Tag Archives: coping

“I Was in the House — When the House Burned Down.”

Trembling.  Waiting for clearer thoughts to come in.

Here comes one:

“How is it that I’m shivering in a 110-degree heat?”

That’ll do, for now.

Gently!  You must handle yourself — gently.

Standing on a street that to a bystander’s eye would appear idillic and “homey”, she wonders about the horrors that could be happening behind the closed doors of these same “homey” homes, with pretty white doors:  the quiet, muffled horrors of domestic violence.

“Beware — of pretty,” another thought comes in.

There is a reason why she has always loathed the sight of the white picket fence:  They reek of false advertisement and broken promises — of broken hearts.  And the heart that break due to the broken promise — takes longer to heal. She is now cradling her heart, in her heaving chest; but it would take her years to learn just how long the healing would take.

Her thinking is fragmented.  If only she could get a grip on this shivering:  If only she could catch her breath.  But the body takes its time.

There is a violence that lives in every body:  A violence that strikes at another — or at itself.  It always comes from the darkest corners of one’s soul and it prefers no audience.  But those whom we love the most often fall victim to it.

So, she is catching herself wonder about the suffering that others endure when love betrays its goodness.  It is much better to be thinking of others, in moments of extreme pain.  Because the end to her own pain — she cannot possibly see from here:  In the “homey” neighborhood that has broken its promise to her and found her homeless, in 110-degree heat.

Besides, the suffering of others should remind her that someone is always having it worse.

“How can it possibly be worse?!” another thought flings itself inside her throbbing head.

The chest is heaving.  The heart is beating fast:  It is not broken yet.

“Do people die — of broken hearts?” she thinks and sits down on the curb to catch her breath.  Is that what happens — in heart attacks?

A Heart:  Attacked.  That would be the name of her cause, if she were to stop breathing right now.

She stares at her feet.  The pedicure on her toes is of her own manufacturing.  She’s had a hand in that.  The chosen color is pink:  They have just passed Easter, on the calendar.  The pair of shoes, that she’s had very little time to peel on before leaping out of the house, are multicolored:  Each strap bears a neon shade.  When she first laid her eyes on them, on a shelf at Payless, she thought.

“When in the world would I wear those?!”

Now.  She is wearing them now.  And in a juxtaposition with her black tank top and blue bicycle shorts, they fail to make any sense at all.  She chuckles to herself:  Yes, she actually chuckles — while shivering — because she is thinking that she must look like a burnt house victim, right now.

And isn’t that what happened, anyway:  Her “homey” home has burnt down on its promise?  It has collapsed on itself, and no matter its false appearance from the outside, behind those pretty white doors and the white picket fence — one can only find ruins.

She shivers and looks over her shoulder at the sight of the house:

The perfectly groomed, neon green lawn — FAKE!

The deceivingly white and pink exterior — FALSE!

The beautiful rotunda window of its office space — LIARS!

A distorted face of a man has been watching her through that window.  She has just realized that.  He is puffy and unshaven, bewildered behind his thick-rimmed glasses.  His mouth begins opening once he notices her looking back.  He is that bug-eyed bottom-feeding fish that outlives the smaller bastards in a shared tank.  The existence of his type is necessary, in nature.  She knows that.  Symbi-fuckin’-osis!  But again, it would years before she sees his purpose in her life.

“GET THE FUCK OUT!” she can lipread on his gaping, bottom-feeding mouth.

“I hope I took my glasses with me,” another thought happens.

That’s when she realizes she’s actually not seeing the man:  She is remembering him, at this very moment.  The brain is taking in the memories:  The bits that it will then try so very hard to forget.

The shivering hasn’t subsided, but it has transformed into an all-over warmth that happens to the survivors of car wrecks.  This is:

The Body:  Coping.

That is the name of her current disease.

No, she wouldn’t die of A Heart:  Attacked.  Not on this day.  Her body has chosen to persevere, to survive the violence.

The shivering is violent.  The body is confronting brutality with its reserve of sudden energy.

This is what it takes — to survive:  To outlive the broken heart.

She wants to go to sleep but then realizes that it’ll be a while; for she has just leapt out of a burning home:  a “homey” home. The thought of anything too far ahead refuses to happen; and strangely calm, she is grateful for that. She thinks no more than five minutes ahead.

Not feeling her own body, she picks herself up off the curb and reaches for the giant black bag packed in the middle of the night.

And:  She.  Starts.  Walking.

It should be hard, in theory, to not know where she’s going.  She’s got no home.  She knows no shelter.

But she is only thinking of one step at a time — and only five minutes ahead.

Gently!  You must handle yourself — gently! — when you survive.

She’s chosen to survive.  It would begin when she starts walking.

Away.

“All My Ladies: If You Feel Me, Do It! Do It! WHIP YO’ HAIR!”

