Brooklyn Les

brooklynThere was already a Leslie when I arrived to work at The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California in 1995, so I quickly became Les – which was strange because up until that time, only my parents had ever called me Les.

However, not long after that “christening,” I earned the name Brooklyn Les – used exclusively when I would lead with my mouth.

Brooklyn Les swore like a sailor. Kept a pack of Newport Lights in the pocket of her leather jacket – a tan vintage number with a paisley silk lining which my friend T affectionately referred to as the Serpi-coat, an homage to Al Pacino in the movie of the same era. Brookly Les was feisty. A little bit angry. And funny as she let the expletives fly from her lips.

In those first few years in San Francisco, Brooklyn Les showed up a lot. But as time passed, her role became more of a cameo — the walk-on of a once beloved character that had moved on.

I quit smoking. I got older. I went to therapy.

I quit the job I hated and learned to curb my tongue at the one that I loved. I learned to meditate. I joined a spiritual business group.

There was less to be angry about.

“Remember when you used to be surly, Pearly?” my then-husband asked, only half in jest.

I did.

When I moved to Chicago in 2007, Brooklyn Les began appearing again. Sans cigarettes.

I was newly sober and leaking emotion. Joy. Gratitude. Pain. My friend D insisted I was angry but didn’t know how to express it.

And yet, every once in a while, I did. Usually with my friend M, over food or coffee. Always unexpected. What started as simple conversation quickly developing into full-fledged rant. About my husband. Or my parents. Or my birthparents. The weather. Weight Watchers. Chicago. Occasionally myself.

M would clap with glee. She loved Brooklyn Les. Probably because she only turned up occasionally and was so different than the woman I presented as. She was funny and crass and said things none of us dared say.

But I always felt apologetic. Like I shouldn’t behave this way. That I couldn’t afford the luxury of a good resentment.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Brooklyn Les. Strangely, she didn’t show up during my divorce or my pained efforts at dating after. She didn’t show up during my move to Seattle or my unfruitful job search in Chicago.

I was angry. But it wasn’t funny or functional. Instead, it mostly got turned inward, on to me.

My friend S noticed and thought that breaking some rocks might help release it. Or at the very least, invite Brooklyn Les for a visit.

So a few weeks ago, we drove out to El Pardo – a park outside of Madrid where Franco used to shoot deer. (Rumor has it he was such a bad shot that his lackeys would literally have to place deer – I don’t know how – directly in front of his aim if he was to have even a minimum of success.)

Inside the park, at a quarry of sorts, S demonstrated.

He picked up a rock, said some choice words, threw it against another and watched it shatter into bits. Then he invited me to do the same.

I picked up a rock. Threw it. And watched it bounce off another and roll onto the ground.

“I can’t even get angry correctly.”

S invited me to name my anger – more specifically, the sources of my anger – but I couldn’t. I could only cry. So he named them for me. And I cried even harder.

I cried and muttered and prayed…threw some rocks. A few shattered. Many bounced.

It was a beginning.

I’m sure Brooklyn Les could have done better. But she was nowhere to be seen.

I thought I recognized her walking through Sol, the center of Madrid, the other day. As I was jostled and bumped by Spaniards just doing what they do – walking four or five across on the sidewalk, slowly, seemingly expecting everyone else to move. They all seem to navigate just fine around each other but I haven’t quite figured out their system.

But instead of Brooklyn Les, I felt more like William Shatner in an Everyready Battery commercial circa 1978. “I dare you to knock this battery off of my shoulder.”

My anger scared me. It still does.

I thought about my ex-boyfriend D. How I more than once told him, “I won’t fight with you.”

“People fight,” he insisted. But I wouldn’t.

I thought about my ex-husband. How he was one of less than a handful of people I would fight with – who I felt safe enough to fight with.

But mostly, I find myself just fighting with myself. It’s exhausting.

