tales of a girl in the city

mars 26, 2006


I have gone alone to the symphony dozens of times. I spend intermission strolling around Alice Tully Hall, picking up the bits of conversations people let fall.

I like to watch the old women who come in pairs. They move together in clouds of perfume, silver-haired. Strange angels. Their husbands are dead maybe, or maybe unwilling: "You just go, Norma. Those damn seats kill my knees."

I like to smile at the school groups--the one girl in the bunch who begged to wear last year's Christmas dress (though it is March. Though Mom said it was too fancy). I was that girl on those field trips, in my black puffed-sleeve satin. I angled to sit next to Andy Morter or Nick Terrahboi, hoping to be noticed in my Christmas dress. Hoping that, away from school, in this new, chandeliered setting, some ray of light might hit me that could not penetrate Mr. Richardson's math-room window: She is pretty. I had never noticed before, but she is pretty. And everything would change for me.

Most things have changed for me already, but last night one more thing did. I went to the symphony and took you along. Not to dazzle. Not to wish to be spot-lighted or seen. Just to have you there next to me. To listen to it in your own way.

mars 15, 2006

Welcome To My Glass House. Please Help Yourself To A Throwing-Stone

In case my friend reads my blog and discovers how conflicted I am about her husband, I am offering up the following old diary entries to prove that I, too, have had sex with (or wanted to have sex with) idiots. Hopefully this will make my friend feel better and remind her that I love her.

Though it is worth mentioning that I did not marry any of my idiots.


Anyway. From April 30, 2003:

Audience, let's catch you up. We have Kathryn who has currently been in a relationship with M for ten months. Folks, before we go any farther, let's see what she's won so far: Six--that's right, Six!--months of no sex. *Audience oohs and aahs* Two dates--largely last minute and mostly unplanned--per week. She gets regular--you heard me right, Guys--regular updates on the hotness of virtually every woman at his office. AND, as an added bonus, this weekend, when he went to his ex-girlfriend's wedding, she got an update not only on the bride's beauty but she ALSO GOT some extra insight into his regret that she was marrying someone other than him...FOR FREE! Not for $19.95. Not for $15.95--the price you might see at some local retail stores--No, Guys and Gals...for free!! Because this is all part of the amazing package of non-prizes that she has won during the course of this relationship.'s the best part! Since he won't commit to Kathryn, all of these non-prizes can also be YOURS....TODAY!!! simply by calling (917)&&&-&&&&!!! Call Today!

And from college:

For all of the poetic phrases that decorate the days and nights of our other encounters, it is interesting to me that only two words are written in the space on my calendar for March 22nd when Luis and I went to see the Wagner opera: Awful--abandoned. I don't know why I wrote just that. No fancy poetry. No erudite quotes, chosen from that week's Modern Lit reading. Just what was true.

Had I given up, in a way, realizing that no amount of prose or poetry could express the humiliation I had felt that evening? Or, was it that I knew it wouldn't make any difference anyway? Had I finally accepted the fact that, whether awful and abandoned or glorious and perfect, I would go back again? I knew that after March 22nd there would be some other night, some inevitable scribble in the corner of a day in April, May, June.

It is amazing to me, Luis, what a good teacher you were. What an apt pupil I became in your hands. Even now, I shudder at the efficiency that came to define my ability to control my feelings. Just like you, when we climbed into the back of that cab, having just used up every possible topic of conversation available to us as the conductor bowed and our fellow audience members rose to their feet, I flicked a switch and shut myself off. As we sat in that foolishly cheerful taxi, I sunk further and further into my corner, raising an eyebrow, feeling walls of indifference clang into place inside of my chest:

You just watch me, you prick. No more dancing pony now. I can play as well as you. We'll go to this dirty bar filled with all our friends, and I will laugh and smile. I'll be witty and charming and beautiful in my fur coat and I will smile the brightest smile in all of fucking Manhattan if it will fool you into believing that I don't care. You just watch me.

From an outsider's perspective, it must have looked so peculiar. This blond girl walks into a bar, pauses for a moment by the heavy man in flannel who throws darts by the doorway. Amidst the denim and smoke, she gleams in a white fur coat. Her presence is completely inappropriate.

