Tag Archives: break-up

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.)

Too Far

It was the most abhorred sound to the ear:  A combination of pain and anguish, layered on top of a man’s hysteria.  It seemed to have come from down below, from the streets.  Perhaps, not unusual for the streets of Manhattan, but it’s been years since I had left.  I had wanted space — and space I had received.  Miles of it, with dozens of different cities crammed into one.  And the distance between each other was at times too significant to mend with compassion.

“Fucking spoilt!  Some people don’t have anything… (mumble, mumble, hmmmm).  Why are you like this…”  (Here, I thought he called her by her name.)   “YEAH!  YEAH, YOU ARE!  SO FUCKING SPOILT!”

I looked out of the window.  The end of spring hadn’t yet burnt off the green from the hills.  I studied the bits of lawns, visible in between the rooftops of my street.  The next street over had a more monochromatic look to it, with a row of two-storied, eggshell-colored buildings with those thin metallic windowpanes, painted white, only strong enough to withstand the climate of Southern Cal.  The screens of bathroom widows were narrow and dusty.  An Armenian looking woman, with a hairnet stretched over her auburn perm, was unloading the trunk of her son’s SUV, in the uncovered parking spot of the building below.  The son, with one leg on the ground, the other — still under the steering wheel — was staring at the screen of his mobile phone.

“YOU!  YOU!  YOU took all of it!…  (mumble, mumble, pain).  And now, I don’t have a savings account!”  (He must’ve said her name, again).  “I’ve sacrificed everything!  FOR WHAT?!”

The voice of the screaming man appeared to have no effect on the son or the mother, both consumed by their business in the parking lot.  I unlatched the sliding doors of my patio.  The accumulated dust had discolored the doormat underneath my feet.  It felt grainy.  The rains of this past winter had marked the pink, uneven floor with circular stains, with jagged edges.  I should really make a habit of sitting out here more.  But the work!  The work.  It consumed every bit of presence in a day; until half a day’s sunlight passed and my desire to find myself amidst other humans — completely burnt away.  And the slowness of an aware mind would be gone, gone, gone, into the daze of exhaustion.

The man by now was screaming.  Just screaming:

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH.  (Inhale.)   AAAAAGGGGHHHH.  AAAAAGGGGHHHH.”

Angst.  One uninterrupted, unidentifiable sound, leaving a mouth crooked with pain so immense, I imagined, it had to seem impossible to survive.  But he would land on the other end of it, most likely.  Because even if one reached the edge, the threshold, the limit — too far, unthinkable for a human heart — one would have to go on living.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH…”

The mother, who had begun hanging the beige plastic bags onto her bent forearm, like unshapely lanterns, looked up.  She’d heard it too.

“You said, I don’t fucking love you anymore!  YOU!  YOU SAID THAT!  This, morning… (Mumble.  Moan.  Name?)  And then you went to work!”  (A squeeze of empathy made me brace myself.  I had begun disliking detours from my earned tranquility, even if it disguised itself as apathy.)  “Now, you have to live with that!  You said that!  YES!  YES, YOU DID.  And now, you live with it!”

The mother had to have said something to her son; because now, he too looked up.  Unready to confront humanity, I scurried off inside.  Quickly, I slid the door.  It thumped against the frame, too loudly.

I walked along the outer edges of my place.  I learned my ear against each of the four walls.  One of the walls vibrated with another, “AAAAGGGGHHH!”  The sound was happening next door, and I could now make out the words.

“Go try it, Lena!  Go!  Go see for yourself how other people live!”  He looked so young the last time I saw him.  In time, such loss shaves off years.  With most people though — it compiles them.  “But if you think I’m going to walk away in silence…”  His voice cracked then.  He stopped.  I think he broke down.

I stood against the wall.   In a short while, it was a woman that began speaking.  She had been silent until now.  “Mumble, mumble,” I could hear.  “Mumble, mumble, mumble, hmmmm.”

I could remember her:  A tall Russian girl with that particular face that looked majestic in photographs but slightly off in person.  Tall, blonde, blue-eyed and slightly timid, she suffered from an awkwardness in how she moved her body.  I’d met her in the lobby once.  We shared a giggle in an uncomfortable closeness while getting our mail, from our neighboring mailboxes.

“I hearrd,” she finally spoke, “zat you verre Rrussian to.”  Her accent stumped me.  After two decades of living here, I had acquired the arrogance of a native.  She waited for my answer, locked her mailbox and leaned her back against the wall.  Her legs outstretched in front of her, for meters and meters, as it seemed.  And when she saw my sizing up the distances before her, she pulled them back.  Her face blushed with a sheepish smile.

“Yes,” I spoke looking at her lips.  I wanted to decipher how she spoke.  “Yes.  It’s been years though.”

“Oh,” she ran her fingers through the hair behind her ear.  “Verre… um… you frrom?”

This would’ve been the perfect time to switch to our native tongue.

“I am from the West Coast,” I said in my second tongue, catching myself pronouncing things slower, directly to her mouth.  Something was off there, definitely, besides the accent.  I thought it could’ve been the structure of her jaw.

“Oh,” she said again.  “I sought you verre frrom Moscow.  Zat’s verre I’m from.”

“Go, Lena…  Go back home, if you want…”  The man was sobbing now.  Un-peeling myself from the wall, I stood deciding how much space this tragedy demanded.  Too many witnesses increase the shame.

I wondered how many days it would take each of them to find their way back.  Or had they lost the sight of it for good?  When bearings are lost along the way, it’s harder to recover.  I looked out of the window again.  The mother was gone.  So was her son’s SUV.  I sat back down and returned to work.

Two Women

The two women met in an unfurnished apartment.

“I like it,” one said, “I think” (unusually sheepishly for her nature).  “It’s got some,” she rotated her wrists up in the air, looking for the less poetic word, “‘good light’.”  It took a talent to be so vague.  Or it took years of mutual knowledge and histories of hurt.

The younger one averted her eyes quickly.  She was getting better at busying herself in the kitchen.  Throughout her childhood, she’d witnessed mother’s chaos when other people came over to visit their place.  They had been lucky that way, due to her father’s reputable profession:   Always finding better living quarters, so others came over quite a bit.  Wanting to be the talk of the town, mother buzzed and chattered in the kitchen; and she would bang the drawers with aluminum dinnerware and slam the cupboards in an orchestra of her exhibitionist domesticity.

While mother whipped up meals and refilled drinks, her girlfriends wandered around nosily, every once in a while coming upon a tiny girl, with eyes so large they took up half of her face, playing her own game of house in the furthest corner of the bedroom.  Alone.

“So cute!” the women hissed, turning on their heels unhappily for having to divert their poking.

