But I’m going to be blatantly Pollyanna and say it also means bad things end, and good things get even better or just change into a different version of a good thing. Nothing’s ever in stasis, is it? No matter how stuck we feel. Hmmm, so maybe that’s the only thing we can count on as being true forever? Everything changes eventually.
I’m not sure what to write about today, how to follow up on change and forever and stasis. It’s all been said, right? I can’t think of a single jumping off point that doesn’t feel like beating a dead horse. I can tell you that I went to see Inherent Vice today and I didn’t hate it exactly but I also almost fell asleep a few times during it. I love Joaquin Phoenix and I appreciate P.T. Anderson’s work, and I’ve adored Josh Brolin since The Goonies, but I just couldn’t find my way into this film. I felt bad because I really really wanted to like it. I didn’t want to keep getting distracted thinking about what it would be like to make out with Joaquin. What it would be like to date him, hold his hand. I mean he’s nuts, right? Super talented and super nuts. And I can’t quite decide if that would be exhausting or exhilarating.
And I’m wandering to the bus stop in a delightful winy haze (yes, it was an 11:40 movie, yes I got popcorn and wine anyway CAUSE I’M ON VACATION, DAMNIT!) daydreaming about holding Joaquin’s hand and trying damned hard not to notice how lonely I am. Not friend lonely. Not person to have breakfast before work with lonely or friends to laugh with at the office lonely or some place to go for the holidays lonely. It’s someone to kiss lonely, someone to hold my hand lonely, someone who just wants to stick his nose in my neck and take a good sniff lonely.
I don’t mind being alone, but I do mind being untouched. I do mind the day to day hunger for someone else’s skin next to mine. I’ve been celibate for more than a decade now. I’m a little ashamed to even type that as if it’s some badge of defectiveness. But really, I stopped sleeping around because I couldn’t quite play by the rules of the one night stand (I always wanted to have breakfast the next morning), and, you know, with the faulty narrative of the pitch lake sloshing around inside me, I never was able to have an actual relationship. I always thought—oh, when I lose weight I’ll get a boyfriend. Nope! When I go out more, I’ll get a boyfriend. Nope! If I stop mean-mugging when I walk down the street and actually smile more, I’ll get a boyfriend. Nope! When I learn to love myself and treasure my alone time, I’ll get a boyfriend. Nope! I’d like to think the pitch lake is all but drained at this point and still, here I am on my couch. Alone. Being a little too fond of how soft the blue velvet couch and squishy gray blanket are against my skin.
Intellectually, I know how precious my freedom is. I can make plans without consulting anyone, change my mind at the last minute, live like an utter slob, eat cheese and crackers for dinner every night for a week if I want, go weeks without doing laundry, you know, live the perfect bachelor lifestyle. I love being (romantically) alone—except for those aching moments when I don’t.
What I want more than anything is to find someone who I love being with even more than I love being alone. Who won’t pull away when I rub the small of his back. Who’ll understand why I hate talking on the phone cause he’s read every single thing there is to read on outgoing introverts and send me e-mails that make me giggle instead. I know that when it comes to relationships, I’m difficult, ping ponging between a wide-open heart and prickliness, affection and sometimes (God help me) outright disdain. I always envisioned that I’d meet someone who’d see right through me and when I got to the part where I tried to run away cause I was overwhelmed by all the vulnerability and responsibility of loving someone, he’d just kind of hold on to me while I ran in place, windmilling my legs like some they do in cartoons, till I ran some sense into myself.
But maybe the fact that I’m yearning after Joaquin Phoenix, who I’m just going to go ahead and stereotype as the wild-eyed difficult artist type means deep down I don’t actually want anyone. I’m not exactly daydreaming about the settle down and have a quiet life guy next door, am I? Or maybe it means that I’m looking for someone who seems like he’s like me, at least the me I am when the filter’s down and I’m having a hard time doing all those socially acceptable things one is supposed to do? Or maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all except I was lonely and there Joaquin was 20 feet high on the screen and looking deeply kissable? Maybe it means—though good Christian women who are trying to work on their relationship with God aren’t supposed to feel this way—maybe it means I just need to get laid. Sigh…
To be continued…
My father who is 70 never tells me “I love you.” I used to say it at the end of our phone calls. “I love you” followed by the sharp thud of a heavy silence. I imagined my words falling out of my mouth like a spray of bullets aimed at my father’s right ear. Or like a small stone hurled from my slingshot jaw, my father the dark well that swallows it up. I don’t know if my words landed, but, not being a student of alchemy or geography, of comedy or bad luck, I didn’t realize that the bottom of this well was flooded with the only known water in the world that reflects nothing back, that it is, in fact, a celestial well, home to a black hole and the carcasses of well-meant phrases dead before their time. Or perhaps it’s just that the bottom of this well, the well that it is my father, is a long way down. Longer than the eye can see or the brain can comprehend. Deeper than any magic spell can reach, or any daughter. My words are falling still. Hundreds, or maybe tens (I can’t remember when I learned not to say it) are tumbling down and down, sometimes I-love-you, sometimes you-I-love, sometimes I-love, the “you” lost somewhere between 1999 and 2006, tumbling like a pantoum or a rock slide or that waterfall near where my cousins live in Trinidad. Maybe my father still hasn’t heard me. And when he does, if the words still mean the same (already the “I” has shed several skins, the “you” is dying more quickly than he used to of cancer, of diabetes, of lack), I hope I’m not listening with the ear that doesn’t work as well after years of concerts spend right up against the stage’s lip, embosomed by the speakers. I hope the language hasn’t changed so much that the word sounds familiar but I don’t quite recognize it.
