Thursday, November 24, 2005

Making pie and giving thanks

Last weekend, Robert put his head in his hands and said, "Mum always used to make a pumpkin pie!"
I rolled my eyes. And if I didn't actually roll my eyes, I'm sure I wanted to.
"Well," I said, "should we get your recipe and make a pie on Thanksgiving?"
His whole face lit up. "Oh, would you?" he said. "We'll invite my sister and do a whole Thanksgiving dinner." He dug his mobile phone out of his pocket and called Anne Louise. "Come over on Thursday evening for a home-cooked meal, Sarah's making a pumpkin pie. And I'm doing the main course."
When he hung up, I raised an eyebrow. "What 'main course' are you planning to make?"
I would love to write that Robert blushed but, alas, he looked right at me as he said, "I'll pick up a couple of lobsters."
"On your way home from work?"
He nodded.
"Robert," I said, "There's a difference between putting forth effort and throwing money at a problem..."
And we laughed.

This morning, we went downstairs to the fish shop and bought one and a half kilos of mussels, to be cooked in a cup of white wine and olive oil with shallots and no salt and then sprinkled with fresh parsley, and three fish cakes. After Rob went to work, I went to the cheese shop and bought pecorino and fresh bread to sop up with the mussels. Robert's mum emailed us her Prize Pumpkin Pie recipe and Robert dashed in and out of the apartment between meetings to help me make the crust. I toasted pecans to sprinkle on top of the crust and bought whipped cream to mix with a tablespoon of maple syrup before serving.

Nothing in the dinner belongs with anything else (pumpkin pie and fish cakes?) so I'm also making a roasted butternut squash salad with rocket, proscuitto, and pecorino. The grocery store was filled with more American women than I've ever before seen in London, all of us pushing carts around and bemoaning the dearth of ready-made crusts.

We don't have any napkins but it feels cozy here for the first time that I can remember. I had been so afraid that this apartment would break me open somehow, after last month's visit. In Paris, I looked at Robert and said, "If someone asked you if you'd ever been engaged, would you even say yes?" And he said, "I just want that whole thing to disappear."

Just now, up to his elbows in dough in the kitchen, I touched the hair above the nape of his neck and said, "I love you." He looked at me, he said, "I love you so much." I am grateful to be here today. I am grateful for the warmth and loyalty and graciousness of my friends and family. For my father's enthusiasm, Suzie's sense of humor, Phoebe's ringing laughter, Julianne's unwavering faith, my sister's gentleness. I am grateful for my friend Sarah in North Carolina, my friend Liz in Atlanta, Rebecca in Chicago -- and the way, with these women, we talk honestly about the sorts of things I could never talk about with anyone else. What it's like to be lonely in a crowd, what we're eating for dinner, who we love, what we're reading, what things were like when we were in high school and college and how we are now. God, Robert doesn't have the patience for those conversations and I love him for that. At heart, he is a giant goofball, my personal space-heater, a man who wants the best for me.

I want to remember the way it feels right now, to have everything I need, to give thanks for our pie crust that looks scrappy from the outside but tastes so good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

inevitability and invention

I was supposed to fly home to New York this morning and instead I ended up on the Eurostar train from Paris to London. It wasn't an accident. Technically, I don't have to go home until next week because it's Thanksgiving break and I don't have class for another week. Robert had to come back to London for work and a few days ago he asked if I would come with him and I kept vacillating, uncommitted, until last night when I could suddenly see myself, so clearly, unlocking the door of the New York apartment and setting down my suitcase, taking off my boots, watering the plants, drinking a glass of water and wondering what in the hell I was doing back when I could have stayed with him. Also, you know, I have two massive papers to write for my lit class and I decided I'd get more work done if I didn't leave. Seriously. Two post-goodbye funk days spent in a fetal position on my futon wouldn't put much a of a dent in my scholarly pursuits. It makes so much more sense to lie around and make out by the fireplace in Paris.

Except, Toto, we're not in Paris anymore. The sun went down in London today before four in the afternoon and Robert is at work and I am back, four flights up, working on the outline for my first paper. An examination of the thematic pairing of memory and desire in Love in the Time of Cholera and The Lover. So far, I've come up with some key passages from each and the thought that memory enhances the experience of desire because in real time, a love affair plays out once while in memory, it unfolds over and over again, unending. Talking about this makes me feel like I'm high. So I just took a break to eke out a tiny list of groceries that I'm about to buy:

orange juice
plain yoghurt
pink lady apples

I'm on my own tonight because Rob has a business dinner. Yesterday we went to the market on rue Montorguiell and cooked dinner at home. Roasted onions and carrots. Sauteed scallops and mesclun and tomatoes. Salmon with sage from the garden and honey. Champagne and red wine and glasses of water. Brebis blue cheese with slices of ripe pear. Robert looked at me from across the dining room table and said, "Isn't this a beautiful life we have?" --

I know, writing it now, and even in that moment, that it sounds like sort of thing that people shouldn't say. But it was true. It was especially true because the last few days alone together there were so precious and rare. There was no one we had to see, no place to which we had to report, no alarm clock, no constraints other than Robert's work and my reading. In my head I keep trying to turn my "have-to's" into "get-to's", as in turning the obligation of my paper-writing into a privilege. The grade is a non-issue, the contents of the papers will be seen by only my professor and whomever else has the interest in reading them. I have struggled somewhat with this class, feeling that I am not intellectual enough to offer opinions on Proust, et al. The truth is that I am proud and relieved to have taken this course because speaking about books, about great books, is something I want to feel comfortable doing. The only thing that has stopped me are my opinion of myself and also the heretofore lack of discipline in reading them. Ha! Three weeks from today (and thirty pages of literary analysis later), I'll be sliding right back into bed with some fat chick lit.

