Wednesday, December 14, 2005

No One Here Gets Out Alive...except me. And I'm going to the beach.

Last night I had a conversation with a close friend who, it was hard not to notice, has stopped using Robert's name. When she mentions him at all, she calls him, ahem, "the R-person."

"I'm just fed up with him," she said. "You are not getting any younger. YOUR LIFE IS PASSING YOU BY. And it's in his best interest to keep you unrooted, unemployed, just...available for him."
"But," I asked, "what's wrong with using his name?"
"I hate the way you say it with so much affection. He doesn't deserve it."

She's not the only close friend who feels this way and I have to wonder what I could have done to prevent this. The "R-person"? Should I have kept the dubious engagement story to myself? If I had, I think it would have eaten away at me; I wouldn't have been able to joke about it and the joking about is what makes it sufferable. In hindsight, I guess it would have been wise for me not to discuss certain aspects of our relationship but it's those very aspects of the relationship -- the distance, the loneliness, the time gaps between reunions, the pervasive feeling that I am leading two different lives -- that were eating at me. These things have been heavy on my heart and I think it would have felt dishonest, certainly disingenuous, not to have shared my feelings with the people to whom I am closest. I gather that some of those people are now fed up with the entire situation -- that one day I am in love, the next day I am still in love but unhappy, the next day I am out of the country -- and so I'm trying to think about how to handle this differently. One of the purposes of this blog, in fact, was to write freely about this relationship without talking someone's ear off, without being afraid of being judged as a weak or obsessed person. I feel, aside of the half-in, half-out part of my relationship over the past few months, like the real struggle is about finding a balance between my love life and the rest of my life without the aforementioned result of feeling like I have two different personalities.

I got off the phone last night and then Liz called from Atlanta and I asked her if she ever feels like her "life is passing her by." She said, "Oh, lord, well, when I was 23 and I'd been living in Rome for two years, my father used to tell me all the time that I was an old maid and that I was drying up."
"Did that bother you?" I asked.
"Hell to the no!" she said. "Please. Just because he and my mother got married when they were baaaarely twenty-two does not mean I was supposed to spend my twenties changing diapers."
"It just seems so frightening," I said, "the thought that we're just getting older every day. I feel exactly the way I did when I was sixteen, with more cleavage and the only groceries I sack are my own. Thank you, God, that I'm not still sacking groceries at Compton's. Two hours there and I swear I could actually feel my life passing me by."
"I know, right?" said Liz. "Some days I wake up convinced that I'm going to win the Quiz Bowl championship and then I remember that it's not 1997 anymore."
"Can I ask you something?"
"Of course."
"What," I said, "am I supposed to be waiting for with Robert? I have this idea that I'll give the relationship a finite amount of time and then, if I haven't gotten what I need, I'll move on...But I don't know what it is that I'm waiting for. I thought it was engagement."
She sighed. "I think it's commitment," she said. "You just want to have a plan to be together in a real way."
"We talk about plans all the time," I said.
"I know you do, I know," she said. "But there is a difference between talking and acting on it. My fear for you is that you are going to stay with Robert, making plans, until you're 29 or thirty and nothing will have changed. It will be harder to start over at that point than it would be now."

In my dream, Robert stopped speaking to me and I spent an entire day chasing him around, through crooked streets, calling and calling his name. Ugh. I woke up at 5 and took a shower, put on my silk bathrobe and came back to bed to reread my 18-page paper on mothers and daughters ("No One Here Gets Out Alive") and tried to stay warm. It is fourteen degrees, not including the wind chill factor, and I've been wearing my sleeping bag coat around in public, zipped up to cover my mouth. On the way to the car, I dropped off 24 pounds of laundry and the woman who works there told me to be careful because a flasher has been lurking in between the cars. I've been flashed enough times now -- on the subway, in Italy, at the grocery store in Brooklyn -- that I've committed to my future response. Instead of almost crying and running away, I am going to laugh. I might even laugh and point.

I am back in the school library. The girl next to me just swallowed Adderall with her coffee and I looked at her prescription bottle and said, 'Does that really do anything?" And she said, "Ohmygodyes. It makes you feel like vacuuming and finally, like, dealing with shit."

The last academic paper I will ever write. I am pleased as punch.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

This is apropos of nothing

but what are women thinking when they have long, personal conversations in public restrooms? Is there really nothing that can't wait until you're in a flush-free zone?

Sorry, sorry. In light of my resolve to be less nauseated and more upbeat, I'd also like to note my appreciation for today's sunshine. The sky is blue, the air is crisp; if you have a pair of gloves the sidewalk seems like the perfect place to close your eyes and turn your face towards the sun...or make a phone call.

It's a start. Kind of.

