Tag Archives: aging

Aged

(Continued from July 15th, 2012.

Her previous thoughts on motherhood had brought her no peace.  There were times she feared them even; intolerably changing tram cars when in too close of a proximity to a small child or sometimes a pregnant woman; feeling her own intimidation at the span of her life rise up in her:  What would happen if she were to have a child?

It was as if she was allergic to the very idea of it, perhaps until she was ready, with time.  Except that readiness never really arrived:  Fear simply changed places with acute loneliness to which the sometimes seemingly easy solution presented itself in a trustful face of an infant.  Maybe, that’s it.  May, that’ll fix it.  Maybe, if only she had a baby, she’d learn how; and perhaps, she’d grow softer.  But it could also be just the very opposite — losing traces of self in the chaos of unknowing; and every single time, she shook the idea out of her hair as if it were a mere layer of dust from the construction site she passed every morning, on her way to the university.

“But you don’t have much time!” the other women warned her, their faces altered by some insider knowledge, for which she was expected to be grateful.  Many had already procreated more than once by her age.  “You’ve gotta try it,” they suggested with knowing smiles.  “You’re gonna love being a wife!”  (No one ever stopped to differentiate between the two events:  motherhood and marriage did not have to be bound into a sequence.)

And she’d seen her own former school mates float around the city bazar with growing swellings of their stomachs — “I didn’t know she’d gotten married already!” — appearing too hot, uncomfortable or weighed down; rarely looking blissful.  To her, the young mothers appeared to have gone distances.  They were gone, off to the places outside of all this:  This place, in the middle of winter, always just making it.

Most of Larisa’s girlfriends had left the town in the first five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Angela got into a law school in St. Petersburg.  Oksana left for Israel.  It happened in such a rapid succession, she didn’t get a chance to ask anyone yet:  Do you feel that way sometimes too?  (Larisa’s mother seemed to have no tolerance for such questions.)

Meanwhile, mother’s girlfriends dropped loud hints in her vicinity:

“Perhaps, Larisa is just not into it.”

“All books — no boys.”

A bluestocking, the librarian type.  An old maid.  Larisa wasn’t necessarily plain looking, but had always been bookish; and that would be intimidating to anyone, let alone a man with a domestic proposition for her.

“She should try putting on lipstick sometimes.  She’s not that bad looking after all!”

It had to be a particular quality to the Russian women:  to cross the lines of respect into forced familiarity, as if, just on the mere basis of their common sex, they could treat her as an fumbling ignoramus.  Some of her mother’s girlfriends she always found invasive and somehow intentionally diminutive.  It was if they knew better, and she should too.  Often disguised with good wishes, they invaded and pointed out where she somehow didn’t measure up to the accomplishments of others, even though she, all along, strived for something different; something more specific, more organic to its environment:  like the color of sunset before a thunderstorm, or the way her footsteps sounded after each first snowfall and they moved the heart to awe by the magnanimity of it all, even though it couldn’t be — nor needn’t be — described.

And then, there was their insincerity, one might even call it “mean spirits”.  Larisa looked to her mother for a back-up, but the woman didn’t see it her way:  Mother was always better at belonging:

“Such things, Larisa, they take a woman’s heart to understand!”

The little girl had let go of her grandmother’s skirt, sat down onto the dirt floor of the church and rested her chin on top of the propped up knees.  Larisa hadn’t noticed that the child had been studying her.  The hum of the recorded organ had carried her away; not because she would’ve rather been elsewhere.  No, she enjoyed drifting off like this, and then observing the world from a haze of her own thoughts; vague and left better undefined.

And she had known men — one Pyotr Nedobry — who forced their own thoughts to be defined and insisted to interpret hers.  With attentiveness rooted in hunger, Pyotr would study her with desire:  as if she could fix it, be his long sought-out solution, whatever had been missing out of her life.  And when he, last May, lifted her up over his shoulder and ran toward the lake, she was expected to laugh.  Instead, she couldn’t catch her breath.  Too late, she thought.  Such romance no longer tempted her.  Or maybe, she was the type to have lived out her youth already, for there was nothing left to miss of it; no delightful memory but the mournful knowledge that she, indeed, was never really youthful.

Pyotr Nedobry placed her down, that day, on the lawn, by the bank.

“The dandelions!” Larisa tenderly whispered.  They were everywhere!

“Oh, I know!  So annoying!” Pyotr exclaimed, and he took off his jacket so that they could sit down without staining their clothes.  Not at all what she had meant!

They spoke while looking out.  He would pick up blades of semi-dry grass, small branches, sharp-edged pebbled and continue sticking them into her slip on shoes.  Hurtful, irritating — he demanded too much!

If she were to go for it, she knew at first the attention would be elating; and it would lighten her days for a while.  But she had already done that, a number of times!  Once with a student from Argentina who convinced her that he would be her life’s regret if she didn’t let him woo her.  He wasn’t.  And all this attention eventually turned on itself.  Everything that they would learn of each other could become ammunition, for it was humanly impossible for one woman to get the job done.  She would grow tired and mourn the mysteries she’d surrendered under the influence of lust.

“All these girly secrets!” Pyotr smirked, looking down at her, sideways.  He was already becoming mean.

And she — was already gone.

Larisa looked up at the statue of Christ.  The sun, parting the clouds after a week of snowfall, shined through the colored bits of the mosaic windows; and a column of caramel-colored light came down onto the thorn-crowned head.  Larisa felt warmer:  That’s it!  That’s how she wanted to discover beauty:  never expecting it, never molding the circumstances that were out of her control; but by simply and habitually mending her spaces, she could give room for it all — to flood in.

Chernoglazaya

(Continued from May 6th, 2012.)

Having arrived to the city a few hours earlier, father walked around the bus terminal in hopes of running into Inna and her mother, en their route back home.

“Bad news from Baykalsk,” Inna overheard from where her mother had run off, to hug her handsome, uniformed husband.  The hush among the other awaiting passengers meant that mother’s emotional outburst earned her the desired audience, yet again.  Her legs below the pink-lavender skirt appeared shapely; and her heels, that lifted out of the boats of the red stilettos, as reached to kiss her man, were round and soft.