I follow a tradition:  To get a man outta my hair — I cut it down.

I have a lot it:  My hair.  My mane of plenty.

And in it, a man always finds his very first addiction, along my body.

So, naturally:  To get a man outta my hair — I cut it down.

It grows in unpredictable patterns.  Every day, it does its own thing:  between the gypsy wave and the tight curl of a brown girl, a sleek streaming down, along the upper vertebrae of my neck; a flip to one side, a curtain above my eye brow.  After years of managing it, I’ve finally learned not to — and I just let it be.    

I usually can sense it when it’s time to get a haircut — or a hair-shave:  I get itchy with impatience, and I stop wearing it down.  Instead, I yank it back and up into a brutal balletic bun, lacquering down all the flirty fly-aways with some nuclear spray.

And any time I let it down:

“Do you think I should cut it?” I ask anyone who happens to be nearby and listening.

Because by that time, the lover is long gone, having left little behind, or nothing at all — but so much to get over.  So, I can no longer turn to him — and ask the same question.

Yesterday, I skipped the questionnaire.  I drove the car, plopped down into the chair of the only brown girl I trust with my hair; and I said, with that fake accent I take on for comedy’s sake:

“Khelp me!”

She tilted back a headful of her heavy dreads and she roared:

“Jesus!  The Russian is a mess!”

“You can say that again.”

“The Russian is a mess!”

I tilted back a headful of my messy mane — and I too roared, spinning in her chair:  It was good to be back for some serious shedding.  I was about to get a man outta my hair, with the very first addiction he’d ever found along my body.

Her confident brown hand reached over and unleashed my bun, scratching the scalp with her firm nails.  She’s Caribbean, wears tats and feathers; and she is always listening to heavy music.  (Unless she is having a bad day:  Then, we do Nina.)

For three years now, she’s been freelancing out of this joint with floor-to-ceiling windows, flung open throughout the entire year, with its heavy music echoing along Venice Boulevard.  And for three years now, she’s been cutting my mane of plenty.

We both examined my reflection in the illuminated mirror.  She smiled, about to roar again, and her teeth reminded me of coconut meat.  Mine — were yellowed with coffee.

“I look like a shaggy dog!” I said.  “Khelp me!”

That was the last of it:  The last time we would mention my hair:  My mane of plenty.  For the rest of that hour, we talked about the adventures that had happened since the last time I sat in her chair, saying:

“Khelp me!”

She started doing yoga since — and I began flying.  She was thinking about running.  I had been.

She roared a lot, and I would spin in her chair, pleased that I was the cause of her lightness.

There had been times before, somewhere in the beginning of our camaraderie, when I would go to sleep in her chair, and in her hands; and she would let me.  But after all these years of shedding, she’s become my only permanent confidant in this city.

In an hour — filled with more laughter and questions, with tales of our future adventures — we both examined my reflection in the illuminated mirror.  She smiled her coconut smile at me and buried the brown, confident right hand inside my now shorter mane, of still plenty.

“No hair-dryer, right?”

“Nyet!  I hate that thing.”

Some magical potion smelling of ginger was rubbed into my scalp.  I was feeling lighter already.

“Jesus!  You’re magical,” I said.

She roared.

And when the covers were lifted, I swung my chair around to see pound and mounts of my former mane of plenty, at my feet.  My girl began to sweep.

“It’s enough for a whole other person,” she joked, and shook her headful of heavy dreads, while flashing the coconut smile at me.

It was.  It was a whole other person — a departed lover, to be exact.  And there he was:  I man I had committed to get outta my hair, now at my feet.  And having shed the very first addiction he’d ever found along my body, I had also shed him.

I stepped over the pile.

Back in my car, Nina roared en route home.  The air smelled like ginger.

 

“Sometimes, It Takes A Thousand Tries To Win: The Wait — Is Ova’!”

When did I decide to become a writer? 

LA-LA is in the midst of a major heat wave, and there isn’t enough air to go around.

I’ve woken up not feeling my own limbs:  The day job got the best of me last night.  Or, it got all of me, seemingly; and suddenly, I remember watching boys on my childhood’s playground torture a daddy longlegs by tearing out one leg at a time from its tiny, silly body.

“A resilient sucker!” they roared at their hideously lopsided creation, as the poor thing continued to make a run for it.  It would crawl sideways, clutching the asphalt with half of its legs.  And if it gained speed, the boys would eliminate another limb.

“Oh, yeah?!  Where are you goin’?”

They fancied themselves as gods already.

The handicap creature would battle with gravity, disoriented by this much loss:  Nature hadn’t prepared it for other people’s cruelty.  But then, it would find its way back to its feet, however many of those there were left.

Six years old, I remember thinking:  “Wouldn’t death be better here?”

