Tag Archives: cowardice

“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.

“Don’t You Know: They’re Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution? It Sounds — Like a Whisper!”

“People are not good to each other.

People are not good to each other.

People are not good to each other.

I suppose they never will be.

I don’t ask them to be.

But sometimes I think about it.”

Charles Bukowski, The Crunch

There is a passion, in all of us.  It boils.  It protests:  In Rome*, Yemen, Africa**.  It pushes to break us out of our skins — out of our boundaries; shackles, limits, laws; cowardice — and to rebel.

Some have chosen to live quietly, getting by.  They seem to cause the least conflict.  And if on occasion they hurt one another — it will be most likely by accident.  A tiny demand will rise in their souls — a tiny rebellion against obedience that has seemingly earned them nothing.

“So, what’s the fucking point?!” I ask.

And they reach for something that the rest of the world won’t miss much.  They reach with passion.  There may be an accidental victim:  He’s gotten in the way of their reaching.

But what’s a little hurt — against a lifetime of groveling?

Nothing.

Others manages to tangle up their egos in the chalk lines of the score board that keeps track of the rat race.  They are a special clan:  They measure life in numbers.  In things.  In values.  Passionately.  To them, there always seems to be a deadline in life, called Work Until:

Work Until:  They get tired of playing.  Work Until:  They gain a debt, then pay it off.  Work Until:  They have a piece of land, for a house or a deathbed.  Until they pay off a palace, a chariot, a marriage, a child’s tuition:  A Happily Ever After.

Work Until:  They never need to work again.  Work Until:  They can rest.  Work Until…

Nothing.

Their days turn into discardable minutes:  Five minutes — Until.  Thirty years — Until.  Another person’s life — Until.  Until, Until, Until, Until.  They pump themselves up against the lackluster crawl of the minutes.  They lose themselves — in things, in numbers.  In scores.  With passion.

Some actually manage to get there:  God bless ‘em!  They get to their anticipated Until, for the sake of which, they’ve sacrificed so many minutes.  And some have even sacrificed their truths.  Their passions.

That’s when the real horror happens:  At the end, they soon discover that nothing, in life, lacks a price.

Nothing.

And they find that the price of Until usually turns out to be gastronomical:  Greed.  Sacrifice.  Health.  Denial.  Nothing.

And that shit isn’t refundable!

“So, what’s the fucking point?!” I ask.

And:

What happens to LOVE — I ask — in such a lifetime of Until?

Find me a man who knows the answer to that.  For I have asked too many men who’ve given me mere accusations in return.  Something about time, or timing.  Readiness and plans.  Something about their Until.  I couldn’t really stick around for their explanations for long:  Their fear was eating up their faces — and my time.  So, find me a man who knows the answer to:  What’s the fucking point?!  I find me one who answers with passion.

Oh, and don’t discount those poor suckers born with extremely sensitive souls.

“It’s okay.  They’ll grow out of it,” pediatricians tell their parents.

Most actually do:  Innocence is rarely immune to life.  

But what happens when they don’t?  Well, then:   Please, say a prayer for those poor suckers:  A Hail Mary for the Sensitives.  For they are stuck here, among us, with no delusion to save them from the ache.  And no Until.

“Oh, but everyone aches!” the others object.

Still, the sensitives get the worse of it, in this life.  They stumble around, among us, like unwanted orphans.  Like innocents.

“But do YOU ache?” they ask.

Poor suckers!  They insist on hitting the truth on the nail.  It’s so annoying!

“Everyone aches,” the others object.

The sensitives study our faces for signs that they aren’t the only ones feeling this much.  It’s innocence, at its worst.  It’s passion.

“Then, what do you do — to cope?” they ask.

“Nothing.”

So, they devote their lifetimes to taking notes.  They write down our words, then regurgitate them, in a prettier form:  Poetry.  Others jot down their sketches, finding beauty in our fear-eaten faces.  And innocence, or whatever is left of it.  Passion.  Some put on reenactments:

“Wouldn’t this make for a better picture, in life?” they ask.

