Hacked

hey“Hey.”

I’ve been waiting nearly six months for this.  Not this exactly.  But something like it.

Not waiting exactly.  I stopped doing that, having expectations, a long time ago.  But those close to me assured me I would hear something – some sort of word or gesture or acknowledgment – someday.

Tuesday is someday.

I am leaving dinner with my girlfriends at the Birchwood Kitchen.  Lindsey and I are considering going to Martyrs to hear an Afro-Caribbean band.  Our friend Toast has put us on the guest list.

I look down at my phone.  There’s a Facebook message.  It is from Mr. 700 Miles.

My heart stops.

Mr. 700 Miles.  The first man who ever walked out of my life without a word.  (Strangely, I have had this experience twice now.  I’m certain there is some sort of lesson in here I haven’t yet mastered.)

A man I grew up with but didn’t really know.  He lives about 700 miles from Chicago – ergo the name.

He was going through a divorce when we reconnected on Facebook.  I was on the other side of mine.  Our stories were remarkably similar.  Very quickly, an intimacy blossomed between us – first in status updates.  Then in private messages, telephone calls and Skype dates.

I was smitten.  I felt like I’d always known him.   And at the same time, like I’d been waiting my whole life to meet him.

And then one day he was gone.  No call.  No text.  No Facebook message.

I reached out to him a single time – about five days after missing our Skype date – and left him a message telling him it was clear he couldn’t “do this.”  That I had no desire to convince him otherwise.  And that I was sad.  Sad we weren’t “doing this.”  But more than that, sad he couldn’t tell me.

I reminded him we were friends.  That we had always been friends.  I told him I wasn’t angry, and implored him to contact me.  To tell me what was going on for him.

Two hours later, when I hadn’t heard from him, I knew that I wouldn’t.

And then, Tuesday…”Hey.”

I looked up from my phone, leaned into Lindsey and said, “Let’s go hear music and dance.”  My reaction surprised me.

Once upon a time I would have freaked out.  I would have burst into tears.  Or worse, burst into drama.

Once upon a time I would have dashed home (no mind that I had other plans) and called or messaged him and waited for his reply.  Or if I did go out, I would check my phone all night.  Or at the very least, I would talk about it, about him, and nothing else – all night.

That’s not what happened.

Instead, I sent a text to a mentor and friend who knows every intimate detail of the story of Mr. 700 Miles.  I let her know I had received his message.  That I was going to hear music with Lindsey.  And planned to do nothing until morning.

And Lindsey and I did talk about it, about him – some.  And we talked about other things too.

She marveled at my calm.  I felt empowered.

“I’ve been ‘waiting’ six months.  He can wait a night.  Let him squirm.”

These are not my words.  But there they were.

And then we danced.  At times, we were the only ones on the floor.  I felt confident and sexy.  I wondered if the bass player was single.  I did not check my phone a single time.

Around 10:30, we left.

When I arrived home, I went to his Facebook page.  Some wise, intuitive part of me guided me there.  His status read, “I was hacked please don’t open messages.”  (No punctuation.)

My heart sank a little.  Not because I wanted him “back.”  Not because I still wanted to “do this.”  Because I thought I might get an answer.  A courtesy.  Because I thought my friends might be right.

Because I thought he might prove to be closer to the man I thought he was, instead of the frightened boy he turned out to be.  Because I missed my friend.

But in that sinking, I recognized a victory.  A miracle, really.  My response, or lack thereof.  And it was all mine, regardless of who reached out to me, Mr. 700 Miles or his Hacker.  I acted different.  I was different.  I didn’t try to be.  I just was.

I didn’t just feel empowered, I was empowered.  I didn’t just feel confident and sexy, I was confident and sexy.

And I did not check my phone a single time.

Artist Date 69: Spicy. Trouble.

It smells warm inside Savory Spice Shop on Lincoln Avenue. Artist Date 69. And while I know intellectually that warm is not a smell, it feels like it. Spicy. BBQ rubs. One is called Pearl Street Plank. I take a photograph of it.

I am afraid I am going to get into trouble.

I am often afraid of getting into trouble. Like the time Julie and I smoked cigarettes inside the multiplex at a midnight showing of The Crying Game.