I couldn’t stay till the end of the torture:  I ran off, crying.  I always felt way too much!

Telling my mother would’ve been useless, so I calmed myself down by hiding out under the first-story balconies of our building.  It would take a while for the sobbing to subside; but after smearing off the tears and the snot, I sneaked inside the apartment and sat down to write down the story, in my journal.

In the morning, when following motha to spend the entire day in her classroom, I passed the site of the torture.  There was nothing left of it.  No evidence of other people’s cruelty.  Not even a couple of tangled up limbs.

I thought, “It would’ve made for a much better story — if there were.”

This morning, it takes me an hour to get out of bed.  In my mind, I’m negotiating with my schedule, dropping things off the list.  Eventually, I leap up:  I’m gonna be so fucking late!

The legs hit the floor.  They are stiff.  I stumble a little.  Battle with gravity.  Slowly, I walk, clutching the carpet with whatever is left of my feet. The ache in my tiny, silly body is obnoxious and the same two fingers on my right hand remind me of an old injury.

When did I decide to become a writer?

At six years old, I used to dream of being anything else:  a pop-singer, a cosmonaut; or a clown.  The world seemed so small back then, about the size of whatever town we’ve landed in.  We had already begun relocating a lot.  My parents’ vocations would take us all over the continent (which is not much, considering my former Motha’land took up most of it).  And at every new school, on every new playground, I would think up of a new vocation:  a veterinarian, a botanist; or a clown.

At six years old, I began reading.  A lot.  It was the first of my education.  I read as if it were my religion, my painkiller, my prayer for getting better, kinder stories out of life.

I would read to cope with transitions, with all of our new landings.  With other people’s cruelty.  I had already learned about losing friends — to distance or egos. When in pain, I would read in hopes of finding someone else’s stories about the same things I was seeing, feeling.

At six years old, I began traveling.  A lot.  First, by following my parents’ vocations. Considering my former Motha’land took up most of the continent, travel would always be lengthy; and eventually — most certainly — we would be subjected to some drastic circumstances.  I would quickly realize that coping with other people’s cruelty made for much better stories.

At six years old, I would write my first story — for a reader.  At the time, I was taking some calligraphy course to prepare me for the first grade, because unlike other people, I was born to a motha with a perfectionist’s vocation.

“Maybe, I could be a calligrapher,” I thought.  “Or a clown.”

My teacher —  a pretty 18-year old intern from the Teachers’ University — was so impressed with the roundness of my vowels, she asked me what I liked to do, outside of school.

“I read stories,” I mumbled.  I was already in complete awe of her, acquiring my life-long habit of empathizing with other people — by falling in love with them. I must’ve blushed:  I always felt way too much!

“You should write me a story,” she said, and I’m pretty sure she reached over to straighten out my hair tie.

I did.

But first, I would show it to my motha.

“You killed off all of your characters,” she commented at the end, ruining my pages with her wet hands, after peeling potatoes.  “Come help me with the dishes!”

I took the pages back and wiped off my motha’s fingerprints.

“Wouldn’t death be better here?” I thought.

The pretty intern would never get to see my story.  I avoided her, for the rest of the course.  And every time, I would leave her classroom feeling heartbroken that she wouldn’t ask me to write for her again.  And sometimes, I would cry under the first-story balconies of our building.

Because I always felt way too much — and often, I was finding myself alone in it.

I would continue changing my mind about my vocations.  Eventually, I would try a few.

And I would continue traveling.  A lot.  On my own.

And I continued to read, in hopes of finding someone else’s stories about the same things I was seeing and feeling.  And to avoid finding myself alone, I began writing down my own stories.

So, when did I decide to become a writer?  

I didn’t.  I’ve never decided to become one.  I just became.

Or, rather:  I am still becoming.

“Birds Flyin’ High: You Know How I Feel! Sun In The Sky: You Know How I Feel!”

(Continued from August 25, 2011.)

“Um.  Vie-rra?”

I look up:  The badass to take me flying is heading toward us, with an already extended arm for a handshake.  He is so much larger than me.

I make my move, grinning:

“I’m Vera!” I say.

I feel calm and yet impatient:  I cannot wait to leap out into the sky.

“Sean,” he says.  What a decent name, on a decent man!

Then, he adds:  “And for the next hour, I’m going to be — your bodyguard.”

“I like that!” I say, still grinning.  Apparently, for the next hour, I am going to speak only with exclamations.

Sean gives me his forearm.  I grab it, and for the first time in the history of my womanhood — I actually mean it.  I let him lead the way.

On the sidelines, I can see the other instructors readjusting the gear on their students.  But mine is much cooler than that:  He doesn’t fuss.  He’s not even wearing his own gear yet.  Instead, he starts talking to me, calmly, about today’s “exceptional” skies.

“You can see everything much clearer, from up there,” he says.

