Tag Archives: divorce

The Other Side of Things

(Continued from June 3rd, 2012.)

In beginning of the summer, he told her he would be flying in.  She waited for a clarification, in silence.

The flurry of his messages resumed in a few days:  the tiny little jabs that, with his craftiness and her gullibility in tow, could easily be reinterpreted as tiny strokes of her ego; and if she really, really wanted to feel needed and missed — she could be pleased.  He was visiting his mother.  She said hello, said that she was sorry about how things had turned out.  She’d always “liked her”.  He spoke about how sick and tired of the North-East he had grown.  (They’d moved there together years ago, on the basis of her curiosity alone, pretty much.  Being young in New York sounded perfect, at the time.)  And wouldn’t it be nice to raise a family out here, instead?  She would’ve made a wonderful mother.

On that, she came out of her silence:  “What do you want, Mike?!” she texted.  (She had always avoided abbreviations in her messages; but with him, she also insisted on being brutally precise with her punctuation.)

But her irritation went right over his head:  “dunno hang out?” he wrote back.

It had to be a bliss to not see life’s gray areas at all, and to trample over other people’s precious boundaries with this much oblivion.  Or could he be simply manipulative?  Perhaps, he enjoyed watching her lose her cool, for his sake.  But the casualty with which he treated their break-up she found plainly and increasingly offensive:  He had been acting as if nothing terrible had happened at all and as if they could remain friends, on the other side.  Didn’t he know long it took for her to achieve the lightness of the forgiven past?

They took a few days off from talking.  She began sleeping a lot.

 

When he finally appeared, she wished her mind had tricked her into not recognizing him.  She wished he had changed.  But no:  A pair of long shorts ending at his half shins; a one inch buzz cut of his coarse, tight curls, which he had worn the same way for years; and a backpack.  And a sizable backpack at that!  (The day they met back in college, she was stumbling across the campus from the bus stop.  Having left her glasses at home, she was walking by memory.  He was leaving his Calculus class, in shorts and — yes! — with a backpack.  A sizable backpack!)

Now, he was walking on the opposite side of the street.  He seemed to have noticed her from ways away.  Eventually, she noticed him too:  that gait, that tilt of the head.  She felt zero sentimentality.  Once they made eye contact, he didn’t smile.  Neither did she.

“Oh, no!  Your hair!” he said right off the bat.  He now stood in front of her, his lower lip chapped from the wind.  “What happened to your hair?”

She had cut it all off, in the heat of the new city; and she’d been keeping it that way, since they’d last seen each other.

“And where are you off to?” she responded, immediately defensive.  “Camping in the canyons?”

It was just like she remembered the very end of them:  terse non-sequiturs and impatient physical contact.  Now, they had both grown older, but not kinder.

Considering to take an offense, he looked at her with his shiny eyes, then shrugged.  They exchanged a stiff hug.  (How long does it take for the muscle memory of lovers to fade?)  She braised the air near his cheek with a polite kiss, but their skin never touched.  He pulled away, held her arms for a moment, looking into her eyes.  Forcing it.  Then, after studying her boyish hairline again, he shook his head.  At least, he was smiling this time.

“Can I get you a drink?” he sized up the empty plastic cup on her end of the patio table, with its walls murky from a blend of coffee and milk.

“I don’t know:  Can you?”  She narrowed her eyes.  She was beginning to feel tired and bitchy again.  A tension headache was squeezing her temples.  She sat back down.  His backpack now took up the chair across from her.  She began to study pedestrians, particularly the ones with dogs.  When the dogs were left waiting outside, tied down to immoveable objects, she wondered how this much love could ever be forsaken.  How could love survive this much waiting?

When he returned, with two identical iced drinks, he plopped the backpack down onto the dirt patch, himself — into the chair.  Brazen, she thought.  Not even an apology for having her wait for him for nearly half an hour.

“So.  How the hell are you?” he said, while twirling the cubes of ice inside his coffee with a straw.  They clunked against each other, dully.

“Well.”

He nodded:  “Yeah.  I’d say.”  She watched him take a good stretch in his metal chair and yawn.

“You?” she said.

“Bueno!” he said and grinned at her with that boyish bravado that he’d nearly lost at the end of their marriage.  His arms hung stretched behind his head.  “It’s good to be back, I’ll tell you that much,” he said.

She felt her headache tighten.  She needed fresh air, or rather moving air, against her face.  She wanted to be crying under the rain.  She wished to be in the water.

So, she stood up, groped the chair for her purse and picked up her drink.  “Mind if we walk to the beach?” she said.

His eyes, despite the panicked confusion (was it something he said?), began to shine with a curiosity.  “Yeah.  Sure,” he responded.  “That would be awesome!”

She shook her head.  He was pushing now.

Not wanting to go through the store filled with other people, exhausted by the sun, she began to search for the gate of the patio.  She needed to be near the water, to hear it, and to imagine all that distance stretching ahead of her and all the places on the other side.

