Tag Archives: West Coast

Too Far

It was the most abhorred sound to the ear:  A combination of pain and anguish, layered on top of a man’s hysteria.  It seemed to have come from down below, from the streets.  Perhaps, not unusual for the streets of Manhattan, but it’s been years since I had left.  I had wanted space — and space I had received.  Miles of it, with dozens of different cities crammed into one.  And the distance between each other was at times too significant to mend with compassion.

“Fucking spoilt!  Some people don’t have anything… (mumble, mumble, hmmmm).  Why are you like this…”  (Here, I thought he called her by her name.)   “YEAH!  YEAH, YOU ARE!  SO FUCKING SPOILT!”

I looked out of the window.  The end of spring hadn’t yet burnt off the green from the hills.  I studied the bits of lawns, visible in between the rooftops of my street.  The next street over had a more monochromatic look to it, with a row of two-storied, eggshell-colored buildings with those thin metallic windowpanes, painted white, only strong enough to withstand the climate of Southern Cal.  The screens of bathroom widows were narrow and dusty.  An Armenian looking woman, with a hairnet stretched over her auburn perm, was unloading the trunk of her son’s SUV, in the uncovered parking spot of the building below.  The son, with one leg on the ground, the other — still under the steering wheel — was staring at the screen of his mobile phone.

“YOU!  YOU!  YOU took all of it!…  (mumble, mumble, pain).  And now, I don’t have a savings account!”  (He must’ve said her name, again).  “I’ve sacrificed everything!  FOR WHAT?!”

The voice of the screaming man appeared to have no effect on the son or the mother, both consumed by their business in the parking lot.  I unlatched the sliding doors of my patio.  The accumulated dust had discolored the doormat underneath my feet.  It felt grainy.  The rains of this past winter had marked the pink, uneven floor with circular stains, with jagged edges.  I should really make a habit of sitting out here more.  But the work!  The work.  It consumed every bit of presence in a day; until half a day’s sunlight passed and my desire to find myself amidst other humans — completely burnt away.  And the slowness of an aware mind would be gone, gone, gone, into the daze of exhaustion.

The man by now was screaming.  Just screaming:

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH.  (Inhale.)   AAAAAGGGGHHHH.  AAAAAGGGGHHHH.”

Angst.  One uninterrupted, unidentifiable sound, leaving a mouth crooked with pain so immense, I imagined, it had to seem impossible to survive.  But he would land on the other end of it, most likely.  Because even if one reached the edge, the threshold, the limit — too far, unthinkable for a human heart — one would have to go on living.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH…”

The mother, who had begun hanging the beige plastic bags onto her bent forearm, like unshapely lanterns, looked up.  She’d heard it too.

“You said, I don’t fucking love you anymore!  YOU!  YOU SAID THAT!  This, morning… (Mumble.  Moan.  Name?)  And then you went to work!”  (A squeeze of empathy made me brace myself.  I had begun disliking detours from my earned tranquility, even if it disguised itself as apathy.)  “Now, you have to live with that!  You said that!  YES!  YES, YOU DID.  And now, you live with it!”

The mother had to have said something to her son; because now, he too looked up.  Unready to confront humanity, I scurried off inside.  Quickly, I slid the door.  It thumped against the frame, too loudly.

I walked along the outer edges of my place.  I learned my ear against each of the four walls.  One of the walls vibrated with another, “AAAAGGGGHHH!”  The sound was happening next door, and I could now make out the words.

“Go try it, Lena!  Go!  Go see for yourself how other people live!”  He looked so young the last time I saw him.  In time, such loss shaves off years.  With most people though — it compiles them.  “But if you think I’m going to walk away in silence…”  His voice cracked then.  He stopped.  I think he broke down.

I stood against the wall.   In a short while, it was a woman that began speaking.  She had been silent until now.  “Mumble, mumble,” I could hear.  “Mumble, mumble, mumble, hmmmm.”

I could remember her:  A tall Russian girl with that particular face that looked majestic in photographs but slightly off in person.  Tall, blonde, blue-eyed and slightly timid, she suffered from an awkwardness in how she moved her body.  I’d met her in the lobby once.  We shared a giggle in an uncomfortable closeness while getting our mail, from our neighboring mailboxes.

“I hearrd,” she finally spoke, “zat you verre Rrussian to.”  Her accent stumped me.  After two decades of living here, I had acquired the arrogance of a native.  She waited for my answer, locked her mailbox and leaned her back against the wall.  Her legs outstretched in front of her, for meters and meters, as it seemed.  And when she saw my sizing up the distances before her, she pulled them back.  Her face blushed with a sheepish smile.

“Yes,” I spoke looking at her lips.  I wanted to decipher how she spoke.  “Yes.  It’s been years though.”

“Oh,” she ran her fingers through the hair behind her ear.  “Verre… um… you frrom?”

This would’ve been the perfect time to switch to our native tongue.

“I am from the West Coast,” I said in my second tongue, catching myself pronouncing things slower, directly to her mouth.  Something was off there, definitely, besides the accent.  I thought it could’ve been the structure of her jaw.

“Oh,” she said again.  “I sought you verre frrom Moscow.  Zat’s verre I’m from.”

“Go, Lena…  Go back home, if you want…”  The man was sobbing now.  Un-peeling myself from the wall, I stood deciding how much space this tragedy demanded.  Too many witnesses increase the shame.

I wondered how many days it would take each of them to find their way back.  Or had they lost the sight of it for good?  When bearings are lost along the way, it’s harder to recover.  I looked out of the window again.  The mother was gone.  So was her son’s SUV.  I sat back down and returned to work.

Threshold

(Continued from April 8th, 2012.)