I couldn't sleep last night. I kept rolling over and squinting at the clock and then shuffling the sheets around, squirreling into the duvet to get warm. Too warm. I stared at the ceiling. 12:32. I looked at the clock. 12:38. I got up and put on a pair of my father's gray sweatpants and my coat, ready to drive back up to Sarah Lawrence and go to the library. I spent seven hours there yesterday, finishing my paper, and then realized that there was some kind of virus on the computer so the file had been corrupted. I lost everything I'd done. It could have been worse, I know. It could have been an assignment in the real world, with ramifications that extend beyond one teacher's opinion and evaluation. Still, though, this is my very last academic paper, ever, and I'm motivated to make it great. Barring greatness, I'd even settle for coherence. After the corruption incident, I drank a Diet Coke and blinked at the computer screen long enough for me to decide I needed to get out of the libaray and come home.

And all day there was this voice in my head saying, "You take your friends for granted." I tried talking to my mother about it--the email from my friend, the guilt I'm feeling, this gnawing anxiety. I asked her if she thought my world was the size of a pebble and she said, "Oh, Sarah, that's not a question for me to answer."

Only after I pressed that that wasn't saying much for her legacy did she relent. "Okay, okay," she said. "You're not a pebble."

I'm back in the Sarah Lawrence library, chip-chip-chipping away at the paper. I drank a cup of hazelnut coffee and ran downstairs to talk to Jason from my workshop and while he was telling me about his 30-page essay on Maldova, I thought, "I am going to throw up now." Not because of anything he was saying, I just had that sick nauseated feeling. I leaned over and grabbed onto the armrest of his chair and he kept talking about medicated depression and I thought, "If I vomited here in the library, these people would help me. I've been arguing with Jason in class all semester but if I threw up next to his backpack he wouldn't judge me."

And then I felt an upspring of compassion for him, and for all the medicated depressives at the library, and the unmedicated ones, myself included. I can kick myself from here to the East River, saying I'm a failure, I'm a bad friend, I'm a tiny pebble, but to do so would be missing the point. Which is that every morning presents an opportunity for me to be better--and by better what I mean is not to take anything for granted. To be less defensive and hard. To exert more energy into the relationships I have with people other than Robert. To pay attention.

A good start, I guess, would be to listen to what Jason is saying without thinking about throwing up.

Monday, December 12, 2005

from pebble world

I just woke up and read an email from a friend who I haven't seen in six months because she moved away from New York and also because I am horrible, no good and very bad at keeping in touch and returning phone calls. Her letter is angry. She is disappointed in me. She says sometimes she reads my blog and that I have "spiraled" into an obsession with Robert and that seems to be all that my life is (as small as a "pebble") and did our friendship really mean so little to me?

Now I'm obsessing and it's not about Robert.

First of all, maybe I'm just a totally single-minded person, not very good at maintaining friendships over the phone. I have thought about this friend so much, every night when I'm going to bed it's like a lightbulb goes off to remind me to call her -- and then the same lightbulb goes off the next night. And I can't explain it except to say that our friendship does mean a lot to me, you mean a lot to me, and I'm sorry that I've let you down. I haven't called because it's been a long time and I don't know what to say -- and I know that that's not good enough.

But our friendship is a separate issue from my boyfriend. It's true, I've been up in arms about all this drama in the past couple of months but I fail to understand how making me feel like shit about already feeling like shit is going to lay the groundwork for a great conversation. I don't want to ever be one of these women who obsesses about her significant other, or lack thereof. Nor do I ever want to be someone who stifles her feelings because she's afraid of being judged. I want to be your friend, I do, but now I'm even less sure of what to say to you.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

my friend Camille

Suddenly, I realize, it's almost 2006, which means that Camille and I have known each other for three years next March. We met when we worked as seasonal temps for a nonprofit in Soho, arranging visas for international students to work at summer places like Dippin Dots at Six Flags-Atlanta and 2 Slavs-1 Truck Moving in Astoria. Basically, we talked to a lot of people with thick Russian accents while trying to discern if these were all legitimate businesses. We worked in a windowless conference room, all five of us girls, four of us NYU grads, and we listened to a lot of Justin Timberlake "Rock Your Body" and used our lunch breaks to go on job interviews or buy some yogurt and Diet Coke or just keep working through lunch so we could make an extra six dollars and fifty cents, before taxes.

