Break Them, Lose Them, Leave Them

Lauren and I are decorating the tree.  We’re decorating the tree because it is December, because I’m a flexible Jew, and because Lauren is princessy enough to counteract all of my not caring about anything at all.  So we have a tree, and we’re putting pink tulle around it.  That’s how Lauren rolls.

I’m lucky to have her, and I’m glad she’s like this.  She gets me outside of myself sometimes, and I need that.  I pull out her snowmen, her angels and stars, and I smile.

“I almost got new ornaments this year,” I say, mostly to myself.

“Almost?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I wanted to get some, but then I thought, why bother?”

“What?”

“I mean, I move.  I just, I always move.”

“But.. that doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things.”

“Yeah, I know… I know… it’s just how I am with nice things.  I either break them, lose them, or have to leave them behind when I go… and then I’m just… I’m so sad… so I just don’t really bother with things at all anymore.”

The second it comes out of my mouth, I realize how bad it sounds.  But I’m just being realistic.  I’ve moved so many times that anything I can buy more cheaply than ship gets thrown out.  Anything I have to worry about breaking is a huge liability, and anything I can forget has already been left somewhere between Fort Lauderdale and Finland.

I’m embracing myself, I say. I’m just admitting that I suck at this.

But it’s more than that, if I’m being honest.  It’s more than that.  I’ve lived here for a year without a dresser or blinds.  Without a phone that isn’t shattered or pillowcases my old roommate’s cat didn’t chew.  One day I woke up and realized that I wasn’t ready to settle in because I still hadn’t been able to admit I’d ended up here.  I haven’t moved on.  Not in theory, not in life.  Not at all.

*****

People forget, and I try to forget, but I can’t.

TOSHIBA TRANSFERS II 1709

The word “bride” made me itchy. I couldn’t wear it, it didn’t fit.  I was terrible at ogling place settings and invitations.

Every sales clerk at every bridal store had pitched it the same.

“He’s English!” They’d squeal.  “You’re going to live in Barcelona!” They’d shriek.

“It’s a fairytale!”

And I would nod, awkwardly, with a white dress 6 sizes too big clipped to me with the big orange bridal store clamps I’ve discovered they use to strap the samples on you.  The dresses never felt right, but I loved him fiercely, and he and I were going to build the life I’d always thought was out of reach.

The engagement was, truthfully, a dream come true.  Embracing everything I’d ever wanted with the man who always made me laugh and kissed me like the world was ending.  No fear, side by side, traveling, living in a foreign country again.  He would grin, sweeping me around in his arms, making plans.  The first place he wanted to take me was Italy.  We’d take weekend trips to Istanbul and buy produce from the farmer’s market by my language school.  We’d live in a shoe box apartment in the Gothic district of Barcelona and give bike tours to tourists, and these would be the years we would talk about for the rest of our lives.

I remember his speech when I brought home the pamphlet for the language school, sighing with longing.

“Why don’t you just go?  You go to school and I’ll work.  You never let anyone do anything for you.  You don’t trust anyone to love you enough.  Let me do this for you… with you.”

And suddenly all the feelings I was never sure I’d have for anyone hit me breathless.  I wanted to marry him, and I knew it.

Three weeks later on one knee, he pushed his grandmother’s ring onto my finger.  Everything I never knew I wanted, I had.

It’s been fifteen months since everything came crashing to the ground.

How do I ever explain how piece by piece, everything fell apart?  The mindfuck of loving a man like him was that his lifelong entitlement and privilege was so complete, he couldn’t even understand why anyone would be upset that all of his promises were empty, and all of his stories were lies.  Every failure he’d ever had he was bailed out of by his wealthy parents.  Everything he’d ever achieved had been purchased for him.  The concept of consequences, that people hurt, that people cared, was lost on him.

