Tag Archives: disappointment

Trying

(Continued from March 18th, 2012.)

Was it just her, or had life begun to feel like an army of ants crawling through one’s capillaries?  Did enthusiasm eventually give room to tiredness, when overcrowded by one’s disappointments?  She watched the cautionary tale of her mother’s wilted curiosity; sitting in the downward-turned corners of her mouth, waiting to expire, along with the last of her youth?  Waiting —

Until There Was None.

If ever mother had the patience, the awareness and the discipline enough to write her autobiography — for, surely, she had the vanity enough! — that should’ve been its tittle.  Until There Was None.

But the joy:  Where had it gone from her?  There would still be moments of visible glee, some days — a sort of tightly wound hysteria; the same inside job that made her mother’s face quiver and the loose skin of her arms shake after each gesture.  She’d be like that in front of her girlfriends when seeking their alliance via pity; or in front of the 17th Century paintings in the galleries of Eastern Germany.  (Then, she would always speak to Nola, lecturing, lying, not knowing how to stop.)  The sight of it — Nola eventually found herself despising (in men especially, much later):  of something pushing — being pushed — past one’s irritability, beyond the limit of tolerance and truth.  Strained.  Pushed.  Perpetually trying.

Silence and walking away, to Nola, seemed easier.  And it was reasonable, in theory, for people to coexist in a peaceful fulfillment of their basic needs.  But then, they would always tangle themselves up in the ideas of the pursuit of their own happiness, where flaunting of entitlement and justice would become a sport.  The calmness of a grateful life had long surpassed her mother — that woman was way, way far down the line.  And all there was to live by — was a long list of her grievances and other people’s debts.

“You’re just like your father!” her mother threw at Nola, as if being calm and good was somehow indecent.  Once Nola turned twelve, however, there wouldn’t be much left to hurl at her expense.  Because before, when the two women found themselves alone in the house, mom reached for anything to throw:  her father’s rain boots, the ribbed hose from the Soviet-made (read:  nearly useless) washing machine; wet laundry; mom’s patent leather belt from the fur coat that she’d demanded for her thirtieth birthday.

One time, unrooted by her madness, the woman tipped a pot of cold cabbage soup that had been sitting on the stove, waiting for her father’s dinnertime.  She had been panicking in the kitchen — (mom always panicked, in the kitchen) — and when she found her words surpassing their brutality, she speedily relayed her gaze from one sharp object to the next; and after an unsuccessful search, reached up behind and steadily poured the pot of cold liquid onto Nola’s head.  The slimy cabbage crawled under the collar, under the skin; and the orange, chalky layer of frozen oil tangled up in her hair and stayed there for weeks to come.  When finally, most of the liquid hit the floor, Nola looked up:  Not one, but two women stood there, drenched in terrible humiliation.

For the first time, that night, Nola had gone beyond forgiveness.  Mom was susceptible to losing her control, she realized; but from some losses, one could not come back.

“You’re just like her father!”

Blunt objects or her mother’s limbs ungracefully ended their trajectories anywhere along Nola’s small body.  If she tipped over, mom dragger her by the hair to rooms with better lighting, where harsher punishment ensued.  While mother pushed and pushed and pushed — the child stood, or lied still, in silence.  She learned to receive.  She bared.  She endured.  And secretly she hoped that surrender would make her mother slow down.  So visible was mother’s sorrow, so palpable — unhappiness, that from behind the raised arm with which Nola guarded softer places, she pitied her aggressor.  She waited for the feeling of tremendous heat in all the new swellings.  She’d welcome them, eventually giving herself over to resignation, and to sleep.  A strange bliss would be found at the end of every horror.  For one was never given more than one could handle.

 

In those days, Nola still could still portion out the world into manageable pixels.  There would anger.  Disappointments.  A one unhappy woman.  Through repetition, Nola learned that mother’s love was functioning through let down expectations.  If one was loved by her — one owed her, forever.  The closer Nola neared her own womanhood, the more difficult, the more unbearable would become that love — and debt; until one day, none in her family could ever able undo, unsay the things that they had thrown at each other, in an attack or self-defense.  And in the loss of reason between all cause and effect, it would begin to feel like pure insanity.

