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.


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