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Authors: Tiffanie DeBartolo

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BOOK: God-Shaped Hole
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All Jacob needed was a place to write. I gave him the spare bedroom in our apartment, and you would have thought he’d been crowned lord and master of the world, he was so happy. He’d just sold a story to a big travel magazine, loosely based on the time he spent in Costa Rica, and with the money he made on that he was able to retire from the
, at least for a couple months, and work on his book full-time. I was at my studio during the day so he had the place to himself.

When Jacob was working, he had the dedication of a trained monkey. I would leave the house around nine and he’d already be at his computer. He kept his right elbow on his desk and his head in his hand, trance-like, unless he was typing. He typed like a monkey, too. When he was on a roll, it sounded like he was shelling out a thousand words a minute. I expected to see nothing but jumbled letters when I looked at the screen after one of his typing marathons, but I always found coherent sentences. He was the real deal.

When I came home, at six o’clock or so, he’d still be sitting there, either letting it pour like mad, or in fierce combat, desperately battling with wherever his words came from, to spit out something he deemed worthy. His hair would be even messier than normal, and there would be a random bowl, a browning apple core, or a bag of potato chips on his desk. That was the only evidence I had that he’d moved all day. Sometimes he’d stay like that late into the night, forgetting to eat, to change his clothes, or to shower. I felt like I actually spent less time with him once he moved in, but I could live with the fact that I didn’t see him all day long, or barely speak a word to him. I knew he was there and that’s what counted. For such a small human, Jacob’s presence filled a hell of a lot of space.

Occasionally, Jacob left the house when he was done working. He’d wake me up and ask me if I wanted to steal around town with him.

“I need some fucking air,” he’d say.

Sometimes I went, other times I just let him wind down by himself. If he felt like company and I was too tired, he’d call Pete. Pete was always good for a late-night drink and a game of pool. But Jacob’s favorite place was the beach. More often than not, he came back wet, although he claimed he never actually planned on going in the water, he would just find himself there and not be able to help it.

A couple months after we’d been living together, I was lying on the couch, captivated by a
marathon on Nick-at-Nite, when Jacob came out of the office. It was past midnight and he’d been working all day. I heard him take a quick shower, then he moseyed into the living room. His eyes were bloodshot, his face was vacant. He looked like a rag that had been submerged in water and wrung out until every drop of liquid had been drained from its fabric.

“Are you okay?” I said.

He rubbed his face and sighed. “Nine hours, and all I have to show for it are three lousy fucking pages of shit.”

He disappeared into the kitchen. I heard him open a few jars and slam a few drawers. Five minutes later he came back with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bottle of beer. After he ate, he lay down next to me. He buried his head in the curve of my neck and held me like his life depended on it. He smelled like soap and sweat and Skippy, and I could have died happy right there. I begged for us to be beamed up. A space-age Ascension. Heaven without the pain of passing on. God, if, by some slim chance, you actually exist, I thought, prove it to me by carrying us away because it can’t get any better than this.

I stroked Jacob’s hair while I watched George nag his neighbor, Helen. He was on her case about being married to a honky. It was the third episode I’d seen that night. I remember getting ready to comment out loud that Lenny Kravitz didn’t look anything like his mother when Jacob started mumbling. His eyes were closed. My eyes were on Weezie. She was telling George to shut up and leave Helen alone. George acted like he wore the pants in the family, but he knew better than to mess with Weezie.

“Trixie?” Jacob said.



“For what?”

“For understanding. For space. For not bitching at me because we haven’t left the house together in a week.”

I kissed the top of his head. “Don’t mention it.”

He repositioned his face up a little. Then he clung even tighter to me, opened his eyes, and outlined my profile with his finger. His lips barely touched my ear.

“I love you,” he whispered. He said it so quietly I wasn’t sure I was meant to hear it at all.

I wanted to say it back. Obviously, I felt it. I think I’d felt it since Day One. But I couldn’t say it. I didn’t want to jinx anything. I’d said “I love you” to boyfriends before, only I don’t think I ever really meant it. It rolled off my tongue too easily, too unaffected to have come from any real, subterranean emotional region. Everything was different with Jacob. But I was afraid that if I told him how I really felt, he would go away—and I didn’t mean leave—although that was part of it—I meant disappear. Vanish. Cease to exist. I hadn’t forgotten the prophecy of that damn fortune-teller who cursed me when I was twelve. Not that I believed her, but it was a good excuse to feed my wimpy, once-abandoned heart. If I recognized Jacob as The One, who knew what might happen to him.

