Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why is it better to have loved and lost?

"Oh, Nancy got married," my mom mentioned to me.

"Really?" I said. "Wow, that's great. Good for her." I tried to think back to the last, and perhaps only time I had seen her. My uncle's long-time girlfriend, she had shared our Christmas with us once, when I was about nine or ten years old, my sister about six or seven. She had played with us all afternoon, keeping us entertained with doodles on yellow sheets of legal paper. She would start, drawing a small, meaningless shape, then hand the pen and paper to us, encouraging us to use our imaginations to incorporate it into something bigger; a squiggle becoming a snowman's scarf, a scalloped edge turned into a flower, zig-zags into a spaceship. We loved her, but in the car on the way home, my mom told us not to get our hopes up. "Your uncle will never marry her," she said. "It's sad, really. She wants to get married and have children, and she still hopes that Steve will marry her, even though he's made it clear that that's not going to happen." But why? we asked. She told us about my uncle's brief marriage years before, when I was just a baby, and subsequent divorce. "He doesn't like answering to anyone," she said. "He prefers being a bachelor."

Occasionally I wondered about Nancy. At some point I assumed that she and my uncle had broken up over the years, but then, during one Christmas get-together or another, my uncle would mention her casually, in passing, and it was clear that they were still in touch, and still together in some way, though what the exact nature of their relationship was, I was never quite sure.

And then this year, a card arrived. On the front, a gray and white Japanese landscape of a snowy mountain, the knotty branches of a tree in the foreground. The inside of the card covered on both sides with her flowing cursive writing, continuing on the back as well. She breaks the news, saying she doesn't know how to tell us this, or if we had already heard. She says a dear friend, who had been by her side helping her take care of her elderly parents, had asked her to marry him, and she had. She says that she and Steve haven't spoken in over a year. "I had truly hoped it would someday be Steve that I would marry," she says. "Twenty years later, our relationship was not growing." She says that she realized that only seeing him a few times a year and talking on the phone was not enough. That she needed someone who would be by her side, as she would be for him. Things are going well, she says. She had returned to college, briefly, and is now back at work as the cosmetics manager at Bloomingdale's.

And then, the kicker: "I still miss Steve deeply. Give him my love." With that line hitting me full force, it all became clear to me. What my life could have become. You stay because you love, and because you love you hope, until you wake up one day twenty years older and alone, with the realization that you've let life pass you by, and there's not a thing you can do about it. I could have stayed. I wanted to stay, with every fiber of my being, I wanted to hold on and never let go. He didn't want me to go either, not exactly, which made it even harder. But he wasn't willing to make any promises, either. Over the years, dreams and talk about the future had diminished, reduced to "I like being with you. I want to be with you now. Isn't that enough?" It might have been enough, and I might have continued on, hoping that he would change, hoping that I would be able to persuade him to love me the way I needed to be loved. But in the end, my natural pessimism won out over the status quo. I knew deep down that people don't change, not really. I knew, even then, that if I kept on I ran the risk of waking up one day years later, realizing that I had let life pass me by, and with nothing I could do about it. And suddenly this card from a woman I barely know and haven't seen in eighteen years, and my decision is confirmed. It was the sensible thing to do.

Though in my occasional correspondance with his family members, and my thinly-veiled questions regarding his welfare, if I had more guts, what I might be saying is this: "I still miss him deeply. Give him my love."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Why the Grinch stole Christmas, probably

Well, I'm home now, with all that that entails.

Christmas in my family is always a somewhat disappointing affair. There's no tree, no decorations, no warm, glowing hearth. It wasn't always this way, but over the years the decorations started coming out later and later, until one year, when I was about twelve, they didn't come out at all. For a few years I struggled to carry on the traditions by myself; dragging the aluminum tree upstairs piece by piece, setting it up, decorating it, alone. And reading this, it's really a wonder I've never had to undergo therapy, isn't it? Anyway, eventually I recognized that it was all an exercise in futility, and I gave up caring long ago.

My family does do gifts, though in the same kind of scattered and half-hearted way you might expect. For instance, last Christmas my parents gave my sister an iPod and an electric piano. I got a book. No wait...a book and a calendar. I almost didn't find out about it, since my sister didn't even show up for Christmas last year. Apparently she had "better things to do." Though she did stop by the day after to cart off her loot.

