Tag Archives: lightness of being

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.)

“I Fly Like Paper, Get High Like Planes. If You Catch Me at the Border — I Got Visas in My Name!”

I am at a rehearsal last night, and I’m thinking:

“I don’t want to be heavy anymore.”

Now, I don’t mean my physicality here:  I’ve got a pretty compact bod on me — always have had — and I’ve always been light on my feet.

I seem to have inherited the smallest features from both sides of the family:  My motha’s people run quite low to the ground in their height; and dad’s tribe, although quite tall, is nearly transparently thin.

And then, my head’s rarely in the right place:  It’s always wanting to be elsewhere.  So, the restlessness of the mind adds to the activeness of the bod, adds to the shedding of the weight.  I’ve come to think that perhaps it’s all for the better, anyway:  My size fits best into airplane seats and packed buses, New York subways and Moscow bread lines — and wherever else the mind urges the bod to fit itself in.

So, when I thought, “I don’t want to be heavy anymore,” I think I meant:

I don’t want to be dark.

Now, I don’t mean the color of my skin here:  I’ve got a pretty dark complexion on me.  Motha’s people — are fucking gypsies, so they are really more like Russian blacks.  In my childhood, motha would have to keep me out of the sun — just so I would still resemble my father’s child a little bit more.  Because his tribe — is quite light (although they’re quite heavy in their footsteps).  And they’re nearly transparently thin.

It’s bad enough I traded in my father’s blue eyes over the course of the first year of my life.  He came back from his military training in some bleak lands of Motha Russia to meet me at the hospital.  I was only a couple days old.

“He’s got my eyes!” he said before the doctor had a chance to explain to him that I was actually born a girl.

(So sorry!)

Whether or not ultrasound existed back then in Motha Russia, motha chose to rely on the old school witchcraft of her people when predicting my future sex.  Surprise, surprise:  That shit didn’t work, and dad was now cradling a blue-eyed brunette of a nearly black complexion in his arms.

“Well…  At least she’s got my eyes.”

With quite a blow to his dreams of the first son, dad left again for some other bleak lands of Motha Russia:  He was always light enough to move.  (But we, Russians, often tend to have heavy footsteps:  We love to step on others’ toes; so if we aren’t playing war — we seem to be always training for it.)

Anyway.  When dad returned home, half a year later, he found his newborn with eyes so black, he could see his own reflection in them.

“He… she — don’t got my eyes no more!”

(So sorry!)

So, when I said, “I don’t want to be dark anymore,” I think I meant:  

I don’t want to be perpetually difficult on my loves.  

Now, I do seem to be easier on my friends:  Over the course of our loves, they’ve gotten used to the restlessness of my mind that adds to the activeness of my dark, compact bod (that adds to the weightlessness of my footsteps).  From all the distant corners of the world, however bleak or perfectly civilized, my loves receive messages of my journeys:  The messages of wanting to belong — if only I would stop moving for long enough. 

But then again:  My friends don’t have to live with me.  They don’t see me pacing my living quarters at night, as if needing more room.  They don’t witness my restlessness accumulate as surely as the hours in each day — until I finally decide to move again, to whatever bleak or perfectly civilized corner of the world.

My loves, however:  My loves are constantly subjected to the restlessness of the mind that adds to the activeness of the bod, that adds to the shedding of the weight, that adds to the weightlessness of the footsteps.

Just ask my family:

My motha’s people — are fucking gypsies.  Yet, for at least two generations before mine, they’ve given up on moving, only following the call of some bleak lands.  Over a century ago, they’ve settled on the East Coast of Motha Russia, much less civilized, unconquered:  The lands that were waiting to be discovered by the more unsettled hearts.  Over the course of the last few centuries, it was populated by the subversive many and the courageous few.  There, the Russian blacks of my motha’s people found their home.

That’s, of course, until I came along:  A blue-eyed brunette that swapped her father’s eyes for a pair of those, black enough to serve as mirrors for her loves.  And as soon as I was old enough to obey the restlessness of the mind, I would follow the call of my gypsy complexion.

(So sorry!)

Because my motha’s people may have given up on moving, but they haven’t settled, I decided.  Not yet.  Perhaps, not until I myself birth a child in some bleak or perfect civilized corner of the world — and I see my own reflection in his or her black eyes.

So, when the other night, I thought, “I don’t want to be heavy anymore,” I think I meant:

I don’t want to negate myself the joy of freedom.

Courage!

Only courage should elate my heart, from now on:  the courage of following my gypsy complexion and the heart that never settles for anything less than love.

And when I do love, I don’t want to deny my loves — the utter joy of my freer self. 

Home, Bitter-Sweet Home

Today, I woke up to the sound of construction.  Having had the type of a day that nearly disparaged me with other people’s tests of my boundaries, being brought back to reality didn’t enthrall me much, as you can imagine.  I growled, tossed to the other side of my bed; yanked the alarm plug out of the wall (‘cause I don’t need that shit waking me up later); and on my feet that someone had to have pumped with lead while I was sleeping, I stumbled toward my bedroom window:

“Bloody F!” I shifted the blinds to examine the haps of my ‘hood.