The others scoff, look away.

They do not have the time for truth — Until…

They do not have time — for a revolution.  

No:  They would rather spend their lives suspended until the arrival of Until.  Or, they spend their lifetimes — groveling.

Surely, there will be small griefs that happen until the Until, and they’ll complain and demand attention.  They’ll demand a change, but only enough of it — and only if it’s convenient — and never for the sake of others.

Because everyone aches.  And there is nothing to be done about that.

Nothing.

But what would happen if we gathered our passions into a fist and planted a punch?

* Rallies Across the Globe Protest Economic Policies.  New York Times. October 15, 2011. 

** “Occupy”Protest Turns Violent in Rome.  Al Jazeera.  October 15, 2011. 

“Now: Shut Up And Drive, Drive, Drive!”

It’s the never ending construction of the 405 that can make even a saintly woman lose her mind.  And Lord knows:  I’m not a saintly woman.

Oh, no:  I tread really closely to my insanities — a diameter of a hair away, to be exact — tippy-toeing at the edge of my flaws that are enough to drive a man crazy, as well.

And I like taking a peak at that side of me:  It is permanently fearless.

It reminds me of wild passions in nature, and of other untamed women in my family’s previous generations.  They too drove their men crazy, with their moody hair and contradictory temperaments.  Some of them rode horses; I — straddle the seat of my car.  And since they have never spoken to me in my nightmares, I assume these women communicate to me — in my waking dreams and acts of courage.

And it is not the congestion of traffic, due to the never ending construction, that can make even a saintly woman lose her mind.  It is the aggression of others, always negotiated through acts of sickly cowardice; and it crawls under my clothes and starts nibbling at my capillaries, like an army of fleas I’ve picked up at some brothel in Reno.

There is noting more ridiculous — and nothing more reckless — than a man flipping out behind his wheel, honking and screaming with his crooked, slobbering mouth spraying spit.  He seems to jam his whole body into the joint of his honking arm, as if punching his girlfriend in the jaw.  Or his child.  And then, he speeds around:  first, yanking his car into traffic, then zooming past the cause of his entire life’s unhappiness, as it seems.

“This could be — where you die,” I catch myself thinking, calmly.

But he finally takes off — liberated! — wagging his middle finger in the air to point out yet another injustice in his life.

Or another’s stone face as he pretends not to see me when I attempt to merge onto the freeway, in front of him:  No fucking way!  He stares ahead, hideous in his acting unaware; and I know there is no emotion more cancerous than his glee at getting in my way.  No fucking way!  He would rather I crash and take him with me — than give me room.

No fucking way!

For as long as I have now lived in this city, this freeway has been sitting here as a parking lot of the worst in human behavior.  At first, I would try to comprehend what exactly made these other drivers commit such schizoid acts:  Haven’t they ever been affected by tenderness or humility?  Was there something about this demographic, or the hour of the day?

But that can make even a saintly woman lose her mind — and I’m not a saintly woman!

Still, I would wear these fuckers’ aggressions on my skin, like an army of flees nibbling at my capillaries; and I would walk into meetings and auditions, to my friends’ houses, looking for the closest bathroom, to rinse myself off.  And then, I would wonder why there was no joy left in my art.

Nowadays, I breathe through it.  I watch my aggression trying to rise up and I push it down and out with an exhale.  I sit back, muttering prayers of forgiveness. And if lucky, I lock my eyes with the guy in the midst of his private exorcism, going berserk in traffic:

“This could be — where you die.”

One got to me, the other day, in 110-degree heat that only that side of the 405 can accumulate.  We had all been sitting in the parking lot before the merger, unanimously late to our meetings and auditions, to our friends’ houses.

“Sepulveda,” I thought, suffering from a lapse of judgement.  So, I got off — and there, I got stuck.

