Tag Archives: boundaries

The Other Side of Things

(Continued from June 3rd, 2012.)

In beginning of the summer, he told her he would be flying in.  She waited for a clarification, in silence.

The flurry of his messages resumed in a few days:  the tiny little jabs that, with his craftiness and her gullibility in tow, could easily be reinterpreted as tiny strokes of her ego; and if she really, really wanted to feel needed and missed — she could be pleased.  He was visiting his mother.  She said hello, said that she was sorry about how things had turned out.  She’d always “liked her”.  He spoke about how sick and tired of the North-East he had grown.  (They’d moved there together years ago, on the basis of her curiosity alone, pretty much.  Being young in New York sounded perfect, at the time.)  And wouldn’t it be nice to raise a family out here, instead?  She would’ve made a wonderful mother.

On that, she came out of her silence:  “What do you want, Mike?!” she texted.  (She had always avoided abbreviations in her messages; but with him, she also insisted on being brutally precise with her punctuation.)

But her irritation went right over his head:  “dunno hang out?” he wrote back.

It had to be a bliss to not see life’s gray areas at all, and to trample over other people’s precious boundaries with this much oblivion.  Or could he be simply manipulative?  Perhaps, he enjoyed watching her lose her cool, for his sake.  But the casualty with which he treated their break-up she found plainly and increasingly offensive:  He had been acting as if nothing terrible had happened at all and as if they could remain friends, on the other side.  Didn’t he know long it took for her to achieve the lightness of the forgiven past?

They took a few days off from talking.  She began sleeping a lot.

 

When he finally appeared, she wished her mind had tricked her into not recognizing him.  She wished he had changed.  But no:  A pair of long shorts ending at his half shins; a one inch buzz cut of his coarse, tight curls, which he had worn the same way for years; and a backpack.  And a sizable backpack at that!  (The day they met back in college, she was stumbling across the campus from the bus stop.  Having left her glasses at home, she was walking by memory.  He was leaving his Calculus class, in shorts and — yes! — with a backpack.  A sizable backpack!)

Now, he was walking on the opposite side of the street.  He seemed to have noticed her from ways away.  Eventually, she noticed him too:  that gait, that tilt of the head.  She felt zero sentimentality.  Once they made eye contact, he didn’t smile.  Neither did she.

“Oh, no!  Your hair!” he said right off the bat.  He now stood in front of her, his lower lip chapped from the wind.  “What happened to your hair?”

She had cut it all off, in the heat of the new city; and she’d been keeping it that way, since they’d last seen each other.

“And where are you off to?” she responded, immediately defensive.  “Camping in the canyons?”

It was just like she remembered the very end of them:  terse non-sequiturs and impatient physical contact.  Now, they had both grown older, but not kinder.

Considering to take an offense, he looked at her with his shiny eyes, then shrugged.  They exchanged a stiff hug.  (How long does it take for the muscle memory of lovers to fade?)  She braised the air near his cheek with a polite kiss, but their skin never touched.  He pulled away, held her arms for a moment, looking into her eyes.  Forcing it.  Then, after studying her boyish hairline again, he shook his head.  At least, he was smiling this time.

“Can I get you a drink?” he sized up the empty plastic cup on her end of the patio table, with its walls murky from a blend of coffee and milk.

“I don’t know:  Can you?”  She narrowed her eyes.  She was beginning to feel tired and bitchy again.  A tension headache was squeezing her temples.  She sat back down.  His backpack now took up the chair across from her.  She began to study pedestrians, particularly the ones with dogs.  When the dogs were left waiting outside, tied down to immoveable objects, she wondered how this much love could ever be forsaken.  How could love survive this much waiting?

When he returned, with two identical iced drinks, he plopped the backpack down onto the dirt patch, himself — into the chair.  Brazen, she thought.  Not even an apology for having her wait for him for nearly half an hour.

“So.  How the hell are you?” he said, while twirling the cubes of ice inside his coffee with a straw.  They clunked against each other, dully.

