Tag Archives: character

“You and I Have Memories Longer Than the Road That Stretches Out Ahead.”

It’s long past midnight in Warsaw.  There is a new couple that has moved into the apartment across the street.

For the last two days, it has been sitting empty, with the curtains open and the stark white mattress in the middle of the living-room.  On the first of the new year (today), they have appeared:  He’s tall, with pepper and salt hair; she’s lovely.  And even though I cannot see the details of her face underneath her bangs, I can imagine the high cheekbones and the doll-like roundness that I’ve been seeing in the store window reflections of the last twenty years.

I watch them from my kitchen, while drinking coffee.  I am jet-lagged.

The curtains remain open and the yellow light of a single lamp is getting some assistance from the screen of their TV.  They’re eating dinner that consists of corn on the cob and one bucket of KFC (so very Eastern European, as I have come to learn).  Occasionally, they half turn their faces to each other:

“You want some tea?”

Or,

“For what time, you think, we should set the alarm clock, in the morning?”

I leave them be and wander from one room to another to check on our drying laundry.  The guidebook never promised us domestic amenities, so the discovery of a washing machine in our kitchen came as a complete surprise.  The dryer button is jammed on it though, but considering I have arrived here with my arrested expectations from post-Soviet Russia, circa 1997, I am extremely grateful for the dignified living standards with which this city has accommodated us.

Besides, the absence of a dryer — I find romantic.  I run my hands along the cloths from my and my lover’s body, earlier drenched from running through this cold city, and wonder what it would’ve been like if I were to enter my womanhood in my birth place.  Would I have known the grace of unconditional love and the finally non-tumultuous forcefulness of me?  Would I’ve grown up kind, or would the much harder life of my homeland have taken a toll on my character and aged me, prematurely?  And would I have the privilege of choices that make up my identity now, still generous and grateful for the opportunities I’ve found abroad?

Identity.  In my impression of the world, this word comes from the American ventricle of me.  But after this week’s reunion with my father, who never had the privilege to watch me make the choices that led me to the woman that I am, I am surprised to find myself resemble him so much.  Despite the separation of nearly two decades:  I am my father’s daughter.  Of course, by some self-written rules, it’s presupposed that I have traveled further in my life than father ever did in his.  I’ve been exposed to more world, and in return, it taught me to question twice all prejudices and violations of freedom.  But what a joy it’s been to find that, in my father’s eyes, life is only about truth and grace and justice; and matters of identity, for him, have no affect on any person’s freedoms.

I wander back into the kitchen, sit down into my father’s chair.  Thus far, it’s been the greatest pleasure of my life to watch him eat good food that I have made.  While eating, dad is curious and — here’s that word again — grateful:

“What’s that ingredient?”

And,

“What do you call this bread?”

And I can see him now:  slouching just a little above his meal, in this chair; shaking his head at the meal that he finds to be gourmet, while to us — it is our daily bread.  I have to look away when with childlike amusement he walks his lips along a string of melted cheese:

Here is to more such meals, my most dear love, and to the moments that define a life!  that must define MY life!

The couple in the window across the street has finished their meal.  The table is still cluttered with settings, crumbled paper napkins and a red bucket whose iconography — although recognizable — is somehow different from the red-and-white signs that pollute the American skyline.  The couple is now on the couch:  She’s sitting up and removing pillows from behind her back, then tossing them onto the wooden floor.  He is fetching two smaller ones, in white pillow cases, from the bed.  Together, they recline again and progressively tangle up into each other, like lovers who have passed the times of dire passion and landed in that even-tempered place of loving partnership.

The light of the TV is now the only one illuminating their spartan room.  From where I stand, now drinking a cup of black tea (still, jet lagged), I only see the back of his head and her hand that has ended up near his right shoulder.   Occasionally, he half turns his face toward her, then turns toward the flickering blue light again:

“Are you comfortable, my love?”

Or,

“Would you rather watch the news?”

I walk into my bedroom to fetch my computer.  The yellow light follows me from the kitchen and slowly dissipates as I approach the next doorway.  It, ever so lightly, hits the exposed leg of my sleeping lover.  I think I study him, but instead the mind gives room to memories of similar moments and visions.  And in that suspended history of us, I reach into the drawer.

“In the Name of Justice. In the Name of Fun. In the Name of the Father. In the Name of the Son.”

A native couple is cooing by the window.