When she first arrived, the older woman took off her shoes before stepping over the threshold.  Unusually considerate, light in her step, she made her daughter nervous.

There had been superstitions, back in her mother’s country, about thresholds, doorways, windows.  Table tops and chairs.  And they were treated like traditions by the women in her family, as non-negotiable as laws of gravity and just as final.  To never kiss over a threshold.  To never sit upon a tabletop.  To never let an unmarried woman be positioned at a corner seat, while dining.  And with the slew of superstitions came antidotes, just as important to take notice of; so that when things did NOT work out — the victim could be still the one to blame:  You shoulda knocked three times on wood, spit over the left shoulder, and hidden a fig hand in your pocket.  These things would grow on one unconsciousness like barnacles of paranoid behavior.  And in a nation of world-renowned courage, it puzzled her to see so many doubtful people.

And was her mother brave at all, to just pack-up like that and leave?  To move herself with a child to the furthest removed continent, after the death of her husband?  His — was a death by drinking.  She didn’t want to die — by mourning.

And now, both women — tired but not tired enough to not be cautious of each other — seemed to be waiting for something.  Waiting for the other shoe to drop, albeit both of them standing barefoot in the empty kitchen.  In this new country, where everyone was in love with fun and smiley faces, they each would arrive to their shared home and try to force a lightness to descend.  It would be mostly out of habit, and not desire.  Her mother functioned better in these new rules:  “Have fun!”  “God bless!”  “I love you!”  She had no difficulty throwing these around, without taking any time to match their implications to the worth of the recipient.

The younger woman now waited by the sink full of dishes.  After enough silence, while stealing glances at her mother, who floated from one room to another like a trapped moth, the hostess began to rummage through the dirty dishes.

Had mother always colored her hair with that unnatural shade of black, when last she’d seen her, in New York?  The snow white roots came in aggressively, all over mother’s head, opposing the other color with no mercy.  When did she age this much?  When did this fear and sorrow find time to settle on her face?

A paw of pity stroked across the young woman’s tightly wound nerves:

“Mom.  Why don’t you sit down?”  She caught herself:  All furniture was made of boxes, uncouth for a woman with a living husband, according to her mother’s generation.  Before the older woman managed to react, the daughter hid her gaze in forming mounds of soapsuds and hurriedly amended her first offer:  “Mom.  Wouldn’t you like a drink?”

“Yes, please,” the older woman turned on her heels, seemingly delighted.  “White zinfandel?”

“Well.  Um.  I don’t have alcohol.  But would you like some juice?”

“Oh.  Right.”  An eyebrow went up and froze.  “No, thanks.”

She turned and walked away again — floating, balancing, looming — stopped by the sliding doors of the balcony, at the edge of the living-room.  The palm trees slowly swayed outside like metronomes to one’s slower heartbeat.  West, West, West.

She’d gone out West, with nothing but the ghosts checked-in as her luggage.  The letters from her best friend on the East Coast would hit the bottom of the mailbox on a weekly basis, for the first two months.  She praised her for the courage.  She mentioned pride, and dignity, and all the other things they’d mutually gotten high on, back in college.

It never happened in any of the books she’d read, but in her life, what others titled “courage” — was merely an act of following through.  Besides, she swore, he thought of the idea first.  What else was she suppose to do?

The best friend wrote her with gel pens, whose color was always given careful consideration.

She wrote in pink:  “It’s better to let it all go to the wind.”

In purple:  “Let justice work itself out.”

At least, unlike the others, the best friend never judged.  She wasn’t in a habit of taking sides.  She never called the husband names.  But then again, they’d never really found men to be the leading topic of their friendship.  Men merely existed.  Some men were good.  And back in college, the two of them hadn’t loved enough men to speak of the other gender with that scornful nostalgia of the other women.  Men merely existed.  And then:  There was the whole of the magnificent world outside.

 

Out here — out West — she could just start from scratch.  She only needed to remember how to breathe the even breath:  if not that of her calmer youth — then of her wiser self.  With time, she knew she’d see the point of it, the purpose, the lessons of her little losses.  She had too vivid of an imagination to not weave her life into a story.

“One’s life had meaning.  It couldn’t be for forsaken.”  (Oh, how she missed those wonderful convictions of her youth!)

So, while she waited to mature into that wiser self, she set aside some time and space in which the hurting self could flail, abandon graces, wag its finger, then call people back with tearful apologies.  But she would not have to confront her past out here, at least; except for when she opened the envelopes of her phone bills.

“So,” mother started speaking to the window, again.  “Natasha?  Are you looking for a job?”

“I have been looking, yes, mom.”

“Okay,” mom turned around.  Change of subject:  “I hear Mike got a promotion for doing the work on that new bridge, in Brooklyn.”

When rinsing a knife after all pungent foods, one absolutely must use soap.  Because if not, the taste will resonate on every meal for further weeks to come.  

“Oh yeah?  That’s good.”

“Yeah!  He’s a smart boy!  I’ve always liked Mike.  For you.”

It’s better if the handle of the knife is anything but wooden.  Wood stays a living thing forever.  It takes on other substances, breeds them, doesn’t let them go.

Here comes the second round.  Ding, ding, ding:

“I wrote Mike a letter.”  Mom searched for the effects of her intentions on her daughter’s face.  “I know!  I know!  It sounds silly!  We live a borough away.  But I have always relished his opinion.”

She felt exhausted.  “Mom.”

Out West, she’d found herself relearning how to use each thing with an appropriate instrument.  The sense of wonderment!   The love of unexpected beauty!  The curiosity she was resuscitating in herself, like a paralysis patient learning how to walk again.  Her days weren’t daunting, at all times; and they were full of curiosity.

