And who would have thought feelings as new as the petals on a cherry blossom tree
Were just as fleeting as the season we call spring?
I didn’t really remember meeting you, to be honest. I’d had too much wine.
The only part I remember is standing on the second stair of a stoop step to kiss you and then you carrying me over your shoulder up six flights of stairs to look at the moon on your roof somewhere over Lower Manhattan.
You got me a taxi home and I never planned on seeing you again. The only reason I’d even agreed to come meet you was because when he’d left that afternoon, I knew it was over with him and the ugly vindictive part we all have somewhere inside of us wanted to spite him.
The funny part was, once I’d agreed to see you again, I forgot all about him. You were all of the things that he wasn’t.
Months later when I’d grown attached and you’d grown cold and distant, he reappeared as if in knowing he had an opening. Knowing that I was feeling hurt, neglected, weak.
At times I felt guilty. Other times I knew you were doing the same thing. He didn’t know a thing about you and am sure your ego your ego wouldn’t have allowed you to think I’d ever dare to stray.
He was all of the things that you weren’t.
A circle of people doing the same thing to each other. Everyone’s heart just a little bit somewhere else.
I thought about you when I was with him. I thought about him when I was with you.
This was the first time I realized you could love two very different at people at the very same time.
They were seated quickly at Max and Moritz that evening. The ambience was charming, the light warm. She looked around wide eyed taking in all the details… the large iron light fixtures, the funny sculptures. She peered around the room at her fellow diners with wonder. He looked down at his phone.
When she turned back around to comment on the odd group of diners next to him in hopes of guessing their relation to one another (one of her favorite things to do), she frowned to see his face lit brightly by a screen rather than the red candle on their table.
“Who are you texting?” she asked smirking.
“No one. I’m looking to see where we should go next.”
She laughed, “We just sat down! We haven’t even ordered drinks!”
He looked back at her blankly and returned to his investigative work. She shrugged and carried on observing the room and wondering what each of these people’s story was.
It had been like this all week while they traveled. He marched straight to the train only to turn around every so often to see that he’d need to wait for her to catch up as something had, without fail, caught her eye.
She liked to wander. The only time she ever held up her phone was to take a photograph of something that had made her laugh or something she found so beautiful that she’d try and capture it so as to never forget (but we all know that photographs will never do those moments justice).
He had plans. She wanted to wing it. After all, isn’t that how you really see something? By walking the tiny streets, popping your head into antique and book stores, sitting down at a restaurant with no sign to try and talk to a stranger?
The beauty of a city, much like a person, is in all of the tiny little details. The freckles on his cheek, the dog that sits in the window at the front of the shop. The way he laughs and looks down when he’s embarrassed, the local slang for an American word. How can you ever love something when you plow directly through as to get straight to the point?
She wanted to love the city. She was certain there would be some sort of connection as her ancestors were from there and that must mean something. Upon arrival, she was a bit disappointed. It wasn’t a beautiful city.
“This isn’t Paris,” he said with a roll of his eyes. So, she remained inquisitive asking questions about the buildings, cocking her head to listen when he gave her history lessons. But days passed and she still felt nothing for the city. She wondered why. Everyone had told her how wonderful it was– the art, the food, the culture.
Another day passed and she, again, found herself puzzled when her dinner companion was again, engrossed in his electronics.
She leaned in with her head tilted, and said, “Hello!”
He was not pleased with her distraction so she just smiled and said, “Can I tell you something in the kindest way I know how?”
He was listening.
“Sometimes, you are here, but you aren’t really here. Like you don’t seem to be living at this very moment.”
This also displeased him despite her sweet tone. She abandoned the conversation by pointing out a man who looked just like someone they knew. There was no use arguing overseas, especially when this evenings’ cast of characters would provide her imagination plenty of possibilities. It occurred to her that night that there is a vast difference between going somewhere and being somewhere.
What is the purpose of traveling the globe if you don’t engross yourself in your surroundings, surrendering yourself to that city? Unless you’ve got a list to check off, you may as well just stay home with a good book.
It was during this adventure that she realized what Hemingway had meant when he said, “Never to go on trips with anyone you do not love.” She knew her friend had been just as perturbed with her wandering and antics as she had been with the rigidity. To travel together, two people must always be on the same page– and if not, they very well better be in love enough to forgive one another of their differences.
“Listen, I wouldn’t even text you right now if it wasn’t my best friend’s birthday.”
“What do you mean? Just come inside.”
“I would, but your doorman has a personal beef with me.”
Ten minutes later and I was inside the crowded restaurant turned bar post 10pm with a friend searching for our other friends amidst a bunch of loud and basically incoherent frat boys.
“We just need to say hello and wish her happy birthday– I promise we can leave right after.”
My friend smirked at me, looked at her watch, then cracked a grin, knowing I was just as miserable being there as she was. “Come on,” she said, “let’s grab a drink to dull this social torture. Tequila?”
I looked back at her with an expression of sincere gratitude.
When we finally made our way to the bar, we were nudged, elbowed, and ignored until finally able to get the bartender’s attention long enough to order our drinks. At that time, an onlooker suggested that my friend would be better off if she used her Australian accent to her advantage. We were in an Australian bar, after all. She smiled politely and I scanned the room looking for my friend so we could say our “hellos” and “goodbyes” in the time that it took to down a tequila and soda.
