Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In living some things are just broken, and therefore own their own beauty.

I am happier with you now that we’re broken.  Or maybe I should say that I’m not afraid to be happy with you now that we’re broken.  Now the happiness is easy, unabashed, unrestrained and everything because there is nothing else left to be.  Being whole, unbroken, notyetbroken, terrified me.  I felt like we could be anything and the possibilities were beautiful but maddening.  So I waited for the break.  My heart clenched in anticipation until it cramped and hurt, and then it hurt so much and for so long that I forgot that I was doing it to myself.  I looked for where the break would come from.  I looked for weaknesses in what was us – nights when we preferred to eat too much Mexican food and fall asleep by 9p.m. instead of having sex, times when my job made me cry and you didn’t respond to my texts.  I looked for what would do it and in looking for how we’d break, I did it.  I do it.  I break things.  I broke us.  And you always knew I would.  Remember?  I do it for all the typical, predictable, Annie Hall dysfunctional reasons.  I do it for one or two reasons that are almost right.  I do it because I like seeing our insides.  I like seeing the sinew, guts, and muscle we were made of.  I like hearing what our suffering sounds like – sometimes it sounds like a joke I tell to make you laugh, sometimes it sounds like your laugh.  Most of all, I like that now that we’re broken, we can’t break.  

*"In living some things are just broken, and therefore own their own beauty." Quote from Jenny Boully's essay, "One Love Affair."

Monday, September 16, 2013

The World in Your Hands

When I was little my father built me a swing set; my mother built me a dollhouse.  When I grew up, I built my happiness with my own two hands.
My parents have the hands of small town, hardworking, Midwesterners.  Where their skin is not calloused, it is still rough and dry.  My mother’s hands are not pretty.  They’re big and sturdy, almost industrious.  When I was very young she was a sculptor, using her big hands to mold clay into the shape of other people’s faces and the clay would wedge itself up under her fingernails and even in the rough life lines of her palms.  My father’s hands were the strong and steady kind that held hammers and saws, the kind that turned wood into walls and plans into foundations.
I have a writer’s hands.  The thumb, index and middle finger of my right hand are slightly calloused from how I hold my pen and on Sunday evenings my hands are almost always speckled with blue ink.  I have been told I have lovely hands.  My grandmother used to compliment my long, slender fingers.  Strangers admire the manicure that I do myself at home every week.  My hands are not strong.  The joints are sometimes swollen and even when they aren’t, it’s difficult for me to hold anything very tightly.  On certain days it hurts to bend my right ring finger, which is stiff and crooked because my little brother jumped on it and broke it when I was nine.  But the stiffly curved bone is perfect for holding in place my great grandmother’s engagement ring that my mother gave me before I moved to New York.
At the bar on Friday night, I was surprised when you and I slipped into and then out of a kiss and you placed your hand over mine and curled your fingers between my fingers as we both turned to smile at our friends.  I reciprocated your gesture by lightly squeezing your hand and you squeezed mine back like were telling a secret that we could never say with words.
You have beautiful hands.  They’re big enough to almost hide mine beneath them.  And they seem strong enough for almost anything.  But I don’t think they’ve ever held a hammer.  Your hands are the softest I’ve ever felt.  I asked you once if you lotion them.  You don’t.  You’re just lucky. 
I remember looking at your hands instead of your face as a taxi sped us up Park Avenue one night in early June.  We were having one of our silliest fights that at the time had broken my heart, but now I think was product of a love that was so big it was unprecedented and confusing for both of us.  I was trying to explain to you that I would rather do things the hard way than sacrifice my independence.  I said I didn’t have a lot in life, but I had my ability to be self-sufficient and I was proud of that.  You shouted that you hated how independent I was and that you hated that I needed to be.  And I was crying because I thought you didn’t understand me – couldn’t understand me.  I am a lot more than a woman from a middle class, Midwestern, small town and my life in New York is probably practically incomprehensible to my parents but I realize now that it matters what I come from.  I am proud of building a life for myself with nothing but my own hands and stubborn ambition.  I think you can understand that.
When I was very little I liked the Sunday school song about a god who holds the whole world in his hands.  I always pictured hands like my parents’ – big and sturdy, steady and industrious – cupped around the green and blue picture of Earth that hung on my kindergarten classroom wall.  Now I picture your hands holding the Manhattan skyline.  My world has changed.  

