I’m lying on the pavement. Face down, right arm out, reaching for the familiar, for her.
Wait, that’s a lie—I’m in bed, it’s 7 p.m., the second Wednesday in January, and I just rode the F train home listening to Joni Mitchell’s “River”: “I’m selfish and I’m sad/ Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby that I’ve ever had.” But, I’m not entirely the “I” here, she is too. Coat collar high, black beanie snug, Persol 649s fixed. I am no licensed Turin tram-driver, and it’s not 1917, but comfort, protection, and optimum vision may soften the blow before I crash again, harder and faster than before. Skating on the ice where the sidewalk meets the street, I’m flying, floating, albeit momentarily, until I blindly locate the front door, or maybe just the third-floor fire-escape window.
“Are you the last millennial left still reading the New York Times?”
And with just that, I had to figure her out.
“Ink is my livelihood.” I replied. “I fan-girled hard to a Times Deputy Op-Ed Editor at a publishing party on Monday night. It was a lovely verbal letter to the Sunday Review. He blushed. I smiled.”
On our first date she thought I was an elitist asshole. I thought she was a “capitalist tool.”
“That’s beautiful. I appreciate fandom. I’m a member of the digerati, this could be a recipe for complication.”
Literati/Digerati. Montague/Capulet. Shark/Jet. How gross and unoriginal; I could throw up. But really, how basic—this need to foil.
On our first date she thought I was an elitist asshole. I thought she was a “capitalist tool.” I could read her immediately, until the end at least, and for a headstrong but lovable narcissist, that was absolutely terrifying. I could read her before she could read herself. And, if I could do that, could every venture capitalist see that too? Could her team? Could her father and mother? Could her brother? Could her best friend? I represented a challenge to be conquered and I countered, as an equally strong-willed but intensely sentimental narcissist, by declaring that I was not an experiment to be toyed with.
After dinner one night, we hit three bodegas before she bought me a $2.50 Yoohoo in a glass bottle, and I realized then that I loved her. She was overwhelmed by, and unaccustomed to, how wholly I loved her—and to being loved by another woman. And for that, I tried to prepare for when she’d run. One morning after a big fight, in which she asked if I wanted to stay together, I talked of a push-and-pull, a gravitational pulley, between love and fear: if you love, you are open and vulnerable. There is certainly risk of considerable and desolating fissure and ache, but if you don’t love yourself —in both glory and imperfections—you can’t fully love. She pulled me on top of her then, kissing each handwritten letter on my right arm.
She unflinchingly challenged every romantic belief that I had about publishing, literature, and culture…
I reminded her to slow down and enjoy the pure simplicity of being present, of being disconnected from the digital world—a space in which she is very rightly respected and admired as a tech innovator under the age of thirty. She confessed she had never allowed anyone to occupy her time this way and I’d dangerously talk my way into “one more minute” again and again. She talked assuredly of our future—a road trip down Highway 1, a winter cabin in the Hudson Valley, a brownstone with great entertaining capacity. I taught her that Teflon coated pans do not go in the dishwasher and re-read her Adrienne Rich’s “The Floating Poem” in bed. I bought her a replacement Bodum lime-green French press (knowing she’d forget), and lemongrass and geranium linen spray, and made her put her take-out on real plates. We’d go to the farmer’s market in the seemingly most ridiculous attire possible (which was never absurd enough because, well, it’s North Williamsburg) and then sit on the couch together for the better part of the day—her frantically shooting off dozens and dozens of emails while I read back issues of The New Yorker (always my dog-eared half-dozen copies, never her pristine coffee table ones). Sometimes, I’d fall asleep in her lap. She would kid me, saying I was like her lapdog, and I’d retort with some joke that I was actually the one holding the leash. We barely slept for the first two months, existing on adrenaline, caffeine, and hunger—until I finally got bronchitis. She taught me that digital connectivity is as profound a tool for communication in the modern age as any of my antediluvian preferences. She unflinchingly challenged every romantic belief that I had about publishing, literature, and culture, presenting smart but contentious ideas about literary commercialization and author branding; we rarely agreed but we always gained another perspective. There’s always a hashtag to be used and greater page views to be achieved. She dreamt of e-commerce and CPA metrics and I dreamt of her. One night, she turned over and said flatly, “We have a problem… you don’t even like e-commerce… and we’re not intimate.” I laughed, recognizing her sleep delusion, and shared what she said the next morning. This—this, was her.