When I gave notice at my job he was lying about filing our marriage license.  When I was breaking my lease he was lying about getting a job in Spain to support us.  We had planned to sell his house to purchase a home in Barcelona when it turned out – the house didn’t belong to him.  His parents were bankrolling the charade.  He’d attempt to get off on technicalities and I would angrily force the truth – none of those games mattered.  We were adults.  Trust mattered.  Respect mattered.  Responsibility mattered.  He shrank from me, deflated in realizing his grandiose claims of taking care of us were just an empty boast.  He fell off the grid for a week.  He claimed he didn’t have a phone charger but posted on social media.  I told him I didn’t care where he’d been or what he’d done.  It didn’t matter.  He was nothing to make a husband of.  He was nothing at all.

My job was gone, my home was gone, I had sold my car and spent out my savings on the wedding.  Everything I had worked so hard for my entire life was broken, wasted on this useless man, who thought nothing of what he had cost me. I thought that love meant finally trusting someone with something important, and when finally I opened up to it, I was stripped of everything I had.

In the wake of everything I lost, I collapsed in on myself.  I turned off my facebook, I didn’t return calls.  I cut out everyone who looked at me cross eyed or said an unkind word.  Nothing but a bundle of frayed threads, terrified that if you touch me, I’ll all but come unraveled.

I cried when I saw pictures of old friends together, and I burned the contract for my wedding venue.  I vowed never to lose so much to anyone, ever, ever again.

My dream of traveling the world with someone I loved was just that, a dream.  And looking behind at the wreckage of my life I feel that I can’t take on a single thing if I have to worry that it will be taken away from me, because I just don’t have the strength to watch another thing I love fall apart.  How could finally giving my trust, the best of myself, leave everything in pieces?

Everything I ever wanted broken, lost, and left behind.

***

A year later, after reassembling my life, my heart is still reeling from my losses.  I’ve been wandering through life in some sort of aimless haze, somehow all stuck together on the outside – I got a job, a car, and an apartment again – but hollow on the inside.  Cracked and empty.  I have trouble feeling anything.  These little activities with Lauren make me feel more human.  It’s Christmas, so we’re going to buy a tree topper.  It’s the thing to do.

Lauren and I are strolling aimlessly through the Culver City Target, picking out wrapping paper and buying trash bags.  We talk about the holiday and her latest job interview.  She turns to the wreaths and bows, and I, restless, veer off into the clearance ornaments that no one in the past month felt were worth $6.95.

My eyes feeling glassy, half in and half out of head, I pause to gather myself.  And that’s when I see it.  A little glittery globe.  A shiny promise of the planet.  I pick up the ornament and feel my heart warm with love and desire.  Enticed and enchanted, I hold it for a moment, and walk to the front of the store.

A discount ornament with flecks of dried hot glue, a ball of cheap glitter all over my clothes, and yet… it’s something.  I decide that I want something for the first time in a long time.  Suddenly strong enough to risk another loss.  In the flick of a heartbeat, something in me wakes up.  I am not whole yet, but I am healing.

I clutch the globe to my chest, intent on making it mine.  And though I promise myself to do my best not to break it, lose it, or leave it, I know that if my best leaves it shattered to pieces, or stranded in a suitcase in Belgium, my heart will learn to love something once again.

And in the mean time, I’ve got the world on a string.

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Complex

I was in Costa Rica with Michelle for 10 days.

In ten days you talk.

A day of frothy rum drinks and too much sun leads to the tumbling of secrets as we dig our toes into the sand and lean across our beachfront table towards each other. We talk about how I stood on a short board, the potency of her anger at her absent father, how even I don’t approve of the guy I’ve been seeing.

We talk about my desire to be loved. About my relationship with my mother.

“You’re… complex.”  She said.

I’m glad she said complex instead of complicated. I’m only complicated if you’re trying to solve me. Undo me and put me into neat little piles. If you want to know me – to swivel, pull, lick, grab, beg, and wonder… then I am complex. A messy past and a hopeful future.  A mismatched barricade hobbled together out of thrift store furniture. A Cubist painting with a sideways smile you could never appreciate unless you’re up close and in person.

