catelin: (Default)
( Dec. 1st, 2001 05:43 pm)

amoureaux au bouquet

Marc Chagall

It has been my habit since childhood to stop and slowly turn a circle when I perceive those moments in life that are small but grand at the same time. It was winter and I was eight. It must have been a Friday or Saturday because I was up late when the snow began to fall. Everyone else in the house had already gone to sleep. I was a night owl as a child, and I'd often stay up reading with a flashlight under the covers. I remember a full moon and how quickly the street outside my window turned from glittery black to soft luminescent white. I watched tiny bits of snow hit the glass pane turned to drawing slate by my warm breath. I put on my shoes, threw a coat over my nightgown and headed out into the living room with my gloves and stocking cap in my hands. I silently opened the door and walked out into the front yard that had transformed itself into every place I ever wanted to be. It was so quiet and clean. Every movement I made was like a whisper. All I knew to do was to stand there, eyes closed and face up to the sky, slowly turning, telling myself I would remember this. I will always remember this.

Years later, I visited the Floral District in Los Angeles for the first time. It was a city made of flowers. I stopped in the center of one of the giant floors, closed my eyes, and began my circle. It was sweetness, nectar, and voices--garbled Tagalog, Vietnamese and Spanish, the squeaking of carts and baby strollers, the gentle spray from the misters. My boyfriend at the time stood there nervously, looking around afterward to see if anyone had noticed the crazy girl in her orbit amidst the blossoms. I tried to explain it to him. He didn't get it. How can you remember anything with your eyes closed? It's how I make myself know that magic is real. It's how I spin on my axis and create a charm for this bracelet that is my life. I remember things best with my eyes closed, circumnavigating the happiest moments of my existence from the inside.
catelin: (Default)
( Nov. 12th, 2001 02:43 pm)
I'm home today...enjoying the rare day off from work. I had planned on doing nothing more than painting my toenails and watching television. It's barely cloudy outside...just cool enough to open the windows and let the breeze dance through all the rooms of this house. Perhaps it was the movement of the wind, but I've ended up cleaning, arranging, unpacking. I unwrapped my grandmother's liqueur set that's been in newspaper and bubble wrap since the big earthquake in Los Angeles. My ex was in New York and I was sleeping on the couch while he was gone. I'm one of those women that, once your imprint's in my bed, I can hardly bear it without you. I'd had a fire going earlier and had fallen asleep, covered with nothing but my favorite quilt and cats at my feet. Then, everything shattered. I remember thinking I was home (Texas was still home to me then...always) at first, and that someone was grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me awake. I ran to the doorway and clung to it, sitting on the floor. The earth shook and I raged. I wasn't frightened; I was angry. I was screaming at being ripped away from my life, at leaving this earth in a place that was strange to me, so far from my roots. You motherfucker. Motherfucker. Fuck. I didn't think of a god; I thought of fate. I thought of three blind fucking sisters snipping my skein of yarn by accident. It's not time! I yelled up to the sky. I held on so hard I left fingerprints in the plastered walls. It turned quiet and my neighbor (I think his name was aspiring stand-up comedian) came to check on me. He knew I was alone. I came downstairs and the iron gate to the small porch was locked. I don't have a key, I said. I never can find my keys, Jack. I want out of here. He ran across and got his spare key (that he had from previous "I locked myself in/out" episodes) and unlocked me. He was very nice and didn't comment on the fact that I was completely naked until about three weeks later. My china cabinet was many things. I told myself over and over...they're just things. Just things. But they meant something to me. They were connections with pieces of my family. I went back the next day, certain that the liqueur set that had belonged to my grandmother, and her grandmother before her, was dust. The tiny flutes were so fragile. Paper shell thin with tiny deep red flowers and gold leaves painted on them with a touch as light as a kiss. I said my good byes to them before I even went back in to survey the damage. There, covered by broken bits of more sturdy wares, were all of them. Not a scratch on them. Intact. It meant more to me than just having the glasses and decanter. Our circle, a wreath made of the intertwined hands of all the women in my tribe, had not been broken. And so I unwrapped my grandmother's liqueur set today, acknowledging the roots that brought me home, breathing in the scent of old newsprint and strength beyond measure.
catelin: (Default)
( Mar. 18th, 2001 02:35 pm)
I write this for Reive, not because our situations are so much alike, but because I want her to know that there is almost always a reward in moving forward even when you feel the urge to go back for something you left behind.