Polish has always echoed of my native tongue, but with more softened corners of our consonants.  And even if it flies out in a loud form — like from the disgruntled clerk at Warsaw’s Central Station who hollered at the group of passengers that included my old man (that bitch whose Soviet-inspired perm I could’ve easily clawed out if it weren’t for the plexiglass between us!) — this language still flows and gurgles the prettiest, for my ears.  Within this week, Polish has become my path to lullabies; and now, I wish to learn it, so that I could always murmur its fairytales to my own sleepy firstborn.

Case in point:  The lovebirds with whom I’m sharing this train car for the duration of the 7-hour ride from Gdansk to Warsaw — are quite quickly putting me to sleep after our first ten minutes together.  Although I’m certain that the last three days of restless sleep that came from my fear of closing my eyes (so that I wouldn’t stop memorizing my father’s face, after a decade of our living in opposite hemispheres) have something to do with it, too.  But during this entire trip through Eastern Europe, I have been thoroughly calmed into surrender by the trustworthy national temperament of the Poles.  No other peoples I have ever encountered possess this much gentleness and grace (the Soviet-trained witch at the bus station who dared threatening my father’s dignity — is obviously excluded from this statement).

It is as if after centuries of oppression by every egomaniac who found this lovely country as the perfect place to start a war or their conquest of the world — after unthinkable tragedies the human race thought up and then imposed on these kind people — the good gods of this land have finally decided to protect them from all strife, until the next apocalypse that ends our civilization all together.  As far as the Poles go, I think that they have suffered enough to possibly reach their nation’s limits of paid dues.

It must be why for days and miles (oops, sorry:  kilometers) by now, I haven’t seen an unattractive native.  The kiddos are doll-like, with their giant eyes and smooth foreheads inside the halos of colorful scarves and fur-trimmed hoods of coats:  The beauty of their future generation must be the reward for all that suffering.  The women are mesmerizing with their luminous faces (without make-up, in most cases) and those Slavic cheekbones carved out of marble by Michelangelo himself (for surely, that guy must be god’s personal architect, these days).  The leftovers of the kitschy Soviet fashion are still occasionally noticeable on Warsaw’s streets:  in leopard colored fur coats and hair beehives set into unmovable mounts with sparkly hairspray, a tooth comb a curling iron.  And then, there are those women who suffer from the universal ailment of unhappy marriages and miserable living standards (those women age so fast!).  Also, a few have fallen victim to the mass fad of perpetual smoking (although the young are still not showing the consequences of it).  But for the most part, in their beauty, these women — are exceptional!

As for the Polish men, thus far I’ve found them wonderfully well-mannered, educated and non-aggressive.  Like this specimen still cooing at his lovely in my train car:  Incredibly gentle to the point of being effeminate, he keeps telling her the history of every local sight and landscape that we have passed behind our giant windows.  At one point, he gets up, adjusts his tweed jacket (while being childlike and a little nerdy in his gestures); and then reveals two homemade sandwiches (oops, sorry:  buterbrods) out of his shiny brown leather attache case.  When he starts talking on his cellphone to confirm the schedule of their connecting train, he sounds exceedingly polite and almost bitchy.  She giggles and looks at him sheepishly when he cuts off the customer service rep with his blade-like sarcasm.  He looks back at her, now encouraged and twice the man, and pats the top of her knee.

These lovebirds have been cooing at each other ever since I’ve entered the railroad car.  Between the two of them, she does most of the listening:  With a blissful expression on her face whose only stunning characteristic lies in the constellation of her beauty marks, occasionally she slips in a timid compliment in between his never ending sentences, while he continues lecturing.  He could be easily be an assistant professor or some brilliant history students at the top of his class.  (Um.  Sorry:  faculte.)  And when he delights her with his intellect, she breaks out into a ready laughter, too loud for her demure character.

Of course, were I to have my drathers, I would be sleeping in the dark and in utter silence.  But one:  It is the Eve of the New Year, after all (and the Poles are huge on celebrations — which must have something to do with their generosity, I suspect).  Two:  These kids are perfectly delightful.  But even though they can’t remind me of my younger self (for I have never had a young romance), I always stand defenseless in the name of kindness, if not love.

Besides, I have been softened by the events of this week’s trip.  The best, the smartest and the kindest man of my life — my father — has just departed from the coast of Gdansk:

The man to teach me my self-worth despite our sixteen-year long communication by phone and telepathically shared heartbeat.  The one to always offer help and not keep tabs on my mistakes or moments of helplessness.

The first to show me that power lies in kindness and that in my forgiveness — happens love.

The parent from whom I have inherited my sense of justice and the pursuit of harmony, my reason, generosity, compassion; and the very essence of my spirit — has offered me the best week of my life.

And our reunion just so happened to unfold — on Poland’s graceful land.

