Tag Archives: past

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.

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.

“I Told You: I Was Trouble. You Know That I [Was] No Good.”

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“You.”

“‘You’ who?”

You, silly.  It’s you — but from a decade ago.  A memory of you reiterated by someone else (who’s always claimed to have his own interpretation of you).  The evidence from the past that you weren’t too proud of, to begin with.

Here it is, you!  The ghost of you, desperately trying to keep your head above the water, with no parental guidance or a homeland to which you could go back.  (Not that you’d want to, though:  Those bridges have been burnt, their ashes — buried with your hind legs.)

You, talking yourself out of an encyclopedia of uncertainties and doubts, every morning; wishing to be someone else — anyone but you! — then blackmailing your gods for any type of a new delusion to lap up.

You, clutching onto love — any love, how ever selfish or unworthy — just so that you could feel an occasional liberation from the drudgery of life.

This is exactly why I’ve learned to not stay in close contact with my exes:  I rarely enjoy a stroll down the memory lane.  Shoot, I don’t even like a drive by through that lane’s neighborhood, while going at ninety miles an hour.

Because I’d rather think of it this way:

“It happened, thank you very much.  But I don’t ever want for it to happen — again.  I myself — don’t want to happen.  I repeat:  NEVER again.”

But ‘tis the season; and somehow, despite my good behavior this year, a single message from a former love has managed to slip in — and it appeared on my screen.  He has been reading my fiction, he says, and has a few objections to it.  And could he, he wonders, tell his story:  He wants to contribute.  He, as before, has his own interpretation he’d like to share.

And could I, he says, write about something else:  Like good memories?  Remember those?  Because what he remembers of you — is sometimes good.  So, he, he says, would like to see you in that light.

“‘You’?  ‘You’ who?  ‘You’ — me?”

Me don’t have much to brag about, in my past.  Me is humbly grateful for her former opportunities, but the opportunities of mine now — are so much better!

And me has fucked-up plenty.  (Don’t YOU remember?  You — were there.)  But then again, isn’t what one’s youth is for:  To live and learn?  Well.  Me — has done plenty of that.  And as for the suggested good memories, if it’s up to me (‘cause it is MY fucking fiction, after all!) — me would much rather remember the mistakes, just so that me don’t ever repeat them again.

Normally, in the vacuum of my blissful isolation from my exes, I do sometimes think of me — but now.  The current me:  The one that has survived.  The one with enough intelligence and humility to summon her fuck-ups and to make something out of them (like knowing better than to repeat them).

And so, behold:  A better me.

A kinder and more mellow me.  The me who knows how to get a grip, when to summon her patience; and also the me who knows how to let go.  Me who allows for her time to have its natural flow, who knows how to free fall into the tumbling, passing, speeding minutes of her life with gratitude and ease.

The ME who’s finally proud to be — her:  The HER who knows how to live.

Like any woman that I’ve known, in my life, I wonder about aging.  What will I look like, after the decline begins?  Will I be kind enough to not compete with youth?  Will I be loved enough to never fear the loss of tautness of my skin or breasts?

And when occasionally I panic at the discovery of a gray hair or a previously unwitnessed wrinkle, I bicker at my own reflection and I begin to research remedies.  Nothing too invasive, but something with a bit more help.

But NEVER — I repeat:  no, never! — do I, for a second, wish to be the younger me, again.  It happened already — I happened — thank you very much. But I am good with never happening again.

I’d much rather want to be her:  The current me.  The one who’s loved, respected and adored and who knows how to accept it, for a change.  The one who gives her kindness, but only until she starts losing the sight of herself.  And then, she’s smart enough to stop.

She who refuses to give up her younger self’s beliefs in the general goodness of people, still; but who is too wise to not give up on those who do not know how to be good to themselves.

She is fantastic, and ME is very proud — to be HER.

“She’s So… (Insert Guitar) HEA-VAAAAAAAAY!”

Don’t dwell on the past.

In so many words, my comrades have been telling me that, for ages.

