I got drunk the first time when I was thirteen. It was a brisk Friday night in March and four of my girlfriends and I were spending the night at Kim’s house. Her parents had plans to go out and we knew they’d come home late and tipsy so if we were buzzed and acting stupid, they wouldn’t notice. This was all part of the plan. Planned and pre-meditated, like a girl hopes about losing her virginity or getting pregnant. Problem is, plans don’t also move in a straight line from where they started.
It was my first time drinking alcohol with freedom and abandon, without a grandparent or uncle sneaking me a sip, or a priest pouring a smidgen from a silver goblet into my waiting wondering mouth. I was excited as five of us stared at the small cutout in the family room they called a bar, contemplating the bottles arranged randomly along the wall. The family room was loud like Miami with lime green and yellow and white wicker decor. Atrocious really, even for the early 80s, but the bar, it glistened like bright lights in Vegas. It was long and narrow, behind it a mix of mirrored tiles lined with rows of glass shelves. Everything was multiplied times a million and went on forever. They called out to me, the brilliant bottles lined up and full of crystal clear liquid, others dark and smooth.
“Hey Kim, try this!”
I took the short shot glass from Courtney and lifted it to my nose. It burned the inside, fast and sharp and I yanked it away.
“Oh my! Wow.”
Then I took a deep breath to clear the gaping space inside and swallowed it in one gulp. I smiled and handed the glass back to Courtney. She poured herself a little and sipped, scrunching up her face as it flowed down her throat.
“Gross. It’s burning a little in my chest.”
“I know, me too. It turns to warm though.”
I said it with authority, like I knew from some sort of past experiences that never happened. I said it like I had been waiting forever for this defining moment, when I found at long last, a feeling to long for.
Everyone tried a little of something and our giggling grew louder. I felt tipsy, feathery light and cheerful. I drank and then drank more. I tried one of everything on the shelf, poured and swallowed with abandon and slowly, steadily, a hazy glow rushed over me. My friends disappeared into the background and the room brightened, fuzzy feathery ribbons shined along the edges. My arms dislodged, felt light and separate from my body. I stared at nothing as my hand and the cigarette connected to it, flopped in slow motion like a football replay on TV, and burned a crisp round hole in the lime green parrot print sofa cushion I sat on. In a frenzy Courtney jumped up and grabbed my arm, the one still holding the cigarette.
“Shit, Kim! Look what you did!”
I went with her, moving like a rag doll as she lifted my arm up and away and two other friends rushed forward to help. My head took forever to move and look down. When I closed one eye to focus, I saw the hole and wanted to poke my finger in it, that’s how pure and round and perfect it was. Like I’d measured. I pulled my hand away just as I was reaching down to touch it.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!”
The words fell off my tongue thick with alcohol, slow and messy. Kim touched the spot on the cushion with her hand then fell to her knees to look closer, like she was prepared to pray.
“Oh my god! My mother will kill me!”
Courtney, always the steady level-head in our group, moved in, lifted the cushion and flipped it over, then put it back down and sat on it. A smile formed on her face, like there that’s taken care of. I was thrilled, a giggle escaping from my mouth, thick with saliva.
Kim’s face cringed slightly, crooked and worn. She was worried. I looked away fast, then leaned forward to pull a cigarette from the open pack on the coffee table. As I did, I carelessly knocked a box of matches onto the floor.
“Go outside to smoke! I can’t believe you!”
She was angry, but I didn’t care. It wasn’t until a few years later that she finally forgave me or forgot about it and stopped worrying that her mother might find the hole. I’m 100% certain my mother would have, within a day or two, tops. Her piercing eyes would have noticed something akimbo, a pattern placed slightly off or the coloring unfaded, and then thought to herself Would you look at this. Someone turned over this cushion. And she would flip it back, and the moment the hole… What’s this? Kimberly!! But thankfully Kim’s mother didn’t share the same tendencies toward meticulous and anal as my mother, and she never found the hole.
I forgot about it almost as soon as it happened and took myself and my newly lit cigarette out the sliding glass door and into the wide open darkness of the backyard. I looked up toward the sky and threw my arms above my head. The air smelled like the end of winter and almost spring, like trees and flowers preparing to burst into bloom. Everything was bright, lit by the full moon. The cool clean air flushed against the skin on my arms making goose bumps. I started to twirl, around and around and around, and I didn’t get dizzy, so I kept twirling. The only thought in my head, loud and like it meant everything and more than life or death, my only thought was… I feel better than I’ve ever felt before. Ever. I want this to last forever.
Later that night, I groaned in pain, sick and passed out in the bathroom. I don’t remember how I got there or who helped me. I guess you’d call it my first blackout. I slept on the toilet, waking up now and again to be sick and pass out again right where I was, leaning over the toilet. The next morning when I opened one eye, I was stretched out with one arm around the toilet seat and my head staring straight into the bowl. I went to sit up straight but my head exploded out of both my eyeballs and ears. I groaned, crawled the two feet into Kim’s bedroom and put myself face first down onto her carpet. I was sore and achey and throwing up for the rest of the day. My parents thought I had the flu.