Stronger

“So typical!” she thought after having gotten the message about his running late:

“Traffic.  B there in 5.  Smiley face.”

The part about the smiley face was written out.  In the very moment of reading his message, she was not tickled by his charm at all.  The joke felt stale and smart-Alec-y, and it was probably aimed at her expense:

Well!  He remembered that but not that I despise tardiness.  “So disrespectful!” she muttered to herself.

She’d already parked the car and taken the stairs.  A lanky man going the opposite way in the staircase overheard her.  Behind his bifocals, he blinked rapidly and hugged the wall a little more.  A tourist!  She, for a brief moment, considered covering it up:  by pretending to be on her cell phone or improvising a tune to which the overheard words could belong.  But she was too annoyed.  She clammed up until alone again, on the next flight of stairs.

What irritated her the most, it seemed, was that after all these years, he hadn’t changed at all.  She had.  She had had to!  He’d altered the course of their lives with a single request to end to their marriage four years ago.  She moved herself across the country, as if her shame would lessen with no mutual witnesses around.  She’d gotten tired to wrench her guts out in front of friends.  Their sympathy was too short of a consolation anyway, with nothing on the other side of it — but an even more agitated loneliness.

In a new city, she could blame all the hardships on her relocation.  That way the divorce would come secondary; and on the list of common fears — moving, death, break-ups, public speaking — some of hers would be at least on the same plank.  Divorce or departure.  Departure or divorce.  They became interchangeable causes for every new obstacle for a while.  But eventually, each claimed its own time of day.  Departure took the daylight, while nights were consumed by the consequences of the divorce.  She started going to bed earlier.

When things weren’t well, she’d text-message the ex.  It was a habit of the fingers — not of the heart.  She took him bouncing between her little devastations and the recently increasing occurrences of her gratitude.  No matter her original intention though, they always ended up bickering.  Recycling became their long-distance pattern.  But it seemed to her — and she knew she wasn’t alone in this — they both found comfort in that repetition, how ever painful the results.

 

“Fuck that, D!  What do YOU want?” her stepbrother Tommy, with whom she’d grown close through all of this, would say.  The man never slept; and when she called in the midst of her own insomnia, she’d often catch him painting at sunrise in New York, never having gone to bed at all.

Tommy was adamant that no good would come from her constant contact with the ex.  “All you’re doing is delaying the pain, man.  He won’t change.  It’s all about you!”

But that was exactly was she feared.  It was easier to fish for an apology — or at least a recognition — in her interactions with the ex:  some sort of an acknowledgement of all that former goodness of hers that he had taken for granted, by ending it.  It was as if she’d wanted him to love and lose again (someone else, of course, because even she wasn’t dumb enough to go in for seconds), just so he could learn to miss her.  It was the only route to getting even that she had known.

The ex and she continued fighting.  For weeks afterward, she’d wait for an apology.  There would be substantial silence (in which she began to see glimpses of a lighter life, a better self).  After a timeout though, his messages would come in flurries, a few days in a row:  Some woman wore her perfume on the subway.  He’d found an old photo in his college notebook.  A mutual friend had asked about her.  He missed her legs, her hair…  By what right?!

In the beginning, she did respond reflexively, as if flattered by the contact.  But when his tone turned whiny — he “missed her”, “wanted her” — she got irritated fast:  Who’s fault was that, exactly?!  And when he began insinuating at his lust, she would get struck with guilt toward his new woman.  The pattern grew old, like the baby blanket from her own childhood which she’d been saving for her firstborn.  The firstborn took its time happening while the blanket became a reminder of yet another one of her inadequacies.  She began to feel hard of forgiveness.  There was no way around it:  He’d made a mistake; and she, still picking up the pieces on the receiving end, failed to let go.

Carla Gugino for Esquire Magazine

“I mean:  Do you even want him back?” Tommy sounded flabbergasted.  He seemed so different from her!  Stronger.

But Tommy was different:  He belonged to a separate genetic line of bold spirits:  artists, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, marine biologists, heros.  At family gatherings, they all came in with colorful stories about the world in which neither habit nor fear seemingly played any role.  Her people were hospital administrators and medical assistants, for as long as she remembered.  Being concerned with records of pain, causes and possible treatments was their daily bread.

(To Be Continued.)

Habitat for Humanity

The sound of the 1 Local rattled the windows; she untangled herself from his limbs, sat up and prepared for the sensation of mellow distain, in the vicinity of her diaphragm:  It had been his idea for her to move in here, after just seven months of dating.

 

It was the only time she had encountered a man so willing.  She was lucky, according to other women, most of whom, she suspected, had gone through the chronic toss between a want of love and a denial of it, due to their self-esteem.  A man’s attention could go a long way though.  She had been known to make it last for years, settling for either those who feared commitment or were half-committed — to someone else.  Bitterly, she would eventually begin to withdraw from all offers of courtship because she was sick of herself:  reaching, trying too hard; accounting, then settling for leftovers.