"Hey, I just saw your sister carrying an iPod and a keyboard out to her car," my future ex-boyfriend informed me.

"What? Wait...what?!" I said calmly. I calmy and nonchalantly marched down to the basement. "Hey Mom. Hey Dad," I said nonchalantly. "So uh...Becca got an iPod and a keyboard for Christmas?"



"Well, that's what she asked for."

"Wait a minute...since when do people get what they ask for around here? You know, I asked for an umbrella two years in a row. An umbrella. And I never got it."

"So, are you saying you want an iPod, too?"

"No...I mean, yeah, I mean, of course, but that's not the point..."

And then my mother, filled to overflowing with the spirit of the season, took out her checkbook and wrote me a check for $500, which I then promptly used to buy an iPod pay my heating bill.

Merry Christmas, everyone! However your holiday season goes, at least you can rest assured knowing that, in any case, it's probably better than mine. Here's to a happy new year, and fond hopes for a fantastic (or at least much-improved) 2008. Cheers!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Why holiday stress is for suckers

The one good thing about being single on Christmas for the first time in five years (and I'm really trying to look on the bright side, here, if you can't tell) is Christmas shopping is a lot more streamlined. My list has been effectively cut in half, and I have to say, it feels pretty good. Before, not only was there the stress of finding the perfect present(s) for The Boy, but then there were gifts to be bought for his parents, his sister, brother-in-law, their kids, and it wasn't as if I could expect him to do the shopping for his own family, oh no. This year, however, with the help of gift cards and homemade cookies (which scream that I am lazy and cheap, respectively), shopping has been pretty low-key. I'll only have to do one last-minute shopping run after I get home on Sunday, since the only people left on my list are my aunt and uncle (and what do you buy for the middle-aged urban professionals with discriminating taste who already have everything?)

I hope everyone's holiday shopping is going equally smoothly. Thanks for reading, and I raise a virtual glass of egg nog to you. Cheers! (You totally have a virtual egg nog mustache now. Ha!)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why I don't like reggae

Mike was tall, and had a habit of waking me up at two in the morning to ask me questions about assignments for our 8 a.m. French class, six hours before they were due. I never dreamed of complaining, and instead crowed in silent victory, that although he could have called any of the five other people in the class, it was me he called, he picked me! I would follow him with my eyes as he slouched into class, perpetually ten minutes late, willing him to sit next to me. Sometimes he did, and I would glow for the rest of the day.

Unlike everyone else in the class, he already spoke French perfectly. I had assumed he was North African, but I would find out later that actually, he was half Russian, half Ethiopian. He was tall, lanky, and angular, with dark hair and amber skin, and sharp, almost sinister features. Sketchy hot, I would think, and I was hopeless for him. He had a foreign air of worldliness about him that set him apart from all the other white bread frat boys on campus. He belonged in a café in Paris, on a beach in Algiers; he belonged on a train rushing through the frozen Russian countryside, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette by an open window. He did not belong in Westminster, MD, home to a small private liberal arts college and the Carroll County Farm Museum.

One night I went out with a couple friends to a newly opened bar down the street, that with its grand opening brought the sum total of bars in town to an unheard of three. A little drunk already with the novelty of the situation, to be drinking beer in public and not shut up in a tiny dorm room, swaggering a bit with our newfound age of majority, we huddled around a table, glancing around the room and pointing out people we knew. Students and locals, old and young together, drinking peacably, and nary a campus safety officer in sight to break up the party. I thought for a second that this might just be what heaven is like. Then I spotted Mike, and suddenly I was sure.

He came over, introductions were made all around, and we sat and drank and talked for the next two hours. In a cozy tête-à-tête, he and I became engrossed in conversation, half in French, half in English, as he drank Guinness and chain-smoked cigarettes. He told me about everywhere he had lived, everywhere he had been, and I glowed in his attention, in my foot touching his under the table, in how easily French was flowing from my mouth, in the fact that our conversation must have seemed mysterious and incomprehensible to anyone else listening. And then, finally, after all this..."You know," he said, glancing across the table, "your friend is really pretty when she smiles." Suddenly, the glow evaporated; we were just in a dark, smoky bar, and my head hurt. It was time to go.
Some weeks later, I called my friend Dave, bored. "Hey, whatcha doing?" I asked.