Very unglamorous, all of it. You might expect such an episode to teach me a lesson or two about the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Nope. What I remember most are those few moments of twirling, the pure, precious uncontaminated freedom…from my life and myself and my hate. I spent the next 17 years, until three months before I turned 30, trying with all my might to recreate those minutes, exactly as they burned bright in my memory. Oh, how I tried. But even all these years later, the glitter and high points are heat-pressed in my mind where they will remain forever, safe and secure.
image via 4lexandre
I took private salsa lessons a few years ago. I’m not necessarily a dancer, although my salsa teacher would beg to differ. She told me day after day that I was born to do it. I was meant to dance like my hips and legs and life depended on it. Like every last cell in my being was holding its breath waiting for the day I would let loose and sway to the rhythm of the music.
During those months of sexy swaying, I came to a stunning conclusion about myself, well, more like two conclusions. (1) I like to dance. I think I’ve wanted to dance like that for years, and (2) I didn’t dance, or do a lot of other stuff, because I suffer from something called the clamp down syndrome. Yes, I diagnosed myself. And no, you won’t find it in your shrink’s big red medical book of terms, but I’m sure I have it. As sure as the hills are rolling and the moon rules the waves.
How does a girl who loves to dance spend 40 years not dancing? Why couldn’t she just…do it? Frozen stuck immobilized clamped down is why. I’ve been holding my breath for far too long, waiting for something to happen so I felt safe…and then I was going to step forward and dance. No wonder my face is bright blue from lack of air.
I haven’t done a lot of things I’ve always wanted to do, gone places I needed to go, been who I was born to become. I know this like a deep knowing of warm water washing over skin. I haven’t known how to live, how to have fun, how to let loose and enjoy. As a child, joy was not in my vocabulary. Dancing salsa was a far off thought. No, it wasn’t a thought at all. I had no thoughts of dancing. Period.
Sometimes I’m still afraid and hold my breath, but much less so than I used to which was 24 hours a day all week every week of the year. I was afraid of people, new things, speaking up, admitting my truths out loud or on paper. I couldn’t write because there was nothing in me but space, vast empty dark space. I didn’t come out of the womb this way but suffice it to say, life and the people in it quickly scared the shit out of me. So I created coping mechanisms. I shut down my urges to run wild. I spent most of my days numb. There isn’t time for joy when you’re fighting for your life and killing yourself slowly to the beat of a drum lost in your head.
Now that I’m no longer killing myself slowly…now that I’ve stopped fighting and drinking and eating and starving and fucking anyone who would, I know that it’s okay to start dancing. I know this intellectually. But the clamp down syndrome is so engrained, so a part of how I walk the earth… It has proven difficult, scratch that, it’s harder than a mother fucker, to unravel and resist it.
But I am and I do. I’m unraveling the clamp down so there are moments of being, bright colorful breath-taking moments when I inhale the world gluttonously, ravenously, selfishly and realize…I’m living. This is what it feels like to live.
image: my flickr
the desert is…colors and textures and smells layered with the wind
I read a story in my writing workshop today, about the time a mean girl ignored me at school and rounded up all the other girls in our fifth grade class so they would ignore me too. And how the ache was so violent and alive that I flew home and into our kitchen, running from the carpool car and into my mother’s arms. How I had to push out and away from her smokey chest hug after only a few moments, like my life depended on it because I couldn’t breathe, not from the smoke but from the depth of her graspy long fingers perfectly manicured and wrapped snug around my neck. There’s more, but I’ll get to my point…
When I finished the story, sat raw and waiting for feedback, silence erupted for a step too long until I thought I might scream. Then a cat meowed for food, it was dinner time or he wanted to go outside. A woman, a comrade in my workshop, finally spoke, broke the silence. She leaned forward in her seat, glanced down at her notes and up into my eyes before reminding me what I never knew but forgot to remember. She said,
“This chapter is amazing, what it makes me feel is how judgmental the narrator was, or had to be, even at 10 years old, but not to be mean, she was just observing, hyper-aware of everything, everyone around her, taking it all in, judging her surroundings 24/7. As a sort of survival mechanism. It was as if she decided I will find out who you are before you can find out about me, as a way to keep people away. To protect herself. So she wouldn’t get hurt. Do you know what I mean?”
Do I know what you mean? Yes, I know. I was that girl. Cover her up, clean her out like a vacuum cleaner bag too full or the lint screen from a dryer. She’s coughing, choking on herself.
After she finished speaking I stared at her, this woman and her feedback. I stared until my eyes cut through her and out the large window behind the sofa where she sat. I focused on that 10 year old girl, afraid of everything even herself, trying harder than life to be strong and loved, but of course not wanting love because jesus, look around you, if this is what love looks like, and feels like cracking inside my bones, well then give me a road map, I’m heading the other opposite direction and not stopping until I’m far past the equator. Which still won’t be far enough.
After she spoke my so-called life, in something like a foreign language but pure truth, I realized she knew me after hearing my simple fifth grade story about mean girls at school, and an ache or need for a mother sticking in her daughter’s throat. She knew my truth from a story I wrote, one scene and small part of a bigger book, a memoir growing from scratch. She knew but I hadn’t specifically meant to tell her. Is that what happens when a girl like me decides to write?