They wait for me at the agreed-upon intersections in San Francisco, at New York delis, or at coffee shops — when in LA-LA.  Some hear me speeding by, in search of parking, while simultaneously texting them:  “b there in a min.”  They watch me march into a joint, with my hair pulled back.  (Unless traveling long distances up the coast, with all the windows rolled down, I keep that mane tamed at all costs.)  I walk into my rendezvous, smiling at the clerks and saying hello to strangers; then, I scan the room for my beloveds.

I see them and immediately move in for a hug:

“It’s been so long.  So happy to see you.  Ah.”

I wrap myself with their bodies: I am not big on personal spaces between beloveds.

And when that’s all done, I start dumping my loads onto the nearby chairs, peeling off my purses and sweaters.  I’m the type of a broad who carries a first-aid kit at the bottom of her endless bag.  A nail file.  A pair of scissors.  A tampon (always!).  A dozen hairpins.  And a sewing kit:  Never know when you may need one.  And you bet your sweet ass, I have a notebook somewhere in there, as well.  I just have to look for it.

“Well, maybe I left it in the car.”

I don’t even own one of those dainty purses I see other girls carry on their forearms into clubs.  Those things always make me wonder about the gap between the purpose they’re meant to represent and their actual functionality.  It’s a metaphor gone awry.  A promise meant to be disappointing.

But then again, the lesser the load — the lighter the female, right?

Perhaps.  But I doubt it.

In my defense, with time — with age — I’ve gotten significantly lighter, it seems.  It wasn’t a determined decision to drop the endless self-flagellation ceremonies of my 20s.  Instead, they just sort of slipped out of my daily routines; giving room to more decisiveness or to very tired surrender.  Having realized I’m merely an impossible debater to defeat, I stay out of arguments — with myself.

And so, I’ve gotten significantly lighter.  And so have my baggages.

I flop into the chair, across from the face I have now loved for ages, and I let down my mane:

“Ah.  Can I get you something to drink?”

It’s a habit that just won’t go away:

I examine the needs of my beloveds before I check up on my own.

But they’re fine.  My people — are always fine.  They are resilient.  Strong and competent, never helpless.  And even if they’re not fine — that’s fine too; because if ever they ask me for help, I never go telling on them.  And neither do I ever mention it again.

“Seriously.  Don’t mention it.  My honor!” I say, as if threatening.

Love comes with no ties attached.

We begin to talk:  A quick game of catching up with the lapsed time.  A survival of our separations.  If it were up to me, I would have all of my beloveds live with me in a commune:  Some Victorian house balancing on a cliff above the ocean, with a menu of attics and basements, and hiding places for their selection.  And at night, we would gather at a giant wooden table in the middle of an orchard, and we would search our oversized bags — and baggages — for nighttime stories and lovely fairytales about surrender.

But my people — are vagabonds and gypsies; and they go off to conquer their dreams, and to defeat their fears, on the way.

After enough is said to make me want to have a drink or to toast, I finally get up from the chair and start making my way to the counter, smiling at the clerk, again.  In a couple of steps though, I look back, flip my mane and say:

“Sure you don’t want anything?”

Equipped with replenishing elixirs and an item in place of bread that we can break together, I come back to the table, rummage through my purse for a napkin and jumpstart the next round of storytelling.  And I guarantee, most of the time, these are stories of broken loves and departed lovers.

But my people are fine, of course.  They are resilient.  Carefully, they process their losses; and they start dreaming of the next adventure.  The next love.  The next story.

“I’ll drink to that,” I say and tip my mane back while chugging down my drink.

When it’s my turn, however, my stories don’t come out with an obvious ending.  Instead, they offer endless lessons and questions.  For years, for decades, I have been known to mourn my lovers.  I flip each story on its head; and as if yet another endless bag of mine, I rummage through it for details and conclusions.

And that’s when my comrades try to put an end to it:

“Don’t dwell on the past,” they say, and they go to the counter for a refill.

I don’t really know what that means:

None of my stories are ever put to rest.  And neither are my loves.

Instead, they bounce around, at the bottom of my endless baggage, waiting to be pulled out the next time I am in the midst of rummaging for words.  Which must be why I retell each tale so many times, committing it to my own memory and to the memory of my beloveds.

So, dwelling on the past:  I don’t really mind that, as long as I don’t dwell in it. And in my defense, I have gotten lighter, with time, and with age.  And so have my baggages.