"Oh, just hanging out with Mike," he said. "Drinking gin."

"Mike?" I said. "You mean Tall Mike??? I'm coming right over."

And the three of us proceeded to get drunk in Dave's tiny corner single room, playing video games, watching porn. I was boisterous, happy in a way that anyone who knew me would have been able to tell was trying too hard. I had a chip on my shoulder, and something to prove. When the alcohol ran out, the party was over, it seemed. Except..."I have more gin in my room..." I mentioned.

"Yeah?" Mike said. "Well let's go."

Having rid ourselves of Dave, we trekked across the deserted quad to my room, where we sat and talked on my floral-covered twin bed. Finally, interminably, Mike said, "Have you ever heard of a vacuum kiss?" I hadn't, but I was intrigued. "Can I show you?" he asked. Could he? Of course he could. He started out with his lips barely making contact with mine, followed by a whispery inhaling, exactly as if he were vacuuming up crumbs. I started to kiss him back, but he stopped me. "No, no," he said, and he continued the breathy inhaling, varying the suction against my lips, until he apparently reached a stopping point. "So," he said, "do you want to try it now?" It was all the invitation I needed. We started kissing in earnest, and it escalated rapidly until I found myself lying on my back with his weight pressing down on top of me. Something about the position, his insistence, bothered me, and I struggled slightly to free myself. But my efforts were fruitless; I was pinned against the bed, and this realization made me slightly frantic. I struggled harder, becoming desperate, like a caged animal, and still he bore down on me, holding my arms so I was unable to move. I said no, I'm sure I said no, but I was breathless, and he was on top of me, and I felt helpless, like in a nightmare where you're unable to scream, or make even the slightest of sounds. I summoned all my strength, using my core muscles to push against him, and into an upright position once again. I took a deep breath and exhaled a huge sigh of relief at this new freedom, but before I could even think, before I could chide myself for getting into this situation, he had pushed me back down again, holding me with even more force this time, as I felt my tired muscles grow weaker. Thoughts flooded through my mind; What will I do, I thought, if, you know, it comes to the worst? And then I knew; I'll call Pat, I thought. That's what I'll do. And he'll come over and he'll hold me and take care of me, like he did when I drank much too much and got sick much too early on Homecoming night. And he had; not only did he put me to bed, removing my shoes and taking off my necklace so it wouldn't fall in my mouth when I got sick, but he held vigil over me all night long, though I wasn't aware of it until the next day. In my leopard-print folding chair he positioned himself next to my bed, and he strummed my guitar, quietly, and he watched me. Everyone else was out drinking and partying- his friends, frat brothers- but he stayed sober, and he stayed with me. He answered my phone, he sent away visitors, and the next morning I woke to find him bundled in my sweatshirt, stretched out next to me on a strip of mattress only inches wide. Yes, that's what I'll do. I'll call Pat, and everything will be ok. As this was going through my mind, I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye; the glowing digital face of my alarm clock. Three a.m.?! There's no way I can call Pat at three a.m., no matter what happens! I would be on my own until morning, then. Somehow this thought, the lateness of the hour, and classes rapidly approaching the next morning, panicked me more than anything else. "Holy shit!" I yelled. This seemed to startle him, and he stopped momentarily and looked at me, confused. "It's three a.m.! You have to go! I have to go to bed, I have a spanish test tomorrow morning. You have to go!"

"Mais," he said, dazed, "mais on n'est pas satisfait?" He said this incredulously, as if never in his life had anyone dared refuse him before satisfaction was attained (for one party, at least). I shrugged my shoulders silently, exaggeratedly, palms up. Tant pis. He stretched himself up to his full height, still eying me with disappointment and reproach, and ambled towards the door. He stopped suddenly, and selected a cd from my collection. Bob Marley. "I'm taking this," he informed me. "I'll give it back," he added, unconvincingly. I knew I would never see it again. At first I was resentful, but then decided it was a small price to pay to be rid of him, when it all could have ended so differently.