1. If I was dating Jack White and someone from Rolling Stone wrote about it or maybe not Rolling Stone because do they even write about girlfriends, but this writer would say, “I am surprised by how normal she is.” It’s all about context. Next to Jack White I’m relatively normal but really I have at least two trunks of eccentricity strapped to my back at all times. But everyone’s eccentric in some way aren’t they? Even blandness is a type of eccentricity.
2. I am visiting my friend D who is in a new apartment after having to let go of the house she lived in for 15 years, where she mostly raised her son, where her marriage didn’t last. I have never seen this apartment before yet I walked in the front door and was home. Who decides who is a home for you and who isn’t ? There’s no guarantee that where your parents is will always be home. Like my father for instance. And my mother too.
3. Last month I was supposed to write poems about place. I didn’t like it. It was hard being a beginner again tripping over my fingers, my language all the time. No, that’s not true—at the very beginning poems came easy. And in the context of what I was able to do then, they were pretty good. It was only when I really learned how to write poems that everything became hard. And anyway what I learned last month is I don’t want to write poems about place but I want to write poems about my father who’s been missing a long time.
4, here’s a story I want to tell in a poem: it’s about how my parents lived in Guyana but I was born in Trinidad. It had something to do with voodoo maybe or bad neighbors or old grudges or my mother and her mother. The first thing my father gave me was his anger. For 6 weeks he stayed in his place—Guyana—and I stayed in my mother’s—Trinidad. I’ve met him since then, of course, but he still hasn’t welcomed me home.
5. I knew I wouldn’t want to write 5 more things so I hedged my bets early. We all only have one true story, anyway, don’t we? One story, many ways of telling it. Like the way an imaginary story about dating a rock star is the same story about a father who is a present absence or an absent presence. And a story about being eccentric is the same story about how every time I see D she holds me hard and later I look at all her books over and over again, even the ones I’ve already read, even the ones I’ll never read.
This is a lightly-edited version of what I found myself journaling about this morning before church…
I love my life, but still, there are sometimes those moments when I wonder how I’ve made it to 43 without the expected benchmarks—a husband, kids, a few heartbreaks. Truth is my heart was broken so early, so repeatedly before I was even a teenager by people who should’ve known better that I couldn’t see past the wreckage for a really long time in order to let someone in. I’m wondering why it seems the only men I can ever expose all of myself to are married or gay. Is it because they won’t demand anything of me more than what I’m willing to give? Or is there just a certain type of courage I lack?
With a married or gay man, I can have a deep and intimate friendship but I still retain—I’m not sure what the right word is—is it my identity that’s at stake? Is it my selfhood? What is it that we give up when we enter into an intimate, romantic relationship with someone?
I have platonic friends of both sexes who have seen both my best self and my worst self. They’ve known me to be kind and generous and sweet, but they’ve also known me to be arrogant and jealous and mean. So, if I’m okay with giving all of that to my women friends, my married male friends, what is it that I’m withholding or scared of showing possible romantic partners and why? What is it that I’m afraid they’ll demand of me that I haven’t already willingly given to my friends?
I’m fairly certain it’s not just sex. Will it be fumbling and awkward given that it’s been more than a decade since I’ve even made out with anyone (and didn’t have much practice before that)? Sure—but I also know without a shadow of a doubt that it also will be so much easier than before cause I don’t intend to sleep with someone (or marry someone—they go hand in hand for me) until I feel utterly and completely safe.
Is it possible then that I’ve kept myself closed off from true romantic love not because I’m unwilling to open myself up but because I was raised with the deep knowledge that men are in fact bogeymen, that the most tragic thing that can happen to a woman is heartbreak, is being abandoned with mouths to feed and school fees to pay? What if I’m not actually afraid of romantic love but rather I’m scared of its aftermath? What if the real bogeymen is the dread of heartbreak turning me into a reflexively controlling woman who lives her life from a place of fear, becoming more and more impervious to receiving and giving love as I get older?
Growing up in my family of strong-willed women, I saw few happy endings. I learned that men always cheated and women (and the children) always suffered. As an adult, I can look around and see the relationships that have lasted, where there is mutual love and respect and tolerance, but those stories came a little too late.
So my real challenge is, I think, not just learning to be open, but convincing myself down to every fiber and cell, down to the DNA level, that the story of my mother, the story of my grandmothers, are not my own. That a happy ending for me is not only possible but is absolutely and positively worth the risk. The challenge is remembering that even if I do suffer a broken heart, I am resilient. That a broken heart or a string of broken hearts won’t make me brick myself up again unless I let it. I can not only be free to love, but I can be free to heal and free to love again, wounded, maybe, but also wiser, with a heart broken open to let love in, not keep it out.
Okay, it’s time to begin…