Tag Archives: Moving on

Burrowing

What she remembers most vividly are his nail-bitten fingers burrowing into her, making her feel alive again, and beautiful. He was never any good at kissing, or intercourse, but his fingers were so far from his brain that they worked almost independently.  Joyously. Without guilt.

And she remembers thinking that it was a gift he was giving her. Her last great romance. At the time, she wondered why she was having that thought. But it seemed so inarguable. He was her last hurrah.

Of course things ended badly. But that was built into from the start. He was a religious Jew and she was the other kind, an atheist who referred to herself as “culturally Jewish” when pressed.

Just today she remembered their fight over the chicken. Someone had made a  joke about pigs — how genetically similar to humans they were, so much so that a human could live with transplanted pig parts, heart, liver, kidneys, provided they were blessed by a rabbi to make it all kosher (ha, ha) — and it had brought it all back.

She hadn’t seen him for a month. He’d been in Israel, where he lived when he wasn’t teaching in New York. He was coming straight to her place from the airport. She’d decided to surprise him and cook dinner in case he was hungry when he arrived. She’d purchased a chicken and whatever sides she thought went with it. Roasted potatoes, maybe. Or asparagus. Something.

When he saw the chicken he knew instantly that it hadn’t been butchered correctly. It hadn’t been held upside down so the blood could leak out as it should. And he knew in that same moment that she was not the girl for him. Maybe he’d already met the other woman at that point. Maybe he hadn’t. Either way, they’d had a fight. Exchanged words. He’d drunk a lot, very quickly. Scotch. A bottle he’d bought for himself and left at her place. And then he’d left her apartment, the chicken still stewing in its juices.

They’d patched it up and gone on a bit longer. But the thing was moribund. They’d stopped being able to imagine a time in the future when they would truly be together. The burrowing came to an end.

Every so often there was the occasional email. One, an advice column directed to a woman in a similar predicament. A non-religious Jew dating an Orthodox Jew. The advice was to stop trying to change him, and take him to the Prime Grill, known for its fine kosher cuisine.

She never answered any of them.

Then two years later, on the night of her 50th birthday, he called to give her the news. He left it on her answering machine. “Hi, I’m calling from the airport,” he began, as he had so many times in the past.

“I wanted to wish you happy birthday,” he said.

For a moment there was near silence. Just the slightest inhalation of breath. A whisper through the wires. She could picture his nail-bitten thumb crooked under his chin, the other fingers splayed around the side of his face, shielding his cheek, almost as if he were defending himself from his own thoughts. Or what might emanate from them. And then he delivered the coup de grace. “I just wanted you to know that I got married last weekend.”

Perhaps his new wife was in the airport bathroom when he’d made the call. Or perhaps he’d made it right in front of her, though that seemed unlikely.

She’d disconnected her answering machine, and thrown it in the trash. It was an over-the-top gesture. Histrionic and superfluous. But also not.

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The Last Amaryllis

On Monday it arrived. A medium-sized box, left outside my door beside a smaller box containing the coffee I’d just ordered from Amazon. I knew immediately what it was, and I felt simultaneously agitated and relieved.

I pushed the two boxes inside my door, turned on the lights, opened the fridge, and pulled out a beer. After a sip, I opened the box from Amazon with my new 2-lb. bag of Peruvian black gold and popped the bag into the freezer.

I pushed the other box, the bigger one, with the shipping label from White Flower Farms, into a corner beside my couch, where it would be safely out of the way.

I’d thought that maybe I would just leave the whole thing there for the month and then throw it out when the time came, or perhaps take the box to the post office with a note marked “return to sender.”

But after another sip of beer, I realized that of course I would open it. Even if I simply threw out the potted Amaryllis, with the bulb that would, if watered and tended, slowly sprout and flower over the month of December, I should at least look at the card.

The flower-to-be was from E., who every year sends an Amaryllis to a handful of people on her holiday mailing list — me her oldest friend from college, her mother, her sister, her current girlfriend, her past girlfriend, and perhaps a few others I don’t know about. I can’t imagine any of the other recipients are more pleased by the gift than I am; it is large and unwieldy, takes up half my studio apartment, and can’t in good faith be thrown out until the thing has flowered and died. But it is her way of marking the season.

This past April, E. terminated our friendship via email, after 38 years.  I’d made a sarcastic remark to her 16-year-old daughter about her piggish table manners, and she interpreted it as an “attack”; an attack so vicious that her therapist was surprised she’d even want to remain friends with me, or so she said in that email. Things quickly went from bad to worse. My apology and invitation to call elicited silence. My text to her a month later elicited more vigorous character assassination.

In the months since, I have mourned the loss of what was once life-sustaining. But I also tried, in my way, to look on the bright side. I told myself that now, at last, I would be forced to try to find a relationship. And, of course, I wouldn’t have to deal with the friggin’ Amaryllis anymore.