And now:  Mom, barefoot yet armed!   In one woman’s kitchen.  So fearful, she could not release either of them from their pasts.  They stood, displeased with being a reflection of each other.  Another eyebrow arch.  A scoff.  One turned away, demonstratively disappointed.  The other looked down onto her pruned fingers submerged into a sink of cruddy water.

Mom faced the window with no curtains, yet again.  Those horrid, flapping, plastic blinds had been the first thing that Natasha’d taken down.  For the first weeks, she let the wind roam through the apartment, while she, sleepless and exhausted, observed the palm trees wave against the never pitch-black night of her new city:  You are alright.  Remember breathing?

West, West, West.

You still have time.  In your defense.

“Wait in Line, ‘Till Your Time. Ticking Clock. Everyone: STOP!”

Okay.  I cannot do the electronic check-in for my overseas flight.  I find that hard to believe.  But then again, it’s been at least sixteen years since I have left the country, so what do I know?

Fine, then.  Okay.

Get to the airport.  That’s pretty easy.  It’s a day after Christmas, and I ask my driver if he thinks a lot of people are going back to work this morning.

“Most should,” he says.  “But then, again, a lot of people are still off.”  He pauses.  “Of course, I’m always surprised when there is any traffic, on a day like this.”  Another pause:  “But that’s LA for ya!”

There is a layer of pink feather clouds, hanging above LAX.  It’s pretty, in an exhausted sort of way.  A few silver jets sparkle in the sky as they ascend diagonally.  What an ambition of the human spirit!  A civilization is a succession of wills.

I get out at the curb within the first meter of my terminal’s ground.  A giant Lincoln town car attempts to cut me off.

“Just run me ova’, why don’t cha?” I mouth out to its driver with a bluetooth in his ear.  Be it the black, floor-long winter coat or the tightly wound nerves (and both are quite suitable for the Eastern European winter), I suddenly feel every bit like the New Yorker I once was before defecting to this coast.

He sees me, doesn’t as much as wave.

A giant line of exhausted passengers outside — kids in silly Christmas sweaters and adults with wrinkly faces — who are waiting in front of the terminal’s sliding doors is just a small preview of the havoc I’m about to endure inside.  I do not really know on what grounds I’ve previously assumed that just because United has its own terminal, the flow of today’s events would be well practiced and smooth.

The lines inside are hideous.  I find the international portion of the airport and read its awning, “International One Hour Cut-Off.”  Someone’s ought to proofread this company’s syntax.

Breathe.  I still have almost two hours.

I walk over to the Self Check-In Machines.  One carry-on, a winter coat and a laptop.  To lug one’s baggage through life is a hideous choice.  Forgiveness, no matter how hard, is lighter.

“These are for passengers with only one carry-on,” a short woman on a walkie-talkie grumbles and then proceeds her way.

“Yes,” I watch her get back to the talkie.  “I am.  Indeed.  Just that.  M’am.”  She is no longer interested.

“TAP HERE TO BEGIN.”

I do.

“ENTER CONFIRMATION OR E-TICKET NUMBER.”

I find a six-digit combination in my printout.  That should do the trick.

“NO NUMBER FOUND IN THE SYSTEM.”

Okay.  I try another number.   Another random combination on the paper.

“NO NUMBER FOUND IN THE SYSTEM.”

You’ve GOT to be kidding!

Okay, okay, okay.  Stay chill.

With the most mellow smile that I can manage at this hour of sunrise, I approach the first visible uniformed personnel.  And in the background, I suddenly can hear a few hollering infants and some foreign tongues.

I wait my turn, approach the woman.  Explain the situation.

“You have to call?” she tells me in her thick Asian accent.

“Excuse me?”  (Okay.  Be kind.  It’s wiser, lighter.)

“You have to call — the company?”

Oh, fuck it.  I assume my place in line.  The young man in front of me is calm and utterly consumed by his iPad.  On his cart, I see a guitar with a lime-green bandana around the handle and one piece of carry-on.  Like me, he has forgiven.  A couple of hippies with mounts of luggage on their cart are making out ahead.  An Asian couple is demurely standing by and holding the handle of a tiny bag, not deserving to be called “a suitcase”.

“And don’t forget the tag?” the Asian attendant hands me two tongues of paper.  Apparently, she only responds with questions.

“Thanks for your help,” I say.  Mmm-hmm.  I’m glad she’s saved the day with these.

I’ve got less than thirty minutes to make it through this line.  We’re moving slowly.  The grumbling woman with a walkie-talkie reappears.  I notice that underneath her United blazer, she’s wearing a summer dress.  She, right away, begins to create order.

“Sir!  You cannot stand here!” she is demonstrative when speaking to a smartly suited Indian man who, just like me, is carrying no luggage.

“My flight leaves in an hour,” he sings in a way that’s expected from his heritage.  “And your ticket machines are broken!”

Okay!  So, it was NOT just me!  I glance at the now baffled Asian attendant.  It feels a little better to know I’m not a solitary idiot, afraid to ask for help.

“Somebody’s GOT to help us!” the Indian businessman continues singing, as if echoing my thoughts.  “Somebody’s got to do their job!”

“I’m doing mine just fine, sir!” the walkie-talkie woman grumbles and listens into her gargling apparatus.  “Anyone — to Mexico?” she hollers in a moment.

A few timid hands appear above our heads.  Their owners are ushered into the line behind the Indian man.

My check-in finally happens, and it happens exactly an hour before my scheduled flight.  Ivy — the mellow attendant who takes orders from the walkie-talkie woman in a summer dress, before she serves me — has done her job quite quickly (although she does appear to have typed a whole of a dissertation in order to issue my boarding passes.)