“Here’s the thing,” Jacob continued,“I feel like we grew in the same womb or something. Like we’ve been connected from the beginning by blood and veins. Siamese soul lovers, if there could ever be such a thing.”

I looked down at him, wide-eyed and speechless.

“I know,” he said. “That’s weird as hell, I know.”

It was the coolest thing anyone had ever said to me.

I opened my mouth—I was going to try to get the words out, I really was, but Jacob put his hand over my lips.

“You don’t have to say anything. Just know how I feel,

He turned onto his side and watched the screen.

The Jeffersons
,” he said. “You know, Lenny Kravitz doesn’t look anything like his mother.”


Based on past experience, I held steadfast to the notion that mothers of my boyfriends gave me the willies. I assumed they were too judgmental, like when they looked at you they knew you were having sex with their kid, and that’s what went through their minds. They saw it. They saw their darling little boys, the ones they used to change diapers for, just pounding away on some idiotic girl who came along to steal their baby; hogging his penis, his time, and everything else. That had to make a mother a little leery. Or maybe it was just me. But when I finally met Joanna Grace, I got a completely different impression. We’d spoken over the phone a few times, and talking to her was like talking to someone my age. She used the word “cool” and didn’t sound like some hag trying to be hip. And I could tell she liked me even before she met me, just by her tone of voice. Jacob must have told her about some good character traits he thought I had, otherwise there would have been no reason for that.

Jacob and I drove to Pasadena to a neighborhood that was filled with tiny Arts and Craft–style homes. Joanna’s was painted the color of a canary. When we walked in, she hugged Jacob for a good thirty seconds, even though she’d just seen him a few days before. It was obvious that she adored the hell out of him. After getting a closer look at her, I surmised she’d had Jacob very young—there was no way she was a day over fifty. And they only vaguely resembled each other, Joanna and Jacob. Her complexion was much darker than his, her face rounder. She wore her hair in a bun on top of her head like a ballerina. As soon as Jacob introduced us, Joanna hugged me too, with real gusto, and gave me a kiss. My own mother never greeted me like that. Not once in my whole life.

Then again, I don’t think my mother ever really wanted kids, she just had nothing else to do. She tended to get pregnant every time my dad got a new girlfriend. She thought that would be some kind of lightning bolt to his dick, like it would make him come to his senses and love her or something. I guess after giving birth to three of his offspring, she finally figured out that was never going to happen. That’s when she began investing all her emotions in Gucci.

Joanna touched my cheek and told me I had beautiful skin. “Like you’ve never seen the sun,” she said.

She took my hand and led me into the kitchen, where she was making angel hair pasta, salad from spinach that she grew in her backyard, and a batch of cinnamon cookies still in the oven.

Throughout dinner, I quizzed her on Jacob. I wanted to know what he was like as a kid, and any other dirt she felt like digging up.

“Jacob was a daydreamer,” Joanna said. She showed me a picture of his little league team and asked if I could pick him out of the group. It was easy. Even as a ten-year-old he had that intense, Jacob gaze—as if his river ran deeper than the oblivious tykes he was sitting next to.

“Jacob used to lose things all the time,” Joanna said. “He was a selectively absent-minded young man. He could recite entire chapters from his favorite books in the middle of dinner, but ask him to stop at the market and grab a box of cereal on his way home from school, you could just forget about it.”

After dinner, Joanna burned lavender incense. She told me she’d named her son Jacob because she loved Bob Dylan. She’d met Jacob’s father at a Bob Dylan concert.

“And Bob named his son Jacob,” she said. “But I think he spells it with a

I wanted to ask Joanna more about Jacob’s father, since she brought him up, but I just wasn’t sure he was an appropriate topic of conversation. Whenever Jacob talked about the man, which was rarely, it was always with a dark pain in his eyes, like he’d just stepped from sunlight into shade. He tried to mask it, I could tell. And not for my sake either, for his own, so I tried not to torment him with questions. But later on, Joanna showed me a photo album and there he was. I thought it was an old picture of Jacob until Joanna pointed to it and said, “That’s Jacob’s father.”

His name was Thomas Doorley. And if Joanna had told me that she’d cut the man’s head off and sewn it onto Jacob’s neck, I would have believed her. It was almost eerie, the resemblance between father and son. They had the same eyes, the same hair, the same smile. Thomas couldn’t have been much older than twenty when the picture I saw was taken. In it, he was sitting on a grassy hillside with a cigarette between his fingers, wearing a denim shirt and a sweet grin on his face. He looked like a harmless little hippy poet, his head tilted to one side, just like Jacob tilted his when he was thinking about something serious.