“Well.”

He nodded:  “Yeah.  I’d say.”  She watched him take a good stretch in his metal chair and yawn.

“You?” she said.

“Bueno!” he said and grinned at her with that boyish bravado that he’d nearly lost at the end of their marriage.  His arms hung stretched behind his head.  “It’s good to be back, I’ll tell you that much,” he said.

She felt her headache tighten.  She needed fresh air, or rather moving air, against her face.  She wanted to be crying under the rain.  She wished to be in the water.

So, she stood up, groped the chair for her purse and picked up her drink.  “Mind if we walk to the beach?” she said.

His eyes, despite the panicked confusion (was it something he said?), began to shine with a curiosity.  “Yeah.  Sure,” he responded.  “That would be awesome!”

She shook her head.  He was pushing now.

Not wanting to go through the store filled with other people, exhausted by the sun, she began to search for the gate of the patio.  She needed to be near the water, to hear it, and to imagine all that distance stretching ahead of her and all the places on the other side.

Stronger

“So typical!” she thought after having gotten the message about his running late:

“Traffic.  B there in 5.  Smiley face.”

The part about the smiley face was written out.  In the very moment of reading his message, she was not tickled by his charm at all.  The joke felt stale and smart-Alec-y, and it was probably aimed at her expense:

Well!  He remembered that but not that I despise tardiness.  “So disrespectful!” she muttered to herself.

She’d already parked the car and taken the stairs.  A lanky man going the opposite way in the staircase overheard her.  Behind his bifocals, he blinked rapidly and hugged the wall a little more.  A tourist!  She, for a brief moment, considered covering it up:  by pretending to be on her cell phone or improvising a tune to which the overheard words could belong.  But she was too annoyed.  She clammed up until alone again, on the next flight of stairs.

What irritated her the most, it seemed, was that after all these years, he hadn’t changed at all.  She had.  She had had to!  He’d altered the course of their lives with a single request to end to their marriage four years ago.  She moved herself across the country, as if her shame would lessen with no mutual witnesses around.  She’d gotten tired to wrench her guts out in front of friends.  Their sympathy was too short of a consolation anyway, with nothing on the other side of it — but an even more agitated loneliness.

In a new city, she could blame all the hardships on her relocation.  That way the divorce would come secondary; and on the list of common fears — moving, death, break-ups, public speaking — some of hers would be at least on the same plank.  Divorce or departure.  Departure or divorce.  They became interchangeable causes for every new obstacle for a while.  But eventually, each claimed its own time of day.  Departure took the daylight, while nights were consumed by the consequences of the divorce.  She started going to bed earlier.

When things weren’t well, she’d text-message the ex.  It was a habit of the fingers — not of the heart.  She took him bouncing between her little devastations and the recently increasing occurrences of her gratitude.  No matter her original intention though, they always ended up bickering.  Recycling became their long-distance pattern.  But it seemed to her — and she knew she wasn’t alone in this — they both found comfort in that repetition, how ever painful the results.

 

“Fuck that, D!  What do YOU want?” her stepbrother Tommy, with whom she’d grown close through all of this, would say.  The man never slept; and when she called in the midst of her own insomnia, she’d often catch him painting at sunrise in New York, never having gone to bed at all.

Tommy was adamant that no good would come from her constant contact with the ex.  “All you’re doing is delaying the pain, man.  He won’t change.  It’s all about you!”

But that was exactly was she feared.  It was easier to fish for an apology — or at least a recognition — in her interactions with the ex:  some sort of an acknowledgement of all that former goodness of hers that he had taken for granted, by ending it.  It was as if she’d wanted him to love and lose again (someone else, of course, because even she wasn’t dumb enough to go in for seconds), just so he could learn to miss her.  It was the only route to getting even that she had known.