And, just like that, I was cured of my obsession. I stopped wishing for him to sit next to me in French class. When I saw him around campus, I looked the other way. All I had wanted was to prove to myself that I could get him, if I wanted to. That I was as pretty, as desirable, had as nice a smile as any other girl. That he could be interested in me. I never dreamed victory could taste so sour.

Somewhere in the night, a moth gets too near a bright and fascinating flame, and singes its wings. This time it escapes, alighting into the dark relief of the cool night air, mostly unharmed. Off on a new adventure, it turns its eye to the dimmer but more plentiful lights of the millions of stars, twinkling overhead. And as it goes, it sings: No, woman, no cry. Little darlin, don't shed no tears. No, woman, no cry. Everything's gonna be alright. Everything's gonna be alright. No, woman, no cry.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Why it doesn't take much

I've received a belated e-mail response. He viewed my profile at 7:43 p.m. Friday. And he responded at 5:07 p.m. today. Oh, and he's 6'5".

O frabjous day! Callooh, callay!

So, one response out of six (I, uh, sent out a couple more e-mails last night)...that's...well, it's better than nothing, in any case. And the old self-esteem meter creeps back up just a smidgen.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why I think the world is ending

I woke up this morning to this outside my window:

Three days ago when 12 inches came down and people were freaking out and all the news could talk about was the snow, my god, the snow!, I was all, pfffftttt. It's winter. I stayed home all day and worked on my paper. The next day when I had to go to my office, for the most part the roads were plowed, the sidewalks were cleared. No big deal.

But now, four to eight more inches?! Seriously?!

Yet another day homebound, and all I can do is think wistfully that it would be a great day to be snowed in with someone...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Why all I want for Christmas is some self-esteem, and maybe a puppy

La chair est triste, hélas! et j'ai lu tous les livres. (The flesh is sad, alas! and I've read all the books). That pretty much sums it up. And yet this putain de paper isn't finishing itself. I don't know why.

I'm down, discouraged, and feeling all too acutely the effects of the R-word once again. In the past week alone I've undergone more rejection than I feel equipped to handle at the moment. Case in point:

Friday night: Go out with roommate and psychic friend. A certain male friend of roommate will be joining us. Have previously engaged in mild flirtation and one goodnight kiss with said friend, which didn't lead anywhere. Still, though. Could be interesting. Think, stupidly, This could be fun. Get hit on repeatedly and insistently by short, trollish man who can't take a hint. Look around desperately for male friend, who has disappeared. When he finally returns, encourage him to put arm around waist with a pointed help me! nudge. His arm looped half-heartedly around waist, turn to troll, still hanging around at level of right shoulder, and shrug. Hey, that's life. Troll does not take hint and keeps coming back. Obviously wasn't clear enough. Nudge male friend again, who doesn't respond. Must have nudged too gently. Nudge again. And again, harder. Realize am being pointedly ignored by male friend who is engrossed in deep conversation with fake hair-wearing psychic friend. He will spend the rest of the night with her on the dance floor. "He's a subtle dancer," she will say later. "Like me." At the end of the night, they will make plans to get together the next day. Note to self: never go out again.

Saturday: Text message from snuggle friend asking if I would like to take a break from paper for a drink. Am wishy-washy. Need to work, and yet, need to drink. Fed up with texting back and forth, call him. No answer. Leave voicemail. He finally calls back an hour later. He didn't see my missed call at first, he says. He had multiple missed calls, thought they were all from his "friend", Tyler. So, where do you want to go, I say. You really don't like making decisions, do you, he says. Um, we've gone out once, I say. So I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean. He huffs and puffs and says he really can't think about any of this right now. But if I decide where I want to go, give him a call. But, you probably won't, will you, he says. I shrug, out loud. But I do call, an hour later. I will say, this is silly, let's just go somewhere. I've been in the house all day. He doesn't answer, again. This time, his voicemail box is full. I wait for him to call me back. He doesn't. Ever. Next day I send a text, saying, What happened to you last night? No reply. So. Now that's over, too.