And then, one summer, mom had admitted herself to a resort on the Ukrainian Republic’s shore, famous for housing patients of political insanity and tuberculosis.  She dropped off Nola at the house of her in-laws, called up her husband and said that she had lost the sight of “her own woman”, and that she was going away, to find her self, for an indefinite amount of time.

Unheard of!  Scandal!  Her father’s mother ranted for about a week.  But quite quickly, the old woman focused on saving the family’s face and made up more suitable stories about her daughter-in-law’s passage.

“Yeah, a bleeding ulcer.  I know:  that poor thing!  She hadn’t eaten for a month!”

“A teacher’s conference attended by the Ministry of Education.  She’s getting a Hero of Labor.”

But in her own house, behind her mother’s back, the old woman talked.  She called her names for every single time she found Nola staring out of the window or writing letters to no address that mother left behind.

“A flea-ridden bitch — that’s what that woman is!” the old woman muttered on repeat, when she discovered a clump of tangled hair above the nape of Nola’s neck which Nola harvested for nearly a year by then.  The knot had grown so large, that during the summer, she began to pin her grandma’s rhinestone brooches into it.

No remedy was masterful enough to get that thing out!  Lord knows, grandma tried!  The naked old woman labored and puffed in the wet steam of her bathhouse, her deflated breasts flapping above Nola’s shoulders, like freshly baked Georgian lavashes.  After two hours of brushing, oiling, lathering; of pulling and of being pulled; of swearing, sweating, renouncing; and baring and receiving — the hair had to be cut out; and Nola walked away with half of it missing from the back of her head and a headache that took days to sleep off.

The story tilted then.  Inside her family, she never would be able to find much calm.  That night, unable to find a spot on her scalp that wasn’t raw and throbbing, with the face down in her pillow, Nola would begin to plot her own escape, with or without her hair.

 

And now, here it was:  Her thick and magical, red hair!  It had began to slip out of its follicles and clog up all the drains in the apartment; and after every shower, the water drained slowly, allowing for the soap scum to settle on the walls of her tub, like growth rings on a cut down tree.

Must color mother’s hair, she decided.  The shower head was dripping at an even pace against the standing pool of water, in the bathroom.  Mom lost all memory.  Her dignity did not belong to her.  It mattered to the living though — to those who were living, trying, still — so, Nola owed someone that.

This Time — It Would Be Different.

(Continued from January 15th, 2012.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually, she mentioned it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

This time — it would be different.

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

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

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

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

“Come on! Come on! Come on! Come on — and TAKE It: Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Now, Baby!”

There are days when it’s hard to clock in.  But then, I see a single human face — and I’m on a roll.

Like the luminous face of a woman who, yesterday, made me wonder about my aging self.

She would have otherwise be found plain:  Quite tall and long-limbed, in unmemorable clothes.  A pair of ballet flats, a pencil skirt and a V-neck, all in jewel colors.  That’s exactly how my eyes travelled too, along her thin body:  from the ground, up to her face.  From humility, up to humanity.  And then, they got stuck.  On her face.

Under the haircut of no longer than two inches that was bleached to camouflage the gray, her face was completely open.  Readable, as if I expected to find my own reflection in it.  Having not a dab of make-up on her — like she had nothing to hide — she seemed incredibly open and present.  Up for anything.

“Like someone possessed by a clear conscience,” I thought.

“I didn’t expect you to be so petite and, um, lovely,” she said to me.  It was our first meeting.

I can always tell.  Especially when it comes to other broads, I can always tell when I’m being fed some insincere bullshit.  And then, I can always tell when a woman means it; when she’s got no time — or in my case, no tolerance — for competition; and she’s got a sister’s better interest in mind.  And I tell you, compliments from such a broad are a better ego treatment than a week-long stay at a beauty spa with, say, Olivier Martinez as your lover.

So, when she said that — I was hooked.  First, I studied her well nourished skin with seemingly no trace of plastic surgery, and I pinpointed the gist of her:  She was a happy one.  She had done the work.  That hard work one’s gotta do on herself in order to not be tortured with doubt, jealousy or self-loathing.  She had the balls to be happy, to like herself, and by extension (or by my hubristic assumption that I was heading in the same direction), she seemed to like me just fine, too.

I was about to learn in one, two, three minutes — she was also a writer.  It must be a common thing among artists, writers especially:  We just can’t fucking give up on people.  We cannot NOT like them.

