to know who I am

Cathy faced uphill on Jimmy’s former half of the dunbrown sectional sofa crammed foot-to-foot in the window bay, her feet stretched out on her own former side, where Lynn Schacker sat facing downhill. No one rested their hand on the other’s ankles. No one fell dramatically across the other’s feet. No one squeezed the other’s toes to get attention, make a point, or play.

The color of the sofa is important. Dun is an opinion, so is brown. There are no dun or brown molecules in the couch or the universe; there is no dunness or browness in the jelly in our heads. Dun-browness is a quality we give to the couch, as bees give amazing electric colors to flowers we call white. Where qualities are located makes all the difference. Cathy’s father made the malice and fury in his head a quality of his daughter. And she thought, as children do, Yes, I must be cruel and angry, where else could it come from? until at 15, when his fury became hers, she became his Fury, hit him back, and knocked herself free.

When we love we often become naive realists, not that we think dunbrowness is in the couch, certainly not, we would never think that, but that our joy is in our lover, flows from our lover to us, departs when our lover is absent. We search in the mirror not for our joy, our intelligence, but theirs.

This does not have to happen. There exists a real interval, the flicker of a bat’s wing but perceptible if we look for it, between our own boredom, for example, and its appearance in our lovers as a quality of theirs. In that moment, we may glimpse that the boredom flows from us to them, they are not our boredom. But if the wing flickers and we miss it, they bear the feeling back, and it is almost impossible not to believe that it came from them, is theirs, certainly. Then the sofa IS dunbrown. Somewhere in its fabric dunbrown atoms wink at us.

Which of our qualities do we attribute to others? Is Cathy’s intelligence a property of Jimmy’s he might take away with him to jail? I need you to talk to, she wrote to him. Was she saying she could not think without him? Not quite. And yet. Some of her has been jailed.

Her best friend Lynn does not share this problem. Lynn is completely portable. This is why:

On the afternoon of December 2, 1964, her husband, Howard Schacker, the Marxist scholar, completed the final section of his dissertation on the process of reificational devaluation in Capital, “Lukacs and the Axiology of Alienation.” Toward 6:30, he grew hungry, noticed Lynn had not returned to their Berkeley apartment, set aside the pages he would have her type that night and wandered down Telegraph Avenue toward campus to find what had detained her. On arriving at Sproul Plaza he was told that earlier in the day Mario Savio and other leaders of the Free Speech Movement had led 1500 protestors to sit-in at Sproul Hall, the campus administration building; the employees were promptly sent home, and at seven pm, shortly before Howard arrived, guards had locked the protesting students inside. A festive atmosphere pervaded the Plaza; groups of students gathered in support. Howard walked up and down the front of the building peering in the windows, from which singing could be heard, until his name was called from within; it was Lynn.

“What are you doing in there?” he asked.

She angled the window open, stuck her head outside.

“What am I doing?” she asked. “We’ve seized the building. The Administration refused to meet any of our demands.”

“Well, yes,” said Howard, “but now you have to come home. Who’s going to fix my supper?”

He did not lose her love, far worse, he lost her respect. Three years later, they were still married but she was not his wife. She wished Howard possessed some qualities of hers she would lose when he was not there, but could not identify them. Her qualities were hers alone, forever.

Cathy knew (thanks, Daddy) that what Jimmy felt about her was not her. Still, if she felt his joy in her as her, then was she not also his anxious, angered, petulance when his eyes went dead and he saw the world as if its light bent around her — the world without her in it?

What if it lay deeper even, below the whims, moods, postures, weaknesses, and childhood fears she knew about? Suppose she was Cathy because of her knowledge of him, knowledge on which she acted, knowledge she possessed despite words, against words, that would not be knowledge if it were known?

It would take the form: I do this, I think this, I am this, because I know him.

Then how would she ever know which qualities of her were hers alone?

Lynn yawned. They were supposed to be doing something. Cathy’s legal pad was filled with doodles, initials, hatch marks.

“Look,” said Lynn, “the only absolutely true fact we know about this woman is her sex. Let’s appeal to her as a sister.”

Cathy drew up her knees, wrote and read.


Appeal to a sister

You were at stop the draft week in Oakland last october

“Cut Oakland,” said Lynn. “She was there, she knows where it was.”


You were assaulted by the police

“Too legalistic. How about grabbed? And cop?”


Jimmy O’Shea came to your rescue

“Oh,please. Less Dudley Do-Right.”


My name is cathy cohen

I need your help

“Say what’s at stake.”


To save

To save

[The man i still need, to know who i am]