Have You? Do You?

Me and my cousin, Andrew.  He was my first crush.  He shows me what a good man is.  What love looks like.
Me and my cousin, Andrew. He was my first crush. He shows me what a good man is. What love looks like. He has also heard most of these stories.

Have you ever held onto a crush because it made you feel like you had something going on?  Even though you had nothing going on?  With him or her or anyone else?

Even though you haven’t spoken a word or had contact in quite some time?  Even though he knows he could have you if he just said the word…but doesn’t?

Have you ever latched on to a few kind words from an ex?  Allowed a simple sentence to set your mind reeling with possibilities?  Wondering what he is up to now?  Even though you haven’t seen one another in more than a decade.  And you aren’t even sure if he’s married or not?  Have you ever wanted to inquire with a mutual friend of his relationship status but decided against it only because you didn’t want to appear tacky?

Have you ever rifled through old journals looking for entries about your time with the above-mentioned ex because you are certain you wrote about it?  And when you found those few pages read them over and over again until the images were seared onto your retinas?

Have you ever lingered over every detail about a romance that happened nearly 20 years ago?  The one where you were 25 and he was 40 and you asked him, “What is 40 like?”  Where he made sure you didn’t die or kill yourself in a drunken frenzy – your first time overseas?  And then sang to you in the airport when you said goodbye, lamented over the things he didn’t do with you, knowing you would never see one another again.

Do you tell it with such vivid color all these years later that your girlfriend insists you to write about it?  But you don’t.

Have you ever felt closer to your crush after spending time with his friend?  And felt guilty about it even though you didn’t do anything wrong?

Have you ever slipped his name into conversation just to keep it alive? To keep him alive?

Do you ever wonder about the ones you call unfinished business?

Your first real love.  The first one you got naked with?

The one with good boundaries, who kept you at arm’s length because he was your professor and you were his student.  But sometimes you wonder if maybe…just maybe, it could have been different.

The one who slipped his hand down the back of your pants and guided you down the street by your crotch.  Made you praise God for dirty minds and dirty hands.

The one who wanted a partner when you wanted a parent.  You couldn’t see it then but you can now.  And sometimes you wonder what it would have been like if you met later?

Have you ever looked up your ex’s current on Facebook and wondered if you were thinner? Prettier? Better in bed?

Have you ever waxed nostalgic over others and wondered what the hell you were thinking?

Do you sometimes forget that you are making a choice every day?  Not to settle.  Not to post a dating profile online.  But to grieve.  To get your own house in order.  To trust in magic and serendipity and the divine rhythms of the universe.

Do you sometimes forget that you actually have said, “no”?  Not because the suitor wasn’t perfectly lovely, but because you didn’t have romantic feelings.  Because you wanted to honor the feelings you did have, wanted to honor yourself and honor him.  Because you remember what it is like to say “yes” when you really mean “no.”

Do you congratulate yourself when you remember?

And yet, choice or no choice, do you sometimes feel that strange sense of empty space – like a wall waiting for art?  You know nature abhors a vacuum because your friend Teresa told you so and she’s rarely wrong.   So you wonder when nature will come charging in.

Do you sometimes wonder if the universe remembers exactly how long it has been since you have had sex?  Does it sometimes make you cringe?  And other times fill you with a sense of esteem for discernment you had never previously known?

Do you sometimes know that God has done you favor because you otherwise might have stayed somewhere you shouldn’t have. Or gone somewhere you didn’t need to be?

Do you sometimes still have a little bit of crazy that tells you that you are better, worthier, more interesting and more attractive if you have a partner?

Do you sometimes look at someone new and think “maybe,” and know in the past you would have forced that “maybe” into a “yes?”  Made it fit, damn it.  Made him fit.  Like Cinderella’s shoe on a stepsister’s foot?  But for now you just say “maybe.”

Have you?  Do you?

Me too.

The Last of the Firsts

Dancing in Rwanda last July.
Dancing in Rwanda last July.

I thought that Passover was the last of the firsts…first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries without my ex-husband.

I was wrong.

I knew that July 4th was technically the last, but I didn’t think it would matter.  It wasn’t of special significance to either of us.

And yet, here I am in my pajamas, feeling it.  I’m sick.  Sore throat. Heavy eyes.  Headache.  Exhausted.  It came on fast and furious yesterday afternoon and by this morning had me down for the count.  No beach and BBQ to distract me.  I’m aware that yes, this holiday too, registers in the cycle of firsts.

Funny enough, we weren’t together for the 4th last year.  I was on my way to Rwanda, with a group from my synagogue in Chicago.  He was in Seattle, dating another woman.  We were pretty transparent about these things.  At times, painfully so.

But I was coming back to Seattle.  To the home we still shared with our cats Maude and Nin.  To “our life,” altered as it was.

It wasn’t until I left in August, arriving in Chicago the evening before Labor Day, when the cycle began.

Labor Day was a blur through tears.   Then his birthday.  Rosh Hashanah.  Yom Kippur.  Our wedding anniversary.  And my birthday.  In quick succession.