Walking Backwards In a Snowstorm

Surprisingly, I was the one who left. Fooled around on him even. Just a quick fuck with someone he didn't know--out of anger, out of sorrow, out of wanting to feel like I wasn't invisible. Betrayal was an ugliness in me that I didn't know I was capable of until then. But of course it was more complicated than that--autopsies always are. We'd been together so long that our edges had become blurred. We had become an our. Our house, our friends, our furniture, our life. I wondered for a moment how much of our life would still be mine once I left him.

I came home and changed into a pair of jeans and sneakers, fed the cats, watered the plants. He was there--hair pulled back in a ponytail, sitting in front of the computer, high. He got high a lot more these days. It was the only sign from him of possible unhappiness that I could detect. I told him I was going. He looked at me for a moment and I thought he might say something, anything to keep me from leaving. I probably wouldn't have stayed, but that he didn't even try left an old wound that still bothers me once in a while on rainy days.

We'd tried the conversation on for size about a week before. I told him that I was moving out. He was still so beautiful to look at that I almost forgot what I was trying to say. I had been so in love with him once. That I wasn't now didn't make the memory of how I felt any less acute. We made an odd couple, yet everyone who knew us said we seemed perfect for each other. He had dark hair, as long as mine, and towered more than a foot over me. I was fair and slight, the light to his dark. He was a sturdy person--a very still person. I was constantly in motion and I floated busily about him. A friend of mine jokingly referred to us as the redwood and the nymph. I told her later that I'd picked the wrong tree.

When I told him I was leaving, he had no reaction but to quietly and evenly ask why. I replied that I was surprised he even had to ask. It's just not working. That's what I'd said. I was so angry with him. I'd tried to make my home in him for so long. I'd nested earnestly in his arms, but could never get warm enough. I wanted to tell him everything, every detail of his failure. The way he never saw me, not even a glimpse of me. That he was so goddamn lazy in bed--like his erect prick was prize enough just by its mere existence. I hated that he couldn't change a tire. I hated that he thought he was smarter than me. I hated that he'd left me to cry alone all night when my grandmother died. I hated that I'd spent the last five years of my life with a man who didn't like to dance, who never once told me I was pretty, who couldn't pick his fucking underwear up off the bathroom floor to save his life. I wanted to beat the apathy out of him, to shove his face into the carpet and shriek like a madwoman until his ears began to bleed. I didn't. It's just not working. It was the sort of vague non-emotional answer he could appreciate.

We'd never said a harsh word to one another until a couple of weeks after I'd finally moved out. He called me up and asked how I was doing. It made me hopeful. Maybe things could change. Maybe...then he told me the reason he'd called was to let me know he didn't appreciate the mess I'd left for him to clean up in the apartment. "Now you know how I've felt for the last five fucking years," I told him before I clicked off the receiver. It was the first and last time I'd ever raised my voice to him.

Winter in Los Angeles can be bitter. Perhaps it's the juxtaposition of Christmas lights and palm trees, but the cold of it cuts to the quick. My dark days began with our friends' uncomfortable excuses for not seeing me, with the embarrassed silences when I happened to run into the old crowd. After a while, I gave up trying to hang on to any part of my old existence, apart from a couple of wonderful people who'd decided to cross the lines over into enemy territory. Within three months' time, my life changed so much that it was unrecognizable to me.

The initial bravado of making the decision to leave him behind had quickly dissolved into uncertainty, fear, and aching loneliness. I lived alone up in the hills, near the Hollywood sign. I drove home almost everyday thinking of Peg Entwistle. She'd jumped off that sign in 1932. It was the only time in my life that I'd ever been beaten enough to understand how death could appeal to someone who'd lost her hold on the tether to any meaningful connections with others. It wasn't a contemplation of suicide--I'm a survivor by nature, but it was a feeling of kinship with all of the other desperately lonely people I'd always known lived in this city. I was one of them now and it frightened me. There was a man I'd coupled with during this time. He was one of them too. We groped and clung to each other in his dark apartment. We tried without success to pretend that it meant something. I couldn't even make myself stay with him until the morning. He sat there in bed watching me dress. His eyes were dead. I knew mine were too. We nodded a dismal three a.m. goodbye, promising to call, knowing we never would.

