Register Wednesday | March 21 | 2018

Run Life Interference

I walked into the Heights Café on Montague Street in Brooklyn Saturday at noon. I had just gone for a run, just taken a shower. I’d smoked a cigarette on the walk there and carried a copy of the New Yorker under my arm. My iPod was on. This is my habit, or so I like to think it. Once a month, when I’m not meeting friends or family for brunch in Manhattan I like to grab a table at one of the local spots. Sit and listen to music, read something, eat slow, and watch all the tables around me. Call it research if you will, but a thousand stories and ideas have come from this simple ritual. It’s just something I like to do. I never pay any attention to the conversations going around me, that’s what the music is for. It drowns them out, lets me invent anything I like, whatever I choose. I don’t generally concern myself with the problems of others. Not in any direct sense. In the abstract, concerning the personal-political realm, I have a number of opinions, but the life problems, the individual detailed dramas of the people around me, I’d just as soon not know. Besides, most people like to talk about their lives in a manner that paints the stakes higher than life or death. The drama of it all, to those who aren’t directly involved, isn’t that interesting. I have my own things to think about, my own issues to live with, my own baggage to troll behind me. There’s this idea that every life is interesting. This just patently can’t be true. It’s the same logic that tells us that one can learn how to write. No, one can learn how to form words from letters, sentences from words, paragraphs from sentences, and pieces from paragraphs, but a writer is born, not taught. An intriguing life is lived, not talked about. Still, there are bits and pieces everywhere. Moments. I asked the beautiful hostess for a table. She sat me in a small table that lined a long booth attached to a wall, 6 to 8 small squares and individual chairs on the other side created small, non-discreet eating areas. I was seated next to a man and a woman, both probably in their late 30s or early 40s. I ordered granola with fruit and yogurt and a café latte. I ate and read and scanned and listened to my music. Even with the volume up—the building chorus of “Run” by Snow Patrol was on at the time—I could still hear the entire conversation next to me. This man and this woman. He had long hair that ballooned out in the back, and she looked tired. “Look,” he said, “of course there are two sides to this. There is what you think, your opinion, and there is what I think, my opinion. But then there is this middle ground, this area right here.” He made a gesture with his hand, slicing in a downward motion in the air between them. “That space is where I am. I’m working on this. I’m trying. But you want me to accept the blame for this, to play by your rules, and I’m just not willing to do that anymore. I’ve done it for 12 years.” She sighed. “I’m not asking you to do anything, Rich. I didn’t come here to figure anything out. I wanted to tell you in person what I’ve decided.” “But what you’ve decided makes no sense. I want to work. How can you not want to work at this?” “Because I’ve been working on it for 12 years. Because I’ve spent the last 2 in counseling, all the time, listening to you tell me that I’m not willing to meet you in the middle. What is the middle ground anyway? The place where we give in? Because that’s not a compromise. That’s a different kind of stagnation.” I stirred my granola and tried to find a louder song. They didn’t look over at me once. They were head over their conversation, probably not aware of the people sitting around them. This was their breakfast nook, the sun coming in from the window. The coffee hot in the kitchen. “I haven’t seen you for two weeks,” he said. I thought he was going to start crying, but he didn’t. He just sat there. Two bites of eggs benedict were all he had touched, and the food looked cold. Stale. She had a glass of water and cup of coffee in front of her. “It wouldn’t have mattered if you had or not. We’ve picked up right where we left off. You asking me what I think and then ignoring the answer.” “I’m not ignoring the answer. There is no answer. ‘We’re stagnant.’ That’s all you say. ‘We’re stagnant.’ Like some trained parrot.” “Yeah, well trained over 12 years.” “What was that?” “Nothing.” “Don’t tell me 'nothing!' All you ever tell me is nothing.” “Bullshit! Bullfuckingshit!” She looked around, hunched down across her hands, leaning towards him, lowering her voice. “I’ve never told you nothing. I said two years ago that I had had enough. That I loved you, but that you didn’t give me anything to go off. You don’t talk. You don’t tell me what you think. You run over the same shit everyday, like your recording it in my ear, like I’m a recorder, not your wife. I told you two years ago. I begged you to help, I begged you to open up. And all I got was some crap about being Eastern European, that that’s not how you function. But that’s how I function. That’s how I fucking function. And now, after two years, after 12 years, now that I tell you I’m leaving you, NOW you want to talk?” “No, now I want to fight. Now I want to know why. You can’t just leave without an explanation, without some sense of resolution.” And this is where I wanted to lean over. This is where I wanted to pull the guy aside, tell him he had it wrong, that resolution was a myth, not something that could happen over a conversation. Resolution doesn’t come at the end of a relationship. Resolution comes years later, in the form of an unidentified person or event. It comes after you’ve walked clear of the burned houses and toppled buildings, after you’ve left that place, that terrible, cold and lonely place. I wanted to lean into his ear; I wanted to tell him to stop there. He’d reached a wall. He had to back up, scoot his chair back from the table and walk away. There was nothing she could say that would shed light on his darkened mind. Even brutal honesty would be parried as excuse, because what he didn’t understand was how someone could want to give up on something he found so valuable. What he couldn’t understand was that they didn’t see this the same way. What he didn’t understand was that whatever broke her, whatever took her away from them, happened long before. I motioned the waitress over and leaned into her ear. “Are there any other tables available?” I whispered. She shook her head no. She looked over them and mouthed the word “Sorry.” I was too. Normally I’d be annoyed that someone had taken something so private into a public sphere. They’d taken the mess of their lives and strewn it all over my table like dirty clothes. I didn’t mind, though. I felt sorry for them, horrible for them both. The proximity and the detail. My check came and I sipped the last of my coffee. I pushed the table away from the booth seat, a quick burst from an elephants trunk sounded as the rubber skidded the floor. They both looked at me, suddenly, startled. I looked at them. “I don’t understand,” he said as I walked by. “You said it is something I did, but how can be just me when both of us are involved in this.” That’s the central myth of endings. That somehow both of you are to blame. As though there were some hypothetical point in the past when you neared a fork in the road with signs pointing both ways. One said “Happiness” and the other “Despair.” And you both look at each other. And you both say, “Let’s try despair. See where that takes us. Shall we!” But usually only one is driving. One is along for the ride. You trade off, you switch the responsibility, but usually it was just one who steered the car. The passenger may have even pointed the other way and then said, “I don’t think this is such a good idea.” Someone is always to blame. Finding out why is the bitch. Saturday night Manu, the Italian actress I’ve been seeing for the past two weeks, came over and spent the night. We were laying on my couch, the music on in the background. I had my head in her lap. She was spidering her fingers on my chest. We were talking. As she was telling me a story about Florence and a movie she did there my eyes glanced over at a painting that hangs on my walls. Mel painted it for me shortly after we fell in love. It’s a woman, naked, on a canvas. Her back is to the viewer. Her round and beautiful ass slides off the edge at the bottom. Her head is tilted behind her right shoulder, her face hidden. She leans on her left elbow and her hands disappear, probably cupped in front of her body. I haven’t taken it down because I’m not ready to remove it from my walls. They say you don’t get over the last big love until you fall for the next. But what if the last big love is the one you never get over, the boulder in your shoe that never leaves. From time to time I will come across little mementoes, things that remind me of that time and that place. Little tiny invisible bars and booby traps I’ve laid for myself. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a great memory or that painting, which I rarely ever look at even though it sits square in my living room. Manu pinched my chest. “You weren’t listening to me, were you?” “No, I was. I was listening.” “What did I say then?” And I repeated everything, every little detail she had just spoken. She leaned over, pulled her face in front of mine. “You were listening,” she smiled and kissed me. “Good boy.” Sometimes I wonder what my father would say about all this. But I never ask. I don’t want the answer. I’m scared of whatever he would say. I don’t want to know. Some things, too, are yours to discover on your own. Manu and I started talking about the movie she was filming. I asked her about her day. She had been in Long Island. She had a run in with this other actress. I ran my hand up over her shoulder and started playing my fingers over her neck, just under her hair, the strands weaving themselves between my index and middle as I moved them over skin.