Everything I Didn’t Write – September

A few days ago, noticing I had hardly written since arriving in Spain but acutely aware of my many Wandering Jewess experiences, I pulled together my Facebook posts from my first month in Madrid in a blog post. What follows is a Facebook accounting of how life unfolded in that second month – no longer a TEFL student living in Airbnb digs, but suddenly an English teacher with a permanent address.

September 2

Churros and chocolate with dear friends from the United States, Melinda and Craig. In these moments the world feels both vast and intimate.

September 4

So much to celebrate! New work! New home! A friendship that cuts across oceans. And yes, without question, the most fun meal I have ever eaten. Three Michelin Stars. Entiendo.

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September 8

Esta noche…first “official” Artist Date in Madrid.

September 12

When Seattle descends upon Madrid…Salpicon, Burrata and Churros, oh my! Were your ears burning Pamela and Molly?

September 13

A Rosh Hashanah Story or This Is What Happens When You Say Yes…

A couple of years ago, someone (you can’t remember who) invites to you to join an online group of women writers — thousands of them. A few of them live in Madrid. And one of them is Jewish and from Miami. She invites you to a Rosh Hashanah service and seder put on by a newly formed Reform chavurah.

You have never met her in person, and you feel uncomfortable as hell, but you go anyway. You are asked to light the candles during the service — which is all in Spanish and Hebrew, of which you speak only a little of each.

You have dinner with a professional flamenco dancer from New York, a makeup artist from New Zealand, and a Spanish window maker, his lovely wife and daughter. An engineer from Colombia and a woman from Buenos Aires (who might as well have “Friend” tatooed on her forehead…instead she has Shalom on her ankle) ask for your number — they want English classes.

You eat apples and honey, challah, pomegranates and dates. There is a fish head in the center of the table to represent moving forward…”away from the tail.” (This must be a Sephardic tradition.) All of it happens in a mish-mash of broken Spanish and English. Remarkably, you feel a part of…even the parts you don’t understand.

There are hugs and kisses and What’sApp exchanges. You walk home through Plaza Mayor. There is a chill in the air. Tomorrow you begin teaching. It is a New Year.

Thinking of you this Rosh Hashanah, Brant, Mary Jo, Matt and Pamela. Besos!

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September 15

It was suggested I try reading in Spanish. Suggestions from Jesus at La Buena Vida. Feeling excited and intimidated. I think it is going to be a slow read…

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September 17

I just received a refund from the Oficina de Correos. Seems they gave me the wrong post box in July and any and all mail sent to me now resides in the Bermuda Triangle of correspondence. While somewhat unbelievable… what is equally unbelievable is that I received this refund less than a week after the error was discovered. That and the fact that I don’t speak Spanish and no one at the office speaks English. (Thank goodness for my friend David who just happened to be there last Friday and served as translator.) Oh..and the refund came with a handwritten receipt. Ping me privately if you need my mailing address.

September 19

Read 5 pages of a Lorrie Moore short story today — in Spanish. Something about 6 months after a divorce not yet taking off one’s wedding ring. Cut off the finger? Cut off the hand? Slow going…but I’m amazed at my perseverance — looking up every fourth or fifth word — and how much I did understand.

And grateful that when my marriage was over, I could take off the ring.

September 21

Man on Metro with thick New York accent: Your hair looks fantastic. I love it.

Me: How did you know that I was American?
Man on Metro with thick New York accent: Are you kidding? No Spanish woman would ever wear her hair like that. Or British woman for that matter…

September 22

On this eve of Yom Kippur, as I head out the door to go to High Holiday services in Spanish and Hebrew, I am reminded of where I was at this time last year…on the precipice of something big, although I did not know it. Flu-ish and packing for three-weeks in Italy. Near the end of that trip, riding the light rail to a dinner party in Rome with a fist full of flowers, I thought, “It’s like I live here…I can do this.” Nearly one year later, I am doing “this.” This is grace.

September 23

Just completed my first private Spanish lesson. I walked in nervous … nowhere to hide. Sixty minutes later I feel inspired and, dare I say, empowered … like maybe, just maybe, I can learn to really speak this language. Up until now I have only shared my students’: experience of humility … now I know their joy!

Considering twice weekly classes …

September 26

Up late with Marissa and The Cabbage Ministry (at The Tempo Club).

September 27

Learning Spanish through food and song, at a former slaughterhouse. We didn’t plan it. It just turned out that way…

 

2015-09-27 14.17.16September 28

It’s hard to believe I left the United States just two months ago today. Feels like I have been here so much longer…

September 30

Seems a fitting Facebook memory for today (“My first memoir piece in print.”)… on the heels of Tim posting that my profile picture screams “book jacket” and a meeting with friend and fellow writer Nicola in an effort to get “writing accountable.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Birthday Story: Celebrating What Is

It is four something in the morning.  I woke up at the same ungodly hour yesterday – my 44th birthday.

I have always loved birthdays.

My birthday didn't begin with laughter...it ended with it.
My birthday didn’t begin with laughter…it ended with it.