If I moved at all through that bar, it was by some gift of God. A small, benevolent miracle. My entire body felt weighted with the strange, mismatched joining of my beautiful clothing and that dingy room. For the first time Luis had made my humiliation public; no longer was I crying alone in my room, or quietly fighting with him on his bed. Now, at last, he knew his power over me was so complete that he could walk with me into this place, untucking his shirt and immediately blending in, making himself like all of those students who were there drinking and playing pool. He could leave me to broadcast my own rejection. The carefully chosen dress sparkled just as brightly as I had hoped, but now it was thrust into a completely unexpected backdrop. And, of course everyone wanted to know, "Where have you been?"

"Look at you, all dressed up. How come you look so nice?"

Again and again, I had to explain my own humiliation: "Luis and I went to the opera. I figured it was about time someone tried to give him a little culture." My small attempt at repaying the favor. Don't think I'm fooled by him, everyone. I know who he is--classless, drunk.

Now I see that by admitting that to them, I made it worse: I know who he is, and, still, I am here in a fur coat, letting him do this to me. Smiling while he does it.

That he could leave me there really was amazing. I suppose he was made capable of such cruelty by the simple reason that he didn't consider it cruel. He didn't consider it anything, in fact, because he did not consider me. He sat with me for a few minutes in that booth, and then left me there. A public statement: I don't want her.

So, after the opera, the real performance: my smile, my laugh. I held conversations while clawing at my leg underneath the table. After he left, I pinned myself there for a few more minutes, and then a few more, estimating the difference in time between what people would judge to be the teary flight of a broken-hearted girl and what they would interpret as the deliberate exit of a woman tired after a boring, yet necessary trip to the opera.

I held my face on as long as I could. Until the room became large and inverted. Until the corners of my mouth stung from the force of my smile.

Ten more minutes, and my exit could begin. Eleven more minutes until I could let myself cry.

mars 10, 2006

I Avoid Because I Hate


I see her number come up on my cell phone screen for the third time in as many weeks, and, once again, I don't pick up. Can't pick up.

I hit the "Decline" button.

When I see the "New Voice Message" symbol come up, I almost roll my eyes. But then I remember that she's got every right to leave a message--we are supposed to be friends.

I dial into my voicemail and hear: "Hey,it's m--." That's enough. All I can stand. Delete.

There. I'm done.

'Til she calls again.


I do this because I hate her husband.

Watching her during the course of this relationship has been akin to watching Jennifer Love-Hewitt in a Wes Craven movie, just as she begins to descend the creepy basement stairs.

In the beginning I am optimistic. Then I remember that the movie's title is: Chainsaw Axe-Murdering Basement Dwellers Part 4: Thirst For Boob.

Similarly, when it comes to relationships, I am an optimist and a romantic. So when I first met my friend's husband-to-be, I didn't like him, but I squashed the feeling. (I'm a big-believer in the idea that, unless you're in the relationship, you can't really know what it's about.) I told myself: Maybe I just don't know him well enough. Maybe he's different when they're alone together.

Great! Relief!

I sat back and tried to feel better.

And then all my worst suspicions were confirmed. I got a call two days before the wedding from my hysterical friend; another woman had answered her fiance's phone--the phone in his bedroom--at 3 AM.

Two days later, she married him anyway, taking yet another, foolhardy step down the dark basement stairs.

Since their wedding, every time I see her, she' tells me their latest ridiculous story. And--right or wrong--for months, I "Maybe-ed...". I tried to believe. But after awhile my optimism had the drawling, drool-voiced sound of stupid, even to me:

"Maybe he really did forget where he dropped off your wedding band to have it sized. There could be a ton of jewelry stores in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania after all. One on every corner. You just never know."

"Maybe the thongs you found in plain sight in his top drawer really did belong to his ex-ex-girlfriend...from six years ago...when they lived together in a totally different apartment in a totally different state. I mean, I can see how--six years later--those thongs could have migrated from some dark, crumpled corner in a closet in Queens, to the top of his most-used drawer in Harrisburg,PA. Where they folded themselves."

I don't know why I enabled. I think because she was my first married friend, I reacted differently than I would now, almost three years later. At that time, their relationship seemed different--important--to me. I was still fretting over outfits to wear on first dates, and would he call/should I call him. They were filing joint taxes. I knew nothing about such things. Who was I to give advice?

But after awhile I couldn't help myself. Instead of agreeing that there might be some understandable but hidden reason that he refused to give her the whereabouts of the car they leased under HER name, I started doling out Truth, whole and nothing but. My voice got louder and more certain over time:

"I mean...well, I know he's your husband, and I know how much you care about him, but...that just doesn't seem fair. It's going to ruin your credit, not his. I don't see how that serves a purpose for either of you."

became at last,

"A person who loves you shouldn't do that."