“I Can Be Your Hero, Baby” — Nyet.

My dad — is not Superman.

I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone conversation that I have been committing to Motha Russia for the last few years.  It’s the least I could do, I always thought:  to take the initiative in maintaining this long distance relationship that had affected every romantic choice in my own biography.  Because dad was the man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.  So, da:  It was the least I could do.

As someone with the burden of having left her beloveds behind, with the guilt of exceeding her parents’ lifestyle — survivor’s guilt — I have been dialing an endless line-up of numbers every Sunday (by the Russian clocks):  My Prodigal Sundays.  And after a while, I’ve given up on premeditating the concepts of these phone calls:  For they never turn out to be redemptive, or even philosophical.

“Hello, what’s new?” I would ask, every time, surprising myself with how mundane I could be despite my lists of questions about my heritage, my character, my past.

“Nothing,” dad would answer, echoing the matter-of-factness of it all.

(It’s offensively insane if you think about it, really:  After more than a decade of separation, you would think beloveds could concern themselves with anything other than gas prices (for me) and bread prices (for him).  It must be why, then, I had always found fiction to be more perfectly narrated than life.)

But then on the other hand, my dad was Superman.  For years, he seemed immune to suffering.  Between the stoic nature I myself tap into sometimes, in my own character, and the military training of his lifetime career, he never vented, never sought faults; never passed a judgement on the humans he had vowed to protect.  So, I’ve had the audacity to assume he was stronger than the rest of us, capable and tough.  Because that matched the picture of the first man with whom I was blindly in love, for the first two decades of my life.

Dad always stood so tall, with his stereotypical Eastern European features juxtaposing my own (that I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).  But it was height that I insisted on remembering the most, never measuring him against other men.  There had to be other humans larger than dad’s slim stature, so well hidden underneath the boxy cut of the Soviet Army uniform.  Just by the mere fact that, for centuries, Motha Russian was famed for repeatedly spitting out giants out of her national vagina — there had to be humans taller than my dad.  But no, not from my perspective!  Not from where I stood — not from where I looked up, in my blinded worship of him, for the first two decades of my life — never growing past my own 5 feet in height (a feature I had inherited from the brown, stocky brand of my motha’s side).

And he would be the best of them all.  Always the highest ranking officer in every room, he would be granted the respect pro bono.  So, how do you stand next to a man that gets saluted before even being spoken to, giving him a complete command over the course of the words that would follow?  How do measure yourself against someone addressed by his title rather than his name?  I tell you how:  You fall in love with him, blindly, for decades getting stuck at measuring your own romantic choices against Superman.  

We could be on an errand trip to the nearest city — my Superman and I — standing in line at an ice-cream kiosk, when a stranger in civilian clothes would salute my tallest man in the world.  Beautiful women (for centuries, Motha Russia was famed for spitting those out of her national vagina as well — in galore) would blush and adjust their hair when father marched past them.  (For the rest of his life, he would never surrender that manner of stepping — as if on a chronic conquest:  A man on a mission to protect the human race.)  And even the harshest of them all — the bitterly disappointed veterans on the benches of Moscow’s parks or the fattened-up, unhappy female secretaries at my lyceum’s administration — they too would melt a little in the esteemed company of my dad, making life seem much easier to navigate than when amidst the stocky, brown brand of my mother’s side.

Oh, how I wish I could’ve dwelled in this blind worship of him, for the rest of my life.  But the romantic choices in my own biography — a biography that had happened during the period of separation from my dad, now nearly equaling in length as the first two decades — they have began to catch up with me.  And as I continue to fall out of my loves, I begin landing in truth about the very first man with whom I was once so blindly in love.

“And yes, you do mythologize your men,” a man, not as tall as my father, had told me the other day.

And da, herein lies the pattern:  Willingly, blindly, I fall in love, worshiping each new romantic choice, pro bono.  And when he doesn’t measure against my personal Superman, I fall out of it, quite disappointed but never surprised.  For no man can live up to my mythical expectations — not even the Superman that had started them, back in the first two decades of my life.

And nyet, my dad — is not Superman.  I just found that out, last night, during one of our weekly phone calls on a typical Prodigal Sunday (by the Russian clocks).