Slowly, we were climbing down the hill along the congested boulevard, due to yet another never ending construction related to the 405, when I noticed a white van inching toward my bumper.  That type of a vehicle is always creepy:  with no windows on its long, dented body with chipping paint, it surely must be up to some sketchy contraband.  The red, puffy face of its driver seemed constipated; and he scowled in my rear-view mirror every time I stepped on my breaks, before a red light.

For a least half a mile he would jerk his face into that scowl, inching toward my tail; stepping on his breaks with enough abrasiveness to make that whole thing bounce on its wheels.  And I could see his screaming with that crooked, slobbering mouth.

“What the fuck does he want me to do:  sit in the middle of the intersection?!”  I got caught up, I confess, and I felt my own aggression rise up.

Inching toward Wilshire, melting in my seat, I noticed a middle-aged Middle-Eastern woman, timidly trying to merge into my lane from a side street.  Letting her in would mean missing yet another green light.  But the woman’s face of a basset hound would get stuck with me for days had I ignored her.  I knew that — so I let her it.

“YA FUCKIN’ BITCH!”

I heard that!  The whole of Brentwood heard that!

In my rear-view mirror, the red, puffy face started going berserk:  He was swinging his whale-like body, clutching onto the steering wheel, as if trying to tear it out.

I parked my car.

Pulled out the keys.

Walked over to the white van.

The only thing I could feel was the sweat that had accumulated between my thigh in this 110-degree heat and began crawling from under my miniskirt and down each leg.

The coward’s window was rolled up.  I knocked on it.

“This could be — where you die,” I caught myself thinking, calmly.

He stared at me, stumped for a good while, blinking his bloodshot eyes above the open, crooked mouth.  I knocked again.  He blinked — again.

Who knows what I had in mind:  The coward never opened his window.

And even though I walked away thinking, “This could be — where you die,” I knew that I just rode out the courage inherited from the insane, untamed, wild, passionate women in my family’s previous generations, mad enough to drive a man crazy; and in that mode — I was permanently fearless.

Pretty. Little. Liar.

“Because there are enough lies in life, 

so you better be in control of your own fiction.” 

“But I didn’t know that I loved her!  Not after she left!”

The night before, this man had challenged me to a writerly duel:  to commemorate a story of a woman whose departure he regretted the most, in his life.  He slouched on a high chair outside of a club filled with pretty honeys galore.  With his black, dense Persian hair in a cloud from his own cigarette, he hung that head low, frowned, avoiding my eyes, and confessed his loss of that one woman — the one that every man must have in order to become a man; the one that has changed his heart, for good — for the better! 

The following day, after my words had been published, he rang me up immediately, to justify his truth.  He must’ve sobered up a bit:

“You wrote that I loved her!” he objected to my story, seemingly irritated.

“Didn’t you?”

“I mean, well, I did.  I did!  I did, but I didn’t know I did.  I didn’t know I did until, you know, she left me.”

Oh, c’mon!  Don’t give me this shit!

It was my turn to be irritated.  The truth, in actuality, was a lot more brutal than I made it sound:  “A first lesson in the fragility of love and the preternatural cowardice of men” (Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao).  In my writing, I had been forgiving to his one crucial fault, never calling him any low name, never scolding for the lapse of his better nature.  Yes, I would side with the woman — that one, that good one, like me! — that has changed his heart for the better.  For good!  On behalf of her truth, I had written that day’s rant blog; even though she had left long ago, in pursuit of an even better truth.  On behalf on her truth and of my own, I’d spoken — because I too had just left a man that “did and did, and didn’t know, didn’t know he did”.  Fuck you, I thought:  It’s MY fiction!

“But you wrote he was all that — ‘holding his own’,” another reader — my brother who’d always changed me for good, for the better — was saying soon after my own break-up.