Like every other fucker, over the course of a life, we acquire a history of letdowns and opinions.  Every heartbreak hurts equally.  After enough shit has been handed to us, though, some of us learn to pray to our Zen deities and pretend to surrender all control over the matter.  But I suspect the truth is a lot more painful:  Each fuck-up hits us below the belt and we hate it.  Because by definition of our craft, we cannot lead with disappointment.  We ought to stay in love with humanity, or at least in awe of it.

And why CAN’T people live up to their goodness?  Surely, they had to be good at one point.  It’s kind of a universal thing in the beginning:  We are born good.  We remain good for a while, and complete strangers get sidetracked at the sight of our still undamaged faces.

I wondered that as I studied the face of a babe who was being carried across the street by her father.  She was little.  Too little for me to remember what it felt like — to be her.  Too young to have a palpable fear of time.

Facing out, over the man’s shoulder, the young girl was moving her mouth and pressing her plum cheek against her father’s stubble.

“That man’s heart is forever taken,” I thought.

The seconds on their walkway sign were about to expire, but the two creatures — one still innocent, the other one living vicariously through her — were so engrossed in their chat, they were hardly among us.  Finally, by the time the man began jogging slightly, with his daughter bouncing uncomfortably in his arms (he had to be still training for such new functions of his body), they crossed in front of my left headlight.  Two more lanes of traffic — and they would be safe.

Bouncing on her father’s arm, the girl noticed me.  The green of her eyes got stuck to my heart.  I waved, timidly, with one hand.  Hesitantly but innocently, she squeezed her tiny left fist, then released it, and squeezed it again.  She was imitating my gesture.  She was still good.  Up for anything.

It would be horrific, I thought, to lose my soul’s sight.

Then, I went home and wrote this.

“May You Build a Ladder to the Stars — And Climb on Every Rung…”

I promised to pick her up from school, and unlike all of my own commitments, this one made my heart beat faster.  I was hyperaware of time the entire day; thinking, daydreaming about the nearing hour, fearing its passing:  For I could not, for the life of me, be late!

I mean I’ve seen that happen before, in films:  flustered, hysterical mothers, with messy hairstyles and tired faces, running (sometimes, in heels) toward their disappointed children.  Most of the time, the message of the film was about absentminded motherhood:  Motherhood of the unlucky.  It happened to women in unhappy marriages, with broken dreams.  There was always a justification to all human faults, I’ve learned.  Still, in those films about bad motherhood, I was always more interested in the faces of their children:  with their tearful vulnerability before they would be hardened by continuous disappointment.

“Ma-ahm!” they would whine, pulling away from the hysterical woman’s overcompensating tugging, and hugging, and nagging.  Or, there would be an indifference between them; and it would hang inside their car until someone threw a resentful glance through the rear-view mirror.

Honestly, I didn’t care that much about my reputation:  Her parents would have been able to forgive me if I failed the task; and I could handle all the passive-aggressive remarks by the schoolmasters.  But what I didn’t want to confront — for the life of me! — is the child’s disappointment.  She was a kid — an innocent, still; and even though she wasn’t my own, I had no business letting her down.

I could tell by the density of the traffic that I was near her school zone.  Fancy SUV’s with tinted windows compacted the narrow residential streets.  They double-parked and lingered, with zero consideration for the rest of us stuck behind, and with their break lights flipping us off in our faces.  Staring at the zero on my speedometer, I felt my temper — and heartbeat — rising:

“Why are we sitting here?!”  I swore, wishing I could see the faces of the incompetent creatures behind the wheels of their giant cars.  I wanted to honk and speed around them.  But then, I would remember:  The streets were filled with children, and the loss of my self-awareness could cost a price I was never willing to learn — for the life of me!

Fine!  I backed out, pulled into another side street, parallel parked.  I got out:

“Shit!” I realized my passenger side was buried in the bushes.  So, I got back in, pulled forward.  “Phew.  Now, she’ll be able to get in!”

My heart was still racing:  I was fifteen minutes early; but I couldn’t, for the life of me, be late!

So, I started speed-walking.  Having caught up to the fancy SUV’s, still lingering in their spots, I could see the flustered faces of tired mothers — ON THEIR FUCKING CELLPHONES!  A few times, I saw small children bolted into the back seats while the women continued to gab and block the traffic behind them.

