Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Longwinded Toast

I'm having this extended, extended, e-mail conversation with a friend of mine who is away in a foreign land. And we talk, by virtue of where we are in our lives, both physically space-wise (different continents) and otherwise, about the full range of things. The small sights he sees, the random thoughts I have but also the momentous things that happen to either of us that insert themselves into the course of the correspondence and thus must be acknowledged. It feels like a consistent thematic approach to life, first by distilling it to the bits worth corresponding about but then also by thinking in the spirit of this strand of extended conversation which has, not surprisingly, developed its own themes. Things like one’s place in the world, one’s emotional landscape, who you used to be versus who you become, and lately we’ve been on this trip about how you grow and why you grow. Or not. All of that further framed by the constrains or better parameters of this being someone I did not know a year ago. It’s a very cool sort of journey for all these reasons. But anyway--

So in connecting a book he was reading, a classic in fact, with my recent “watershed” moment of Sept 5, he brought to my attention how the book was full of this consideration for one’s intentions of growth, of development, of expansion of self. And it dealt with it in many ways including through insistingly using the word “dilate”: so people, mainly the heroine, either experience or consider dilation, in face of thoughts and experiences. So he put the word to me, the questions we entertained being around whether this is an apt metaphor for much of what’s obsessing us these days, when we correspond. And it is. This is about that, for me, this whole journey is about a sort of pre-cognizant internal visceral aspiration (and aspiration is a word that means breathing in all my other languages more than in english, and when you in portuguese aspire you dilate your lungs by filling them up with air)—so aspiration to a more expansive soul, a greater life, a greater place in the world or contribution to it (in the small sense of having a purposeful existence that fill you up, not in some sense of fame and fortune). And so many of my stories that I have told myself can be laced up under one rubric: how have I been made or remade bigger or smaller, how have I dilated or contracted, at the hands of significant people and events in my life.

He also pointed out that in my big moment the other day the conversation was directed or projected onto X but was really one I was having with myself. As my friend put it, it was an instance of me “calling myself out”, as much as anything else. And so I got to thinking about the motor that pushes one to do that when one had not done it before. In my case, not in almost ten years. What then makes the dilation possible? Triggers it? I like the idea that we are capable of dilation, of growth, of becoming “more” than we were, from being fundamentally unstable or rather, unsettled organisms. This is as close to a central truth I hold as any. It's an overarching theme for me that growth and information and meaning worth finding always occurs, or at least, arises, from the instabilities of the landscape, be it theoretical, be it verbal, be it emotional, be it your relationship, be it your soul, be it whatever story you're telling yourself. I don't want to become one of those people who theorize some bullshit about scarcity and disaray being the mother of progress and invention innovation, etc; I resist that generally when it is presented as pertains social interactions, the conditions in which people live. Adversity builds character—that’s simplistic and it’s bullshit. Dysfunction only builds, well, dysfunction. But intellectually and emotionally yes, I think what makes you capable of reaching past what you thought was the limit is a fundamental conception (albeit one that can fade almost out of sight if you make it so) that limits are fictional, that more can happen, or rather, that you can make more happen inside yourself. So for me a lot of the satisfaction with my conversation with X was through this return to this my central conviction, which is that I need not necessarily settle for what is presently at hand. That I need not understand any given moment as given or as final. That I can go my extra miles.

It's weird--I used to feel such pains in trying to get to certain emotional "clarities" or emotionals breakthroughs that I thought I was "really owed" a proper response from the person I was going there for or with. Say if I went there in a conversation with X and made myself vulnerable, I would be putting everything on the line in that exchange, and he had better return in kind. This was my M.O. certainly—to be vulnerable almost as an offensive, becoming the emotional equivalent of someone who throws themselves off a cliff to test whether the loved one will reach out and catch them. And if they don’t, if they didn’t, I would be devastated beyond reason and belief. The other day I did no such a thing, my vulnerability was to myself and the rectifying, the proper response expected—that I would not fall to my knees and weep and wail and despair—I expected it from me. Of course X did not give me anything in return but it was not about him anymore. I would love to say because it would make my experience the proof of something I trust is true, that if I had not gone through these horrible years and this particularly horrible last couple of year, I would still know what I know. I would still have grown this extra bit. Dilation would have come. I suppose that’s probable but I have never known it to be true.

