Tag Archives: texas

Stifled by Comfort

18 Aug

validatorI spent a week on the beach, was romantically dismissed via text while aboard a train to Camarillo, and all I got was this lousy revelation. I have a deep-seated fear of comfort. Apparently, somewhere along the way through my 37 years, I became a person who only realizes growth in adversity. Even though I’ve always felt like the most risk-averse person on the entire planet, evidently I thrive on tribulation.

That would make the perfect personal ad.

Let’s take this apart. A few weeks ago, I was preparing to board a flight to Baltimore, and in a rare fit of wild abandon, I procured a copy of a magazine I never read: Time. The cover story was “The Pursuit of Happiness”, and it was a marvelous scientific tribute to why Americans are particularly adept at this activity. But I didn’t read it that day, because I loaned the magazine to my seatmate on the flight, a young Nepalese engineer on his way to DC, and he fell asleep, cradling the magazine against his chest. As much as I liked the guy, I kinda didn’t really want to touch the magazine after he returned it to me.

Weeks went by, and in another airport, this time on my way to Huntington Beach, I picked up another issue of this never-read-by-me magazine. The cover story was “The Childfree Life”. This story I read immediately, seeking solace in the knowledge that other people were choosing a life like mine. Clearly, Time‘s reporters have been following me around and consulting my therapists for editorial topics.

Then, like I said, I spent a week at the beach, swam in the ocean, learned how to surf(!), hiked in Griffith Park, and spent days and days and days talking to my most effective therapists and life coaches, my two best friends from high school. My most recent romantic dismissal was a tiny blip on the radar as we examined the larger questions of why I am still single. The overwhelming conclusion was that I definitely need to move back to New York City. I’ve held myself in suspension in inappropriate climates for far too long. It’s time to return to my people, my career, my brother, my Yankees, my U.S. Open.

So. More time passes and I finally read the happiness article in Time. As it turns out, Americans are genetically predisposed to the “pursuit” aspect of happiness more than anything else. Because our forebears risked everything to leap from the known to the preposterously foreign, our genes instruct us to do the same. But discontent has flourished as we’ve evolved into a tame clock-punching society.

I confess that my initial conclusion after reading this article was that I am clearly an American anomaly, as the writer of the article noted that the genes for anxiety and risk-averse behavior are in the minority in our culture. Well, I got a huge dose of those genes, thanks!

But then, let more time pass and cue epiphany. This morning I was walking along the river behind my apartment in Texas, and my mind synchronized all of the aforementioned data and arrived at this conclusion: I am stifled by comfort. I seek growth in adversity. Why else would I break up with every wonderful man I dated in my 20s, move to Utah with a guy from London I’d only met a few months previous, live there for seven years while dating mostly horribly inappropriate people, and then instead of taking myself back to New York, veered off course and ended up in Fort Worth, Texas to take care of my ailing mother, who is my anti role model?

Yes, people, as much as I claim to crave understanding, I prefer to place myself in adverse scenarios where I can prove that I will once again thrive. And I always do. I make amazing friends, I find all the best art museums and restaurants. I feel happy. BUT, I never find romantic attachment. Instead, I choose impossible dating scenarios that involve tremendous gaps in age, distance, or demographics.

Earlier this year, I attended a workshop where a session leader talked about hidden beliefs. Things we “didn’t know that we didn’t know that we didn’t know”. Guess what I didn’t know that I didn’t know that I didn’t know? My parents had a horrific marriage in which my mother gave up any attempt at a career, settled into what she thought would be a life spent coasting in domestic comfort, realized she married an abusive alcoholic, and then set about moving us to a new town every few years in pursuit of the best educational opportunities for her children (I thank her for that). She never earned more than minimum wage and she never dated anyone again. Now she’s destitute and alone, claiming that her children are her greatest achievement.

As a born over-achiever, what do you think my greatest fear is? That I will settle into a comfortable romantic scenario where I am cared for, coddled, understood… and then just like my wonderful father demonstrated in early childhood, that love will be arbitrarily and completely withdrawn.  There is no sustenance in love, only false comfort that lulls you into a dangerous sleep that will ultimately lead to your failure and bankruptcy. Oh, and for my father’s part, even if you say you don’t want children, they will be forced upon you.

Take a deep breath. These are not truths. These are my hidden, secret, totally unfettered beliefs. Now that I’ve seen them, all I have to do is dispel the myths and move on. And I’m going to do that the old-fashioned American way. I am going to place myself on one more risk-taking adventure. I’m moving back to New York City on November 1.  Maybe if I place myself in a city that to me represents the most discomfiting of comforts, I might be able to seek solace in romantic attachment again. Or at least put myself in a position where I might meet someone who makes sense for me.