I had rung him voluntarily, for some truth; because I had been digging around for it, desperately.  Perhaps he would know, I thought, what had gone wrong in my love, before I left it.  Perhaps, he could’ve seen the signs while its truth was still happening.

“Well, truthfully,” my brother confessed, “he didn’t.  He did NOT ‘hold his own’.”

Brutal.

But fuck you, I thought:  My lover was MY fiction.  How else was I supposed to be in love — but all in, despite the other player’s truths, more obvious to others than to me?  Yes, we all do this:  We fall in love with the wrong people, ignore the signs, go out on the limb and lose ourselves; only to go scrambling for truth later.  And yes, I had done it again — for love, for good.  For the better. 

Sometimes, the choice is clear:  To alter the truth to fit the story.  Other times, the split between truth and actuality is not even visible.  Because the truth — is a matter of an experience.  It’s an opinion.  Because no artist creates for the sake of THE truth — we create for the sake of OUR truth.  The way we see it, perceive it (and it’s all very specific):  The way.  The truth.  Happens.  To US.

So, last night, when I got inside an elevator with three middle-aged men breathing down my neck — and down my backless dress — I gave jack shit about their truth.  They could’ve been in town and in this fancy hotel for a vacation with their families.  They could’ve been each in the midst of their very happy marriages, with healthy kids in college and their own college sweethearts sleeping dreamily in their beds that they wouldn’t have to make in the morning, for a change.  They could’ve been sweet and clumsy — good men slightly discombobulated by the presence of my brazen sexuality and of that goddamn backless dress.

They could’ve been, but last night — they weren’t!  All three rode down with me, from the Penthouse to the garage, and they flirted, unapologetically:

“Come on in,” one of them held the doors, waiting for me to join them.  “You’re in for some trouble!”

“Am I?”

The doors closed.  It was just the four of us:  Me, in my goddamn backless dress, and three middle-aged men in the midst of their dissatisfactory marriages, in town for their conferences, their infidelity, on the hunt to satisfy their mid-life crises.  (See how it’s done?)

“We’ve been watching you all night,” another one said.  I wasn’t sure which one of them was speaking; because for the entire ride down, I would be facing out, giving them the full view of my exposed back — and not a sliver of fucking hope!

“Have you?” I said over my shoulder, turning my head just far enough to be seen, but not far enough to see.

“We have!  We have!” the third one chimed in, spraying me with his drool.  “You were texting viciously on your phone and crossing and uncrossing those long legs of yours.”

“Was I?”  I had decided to give them as little as I possibly could.  But then there was that goddamn backless dress!

“You were…” one lingered, and I could feel the shivers of disgust bounce down my spine like pearls of a broken necklace.

“You were doing a little Sharon Stone act.”

They laughed.  Brutal.

Yes, these men could’ve been sweet and clumsy — good men, slightly discombobulated by my presence.  But TRUTH be told:  They weren’t!  And I had already forgiven them for their faults.  I hadn’t called them by some low names, scolding them for the lapses of their better nature.  But I was sure that they would reappear in my words — my fucking fiction! — and I wouldn’t even need to alter the truth to fit the story.

“But you wrote…”

Just a few weeks ago, my own former scorned lover would ring me up and give me a laundry list of all the untruths he had to object to.  But truth be told:  Fuck you, I thought!  My life — is MY fiction! 

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

“I don’t see how your outlook can be helpful,” a lovely creature was texting me last night.

And I could do nothing better than to talk to her, but I was en route home — back to my sanctuary; a tired, little girl running away from the Big Bad Wolf — because I had my weekly long-distance call to make:  to Motha Russia!

For over a year now, I’ve made this call, every weekend:  To my old man.  I say “old”, because I assume he is such, my comrades.  But truth be told, I haven’t seen my father in nearly fifteen years.  Yes:  As others’, my family has had many tragedies; but this is the one — he and I have shared.

History does that It makes peg pieces out of people, moving them all around the world or taking them off the board entirely, as if a part of some sick master plan carried out by a player smarter than the rest.  A sly genius with a brutal vision.