Father’s mother — an Amazonian looking woman, with arms of sinew and leathery skin earned by working in the fields of the town’s collective farm — had suffered a heart attack that morning.  Inna’s grandfather, who could never beat his wife in rising early to tend to their livestock, found her still in bed, after he had returned from the outhouse.

“Will you look at her?!” he joked, at half voice, nudging the sheeted mound under which his wife had always slept, with her head fully covered.  “I think I’m feeding this one for nothing!”

As Inna remembered, there was always a bawdy familiarity between her grandparents, something that she had never witnessed in her own parents’ interactions.  When the tall woman worked in the kitchen, sweating over steaming pots or pummeling dumpling dough with admirable punches, Inna, who liked to hide out on top of the brick stove, had often watched her grandfather come up from behind his wife and land a loud smack onto his wife’s hips.  He would then leave his hand resting there, while he nuzzled her neck and demanded to be given a taste of things.  The woman would laugh and attempt to shake her husband’s hand off her ass, his chin — off her shoulder; but even Inna could see she wasn’t trying too hard.

The display of such affection tickled the girl.  But Inna’s mother had a different reaction:

“Such peasants!” she had once muttered as the family gathered for dinner, in the garden behind the grandparents’ house.

That early evening, grandmother, having climbed onto a short ladder, was reaching for the top branches of overgrown raspberry bushes, from which she was retracting giant, fuzzy berries, still warm from that day’s sun.  Her kerchief had slid off, and the cotton housedress, of matching material, rode up the woman’s legs to reveal the white elastic bands that held up her brown knee-highs.  For the first time, Inna took notice of her grandmother’s stark white skin and her protruding veins.  It was drastically different from the supple and brown skin of her mother, who had, minutes ago, came down from tanning on the house rooftop, for most of that afternoon.

When the men entered the gate, from their day of flipping hay in the field, all the women perked up.  Mother began to giggle and trace her hand over the top of her breasts, as if to wipe away the sweat from the hours of leisure in the sun, but then leaving it there to linger.  Inna’s aunt — a tall and slim woman with brutally protruding facial bones — checked her reflection in the brass samovar, that mounted the wooden table like a tzar before his court.  A field of mismatching serving dishes — covered with lids or saucers that warded off the flies — began to accumulate around the samovar.

The men, tired but boisterous from the gulps of home-brewed, iced beer, attacked the table on which Inna’s aunt kept rearranging the assortment of zakuski.

“Get!  Get!” the aunt began shooing them away, slapping their tan, hairy arms with a kitchen towel.  The men, grumbled and laughed; but managed to lift up the saucers and stick their dirty fingers into their contents, smacking their lips in approval.

Mother joined in:  “We aren’t finished yet!” she said, shooting her sister-in-law a conspiring look.  In loud laughter, she revealed her shiny front crowns, that glistened like plastic pearls, against her increasingly tan face.  “Go wash up!”

Having grabbed a handful of scallions and ducked them into a nearby cup of salt, Inna’s grandfather was the first to scurry off.

“Papa!” Inna’s mother scolded him, flirtatiously.

The old man paid her no attention.  Instead, he approached his wife, who remained unperturbed by the presence of men and the commotion they have caused among the younger women.  With each reach, her housedress continued riding above and below the white elastic bands at her knees; and she continued sizing up each berry with a concentration of a scientist.  Grandpa watched at first, the stems of scallions still sticking out of his mouth, moving in unison, as he chewed them.  When the plan of action appeared to have finally formulated in his head, he discarded the last of the stems with a theatrical gesture, ran up on his wife, and stuck his head underneath her dress.

“Oy, Vanya!  Vanyetcka!” — grandmother couldn’t help but laugh — “Vanyush, oy!”  She slapped her husband’s balding head hidden under her dress but managed to mostly miss her target.  The old man lifted her off the ladder; and despite the flurry of her disoriented slaps and girly punches, delivered her to the dinner table.

The young couples looked on.  Inna’s father, sitting on the bench, stole occasional glances while he gnawed on rectangular slices of salt-curried fatback.  The boyfriend of Inna’s aunt now busied himself with loosening, rolling and lighting up some tobacco.  Meanwhile, Inna, surprised by her grandfather’s strength, grinned while making a go of stealing handfuls of warm raspberries that spilled from her grandmother’s basket, onto the table top.

Mother — alas! — interrupted the silence:  “In-na?” she said in her suddenly uptight, authoritarian voice, the sound of which made Inna’s stomach tighten.  “What do we do with our hands before dinner?”

Every adult at the table seemed to look over.  Inna looked for her father; but finding him preoccupied with fishing out semi-pickled cucumbers from a barrel in the shadow patch in the garden’s corner, she had no choice but to admit defeat.  She earned a light yank by the scruff of the tattered sailor’s undershirt that used to belong to her grandfather, which she had made a habit of wearing; and was sent to wash up, upstairs.

“How many times must I repeat myself?” mother hissed.

Only when both mother and daughter reached the dirt room of the house that Inna was made privy to the cause of her mother’s sudden irritation:  “Such peasants, these people!” she muttered.  Her face appeared to harden, all the sun-induced laziness of her movements gone instantaneously.

 

“Ah, dear god!” mother was now saying with an admirable annunciation for someone crying her eyes out.  With her face pressed against her husband’s decorated lapel, mother reminded Inna, yet again, that she was quite a small woman.  “At least, she died in her sleep,” mother said with a quivering voice, reaching for her husband’s ear on her tippy toes.  “At least, she didn’t suffer.”  She paused, to then crescendo to a sob, followed by:  “My god, I loved her so much!”

Inna’s father appeared to be at a loss.  He stared at the tips of his shoes and shifted from one foot to another.  He soon looked up to find Inna who fumbled with the now filthy bit of dough between her fingers.  Her eyes, welled-up with giant tears, were on him all this time.

