"Is it OK if I verbally degrade you during?" he asks. "How could you cut eleven inches off your hair? You know I love your long hair. How could you get a piercing? You know I hate piercings. How could you get a tattoo? You know I hate tattoos.
"Maybe I’ll berate your secularism too? How can you not love God? Boom, boom, boom. How can you not love Torah? Boom, boom, boom. Why do you have to be such a stinkin’ anti-Semite? How can you be such a leftist? How can you hold such idiotic views? Why do you drive so fast next to cliffs? How dare you drink and drive? How dare you fool around with other girls?"
He was really getting into it, imagining himself berating her while…
"If you feel I’m just wrong, then I think you should do that," she says. "You should just get it out of your system and let me know and physically let me know."
"That that’s not OK," he says. "We might play with that."
He remembers something Holly often said to him, "Take out all your hatred of women on me during…."
"I just feel that I’ve been really naughty," she says. "And no one’s going to stop me and no one’s going to oil my hinges."
"I don’t think we’ve done any verbal degradation yet," he says.
"I think I’d like to write an agenda and email it to you," she says. "Just a minor script."
"Yeah," he says. "You can script it all out and we’ll act it out."
"So why are you calling?" she says. "The third time tonight."
"I wanted to discuss something with you. Do you ever have sex because you want to feel better about yourself? You’re not feeling good about yourself and you know if you go out and have sex with someone, you’ll feel like you’re worth something."
"I know you’re like that," she says. "That’s what you told your therapist Monday."
"Oh yeah," he says. "When I’m failing at everything else in my life, it makes me feel good that I can please you.
"I think most people who have sex outside of a relationship must get some powerful rush from it, otherwise the scary parts of sex would put them off. The STDs. The emotional ramifications. You’re bringing a stranger deep into your life, to where you are most vulnerable. They might be psycho. They might get attached."
"I see," she says. "Sometimes, looking back in the past, I’ve done things that I wish I could’ve stopped but I physically couldn’t. I knew emotionally it wasn’t a good idea, that this person is going to get attached, or that this person is too young, and I still went for it knowing full well it was a bad decision.
"It’s like icecream. I’m not hungry but I can’t stop myself.
"It’s not like it happened often. If I’ve randomly hooked up with someone, if it’s been too many months and I’m going crazy, in the moment I feel so good and then afterwards I feel awful. I feel totally split from myself. I crash. I feel terrible.
"I either stay totally celibate. It can be long stretches. Then I feel like I’m losing it and I do something that does not make me feel good. Then I don’t feel like I have a body for so long. I hate not being sexual. It just makes me feel much more human. I crave intimacy so much. A hug every day makes you feel so good.
"Sometimes I worry that I’m with you because I’m depressed now."
Oy vey! Holly said that.
"You can never say I wasn’t honest with you," she says. "The last relationship I was in was years ago. It was after I was very sick. I got so scared. Then this year I got the same fear of dying thing. This existential terror. Normally I’m pretty happy being alone.
"It crosses my mind sometimes."
"Whoever you’re with is a reflection of yourself," he says.
"Ohmigod," she says. "I’m a homeless hairy Orthodox Jew. Oh dear. Oh God."
"But it’s not a reflection of those superficial things," he says. "It’s a reflection of emotional maturity."
"That’s even worse," she says. "Because you’re still completely involved with your parents and haven’t broken away. I’m sorry babe, but it’s true."
Whenever she says, "I’m sorry babe," it always means she isn’t sorry. She’s just feeling contempt.
"So are you!" he says.
"I’ve done a lot of work on it," she says. "It’s not the same at all."
"In some areas, I’m more mature," he says. "In some areas, you’re more mature."
"Ohmigod, that is so terrifying," she says. "For both of us."
"We’re in a similar life situation," he says.
"How?" she asks.
"In some ways, I’m found. I know who I am. I know where I’m going. I know what my mission is. I know what my life is about. I know who my community is. I know what my purpose is.
"On the other hand, you’re conventionally got things nailed down better than I do. You’ve got a higher paying job, you’ve got a nicer apartment, you’ve got a nicer car. But you don’t have your life purpose down. You’re not doing what you love. You don’t know who you are."
"Or maybe I know exactly who I am," she says, "and I think all those things are false. I think those things are crutches."
"What?" he says. "Writing?"
"No," she says, "but believing you have a mission and a purpose. It’s ridiculous to think there’s any meaning in any of this. If your God is real, it means that someone else’s is fake. The sense of purpose is an artificial thing that makes some people feel better. I’m totally in the moment."
