Paris In April
Please take this very, very long (serious) entry with a grain of salt. It's mostly un-edited, and just came right out, as if from out of nowhere. I'm sure I can be more articulate. Maybe later.
It's hard to write about my love life for many reasons. Probably the biggest reason is that Ish, the one I would be writing about, reads this blog. And it's not like I hide things from him, it's just--
--don't you think it would be weird for me to write about the sometimes-crippling anxiety that accompanies being in love with someone? Um, given that that someone is going to be reading it? Even if he already kind of knows?
* * * *
I know you know already, Internet, because I've told you a dozen times, but it bears repeating: When we met, Ish was separated. Not "getting divorced." Not even "probably" getting divorced. He was merely separated.
You know what I told my sister the day after our first date? I told her I'm glad he's married. I thought that we would have a good time together, but that his complete lack of real availability would force me to back off, take things slower than I usually do, relax, and simply enjoy the pleasure of his company.
I was right.
For a while.
* * * *
I am damn good at compartmentalizing. Scary good. After growing up with so many bad things happening, or maybe going to happen, that this is how I cope. When I cannot do anything to change a circumstance, I simply shrug and put it away, almost as though it doesn't exist. I don't know if it's denial, exactly, because I am aware of it.
Sometimes people think this is strength, that I am strong. Because bad things happen and I am still okay. I am genuinely functioning and okay, and not bitter and not angry. And not even on anti-depressants.
But once, quietly, after some guy I really liked but hardly knew broke up with me, my mom said to me that she worried. She feared that I was "cold."
Sometimes, quietly, I worry that she was right.
Mostly I know she wasn't, though. I am not cold, I just wear my heartbreak differently than she did.
* * *
I don't get to have this.
Here is the crux of my anxiety, and I don't want to hear your arguments. You may very well tell me that I am worth it. You may remind me that he isn't. And I at once know these things to be true, and will absolutely refuse to believe them. There is nothing to be said.
It started in the first few weeks of dating him. I don't know how early on. It was just a flicker and I refused to look at it.
We are just dating, we are just seeing each other, this is just fun. This is just another life experience. Just go with it. Just let go.
But I can tell you exactly where it happened, and exactly what I was doing the first time I felt the anxiety and hurt and pain and terror in a burst -- a wave of recognition that made me sick to my stomach. I tried to explain it to him and he couldn't understand and it subsided anyway and we went back to being nothing serious.
I was sitting on the floor of his apartment one weekend morning. It was sunny, and the whole place smelled like bacon, because it was tiny and had poor ventilation, and anytime we'd get the urge to cook bacon the scent would linger for days. (Sometimes bacon is worth it.)
Ish's studio apartment had low ceilings and shabby carpeting and no charm to speak of. And when clean, it looked like the kind of place someone on the down-low would stake out. Aside from a couple books and photos, you'd know nothing about Ish's "real" life.
I thought that was just fine.
I didn't have the torture of sitting in "their" furniture. I didn't have to be surrounded by a life that had nothing to do with me. I wasn't infiltrating sacred ground haunted by memories of happier times. His "happier times" existed somewhere else, and it was very easy for me to ignore them.
His stupid little apartment was in no way intimidating, and neither was he. He was confused and sad, and working out a lot of things. His relationship with his family was strained and difficult. His career was unfulfilling. His dreams were shapeless. His life path was completely unclear.
And that person? That person I can handle! That life I know! That mess of a situation, oh-ho! I get it...and I can hold your hand while we muddle through it together, because fella, you are speaking my language.
But the boxes had come. She'd started to send bits and pieces of his real life, his "happier times" life, all carefully wrapped with maybe some tenderness and tears or maybe bitterness or really, I have no idea what.
At first I didn't go near them, because there was no reason to. But he'd opened them and left them laying about (there was nowhere but "about" for them to go) and I noticed that one of them had all these funny square little boxes inside. I was curious.
Oh, those are my ties he said. Really? I asked increduously, because I didn't know ties could come in square little boxes, or that someone would be organized enough to keep the boxes, or that someone who doesn't even wear ties could have so many.
I asked if I could look at them, and he said sure and so I did.
Each one of his ties had been expertly folded and placed in its box of origin. And as I sat on his floor, slowly opening the lids, examining the contents, replacing the lids, and re-stacking the boxes, I nearly had a panic attack. That flicker I'd felt earlier became a burst, and I hugged my stomach and waited for my compartmentalized sense of whatever, this is just for fun to return.
* * * *
I will try and explain. Every time I write it, it seems stupid. I know it does. I see the words and I'm embarrassed about them because I sound like a teenager. Like I never learned a damn thing.
My father grew up if not wealthy, then certainly close to it. He was raised in a wealthy, white town, by smart, literate, liberal parents. He went to a college full of white, smart, literate (sometimes) liberal boys. And when he eventually settled down with my mother, they decided not to raise us there. Instead, we grew up one town over.
I went to a public school that was 50% non-white, and 80% non-wealthy. Except I spent my summers at the country club -- the one my grandparents and dad had belonged to for decades. It was a fascinating experiment in social anthropology I guess, spending my summers alongside the "other half."
Sometimes I think about writing an autobiography called "The Poorest Kid At The Country Club."
They were perfect, all of them. They had perfect bodies and perfect skin and hair and teeth. They had the latest everything. Their parents had nice cars and normal jobs and their houses were amazing.
I "blossomed" early. I had zits at age 9. I was a 36-B by at age 11. I had hairs I didn't know what to do with. I was disgusted by my body. I was fat by country club standards. I wasn't even blond enough.