Oooh! All the Christmas lights outside are sparkling! And I HAVE to come up with three pages of paper in the next hour and a half. I must, I must, I must increase list?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

breaking hearts with gin, etc.

My feet are freezing and unsocked, I'm wrapped up in one of Robert's bathrobes and we just drank hot chocolate and ate fresh croissants and I fell asleep last night crying on my side of the bed. When I think about saying goodbye to him, I am a wreck. I woke up drooling from some heavy dream about desecrated buildings and abandoned houses and he came in wearing a blue turtleneck sweater, crawled under the covers and tried to start some lovemaking and all I could think was Go away, I have to wipe the sleep out of my eyes, I have to take a shower, I have to get dressed, I have to start pounding my too many clothes back into my too-small suitcase. Ugh.

Yesterday I was reading an email from Julianne in California about a fallout with a friend of hers and we hadn't spoken since August so when Robert and I were sitting by the fire upstairs and he left to do some work, I reached for the phone and called her. And, of course, twenty minutes later she was telling me that she doesn't know why I'm still bothering with Robert, that he's not good enough, that all it does is hurt me. I thought, "No, no, you don't understand, I am happy with him." And I could HEAR her shaking her head no, sigh, saying, "There's such a correlation between unhealthy family dynamics and that fact that you've run back to him. How are you getting your schoolwork done with all this traveling? I'll pray for you."

I felt so lonely and shaken up at the end of our conversation that I could barely remember what it felt like to love our friendship, to look forward to our talks. The strangest part was that she had said, speaking about her own friend, that the two things she cannot tolerate from a friend are for her feelings to be invalidated (because they're seen as an overreaction) and to be abandoned.

Over Indian take-out of lamb and prawns and something called legumes maharana korma (with pistachios and creme fraiche), I told Robert about Julianne and how we had been "best friends" throughout middle school and high school and college. And how she became a born-again Christian, how she's never had a boyfriend, how reaching out to her feels like waking up and finding out that I've fallen off the bed.

Monday, November 21, 2005

escargots sounds so much better than 'snails'

Over this Thanksgiving break, I wanted to meet Robert in Paris instead of London for two reasons:
1. Paris, in my mind, is an infinitely more beautiful city.
2. Getting through immigration at Heathrow makes me stutter and I am increasingly both terrified of and convinced that one of these trips I will be pulled into a side room and interrogated even more harshly than I yet have been. A 25-year-old full-time student/yoga teacher doesn't look like she has much business traveling to London every month unless it's a guise for actually operating as a mule. It's actually one of the first things that comes to mind when I think about marrying Robert -- after throwing mental confetti around in celebration of love and committment and togetherness, I feel relieved enough to sigh, thinking about passing right by Passport Control without heart palpatations. Those people are paid to instill the fear of God and when they've hammered you down into tiny pieces, they always say, "Have a good day, love." Like they hadn't just spent twenty minutes asking me how many credit cards I have, how much money I have access to, what my boyfriend does, what I do, how we met, how long we've been together, are we engaged, am I pregnant, where is he from, can they see my return ticket, and what sort of work do I plan on doing after I graduate.

That last one raises an interesting point, actually, given that very soon I should be in the process of applying for the same jobs to which I applied four years ago. I wonder, sometimes, if any other "creative types" are also tempted to turn the 'F' into a 'B', transforming an MFA into an asset instead of a drawback.

Paris is still beautiful. I hadn't known what to expect find, having read about the rioting in the suburbs and the burning cars and enraged minorities, but all of that seems to have ended. We spent the weekend walking around through the Marais and the Palais Royal, running around the Tuilleries, and eating melted Monte D'Or cheese by the fire. The year's Beaujolais Nouveau came out on Thursday and twice we've stepped into dark restaurants with big windows to drink glasses and eat snails with pesto and garlic. Yesterday, at the inadvertant suggestion of a woman whose blog I read every day, we went to the Musee Rodin and strolled through the garden and sculptures, stopping to turn our faces up toward the sun before we went inside. Then we took a taxi to Sacre Coeur, which Robert had never been to, ever, and we looked out over the city, using the binoculars to find his apartment by the Opera and then we went inside the church, where a service was going on.

At Le Fumoir, we shared a plate of brebis cheese with apricot preserves and drank wine and I was overwhelmed with remembering the first time we'd been there, more than two years ago, during a summer rainstorm, when we were first falling in love and getting to know each other at the same time.