Wednesday night: Searching for any possible distraction from paper-writing drudgery, turn to Craigslist personals. The lowest of the low. Respond to three ads of men with no photos; who knows what I'm getting myself into. Send three short e-mails with attached photo, as requested. Continue to check my e-mail for responses that never come. 0 for 3. Kind of want to die.

Friday: Find cute and interesting prospect I seem to have previously overlooked on Okcupid. Seems like my kind of guy. Height considerably above average: check. Ability to grow facial hair: check. Similar taste in music, movies and food. Sense of humor. Send a short and hopefully cute e-mail. Wait anxiously for a response. He views my profile at 7:43 p.m...That's all. No reply. The ubiquitous and unstated thanks but no thanks.

So. A streak of bad luck? Stars aligned against me? Emitting desperate vibes and/or foul odors via the internet? All of the above?

My question for you is, at what point do you throw in the towel? At what point do you say, I can't take this anymore, and I give up?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why I haven't been posting

I'm not making as much progress as I would like. Then I look at some titles of books other people have written about him:

Mallarmé L'Obscur
Mallarmé, or, the Poet of Nothingness
Mallarmé and the Art of Being Difficult

And then I think, Yeah, that sounds about right.

I will be finished (have to be finished) by Monday a.m., at the latest. And then I can finally get down to the serious business of sleep, glorious sleep.

Wish me luck. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to figure out how to write 10 more pages about the poet of nothingness. A bientôt.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Why I like teaching

My new favorite word: interspertantly

As in: "Dear professor, I am sorry for missing class. I developed a stomach flu that kept me up interspertantly throughout the night."

Kids! So cute! Although if I were teaching an English class I might feel a bit more discouraged.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Why couldn't it have been Kevin Millar?

I'm not quite sure how to express the state of my life at the moment, except to say that even my dreams are boring, and yet fraught with anxiety. I've had the same dream twice this week; I've lost my purse, and can't remember where I left it. I walk through room after room after room in this immense, never-ending house, going, Where could it be? I could have sworn I left it right here...I'm not entirely sure what this means. All I know is I have more than enough stress during my waking hours, and it would be nice to be able to relax for a bit, at least while I'm asleep. I mean, really, subconscious, would a sex dream or two be too much to ask?

Last night's dream at least took a semi-interesting turn. While I was walking through the endless rooms wringing my hands and fretting over my lost purse, I ran into Johnny Damon, and we chatted a bit. In my dream he was still with the Red Sox, and he seemed a bit taken with me. He even wrote me out a note that would allow me to get into practice to see him. And, I mean, I don't even really like Johnny Damon, don't tend to go for the dumb jock type, but I mean, I was still flattered. Then I remembered that in real life, Johnny Damon is married, so I knew then that I was dreaming. Because in my dream world, the Red Sox line-up is still composed of members of the original 2004 World Championship team, and major league baseball players are all faithful to their wives.

Then I woke up and realized that Johnny Damon is with the Yankees, and baseball season is long over, but at least I know exactly where my purse is. The End.

And now, that's it. That's all you're getting from me until after I've finished my paper. And this time I mean it!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Why isn't this semester over yet?!?!?!

The test is over, and it's just as anti-climactic as I expected. Four hours, twenty painstakingly hand-scribbled pages, and one frantically gulped pint later, and we all tromped en masse into our two hour lecture class, ten minutes late. Since our group comprised exactly 5/8 of the class, and considering that we collectively stank of beer and cigarettes, our arrival was immediately noticeable. Our professor said he was "touched" that we all came. I wonder if he was as touched by our valiant efforts to overcome the soporific effects of exhaustion and alcohol, as we fought to stay awake for an hour and a half lecture on "Le nénuphar blanc."

Class finally over, I caught a few quick minutes of shut-eye on the couch in the office and then joined a couple of my fellow test-takers and friends for wine (French, bien sur) and mac and cheese at Silvertone. Afterwards, I stumbled home through the ice and cold, my internal clock swearing that it was 11:30, although my watch protested that it was only 8:30. Then, it was home and a quick cuddle with my new friend, who happened to be in the neighborhood (as it also happens to be his neighborhood), and stopped by to say hi.