I sped up:  What if she got out early?  I could not, for the life of me, be late!

When I saw her school from the corner diagonally away, I began looking out for her immediately:  the familiar strawberry chin and forever curious black eyes that seem to yank the dial of my heart’s speedometer by some invisible strings.  The crossing guard in an orange vest was sitting in a director’s chair on the corner, and she was laughing with one of the awaiting dads.  At the sight of her, I felt slightly more relaxed:  What a face!  What a soul!  She seemed absolutely wonderful.

A woman with a wrinkly face and droopy bags under her eyes shot me an icy stare in the middle of the road.  She was speaking to her child — an arian boy with golden locks.  But as I got closer, she stopped talking and bent her pretty mouth downward.  I smiled:  How else could I apologize for the nearness of my youth?  When the two of them reached the other side of the road, the woman resumed speaking.  Yep:  Russian.  And she spoke of judging me.

The front lawn was already overpopulated by tiny creatures.  The tops of their heads, of multiple colors, peaked out like a field full of mushrooms.  Not a single one seemed to be sitting still.

Two brown boys were leaping over benches and flowerbed fences, and for a moment I studied the rules of their imaginary warfare.  One of them tumbled down, got up, crouched down to study the scrape on his knees; but then resumed the battle:  Warriors don’t cry, no matter how little!

“M’am!  You have to move!” another crossing guard raised her voice behind my back.

I looked over:  Shit, did I fuck up already?  In the company of these tired mothers, I feared to be obvious in my lack of expertise.  So, I had hidden myself under a tree with protruding roots (not that it saved me from a few more icy looks from the bypassing women).

“M’AM!” the guard was pissed off by now.  She was knocking on the tinted window of a white Land Rover.  From where I stood, elevated by one of the roots, I could see a naked elbow of a woman holding an iPhone inside, with her manicured hand.  Immediately to the right of her double-parked vehicle, I could see the neon red of “NO PARKING”.

Hesitantly, the Land Rover began pulling away.  As the crossing guard turned her tired face at me, I smiled sheepishly:  Could she see my being a total fraud?  In response, she pressed her lips tighter and shook her head.

“People…” she seemed to be saying.

I watched a tiny girl with my complexion skip unevenly, with no apparent rhythm, next to her slowly walking grandmother.  A beautiful boy holding a basketball walked upright behind his father who was texting on his BlackBerry, non-stop.  A luminous woman patted her daughter’s head as the little one was telling about her destiny earlier predicted in the game of M.A.S.H.

I began recognizing the classmates whose names I’ve heard in so many stories.  My heart began racing:  Have I missed her?  Am I standing by the wrong gate?

“M’AM!  YOU HAVE TO MOVE!” the crossing guard was pissed off again.

Behind my back, I saw a giant Lexus packed at the curb with the “NO PARKING” sign.  A disgruntled old woman with a boyish haircut was standing outside of it, with her hand holding the car clicker up in the air.

“Where am I supposed to go?” she said, through her clenched teeth.  “I’m running late!”

I sensed myself shooting the woman an icy stare:  A look I quickly censored when I noticed the familiar strawberry chin marching toward me across the lawn.

She had seen me first.  I felt my heartbeat speed up again.

I didn’t fail the task, this time!  I didn’t let her down!

And the day was young and suddenly reinvigorated:  with endless adventures and her trust the loss of which I could NOT — for the life of me! — afford.

“You Didn’t Have To Love Me, Like You Did. But You Didn’t! But You Did — And I Thank You!”

“I’ve gotta be careful,” I think to myself.  “I fall in love too easily.”

I never used to wait it out before.  Instead I would leap in, head first, thinking:

“He is — so very beautiful.  So:  Why not?”

And it would be odd and sad, at the end of each affair (or, what’s more tragic, somewhere in the first chapter of it), to find myself disappointed — in myself.  ‘Cause I’m a smart girl, you see?  I always have been.  (I mean:  I read books, for Christ’s sake.  Right?!)

But you know what my problem is?  I like humanity too much.  That, plus the dumb-bitch-ness of ignoring my own intuition — and I’ve got a decade of disappointing affairs.And no, I’m never disappointed in them:  those I’ve chosen to fall for, head first, regardless of my screaming intuition.  Instead, I’m always disappointed — in myself.