I assume it’s metaphor for something:  A life of wisdom, of persevering past the suffering and finally landing into humility, which often takes the very place — of grace.

It must also be a metaphor for luck.  And then I think it’s a good sign that in his name, there is an equal number of letters as in mine — and we share the same vowels.

We talk.  Where did I come from?  How did he land here?

“I used to be afraid of heights,” he tells me.  “Until my family gave me a skydiving lesson, as a Christmas present.”

And this, I assume, must be a metaphor for something, as well:  For human courage and the choice to defeat one’s limitations.

“THE SKY IS THE LIMIT,” says the sign behind Sean’s back in the alcove where we’ve walked off to pick up his equipment.

And this!  This too — must be a metaphor.  A good sign.

And I already know that I shall continue rewinding this day in my memory every time I want to land into my own humility.

The aircraft pulls up.  It’s a tiny thing.  It sounds rickety — and I LOVE that.  Because it makes survival seem easy, nonchalant — not a thing to fuss over, or to fear.

Calmly, Sean goes over what’s about to happen.  As he gives me instructions about my head and limb positioning when up on the air, he throws in a few metaphors:

“When we come to the edge, you kneel down on one knee, as if proposing to me.  Rest your head on my shoulder.  Wait for me to tap you like this; then bring your arms out at a ninety-degree angle — and enjoy the view!”

I imitate his movements.  The thrill, the impatience, the anticipation makes me a terrible student though; because besides grinning, I don’t notice myself doing much else.  But my bodyguard must know that already, because he continues with his metaphors.

“If you feel like you can’t breathe — scream!”

And this too!  This too — must be a metaphor for something.

There are three other students besides me.  Two of them start leading the way to the non-fussy aircraft, accompanied by their instructors who are still adjusting their gear, yanking on the belts, clicking the hinges.  But mine is much cooler than that:  He doesn’t fuss.  Somehow, he’s managed to get geared up already and to check up on own my belts and hinges.  And he has done his job with grace, without arousing any adrenaline in me.

I feel calm, yet impatient:  I cannot wait to leap out into the sky — which must be the limit — and past my own limitations.

We are not even inside the plane yet, but already, I can hear the echos of Sean’s metaphors:

“When we come to the edge… kneel down as if proposing.”

“Rest your head…  Wait.”

“If you can’t breath — scream!”

Inside the aircraft, the two students making the jump at 10,500 feet straddle the bench ahead of us.  Their instructors start adjusting their belts again.  The four of us sit behind them.

My bodyguard and I continue talking.  Come to find out:  He is a gypsy, just like me, traveling mostly in pursuit of conquering his fears.  For eight years, he’s been leaping out into sky.

“You must be fearless!”  I say.

“No,” Sean answers, calmly.  “But this job — is a good metaphor for dealing with life.”

Underneath us, I can see the pretty geometric shapes of farmlands and fields that I have seen before out of the windows of other planes.  Since a child, I had always wanted to leap out into the clouds, somehow knowing that there wouldn’t be anything to fear about that.

I turn to Sean:  “How high are we?!”

I notice:  I myself have started speaking in metaphors.  Or, maybe, I have always done that.  Which must be why I still find myself leaping out into the skies of my limitations — on my own.  It must be hard to keep up.

“Six and a half,” my bodyguard answers and he shows me a watch-like device on this wrist with that number.

I grab it, meaning it, wanting to devour every bit of knowledge and skill that comes with leading a fearless life.  Sean tells me that’s the exact height at which he’ll open our parachute.

I do the math.  (My mind is clear, still unaffected by adrenaline.)

It means:  We shall free fall for 7,000 feet.

Wow.

My gratitude — floods in.

Calmly, I watch the other two couples leap out at their heights.  There is something very incredible in the way they make their final choice to go, letting the skies sweep them off the edge.

AND I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS.  IT’S HUMBLING.

We keep going up to our height.

“In what order do you wanna go?” Sean asks me, over my shoulder:  Somehow, he’s managed to have done his job again, and I am now sitting strapped onto his body, at my hips and shoulders.

“Let’s go first!” I answer, still grinning.

And still:  I am calm.  And still:  I am impatient to jump out into the sky.

Soon enough, we start sliding onto the edge.  When I put my goggles on, I hear the echo of Sean’s metaphor:  He must’ve told me that it would be the last gesture we do — before leaping out.  He’s amazing.

The four of us shake, slap, squeeze each other hands.  I can feel the heat rising up behind my goggles:

THIS!  THIS HUMILITY AND GRACE — THIS VERY HUMANITY — IS WHAT LIFE MUST BE ABOUT!  

Sean slides the door up.

“Come to the edge.”

“Kneel.”

“Rest.”

“Breathe.”

I hear the echos.  The heart — is on my tongue.  I think:  I’m screaming.

