Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Dialogue

She tried to leave this morning. She woke up in his bed at 8 a.m., climbed over him in the darkness, got dressed, washed her face, gargled with his mouthwash to avoid the furry teeth feeling that she hates, then went into his room to find her lip gloss and to drink some water, with every intention of slipping out. She stood by the side of the bed, right near his pillow, drinking, because that’s where the glass was. Maybe part of her wished he would wake. As she drank, she contemplated waking him -- should she kiss him good bye and lie to him that she’d see him later? Or should she just go? Go and let him wonder where she was? Go and let him wonder, and don’t ever come back?

She thought, this is the perfect opportunity to leave and never come back. All this mess of feelings and yearnings and sadness, all this mess of love. She could just close the book on him. She’d never have to tell him what was going on in her head that morning, never have to ‘flesh out’ all the bad things that were eating away at her, like, why didn’t you invite me to your sister‘s birthday party, was it because you didn’t really want me to go, because you didn’t really want to introduce me to your sister, even when you said you did, and why were the sheets on your bed all crumpled like you had had sex in them recently even though I haven’t been over since Sunday, and why is it that sometimes I look at you and I have no idea who you are? If she had left just then, without waking him, she would never have to trouble him with that discussion, would never have to really figure out what was going on in her own head and in her heart and actually formulate full sentences for another human being to understand or be upset by. She’d never have to speak, if she left. Now. Not ever explain her very real feelings in this ‘trial’ relationship that would, without fail, end. Soon. With luck, perhaps today.

She is the horse that rears at the first sign of trouble. Rears, shrieks and runs.

Unfortunately for her, the rest of humanity, the course of human history, and her own, he awoke. He opened his eyes, reached for her, kissed her bare thigh. “Where you goin’, J? Are you leavin’?” he said, through the heaviness of sleep. Her heart skipped, then cowered in its cage.

“I just feel like I should.”
He paused to wake, and then understood.
“Come 'ere, stupid.”
“No, I really think I should go.”
“You’re not going anywhere. Come here, lie down next to me.”

Reluctant, she curled up beside him in the space between his outstretched arm and his chest. “Tell me what’s going through your head.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes. You’re not leaving until you tell me what’s happening. Then you can go.”
“But that’s why I’m leaving - so I don’t have to talk about it.”
“If you’re leaving because you have to work something out for you, then that’s fine. I understand it and I respect it. But if you’re leaving because you need to work something out that has anything to do with me, then you have to stay and talk to me about it."
She stared at his left nipple. Bit her lip.
"In fact, I think it would be good for you to be forced to hang out with me for the rest of the day.”
“The rest of the day??”
“Yes. The rest of the day. Punishment for trying to leave early in the morning without saying good-bye.”

He took her hand. His hands were always warm and dry and just slightly rough, like he’d been working outside with trees. She noticed now that they felt like her father’s hands, and maybe that meant something weird or secret or hidden, but still, his hands comforted her. They tell her she is being held by a strong man.

“So? Tell me.”
“Tell me.”
“You’re not leaving until you tell me.”
More silence.
“Jesus Christ, J, how am I supposed to figure this out if you don’t talk?”

She sat up. Glared at him. Made little fists with her hands and curled her mouth into a pout. Sent him looks of death.

“J, you can leave if you have to, but I promise you‘ll regret it.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why not.”
“Because I don’t want to talk about it.”

But then, maybe she did. Maybe she had to. “I don’t want to talk about how I feel like a burden to you when you’re supposed to be figuring your shit out and having fun and doing whatever the hell you want to. Or how you should just be carefree and you shouldn’t have somebody like me weighing you down.”

Her jaw tensed. “I don’t want to talk about how I am constantly wondering where you are and what you’re doing and who you’re with and worrying about why we’re not connecting and whether we’ll ever connect again and I don’t want to burden you with this... this having to talk about shit when you’re not supposed to have to deal with it. That’s what I don’t want to talk about and that’s why I’m leaving, because its my shit, not yours.” She started to stand but he pulled her down, down to his chest, where her head always finds a comfortable place to rest, and he wrapped his arm around her neck.

“J.” He petted her head. “You’re not a burden at all. I want to be here with you. If I didn’t want to, I would’ve said something. There are times when I've told you that I need my own time, that I need space. But I‘ve been honest with you every step of the way.”

Her feet squirmed. But her cheek was on his bare skin, which was smooth and cool and so she couldn’t lift herself away from it.

“There are times when we don’t connect. But when we do, it's incredible." He paused, as if carefully choosing his next words. "And J, you’re kinda young when it comes to this ’love’ stuff. I bet you’ve gotten really good at running away. And you’re probably not used to having a guy sit through this with you, but I’m not going anywhere. I’m just here, observing and enjoying you.”