I've spent all day reading Garcia Marquez and finishing Duras' The Lover while Robert has been working. Outside, the sky is overcast and heavy. I know it will be freezing but I'm wearing a short skirt and my vintage high-heeled Ferragamo boots and we will along the river and pretend that this isn't going to end in 36 hours. Robert is upstairs in his coat, calling, "Let's go. Come on! Sarah!"

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Nothing personal

Yesterday was my turn to be "workshopped" in class and I turned in a 10-page piece about my relationship with my high school boyfriend, Thom, and, later, my friendship with his college roommate, Andrew. Writing it brought up all this emotion in me -- protective feelings about myself at that age, maternal feelings for Thom and Andrew and (considering that both of them were using herion on a regular basis) a lot of worry and fear. I ended the piece by writing about running into Andrew a couple of years ago and then imagining an encounter with my own future child.

The piece has problems, I know, namely because the beginning and ending don't fit. It was my hope that the workshop would offer a chance for some constructive criticism and encouragement and that I would walk away with a better sense of what needs work.

Instead, it was all I could do not to cry while a couple of people were talking. I know, I know, I shouldn't care, I should pick and choose, I should block it out. But. These are some of the written comments I received:

1. "You have alot (sic) of good dialogue and descriptions here. However, I can't physically see them. I am also confused as to why you care about them or why they are important to you. There are other parts where I don't understand your motivations" -- Jason

2. "Try to avoid being too porno-y (no OFFENSE at all -- just thought you might think about it...the resemblance of this description to a bad romance novel...?)...It's over the top and kind of abrupt, you need to explain it better...He doesn't sound that bad, if that's what you're going for with this description. I SMOKE CAMEL LIGHTS TOO. This is so superficial. Your personality is random. Your judgmental tone is jarring, your voice is a bit harsh and unsympathetic (I have the same problem with being blunt, but--) and it's all cliche sounding. And that title -- HUH? Thanks" -- Juliet

My teacher wrote "Full of good writing and some of the best lines of descriptions I've yet seen from you. As usual, by not paraphrasing you're losing opportunities for development, characterization, observaiton..."

I want to reiterate that I was not looking for everyone to love it. Maybe I'm crazy but I found some of the comments people made to be completely unconstructive. It's my goal to leave a workshop wanting to do more work on the piece, feeling interested and enthused...and yesterday, I walked out of class and started crying. I felt like it was a huge mistake to share something about which I have such raw feelings; it makes me vulnerable and I couldn't help but that what they said personally. A mistake, I know I should know that by now. It's not personal.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

here are my cards

I have to tell you what happened on Friday night. I've been putting it off for three days and now, it's not even eight in the morning and I'm sitting at my kitchen table with a mug of coffee and a clean face and I can't think of a single excuse not to write this. Except, of course, that it's hard.

Shannon and I met the fall of our sophomore year at NYU, in a poetry class held in the basement of the business school. Sometime in that November of 1999, I ran into her at Starbucks buying hot chocolate and I had to hold onto the counter because I felt so nervous. And when she noticed me, my face almost touching the register, she said hi and smiled -- and I blurted, "You make me want to be a lesbian." She laughed, I laughed, and then she left and I went back to drinking chai tea with my friend Alex, and pretended to give him my full attention.

On the last day of class, she and I were the last ones left in the classroom and we walked outside together to find that it was snowing. We stood on the corner of Broadway and Bleecker and she said, "I've been staring at your legs all semester."
I put my hands on both of her cheeks and leaned in to kiss her. And we stood there like that for a minute, kissing in the snow, until she told me she had to go to her Economics exam but did I want to come over later?

I filled a pizza box with flowers and left it for her doorman to give her.
We spent every night for the next week together, waking up before dawn in the light of her fish tanks and the gray winter sky to make out and kiss and kiss and kiss until both of us had chapped lips. I was supposed to study abroad in Florence in the spring and after I went home to Tennessee for Christmas, I came back to New York a few days before my flight left for Italy and stayed with her. We did not have sex. I had never slept with a woman before and I felt clumsy in the face of her confidence and handcuffs and lubricant and sexiness.
I stuck to the things I knew I did best--I pranced around in my underwear and played with her hair and scratched her back and gave massages and I listened to her and I watched--and by the time I left for Florence, I was convinced that this was love.

In Italy, I walked along the Arno and stopped to scribble poems about her. I went to Budapest by myself and went to bed (or, um, went to couch) with a man who I thought might help me get over her. I dated an American guy from NYU and I remember his arms around my waist at a Ben Harper concert, where I wore my new red patent leather boots, and walking home with him in the rain and thinking about Shannon. I called her on her birthday in April, and before that, when she was in the hospital by herself. I wrote her love emails and she wrote me flirtatious ones. By the time I came back to New York, she was packing to move to Brookyn and when I called and left messages, she never called me back.

Months later, when we started hanging out, she told me that I'd gotten too heavy for her, that I came at her with "all of this intense...emotion." She had a new girlfriend, Amy, and then she had other girlfriends, whole strings of them, and she wrote a poem likening them to fresh cartons of milk. Once in a while, we kissed, and she would smile, and that would be the end of it.