I floated, as I always had before, but now without purpose or direction. There was no comfort in the rhythm of my days. My nights were full of ghosts summoned by regret and despair. So when he called after his return from Montreaux, I told him I wanted to see him. It was horrible. He was smug. I was ashamed. I was drunk by the time he came over…the couple of glasses of wine to steady my nerves had somehow turned into the bottle. I was maudlin. I asked him if he thought we'd made a mistake. I told him that I missed being a part of something. I cried. When I tried to find my place in his arms, he gently pushed me away and told me he'd found someone else. Another Europe...beautiful...she was beautiful...and she made him alive...she was unbelievable. I smiled sickly and told him I was happy for him. I was humiliated and angry with myself for letting him see me like this, for allowing him the comfort of my misery. He had to go. I barely managed to close the door behind him before I ran to the bathroom to vomit up the cheap wine along with the last few bits of my self-respect. I slept on the couch that night because my bed, the one we'd slept in together for so long, was too much to bear after seeing him so changed by someone else.

We saw each other a few times after that. He said he'd always remained friends with his ex-girlfriends. I never had done that. To me, over always meant over; but I tried, feeling like perhaps I'd made a mistake in leaving him...not wanting to lose any more of him than I already had. There was too much pain in it for me, though, and I soon realized that his pleasure in seeing me was only derived from letting me know how happy he was without me. The wheel turned slowly and Spring came in spite of all this. The newness of it made me brave again. I let go once more, this time with nothing to lose. This time there was the freedom in my floating that I'd had before I knew him, before I'd let his stolid nature ice my wings. I was reborn. The next time he called to see if I was interested in catching a show, I politely declined. He eventually moved to the East Coast and married the fabulous woman who'd given him so much more than I ever had. I eventually moved to a different set of hills, where oaks grow in place of redwoods, and gave myself so much more than I ever had.
catelin: (Default)
( Feb. 11th, 2001 12:56 pm)
As with most fiction, there is always a seed of truth.
There was a Harry. There was a Katya. There were Thursdays.

It was an older shop over on Fairfax. There was a sign in Russian with a smaller English translation underneath. Dry Cleaning & Tailor. As I pushed open the screen door, I could smell the coffee. It wasn't ordinary coffee. It was Turkish coffee. It was Thursday and Harry was expecting me. Harry was a small Armenian man in his sixties with thinning light brown hair and green eyes that actually twinkled when he laughed. His name wasn't really Harry, but that's what he'd called himself ever since he'd immigrated thirty or so years back. He had a wife and grown children. Harry always wore dark slacks with suspenders and a white starched dress shirt. He still rolled his own cigarettes and he made a mean Turkish coffee-thick, scalding hot, and so sweet it made your teeth hurt.

I'd met Harry and his family at a party for a client of mine two years earlier. He'd been a physics professor in Armenia, but now he was a tailor. "You come to my shop," he told me as they said their goodbyes, "I'll give you a good price on whatever you need."

That was our beginning. I'd stopped by his shop every Thursday after work for almost two years, whether I had cleaning to be done or not. He'd close up and we'd sit down for coffee, discussing everything--art, literature, law, love, science, death, music, religion. We shared our stories with each other, the grand ones and the not so grand. A friend once asked me what I did over there, why I stayed so long. I knew what she was implying, but it had never been like that. I didn't even attempt to explain how two people so divided by experience and culture, with years between them, could have so much to talk about. I wasn't sure myself. "He is my friend," I told her, "and he makes me peace with myself."

In the winter, we'd sit inside the shop warming our feet next to the radiator while we talked. Now it was summer, and I made my way back to the small flower garden that Harry tended behind the shop. I opened the back door and Harry beamed at me from behind the fragrant tendrils of Night Blooming Jasmine. "Katya! What a wonderful surprise!"

Harry always acted as if my visits were completely unexpected. It had become a joke between us. I walked over and he kissed my cheek lightly. "Sit, sit. I'll get the coffee," he said as he pulled a chair out at the small table for me. I handed him a bag of cookies I'd picked up from the bakery across the street. "You are too good to me," he laughed, "I am going to become a very fat and happy man."