And my house and home life was crazy. We had a big house, but it was always in disrepair. We didn't have nannies or housekeepers or anything like that. My mom drove a Jeep and my dad drove a Volkswagen Vanagon well before the "mini-van" existed. I went to a different school than everyone, and what was cool in Norwalk was definitely NOT cool in Darien.
It's not like I wished we were rich. That's overly simple. I just saw a different version of life, and I ached for it. I saw kids who were safe. Kids who worried about which great college they'd get into, instead of how they would ever pay for it. Kids who spent their summer vacations backpacking in Europe or interning for daddy, instead of schlepping ice cream to have enough money to afford a meal plan in college next semester. Kids whose parents were present and involved and nurturing in their development.
My parents were good, but I would be hard-pressed to say my upbringing was "stable."
No, stability was not ever a term you'd use to describe the Sammis Family Household. (Fun? Yes. But that's another story.)
* * * *
I was not cool in high school. I did not have a normal collegiate experience. And when I was old enough, I sunk every ounce of energy I had into trying to manufacture that life. I got married and got a house and tried to make it be that way. But I failed.
I'm just not built like that.
And I moved to San Francisco, and finally accepted that not being built like that is really just fine. I don't need That Life.
Well, and then That Life answered my Craigslist ad.
* * * *
He is the whole package, and then some. I made a list a hundred years ago of what The Perfect Guy for me should encompass. And while I've come all this way, that list has never really changed. Ish is it.
But he's more than just a list of things; he had all of That, too.
Stupid things I pretended I didn't want because I couldn't have. The perfect, clean house. Family vacations around the world. Slender, white-teethed friends who'd go to good schools.
That life, that safety. That amazing family. Those amazing parents, who could provide so much. Who even had amazing friends, who also had amazing children. Amazing daughters.
An amazing daughter, whom Ish would marry, and who -- perhaps even while embittered -- would still fold his ties into proper boxes.
* * * *
I have many fabulous qualities, perhaps chief among them the likelihood that you will feel comfortable around me. Because how can you not because I am a mess.
My hair is not neat. My face is often broken out. My shirt is stained. My apartment will forever smell like cat pee, and it is going to be dusty in places because who cares? My socks will be white the day I purchase them and never again.
And that's just the outside.
Inside, I feel like my life's been broken into a million pieces. From my parents' sad endings to me and my sisters' new struggles with fertility and genetics, unfortunate things seem to befall my family more than is our fair share.
Maybe everyone feels that way.
But maybe that also makes you feel comfortable around me. Maybe knowing that there's been all this bad stuff in my life makes you want to give me a hug. Or maybe it makes you feel like your situation isn't so bad. Or maybe you just want to stand next to me in case a storm breaks out, because if a lightning bolt shoots from the sky you know which one of us it's going to hit.
Of course I'm the girl who will get hit.
But I don't know if that's the girl you want to marry.
* * * *
Things are going along very well with me and Ish, and do not think he isn't supportive or wonderful. He says all the right things and I believe that he means them.
It's just that I have a ton of baggage, and sometimes I realize I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.
* * * *
We were in an art store approximately two months after we'd started dating. There was a beautiful calendar of Paris, and he pulled it down and started pointing to the pictures. He got a wistful look in his eye as he spoke of his favorite spots, how you can't go to Paris without spending at least part of every day in a museum.
The flicker happened then, too. I had never dated someone who knew Paris. Who would know which museums to go to. Who could speak french well enough to order food and pair it with the right wine.
I want to be with him so badly.
Shhh, this is just for fun.
Last August, on our year anniversary, we went to a french restaurant. He talked about Paris again, and how much I would love it. How it would be, if we were there together. He said I would be a lot of fun to go with, because I would get it and love it.
I knew we couldn't plan it, though. Not yet. Not then. He was still in the relatively early stages of his divorce, and planning a trip to Paris with his girlfriend was tactless and rude and not affordable anyway. Plus, who knew if we'd even still be together.
We are just dating.
A few months later, I don't remember why, it came up again. Maybe we were just discussing traveling in general. We agreed, mutually, that fall of 2007 might be a good time to go. But also that fall of 2006 was way too early to plan anything definitive.
He said we should revisit it in the spring.
We should discuss Paris in April, he'd said.
* * * *
This entry doesn't end the way you might think.
It's April, and we have discussed it. And we are not going.
Understand that he has well reasoned, well grounded, perfectly good reasons for not being ready to go with me. Logistics aside, I think it simply means too much to me, while he is there, his divorce still not even final.
And of course I understand. But I have cried anyway.
Because here. Here it is.
To him, it is not about this. But to me, it represents everything I'm terrified about.
I know which fork to use and I can quote highbrow literature but I will still accidentally jab myself in the mouth with the fork and no one wants to hear a passage of Ondaatje through a fat, bloodied lip. And you know this. And I know this.
But, good God. I want to be the girl who gets taken to Paris.
I want to be good enough.
And I am afraid that no matter what, I cannot be. That people from Ish's circle will pity me and my baggage-ridden life, or pity Ish for getting suckered into dating me. I fear that his family will always feel pangs of disappointment about me, will always have wished it was someone else.
And that maybe he will, too.
I fear now as I have always feared, since the day I fondled his neatly packed boxes of ties, that this will end because it has to.
I don't get to have this.
The charade will be over, and he will inevitably wend his way back to a better, more worldly version of That Life without me.
He will take someone else to Paris.
And I, as I always have, will return to my lumpy life of bacon-scented apartments and compartmentalized pieces of my story that didn't quite go the way I'd hoped.