Father winked:  “What’s happening, my brown-eyed girl?” he said.

On that, mother wiped her own face with the giant polkadot bow at her left shoulder and shot Inna a look.  It was enough for Inna’s eyes to release their tears.  She began to blink rapidly, focusing only on the sensation in her finger tips.  Through the blur, she saw her father motion her over; to which Inna gratefully surrendered, fitting herself another his free arm and letting her tears soak the side of his jacket, near the pocket with a bundle of keys.

“Everything will be alright, my little larks,” she heard her father say.  “I promise:  Everything will be alright.”

(To Be Continued.)

“I Told You: I Was Trouble. You Know That I [Was] No Good.”

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“You.”

“‘You’ who?”

You, silly.  It’s you — but from a decade ago.  A memory of you reiterated by someone else (who’s always claimed to have his own interpretation of you).  The evidence from the past that you weren’t too proud of, to begin with.

Here it is, you!  The ghost of you, desperately trying to keep your head above the water, with no parental guidance or a homeland to which you could go back.  (Not that you’d want to, though:  Those bridges have been burnt, their ashes — buried with your hind legs.)

You, talking yourself out of an encyclopedia of uncertainties and doubts, every morning; wishing to be someone else — anyone but you! — then blackmailing your gods for any type of a new delusion to lap up.

You, clutching onto love — any love, how ever selfish or unworthy — just so that you could feel an occasional liberation from the drudgery of life.

This is exactly why I’ve learned to not stay in close contact with my exes:  I rarely enjoy a stroll down the memory lane.  Shoot, I don’t even like a drive by through that lane’s neighborhood, while going at ninety miles an hour.

Because I’d rather think of it this way:

“It happened, thank you very much.  But I don’t ever want for it to happen — again.  I myself — don’t want to happen.  I repeat:  NEVER again.”

But ‘tis the season; and somehow, despite my good behavior this year, a single message from a former love has managed to slip in — and it appeared on my screen.  He has been reading my fiction, he says, and has a few objections to it.  And could he, he wonders, tell his story:  He wants to contribute.  He, as before, has his own interpretation he’d like to share.

And could I, he says, write about something else:  Like good memories?  Remember those?  Because what he remembers of you — is sometimes good.  So, he, he says, would like to see you in that light.

“‘You’?  ‘You’ who?  ‘You’ — me?”

Me don’t have much to brag about, in my past.  Me is humbly grateful for her former opportunities, but the opportunities of mine now — are so much better!

And me has fucked-up plenty.  (Don’t YOU remember?  You — were there.)  But then again, isn’t what one’s youth is for:  To live and learn?  Well.  Me — has done plenty of that.  And as for the suggested good memories, if it’s up to me (‘cause it is MY fucking fiction, after all!) — me would much rather remember the mistakes, just so that me don’t ever repeat them again.

Normally, in the vacuum of my blissful isolation from my exes, I do sometimes think of me — but now.  The current me:  The one that has survived.  The one with enough intelligence and humility to summon her fuck-ups and to make something out of them (like knowing better than to repeat them).

And so, behold:  A better me.

A kinder and more mellow me.  The me who knows how to get a grip, when to summon her patience; and also the me who knows how to let go.  Me who allows for her time to have its natural flow, who knows how to free fall into the tumbling, passing, speeding minutes of her life with gratitude and ease.

The ME who’s finally proud to be — her:  The HER who knows how to live.

Like any woman that I’ve known, in my life, I wonder about aging.  What will I look like, after the decline begins?  Will I be kind enough to not compete with youth?  Will I be loved enough to never fear the loss of tautness of my skin or breasts?

And when occasionally I panic at the discovery of a gray hair or a previously unwitnessed wrinkle, I bicker at my own reflection and I begin to research remedies.  Nothing too invasive, but something with a bit more help.

But NEVER — I repeat:  no, never! — do I, for a second, wish to be the younger me, again.  It happened already — I happened — thank you very much. But I am good with never happening again.

I’d much rather want to be her:  The current me.  The one who’s loved, respected and adored and who knows how to accept it, for a change.  The one who gives her kindness, but only until she starts losing the sight of herself.  And then, she’s smart enough to stop.

She who refuses to give up her younger self’s beliefs in the general goodness of people, still; but who is too wise to not give up on those who do not know how to be good to themselves.

She is fantastic, and ME is very proud — to be HER.

“Come on! Come on! Come on! Come on — and TAKE It: Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Now, Baby!”

There are days when it’s hard to clock in.  But then, I see a single human face — and I’m on a roll.

Like the luminous face of a woman who, yesterday, made me wonder about my aging self.

She would have otherwise be found plain:  Quite tall and long-limbed, in unmemorable clothes.  A pair of ballet flats, a pencil skirt and a V-neck, all in jewel colors.  That’s exactly how my eyes travelled too, along her thin body:  from the ground, up to her face.  From humility, up to humanity.  And then, they got stuck.  On her face.

Under the haircut of no longer than two inches that was bleached to camouflage the gray, her face was completely open.  Readable, as if I expected to find my own reflection in it.  Having not a dab of make-up on her — like she had nothing to hide — she seemed incredibly open and present.  Up for anything.

“Like someone possessed by a clear conscience,” I thought.

“I didn’t expect you to be so petite and, um, lovely,” she said to me.  It was our first meeting.

I can always tell.  Especially when it comes to other broads, I can always tell when I’m being fed some insincere bullshit.  And then, I can always tell when a woman means it; when she’s got no time — or in my case, no tolerance — for competition; and she’s got a sister’s better interest in mind.  And I tell you, compliments from such a broad are a better ego treatment than a week-long stay at a beauty spa with, say, Olivier Martinez as your lover.

So, when she said that — I was hooked.  First, I studied her well nourished skin with seemingly no trace of plastic surgery, and I pinpointed the gist of her:  She was a happy one.  She had done the work.  That hard work one’s gotta do on herself in order to not be tortured with doubt, jealousy or self-loathing.  She had the balls to be happy, to like herself, and by extension (or by my hubristic assumption that I was heading in the same direction), she seemed to like me just fine, too.