I lit a cigarette while he poured the coffee into two small demitasse cups. I let out a deep breath and settled back in my chair to take in the sunset over the buildings around us. Harry sat down and chided me yet again about my awful taste in tobacco products. "American cigarettes are full of chemicals, Katya; that cannot be good for you." We talked about his family. His daughter was going to have her baby next month. Akop, his son, was a dentist and had just closed on a new house. A shadow passed over his face for a moment, and then it was gone. We changed the subject to the teacher's strike. For a long while after that, we sat there together without saying anything, just relaxing. Silence between us was never uncomfortable.

The sun went down and Harry turned on the small white lights he'd strung over the trellis behind the table. We traded our coffee for several brandies and listened to Shostakovich. We talked about the new exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art, an article in the New Yorker he'd been reading, Dorothy Parker. We jumped from subject to subject, working on our conversation like a quilt. I finally looked at my watch and noticed it was getting late. I stood up. "I have to go, Harry," I said, "Let me help you put these things away."

I helped him gather the dishes from the table and took them inside. We rinsed the cups and put them next to the small sink. I glanced over at Harry and noticed that he looked troubled. "What is it?" I asked. He sighed heavily and shook his head. "Harry, what is it? Something's bothering you."

He reached over and touched my cheek. "It's nothing, Katya. I am an old and foolish man."

"Well, I know that," I joked, trying to lighten his mood, "But what's bothering you?"

I'd never seen him look like this, so sad, almost embarrassed. I started going over in my head what it might be. His wife? His shop? What? He wouldn't look at me. Suddenly, he grabbed my hands. "Katya, I made love to my wife this morning," he said quietly, looking down at the floor. "I make love to her every Thursday for the last year. Do you know why?"

I could feel his fingers on my wrists, pulsing in the rhythm of my heart's beating. Now it was I who felt foolish. I could feel my face warming with the shame of having what I'd never admitted to myself spoken out loud. I knew. I'd always known. It was more than just coffee. I was stunned that he would acknowledge it now, after we'd spent so much happy time on the edges of it. "You are a beautiful woman, Katya. So smart. Your charm is that you don't realize what a prize you are. That is not so bad for me because you are content to spend your time here with an old man. Maybe that's not so good for you. I have always been a faithful husband to my wife. But, Katya, I think of you when I touch her. It makes me want what I cannot have, should not have. My dear sweet girl, no good ever comes from that. It makes me feel even older than I am."

He still couldn't meet my eyes. I looked at his face and thought to myself how handsome he must have been when he was younger. I thought of us, sitting together like lovers even when we were not. It made me ache to change time and circumstance to suit this connection between us, to have spent our lives together instead of meeting at this crossroad. I stepped close to him. He smelled of brandy and cloves. I took his hand and cupped my breast with it. He looked like he was about to cry and tried to speak. I pushed my name back into his mouth with my tongue. It was a kiss filled with the longing of two lifetimes, with anger, with passion, and with remorse. We moved away from each other, breathing ragged. I walked slowly to my dry cleaning that was hanging on the rack in the front of the store.

I fumbled for the keys in my purse with my back to him. He moved past me to unlock the front door. "It's late, Katya. I'm afraid we both had too much brandy." His voice was heavy. I turned to face him and we both stood there feeling helpless.

"Yes. I'm afraid we did, Harry." I replied in a whisper. "I really should go. Thank you. Thank you for everything. Goodnight, Harry. Goodbye."

"Goodbye, Katya." He opened the door for me and kissed my cheek as I turned to walk out. We pretended that we'd see each other again, next Thursday. We both knew we wouldn't. He said my name again as I walked down the steps. I turned back toward him. He looked so very small and old there-a tailor in the doorway of his shop. "I love you. You know that, right?" he said. He looked tired. I smiled at him and his face began to blur from the tears that stung the back of my eyes.

"Yeah, I know. I love you too, Harry." He nodded his head at me and I turned. I knew he would stay in the doorway until I got to my car. I got in and drove to my apartment. I sat in the car and cried for almost an hour. I never did see Harry again. Once in a great while when I could bear the heartache, I'd drive past his shop. It was always on Thursdays.