Until the spring of 2003, when, one night, we went from sitting in our lawnchairs in her backyard in Williamsburg, to our knees, kissing in the grass. And then we moved inside to her futon and we took off each other's shirts and jeans and underwear and had sex. We woke up the next morning curled like two spoons and I turned around to face her and she crawled on top of me and we did it again. And it went on like that for months, more than lovers but not quite girlfriends.

It went on for months and we would have conversations in which I said, "I want only to be with you. I love you," and she said, "I love you, too, but..." She introduced me to her friends as "Straight girl" and I felt, all the time, like I had something to prove. And finally, six months later, after I'd met Robert and she and I had started fighting more and more, we just let it go.

You know, it's crazy how you can be in love with someone and still harbor this tiny hole for someone else, some little trapdoor that you think your partner won't see. I have thought about Shannon for the last two years, knowing (knowing!) that it would never work out with us and still missing what it was to kiss her on the sidewalk in the snow and all our months of laughing our asses off and counting change to buy gasoline and spreading our poems out across her kitchen floor. I have fallen in love with Robert and committed to him and never been as happy with someone and never been treated as well--and still, sometimes, have thought, "What would it be like if Shannon and I were together? How do I know I'm not in love with her anymore?"

I have told her about Robert but I haven't told her the whole truth. Which is to say that she knows I have a boyfriend but she didn't know until Friday that it's not a bad thing. I've always played it down when talking to her, changed the subject quickly, and brushed off her questions. On Friday, I drove up to Connecticut to see her alone for the first time since February and I looked at her and said, "I'm going to marry him."

She thought I was joking. I shook my head. "It's true."
I said, "Sometimes I think about you...It's hard to be in your company right now without touching you."
She said, "I'm just as confused as you are about us. It's something that doesn't go away."

But mostly, she told me about her art--her sculptures and paintings and shows--and I listened and nodded and she said, "You're not listening."
We hugged before I left and she said, "Do we have more to talk about?" and I said, "I don't think so."
She said, "How can you be serious about this guy? You've always told me he wasn't the one for you."
I said, "That's because I've never told you the truth about it."

And I left.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

"Who stole my jalapa?"

The other day, on this blog, when I was writing about reading Edward Albee in the cafeteria of my freshman dorm, it reminded me of a conversation I had with my then-roommate's boyfriend, Brian. I was eighteen, he was a few years older, and he told me, with no provocation, that he "could really see me hitting my physical peak around twenty-three, twenty-four."
At the time, I thought, "Yeah, okay, that's years away."
And I think about it now, at 25, and I'm like, "Oh lord, what if I've already...peaked?"
It's never more clear to me than in those self-obsessed moments that I need to be doing volunteer work. After all of last month's fallout with Robert, I called him and said, "We need to get out of our own heads. Let's go to Mexico and help build a well."
He said, "That sounds great." And then he paused. "Is this a trick?"
"What?" I asked.
"I mean," he said, "are you planning to go, too? Because I can just imagine showing up someplace in the desert and being told that you couldn't make it, you're on vacation with your new boyfriend, but here's a shovel, start digging."

He called me this afternoon in a panic to find, of all things, a silk man's dress from Morocco that we bought for him last summer (knowing, even as he tried it on, that there's nowhere in London he would ever wear it).
"Hi, baby," I said when I anwered the phone.
"Where is my jalapa?" he said. "I can't find it."
"I don't know," I told him. "Are you having a fashion show?"
"I've looked everywhere," he said. "I just want to know where it is."
"I'm sure Maria (his blessed and most patient housecleaner) knows where it is; I don't think you're going to find it unless you work cooperatively with her...Although I don't think it would be helpful to leave a note saying, 'Maria, where is my jalapa?'"
Rustling noises. "I found it!"
"So," I said, "how was your weekend?"
"I've been working."
"You work all the time," I said. "Are you sure it's a good idea to leave town for Thanksgiving?"
"I don't know," he said. "I don't know."
"You either need a catheter and feeding tube at your desk, or a vacation," I joked.
And he was not amused. "It's not helpful of you to remind me that I work so much."
I told him he was being overly sensitive.
We got off the phone with a "See you."

Honestly, I want to say I don't know what Robert got so irritated about but the truth is that I do know: He fears that that while he works so much, life is passing him by. I have the same sort of fear for totally different reasons -- I worry that while I dick around eating apples and reading paperback mysteries and writing a blog about it, life might pass me by.

Twenty-three, somehow, it just didn't feel like the peak.

Friday, November 11, 2005

No hablo ingles

On Saturday, Robert and I were walking through Central Park, just north of the zoo, discussing the merits of living uptown when we saw a tiny boy grab his mother's pantleg and scream, "I hate black people!" He looked three years old. His mother leaned over and said, "Shhh! You can't just SAY that." He screamed: "I ONLY LIKE WHITE PEOPLE!"

Robert and I stood still for a minute, agape, until I said, "So much for raising a family on the Upper East Side."

