Tag Archives: waiting

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.

“We Were Born Before the Wind.”

It seemed like she was waiting for someone.  By the bench, at the top of a hilly lawn, the bottom of which met with the narrow gravelly passage occupied by the late morning joggers, she stood there, barely noticed by others.  An iron railing stretched on the other side of the path, and the bright blue waters of Monterey Bay seemed calm.  A forest of boat masts kept swaying in their metronome rhythm.  They clanked against each other with the hollow sound of empty water buckets or rusty church bells.  The shallow waters by the shore were navigated by a couple of paddle boarders and glossy baby seals.

Was it her beloved heading home?  Or was this just a mid-stop where she’d regroup for the next glorious flight of her freedom loving soul?  She stood like she belonged to no one — but the call of her nature, immune to the voices of fear or doubt.

The Northbound wind frolicked with her straight white hair.  I didn’t expect to see that texture on her body, but when I saw the handful of silky strands fly up on the side of her head, I stopped.  She remained motionless:  still and proud, slowly scanning the horizon with her focused eyes.

Just a few meters down, I myself had rested by a statue of a woman.  I couldn’t tell how long ago I had left my room without having a preplanned route through this small town by the Bay; for I myself had come here to rest in the unlikely lack of my own expectations — my fears, worries and doubts — and I had let the movements of the sun determine my activities that day.  So in its highest zenith, I departed from the four walls of my inn after the laughter of children — hyper way too early and fearlessly attacking the nearby pool — woke me up.

I began to run slowly at first, crossing through the traffic of drivers used to the unpredictable characters of pedestrians.  Not once did I resort to my city habits of negotiation by scowls or passive-aggressive gestures.  I bypassed the elders slowly walking, in groups, along the streets of boutique stores with hand-written signs for Christmas sales.  The smell of caffeine and caramel popcorn would trail behind young couples on their romantic getaways.  The joggers of the town were few and far between; so when I reached the narrow passage of the tree alley along the shoreline, I picked up my pace.

The wind kept playing with my fly-aways and untangling my tight hair bun.  A couple of times I turned my head in the direction of its flow and saw the mirage outlines of my most favorite Northern City.

“By the time I get there, I shall be free of fear,” I always think but then return to the predetermined pacing of my dreams.

I noticed the statue’s back at first:  A colonial dress peaked out from underneath a cape, and both were captured in the midst of their obedience to the same Northbound wind.

“A statue of a woman.  That’s a rarity.”

And I walked up to her.

It seemed like she was waiting for someone. Up from the pedestal, she focused her gaze on the horizon.  Her face was calm but gripped by prayer.  I knew that face:  It belonged to a lover who trusted that the wind would bring him back to her, unscathed.  And even if he were injured on his odyssey or tempted by another woman’s feasts, she trusted he would learn and be all the better for it, in the end.  Against her shoulder, she was leaning a wooden cross made of tree branches.

Santa Rosalia:  The Italian saint of fishermen.  She froze, in stone, in a perpetual state of beholding for other women’s men.  Throughout centuries, so many freedom-loving souls must have departed under her watch, and I could only hope that most of them returned.  But when the sea would claim them, did other women come here to confront her or to collect the final tales of their men dying fear-free?

I walked while thinking of her face.  And then, I saw the other awaiting creature.

When she began to walk downhill, she’d test the ground with each step.  With a balletic grace she’d stop at times, and study the horizon.  The wind began to tease her silky hair.  It took figure eight routes in between her legs, and taunted her to fly.

And so she did:  On a single rougher swoosh of the wind, she stretched her giant stork-white wings, gained height and began to soar, Northbound and fear-free.

“And She’s Never Seen with Pin Curls in Her Hair.”

It would take her years to process the truth.  Not the truth of the last moment:  Her, weeping at the airport into the shoulder seam of a man’s sweatshirt.  She was upping the ante, that day.  Making the ultimate bet, the win of which — would be her staying.  (At least, she thought that was the win she’d wanted, at that last moment.)

And it was not the truth that he had been feeding her for years.  No, not his truth:  The truth that he begged her to accept, just so that he could buy himself more time.  So that he could continue to have it both ways.  Both women.

But how much more time could a man need?  He had already taken six years out of her life.  Six years out of her youth — and out of her better self.

When they first met, she still had a cherubic face:  The same face he would’ve seen had he expressed an interest in seeing photos of her younger self.  Her better self:  The self before the sans six years had happened.  It would’ve foretold the face of their firstborn, if he were to have any courage to follow through with the affair.