But this one loved her, it was obvious.  He praised her enthusiastically, similarly to the way one adored a deity or a Renaissance statue of a nude, made more precious by its missing parts and by the scabs of earth and time.  Never had she been with a man who wanted to parade her through the circles of his friends, all of them older, calmer and mostly academics, who got through their own marriages by sleeping with their students.  Sometimes, while she feigned being asleep on the couch after hearing his keys scratching their way into the lock; she listened to his footsteps get quieter, as he approached her, merely breathless; and he would sit at the edge of their coffee table, amidst magazines and her thesis papers, and study her.  She began to feel responsible.

Her girlfriends, of course, were full of advice:  Men like him happened rarely.  She was lucky, they hoped she knew.  But was she ready for their age difference; and for the ex-wife with a list of entitlements to his money?  Heartbroken men made for hard material.  But wasn’t it a woman’s sport, to fall in love, despite?

The night when they would sleep together for the first time, she found a photograph of the ex, tucked away into an old aluminum cigarette holder.  She wanted to light up.

The black and white face of a blonde looked over the shoulder, with one hand propped up like an awning across her forehead, her lips closed sternly, as if disliking the photographer.  She found her to be a forgettable woman, not at all like she preferred to see herself.  Now, with both of his habits gone — the smoking and the wife — he was not at all enthused by the idea of reminiscing about the past.  But she insisted on a talk, so that she could investigate herself the story through his sighs and avoided glances.  It was a hideous tendency for some emotional sadomasochism that she disguised as intimacy.  Or, maybe, she was already reaching.

She, of course, tried to be casual about it.  He would begin to speak, not from the start, but going immediately to when the ex blurred out her desire for a divorce.  It happened in the midst of a tiff over the shut-off electricity due to an unpaid bill — a woman flailing at him, in the dark — and he first thought she was quoting a film they may had seen together.  They’d gone to film school together, a decade ago, in the City, never pursuing the field afterward.  He’d stick to theory; she — to freelance writing.

“But didn’t you see it coming?” she asked him, watching his fluttery eyelashes add to the dark circles under his eyes.  “Any signs at all?”

The gray-haired lover shook his head but held it high.  Still, for the first time, in his habits of disobedience to his emotions, she saw a once crumbled man; a man, perhaps, still in need of repair.

This predisposition of her imagination — to be able to see her men as children (or worse yet, as children in need of rescue); to truly feel their suffering; to be moved to tears by their losses that happened a decade before her, but always so unjustly — that evening, made her weary.  Hadn’t she had enough yet?  She couldn’t possibly save every one of them!  She wasn’t here to fix it, to make-up for another woman’s whimsy.  Still, she would begin to feel responsible.

In the light of an exposed, yellowed by months — or years, perhaps — of fried food in his kitchen, that first night she watched him cook dinner for the two of them.

“That’s a big step!” the girlfriends rolled out their eyes and smacked their lips.

“A man that cooks and does his own laundry.  You are one lucky bitch!”

The more she listened to the women get involved (for none of them actually listened), the more she regretted exposing her tales of love and loss.  Perhaps, her ex was right:  Over the course of the last century, women had become a collectively confused group of people.  She herself no longer knew what she wanted at the moment.  And she could not remember what she used to want.

 

He was exhausted from the emotional testimony and was now fussing in the kitchen:

“I haven’t used this barbecue since my last apartment.  So:  should be interesting!”  She’d gone too far.  She shouldn’t have probed.

Albeit the open doors of the top floor patio, the hot air clustered the entire apartment.  It took up every corner.  She, having just come out of the shower, felt dewy in her crevices.  There used to be a lot more vanity, in love.  Perhaps, she wasn’t trying hard enough with this one.

She watched him cutting up fresh herbs plucked from the flower pot along the kitchen window sill.  He operated with a tiny knife at the edge of a wooden cutting board, blackened by mildew on one side.  There was nothing visibly sloppy about his appearance, yet she could see the absence of a woman in his life.  Perhaps, the shortest distance between his earlobes and shoulder blades had something to do with her aroused compassion.  Or the bulk of crumpled Kleenex in the pocket of his sweats.  Or the rapidly blinking eyelids, when he decidedly walked away from his story.  He wasn’t cared for.  He was recovering.  It made her heart compress.  Responsible!  She had to be responsible.

While nibbling on twigs of dill, flirtatiously at first — although mostly out of habit — then suddenly more grounded in her kindness, she studied him while standing by his microwave.  She didn’t find herself impressed, but tired.  Tired and kind.  If not in love, she would be grateful for this one, she decided.  Just look at him:  He needed her so much.

Two Women

The two women met in an unfurnished apartment.