Maybe not.

We get swept off.

IT. 

IS. 

AMAZING.

When daydreaming about leaping out into the sky before, I used to think I would cry.  I was wrong:

It’s all joy!  All rapture!  All gratitude! 

Like a giant orgasm, for 7,000 feet!

And it tastes — just like the Ocean!

I am air-bound now, above California.

Above my life.

“Ashes, Ashes!” — All Fall Down!

How ever do you hurdle over a good woman?

I had to get out of bed today, at the start of daylight, and write this one down.  And in the morning, I was pretty sure I dreamt the whole thing up.

Habitually, I jump-started the morning, today:  Coffee — on, alarm — off.  Teeth, curtains, phone calls.  Fuss with the landscape of my schedule.  Inevitably:  Work!  Read some; work, read some more.  And not until I reached for my journal to jot down a well-molded sentence by a fellow writer well-versed in the humanity of men (no, not mankind — but men, specifically) — that I found the scribbles in my tired handwriting, back at the start of daylight:

How ever do you hurdle over a good woman?

After writing that, I tangled myself back into the womb of my sheets and I remembered that normally at this hour, my men would become my sons.  My children:  I find them, in my sleepy stupor of suspended dreams, and I memorize their faces.  Those — are the faces I choose to keep in the front; because it is then, I believe, a man’s humanity — is at his best.

So, ask me how to hurdle over a man and I might whip up a game or two.  I usually carry on with this one play:

I stay in touch with the resigned game partner, especially if it was his idea to stop playing.  Why, why, why would I be tempted to pick at this dried-up scab, earned from our silly horseplay?  After years of this pattern, I must admit:  For the stories.

Yep, the stories, my children.  Immediately after a break-up, they are never redemptive but mostly recyclable.  Between the two of us, it’s a game of “Remember When?”; and for a while, that’s sort of titillating enough, in a sickly way.  Before “Remember When?”, I used to run the marathons of “But You Did This!”, but that would always turn out to be bad for my finger joints; because there would be just so much wagging a scorned lover could do.  But during “Remember When?”, eventually, the tempers mellow out, the egos settle down:  And soon enough, we are able to have a conversation.

It is time, then, for a game of crooked mirrors.  Not so long ago in want, in need, in blind love with each other, we suddenly find ourselves roaming around a funhouse, looking for our better reflections.  Truth be told, by that point, we aren’t even interested in the most flattering reflections of our selves (and we even have an occasional chuckle at our expense).  We are just looking for a couple of matching ones.

“Does your truth — match my truth?”

We keep on wandering.  So very tired we are by then, by all the previous wagers and competitions and games — by the finger wagging and “you’re it!” tagging — we both know this somewhere near the very end.  Silence would follow this game if mutual truths are found.  If not — we go for a few more tours around the funhouse.

“How about this truth then?  Does it seem true, to you?”

At this point in the game, redemption is yet to come.  At this point in the game, redemption — is not even the point of it.  There may be some forgiveness, along the way, mostly for the sake of closure; and that self-forgiveness is sometimes so selfish — it’s profane.  There may even be some letting off the hook of the other scorned party, but mostly out of exhaustion.

But redemption:  It demands time.  It’s a sentence we must serve, willingly or not; and maybe not until the next loves — the next games with karmic losses at the end — that salvation comes.  Until then, we are just wandering around a funhouse, comparing truths.

(But then again, that’s just me.  Out of all the choices of child’s play, I’m always in the mood for some storytelling.  So, that may not be the name of the game, for you, my children.)

So:  How ever do you hurdle over a good woman?  

I’ve never played this one, so I have no clue.  But ask me how to hurdle over a good man (because we always fall in love with his goodness, first; with the best of his humanity), I may whip up a game or two:

Take baths:  They are womb-like — the ultimate homecoming.  “Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub…”

Hide away his letters, and all of his words; his residues, his scents.  Then, put away your own:  The perfumes you used to wear to leave on his pillows and in his hair; the lotions with which you rubbed his tired joints (before the finger wagging started).  And when there is an urge to dig it all up again:  Surrender to it.  Oh, yes, my kiddos:  It’s gonna be a lengthy round of Hide-and-Seek.

Whatever you do, don’t sign-up for a round of Simon Says:  You’ll end up wagging your fingers, again. 

And finally, alas:  Silence Game.  You can’t skip that one, sorry; not if you eventually want to start winning some.  In the beginning,  you just might be curious to see who can hold his or her breath the longest.  But do follow through.  Play the Silence Game:  You can’t skip that one, not if you want to stop losing!

So:  Say uncle.

“Weren’t You the One Who Said That: You Don’t Want Me, Anymore?”

Yes, and.  That’s the main rule of improv:  Yes, and.