Camille joined us after Tikva left to tour with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and there was an office party on her first day. We stood around by the reception desk drinking wine out of plastic cups and I remember talking to Camille in her black suit and thinking, "I don't think we're going to get along. She seems"

And then we became really good friends. She is hilarious and acerbic and she's a master at making fun of the insane and questionable (a recent example is an entry on her blog with a picture of the Kenneth Cole T-shirt that says "I HAVE AIDS" and, underneath, Camille's words, "I want to help but I don't think I'll be wearing this.") For the last couple of months in the conference room, her presence was nothing short of a blessing. Which is really just to say that we laughed our asses off in between having honest and serious conversations. Always, I am caught off guard by how honest she is, and sometimes, I've been offended. But she never says it to offend you, she's just speaking her mind, so really, I think, why should I be hurt? She is a genuine person, ties with my sister as the least artificial people I have ever met.

We lost touch over the past year and met up again yesterday. We went window Christmas shopping in Union Square and ate vegetables at Angelica Kitchen and got pedicures at some place on First Avenue while we read People magazines out loud and said things like, "What is the deal with Tom Cruise? If he's not crazy, there is no excuse."

The best part was walking east away from the park. Camille's dreadlocks were on top of her head like a princess and she wore a tiny sparkly headband that looked like a tiara. She hooked her hand through the crook of my elbow and we walked like that together, navigating around street grates and piles of icy snow, and I thought, "We have known each other for years, now we are like old friends. I didn't even know how I had missed her until I saw her again."

Please step away from your computer and go watch Brokeback Mountain

Towards the end of the Annie Proulx short story on which the movie Brokeback Mountain is based, there is this line:

What Jack remembered and craved in a way he could neither help nor understand was the time that distant summer on Brokeback when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger.

This movie opened something in me, some tiny voice that I'd shut off and stifled and stopped listening to. I saw it by myself on Friday afternoon, walked out of the theatre wiping tears onto the back of my hand, and the sky had turned black while I was inside. It gets so dark so early now and I had taken not ten steps when the phone rang and it was Robert, calling from Brazil, to say hello (and also, truthfully, calling because I'd given him a hard time about our pathetic dribblings of every other day "Hi, baby, how are you? Miss you, love you, see ya!" bullshite exchanges. "If we don't have two minutes a day to singularly devote to each other," I wrote in an email, "then I have been remiss about communicating to you what I need. Nothing is an important to me as hearing your voice and knowing that you're okay and that you wanted to call and hear my voice.") I thought about him so much watching this movie. And it was him I was thinking about but mostly, of course, it was my own feelings.

I remembered times when I have felt so overwhelmed by passion and attraction and animal hunger for lovers. I remembered having those feelings for Robert, the truth is that I still do. I am in love with my best friend and when I let myself really consider how I feel for him -- how much I feel for him -- I'm always surprised. Most days, you know, we check in, we check out, I do my own thing four flights up in Alphabet City, he does his own thing in some other part of the world and we talk a whole hell of a lot about the plans we have to be together. We're going to live here and here and here or there if not here and let's have a vacation hut in Brazil, let's make plans for what to do next Christmas, are you free the first weekend in May?

I sat in this full theatre and watched Brokeback Mountain tell me a story about a love that is true and aggressive and gentle and so beautiful choke on its own fear. It's different, I know it is, but on some level it's also a story about two people who spend their relationship compartmentalizing their time and living their own lives separate from each other.

So I got out of there after the closing credits and Robert called and he told me about his day and the swim he'd just had and won't it be great to see each other in a week? And, forgive me my impatience, I said, "Are we ever going to wake up together every day without feeling like we're on borrowed time?"
"Yes, Sarah."
"Most days, Robert, most of the time, I don't even let myself think about you in any real way. It's easier to put talking to you on a checklist than it is to let myself really miss you and wonder why we're not together. This movie, you see these guys fall in love and twenty years later, they're still in love but now they're old and all they have keeping them "in love" is what happened twenty years earlier."
And then my phone battery died.

I got home and Robert called again. He asked me what I was going to do for dinner, I asked him how is father is, I said I miss you, he said I miss you, I said Promise me that you will see this movie. I said Let me read you this line from the short story. It goes like this.

Friday, December 09, 2005

"Jonn, NO! Do not take my picture!"

This is what I love most about winter: the feeling of waking up in early morning darkness and looking out the window to see snow falling onto snow. This is what I love most about Christmastime: having enough time off from real life to focus on your real life. Everyone in wool socks, my father preoccupied with building the perfect fire, my mom already suggesting board games, my sister at the piano plucking out the notes of some carol that my mother tries to sing along with from the next room, then stops singing to say, "It is so nice to have you both home." She pours a splash of rum into my eggnog, and hers, and runs around in her bathrobe until eleven because the whole days is stretched out wide open in front of us. My sister and I have watched the same movies for a decade -- Sixteen Candles, the BBC Pride and Prejudice, Uncle Buck, Beetlejuice, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I love that my mother, to this day, sits with a notebook in her lap while we open presents on Christmas morning, jotting down what my sister and I have received so that we will remember everything when we write thank-you notes. I love the Christmas Eve service at the Unitarian Church in Nashville, everyone holding their tiny white candle while we sing Silent Night. I love that my father, every Christmas morning, trying to take pictures of us opening presents while my mother says, "John, no! Do not take my picture like this." And he always takes pictures anyway and then wanders around, playing with the stereo, making coffee for my mother and leaving the sugar out on the counter next to his banana peel.