Just as the bartender plopped two overly ripe slices of lime into our drinks, I spotted the birthday girl in the far corner. I took a large swig of my drink and grabbed my other friend’s hand and gave it a squeeze before navigating through the crowd like a Tetris piece.
We made our way with only a minor spill to my shirt and a few eye rolls when we said, “excuse me.”
Well worth the trouble when our friend embraced us simultaneously in a warm, enthusiastic hug. “You made it!” she said. We both smiled and nodded in hopes of disguising our excitement to make an immediate exit.
A few moments of ambiguous chatter which was mostly drowned out beneath the 70’s rock and raucous crowd and she informed us that she and her boyfriend were going to head upstairs for a cigarette. She asked if we wanted to join, but after having dealt with a doorman from hell, we decided we would wait inside rather than face him again.
And then there he was. The moment I’d looked up from my conversation I spotted him. I could feel someone looking at me before I’d raised my eyes, but I didn’t imagine to meet his gaze with my own. He looked away as quickly as someone who was witnessing a crime they didn’t want to be involved in. I darted my eyes back to my friend who was still chattering away about her exciting new business opportunity. She hadn’t caught the moment, so I pretended I hadn’t either. We migrated up the stairs from the wood paneled basement to a table with some other friends upstairs. I tucked into the back corner of the booth and watched the door for the birthday girl’s reentrance.
She never came back and while I snatched fries from a friend’s plate and laughed as they told the story of how they’d met in the most unconventional way, there he was again. I felt his gaze on me and this time he let it linger again before turning around and walking away. Without even saying a word, I felt my friend’s hand on my arm. “Was that him?” I nodded and continued chewing my fries. “Why— I mean– what was that? Why did he…”
I shrugged. I dabbed my french fry into a metal cup of mayonnaise.
“Do you want to go?” she asked.
I nodded. “Let’s not be obvious though.”
We said our goodbyes discreetly before gathering our coats and scarves from the back of the booth.
“I have to stop by another friend’s birthday on the way home. You game?”
I said, “Of course.”
We took a quick walk a few blocks and headed down a dark stairwell where the crowd was much less wild and closer to winding down for the night. She and I sat for a moment in the corner as she asked me what that was all about. She may have been more surprised than I was. We rejoined the crowd for a group photo as the party started to disperse. Before I made my way out the door, I felt someone grab my arm.
“Hi, I like your hat.”
I laughed and said, “Thank you.”
Some small talk and an alert on my phone letting me know my car had arrived and I started to say goodnight.
“Should I take you phone number?”
I hesitated and said, “Ok.”
I’d only made it out the front door when I received a message. “You should have stayed.”
I looked to my friend and she smiled and said, “Why not?” but I headed to my car instead. As the car turned the corner heading down Bowery and back to Brooklyn, I said, “Wait! I’m sorry, do you mind going back? I forgot something. ”
The driver chuckled as if he knew exactly what I was about to do. Truthfully, I wan’t even sure what I was about to do. As he returned to the spot where he’d picked me up, I thanked him and headed back down the same dark stairs.
As I descended the last step, I was greeted by a big smile, “You made it!”
We don’t really “know” anyone. All we know is our perception, interpretation, and ideation of them.
How do I know?
I wake up to someone new every single day.
Do you ever wonder who might be in your bed in the morning? Not the person sleeping next to you. Not the person in the next room. Not even the animal diligently guarding your bedside.
Who will you be today? What will you do?
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful what we pretend to be.
I met a woman once who played perfectly into a role she’d felt was given to her by other people’s perceptions. At the party where we’d met, she was silly and flirtatious, cracking jokes and acting as the court jester in a slim fitting satin sheath dress just skimming her perfect figure. She was utterly charming.
Captivated and intrigued, I’d stayed up late into the night and early into the morning talking to her as we made our way through the last bottle of cabernet sauvignon on the roof of a Lower East Side walkup. She was exhausted. Not because it was late, but because she felt as if she had finished yet another performance.
“Why do you do it?” I asked.
She gazed down into her wine glass as a chunk of her silky auburn hair fell from her bun and across her face, “It’s what they want.”
I felt a pang of sadness. I wasn’t sure if it was for her or for the fact that what she said held both so much truth and conversely, so little.
He asked what I did that day. I lied.
“I went for a run and then went to the Botanical Garden.”
He should have known I was lying. And it pleased me. It pleased me that I was testing him, but more so that he’d failed and I’d gotten away with such a farce.
The truth was I stayed in bed that day. When my internal clock went off– usually around 8:33AM, I looked to my still snoring dog who’d kept my feet warm in the cool air of late fall and to the blinds covering my window, still grey not yet illuminated by the sun. I knew it must have been raining, or at very least cloudy. What I did instead was roll over, sleep another hour and spend the rest of my day in bed eating chili, drinking wine, and crying as I watched Casablanca for the very first time.
And just as I’d hung up the phone and smiled smugly, feeling quite content, I realized the only person I had fooled was myself.