Saturday, February 12, 2011

and here you come with a cup of tea

I took a cold shower yesterday morning. First, the hot water took off, tail between legs, before I could so much as shampoo myself. Then I stayed, to shake the dreams of Jack I'd had.

You see, happy or unhappy, our self-sabotaging subconscious knows us better—knows when to suggest the man who sent you Seamus Heaney lines on Tuesday could forget you by Thursday. Three days is all it takes to undo all the good of your best harvest. And my hard-wired rejection-happy heart knows it.

My Jack is an academic. Now that the semester has started, he'll be off teaching and reverse commuting half the week, and I will be here. Without him. This is a good thing. Forced autonomy, a chance for me to install safeguards and shoulders on my emotional superhighway, a chance to reroute my GPS back to me. I've seen what happens otherwise.

The trouble with finding someone compatible is just that. The things which make you . . . you . . . also make you two. I cannot separate this man from tango, from yoga, from opera . . . and worse, from writing. So I make a point of dancing on my own, accepting nods from strange new leaders, trying to improve. I found the yoga class to end all yoga classes, where I go every Tuesday and Thursday (day full of poetry, day of forgetting) to sweat and stretch and (fuck blog-writing me for saying this) find myself.

And writing . . . oh, writing. My hail mary pass MFA applications in, I realize just how far I've come: from someone who did not write what was not posted here, to someone with a thirty page memoir excerpt and an embryonic sense of discipline. It's clear I've had a breakthrough. My sample morphed—in leaps and strides—with Jack et al's edits. Because of him, I turn out 1500 words a week to the philosophers pool for quality control (else I cough up twenty bucks).

If he were to break my heart tomorrow, would I come to associate the practice of writing with the presence of him? Probably.

So I add a few guard rails to my turnpikes and beltways around the metropolis of him. I signed up for a fiction class at Hunter (first, for the abovementioned fears, and second, because it scares me). I now owe 1500 words to the philosophers and five pages to Grace Edwards and her group of lawyers and novelist retirees.

Thursday was our first session. We met at an Upper East Side Catholic high school, in a fifth floor classroom. I trudged up all five flights, watching the city get shorter through the landing windows, and made my way past the Lilliputian lockers to room A, where ten shimmy-in chair desks were arranged in a circle.

This is a good thing for you, says Em, and she's not wrong. She's also not wrong that, had it not been for the G.I.Q. and His Royal Highness The Mogul, I may never have been so scared into staying healthy, keeping my escape car stalling on the emergency rails.

Still, I went two days without a word from him and I was rattled. I tried to remind myself of where he was and why I'm nuts and that, if I would only think back to Tuesday night, I would find imprinted in my memory a dear man removing his spectacles to hold me while I slept. Trouble is, I went to sleep . . . and all the doubts turned to demons, to vivid dreams of cruel rejection. I woke up with a motor-churning gut ache, mad at dream him and madder still at real-life me.

Even if my new writing workshop didn't feel like an AA meeting (minus the coffeecake and cigarettes), I would still have the feeling that my life since The Eighth Plague has become a constant exercise of self-improvement. An evolution project in progress. Some days I fall asleep triumphant, others, mornings like yesterday, I wake up in panic; I question whether I've accomplished anything at all—or ever will. My first quarter century, once a rich garden of masterpieces and beautiful mistakes, reduced to phrases like this: "Failed actress/always-waitress can't hack it as career girl . . . watch her as she drifts through life on odd jobs and ephemera until her teeth fall out and she dies, penniless and alone." This is where all my best laid ambitions crumble and I laugh from somewhere dark inside myself. These Jack dreams are the same: the cold, throaty chortle of my sinister cynical self.

In yoga, you hear a lot about the two selves: Self and self. What if my true Capital S self is too weak to bear the weight of my (fuck me again) dreams? What if I'm just a lazy, uninspired, uninspiring dilletante, a woman weak in constitution who really just wants to belong to someone, to be somebody's wife? Only I'm the sort of smart-enough person to know that, if I ever got there, it would only end in the inevitable sucker punch to the heart (because everybody knows marriage amounts to nothing but betrayal and eventual falling-out-of-love).

He wrote. Of course he wrote. And we spent the evening together listening to Nina Simone by candlelight, talking about the non-separateness of human beings. My pulse slowed to its favorite weekend pace. I crawled into bed after the ritual silencing of my cell phone and slept the sleep of kings.

If domestic contentment means more to me than most everything else, and that state is ultimately unachievable, what am I do to? Keep writing plotless messes riddled with extra adjectives, lazy prose abandoned for insomniac episodes of Ally McBeal in my dark twin bed, numbing myself to all experience to protect me from the one pattern I just can't break?

He's no Ted Hughes (and I no Sylvia Plath).

1 comment:

Phoenix said...


I remember this. I remember this all too well. I was just divorced, vulnerable as all hell, and fresh into a new long-distance relationship, approximately 6 months before it was healthy to be in a relationship, but I was terrified and I couldn't be alone and so healthy decisions were to be damned.

If several hours went by without me hearing back from him after leaving a voice-mail, my entire body would explode in panic, my heart would sob, I would LITERALLY be sick to my stomach and shaking. I was that bad.

The longer we dated, the more I grew into me, because I was forced to. Being in a long-distance relationship kept him from becoming my crutch, and I started to take steps forward, one measly one a day, to put my life back in order, and while this new man was there in the background to support me, distance dictated that I could never put him in the foreground.

As I grew comfortable with me, I grew comfortable with him. And as I grew comfortable with him, I grew comfortable with us.

And now we live together. And he makes me happier than sunshine. Because I know, without a doubt, that I also have the ability to make myself happier than sunshine.

It's not always about having an awesome exit strategy, hon. Sometimes it's about how we entered in in the first place.