Last Christmas marked the first time that I was not there; this will be the second. Robert and I were by ourselves last year, in Thailand. We went to the beach and drank pineapple juice out of coconut shells and went swimming in the ocean and read a three-day old English newspaper from Bangkok and he cut his leg on coral. We ate dinner by the water, with chopsticks--red coconut curry with prawns--and all day I thought, "This is so strange. We're skipping Christmas."

This year we will be in Brazil with his parents, who are wonderful although, of course, they're not my own. I didn't think it would be a big deal but I woke up this morning knowing, all of a sudden, that I am going to miss my family. My sweet sister. She told me last night that she'll come visit me in New York next summer and I said, "That is so far away!"
How is it possible, I wonder, to grow up with a sister you see every day for years and years and then to live, of your own volition, a life that allows you to see each other only once every twelve months? I need to make more time for her. (Which is funny because I know that I annoy her to no end and she thinks I am too demanding, too dramatic, too over-the-top with my emotional displays...and I always respond by being even more so.)

She will be 24 in less than a month. It's probably the last thing she wants but I am promising myself that next year I am going to be there with her on Christmas morning, beside the tree, smiling for my father's camera in our mismatched flannel pajamas.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

It's always darkest just before it's pitch black

Okay, okay, I haven't posted anything in 13 days but, in my defense (as if anyone out there has been breathlessly awaiting further Mitten diaries) in the past two weeks I have done the following:

1. returned from London replete with a cold, a UTI and...(this pains me to admit) dandruff! I could care less about the first two but the last one I have to explain. I think it's the water in the UK, or my shampoo. In any event, Robert and I were in bed together the morning I left, naked and kissing, when Robert pointed to my scalp and said, "Flake." It was, as I'm sure you can imagine, not the most romantic moment of my life. In retrospect, I think we're both lucky I didn't hit him.

2. turned in a ten-page paper for my Lit class

3. submitted work to five literary publications (woo hoo!)

4. woken up between four-thirty and six every morning for a week (perhaps this has less to due with my skyrocketing anxiety levels than it does, as Robert pointed out this morning, with the fact that I've been asleep before nine almost every night).

5. two days ago, I took a pregnancy test in the locker room of my gym. This was a highlight although any joy invoked by the negative result will be nothing compared to the way I'll feel when I get (please, please let me get) my period, now two weeks late. I took the test at the gym, by the way, first because I didn't want to be alone when I did it but mostly because I knew that if it was positive, it would be a long time before I felt motivated to work out. And Robert, when I told him that it was negative yesterday, said, "How do you feel about that?" To which I replied, "Um, relieved. How do you feel about that?"
He said, "Oh, you know, I'm relaxed about it."
And it's true. Robert might as well just relaaax himself right down the aisle.

6. Lastly, I've devoted myself to writing a 20-page paper on Simone de Beauvoir's memoir about her mother's cancer, A Very Easy Death; Carolyn Kay Steedman's sociological look at her upbringing, Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives; and Vivian Gornick's embittered account of her mother, entitled Fierce Attachments.

At four-forty-five this morning, I woke up with my head at the food of my bed and the title of the paper came to me:

No One Here Gets Out Alive:
What Three Memoirs Reveal About the Tangled Relationship of Mothers & Daughters

and when, on the phone just now, I shared it with my parents, my mother went on to say that she "has always known that it will be up to Meg (my sister) to take care of her because I would leave her lying in a ditch."

Sarah: Excuse me? In a ditch?
Mum: Oh, yeah. You'd never want to take care of me. I didn't want to take care of my own mother when she was dying. But, I mean, who would?
Sarah: Well, apparently, Meg. This is a very disturbing exhange.
Mum: Get over it.
Sarah: Can I talk to Dad again?
(huffing noises)
Dad: Yo! Number One!
Sarah: Dad, did you just hear Mom say that I would leave her to die in a ditch?
Dad: I don't think she said 'to die'
Sarah: Dad. Whatever. How am I supposed to respond to that?
Dad: "I wouldn't leave you lying in a ditch for too long." or "I would call for help as soon as it was convenient."
(he laughs. I can hear my mom laughing in the background.)
Sarah: I can't get worked up about this right now, I have to go.
Dad: Wait!
Sarah: Yes?
Dad: I love you. Have a pretty good day!

Could I have come up with a more perfect ending than that? I leave you with it:
Have a pretty good day.