Category Archives: Love

I hate/heart NYC

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She’s always prepared to hate New York City. It’s such a loud, impatient place, and everyone’s always honking their horn, willfully cultivating an age-old cliché. The cars here have their own language, a street smart, uninhibited idiom that vehicle counterparts in other cities never learned. Taxi drivers pump their gas pedals at red lights, the modern day equivalent of rev’ing an engine, inching forward as if it somehow gives them an edge, satisfying a need for perpetual motion. In the cab she picks up at JFK, a TV screen comes on automatically in the backseat, CNN competing with the view of Queens flying by.

There’s so much to dislike. People throw their garbage onto the curb in this city. Right there on the sidewalk, where you have to smell it and step around it. C’mon, that’s gross. Really? It would be one thing if the sidewalks were deserted and no one had to look at it, but the reality is that the sidewalks vibrate with constant foot traffic, busy people talking animatedly on their cell phones, stepping carefully around the plastic bags of refuse in their expensive (or inexpensively fashionable) shoes. Crowds of people get jostled at street corners, vying for a front position so that they, like the cabs, can sustain a forward motion. They don’t even wait for the light to turn green. She’s always surprised one of those fast moving, honking taxis doesn’t slam into some oblivious New Yorker or tourist who goes walking calmly out into the street against the red light, right in front of her. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Everything is so jam packed together. That the sun finds its way around those tall buildings and onto any given street is kind of amazing. All those weary, dirty, graffiti-clad buildings with rusty stairs on the outside, like worn bones on the wrong side of skin. They seem completely disinterested in the sun and its daily arc. Even the newer, sleeker, glass buildings designed to celebrate the light end up reflecting it back to the sky, not so much down to the sidewalks.

Maybe its just disorientation. The way Manhattan seems to reject it’s natural surroundings always throws her at first. Unlike the city she calls home, the buildings here seem to turn their backs on the organic channel around them, keeping the population inwardly-oriented. As the city swallows you, it can be hard to believe there are real tidal straits just blocks away, with currents strong enough to carry a swimmer out into the Atlantic Ocean. Only the ferries and bridges, with their unarguable contributions of motion and architecture, are given a grudging nod for their value, accessories to the larger ensemble. The straits are shockingly polluted, but they continue to offer transportation, commerce, recreation, and visual relief to the city, resigned to their fate, perhaps as she is. Maybe she feels snubbed at first too, as NYC doesn’t so much welcome you as it deigns to grant you access.

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Despite all this, New York City always manages to settle under her suburban West Coast skin. Within the first 24 hours, noises start to blend into the background, becoming almost musical, communicating useful information, like the time of day, streets she should visit, and events worthy of further exploration.

One of her taxi drivers is originally from India. He has lived here for 18 years and once lived in her hometown, and he is excited when she admits where she is from. She has to lean forward to understand him well, but this just proves to him that she is interested. Instantly, they are friends and he knows that she has two children and a husband who owns his own business, and that her mom was a social worker and her dad worked for the telephone company. He is momentarily distressed that they divorced when she was young, although she tries to get him to see that this was a good thing. He mutters and shakes his head, in a hell-in-a-handbasket kind of way, lamenting the divorce rate in America. Even if she doesn’t share his perspective, it’s nice to know his traditions are alive and well. (It also amuses her that he keeps checking his reflection in the rearview mirror, as if validating his wisdom, and maybe his good looks.)

Once she’s adjusted to the city, her senses are bombarded in a good way. Thousands of smells are embedded in a street that is never still long enough to be washed. Her attention, at first drawn to the stains on the sidewalk that might be bodily emissions, quickly turns to fascination with the superbly fashionable but understated French women walking in front of her, talking in their sensual, fluid language. Their voices are beautiful, and their conversation includes the English names of restaurants, galleries, and other recognizable points of interest.