“But he is so very beautiful,” I think.  And what’s worse, I used to say it sometimes, to his face.  With years, I’ve reined in that messy situation a bit.  ‘Cause I’m a smart girl, you see?  So, now, I tend to whisper it instead, while he’s asleep on my chest like a babe relieved by a glorious burp after making a meal of my breast.  I caress his hair — full, wispy or spiky, in a crewcut — and I get my pheromones going; convince myself I’m in love and I say it, out loud:

“You are so beautiful.”

Hopefully, he’s fully asleep by that point.  And if not, most of the time, he pretends to be.  How else to handle an intense number like me but to fake a hearing problem?  Or a language barrier, of some sorts?  The poor guy has just signed up for some sex — not for his fucking soulmate.

 

“That’s just the problem with you,” my ex has recently testified.  “You make us believe we deserve you.  But we don’t.  We’ve got not business — fucking a girl like you.”

“Ah, I remember,” I thought to myself.  “He always was — so very beautiful!”

I thought it, but made sure not to say it this time.

And it’s better with us now, anyway:  Our friendship surfs upon our mutual goodness that’s no longer tested by sex.  Still:  So beautiful, I think; and I try to remember why he’s made me feel so disappointed — in myself — just a few years ago.

Another one got drunk at a party the other night, and instead giving a toast, like the man of the hour he’d insisted on being once he took over the barbecue grill, he raised his beer in my direction and he slurred:

“That woman!”  He shook his head with spiky hair in a crewcut; then to our deadly silence, he wrapped it up:  “THAT WOMAN.”

Later on, he wanted to walk me to my car.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.  No car walking,” I insisted and I patted the back of his head I’ve memorized on my chest, while he was pretending to be asleep, one night.

‘Cause I’m a smart girl, you see, and it’s only taken me six years and half a dozen of disappointed affairs in Los Angeles to figure out that “car walking” often stands for “foreplay”.  And I just don’t foreplay with my exes.  Sure, we can surf upon the goodness of our friendship soon enough; but sex with the exes — well, that’s just a totally dumb-bitch move.

But the familiarity of the touch was enough to get my pheromones going, and instead of a goodbye I said:  “Thank you, beautiful.”  And I left.

Lord knows, before I’ve walked out on every one of them — these men I’ve chosen to fall for, head first — I ask them for the final verdict:

“Now:  Are you sure?”  I say.  “‘Cause I’m a smart girl, you see?  Once I leave — I don’t come back.”

But the poor guys are so exhausted by that point, they don’t know what hit ‘em.  I mean:  They’ve just signed up for some sex, not for a fucking soulmate!  And in that moment, they think they just want some silence.  Or some solitude, for Christ’s sake!  They think they want that empty linoleum floor without one intense number strutting toward them, for more matter-altering sex.

But in the end, they always lose the girl that has loved them in the best of ways:  Fed ‘em, fucked ‘em, rubbed their heads, stroked their egos.  In conclusion:  Built ‘em up.

And surely, they move on, after me.  They’re fine:  They find other girls, better suitable, less intense.  But by the time I go, I’ve raised their expectation so much — I’ve ruined them, for good.  And they know it.

“You’ve gotta be careful,” one of them told me while still in the midst of our affair, but most likely, already looking for his way out.  Sad:  The poor guy has just signed up for some sex.  Instead, he ended up waking up next to his soulmate:  The first girl to never forsaken him, to fulfill his needs better than his mother and to raise his expectation, forever.

“You’re too trusting, you see.”

“Ah.  So beautiful!” I said at the time, to his beautiful face; and I smirked in a way that made him change the subject and move in for more matter-altering sex.

And he was.  He was very beautiful.  And so were the others.  So beautiful I don’t regret falling for any of them, head first.

“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.

“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”.   

You Oughta Know, No?

Trying something new this morn’, my kittens:  Naked rant blogging — IN BED.  Knowing me (and some of you are getting to know me quite a bit these days, thank you very much), I am shocked I haven’t done this one before.

The thing is, this week:  Besides working really hard on my dreams (The Perpetual Dreamer is my life’s finally declared major), I’ve also invested a few hours on the most significant relationships of my life (which although do not currently include a romantic interest, but plenty of loves).