But then, perhaps, it was not a question of courage.  It was quite possible that the matter narrowed down to the initial intention.  Down, down went the spiral, to the root of the matter.  On every loop, their faces changed.  Their characters changed slightly, altered by each other:  And that was the only way she could expect to matter, in the end.  In the truth of that last moment, and beyond.  After six years, she would have changed a man.  She had happened to him.  And after her happening, he had to have changed.

She failed to change him for the better.  She couldn’t as much as change his mind to make her life — his first choice.  For the duration of the affair, she would remain the back-up; the retreat in which he hid when things weren’t well at home.  She would remain a fantasy.  The Other Woman:  The one that fabricated her own calendar, rescheduled her holidays and channeled each day toward the brief line-up of hours when she would see him; then, dismiss the rest.  The one that pressured herself into better housekeeping, into whipping up gourmet meals and shaping her body into the best he could have had.  His life’s first choice.

In literature, women like her were despised.  They were often written mean, or needy; with serious daddy issues.  Complete head cases, in films these women went berserk; and they would do the unthinkable things that later justified their suffering.  They were insecure, although often very beautiful.  Their puffy faces waited by the door on Christmas, and by the phone on birthdays.  They were the back-ups, forever waiting for arrivals.  They fed themselves on leftovers of loves.  The paupers.  The self-imposed outcasts.  And their faces — sans the years that their lovers took out of their better selves — were the faces she never hoped to see in the reflection of closed store fronts, by which she, too, had waited all these years.

“A bright girl!” she had been called before.  A bit naive, perhaps, but not an idiot.  But it would take her years:  because she wanted to believe that she was good enough to change his mind.  Good enough to deserve love.

Up, up went the spiral, up to the clarity of truth.  Not the truth that she had wanted to believe so desperately.  Not the truth that may have been actual, when the lovers were intertwined:  In those moments, he may have loved her; but no more than he loved himself.  He too had to be thinking that he deserved love, that he deserved to have it both ways.  That he deserved — both women.

The truth was to be found in the initial intention:  The root of the matter.  He never wanted her for keeps.  An adventure, an escape from the dissatisfactions of his chosen life.  In his chosen wife.  That was the matter:  He felt he deserved the comforts of the chosen wife and the fantasy — of the Other Woman.  He deserved both.

The problem was:  She was a good woman.  A good girl.  “A bright one”.  And to protect himself from the guilt, he had to tarnish her.  So, he would leave it up to her — to make the choice to stay.  To be the back-up.  He left it in her hands to keep on waiting, while he continued — to come back.

And he would have kept going until she lost the memory of her better self and would become that woman:  that Other Woman, with puffy-faced reflections and reconstructed calendars.  The pauper.  The disregarded.

She would have lost her self-respect, and how could anyone respect a girl like that?  So, he wouldn’t.  He left it in her hands — to destroy her better self.  And that would always justify his choice of the chosen wife.

But in the truth of that last moment, she upped the ante:  He could either have her better self — or whatever was left of her, after the sans six years — or no self of hers at all.  She left him to his chosen life.

And in that last truth, the only person who deserved compassion (because she still would not receive his better love) — was the man’s Chosen Wife.

But hers — was a whole another story:

Of yet Another Woman.

“Didn’t You Know I Was Waiting on You?”

Waiting rooms:  They are like fishing ponds where most amateurs lack the patience to get the goods.

But I know!  I know, now, how to wait for long enough to pull out a story or two.  Didn’t used to know.  Before, I would join the others in their absentminded flipping through tattered magazines, often donated by some overzealous patient; other times — and in more expensive offices — subscribed to, by the M.D. himself.  And in any office offering free consultations, I would be stuck with a three-fold brochure.  I mean:  Somebody, wake me when they call my name.  I’ll be waiting.

In my immigrant life, I’ve had to do a lot of it:  Waiting.  Waiting for someone’s approval, which would theoretically make me feel better, in the end; except that I would be so exhausted — from the legwork, from not knowing any shortcuts, and from all that fucking waiting! — that I would feel calm, instead.  And grateful:  to be outside, among the rest of the living — no longer among the waiting; freed from the bolted down chairs and the white lights, and all that waiting to hear my name.