My badass bro taught me that.  When you are going at it with a fellow player on stage, no matter how stripped or idiotic you feel, you don’t get to back out and say, “No!”  In improv, you “yes and” that shit until you run out of options, until you’re done; exhausted.  Until you reach the dead end:  Yes, and!

Yes!  

And?

And chances are:  If you “yes and” for long enough, you can go at it forever.

My badass bro told me that a long, long time ago, when my pathetic white ass met him in Hollyweird, after my break-up back in New York.  So beat-up I was in those days, so defeated, my body preferred to juggle only two of its functions:  how to weep and how to breathe.  Because I had just left a man:  Surprise, motherfucking surprise!  And it seemed, I could barely chalk myself up to the camp of the living.

When it comes to my men, I’ll love ‘em till death do us part:  I’ll “yes and” that shit until I run out of options.  I’ll adore, cradle, nurture, and mother them; breastfeed them if I must.  I’ll cook and clean for them, spoon-feed them with jello in bed or sponge-bathe their asses when they’re at their lowest (and I won’t even tell another living soul afterward).  Willingly, I’ll rebuild my men, from their bad choices, bad women, bad mothers; and give ‘em a brand new set of balls for Christmas.  Yes, and:  I’ll doll myself up for their fantasies or for their office parties alike, just so that there is no mortal in the world to questions their talents — or their endowments — in my bedroom.  Yes, and:  I’ll strut next to them, like the most expensive escort in town, and make them feel good enough to have a chance at Angelina Jolie herself, after we’re done.  And, yes, and:  I’ll give them the best sex stories of their lifetimes.

I’ll do all that, for my men; but there ain’t no fucking way in the world they — get to leave me.  Fuck you, my loves:  I — leave you!  That’s just how it goes.  Between the two of us, I’m the one yanked out of a gypsy’s womb:  So, I get to leave.  I get to go.

Yes?

And, so:  A long, long time ago, I had left a man.

It was his idea at first:  Something wasn’t working, he said.  He “couldn’t do it anymore”.  I cried, I wept.  I lost weight and sleep.  I broke shit, tried to repair it.  I even found enough room in that crammed-in basement apartment of ours to pace and wonder, “Why, why, why?!”  And then, one balmy, New-York-in-August afternoon, it hit me:

I would never find the reasons!  Because in every break-up, each party has his or her own grief, and that grief is never identical.  And neither are the fucking reasons.

And, yes, and:  I could!  I could’ve stayed behind, back in the Bronx, and turned gray while resorting, reliving the dead affair:  Where did it go wrong?  Who dropped the ball first?  When did it break?  And my fave of all time:  How could it all be prevented?  But:  I don’t do that.  I am not the type to get petty while dividing mutual property, or mutual guilt.  I don’t destroy my men, and I never take shots at their dignity.  I don’t leave them in ruins for the next broad, even if she is — Angelina Jolie herself.

But also — (yes and!) — I don’t grovel for closure.  I may cry, I may weep.  I may lose weight and sleep.  But then:  I leave!  I go.  I walk away, while you — you stay behind and pick-up the pieces.

And so, one balmy, New-York-in-August afternoon, I said:

“Oh, yes.  And I’m leaving.”

I  had asked him out to dinner, in between my waitressing gig on the Upper West Side and my fantasy life up in Harlem, where the mere sight of a woman’s ass was enough to get me off on the idea of all the future possibilities.  He showed up with flowers:  Lilies.  As the night carried on, I watched their giant buds open completely in that summer’s heat, then begin to wilt.  And like everything in New York, at that time of the year — from sweat glands to subway sewers to perfume shops — they began to smell aggressively, nearly nauseating.

Yes and:  I continued to break it down.

“I’m going to California.”

“When?”

“Soon.”

I was vague.  I didn’t feel like I owed him a calendar date, or a reason.  Or an explanation.  Because in the end, I knew — we both knew — it was he who broke the main rule of improv:  He said, “No”.  He gave up.  He dropped the ball.

Yet, still, “Why?” he asked, pleading with his wilting face to be etched onto the back of my eyelids for my later nightmares, in Hollyweird.

I don’t remember answering.  Because so beat-up I was in those days, so defeated, my body preferred to juggle only two of its functions:  how to weep and how to breathe.  So, I breathed.  I inhaled it all:  The smell of the cologne I’d given him, along with a new set of balls that last Christmas.   The sour charcoal smell from the fajita plate, sizzling under the chin of the solitary male diner behind us.  The schizophrenic aromas of the city, from sweat glands to subway sewers, to women’s asses.  And the aggressive, nearly nauseating smell of lilies on our table, completely open in that summer heat and quickly wilting.

And chances were:  I could’ve “yes-and-ed” that shit forever, no matter how stripped or idiotic I felt.  But we were done, at a dead end.  Exhausted.  And all I preferred to remember was how to breathe — the ultimate act of “yes-and-ing” to all the other future possibilities.