I don’t have the answers to much of anything, and I’m comfortable with that. But what I do know…I know a cool moon breeze blows up my skirt and frees me to go farther each time someone sees me, the me I am no matter what ugly pretty parts exist. It tastes better than any drug or sex or cherry pie I ever confiscated and devoured, and trust me, those things sustained me for a very long time. But now, now I nourish myself on cool moon breezes and with each inhale I become a tiny bit more free and open and alive.
If I had to own a pure memory of my father, one that still smells and warms my insides like hot spiced tea in the winter, it’s the image of him reading. With his face in a book, the familiar furrow in his brow disappeared and the tightness around him dissipated. He sat in his brown and orange plaid recliner and his right forefinger loosely ran across the page, left to right then back and again. Softly in a consistent rhythm of speed reading words he learned in law school. Then the crisp crackle of the page turning, followed by the smooth sliding of fingers again.
He was a voracious reader. He kept hundreds of books in the den that we called a library because of the floor to ceiling bookshelves. They were lined with a little of everything, the yellow spines of his National Geographics, dozens of paperbacks from his days as an English major at UCLA, two sets of Encyclopedia Britannica’s. He read biographies of presidents and the history of this and that. To me, he was the smartest person on the planet. He knew something about everything.
I spent a lot of time in the library, usually when no one was home to bother me. It was a cozy space with shelves stained the color of dark chocolate Hershey kisses, and an overhead lamp dampened by a heavy cloth shade that ensured a mysterious, moody tone. There was a bright light next to the rocking chair or burnt orange sofa, that if you weren’t using, my mother would march in, hands on hips, and proclaim “You’re going to ruin your eyes if you read in the dark.” But I liked the darkness, the shades closed while I slumbered on the sofa and thumbed through book after book. In a way it was overwhelming, so many options and distractions, I couldn’t choose one and often had a bunch spread out all around me.
My father read to us, my brother and me. Not little kid books like Dr. Seuss, although we had plenty of those lined up in the library too. My father read us the classics like Alice in Wonderland and Huckleberry Finn, leather-bound books from his collection. I loved their smell, the leather books with gold paper edges and embossed covers. All three of us squeezed somehow, into that brown and orange plaid recliner. His voice went deep and consistent then gained fluctuations and speed with each change of character in the story. He read one chapter a night, no more no less.
It was a special time, the only time I felt close and calm with my father. It didn’t matter that he’d had a few drinks, or if he stopped mid chapter to fix another. It was Kevin’s and my time with our father, the reader, the thinker. It was safe. And I’m certain it set the stage for my love of reading, my passion for words and sentences and my need to tell stories.
image via flickr
I will never ever internet date again, so long as the internet and I shall exist. I swear on my pitbull puppy, the love of my life, that in ten years, if I’m still alone and aged and celibate and lonely as all hell, I will not go back to internet dating.
Let me be clear. I don’t have anything against internet dating for other people. In fact, my brother met his wife of 8 years, my awesome sister-in-law, on Match. I have Match to thank for the perfect specimens that are my niece and nephew, Rose and Jack. I love internet dating for other people. But my history of dating on the internet is not so pretty or filled with romantic endings. It is more amusing than anything else. At times it turned slightly discouraging and pathetic and disheartening. Mostly, it was just amusing.
I once had profiles all over the dating internets, on Nerve and Match and JDate. No, I’m not Jewish, never have been, yet I had myself a pretty compelling and active profile on JDate. I lost my virginity to a Jew so I thought that kinda qualified me.
Internet dating is about statistics and percentages so I spread myself everywhere, regardless of the way a site swayed, left or right. I even had a profile on eHarmony, the quasi-religious site that has since opened its questions to include all religions, races and sexual persuasions. I’m practically an atheist, yet I paid those suckers my hard-earned dollars so I could fill out their “scientific” profile questions that they assured me, would help them find me the forever mate of my dreams. If eHarmony knew then, that 8 years later I would date a woman and proclaim myself bisexual, do you think they would have still accepted my application?
Anyway, so there I was with photos and profiles up all over the place, covering all the online dating bases. My friends insisted. I was 38 and had been single for a while. What’s a while, you ask? Suffice it say I’ve mostly been single, like most of my life, even in high school. My first real boyfriend I met the first week of college. We dated for almost five years. We got pinned and he wanted to marry me, so I moved 3,000 miles away. Then I lived in Washington DC where I dated a guy who just barely broke up with his girlfriend so she lingered around and between us for two years until I finally lost patience (or got sick of the bitter cold humid hot weather) and moved back to LA. Then I found the married man I proceeded to fall in love with, who weaved in and out of my life for years. Blah blah blah. Get the picture?
Okay. So I’m 38 and not thinking about marriage or the future, because, well, I never had. Seriously. I didn’t have those dreams and it was a rude awakening when, at 38, I looked around at all my married friends with kids and wondered Did I miss something? Was I supposed to be paying attention? Clearly, I skipped the chapter that instructed Find a good man to date who will marry you and be the father of your children. Hmmm.