I don’t need to be simple. I am what I am. I just don’t want a lack of simplicity to be treated as an error that needs correcting.

I am what I am.

And I am, it seems, complex.

Happy

Today, I’m thankful for the girls that make me laugh harder than anyone in the world.

For motorcycles and chocolate chip cookies.  For Amsterdam and new beginnings.  For new books and gold nail polish.  For laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing.  For three in one fitting room, laughing out in roars and ugly clothes, “no, bend over, you have to make sure it fits!  Bend farther!  Bounce up and down!”  until our sides shudder and our cheeks hurt from the laughter.  Until we’ve started to cry laughing from “pretending” we like kale so much it hurts.  Until we all tragically lose or tragically win a game of beer pong.  Until we all drive home safe and happy and together again for one more good night’s sleep.

The times they may be changing, but the best things seem to stay the same.

Today we rode through Green Valley, even though it wasn’t green.  The bike is small, just a starter, but it’s everything to us.  A representation of times gone by but yet to come, a past and a future.  A reminder of the vast expanse of things hinted at for the last twenty years.  I climbed on the back and felt the vibrations so hard I could have sworn my limbs had fallen asleep into pins and needles.

Freedom.

I dip my head back and taste the sky.  Today is a good, good day.

The wind whips at my helmet.  The sun scorches down on our backs.  We rumble and tuck between the hills and I realize that I’m feeling lucky.  Yesterday the ikea catalogue came (unrequested) to my mailbox, and I felt my fists flying and had the urge to burn down my apartment.  The first rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club.  I’m getting back to basics.  Feeling primitive and decorating with dirt.  I’m painting the Swiss Alps on my refrigerator.  I’m writing a novel.

I dance around the room, shadow boxing.  Punch and pull, float and fly, I’m ripping my enemies to shreds.  It’s four in the morning and I’ve conquered yesterday and am part way through tomorrow.  Lemme at ‘em.

Today is a good day.  I’m all power and fire and light.  There’s no stopping me.  I am Alan fucking Ginsburg, I am Susan B. Anthony, I’m every woman, it’s all in me.

Some moments you know you really can do anything.  Some loves really can conquer all.  Sometimes, if you peel off all of the layers you gained getting knocked around and jaded, you find the passions that ultimately save you.  Sometimes just a touch is enough.  I am fire in the sky, I am Natalie fucking Portman, I am the kiss you’ll always remember.

The first rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club.  The second rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club.  The secret of fight club is all the stuff you can’t talk about (I am Voltaire!) so I’m stripping myself free of the extraneous, and climbing on for the ride.  The wind whistles through my helmet.  Today the happiness soars through me.  I’m rummaging through old pictures in my head.   I am seeking out the obvious.  I am thanking my lucky stars.  I am Jonathan Frazen, I am Elvis and Oprah, I am oblivious to anything that gets in my way.

Maybe this happiness is crazy, but I’ll take it.

Nineteen

The first time I heard this song, you were stretched out on your back in the emptied out shell of Charlie’s van.  The three of us had stayed out all night, and come sun up, bleary-eyed and drunk on adventure, you were driving me back to my dorm room.  Lying down in the spot where the chairs should have been but weren’t, you had your eyes shut and were mouthing the words along to the music with this smile on your face.  I had never heard the song before, but instantly felt lovely – overwhelmed in some confusing, ridiculous, catastrophic teenage emotion that really, I still don’t understand.  Ten years later, give or take…. to this very day; any time I hear it, I imagine you silently mouthing the words in the back of a van, and me, nineteen and stupid, twisting around from the front seat to look at you, smiling at your quiet lipsync as the two of you ride us towards home.

Shots.

The shot glass from France was stolen along with my passport. Also with all of my makeup, and my favorite dress. The shot glass from London was mostly dissolved when a well meaning college roommate soaked it in boiling hot water along with the rest of the crusty dishes in the common room. Even my adventures are beginning to eat themselves alive.

