Tag 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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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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Balance

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The fan revolved slowly in the wrong direction. Others along the veranda turned at a clip, stirring the air, but this one didn’t. She didn’t mind. The breeze off the gulf was warm, and it lifted her hair from her forehead.

The view from their table was of the marina. She watched as a sailboat went out, a skipper at the helm, one passenger sitting quietly at the bow as the boat turned toward the bay, others laughing and sipping drinks in the cockpit. Another boat was motoring back in, the first mate moving carefully along the starboard side, throwing fenders out over the railing. Two pelicans flew in formation overhead, as if mimicking the fighter jets that live at the nearby base.

They ordered the mahi tacos and happy hour beers. Neither said much, content to sit side-by-side, relaxing in their anonymity and the stillness. Sweat from their glasses pooled on the table, soaking their coasters as they ate. She smiled at the child who walked by waving the crayons she’d secured from the waiter. He ordered another beer.

After a while, he leaned back against the bench. She sat back too and leaned into him, feeling the softness of his shirt sleeve and the warmth of his arm under it.  She felt him exhale.

She began to keep count. For every sailboat that went out, another came in.

 

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Self fulfilling prophecies

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We imagine the worst to protect ourselves. Because it helps if pain comes from us rather than someone else. Because it hurts less if we acknowledge it personally, bowing our heads slightly as it comes closer, holding still until it passes. We hurt ourselves first because there is satisfaction in jerking the opportunity away from others.

Sometimes this feels smart. By anticipating the worst, we can lessen disappointment, neutralize surprise, and reduce the impact of a sting or a direct punch. We are wise in our understanding that life has its ups, but it has more downs. Recognizing the potential for failure keeps us from feeling the full impact of slamming into the wall.

We are good at this, expecting people to reject us. We excel at anticipating their disappointment, and at predicting the point at which someone will give up and simply walk away. We call this intuition. We call it foresight. What we often overlook is a self fulfilling prophecy.

What if all the energy we spend imagining the worst outcomes were spent instead on imagining the best? What is the point of imagination if we aren’t using it to our advantage? Is it a naive view, too vulnerable a position, a fool’s folly to bet on success instead of failure, to conjure opportunity instead of a dead end, to envision someone accepting versus rejecting us?

Of course not. It’s just much harder.

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The tipping point

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Silence can be terrifying. The void opens and, though the span looks like something she can jump, the darkness below seems to be waiting. Breathing.

She knew she was in love with Drew, and yet it was the one thing she couldn’t say to Jake. She could tell him she wasn’t having an affair. Others might argue the semantics. She had crossed lines. But she hadn’t passed the sign that says no turning back.

She couldn’t tell Jake what she could barely tell herself. She was in love in the most disastrous way possible with someone with more scars and bigger fears than her own. She was willing to risk everything that was safe and recognizably good about her life for the uncertainty and martyrdom of Drew, an idea so humiliating and immature, it embarrassed her. This need to believe in a soulmate, a pre-destined tragedy, this pain was undoing her. But it had reached the tipping point. The place where emotion weighs more than logic and takes over the argument.

In a rare moment of courage, she asked Jake for a separation. She waited until the idea was no longer a shock to either of them, until Jake had grown weary enough to think it might be his own idea. Jake said he felt relieved, that at least they could move forward. If not with her, then without.

But reality set in quickly, logic rushing in with the kinds of questions you should be able to answer when you’ve made up your mind. Instead of feeling emboldened, her heart sank. She had expected to know, to feel certain, to be propelled out of the house, out of their life. But she wasn’t sure.

How could she move out? There was no money for separate lives. She needed to be close to still be a daily fixture in the girl’s lives, at least if she didn’t want to start a fight. If she wanted to keep them in their school, among their friends, in the upper middle class neighborhood she could hardly afford on her own, she’d have to stay. And Jake couldn’t keep the house on his own for long. He’d have to sell.