A handful of short, brown men calling out to each other in a foreign language were repairing the roof of the little blue house next to mine.  Right underneath my top-story apartment, I could see them ripping that shit to pieces.  Unlike the men at one of those construction sites with heavy machinery and brutal metallic noises, these guys were tiny; and the sounds they emitted belonged to the old country:  a scraping of the shovel against the stripped wood, an arhythmic knocking of a hand-held hammer and the rainfall of nails hailing into a plastic bucket in the middle.  The shortest of the workers, wearing a safari hat, had been assigned the task of sweeping around with a giant broom with plastic bristles. That thing was thrice as tall!  And their leader — a gray-mustached man with an LAPD cap and a waterproof pouch with architectural drawings sticking out of it — looked out toward my building while smoking a pipe.

That fucking pipe rang a bell:  On my yesterday’s morning jog, while fumbling with the wires of my iPod, I nearly knocked him over.  He didn’t see me coming from behind, didn’t hear my mutters at the wires that would’ve annoyed me less had they belonged to a spider web into which I walked in, face first.

“Ooh…  Sorry…” I said, not really meaning it:  Who the fuck was he anyway and why wasn’t he paying attention?  I began to make my way around him.

“‘S okay, beauty,” the gray-mustached man calmly said after removing his smoking instrument from the thin lips that made him look like my father, “You can bump me anytime.”

Okay, may be NOT like my father, you naughty old player!  I laughed.  I do tend to forget that older folk still haven’t forgotten about sex, and that some of them may still be having it (yikes!).

So, it always tickles me to no end to watch these old guys flirt with me, with the swagger of their old days.  I bet they don’t sext the woman they like; and they know the etiquette of a phone call.  “Liking” a girl’s photograph on Facebook does not pass, for them, as an expression of desire.  And their stubborn commitment to getting doors and pulling out chairs; to taking over a woman’s grocery bags and never letting her whip out her money, no matter her protesting — all that throws me into a state of easy melancholy, readily available to my Russianness.

Yesterday, we left it at a laugh; but as I took off, I continued to smile and shake my head a few more times.  My jogging step suddenly got lighter.  I maneuvered my way around my neighborhood at the foot of a mountain; and considering LA-LA’s latest weather of the Bay-like blues — with its fogginess and unpredictable spurts of sunshine — it suddenly reminded me of my home:  A tiny village on a peninsula at the other end of the Pacific.  The old country.

A fresh cup of coffee would make the perfect finish to my start of the day, I decided, and detoured toward my neighborhood’s market.  Feeling the grogginess of the morning lift, giving room to the lightness of gratitude, I aimlessly walked through the fresh produce aisle.  A mount of magnificent red plums tempted me to pick-up a few and breathe them in.  I rubbed my fingers against a mint leaf and petted the shiny surfaces of eggplants; groped a few avocados.  Letting habit and the vague smell of coffee take me to my destination, I passed the fish counter.

“Hello, how are jew?” the manager said from behind his tempting, never frozen line-up of produce.

“Beauticious,” I answered and gave him my best American smile:  open and down with it.

Surprised by an alert response, the man’s brown face immediately stretched into an enthusiastic smile:  “Beauti-cious?”  I heard remnants of his Spanish accent.

“It’s like, ahem, beautiful and delicious at the same time,” I explained.  “Like those jumbo scallops of yours.”

“Oy!  Oy!” the man was already putting on his gloves.  “Would jew like to take a l’ook?”  (Definitely Spanish!)

Before I could switch from smiling to speaking (I’m still figuring out the dynamics of that whole American smiling, to tell you the truth), the old guy was already on my side of the counter, lifting its front cover.  (I didn’t even know it was built like that!)  A whiff of the sea hit my nose:  Ah, the old country.  HOME.  

The man began to gingerly pick-up the beauticious scallops and bounce them in his giant hands.

“Oy!  How ‘bout dis one?!”

“Gorgeous,” I said and rested my forearm on his shoulder.  “Beauticious!”

He chuckled:  My tender presence thrilled him. Perhaps, it reminded him of his own home:  Where men drink beer on outside patios and bluntly whistle at the lovely chicas strutting by; where time crawls and dictates the course of the day with its mood; where lunchtime can last until dinner and where every accidental drum beat can start an impromptu fiesta.

“What cha got there?”  The old guy said to me and starting staring at my breast.

I looked down:  A neon-orange sticker that used to belong to the mount of avocados, sat in the vicinity of my nipple and read:

“RIPE READY TO EAT”.

The man sized me up:  Was he about to get in trouble?  But when I thumped my forehead against his chest and lost my composure entirely, wiping away the tears that ready flooded my tired eyes, he too began to holler with his chesty laughter.