Mother continued conducting the percussions in her kitchen:

“She’s so quiet, that child!  She’s all — my husband!”

The women moved about the living-room; lurked by the family’s photographs; touched, shifted, sniffed, demanded to know the origin of things:

“You are one lucky bitch, I hope you know.”

“They meant it as a compliment,” after the women’s departure, mother would attempt to clarify things — the delicate things that her daughter could not understand yet (but perhaps with time, she would).  The evil smirk of the local Algebra teacher branded itself into her memory:  How could these women mean anything good?  But mother didn’t want to hear it:  “Stop asking stupid questions anyway!  This is adults’ business.”

But now:

“So,” the older woman spoke from the bedroom doorway and eyed the open, empty space.  “Are you going to ask Mike to ship you the bed?”  (Pause.)  “Or do you plan to house this draft in here forever?”

“What do you mean by that?” the young woman stopped, knife in her hand.

“I mean, haven’t you, guys, divided things up officially yet?”

The young woman looked back down at the gutted pickled fish under her fingers, on the cutting board.  It was a task that every Russian woman performed from A to Z.  From A to YA.  From A — to I.  Her mother would’ve drowned the detailed fish in a pool of sunflower oil; and it would stare out, with dehydrated eyeballs from underneath a layer of butchered onions meant to cover up a job so messily performed.

While peeling onions, mom would begin to cry demonstratively:

“Oy!  I so pity the little bird!”

What did the bird have to do with the fish?  The bird — to I.  The I — to eye.  Still, mother was a funny actress, so the child would spit with laughter.  She couldn’t help it:  She was still in love with her original prototype back then.

She now thought of that one time a thin fishbone lodged in her throat for a week; and how she gagged every night, while mother hooked her sharp nails into the back of her tongue.  For months to follow, sometimes, loose scales would reveal themselves stuck on her clothes or skin; or swimming in buckets of water with floor-scrubbing rags.  Mom was a disaster in the house.

In her own kitchen, however, the young woman never kept the head.  She wished she had a cat to feed it to.  A cat — to make-up for the missing child, to make the loneliness less oppressive.  She stared at the oval crystal bowl, with even filets of pink meat, neatly arranged.

She herself was a better housekeeper, yet heading toward a divorce nonetheless.  Most likely:

“Mike and I aren’t talking, mom.  You know that.”

“Oh!  Yes.  I see,” the old woman eyed the empty bedroom yet again:  Why so much space for someone with defeated ovaries then?  “You, young people!  You have no concept of marital endurance any more.”

 

She swore, he thought of the idea first.  At least, that’s how she remembered it.  In his defense (why was she so willing to defend him?):  In his defense — she wasn’t “willing”.  He was right.

“It’s just that… something isn’t working,” Mike told her over the phone, the week of one Thanksgiving which they’d agreed to spend apart.  He “couldn’t do it anymore”.  Her work.  Her books.  Why was he always taking second place after her life?  Once she hung up, she cried, of course, but mostly out habit; and out of habit, she started losing weight and sleep.  That’s what a wife in mourning was supposed to look like, she decided.  She cropped her hair, and started wearing pants and laced up wingtip shoes.  In their crammed-in basement apartment in the Bronx, she found room to pace and wonder, “Why?  Why?  Why?”

Her girlfriends were eventually allowed to visit the site of her disastrous marriage.  They bitched; they called him names.  They lurked, touched, shifted, sniffed.  They studied family photographs, still on display, for signs of early check-outs.  The women patted her boyish haircut and teared up a bit too willingly, some of them — being slightly grateful for feeling better about their own men.

And then, one balmy New York August afternoon, she called him from a pay phone in Harlem.

“Meet me for dinner.”

An hour later, he showed up with lilies.  After a dry peck that tasted unfamiliarly, she lead the way to a Dominican joint whose wall-full of French doors was always taken down for the summer.  It breathed the smell of oil — and of fried everything — onto the sweaty pedestrians on Broadway.

On their side of the missing wall, the night dragged on with a strained politeness.  His eyes were glossy, wet.  She stared out onto the street.  From either the heat of New York’s August and the lack of ventilation, the giant buds sweated under the plastic wrap; and by the time they finished picking through a pile of fried plantains, the lilies open completely, and just like everything at that time of the year — from sweat glands to subway sewers to perfume shops — they began to smell aggressively, nearly nauseating.

“I’m going to California,” she announced after finishing her white fish.

“Why?”

She looked down:  After their six-month separation, she had begun to wear dresses and curl her hair again.  She’d gained a certain swagger in the hips from wearing flat shoes through every season in New York.  The flesh of femininity was finally beginning to lose the aftertastes of her youth’s self-loathing.

Not having gotten an answer, “When?” — he examined her with wet eyes of a lab.

She looked down again.  The suppleness of her brown chest surprised her.  She looked up:  “Soon.”

Vagueness as a revenge:  She’d learned that from her mother, the best that ever was!  She owed him nothing.  He was the one who’d given up!  He was the one who left!  But now, it settled at the bottom of her stomach, along with the plantains, like something begging for its freedom.  And she, in her defense, was no longer “willing”.

(To Be Continued.)

She and His

Be kind, be kind.  Must always be kind.  Be kind onto others.  Which is not the same as being kind onto yourself.

The silly self:  It’s like a whimpering babe, looking at her with confused eyes.  Why aren’t you coming for me?  Don’t you know how much I need you?  Poor thing, so dumb and innocent, it knows not its ignorance is bliss; but need, need, need.  I need you, need you, need you — to be you.

But she forsakes it.  It can make it on its own.  That’s the Darwinian rule that she had obeyed for years; the rule that had been done onto her, when her mother fled her marriage and parenthood in the family’s fourteen-year old Honda to live in Portland, with a lover — a vegan milkshake store owner.  For her, it wasn’t:  Do onto others as you do onto yourself.  (Some people can be so selfish, mother!)  But she had had a life-long history of being better to others — better for them — than to her whimpering self.

There’s time enough, she thought; and maybe later she could retire to finally tend to her needs.  By then, the self would be so tired (although she swore she had been tired ever since she was thirteen).  But she would tire herself out enough to retire, with babies and her future husband’s nightly strewn socks all around their bedroom.  Until then:  She had to be kind.

A decade ago, she used to be angry.  At all times, at nearly everything.  “It’s my prerogative!  I am what I am,” said the ego.  Except that it was all wrong:  She was kind.  Always kind.  She was the daughter of her father — a gentle man who, despite the damages done onto him, had never done it onto others; and being his next of kin came with the same unbalanced, unjust genetic mechanics of selflessness and never knowing how to ask for a favor.