I learned that Thomas Doorley was a writer—a published writer of three novels and one book of short stories who had enjoyed mediocre, if not somewhat cult-like success, in the seventies. He lived in Northern California, somewhere outside of San Francisco, but they hadn’t heard from him in a couple of decades. I pondered out loud why Jacob never told me his father was a writer.

“I don’t know, I guess I don’t really feel like I know enough about his life to talk about him.”

“Why don’t you use his last name?”

“Because I don’t want it. I don’t want anything from him, including his fucking name.”

When we got home from dinner, we ran into Greg in the lobby. I’d seen him a dozen times since Jacob moved in, but never when we were actually together. Greg looked stoned.

“Hi Bea. Hi Henry,” he said.

We made it into the elevator before we burst into laughter.

“You know, I’ve never read any of my father’s books,” Jacob confessed before we fell asleep that night.

“Would you mind if I read one?”

“Go ahead. There’s one on the shelf. I’ve just never opened it.” He cleared his throat and curled up around me. “Let me know if it’s any good.”


Jacob and I had a date at the Getty Center. I was supposed to meet him there at one o’clock to see a visiting exhibit that made him foam at the mouth. Some front-line war photographer named Robert Capa.

“The guy had an eye for truth,” Jacob said.

Capa was one of Jacob’s favorite photographers. Jacob, I’d noticed, had a lot of favorites: people, places, and things he was passionate about, that he knew everything about, that he inhaled like oxygen. He wasn’t one of those gray individuals. He either loved something, or his indifference bordered on autism. Jacob told me, with the utmost level of zeal, that Capa had been friends with Ernest Hemingway, and had died young after stepping on a landmine in Indochina.

“Legend has it, they found him with his camera still in his hands.”

To Jacob, that made him a hero.

Jacob was the only person I knew in Los Angeles who actually used the public transportation system. He’d taken the bus to the museum and made it there on time. I was late because I drove from my studio and forgot to make a parking reservation. In Los Angeles, cars, not people, need reservations to go to museums. I had to flirt with the attendant to get in. After a little batting of the eyes, he finally agreed to give me a space, only he made me wait half an hour. I guess he thought I was cute, but not

The Getty complex sat atop a hill, high above the city, a gigantic maze of pure white geometric shapes and sparkling panes of glass the size of city blocks. Once I parked, I had to take a slow-paced tram up to the cluster of buildings that housed the various museums. The train was just as white as everything else, and riding it felt like being on mass transit to heaven, a simile which became all the more apropos as we started up the track, because as we ascended, I actually thought I was looking at hell below me.

It wasn’t hell. It was the 405 freeway.

I saw Jacob as soon as I stepped off the train. He was sitting on a travertine bench with two little boys who had grape popsicle juice dripping down their shirts. One boy was sandy-haired and looked about six years old. The other had darker hair and, I guessed, was closer to eight. A pug-nosed woman I assumed to be their mother stood at close range, probably because she pegged Jacob as a child molester. Hell, he
wearing a mood ring on his finger—the one I’d given him a few days before. I made it for him as a five-month anniversary present. It was a dark gem, encased in textured silver, and it had the word
engraved on it’s underside.

The three of them, Jacob and the boys, were deep in conversation. When I walked over, I heard the older boy tell Jacob that a shark could beat up a dog. His little brother told him no, a dog could beat up a shark. Only he said it like this:

“Sharks have bigger teeth,” the older one said.

“But dawgs can wun. Shawks can’t.”

“Dogs can’t swim,” big brother told him.

“Yes they can. Dawgs can too swim. Jacob, can dawgs swim?”

“Yep, most dogs can swim,” Jacob said sweetly. He must have liked the younger one better, otherwise I’m sure he would have explained the aerodynamics of a shark’s swim versus doggie paddle. It would be no match.

Jacob saw me and smiled. “Trixie, you made it.” As soon as he said my name, the boys giggled.

“I see you made some friends,” I said.

“Is that your weal name? Twixie?”

I lied and told him it was. He was the most adorable kid I’d ever seen. He didn’t even look real. He had a sunny face and a lopsided smile. I was surprised mother-snot-face hadn’t sold him to a television studio yet. He had the potential to be a millionaire by the age of ten and dead of an overdose by twenty.

“Hey, Jacob, is she your girlfwend?” he said.