Calling it a long day would perhaps be an understatement, but at last, I made it to bed (alone, thankyouverymuch), and drifted off into a restless slumber. After doing a fairly good job, I think, of remaining pretty calm and nonchalant and frankly-my-dear-I-don't-give-a-damn about this test, I woke up in the middle of the night panicked, and I couldn't figure out why. It's over, I told myself. What's wrong with you? Go back to sleep.

In any case, my subconscious perhaps knew better than I, that it is not in fact over, unfortunately. Oh, and if you can help me write a 20-page paper on Mallarmé in 5 days, send me an e-mail or something. Otherwise, drink some wine for me, and try not to miss me too much. I should be back sometime before 2008, though I will likely be reduced to a hollow ghost of my former self, a mere shell of a human being. And just in time for Christmas!

Cheers, all. A bientôt.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Why we will never again refer to the sheep incident

I'm trying to figure out a reason for the other day's rapid about-face, and how I was so easily talked out of my "let's be friends" proposition. What I've come up with is this: it's hard to argue with someone who thinks that nearly everything you say or do is charming in some way.

"What are those?" he asked.

"Oh, those are my flash cards," I said. "I study them on the bus."

"I like thinking about you on the bus, with your flash cards," he mused.

Then, later: "I can't stop thinking of that story you told," he said, "about when you were a little girl and the sheep kicked poop in your mouth. It's so endearing."

I mean, can I really turn down a guy who finds the fact that I once had sheep poop in my mouth endearing? He even thinks my moles are adorable. I keep looking for a loophole, or some kind of explanation for why he's trying so hard. As far as I know I'm not the heiress to a large fortune, so it can't be that. But what? What is it?


He played a game with me, where I answer a series of seemingly innoculous questions, and this is supposed to say something about me. Only I don't learn the supposed significance of the questions until after I've already incriminated myself given my answers.

But, here. Before I ruin it by giving away the trick, you try it. Write your answers down on a piece of paper so you don't lie and change your mind later when you figure out what you should have said.

1. Favorite animal
2. Second favorite animal
3. You're stranded on a desert island, and you can do anything you want. What do you do? (It's vague. You can do anything. Go with it).
4. You're walking across a field and you come to the edge of a deep, dark forest. What do you do?
5. How do you like your coffee?

Here's how it went for me:

"So, favorite animal," he said.

"Well, interestingly enough, what with that sheep poop incident and all, I'm still going to have to go with sheep," I said. To my dismay, I found out that this question is supposed to symbolize how you see yourself and/or how you think other people see you. Great. So I see myself as a big, dumb, conformist. I mean, is there any animal less sexy than a sheep? I might as well have said lemming, or dodo bird, or hippopotamus.

Your second favorite animal is supposed to represent what you seek in a mate. Here was my answer: "Dogs. Because they're loyal and they love you and they lick your face." Heh. Indeed.

The third question was a little more of a thinker. "Wait, what do you mean I can do anything I want? It's a desert island, right? I mean, how many choices do I have?" I thought through my potential options, and said, "Well, I guess I would build a swing. Yes, I would swing."

"Hmm," he said. "That's interesting."

Do I even have to tell you that this question is supposed to represent how you feel about relationships? And that I actually said, I would swing? Either this test is tapping into some unconscious desires that I didn't know I had, or I utterly and completely failed this stupid test.

The forest question is supposed to symbolize how you feel about death. I said, "I would turn around and walk away." I mean, wouldn't anybody?

In response to "How do you like your coffee?" I replied, "With cream." Apparently this is supposed to represent how you feel about sex. To which I say, huh? I mean, if I had known maybe I would have replied more specifically, with whipped cream. (Just kidding). ((I think)). Although the more accurate answer these days is more like, "Uh, it's been so long I can't remember." Seriously.

Although as to this question's ability to accurately tap into one's true subconscious desires, he offered this story as proof: Apparently he asked his friend this same question, and the friend replied, "Only at night. And black." And, he swears to me that not two nights ago, said friend hooked up with another friend of his. And she's black. So, there you go. It's magic. Try it on all your friends. Then come back and let me know if anyone has dumber answers than mine, because I'm feeling a little self-conscious over here.