“And She’s Never Seen with Pin Curls in Her Hair.”

It would take her years to process the truth.  Not the truth of the last moment:  Her, weeping at the airport into the shoulder seam of a man’s sweatshirt.  She was upping the ante, that day.  Making the ultimate bet, the win of which — would be her staying.  (At least, she thought that was the win she’d wanted, at that last moment.)

And it was not the truth that he had been feeding her for years.  No, not his truth:  The truth that he begged her to accept, just so that he could buy himself more time.  So that he could continue to have it both ways.  Both women.

But how much more time could a man need?  He had already taken six years out of her life.  Six years out of her youth — and out of her better self.

When they first met, she still had a cherubic face:  The same face he would’ve seen had he expressed an interest in seeing photos of her younger self.  Her better self:  The self before the sans six years had happened.  It would’ve foretold the face of their firstborn, if he were to have any courage to follow through with the affair.

But then, perhaps, it was not a question of courage.  It was quite possible that the matter narrowed down to the initial intention.  Down, down went the spiral, to the root of the matter.  On every loop, their faces changed.  Their characters changed slightly, altered by each other:  And that was the only way she could expect to matter, in the end.  In the truth of that last moment, and beyond.  After six years, she would have changed a man.  She had happened to him.  And after her happening, he had to have changed.

She failed to change him for the better.  She couldn’t as much as change his mind to make her life — his first choice.  For the duration of the affair, she would remain the back-up; the retreat in which he hid when things weren’t well at home.  She would remain a fantasy.  The Other Woman:  The one that fabricated her own calendar, rescheduled her holidays and channeled each day toward the brief line-up of hours when she would see him; then, dismiss the rest.  The one that pressured herself into better housekeeping, into whipping up gourmet meals and shaping her body into the best he could have had.  His life’s first choice.

In literature, women like her were despised.  They were often written mean, or needy; with serious daddy issues.  Complete head cases, in films these women went berserk; and they would do the unthinkable things that later justified their suffering.  They were insecure, although often very beautiful.  Their puffy faces waited by the door on Christmas, and by the phone on birthdays.  They were the back-ups, forever waiting for arrivals.  They fed themselves on leftovers of loves.  The paupers.  The self-imposed outcasts.  And their faces — sans the years that their lovers took out of their better selves — were the faces she never hoped to see in the reflection of closed store fronts, by which she, too, had waited all these years.

“A bright girl!” she had been called before.  A bit naive, perhaps, but not an idiot.  But it would take her years:  because she wanted to believe that she was good enough to change his mind.  Good enough to deserve love.

Up, up went the spiral, up to the clarity of truth.  Not the truth that she had wanted to believe so desperately.  Not the truth that may have been actual, when the lovers were intertwined:  In those moments, he may have loved her; but no more than he loved himself.  He too had to be thinking that he deserved love, that he deserved to have it both ways.  That he deserved — both women.

The truth was to be found in the initial intention:  The root of the matter.  He never wanted her for keeps.  An adventure, an escape from the dissatisfactions of his chosen life.  In his chosen wife.  That was the matter:  He felt he deserved the comforts of the chosen wife and the fantasy — of the Other Woman.  He deserved both.

The problem was:  She was a good woman.  A good girl.  “A bright one”.  And to protect himself from the guilt, he had to tarnish her.  So, he would leave it up to her — to make the choice to stay.  To be the back-up.  He left it in her hands to keep on waiting, while he continued — to come back.

And he would have kept going until she lost the memory of her better self and would become that woman:  that Other Woman, with puffy-faced reflections and reconstructed calendars.  The pauper.  The disregarded.

She would have lost her self-respect, and how could anyone respect a girl like that?  So, he wouldn’t.  He left it in her hands — to destroy her better self.  And that would always justify his choice of the chosen wife.

But in the truth of that last moment, she upped the ante:  He could either have her better self — or whatever was left of her, after the sans six years — or no self of hers at all.  She left him to his chosen life.

And in that last truth, the only person who deserved compassion (because she still would not receive his better love) — was the man’s Chosen Wife.

But hers — was a whole another story:

Of yet Another Woman.

“My Skin — Is Brown. My Manner — Is Tough.”

There is a spirit, in certain women, that lives so powerfully — it resurrects my own ways.  

I have loved many of such women, in my life:  They are essential to my every breath.

And they always have a special talent for obeying the time clock to my own destiny, whose ticking I often fail to understand.  Still, I seek them, by intuition — whenever in need of inspiration (or, of just a confirmation, really, that I am still getting it all right).