Two days later, I was pacing the sidewalk in front of Angelica's Kitchen, telling the story to my friend Liz in Atlanta. "Do you believe that?" I asked her.
"Um, Sarah, of course I do," she said. "That's no different than Nashville."
"Really?" I said. "I don't think, in my whole life, I'd ever seen a bigot wearing diapers. And he didn't just come up with that himself, which is the worst part. He's learned from some adult that it's normal to feel that way."
"Right, right," Liz said, "he just hadn't learned that it's not quite as cool to feel that way in public."

Five minutes later, we got off the phone and I was heading inside for soup and steamed vegetables when I realized that if I didn't call Robert back before six my time, he'd be asleep.
"Hi," I said when he answered. "How are you?"
Just then, three African American boys (they looked like they were eleven or twelve years old) walked past and the one closest to me, eating a huge bag of Cheet-Os, said, "Yo, girl, you got a fat ass."
I turned around and looked at him and he looked right back and popped a Cheet-O in his mouth as he kept walking. "Did you hear that?" I said to Robert and then told him what happened.
"That's hilarious," he said.
But I don't think it was so funny. Unless, of course, it was p-h-a-t, in which case it's less offensive but somehow, no less dubious. Sometimes, very rarely, I wish I didn't speak English.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"Yeah, I'm totally heartbroken. What's your name again?"

The other night, I ran into a girl whose name I couldn't remember -- we took a creative writing class together at NYU five years ago -- and we'd seen each other at Barnes & Noble in September of this year. I barely remember our conversation then, other than letting her know that our professor, Barbara Bejoian, passed away and we talked about what a wonderful teacher she had been. And then this woman (what is her name?) told me that she practices Reiki and I told her that I am a yoga teacher.

But there must have been more to it than that because when we walked past each other this week, we waved and said hello (we were both with other people) and she called out, "Did you get all your boy troubles sorted out?"

I stood there on the corner and blushed, embarrassed to have disclosed some personal and problematic detail of my relationship with Robert to a woman whose name escapes me, as do the contents of whatever I said. Robert is the most private person I have ever met and it is something that about him that I deeply respect and value.

I never have difficulties keeping other people's secrets but, until that moment, I had no qualms about spilling everything I feel and have experienced in private, to outsiders. Now I wonder if baring my own intimacies so freely doesn't somehow cheapen them.

I just painted my toes a color called Clean Machine and I'm off to teach a yoga lesson.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

reading the reading

I've lived in New York since 1998 but have never stopped being amazed by what you can see through windows. It reminds me of having a dollhouse, split open so you see Father in the living room with the bookshelf wallpaper and Mother in the bath and Sister and Brother playing hide and seek (he's on top of the refrigerator). Right now, I am watching the woman directly across the courtyard pour two glasses of red wine and pull up her bra strap and then she disappears from view. Two floors down, there's a black cat standing above the air conditioning unit, standing so still that if I hadn't already seen his ears twitch I'd wonder if he'd been taxidermied.

Last night Suzie invited me to join her at Cooper Union’s Great Hall for the PEN American Center’s second State of Emergency reading, in support of their efforts to end torture and arbitrary detention. Readers included Salman Rushdie, Paul Auster, Dave Eggers, Heidi Julavits, Walter Mosley, Rick Moody, Edward Albee, Don DeLillo, Philip Gourevitch, Sandra Cisneros. Each of them took the stage long enough to read a poem or excerpt from a story or essay about torture and I spent most of that time with one hand on my forehead, eyes closed, trying to block out the descriptions of pain. What I will remember about last night, above all the details of excrutiating loss, is what they looked like, these writers, and not what their voices said but what they sounded like and the way they walked across the stage.

I have read books by all of them and it is impossible to remember them without also remembering myself at those times, my own life --

The House on Mango Street was on my ninth grade summer reading list and we went on a family trip somewhere and I was sprawled out in the back of our old green minivan, marveling at what a good choice it was because the chapters were so short.

In the winter of 2002, I lived alone on 15th Street and 7th Avenue, in a fifth-floor walk-up, and I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius leaning back against my wooden headboard, my feet balanced on the radiator, and I kept putting the book down to call Lauren in D.C. and say, "Listen to this part..." while I darted into the cold kitchen for halved walnuts.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was assigned in a playwriting class my freshman year of college, when I lived in a dorm on University Place, and I took it with me to the cafeteria in the basement and ate yogurt with granola and honey and thought as I read it, This is the sort of homework I've been waiting my whole life for.

And it was in my childhood bedroom in Nashville that I read The Ice Storm and Purple America and Garden State, and where I flipped to the book jacket photograph of Rick Moody and wondered what it would be like if we met and was he too old for me and what if he was already in love with someone else?

Last night, Rick Moody wore black Converse sneakers and a tiny porkpie hat and he slumped over the podium while he read part of a story about Americans in Italy, being served a girl on a plate for dinner. "It is a siren," their host says. "This fish is a great delicacy."
"But it's not a fish!" the American woman squawks.
After much protracted argument, the Italians agree to bury the "siren" in the garden.
It was a relief for him to break the seriousness of multiple readings about smashed kneecaps and dislocated shoulders with some humor. He was a good reader, he didn't stumble and he used different voices for the characters, the way my father used to do when he read aloud to me and my sister before we went to sleep.