I’ve received my girlfriends’ strife and got updates from my comrades on the state of their own nostalgia for our no longer existent motherland:  Bohemia, alas.

“Hear me out!” — a gypsy man ordered me the other day while he endlessly wondered about his next wandering.  And I did.  I did:  I heard him out.

Compassion.

I’ve held my breath in silence yesterday afternoon while listening to my goddaughter far away from me, on the other coast, who hasn’t learned to talk yet but speaks volumes with her silence and her tiny furrowed brows inherited from India.  Breathlessly, I held back my tears to the noise of her twirling her mother’s cell phone, in her little brown hands; and when she finally produced a noise that’s impossible to spell or imitate — (was that Malayalam, my love?) — oh how I wept!  But then, again:  I’ve claimed my breath back:

Compassion!

Now, I’m sittin’ here, in my canopy bed, with the most gorgeous skies tempting me from outside.  My body — albeit its looking delicious this summer already, thank you very much — is feeling as if someone has ran it over with a truck.  Better yet:  a tank.  Exhausted:  That’s what I am, my kittens.

But regardless the state of being, I always come back to the blank page, every single morn’, as I’ve done for years, on my own.  Alone.  But now:  You’re here.  And these every day reunions beat every other desire I may harbor.  It’s permanent — this wanting to be read.  And even though I never allow myself the hubris of assuming that I may change a life — with my words — I hope I at least reveal enough compassion.

Compassion…

“How do you find what to write about?”

I hear a voice from another day — a voice of one of my broken-hearted.  She’s always thought so highly of me!  She wishes for my strength and esteem and discipline; while little does she know that all I wish for — is her time.  She’s still got time on her side — time and youth, you see? — while I’m perpetually running out.  Too young to know what chronic nights of loneliness feel like, she thinks I don’t cry behind my closed doors and curtains; that I’m immune to doubt.  She thinks my compassion comes freely, at no cost.

How DO I find what to write about?

Compassion.  That’s it.  It never runs out.  That’s my privilege, in life — and my burden:  I’m never immune to humanity.  No matter the stupidity or the disappointment, I always come back to it.  And now:  You’re here.  And even though I never allow myself the hubris of earning your understanding, your misunderstanding — I just cannot afford!  Because these tales come from my compassion:  FOR YOU.  For the sake of you.  For the sake of my own kindness.

Kind-ness.

The hero of today’s rant blog shall be named Stan.

Stan was a simple man, my kittens; not really artistic or fearless.  He just wanted to live his life, to live it out in calm — in some blah-ness of a simple survival.

No, he didn’t want much.  Aspiring — wasn’t his thing.  Ambition was somebody else’s spiel.  Because to live — wasn’t even his choice in the first place.  He was sort of born one day, to a pair of unartistic, fearful parents, somewhere in the middle of the country.  They taught him how to walk and to use the toilet; then, sent him off to school.  Then — college.

Stan got by.  Started losing his hair early.  Met a girl.  Learned to wank himself off.  Married the girl — knocked her up, clumsily, in the dark; then, returned to wanking himself off, alone.  Pleasures were always simple for Stan.  So were the solutions to his problems.  (I wish he didn’t have any, to tell you the truth.  But then, we are never granted more than we can handle.  So, Stan’s lot had to be lighter than mosts’.)

“I hear California is nice,” he said to his wife one day.  She was in the midst of matching his tube socks after doing laundry.

That was the day of Stan’s midlife crisis.

So, they moved.

And that’s where Stan and I met:  At some random gas station on Western Boulevard.  I was running low, in the midst of my Perpetual Dreaming.  (Otherwise, I’d avoid that street at all costs:  It’s got a special talent for inspiring depression.)  And Stan?  Stan was on his way back to Glendale.  This — was his regular stop.

At first, he was the jerk answering his cell phone at the gas pump next to mine.

“Is this fucker suicidal?!”  I thought and looked at him with the disgust I learned on New York subways.  Don’t know about his simple life, but I still had plenty of aspiring to do!  Ambition — was my spiel!