Men unload an unidentifiable shipment into a warehouse next door to her hotel, maneuvering around the ferns and other floral trimmings poking out of plastic garbage bags at the curb. A perfect dahlia the color of a city sunset lies where it fell on the sidewalk, and she hesitates, wanting to pick it up. A flower shop owner is momentarily curious, pouring water out of pots and surveying the patch of sidewalk he’s just swept. A subway rushes past under her feet, the sound rumbling up from the vents at the curb. Already, she feels alive in a way she is not at home. She notices that though she is the only American white person in the vicinity, she does not stick out like a sore thumb. It’s as if here race is less important than the vibrancy of your skin, and how well you wear it.

She stands at the 9/11 memorial, and it touches her the way it is meant to. Gaping holes in the ground that are perpetually weeping, sucking tears down into a channel she cannot see into or follow. The significance couldn’t possibly be lost on anyone, anymore than the names that are grouped by proximity and relationship, rather than alphabetically, and engraved on a ledge she can trace slowly with her fingers.

Counter to initial impressions, nature is alive and well here, asserting itself in surprising places. She walks in Central Park on a Saturday, when the greens and pathways are filled with people, graceful elms, and sky, all adapting to autumn. She finds it in park-like ambiance along the High Line, and in the one-acre Battery Urban Farm in the financial district. She marvels at the clouds above the Manhattan skyline from the Staten Island ferry and feels a kinship with not only her fellow riders, but the aspirations of the people who make up the businesses that build those towering buildings that almost reach them. The Statue of Liberty is amused by her awakening, a re-enactment that would seemingly get old when you’re planted on an island in the middle of a harbor. The city’s architecture and art are as enchanting from the water as they are from the interior streets, as is the wind on her face and yes, the sunlight on her skin.

Within the first 24 hours, she realizes she is in love with New York City again.

photo credit: ek2014

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Cliché in the city

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She is in the big city, alone. She finds a popular bar on 7th Ave, one with a crush of young people just off work and ordering Bud Light in bottles. She lays claim to one bar stool, because there is always one solitary bar stool available in a crowd, even in the busiest of bars. This is a universal truth. Some folks think the world shuts out single people, but she actually believes it reserves spaces for them, single spaces that groups are reluctant to fill. 

She orders a Stella and a burger. The Australian tourists next to her are watching the Billy Joel concert on the TV above them. John Mayer is playing guitar, his eyes closed. The bartender takes care of her, with a charming Irish accent and one eye constantly scanning the crowd, anticipating the next order, collecting payment, trying not to drip beer on her sleeve. Thanks, he says with a practiced grin, over and over again, money exchanging hands over her shoulder. Excuse me, his customers apologize to her, as if they are interrupting.

She’s here because she can’t be alone in her hotel room. It’s the silence and the spaces that unnerve her. It’s knowing that Drew is out there somewhere, between the posts, behind the friends they have in common, beyond her barricade, but not unreachable.

Maybe it’s knowing she’s getting too old to be this cliché. Maybe it’s that she’s reached the age at which she feels invisible to anyone who doesn’t know her, who didn’t once truly know her.

This must get easier at some point. 

She gets up quietly, smiles at the bartender, and heads back to the hotel.

photo credit: ek2014

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Tremors

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The hotel room was dark when she returned from dinner, and for a moment she stood still, to see what it felt like to be alone and quiet. It came immediately, as always, sadness rolling over her like the fog she had watched from 10,000 feet a day earlier, great drifts of cottony cover, settling heavily over the coastal mountains.

Her eyes adjusted to the dim light. She kicked off her shoes and turned on the TV, flipping through the channels, immune to the news and the drama. What she wanted was an unconditional conversation with Drew. In lieu of that, a good cry. Instead, she opted for a beer and M&Ms from the front desk. She went to bed with her contacts in, face unwashed, clothes dropped carelessly on the chair, pajamas in her suitcase, ignored.

At 3:20am, the world began to roll. In her dream, she was floating on waves, the rhythm insistent and unrelenting, forcing her to relinquish power, to relax her grip, to give in to something larger than herself. But the groaning building woke her, its protest low and mechanical. She gripped the sheets as the bed undulated, and in the darkness, she felt as if she were in the hull of a boat, adrift in large waves, insignificant and powerless. After a moment, the waves rolled away, moving on, the undulation getting softer and softer until it was gone. The hotel walls were once again quiet.