© Cate Compton, 2001
catelin: (Default)
( Jan. 24th, 2001 09:49 pm)
A friend and I were talking today about what we notice when we first meet someone. What it is that flips that synaptic connection in our brain to the hormones of "yea" or "nay." For her it was the eyes. I told her that I liked noses. It's not like I have some sort of nose fetish. It's just that for me, it is the nose that makes the face. I like a big nose, a long nose, an aquiline nose. No cute little pixie noses, no upturned snouts. I want more than just a couple of holes sittin' on a face. I like a NOSE...a Gabriel Byrne nose, a Jean Reno nose, even a Gerard Depardieu nose. Of course, my friend was quick to point out that maybe my choice in noses was proportional to the length of my own. Perhaps...but I like my own nose too. I had the chance to get a nose job a few years ago after an unfortunate collision with someone's kitchen floor. Only time in my life I've ever fainted--in the Valley at some launch party for a cheesy German metal label. I was trapped in a room with too much smoke, shitty music, glam hair, and not enough oxygen to the brain. I did a full-on swan dive right onto the parquet. The doctor told me that my insurance would cover the whole procedure if I wanted to have "some work done." I did think about it for a few minutes. I ultimately decided that I'd rather have my old nose with a new bump than a face that looked vaguely familiar but wasn't mine. I told my friend that I didn't think it was so much that I wanted a nose similar to my own...I mean I'm short and fair, and I tend to like taller, swarthy types...the old opposites attract thing. I tried to explain that even a pair of dreamy eyes set aside a small child-like schnozzle just made me think of Wilbur, or worse...Bobby Brady. There's no explaining taste, I guess. But for this lifetime, those with the "petite proboscis" are safe from my fawning attention...but if you've got nice eyes, I have a friend who'd love to meet you.
It was a Tuesday, and I'd just gotten back from federal court. All dressed up in my best black suit (only dark colors for the feds) and high heels. My office was in the Wilshire district near downtown L.A., not nearly as swank as it sounded. It was a shitty little neighborhood full of tenement apartments and old office buildings that were gasping their last emphysematous breaths. I was in a hurry because I had a lunch date with a friend of mine. She was new to the city and still trying to get her bearings. Lost Angeles can be a hard place to get used to if you're from a small town. I'd been like her, a couple of years earlier. Trying to be nice to everyone, always defering to people no matter how rude I thought they were. After all, that was the southern way. Be kind. Don't make a fuss. Always behave like a lady. Left me crying in my pillow most nights, wanting to go home. Knowing I couldn't because I'd rather stay and take everybody's shit than to hear "I told you so."

I'd changed, though. I'd learned not to be always look around...keep an eye out for the next hustler, panhandler, gangbanger, crackhead. Like I said, it was a shitty neighborhood. Still trying to be polite, though...always be polite. So when this homeless dude came slippity-slappin' up to us in his shower sandals that I recognized from L.A. County Jail and asked for a buck, I looked him in the eye when I said no. See, where I'm from, you always look at people--really look at them--when you speak. It always bothered me the way that most street people were invisible to everybody. I could understand why they were so pissed most of the time...being ignored will do that to a person. I didn't have any change, and I told the guy, "Sorry, man. Maybe next time."

My friend's standing there like a deer in the headlights. I don't think she'd ever smelled days of soaked urine and stale body odor so up-close-and-personal before. I expected Mr. Flip Flops to just mosey on over to the next suit walking down the street, but he didn't. We start to walk past him and he blocks our way. He puts his hand in his pocket (I'm watching his hands...always gotta watch the hands), and says, "Fuck you, prissy white bitch!"

Now I'm starting to get annoyed, but I'm still trying to be cool. I laugh a little, and tell Mr. Flip Flops, "Yeah, man. I'm a prissy white bitch. You win, dude." Still watching his hands and moving my friend over a bit. I thought he might try to spit on me. That was usually the angry homeless' insult of choice. So nasty...yet so personal. I grab my friend's hand and try to sidestep around him, but he moves again. We do a little funky chicken dance for a couple of seconds, but I've had more sleep than him and finally get by.