The ex and she continued fighting.  For weeks afterward, she’d wait for an apology.  There would be substantial silence (in which she began to see glimpses of a lighter life, a better self).  After a timeout though, his messages would come in flurries, a few days in a row:  Some woman wore her perfume on the subway.  He’d found an old photo in his college notebook.  A mutual friend had asked about her.  He missed her legs, her hair…  By what right?!

In the beginning, she did respond reflexively, as if flattered by the contact.  But when his tone turned whiny — he “missed her”, “wanted her” — she got irritated fast:  Who’s fault was that, exactly?!  And when he began insinuating at his lust, she would get struck with guilt toward his new woman.  The pattern grew old, like the baby blanket from her own childhood which she’d been saving for her firstborn.  The firstborn took its time happening while the blanket became a reminder of yet another one of her inadequacies.  She began to feel hard of forgiveness.  There was no way around it:  He’d made a mistake; and she, still picking up the pieces on the receiving end, failed to let go.

Carla Gugino for Esquire Magazine

“I mean:  Do you even want him back?” Tommy sounded flabbergasted.  He seemed so different from her!  Stronger.

But Tommy was different:  He belonged to a separate genetic line of bold spirits:  artists, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, marine biologists, heros.  At family gatherings, they all came in with colorful stories about the world in which neither habit nor fear seemingly played any role.  Her people were hospital administrators and medical assistants, for as long as she remembered.  Being concerned with records of pain, causes and possible treatments was their daily bread.

(To Be Continued.)

“Hush, Hush, Darlin’! Hush, Hush, Darlin’!”

This morning, he wrote:

“I was just giving you room to…”

Yes, I’m often in the mood to dot-dot-dot.  So…

I often wonder about silence:  the way it sits on other people.

I personally wear it like the lavender-colored pashmina of cashmere and silk that I keep in the backseat of my car, at all times.  Sometimes, I loop it around my arm while walking.  Too warm for it right now, I think; but then, you never know:  I might need it later.  Other times, I show up all wrapped in it, and I walk by my lover’s side peaceful, perfectly sufficient, but separate.  It’s my second skin:  within his reach — for whatever exploratory touch he may have the habit for — but then again, it’s a barrier.  A nature’s boundary.  It makes up — me.  It contains me:  My silence.  And no matter the power of empathy, no matter the reach of compassion, there is no way I would give it up, for good.

There are times when I let my companions wrap themselves in the other side of my silence, but only if they have the capacity to share my step and to adopt my pace, for a while.  Most of the time, it is best shared with those that have seen me grow up.  Sure, many loves have seen me change, learn, transform (because once I make up my mind to be with them — I go all in).  But only the selected few — the sacred handful — have kept tabs on me for years.  Many such silent walks we have shared by now, all so specifically perfect because they haven’t demanded a description.  And the accumulation of these shared silences — is what makes up our intimacy.

I watch some get unnerved by my comfortable tendency for silence; and when I tell them I was born as decidedly the only child my parents planned to have, they say:

“Oh, but of course!  Your silence makes total sense!”

I prefer to refrain from saying:

“But what do you mean?!”

Instead, I let them cradle their opinions, projecting their discomfort and their sadly absurd need to be right.  Because a “What do you mean?!” always leaves an aftertaste of despair in my mouth.  (And I am never really too desperate to name everything by its title; even it that title seems to be most truthful in the moment but only turns out to be best deserved, in the end.  So, I would rather stick to metaphors.  Or, I would rather leave it — to silence; leave it — in the mood to dot-dot-dot.)

But it does mesmerize me to watch others, in their silence.  Most of the time, they aren’t my beloveds, but utter strangers incapable of handling solitude at all.  I study their fiddling away with their radios for the best-suited background track.  They click away at the buttons of their phones — their mobilized egos that promise to grant them a life — for some distracting stories in which they can tangle themselves up; as I tangle myself up — in silence.  So discombobulated they are with their aloneness, so unsettled by the sudden lack of diversions from the truth, they reach, they grapple, they grasp.