“I’ve Been Tryin’ to Get Down — to the Heart of the Matter”

“Obscurely disappointed, as we sometimes are when the things we profess to dislike don’t happen, she looked up abruptly and smiled at him.” 

Zadie Smith, On Beauty

 

Closure.  What a strange, difficult little thing it is!  It takes a lot of sitting around.  It asks for a lot of forgiveness.  It eats patience for breakfast, drinks up solitude at night.  But mainly:  It takes a lot of sitting around.

Just as I am doing right now, while wearing a man’s dress shirt that once belonged to a man to whom I once belonged.  The day is promising to be loaded, with sunshine and work, and the laughter of friends whose love for me has been tested by time and loss, and by perseverance.  The weekend is slow to start; but I am learning to make a daily habit out of it — forgiveness! — like brushing my teeth, then yellowing them with hard coffee, straight up.  So, I’m willing to sit here — alone, for as long as it takes — until the daily dose of forgiveness finally enters into my bloodstream and gets absorbed by every rejuvenating cell in my body.  And then, surely, closure can’t be too far away from here!  Surely.

In this space — a vacuum of patience — I witness the little creatures of my habitual emotions.  While I sit still — alone, for as long as it takes — they scramble all over my spartan joint, and climb onto a sturdy axis of an abandoned vintage carousel, then disburse again; and they make a sport out of riding past me while making funny faces.  No one else has been making a use of this carousel for a while.  It’s been replaced by easier, more thrilling entertainment.  So, its worn-out horses and yawning lions and tamed dragons are no longer ridden by children with vivid imaginations.  Their paint is now chipped away by time and weather, not by the tiny fingers of little heros awaited by their worried mothers on land.  So scary, so powerful they used to be — these horses and lions and dragons — but now, they are merely complacent and fragile in their aging.  Disheartening.  The theme park attendant has dosed off in a glass cubicle of the carousel’s control panel:  Its old tune has been his lullaby for years.  Little does he know that this simple ride is now being conquered by the creatures of my habitual emotions.

And so I watch them pass:  these feelings that once used to seem so big.  Now, they’re just silly little hooligans, making a sport out of riding past me while making funny faces.

Here comes Anger:  a hotblooded little rascal with a dire need for a haircut of his sun-kissed, messy, surfer-boy curls.  He shoots me an askance glance of my future, impatient son, irritated by my habit for physical affection in public, yet who seeks it at night, in the midst of all the nightmares he’s inherited from his mother.  So many times, he has tempted me to follow him onto these rides, but somewhere halfway through, he gets serious and distracted again; and begins pulling away from my routine roughing caress of his head.  So now, I just sit still instead, for as long as it takes.

Denial was born a pretty girl.  A very pretty girl!  And as all very pretty girls, she’s gotten quickly spoilt and moody on me.  She has learned to get her way, never working harder at it than fluttering of her glorious eyelashes; but oh how disappointed gets her little face when I happen to not comply!  (I’m still the grown-up around here, after all; and I know what’s good for her!)  So, she gets mercurial on me, pulls away and pretends that to change a course of action — was her idea in the first place.  I don’t surrender to her mood swings.  I’ve learned not to.  And when she comes back around the next time and flutters those glorious eyelashes at me again, gently, I shoo her away — and I wave a pretend goodbye.

Here comes Fear, riding in on a mythical creature that even I, with my worship of myths, cannot identify.  Fear is an orphan.  Fear is messy.  Fear adores chaos.  I used to have a lover who reminded me of him:  Very charming to make-up for the giant chip on his shoulder, he could juggle his manipulations in his sleep.  And it was hard to fall in love with someone like that, but even harder to fall out of it (because I always adopt my lovers no matter how much chaos they bring, on their move-in date).  So, as I watch Fear’s indifferent face pass me again and again, I wonder:

“What compassion must it take for you to finally settle down?  Or must you remain unattached and unpredictable; disarmingly charming when seeking shelter but brutally messy upon your every departure?”

Fear is an orphan.  Fear adores chaos.  But he ain’t welcome to come around here any more!

They all used to seem so big, these creatures of my habitual emotions.  But now, they’re just silly little hooligans, on this sad carousel with lullabies instead of jungles, who make a sport out of riding past me, while making funny faces.  They are sort of my children, natural and adopted; and I have always had plenty of love to give them.  But as all parents who get better with time, I too have learned the psychology of my children.  And although my love has never lost its unconditional clause — it has gotten a lot more patient.

So, as I sit here — alone, in the vacuum of my patience, for as long as it takes — I can already feel the calmness of forgiveness entering my bloodstream.  So then, surely, closure can’t be too far away from here.

Surely.

“I said, No: That Bitch Ain’t A Part of Me!”