I was about to learn in one, two, three minutes — she was also a writer.  It must be a common thing among artists, writers especially:  We just can’t fucking give up on people.  We cannot NOT like them.

Like every other fucker, over the course of a life, we acquire a history of letdowns and opinions.  Every heartbreak hurts equally.  After enough shit has been handed to us, though, some of us learn to pray to our Zen deities and pretend to surrender all control over the matter.  But I suspect the truth is a lot more painful:  Each fuck-up hits us below the belt and we hate it.  Because by definition of our craft, we cannot lead with disappointment.  We ought to stay in love with humanity, or at least in awe of it.

And why CAN’T people live up to their goodness?  Surely, they had to be good at one point.  It’s kind of a universal thing in the beginning:  We are born good.  We remain good for a while, and complete strangers get sidetracked at the sight of our still undamaged faces.

I wondered that as I studied the face of a babe who was being carried across the street by her father.  She was little.  Too little for me to remember what it felt like — to be her.  Too young to have a palpable fear of time.

Facing out, over the man’s shoulder, the young girl was moving her mouth and pressing her plum cheek against her father’s stubble.

“That man’s heart is forever taken,” I thought.

The seconds on their walkway sign were about to expire, but the two creatures — one still innocent, the other one living vicariously through her — were so engrossed in their chat, they were hardly among us.  Finally, by the time the man began jogging slightly, with his daughter bouncing uncomfortably in his arms (he had to be still training for such new functions of his body), they crossed in front of my left headlight.  Two more lanes of traffic — and they would be safe.

Bouncing on her father’s arm, the girl noticed me.  The green of her eyes got stuck to my heart.  I waved, timidly, with one hand.  Hesitantly but innocently, she squeezed her tiny left fist, then released it, and squeezed it again.  She was imitating my gesture.  She was still good.  Up for anything.

It would be horrific, I thought, to lose my soul’s sight.

Then, I went home and wrote this.

“She Works Hard for the Money! So Hard for It, Honey!”

“I am… um… parent.  Every-thing changes.”

She stands at about my height.  I rarely see much difference between me and other women, though:  And unless they’re tall enough to grace the covers of beauty magazines — or the streets of Manhattan — I consider them pretty much my height.

Although born on the coast of Mexico, her skin bears the same caramel color as mine.  Her face, I can tell, used to be very pretty, even doll-like.  Her formerly black hair is snow streaked with gray highlights; and it is gathered in the back of her head into a thick ponytail of luscious curls.  Rich women would kill for thick hair like that!

I catch myself wondering how much she would have aged — had her life not been so hard.

I bet there is an encyclopedia of domestic tricks up this woman’s sleeve:  Washing her hair with egg yolks, making masks out of avocado and honey, moisturizing her heels with Bengay.  I’ve seen my own motha invent a few of those.  We are immigrants:  We get crafty, in survival.  For life is relentless:  It takes a toll on all of us all, but it’s most unforgiving — to us, women.

“I come herre… twenty fah-yv jears,” she formulates her words slowly.  “I am… um… sixteen jears.”

“Me too!” I say, and I begin nodding and smiling aggressively:  Just anything to make her feel understood.  “I was sixteen too!”

I want to tell her to switch to her native language, because I am pretty sure I get the gist of her already.  Despite the difference between our birth coasts, we seem to speak of the same tales.

But then again, maybe not:

I keep flaunting my American education in order to impress employers with gigs at a higher rate.  She — cleans houses for a living.  I tend to get hired to work the phones and to organize the lives of others that have gotten cluttered with too many demands.  She — creates order in other people’s homes, with her no longer soft, but womanly hands.  Besides the existences of my bosses, I am responsible primarily for myself.  She — has three kids to take care of, and a boyish husband.

“You?  No marr-rried?” she asks me.

The importance of family defines happiness in her culture; so, I get slightly embarrassed for a moment.  Despite the difference between our birth coasts, I so very much want us to be alike.  Is it this woman’s approval that I’m striving for; or just her empathy?

In one breath, I deliver:  “NoIamnotmarried.”

“In a couple more years, you’ll be middle-aged,” a man has declared the other day.

This woman’s arms are cradling a tiny dog; and in the folds of her stomach, he easily goes to sleep.  Her figure belongs to a mother:  She is fuller, curvier than my boyish frame.  Her hands are more sure and seemingly more knowing than mine.

“Is good you no married so soon,” she says.  She must’ve picked up on my embarrassment.  “Life more hard.  I am… um… parent.  Every-thing more hard.”

I ask her about her kids:  She nods and smiles when describing each of the three:  a two-year old baby-girl and a little boy.  Her oldest daughter wants to be a nurse.  When she speaks of her husband, she averts her eyes; and despite the slow manner of her chosen worlds, she quickly switches the topic to his job.

“Is good…” she concludes.  “Warehouse.  Down.  Town.  Is good!”

The little dog shifts on her stomach and extends his fluffy paws toward me. I take them and rub the un-callused pillows on the bottom.  She laughs and teases the bangs above his eyes; and when her hand brushes against mine, I notice that her skin is tougher than the one I’m rubbing in between my fingers.

“You…  work?” she asks me.

“Of course,” I say and begin listing my gigs.  This is the first time I doubt she understands me.  To my own ears, I begin sounding busy, and slightly fussy.  So, I stop.

I interrupt my list.  “Everybody works here,” I conclude; and the woman begins nodding and smiling aggressively.  She is getting the gist of me.

I study her eyes:  She stands at my level, and most definitely — at my height!  But then she leaves for work; and I reluctantly begin mine.  It’s life — at work; and in its working, it is especially unforgiving to us, women.

“The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills.”

She had arrived late, but what else was expected?  She was a woman.  A beautiful woman.

It was obvious it took her a while to put this whole thing together last night, through a careful choosing of details:  a negotiation of her tastes, her moods; the senses.  I wondered if while getting dressed, she daydreamed of a specific man she wanted to impress, as women of my age often do.  Or, if she simply entertained an overall possibility of endless love (as we, romantics, must still insist on doing).