There are others, much lovelier in my eyes; and in their silence, they are still curious.  Surely, they must be loved, by someone, I always assume.  They must be waited for, by others, at home.  But in the moment of their solitude, they seem to possess the talent for temporary surrender.  They sit in silence with an open mind, a ready fascination; as if the most unexpected gives them the biggest thrill.  And it does make me wonder if their esteem — this comfortable wearing of their skin — comes from being so loved; comes from being waited for.

Because having a home to come back to — gives them a firmer ground to stand on.  Because homecoming is always a deserving point of reference.

And then, there are the very few that dwell in silence permanently.  It may not be because they are best equipped to deal with life’s ambiguity.  But in the acceptance of their solitude, I find a grace so powerful, so contagious, it makes me want to interrupt it and say:

“But how do you do that?”

And I used to think that such ability for being had to have come from a healthy life and a kind past; from parents that wait for their children at Christmas with their favorite meals, loving anecdotes, and with boardgames in front of going fireplaces; with their childhood bedrooms still intact and photographs lining up into chronologies of their lives on hallway walls.

But not until I myself have learned to wear my silence without any secret desire to surrender it have I realized that it also sometimes comes from having lost too much to want to hold onto it.  Because it gets too heavy, with time:  all that loss and all that seeming injustice. So, I have learned let go of it, so I would never bring it into my new loves (because how can a love not fail with all that baggage in tow?).

Instead, these days, I wrap myself in silence as if it were the lavender-colored pashmina of cashmere and silk that I keep in the backseat of my car — within my reach — at all times.  And I walk — alone.

And if ever walking with another love wrapped in the other side of it, through the shared silence, I tell him:

“I was just giving you room to…”

So…

Home, Bitter-Sweet Home

Today, I woke up to the sound of construction.  Having had the type of a day that nearly disparaged me with other people’s tests of my boundaries, being brought back to reality didn’t enthrall me much, as you can imagine.  I growled, tossed to the other side of my bed; yanked the alarm plug out of the wall (‘cause I don’t need that shit waking me up later); and on my feet that someone had to have pumped with lead while I was sleeping, I stumbled toward my bedroom window:

“Bloody F!” I shifted the blinds to examine the haps of my ‘hood.

A handful of short, brown men calling out to each other in a foreign language were repairing the roof of the little blue house next to mine.  Right underneath my top-story apartment, I could see them ripping that shit to pieces.  Unlike the men at one of those construction sites with heavy machinery and brutal metallic noises, these guys were tiny; and the sounds they emitted belonged to the old country:  a scraping of the shovel against the stripped wood, an arhythmic knocking of a hand-held hammer and the rainfall of nails hailing into a plastic bucket in the middle.  The shortest of the workers, wearing a safari hat, had been assigned the task of sweeping around with a giant broom with plastic bristles. That thing was thrice as tall!  And their leader — a gray-mustached man with an LAPD cap and a waterproof pouch with architectural drawings sticking out of it — looked out toward my building while smoking a pipe.

That fucking pipe rang a bell:  On my yesterday’s morning jog, while fumbling with the wires of my iPod, I nearly knocked him over.  He didn’t see me coming from behind, didn’t hear my mutters at the wires that would’ve annoyed me less had they belonged to a spider web into which I walked in, face first.

“Ooh…  Sorry…” I said, not really meaning it:  Who the fuck was he anyway and why wasn’t he paying attention?  I began to make my way around him.

“‘S okay, beauty,” the gray-mustached man calmly said after removing his smoking instrument from the thin lips that made him look like my father, “You can bump me anytime.”

Okay, may be NOT like my father, you naughty old player!  I laughed.  I do tend to forget that older folk still haven’t forgotten about sex, and that some of them may still be having it (yikes!).

So, it always tickles me to no end to watch these old guys flirt with me, with the swagger of their old days.  I bet they don’t sext the woman they like; and they know the etiquette of a phone call.  “Liking” a girl’s photograph on Facebook does not pass, for them, as an expression of desire.  And their stubborn commitment to getting doors and pulling out chairs; to taking over a woman’s grocery bags and never letting her whip out her money, no matter her protesting — all that throws me into a state of easy melancholy, readily available to my Russianness.