She dumped me the first week of January. Right after a successful dinner with my parents—having kindly offered my mom a belated birthday present of an air plant in a mint-green planter, and discussing the brilliance of a recent Foot Locker ad campaign. She dumped me right after a short but turbulent New Year’s group holiday at a gorgeous barn in Dutchess County. Well, happy fucking New Year to you, too.
Throat muscles are suddenly twitching, and I am telling myself “You are Scotland. You are Scotland. Free but not independent.”
I want to be mad, I want to hate her (as she so thoughtfully suggested in the end), but I don’t, I can’t, I won’t. I loved her, I love her, I always will. I want her start-up to succeed and “make a lot of money” and I want to stop quoting Joni on being blue. “You know, you’ll always be number two,” a friend of hers casually confirmed for me one evening; I coolly nodded and asked if she needed another two-dollar margarita. It’s 9 p.m. and I’m strangely calm now but maybe it’s the pill I just dry swallowed; Klonopin—with its pedestrian, cheering yellow hue. Throat muscles are suddenly twitching, and I am telling myself “You are Scotland. You are Scotland. Free but not independent.”
My computer dings, warning me that my muted phone is ringing, but it’s Taylor, my younger sister, so I answer.
“D, you’re not going to believe the post-date subway ride I just had… this slightly intoxicated middle-aged woman starts yelling at me, ‘Why you always gotta be so mean to me? I always let you win. You girls, I put up with your shit. You take my heart. I let you win.’ D, I asked her if she was happy, and she robotically repeated, ‘I have a girlfriend but my husband is in prison. And I am gay! How do I fix it?’ And I said, I don’t think you can.”
I’m suddenly mute. I pick up the yellow can on the windowsill, full and warm, aptly marked Mama’s Little Yella Pils, and laugh, first considering the other yellow pill, then knowing that I let her win, always on her terms.
“D? So this woman says, ‘I bet you like blondes with blue eyes.’ I smirk. ‘Your new girlfriend will be smarter, prettier, with longer, blonder hair. I promise you something better always comes.’ D, she repeated this over and over.”
And it is in this second I think I understand.
I had her (smart, sexy, spirited, sanguine), and I had all of her, carnal and bare, but she’s not mine, not anymore.
I consider the excerpt from Tom Stoppard’s
I had her (smart, sexy, spirited, sanguine), and I had all of her, carnal and bare, but she’s not mine, not anymore. After her speech-giving, venture capitalist-wooing, app-creating public self, what private self remained? What was left for herself? And then, what about me? She lost herself in loving me. She said this to me that first Tuesday in January. I tried to breathe evenly; face buried in between couch cushions, not yet letting her comfort me. Now I wonder, will I lose myself without her? I start singing the first song on the first playlist I ever sent her: “I put my finger on the pain/ it was nothing, it was just the shadow of her ghost.”
I falter and send her a message at the end of January simply declaring, “I miss you.” It’s a Saturday afternoon, there’s a threat of freezing rain, and I can’t stop crying hysterically. En route to dinner I get a response, “Hope you’re doing great! Things are very hectic but I’m well. Stay warm tonight!” She wanted to erase any reality of us; she said it’s better to forget. I stop myself from screaming on Atlantic Avenue. I can hear Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler intoning, “Really? Really? Really?” I’m boiling now. Her impersonal, business-like tone is just, just so her. I’m floored by an immediate urge to call her a cunt out loud, which I can’t even say, let alone write, because it’s so offensive. And then, then I do; I feel like the offspring of Luciano Pavarotti and Kathleen Hanna. I’m so lightless—from love-sick poet Rodolfo in La Bohème to rebel girl, rebel girl, unapologetically Pussy Whipped. She has shown me a strange image, and I was a strange prisoner. Now, I’m simply becoming accustomed to the sight of this new republic, without her.
And just like that this subway stranger’s voice is louder than Taylor and T. Swift’s—but shit, I’m an ’88 not an ’89. Baby, I’m just gonna shake it off.
And just like that I remember the Jewish matriarchs, and know I am the sacrificial ewe.
And just like that I’m smiling like an idiot laughing at socialist summer camps and native advertising.
And just like that it’s spring, I’m sending back her favorite sweatshirt and becoming a digerati. I lift my tattooed forearm, dragging my thumb where she kissed: “In my end is my beginning.”
I pen in the monogrammed note, the same block letters marking my arm: “Returning your favorite ‘&’ to its rightful owner.” But really what I want to say is: “There’s always a sweatshirt, an article forgotten & maybe later returned, only it’s not about brand but structural integrity.”