It seems clear I need to find a way to purge this anger from my body – without imposing it on others, or turning it on to myself. Although I’m still not exactly sure how.

Perhaps Brooklyn Les might have an idea…

 

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When You See Yourself…or, Memory is Tricky

black beautyI stopped calling my ex by his name in writing.

It happened a little while ago, when a friend casually asked me if he minded being named.  I didn’t know.  So, I asked.

He said it didn’t matter.  But I stopped anyway.  As a show of respect.  To allow him to retain his anonymity among those who don’t know him, or me, or “us.”   And quite possibly, as another way of letting go.

I have a habit of inserting lost loves names into conversation, just to make them real.  To keep it, them, alive.  I didn’t think I was doing that with my ex – but maybe I was.

I started thinking about naming people.  I don’t do it often.  When I do, I ask myself why, and how they might feel about it.

Some people love it.  It brings attention to their art.  Or it feels like an honoring of our relationship.  On occasion, it has led to a burgeoning friendship, like with a local actress to whom I owe a phone call.

But for others, it has caused pain.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend took exception to the moniker I had assigned him.  He called me out on it – citing the sometimes negative connotations associated with it, per Wikipedia.

I was devastated.  I adore him – perhaps too much so, sometimes.  After receiving his email, I phoned him immediately.

I did not pause – even though I know better.

I got his voicemail and I left a message.  I said I regretted causing him any pain, that it was never my intention.  I shared my interpretation of the moniker.  I told him that he was my teacher.  That he inspired me.  And I told him I loved him.

That was about a month ago.  I haven’t heard a peep.  I am letting him have his space, his own experience.  This is new for me.

Something similar happened between my mother and me.

I had written about my over-emotional nature as a child – recounting a story that took place in the dollar movie theatre.   She remembered the situation differently than I.  She too called me out on it.

This time I did pause.  And because the harm was done electronically, I made amends in the same way.  I told her I was sorry that my writing had caused her pain, just as I had done with my friend.

This time the result was different.

It led us to a conversation about memory.  How tricky it is.  How three people can see the same accident and yet each remembers a different color, a different make car.

call of the wildA few weeks later I received a package in the mail from her.  Inside was a vintage copy of Black Beauty that she found in an antique store.  Actually, it is two books in one.  Black Beauty on one side.  The Call of the Wild on the other.

The memory in question was in regard to The Black Stallion, but I got it.  Completely.  I was touched by her sweet gesture, her way of letting me know we are more than fine.

A couple of days ago I posted a blog about exs.  One of them commented – favorably.

I wrote to him, “I trust you recognized yourself.”  He did, and we began chatting — online.

We too talked about memory.  About the last time we saw one another, on Venice Beach.   I had just returned my roller skates.

I remember him calling my name.  Going to him.  And him asking if he could see me.  I remembered him kissing me.  He didn’t.  He remembered me angry.  I didn’t.

I asked him what happened between us.  I never understood.  I had asked before but he never answered, and I didn’t push it.  This time he told me.

He told me that I awakened something in him.

He told me how he remembered me. Kind.  Open.  Dirty.  Loving.

He told me our time together mattered, that I mattered.  That I was important in his life, as he had been in mine.

I asked him if we might speak.  Moments later we were.

I had forgotten what his voice sounded like.  Seventeen years had passed since we had last spoken.   I felt a strange sense of relief mixed with joy.  As if to say, “Oh, there you are.  Of course.”   As if he had been there all along.  Which in some ways, he had.

A flood of memories came rushing back.  Hazy.  Not completely formed.  Together, we tried to put together the pieces.

We talked for about an hour, tripping down memory lane.  Talking about our lives today.  The time in between.  Slipping in the occasional flirty quip.  We were always like that.

I wanted to tell him I loved him, but I didn’t.  Instead, I let him know that he is in my heart and I am grateful to know I am still in his.  It is more accurate.

I feel like a piece fell into place in my life.  And a peace, as well.