Here’s wishing for the one who will come test my boundaries in a more seductive way, tug at them subtly rather that relentlessly tear them down, somewhat gently—certainly creatively—nudge a bit of growth out of me, in a sort of give and take thing that feels good, as opposed to kicks my ass from harsh truth to harsher outcome. Here’s to what I’ll find room for now that I I’ve dilated much.

Vintage Seven

Guess who’s back in the motherfucking house? My son!!!

Well he never left--after all, he is only seven, but he’s not been featured. I’ve been writing about the adults and boring myself to tears. In real life though I’ve not had a moment’s boredom because my child’s like a rocket ship of revelations, milestones, quotations, memorable moments as he tears into his seventh (and in his words, best yet) year. And here I was failing to catalog all this shit. I’m going to take a crack at it and commit to doing this regularly because if there is a legitimate rock star in my life whose every move should be depicted Us Weekly style (“Stars: They’re Just Like Us. They Suffer From Unrequited Love!”) it’s my son, and not me. I know, I know, shocking I could say that. But I bow only to true idols. Episodes below.

Episode 1: One is Never Too Young To Play Love’s Fool

Today was a strange day Mama
Chelsea spoke to me
(Chelsea—the girlfriend of first grade, whom he imagined was his girlfriend is a Mean Girl. The sort of creature so foul for her young years that she appears airbrushed in the morning and airbrushed at the end of the day when the normal girls have frizzy hair and flushed cheeks from playing at being children. She’s an ice queen latina barbie—hence her first name. A creature whose unpleasantness is only outdone by her mother’s and who airs she puts on almost bring me to a verbal throwdown beginning with the words “Bitch, I know you didn’t just” until I realize she’s seven. Seven going on seventeen. But her hair is golden. Read: light brown with some blondish streaks that could very well be highlights but ain’t hear that from me.)

Doesn’t she always speak to you?
No, this year, since school started she never speaks to me
Excuse me?
Doesn’t speak to y ou?
Like she doesn’t know you, like you guys were not friends last year and almost boyfriend and girlfriend??
Yeah, she just doesn’t look at me at all or talk to me.

At this point my child emotes and starts to tear up. I realize that the past few days of home therapy where he’s been crying out his anxieties about second grade and learning the meaning of the phrase “welling up”—a mistake I made in explaining that shit to this Shakespearean thespian!—had much more to do with Chelsea than with Mrs. Anisco’s purported evil ways.

Hold on, look don’t cry. Well how did you feel when she did talk to you?
Well that’s because you were probably happy right?
But upset at the same time because she was mean before.
That’s the weirdness…. So do you think she’ll be nice from now on?

Yeah, but are you prepared for the fact that the bitch is likely to do that shit to you over and over again, even perhaps for the duration of ten formative years of your youth like a leech that sucks the blood while making your head woozy enough that you don’t actually notice you’re slowly dying while waiting for her to treat you like a decent person?!!
Well, rest assured. I did not say that to the child, I just said:

Well just take care of your feelings. She could still be mean again because well, people sometimes do stupid shit.
But I hope she’s not.
Me too!
You know, why don’t you think about all your other friends who are nice, you know? Focus on them. So many cool girls are your buddies, why don’t you want them to be your girlfriend?

Mama, duh, hello?! We love the ones we love.

I’m thinking to myself, what the fuck? Did I do this or do they (we) come wired with a stoopid ass unrequited love propensity chip? A child is a profoundly self-interested, needs oriented, selfish creature. He has to be taught that if I buy the candy bar maybe it should not pain him to give me a little piece. But here when it comes to love, the self interest crumbles like a cookie and we “love the assholes we love.” What is this? I tell you what, this is a game we lose before we even know how to play it, that's what.