"I wasn’t thinking in religious terms," he says. "I know that I am here to write. I spend hours a day doing my greatest skill. That’s my purpose. I’ve been doing it since the fall of 1995. I’m locked in. That’s my mission. I’d like to refine my skill and get better."
"Do you know Pablo?" she asks.
"No," he says.
"He’s a writer," she says. "He was with CAA. A screenwriter. He gave such good meeting. He got called back so many times. He was so one thing. It got to the point where he’d hang out at supermarkets when he knew his friends would be there so that hopefully he’d get some food. He gave up his apartment. He lost his cell phone. He ran out of insurance. His parents stopped helping. Sometimes you have to just get practical."
"Do you think there’s any resemblance between that and me?" he says. "Obviously you do."
"You don’t think there’s a resemblance?" she asks. "It started to occur to me that I wasn’t a good enough writer if I hadn’t made it all of those years. Do you ever think about that? That it might not be a realistic way for you to make an income?"
"Yeah," he says. "That’s why I’ve branched out and started doing writing for businessmen and the like. That’s why I’m training to become an Alexander Technique teacher so I will have an additional skill to make money from."
"People say," she says, "that if you love your art, you should beg, borrow or steal to do it."
"It’s hard to create when you don’t know how you’re going to pay the bills," he says.
"That’s what happened to me," she says. "You know when you are supposed to start saving for retirement?"
"I don’t know much about that," he says.
"Any guess?" she says.
"By age 30?" he says.
"I think it’s about there," she says. "I didn’t know about any of this. You have to think about that now? I was just so horrified. I give a lot of my money to charity."
"I think of saving for my retirement," he says, "by doing as much as I can to advance as a writer and to write compelling content that draws readers and advertisers and to develop new marketable skills that can earn money such as Alexander Technique, etc. So far there has not been a big monetary payoff, but I’m investing in my skills."
"I think about becoming a farmer," she says.
"But you’re Jewish," he says.
"By accident," she says. "It wasn’t meant to be. I never will be again. I just like working in the land. Getting out of the rat race."
"You dreamed about being married to a rich guy," he says.
"It’s so funny when you accuse me of this," she says. "I’ve walked away from the most serious relationships. I’ve never dated anyone who wasn’t super-wealthy, until now. It never affected my decisions or leaving a relationship. I am so humbled by everything that’s happened in my life. It hasn’t turned out how I expected. I don’t mean to judge you, but I worry about you."
"It’s OK with me if you judge me," he says. "Just be careful about when you pronounce judgment. I judge constantly. You judge constantly too. If you think you’re not, you’re fooling yourself."
"Really? You think these things about me," she says, "and you don’t tell me?"
"Of course," he says. "I judge constantly."
"How do you do it?" she says. "How do you judge the totality of someone?"
"I think about you," he says, "and I’m wary. There are dangerous parts to you. There are times when I do not want to be in a car with you, say, if you’ve been drinking. Or you’re mad. Or depressed."
"I get it," she says.
"I judge that I can be a dangerous person and I try to be wary of that," he says. "I’m not having a relationship with you. I try to be present with you. I love you. You love me. But we’re not building a life together. That’s not on the agenda.
"If we were having a relationship and you cut off eleven inches of your hair and I hated that, that would be a serious problem. Because we’re not having a relationship, I may not like it, but it’s not a big deal.
"If we were having a relationship, you’d say more things like, ‘Luke, I can not put up with X.’ ‘This is not acceptable.’ ‘You need to step up in this way.’
"And I’d say similar things. We’d make demands on each other. That’s how I think of relationships. If we were having a relationship, I’d expect you to spend the Sabbath with me. I’d want us to make a Friday night Shabbat dinner every week. The rule, not the exception. If you were my girlfriend, I’d say, I want us to make Shabbat dinners together with a white tablecloth and candles and two challot and a challah cover and the works. Does that make sense?"
"It does," she says. "I don’t know. It’s so weird."
"What were you about to say?" he says.
There’s a long pause.
"It’s one thing to say it so bluntly that we’re not in a relationship," she says. "It’s weird to acknowledge that verbally. We have an intense friendship, but when you just say that, it’s like whoah. Then I say to myself, think about your life. You’re lucky if you have two evenings a week.
"I think about our value systems and then I say, hey, weirder things have happened.
"I don’t think of you as a booty caller."
"No," he says. "In another sense, we are having a relationship. But we don’t make any demands on the other."
"It seems like you are more there in your life to get married," she says.
"Until finishing my Orthodox conversion, that was not possible," he says.
"I hate the expression ‘soulmate’, but if I loved it, I would definitely use it on you."
"I’ve thought it as well," she says, "and I’ve never thought it ever."