenty. She told herself, You have it so good, you have everything, because she did, didn’t she? Or she would have had it, if she had been smarter, if she had been less complacent? Her bed felt safer than anything outside, so she didn’t leave it.

The world was there—she could see it—but it was hidden behind a thin haze, and as hard as she tried (when she could try), she could not quite seem to reach it. On the few occasions she went outside, the city tumbled and churned around her, but she was apart, she could not be touched.

It was Natasha who said, gently, “I think you’re depressed.”

Kate thought maybe she was right. But depression seemed like something you had to earn. Something you had to have a good reason for. She didn’t have a good reason.

Human resources tried to help her. She thought. Maybe not. She didn’t remember. She remembered getting the call. The HR representative’s flat voice. She had failed to fulfill her contract, the rep said apologetically. There was an absenteeism policy. She should be getting a severance deposit into her account within two weeks.

If Kate had been in her right mind, she would have requested medical leave. But she wasn’t in her right mind. So she thanked him and apologized and hung up. Sometimes it was so easy to sound normal. She turned over and watched the light in the window change, bit by bit, until at last it was dark.

 

 

Finally, Natasha called Kate’s mother. She found the number on the emergency contacts sheet taped inside the kitchen cabinet. Kate’s mother swept in from Connecticut and hauled her daughter out of bed. She made breakfast, packed a suitcase, and had Kate out of the door in a quarter hour. It was, all in all, quite impressive, and Kate wondered idly whether there were any reality shows that could reward her mother’s efficiency. Save your depressed child in half an hour or less! the segment could be called. Kate’s mother would win handily, without so much as disturbing her hair, though she would lose points for forgetting to pack any underwear for her daughter.

Kate often felt she was lucky that her sister had fucked up, or been fucked up, first. It had given her parents a familiar vocabulary, a determination to see this one through. She was their do-over. They hadn’t had a kid living at home since Kate left for college fourteen years earlier, but they cleared out their spare room and took it upon themselves to fix their daughter. They arranged a series of appointments: a psychiatrist, a therapist, even a Reiki healer. To Kate’s great shame and gratitude, they paid for these visits. Kate had never earned enough to be able to save much, and getting better was expensive.

She was lucky, too, that the first antidepressants worked. Slowly, Kate began to feel like herself again. She was able to get up at the same time every morning, go for a run, start applying for jobs.

Her mother started emailing Kate’s resumé out to all their relatives. Just in case, she had said brightly. Kate started fielding well-meaning calls from aunts and uncles and cousins who obviously had not so much as opened the attached document.

Louise had been especially enthusiastic about the job hunt. Kate barely knew Louise; they had always lived on opposite coasts. Louise was a few years younger than Kate’s mother and had always been a little brash, a little too eager to intervene. Their family lore was replete with stories—the time in high school when Louise dumped Marcy’s boyfriend, against Marcy’s will; the time she lectured a recovering alcoholic about the importance of letting loose once in a while. One time she had been babysitting Kate and had taken her to the emergency room for what she thought was a fatal rash and turned out to be a mild sunburn Kate had gotten the previous day. Their family had a refrain: “Louise means well.”

Before she retired, Louise had been a lab manager for a famous psychologist studying eating disorders. Her main tasks were filing grants and organizing the experiments schedule. She also often found herself locked in a bathroom stall, daubing half-digested protein shake off sixteen-year-old girls’ faces and patting their shoulders as they apologized tearily for their relapses. A side effect of this work was a tendency to veer wildly between two extremes, political correctness on the one hand and casual, inadvertent cruelty on the other.

“You need to think about what you want,” the therapist told Kate. “What you want, not what everyone else wants from you.”

At that point, Kate had been living at her parents’ house for almost three months. An entire season devoted to recovering from an illness that, no matter how often the therapist told her otherwise, didn’t really seem like an illness at all. Sometimes she was able to conjure sympathy for herself, but more often she distracted herself from the problem altogether by throwing herself into a series of tasks: organizing her parents’ basement, repainting the porch, using her dubious cooking skills to make soup at the homeless shelter, watching all seven seasons of The Sopranos. Her energy had come back, but without any outlet, and now she fizzed and sparked like an unsoldered wire.

“Okay,” Kate said, although the idea of wanting was foreign to her. She thought she might never want anything again. If she did, it would only be this directionless surge, a desire without object. Energy streaming out into the void.

The next week, Theo Brand called.