Get a Good Look

28 Jun

texasEntangled with rib cages touching, I curl my shoulders and hold my heart at the center with his chest to contain me. His hold doesn’t drift while my mind disappears over a precipice. Three weeks ago I was tracing the  nape of another neck, and I poured every single ounce of affection into that soul. I stored it all there, gave it a home, and now here I am, mid-cherish, and I can feel my heart tremble at the thought that I would give it away again so soon. It’s not going voluntarily this time. It’s staying still, holding itself out of reach even while the generous Gentleman from Carrollton cradles me.

The way he reaches for me is exactly what I have always sketched for my future loved self. A duo on the sofa, some space between us, a pause, and that intentional but nonchalant reach. The enfolding into a safe place. And then a very calm and resolute sustain.

There is absolutely nothing turbulent or dramatic about it. Nothing like a time limit, impending flight, or marital partner to stir up the dopamine and make me feel engulfed in passion. So my heart shrugs, and asks, what about that Aloof Percussionist, the one you promised me to and chased and pushed and demanded and did not receive in return.

Sorry, heart, I understand you are going through drama withdrawal. And honestly, I am not really sure how to navigate this scenario. Everything feels good, and linear, with no spikes, only a gentle grasping of my hand as we drive back from the restaurant. He is that man. The one every therapist and friend has said I’ve deserved my entire life. He is steady and kind and he doesn’t demand or expect. He just is there alongside me.

A friend of mine said that I had to find someone who could just “be” with me. Not be “with” me, but “be”, as in, he’s a solid object, and I’m a solid object, and we can rest together without any kind of crazy catalyst stirring us up into an incendiary disaster. It helps that he is as familiar as he is new. I’ve known this man for the better part of ten years, seeing him only every once in a while, but always wondering at the connection. Then one year ago I landed in his part of the country by happenstance and six months later surprised myself by remembering his presence in the Metroplex.

Is this, this calm, this appreciation, is this the origin of love? I feel supported but not taxed. He is present but not squinting to analyze and extract every thought and feeling that quivers in my ever-shifting being. Observant, but not critical, he presents a very smooth connection that provides a sense that I am understood.

In the morning, I wake up and I have to count back to the last time I chose someone good to place next to my heart. The realization is a bit shocking. It was twenty-three years ago, when I was in high school, that I allowed a benevolent soul to join my orbit and hold me. Then three years later I pummeled him and traded up to a more jagged course. I first sipped the nectar of drama way back then, and I have never, ever stopped drinking.

People would say it, they’d suggest I was addicted to drama. But I honestly felt I wasn’t that stupid. Now, feeling this sense of calm acceptance, I realize that’s exactly how I’ve calibrated my every romantic encounter. Always choosing distance, either mental or physical, as a safe buffer, I made sure I was always alone.

This is what I wonder now. Can I retrain my heart to accept something smooth, a kind and generous match who fits every single descriptor I’ve listed ten million times. Older, already has kids, has a real job, is serious about health and fitness, likes beer, loves sports, has an artist soul and an engineering mind, makes me laugh, will probably never make me cry, and communicates early and often.

I built this construct, and now I am surrounded in it. But my heart actually cringes and shrinks in fear rather than swelling with acceptance. So, following the advice of my rational mind, I will slow everything down. I will let this love grow, rather than forcing it into existence. And he expects nothing more, requests nothing more. He is not calling this anything that it is not. We are enjoying each other.

Is this what it feels like to be with someone good? It’s quiet all around me, and it feels like I can exist as I am, with promise of support while I expand. I really do hope that I learn to like it.

So Tell Me How Long

20 May

ahoyOn more mornings than I care to admit, I awake with the vague recollection that someone was in love with me while I slept. Sometimes there’s only a slight pause, and I can picture the face of the friend or stranger who has suddenly decided that he cannot live without me. But on other occasions, such as today, I have to mosey around a bit in my recently dismissed reveries and try to identify the source of affection.

This morning’s dream was of Unrequited. And it’s probably appropriate that he disappeared from the scene right before I awoke. He is a coyote, after all, scrambling up the hillside, leaving only a tiny avalanche of pebbles and snapped twigs in the wake of paws swift and precise in their escape.