Stan noticed the look, realized his wrongdoing.  He brushed his thin hairs over the bald spot, lowered the phone and said:

“I’m so sorry, M’am.  I have to get this!  My wife…”

Stan started weeping, my kittens.  Subduedly at first, just so he could finish the phone call.  But once the flip phone slid into the pocket of his un-ironed khakis, Stan became all about his “ohs” and “goshes”.  Repeatedly, he tried to double over the hood of his car, then the trash bin with pockmarks of gum all over it.  He tried so hard to face away from me.

“Sir?  Sir, let me…”

With my hand on his hunched over back, I tried to guide him to his driver’s seat. But Stan was all about his “ohs” and “goshes”, clutching onto that filthy trash bin:

I was running low that day; but when compassion flooded — it took me with it, good riddance.

A Change Gonna Come — Oh Yes, IT WILL!

“The world has no idea!” she said last night, her jet black eyes sparkling with reflections of the caramel candlelight with which the bar was illuminated.  “The world had NO idea of the responsibility that comes with being a woman!  And the beauty, and the intuition, and the struggle!  And the weight, and the…” — (she paused for long enough for me to overhear my own heart’s whimper) — “and the awe!”

Oh you beautiful girl child!  You magnificent survivor of your own destiny!

She was one of those exotic, smart girls.  Barely in her mid-20s, with a face constructed from genes of some ancient culture, she sat at the bar last night and — get this! — read a book.  Only V, in her younger days, would pull shit like this.  But that was just it:  The hunger of her mind, the refusal to compromise her vocabulary, the fieriness of her still idealistic beliefs, her stubborn love for humanity, and the religion of her kindness — all that reminded me of myself.  In a funny-kinky way that only life can think up, this younger version of me appeared at an unexpected time and place — and with that very higher grace that insists I should never give-up on living, she guided me to the next chapter of my own self.

I am now living, my comrades, in a visceral anticipation of change. The recent survival chapter of my life has so obviously expired!  There was a heartbreak, followed by brutal lessons of self-discovery and a painful birthing of forgiveness.  But that’s over now.  There is a new art in my life.  A new art and a new love.  But that doesn’t mean that today, there is no suffering; because the choice of living as an independent woman and a self-made artist is a loaded one.  There are still survival jobs that eat my time with their tedious nonsense.  Frequent disappointments in the lapses of human goodness, in acquaintances or occasional strangers, still scratch my heart with metallic claws.  This year’s coming-out as a writer who publicly reveals her word has, unfortunately and unexpectedly, been one of the harder lessons my life has offered.

Yet, still, my beautiful witnessing comrades:  It HAS been worth it!

I bow down my disheveled head in recognition that despite all the pain and loss and disappointment; despite the horrific, border-line criminal offenses that I’ve suffered at the hands of others; despite my own poor choices and embarrassing missteps, my life — has been magnificent.  And the main reason that I carry on (despite an occasional temptation to give-up on it all and retire into a commune of Tibetan monks) is because it continues to change.

Sometimes, change comes in as a storm, hitting me from all angels, tangling me up in my own hair and nerves, and confusing me about the functions and the origins of gravity.  Other times, it slips in gracefully and non-violently, like a San Francisco fog, reminding to hush-up, and to breathe and bear:

“It’ll all work out,” it promises.  And somehow, I believe it.

This oncoming one — is the quiet type.  With the very follicles of my skin, I can feel its approach.  It tickles with excitement and; only when I’m alone and this town’s exhausted children are asleep, it scares me, ever so little, with the proposal of the unknown.  Alas:  A woman’s intuition!  (My intuition, I’m convinced, lives in my uterus.  When shit ain’t right, it raises its sleepy head from my ovaries that it uses as pillows, and, like a quirky, misbehaving child, it starts to raise havoc.  Off it goes, swinging from my tubes, and nibbling at my gut, and playing patty cake with my diaphragm; and if I continue with my Dumb Bitch act and refuse to listen up, it then sits down into a lotus position and observes the consequences with a sardonic smile.  Because that rascal — is always right!)

But just maybe — and just maybe for this first time — I am not going to brace myself.  Instead, I’m going to strip myself — of all the residual dead weight — and in the nude form, while my unbound breasts bounce to a tribal beat, I shall chant for courage and grace.  It will be painful, I know; and there will be losses to count at the end of the battle.  But in the end, I bet there will be a discovery of my own upgraded self; and I bet — she will still be worthy of the serious yet innocent girl-child I was always meant to be.