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.

Artist Date 26: Some Kinda Love

10 poems to set you free

I have come to crave myself.

The words surprise me.

It is subtle.  A quiet yearning.  It doesn’t scream with white-hot fervor.  It is not that impulsive.

It guides, rather than drives, me.  Less a need, more of a desire – a siren calling with patient intensity.

I am not certain I have felt this way about anyone.

But how could I?

I’ve been “seeing’” myself (pun intended) for six months now.  Twenty-six Artist Dates.  Half a year.

This is my third-longest relationship, the longest being my ex-husband, followed by my first real boyfriend – who I dated for just shy of a year.  The others have been days, weeks, a couple of months.  Until now.

Some dates are exciting, juicy, aimed to impress – the Lyric Opera, Steppenwolf Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet.  Others are simpler, without fanfare or tickets.

Saturday is the latter.

I am on my way to the Conrad Sulzer Library in Lincoln Square.  An Artist Date return destination.  I want to read poetry.  Anne Sexton poetry.

I’ve been chipping away at her biography for several weeks, renewing it twice from the library, and paying $7.50 in overdue fines.  I read a chapter each night before bed.  I had been reading old journals.

One detailing a love affair with a man I imagined was beyond my reach.  Movie star handsome.  Devilishly sexy.  With a name to match.   Fantasy sex.  It was 19 years ago.  I had forgotten.

Another notes that I have stopped reading.  Stopped writing.  I have been dating my now ex-husband for one month.  My therapist has called me out on this.

In many I have written” I want to drink.”  Again and again.  I know I can’t.  But I don’t know how to not.  Not yet.  I lament the end of early love.

A trusted friend suggested I put the journals away.  At least for now.  An exercise in being fully present.  It’s been Anne and I, mostly, ever since.

I imagine poring over, pouring myself into, her work.  To Bedlam and Part Way BackAll My Pretty Ones?  Love Poems?  I’m not choosy.  Whatever is on hand.  I want to go to the source.  To the one who now keeps me up late at night.

But there is no Anne Sexton here.  None of her writings, that is.  Most of it is housed at the Harold Washington Library downtown, the one with the huge gargoyles on the roof.  I’ve yet to go inside there.

Plan B.

I roam the poetry stacks.  Ten Poems to Set You Free, by Roger Housden.  Lofty promise.  I’m intrigued.  Hopeful.   I grab it, find a seat near a window – near the jigsaw puzzle half done, inviting patrons to add a piece to its completion— and begin to read.

My head softens.  Opens.  Like when I meditate.  I didn’t realize I had a headache but now it is starting to clear.  It is quiet.  Blessedly quiet and I am blessedly alone, reading – once again.  Like I used to.

“Shake off this sadness, and recover your spirit; sluggish you will never see the wheel of fate that brushes your heel as it turns going by…the only thing which lasts is the work; start then, turn to the work.  Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field,” Miguel de Unamuno

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others.  Unfold your own myth, without complicated explanations, so everyone will understand the passage, We have opened you.  Start walking toward Shams.  Your legs will get heavy and tired.  Then comes the moment of feeling the wings you’ve grown, lifting.” Rumi.

The poetry is like prayer, each word a meditation.

My nose feels hot.  My nostrils flare.  My eyes are wet.  Emotions greeting my senses.

“And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul?”  Mary Oliver.

No one, I whisper.

“Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!”

I cannot move fast enough.  Suddenly I know that I’ve come here only to receive my map and my marching orders.  Not to stay.  Not today.  My soul isn’t in this place.  It is outside the window.

In the park across the street where 10-year-old boys are playing baseball; where parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, sit in folding chairs, drinking beer and soda, watching.

In the gelato shop where this date began.  Where I let cinnamon and toasted coconut and sea salt caramel play on my tongue.

I rush down the stairs, adding myself to the check-out queue.  Quickly, it is my turn.  “Come on down,” the librarian cries.  “I don’t watch the Price is Right since Bob Barker retired,” I say.  She laughs.  Neither does she.

I rush out into the sun that made itself known just an hour ago, after a wet, grey morning.  The air is hot and thick.  Moist.  Steam rising up out of the sidewalk.

I cross the street, walking into the park I pass nearly every day, but have never stepped inside of.  I find a quiet bench, mostly, and continue reading.

“…don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now, work gone wrong, your plans all proving deceptive – don’t mourn them uselessly…say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.  Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say it was a dream, your ears deceived you: …go firmly to the window and listen with deep emotions, but not with whining, the pleas of a coward; listen – your final delectation – to the voice, to the exquisite music of that strange procession, and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.” C.P. Cavafy.

I read the words again, flummoxed.  Surprised.  Affirmed.

My experiences are real.  All of them.   No matter how long or short.  No matter if another understands or believes.  Each is real because I felt it, thought it, lived it.  It is true.

This is what I hear.

Celebrate it.  Honor it.  Mourn it.  Give it a proper send off.

The former symphony conductor.  My traveling companion in Germany.  The horny artist from New York.

The photographer, fantasy-sex lover, from journals 19 years old.

My ex-husband.

I savor each word, read them over and again – like a mantra offering me permission, I tenderly hold each little love.  Precious.  Complete.  Over.

I lie down on the bench and close my eyes.  I feel the sun blanket my body.  Lie on me heavy, like a lover.  Church bells merge with traffic and the dull empty whack of a bat hitting ball.  Clapping.  Squealing.  A man is doing lunges on the cement patch in front of me, groaning.

I walk home slowly, eyeing the cute boys on Lincoln Avenue.  They do not look back at me.  They never do, I think.  And then, “Lesley, that is simply not true.”  My own voice.

I walk into my apartment, turn Pandora to Lou Reed.  He sings to me.  Straight to me, through me.  Always.  I bypass songs, one, two, three, four, five.  Six, I cannot bypass.  “Some Kinda Love.”  It is what I had hoped to hear.  God is with me in the little things.

I chop onions and garlic, cook them with wild cod, capers and tomatoes, grill a side of bright green asparagus.  I sit at the table.  Cloth napkin.  Sunflowers in a vase.

Some kinda love.