Anyway, I was not particularly eager to marry, or worried about it. I cringed at the thought of proactively searching for someone online but everyone was doing it or had done it, so I gave in. I was willing to try.
Right from the start, I received heaps of emails from potential suitors, most of which I never responded to because it was just too damn time-consuming and the majority of them were treacherously boring and/or riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. But I answered a few, which led to a few first dates. I even went out with one guy three times. He and I hit it off with lots to discuss because of our mutual interest in design and architecture. He was creative, interesting and good looking, but he was also gay and didn’t know it yet.
After that I emailed back and forth with anyone who came across as remotely clever or funny. I talked to one or two of them on the phone, but never met because the conversations lagged and were missing that je ne sais quoi. The real winners were the guys who saw I was online at 10pm and instant messaged me, with barely a hello before venturing into cyber sex. They usually started with something subtle and intriguing like, So what are you doing right now? Um, really? Such a classy group of guys. I mean, we’re talking cream of the crop!
Then came Joe the Actor from Venice. He was 42 with salt and pepper hair – not a bad-looking guy but certainly nothing extraordinary. I had never dated an actor and really didn’t want to, but he was cute and age-appropriate and I was really trying.
We emailed back and forth and he suggested we meet for coffee on a Friday, after my work day ended at 5:30pm, at Peet’s on Main Street in Venice. I knew Friday rush hour traffic going west from my office in Century City would be excruciating, but did I tell you I was really trying? Right, so I agreed to meet him.
That was Wednesday. Around 4:30pm on Friday, the day of our date, stuff at work was spiraling out of control. My job at the time, was hectic and revolved around my boss. If Mr. Boss changed his plans, then mine changed too. That Friday I was tired and by 4:30pm I was losing energy and couldn’t even guarantee I’d be able to leave by 5:00pm. I needed to cancel or postpone or something. I just wasn’t up to meeting someone new and being cheerful and chatty. Even on the best of days I wasn’t in the mood to be cheerful and chatty.
I knew it when I did it. I shouldn’t have agreed to Friday at 5:30pm, but it was done and I needed to fix it. My friend and co-working, Abby, helped me review my options. 1) I could be kind of rude to someone I didn’t know, cancel or postpone my date with Joe the Actor OR 2) I could lie to my boss, tell him I had to leave right away for an appointment and try to make it to Venice in 30 minutes.
We chose option one and I sent Joe a text that read, I’m really sorry, stuck at work, can’t get away. Can we reschedule? Hope it doesn’t inconvenience you too much. I really want to meet!! Tomorrow afternoon or Sunday? Sorta short, a little sweet and definitely sorry. I really was.
He had told me during one of our email conversations that he lived down the street from Peet’s in Venice, where we planned to meet. My assumption, him being an actor, was that his schedule was fairly flexible and he wouldn’t mind a rain check. It wasn’t cool to cancel a date last minute, but how much could it really inconvenience him?
Boy, did I get that one wrong.
The phone rang about three minutes after I sent him the text. I was sitting at my desk when I picked up after the second ring, prepared to apologize again.
“ARE YOU F*CKING KIDDING ME? WHO THE F*CK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, YOU SELFISH C*NT?!”
My colleague Abby sat close by and I saw her out of the corner of my eye, turn quickly toward me. Our eyes met. She looked at me quizzically like wow, who’s that? I knew she could hear every word. That’s how LOUD he was YELLING.
“Excuse me?” I said calmly as I held the phone slightly away from my hear. It was a rhetorical question but he felt the need to repeat himself.
“WHO THE F*CK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? CANCELING AN HOUR BEFORE WE’RE SUPPOSED TO MEET? YOU HOPE IT DOESN’T INCONVENIENCE ME?! I’M ON MY WAY THERE RIGHT NOW!”
Remember, we had not met yet. Joe the Actor and I spoke on the phone once and emailed maybe three times. Yes, I canceled at the last-minute, which isn’t the most considerate thing to do, but…what did I owe him? I didn’t even know him. In my opinion, anyone and I’m including the entire planet when I write this… ANYONE has the right to change his or her mind at any point, any time, about anything. Period.
My canceling was not a recurring theme, something I did to him a lot or even twice because, oh yeah, we had never met! And I was even polite about it. I might have expected a little upset, something like, I want what I want so I’m going to pout and be passive aggressive for a minute until I realize I’m being a man-child and snap out of it, kind of upset. But this? I just wanted to change our plans to meet for coffee.
Calmly I hung up the phone and set it on my desk without a sound. I stared at it for what felt like minutes, my hands trembling. I looked up and Abby was staring at me, eyes wide. I couldn’t move or speak. The phone rang again. I jumped.
“Don’t answer it!”
Abby shouted, but I had already hit the button to accept. Maybe the first call had been a mistake, maybe he was kidding… I held the phone up to my hear and before I could speak,
“F*CKING BITCH. YOU HOPE THIS DOESN’T INCONVENIENCE ME? IT SURE AS HELL DOES INCONVENIENCE ME, YOU SELFISH C*NT.”