Sometimes, they reappear whenever I have a reason to celebrate.  But only in the most dire of my moments, do they seem to unite, unanimously, and come to the forefront of my days as a magnificent army of undefeatable souls.

There is a woman with her hair on fire:  She lives at a halfway point between the two coasts of my identify.  At any given time of every day, she is an expert at whipping up a meal soon after making love; and as her lovers, we make for one doomed lot because she will not happen to any of us, again.

Instead of breakfast, she begins each day with a party.  At a round table of her restaurant, she often shares a drink with her clients and her staff, late into the night.  She drives fast and laughs for so long, the windows begin to rattle like an orchestra of chimes.  Her fire-engine red lips are never smeared.  And god forbid, she tames her hair into anything more modest.

“When in doubt — be generous,” she says.  “Generous and kind.”  Nothing has disobeyed her love.  And no one — can overcome the kindness.

She is all that:  magnificent, magnanimous, braver than the rest and always in the heart of every love.

To each — her own way. 

An erudite poetess with African hair sends me postcards every once in a while, from the Mediterranean coast where she retreats to rest her skin from the abrasive gazes her beauty attracts.  From a writers’ colony, with wooden cots and tables by the window, she writes to me in stanzas.

“At work,” she’ll say.

And she will mean:  RESPECT.

In her profession, I have known no equals; and in the written word, she is much further than me:  always ahead, as it testing the ground that I am meant to follow.  She is political, on edge, and often absolute.  She is a socialist in success:  Others, she believes, must benefit.

Her people:  They have suffered way too much.  And so, she prowls, proudly:  paving the way, pounding the ground.  And it is worth the awe to see her never skips a step or stumbles.

“TO NEVER APOLOGIZE,” — she has tattooed upon her forehead (and she scribble that on mine).

In stanzas!  She often writes to me — in stanzas, even when writing about the most mundane, like laundry or her lover’s breathing.  And I watch her, moving through the world of men with a grace that is so undeniably female.

To each — her own way.  To each — her own manner.

The woman that shadows all of my most difficult choices with patience worthy of saint:  She has been bound to me by some unwritten, never negotiated rule of sisterhood.  With her, I’m never orphaned.  With her, I’m never-ever afraid; and life — is not unjust.  She is the kindest one I’ve known.  The worthiest — that I have ever loved.

It’s not that she hasn’t witnessed others error.  No doubt, she has seen me lose my own ways, as well.

“Don’t you ever question?” I used to challenge her, in my youthful disobedience.

“Question?”

“I dunno.  Question the purpose?  The faith?  The validity of it all?”

At every significant marker of each year, “God bless you,” she jots down, with a steady hand.  From her lips — and from her hand — these words never acquire comedy or scorn.  To speak the truth.  To call each thing by its own name.  She’s fine with that.  But the cost — alas, the cost — she never loses the sight of human cost.

Once, long ago, her hand had gotten lost in my growing out mane.  She had a mother’s touch.  With her, I’m never orphaned.

“Remember this!” I thought to myself, but all too soon, I drifted off to sleep.

To each — her own grace.

My Kindness, Truth and Patience.

One gives.  Another fights.  The third one — perseveres.

All — in the name of Love. 

“Steadily Rewindin’, Tryin’ to Make Some Hot Shit… Oh, What a Job This Is!”

Trying to write at a coffee shop:  This nomadic lifestyle of mine is slowly taking a toll on me.

The joint that I’ve chosen is not on the beach, but it carries the name of one.  And it comes with a specific array of noises.  Noises and egos.

They aren’t corporate egos, thank goodness.  They belong to life-long outcasts and beautiful, quirky kids who are stubborn and mad enough — to keep at their stories:  At their art.

Like this tatted-up boy right here, with bleached hair:  He is smaller than me.  He walks in through the glass back door, smiles sheepishly; grabs the handle before the door slams and shuts it, slowly.  Quietly.  He knows there are others here — stubborn and mad enough to keep at their stories.  To keep at their art.

Just look at him!  I betcha he’s got a story or two, and he’s most likely figured out his medium by now.  So, he’s certainly gotten himself a hefty ego.  And that ego nags — until each story is told:  on paper or on his skin, or braided in between the strings of his guitar.

The boy leaves.  I notice that the bleached hair is actually brushed into a well-sculpted mohawk.  He does the handle thing again, looks at me, from the other side of the glass door; smiles sheepishly.  Thank goodness — for his specificity!

Shit!  I’ve gotta focus.  I still haven’t written, this morning.