My shot glass from Jamaica, like many of my shot glasses, isn’t a glass at all. This one is a wooden carving, whittled by hand into a deep green well with a small bird and the word J-A-M-A-I-C-A spelled out ever so carefully on the side in a scrawl that looks like it belongs to a child.

Today I open the kitchen cabinet to find that my shot glass from Jamaica has been turned nearly to dust by some sort of wood boring insect. It’s split down the middle right to the base and sitting in a dusty pile of it’s former self.

How fitting.

Each and every adventure, actually. How fitting.

I scoop the thing up, not having any desire to unleash a bug that can eat 100 times it’s body weight into my apartment, but also feverishly searching for a way to preserve my memory before it eats me out of house and home.

These shot glasses, these silly little dollar things, are all that I take back with me from whence I came. No trinkets or toys, no postcards, no jewelry. Just one bitter-sweet dose of lightheadedness from each and every place.

Because I’m American, and because I am foolish, I believe that most problems can be solved with strong bleach and water brought to a boil. So I pour too much Clorox into a pot I never want to see again, and submerge my piece of the island into a disinfectant baptismal.

“How hot,” I yell to my roommate, “Do you think tree bark would have to be to kill a termite?”

She cocks her head to the side like I’m nuts.

I’m probably nuts.

The truth is that I could go back to Jamaica eventually. I could mail order a new shot glass, even if it wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be cheating. I went there, I earned it, and I can’t help it if my memory was devoured. But I don’t want the article, however genuine, if it’s off of Ebay. I guess I just want to take the long way to the things I love. It’s the only way I feel like it means something. And I have no desire to go back to Jamaica.

I have a confession to make. No matter how much fun I have in a place, I never want to go back. It will never be quite right or just so again, and I know it. So I pick up a shot glass, drink to the memory, spin the globe and let my fingers do the walking. I can’t really explain it, but no matter how much I’ve loved (and sometimes, I have truly, deeply loved) a place, I just can’t find it within myself to go back.

I always want something else. Not necessarily something better. Just a flavor I haven’t tasted yet.

I remember England. The purple flowers pushing through the snow on the ground and the boy I loved standing in them, throwing rocks at my window.

I remember Thailand. The heat of the night sticking to my skin and slithering down my back. I remember the strangers who gave us the ride home. I remember clinging to a crying friend in the streets of Chang-Mai while his secrets tumbled out to me – and thinking nothing could be more tragic, or beautiful, or complicated than what was happening to me that very minute.

My wheels are always turning. Take me to Israel, I say. Better to burn in a bombing than rot in a cubicle. Turn me into something on fire.

Still, my mind is a jumble. When you never stop moving you have to ask yourself why it is exactly that you can’t stand still. And I can’t rid myself of the pounding, persistent thought…

“You are not the first 27 year old to want to devour the planet”.

It’s true. And I know it. And yet here I am, playing out the planet like some sort of twisted drinking game. Consume, consume, consume.

What am I thinking? Are snowballs in Sweden changing my life? Getting my passport stolen in Paris certainly didn’t. Was it really that different getting high in Amsterdam then in the back of my boyfriend’s garage?

Garbage in, garbage out. Consume, consume, consume…

I’ve walked barefoot on temples in Thailand, and touched a golden Buddha the size of a building. I’ve danced along with the St. Patrick’s day parade in Ireland.

Maybe just wanting more is enough. Maybe wanting to see outside of yourself is enough. Maybe discover and desire is enough.

I rinse the shot glass out to find the wood has swollen shut, and there no longer appears to be a split down the middle. I turn it over in my hand, wondering if there’s a creature I don’t know of that could have survived 45 minutes of an unannounced two hundred degree hot spring. Slowly… doubting… against everything I know to be wise, I rise on tip toe and place the shot glass back on the second self from the top.

Quick. Somebody save me from myself.