 

 

MIRANDA

Series 3, Miranda Brand correspondence

Sub-series 3, Hal Eggers (incl. 39 photocopies of letters from MB, from HE private collection) 

Dear Hal,

Thanks so much for the invitation to write a “confessional.” I will have to respectfully decline.

Here’s why, you fucking tool.

First of all, I don’t think you know what confessional means. You want something juicy, rich, spilling, like biting into a fig. But confessions aren’t sexy. Confessions are hernias. An organ pushing through an opening. Yourself taking advantage of your own weakness. Hacking up your body. Confessions are wet and bulging things that were never meant to be exposed to sun.

You say the fans “want it,” but no one wants that part of anyone. Not even of themselves. All the fans want are facts and charming stories, enough to make them feel they own me. Like I’m a stock option. Like I’m publicly held.

 

By the way, in case you forgot, this isn’t the first time you’ve asked me to write about myself. Let me just list some of the past occurrences for you, in case you’ve forgotten in the heady rush of dollar signs. You wanted me to write about motherhood, marriage, losing my virginity—anything that has anything to do with my vagina. People ask you to justify being a feminist artist and once they ask you don’t even have to do it, they’ve already done all the work for you.

You wanted me to write about adolescence, even though anyone who has gone through adolescence would never suggest this.

You wanted me to write about how I got famous so fast. Implying, you, really?

You wanted me to write about nature. Yeah, nature. Honestly, I don’t know if this comes out of Emerson, like me being a recluse means I’ve become one with the wilderness. Or maybe you think that because I’m a woman, I have some special, magical bond with the earth, and spend all my time digging little graves for my tampons. Either way, it’s stupid.

You wanted me to write about whether my moment has faded. Whether I’m doomed to obscurity.

You wanted me to write about Nangussett.

 

Don’t bother asking anymore. I’ll give you the photographs.

You take care of the rest.

 

Yours truly,

your money bank,

Miranda

*

Miranda sweetheart,

Of course I don’t want you to feel that I’m using you — I thought the confessional would be a good experience to tell your STORY!!

Also, the confessional genre is very popular. Have you read Sylvia Plath? People love reading the truth about their favorite authors and artists.  I think you are underestimating how much people love you as a public figure! Imagine if you were a public public figure. It wouldn’t be that much of a change from your life now, just a few openings and maybe some book signings, we can have them in SF.

Meanwhile, I have a buyer interested in purchasing a complete set of Bottle Girls, but have no more prints of #4 available after last one sold. We’ve only sold 7 out of print run of 10 so I think you must have some more at your place. Can you check?

 

Hal

*

Series 1, Miranda Brand notebooks

Sub-series 2, Autobiographical notebook (c. 1992)

Hal asked me again if I would write some essay or whatever for his collection. Behind the scenes, about my life, etc. I can just imagine him doing power lunches, hyping me:

“She has a really interesting life, did you know she was hospitalized for psychosis? Postpartum, yeah. No, she didn’t actually hurt the kid. Disappeared off the scene afterwards, just a few talks here and there. Very Salinger. But she’s a genius, do you know I sold one of her prints for $16,000 last year? No shit. She’s never written anything before publicly, no, but I can convince her, we’re close, I’ll talk her into it.”

All while he chews on his steak, rare like he likes it, the gaps in his teeth filling with bloody juice.

Obviously I said no.

 

But I do want to write. Not for Hal, but I want to write.

The thing is, my memory flickers. Little dark holes in the reels of my life. Or, no, not holes: that’s the worst part: one thing slides right into the other, so if anything were missing, I would never even know. 

I haven’t told Jake outright, but he’s guessed. Sometimes he tells me something I did and I don’t remember it.

 It can be little things—I’ll wake up one day to box up photos and see that I boxed them all yesterday, or I’ll go searching for a case of Diet Coke I just bought only to discover that it’s folded up in the recycling with all twenty-four cans crushed somewhere below it. How did I drink twenty-four cans without remembering?

You start wondering—what else have I forgotten? Whole months or even years of my life? It’s true that when I think about certain years, there are discontinuities, especially since we moved to Callaluma. Pieces of the story that don’t align. I go back over the journal I started after I had Theo and I try to put it all in order in my head. This time when I got Hal’s letter about the collection, I thought maybe I should make something like that for the years before Theo. Those first 24 years. Then I’ll have it for myself, at least, in case I ever forget.

 

Never mind this justification. I want to write for the same reason anyone wants to write. Because they believe they are special.

 

The only difference is that I really am.