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

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

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

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

Mother continued conducting the percussions in her kitchen:

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

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

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

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

But now:

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

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

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

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

While peeling onions, mom would begin to cry demonstratively:

“Oy!  I so pity the little bird!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Meet me for dinner.”

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

(To Be Continued.)

“And It’s a Hard, It’s a Hard, It’s a Hard, It’s a Hard: And It’s a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall!”

It was her first fall in LA-LA.

“What is — this place, out here?” she thought, when she noticed that beauty wasn’t throwing itself, suicidally, into her face.  Or, humanity, for that matter.

“May I, at least, have some humanity, around here?”

On those first mornings when she woke up in soaked sheets, she would slide open the windows to air-out her bedroom.  But it made no difference.  The heat would keep hanging at the ceiling of her top floor apartment — much more spacious than the one she dwelled in, back in New York.  And by the end of the day, its molecules smelled of smog — and of her own sweat.

And the sweat was different here, too.  In the heat of August that made New Yorkers flee the City, she loved to venture out into the streets, still just as crowded, but mostly with baffled tourists — not locals — who would jump out of her way, startled by her outraged footsteps.  She would walk around for hours, feeling the unmistakable humidity that made the City smell like rotten garbage and, yes, human sweat.  And while she stood on subway platforms, she could feel the drops of her own perspiration slide slowly from her ass cheeks to the back of her knees, under her long skirts.  She felt the whiff of sex, hers and others’:  And it promised — more life.

There seemed to be some unexpected romance in those days:  For the first time, she finally felt like she was belonging.  But how could she belong in a place she was leaving, so soon?

The one-way ticket already had been bought by her mother, who upon hearing the news of the divorce, put away her dramatics and got stoic, for a change:

“You’re coming to California,” motha said over the phone.

“You make me sound like a folk song,” she thought, in response.  Yet, she obeyed. 

It was the wisdom of the women of her motha’s clan — to never plead or grovel for a man to change his mind.

She was going to California.

There would be plenty of chaos upon her landing:  Finding an apartment seemed easier; for there always seemed to be plenty of departing who packed up their shit into double-parked U-Halls, sweating and swearing at the city’s expense.  But the city’s leasers seemed indecisive and slow.

“Everyone keeps acting as if they’ve got better choices, out here,” she told her best friend in New York.  “Or, they just namedrop.”

Like the little man with glistening eyes who, despite being bound to a wheel-chair, managed to lurk over her when interviewing her for a roommate position.  On his living-room wall, she could see a framed, autographed poster of a recently released indie flick that was pretty well reviewed in The Times, that summer.

“I produced that,” the little man said, reminding her of one those exotic birds on the Discovery Channel that puff themselves up into alien shapes — just to get some tail.  From under the smeared lenses of his glasses, his narrow eyes were sliding up and down her body.  His face was glistening with sweat.  She got up, feeling like she needed a shower at the closest motel she could find, on Sunset Boulevard.

“Well, what do you think?” the little man wheeled after her, to the door, lurking.  “I could make you a star!”

She walked out.

“Really?” her best friend said calmly.  “Do they actually say things like that, out there?”

And then, there was the job search, in which every lobby looked like a waiting room for an audition or a cattle call.  And no one else seemed to be breaking a sweat, after driving in the apocalyptic-degree heat.

“We aren’t making any decisions right now,” the interviewers kept saying.  “But we’ll keep your resume on file.”

“Then, why did you waste my time?” she actually said to a group of young entrepreneurs who looked like the cast of Entourage and, after sliding their eyes up and down her body, asked her to tell them “something they couldn’t have known — by looking at her”.  (She told them she was good at harakiri.)

She walked out, got back into her car and wasted more time.  The heat outside was still insatiable!  And in the midst of it, everyone was always up for a hike.  Or “a coffee date, sometime”.

The rain would finally come by the end of October.  And it wouldn’t stop.

The roads would get shiny at first, and for the first time, since landing, she would smell the nearing of another season — not of her own sweat.  The nights would get cold, and she would insist on walking, to any outside cafe, on Sunset Boulevard, and getting soaked. It was the first time she would cry the tears worthy of the women of her motha’s clan:  They weren’t filled with self-pity anymore, but with rage.  And rage — was always better, for survival.

 

Finally, there would be a callback for a maitre d’ position at some pretentious overpriced restaurant, on the West Side, with a diva-chef in the kitchen.  She would swim in her motha’s decade-old clunker to other side of the city.  Driving in the middle lane seemed safer, but some maniac in a German car would always honk and zoom past her, on the right, and give her car a full rinse with the filthy water from the gutters.

“You’re terribly overqualified,” the general manager with a bulldog’s jaw would tell her, at the end, after the two-hour drive.

She got up and tried to make it to the door without breaking down into another outraged tear shed.  Her scuffed shoes made a chomping sound:  Her feet were soaked.  So was her hair.