Our divorce was final on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

I didn’t have a dinner at my house as I usually do.  I didn’t yet have a house.

Instead, when I received the dissolution of marriage papers in the mail a few days later, I gathered a few friends in support.  We ate noodles together – never mentioning why we were there.

I broke the fast on Yom Kippur at a friend’s house.  She let me know that once invited, I am always invited.

I don’t recall his birthday or mine.  Or our anniversary.  What I remember are the beautiful gifts he gave me for many years.  A hand-carved wooden jewelry box.  A hand-colored pearl and smoky quartz necklace I had been coveting.  Things I mentioned in passing and had forgotten about, but that he made note of, and surprised me with.

Halloween passed without fanfare.

Then Thanksgiving hit hard.  I was invited to the home of a friend of a friend.  She also told me that once invited, always invited.

Thanksgiving was our “wandering” holiday, ever since we left California.  Up until then we spent it with my old roommate Tim, who hosted it Martha Stewart-style, complete with printed menus.

Once year we traveled to Chicago to be with Tim, when he lived here for about 10 months.  We called it “the year Tim worked a lot.”  We were in complete denial that he was gone.

Another time we shared breakfast with him and Steven, at IHOP.  We were on our way to London, for our honeymoon – just after 9/11.  The airport was spooky quiet.

We never had a Thanksgiving ritual in Chicago or Seattle.  We were always invited somewhere, but it was never the same.  The only constant was that we were together.

I celebrated my sober birthday in late November with a big soiree at my house.  He was noticeably absent.  Neither there to make pot after pot of coffee nor to help clean up.  I texted my South Carolina crush late that night, when everyone was gone and the last dish was in the rack, feeling palpably and frighteningly alone.  He had already gone to bed.

Making risotto.
Making risotto.

I was invited to spend Christmas Eve with some new friends.  Christmas Day I found myself at the table where I had spent Thanksgiving.  My ex and I spoke frequently over those 24 or so hours, remembering our Christmas Eve gatherings – a take-off on my cousin Wendy’s annual party on Christmas Day for Jews who have nothing to do.  I would make a big pot of mushroom risotto.  He would bake.  Christmas Day we would go to a movie.

We were both pretty heartsick.  Both of us broken-hearted by our forays into new romance.  We found comfort talking with one another.

New Year’s Eve I spent at a party at my friend Sheila’s house.  I didn’t make it until midnight.

The year before we were skiing at Steven’s Pass.  My ex rented a house that backed up to a river.  It had a loft bedroom, crazy fireplace and heated floors.  We sang karaoke and did jigsaw puzzles.  I brought the knitting needles, yarn and instruction manual he bought me for Hanukkah.  I never used them.

We bickered on the trails.  He was a cross-country skate skier.  I was not.  In our early years together I took a few lessons and  got moderately better.  But I never really got the hang of it.  We incorporated wine tasting into our ski weekends, drinking before or after.  Sometimes both.  It worked.  Until it didn’t.  When I didn’t drink anymore.

That last trip, I spent a few hours in the “lodge,” – an anonymous room where one could purchase chili, cookies wrapped in plastic film and powdered cocoa while the television blared.  I read Patti Smith’s Just Kids,  while he skied hard, the way he liked to.

This year on Valentine’s Day, I unearthed our last cards to one another.  They were sad.  We knew that our marriage was ending but hadn’t yet said the words.  I blogged about it.

By March it was over.  He asked me for a divorce at the end of that month, just before Passover.

I invited a handful of friends for a Seder in Seattle.  He joined us.  It didn’t seem unusual at the time.

This year I celebrated twice.  Once at my friend Mary Jo’s.  A second time in my apartment, looking out at the Catholic church across the street.  There were 12 of us.  Some of the usual suspects, friends I had made over the years in Chicago, as well as some new guests.  My Divorce Buddy, the one I used to spend hours on the phone with late into the evening, stayed to do dishes with me.  It didn’t feel so lonely.  Not until he asked me about one of my girlfriends.

Me and Ernie at the beach.
Me and Ernie at the beach.

Memorial Day I rode my bike to a BBQ and blogged about where I was the year before – with my friend Ernie, at the ocean, wringing my hands about making out with Mr. Thursday Night, worried it wouldn’t happen again.  It didn’t.

June 19 was the anniversary of our first date.  I know that because it’s my brother’s birthday.

July 4.  An entire cycle completed.  Unless you count the first time we had sex, which I recall only because it is my cousin David’s birthday and we had drinks with him in San Francisco at the Latin American Club that night.  That will be later this month.  I don’t *think* it will rattle me as I’ve never marked the occasion before, just been aware of it.

The sun is going down.  It is noisy outside.  I am reminded of when we lived in Humboldt Park.  July 4 felt like a war zone.

I was invited to a BBQ tonight by a man I recently met.  He’s easy to talk to – open and forthright about his divorce.  He’s a good hugger.  Nice looking.  I don’t have any feelings about him.  But I’d like to get to know him better.