Dave Eggers drank a Diet Coke.
Walter Mosley wore reading glasses with plastic purple frames.
The actress Lili Taylor sat three rows ahead of us and everytime I saw her, I thought about Say Anything -- the scene where John Cusack is standing in the dark with a boombox held above his head, and Ione Skye is alone in her bedroom, between the sheets, knowing that Peter Gabriel's words are being played only so that she will hear them.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I'm not famous but I'll scratch your back

Yesterday I found myself sitting on a bench in Union Square, on the receiving end of a monologue from the man next to me, an autograph collector. When I sat down, I heard him say, "Gorgeous, gorgeous," and I looked up for a just a second, wearing my most beguiling "who, moi?" smile -- and saw that his attention was directed at a large poodle. Apparently named Louie. Five minutes later, he said, "I see you're readin' a book. What are you, from England?" And I assumed he wasn't talking to the poodle anymore so I looked up, this time with my serious I-am-a-fulltime-graduate-student expression (for those of you who don't know, this is the same thing as looking very tired and poor and frightened of getting hit by loan collectors).

"No," I said. "I'm not from England."
"You talk like you gotta accent. You from England?"
"No," I said again.
"You an actress?" he said.
I shook my head and looked back at Love in the Time of Cholera.
"Hey!" he shouted. I looked up at him again. "If you were somebody," he rolled up his Post and smacked the armrest in between us. "If you were somebody, I would definitely get your autograph."

I can't think of any instance in which it would be a cool thing to even admit this but I was asleep before nine o'clock last night. At 8:36, I put down the Steve Buscemi profile in the New Yorker and yawned, set my glasses down on top of the crossword puzzle I'd been doing (anyone know the state tree of South Carolina?) and turned off the light. And then, in the dark, I was gripped by a horrible nagging fear that said: You are a boring person. If Robert were still here, you wouldn't have eaten dinner yet. Did you even eat dinner today?

Then, I thought, "Yes, yes, that's true, but the point is that Robert is not here anymore, I am alone, and I can sleep in the middle of the bed in a giant X-shape with a pile of books next to me and the window open to the cold without him threatening to get sick. And I ate lunch at four o'clock, followed by three apples." And I proceeded to sleep for nine hours.

Last Saturday morning, Robert and I woke up and walked three blocks to Prune, on 1st and 1st, for the best brunch in the city (I had the Caraway Seed and Sour Cream Omelet and lamb sausage and Robert had the Dutch-style Apple Pancake and Eggs Benedict with potatoes rosti) and then we took a Mexican blanket and the NY Times in a taxi to 75th and 5th. We walked around the observatory and spread out on the grass beside Turtle Pond, where we spotted turtles and I scratched his back and he played with my hair and exhibited enough public displays of affection to make the family next to us pick up their daughter, Lucy Jane, and move away from us and, when I noticed, for me to say, "Robert! No, you cannot lie on top of me." He read aloud to me from the Financial Times, an article about tribes in Iraq, while I nosed the grass looking for four-leaf clovers. On our way through the Ramble a few hours later, I saw Robert holding something in his hand and he squatted down to foraging level.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
He opened his hand and showed me two uncapped acorns. "Shhh," he whispered, "I'm going to give them to that little guy." Ten feet away stood a squirrel on his hindlegs. Just as Robert was about to toss him the acorn, a gay couple appeared beside us and one of them hooted, "Ooooh, dios mio. It's a New York City rat! Teeheehee!" The squirrel scampered away.

Yesterday morning, as I was making the bed, I noticed something on the shelf above the dresser and when I stepped closer I saw them: two acorns. Robert must have kept them in his pocket all day and thinking about him, crouched on the ground under an oak tree, it made me miss him so much I had to get out of the apartment. On my way up Second Avenue, I thought, "What I love most about Robert are the aspects of him that are like a little boy."

I've had that thought before, and had even told him so, crossing Marylebone High Street last month two days after he proposed and then changed his mind. We were holding hands, had just come from a dinner of steak and Rioja, and I told him that and then I said, "You're my baby." He shrugged and shook his head. "No," he said. "I don't deserve any kind words."

Maybe that's true, I remember thinking, probably not. There was no ring on my finger anymore and its absence stung but he pulled me forward out of the path of an oncoming car and suddenly I stopped asking myself How could he do this to me? and that thought was replaced with this one: I still love him.

It was as simple as that. We opened the door, walked up four flights, and were home. I started to pack.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I love anal sex

My mother has found my blog. I think it was only a matter of time, really, given that I hadn't called her back in two days and had just received an email from her saying that, in case I'm ever in a coma or other "emergency situation that prevents me from returning her calls" she wanted to have my friends' phone numbers. Is it me or does that sound like an obvious ploy for sympathy, from my friends, not for my "coma" but for my neglect?

The options now are either to change names and start anew, or to attempt to frighten her away with titles like the above. Or, I suppose, I could just keep doing what I've been doing and block out the fact that she might read it.