Now I segway into episode 2 with a disclaimer which is that I am sure my son watching General Hospital (yes, the soap) with me is not appropriate. I know this because it’s not appropriate for me to watch it, frankly. But the bonding is unbeatable you know? We watch it and it’s borderline inappropriate so it makes him feel really special—I have clear, clear, very fond memories of those moments with my mother. Did I say “fond memories” and “mother” in the same sentence? Now I know why I can’t stop the GH ritual in my home; it feeds a little hole in my heart called “nice shit that happened when I was a child with my mom.” Awww. But anyway, yeah, not okay. But funny.

Episode II: Soapy Love Mess

I told you a million times that I cannot explain this soap to you without drawing up a chart.
No, no. I get it. You mean that Sonny the bad guy with a good heart...and Jerry the bad guy with the bad heart, they hate each other… but they have to work together now to battle the bad guy that's like a really really bad guy, which that guy that maybe poisoned Kate works for? I can totally follow this without a chart.

I was in awe of the accuracy and succinctness of the summary. I felt emboldened: maybe I could tell him more!

But this is what you don't understand, when Sonny was your age, that bad guy Trevor was his evil step dad and accused him of trying to kill his mother only because
Oh you mean falling down the stairs, yeah I know about that.
How do you know about that?
I watch GH with my dad. He watches it. He likes it. Behind your back. Sonny's your favorite but do you know who my dad's favorite is?

(So your dad’s favorite is the brooding emotionally challenged painfully loyal right hand man of the mob boss who sacrifices his happiness for that of all others? Figures.)
Then later--when he could rip himself away from a pivotal seduction scene in the hot tub, ("is that a Jacuzzi or a hot tub?") long enough to see the Elizabeth/Nikolas talk, he said:

Wait wait wait a minute. Did she just say she cheated on Lucky with Jason?
So Lucky is cheating on her with Sam right now in the hot tub which she doesn’t know BUT she cheated on Lucky with Jason first?
Oh my god. This is crazy.
I wanted to say, You don't know the crazier part--do you know who Jason's girlfriend used to be? SAM! And I also wanted to say, "Son, the word you want to use here is not crazy, it's... soapy", but I stopped myself short of causing permanent damage to the child.

Episode III: Virtuosity Reality
This episode I heard from my friend E who experienced it first hand; I apologize for stealing the story for the purposes of this record. So in this case, he’s the adult not italicized,not me.

So have you made up your own music to play yet?
(Silence, piercing look, silence and then)
What? You don’t know about me and my keyboard?
No, what do you mean?
You don’t know I’ve been rockin out?
Uh, no
Cause I’ve been rockin out. You want me to play you something?
Yeah, of course.
Are you ready?

And so he set his keyboard to record and played what he thought was an amazing piece of pop rock piano music with some “drums” programming in there. And then went to sit next to my friend E, to brood and listen to the replay. Replay plays.

You know, for some reason, it sounds better when I do it then when the keyboard does. Do you hear that? Do you hear how mine’s better? I’m not sure why that is.

Update: he’s now moved on to hate the piano classes, the keyboard and rockin out in that sense and believes himself an electric guitar virtuoso. He suggested to E that maybe E’s roommate (a real life musician) and him could have “you know, a guitar play off?”

Appendix: Newly Acquired Skills and Stuff
His first real suit for my friend's wedding: E took him to get it at Brooks Brothers and he took him to the taylor. Speaking of, he wore the navy blue perfection that was that suit with his chucks. And he looked sexy. There I said it. There's no other words for it. It was a hot ass look.

His first watch. From the gap. Digital though. He can't tell time very well so I think we start where we can. Also can't tie shoelaces and I got him fancy school shoes with velcro straps under the leather buckle. I think maybe I am an enabler.

The appropriate use of "air quotes" and of the tool of sarcasm as in: "you never get it when I am being sarcastic". Which is a shame because he does it well. But it took a while, it's a long way from telling me he was "just being sarcasticated."