The movie had been out for a while and we were the only ones in the theatre. Julie lit up. I was aghast. “What? Are you afraid we are going to get into trouble?” she asked. A little bit mocking. Well, yes…I was. Just like when we smoked cigarettes in seventh grade on Shabbat.

Julie was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household. On Saturdays, my mother would drop me there for the day. Sometimes we watched movies on the Betamax (Meatballs was our favorite.) – her father’s concession.

Irv was a wise man who understood that raising his girls in an observant home, but not in an observant neighborhood, was tricky. Their customs were “other” than those of the secular Jews surrounding them. So while Julie could not go to movies and dances on Friday night and Saturday, she was allowed to watch movies, regardless of the prohibition against using electronics on the Sabbath. And also to go for long walks. Walks that often involved McDonalds’ French fries and Virginia Slims Menthol 100s.

Julie was brazen. I was convinced we were going to get caught and get into trouble. We didn’t. But that sense that I might have to explain myself has never entirely left me. Even today at the Savory Spice Shop.

I know some stores prohibit photography. I know I could ask if it is ok. But I don’t. Instead I snap and hope no one will question me. It is this sort of internal gyration that causes me anxiety. The kind I could easily avoid.

2014-03-23 14.14.42An employee says to let her know if I have any questions, and invites me to sample and to brush any excess onto the floor. She adds that my boots are “magnificent,” and we talk for a solid five minutes about the quest to merge fashion and function. I am reminded, part of the joy of a funky aesthetic is people want to talk to you. Want to talk to me.

She makes no comment about my photography.

I finger baking spices and books on pickling. But the spices from far away call me like a siren. Exotic. Other. Like I always wanted to be. I try to conjure up the smells of the market in Kigali, in Argles, in Jerusalem, but I cannot. I only know I was there.

I smell red peppercorns from the Szechuan Province. Green ones from Mysore. Dried Kaffir Lime Leaves. Asafetida from Iran, also known as Devil’s Dung and Stinking Gum. The label says it smells like garlic gone bad. To me, it smells like sulfur. Eggs.

There are Grains of Paradise from West Africa and Pinchito from Southern Spain. Preserved Lemon and Pomegranate Molasses. Marrakech Moroccan Spice and Berbere Ethiopian Seasoning.

2014-03-23 14.19.28I think about cooking and wonder what I would make. My repertoire has become small as a single woman. Often times, it just doesn’t seem worth it. So I stick to egg-white omelets, soups and salads. Black beans, kale and squash. An occasional piece of fish roasted with fennel and oranges and olives.

I think about travel. The recent loud and incessant call to go away – somewhere big. Somewhere sexy. Sometime this year – my 45th come October. Italy or India.

Today I do not have to decide.

Instead, I allow myself the pleasure of revisiting Africa. Spain. And France.

Israel. Germany. Amsterdam.

Ireland and Mexico.

To return to each marketplace I visited – photographing beans drying in the sun. Salted fish. Unskinned rabbit hanging from a hook.

To the suburban movie theatre and the safety of Julie’s home. To her basement where her papa fed us Oreo cookies with a finger pressed to his lips as if to say, “shh…don’t tell.”

I think about the real trouble I caused in my travels.  The kind I should have been worried about but wasn’t. In Berlin.  Avignon.  Puerto Vallarta.  Today I know better.

Today there are no secrets. Nothing to hide. Nothing to get me into trouble.

Thank You For Your Bad Behavior

Last Saturday I ran into R. at a party. We hadn’t seen one another in a while. And while she looked stunning at first glance, I intuitively knew something was wrong.

Her vibration was low. And she seemed less sparkly than usual.

She confessed she was in what I like to call a “come-here-go-away” relationship. She had become involved with someone who was not emotionally available.

I could only smile. Not for her pain. But because I know it so well.

For the past two months Mr. 700 Miles (Away from Chicago) and I had been doing the same thing. Until two weeks ago, when – without a word – he went away. No text. No phone call. No Facebook message. Nothing.

A part of me felt sideswiped.

We had just Skyped the night before, before bed, as had become our ritual – enjoying all that technology allowed us to enjoy about one another. We blew a kiss goodnight. He said he would call me the next day.