It's my own fault, really, since I left a comment on my sister's website and all my mom did was follow the (impossibly easy) trail by clicking on her mouse. Last night I called home, though not, as you might expect, in a fit of anger. Honestly, I did my best impression of a cool cucumber, with legs, talking to her boundary-unfriendly mother.
Me: Mom, I just need a forum where I can express myself, uncensored.
Mom: But it's a public forum! I am the public!
Me: Yeees, but I'd prefer to be able to write without being preoccupied by what people with think.
Mom: I'm the adoring public.
Me: Mom.
Mom: Fine. Fine!

I'm reading Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera and it is fabulous, I cannot recommend it highly enough. The truth is that I'd put off reading it (for my literature class) because I expected it to be beautiful in the same way that Proust is important, i.e., masterfully written but impossible to read in a crowded coffee house and remember anything later. So in the meantime, I spent last Friday with The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters, by Elisabeth Robinson, like a meatier Bridget Jones (meatier as in more soul and substance, not more poundage) and, for a day of escape, I highly approve. In fact, if you live in New York and you're reading this, I'll give it to you. (Loved it, you know, but with limited bookshelf space, I'd rather live the illusion with a row of Prousts.)

In the the shower just now, I was thinking about all the things I need to do that would make me feel caught-up with people (as opposed to a left-behind procrastinator). There are friends I haven't called back in months, haven't seen since last spring, and I think I do this in part because I'm so used to feeling guilty that it offers more of a reason. What would it feel like to be fully in the present without a train of Post-its stuck to my inside head, reminding me (again!) to do things I wanted to do in September? To erase the feeling I fall asleep with at night, the voice that says, "Oh lord, you have to do this stuff this week." When I think of returning to a full-time office job, I wonder if that implies that things will fall by the wayside. I remember so well the feeling of never having any time for myself; and now, I've grown used to the feeling of barely having time for anyone else.

Except when random sexual encounters are on the table. I looove anal sex with strangers!

Friday, November 04, 2005

I miss that old dog

This is my favorite time of day -- freshly showered and the sleep is out of my eyes, I can barely remember the dream I just had about being a robber, and I'm sitting on the (vacuumed) living room floor with a cup of Cocoa Spice tea. Today's high is 70 degrees, tomorrow should be even warmer, and I'm already starting to harbor fantasies about crawling Central Park with a picnic blanket and a basket of cheese and raspberries.

Robert and I had talked about going out of town for the weekend. Last fall, we drove out of the city on a Friday afternoon and four hours later ended up in a little town called Fleishmann, staying at a ramshackle house that turned out to be a "pet-friendly" bed and breakfast. We were the only people without a barking dog and a man down the hall walked in on us in bed but what I remember best of the weekend is the hike we took through the woods. Rob had chosen it from a book of possible "family hikes" nearby and he picked this one for its level of difficulty (the highest) and its length (8 miles) although, he swears, he did not choose it for its name: the Oscar the Grouch Hike.

I have this image of him running up through the rocks in his bluejeans while I stood by the rivulets of fresh stream water and checked my pulse and decided, right there, that it was time to take up an aerobic endeavor. We got lost three hours in but it was a beautiful day. Found again, we ate Mexican food at one of two restaurants in town and drank Negro Modelo straight from the bottles. When we got back to the B&B, rain was pouring down outside and we came in, up the stairs to our room, and made love before we fell asleep at eight-thirty.

He is sitting at the kitchen table as I write this, talking on the phone into a headset, and staring at his computer screen. His work is not going well at the moment (or all the week's moments) and so we will be here tomorrow and Robert will go back to London early on Sunday morning. I will have to make a point of not having good food in my refrigerator and fruit basket when he leaves because if I do, I will eat everything I have. That's what happens when he leaves. Crazy, huh? It used to be chocolate and cereal although a few months ago, in London, he left for Russia and I stood in the kitchen eating pasta sauce out of a jar thinking about my old dog, Shady, who had a similar problem with food and one time we came home and found that she'd eaten a half-pound bag of whole wheat flour. Strange how sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with taste and everything to do with having company.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

cleaning house

Happy Thursday! In New York, we are at the slip-end of an Indian summer that has people spilling out of sidewalk cafes and walking around with pedicured (or, in my case, obvsiouly not pedicured) feet in flip-flops. I'm still sleeping with my bedroom window open and it is too chilly for iced tea but it's the perfect sort of weather for drinking your coffee outside on a bench in the sunshine. On Halloween three days ago, Robert and I met up with Suzie and ate oysters at Jack's Oyster Bar, tucked into a red vinyl booth in a little room with striped red and white wallpaper. When we'd finished, I looked up a few feet to the window but all I could see was the dark sky and the branches of a tree -- and it was just eerie and empty enough to make me turn back to Rob and Suzie and say, "Soon it will be Christmastime." Like it hadn't even occurred to me before.

At NYU, when Franny and I lived together on Broome Street, she always used to say, "The fall semester sucks. It just always sucks. And the spring is so much better." And then she would make a bong out of a plastic Coke bottle and we would get high and take turns listening to Method Man (hers) and the Cowboy Junkies (mine) while we talked about the two boyfriends of hers who had died and also about my Richard (who, you know, wasn't really mine at all, unless I can claim possession of the way he disappeared and never called only to show up once in a while and say, "Sarah, you're an angel. I'm not good enough for you. Let's have sex. Turn around.")