So when I received the box, seven months after the collapse of our friendship, I was both horrified — horrified to one more time receive this big hulking flower pot with the bulb that takes a month to bloom and several more to die — and relieved that she hadn’t written me off entirely after all.

I tried to go about my business as if the package hadn’t come. I cooked up some pasta for dinner and turned on the radio and puttered around the apartment, but of course it wasn’t as if the package hadn’t come. It had, and I felt that mixture of renewed anger (at this woman who turned on me in an instant and hasn’t yet had the wherewithal or courage or interest or whatever the relevant attribute might be to reach out to have a conversation about what happened) and growing curiosity tinged with hope. Hope that perhaps she did want to renew the friendship after all.

Finally, after the pasta was eaten and the dishes washed and put back in the cabinet, I scissored open the box and removed the greeting. Her note said this: “Some traditions live on!”

I haven’t touched the box since. Though I know that in time I will open it and water it and bring the bulb to life for this, its last season.

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Quitting: Day 9

Irritable and headachy and trying to remember why it’s so important to keep at it. Rachael Ray lost 50 pounds. And Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. And everyday babies that might die fight to live.

And then there are all the people who assume I cannot do this, my younger brother for one.

I can do this. I need to stiffen my resolve.

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Quitting: Day 1

The other day I was at a street fair selling pottery with an acquaintance. I lit my second cigarette of the morning and he asked me how much I smoked. I answered — about half a pack a day, maybe more on the weekends — and then he asked how long I’d smoked. Increasingly, when people ask that question, I feel a kind of fury. Fury at being forced to think about the horrible fact that I’ve spent my entire adult life as a smoker. I didn’t exactly answer, but the acquaintance, the husband of a fellow potter, let it pass. He told me that until he quit, he’d smoked four packs a day. He got off work at four and was in a period of his life when he was between wives. He wasn’t into the bar scene, so he settled into a chair at five and read until two, puffing and reading, puffing and reading, until the day he knew he had to quit.

I asked him if a doctor had urged him to stop. And he said no, he hadn’t needed anyone else to tell him what not being able to breathe meant. And then he said something else. He said that when he looked back on it now, he couldn’t believe how stupid he’d been to smoke all those years. He wished he’d kicked the habit much sooner.

And something clicked in that moment. I didn’t stop right then. I still had half a pack left. But I knew that I would feel just that way when I did finally manage to quit. So I decided to stop putting off the inevitable.

I finished my last cigarette yesterday morning. So while it’s officially Day 1 of being completely smoke-free, it’s starting to feel like Day 2, and it’s starting to feel like I can actually do this. Not the way he did, with no patches, or gum, or anything. But like I can learn to live without constantly excusing myself with a cigarette break. And then maybe I can live without the infusions of nicotine as well.

Nothing terrible happened at work today, so it’s perhaps not the ultimate test, but it was a test all the same. And it’s the first one I’ve passed in years and years.

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Poetry First: A Pantoum

She developed a taste for poetry first.

Later she revealed an interest in opera.

She’d never had affectations before.

It all seemed very odd.

 

Later she revealed an interest in opera.

She’d gotten one of those great civilization boxed set study guides.

It all seemed very odd.

She ordered tickets to see Andrea Boccelli.

 

She’d gotten one of those great civilization boxed set study guides.

Was it born of having too much money?

She ordered tickets to see Andrea Boccelli.

I didn’t even know that he was a he.

 

Was it born of having too much money?

Or was it too much time?

I didn’t even know that he was a he.

I guess I’d been living under a rock.

 

Or was it too much time?

She’d never had affectations before.

I guess I’d been living under a rock.

She developed a taste for poetry first.

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Memento Mori

Last night I saw the ex. It was our third get-together in the last 21 years.

The long-anticipated visit turned into a small group dinner at the home of a friend of his, not the more intimate tete-a-tete I’d imagined. But, in truth, it was perhaps easier. The night before the agreed-upon day of our date was spent tossing and turning, my teeth clamped too tightly together, my head a dull ache.

Would it be too blunt to say that the ex looked old? He’d said by phone that he did, yet seeing him was still a shock. Without my glasses, I would have walked right by him on the street. Perhaps even with them, if I didn’t know what I was looking for. But beneath the veneer (the crumpled jawline and thinning gray hair), he was much the same man. Perhaps egomaniacal would be a tad too strong — after all, he was here on the East Coast being filmed for a movie about his career; the dinner hostess was one of the interviewees.

But I was reminded again of the horrible price of being his girlfriend for all those years; the girlfriend of the great artist, invisible in her own right, existing only as handmaiden to him. My own insecurity made it impossible for me to pull myself up to full-fledged personhood in that relationship.

Of course I have only myself to blame. But that’s how it was. Me constantly dwarfed by his larger ambition and talent — and his love of the spotlight.

I look in the mirror and know that I have aged every bit as much as he has. I have wasted precious years when I might have made a match with someone else. Someone less artistically gifted to be sure, and maybe less funny as well, but someone who actually cared if I live or die.

It would be wonderful to think that I am now finally ready to move on.

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