But even though, in her youth, she would hold onto the anger, she felt it falling flat every single time, after the initial sensation in her body.  Like an off-key tune, it was uncertain and wavering; blue and slightly disappointed.  Like a story without an arc:  Who needs it?

“This is how I’ve always fended for myself,” she would defend the anger to her departing lovers and move the hair out of her eyes with a furious head shiver.  The lovers couldn’t understand why she insisted on living her life in so much difficulty.  Not everything had to be understood so thoroughly, so completely.  She “should learn to let go”.

Fine by me!  Go!  Go on and leave!

But they would miss her, she was sure of it; because in between all those hollow spaces of anger, she always offered kindness.  Kindness pro bono.  Kindness at the end of every day.  And besides, she had always made it clear they were never the point of of her unrest.  Instead, they could revel in her love, her compassion or her charity — all depending on the degree of availability of her kindness.  So, how difficult could it be to be loved by her?

But you should go!  Go ahead and go!

In those moments, she recalled an actress in a film that her mother seemed to be watching every single time she’d walked in on her.  The actress was good at crying well, with no resistance in her face.  And on that particular line, “Go!  Just go!” the actress would close her eyes completely, like someone aware of being watched.  And she, catching a glimpse of both actresses in the room, would always wonder:  “Why the fuck is she wearing full make-up, in a heartbreak scene?”

The departing would never find another her, she thought to herself; and she was right:  They wouldn’t.  But with all the others — who weren’t her — things were slightly easier and more vague.  Others left room for misinterpretation, so that the lovers could live out their love in mutual illusions, until the first point of cross-reference.  Hearts could be broken then, expectations — disappointed.  But they would’ve had some wonderful times by then.

And yes, with time, easy became boring; but boring — gave room to calm.  And into the calm, it was easier to retire.  Because in the end, we were all simply so tired.

So, be kind.  Must always be kind.  She almost terrorized her lovers with kindness, which was shocking to the recipients, in every beginning.  It made her unusual, unlike all the others.  The lovers could not have suspected, though, that she was merely collecting a reserve of it for when the going got harder, because it always would; and because the first time the anger came up in each affair, it stayed.  One note.  No arc.  Just co-habituating with the rest of her, not necessarily parasitically.

Some lovers would attempt to rescue her from the anger.  (Sometime, infatuation liked to pose as love.)  These more ambitious ones would suffer the most, from her resistance, from the complexity of her constant devotion to truth.  And only when they, finally tired from it — or of it — raised their first objections, she flaunted all the moments of previous kindness in her self-defense.

How she hated herself for turning calculating, pitiful and shrill!  After those endings, she would have to find healing in closure that took more time; because self-forgiveness was harder to summon by someone who did onto others better, than she did onto herself.

But they all would remember her kindness at least, she told herself.  In the end, they all would.  And, again, perhaps, she was right.  But no one could ever survive the lack of self-love.

 

I could do this one, why not?  She’s kinda cute.  Hot, actually.  She’s hot, and that’s so much better anyway.  She’s not one of those gorgeous girls who thinks she’s outta my league.  Fuck those bitches!  They get too expensive, anyway.  But this one is not like that, man.  I wonder if she’s the type that doesn’t think she’s beautiful at all.  Which makes it even easier.

I should ask her out.  ‘Cause I could probably do this one, easily…  Hands down!

Okay, maybe not “easily”.  She called me “Patrick” last night.

My name is Dave.  

Shit, man!  Just look at her!  Leaning over the edge of the bar, so obviously flirting with Stan.  Stan is old, but he can get a girl nice ‘n’ liquored up, I guess.  I tolerate Stan.  And that’s as far as I go with people.

Stan is, like, seriously deprived of love.  His woman is a total bitch to him, you can tell by the way he cranes his neck whenever he talks to a broad.  Any broad.  Like a fuckin’ abused dog that expects to be hit between his eyes for chewing on her slipper, just ‘cause he just wanted to taste the sweat of her feet.  Stan’s woman must castrate him every day, for breathing too loudly or for not looking the part, or some shit.   And I bet she thinks she should be with someone better.

Look at him!  Just look at him now!  God!  He’s shaking just ‘cause this girl is nice to him.  God…

I hate dogs!

Maybe Stan’s got a giant one.  Chicks always say that it’s not important.  But that’s just bull, if you ask me.  I’ve seen ‘em looking at me when there is no point of going back and I’m staring them in the face, erect but less than a handful.  Nerve-racking enough to shrink anyone.

“Ohm,” they say and look up at me with that face, as if I got them the wrong thing for Christmas.

I wonder if it’s those fuckin’ pills.  I told John, I’d rather be bald.  But then, his woman chimed in:  “Jenna”.

“I wouldn’t fuck Prince William, with that hair of his,” she said.

First of:  Who wants to date a chick called “Jenna”?!  Or “Trisha”?  “Trish”.  Sounds like a diner waitress with three grown children by another man, at home.

Anyway, “Jenna” has this habit of going out to our fridge, in the middle of a night, in nothing but John’s wife-beater.  She’s a bartender, comes over after her shift.  Drunk.  I hear them fuck.  I try to tune ‘em out, so I blast some ESPN, or fucking Transformers 3, I don’t care.  Whatev.  But it’s like this chick’s got police sirens for her moans.  And the really fucked-up thing is:  They really turn me on.  It’s like having a live porn sound-feed from across the hall.  So, I’ve started waiting for John to finish his first round; come out to the living-room, turn on the TV and I watch her, as she runs to the bathroom.  (Why do chicks always have to pee after sex?  Does urine kill sperm?  I fuckin’ hope so!)  But then, she comes out, all flushed and glossy from splashing water on her face and thighs; all the fattier places bouncing on her body.

“Jenna”.

…Frankly, I don’t like fat girls anyways.  Fuck ‘em!  I’d rather keep aiming high.  But the skinny ones are always meaner.

John told me “Jenna” likes big ones.  Makes her ears plug up, she says.  And she’s got this vein that pops out in the middle of her forehead.  Makes John worried she’ll hemorrhage to death on day, if he keeps winding up her sirens like this.  So yeah, it matters, he says.  Size matters.

“Jenna” lies to my face.  Says it’s all about the man’s hair:

“I’d rather fuck a bald guy than Prince William.”

So, these days, whenever she comes over, I watch TV with my cap on.  “Jenna” has these sick nails and she always paints them red; and she likes to rough out the top of a man’s head, then pull his face into her breasts and smother his silly grin with them.  But not me!  Not this guy!…

Ah, shit!  Just look at this one though!  She’s still talking Stan up and I can see that jittery part of her thighs from the way she hangs on the bar.  This one is hot.  Kinda like “Jenna”.  That’s the problem.