Again, I hung up and slowly placed the phone on my desk. A few moments passed and it rang. Again. This time Abby reached over the partition between our desks and grabbed the phone.
“Give it to me!”
I watched in awe as her mouth began to move and she spoke into the mouthpiece.
“Listen to me, you psychotic freak! You have no right to speak to my friend that way and if you ever call this number again I will call the police and you will be screwed. Do not EVER CALL HER AGAIN. Got it?”
He mumbled something but she interrupted him.
“Stop! I’ve never been so serious. Do you hear me? I will call the police.”
And she hung up. I watched a grin grow on her mouth, but her brow was crinkled with concern.
“Wow, what a crazy lunatic! Jesus. Are you okay?”
I only wish I had recorded the conversations, because there’s no way to really capture the degree of animosity and venom in his voice as he told me what exactly he thought about me and my request. I’m not kidding. This coming from a girl whose entire childhood was spent being yelled at and demeaned and verbally abused and sarcastically dismissed and criticized. I’m phased by very little, and I am rather skilled and crafty when it comes to protecting myself from other people’s bullshit. This was different.
Can you imagine if my day at work had gone differently and smooth and I had left on time and met Joe the Actor at 5:30pm? What if? Or what if I’d decided to lie to my boss, leave despite how busy it was, and meet Joe the Actor at Peet’s at 5:30pm as planned? And what if we had liked each other, had lovely conversation and he asked me out again? First dates are usually filled with good behavior. What if I decided to have dinner with him the next time? How long would it have taken for him to crack? What exactly would I have needed to do in order to break him? Would it have happened after the fourth date or before the twelfth, after I fell in love with him or the night before our wedding? Would he have just yelled or called me names, or maybe smacked me in the face or shoved me across the room?
Thank the god I don’t believe in that I cancelled. That’s what I was thinking back then, seated at my desk, as Abby handed me back my phone and I let out a huge sigh of relief.
“Yeah, my hands are shaking. But I’m okay.”
Today when I think about Joe the Actor, I laugh, out loud, and all that really comes to mind is For f*ck’s sake, what a total loser. Oh, and of course, I will never, ever internet date again.
image via flickr: Kara Allyson
I met him at boot camp, my three times a week hard-core morning workout by the beach. It was my friend Kate who noticed him first. She stopped mid arm circle stretch to gently slap my arm and use a nod of her head to gesture in his direction. “Hey, look at him, with the salt & pepper hair. He’s hot!” I glanced across the lawn to the other side of the circle we formed. He was tall and wore sunglasses, long surf trunks that tied at his waist and his hair was buzzed close to his head. Salt. Pepper. I watched him for a few minutes and sensed a sadness about him that translated to aloof or distance like miles across a highway. “Yeah, I guess. Maybe.”
I was 43 and still rebounding from a breakup six months earlier. It had been a two year relationship, we were best friends, and my heart still ached most of the time. Kate was a great friend and consoled me whenever I reached out but recently she turned a corner into trying to help me move on by noticing cute guys for me. I tried to seem interested.
“Who is he?”
She smiled like she’d caught a fish. “I have no idea, but we need to find out. He’s hot.”
After class, Kate and I asked our boot camp trainer about him, slyly of course, and found out he usually went to the 830am class (so I knew where to find him); He was single (a plus!) and his wife had cheated on him with a former boot camp trainer, so I had to tread lightly. I was just relieved he was single.
Driving home after class, I noticed what felt like a flicker of hope pass through me, which also felt a little like getting over my ex (a huge plus!). Kate informed me of the stratagem.
“You’re going to go to the 830am class from now on, and flirt with him.”
So…I started showing up at 830am (instead of my usual 630am), casually, like I made the change in my schedule because I wanted to sleep in or something. I smiled at him, said hello and he smiled back. One morning, our trainer Sonki announced in front of class that I had just acquired a pit bull puppy and named her Blue. A few minutes later, as we sweated and strained on the sand facing the ocean and waiting for instruction, he turned toward me, “So your puppy’s name is Blue?” Oh my god did he just talk to me?
I felt like I was 15 years old. ”Yeah, her name is Blue.”
I tried to smile between grunts and he continued. “I had a Blue. In college. A Husky.”
I smiled big like it was the most interesting, amazing, crazy thing I’d ever heard come out of someone’s mouth. “Oh really? We had a husky when I was a kid. I grew up with her.” He smiled then went we back to sweating. I couldn’t help watching him the rest of class. He asked me a question about myself.
He was quiet back then, an undertow of hurt and caution following him everywhere. Slowly he warmed up, began to smile and laugh more. I liked how his smile grew when he saw me get out of my car at 825am. “Morning Kimi!” He would touch my shoulder or squeeze my side. He seemed genuinely happy to see and be near me. I felt happy in the morning with the knowing I would see him. I spent extra time before class brushing my hair, covering the blemish or dark circles I didn’t want him to notice. I left my hair down, let it fall long down the center of my back, until the last-minute before class started when I quickly pulled it up into a ponytail. Stuff I hadn’t done before, I now cared about. My first crush in a long time, I finally had moments without grief and ache in my gut. It was lifting and he was helping.