She sat up again and looked him straight in the eye. This was the crux of it, this thing she was about to say. This was the live or die moment. Surely once she said this he would throw her out and not want to have anything to do with her ever again.

“There are times when I look at you and I think I don’t know you at all.”

He didn‘t flinch. Her heart sank - he seemed perfectly unfazed. “You never know anyone, J. It takes a lifetime. You’ll be sitting next to your wife of ten years at dinner and all of a sudden she’ll say something about how she and her friends had been in an orgy together so many years ago and you’ll say, 'gaddamnit I didn’t know that. Hell, we’d better have one tonight.'”

She giggled. He stared at her with his clear blue eyes. His mouth looked hard. “You learn a person, J, you learn all the time. One minute you think you know somebody and the next minute they turn around and they’re completely different or they’ve changed in some drastic way and it's not always for the better. But you just observe and let it happen, because that’s what people do. They change. And you have to let them do that.”

He gave her hand a wiggle. “Stick around a little longer and just let it be. Stop freakin’ out.”

She couldn’t look at him. It was too much to be told these things. Her heart, beating in its little cage, knew the door was open should it want to escape, but it was utterly incapable of taking that step.

She breathed a long, deep breath and settled in to his body, lying so solidly next to hers. Perhaps she is the horse that rears at the first sign of trouble, but eventually even horses stop rearing.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Boys' Club

I remember that last summer in yellow – not a sunny yellow, but the pale yellow of twilight. It’s the yellow of a Nuprin commercial, where the background is mostly black and white. It’s a jaundiced yellow - one that says there is something inescapable looming in the distance.

I was seven and had two friends: my brother and the neighborhood kid that lived down the street, Patrick H. Since my two best friends were boys, we spent many a free afternoon doing boy things outside: played with Matchbox cars, staged massive ninja fights, threw Frisbees, pretended we were perishing in a swamp of boiling hot lava, poured salt on slugs… It never occurred to me that other little girls had girl best friends or how that might be different. The few girl friends I had were not half as exciting as my big brother and Patrick H.

Patrick lived in a small house with his parents and a Dalmatian called Lucky. His attic was haunted – I knew, and feared. Across the street from Pat’s was a three-story white house with fake geese in the yard, the residents of which no one had ever seen. The only evidence that it was inhabited came to us from a window on the top floor which overlooked our yard. Awakened by our hooting and hollering, a hand occasionally emerged from the darkness within to separate the white curtains hanging in the window. The burn of invisible eyes peering down on us from above was enough to provoke a quick retreat to the house, even if the only thing to do was watch the Love Shack video on MTV.

The three of us passed most of the time at our house. This was in part because of Patrick’s haunted attic. It was also due to his proximity to the white house with fake geese which, I swear, moved when you weren’t looking. Since we lived at the end of Dow Street, we also had a paved, open turnaround for a driveway. The turnaround: a vast, deserted track for the Bicycle Grand Prix (training wheels permitted, to my utter relief).

One especially hot summer day, Patrick suggested that we turn the Bicycle Grand Prix into a new game. Patrick was older and towered over both of us so it made sense that he made up the games (although Boiling Hot Lava sprung from my brother’s brilliance). I regarded Patrick with the awe one reserves for celebrities: he was, after all, a middle-schooler and I, a mere mortal in the 3rd grade, armed with over-sized pink glasses and an eye-patch. I remember desperately seeking Patrick’s approval. Mostly, however, I just felt left out from the Boy’s Club of which I was both an Integral Member and Founder.

According to Patrick, Spit Wars went like this: ride as fast as humanly possible without crashing and as soon as your opponents are in view, hawk the biggest loogy imaginable on your opponent. By the end of the game, whoever is wettest loses. I was intrigued – the genius!

The pavement was hot and gummy beneath our bike tires. I gripped the handlebars of my pink Huffy. Its tassels began to sway in the wind as I peddled. My training wheels clicked on the road, then spun in midair on the release. We drove in circles, picking up speed second by whirring second. Now with training wheels barely grazing the ground, the scenery blurred to a frenetic green, the pink smear of my bike tassels horizontal in the wind. I saw Patrick approaching in the distance, eyes focused on me. A duel was coming my way, and fast. I swallowed hard, feeling the hairs on the back of my neck bristle. As he drew closer, Patrick’s mouth shaped a round ‘oh’ and the muscles in his neck contracted, head tilting back and then forward again. As if in slow motion, the wet, hot lump that burst from his lips came closer, and closer, growing bigger and bigger with each passing moment, until it finally struck my left cheek with the force of a jet engine – a hit! I cringed from the impact, then zoomed around again, screaming with anticipation.