And I can tell she is not like one of those chicks back in college who liked to brag about sex all the time and confuse the attention they aroused — for being liked.  Those chicks had seriously low self-esteem.  But this one doesn’t talk sex.  She moves sex.   And we are all deprived.

I blame our mothers.

(To Be Continued.)

“The Heart Breaks and Breaks and Lives…”

Remember the young love, the tumultuous and the difficult?  It would be a cause for arousing great anxieties — and for their dissipation, too — that would make one feel, at the very least, alive.  And for a gracious while, love could last on the suspended idealism of the two lovers:  Love conquers all.  Love will overcome…

Except that, sometimes — it wouldn’t.

Yet, even in that failure, one could confuse loving — for living.

“I think you’re, like, addicted to drama!” accused my last standing friend, Taisha, over sushi.  (She was actually sitting — cross-legged on a silk pillow — craning her neck over a bowl of udon noodle soup.  The long, swollen noodles shined through the brown broth with surprising starkness.)

“They’re famous for their noodles here!” proclaimed my last sitting friend.  She mostly spoke in exclamation points.  Taisha was always up on the hippest places to eat, in LA; and she spoke of them with a sense of urgency and worship, as if passing along the name of the best heart surgeon, in the country.

From the reclining passenger seat of her Prius, I had earlier protested:  “But I don’t even like sushi.”  I had been dragged out of my routine of melancholy and self-neglect; and even though I was glad to see the City’s never-ending light of day — grateful to have my heartbeat shocked back to its rhythm by the speed of it all — I still felt I had to throw a fit, just to suit the timeline a little better.  Because every love — had a timeline; and according to mine, I was still in the self-pitying stages of my mourning:

“My girlfriend.  Had left me.  For her ex.”

“Wasn’t it more like…  She never left her ex?!” Taisha was relentless.  Her people back in Kenya, whose suffering seemed to fit every argument of Taisha’s making (kind of like “Confucius say” of her own invention) — her people back in Kenya “were starving to death!  That’s tragedy!”  Whatever I was going through — was just “some frivolous, American bullshit”, including my current stage of raising objections to my god (for the likeness of whom I searched the faces of mortals) and confusing pity for compassion.  But where did I get off thinking that even compassion — was my right?

Taisha was right:  A soggy tissue in hand, my face — pruned, I better resembled a moody teenager, with no other tragedy in his life but the fact that his mother was in love with another man:

“Dad?” I would slobber into the phone, after each love affair’s turn for the worse; holding back my tears, otherwise they would be an admission of my failure.  I’d call, mostly out of needing a witness to my suffering, after the heart’s each little break.  (And what if these little heartbreaks surmounted to an unrepairable damage?  Maybe I did need the name of that surgeon, after all.)  “Is mom there?”

Before getting off the phone and passing off its receiver as some sort of a parental torch, my old man would manage to wedge in a lecture:

“Are you still in LA?  Gosh, kid!  What are you doing with your life?”

Prior to my decision to migrate to the West Coast, his lectures seemed better thought-out, better practiced.  In them, I could still hear the quotation marks of my mother’s gentle voice, as dad brought out the assumptions of my motifs and breakdowns of my troubled psyche.  But with time, he began to run out of breath.  Run out of words.

“I’m speechless,” he’d say, breathing heavily into the receiver, a pummeled heavyweight ready to count down the fights left in him, until his retirement.  “I’m utterly speechless, I tell you.”

Then, why speak at all?  “Please give the phone to mom.”

Speaking to mom was always malleable.  No matter with which expectations I marched into our a conversation, mom would always, capably, receive.  “My baby,” she’d half-whisper, with teary-eyed compassion catching her voice (for that was my right!).  Mom’s love was a place of warm breaths and moldable embraces that consumed so completely, I hardly wanted to come up for air.  There were no rhetorical questions, no passive-aggressive accusations; no drastic resignations at my expense.

“I give up,” was my father’s farewell every time, especially after we received his diagnosis of a coronary artery blockage.

Mom’s heart, on the other hand, was unblocked.  It was a space at which I could flail my objections to all the injustices of love — a padded room for the non-criminally insane and the criminally heart-broken.

 

In every affair, after the clothes had been untangled off of a lover’s body enough times to establish a routine to each other’s orgasms, things would begin to settle down.  Unavoidably.  Either the expectations of the sexual fantasies evaporated, unmet in most cases; or the two lovers would find themselves tired enough to settle down, giving room to domesticity.

Could you pick-up my dry-cleaning, dear?  Can you check on our bathtub drain, hun?

Our.  By the hour (for every love affair had its timeline), things would begin changing their possessives.

But love should never be possessive.  If you love something — set it free.

Or, so I heard from that one Canadian author who’d made a fortune from tinkering with the ideas of free will and self-liberation from fear, in his books.  Now! — he emphasized — “is what matters.  Focus on the Now!”  (His philosophy hit all the right notes with the youngest culture in the world that hadn’t acquired enough past to dwell on, yet — a culture whose grudges weren’t long enough to demand forgiveness.  The year — was, still, 2000.)  I, the American lover, had the Canadian’s tape rolling around  on the floor of my car; and at yet another little break of the heart, I’d attempt to listen to it.  His voice wouldn’t hum monotonously through the speakers for three minutes — and I would begin to fall asleep behind the wheel.  Yet another sleep-walker, in LA.  Another sleep-driver.  The Canadian Zen Master instructed for me to feel Nothing! in the Now!  Instead, I would feel so much! — “My heart would explode!”

(Seriously.  What was the name of that heart surgeon?)

Eventually, one simmered down.  Settled down.  Unavoidably:

Shouldn’t we just stay in, darling?  (Be weary of sharing spaces.  A home is only as safe as the compatibility of one’s habits.)

Do you wanna just rent a movie, doll?  (Words began colliding into each other, losing their endings:  wanna, gonna, sorta, kinda.  Familiarity attacked the language from its extremities, and it worked its way in.)

One suddenly found oneself falling in (long past having fallen in love, by now); falling into the softness of comfort you think you want, but suspect you may despise.  Because, with age and enough witnessed tales, marriage became to sound like a tired story.  And even if the fantasy could be prolonged for while — exhausting in itself, with its maintenance of reality’s suspension (which required its own discipline of rituals) — one would eventually agree to share a meal after sex via shortcuts.

And so, the familiarity would begin to slip in:  with a pair of earrings left behind on a dresser or an eventual invitation to spend the night.  (Although, in my history, it would always be accidental, like my crying myself to sleep on the couch after watching a rented flick.  A tired heart.)  But therein — exactly! — I would find my favorite parts.