I walk over to the counter.  I can tell by the way one barista is bickering at the other, under her breath, that the two ladies aren’t really getting along.  This one:  brown, pretty, with striking gray eyes is yanking the handle of the espresso grinder like she means it.  I catch myself wondering if her wrist hurts at night, and if that shoulder of hers needs healing.  Does it makes her moan, at times, about “her fucking day job”?  Does it fuel her stubborn madness — to keep at her stories?  To keep at her art?

Just look at her!  By the way she arches her eyebrows and tightens her mouth, I know she’s been doing this gig for a while.  And she’s really good at it.  There is a routine in her movements:

Yank, yank, yank, yank.  Swipe across with a single forefinger.  Press down the tamper, tap the side with it.  Press down again.  Brush away the loose grinds.  Get ready to brew.

This girl is a virtuoso!  She’s found art in the most mundane of occupations.

Okay.  Shit.  Focus.  I still haven’t written, this morning.

The girl taking my order is also the one working the milk steamer.  She is a bit bossy.  Some may even call her “bitchy”.  “Tightly wound”.  “With prickly temperament”.  (I would know:  I get called those things — all the fucking time!)  I watch her maneuvering each pot of steaming milk above a paper cup.

She reminds me of a woman conductor who has once taught me music:  That older creature of grace was an untypical occurrence, an exception in the world of classical music.  This one — must be some sort of an artist as well.  And I wonder if she’s got the balls to be a pioneer, in her very specific thing.

“Hey, now!” she says to a young skater boy who struts into the joint, through the glass back door.  He has a headful of African curls tamed with a backward turned cap.

The counter girl lights up:  She still knows how to adore…

Shit!  Focus, focus, focus!  Still haven’t written!  And it’s already — an after-fuckin’-noon.

I wait for my latte:  It’s being made, with such specificity.  They never serve watered down coffee here, with an aftertaste of burnt espresso grinds.  Timing is very important.  So is taking the time.

I pass a row of tables.  Each is occupied by a youth at work.  The girl at an aluminum table is wearing orange earplugs:  This joint comes with a specific array of noises.  Noises and egos.

“Yank, yank, yank, yank,” — is coming from behind the bar.  “Tap.  Pause.  Tap.”

And on top of that, there is a hysterical rockstar screaming over the radio speakers.  I’ve been in enough of these joints, over the course of my nomadic lifestyle, to have learned good music.  This — is not good.

The radio goes silent.  I look back:  The bossy counter girl is messing with the radio stations.  A sweet reggae beat takes over.

The boy in a hoodie, at the table next to mine, starts nodding his messy head.  His face is wrinkly with pillow marks, but it’s intense.  He is so young, yet already so specific.

Just look at him!

Shit!

Focus!

Write!

The tatted-up boy with bleached out hair returns to use the bathroom.  He does the handle thing.

The bathroom door opens:  A youth of about twenty rolls out of it, in a wheel-chair.  Damn!

He passes me.  His face is kind.  He smiles.

The girl with earplugs gets up, packs up quietly.  Leaves through the glass back door.  Does the handle thing.

A Mexican stunner walks in:  Long black hair, butterflies instead of eyelashes.  She smiles at me, full heartedly.  Does the handle thing.

There is so much beauty in specificity!  There is so much beauty in compassion!  And it makes it so much easier — to keep at my art.

“Shit!  Let me get this for you!”  I leap out of my seat, to help a lovely young mother who’s trying to get through the glass back door, with her hands full.

I smile, hold the door; say:  “No problem!”  And quietly — do the handle thing.

“I Can Be Your Hero, Baby” — Nyet.

My dad — is not Superman.

I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone conversation that I have been committing to Motha Russia for the last few years.  It’s the least I could do, I always thought:  to take the initiative in maintaining this long distance relationship that had affected every romantic choice in my own biography.  Because dad was the man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.  So, da:  It was the least I could do.

As someone with the burden of having left her beloveds behind, with the guilt of exceeding her parents’ lifestyle — survivor’s guilt — I have been dialing an endless line-up of numbers every Sunday (by the Russian clocks):  My Prodigal Sundays.  And after a while, I’ve given up on premeditating the concepts of these phone calls:  For they never turn out to be redemptive, or even philosophical.

“Hello, what’s new?” I would ask, every time, surprising myself with how mundane I could be despite my lists of questions about my heritage, my character, my past.

“Nothing,” dad would answer, echoing the matter-of-factness of it all.

(It’s offensively insane if you think about it, really:  After more than a decade of separation, you would think beloveds could concern themselves with anything other than gas prices (for me) and bread prices (for him).  It must be why, then, I had always found fiction to be more perfectly narrated than life.)