A woman whose abandonment of vanity would probably mean the very death of her, she was better dressed for an audience at a polo match, also attended by The Royal Family, than a staged reading at a black box theatre.  First:  There was the white hat adorned with a satin ribbon and a silver rhinestone brooch.  And immediately, last night, the brooch got caught in the stage lights, and it began going berserk with rainbow reflections.  So did the giant ring that took over two of her fingers on the dainty left hand.

“Holy shit!” I thought.  “Is this broad decked out in diamonds?!  Damn.”

The hat alone was enough to demand the attention of the audience.  But the coat of the same egg-foam color was a thing of beauty.  Most likely custom-made from cashmere, it could send the mind into a nostalgic trip through the old days — the days of women like Audrey, Jackie and Liz — to the era when things like that were extremely important:  The details.

Gingerly, as if trying to not attract any attention, she slipped passed the front row of the auditorium and took a seat.  But whom was she kidding?  She was impossible not to notice!  For it was obvious, that it took a long while to put this whole thing together last night — through a careful choosing of details.  And I suddenly caught myself wanting to be nearer her, just to learn the aroma of her perfume, to figure out her story.

She had to walk slowly:  By now, the broad was most likely in the seventh decade of her life.  Be it her slow pace, her ability to be the center of attention, or her esteem, I was sure none of us let her slip by unnoticed.  The hat remained on her head for the rest of the night, radiating with rainbow rays from its brooch.  And for the next hour, I continued stealing glances at her.

Under the coat, she wore… a sweat suit.  (I know!)

But then again, it wasn’t one of those mass-made, one-size-fits-all fleece numbers with rubber bands around its ankles.  No, this thing was fluffy and pink.  It had a strange resonance to the days of the young Britney Spears:  Something a woman of my age would purchase from a Victoria’s Secret.  Although a definite mismatch to her outer ensemble, the suit was well fitted to her small frame.  Even this, I bet, was chosen carefully, last night.

A pair of white nursing shoes wrapped the picture, and I bet it was a small tragedy for this woman — this beautiful woman — to obey the mandatory change in her footwear.  Because by now, the broad was most likely in the seventh decade of her life; and it was a choice between vanity and a broken hip.  Yet still, these shoes — were immaculate:  A carefully chosen detail.

The detail of her stubborn warring against time — against her aging.

The details of beauty and class, resonant of the old times when such details were very important.

After the show, I lost sight of her, last night.  In the ladies’ room, I examined my own reflection:  My fitted black sweater dress had been chosen quickly that evening.  I was running late, so I yanked the first thing that didn’t need ironing off the hanger.  But how could I not have seen the gazillion bits of lint all over its front panel?  My hair hadn’t been brushed since the morning:  Was I going for the nonchalant tousled look?  It wasn’t working.  (My shoes though:  My shoes were perfect.)

Inside the stall I chose, it smelled like rose water and pepper.  Not bad.

“Is there any toilet paper?” a tiny voice came through the wall of the partition.

I looked at shoes of the woman in the stall:  They were the pair of white nursing shoes, immaculately chosen.  I froze:  Was that a rhetorical question?  Or did she need help?

I knew:  Dignity — was the very life of her; perhaps, all that was left of it.  Through carefully chosen details — like this pepper-flowery perfume — she tended to her beauty, to defeat time.  To defeat her aging.  But the child-like helplessness set in, regardless her effort.  And so, I stumbled, not knowing how to give her a hand without any charity; without offending her dignity.

I waited.

The tiny voice came back in a few minutes:

“Could you spare me some toilet paper?”

“Sure, sure, sure!” I rummaged around my stall.

I handed her a wad of paper over the partition.

“There are actually some rolls on your window sill,” I said, noticing the line-up above the egg-foam colored hat, with a brooch still going berserk with rainbow reflections under the bathroom light.

“I’ll take this,” the tiny voice said, and I felt the giant ring on her dainty left hand brush against my thumb.

“Yep!  Definitely, diamonds!” I thought.  “Damn.”

“Beggin’, Beggin’ You-Ooh-Ooh: Put Your Lovin’ Hand Out, Baby!”

“Night flight to San Francisco; chase the moon across America…” *

Well, actually, it’s more like a flight to San Francisco, at the break of dawn — and I’m chasing my insomnia.

As I’ve done often, especially when transient, I’m watching other women, collecting the evidence on how they wear their skin; on what it must have been like to be them — to be not me.  To be unlike me.

I haven’t had many women in my earlier childhood to run my life by:  Thrown into a nomadic lifestyle early on by my father’s profession, I didn’t get to keep my girlfriends for long.  And motha?  Well, motha was too young to be a mother; so she would eventually become my girlfriend — but not until I myself was ready for it.  (That last one had to happen on my own terms.  Sorry, motha.)  At first, I would start to strut a little bit ahead of her, increasingly more on my own, more decisively; until she would take the lead no longer.

And so, while I’m chasing my insomnia at the break of this particular dawn, peaking through the sliding door of LAX, I watch the girls and women en route to their journeys.  Some are traveling on the arms of their beloveds:

—  Like the little girl sleeping in the most reassuring embrace of her father, with a dog furry like a golden retriever in place of a pillow.  Soak it up, you little one:  It’s going to be tough for other men to measure up.  Little girls born to good fathers end up married to their high expectations for a really long time.  I should know.  But for now, you do have this.  So, soak it up, my little one.

The young girl with a tired smile of someone that has traveled a lot:  You’re walking ahead of a woman that looks like your mother, and I already see the impatience that inspires you to lead the way.  And that’s wonderful.  But don’t forget to look back, my young girl.  Just on occasion, do look back at the one that you seem to despise the most, at times.  She does know you the best — and she knows the best and the worst of you, while hopefully still sticking by you, unconditionally — and for all of that, you despise her at times.