I'm hurrying my friend along, telling her through my teeth, "Come on!" I feel something hit my back and hear glass breaking on the concrete. It takes me a second to snap to what's happened. I turn around. I look down and see this busted bottle all over the ground. Mr. Flip Flops is standing a few yards away and he's yelling at me, "Take that, you fucking bitch! You can suck my dick!"

So I'm standing there, and I know that I should just turn around and go, but I don't. I still don't know what in the world got into me, but all I could think of was that I was going to beat this guy to a pulp. Rage. I'm looking at the glass, checking for a big enough piece to cut the shit out of this guy with, but it's all too small. I'm sizing him up, thinking he's not much bigger than my brother was when I used to beat the crap out of him back in the day. I'm thinking that his hands are out of his pockets and he's waving them around...that's good. This all happens in a split second, but it seemed when anything bad's always slow motion. I head for this guy and I'm running and taking off my shoes. I drop one on the ground and I have one in my hand.

I'm almost on the guy and I see his face. Pure shock. He just freezes. I remember saying, "I got your bitch right here, motherfucker." Then I'm knocking him in the head with the heel of my shoe. He pushes me and I hit him again. I'm screaming now. "That's all you got? You think I'm scared of you? Just 'cause you stink? You think I'm scared, you cocksucker?!"

I'm hitting him with my shoe, I'm punching, I'm kicking. If he wasn't so dirty, I probably would have bitten him. Mr. Flip Flops is officially freaking out now, which I can't blame him. I mean, it's not every day that you get attacked by a 5' 2", 110 pound, shrieking maniac in an Adolfo suit. He's saying, "Ow, hey! Bitch! Ow, hey!" It's like a chant. I keep at him, thinking if I can just knock him onto the ground I could beat his head into the pavement.

Next thing I know, two cops are dragging me off Mr. Flip Flops. He's bleeding and I'm standing there breathing ragged and trying to get out the words to explain what happened. They're looking at me. They're looking at him. He's telling them I'm crazy. I'm gasping, "Money...then, bitch...bottle...I tried to be polite...I tried to be polite." I keep saying that over and over. My friend gives them the story. The cops send Mr. Flip Flops on his way. I hadn't done much to him for all my efforts. L.A.'s finest give me a stern lecture about how stupid I am and how I could have gotten killed. I'm nodding my head and trying to find my other shoe. They tell me to never do anything like that again. I tell them don't worry.

I found my shoe, straightened my skirt, fixed my lipstick and we went to lunch. My friend didn't say anything at all about what had happened until we were having our coffee and dessert. That's another thing about being from the learn real early on to ignore the obvious topics and make small talk. We're also good at being able to come up with compliments in even the most bizarre situations. So after we'd talked about everything but the fight, my friend looks up and says, "I'd forgotten how fast you could run." We smiled and that was all we ever said about it.
catelin: (Default)
( Dec. 5th, 2000 10:19 pm)
For RGF.

We got a gig to go to tonight. Be ready at seven. She'd never even heard anyone use the word "gig" to refer to anything other than catching frogs before she met him. It still cracked her up. But tonight it just pissed her off. They went out all the time. He was in "the industry" as they called it. Another word that made her grin. Such an incongruous word to describe the profession of men with smooth hands that reminded her of veal. Most of them didn't even know how to check their own oil. It all made her chuckle. The business, the hangers-on, the need to see and be seen. But tonight she'd just had enough of it. She wanted to stay in, watch a movie, eat ice cream until she felt sick. Anything else. Anything but having to spend another night of forced intimacy with the total strangers he called "friends." He'd grown up in this city, and was masterfully trained in the endless linguistic shadings of the word. A "friend" could be anyone--the lover you wanted to be rid of, the lover who wanted to be rid of you, the pizza guy, your best friend's wife that you fucked on the side, your dealer. It was a complicated secret language she still struggled to decipher.

Everyone thought they were so cool, so fucking hip. A striking couple. He'd told her he liked watching her talk to people. It interested him, he said, to see how others were slowly drawn to her after initially passing her by. How men and women came back to her because she wasn't perfectly beautiful, but imperfectly so. It was the imperfection that demanded a second look, he said. There is graciousness about you that people aren't accustomed to. He said it was that whole southern thing. People don't expect southern women to be smart. It amused him. She was never quite sure how to take that sort of commentary. It made her feel a little like a lab rat.