When Jacob told them I was indeed his girlfriend, the older brother informed me that I was late and that I should kiss Jacob and say I was sorry. He said it with the voice of a drill sergeant. To put it bluntly, the kid was a brat—probably jealous because his cute little brother got more attention.

I apologized to Jacob for being late and planted a little peck on his cheek. The boys practically fell off their seats at that, like we were better than Saturday morning cartoons.

“Oh, to be so effortlessly entertained,” I said.

Jacob and I decided to see some paintings before we dove into the photography. They had a small Van Gogh collection at the Getty, and I’d stopped to dwell on Vincent’s irises when I heard Jacob call for me. He was standing across the hallway in front of a large canvas of a woman, looking into her eyes as if the two of them were conversing. Her dark hair was pulled back off of her face. She looked regal, mysterious, and sad. Her name was Princess Leonilla, or something like that. She was a Russian-born Parisian.

“She reminds me of you,” Jacob said.

I wasn’t at all flattered by the comparison. “She needs an eyebrow wax. I have better eyebrows than that.”

“Forget her eyebrows. I’m talking about her gaze, about what’s behind that façade. There’s a lot going on in there.”

“What are you saying?”

“Still water runs deep.”

One of the many things I adored about Jacob was that he could see me in things like the painting of an ugly Russian princess. He did that all the time. A song would come on the radio, or we’d go see a movie, and he always managed to find some reason why they were all about me.

“You’re the world’s muse, Trixie.”

“I just want to be your muse.”


Jacob was right about Capa. If ever photojournalism could be described as breathtaking, I thought, this man’s certainly qualified. It was obvious to me why Jacob liked him so much. Capa was able to find the remains of beauty in the fractured, often ugly nature of truth and humanity. Jacob had that gift as well. The fact that he loved me proved it.

As we wandered the floor that displayed Capa’s work, Jacob bombarded me with information about the photos, the same details that were written on the cards next to the frames, only he didn’t have to read them.

“That’s a loyalist there in the tree, he was killed hanging telephone wire,” Jacob said. “This was taken in China, late thirties, I think. I love this one.” It was a bunch of school children playing in the snow. “Hey, check it out. William Faulkner.”

“I hate William Faulkner,” I said. I walked right past that photo, not even bothering to look.

Jacob stopped in his tracks and glared at me as if I’d just threatened to behead his mother.

“What?” I said. “You have to read a page six hundred times before it sinks in. After one sentence, I break out in a cold sweat. I don’t get it. And I was valedictorian!”

Jacob laughed, but with the laugh of a man who knew the punch line to a joke you were in the middle of telling.

“Wait until we move to the Mississippi delta,” he said. “Then you’ll get it.”

We spent over two hours at the Capa exhibit. By the time we’d dissected each and every photo, Jacob was starving. Jacob was always starving. For such a skinny guy, he sure had an appetite.

“Let’s head back into town. I know this great Italian place on San Vicente,” he said.

I left Jacob at the coffee kiosk that sat in the museum courtyard. He wanted to grab a quick espresso before we got back in line for the train.

“Meet me in the bookstore when you’re done,” I said.

I bought one of Capa’s books for Jacob, and another collection of photographs by a guy named William Eggleston—his pictures sent me into a complete tizzy. They brought more surreal exaltation to what only an idiot might refer to as mundane southern Americana than any other photographer I’d ever seen. I yearned to be there immediately: Greenwood, Huntsville, Knoxville, Montgomery, Memphis, anywhere any of the photos were taken. I wanted to live someplace sluggish and normal, near a truck-stop where we’d eat grits and drink coffee every morning. I wanted a little house with honey-colored walls and grandma-looking furniture from the seventies, maybe an organ in the living room, a cheap painting of a saint above our bed, and Formica countertops in the kitchen. We’d pretend we were Baptists so we could go to their church on Sundays and hear the choir sing. Jacob would write all day, and I’d work as a waitress. Pudgy, perspiring men would give me an extra dollar tip because I’d wear my uniform a few inches too short, but that’s as far they would push it because the whole town would know about me and Jacob. We’d be recognized as the lovebirds—the sappy couple who held hands, kissed, and never mowed their lawn.

My heart ached for Jacob to finish his book so we could get out of the dazzling shithole we were stuck in and live happily ever after.

I looked at my watch and realized Jacob had been off getting coffee for almost half an hour. I couldn’t wait to show him the book. When I went back outside, he was nowhere near where I left him. I wandered over to the train platform and saw him sitting on the same bench I’d seen him on earlier that afternoon. He wasn’t drinking any coffee and he had a weird look on his face.