He would follow her, to the door:

“We’ll keep your resume on file though,” he’d say.

“Please, don’t!” she actually said.

Because it was the wisdom of the women of her motha’s clan to never plead for a man to change his mind.

She walked out.

“‘Cause I’m a Gypsy. Are You Coming WITH Me?”

This shirt, right here — I’ve worn it no more than a couple times.  So, why am I holding onto it?

Why am I holding on?

It was a gift by a New York girlfriend.  She is married by now, and a mother.  The last time we saw each other was on the West Coast, after my divorce, when she came to see her father to tell him she was engaged.  That was the day I got the shirt.  It was Christmastime.  My car would break down on the way back to LA-LA, and I would call my ex, in panic.  He would answer…

Why am I holding onto this shirt?  

Why am I holding on?

I’m going to give it away.  That’s it!  That feels right:  Perhaps, I’ll just give it to the young girl who reminds me of my former self — the one prior to the divorce.  That’s it.  Give it away.  That feels right.  Give it away.

And this sweater:  How long have I had this sweater?  Let me think.  About twenty years?

Twenty years?!

Who in the world holds onto sweaters — for twenty years?!

Someone who is in charge of her own keepsakes and who makes up her memories, as she goes along; because there is no one else to ask for a cross-reference.  

Someone who has no home and no homeland to revisit because neither exists any longer. 

Someone who has spent her childhood on the road, and her womanhood — in a whole different foreign land. 

Come to think of it, that’s a quirky split.  When I try to remember myself as a child, I catch myself thinking in my native language:  My former language, of my former self.  But the language of my womanhood — is my second.  But it is also the language of my love — the language of all my loves — with which I’ve learned to communicate, to hold on and to let go.

“But V makes up her own language,” my last love once told me.

Forever, I am a foreign child but an American woman.  Which one is the most organic, the most relevant self?  Which one do I keep on the forefront the most?  This split is hard to interpret into either language for others trying to comprehend me.  But then, no story of immigration is a simple one.  So, I barely even try anymore.

And this sweater:  I think I used to run in this sweater, as a child.  And I still do.  All the threads in its seams have now lost their original shade, so it is slightly embarrassing to wear this thing out in public.  But I still run in it.  I run fast enough to camouflage its faults.  My faults.

Perhaps, I’ll just keep it:  This sweater — is the only thing of my childhood that I have left to hold onto.

Here is a couple of white nightgowns.  I don’t even wear nightgowns, so why do I own them?

Why am I holding onto them?

Why am I holding on?

This one:  It’s from Eastern Germany.  I remember it was given to me by my motha after I refused to wear my training bra.

“When you’re older, your underwear gets prettier,” she promised in my native language, when I was still thinking in that language, too.

But at the time, I was breathless:  Mama (or “motha” as I call her here, on the foreign land) used to be a stunning woman.  Her face was bewitching to men:  To them, it promised adventures no other mortal woman was able to provide before.  Because it took them into the very depths of their souls — the depths so terrifying, the two choices they had at the end of the affair were:  to pull out or to hang on for their lives.  Either way, they never came out of it the same.  (And I would know:  Quite a few have pulled themselves out of their souls, in front of me.  What an adventure!)

But at the time, I was breathless:  utterly bewitched by my motha’s face; in love with her, for the rest of my days.  And that nightgown would stay stored inside a drawer when I left home.  Motha had to mail it to me, for keepsakes, as an American woman.

The other nightgown is vintage.  I bought it in Ventura, years after my divorce.  It’s satin, with two shades of handmade lace.  One of the straps is broken.  Broken by a lover’s hand.  He, too, pulled himself out.

So, why am I holding on?

Well, I can’t really give these to another woman — or to the young girl who reminds me of my former self.  It’s bad enough our beds have memories.  Freud said we sleep with our former lovers for the rest of our lives.  We carry them.  We hold on.

But with every woman, there are also memories stored in the drawer with her lingerie.

Perhaps, I’ll just throw them out.  Discard them.

Let them go.

With every move, with every relocation, I am a different woman:  a lighter one, it seems.  Every time, I pack up my possessions, I discard at least a half, as if making room for fresh memories, fresh stories.  New loves.  New selves.

Forever, I am in charge of my own keepsakes.  But with time, I seem to need less of them.

And I learn to let go.

At least, I learn — NOT to hold on.

“She Never Stumbles — She’s Got No Place To Fall. She’s Nobody’s Child. The Law Can’t Touch Her At All.”

It is truly fucking amazing, but for the very first time in my life, being single does not seem like a social ineptness — a disease of which I am a carrier.

So, as I stand in front of an overwhelmed ticket cashier at my fancy local movie theater, I no longer feel awkwardly apologetic when I say:

“One — for Crazy, Stupid, Love, please.”