Intellectually, I had no reason to believe he wouldn’t.

With Jo, the night he walked away.  I told her he wouldn't call.  She told me to let it unfold.
With Jo, the night he walked away. I told her he wouldn’t call. She told me to just let it unfold.

And yet all that day and the next I felt twisty and anxious. Something inside of me knew otherwise.

I was right.

What I didn’t realize was we wouldn’t speak again.

I don’t exactly understand what happened. And yet, I do. Clearly, he couldn’t do it. And for whatever reason, he couldn’t tell me he couldn’t do it.

At first I felt sad. Confused. Then I got angry — chucking magazines across the apartment, their glossy pages smacking and fanning out on the hardwood floors, and shouting into the universe, “You F**king Pussy,” choking on my sobs.

I beat the bed with a red spatula – the one my friend Kristen brought me the day I moved into my apartment – whacking it until I was exhausted.

I wrote a letter in red marker – one I will never send. It wasn’t kind or generous or understanding. It didn’t speak of my gratitude for him in my life, or that my heart would always be open to his friendship – even though this too was true.

I didn’t write it to garner a response, or to guarantee he would remember me a certain way.   I wrote it so I didn’t have to hold the pain myself. So I didn’t have to pretend it didn’t hurt when it did.

It felt good. And hard. And when I was done, I wiped the Alice Cooper mascara rings from under my eyes and went to sit in a church basement with the people who taught me I didn’t ever have to drink again – not even during times like this.

I miss him. Our friendship. Our deep connection – emotional, spiritual, creative, sexual.

But I do not miss what I saw in my friend Saturday night. The twisting. The anxious. The uncertainty.

The holding on to what was, what could be, rather than what is. The hearing only what I want to hear – what fits my story.

The trying to wedge myself into a sexy stiletto of a relationship – the one that gives me blisters.

Dressed up for the party...no date necessary.
Dressed up for the party…no date necessary.

And as R. told her story, I felt gratitude. Gratitude for his “bad behavior.” In walking away without a word, he made the choice for me. A choice I had made a month prior, in a moment of strength and clarity, when I told him I couldn’t do this. That I needed more. A choice I ultimately could not stick to it.

It all reminds me of when my girlfriend A. divorced me a couple of years back. When she told me I was “too much.”

“I am sorry you feel that way,” I said, rather than, “You are right. Please show me how to be strong like you” – which was, at the time, more my style.

At that moment our karmic contract was broken. We were done.

It has been more than four years since we had that conversation at her home in Long Beach. Over the years I have reached out just a handful of times. She never responded. And then I stopped trying.

I thought being told I was “too much,” was the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t. And in the process, I learned that I wasn’t either.

I thought “being left without a word – abandoned,” was the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t. And I learned that I wasn’t either. That that is an old adoptee fear. Old language. He simply chose a different path. And he chose not to tell me about it. It was never about me.

Perhaps that was our karmic contract. Or at least part of it.

R. left the party early. Perhaps to see her Mr. Come-Here-Go-Away. Perhaps to twist and perseverate.  I’m not certain.

But I stayed. I ate cake and talked with friends about the book proposal I am working on, the contract work I recently secured, and about dancing a master class with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.   Anything but him. But us.

And on the way home, I thanked Mr. 700 Miles – for many, many things – among them, his “bad behavior.”

Like Trying To Hold On To Lightning Bugs

My mother must have the photo I am referring to...This is me and my brother, before the training wheels came off.
My mother must have the photo I am referring to. My brother and I, before the training wheels came off.

I’m trying to hold on to a new idea.  A new behavior.

It’s like trying to hold on to lightning bugs.

It’s like riding a bike for the first time without training wheels and turning around to see if mom is still holding on.

I have a photograph of myself on a pink two-wheeler.  I’m wearing a t-shirt that says A-Jerx.  (There was a whole series of these – gum and trading cards too –a play on words of household brands with artwork leaning towards the grotesque.)  My hair is in pig tails.

I remember leaning side to side, riding in an S-shape pattern trying to steely myself.  Shaky.  But most definitely upright.