This went on for what seemed like hours. By twilight, I was a soppy sponge, a yellow-spotted jellyfish, a walking ectoplasm. My Mother must have cried in panic at the creature that replaced me. By far the wettest, I had lost miserably. Disembarking from my steed, the smell of other people’s saliva and the sticky sloshing of my clothes made me queasy. I gingerly shuffled back to the house in the dying sunlight, and tried to keep my clothes from suctioning to my skin. This is what defeat felt like: sticky, smelly… inevitable.

Grasping my pink Huffy bike by my side, I cursed my femaleness. Integral Member and Founder of the Boy’s Club, yes, but equal? Never! The missing ingredient to my Membership, found! I wept mercilessly. The insurmountable problem of gender had finally revealed itself: I was, in fact, a girl.

And I hadn’t enjoyed Spit Wars. Not one bit. I didn’t like being covered in other people’s spit, and I definitely didn’t like losing. I wondered how these boys would fare at girl games. The unfairness of it all made my belly hurt.

I stopped at the steps before our front door and glanced back. The remaining Members of the Boys Club had moved on down the street. From the corner of my eye, I noticed the plastic garden geese in the yard across from Patrick’s house. They had moved – I knew it. No, something else had moved – the curtains in that third story window.

I squinted. Was that a hand? I noticed my heartbeat – it pumped harder now. I stood alone in the twilight, and the being in the darkness had been watching me. I swallowed. I ran the back of my hand across my cheeks to wipe away the streaks from my tears. I pushed the kickstand to the ground, and let the head of the Huffy lean to one side.

With cautious steps, I ventured to the middle of the lawn and stopped, eyes lowered. Could I really do it? I asked myself. Could I look back? What would happen if it saw me looking? Would it kill me?

With great poise, I lifted my chin, my eyes, my spirit, and confronted the being in the darkness. I wondered if she’d forgive me.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The View from Now

When I was about 16, my Mom informed me that my grandparents had requested we bring them an urn from Thailand. For what purpose, I wondered. Well, they were thinking about dying, and wanted a final resting place for their ashes.

I was devastated, and immediately sent them what was probably an inappropriate email in which I asked, "So you're dying? How do you feel about that?"

Ten years later, I still have both my grandparents, alive and well as can be expected. My grandfather mentions every so often that they've just lost another friend from the Senior Center and well, her husband used to ride to work with him or they played pool together for a long time.

My grandfather is almost 90, survived World War II when so many friends did not, worked hard all his life, and smoked like a chimney for decades. He is on oxygen 24-7, and perhaps is transitioning into the end of all things. It's a curious position to be in, I think. It's one I want to understand through his eyes. How does it feel to know that someday soon that conscious being you've lived with for 90 years is going to up and leave? And that it means you simply will not exist? How does a conscious being comprehend non-existence? I can't. Zero is the closest thing we have and it's still a number.

It occurred to me that I don't even know how my Grandfather views death. Maybe he believes in heaven. It seems a relevant piece of information to learn about someone peering into what could be the rest of eternity, or the beginning of nothing. This single belief probably colors every day of the rest of his life.

I chanced breeching a sore topic, and asked, "so...what do you think happens when we die?"

He says, gruffly, "Blank. Nothing."

I pause. Can I ask a follow-up question? "How do you feel about that?"

"Well, I suppose if it were any other way, it would just get too crowded wherever we were going."

I try to imagine my grandfather as a non-entity. The shell we would witness from here would be like a recently vacated cocoon: empty and, having served its purpose, meaningless. Then I imagine the view from his side: it's dark, his eyes are open, and he's thinking about how dark it is. I erase the image, no, he can't be thinking, he's blank. There's no awareness at all, so you don't need to worry about him, and whether he's comfortable, or alone, or scared. You don't need to worry at all. He's blank. D.N.E. Does Not Exist. Those wrinkles, like trenches down his cheeks, they won't be there anymore. He won't need his glasses. That reverence he has for the Earth is going to end, even as he becomes a part of it.

I'd like to ask more questions, though I'm not sure what they are. Often I am sitting across from him remembering that we probably don't have that much time left together; how we spend it should matter. It doesn't. There is love in this room even when we are silent.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Central Park

I hate to break it to you, but:

The ducks don't care who is staying at the Ritz-Carlton.

It's true. They don't. I'm sorry.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bikram Yoga Kicked My Ass

I didn't know Bikram Yoga was the hot one -- the wring-your-body-like-a-wet-rag, sweaty, brutal kind of yoga. I was expecting some light breathing exercises. I walked into the 90-degree studio and thought I was going to die. Half-way into the session I really did think yoga was going to kill me, and when in the end I found I still had a pulse, I felt alive in the way only near scrapes with death can generate.

The studio smelled like a dirty jockstrap. This is my one complaint.