By the second or third week, he relaxed in class, was jovial, outwardly energetic and friendly with everyone. I’m drawn to people like that, extroverts who like everyone and everyone likes. Probably because I’m the opposite. I’m more discerning with my happy and energy and liking. He stood next to me in class, placing his towel on the wet early morning grass next to my yoga mat. Or he approached me after class to chat and we sauntered toward my car, close enough for our arms to touch or graze like a leaf in the wind. I felt a pulse of energy. Did he?
The first time I noticed his eyes were two different colors it was a Saturday morning, a warm day in May, after a hike. A large group of boot campers had just run for an hour and a half through the Santa Monica mountains. We were sweaty and dirty and I was glad when I turned around to find him standing next to me, smiling. We were face to face although he was taller so I looked up at him. We made small talk then he pulled off his shades and asked me where I lived.
“Oh I can walk home from here. Just up the street on Sunset.”
“Oh yeah? My kids go to Pali. They probably smoke pot somewhere near your place.”
We laughed. I took notes in my head – so he’s a cool dad, relaxed. He has older kids and is asking about me.
“So, you’re a writer.”
I smiled and looked down, trying to camoflauge the excitement I felt because he remembered from when we went around the circle and introduced ourselves pre-hike.
“Yeah, you were listening.” We smiled and there was a short silence which I broke, “And you have one blue and one brown eye.” I turned a crimson shade of ruby-red as my eyes looked at my feet and I fidgeted with a piece of sweaty stray hair that hung in my face. ”But you already know that.”
He laughed “Very observant. It must be the writer in you.”
We parted ways after I asked if I would see him, per usual, on Monday morning at 830am.
“God willing!” That was his response to lots of stuff and I always wanted to respond with God has nothing to do with it but wasn’t comfortable enough or sure he’d get what I meant. Now I wish I had said it anyway, and more often.
Walking home I felt weightless with butterflies and nervous energy buzzing in my ears. Something is sprouting here. It really felt like flirting and getting to know someone. And it felt reciprocal.
The five week boot camp session ended and we had a week off before the next one began.
“We should go on a hike or something next week.”
I think I smiled or screamed or secretly peed my pants. “Yeah, sure, that would be fun.”
He pulled out his blackberry “Here, give me your number. I’ll text you.”
This is how it starts, right? I wondered to myself. He must be interested because he isn’t asking any of the other people to hike. That hike was the same hike he brought his new girlfriend on a year later, ignoring me like he never asked or cared or told me secrets while we walked, just the two of us, for hours at sunset.
Anyway, another five weeks began and one morning we were partners for ‘leg throw downs’, an abdominal exercise. After my turn I let my legs fall flat onto my mat, exhausted. My stomach was showing just a tad, my t-shirt yanked up a bit from the exercise. I closed my eyes to rest a moment when he took a gulp from his water bottle, leaned over me and slowly dribbled water from his mouth onto my exposed stomach. I think I squealed or screamed, amazed and excited by the boldness of his public display of affection. Of course I reported daily to Kate who waited anxiously on the sidelines as he and I played and flirted. Everyone I talked to told me He has GOT to like you. Guys don’t do that stuff if they don’t like you.
But why wasn’t he asking me out?
“So are you guys a couple?” A new girl, innocent and young and pretty, who neither of us knew well, chirped as a group of us walked to our cars after class. Worn out and sweaty, my heart stopped. He chuckled. I spoke before he could.
“Oh no, no, we’re just friends,” I sputtered a little and was nervous but the butterflies flew around my stomach. Then words flew from his mouth,
“Haha, right. We just have sex in her Mini after class.” Really?
That’s flirting, right? Obnoxious flirting but still flirting. I wasn’t sure what to do with the comment other than ride it like a wave. I asked my friends in and out of boot camp, what they thought. ”Duh, you guys flirt the entire class. It’s so obvious you guys like each other.”
“What? No it isn’t!” I was defensive but relieved to hear it wasn’t just my imagination.
He always asked about my day, how I was, what I was writing about. When we weren’t working out together, he interrupted my day with texts, about this or that. His texts in the beginning were simple but kept us connected throughout the day - Hey I’m sore from workout! You too? See you at 630 tomorrow!? Soon he started sharing snippets about his kids, his life, his day. The texts flowed more frequently, often two or three a day, about anything and nothing. He sent pictures, of his son graduating from high school, himself with his dog or helping his daughter pack for camp or his feet laying on the beach. Wow can you see the sunset…check it out…amazing! Leaning into me like he cared, I held each text in my mouth and got sustenance, enjoyed the chatter that came with this handsome man I met working out.
I still have the pictures somewhere. I don’t have the heart to delete them. Yet.
My friends started to voice concern. “Why hasn’t he asked you out?” What could I tell them? I was so confused. I didn’t talk to or text any one as much as him. But I had no idea what he was doing?
