Friday, January 18, 2008

Mirror, mirror

A friend of mine has entered into a romance that her circle of pals has fair cause to distrust. The man has a history of taking direct aim at women and hurting them badly. This isn't one of those "It's just not working out" break-up mo's. He's always been on the look-out for other women, sleeping around, lying blatantly.

I am alarmed -- for her but more for me.

Maybe we need friends, I was thinking as I walked Zeke on this sunny warmish blowy Friday afternoon, to hold up a mirror to us. If you'd said this to me a week ago, I would have assumed you meant that friends tell us when our labels are sticking out or someone has been putting it out that we put out, but today I can see other ways this truism works.

My first reaction to her news was exasperation. Then I began to brood about it. Why should I get my knickers in a twist about her decision? I don't have to see the guy and wonder if he's telling the truth about why he canceled coming over last night. She has offered to keep quiet about it, knowing that her friends are so opposed to the romance: I don't even have to hear about it unless I ask for details.

Further, she's obsessed about this man for so long that this is the opportunity for her to find out if he's really all that and a bag of chips. I'll go so far as to say that she has a double-load to carry in beginning this relationship. She's got to evaluate him in his own right AND police his person for that doesn't match either of their heads. It's gotta to be tense over there in Loveland these days.

My official reaction was to wish her luck and warn her to protect herself. That's the kind of reaction that's guaranteed to have her prodding for what's underneath such a staid line. What was underneath, I began to realize, isn't pretty and I warned her that my curled lip at the thought of what she's doing has more to do with me than with her, and that it's a good object lesson for us both to see how much any reaction we meet with in life is not about what she (or I or you) have said or done.

I could also say that the name of some of what I feel is wrong. I envy her, but I don't envy her getting together with this guy or for having a relationship. I envy the balls she's shown in taking on such a Lothario. I envy her ability to forgive him, or try to.

The night she told me what she'd done, I had a vivid dream of being committed to an insane asylum where I and the other inmates were hearing voices and living in alternate universes. In the audience was the man I once loved. Sitting very close to him was his current lover. Audience? I don't remember why there was an audience. It wasn't Bedlam but for some reason they were there and he was terribly eager to ask me, apparently normal among the mad people, questions. When I saw him I morphed like Bertha Mason, lunging and spitting to get at him and claw his eyes out. The next day I received an email asking me if I wanted to be someone's "friend" on a website I know he lurks on. It was a bogus invitation but of course I had to go look. He looks very happy with his new love. I thought about how I was that pretty when I was thin. I thought about what he said about why "we" didn't work out. I thought about how he wanted to be friends with me as this new relationship blossomed and how I finally said I couldn't do it. I thought about how I dropped the last opportunity to be in touch with him like a hot coal. I thought about how thinking about him still tears my throat out.

I envy my friend's opportunity at a chance with someone she knows, warts and all. I won't have that opportunity.

Distraction! I thought. Other men! But there really aren't any. And so I had to acknowledge that one man I had an ongoing email/phone relationship with point-blank refused to meet me and how I terminated it because of that, how I pushed at someone else when I felt used and he'd dropped me. I thought about all the men kindasortalmosthovering on the periphery of my life and I envied her gumption to open herself up to that world of hurt and the stores of energy it takes even to get to the part that hurts.

"I can't date until the book is done," I said to myself. Well, that's not all that distant now. "I can't date until I've lost weight," I tried not to say. But isn't that a crock of shit? I mean, I'm fat. I'll always be fat. If I'm very lucky, I might get to hide how fat I am in a thin body, but I have a fat head and fat blood and a fat history. Maybe the point is to date someone now so he'll know...the worst of it. I didn't want to write that phrase. The truth of it? The Fat Girl I also love, or who should be lovable as well as the thin one?


And that, folks, is the first layer of my reaction to my friend's news. It leaves me sad for myself and ashamed of that sadness. Look, the grown-up Frances wants to say to that snarking Francie, YOU dropped two men for being too roughshod on your heart. YOU stated in one sentence how hurt you were and that man disappeared. You've done some good housekeeping in the last year so you don't get to be all regretful about the past you tossed out for very good reasons.