From some offices, I would leave with a referral to someone else’s; and with a sense of nagging anxiety, I would want to procrastinate at following through; because there would certainly be more fucking waiting:  Waiting for a number, waiting for a signature, waiting for a stamp; for an opinion, a verdict, an approval.  Waiting for to be considered legal for work, legit for travel.  Waiting for a “Go-Ahead, You’re-Good-Enough — For-Now.”  Waiting.

(I think another immigrant has written a novel called Waiting.  I hated that thing:  Couldn’t wait to finish it.)

These days, I’ve gotten much better at it.  Perhaps, it’s because after years of waiting for the waiting to cease, I’ve realized, it’s a part of life.  Maybe, it’s not a part of everybody’s life — but it is definitely a part of mine.

So, I think, maybe, I’ve surrendered to it.  Finally.  And maybe, despite my chronic impatience toward the crawl of clock hands, I have accepted that when the only activity is to wait — time is, suddenly, in my hands.  And maybe, after finding a dream for which I am best suited, I’ve been made privy to an insight that every event and every person could be a part of it — a particle of a story, waiting to be told.  So, I am not really waiting these days:  but waiting it out.  Like a female sniper.  A fisherwoman.  A crocodile hunter.  You get the point.

In one such waiting room, I found myself the other day, watching a couple of medical assistants entertain each other out of boredom.  Assistant No. 1 appeared to be joyless, and when I had checked-in with her at the counter, she seemed immune to any of my forced niceness or my feigned interest in her occupation:

“Busy day for you today, eh?”

(I am usually a charmer with people in her position:  Sure, she is someone not expected to grant me the sought service; but she could fuck my shit up so seriously, it would cost me more waiting.  No joke!)

“Fill this out,” she said, slipping half a page under her window, “and take a seat!”  (‘Scuse me, Nurse Ratched!  ‘Scuse me — for existing.)

Assistant No. 2 — was more to my liking:  A flamboyant, disarmingly chubby young man, he was quite good at making sarcastic remarks at the expense of whatever patient’s file was being pulled up on his outdated computer screen.  Occasionally, he would demand the attention from Assistant No. 1:

“Now!  Would you look — at this?!”

Assistant No. 1 would smile, but her commentary would be so eviscerating, I would make a mental note to stay out of her way, for the rest of the day.  Or, for the rest of my life, really.  But Assistant No. 2 would appear tickled to no end.  Perhaps, like the rest of us, he was sick of waiting out his life next to people like his joyless colleague; so, he chose to do it with some humor and a thicker skin.

I carried on pretending that my self-purchased issue of Vogue was so captivating, it had to be possess the secret to my own life on its pages.  But truth be told, I can’t read, while waiting:  I’m too distracted by humanity.  I would rather be writing down some obscure thoughts into a journal, but that always attracts attention.  And I would get carried away too, writing fast enough to set my pen on fire; and wouldn’t notice some nosy creature, looming at least a foot above me while deciphering my scribbles over my shoulder.  So:  Vogue it is, in waiting rooms.  While waiting.

After twenty minutes, the waiting finally got interesting:  Assistant No. 1 decided to come out with the tale of her failed love story.  It seemed she had been waiting to vent — waiting to be asked about her horrid mood, about her suffering.  And once the floodgates opened, every soul in the waiting room was made aware of her grief.

Off she went:

“He was, like, ‘I’m just not ready’.  So, I was, like:  ‘Forget YOU!’”

“NO!” Assistant No. 2 chimed in, perhaps, a bit too empathetically, while staring ahead at his screen.  “Men!  So typical!”

That sliver of empathy was enough for Assistant No. 1 to carry on:  “I mean:  Good luck to him!  I’m so over it,” she said and swung her chair back to face the counter.

“Good for you!”  Seemingly, Assistant No. 2 was all about it.  But he did linger for a minute, then said:

“But, um…  Did you really love him?”

Ooh.  Interesting.  Certainly more interesting than my very captivating issue of Vogue.  I looked up:  Assistant No. 1 looked contorted:

“Ugh!” she exhaled and swung that chair around, again.  “Whatever do you mean?!”

“I mean:  Don’t you hate it how, in the end, you find yourself in love with some better version of the person than he actually is?” said Assistant No. 2, stumping Assistant No. 1 — and the rest of us, listening in.  “In the end, you just want to say, ‘But don’t you know how much better I’ve imagined you?  Can’t you just change to match my fantasy?  I’m willing to wait.’”

“Well, then!” I thought, “That — was worth the wait.”

And having waited out for long enough to get the story, I started setting my pen on fire against the pages of Vogue, while waiting to hear my name.