Because, “I’m just a man,” he told me, refusing to echo the matter-of-factness of it all.  “And it’s time for you — to give up on me.”

“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.

Pardon You?!

Dear Ex-Whatevers:

I’ve had you on my ego’s mind lately.  Blame it on the current era of my life in which I’ve finally stepped up to my self-copyrighted standards and reached for what I’ve deserved all along; but my ego’s little trip these days is to be witnessed by those that have tripped me up before.

“See!  I’m still walking!” it wants to throw over the shoulder at those I’ve left behind.

While I was never the one to lack dreams, these days I’ve finally harnessed the courage to get me to them.  Although the manifestations of success are still audible primarily to me — there are no manuscripts published yet, no dream jobs to speak of, no gypsy journeys committed around the world to reunite with my heritage — but oh how close I am to becoming what I was always supposed to be!  (The bitchy irony here, of course, is that my lacks, my insufficiencies were self-manufactured all throughout.  I am the reason I’ve slowed down before.  I am the one to trip myself up.)

“See:  Still standing!” my ego wishes to telegraph to the past players who had no comprehension, patience, or — let’s just be honest here! — acceptance for the girl I was always becoming.

But why?!

“Why the hell are you dwelling on the fuckers?” the stronger, wiser girls of mine bitch-slap my slower Self who, truth be told, can be a real sucker.

They are correct:  The memories of the past losses — and the last asses — tend to slow down my step.  But there is “a method to my madness,” I realize:  FORGIVENESS.  Fucking forgiveness!  The bitch is high-maintenance, isn’t it?!  One can earn herself bloody blisters and very high bills from her shrink when chasing it.  Forgiveness demands work, and it is the type of work that comes with no owner’s manual.  It is only between you and you; and despite your girlfriend’s or mother’s endless advice, only you can do the heavy lifting of brutal honesty and self-knowledge.

But what even I didn’t comprehend, despite the three decades of fucking around and being fucked with — is that forgiveness is a bloody chameleon.  Not only does forgiveness vary depending on its owner and that owner’s past; not only does it take an encyclopedia of diverse methods to access — but it changes along with you. If, immediately after the loss, it feels right to be angry while maintaining a distance between you and the wrongdoer — then, at that moment, that is all forgiveness is meant to be.  After months of copying, it may change to a feeling of lightness (and maybe an occasional nausea at the sound of your ex’s name) — then, that is forgiveness at that moment.  For some, eliminating all contact with an ex is the way to go; and that little imaginary death is their way.  I always aspired to be the fuckin’ Mother Teresa with my ex-fuckers — tending to our friendships for the sake of the lessons, and the stories, and the blah-blah-blah.  No matter how idiotic it appeared to my girls, that — was my forgiveness.

Oh sure, I wish I were the type of a girl to let Beyonce simplify my emotional baggage via her lyrics of arrogant feminism or angry regret:

“And keep talking that mess, that’s fine!

But could you walk and talk at the same time?!”

Uhm-hmm:  to the left, to the left!

But you see, though, my comrades:  I like digging through the mess for answers — sometimes doubled over because the pain has taken the wind out of me — and get my hands nice ‘n’ dirty.  I’m more of a Nina Simone gal:  well lived-in, well-used, wrathful, self-sufficient and little bit insane; writing her lyrics with a nose-bleed and a foaming mouth:

“I hold no grudge

And I forgive you your mistakes.

But forgive me if I take it all to heart

And make sure it doesn’t start again.”

But alas!  Here is a little “aha” moment for V, as of very recently:  Despite the ego’s desire to be witnessed by those whose mistakes have gotten me here — I want no part of them. For a change, I’ve lost all desire to carry the baggage.  Can’t I just check it in somewhere?!  Yes, I can:  on my bloody pages!  Commemorating my exes on the blank canvases of my own is my way of honoring them; and I may even feel a pinch of gratitude for those tales of defeat — but that, my dear ex-whatevers, my fuckin’ ghosts, is as far as we go.  I’ll let the ego telegraph my successes when the unconscious is activated at nighttime, behind my closed eyelids; but those smoke signals shall be the only ones sent your undeserving way.

So, take it away, Nina:

“I’m the kind of people

You can hurt once in a while.

But crawling — just ain’t my style:”