And in the next hour, I do remember Ivy gratefully when our entire gate is transferred to another one, where we, again, proceed our wait.  When, finally, we begin boarding:

“As you may have noticed,” a voice comes over the speakers, “we’re experiencing mechanical difficulties.  We’ve dealt with three different mechanics and shall be in the air as soon as we are done with our paperwork.”

Okay.  Stay positive.  Stay grateful and stay kind.  

I have about fifteen minutes to catch my connecting flight.

“It’s NOT Going to Stop. It’s NOT Going to Stop. It’s NOT Going to Stop — ‘Til You Wise Up.”

They said their goodbyes over two cups of soup, in a narrow joint with floors filthy from the slush just outside the door.  Instead of a doormat, the management had placed down sheets of cardboard.  Not a pretty picture, but it was all somehow very… New York.

And the lines of their dialogue did not resemble any tragic love affair from the best of the world’s cinema.  He was civil but not tender, just maintaining a casual conversation.  It had been a chronic anxiety, for her, when others relied on the arrival of tomorrow.  Since childhood, she was silly with her goodbyes, always making room for them.  Just like she did that day:  Insisting on sitting down for it, instead of aimlessly walking through the City that had seen way too many unhappy endings prior to theirs.

She had made a mistake of ordering something that sounded the most exotic, with yellow curry; but then she discovered ground chicken in it.  She was a vegetarian.  To save herself from the embarrassment — in front of him and the tired black woman working the line alone, during the rush of lunch hour — she pretended to eat around the white meat.  Until he noticed it.

“You’ve gotta order something else!” he scoffed; and for the duration of their entire pathetic meal, which they’ve spent fully clothed, in their coats and he — in his hat, her mistake would be enough of a diversion from what was actually happening:  He was leaving, like so many before him; looking for a graceful exit that no longer existed due to his cowardly procrastination.

“Oh, c’mon!” he kept trying to make her the pun of the joke.  “You can’t just eat around the meat!  You can’t keep doing… this thing that you do!”

Bingo!

A few months into the affair, he had begun reminding her of someone else.  That day — on the repeatedly reiterated subject that suddenly so obviously annoyed him — she finally tracked it down:  Someone else had happened to her, in this same City, nearly a decade ago.  Someone else who had no intention of sticking around; who often got shamed of her in public — and in front off much chicer dressed young women, with whom he had to think he had a chance.  Someone else who had hidden her from his family and friends, who pleaded for only private getaways; who gave her slivers of his time — if any — during the holidays.  Someone else who’d made a good use of her youth and sex, but had no courage to end it.

Even back then, in her much younger — less jaded, more innocent — self, she felt something was akimbo.  Not right.  The intuition kept scratching on the ventricles of her heart.  In those days, she wouldn’t call it that:  Intuition.  Not yet.  She needed a few more disastrous repetitions and embarrassing endings — to become more in tune with her self-respect.  But the sensation was already there:  Something wasn’t right.  By the universality of her gender, she knew:  Not right.

Now, a decade older, she still couldn’t name it:  that feeling of not being enough.  Too poor, too orphaned; with not enough stock or family inheritance to her name.  Pretty enough and selfless in bed — that was the only thing that made them last.  But the awareness of that same feeling was beginning to land in the corners of her eyes with a melancholic recognition of the pattern:  He — was leaving.  Maybe not that day, and maybe not even after they would reunite at home, on the other coast.  But eventually.

This trip had to end abruptly for him.  He had to go.  Maybe it could last a little longer:  She could walk him to his town car.  They could grab another drink at their hotel’s bar.  But he would finish his cup of soup — and hers, with the chicken — then hug her outside the door, in the snow, among the locals who, just like their City, had grown indifferent to the sight of all endings.  He would be clumsy, as that earlier someone else, trying to avoid meeting her eyes.  Their height difference made it impossible though, so he would scurry off as soon as he couldn’t help but notice her face:  Heartbroken.

“That’s right, fucker!” she thought of him meanly for the first time.  “You will NEVER forget me!”

What else could she do to repair herself, in that moment — but to gloat in the peacefulness of her lack of guilt?  She had been good, to this someone and the other one.  To so many others, she had been good, or generous at least.  It could’ve all been simplified in their honest communication of intentions.  Instead, they had chosen to drag her along, while offering just enough attention but never too much of it.  They procrastinated past the moment when she would fall in love; they scurry off into the landscapes of her Cities.

And the bloody New York — was still there.  Like a background action shot, fabricated meticulously by a film crew, it continued to happen:  with the never ending honking of cabs and beeping of closing and opening bus doors; with people coming and going — toward their dreams, careers and sex; or running away from love.  Nowhere else did it smell or sound like this.  And even with the strange sensation of something ending — something snapping and curling up to catch a breath — she knew she was still glorious:  Because she loved it — all of it — so much!

“Never, never, never!  You will NEVER forget me!” the City was humming along with her.  And she didn’t even care about the already vague memory of someone leaving her behind, in it.

“I Want to… Thank You, Thank You. Thank You, Thank You.”

If this hour — or weather — were to happen back in LA-LA, I would be the only pedestrian seen for miles.

Well, at least I started off — as a pedestrian.  Having left my dear college comrade hibernating in the cocoon of her comforters inside the generously heated West Village apartment, I stepped out into the frosty morning with that blissful gratitude that came from knowing I had nowhere else to be:  Nowhere but here, in this City that left no human heart unaffected.  Because how ever New York — the Strange Iron and Steel Beauty — came off to others, indifference was never among Her effects.

That morning, I quickly understood:  In this City, I was in the minority.  Time moved relentlessly quicker for all others; and in my aimless, fancy free wandering, I belonged to neither the tourists nor the exhausted locals, who made it a point to survive Her every day.