You, beautiful girls, traveling in couplings:  I pray your companions are worthy of your beauty.  But more over, I hope your kindness is worth even more.  They let you take the lead:  these good men of yours volunteering their life to the impossible task of measuring up to your fathers.  So, do look back at them, at times.  They’re just doing their best.

The frail women accompanied by their grown children:  Your life has been a success.  And the equally frail women looked after by the uniformed staff of the airport:  That’s alright, too.

“Your laptop should be in a tray by itself!  Your shoes — placed directly on the conveyer belt!  Do NOT place your keys inside the shoes!”

She is very tired: The security woman regurgitating the same information to my fellow travelers in line.  We are all tired, of course; but the ones she finds herself serving, for the rest of her life — or for now, at least — at least, we are going somewhere.  She, however, gets to stay behind and look over the safety of our journeys.  It must be hard to do this much looking over, on the daily basis, for the rest of her life.  Or for now, at least.  And those that are leaving are often impatient, tried by circumstances; and they are sometimes unkind and so ungrateful.  (Don’t they know she has their safety in mind?)  To look over them — is her job, not necessarily her dream.  And she is so tired of it, for now, at least.

“Does anybody have a nail file?  ANYBODY?  LADIES?!”

This one is standing in the middle of the waiting area by my gate.  She, too, seems tired, but hopped-up on something.  A few younger girls have been jolted by her aggression already.  She has even shaken one of them awake from her tired sleep, and the young one has opened her eyes and smiled with that smile of someone that has traveled a lot.

The hopped-up creature carries on.  She now jolts the lovely hippie with Jolie-esque lips who is listening her headphones and shooting impatient, concerned gazes at Gate 37B.  (We are the only ones without a monitor, so the gurgled announcement by our tired stewardess is the only source of information.  The Jolie-esque hippie can’t hear them, of course; so she jolts herself to remember to pay attention.)

The aggressive female passenger, however, is too hopped-up on something to notice the annoyance she is arousing in the youthful creature:

“Broke a nail!  LOOK!” she shoves her hand under the Jolie-esque lips.  The lovely hippie jumps, readjusts, and as kindly as her tiredness allows — excuses herself.

“Um.  Anyone?  LADIES!  REALLY?!”

“I think I might,” I finally step up to the plate.

The hopped-up female leaps toward me and, while I put away my writing and rummage through my bag for my tired memories as to where I could’ve stored that darn thing, she looms above me.  We are all chasing insomnia right now, on this San Francisco flight at dawn; but she may be chasing something else.

After the mission is accomplished she offers to buy me a drink:  Kindness by affliction.

“Thank you:  I don’t drink,” I say.

“Sorry, what?  WHAT?!” Just like that, she switches off any tired niceness, dismissing the possibility for gratitude and takes offense.  She gets offensive.  “I can’t understand you?!  Do you have an accent?”

Yep:  Definitely, hopped-up on something.  Perhaps, its tiredness she can no longer handle without an affliction.

I excuse myself to the bathroom:  We’re done here, sister!  The Jolie-esque lips shoot me a compassionate smile.  I don’t look back.

“Flight VX (gurgle-gurgle) to San Francisco is now boarding at (gurgle-gurgle).”

The handsome Latin woman with perfectly glossed lips and a tired gaze has finally come out to announce the clearing skies up north.  She has been so tormented by the impatience of those of us going somewhere.  We tend to be so unkind, sometimes; so ungrateful.

But the important thing is:  The San Francisco skies have cleared, at dawn; and each woman can carry on with her own journey.  We can go now, and hopefully, most of us cannot wait to land.  And as we board the aircraft to chase our mutual insomnia, I look back at the handsome Latin woman behind:

Here is my gratitude, love — and my very tired kindness.

* Kushner, Tony.  Angels in America.

“Life Is a Beach — I’m Just Playin’ in the Sand”

Ah, kittens.  I have been watching you, playing in twos, every time I get myself out to the beach.

There is something very honest about humanity out here.  It’s dialed down, calm.  Quiet.  Everyone is hushed down by the magnificent tongue of the Ocean; and you better be painfully exhibitionist — uncomfortable, in skin and silence — to be louder than the waves.  (But I had seen those types before as well:  They make me move my towel, as if switching subway cars to avoid the destructively insane and the painfully lonely.)

I have been running away, out here, to fall asleep on the sand until the magnificent tongues of the Ocean lick my feet with the aftertastes of the opposite shore where, several decades ago, I was born.  Out here, I have been running to get a better glimpse of humanity, a more complimentary view of it.  Out here, I have been running away from the dusty hills and the heated asphalt of my neighborhood, just so I can sit on my ass and pick the shrapnel out of my last battle wounds.

But it’s fine!  It’s fine where I’m living.  It’s perfectly fine.

Here, between the mountains on one side and the downtown skyline on the other — and the apocalyptic clouds of smog all around, as pink as cotton-candy-flavored ice — I cannot see the bloody horizon.  And that’s fine too:  because it keeps me bolted down to my chair, in the midst of work, to which there is no end in sight — to which there is no horizon.  But it’s fine!  It’s perfectly fine, where I’m living.  For now.

But when it chokes, when it moves in and looms above — this lack of knowing as to what it’s all for; when I cannot defeat the despair with mere discipline, I run away.  I cannot run far, for there is indeed a limit to this city — an actual edge.  And I cannot run away from the work, to which there is no end in sight:  no bloody horizon.  But just for a day, I can run away and I can watch them kittens play in twos, in the sand; and I can let the giant dog of the Ocean tickle my feet with its magnificent tongue.

Yesterday, he was brown and very manly; athletic but in that stocky wrestler sort of way.  Even when he stood above the body of his lovely, he seemed to be hanging close to the ground, hovering.  And she:  She stretched and purred underneath him — a caramel-colored kitten, in a two-piece bathing suit of mismatching colors.  Her head was wrapped with a scarf, and its edges coming undone tangled up in the loose hair at the top of her neck.