But her chance has reminded me of my lost chances and informed me of how reluctant I am -- and how undeserving I feel -- to court new ones.

It's not about her. It's not even about me wishing I were in her shoes.

It's about me and the mirror she's held up for me to see the state of my heart in.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Back from the Land of Weak Irony

It's Day Three of getting off Christmas Sugar and Day Three of Daisy's and my return to Brooklyn from Arizona. I'm not going to apologize for breaking my abstinence but I will say that I feel like shit in the wake of it. I wasn't walking and being back in business with the dogs is hard on my thighs and shoulders. I'm hungry every two hours as my body readjusts. I won't mention my digestion. And yet it feels heavenly after three weeks of that heavy sodden ghastly mulch I was living in. When I'm In The Sugar, there's no sense of "this will be better when". When I get out of it, I know the first seventy-two hours will be hard and the first ten days dangerous and touchy. So I'm countin' days.

It may sound very strange, then, that I will be thinking about thinking about moving to the Land of Nothing when the Book is done. My mother is ailing and my father is blind. They are scared for each other and scared for themselves. They need me and I want to be there to walk them as gently and intelligently through their end time as I can.

There are pro's and con's to this. I realized how much I miss being treated as though I am not responsible for how much the Safeway clerk, cable guy or waiter hates his or her job. People are friendly, smiling, helpful, accommodating. When the Schwann's delivery man brought in food, he stocked the freezers for my parents, roughed up Daisy, said hello in the most jolly way to my parents and breezed on out in the time it would have taken for a New York City or TriState deliveryman to diss his customers for having paid for his services.

I want to collect my stuff and live with it before I, too, face my end times. My china and furniture are spread out between Montana and Oregon and the things I have in the Bat Cave can't be seen OR appreciated for the crunch of space here. It would be nice to have a full size refrigerator and a microwave and fuses that don't blow when I run my hair dryer.

On the other hand, Arizona is as white bread as any place I've ever seen and the last place on earth I'd pick to live. I find the consumption of gasoline, land, and water distasteful. There are no mailboxes on the streets. There are no people on the streets. There is no recycling beyond newspapers. The houses all look the same and even the city offices are in strip malls.

Like my digestion, I won't go into the lack of greenery and the summer heat.

And then there is being home. I took Daisy out five minutes after getting back and five minutes later we ran into Boomer. At seven the next morning we bumped into Steven, Jonathan, Susan, and Daisy's friend, Chance. The dogs were incredibly happy to see me and I laugh at how I drag myself out on Monday morning to be met with, "FRANCES! IS IT CHRISTMAS? YOU'RE HERE -- IT MUST BE CHRISTMAS! DON'T YOU JUST LOVE MONDAY MORNINGS WHEN WE GET TOGETHER AGAIN!?"

The chances of knowing one's neighbors are slim in the Land of Weak Irony. You may only chat once a year, as you're setting up your inflatable snowman in the front yard for Christmas.

But then I arrive at Newark and find that Daisy's crate had been secured with those police ties. "You want those cut?" the clerk asked.

No, I wanted to say. I carry sharp scissors in my carry-on bag.

"Please," I answered.

So she did -- all but one, meaning I had to interrupt politely, collect glares and clerkly suspicion while I cut the last tie off in order to break the crate down. This is what is considered "service" in the TriState area.

And then again, I talked to one of my dog's humans yesterday evening and we laughed about the dogs until we were on the verge of tears. I ran into a friend this morning and laughed about dogs (it's a theme, OK?) until I hawked up a loogie. I cracked another of my dog's humans up at noon. People get me here. People make me laugh here. My acquaintances are, intellectually if not financially, my peers. We're all fulsome Democrats. There are books in our homes and dreams of hilly forests in our citified hearts.

But a gym would be cheaper in Arizona and some of the year I could take Daisy to the lake.

Back and forth. What I do know is that my dream when I finish this book is to rent a car and drive away. I want to visit every important person from my past and make peace with it. I'll take a miss on three or ten people I actively...well, hate, but I'd like to reinstall friendships, colleagueships, sisterships, auntships and cousinships while seeing how they have fared and shaped their lives in the last twenty or thirty years.

It would seem my parents' end times are shaping how I'm thinking about my own initial descent down the slope.