Thursday, June 08, 2006

what we want most

We're at the beach on St. George Island, in Florida. My sister's roommate, Amber, just asked me what my biggest pet peeve is and I ran through the usual suspects: backstabbers and close-talkers, people who insist on sharing long and convoluted dreams. But now, I think, what annoys me the most has as much to do with myself as it does with anyone else. It's this--when someone says that he or she wants one thing but then does nothing to facilitate that thing happening. When someone says, "My instinct tells me to do X" and then they do Y, over and over and over.

Which is really to say? That I feel like I've been crying wolf with my relationship for a long time now. It's finished, it's still going strong, we're breaking up, we're in love, I'm going to give him more time to make up his mind, I don't know what I want.

I do know what I want. I want Robert. What's been harder for me to admit is that I've chosen him to the detriment of my own needs. For months now (years?), I've been talking and writing about this. I've shared with him in letters and conversations, in dinners and long walks and overseas phonecalls, that I don't want to wait anymore. That I want to throw all the balls up in the air and run with this -- to live together, either in New York or London, to make a life where we see each other more than one week a month. Last August, I gave him an ultimatum not about getting engaged but about our beginning -- tentatively, in baby steps -- to plan for the future beyond my graduation from Sarah Lawrence. "Either we make some sort of plans," I said over the phone while we was on a fishing trip in Iceland, "or we need to free each other up to see other people. To live our lives."

He engaged, he changed his mind, you know the story. And I chose to stick it out, burying my faith in the fact that he had bought a ring, hoping the fact that at some point he had been certain enough of me to buy a ring, hoping that if I shut up for six months, if I didn't let myself mention it...that his momentary certainty would grow into something permanent.

I should have left then. But that's the problem with ultimatums, right? -- it's easy enough to deliver them without having decided whether or not you really care to follow through on your threat. And if it's love we're talking about, you don't want to admit that you've been reduced to threats.

So now I find myself nine months later, on the cusp of buying an apartment together in New York, still with no plan to actually live together. Robert's not moving out of London. I can't live in the UK legally and, frankly, I don't think it's in my best interest to get a job and move there right now, only for him.

For a long time, I've felt so stuck. I've felt like it whatever happened in this part of my life was out of my control. And it's taken me the better part of three years but finally I see that that's not true. Regardless of what Robert wants or eventually decides, I am free to live.

We talked yesterday, me lying on my parents' bed watching the ocean out the windows, Robert in London with a summer cold. I told him I will go to New York next week for the board interview, if he wants me to, because I have committed to it, but that he should consider whether or not he wants this apartment by himself. "I'm not going to go into our fourth year together still in different countries, like this," I said. "I'm sorry to tell you this now, sorry my timing is so bad, but there is never a good time. I don't think I can spend the summer with you in Europe. I'm ready to walk away from this."

He said he felt surprised, like he'd suddenly been hit. But, also, that he can't disagree with me. It's not like I haven't said this before.

I waited for him to say something more, to object, to come through, but instead someone called on the other line and he had to answer the door and so I said goodbye.

Now I'm going to play a(nother) game of Scrabble with my parents, bless them. They say they only want me to be happy. And also to join them later in a game of doubles tennis.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

(un)flexible dates

I just bought a plane ticket for my favorite teacher at Sarah Lawrence (also my thesis advisor and an astounding travel writer) to visit me and Robert in Paris for a weekend in July. She will already be in Prague teaching so the ticket wasn't much, two hundred dollars, and I know that we'll have a great time. The only reason I hesitated to do it sooner was because I don't even have my own ticket yet. What I have is a ticket from Nashville to New York on June 14th, returning to Tennessee sometime in October. But given that I don't have an apartment in New York anymore (hello, Storage USA?) the chances of my staying there seem really slim. Also considering that it's the first day of June and I started sweating outside before the sun came up, I think it's even more unlikely that I'll be here to welcome July. And August.

I have this tiny two-year-old cousin, Meredith, who I saw last weekend. She has white-white-blonde hair and she's very, very shy (one of those who are more comfortable in public behind her mother's leg than anywhere else). The only things I heard her say for two days were, "Achoo!" and "Oh no!" (The latter of those she said over and over again whenever anyone other than her mother got too close.) My grandmother looked at her the way someone who was starving would look at a country ham. She started out saying things like, "Meredith, let me hold you on my lap" and ended up, moon-eyed and desperate, saying, "Oh, I do hope you know who I am."

Plus my grandmother has started keeping butcher knives in all of the rooms that don't have doors leading directly outside. This is, she explains, in case the house is on fire and she can't push out the screen windows, she can use a knife to cut out the screens and then jump.

Meanwhile, not totally unrelated to the fear of getting old, my father is buying a motorcycle. He got his new license the same day my cousin William got his first driver's license. (By the way, I found out on Monday, apparently William is engaged-to-be-engaged to his model girlfriend. They have exchanged real wedding rings and he's getting a tattoo of a cross that she stayed up "until one in the morning for three nights" drawing. They're seventeen. Maybe I can be in charge of the guestbook?) Okay, so my father and his motorcyle. Every time he mentions it, my mother starts flapping her arms and threatening to join the circus.

But over the weekend, my dad told me outright that he thinks instead of getting old and hanging on until the age of 99 (like his grandmother), it would be better to go out in a motorcycle crash. I said, "Is this your mid-life crisis way of saying you won't live through a death of quiet desperation?" But then my grandmother came into the kitchen wondering how many years it's safe to keep chicken in the freezer before it goes bad. Specifically, she wanted to know, is five years too long?

Yes, we both said. And my dad's face read, "I think 95 might be the perfect age to get a motorcycle."

I haven't spoken to Robert since Monday, he's in Japan, and yesterday he left a message that said, "I'm working like a dog, I'm not avoiding you." For three nights in a row, I've had dreams about this other guy I know but haven't seen in almost a year. For three nights in a row, we've been walking along the river on the west side of Manhattan pushing a baby stroller and holding hands. Yes, I agree, it's unclear how two people can push a stroller and hold hands (and kiss!) at the same time, but while it's happening, it doesn't seem awkward at all. And then I wake up and write it down, wonder where we were going and what happened with that guy, if he ever wakes up from dreams about me, and what time is it in Tokyo?