And even though I despised my own desire to belong (not yet!  NOT Now!), I knew that after a night of shared sleep, things would demand being specified, even if it meant their ending.  Still, I would stay:  for the sake of learning the nooks along a lover’s body, measuring my curvatures against them:  the ying to the yang, the jig to the saw.  By then, the strained politeness of one lover’s visiting another’s bed would give room to exhaustion and voyeurism.  The secretly harbored hopes that, in their actuality, the lovers would be as glamorous as they had led each other to believe, would linger.  Please let there be no runs in the stockings or mascara!  No dirty underwear, no orphaned socks!

But the unconsciousness, already unleashed by tiredness, would begin to crowd the room, treading in the footsteps of the night’s shadows and revealing the private habits of both participants.  That’s when the true intimacy, however untimely or ungraceful, would knock on the door.

 

It would always be after the washing up (“I’m just gonna rinse-off, quickly!”), both of our skins emitting the perfumes of shared supplies, that Nina would stretch out on top of the covers — a big cat baby-talking of her kitten days:

“I love baths, don’t you?” she purred.

“Ah!  That’s the smell!” the recognition would piece itself together, as I buried my nose behind her earlobe or in the small of her back, where each pore was still exhaling the heat it had endured in the water of nearly scorching temperatures.  With every pore, she breathed against my face.

When love first reared its outlines, I would want to leave, wearing her on my skin.  I succeeded, but only in that point along the timeline:  only after using Nina’s toiletries — after the familiarity, the domesticity, the intimacy of co-habitation knocked on the door.  Each lover became a mere chart of chemical elements, taken apart, and then yielded together again.

She flipped over:  “I feel safe with you.”

My darling girl.  She was younger.  Young enough to belong to the previous generation that suffered from ailments I’d never even heard of, in my time.  Learning disabilities and controversial psychological malfunctions, with acronyms instead of names.  But the young were smarter than us (as well as they’re suppose to be).  Never before had the generation gap been so gaping:  a giant jaw chomping out chunks of common ground.  These kids would be more advanced, savvier with technology — and more impatient with humanity.  They spoke a whole different language, filled with abbreviations and smiley faces.  The generation of the easily distracted and bored, and of the perpetually amused.  LOL.

And then, she would kiss me, loudly; and while her muscles melted around the bones of her back, I rested my head above her heart and traced the constellations of the beauty marks in the tides of her falling, rising, and falling again stomach; while her chest visibly vibrated, a restless heart fluttering in the confines of her ribcage.  An unblocked heart of the young.

(To Be Continued.)

This Time — It Would Be Different.

(Continued from January 15th, 2012.)

“I’ve decided__to let Doug__go,” Sarah told her Sid, on a typical Tuesday morning.  Her mother would have scoffed at the idea of anything typical, let alone the chronic event of Sarah’s whining on the hard couch, never to be found in her own hysterical universe.  Nonetheless, Sarah had said it; and surprised herself when, out loud, she had to insert a glottal stop between “Doug” and “go”.  She had thought it before, those two specific words in a row; but never let her mouth take them over.  Because when she practiced speaking to Doug (while in reality speaking to herself, alone in her narrow kitchen), she had never let “go” — go after “Doug”.  She didn’t know how to let “Doug go”.  So, she would continue to come back.

Did the Sid notice it:  Sarah’s surprise at the way phonemes worked, once her mouth took them over?  For a second, she imagined her face on an infant, cooing and choking on her first words.  What wonderment!  It wasn’t necessarily Sarah herself — as an infant — but perhaps her firstborn.  That was the exact problem with these only children, in the world, like Sarah:  They made for more desperate mothers, for they hadn’t yet seen themselves reflected in another human being.  But back in the day, when she had asked her mother for a sibling, “I have not time — for such a sing!” — her mother answered, every bit the tired woman this new chosen world had begun to make of her.  Eventually, Sarah would give up asking; and by the time, she herself could biologically mother a child, she had forgotten all desire to mother a child — spiritually.

Miranda, the Sid, was studying her with glossy eyes.  She must’ve just stifled a yawn, Sarah thought.  Then, she reiterated her decision, whose courage appeared to have expired back in her kitchen.  She was looking for the long overdue alliance:

“Yes.__I’m going to let Doug (stop) go.”

“Going to”.  Not “gonna”.  Sarah judged all American contractions quite bluntly, holding them away from her face with the two fingers of her dominant hand:  Violations to the language!  decapitation of words, ew!  Her own native tongue sounded too proper in her mouth, for she hadn’t practiced it much, since leaving the old world.  Her mother’s Ukrainian was always humorous, bawdy and full of life.  Sarah, on the other hand, sounded like an academic; or like the librarian that she had become, her intention to leave, eventually — forgotten.  She had stayed too long and froze.

“You’re such a snob, man,” J.C. said to her on the phone.  He had a “gonna” on his voicemail greeting:  “I’m gonna call you back.”  It had been bugging Sarah for all the years that she had loved him, learning for the first time that some men do stay long enough to reveal their faults — and to teach you to adore them, still.

Still, the “gonna” would bug her until she stopped listening far enough into the outgoing message.  (And if anyone had an “outgoing” message — it would have to be J.C.!  “Peace!” his voice always announced at the end of it — a naive ultimatum to the world by someone who hadn’t experienced much unkindness.  But before Sarah could get to the “peace”, she would’ve already hung up before the “gonna”.  NOT “going to”.)

Eventually, she mentioned it.

“You’re such a snob, man,” J.C. responded, from the back of his throat — the same geography from which her mother spoke, as well, in both of her tongues.  Her mother’s words had a chronic tendency to fall back, making her register chesty.  Or, hearty.  Everything about her mother — was hearty.

Sarah propelled her words forward, as her American contemporaries did:

“I’m not!  I have a Liberal Arts education and I work at the New York Public Library.”  Her self-patronizing didn’t work.  So, she thought about it, sweating the phone against her ear.  “Okay.  I’m going to try to be better about it, you’re right.”  Still:  “Going to” — not “gonna”.

But when she told the news to her Sid, while pacing her words, “What made you decide__to do that?” — the Sid responded.

Like attracts like, Sarah let the flash of a thought slip by.  Like attracts like, and she had been spending every Tuesday morning observing — and sometimes admiring — this nifty woman who hung up her words, niftily.  Sarah could never be nifty.  She was frozen, in between the two worlds of her mother’s; sorting something out because something was always off.  She was constantly relaying between wanting to belong and not knowing why the fuck should she?!  And she would narrow it down to the pace:  Things moved differently here; differently from what little she could remember of the old world.  It wasn’t so much the speed of things, but the direction — a lack of it — making each life’s trajectory chaotic.  It took longer to sort out a life; and even when one finally did, the life could easily shake off one’s grasp of its saddle, run off its course and resume flailing between others’ ambitions and desires for you, then your own delusions and ways of coping with losses and defeats.