Hmmm. This is the last fall semester I will ever have and I'm spending it the way I've spent every other: I'm dicking around eating apples, reading Elle and Vanity Fair (what's up with Woody Allen admitting that his feeling towards Soon Yi are perfectly paternal??) while I practice the Chinese splits. Well, no, come to the think of it, I've never been able to do the splits before now although the feeling of procrastination is imminently familiar to me, an old friend, and she's here now, in the kitchen, reminding me of the twenty-page conference paper I need to write for my literature class, the thesis revisions that need attention, the emails I have to write right now. This is part of why I spent the last two hours on my knees cleaning my entire apartment with warm soapy water, Fantastik, Pledge, and Comet. The other reason is that this morning I came home with a cup of Macadamia Nut coffee and found Robert naked in the bathtub, looking up at me with pleading eyes and saying, "I'm just trying to feel clean." I looked right back at him and said, "You know we have a vacuum cleaner." And he just looked at me, blinking, until his phone rang and he was off the domestic hook. Moments before sitting down here to pay attention to you, I was cleaning the succulent on the radiator in the living room and thinking, "I've never actually dusted a potted plant."

Last night we went to Suzie's apartment in Park Slope with two bottles of wine and some water for her Celebrate Heartbreak dinner party. She cooked the most delicious pork with sausage and dried apricots and Phoebe brought her French bulldog, Guinness, and also some squash soup with ginger creme fraiche. And I loved being a room with three of the people I care about most. Suzie is, hands-down, the most gifted storyteller I know and after dinner, Robert was lying down on the couch next to Guinness, and Suzie was telling us about Mother's Day and we were all laughing, except for Guinness, who spent most of the night with his tongue sticking out at everyone.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

love me like a cactus

This morning, we woke up just before seven o'clock to the sound of the sixteen church bells that ring on Third Street and I said, "Shouldn't you go back to London already?" And Robert pulled me on top of him and said, "I'm not leaving without you. We're not going to be apart anymore." I felt overwhelmed and scared of not being alone in my own space, eating tuna out of the can with mustard and a can of Diet Coke, listening to Ani Difranco and talking on the phone with Liz in Atlanta about how she's having great sex with a man from Mississippi, walking around in my ripped-up underwear and gray T-shirt. And I also looked up at Robert and felt excited -- overjoyed -- at the prospect of waking up together every morning and coming home at night to find each other. I felt a push-pull, the way I used to feel conflicted about men holding doors open for me, like, "I am woman! I can do it myself." Then, squeaking, "Aren't you going to at least offer to open the door?"

For a long time, I lived two lives and one of them was here in New York and the other one was with my family in Nashville. And then for a couple of years, I didn't go to Tennessee very much anymore and so I split my life between New York and London. That's the funny thing about distance -- how it allows you to compartmentalize your whole life down into a little tray so that the peas don't touch the mashed potatoes don't touch the woman you've been sleeping with don't touch the man you're committed to don't touch your Christian friends don't touch your apartment, where you spend so much time thinking about all the people who don't know anything about each other.

When Robert told me he was here to stay, I felt the same way I did on Sunday morning when my mom turned around in the passenger's seat of Meg's car and said to me, "We don't see you enough and but we always want to." First I feel like, "Oh, come on, I don't deserve this." And then I think, "Maybe I should lash out and be mean so they'll go away because I know that I don't deserve it."

I've been reading Christa Wolf's Patterns of Childhood in which the narrator describes love as captivity. That she knows it's love when she tries to capture someone with a net and get them tangled up inside it; the wanting to possess is her proof. When I read that passage, I flinch because it's so far removed from what I see as love's definition. When we were in high school, Julianne read an article in Mademoiselle that said love was "an absolute interest." When she still talked about boys and dating, Julianne used to say that what she wanted was someone "who would seek her out across a crowded room" -- and, for a long time, that was what I wanted, too.

My parents' marriage is a partnership. They're either getting along like a house on fire or they're squabbling like two kids at Jefferson's haunted house. This weekend I noticed that they kept interrupting one another and talking over each other, my mother talking louder than my dad. And I noticed, too, how affectionate they are together, how my dad's coolness tempers my mother's heat. They are both easily pleased by the feeling that the family is connected, that we are all breathing the same air. They don't much care for presentation or neatness and their bedroom is always a wreck; but, on the other hand, they love people. My mother loves to rub our feet, my father loves to cook us breakfast and take us on walks to collect chestnuts so we can come home and roast them. When she's angry, my mother is the screamer and when he's upset, my father is the distancer.

I've used these highs with Robert to balance out the horrible lows. I use the difference between Sarah alone and Sarah-and-Rob-together to live two different lifestyles, to have two different laughs and two different bedtimes. I don't quite know how it's going to happen -- I don't have any idea -- but I see myself moving towards one life and somehow, it does feel right. It feels, actually, like this has been a long time coming.