Danusha Goskas Save Send Delete, which has earned many glowing reviews at Amazon.com, is half memoir, half epistolary novel, and (with apologies to math and logic) half philosophical debate. We read a series of emails, sent and unsent, from a young American college teacher named Mira to a famous British aristocrat and scholar, Lord Randolph Court-Wright. At first Mira intends nothing but a brisk and powerfully reasoned rebuttal to the atheism which he has been pushing in recent writings and media appearances. But as the correspondence continues (much to Miras surprise), it becomes a friendship and then a love affair of sorts, without ever ceasing to be a fiercely high-minded contest of ideas. Since Goska alerts us that the story is true and that she is Mira, the tale floats somewhat teasingly at the border between fiction and nonfiction.
In the excerpt below, Mira offers an argument based in some of the most difficult times of her own life. During her first semester in graduate school (as she has previously told "Rand") she was brutally assaulted, suffering injuries that resulted in several years of intermittent paralysis and debilitating nausea. But her story took an opposite turn when pro bono surgery by Dr. Richard Miyamoto "healed me and restored me to life." In the aftermath, writes Goska / Mira, "I had all the big questions: why did I have to suffer so much? Doesn't human suffering prove that there is no God?" And then she (or someone) sent the email that would become the book that you, gentle reader, are now and hereby urgently urged to buy.
Wednesday 10:55 a.m.
You ask me to justify my belief in God in a world of suffering, but not to justify my belief in God in a world of pleasure. Before-and-after crime-scene snapshots often attest that pleasure, rather than suffering, was the culprit, the thief in the night, the worm in the apple.
Each sufferer has an idea in his head of who he would be if he were not suffering: "I would be a fulfilled mother if my child had not died"; "I would be an accomplished athlete if my legs had not been amputated"; "If I were a rich man, I'd build a big, tall house with a fine tin roof and real wooden floors below."
In Bloomington, I had a doppelganger, a secret twin, an imaginary non-suffering self. My ideal, non-suffering self was healthy, of course. She was a successful scholar who had published important works in her field. She had lots of lovers with whom she had lots of fun. She had a kitchen with a vast butcher block table, Sabatier carbon steel knives, the kind of oven that does what a baker wants it to do and never scorches your fingertips as you struggle to work around its ill-fitting racks and seesawing thermometer, and a graduated selection of copper-bottom pots, from one small enough to melt two ounces of chocolate to one large enough to heat water for a bath. My doppelganger had a dog — an old-fashioned, snowy-day, fur-forever dog. She lived in an Arts-and-Crafts bungalow, on an acre of land, and wowed the adoring crowds at her many speaking engagements. A funny thing happened around the time that I finalized this fantasy. I met her. Only in my case, it was a he.
I was homeless. I was using up hours every day trying to organize food and a horizontal surface for sleep. Professor Dante needed a dog sitter. I began selling myself over the phone. "I'm a non-smoking, Bohunk spinster who is about to finish a PhD. I love dogs": who wouldn't want that woman sitting his house? Dante demanded references. No problem — my worst enemy would testify that I could clean a house in my sleep, and that I can get a dog to purr. Dante told me he'd have to check my references. He called back. "You really do love dogs, and you are very clean!" he gushed, awestruck. To this day I wonder what blessed soul supplied him with that recommendation. "I'd love it if you could house-sit for me," he said.
"I'll be able to take a bath!" was all I could think.
When Professor Dante and I met, we talked, non-stop, for two hours. We laughed. We cried. We had so much in common. We knew some of the same people back East. My old roommate worked with his mother. Dante had gone to the same school as an old boyfriend, blocks from my old apartment. We were both children of immigrants. His CD collection looked like the CD collection I would amass if I had money to buy CDs. The difference between us, of course, wide as the river Styx, was that he was a huge success, and I a complete failure.
Dante was at that stage of a world-class academic's career where every time he walked into a room, a greeting committee would intercept him with a bouquet of rosebuds and baby's breath and a chilled magnum of champagne. He was always going important places, meeting important people, and doing important things. I was to look after his house while he was away. He told me to sleep in his bed. I had a total body orgasm the first night. I rolled my body around on his high-thread-count sheets, and did not crash to the floor, as I so often did when I slept on chairs in the public library. His property included a black walnut tree, an English walnut tree, and a grove of apples. I wanted to write poems about his yard. I could not wait to bake a German chocolate cake in his oven. I could not wait to walk his dog a St. Bernard!!! I could not wait to swing in his hammock, do a load of wash in his laundry room, mow his lawn, pull his weeds, dust the frames around photographic evidence of his meetings with the high and the mighty. Dante was the non-suffering Mira.
There are many unexpected routes to contact with another human being. A choked kind of intimacy can occur between a house-sitter and her client. My mother cleaned houses. My grandmother cleaned houses. I always worked to maintain discreet distance between myself and my employer, as did my mother and my grandmother before me. It was a question of propriety. And, yet, I couldn't help but continuously "meet" Dante, in, for example, the food in his refrigerator Styrofoam containers of high-toned leftovers from fancy restaurants — sushi, prosciutto, tapas and half-drunk bottles of wine. No fresh fruits, no fresh vegetables, no whole grains, no food at all that it would take more than five minutes in a microwave to reheat: tsk-tsk.