To the Sid’s question, Sarah finally responded:  “I feel badly__for doing that__for all these years__to Doug’s wife.”  Except that, by then, she would be in her narrow kitchen, alone again, talking to herself.  She was never quick enough for an eloquent comeback, face to face with another human being.

(Her mother never seemed to have that problem.  Mother would always speak her mind, causing a brief gestation of shock in her conversations.  But then, the American participants would laugh off their discomfort, patching their sore egos with “You’re so cute!”, at her mother’s expense.

“God bless you!” Sarah’s mother would respond then, mocking the American habit for only jolly endings.)

 

Once, Sarah had tried imagining this woman — this other woman — in Doug’s life, who had been so epically hard for him to leave.  Except that Sarah had gotten it all confused, again:  She — was the other woman.  The third wheel.  She had read theories about women with low self-esteem before — women like her; women who prayed on other women’s husbands and who envied the wives of those sad men, with the eyes of a spaniel.  (What was the difference between jealousy and envy, again:  The doer of one — but the assumer of another?)  So, Sarah had tried imagining the woman she should envy:  The one who got Doug full-time — something that she should be pitied for, actually.

That night, Doug had taken her out to a pan-Asian restaurant on the Upper West Side.  Or, actually, they had just walked-in — into the house of dim lanterns and dim sum; because otherwise Doug, according to his disgruntled self-prognosis, was “gonna crash”.  (“Gonna”, not “going to”.  So much for poetry, professor!)

The shrimp stew he had ordered for Sarah arrived to her golden-and-red placemat.  The shiny shrimp tails, as pink as newborn hamsters, stuck out of the white rice, covered with milky-white slime.  She didn’t even like rice.  Her people came from the land of potatoes.  Potatoes and sorrow.  He wanted none of it.

“I can’t sleep over tonight,” Doug broke the news into his bowl of steaming miso soup.  His hunger has been staved off with cubes of tofu.  “It’s Beth’s birthday.”

Beth.  She bet Beth (insert a glottal stop in between) was patient and calm; living steadily ever after, while quietly meeting the expectations that her parents naturally harbored for their next generation.  She must’ve colored her hair every two weeks, in settle shades of red; wore flat shoes, hummed while folding Doug’s clean laundry; and she cut her nails short, as to not cause any breakage on surrounding surfaces.  And she bet (stop) Beth had a sibling.  Nifty.

“Nifty,” Sarah echoed.  Neither the slimy shrimp nor the sticky rice could balance on her wooden chopsticks.  So, she grabbed it by the tail:  “Shouldn’t you be__taking her out__then?”  She was beginning to pace her words again.  It started to feel like rage.

Doug squinted his eyes.  It wasn’t his first time, but not something that she had gotten used to yet, in their affair:  The beginnings of their mutual resentment.

“No need to get snappy,” he said, suddenly looking like he was about to cry.  It was an expected trajectory, for him:  going from a man-child who felt uncared for (what, fending for his own food, or he was “gonna crash”, while under her care?!) — to the scorned lover, exhausted by his failed expectations.  Then, why wouldn’t he just stay with Beth, who sounded smart enough and mellow; at peace and never shocked at this world’s disorder; unfazed by chaos, as children of full, healthy families tended to be?  (Nifty.)

And how ever did she, herself, end up here, wanting to take the place of the woman who deserved her pity, actually — a woman Sarah would much rather like, were she to meet her, on her own?  On their own, could they fall into a gentle admiration — love? — of each other?

“So, how old is good ole Beth__going__to be?” Sarah asked.  But her words came out shrill, and the sloppy face of the washed-up actress began inching its way down her forehead.

 

There had been other break-ups, in their history.  Most of them, she had instigated herself, practicing them ahead of time, alone in her kitchen.  But in reality, the break-ups came out clumsily, and not at all ironic.

In her heart — or rather somewhere around her diaphragm, underneath her lungs, perpetually under her breath — Sarah felt she would be punished for this.  She was already getting judged by her Sid — the woman she was paying to side with her, and then to guide her from that place of purchased empathy.

This time — it would be different.

It would be Sarah asking Doug out.  She had told him to meet her at a Starbucks, located at least two zip codes away from his and Beth’s neighborhood.  Doug would arrive first, with some latest book of poetry moderately well reviewed by critics under his armpit; and she would find him — drowning into the soft leather chair in the corner and muttering — while making ferocious notes on its pages and sipping from a Venti.  Except that this time, she wouldn’t listen to his embittered theories, always delivered in a slightly exhibitionist manner, as if pleading to be overheard:  on this poet being undeserving, or on that one — being, god forbid, better connected.  (“When is it gonna be about talent, in this industry?!”  “Going to” — NOT “gonna” — professor!)

This time, she would pass up her dose of caffeine, walk out into the wind and pace ahead, while the fat snowflakes sloppily kissed her forehead.  The five o’clock sun overlooked the island with its rouge glares.  This place had a flair for nonchalant beauty.  It never posed, but grew and changed — a once magnificent idea merely running out its course:  New York City.  This City left all acts of sad foolishness and silly coverups of aching egos to the ones that could not keep up.  (“You’re so cute!” — “God bless you!”)

And she would try to keep the break-up neat; because catching the A-train after ten at night meant freezing on the platform while watching giant rats have their supper in the oil spills of the rails.  Later on, on the phone, that would be her mother’s favorite part; and she would ask Sarah for more details:  the color of the rats’ fur in Ukrainian and the reek of the tunnel, made dormant by the cold temperatures, which she demanded for Sarah to translate into Celsius, in order for her to understand — to get the very gist of it, the very heart.  Everything about her mother — had a heart.  Perhaps, that was the secret to her overcoming chaos.

But when it came down to the heart of the matter — Sarah’s dull ache of disappointment, the failure of words, and the resigned mindset of someone frozen in loss — her mother became quiet.  And the phone continued sweating against Sarah’s tired ear, surely causing her something, later on, in life.

“It’s NOT Going to Stop. It’s NOT Going to Stop. It’s NOT Going to Stop — ‘Til You Wise Up.”

They said their goodbyes over two cups of soup, in a narrow joint with floors filthy from the slush just outside the door.  Instead of a doormat, the management had placed down sheets of cardboard.  Not a pretty picture, but it was all somehow very… New York.

And the lines of their dialogue did not resemble any tragic love affair from the best of the world’s cinema.  He was civil but not tender, just maintaining a casual conversation.  It had been a chronic anxiety, for her, when others relied on the arrival of tomorrow.  Since childhood, she was silly with her goodbyes, always making room for them.  Just like she did that day:  Insisting on sitting down for it, instead of aimlessly walking through the City that had seen way too many unhappy endings prior to theirs.