The two of them had pitched their burgundy cotton sheet just a few meters south of my ass, and like me, they immediately got quiet.  He stretched out on his stomach, she — on her back; and although they spoke little — hushed down by the magnificent tongue of the Ocean — their every gesture was filled with tenderness and certain intimacy that only lovers well-acquainted with each other’s bodies can have.  Without looking over for her target, she would throw her perfectly carved leg over him; and he would reach and caress it with the tips of his fingernails.  (Sometimes, poetry is written on the inside of a woman’s thigh.)

At one point, in between my nap sessions, I pitched myself up on my elbows and saw that she had climbed on top of him, her stomach perfectly contouring his lower back; and there seemed to be no grander bliss that he could be subjected to.  And when she unleashed her wet curls from underneath the head scarf and covered his head, absentmindedly, habitually, he reached up and buried his giant hand in them:  He knew her, so well.  And oh, how well, he loved her!

This juxtaposition of their physique, the intimate tangling of their bodies filled me with something so serene, I nearly forgot that I had ran away out here, to pick the shrapnel out of my last battle wounds.

A few more meters down from our congregation, there rested an older couple.  She belonged to the type of a handsome woman that had managed to defeat her age with sport and boyish haircuts.  When she strutted toward the hissing, foaming, teasing waves, her back astonished me with its tautness and form.  He was watching her as well.  Between the two of them, he seemed to have done all the aging on their behalf.  Balding and under the influence of gravity, he sat on their towel and he worshiped her.  Every time she granted him an over-the-shoulder glance — he waved at her, boyishly.  And although, like me, and like the two brown people south of my ass, the two older lovers were quiet:  Oh, how he loved her, he seemed to say, with silence.  It spoke volumes:  How he loved her!

I would check out again, drifting into dreamless sleep that would leave me thirsty and teary-eyed.  And when I jolted myself awake, I heard the hollow heartbeat of a ping-pong ball:  Above my head, a couple of young lovers were sending each other running — across the sand and across distances that seemed to be unaffected by mutual fear (for, surely, neither has been hit with shrapnel yet).

Besides her occasional giggles, they would remain completely quiet.  Every time, she couldn’t strike back on time, she would run toward the ball, giggling; and he would play with the strings of his swimming trunks — and he would watch her, in silence.  There were beginnings of manhood in that gaze:  the self-esteem of someone with a beautiful physique and a gentle heart, who would never have to work hard for a girl’s love.  And there would be other girls — certainly! — for any life is treasured more once hit with shrapnel.  But in that moment, in that particular silence, he seemed to speak volumes of his love — for her.

Oh, how he liked her!  And how he loved!

“Don’t Need That Money When You Look Like That: Do Ya, Honey?”

You girls in sensual summer dresses:

You forever rob me of the reluctant negotiation with my parting sleep; and every morning, you remind me that beauty — is always worth waking up to.

I just saw one of you, from behind the opened shades of my bedroom window, walking your dog along my sleepy street.  It is still that lovely hour of the morning before Angelinos, obliged to obey their hideous parking regulations, start crawling out of their beds to grumpily tend to their vehicles.  The traffic has not wound up the common vibration of annoyance in this city’s air.  Not yet.  The sounds of perpetual Los Angeles constructions and Mexican leaf-blowers are yet to jolt us all with reminders of other people’s harder jobs and more strenuous existences.  The ice-cream man:  He knows better than to taunt my neighborhood’s children with his tunes, because the adults have not finished resting yet.  Not yet.  And the laughter and the thrilled yelps of those same children splashing around in blown-up pools in their asphalted backyards have not lightened my forehead from frowning.  Not yet.

But you, my curvaceous messenger of beauty — you are already doing your part.  Clothed in a single layer of a red-and-white halter top cotton dress, you are, if not teasing, then politely suggesting for my eyes to remain open.

And you are, most certainly, worth waking up to!

Your hair clipped-up into a romantic disarray on the back of your head is revealing a neck that could resurrect Modigliani from his own eternal sleep.  And oh no!  Your back’s porcelain skin should not be exposed to the already aggressive summer rays and equally aggressive elements from perpetual Los Angeles constructions and Mexican leaf-blowers.  But I am surely grateful for it:  That skin is so evenly white that the bleached sheets on the old Armenian’s clothesline at a nearby cottage fade in comparison, when you pass them.  The high waist of your frock ends somewhere around your diaphragm, glueing and undoing its seams at your every breath.  And the skirt balancing on your hips, like the starched Easter dresses on tiny baby-girls with frilly ankle socks, ends at a diplomatic distance beneath your behind.  It’s long enough to warn me about your boundaries, but short enough to question my own.

Or, you, the spunky creature of last night, who served me and my partner with sushi and and all-you-can-feast of your healthy bod peaking from underneath the littlelest of the Little Black Dresses I’ve ever seen.  I myself have been living in a body of an athlete; because with age, there surely must come more perfection.  I’ve insisted on it!  I’ve had to upgrade!  So, I’ve peeled on the tight muscles of my calves and biceps; doubled the size of my thighs and demanded some upright dignity from my back ‘n’ spine.  But on you, physical activity sits with ease and a little bit of a give.  You are still all woman, unless you are the young girl — the teenage waitress on roller blades with a summer gig at a vintage diner — when you slide past our booth and make either silly or nonchalant faces that make me whack the table with my giant ring and scream out, every time:

“I love her!”

You stick your silly-lovely-nonchalant face back into our booth and quickly tap me with:  “Settle down there, buster!”

Your joy, your youth, your hysterical ambition (for, surely, you got here to dream a little better, and maybe even to better belong) — they are contagious to the rest of us.  That includes the blonde, aging waitress who could so easily be bitter and crass, had you not started the outright obnoxious Karaoke to the Madonna mix blasting above our heads.  And the unhappy woman in a coupling squished against the wall would much rather complain about the iciness of her iced tea or the rawness her raw salmon, had it not been for the series of your familiar leans against her table while doing your job with flying colors:  She’s got nothing on you; nothing on your joy, your youth, or your hysterical ambition!  The lonesome Japanese chef forced to work on a national holiday could probably be disgruntled, or stoic, in the least.  But you have cracked enough jokes with him — and a couple of bottles of Jamaican beer — that to him, to all of us, this is suddenly the perfect coordinate for a celebration.

