Tag Archives: memoir

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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The art of tension

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The last text she received from Drew featured his silhouette. He was driving somewhere, north she thought, though it wasn’t possible to know. It was light outside his window, with a blur of green grass and some kind of white building in the distance. She kept pulling it up on her phone, looking at his serious face, wanting him to turn to the camera and smile, guessing at what he’d been thinking when he sent it.

She’d sent him a picture first. He’d asked several times, for the kind of photo always getting politicians in trouble in the news, the kind that suggests a weakness, a shortcoming. She had always refused, although she knew what she would send. Something sensual in simplicity and defensible as art, representative of a desire he might recognize as his own. A suggestion of where he might place his hand. This was something she understood well, foreplay from a distance, the art of tension, the crafting of a good story.

The picture had been snapped inadvertently. She’d taken her phone out to capture the morning skyline from the bridge. Traffic was barely moving, the cars in front of her crawling toward a merge at the highway onramp. The day was grey, the soft grey that comes from a lifting fog and the promise of a clear sky above. The water was smooth and reflective, and the port was quiet. With one hand on the steering wheel, she was attempting to center the phone when she’d fumbled and nearly dropped it, an audible click responding to a finger closing around the case. When she turned it over, there it was, a thumbnail in the corner of the camera, soft and utterly compelling.

Something about the image dissolved her resistance. It captivated her, the evidence, so obvious and real she could almost feel him in the car beside her, reaching over, insistent and possessive. It felt so very, very easy. So honest and legitimate to send it, so unreasonable to keep it from him. If it didn’t generate an equal and proportional response, if she didn’t feel a vibration in the air between them, she deserved every pound of backlash she’d risk to reach him.

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Between left and right

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If I want to be romantic, I can say that I was waiting for Drew all that time. In the desert, in those years when I was the boss’s girl, in the early days of dating Jake, even in my marriage. I was marking time, hovering, waiting for the measured and methodical turning of pages to reveal a path to him. I can say that my life had been lived in parallel with his, and that individually, we had been making our way toward each other our whole lives, in different cities, in different situations, each feeling lost and empty in our different worlds, not recognizing the rootlessness for what it was—a soul-level pining for one another, a Juliet and Romeo longing for a pre-destined merge.

I can say these things, but that doesn’t make them true. Believing in a soul mate is like believing in a ghost. Or an angel. That I long for the puzzle pieces to yet be fitted together, bringing the rest of our lives into focus, may only be proof that I want to believe. That my right brain is doing the thinking.

The left brain easily dismisses this romantic faith in fate. Like a crow chasing an eagle off into the distance, logic dispels magic, pointing out inconsistencies, nipping at ideas until they fit back into the mainstream. A sane person is forced to acknowledge fact. Drew is not here. Our lives have not merged; instead, we continue to live in parallel. Drew cannot make a move until I do, and I cannot risk a move without him. More and more, it seems unlikely we will unite, unless tragedy or old age intervene.

Logic also argues that if a move can’t be made on principle alone, then this quandary is less about an unfulfilled romance with Drew than it is an issue of faith in myself. To give it this spin, to turn myself into a fairytale character waiting for a white horse ending, is ridiculous. And when viewed in this harsh light, the evidence makes faith seem ill-advised, no matter how much my cliche-ridden heart wants the legend to play out.

The truth is that connecting with Drew at key moments of my life has always provided perspective. Of that, I am clear. But there is little else to go on. There are other truths, people who are actually here in my life, tangible, real connections that outperform words yet unspoken. And there is no room for an indecisive, non-present, unlikely him. Perhaps my fate is already decided, no more guesses, no more crossroads to contemplate.

Giving in to the left is like ceding art to technology, or religion to science. But lacking the courage to test intuition, I can only line up the facts and wait for my feelings to align. More than anything, I want to feel peace, a profound appreciation for Jake, and a certainty that I am enough, that this is where and whom I am supposed to be. I can only wait for the image of Drew to fade away, along with the idea that there is something missing, something more authentic. Denying the unproven, and hoping for balance.