Yesterday, we left it at a laugh; but as I took off, I continued to smile and shake my head a few more times.  My jogging step suddenly got lighter.  I maneuvered my way around my neighborhood at the foot of a mountain; and considering LA-LA’s latest weather of the Bay-like blues — with its fogginess and unpredictable spurts of sunshine — it suddenly reminded me of my home:  A tiny village on a peninsula at the other end of the Pacific.  The old country.

A fresh cup of coffee would make the perfect finish to my start of the day, I decided, and detoured toward my neighborhood’s market.  Feeling the grogginess of the morning lift, giving room to the lightness of gratitude, I aimlessly walked through the fresh produce aisle.  A mount of magnificent red plums tempted me to pick-up a few and breathe them in.  I rubbed my fingers against a mint leaf and petted the shiny surfaces of eggplants; groped a few avocados.  Letting habit and the vague smell of coffee take me to my destination, I passed the fish counter.

“Hello, how are jew?” the manager said from behind his tempting, never frozen line-up of produce.

“Beauticious,” I answered and gave him my best American smile:  open and down with it.

Surprised by an alert response, the man’s brown face immediately stretched into an enthusiastic smile:  “Beauti-cious?”  I heard remnants of his Spanish accent.

“It’s like, ahem, beautiful and delicious at the same time,” I explained.  “Like those jumbo scallops of yours.”

“Oy!  Oy!” the man was already putting on his gloves.  “Would jew like to take a l’ook?”  (Definitely Spanish!)

Before I could switch from smiling to speaking (I’m still figuring out the dynamics of that whole American smiling, to tell you the truth), the old guy was already on my side of the counter, lifting its front cover.  (I didn’t even know it was built like that!)  A whiff of the sea hit my nose:  Ah, the old country.  HOME.  

The man began to gingerly pick-up the beauticious scallops and bounce them in his giant hands.

“Oy!  How ‘bout dis one?!”

“Gorgeous,” I said and rested my forearm on his shoulder.  “Beauticious!”

He chuckled:  My tender presence thrilled him. Perhaps, it reminded him of his own home:  Where men drink beer on outside patios and bluntly whistle at the lovely chicas strutting by; where time crawls and dictates the course of the day with its mood; where lunchtime can last until dinner and where every accidental drum beat can start an impromptu fiesta.

“What cha got there?”  The old guy said to me and starting staring at my breast.

I looked down:  A neon-orange sticker that used to belong to the mount of avocados, sat in the vicinity of my nipple and read:

“RIPE READY TO EAT”.

The man sized me up:  Was he about to get in trouble?  But when I thumped my forehead against his chest and lost my composure entirely, wiping away the tears that ready flooded my tired eyes, he too began to holler with his chesty laughter.

“Oy!  Oy!” he was still holding those scallops in this giant, brown hands and throwing his head back.  He would’ve touched me — it felt like he wanted to — but his American training had taught him about boundaries.

Still:  It was suddenly all so easy; so light.  Beauticious and grateful.

“Yep,” I thought:

It’s time to go home.  The old country.

How to Take It Like a Man

The other day, en route to my bank in 90210, a man teased me on the phone:

“You gotta write about the ways of V:  all so tough at first, then turns into a pussycat!”  (That kid had seen me in action:  Years ago, I shot him down at his first approach.  But the playa was persistent, courted me, and eventually managed to hit that; but I was never able to outlive the anecdote of my arrogant brush-off.) 

On the phone, the mister began to hum, “Got a black magic woman / Got a black magic woman”; while on my end, a lightening of flashbacks from previous failed pick-ups snapped me out of the conversation. 

“I do that!”  I thought.

So many times, so many men have witnessed my Not in Your Lifetime expression, followed by the back of my head.  Sometimes, I cushion the rejection with a lie:

“I have a man, thanks,” while I know there ain’t anyone waiting for me in my bed.