Otherwise I saw a lot of naked women. It's something I ruminate on from time to time, because I am often in gym locker rooms, and its maybe the one place where us ladies can feel completely ok with public nudity (some more than others). Today, I was, as usual, impressed by the variety of form -- not one of us is the same. Buttocks can be flabby, rounded, down-turned, explosive (?!), flat, fleshy. Bellies can curve inwards or outwards, can have seams, horizontally or vertically, be bony or love-handled, and no two buttons are the same. Skin can be porcelain or pock-marked, dark, light, spotted, hoary or scarred. This body has breasts like hanging gourds; this one, tiny mosquito bites; this one, pink nipples against creamy skin; this one is olive and smooth, Italian maybe, and has the most perfect pair I have ever seen. In such frequency and close proximity, we all seem like motherly cows milling, udders displayed prosaically from our chests, all for the same purpose and of similar design.

Nude, sweaty women. I find no sex appeal in it: udders are not sexy. We, women, bodies, serve a purpose. We are but bags of skin; the tupperware of our souls fading and sagging with time. I imagine the male perception of us -- how we are coveted so -- and feel at once exhiliarated and heavy. How many men coveted that one's body, knowing she would one day be so wrinkled, so similar to a topographical map of Earth from space? Where did those scars come from and how many babies have swelled inside of her, stretching, kicking, gaping? What violence has that soft shell had to bend against?

Only clothed are we uniform. Fashionistas, we become like male peacocks -- flashy but increasingly similar. Yet, if we were all always featherless, how much coveting would there be? We would be nude cows, prosaic and milling, concentration camp-like.

Yet so much of our energy is spent strutting, I think we forget that within our soft shells hides a quiet strength that calmly waits for hardship. This heavily padded, squarish-looking woman next to me is a battleship, yes, armed with melons, warts and cellulite -- a lioness. That the female form can be broken down into a formula for beauty is baffling. We are all beautiful -- each a unique collection of flesh hanging demurely on bone, at the ravenous mercy of gravity, age and experience.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Messenger Bag

I was happy to find that we are still friends. We're both skinnier than we were back then; learning self-control or learning to let go of it has been good for both of us. Has it really been five years? I stretch my hand halfway across the table and the gulf between us seems smaller than it has in a long time. Its an uncomfortable regret that I hold for you: such a good man. I am guilty of not understanding.

What solace though, to see that our little world could rise from its own ashes. I remember writing it off as scorched, fatally, maybe even on purpose because I could think of no creative solution. But I started to see last night that relationships don't need to be finite - that we could evolve, grow together while apart, and return every so often to nurture the spring tendrils of the adults we are becoming. So I stretch my hand across the table to say, I finally see you; I'm sorry it took me so long - it was not until this moment that I had enough light in me to see your reflection.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Weekend with the Grams

I walk into the yellow house this morning to the 86-year-old man in the Smith & Wesson cap, leaning out through an open window and peering intently at something undetectable. When he realizes I am in the room his face changes from somber to sunny, and he gives a shout, blue eyes dancing.

He walks over to me with his characteristic, bowlegged step, and for a moment I think he is crying at the sight of me, but I throw my arms around him and the image passes. He gives good hugs, my Grandpa does.

My Grandmother is trying to make the bed. She is hunched over, shrunken and hobbit-like. She seems smaller than she was the last time I saw her. I wrap my awkward arms around her, and my wrists register every vertebra of her curved spine jutting out through her shirt like a museum dinosaur. I worry whether she will bruise from the embrace -- that I could be the cause of such a blemish means that I underestimated the strength of my own youth, and that it was my youth that trumped one of her fragile vessels to leave a purple, tented mark on her papery skin. Sometimes I think that if I could just hug her enough, it would straighten out her back and she could stand upright again but that would be a cruel and ill-conceived experiment.

We lay clean sheets on the bed. I toss them in the air a few times just so I can discretely inhale of their smell -- it reminds me so of being five years old and running through the clothesline in summer. We sit side by side on the chest at the foot of the bed, which is of a dark and smooth wood. We talk about life in the way we do -- witty, light conversation about being 84, having leg pains and the new walker she uses, aptly named 'The Crusader,' which has a nifty hand brake. She turns to me, and the moment our eyes meet I am overwhelmed by that deepest and most incomprehensible of emotions: a silent elation that reaches from my vocal chords clear down to my intestines, and is matched in intensity only by the sheer terror of losing her, which now grips me and in an instant is gone, thankfully, for it might have killed me.

I remember reading once in a beginner's psychology book that humans seek the eyes of others for reassurance of our own existence. Also that the pain of separateness is one we constantly fight to overcome, but never can because we are all always just alone. But then I wonder if she could see it in my eyes just now that I love her to pieces; that I have absolutely no words to describe it, can make no sense of it, have no protection against it; that she is as much a part of me as a rib in my chest and as close to my heart.