The street sweeper, who was swinging his broom with enough intention to cause a flurry of broken black ice against my ankles and smoking simultaneously, gave me a queer eye, from underneath his Russian fur hat.  I had just passed him and made the mistake of smiling.

“Where is your coat, girl?” he growled in response, then puffed a visible cloud of nicotine in my face.  Yep, he was Russian alright, and not in the least bit entertained by my getup of a single turtleneck, a little red hat and thin running shoes, with funkily striped ankle socks peaking out of them.

“Can’t run in a coat,” I gleefully shrugged.  I was grinning.

Since when did I become so bouncy?  Back in the days of my aspiring to be a hardcore New Yorker, this Amelie character I was currently channeling would annoy the shit out of me.  But there I was:  Having gotten older, I had managed to also get lighter.  And if there were a single chronic mood of my soul — it would be its certain predisposition for gratitude.

To get my point across to the Russian, I began jogging lightly.  Right foot, left foot…  Ouch!  Ouch!  I hadn’t realized that my feet had gotten frozen in a matter of minutes of my being outside.  Stepping on my toes, as if leaping over tiny puddles, was my new running technique acquired back in Cali.  There, healthy living was merely a science; and I had actually studied it, not for the sake of getting off with others, at juice bars of some fancy, celebrity-ridden gyms of Hollywood — but for the sake of healing.

Fuck!  I didn’t even know I needed it, to tell you the truth, until I finally settled down into the natural flow of the local time, so different from New York’s.  It didn’t gnaw on my nerves and upset my inners.  Nah.  LA-LA had its own stresses and costs to the system, but at least there would be much more time — and space — to be a Self.

“‘Scuse me,” I sang out.  I made sure to smile.

(Seriously:  Who WAS that girl?!)

The bundled-up old woman, dragging her comatose Yorkie through the snow buried flowerbeds, looked back at me.  A thought had no time to form in my head before she granted me the dirties elevator look since the one I earned from a Kardashian lookalike, on my first Hollywood attempt to go clubbing.  (That young one assumed I was rubbing up against her man:  A short and hairy creature in rhinestoned jeans buying her girlfriends a round of pink drinks.  I, however, soaked from dancing my ass off next to the Go-Go Girls, was just leaning over the bar to ask for some water:  A request hated by the bartenders all around the world (but hated a little less than when I requested a cup of coffee).)

Upon my “‘Scuse me?”, not even a centimeter did the old woman move over.  Here, time and space had to be fought for; and considering she had to, most likely, persevere through mortal hell in order to own her rent-controlled apartment in Washington Square — the woman was highly unlikely to budge for my sake.

By that point, I could feel neither my toes nor my hands.  Still, it would take a lot more than a couple of dirty or simply baffled looks from the locals to snap me out of my grateful mood.

“Just look at this, would you?!” I kept thinking.

The perfectly aligned, naked and black with wetness trees were covered with sticky snow.  The skies were arguing with its fluffy clouds on whether to grant us some sun or snow that day.  The skeletons of Christmas trees littered an occasional side of the road, but the smell of trash and sewers had been put on hold until the next warmer front.

Left foot, right foot…  Right:  Ouch! ouch!  The black asphalt underneath my feet was sparkling with shards of ice.  Leaping over the tiny puddles and seemingly fallen down stars, off I went:  Navigating the seemingly different City unlike my former self claimed would have done.

But which one of us had changed more?

My every rhythmical exhale resulted in a visible cloud.  I was hardly the only pedestrian, but definitely the only runner seen for miles.  It was my new way of exploring new lands:  Right foot, then left.  Flying.  Slowing down only to zigzag in between the baffled, sleepy or plain disgruntled locals.

Grateful.

Right, left.  Right…

Yes:  Definitely grateful!

“Here Comes the Sun, Little Darlin’. Here — Comes the Sun.”

The hospital walls were the color of…

I don’t know.  How does anybody ever manage to remember the color of these walls?

One of the walls appears missing entirely:  Instead it is taken up by a giant window, with a hideous air-conditioning unit directly underneath it.  They don’t build windows like that on the East Coast.  Everything must be larger in the West: More land, wider roads; bigger closets and endless windows — windows from which we gaze upon the same vast land and highways that carry us along the coast, to and away from love, in a never-ending act of our indecisiveness about solitude.

In Vermont, there are houses with porches and hammocks; and in those houses, the window are unhinged, then flung open, into the idillic streets, best colored during Indian Summer.  In Maine, the window panes collect moisture, balancing out the difference between the temperatures with precipitation and moss.  In New York, one can always find a jammed window, or a broken one; and often, there is some lever one must work, in order to let in some fresh air.

I’m staring out of the giant hole in the wall, with sliding glass, into the desolate desert landscape with gray domes of industrial buildings and rare traffic.  I can see the packed parking lot of the hospital on the ground floor, and judging by the way people leap out of their cars, once they find a spot, I can tell the status of their beloved’s health.  The worst cases pull up directly to the curb.  Others choose to ride in an ambulance.

I see the disheveled head of a woman clutching a baby blanket being helped out of the red swinging doors.  She is being lifted by two men in uniforms; and once on the ground, one of them must remind her how to walk.

I look away:  Dear God!  I think I’m starting to run out of prayers.

On the horizon — gray mountains.  They are always gray, on this side, and only in the deepest winter do their peaks adopt a different shade:  of stark-white snow.  I think of the East, again.  The mountains aren’t mountains out there:  They’re hills.

Everything must be larger, in the West. And I’m one of those travelers, speeding along its wider roads, in a never-ending act of my indecisiveness about solitude:  chasing, then running away from love — then, coming back for more.

The beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine brings me back into the room.  I am alone here.  Well, no:  She is here too.  But I’m not sure if her Here is in the same vicinity as mine.  The doctors have managed to bring her back from wherever that is a broken heart takes its victims:  They have struggled to bring her back Here, through a series of shots and shocks and tricks of the trade.