The chubby, stressed-out girl in an ill-fitted penguin-like uniform looks up at me.  It’s the weekend, but I had just come from a day of hard work.  My hair is pulled back.  I’m exhausted, not in a self-pitying way of someone burdened by survival; but in a relaxed, proud manner of someone making her own way in the world.

“Was that:  One?” she repeats.

I thought I spoke clearly.  I usually do, with strangers, subjecting only my beloveds to my habit of speaking in code.

“Yes,” I say, and I smile as kindly as my tired, non-pretty face allows.

The girl purses her lips and flips her computer screen toward me:

“Where would you like to sit?” she says.

I don’t really know how it happens in the lives of other young girls, but in my own adolescence, I’ve never been taught how to get myself successfully paired up.  There is nothing my father wanted more, of course, than for me to get married and settle down, always in close proximity to his house.  He somehow hoped I would figure it out on my own and — magically! — end up with a decent guy (which by Russian definition meant someone who could hold his liquor and was good at fishing).  I would end up with someone my father could trust enough to pass me into his care.

At the same time though, he never talked to me about dating.  It made him uncomfortable — this idea of my inching my way toward the problems of adulthood, day after day.  And the sequence of my father’s glottal sounds while he sat on the edge of my bed one night and tried to talk to me about sex would make Bill Murray want to take notes:  It was so uncomfortably funny.

“Um, P?” I had to interrupt him, because I wanted to remember my father as a hero, NOT as a man incapable of uttering the word “sex” while blushing like a teenager.  “It’s past midnight and I’ve got an English final in the morning.”

I was in tenth grade.

Not kidding.  Dad — or “P”, as I called him, lovingly, in my habit of speaking in code — had always been delusional about my sexual development.  I wasn’t even sure he knew I had gotten my period four years prior.  Most of the time, we just talked about my studies.  Because all my life, I had been an exemplary student, earning my way into the best private school in our city; and my education — was the biggest of my own concerns anyway.

“You just gotta be careful…” he mumbled that night, and once he got up, he would fumble with the seam of his thermal shirt and blink rapidly to avoid my stare.  “That’s all I’m saying.”

“I am, P.  Good night,” and I smiled at him as kindly as my tired face would allow.

And that was it.  That was the only time P chose to suffer through that topic.  Not even after my parents’ divorce would either of them invest any time in explaining the complexity of human relationships to me:  the work that it took to be successfully paired up, and the amount of self-awareness; the amount of commitment.

Whatever I learned about dating I would learn from my contemporaries.  Boys would be the main topic in the cafeteria of my college, to which I had arrived on a full scholarship.  Again, in my 20s, education would remain the biggest of my concerns.  By the end of our studies, many of my classmates would be engaged, or married; or moving back home where they were awaited by their families and boyfriends.  I, however, was en route to graduate school, hustling my way to earn more scholarships.

In our rendezvous to the City, we would occasionally meet up — my college contemporaries and I — and they would purse their lips at my awkwardly apologetic answer:

“Yes.  I’m still (insert a shrug) — single.”

In my dating life, I would feel clumsy and uncertain.  By the example of my contemporaries, before each date, I would dress myself up into what seemed to be a better, prettier version of me:  And during the date itself, I would often gain a headache.  Because by the end of it, I couldn’t keep track of all the omissions and alterations I would manufacture.  And when I wouldn’t hear from my dates for weeks, I would throw myself back into my studies.

Something would change of course, with time.  Somewhere during the pursuit of my dreams, I would begin to sit in my skin a bit more comfortably.  There would be a slew of reckless relationships and even a failed marriage; but I would begin to learn about dating, by trial and error.  And the one thing that eventually became obvious was this:

I was NOT like most of my contemporaries.  I was someone paving her own way in the world since a very young age, via her education.  I was also an immigrant who had to work twice as hard as her contemporaries in order to be their equal.  So, there was no way I could use someone else’s skills and opinions in order to pair myself up, successfully.

Because I am no longer willing to mold myself into a better, prettier version of me, I am beginning to find that the version of me already in existence — is pretty fucking amazing.  And that very version, however tired or un-pretty, I now carry into my dates; and I surprise myself that the men I choose seem to be more comfortable with me as well.  They are more confident, more fun.

And then I move on, to more adventures and dreams, in the pursuit of which I don’t really need to be paired up — UNLESS successfully.

“Um, miss?” the penguin-girl appears even more stressed out since meeting me.  “Where would you like to sit?  We’re almost sold out, but since you’re single…”

I smile.  I choose the best seat in the house, buy myself a single latte and wandering through the lobby’s bookshop, in a relaxed, proud manner of someone who can afford herself these tiny privileges, in life.

I am someone — making her own way in the world.  And I’m pretty fucking amazing!

“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.

Till Death Do Us Part — or NOT

Learned something new last night, loves…

(Actually, considering the newsworthiness of this week was off the hook, I learned quite a lot, via my Week in Review by Twitter.  Every 140-word op-ed came with a new ache of discomfort and my stubborn choice of silence.  No commentary, thank you.  I’ll take the fifth.  Yep:  Grace was an antsy lil’ thing last night, so I can’t say I was restful.)