Oh, Unrequited. You’ve rehearsed this part so often, it becomes more believable every time my subconscious pulls back the curtain and trots out the familiar scene. You are finally ready to be close with me, and your entire demeanor softens around the contentment you held out of reach for so long. I am your inevitable love, and you are so happy to be home, safe. Even better, you are ready to take me into your arms and actually just be still, hold still, stay with me. A sense of calm pervades the dream, and I feel settled for the first time in my life.

This dream is on repeat-one in my mind, though I refuse to call it “recurring” because reality’s circumstances have always evolved somewhat in between fictional depictions and each is a little more convincing than the last. But unlike my Cowboy premonition or my startling ability to predict the sudden arrival of love from the Unaloof Percussionist, my Unrequited fantasy has never come true. (Thus, of course, the moniker Unrequited.)

Sometimes I do have the mystical sense that this imagining will finally become tangible. Late last summer, when I was in Salt Lake City for a week to pack my things and vacate the premises, I met Unrequited’s doppelganger on a moonlit night. I’d just finished a long and luxurious dinner with a friend and wandered up a hill to where I’d parked the impressively large and charmingly dated Toyota Landcruiser that same friend generously makes available to me when I visit Utah. Then three things happened at once.

You see, this was the first time I’d made use of this vehicle, and its storied past was transforming my life rapidly. I never drive large vehicles, and the first time I piloted this vessel, I was actually giggling maniacally. It is so liberating to move through space with too much metal around you. Especially when the metal is nicknamed “Stinky” (which he distinctly is not, and yes, it is a he, not a she, as is more common for vehicles and boats). And more especially when Stinky is home to an advanced cultural tradition. Whenever anyone borrows him, they add an audiocassette to his treasure trove of past-tense musical memories. In short, Stinky makes you feel powerful and nostalgic all at the same time, making him quite possibly the best boyfriend ever.

Anyway, I climbed up the hill, heaved myself elegantly into the driver’s seat using Stinky’s chivalrous running board step and courteous doorframe handle, and slid across the leather seat in my summer dress. I looked up and saw the full moon making poetic declarations through the trees and above the postcard-perfect shadows of mountains beyond. Damn you, Utah, I thought, and turned the key.

Earlier that day I finally got off my NPR high horse and gave in to Stinky’s DJ experience. I pressed “Tape” on the stereo and once again began giggling maniacally (Stinky really makes you behave like you are in the early phases of love). This time the laughter was triggered by the sudden arrival of the voice of Morrissey, moaning some lyrics to what I could only assume was music from The Smiths. I have always hated The Smiths, much to my Writer Hero friend’s chagrin, and I figured this was the universe telling me to a.) drive a large car and feel some crazy-ass power, and b.) own the fact that The Smiths were made for me.

Okay, so, I got in, saw the moon, turned the key, and the tape continued playing the strange cacophonous introduction to a song I’d never heard before. I paused, transfixed, until Morrissey’s voice arrived with some advice as to where things were going. Then he broke my heart and reconstructed my soul in a matter of seconds.

“Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me,” he intoned, pointing at me alone there on a dark hill. Then he sang exactly the scenario I was enduring at that moment and continue to endure today: “No hope, no harm, just another false alarm / Last night I felt real arms around me / No hope, no harm, just another false alarm / So tell me how long, before the last one / And tell me how long before the right one / This story is old, I know, but it goes on.”

mantraNeedless to say, the song became my mantra, and I eventually regained the ability to use an audiocassette player, figuring out how to rewind just to the beginning of the track, so I could hear the same song over and over and over again for the entire eight days I was in Utah last August. This song held me up, comforted me. I was raw at that time, my mother was in the hospital in Texas, and I was drastically changing my life in a mode of escape and return to some version of home.

Then, eight months later, Stinky and I were reunited when I visited the Unaloof Percussionist. That same audiocassette was in the tape player, still cued up to my heartbreak. Only it felt completely different with Unaloof next to me.

Now, fast-forward one more month, and guess what, I’ll be returning to Salt Lake City, borrowing Stinky, and pressing play on that audiocassette. And guess what? I’ll be with Unaloof, but he has expressed his urgent need to never love me or be serious about me, making himself into another form of Unrequited.

And now we come to the denouement of my dream sequence. I will press play, sing along with my heartbreak, and go to dinner with Unrequited. And he finally, finally will hold my hand across the table, and say, “You like the arugula salad here, right? And we always get the ricotta dumplings.” And I will gaze into his eyes and find a new contentment in our old rituals as they finally, actually mean something.