I’m a big celebrator in general.  Ask any of my Weight Watchers members.  I love to clap and give out Bravo! Stickers for behavior changes.  Those subtle little miracles.

“Where else do you go that they clap for you?” I ask.

Well, 12-Step meetings.  But I don’t bring that up as it isn’t germane.

Birthdays are like that.  It seems the whole world is clapping, rooting for you, that day.  Mostly.

This year I awoke feeling a little less clap-y.  A little less celebratory.

I’d been aware of a low-grade sadness tugging at me for a few days.  Aware this was my first birthday since my birth mother died.

We found one another in October of my 40th year.

Ours was not always an easy relationship.  Some days I think she would have jumped in my skin if she could have, while I took a more tentative approach to our relationship.  Timing.  Expectations.  Boundaries.  Those were our lessons.  And we were one another’s teachers.

She sent me flowers when I turned 40.  A card the following year.  And then phone calls the next two.  She wasn’t well and it was difficult for her to get out – both physically and emotionally.  This year there would be no flowers, no card, no call.  I felt sad.

Like I did when her name was read at the memorial service on Yom Kippur.  Like I did when I returned from Ireland last month and felt like calling and for the first time realized I couldn’t.  I find myself surprised by the sadness, although I’m not sure why.  It makes perfect sense – at least on a cellular level.

So there was that.

And there was the aloneness of being not-so-suddenly, but-still, single.

My ex was a great gift giver.

Birthday and anniversary mornings I would find a card on the bed, slipped into place when I got up to shower.  A gift would come later.  Usually something I had spied and mentioned in passing months earlier.  Something I had forgotten about until I saw it again.  A hand-carved wooden jewelry box.  Strands of smoky quartz and hand-colored pearls.

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Kristin. Who reminds me of the love in my life when I cannot see it.

He gave me a watch when I turned 42 – my last birthday with him.  I had been wearing the same Seiko tank since I was 14, gift from my Aunt Betty.  She had lost hers.  Found it.  And gave the original to me.

I replaced the band and battery several dozen times over the years.  Until the crystal broke and a jeweler told me it couldn’t be fixed.

I didn’t like the watch he bought me.  I don’t know if I would have liked anything he bought me at that time.  He had recently asked me for a divorce – and then recanted the next day – but it was there.  The truth about our relationship.  It was over.  We just hadn’t cut the cord yet.

He was hurt and offended that I didn’t like his gift, but offered to take me shopping so I could pick out something else, anyway.  I couldn’t do it.  I kept the watch.  I am still wearing it.

When I woke up early yesterday, I noticed the absence of a card.  Of a body in my bed.  Specifically, my ex’s.  I do not crave him being there – but I was used to it.  To him, for so long.

I rolled off my mattress and dropped to my knees in child’s pose – both a stretch and a prayer.   “modeh ani lefanecha.  Thank you G-d for returning my soul to me.”  I asked for several obsessions to be removed.  And then, still on my knees, I opened Facebook on my phone.  The messages had already begun to pour in.  Old neighbors.  Acquaintances from grade school.  Family – by origin and by choice.  From Africa.  And from just down the street.

I wrote. Meditated. Showered and went to work.  Weight Watchers.  It felt life affirming.  As did dance class.  I made lunch and took myself shopping at my favorite resale shop.  I bought a grey wool coat that ties at the waist.  It fits as if it were made for me.

I talked to a few friends on the phone.  Around five a girlfriend picked me up and we went to do what we do to make sure we don’t drink today.

I used to make a big “to do” out of my birthday.  Or at least try to.  Those expectations often left me feeling sad and frustrated.  I was unclear why.  But today was delightfully ordinary.

Indian sweets.
Indian sweets.

It ended with cheap eats at a large, bright Pakistani restaurant on Devon Avenue.  The kind with a menu posted on a TV screen.  Where you wait in line to order food and pick it up on a tray.  Where you eat with plastic utensils.

Where I feel conspicuously white.

There were eight of us.  Among them, my divorce buddy – the man I walked lock step with through the dissolution of our marriages.  And then watched my friendship with him dissolve.  I hadn’t invited him.  But there he was.  I was delighted.

“Of course he’s here,” Kristin said.  “He loves you.”

I decided to believe her.  And to believe in all the love around the table.  JB’s.  Tom’s.  Matt’s.

Rebecca’s.  Brian’s.  Kristin’s.

And to focus on it.  To focus on who was there, instead of who wasn’t.  The calls, texts, cards and Facebook greetings I did receive.  Instead of those I didn’t.  (Well, mostly.)

We took pictures and ate fried bits of goodness – both sweet and savory.  Drank lassis and tea with evaporated milk.

I came home and ate the last of my sweets.  I felt a little overly-sugared.  Overly stimulated.

And I fell into bed.  Alone.  Sated.  Full.

Artist Date 39: Story of O (pen)

This Yom Kippur, this Day of Atonement (or At One Ment, depending on your school of thought), my Rabbi spoke about being open, and staying open – vulnerable.  To change.  To transformation.

story of oThis is a story about open.