“I mean…  I just went ‘crazy bitch’ on him!  Completely out of control!”

For anyone, it would take some serious balls to admit to the loss of grace — to acting beneath what we all deserve to call ourselves, beneath our self-esteem.  But for this tan, fit, statuesque creature of perfect hair and teeth, it must’ve been particularly difficult to own up to her defeat.  Because (insert a drumroll, please):  EVERYONE has choices!  Some more than others — yes!  But she had committed the lesser of choices repeatedly, with this one man; and the pattern of cheating herself out of the better ones — and out of her better self — has amounted to an avalanche of consequences.

For years, she had suffered in her relationship of questionable commitment — an arrangement in which something wasn’t ever enough:  Something was missing.  It had started with sex (as it often does); and for a while, it was good.  At least:  It was good enough.  He wanted to keep her around, fed her slivers of encouragement; but she would eventually want more.  She continued to ask for it, succeeded in an engagement.  Still:  Most of the time, it all left her feeling uncertain, unfulfilled.  Something wasn’t enough.  Something was missing.

Now, I could see from the desperate gaze she kept trying to hang onto my eyelids, my nose, or my chin, like a wet towel:  I could see she wanted me to take her side.

“What a jerk!”

“What an asshole!”

“He doesn’t deserve you!”

She’d gotten used to hearing that — it had become just another pattern; and now, she was pleading for me to chime-in.  But I wouldn’t:  I knew better.

First of all, I didn’t know the guy; I didn’t know his half of the story.  But even if I did, something told me, I still wouldn’t find the answer.

Because the affairs of others get so convoluted, so hard, loaded with pain and meanness, they eventually become gratuitous in the eyes — and the ears — of those forced to witness them.  It would take me years of untangling the yarns of these lovers’ objectives, needs and secret desires; their failed expectations, lies, intimate manipulations.  So, it was not my place to give him an unworthy name.  And no matter her despair, I could not judge him, cheating myself out of MY grace, for the sake of making her feel better at his — and now my — expense.  I knew better!

But my second truth was that, in all honestly, I knew:  He had to have been a good man, merely based on the fact that no one was born a villain; and because he had to have earned her love, once upon a time.   He HAD to have been good!

Now, she wanted to carry on.  Armed with a generous pour of merlot in one hand, she started listing all the ways in which she had felt cheated:  He did this, and that.  And then, there was this one other time when he did not do that other thing…  With every injustice, her breathing sharpened.  She began to get flushed, upset, reliving the history of his and her lesser choices.  She was getting carried away, when she confessed to snooping around his Facebook account, searching his phone; rummaging through his drawers for signs of what had been missing; violating his privacy — and her better self:

“I mean…  I just went ‘crazy bitch’ on him!  Completely out of control!”

Proudly, she started flaunting the evidence of his lesser goodness, so desperately wanting me to take her side.

But, still, I wouldn’t:  I knew better!

And when she finally demanded some verbal charity on my part — making herself feel better at his and my expense — all I could find the compassion to say was:

“Why are you angry?”

“BECAUSE!” she whiplashed her perfect hair and spat out something bitter and dark.  It landed between us, onto the glossy bar; and it sat there, sizzling:  “I knew it!”

Suddenly, I was tempted to distract this heartbroken from her loss by reminding of her better choices:  She had her whole youth ahead of her, and all that goodness! 

But as years of beholding for others have taught me, years of collecting their grief — good fucking grief! — I knew that in that moment, she wanted to hear none of it.  Because she was still hanging on:  To him, to the life she had imagined; to the fantasy of his being her better choice.  She was hanging onto her grief, desperately; and I knew better than to get her out of it.  Instead, I beheld, quietly; staring at something dark and bitter she had just spat out in between us, onto the glossy bar.

She inhaled, hung her head, hiding her face behind the curtain of that perfect hair; and then, she fragilely exhaled:

“It’s just that…”

I looked over.  The curve of her neck belonged to someone collapsing under her grief.  Good fucking grief!  My heart bungee-jumped into my throat:  She had to have been good!  Despite the slip-ups of her self-esteem, despite cheating herself out her own grace, despite acting beneath what she had deserved to call herself — she had to have been good!  So, why?!  Why was there something dark and bitter sizzling on the glossy bar?

“It’s just that I knew it all along,” she said.  “I knew better.”  

And there it was:  A lifetime of lesser choices.  Whoever that man was — however good he was — she herself had committed the crime of ignoring her intuition.  There had to be signs all along that something wasn’t enough:  Something was missing.  Yet, she forged forward, making a pattern of her lesser choices, cheating herself out of the better ones (even though she knew better, “knew all along”) — until it all collapsed under an avalanche of consequences.

But good grief!  She still had her whole youth ahead of her — and all that goodness!  And next time around — she would know better.

Good fucking grief!