First Person Plural

And just like that, we slipped into present tense.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

the more I seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out, the further I move away from it

His fingers moved up and down along the ridge of my spine, tenderly tracing its slightly curved path from the indent just above my leggings to the pink lace of my bra and then back down.  I thought of the book If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino.  “It’s a story about two people who chase good stories until they become one themselves.” That was what someone had said to me once, and what I had said to him, and what he already knew.  I thought about the line about lovers reading each other’s bodies; it’s a nonlinear narrative but a direction can be recognized in it.  Is the direction towards an end, or towards a hope of recovering time?  I had liked him in part because he was obstinately youthful, with his smile he waged a battle against growing up and with him I joined the fight.  His skin was smooth and warm beneath my palms as I read the slope of him.  His kisses were good enough not to want to rush through to an end.  And I didn’t.  Like a reader afraid to start a story because then the story would begin to end, I hovered between the beginning before the beginning and a point just after, when fiction plays with possibilities and nonfiction proves stranger.  

*The title of this post is taken from a passage in Italo Calvino's novel, If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Don't you think that's sexy?

It was an ugly scene, the place that had been our favorite restaurant, turned into a more than half-empty bar at 2a.m. on a Saturday night.  Just being part of it hurt, but I felt that anything else would hurt more and it was the only bar in the neighborhood that was still open and not packed with twenty-something men drinking bottles of Miller Light.  And I needed a martini.  That much I had been sure of since I got off the subway.  I found martinis lovely and comforting and this time I planned on using one or two to wash my lips after a particular bad kiss, bad date, and all-around bad idea that I had thought would be a good idea because I thought that the person who dates first after a break-up must be the person who wins the heartbreak-resilience competition. 
The only other woman at the bar was a slightly chubby, blonde woman in her late-twenties.  Her red tank top was too short and too tight and her mascara was already smeared.  She hung on the arm of man seated to my right.  I heard her ask him if he was going to take her back to his place as I sipped my martini.  And I noticed the man’s friend eyeing me, so I looked into the rippling gin of my martini.  Then my gaze drifted down to my feet and I noticed that the heels of one of my shoes had broken.  I adjusted my feet beneath the barstool to hide my foot with the broken heel.
The bartender asked me what brought me there.  “Bad date,” I replied.  He was blonde and looked about forty.  “Can I ask what made it bad?” he inquired, leaning towards me over the bar.
It was a good question and he was the only person was going to ask me that night anyways, so I tried to think of an answer.  Really, it had been a fine date.  My date and I had a decent amount of things in common and I could tell he had found me quite charming.  That had been part of the problem.  I didn’t like how easily he fell for my practiced brand of quirky intellectual flirting that I trusted to be appealing when combined with my particular looks.  My former boyfriend had told me once that I had a body that was “built for sex,” which was an awful thing to say but I knew what he meant.  So there was all of that.  And there was also my date’s badly fitting blue jeans and the fact that he didn’t understand why I wasn’t happy with my job.  In fact, my corporate unhappiness seemed to conflict with his worldview, which in turn conflicted greatly with my own. 
“His lips were too small,” I told the bartender. 
The bartender looked surprised.
“They were thin and pukery.  And his hands were too boney when he touched me,” I continued.  “It was awful and he just kept kissing me.  He didn’t even notice that I wasn’t kissing him back.” 
“So there was no chemistry,” the bartender surmised.
I nodded but I felt it was worse than that.  And I should have known all along that it would be.  The night I had first met my date, I had still had a boyfriend, the man who would later be my bad date told me then that he thought I was sexy.  I don’t know precisely why, but I’ve always preferred to be thought of as interesting or beautiful, maybe.  Sexy doesn’t seem like a real compliment, it it’s left at just that.  To me, it just means, “You’re someone I’d like to have sex with,” which really says more about the person bestowing the faux-compliment than it does about the person receiving it.
I sipped my martini.  The blonde woman at the bar squealed as a new song came through the speakers overhead.  She began pulling on the arm of the man beside her, trying to get him to dance.  I took another sip.
The same night I had met him, the man who would later still become my bad date, had sat down beside me at another bar and told me it been a year since he had last had sex.  He had looked at me expectantly.  I didn’t say anything.  Then he added, “I hope you didn’t think I was being too forward when I told you I thought you were sexy.  You just looked like you wanted me to talk to you.”
I hadn’t.  I had been texting my boyfriend and half-wishing he had joined me on that evening out with my friends.  But I had looked across the shared group table at this man from time to time over the course of the evening because he seemed left out of the conversation and I had felt bad for him, so I had decided to flash him a smile to be nice – and also because I knew that my hair looked particularly good that night.
The man who had been with the blonde left the bar and she drifted over to the seat beside me as if hoping to commiserate.  Her heavy make-up looked even more smeared up close and she seemed inherently lonely.  I moved over so that an extra seat separated me from her.  Soon a bulging, balding, older man sat down on the other side of her.  She immediately wrapped her arms around his neck and then turned towards me, pointing at my martini.  “Don’t you think that’s sexy?” she asked him.  He looked at me and nodded.  I stared into my martini.  I wanted to leave or, better yet, to be someone who would not have ended up alone in a place like that on a Saturday night.
“Will you buy me one?” she asked him, stroking his cheek.
He leaned into her and I heard them discussing in just slightly lowered tones what she would give him in return.  She giggled.
I finished my drink and immediately a fresh one was placed in front of me.  “It’s from the Irish gentleman,” the bartender told me, gesturing with a slight nod of his head to the only other person left at the bar. 
The Irish man came toward me and slid into the seat beside me.  He looked middle-aged the way men who work with their hands all day in the sun look middle-aged.  He looked like my father.  His skin was wrinkled and weather worn.  Yet time and hard work seemed to have just made him tougher and more sure of himself.  He introduced himself as Raymond and I obliged the small talk the ensued because he had bought me the drink -- and mainly because I probably been about to order another one anyways. 
The bulging man asked the bartender to make the blonde woman whatever I was drinking, but with extra olives.  The blonde woman careened her body over the bar, her breasts nearly escaping her tank top.  “Can I have like a whole bowl of olives? Do you have bowls?”  The bartender didn’t respond but I watched him pull a small bowl out from under the counter.  He then poured half a jar of olives into it.
Her request for olives endeared her to me.  I too love olives.  When I was little I used to eat whole jars of them at a time.  People used to say it was cute.
The bartender handed her the martini and the bowl of olives and she exclaimed happily as she slid onto the bulging man’s lap.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” Raymond asked me. 
I was too depressed to make something up. “Nothing,” I replied.
Raymond leaned his tanned, hardened face towards mine, “Not if you wake up with me in your bed.”
I swallowed the tight knot of sickness and despair that had formed in the back of my throat.  Then I smiled at him politely as I said, “I’m going to be waking up alone tomorrow.  I have a lot of writing to do.”
He nodded and insisted that I take his phone number.  I watched the blonde woman kiss the bulging man and I assured myself that I was okay because at least I wasn’t that bad. 
I was finishing my drink when they left the bar together.  I waited the amount of time I estimated it would take the two of them to walk a couple blocks before I left the bar as well.
I made it up three of the four flights of stairs to my apartment before I sat down on the steps and cried.