On our third solo hike, after flirting with him for what felt like forever but was only about six weeks, I decided to find out. Be smart Kim, you aren’t getting any younger. Don’t waste your time on a guy that doesn’t like you. As we embarked on the beginning of what would be a three hour stroll through the mountains at dusk, I turned to face him walking the narrow path behind me. I flirted my way through what felt awkward and embarrassing.
“Can I ask you a question?” He didn’t even flinch.
“Of course you can. Anything.”
I took a deep breath. “So seriously. Why aren’t you asking me out?”
His face froze and a few moments passed without a response. Then, “Huh? What do you mean?” he spoke through a tight grin I couldn’t quite decipher.
“I mean, why aren’t you asking me out?”
I tried to soothe the tension by punching him in the arm, teasing and smiling while he grinned and looked for the right words. He played surprised, eyes big like a deer in headlights.
“Um, well. Wow. I had no idea…I didn’t know that you wanted me to.”
I stopped cold and put my hands on my hips. “Seriously? You didn’t know?”
He was adamant. “No, not at all. I mean, it’s just that I’m not dating right now. Anyone. No dating. I’m too broken.”
The remainder of the hike he told me about his wife’s infidelity and the pain. It had been a year since he found out and he was still thawing. He told me how after they separated, he went on a dating binge for 9 months and it got too complicated, dating and sex. The last girl he dated wanted more and it was too difficult to have that conversation, the one where you tell her you don’t want more at all. Blah blah. He needed time to heal, to be alone. He’d been married since they got pregnant at 21 (18 years) and now he needed to be alone.
It seemed reasonable. If he had even slightly insinuated or hinted in the mildest way that he had no interest in me, at all, that he was not interested… He made no such suggestions. I was smitten but I wasn’t stupid.
His story and sincerity touched me. I believed him. I tried to keep the rest of our conversation light so he wouldn’t freak out at my forwardness. Turns out he didn’t freak out at all. He text me not 20 minutes after we parted ways post-hike I’m very flattered and I think you’re awesome!
After a couple of 3 hour hikes and lots of texting and smiling, I wondered Does he like me, or not? I asked my girlfriends and even a few guys. Some told me to relax, hang out, see what happens. He’s wounded and needs time. Others told me to run the other direction, he’s wounded and there will never be enough time for a guy like him. If he hasn’t asked you out by now, he isn’t going to.
My therapist suggested I get to know him, be friends with a man you’re attracted to before you jump right into bed with him. Huh? That’s a fucking ODD suggestion. But she strongly supports trying new things and this was definitely going to be new for me. I decided it was probably a worthy idea considering I had never done it. And I liked him. I didn’t want to not hang out with him. We had fun and seemed to enjoy each other’s company, have similar interests, senses of humor…the usual stuff you recognize when chemistry hits you in the head.
Disappointed but still hopeful, I went about my business.
He was the first to wish me a happy birthday with a 7am text. He continued to text me every day. He told me how sexy and awesome I was, how in shape and smart and spectacular. He turned to me for support and inspiration. He offered me kind words and reminded me to look at the sunset, as it was happening. I tried to focus on friendship, being friends with a man I wanted to be more than friends with. I can do this. I can do this. I had never ever done it but pushed my way into each and every one. Oldest story in the book, right?
Boot camp threw a summer and holiday party, plus one other. There had to have been four parties all together and not one of them did he show up at. Full of good intentions, I would receive a text mid-soiree, with kid excuses or anything other than him showing up when I was dressed in something besides a sweaty t-shirt, jog bra and shorts. Although I didn’t want to be disappointed, each time it slammed me.
Our one and only excursion, outside of boot camp and hikes, was a day trip to the Getty – art and lunch. We drove separately because he had a meeting in the south bay afterwards. I felt faint resemblances to a date yet it was never quite a date. He didn’t kiss me or hold my hand. I looped my hand through his elbow bent slightly to nestle me there. And we perused the museum and grounds, close enough so my breast touched his arm most of the afternoon. We flirted and laughed and talked and had perfect moments of silence in between. It all felt totally natural and comfortable and like I’d known him forever. I have been on a few dates in my life and this felt like a date. Was it purely my vivid and hopeful imagination? Did I make it up? Obviously.
I can’t really call it a break-up because we never actually dated. In fact, we never even kissed. We were just friends, without benefits, and then we weren’t. One day his eyes, one brown one silky blue, were warm and kind sending me signs of interest and common ground. The next they stared past and through me as if I was the wind and we hadn’t spent the past 18 months flirting, texting, hanging out.
For me, meeting him felt like the beginning, the initial opening, a reaching through the soil for the sunshine. I thought he liked me and I waited, which is progress for me. I didn’t push it or rush it, I just held still and lived my life and let it morph organically. Of course, I’m disappointed it didn’t end up the way I wanted. But now I know why.
To him, it was a game, a rock solid ego-boost for a man-child, weak and needy. I should have walked away sooner, before he got a girlfriend who wasn’t me, before he couldn’t understand why it hurt me, why I got upset, why I needed space and time to adjust, why I didn’t think I could be his friend anymore. I wish I had walked away before he cut me off like a hot knife through butter. But I’m glad I didn’t, because I needed all this to happen to find out the man he truly is, his true character. I needed it to happen to not care anymore.