But then on the other hand, my dad was Superman.  For years, he seemed immune to suffering.  Between the stoic nature I myself tap into sometimes, in my own character, and the military training of his lifetime career, he never vented, never sought faults; never passed a judgement on the humans he had vowed to protect.  So, I’ve had the audacity to assume he was stronger than the rest of us, capable and tough.  Because that matched the picture of the first man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.

Dad always stood so tall, with his stereotypical Eastern European features juxtaposing my own (that I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).  But it was height that I insisted on remembering the most, never measuring him against other men.  There had to be other humans larger than dad’s slim stature, so well hidden underneath the boxy cut of the Soviet Army uniform.  Just by the mere fact that, for centuries, Motha Russian was famed for repeatedly spitting out giants out of her national vagina — there had to be humans taller than my dad.  But no, not from my perspective!  Not from where I stood — not from where I looked up, in my blinded worship of him, for the first two decades of my life — never growing past my own 5 feet in height (a feature I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).

And he would be the best of them all.  Always the highest ranking officer in every room, he would be granted the respect pro bono.  So, how do you stand next to a man that gets saluted before even being spoken to, giving him a complete command over the course of the words that would follow?  How do measure yourself against someone addressed by his title rather than his name?  I tell you how:  You fall in love with him, blindly, for decades getting stuck at measuring your own romantic choices against Superman.  

We could be on an errand trip to the nearest city — my Superman and I — standing in line at an ice-cream kiosk, when a stranger in civilian clothes would salute my tallest man in the world.  Beautiful women (for centuries, Motha Russia was famed for spitting those out of her national vagina as well — in galore) would blush and adjust their hair when father marched past them.  (For the rest of his life, he would never surrender that manner of stepping — as if on a chronic conquest:  A man on a mission to protect the human race.)  And even the harshest of them all — the bitterly disappointed veterans on the benches of Moscow’s parks or the fattened-up, unhappy female secretaries at my lyceum’s administration — they too would melt a little in the esteemed company of my dad, making life seem much easier to navigate than when amidst the stocky, brown brand of my mother’s side.

Oh, how I wish I could’ve dwelled in this blind worship of him, for the rest of my life.  But the romantic choices in my own biography — a biography that had happened during the period of separation from my dad, now nearly equaling in length as the first two decades — they have began to catch up with me.  And as I continue to fall out of my loves, I begin landing in truth about the very first man with whom I was once so blindly in love.

“And yes, you do mythologize your men,” a man, not as tall as my father, had told me the other day.

And da, herein lies the pattern:  Willingly, blindly, I fall in love, worshiping each new romantic choice, pro bono.  And when he doesn’t measure against my personal Superman, I fall out of it, quite disappointed but never surprised.  For no man can live up to my mythical expectations — not even the Superman that had started them, back in the first two decades of my life.

And nyet, my dad — is not Superman.  I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone calls on a typical Prodigal Sunday (by the Russian clocks).

Because, “I’m just a man,” he told me, refusing to echo the matter-of-factness of it all.  “And it’s time for you — to give up on me.”

“Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On!”

the best of you

I like more than you think.

the others don’t count

Charles Bukowski, One for the Shoeshine Man

“Do you know which word you say the most?” he said.

“Oh here we go,” I thought.  “Another one, trying so hard.  SO hard!  Why can’t he just let me be?”

But he didn’t wait for my answer:  “Grateful!” he said.

I hummed, surprised: I guess I’ve never learned how to receive a compliment.  

I’ve always had the skill to listen, you bet cha; and to admire them, pro bono.  And over the years, after enough cynicism (which I camouflage with my wit), I’ve even learned to rebut their self-serving inquiries, with unexpected grace.

So, when they say:  “So, what do you do for a living?”  

I read:  “I need a shortcut to your character.”

They hear my accent and too quickly spit out:  “Do you like it better here or over there?”  (Some even dare to over-enunciate.)

This one, I’ve learned to back-up with a comedic routine because no one wants to sit through my nostalgia or watch the ruins of an immigrant’s life.  They want me to be “grateful”.

“How old are you?” they say; then startle themselves, linger to recover and quickly add, “…if I may ask?”

For years, I’ve watched other women get coquettish or cutely offended by that question, some acting more sincerely than others.  And I would often lose my own hard-on, on behalf of the poor suckers who still had to shag them, eventually.  And I’ve tried that coquettish act myself:  It reminded me of waiting for my motha in Soviet hair salons while trying on lice-infected wigs.  Contagious — but what a fucking act!  And how boring!  