I often wonder about my father’s memory — of his time and the way history presented itself to him, so obviously unkindly.  Although we’ve both lost our country to a collapsed ideology, followed by chaos, then a slew of changed regimes and a massive emigration (to which I ended up belonging), my old man’s lot had to be heavier to the millionth degree:  Because besides losing a county he’d spent four decades serving, he was losing his only child.

History does that.

Back then, in a reckless way to which most young are prone, I departed from Motha Russia with a courageous commitment to never look back.  And I didn’t.  Instead, I strained my eyes at the new horizon:  I had my whole life in front of me, my comrades, based in a whole new country; and however tumultuous or exciting — it was mine!  It was all about ME:  I was building this thing!  I was the one in charge!  It would take me a decade to build that life, while becoming the person my father had wanted me to be (but would not get to witness, still).  It would take a decade of hardships typical for any adulthood to eventually begin empathizing with my father’s lot.  But not until my own consideration of motherhood would I decide to reconnect with him.

In that first phone call over a year ago, my old man was so silent, I continued to question our phone connection.  Fuckin’ Russia!

“P:  Are you there?!” I kept repeating.

“Yes, yes, yes…  Forgive me.  Forgive me.”

And then, we’d go back to silence.

I realized:  Silence — was the sound of my old man’s crying.  An Alpha to the core, he had never cried in front of me, but once:  On the day of my departure.  So, words would fail us that day.  So would the connection, several times:  Fuckin’ Russia! 

But in between the silence, and my committed redialing of the operator, my old man would continue to say:

“Forgive me.  Forgive me.”

As if it were all his fault, the way life had played us.  As if the loss of connection — throughout our lives and that evening — were his responsibility to bear; because he was the adult, after all.  But what he didn’t know was that I too had learned the burdens of adulthood, which I was by now willing to share.  As far as I could see, between us:  Forgiveness was unnecessary.  Love — was.

So, it’s not that my last night’s chat with the lovely creature was unappreciated:  I have adored her for years.  But as we had witnessed each other’s recent love affairs go to shit due to the lapses of our men’s courage, our endless pontifications on their reasons, and feelings, and intensions — blah, blah, fuckin’ blah! — were beginning to feel gratuitous.  Why were we giving these guys so much benefit of the doubt?  Why were we wasting our loves on men who didn’t even want it?

So, I wrapped it up, perhaps clumsily and rushed (because last night, I was a tired, little girl, running away from the Big Bad Wolf):

“A person in love will do everything possible to be with his beloved.  My guy — was NOT in love with me.”

To my lovely, my conclusion had to seem brutal.

“I don’t see how your outlook can be helpful,” she said.

I dared to forget that she too was suffering.  Forgive me.  Forgive me.  So, I attempted to decoy the whole thing with a self-deprecating joke:

“I’m Russian:  I’m used to tough love.”

The joke didn’t work.  I lost her.

But this morning, post the conversation with my old man, I have to reconsider the pattern of my rushed departures:  If I am not loved — I leave.  I burn bridges.  Seemingly recklessly, I impose change with my departures — onto the lives of others and myself — and cope with the consequences later.  But what I don’t do — is wait around for a man’s change of heart.  

My lovely of last night was not the first to accuse me of brutality of my choices.  I’m tough, she says;  “so strong!”  But to me, love — is a matter of black-and-white, really:  It is a privilege that cannot be wasted.

Too hard was my lesson with my old man, my comrades:  No matter the turmoil of history or life, you do NOT take your beloveds for granted.  Because there is way too much unpredictability in life.  Too much chaos and pain.  And to forsaken a love — is a choice I can no longer afford.

Thankfully, my old man was on the same page last night:

“Run:  He is not in love you,” he said.  “Run — for your life!”

And so, I did:  A tired, little girl running away from the Big Bad Wolf.