Every time I crave a better piece of writing — or am about to lose all hope for the mankind — I reach for Junot Diaz.  Or Zadie Smith.  Or Comrade Nabokov.  But during the last hours of my seventh day:  Esquire it was.  I balanced the pages on my naked skin, watching them mark me with black ink.  (Written on the Body. Forgot about that one.)  Half-way in a out of sleep, I waited for the voices in my head to hush down (fucking Twitter, with its schizophrenia galore!); when out came a term I’ve never heard before:  No Fault Divorce.

Say whaaat?!  How come I never got me one of those?

For a second, I forgot which publication was marring my skin with its biodegradable colors (because as you may have read or heard, my darlings, it’s been a book on the topic of Zen this entire week).  I forced myself back to reality, for moment.  Yep:  still Esquire.  My Bible to Mankind.

“Damn it,” I thought.  “No fucking way I’ll be able to go to sleep now!”

Sure enough, the voices in my head went up a hundred decibels, like a choir of Cleopatra’s eunuchs.  Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda started bouncing in my frontal lobe, like steel bullets inside a pinball machine.  Before being tempted to reach for a shot of NyQuil, I leapt out of bed and went digging for my divorce settlement — a document I make no habit of viewing, ever! — issued by some New York Honorable So-‘n’-So who has never met me, let alone heard my side of the story.  Nope:  In my case, my darlings, my fucking story was retold by some attorney with a Chinese name, hired by my ex-husband, the plaintiff:

“The defendant has waived HER right to answer or respond.” 

(Again:  I took the fifth.)

And considering I was on the opposite coast of the country, that’s one way to put it.

There’s no way the Honorable So-’n’-So could’ve known that I was cradling myself to some state of forgiveness, for a duration of a single climate season, since the tragic separation from a friend.  ‘Cause that’s exactly what my hubs was to me — a friend, first and foremost.  Because I was planning to do this “till death do us part”, not the Honorable So-’n’-So “do us part”; and from my idea of marriage, you better be friends if you want to survive until there is no more sex to keep the two of you together.

But it didn’t work out for us that way.  Shit went wrong.  Things fell apart.  And by mutual at the time admission, we “couldn’t do it anymore”.

Despite suffering from a temporary amnesia toward my former self, I had enough presence of mind to recognize what was best for me, at the moment:  to run.  The same way I had fled from the broken marriage of my parents a decade ago (fucking irony, eh?), I took myself across several time zones; because the temptation for reunions with the hubs (the friend and plaintiff) — out of fear or stubbornness or love — would’ve been too great to resist.

But before I departed, we agreed that it was due to no particular one’s fault.  Instead, it was a hundred of little faults, from both of us.  Endless little fights — about my silly habits and his lovable ones; fights that were thrilling in the beginning, because they lead to moments of clarity — and sex; fights that would eventually look comedic; and we would crack each other up, making the hubs’ single dimple appear on his right cheek while I shook my mane at just how I much I adored that fucking thing.  But neither of us could remember when those fights flipped.  Before we knew it, they became little barnacles of cancer which would then be the eventual end of us.  Those fights belonged to a different category:  No longer little catharses, they became struggles for power; and that power had nothing to do with forgiveness but everything — with being right.

Last night’s Esquire piece said it best:

“Fighting matters to a marriage because what matters most to a marriage is forgiveness, and forgiveness doesn’t come for free.  You have to fight for it.”  

Truth be told, my fellow broken-hearted, I didn’t want to be right.  Most of the time, I didn’t want to have the last word either, because I didn’t even know what that last word would be.  (It’s a foreigner thing, or a writerly thing:  I need time to formulate my words — in order to be poignant, or perfectly understood, or “brilliant”.)  So:  I threw in the towel.  Because I feared losing a friend, first and foremost.  Because I knew that despite the resilience of one’s forgiveness, there indeed exists a point of no return.  (I had seen happen, a decade ago, with my parents.  Fucking irony, eh?)  Because secretly I knew that time and space — and in my case, several timezones of space — would heal.

I left.  Gypsy — out.

By leaving I admitted my fault, my comrades.  I chose to find someone to blame (which is how our fights got cancerous, remember?) — so, I blamed myself.  It was easier that way.  I had to lose enough to learn the one prerequisite to forgiveness — remembering THAT which is worth fighting for, or THAT worth walking away from; yet still, I had to leave enough behind TO forgive.  Which is why the settlement to my divorce had to be called Abandonment — another little fault in a sum of all others.  My price of forgiveness; and my own asking price — for keeping a friend, first and foremost.