It started about five years ago, I guess. That’s when I began writing professionally, like getting paid to do it. As the words appeared on the page, or rather the computer screen, I noticed their blackness against the white and I remembered…oh yeah, I’ve always wanted to be a writer, since I was a young girl and I scribbled in my diaries for hours on end.
A story to tell, something from deep within that needs to get out. I had no idea what the story was, but the urge has been with me for, like ever. So five years ago, when I began writing for EcoSalon, I thought I’m just a late bloomer but I’m figuring it out. Then I scanned the other areas of my life, and thought oh my god, I’m late all over the place.
I’m 45 and have never been married, don’t have kids, can’t claim a career let alone one that might be considered successful in today’s measurements of money, fame, steps on a ladder. I haven’t had many serious relationships, a few I guess, but that isn’t a lot considering they were 2-3 years each. The only thing I did young and ‘on time’ was graduate from college at 21. Some say I was young when I quit drinking. I got sober four months before my 30th birthday, unplanned and unexpected. It just happened.
When I proclaim to be blooming late, or later than most….I’m not criticizing myself or being a perfectionist and over-achiever and pretending to not have done anything worthwhile in my life. I am comparing myself to others, in a way, to the ‘norm’ or what I see around me. I’m stating the facts, which is okay and I’ve come a long way in loving myself anyway, just as I am. Pre-bloom or mid-bloom…On my way toward blooming?
I know I’m getting there because I’m still writing. Plus I think I’m a lot closer to letting love into my life. Not that I’m dating anyone, because I’m not. But I’m open to it, and not just fake open like I was for so many years proclaiming to want a relationship all the while sneaking away to see my married boyfriend.
By the way, if you want to know what you value, look at what you DO, not what you SAY. Words mean nothing. Actions tell you everything, all you need to know, really.
So anyway… Today I’m open and healthier and love myself more than I ever have which is progress…toward blooming. Isn’t it? Shit, I hope it is. What if it isn’t and all this work is for shit? Seriously though, I don’t really believe that. I mean, it could happen of course, everything could fall apart…again and again. I can’t expect a reward, cash and prizes, because I’m being ‘good’ and making progress and working hard. No one cares. God doesn’t care. Stuff just happens. But in the meantime, while stuff happens, I will continue writing and loving and opening and being a mom to my animals and working a job to pay the bills and eventually, I will be blooming. Late, but who the fuck cares?
Ever go through your day and feel like your skin is on inside-out so even a particle of dust punctures sharp like a needle when it hits you? Ever feel like you have something to say but can’t quite find the words even after searching a thesaurus? Ever feel like you want to stay in bed and never get out, and not just on rainy days but sunny beautiful days too? Ever feel not human and wonder why were you born because you so prefer the company of animals over people? Ever been in a yoga class and no matter how hard you try to squelch it, the tears just pour out and down your face for no apparent reason?
Yeah. Me too. It happened during tree pose this morning. I don’t have great balance, but I can do tree pose. At least I thought I could. But today I teetered and tottered until my teacher stood right in front of me and said,
“Kim, soft eyes. Look at me, don’t look down. Not helpful. Look here…soft eyes.”
So I looked at her, into her eyes, and she kept looking at me. Her eyes held mine for what felt like a long ass time so I finally looked away. Then I lost my balance so I looked at her again.
“Soft…eyes Kim. Feel your eyes as they soften into the back of your head…yes, very nice.”
We stayed like that for more than a few moments and held tree pose. She looked at the class then back to me and smiled. I smiled too.
Wow that was intense.
Then we moved on to another sequence, but a few minutes in my eyes filled with water and a solid mass rose up in my chest. Hmmm, this is interesting. I stayed still, hoping to understand and instantly, I did.
She had seen me, and it’s been a long long time since someone has. She held my eyes and didn’t leave or turn away. And it was really hard for me to hold her gaze and allow myself to be seen. Then I remembered the last time. It was over two years ago – my last relationship. E and I sat facing each other on the sofa in therapy. Our therapist asked us to try something, to just look into the other’s eyes and stay there. At first, I couldn’t do it. I glanced away feeling the heat and anger flood through my veins. I was agitated, annoyed and then I was afraid. Scared, like petrified. It was intolerable, the level of closeness and vulnerability connected to just holding someone’s eyes.
Can you say fear of intimacy?
But finally, after a few weeks and some practice, I softened and didn’t fidget or move away or dart my eyes around the room. I looked at E and she looked back and I let her in. I remember the moment exactly, viscerally, my heart loosening like a warm loaf of bread and then softly comfortably, breaking open. I felt love, huge amounts of it, for everyone and especially her.
That relationship ended two years ago. Turns out she liked me better with my heart a little more closed, despite constantly saying I didn’t love her enough. Oh well. That’s life and irony and ancient history.
What I do know is that my heart remembers…and this morning in yoga when I was asked to soften and let someone look at me, really look, it all came rushing back. Nothing sexual, just the knowing that I survived being seen before, and I want to be seen again.
Simple as that. Soft eyes.