I sent him a text telling him I won’t make it tonight.

I made myself kale salad, roasted squash and corn on the cob.  I read, napped, wrote and napped some more.  I walked a few blocks to Paciaugo for gelato – campfire banana, orange-chocolate-saffron and rose – came home and put my pajamas back on.

It all seems right somehow, spending the last of my first alone.  Caring for myself.  Readying myself for a whole new cycle of experiences.

Artist Date 29: Undressed

undressed
Degas’ “Woman at her Toilette”

I don’t recall ever having erotic musings at a museum.  Until today.

But I also don’t recall seeing a posting at the entry of an exhibit, a warning that explicit content lay ahead, possibly unsuitable for children.

But there it was.  And there I was in front of Felicien Rops’ “For You, General.”  A mild flush on my face –  Artist’s Date 29.

I returned to the Art Institute of Chicago for “Undressed: The Fashion of Privacy,” an adjunct exhibit to the newly opened “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity,” which I saw last week – Artist Date 28.

I liked the name.  It reminded me of my strong belief in really good underwear – or none at all, which my friend Clover reminded me of when she was visiting last week.  She came out of the bathroom smiling.

“Right…really good underwear,” she said, referring to the lacy bits drying over the shower rod and towel bars.  We giggled knowingly.

There is very little underwear in “Undressed” – but a lot of vulnerable nakedness.

Sketches and paintings in all array of medium.  Women bathing.  Dressing.  Masturbating.  Breast feeding.

Mothers.  Prostitutes.  Children.  Defined spines.  Soft lines and folds of skin.

They remind me of something Geneen Roth wrote in her book When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair or 50 Ways to Feel Gorgeous and Happy (When You Feel Anything But).  Suggestion 25: Stare at Normal Women’s Bodies (Normal Does Not Include Models, Actresses, and Elite Athletes).

I’ve done this at women’s spas.  Sitting in the dry sauna, noticing dimpled thighs and buttocks.  Six-pack abs and round bellies – some large and pendulous, obscuring any hint of pubic hair.  Breast implants perched nearly at shoulder height.  Mastectomies.  Single and double, with and without reconstruction.

Pierced nipples.  Pierced navels.   C-section scars.  My own scars.  Two faded purple lines running vertically from my areolas to the folds under my breasts.

Sometimes I forget what real bodies look like.  How they move in the world.  I am reminded.

Degas’ “The Tub.”  A bronze sculpture of a woman submerged in water, her leg outstretched, washing her foot.

Klimt’s “Seated Woman from The Front with Hat, Face Hooded.”  Wispy lines of pastel pencil.  Her legs are spread and her hands are between them.  A large hat lazily tilted over her face.

debauchery-second-floor-1896_jpg!Blog

Lautrec’s ”Woman in Bed – Waking.”  She is turned toward me, one sleepy eye just opening.  Sexy.  Soft.  So different from his prostitute in “Debauchery” –a hazy, colored drawing of a woman being groped from behind.  His hands over her breasts.  Her arm extended, a martini-shaped glass dangling from her hand.

There are men too.

Delacroix’s “Standing Academic Male Nude.”  Chiseled.  Holding a stick, he appears to be rapping it onto his flat hand –a threatening gesture.  As if preparing to punish some innocent, or not so innocent.

As if HE is the general Rops’ alludes to in “For You, General” – an old woman holding a younger one over her knee, her buttocks exposed, an offering.  The girl’s bunched up skirt covers her face.  The old woman is smiling.

boys bathing

Munch’s “Boys Bathing 1896.”  Like tadpoles.  “Boys Bathing 1899.”  Like many letter X’s, like many little frogs.  “Men Bathing.”  Like figures from a Hatch Show Print poster –iconic wood-block images made in Nashville, announcing the Grand Ole Opry and Johnny Cash.

There are children.  Rafaelli’s “Germaine At Her Toilette.”  A young girl in a white dressing gown, her black tights wrinkled and baggy at the knees.  Even religious icons.  Munch’s “Madonna,” like an album cover or t-shirt from a 70’s rock band.  Bands of colors tracing her image.  And who is the small character in the bottom left corner, seemingly questioning all of this?

Edvard_Munch_-_Madonna_-_Google_Art_Project_(495100)I notice the few pieces by women. Just  a few — always.  Suzanne Valadon sketches.  Mary Cassatt paintings.  Her style is bright.  Animated.

I peer deeply into black and white woodcuts.  I love their simplicity, their precision.  And yet, I am not quite sure what I see.

I come close and step away and come close again.  It reminds me of the drawings on the back page of children’s magazines.  The ones that ask “Do you see the old woman or the young woman?”  Where once you see one, it is impossible to see the other.

It is the same with Vuillard’s “The Birth of Annette.”  Finally, after many minutes, I see the baby’s head.

Perhaps that is the point.  The experience of “Undressed,” of being undressed, is so intimate, so private.  I am an invited voyeur.  It is not mine to fully know.