A really sophisticated skill at self-conscious manipulation of adult feeling, emotion and the truth. A friend of mine says that Jung (the shrink) said a child had two fundamental rights: masturbation and lying. My kid's versed on his fundamental rights, both of them.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fifth of september, day I'll always remember

On Wednesday September 5, 2007, almost ten years to the date I met him, the father of my child, my ex, a celebrity by no other name in my stories, I called him and we had the following exchange, give and take some paraphrasing and creative non-fictional license (J stands for me and X for…duh):

J: Are you planning on having a baby with that woman soon, or are you currently expecting?

X: (pregnant silence—pun intended!)

J: Hello? You there? Is this one o f those “dropped calls can fuck up shit” commercials?

X: I’m here. Why are you asking me that now?

J: Just answer the question and be honest. It’s just me X, you can be honest.

X: That’s the thing, I can’t because I don’t want to hurt your feelings and----

Hold up, wait a minute, freeze frame and let me walk onto the screen and address the audience directly here. I feel I owe you an explanation. For a year now X has equivocated on the exactitudes of his involvement with said woman. After summer last year, the bomb exploded that he had “a girlfriend”—see chapter entitled “Giant Ice Cream Scooper”. Then it was smokes and mirrors to suggest that had been a fling that ended. Around January he got back real close to me. Then there were suggestions to counter that closeness that came from circumstances but still no real clear honest words from him. There was a rapprochement though, for sure. Members of his family were encouraged—could things be on the upswing with us? I tried to not be optimistic because I knew because he was making no pronouncements towards any such outcome and to be crass about, he was not trying to get in my pants. But all the while and despite hovering realities suggesting otherwise, X continued to be in my life and give me the proverbial rope to hang my little pathetic hopes on: he acted like he wanted me in his and wanted to be in my life. Myriad gifts, showers of attention and a high degree of explicit and implicit control over my daily routine. One obvious way was to claim to have almost absolutely no ability to babysit our son, especially in that night/weekend time windown when people who need one usually get a life. No, he was too busy, working hard on raising some funds to help improve our lives and amend for past wrongs. He’d love to watch him but he couldn’t—so I was house arrested.

Perversely, his “constant calls” worked like crack on me (how much he needs to speak with moi!) but very much like GPS for him. I was never cause for a “where you at text?” so much as I was a known bleep on his radar—always accounted for and guaranteed to not be having any fun or sex because I was with my child at home. Further perverse were the endless conversations about his future endeavors: our business ideas, our savings plans to get a mortgage for me—but really, was it for me or for us?, him passing me that inhibriating feeling of “I’m the only one he talks about all this stuff with” laced with “he really needs me”... Again, crack for me but very much like, oh I don’t know, what is the name for shamelessly self-serving ego tripping drug? Yeah, I would guess it was that for him. Most perverse of all though, and most hurtful in the end, were the instances, two of them, when confronted by a very terrified, weak, teary and vulnerable me, he actually denied all: denied her importance, her worth to him and as a person, and the reasonableness of my anxieties. And so this is what the year had been like: me taking every little crumb of attention from X to (secretely though not exactly subconsciously) tell myself that yes, he does did love me; him just keeping me on my crumbs diet, in the dark.

I did a whole year of him pretending that we had this wonderfully close, warm, profound relationship. A relationship interestingly lacking sex and the parts where I get something out of it for myself, beside delusions. All this happening while he developed a great new love of his own with someone who, like himself and unlike myself, was fully informed. Can I say that I was not exactly aware of the depth of that deception? I know I sound retarded but those who say love is blind mistook a mental deficiency for an optical one: love is just retarded. Did I have the intuition to feel afraid all year? Yes, of course. Did the attention minus sex equation give me anxiety and make me feel dirty and pathetic just right after it made me feel great, every time? Yes. Did I feel at times like all I was getting was a charity handout straight from the vault of his guilt? Yes. I can’t say I didn’t think these things but I can say, I have to say because it is true, that I didn’t think them in the place in my mind where thoughts register or where thoughts connect to action, or where thoughts are allowed to escape the vicious onslaught of sanitizing rationalization my ego subjects them to. (Does my mind even have such a pristine secure thinking space? Probably not). I knew but I couldn’t really know and didn’t want to know and I was being told “not to know”—you get the idea. And back to the action of this fateful phonecall:

J: No, yes you can be honest. You have not spared my feelings through being dishonest. My feelings have been walking up and down my sleeves, bleeding, with a black eye and on clutches for you to see for 12 months, if you know what I mean... So please. Look, I'll tell you what I think the truth is, since you can’t say it, and you just confirm or deny.