So, now she is back Here; but I know her Here — is nowhere near.  It’s a different space entirely — a different Here where I, despite my conflicts with love, do not yet wish to be.

The doctors have spoken of Hope.

“Here is still some,” they say; and because they don’t avert their eyes, I wonder how many times they’ve had to say this — just today.

And how are they going to say it again to the disheveled mother who’s forgotten how to walk?

I come up to her bed.  Her skin is ashen.  I’ve never seen this color on the living before:  It’s yellowish-blue, sickly and wax-like.  It juxtaposes against all other shades with defeated sadness.  So, the fuchsia pink of her pedicured toenails peaking out from under the sheet loses all vividness.  The acrylic nails on her fingers, of the same shade, now have an appearance of props.

I remember she used to snap them against each other, when laughing herself to tears while telling a joke.  She was good at jokes.  And in my memory, that hollow sound of snapping nails has come to mean her good moods.

The beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine brings me back into the room:  Again!  It reminds me of the rhythm her broken heart is forced to take on, in order to stay Here.  Is this — the sound of Hope?  This slow, mathematically precise beat of an intelligent machine that, despite its act of mercy, does not possess the sensitivity to understand?

Her body has left this Here:  The Here of the Living!  She doesn’t want to be Here, anymore!  And it is a terrible thought; and I cannot bring myself to say it out loud, in front the drooping face of her mourning husband.

I stand by her bed and study her face.  It’s not peaceful, as my useless novels have promised.  She looks perplexed, and I find myself fixated on the faded outline of her lipstick.  I want to wipe it off for her:  She would have wanted dignity, while — and if — she is still Here.  She is a woman with no heartbeat but perfectly manicured nails.  I think of paging the nurse.

The tubes, running to and from her wrists, fascinate me with their width.  I follow them with their eyes, up to the beep-beep-beep of the life-support machine.  I study the monitor.

What was I looking for?

I return to her face, looking for answers.  A tiny tear, that has formed at an outer corner of her right eye, begins crawling across her temple.

“Are you here?” I whisper and grab her hand.

But I have never felt that temperature on the living before.

Not Here.

“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.

“I’m Coming Home, I’m Coming Home. Tell the World: I’m Coming Home.”

“Why don’t you live in San Francisco?” he asked me yesternight, in awe at my mismatch to this other city, where both of us were currently living.

He had done that before, this measuring me against a city — any city.  It used to be Boston.  Or anywhere else, really, on the East Coast or by the Black Sea.  Anywhere but this other city, where both of us were currently living.

“You’re just so displaced here.”  And yes, he had said that before as well:  judging me as if I were a story he was thinking of rewriting.  “So… Why don’t you?!”

“Because angels still claim to live around HERE,” I brushed him off, back then and yesternight.  That too I had done before, always with a deprecating tone, mostly at my own expense.

“It’s like London — on crack, up there!  It’s perfect!” he carried on.  Youth.

Easily impressionable regardless his worldliness, my wondrous child had just returned from that tilted situation up north, where I tend to run away whenever in dire need to reboot.

My New Yorkers hate on it though:

“San Francisco?  Pah-lease!  It’s no better than New York!  Come home!”

They’re right:  There is nothing like that island of my youth.  Nothing in the world!  There is no stranger nonsense, no meaner beauty; no humanity more brutal or heartbreaking.

But New York can carry on without me:  She is a stunner used to runway heels and bouquets catapulted to her feet from great distances — all for the sake of her fleeting love.  She wears bras adorned with gemstones; lacy slips for midnight strolls, and nothing but pearls for when she soaks her tired feet in her bathtub.

And yes, we had our fun, She and I.  But it’s my life’s religion to never compete with another woman.  So:  I had let her win.  I had let her have it.  And I had left her, for this other city where angels still claim to take residence.

But yesternight, my wondrous child was getting carried away: “No wonder they call it ‘The City’!”

I love it when he gets like this:  when he stops shielding himself with his strained compassion, or with his habit to disarm me with praise.  And only after all that fuss does he step into himself a little better.  I keep convincing him that in his wondrous child-like-ness, he is — the most beautiful.  But then, how else is he going to learn to be a man unless he tries on his manhood as if it were a collection of dapper hats on a rack in the corner of some vintage shop, somewhere in a city very much like San Francisco?

“They call it ‘The City’ to set an example:  THAT’S how one does a city!” he was so excited, my wondrous child.  “It’s an etalon, yes?”

Ah, youth.

The last time, I ventured up to “The City,” I had made plans to meet up there with a companion.  It had been his idea, way back when.  It had to be, for I am too selfish about that tilted situation up north; too selfish to share it.  Because I go up there to reboot, to run away:  So, it’s my thing, you see?  It’s my secret place.  My secrets’ place:  It’s a place that keeps my secrets, my heartbreaks, my cravings for change — safe.

My intuition was right:  Sharing it — would turn out to be a silly idea.  For my companion and me, it would be the last stretch of bliss because something would get tilted off its axis soon thereafter — soon after that tilted situation up north — and I would be left dashing in between our memories as something to either regret or to hold onto; to store away into forgetfulness or to let go.  (Oh, I wished he hadn’t marked my city.)

But “The City” would keep my new secrets safe.

“It’s just that there is so much money up there!” my wondrous child was bringing me back again.  “It’s paved — with money.  And everything is so clean, and new, and… well, perfect!”