“Oy!  Oy!” he was still holding those scallops in this giant, brown hands and throwing his head back.  He would’ve touched me — it felt like he wanted to — but his American training had taught him about boundaries.

Still:  It was suddenly all so easy; so light.  Beauticious and grateful.

“Yep,” I thought:

It’s time to go home.  The old country.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being — Doesn’t Happen at 28

Hung-over from a 22-hour work day, with my feet pounding as if their every bone was broken by a road roller, this morning I was awoken—way too fucking early!—by the sounds of sex penetrating the thin walls of my bedroom from the apartment next door.

My neighbor is of Indian descent—a pretty girl, slightly nerdy, whose appeal from day one was her quirkiness and stubborn independence.  Years ago, as I allowed an army of roommates invade my living space and irritate me enough to move in with my guy (and what a premature and idiotic move that was!), she insisted on living alone.  Now, years—and her new BMW—later, the girl is still making enough dollars to dictate her own rules:  An occasional hour of the night, her apartment emits a not-so-faint scent of weed while she holds a gathering of similarly quirky and smart working professionals of Hollywood—who are NOT actors.

Her bedroom noises seem to follow a routine:  They start with a rhythmical squeaking of her bedsprings.  The pounding then increases in speed, yet I hear no sounds of her man’s voice.  Her moans, however, will start after about five minutes, and I must admit—she actually sounds quite enticing.  She moans from her chest, in a natural pitch.  The whimpers never turn into grunts (as happens with me—when I’m inspired); neither do they sound mechanical or faked.  As the squeaking pauses (do I hear a position change?), the lovers don’t speak.  Only in the last stretch of the 10-to-15 minute shag session, does his voice come through.  A couple of his groans—and mazel tov!

This morning, I’ve managed to sleep past the squeaking, waking only to the crescendo of her moans intertwined with a couple of words he released simultaneously with his orgasm.  Then, her laughter began, in response to some routine of his; and at the sound of it, every hint of my annoyance at the untimely waking hour melted away immediately.  My girl neighbor sounded light and full of joy.  She sounded young and deserving of being fallen in love with.  She had obviously suffered enough—a woman of East Indian heritage has plenty of negotiation to do in life—yet, ended up on the other side of it, still lovely and light-footed.  I, myself, felt love-struck, if not with the girl herself, but the inspiration for a life lacking darkness and depression and self-loathing—and all the other wasteful colors I’ve witnessed in the biographies of my artistic friends.

Which made me recall the young faces I encountered last night.  To them, I dedicate these words:

To the girl, tipsy in her cheep, sparkly shoes, who pouted in the fashion of Marilyn Monroe pictures she collected as a young teen and last night sloppily slid and ground against some undeserving youngster’s leg on the dance floor—

To the anxious young man, painfully uncomfortable in his chubby frame, discombobulated by every tall girl in the joint; who worked up his courage by repeatedly pulling up his shirt sleeves, high-fiving his equally short friends and looking for solutions at the bottom of his rocks glass—

To the Persian kitten, clad in black, studying her petite toes peaking through the patent leather sandals, who swayed next to a man on the verge of passing out; and when he lashed out at me for asking if she was fine, I yanked her out of his clasp and walked her to a cab (but before her head separated from my bosom, she whispered:  “I love you.”  “Of course, you do,” I responded and caressed her jet-black hair.)—

To the beautiful model-esque male creature leaning against a pole, with his eyes, fingers and attention on his Blackberry, who was so obviously in the way of the traffic yet completely oblivious, and who ended up muttering, “Bitch!” after I’ve finally asked him to move—

To the blonde with smeared make-up and breath reeking of stomach acid, who trampled over my feet and dry-humped my hip for finding her misplaced work phone; yet reached for her wine glass as soon as I untangled myself from her long, naked arms—

To the gay kid who decided to amuse his friends by placing a glass of ice against my naked back; and when I yelped and turned around, he luckily stumbled out of the radar of my swinging arm, took on the “I just shat my pants” expression; then grinned and muttered, “Love you?”—

To the gorgeous, tall black goddess in a red dress strategically painted onto her body, with erect nipples the size of cherries confronting every lucky bystander; yet who still found her own beauty insufficient and retracted to the bathroom mirror every seven minutes—

And to all the rest of the restless souls, uncomfortable in solitude, looking for love in all the wrong places:

It shall all get easier, darling children of humanity! With time, the anxiety gets tamed by habit.  The broken heart heals; and after you work out the pattern with mama and papa, hopefully you’ll give a chance to the right person finally worthy of you.  Sex will remain fun and humiliating; but it will get better once you stop apologizing for the non-existent imperfections of your body:  you are indeed beautiful, in health and esteem.  Yes:  There will be more genuine joy, in little things, which won’t be induced by substances or money!  And yes:  It will take work, but peace will soon settle in, I promise.  Just don’t forget to ask for goodness from others—but mostly from yourself—and you shall be glorious!  You.  Are.  Enough.