X: Okay
(J’s internal monologue: Did this motherfucker just say “Okay?”)

J: (Ahem, clear throat, heart pounding like crazy) Here is what I think, I think “You have been in a loving, serious relationship with her and you love her and she loves you and you’re even thinking about babies, and this has gone on for a whole year now.”

X: … Yeah, yeah, that’s correct.

J: So for this entire past year, while you knew I foolishly entertained the possibility she was just a fling, and while you had repeatedly told me she was just that, going as far as to disparage her intellect and character to emphasize that point--this entire year, you were having a relationship with her?

X: I was trying to spare your feelings.

J: You hold keys to my apartment, speak to me 10 times a day, know my every move and don’t think to mention that while this is going on and you’re taking up all this space in my life, you have a serious girlfriend in yours?

X: Like I said, I was just trying to spare your feelings…

And then we had the rest of the talk where I get on my high horse of self-righteous indignation because well, what else does one have left in this context? I explain in detail the depths and range of his indecency as a human being. Because we do that when we are hurt, strangely. We waste time telling a motherfucker, “do you understand, no let me spell it out for you, how much this makes you a m-o-t-h-e-r-f-u-c-k-e-r?!”, as if this is in any way a strike back at them. Then, in the moment, of course, he agrees and mea culps himself all the way back to 1998, the most obvious way to respond. And then, shameless, because hurt people have no shame, I get on the mother of the high horse of self-righteousness, the even higher horse of Maturity and Generosity and outline how we will handle this. I engender this measured tone, I sound so noble, I feel like I should slap ‘im with my white glove, or something. I say something to the effect of wishing them the best and just wanting my space and time and looking forward to the time when relations will normalize. You get the idea, we’ve all seen that scene in many movies:
He predictably feigns pain at the thought we will be cut off from each other now, references the sort of friend he thought I’d be forever, something about his homie and about his special relationship to his baby’s mother, “homie” and “baby mother” being the top and sole two words infamous list of shit your ex should never fucking call you.

Then it happens, the watershed moment happens. I have a fantasy in my mind of who I am in this moment, in this conversation and it materializes. And I realize, I am really doing this: I have passed from pretending to be in control to being in control. As I am talking, as this is happening, I am walking inside myself and trying to find my panic, my terror, my devastating pain at the loss of him, that familiar demon, I want to find it before it finds me, I do not want to walk unaware into another scene of prostration on the floor of my apartment wailing and… I find nothing. It is no longer there. I realize that I have faked it til I made it and I am zen right now, I am capable of seeing this through. Though without having had a real meditative breakthrough I feel something like those people who through meditation got their ego to shut up long enough so that they could take a big bite of reality, swallow it, not choke to death and live to tell.

So like a Maya Angelou cliché, I rise and shit, on the pedestal of “I am the one who called you out”. I am the one who albeit many months (years!) and sad episodes late, said I would like the drama of you making me look stupid and degraded to myself, to your new girlfriend and to everyone who knows me , to stop. I am the one who said, don't lie anymore, I don't want the pity, I don't need the pity. I am the one gladly taking whatever little’s left of my dignity, thank you very much, and leaving this sordid little party, like a ho with runny stockings and lipstick who knows it’s going to be fine once she takes a shower and changes clothes. I am the one making the first move in my own best interest that I can be proud of making, in almost 10 years. It may all be a delusion of grandeur but I literally feel myself take flight, and I am the light breeze over the darkening forrest that was this part of my life, and I am going to go now and hung. up. this. phone. Fully adrenalized and distraught and very pained and elated and confused and drowsy and aprehensive is how I describe the aftermath of that phonecall; such is the place from which I write today.