So, I always tell them my age instead — straight out, hard! — because whether it’s enough or not enough, it has most likely already been determined.  Or, it’s in the works.

No matter how habitual, how well-practiced their routine, when they look at me for the first time, there is a glimmer of curiosity.  Perhaps, they are relieved that they don’t have to hide their gazes any more (or their hard-ons):  They’ve already spoken, so they’ve gone beyond creepy.  So, they soak me up, scanning my modest endowments.  Some lick their lips.  Others just smile like 7-year-olds in love with their preschool teachers.  (Oh, you darling darlings:  How I adore you!)

And before they begin comparing me to others — for I know no man who hasn’t been changed by “that one woman” — I let them look.  I revel in it.  

Oh, how I wish there were a way to have this electricity of the initial attraction last!  To last past the mundane habit of hearing them pee with open bathroom doors; and past their own disappointments in my inabilities to live up to “that one woman”.

And when they look, men tend to need more time.  They don’t have the lightening-speed askance of a woman who scans a suitor while simultaneously going over her own list of prerequisites.

“Check, check, check,” a girl is always thinking.  (Trust me, I know:  I do it all the time.)

But men are not like that.  They either go with their gut or they go with their habit.  Those who are gutsier, will ask you an unusual question:

“Those earrings:  Where are they from?”

Or:  “You aren’t from around here, huh?”

(I prefer for them to be surprising.  Always.  It gives me a hard-on.  Or for me, to be surprisingly interesting — to them.)

The simpler types — God bless ‘em!  Really! — they always speak in quotations; and I often wonder how many back-up choices they’ve already earned on their speed dial that night, with that same routine.  What chaos, I think; but somehow I don’t mind it.  Most likely, they’ll soon get distracted anyway — and let me be.

“If beauty were a minute — you’d be an hour.”  (Oh, c’mon:  Why don’t you mind my laughing at you?)

“I like perfection,” another threatened me recently, while whipping out his phone; because his arrogance must work like a charm on other women.

“Is that why you’re talking to me?” I responded.  (What did I tell ya?  I’ve learned to rebut, you bet cha.  But still, I prefer to be surprised.)

“Are you gonna make me chase you?” another one commented on my impressive stunts in heels; and even though I’d outrun him, sooner or later, he decided to follow me for a long enough to get my number.

“Yep.”  (Don’t you know you aren’t supposed to waste your breath in marathons, buddy?)

But those who stick around for the first date usually tend to take their time figuring me out.  They study me, like an ancient spiritual text, of no particular religion.  They shuffle through universal concepts and bigger theories.

Like that adorable one, catching me off-guard with my own speech tick of “grateful”.  The entire night, he’s been wanting to play the tug-o-war of “You, Me, You, Me.  Me, Again.”  He was young and ambitious, quite contagious and still altruistic.  He was so beautiful to look at, in the way that only the young can be.  And in those moments of his trying so hard to like me — or to be like me; to get the gist of it all, to figure it all out; to stand on his own, but then dive into his empathy head first; to equate me, please me, surprise me; to make me laugh, to make me vulnerable; to get me; to earn me:  I found myself grateful, indeed.

Because I knew better than to hold onto him:  No one lasts.  Or they haven’t lasted so far, and I can’t expect them to.  But I can expect them — to be.  I can let them be, just as they are.  

And because, for a change, someone was letting me be as well, I suddenly felt surprised — at my own magnificence — and I wanted so much to return the favor!  

And yes, I already knew that the electricity of the initial encounter wouldn’t last, but I reveled in it, if only for that night.  But secretly, I began harboring a glimmer of hope that maybe it was my turn — to be “that one woman”.   

Good Woman Down — and Up! Up! Up!

Define “good”.  I bet cha you can’t.  Well, not precisely.  Not on the dot, not really.

You will grapple with your memories of what it must’ve felt like — to be “good” — but you won’t really know what moved you, to be that way.  To make that choice.  Maybe it was something your parents have taught you (or whoever made up for your parents).  But all you will manage, at best — is to spew out a few other ambitious words, or juxtapose “good” against antonyms, equally as vague and forsaken.

“It’s the opposite of that…  You’ll know it when you see it!” you conclude, perhaps impatiently.

Maybe, you’ll have better chances at recollecting memories of when “good” was being done to you:  Because it’s always easier to accept, than to give it.  Not many protest when they are submerged into someone else’s “goodness”.  (Well, at least, not until the self-loathing kicks-in, and they start splashing around in it, like a hysterical woman in a jacuzzi, making a fuss about her hair.)