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A dinghy is sinking in the harbor

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A dinghy is sinking in the harbor. I am not far from the pier. From the balcony of my hotel, it is just across the street, but I make no move toward the water. Instead, wrapped in a sheet I’ve pulled from the bed, I climb over the railing to sit on the roof, hugging my legs to my chest, watching as the waves begin to break the sides of the little boat. I imagine it feels like I do, and I am hopelessly drawn to the drama of the two of us.

I can’t remember when I learned to swim. I wait a moment to see if it will come to me. A pool, it was a pool. My father probably pulled me in; that is like him. His strong hands would have come up under me, my heart beating wildly as I attempted to kick and move my arms the way he said, his face mocking the frantic look on mine. That was like him too. I can picture my brother in his floaties, standing by the pool, eyes wide and mouth open, for once not whining or teasing me. White blonde hair above a tentative smile, his tiny arms like bird legs in inflated yellow cuffs, as if he’d been prepped for a blood pressure reading and then abandoned.

It must have been at a motel, this picture in my mind of the pool where my father stands with arms open wide. Jump! and I do, like I always do. I am heavy as I sink, choking on the chlorine that burns my throat. And then I am pulled back up, wiping the water from my eyes, eager for his smile and his “thatta girl.” My mother stands on the edge, just out of reach, my brother’s face buried in her stomach, frowning at my father.

If I say I can’t remember the first time I swam in the ocean, maybe that will come floating past as well. I know I’ve never felt water this warm. I could go now if I wanted, across the street, onto the beach, into the bay. Even as the clouds roll in and the wind blows my hair from my forehead, as spitting rain touches my bare shoulders, the water welcomes me. I can feel the sand from here, soft like a blanket, and the feather lightness of my body as I bob in the waves, quietly watching the pelicans vie for a spot on the pier.

Quito’s bar stands between me and the beach, just to my right. I am above the entrance and the people who walk in and out glance up at me. I smile but look back out at the ocean, not wanting their attention, content with solitude. My eyes are drawn back to the dinghy. No one else has noticed the way it rocks more slowly than the others, its base heavy with salt water. Like me, it has no motor.

You think I won’t call, Drew says. Blue denim shirt, khaki pants, duffel bag thrown over his shoulder like a sailor ending his leave. I glance down at where he stood on the street that is now so empty. And then I have to look away. Out on the beach, the sand turns from white to gray and the waves shimmer, trying to wash the curious sun to shore. I do believe he will call. But he will expect me to speak and what can I say that will make the desert between Salt Lake City and LA disappear? I already know there are no words. He is gone, leaving me behind, leaving me to sink or swim.

Other dinghies converse now, bobbing their dolphin-like noses at each other as sailboats farther out in the harbor nod gently, like parents at a cocktail party, keeping a not so watchful eye. The bigger boats shrug off their crews, lured by the sound of reggae music drifting out over the water from Quito’s patio. One by one, they settle into a slow drift around their anchors. I long to swim out to one of them, balance on the ladder for a moment, go for a sail. Jump! I am all too ready.

I turn away from the empty street and climb back over the balcony rail. In the hotel room, I find my sundress still balled up on the floor in the corner. Pulling it on over my head, I pause for a moment to assess the girl in the mirror and then make my way downstairs. Across the street, my bare feet touch sand, and I climb the stairs to Quito’s deck to take a seat at the bar. It takes a drink or two, but the music finally pulls me in, taking over for my own heartbeat, until I am unaware that the dinghy is gone, and the sea has put out the gullible sun.

Photo credit: dreamstime

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Silly love songs

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My daughter asks me why all the songs in the world are about love. I answer that it’s the one thing in life that no one fully understands. It can’t be explained by science or faith, in any language. It’s bigger than us and all consuming, which is frightening to some and exhilarating to others. People write love songs to try to hang on to those feelings, because they’re magical and they make you feel invincible. Like fairy dust. Or drugs. She ponders my response.

I don’t tell her that some people write love songs because it hurts, and they can’t move forward without writing it down. It helps it all make sense. Sometimes it’s about loss. Sometimes it’s about difficult choices in situations that have no right answer. And sometimes it’s about the path not taken.