She had made a mistake of ordering something that sounded the most exotic, with yellow curry; but then she discovered ground chicken in it.  She was a vegetarian.  To save herself from the embarrassment — in front of him and the tired black woman working the line alone, during the rush of lunch hour — she pretended to eat around the white meat.  Until he noticed it.

“You’ve gotta order something else!” he scoffed; and for the duration of their entire pathetic meal, which they’ve spent fully clothed, in their coats and he — in his hat, her mistake would be enough of a diversion from what was actually happening:  He was leaving, like so many before him; looking for a graceful exit that no longer existed due to his cowardly procrastination.

“Oh, c’mon!” he kept trying to make her the pun of the joke.  “You can’t just eat around the meat!  You can’t keep doing… this thing that you do!”

Bingo!

A few months into the affair, he had begun reminding her of someone else.  That day — on the repeatedly reiterated subject that suddenly so obviously annoyed him — she finally tracked it down:  Someone else had happened to her, in this same City, nearly a decade ago.  Someone else who had no intention of sticking around; who often got shamed of her in public — and in front off much chicer dressed young women, with whom he had to think he had a chance.  Someone else who had hidden her from his family and friends, who pleaded for only private getaways; who gave her slivers of his time — if any — during the holidays.  Someone else who’d made a good use of her youth and sex, but had no courage to end it.

Even back then, in her much younger — less jaded, more innocent — self, she felt something was akimbo.  Not right.  The intuition kept scratching on the ventricles of her heart.  In those days, she wouldn’t call it that:  Intuition.  Not yet.  She needed a few more disastrous repetitions and embarrassing endings — to become more in tune with her self-respect.  But the sensation was already there:  Something wasn’t right.  By the universality of her gender, she knew:  Not right.

Now, a decade older, she still couldn’t name it:  that feeling of not being enough.  Too poor, too orphaned; with not enough stock or family inheritance to her name.  Pretty enough and selfless in bed — that was the only thing that made them last.  But the awareness of that same feeling was beginning to land in the corners of her eyes with a melancholic recognition of the pattern:  He — was leaving.  Maybe not that day, and maybe not even after they would reunite at home, on the other coast.  But eventually.

This trip had to end abruptly for him.  He had to go.  Maybe it could last a little longer:  She could walk him to his town car.  They could grab another drink at their hotel’s bar.  But he would finish his cup of soup — and hers, with the chicken — then hug her outside the door, in the snow, among the locals who, just like their City, had grown indifferent to the sight of all endings.  He would be clumsy, as that earlier someone else, trying to avoid meeting her eyes.  Their height difference made it impossible though, so he would scurry off as soon as he couldn’t help but notice her face:  Heartbroken.

“That’s right, fucker!” she thought of him meanly for the first time.  “You will NEVER forget me!”

What else could she do to repair herself, in that moment — but to gloat in the peacefulness of her lack of guilt?  She had been good, to this someone and the other one.  To so many others, she had been good, or generous at least.  It could’ve all been simplified in their honest communication of intentions.  Instead, they had chosen to drag her along, while offering just enough attention but never too much of it.  They procrastinated past the moment when she would fall in love; they scurry off into the landscapes of her Cities.

And the bloody New York — was still there.  Like a background action shot, fabricated meticulously by a film crew, it continued to happen:  with the never ending honking of cabs and beeping of closing and opening bus doors; with people coming and going — toward their dreams, careers and sex; or running away from love.  Nowhere else did it smell or sound like this.  And even with the strange sensation of something ending — something snapping and curling up to catch a breath — she knew she was still glorious:  Because she loved it — all of it — so much!

“Never, never, never!  You will NEVER forget me!” the City was humming along with her.  And she didn’t even care about the already vague memory of someone leaving her behind, in it.

“Except, Around Hollywood and Western — We Have to Keep Doing It!”

“Oh, but everyone’s got these stories!” a man of tired compassion told me as he heard my saga of homecoming, this jolly holiday season. “I mean, after all,” he said, “this country is made entirely of immigrants!”

I wondered, as I studied his ethnically ambiguous face:  Was he East Indian, a couple of generations removed from his native land and now free from all the confines of his original tradition — to make what he could of it?  It not, how ever did he find his way into my yoga class?

Was he like me:  Tasting all religions in his youth, in hopes of finding a recipe to peace?  Some religious texts had tempted me with their poetry before; others — with their majority.  I’d always wanted to belong, so I kept looking.

Was he, like me, at liberty to pick and choose between the details of his heritage, only wearing it when most convenient for his now American identity?  Did he carry his comedy routines in side pockets:  At the expense of his immigrant and heavily accented parents, he could whip ‘em out at gatherings of curious American friends?  Did he practice the routines on paper first, or did he merely get addicted to the laughter he could cause — and so he’d work them out in public?

The evening city hummed and sparkled outside the windows.  Across the street, I could see a casting space where I had once nearly died of shame by bumping into an ex-lover from a disastrous affair.  He sat in the corner, with his giant legs stretched out ahead, sounding every bit like that one asshole actor who must practice his lines out loud, at full volume, in a waiting room filled with his competition and the rookies from Ohio.

That morning, I had announced official warfare against my acne; and my Hollywood haircut refused to cooperate at covering it.

I saw him first, pretended not to, and thankfully got called immediately.  That’s when he must’ve heard my name; because by the time I had stepped out, he was standing by the doorway.

“I thought that was you!” he said and shifted on his feet as if leaning in for a hug.

Our story was so typical, it should’ve made it into a sitcom about actors in LA-LA:  He wanted a rebound with someone with his ex’s Slavic face — another actress — and I had wanted more.

“No fuckin’ way, American buddy!” I thought.

But out loud, I said, “I’ve gotta run,” and blew my bangs out of my eyes.  He noticed the stampede of pimples across my forehead:  stubborn and multiplying.  “Another audition!  Gotta run!”

“Yeah,” he said, mesmerized by my forehead.  “Yeah.  Definitely.  But let’s do coffee sometime!”

Natalia Vodianova

Everyone’s got these stories, it is true.  My friends had all suffered, at least once, from having used someone for sex, or from having been used.  And then, we’d all scrape up our dignity to have the courage to keep showing up:  to other dates and to auditions; and to the companies of friends, where we readily whip out our comedy routines and force-feed ourselves with laughter.

To be happy here, it takes discipline.  Or some serious delusion. Some of us had had those mental breakdowns that justified our flight from this fucking place.  Others would just have an episode, go home to recover — then return for more.