And they wouldn't. They wouldn't cancel vacations, borrow huge sums of money, call in jealous rages, keep ex-girlfriend's underwear, hide automobiles. Lose wedding rings.

I may not be an expert, but I do have common sense, gut instinct, and EYES. And all three tell me that my friend should divorce this man.

And finally, FINALLY, I told her that. She came to me about two months ago, with yet another fucked up tale of his fucked up behavior. He'd stopped talking to her for four days with no explanation. They were now deeply in debt--meaning SHE was now deeply in debt--because of his new business. And (the kicker) he was pressuring her to have a child, saying if they didn't have one now then they would never have one. He was ready. This year. End of story. Never mind that she is only 27. Never mind that she is the breadwinner in their family. She could either get pregnant within the next 12 months, or accept that they would have no children.

I saw flames. I couldn't be kind. No more support. No more listening. No more subtle hints. No more direct, but still nice, messages. Fuck. This. Motherfucker.

"Divorce him."

It was the most honest, most productive conversation we've had in years. Once the "D-word" was out of my mouth, I couldn't stop. I became Oprah. "We'll figure out a plan," I told her, "Your parents will help you out of this. I know they will. You are one of the strongest women I know. I know it will be hard, but if anyone can do this, you can."

We both cried.

We decided we'd meet every week so that she would have someone to talk this out with. When we got together the next Tuesday, I arrived ready to listen, to counsel, to kick some ass.

She arrived and told me they had gone to the movies the weekend before. Had had such a nice time. Were working on things. And did I mind? Oh! There he was! Could he join us for a drink after dinner?

I felt sick.

To Be Continued....

mars 04, 2006

On the Lake

Wearing a Ducks Unlimited hat and one of my dad's huge flannel shirts--the excellent kind, the kind with the quilted lining--Dad and I paddle around the bog for nearly two hours. It's raining, but it doesn't matter.

A bullfrog somewhere in the reeds does more talking than we do, except when my father calls out the Latin names of the plants we drift by. "Nymphaea odorata . Water lilies," he intones. I think of all the creation myths I've ever heard; of the gods and first men and first women who walked the planet, giving names to things. "Oryza sativa: wild rice." My father and I are these people now. Typha latifolia: cattail. Agelaius phoeniceus: red-winged blackbird. Branta canadensis: Canadian goose.

mars 02, 2006

I Know You Are, But What Am I?

I believe in other people. I hand them my belief in bright, shiny boxes, wrapped up in paper as gold as the stars my first grade teacher used to put on homework. My belief is unconditional. It is absolute. I say: You are brilliant. You're gorgeous. Of course you can do this. I offer my friends--and even some of my acquaintances--these sentiments one after another. Like party favors: a bag of my best to take home.

I don't even have to pause to consider the things I'm telling them. I know they are true. Do what you love: I'm the first one to say it. He should know how lucky he is: I've practically yelled that one at women across dinner tables. You have so many gifts: I just spent an hour writing a friend an email where that was the main idea.

So much unconditional belief in others, it makes me wonder why the voice I use for myself is so conditioned to doubt and to fear.

It's like that with everything. My writing: I wish I could tell you how long I'd been hiding my writing. And then I started this blog, and shared it more or less accidentally with 200 strangers who seem to think it's OK... And still--still!--I have a hard time giving a friend or an acquaintance one of my stories. Why? I think: They'll hate it. They'll laugh. Or--if they're supposed to laugh--they won't. There'll be that horrible period of time when they avoid me rather than telling me the truth about how not-good it was. How average....

And my acting: I did a scene from "Sophie's Choice" on Monday. For weeks I'd been dreading it, worrying, "My accent will sound ridiculous. They'll sit there and compare me to Meryl Streep--and, of course, I'll never measure up." On and on and on and on, this cycled through my head as I put doing the scene off, making sure I was too busy to look at the script. And then, finally, on Monday, I sat down and performed the scene for the class. Sweating inside if not out. Afraid, afraid, afraid, afraid.

As soon as the last words were out of my mouth, they let me know that they loved it. One girl breathed, "My God, I thought you were her!" My acting teacher, who is known for hurling books and being distant, called it "Brilliant!" instead. And then she hugged me. Hugged.

But did I let any of that praise sink in? Did I let myself hear--and believe--the terrific things they had to say? No. Of course not. Because, on some level, those great, positive words of reinforcement and belief are ones I save for others. And for some reason, deny myself.