I like to think that writers of love songs live on the crazy, beautiful, romantic side of the fence, in the space between, where one note ends and another begins. That they make a deliberate effort to insulate themselves from words like “silly,” “mistake,” and “impossible.” That they don’t dwell in moral judgement, and that’s what makes their songs so arresting and necessary. I live on the business side of things, but I find myself leaning on the gate, yearning to be over on the other side. Telling my story.

Photo Credit: wide-wallpapers.net

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Four degrees of Drew

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He’s starting to sweat. It’s got to be here somewhere. The contents of his briefcase have spilled out onto the passenger seat as he rifles through the folders and loose papers in front of him. Christ, there it is. He doesn’t have time for this. He sweeps everything back into the bag. He’s going to be late for court, and he’s regretting that he skipped breakfast. His client is on the steps, waiting, looking nervous in a pair of ill-fitting slacks and a tie. Maybe he shouldn’t have advised the tie. He goes to open the car door and almost hits someone walking by with his dog.

The dog walker is short of breath. Pulling him along is a puppy with enormous feet and boundless energy. The pup is beyond happy to be out of the house, and is jumping up and down, catching the leash in her mouth, growling as she shakes it from side to side. Her owner dodges the car door opening in front of him, and smiles at the harried, frowning man inside. There is no smile in return. Looking down at his sweat pants and the XL Giants pullover he’s wearing, he shrugs. Who is this person, this heavy, balding, bad knee guy who feels out of breath walking a puppy around the block? He tugs back on the leash, and the puppy stops and looks up at him expectantly, wagging her tail. Just a quick break, here on the bench, okay?

The man on the other side of the bench is tying his shoe, giving encouraging smiles to the little girl yelling “Watch me! Watch!” from the playground. He nods at the man with the puppy and then heads back to the swing set, grabbing her ankles and pulling her high up into the air. She shrieks with delight. She’s not his, but it hardly matters. He’s been there for every milestone, and she loves and accepts him, no strings attached. If only the rest of his relationships were as uncomplicated. She grins and hops off the swing, heading for the street. He catches her before she can leave the sidewalk, holding up a grateful hand to the car that slowed as she got close. He scoops her up, and they head back across the park. He’s promised her ice cream.

He saw the child’s father coming for her but he slowed anyway. Jesus, keep a better eye on your kid. Accepting the man’s silent thanks, he heads toward the freeway. Up the onramp to I-80 East, he has a two and a half hour drive ahead, as long as the weather cooperates over the pass. He could drive there with his eyes closed, but once he gets out of the valley, the scenery is too pretty to ignore. The air coming through the vent is fresh, and the pressures of the day have let up a little. No need to think about anything but the song on the radio and the chip bag open beside him. Some things are simple. He’s grateful for this.

Photo Credit: working-puppies.blogspot.com

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Can’t see in. Can’t stay out.

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I was on the couch, watching TV as Jake paid bills online, when he raised an eyebrow and handed me the computer, pointing to an email. What’s this?

I sat up straight and took the laptop, goosebumps forming. I knew. I hummed, like bees were stirring inside my veins, like a spider vibrates when something significant touches its web.

An email was open. Is the key still under your mat? Ripples appeared in a quiet bay. A chord was struck deep down inside, faint but undeniable, like a seussical Who calling up from the head of a dandelion. I’m here.

I desperately wanted to be out from under Jake’s hot stare, to try to control everything that was about to break out of the box, but it all happened so quickly. My first reaction was to soothe Jake. He must be drunk, I said. Maybe something is wrong, I thought.

I sent a message back. Drew was traveling and on his own at a reception. I told him, this time, I’m the one who is married. He apologized, and the conversation stopped. I shrugged my shoulders at Jake. The next day, I opened a secret email account.

Now of course, I see what I should have done. I should have let whatever he was feeling come all the way through, regardless of Jake. Because my answer was yes. The key is under the mat for you. But the mat’s not on the front porch anymore, because I didn’t think you were coming. I didn’t trust that you would figure it out and look for me. And I didn’t trust myself alone.

He didn’t get to say whatever he wanted to say then, and neither did I. Instead, the old question mark was back. A door had opened, and though I couldn’t see in, I couldn’t stay out.

Photo Credit: Favim.com

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