Some of you will go full-fledged to religion or philosophy:  Someone surely must’ve written about “goodness”, even if they’ve forsaken it right after.  Oh maybe, poets have captured it, that wretched lot of humanity!

“I know this, I know this!” some of you will slap your foreheads and snap your fingers in space, as if trying to remember a name of an actor from one of those black-and-white movies we’ve all agreed to treat as a masterpiece.  Or that tune — “What’s the name of it?  I know this, I know this!” — and it’ll get stuck in your head for hours after.

And many of you will smile, while searching for the answers.  Yep.  Experts say it takes extra muscles to smileanother degree of an effort, fully committed.  Willing.  Kind of like “goodness”, no?

The other day, I had frantically reached for the definition of “my goodness” to the woman, who, on this planet, besides my motha, has known me the longest.  For years, this relationship was based on having nothing to prove to each other; and having nothing to need.  No matter my own idiotic choices throughout our history, she had never offered up a judgement:  Because she is “good” like that.

As before, she took her time answering, just so she could do it precisely.  On the dot.  Because she is “good” like that!  She couldn’t have known that my urgent need for her reassurance had come from an accusation by a scorned lover.  (Oh my goodness!)  I waited for her response.

In the mean time, I went off to stumble around my day in a state of some sort of walking sleep.  I bounced between my commitments, occasionally pulling over to the side of the road to jot down lists of “good thing” — things I was grateful for; things that I was hoping to discover later, just so that I could be grateful again.

I stopped by a girlfriend’s office:  She had been missing me, she said.  Always a stunner, this time around she looked even sharper.

“Sorry, I’m such a mess,” I said in comparison, pulled up my dress, then zipped up my jacket to hide it altogether.

“Nah,” she said, chewing on the black cherries I’ve brought her.  “I dig this look on you.”

She was busy.  I drove off.  In traffic, my phone lit up with her name:

“U r always so good to me!” said the text.

I felt dizzy.  Pulled over.  Jotted down a few things.  Remembered I needed food, got myself to the closest store.  In the “Canned Goods” aisle, I suddenly felt the urge to weep:  Months ago, in the same store, in a similar aisle, my departed lover had confronted me — with goodness:

“Look at you,” he had come upon me unexpectedly.  “Smiling at strangers.”

Clutching my random future purchase, I stared at the labels.  A gorgeous girl with a headful of Grecian curls reached around me:

“‘Scuse me,” she smiled.  I smiled simultaneously despite my face feeling exhausted.  Sorry:  I’m such a mess.  I watched her choose a can of hominy beans (not chickpeas!) and smiled again:

“‘Scuse me?”

She looked back — “Yes?” — and smiled.  (Damn:  That’s pretty!)

“Your tag’s sticking out,” I said, and without waiting for her to feel embarrassed, I reached for the back of her neck and fixed it.

In my car, I took a few bites of the food:  Not feeling it.  Jotted a few more “good things” down.  Started the car, pulled out, waited for all the pedestrians to cross.  (They tend to look so disoriented, in this city.)  Started driving, pulled over again.  Got out, grabbed my lunch; walked over to a man reading a newspaper in the bushes, with a nearby parked shopping cart.

“Hey, Keith,” I said.

Keith raised his face.  Sweat was dripping off his face and onto the newspaper.  He looked unusually bewildered.

“You want this?  I just bought it.  Not feeling it.”

I unloaded my hands into the shopping cart, and without waiting for him to feel embarrassed, got back into my car.

Three locks to get into my apartment:  One down, two to go.  Matching the keys to the keyholes, I was trying to keep myself upright.

“V!” a kid stormed out of his apartment down the hall.  He always storms out — out!  around! — and he speaks in exclamation points.  Already in the midst of some anecdote, as if we didn’t have a couple of days since seeing each other last, he was making me laugh.  But I was still playing the matching puzzle of the keys to the holes.

“Where are you going?!  What are you doing?!”

I laughed.  “I gotta do some work, silly goose.”  (In truth, I was just anxious to find the definition of “my goodness” — precisely, on the dot — on the screen of my laptop.)

“Well, lemme take a picture of you!”

“Sorry,” I said.  “I’m such a mess!”

“Nah!  You kidding!  I dig this whole look on you!” — and without waiting for me to feel embarrassed, out came the kid’s iPhone.

He stormed out.  I decoded my locks.  In the darkness of my apartment, while I was waiting on my laptop, the phone lit up with a text:

“…and you deserve all the best!  All the best!”

The kid.

I smiled.  

Experts say it takes extra muscles to smile — another degree of an effort, fully committed.  Willing.  

Kind of like “goodness”.  

Yes.