The Ones that Have Slipped Away

As a writer:  I never lose my hard-on when staring at a blank page.  Yes, yes:  I’ve heard—and read—my colleagues moan and whine about the moodiness of their Inspiration; speaking of it as if it were an uncertain, bitchy young lover, coming around only when she’s horny.  Others have inquired about my daily discipline, fishing for an insider secret that I could bottle up for them.  Well, comrades:  there is none! 

A blank page, a blank stage; the loaded silence that looms after a film director hollers, “Rolling!”; the undisturbed white linens of my yet-to-be-lover’s bedroom—I dwell in the un-started.  I worship what hasn’t happened yet.  Because in those moments prior to creation—anything is possible, including a mind-changing beauty or a life-changing love. 

Oh, sure there are days, when words crawl out through the constipation of the mind with enough friction for my bystanders to overhear them.  Certain days, the ego—that fucking cunt!—gets in the way like a scrawny, yelping, hyper Chihuahua.  

“Get the fuck off my leg,” I battle with the annoying thing, eventually persevering via my brutal self-examination and zero tolerance for my self-pity.

So today, I am choosing to write about the blank pages of my love affairs that have never happened.  They almost did, with me and the other player breathing heavily in each other’s face, suspended in some hormonal high, ready to hit the sheets.  Yet, either the mind-sobering circumstances or the cunt of common sense would get in the way—and the two of us would walk, limp, or crawl away; never regretting an erred affair, yet always wondering about the missed-out moments of beauty. 

Here is to you, my blank pages of never-upon-a-time loves:

—To the pretty companion whose non-invasive tenderness and uncensored kindness yanked me out of the darkness of my failed marriage.  In those pre-divorce days of guilt and self-loathing, we met in a brutally cold city, just months after my chosen man threw in his towel.  The echo of his “I can’t… do this anymore!” still resonated under my heels with every step.  I was a woman on the run, a chaotic flight, doubling over on occasion to even-out my heart rate.  With my eyes drilling into the horizon where I planned to flee next, you were supposed to be my mere distraction.  Instead:  you were magnificent—

—To the man who bore a repeated name of my future lovers.  (Was I looking for you, in them?)  You engulfed me with your body, pinned me down with your strength and compassion.  How ever did you keep up with my schizophrenic needs of a deprived woman?  Between the guilt and the self-punishment, the need to be overwhelmed, the silent prayer for my mind to finally stop fluttering—you surfed with skill and patience; until all I could focus on was my breath.  And that—was your gift to me:  you gave me back my breath.  (Months later, you proposed a long-distance affair—and even a marriage—but I knew that what you’ve granted me was already enough.)—

—To the flamboyant Frenchman who intersected my path during the last days in the City.  This gypsy’s wagon has already departed for the opposite coast.  So, she traveled light; and you picked up on that:  my carelessness of the free, my unbearable lightness of the reckless, the non-attachment of a woman with nothing to lose.  

“Vould you like?  to make l’uv?” you didn’t even warm me up—just called it.  

I studied your exotic French-Liberian face, nearly tearing up from my gratitude that, even in the midst of my exaggerated tragedy, you found me beautiful.  And full of shit!  Because then you said what a French lover was supposed to say:

“You vorrý.  There iz eenough of zat in life, no’eu?  Vhy vorrý—in l’uv?”

We never happened.  But after you, love was a tricky possibility—

—To the shy boy whose mouth I devoured years ago at my chariot, after a mind-numbing, feet-blistering shift at a Hollywood lounge I’d rather forget.  A man young enough to be my brother, you stood with your callused hands fisted inside your pockets, studying your shuffling feet, like a five-year-old embarrassed about his first girl-crush.  You looked up at me occasionally—to touch my face with your hazel gaze; or to chuckle at the molecules of charged air between us—then resumed studying the gravity of the ground that kept holding us in place.  When finally you leaned in and clumsily brushed your lips on my eyelids, in the darkness of the broken street light, I searched for your lips and bit them.  You tasted like cinnamon.—

—To the cowboy whose sexuality blended with my own like honey at the bottom of a scolding hot cup of Russian black tea.  For years, we’ve toyed with the possibility—“What if?”—but always settled for the suspended turn-on instead.  Because we also knew that our egos would fall into the seemingly predestined grooves of each other—and nothing would be off-limits in the consequential destruction (because we were also well-equipped in war).  

 “I love that girl,” others testified to your confession; and that was just enough, my darling, for good—

For our non-happening—I thank you; because you’ve granted me the fantasy of What Could’ve Been—with its endless possibility of a blank page—sans the wasteful, self-indulgent clean-up, mandatory after every failed love affair.  You were my unfinished stories; my odds and chances; my delightful minions pestering my bitchy Inspiration into submission.  And because somehow, all of you arrived with perfect timing, I shall gladly commit the hubris of assuming that I was your creator.  And just as I pray to never treat my chosen art as a burden—always as a privilege!—the memories of you I shall gladly carry with the weightlessness of surrender and gratitude.