Rachel writes to Michael from New York City. She asks him how he is doing. She wishes he were there, with her. She loves Michael. She sends him a gift subscription to the New Yorker. Michael counts three women living in self-imposed exile from Los Angeles, undertaken as their final attempt to escape his manly orbit. They all come from China. There may be a pattern there.
Michael recalls his lessons learned from knowing Rachel. A heterosexually available woman of a certain age raises a bundle of alternate concerns. To be on the lookout for a man in her thirties betokens a history of bitter divorce, thoughtless promiscuity, sexual deviance, psychotic traits, or debilitating career priorities. Rachel’s case is replete with each of these stigmata.
Michael had entertained many divorced women before meeting Rachel. Most of them suppressed the signs of obsession with their former mates, even while venting their bitterness over their failure in marriage. From Rachel’s constant references to both subjects, Michael concluded that her ex-husband’s extramarital forays took place in response to her lack of interest in supporting him. This is more than an educated guess. Rachel’s resentment of Michael’s mother’s strength in standing on her own after losing her family in the war, and in waiting six years for Michael’s father to come back from the labor camps, spelled out her expectations in no uncertain terms. Rachel wants a sweet family along with material success, at no cost in loyalty to her man or fortitude in her work. She wastes no opportunity to vent her bitterness at lacking access to these rightful entitlements.
From the very start, Rachel made it abundantly clear that her interest in Michael was in no way romantic. Outside of friendship, which she as relentlessly solicited as he consistently refused, there was nothing but sex to rely upon. Even as Rachel threw fits at Michael’s cultivation of friends with benefits in response to her disclaimers of their emotional connection, she thought nothing of reporting on her fellating another man to make her point, nor of reinforcing her report with complaints about her swain’s undue solicitude in lip service on her demure altar, unmatched by his ability to administer the rough tumble that she so richly deserved. Michael does not begrudge Rachel’s use of her sex to elicit another man’s simpering devotion.
Eliseo Visconti, Nude, 1895
Rachel’s ability to link her sexual performance with a thirst for pain is unmatched in Michael’s experience with her sex. In acknowledging her dependence upon Michael’s strength and kindness, she has used them as an excuse to torture both of them. Michael recalls the trajectory of their affair, as captured in Rachel’s own words: “– I like fighting you, Michael.” “– You’re no good at all as a lover.” “– I don’t want to be without you in my life.” “– I feel no desire for you at all.” “– I need you like a drug.” “– I am sorry, I am not the one for you.” “– You make me so horny…” “– I win!” Rachel’s sadism was unprovoked. Michael’s tolerance of pain was incomprehensible. Rachel’s sexuality could not be fulfilled outside of catering to her craving to humiliate and be humiliated. Michael’s attention could not be held by a woman that treated him with kindness and decency. They made a lovely couple. Not any more.
Rachel held herself out to Michael as eager to be a single mother to her sister’s child. She took Michael to task for recoiling from a family arrangement that requires the parents to renounce their own child for the sake of gaining her immigration advantage. She told Michael that he was selfish in refusing to accept this child as if it were his own. She expressed bitter remorse over having aborted her previous pregnancy in her marriage, and worried that she would never get another chance to have a child of her own. Yet when she got pregnant with Michael’s child – or so Rachel claimed – she wasted no time in rebuffing his eagerness to take care of it. She threw a conniption fit, and ran away to scrape the fetus out of her womb. Michael’s last memory of a shared experience with his father is of standing together at Rachel’s doorsteps, pleading in vain through her intercom for her to come to her senses. Michael’s most vivid memory of Rachel’s response to his father’s protracted agony is the suggestion that he must be tired of supporting his family, made in the wake of soliciting and enlisting Michael’s support for her self-inflicted post-partum depression. Rachel’s one true talent is for poisoning wells even unto the point of destroying her own chances to slake her thirst.
Rachel’s career ambitions are as delusional as her family wishes. Her chronic lack of capacity to persevere in any endeavor is perfectly complemented by attraction to fatuous moneymaking schemes. Every single sample of Rachel’s work on display in her portfolio stops visibly short of the final touch. She resents having to complete any professional task, and throws fits whenever she gets called on it. She hates the idea of sullying herself with office politics, and thinks nothing of ratting out her colleague to her boss for bad work ethic. To her credit, Rachel makes the best of her economic situation by relying on her non-boyfriends to pay her way. She is puzzled by her inability to leverage this knack into economic independence.
Rachel asks time and again, why does such a good woman fail to attract a good man. In all fairness, she has her good qualities. As Michael takes their inventory, they come to seven in all: four points to suck and three holes to stick. Rachel has made it her absolute priority to rule out everything else that once upon a time had attracted Michael to her. Her prattle about long-distance love comes to nothing for want of meaningful connections to these assets.