Wide awake, heart pounding, she thought about a tsunami. She wondered if more waves were coming. She wondered if her sorrow might be tangible, strong enough to liquify the earth and roll her away.

photo credit: http://farm9.static.flickr.com/

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Teaching love

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What is she teaching them? What will they grow up to believe about love and happiness?

On one hand, they never see her kissing their dad. They never see her touch him voluntarily, and sometimes they notice that she has a hard time maintaining eye contact with him. They see that she can be patient and kind. But they also see that she can be tense and distant. Selfish even. Lately, her oldest daughter pauses on pictures of them together, studying the photographs and wanting her to look at them too. The puzzle pieces don’t all fit together, but she does not say the words aloud.

On the other hand, both parents are there. The girls have a home they know and love, and they never fear that they will go without a meal, or a parent to tuck them in at night. Someone is always coming home. Everything looks the way it looks at other people’s houses. Their parents sleep in the same room, they share the money, and they both do the household chores. They are united, usually, in decisions that involve them and sometimes they do seem to like each other. They still take trips together, and they still go out with their friends. On the surface, it all looks normal. So maybe it is.

But the girls are smart. Maybe smarter than she is. Do they understand longing and regret? Do they know what it means to be restless? Does staying teach them resilience and commitment and partnership? How will they learn about passion?

More and more, she wonders what she is teaching herself about love.

 

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All due respect

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The weight of his hand disturbs her sleep. She rolls over, out of his reach, and his hand slips off. She is in her subconscious mind now, floating up from a deeper place. Not entirely comfortable on her side, she is near the edge of the bed, but she lays still and maintains an even breathing pattern, hoping he won’t reach again, hoping she’ll slip back into a forgiving slumber. It’s better if they don’t talk about it. She has nothing new to say.

You never let me touch you anymore, Jake will say a few days later. It’s true. And she knows it goes against the Gottman-esque science about marriage stability and the Huffington Post-promoted philosophies about maintaining intimacy, currently in vogue. She just doesn’t want to pretend. The more space she creates, the more distance she gets, the stronger she feels. All due respect to science.

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Sixth sense

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On Monday, I passed a burgundy-colored FJ Cruiser on my way to work. And though I know believing a car can be a sign makes me sound crazy, your doubt won’t sway my belief that seeing it meant something. Maybe the truth is that anything can be associated with anything else. But there’s always a point at which frequency tips coincidence toward meaning and I’d crossed it a while ago.

I hadn’t seen this make, model, and color in over a year, which corresponds exactly to the amount of time I’d spent consciously trying to let Drew go. A year is the amount of time I’d spent practicing the art of living without Drew in my head, of not looking to him as my sounding board and savior. It was the amount of time I’d spent practicing the visual equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and singing la la la, trying not to see this particular sign, like a small child trying to tune out what she can’t control. 

At this point, for all I know on any given day, Drew is doing fine. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. And then I heard. His father had passed away unexpectedly. He’d had a heart attack. 

I don’t know which sensation is stronger—the painful awareness that he’d suffered a real loss for which I could offer no comfort or the ache-filled acknowledgement that my sixth sense connection to him is still alive and well.

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Settling

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I cut my hair yesterday. I knew I would feel like Samson losing his locks, the length having represented confidence and a freedom from conformity. But I was weary of caring for that long-haired person’s ego. I felt like she was higher maintenance than she needed to be. 

I thought I would be brave and go short, sassy and stylish, dialing up yet another side of the new, fearless me. But I let my hairdresser talk me into a mid-length cut, a safe cut (her words), one that wouldn’t freak me out (still her words.) I realize now that she was talking to the other me, the one she’s known for almost 20 years. And that me responded in meek agreement.

It takes a lot of energy to maintain momentum. It requires more calories than I can take in, and more space than I can consistently fill. As the barometer drops, dialing back the winds of change, I find that my bravery is dissipating. Never mind being more authentic, or feeling more alive. Complacency is settling back in.

Is my midlife crisis done with me? This settling feels like wind dying down, after a tornado has swept through and lifted the house from its foundation. Everything is dropping back into place, leaving little evidence of the seriousness of the storm.

After all this, will I be unchanged?

 

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