“Is it all right if we skip dinner and just go home?” he said.

I told him it was. “Is there something wrong?”

He stood up and took my hand. “Nothing I really want to talk about right now, if that’s okay,” he said soberly.

We drove home in silence. When we got back to the apartment, Jacob went into the office and didn’t come out for hours. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I knocked on the door and walked in. He had one elbow on the arm of his chair, and a pen in his mouth. His face had softened a little, but he still looked troubled.

“Hey,” he said. “What’s up?”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

I sat on top of his desk. He put the pen down and set his palms on my legs. He rubbed my quadriceps gently with his thumbs, and stared at the blank wall, transfixed at nothing.

I sighed. “Jacob, what’s wrong? You haven’t said ten words since we left the museum. Please talk to me.”

His brow furrowed. “It’s Nina,” he said.

Nina, I thought, this can’t be good. “What about Nina?” I said, trying, I repeat
, to stay calm.

“I saw her at the Getty today.”

“You saw her? Why didn’t you tell me you saw her?”

“I just did tell you.”

“I mean while we were there.”

“She saw you.”

“What do you mean she saw me? How did she see me?”

“She saw us in front of the fountain.”

I hardly thought it was fair that she got to see me but I didn’t get to see her, the dyke-bitch. I rewound my memory fast and remembered that Jacob and I had stood in front of the fountain and kissed before he got in line for coffee. It wasn’t just a little lip-smack either, it was a full-on, grand, public display of affection, with tongues and googlyeyes and everything. Art made us horny. I hoped Nina had seen that. I hoped she put that in her smack pipe and smoked it.

I got down off the desk and turned my back to Jacob. I stared out the window at the amusement park on the pier. I could just barely see the Ferris wheel. It was all lit up, going around and around. There was only a handful of people on it, and I wondered if it went faster when it was virtually empty. I had a feeling that if I watched it for too long, I would curse it and it would roll right into the water.

“Jacob,” I said. “Why are you so upset about seeing her? I see Greg all the time, you don’t see me moping around and locking myself in my room over it.”

“I hadn’t seen her since before I left for Costa Rica.”


“That was almost a year ago.”


“So, she’s in bad shape. I shouldn’t have just cut her off like that.”

, remember?”

“I asked her to come over tomorrow. I have to talk to her.”

“You made a
with her?”

“It’s not a date. She—”

“You have a time and a place? I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of a date. You have a date with your ex-girlfriend tomorrow. That’s nice. That’s just fucking great!”

“Why are you getting so upset? You’re not even letting me—”

“Do you
to see her? Was it your idea to get together?”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Just answer yes or no.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Well then fucking enlighten me,” I said, much louder than I’d planned. I smelled some kind of food coming from one of the apartments on our floor; it was buttery.

Jacob took a deep breath. “How can I fucking enlighten you when you’re yelling and screaming and acting like a baby? Mellow out, will you? Then we can talk.”

I stormed out of the room and slammed the door in his face. I didn’t like being called a baby. I felt betrayed and deceived, and I feared I’d never get to be a William Eggleston character. Deep down, I knew I probably had no cause to be so upset, but my memory got the best of me. I flashed back to the day my father left. I saw him trying to get out the door while my mother held on to the arm of his shirt. He pulled his wrist up into his sleeve so that all she could grab was his cuff. Her grip slipped, and off he went—he just walked away, appendage-less. I pretended he’d been in a car accident and had lost his hand but would persevere over tragedy, just like that one-armed guy from Def Leppard.

After my father walked out the door, my mother ran to the window, her waterproof mascara shellacked to her lashes as tears ran down her cheeks. She shrieked so loud it sounded like she was being stabbed. Now that she has half of his fortune, she’s reconstructed her poise, but back then she was just prideless and pitiful.

I heard a voice in my head. It said: I would rather be alone than ever be my mother. I will leave before I am left.

My intuition told me I was out of control but there was nothing I could do.

Jacob opened the door of the office and leaned against the wall. The smell of melted butter made my mouth water. I wondered if Jacob could smell it—he’d been hungry for hours.

“Beatrice, can we please talk about this? It’s more complicated than you’re allowing for and—”

“Shut up, Jacob. I don’t want to hear it.” I dug through my jacket for a set of keys. Jacob looked at me as if he’d never seen me before in his life.

BOOK: God-Shaped Hole
4.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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