He had only seen one side of her.  To me, She is a handsome, middle-aged heiress.  Born into privilege, She had made a choice that only the privileged can make:  To fill her life with content, She would dedicate her money to good causes, like compassion and forgiveness and praise.  There would still be plenty of comfort and easy access in her life.  But the uneasiness would go away every time She would give shelter to the broken hearts that, just like me, would run away to her — to reboot.  Some would accept her graces immediately — and stay.  Others would get hooked and continue to come back until going away would make no further sense.

But then again:  She is such a hippie, that one!  Shrouded in earthy smells of mildew and perpetual fog, sweat and essence oils, incense, weed and baker’s yeast, She examines human struggles over tea.  And She smiles with an insight that everything would workout any way.  And She speaks in a husky voice, with a deprecating tone, mostly at her own expense.  Perhaps, it’s because She has keep too many secrets safe, for way too many runaways.  For way too many broken hearts.

She is my city.  My secret place:  She is the city that keeps my secrets — safe.

She is not the city of my youth:  She is the city that won’t tell on my mistakes that I had committed back then, in youth.

She is not the city of my youth, but She is willing to give shelter to my future.

“We should go there, together!” my wondrous child was bringing me back again, yesternight.  “Have you been?”

Hmm.  Youth.

No.  She is NOT the city of my youth.  She is “The City” — of my forgiveness.

“Do Your Thing — Like There Ain’t Nothin’ To It!”

“How do you never run out of things to say?”

My comrades ask me that, quite a lot, these days; and most of the time, they follow-up with their ready theories:

“You’re just so disciplined!”

“Maybe this means you’ve found your calling.”

“But you’ve never done anything half-assed-ly!”

And then, the voice of my most beloved soul that has witnessed my hustle from the East Coast, for over a decade, resonated on the phone last night:

V!  You’ve never procrastinated!  Not even in college.”

Damn it!  Well, today, you just watch me:  I’m gonna do some serious procrastinating, as if I have nothing to say indeed.

It’s an experiment that rings true considering my feet are so swollen from my weekend’s work, they’d look better on a cartoon character (or on the Michelin Man, if he were drawn barefooted).  For the last few morns, it’s been a slow start.  My sleep has been dreamless, so I find no material there.  And once awoken, I’ve been opening my shades to cloudless, clear skies outside.  So, even the weather can’t justify my proneness to heavy pontification today:  Oh, it’s summer alright!  No doubt about it.

As for the little break-up related chaoses of the last two months, they have quietly slipped out.  Finally.  Yes, there had to be a lot of work — and so much agony! — with all that self-searching in the name of growth, and lessons, and my future, better relationship.  (Lord, Shiva!  It was starting to feel so excessive.)  The Zen peeps say all human misery originates from a refusal to recognize the impermanence of things — a refusal to surrender, to let go. 

And if it weren’t for the previous break-up related chaoses, I could’ve carried on like this for years:  with this love, coming and leaving the affair, then cradling my misery as if it were my lovechild.  Holding on.  Refusing to let go.  But no!  Not this time around.  Yes, it took me a while to acknowledge my partner’s decision to quit; but once I heard it:  Oh, it was over alright!  No doubt about it.  (But then again, I hear I’ve never done anything half-assed-ly; and that must include my new ability to let go.  To surrender.)

So, you see:  I have no readily available material this morn.  So, you just watch me:  I’m gonna do some serious procrastinating!

Here comes — my morning coffee!  It’s the first thing I’ve done every day of my adult life:  Turn on whatever device is going to deliver my wake-up elixir.  It could be preceded by the whistling of a tea kettle or the laboriously percolating of my rusty drip machine; but the smell that follows is enough make me want to start.  Start what?  ANYTHING.

So, is that it then?  Is that why I never run out of things to say:  Because despite the losses and the regrets, the suffering and the unpredictable strife ahead — I adore the very act of living? Because I’m not done yet, with any of it:  art, craft; love, worship, discovery; friendship, camaraderie, motherhood?  And because it is a quality of my own motha’s spirit:  to be in awe with every activity, however new or habitual?

Armed with my chipped Starbucks cup containing about a liter of caffeine, I proceed to my laptop.  First stop:  The New York Times.  I roam, I skim through, click away.  I proceed to the NY Region section, linger on this summer’s production of Shakespeare in the Park.  I can already hear it:  The sounds of that City poorly absorbed by the man-made strip of nature running through its middle.  I surrender to the feeling of immediate gratitude:  for having lived in so many places; for having lived so much and so well.  So, is that it then?  Is that why I never run out things to say?

The side column is flooded with editorials on this weekend’s Gay Pride Parade.  The photographs of those well lived-in faces — bohemians and lovers, subversives and revolutionaries, and local leaders — they all seem so different this time.  Yes, there is still joy and flamboyancy, and utter emotional freedom.  But I cannot ignore those who are tearful or hysterically relieved.  I roam through the pictures of the same sex couples, some with their children, all looking like they’ve all suddenly learned to let go.  Yep, New York has done it again:  It stepped up to the plate and despite its relatively small territory, it gave its people enough room for their dignity.  Oh, it’s New York alright!  No doubt about it.

I pour myself the second liter of coffee and proceed to my books, spread all over my joint and in different stages of being read, yet equally marked-up.  Here is Junot Diaz, both of his bestsellers on my desk.  Like me, he is bi-cultural; speaks fluently in two languages — and irony.  He is badass, you can tell; has lived a lot, and well; learned some serious letting go.  Zadie is right underneath him, but oh so equal.  She is funny and brown, always good to flip through.  A master of dialects, she is so far ahead of me — so worthy of my worship!  But in our empathy, we are equal.  In my bedroom, I find my favorite Manhattanite, Tony Kushner, and his shit never gets old.  Or maybe, I’m in the mood for some melancholy:  I wander into the living-room and find some Lorrie Moore, on the floor, near the balcony.  I park my coffee, get lost.