And the boho-chic brunette shifting the hangers on the outside clothing rack of a Berkeley-esque boutique store:  Is that a striped feather in your hair, or an earring?  And is that a toe ring sparkling in between the leather straps of your Athenian sandals, or a fallen down star?  And how is this long, thick-belted skirt, long enough for you to throw over your bent arm — how is it constructed so perfectly for your mixture of Zooey Deschanel and the young Kate Winslet?  Or is it all — just another layer, your second skin?

The Caribbean import in a lavender slip-on who, like me, didn’t think twice about throwing on a bra:  For it is so bloody hot around here, tonight and always!  You are so perfect in your skin, glistening from the balmy night, that when you pass me, I pay you a compliment, up front:  just to thank you for letting me stare at you as if I myself were thinking you up on a canvas.  And thank you, by the by, for the self-assured smile you pay me back — just another detail of you-ness to splash with my brush, once I take you home.

You lovely creatures of my half of the race:

You heal and restore, nurture the resigned and the reluctant back to the living. You give without knowing, leave behind without minding.  You resurrect, inspire, even if with a promise that is never meant to be kept.

You lovely girls in sensual summer dresses:  Yet again, this morning — and always! — you are worth waking up to!

“Bottoms Up, Bottoms Up! Up!”

I had a dream about you, baby tall.

Last night, in the midst of a city very much like New York — my city, not your city — we stood in between two slow snowfalls; and you were suddenly taken.  It’s the way I had seen too many fall for my city — not your city — when all that grime and mess and neuroses had been covered by the endless, fresh sheets of snow; suddenly making life seem not so hard.  Not so bad.  (It would happen a lot, in my city, unless those in the midst of it had arrived with some stubborn arrogance in tow.  But if they hadn’t made up their mind, most of the time they would fall, for my city.)

In a nook of a miniature park, in the cove between two high-rises, the air was warm, windless:  It was waiting for the next fall.  Generally, it had been true, about my city:  It never failed to give it a rest, but not until one was hopelessly fed up; on the verge of losing one’s mind.  And then the city would let up a little, for long enough to grant a breather.  Just as we were now:

In a nook of a miniature park, you and I — were in the midst of a breather, in between two slow snowfalls.

You always stood so tall:  more of my son than any others that came before you.  Sometimes, I would catch your blue-eyed gaze deciphering something I could not have known.  (A life?  A love?  A dream, a game, a sport.)  You’d see me looking up and you’d wink:  Busted, baby tall.  So very much busted.  I did look up this time, again, but at the heavy clouds patching up the night sky — little foam baths for shiny stars:

“How long is the breather?” I wondered.  “How long can we have, here?”

But you always stood so tall, so there you were:  Right above me, winking.  And suddenly, all that manhood that someone had taught you to put on — the control, the knowledge, the groove I had always secretly worshiped in you — all that fell away.  Two step was all it took for you to make it over to a hilly flowerbed (because you always stood and walked so tall); and before I could say, “Love?” — you were on the ground, awkwardly for your height, but still, very much my son.  Your long limbs began to swing around, as if swimming in a giant pool; and you began to laugh in a way I had never heard, in the midst of our breathers:  abundantly and out of control, as if no damage had ever happened to your child.

“What are you up to, over there?” I asked, chuckling; and I felt my tear ducts kick-in.

“So good!” you answered, “Really:  So good!”  It’s what you’d always say when you wanted my participation.  And back into the giant pool of your laughter you dove in.  Out of control.

It would take my slow descent onto the patch of snow underneath my feet; for I was always older than you, flaunting those years as aging big cats do when teaching their cubs how to hunt.  I was wearing that same black coat from college, but it now sat a couple of sizes too big on my tauter, more disciplined body.  So, it asked for some maneuvering to land onto my back.  I spread the bottom of of the coat like a giant tail and reluctantly began replicating your strange, unlikely behavior.

“Oh,” I said — I finally got it — and looked over at your blue-eyed gaze deciphering something.  “Is baby tall making snow angels?”

“Yep.”

But then, you stopped laughing, back in control — in the knowledge, in the groove of all that manhood someone had taught you to put on.

In the midst of a city very much like New York — my city, not your city — I thought:

“Here is — to NOT happening.”

It has been my toast to every morning since I’ve learned to wake up without you.  It has become my prayer, my chronic chant as I continue to flaunt my years in front of other cubs that have happened since you.  They can’t hang, can’t groove, can’t hunt; and they definitely don’t know how to follow an older woman’s lead.  And so they leave, soon enough, for younger, simpler loves.  And I don’t even itch with resistance:  I let them go.

“Here is — to NOT happening,” I think.

Sometimes, a love story is not a go-to novel, pregnant with favorite quotations, that rests on a bookshelf dusty everywhere else but in its vicinity.  Sometimes, it’s just a vignette:  a pretty design on the spine of someone’s history.  A short story.  A lovely fable.  A melancholic lullaby.  And so fearful we are, sometimes, of our own mortality — of our irrelevance — so stubbornly arrogant, we leap into a sad habit of making a mess out of our break-ups and departures.  And we just can’t let it go.

But not this time, baby tall.  Not with this aging big cat.  Because you were more of my son than any others that came before you; and because my age had asked me for much slower maneuvering in that tauter, more disciplined body of mine.

So many had come before you, and they had taken so much; I am still surprised at how easily I am ready to love.  But even if they have vanished entirely, after our messy break-ups and departures, I am too wise to dismiss them.  They are still — my lovely fables.  My melancholic lullabies.  And no matter how long the healing, with the next magnificent love, I inevitably have come to know:

“Here is — to NOT happening.”

Oh, but it’s a good thing, my baby tall:  to not have happened!  “Really:  So good!”

So, here is — to this breather, in between our falls, in between our dreams.  And yes, here is — to the next magnificent love, or the next vignette.