The affairs limned themselves in the form of haggard and enraged women arriving at Dante's door at all hours, pounding on that portal, and hurling consumer items at me at high velocity. One threw an espresso machine, another, a hand-held massager — heavy personal possessions Dante had left at their domiciles. I had to dodge quickly. The affairs unraveled in the Bloomington Farmer's Market, where grad students pulled me aside into the hay and reported, sotto voce, "So, you're house-sitting for Dante. Has he tried to fuck you yet? Don't believe his eyes. He's not a good looking guy; it's the eyes. They pretend interest. It's all pretense. Believe me. Ask my housemate Sarah. She was stupid enough to fall for it. She was his student, get it? His student. He started seducing her before he handed out the syllabus that first day of class. And her whole career is hanging in the balance on how he assesses her work, right? Well, guess what. He assessed her first between the sheets."
The affairs peeked out at me, like a kitten's eyes from under a dresser, in Dante's asides about himself. This was not a man celebrating his status as a great lover or even just an average player. "Well, I can't do anything right, apparently. Just ask any of my exes," he whimpered, after getting Anselm, his St. Bernard, entangled in the leash when handing him off to me. "So, you are single? A blessed state. Stay single. That is best," he would pronounce, shaking his head. "Anselm," he told me, "has a very high IQ. He's the smartest dog on the block. He's also the loneliest. His intellect interferes with his ability to achieve intimacy." Dante gazed into my eyes after that last comment. I didn't know if he wanted me to nod heavily, burst out laughing, clutch his head to my bosom, or slap my hand on his crotch. Good Catholic Bohunk girl that I am, I froze, remained poker-faced, and, later, got the line down in my diary. Paraphernalia left visible on the sink-top in a bathroom he knew we shared were the most explicit: condoms, K-Y Jelly, hair dye, Viagra, anti-dark circle under-eye cream, anti-bag under-eye cream, anti-depressants.
I dutifully took phone messages about missed professional opportunities and missed financial boats. I noted his asides about how much easier life would be if he could just give it all up, adopt a life of poverty and obedience, and enter a monastery. Failing that, he said, he'd like to go back to his old Catholic grammar school and be the school janitor, the old deaf guy, who, uncomplaining, did all the nuns' chores and never missed daily mass.
This shadowy, unsought intimacy grew to vex me. The sense of Dante that began to bleed through me was of a man in pain. From my perspective, Professor Dante was my non-suffering doppelganger. From his perspective, he was one of the wretched of the earth. He didn't appreciate his house as a shelter from the cold; he bemoaned it as a burden that demanded his time in constant, handyman fix-ups. He didn't celebrate his fame as a blessed channel for his ideas to the wider world; he condemned academic celebrity as a pestilence. He didn't embrace his lovers as teammates in the greatest game; he cringed from them as if they were piranhas nibbling away at his peachy flesh. If only he could just be a janitor. I wanted to do something to assuage his pain, which was now reflected in me, but I couldn't. I couldn't because any intimacy I was experiencing was unilateral. I was in Dante's house; he was not in mine. I don't think he was even aware that when I wasn't house-sitting for him, I was homeless.
I guess I never took his pain as seriously as it warranted until the suicide attempt. This man who had everything that my non-suffering doppelganger wanted, wanted to die, or at least he wanted to scar himself for life, and cause his circle of lovers, students, colleagues and admirers crushing worry, or perhaps merely disgust. Failing that, Dante wanted what I had in abundance: poverty, obscurity, labor, isolation, and prayer.
I had no context for my intense, but fleeting, impressions of Dante. I never interacted with him, or even observed him, in a room with other people in it. I got the impression, though, that he was not a nice guy. Nice teachers get it that having sex with students is nasty. Nice guys don't repeatedly inspire former girlfriends to throw heavy appliances at house-sitters.
What made Dante such an unhappy asshole? Suffering? In that glorious house, on that Eden-like property, with all those fans tossing their panties at him? I think that getting just about everything a scholar could possibly want is what drove Dante to attempt suicide. When people worship you, it is easy to mistreat them. When you are surrounded by people you've mistreated, who cannot openly retaliate, you are surrounded by bitterness and resentment waiting for their opening to make their vengeful move. When life holds nothing back and throws itself at you in all its flavors, your mechanism for registering joy fatigues. Tonguing every surface, your burned-out tongue tastes nothing.
I spent my time in Bloomington suffering, and I ended up being a person I am proud to be, a person I like, one with no regrets. If I had not suffered there, if I had gotten everything I wanted, I think I would have ended up exactly like Dante. His traps had my name all over them. Like him, I would convince myself that I was a special, charming, Bohemian genius to whom the normal rules of sexual decency did not apply; I would whine about the burdens of my fame till my tears blinded me to suffering as proximate as my house-sitter's homelessness. Though "an author of fierce compassion" (New York Times Book Review) I would not feel the pain of the students I slept with, and those I did not sleep with. Those traps would target my ego, intellect, libido, and self-pity as precisely as they suited Dante, as snugly as a shell suits its snail. I, too, would have been warped, not by pain, but by pleasure, a pleasure too addictive to push from my lips. Would I have enjoyed the pleasure to which I was addicted? All of that comfort would have stood between me and the awareness necessary to have recognized and enjoyed all of that comfort.
There is a trompe l'oeil feature to our desire to live in a world without suffering. The closer we get to the most precise non-suffering world we can imagine, the further it retreats. In the end, the non-suffering world, rather than solidifying into a concrete reality that mirrors our definition, disappears. All along, it had been an optical illusion. The bumper is always in front of the car.
save SEND delete
© 2011 Danusha Goska
Author Danusha Goska is a prolific writer of considerable talent, whose work has appeared in TheScreamOnline many times over the years. Consult the Talent Index and her website for more of her writings. Please click the book cover to purchase directly from Amazon.com.