But that was July.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Make War

I saw my heart on a TV screen in the emergency room once.  I was surprised to see it wasn’t heart shaped; it was fist shaped.  Maybe that’s why I love like I’m fighting for something.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

When the magnolias bloomed

He and I played friendship and love and sex and even compassion like it was a child's game of Red Light/Green Light and if we got too close one of us would accuse the other of misunderstanding the rules of the game.  Maybe it was mostly about sex but sex is never just about sex.  Sex is about power and intimacy and the fear of and need for both.  Sex is about love and hate too.  In this case, it might have been about being two people who didn’t like themselves very much and each almost loving the other for it.  And, in the end, when I drank too much gin and told him I loved him, what I meant was that I loved that he had never asked me to be anyone I wasn’t.  Regardless of what I meant, I broke the rules of the game.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Now I go home alone

The summer’s heat still lingered in the midnight air of the first day of September as I walked alone to the subway station that we had drunkenly floated into on so many occasions.  As I looked around at the many young and noisy groups of friends and couples, I was struck by the easy freedom of going home alone.  For a moment I considered walking awhile through the streets of the Lower East Side, just because I could.  But then I thought about you and about what had been us.  I remembered holding hands as we stumbled, laughing and kissing, down the street.  I remembered ripping a button off your winter coat when I clutched it to keep my balance as I flailed myself dramatically in front of you, shouting something about love and adventure and not wanting to grow up.  And then I remembered dropping onto your bed and nestling together beneath the sheets.  Sometimes the whiskey or the tequila would cause our skin to burn with a half-asleep need to enact a quick, familiar scene of touch and movement.  Other times we would fall asleep almost instantly, our bodies cradling each other in a comfortable exhaustion.  I slept better those nights than I ever sleep alone. 

Word Association

He said plodding and I saw your smile.  He talked about the way she held her spoon and I felt you in the curve of me.  His voice broke with the pronoun her.  I broke with the pronoun that is always on my mind: you.