The uncertainty was overwhelming. So she started with the easy things, the things she could change without really leaving. She told her closest friends. She separated their phones, and she changed her email address. She began to look at the cost of renting an apartment. She told her mother, who listened and tried so hard not to fret aloud, it was palpable. She considered moving to the guest bedroom but Jake objected. He didn’t want to have to explain it to the kids until there was a real plan in place. He told his parents, who were furious with her. And when Jake told them he hadn’t given up, they were mad at him too.

And then she cried.

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The holiday touchstone

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Distance makes the water between us look calm and cold, softening the swells and blurring the horizon so that sky and sea are opposite ends of an ombre spectrum of grey. Its soft, ghostly veil lulls my ache into something unrecognizable, something remote.

The website is down. His mother answers the phone and though I expect to hear her voice, for a moment I pause. Will she know me? I give my childhood name in hopes that she will, and I realize too late it won’t match the name she will see on my check. Still, she warms as she fits the puzzle pieces together, and I chat easily with her for a few moments, as if there aren’t years and miles and feelings for her son between us. It is only a few moments, and then she is gone.

One of her wreaths will ship as a gift to my father, the other will come to me. It will hang beside my front door, where the scent of home will linger long after the holiday has passed. Drew’s mother has been making wreaths since I was in middle school, and I have ordered them each year, turning the memory of a small town over and over again in my pocket, like a smooth stone, held with a reverence I can not admit out loud. The fragrance can take me to him in an instant, to his house in the woods, the outbuilding with it’s floor strewn calf high with fir boughs, and long fold out tables where his mother and sisters would stand twisting and bending and turning the wreaths as they laughed with each other. Where Drew faded in and out, shrugging off a jacket, bouncing a ball, trying to catch an eye, alternately helping and hindering the creative process.

I could stop ordering the wreaths, stop pushing aside the curtain at it’s edge to peer into the past, stay numb beside the ocean, never looking back. But the distance is something that needs to be measured from time to time, like the distance between revolving planets, like the frequency of waves lapping at the shore.

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Did we look like we could be saved?

We sat at opposite ends of the couch, the numbness between us thick as pudding. Across from us, the counselor sat in a chair in the small basement room, waiting patiently as we gauged our surroundings. One window in the room provided enough light to warm bamboo in a pot, but it was not generous enough to offer a view. The books on the shelves sat just above a little fan oscillating toward me and then toward him, as if undecided, judiciously allocating portions of cool air in fair and balanced proportions. We were both trying to look normal enough, though Jake already showed signs of cracking, his eyes reddened, his breath held and then released in an unnatural rhythm.

Sayid was soft spoken and gentle, searching our faces to see if we could make and sustain eye contact, waiting to see who might speak and what might be said. I could feel his silent assessment, see him processing us. How bad was it? Did we look like two people about to break apart? Did we look like we could be saved? It was hard to tell. His eyes were open and clear, reflecting my gaze, absorbing my silent questions without judgment.

Jake spoke first, rolling out the thin crust of his anger. He had waited for this turn, the opportunity to say it all out loud. He threw out words like divorce and custody and leaving, and I flinched but didn’t interrupt. I watched Sayid observing, understanding, letting him get it out into something wide and surveyable. When he finished, Sayid nodded.

When it was my turn, I didn’t deny Jake’s accusations. Instead, I reached deep for the words that would explain, and it felt good to give confusion a forum, to lay it out in front of him. It felt right to accept the blame, to give in to the questions. I hoped Sayid would translate my words into something calmer and more rational, something bigger and more important, something reassuring and reasonable. I wanted Jake to see us honestly. I desperately wanted him to accept that we might be holding each other back.

What worried me in that first meeting was that deep down, I sensed a truth, quiet and unwelcome, waiting to be acknowledged, stirring. Something inside me, opening like an album, sticky with childhood fears. I didn’t want to explore it here, in this room, with Jake. In this room, I wanted to be strong, focused. Tears would not fall, and I would not break down.

I watched Sayid watch me until I could no longer meet his gaze.

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