And is that it then:  Is that why I never run out things to say?  Because there is still too much to read, to learn; because others have not procrastinated from speaking?  They speak in different voices — some in awe, others in surrender — and in that likeness and difference, I can always find inspiration. 

Or is it because we are all so equal, in our love for the human race?  Because we dwell in the very act of living — anti-procrastinating — none of us running out of things to say? 

Still, you’ve just watched me doing some serious procrastinating.  I did that!  And how did I do?

Yesterday… All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away…

Glorious morning to you, my most beautiful creatures.  You hearts beloved by me or someone else, but still:  beloved!  My exploring Doras and Little Princes, who sooner or later have had to grow-up — fall out of love with roses and sheep — but oh how I pray have never grown out of your childlike curiosity.  “You princes of Maine… you kings of New England.”  You bohemians and gypsies whose eyesight has been humbled by the size of the world, but whose souls expanded across the universe.  You decent beings, with daily acts of courageous living:

How I wish for your world to be ever-so kind!  How stubbornly I hope that there is enough love in your lives to give space to your mournings and strife — and to resurrect and heal you at the end, every single time!  As trials and tribulations of humanity affect you via headlines or, more directly, via personal tragedies, I know your souls can summon the grace you didn’t know you possessed — and your hearts can prove to be resilient.  There shall be more forgiveness, if you want it — I promise.  And there shall always be more love!

This morning, I woke up thinking of my goddaughter.  Three time zones away from my spoiling hand (and wallet), she is quickly growing-up on the opposite coast, where over a decade ago, I chose to grow-up myself.  There, at my college, is where I met her mother — my best friend.  My total BFF!  My “dudette” and confidant.  The Sister of My Heart.  The woman of unbeatable grace, and of spirituality so disciplined, I have yet to find someone to measure up to it.  It is her love — and the love of her family — that has replaced this gypsy’s lack of homeland or home.  Seemingly forever — or for as long as my ever lasts on this planet — I shall continue coming back to that love, after every insignificant defeat; and every single of my tiny victories, I shall stubbornly dedicate to her.

Ten years ago, we were inseparable.  Oh how many endless, pontificating walks we taken back then, along the campus of our all-women’s college!  (Yep, I was of those naive feminists back then; and thank Shiva, I haven’t grown out of it!)  And oh how many human emotions we thought we could deconstruct to a complete understanding, while en route to pick-up some Chinese food!  The stories we’ve collected and retold, one brown mouth to another’s brown ear (or pen to paper and fingertips to a key board) — they are infinite!  In a group of fellow writers and nerds, we dominated the office of the college newspaper, staying up past enough sunrises that even the campus security gave-up on hoarding us back to our dorms.  (Oh, we were official!  The Midnight Moths, they called us.  And we demanded to be reckoned with!)

When the academic year of 2001 began, my schedule was overloaded with journalism classes while BFF was quickly becoming a computer wiz.  When the news of a plane crashing into a Manhattan building popped-up in the corner of my computer monitor taken up by a QuarkXpress tutorial, I shrugged it off as just another freak accident which any self-respecting New Yorker should be able to take in stride.  (And that’s exactly what I decided to be then:  A New Yorker –with internships and friendships in the City, and a quickly developing sense of style, identity and womanhood.)

But then — there came another hit…

In that room, chairs were shuffled in panic.  Somewhere, in the back, a classmate broke down.  Recently returned from California, I was wearing too summery of an outfit; and as further headlines floated up onto my computer screen, I fiddled with the belt of my wraparound skirt.  And then, there was the face of my teacher — the mentor to my aspiring journalism career — and that face was paralyzed by a lack of any comprehension or adult composure.  I think she was about to cry.  What was happening? 

No way, was I sticking around!  I was out!  The first to leave the classroom, not at all interested in the consequences, I went looking for my BFF.  If only I could find her, I thought, the world would not dare to fall apart on us.

I found her.  On a staircase where we’ve watched marathons of Will and Grace and Peter Jennnings during our Christmas decorating stunts.  I’m sure she’s seen me demonstrate some very embarrassing, sleep-deprived behaviors on those same stairs.  But that day, my girl just sat there.  Silent.  Stunned, I fiddled with my belt:  In our now decade-long friendship, that morning — would be the only time I would see her cry.  And her face!  It seemed I would never forgive the world for that face!  For not until that day — and not since — have I seen her resemble a little girl.

She is a mother now.  A mother to my goddaughter.  Always inseparable, even in this experience, my girl has granted me the privilege to live vicariously — with her.  And as I watch the face of her daughter (via BFF’s disciplined acts of photojournalism on Facebook), I wonder about the world that she is about to experience.

Thankfully, that kiddo is never easily entertained.  Perpetually, her face looks like that of a philosopher or a writer — and she makes this Russian mama ever so proud!  (I am pretty sure that if ever I am to experience my own motherhood, my child will turn out to be one of those goofy, grinning munchkins — just so that I myself learn to lighten up a bit.)  With my breath stolen by that little brown face, I am waiting for her to start talking.  What will she say?  How will she comprehend the world still filled with misery and misunderstanding which I haven’t been able to fix for her?  Where will I find the wisdom to teach her that despite the daily testaments to some terrible human behavior, she shouldn’t fear — but inherit the life of grace and love from her magnificent mother?  What will happen to us all?  How will I shield her?  How will I endure witnessing the loss of her innocence?…

Oh, hush a bye, my little darling heart!

For love has not expired.  It will never expire — if we choose.  I shall show you what your mama has taught me:  That no matter the acts of disappointing human behavior, love strives — still!  We may be no longer innocent, but hopefully ever-so wise; wise enough to know that love — is the universal homecoming for us all.

So, hush, my little darling.  Hush, my little darlings.  

Hush.