Until I turn around.  My mother is several feet behind me, standing in the driveway.  She is no longer holding on.  I am delighted.  I am doing this thing.

And then I’m down on the ground.  I don’t yet know how to keep my balance looking anywhere but forward.  (Do I even now?  In all things…not just biking.)

I feel like that now.  Excited by self-awareness and the practice of new behaviors – seemingly without effort.  And yet a little uncertain at the same time.

I spent the day with my friend Pam on Saturday.  It began with gelato, moved into thrifting, dinner and ended with a stealth run to Trader Joes.  All told we were together for probably six or so hours.  And I could have kept going.

We never run out of things to talk about.  And we giggle, constantly.  When I am with her I feel like I am at a perpetual Bar Mitzvah party at Tam O’Shanter Country Club circa 1982.

Except for when we are baring our souls.  Speaking the words we only whisper to ourselves in the dark.  And being met with love and compassion, always.

It’s awesome.

I told her so on Saturday night when she was dropping me off.

We were giggling about the cute boy at Trader Joes.  The one I chatted with for 20 minutes in front of the canned beans.  The one I gave my number to a couple of weeks ago.  Who sweetly explained that he hadn’t called because things were “complicated.”

While he and I were talking, she posted on Facebook that she was watching a “love connection.”  So she was surprised that he didn’t ask me out.  That we spoke for that long.  That he seemed completely unaware that anyone else was in the store besides us.   That the chemistry, to her perspective, was palpable.  And yet, nothing.

She asked what I thought I might do about it.

“Nothing,” I replied.

He has my number.  He knows I’m interested.  And his landlord is a friend of mine.  He knows where to find me.  “It’s like you taught me,” I said.  “I don’t ever again want to be a dog begging for a bone.”

It was, as they say, a moment.  A spiritual awakening.

I also told her I decided to not contact an old flame when I head to Detroit later this month.   He’d been dancing around in my head for weeks.  And yet I hadn’t contacted him.  Suddenly I knew why.

I “played the tape.”   I realized that, best case scenario…even if I did see him,even if it was like it used to be, that I would be trading my serenity for a passport stamp at Crazy.

I had learned I’m not the kind of girl who can casually physically connect, then say, “That was fun.  I’ll see you next time I’m in Detroit.”  That I get attached.  That I want more.  Deserve more.  That my life is here, in Chicago.  Looking forward.

I told her, and here’s the kicker, I only want to date someone who I have as much fun with as I do her.

She smiled.  I knew what she was thinking.  What she has said to me so many times, “You are growing.”

Pam and I.
Pam and I.

I felt chuffed.  That great British slang my ex-mother-in-law used to use, that roughly translates to “pleased with myself.”   I felt like I had “licked this problem.  This old way of being.”

And then this morning I felt differently.

I saw Mr. Detroit on Facebook.  I immediately thought how nice it would be to catch up on nearly 20 years.  Just coffee…riiiight.

GRRR!!  I thought I “had it,” I told my friend, Lynn.

I told her how I felt like it slipped right through my fingers.  Like the lightning bugs – which half the time I cannot even believe are real, they are so magical.

I remembered all the times I thought “I got this,” in Weight Watchers.  And all the times I gained my weight back.  And then some.  I wondered what was different this time.  How it was that I had maintained a 35-pound weight loss for 11-plus years.  Through three cross-country moves, getting sober, finding my birthparents, getting divorced, and burying a birthparent.

The only answer I could come up with is that I just kept practicing the behaviors.  When they were new.  And when they weren’t so new.   Even when I didn’t feel like it.

I kept weighing and measuring.  Writing down my food.  Moving my body.  Making better choices.  Most of the time.  I haven’t been perfect.  Thank goodness that wasn’t demanded of me.

It isn’t demanded of me with Mr. Detroit.  Or Mr. Trader Joes either.  I can, and will, have these thoughts…these suggested detours to Crazy.  But I’m no longer a slave to them.  I can notice them, perhaps name them, and…not react to them.  I can do different.  And keep on doing different until different becomes the new normal.

Until it’s like riding a bike.  Which today I can do AND look over my shoulder.  Even take my hands off the handlebars, and stay upright.  No longer on the ground wondering what the hell happened.