The ethnically ambiguous man continued:

“I’m going home myself,” he said.  “Can you believe it’s holidays already?!”

The traffic crawled along the boulevard underneath.  Two lanes of it:  one fire-engine red, another — silver.  An eatery at the corner was glistening with Christmas lights; and reflected by the changing colors of the traffic light, its giant windows would take on different shades, at well timed intervals.  With the shimmer of the hills behind it, the city looked so pretty, suddenly.  And standing above the traffic, out of it, I thought to find it peaceful.  But then, I changed my mind.

I wanted to object to my ethnically ambiguous co-practitioner of yoga:

“It’s not your turn to speak, American buddy!”

But he had been carrying on, by then.  He’s got that story, too!

And so:  I listened.

“Call ME! On the Line! Call Me, Call Me, Any, ANY TIME!”

My cellphone broke down yesterday:  Finally, that poor thing!

It had been with me for over three years, and by now I was getting texts and phone calls from the Verizon people on a regular basis, begging me to get an upgrade.

“Did you know you were eligible for a $50 rebate?!” some nice girl would be trying to tell me after I would call to complain about the most recent malfunction on my device:

“The flip is not clicking anymore,” I’d say.  “I think it’s loose.”

“Well, m’am,” the nice girl would be studying my files on her screen.  She seemed to be patient, and yes, super nice.  Perhaps, in those files, she could read all the records of my previous love affairs, from start to finish; and she would take pity on me.  And even if she couldn’t see my love stories unfold through a progression of texts between my exes and I, I bet she could tell I was going through another break-up by the gastronomical size of my bill that month.

And sometimes, I would imagine she had some sort of a hidden camera thingy connected to the flimsy flip in my hand, and she could actually see all the terrible truths about my life.

“Hmm.  It says here you’d drowned your phone in a cup of coffee nearly a year ago.”

(See!  I told you she had that hidden camera thingy!)

But yes, it is true about the coffee.  You see, about a year ago, I had finally decided my motha and I were ready to cross the next boundary in our relationship — and that we could try texting each other.

Now, I am not one of those absentee daughters.  I call my motha on a regular basis, one-to-two weekend nights per week.  Even if we feel like we have nothing to say to each other, I would much rather hear motha’s repeated monologues on the other end of my cellphone — than suffer the passive-aggressive silence after I had somehow forgotten to call her one weekend.  Because let me tell you:  Jewish mothers have NOTHING on my motha with their guilt trips.  My motha copyrighted that shit!  And she is not really the silent type, neither in Russian nor English.  So, when she does go quiet on you, she can raise the hairs on the back of your neck with feelings of her orphan-like abandonment and saintly martyrdom.

Anyway.  At the end of last summer, we had passed a new threshold:  For the first time in our lives, we each had our own place with which we were finally perfectly content.  There would be no more terrible roommates.  No more partners with messy habits.  And we had vowed that each would stay at her place for at least a couple of years.

Conveniently, my motha’s joint had horrendous cellphone reception.  So, before she got herself a landline, I would have to text — to test her availability.

“CALL NOW” — motha would respond, often with no punctuation marks and in all caps.

But my very first text to motha was actually less than technical.

“Lov U, shawty,” I wrote.

I was feeling mushy that morning.  It’s a consequence of having a heart that’s easily prone to gratitude.  Motha would understand that:  I am sure I’ve inherited that damn thing from her.  And so:

“Lov U, shawty,” I composed.  But right before I could hit the red button of SEND, the flip phone slipped out of my hand and dove right into the middle of my morning cup of coffee with a precision of a kamikaze.

“SHIT” — I thought (with no punctuation marks and in all caps).  “My coffee is ruined.”

As I said:  I had just moved into the place, and before I had unpacked my kitchen supplies, I had walked to the 7-Eleven on the corner to get my caffeine fix for the day.

The flip phone was retrieved eventually and immediately buried in a jar of rice.  It wasn’t white rice, but one of those healthy wild rice mixtures from Trader Joe’s.  So, the trick wouldn’t work, and I would go through the hassle of filing an insurance claim and waiting for some hideous device to arrive in the mail.  My old flip phone would eventually be revived with the help of a hairdryer, and I would feel like my faithful device and I had passed another hurdle in life.  We were veterans.  Survivors.  And we weren’t ready to part ways yet.

Because one of the terrible truths in my life was that, just like everyone else, I was married to my cellphone.  It was the most significant relationship in my life — and an appendix to my ego.  And even though every once in a while (like after a break-up, for instance) I would lock that thing up in my car for a day to punish it — to punish the whatever him I was breaking-up with — I couldn’t live without it.

And there had been moments when I would fling the poor thing across the room after a prolonged wait for a Time Warner rep to pick-up my call.  I had used it to break-up with my old bank from the East Coast, utterly useless on this side of the country.  Because my cellphone was perfect for confrontations; and I think it had something to do with the flip feature of it.  It added a certain umph to my endings, like a punctuation mark at the end of a text message.

But about a week ago, I could tell:  My poor thing — my dear veteran — was on its very last stretch.  It was no longer responding to its charger, and seemingly its screen was starting to suffer from some sort of electronic epilepsy.  Two days ago, it was over.

Finally, that poor thing!

“NO CHARGER DETECTED” — the screen said (with no punctuation marks and in all caps).

And then:  It went dark.

Strangely, despite all of our history, I didn’t feel any sadness about its departure.  It is true we had passed through many hurdles together.  We were veterans.  Survivors.

But I knew:  Ah, it was time.

“How can I help you?” some nice boy with an iPhone clipped onto his belt said to me when I stormed into the Verizon store last night.

“Well,” I said, whipped out the dead body of my cellphone and slammed it against the counter.  “You tell me!”

The nice boy smiled:  He couldn’t help it.

“Ow… Ouch.  What happened to its gloss?” he said, ever so charitably.

And I remembered the very first day I bought my baby at another store:  It was caramel-colored and shiny, and it would light up with red lights when I caressed its surface.  The gloss was long gone now, and I would begin to be slightly embarrassed to take it out in public.

The kind boy was by now studying my files on his screen.  Could he see all of the terrible truths about my life?  Could he read the histories of my relationships in the gastronomical sizes of my previous bills?  And considering the low amount due this month, could he tell I had been finally single — and contently so — for the duration of the last season?

“Did you know you were eligible for a $150 rebate?”

“That bad, eh?” I said and smiled.  I couldn’t help it.

“IT’S TIME” — the nice boy said (with no punctuation marks and in all caps).

And when he asked me if I wanted to save any of my old text messages or voicemails — for I would be losing ALL of them in this transition — I did not feel any sadness at all.

“No,” I answered.  “It is time.”