But there were also situations when my rebuff was much more brutal:

“You can’t afford me—I can tell by your shoes!”

Or, my overused favorite: 

“Trust me:  You can’t handle me!”

“Don’t turn your back on me, baby,” my comrade was now getting carried away on the phone, in a one-man show, being all cute ‘n’ shit.  I hung up.  But the idea lingered:  Why do I shoot ‘em down so quickly?

I parked my wheels in a residential area and began walking.  (I am not having my brand spanking new ride get scratched up in a clusterfuck of some lame Beverly Hills parking lot—at the privilege of two bucks a minute!)  At every pedestrian crossing, I stared down at the stressed-out drivers inside their luxury rides just to make sure it was alright to get in their way that afternoon.  Most of them raised their hands in surrender:  “My bad.  Didn’t see you.”  Others rolled their eyes and jabbed their arms in a flabbergasted, passive-aggressive “Go already!”  Life unfolds at its own pace when you coexist in this desired zip code—but no one said that pace would be gentle or charitable.  Just navigating the last two blocks, I’ve lost track of my thoughts prior to all of this negotiation and attitude.

“Can you spare some change?”  A toothless homeless man brought me back to reality. 

Where he parked his actor’s chair was a money-making spot:  At the only elevator of the biggest parking lot in this darn zip code which, at a minute interval, spat out and ate up every possible demographic visiting the world-famous Drive.  So, this creature was working overtime:  granting women compliments, chatting up the suits about stocks, guiding the tourists to the biggest attractions, and tipping off the razzi on the whereabouts of lunching celebrities. 

It’s not the first time I’ve seen him here; and when I do, the main thing—is to not slow down.  Sometimes, I am strong enough to just say, “No, sorry.”  But most of the time, I fake an animated conversation on my cell phone in order to avoid being interrupted by this aggressive earner.  That afternoon, however, he had already noticed me.  So, I whipped out my retro flip phone and pretended to text ferociously.

“Can you spare a dollar?”  The toothless regular was not buying my act.  More over, he raised his price.  

I raised my gaze, barely shook my head and resumed fake-texting.

“But I love you!”—the man was relentless.  His confession was not unconditional, though; because when I ignored it and leapt off the curb to make a mad dash for the opposite side of the road, my new courtier got very upset.

“Fuckinnnn’”—(he wound up his tongue, then spat out)—“BITCH!”

I wish I could say here, “I couldn’t believe it!” my comrades; or, utterly appalled, break it down as:  “Wait a minute:  I was walking… minding my business…”  But I’m afraid that my naïveté has recently been given some shock treatment, out of which it mostly likely will not be coming out—in this lifetime.  So, I’ll confess:  I was not as much as inspired to raise my eyebrow in a sliver of surprise or disappointment at this undeserved bit of violence; for I had seen better men lash out in rejection before. 

Which must be why I prefer to pass up my courtiers’ initial offers:  It tests a man’s character.  The less aware and mature ones retract into becoming children, as if throwing fits inside a toy store during a Christmas sale.  Others demand explanations; and sometimes, via self-deprecating humor, they may win me over—but I doubt it.  The third category of men hears me out, accepts my “no” with dignity and proceeds to watch me walk away.  It is that third type that tends be best-hung; and if I don’t come back to them to test my theory first-hand (about their balls), sometimes—just sometimes!—I end up regretting my passing them up.

My verdict, dear beings of the other gender:  You must accept a woman’s choice.  She knows what she wants.  No matter how much it shrivels your balls or regresses you to being the son of your unloving mother, a woman’s “no”—is not up for a renegotiation.  If she changes her mind after the initial rebuff—all the power to her!  But it is not in the realm of your acceptable behavior to act as if you know better what’s good for her.  So, why don’t we all just man up a little—while gratefully staring a her glorious vanishing ass—deal with the embarrassment on our own (or with the help of our shrinks) and wait for the next goddess to waltz into our vicinity who just may be game for our proposition?