She didn't tell him she wanted to stay in. She never told him anything, never asked where they were going. It didn't matter. She just went along. Always went along. They had dinner at Dan Tana's and arrived at The Whiskey around midnight. After the usual round of polite chatter with the usual A&R crowd, he led her to a small table up front. They sat down and the lights dimmed. "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome a very special guest." She looked up and saw her. The one she'd told him would make her want to cry if she ever met, whose every lyric she knew by heart. The one who made her feel stupid and sad and ecstatically happy. The idol of her adolescence, the one she'd loved fiercely for as long as she could remember. She wanted to giggle when she looked at him because he knew. She could tell from his eyes that he'd had a plan. And most importantly, she knew that he'd done it for her. Not for business, not to make the scene. He'd done it because he knew that it would mean something, everything, to her.

She wanted to sing along but knew that would be going too far in this crowd. So she sat there holding his hand under the table, looking through the smoke at the stubble of her diva's armpits, thinking how happy she was. Thinking how she loved him, how they would marry and have babies, and how anything else wouldn't matter anymore. They went home late. They laughed and screwed until they fell asleep. She woke up in love with him still. She got up, fed the cat, and started the coffee. He was in the bathroom, rubbing the steam off the mirror with one hand and shaving with the other. He didn't bother to look at her. "I've been thinking," he said. "It might be better if we were just friends."
I had the chance to pose for a men's magazine when I was about 20. No shit. It was back when my tits were still firm and I had an ass that would stop traffic. Some guy who looked like Rod Stewart on crack lit my Camel, gave me a business card and started spewing what sounded like the sweaty, desperate ranting of a novice bullshit artist aching for some coos. Turned out to be legit, though. I was interested not so much because I would have ever done it, but because I was bored and it did give me some sick sense of validation to know that "I" had been chosen. I enjoyed all the tittering gossip that the encounter generated amongst even the most blase of my friends. I was beautiful back then. I was also shallow, lazy, and frightened of being alone. I did change, of course, over the years. I accumulated lovers and friends, traveled, created, destroyed, rebuilt. I went to grad school, to law school, and the school of hard knocks. I spent most of my twenties in Hollywood--first, with a rich, uptight, closet homosexual who paid my rent and fucked me once a week; last, with a perpetual boy--a long-haired beautiful genius whom I still miss sometimes even now. I don't live in the city anymore. I moved back "home" to where I'd spent summers with my grandparents growing up. I have two sons and still no husband. It's strange, really. No one even contemplates the possibility that I've never married. Everyone just assumes I'm divorced. I have, for lack of any better description, what I'd call a pseudo-husband. He's the father of my children and we have a relationship, but we live separately and my life is very much my own. So what does this have to do with the dirty pictures that I never took? It's about looking back and trying to make some sort of linear connection with then and now. I have come to the conclusion that I probably will never find my "soul mate" if such a person exists, and that perhaps my lesson in this life is to learn to be alone, to find a completeness within myself, to be my own "better half." I look back and wonder if I somehow missed something, if I am paying now for my vanity then? Or is it just that this is the great universal plan? I dreamed last night that I was being followed in some sort of festival by a dark-haired man who kept offering me an apple. He wasn't particularly attractive, but I sensed immediately that he and I were the same. I knew that he'd recognized me too. I kept motioning for him to wait, because I was busy with my children and talking to friends. He moved behind an oak tree, and I thought that maybe he'd gone until I could see his feet. He just sat there very patiently, knowing that I would be there when I was done. The first thought I had when I woke up was how if you cut an apple just right, you'll see a five-pointed star. I had a feeling that it was a message from the Goddess, letting me know that there was someone for me after all. I thought it was an odd dream because I haven't been lonely, and I haven't felt that awful pang of yearning for something without a name for many years. My life is full to overflowing, and I'm finding that even as I head toward middle-age, I am so much more lovely for the marks of living I've gathered along the way--my crow's feet, my breasts that sag a bit after nursing two children, my belly that's grown softer, my hands that have roughened with age and gardening. So, while Mr. Hefner might not be interested anymore, there's a five-year-old and a three-year-old that think I'm the most beautiful woman in the world. And, hey...who knows? There may be a dark-haired guy bearing apples in my future as well.


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