It’s not impossible. All my other dreams have come true. And Stinky clearly is a mystical creature who brings you the answers and grants you the power to live with them, even when they don’t turn out the way you planned.

Silver Rims

1 Jan

Just a bit too dark to catch the light, his eyes only shone blue if he happened to stop squinting. This he did infrequently, Seattle mist setting his angular countenance with a permanent protective barrier. So young, so young I could scarcely believe he should be perched behind the wheel of a vehicle so expensive, and parking outside my door no less. Window rolled down, squint relaxing just a bit as he smiled, I’m sure my jaw collapsed a bit in surprise. Here for me. But only met once before, so likely didn’t remember what I looked like. I remembered him less handsome, he no doubt remembered me more attractive. We switched places as we clicked plastic champagne bowls in the silent outer room while clamoring celebrants counted down in the adjacent music hall. We heard the numbers drop and did not look at each other or the bartender with whom we toasted. Start the new year without blue eyes on my own, unworried about how I’ll remedy the error. In the night I heard from my favorite Fort Worth youth, and in nights prior I’ve heard from other locals without prompting. So you want me to stay, Texas. Alright, I’ll take a look around.

Cone of Silence

20 Jun

For as long as I’ve been capable of conscious thought, I’ve had a thing about eating ice cream alone. I physically can’t do it. I also can’t watch others do it without sudden tears clouding my vision. Ice cream is a food of happiness, and when it is consumed alone, especially by the lonely or angry, it becomes a sad symbol of how often we miss the mark in life and have to sublimate our pain in a sugary confection.

Last week, I ate ice cream alone three nights in a row. I was staying in my mother’s empty apartment while she slept uneasily under heavy sedation in the ICU at a nearby hospital. My brother bought the ice cream and some chocolate syrup days before, and then left me alone with it when he went back to New York.

So there I was, watching the same TV shows and movies my mom would watch in some sort of vigil to keep her spirit alive through possibly the most disturbingly massive surgery anyone should have to endure, and eating ice cream alone. I got to the point where I was looking forward to it every evening. After all the hospital visits were done, after all the nurses and doctors and surgeons and front desk people and parking lot attendants and concerned neighbors had been addressed, my twenty minutes of quiet time before collapsing into bed were spent with a quiet bowl of sweet solace.

These nights redefined loneliness for me. Your mother is incapacitated, and when she does speak, it’s in woozy drug-induced nightmares of organ-stealing doctors. All you want to do is make inane comments about the garbage television you’re watching in her honor. All you want to do is indulge in three romantic comedies in a row together. But no, it’s just you on the seafoam green mircosuede sofa she chose to help decorate her new apartment in “spa style”, slurping excessive chocolate syrup from a spoon.

It hurts. Like a specialized hurt. But the ice cream is a vigil, too. It’s a tribute to nights spent with mom and my brother, all of us enjoying a bowl of confection before bedtime. We’d take turns going to the kitchen to serve it up each night. It was our foundation.

That’s why when I see people cling to ice cream in an act of desperation, seeking that childhood comfort, my heart breaks into ten million pieces. A tattooed guy in a giant pickup truck drives past me in Texas plains heat, licking a soft-serve cone. An old guy on the street clutches a dripping stack of creamy memories. A family sick of screaming at each other declares a cease fire with sprinkles.

It’s enough to bring you to your knees.

When my mom finally awoke, and when they finally yanked the ventilator tube from her throat after six days, you know what she asked for, again and again and again? Ice cream. I stood at her bedside and she delivered her request in the imperative. The nurses said no one in the ICU ever eats real food, so they were unprepared for her request. My mother looked to me. “I want some ice cream.”

And I did the strangest thing. I looked the clock, and calculated how much time was left in our current 30-minute visiting hour session. Not enough time now, mom. And I don’t know where I’d even get it. There are no grocery stores in this neighborhood. I’ll try to bring it for the next visiting time in two hours.

Two hours I made her wait. I made her wait. At her behest, I opted for the simplest option on my way back to the ICU. Go to the McDonald’s on the ground floor of the main hospital building across the street. Order a chocolate sundae. Please bring your mother just a tiny cup of comfort.

I fed my mom the ice cream from a plastic container her sedated hands couldn’t hold. She was truly, truly happy. It was the first real food she’d had in a week. And I’ll tell you something. The next time my mom asks for ice cream I will run, I will fly downstairs and get it. I will bring it up to her immediately. Ice cream is a request as serious as a blood transfusion. It is not frivolity. It is not desperation. It is a melting answer when there are absolutely no solid truths in the world.

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