I am anxious to write it.  It is so tender, so personal.  And yet…I have given voice to seemingly every other experience in this year following my divorce.  Specifically regarding the season of suggested “not dating,” and the process of creatively romancing myself on a weekly basis vis a vis, the Artist Date.

I am standing in front of a wall of condoms.  It is 11:30 a.m.  I need supplies.

I pulled into the Pleasure Chest on the way home from leading a Weight Watchers meeting – Artist Date 39.

I took a lover last week.

We are in wildly different places in our lives.  Not surprisingly, we want and need wildly different things.  And we are wildly attracted to one another.

He’s younger than I – which is brand new to me.  He captured my attention with a flirty quip in regards to my Artist Dates.  Something like “I’m not sure what these entail…but I qualify as an artist (I think), and I am free tomorrow.”  (Insert flush across my cheeks, across my chest, here.)

But I wasn’t.  Or the next day.  Or the next.

Until Rosh Hashanah night – the same date my divorce was final last year, on the Hebrew calendar – when the gods saw fit for me to tell a new story.

The days leading up were ripe with sexy texts and suggestive emails.  And our nights together made good on what had been promised in words.

Yummy.  Naughty.  Playful.  And then, Over.

“We can’t do this,” we agreed.  That while decidedly delicious, an ongoing entanglement couldn’t meet either of our more pressing needs.  And might even cause us harm.

Usually I would be devastated by such a fleeting romance.  But I’m not.  I see it all as a gorgeous transition.  A little poke (no pun intended) from the universe that I have opened myself up just a little bit more.  To sex.  To love.  To possibilities.

That’s not to say that I don’t miss the attention, being pursued, and getting to know someone new.  Yes, he is in fact, another artist.  Darling.  Smart and sweet.  But not “the one.”  At least not now.

This is new to me too.  Not trying to make him “the one.”

I used to insist, “this time is different.”  Until my friend Teresa gently pointed out, “It’s always different…and it never is.”  She was right.  It was the same story over and over.  Me believing that he, whomever he was at that moment, had the power to make me beautiful, desirable, whole.

My young artist didn’t make me those things.  He merely held up the mirror.

Being an addict, I (of course) want more.  But I am not acting on those desires.  I am respecting our decision.  Respecting him.  Respecting me.  Respecting us.  And trusting there will be more, with someone (s) else.

And so, I find myself standing in front of this wall of condoms, not for “us,” but for the future.

There are the usual suspects.  Trojans.  Kimono.  Durex.  Latex and non-latex.  Flavored.  Ribbed.  Knobbed.  And some I don’t know.  Plaid boxes.  Sir Richard’s.  Sounds fancy.

sir richardsI am certain any will do.  But for some reason, I decide to call in the experts.  I walk over to the glass counter.  On the other side is a woman with a mess of red curls, funky glasses and a great big smile.  Her name is Sara.

I tell her I need some help.  That I haven’t bought condoms in a while.  That I recently took my first lover since my divorce.  The first man I’ve been with, other than my ex, in 15 years.

“Congratulations,” she says.  “On the divorce.  And the lover.”

She comes around the glass and we walk over to the wall together, where she educates me on the finer points of my choices.  I am reminded of the years I spent at wine tastings, discussing the subtleties of nose and terroir.  Sara approaches our conversation with the same mix of knowledge, passion and joy.

This is what she tells me:

Latex isn’t what it used to be.  It no longer smells like Goodyear Tires when the foil is ripped open.

Stay away from the Trojans.  Too thick.

Pleasure dots are nice for both.  There’s a little pouch on the underside that creates friction.

One brand is nice.  Doesn’t taste bad.

“I’d stick with these,” she says, gesturing to Skyn, Kimono, One and Sir Richard’s.  “Or you might want to consider a sampler pack.  Includes a couple of dental dams and latex gloves.”

She leaves me to shop and reminds me she is available if I have any questions.

So many choices.  I remember coming home from Rwanda last summer, standing in front of the yogurt selections at Whole Foods and bursting into tears – overwhelmed by the abundance.  I feel a little bit the same way.

I pull down a couple of boxes and choose a variety pack from Sir Richard’s – purple and grey plaid.  Made in Boulder.  For each condom purchased, one is donated in a developing country.  A little altruism with my orgasm.  Nice.  I also grab a small box of non-latex Skyn.  I don’t have a latex allergy but, someone else might.

I take a quick spin through the aisles before I leave.  DVDs.  Vibrators.  Strap Ons.  Lube.  I grab a bottle of Sliquid and meet Sarah at the register.

She excuses herself from the couple she is assisting with harnesses.

She nods approvingly at my choices, runs my credit card through, and slips a flyer listing free workshops in the bag.  All of them have passed.

Before I leave, she tells me that she divorced more than 15 years ago, and more than made it through.  “I learned how to advocate for myself sexually,” she adds.  “It’s been great.”

I believe her.  Both on the advocating and on the great.  I’ve already opened myself to it.