When I was young and small I would stand naked in front of my mother’s dresser mirror and ask, who am I? What am I? Now I stand in front of the full length mirror in my bedroom closet and ask, who am I now? What am I now? How did I get here? Here being alone with my cat in an apartment built for one. It’s a magical apartment, the former owner said as I signed. We bought it for our son. He met his wife there. She was having a party in the unit upstairs. He went up and asked her to turn it down. They’ve been married ever since. I’ve seen no such magic. Mostly I see young people coming and going, barely saying hello. They are transient; here until they finish school and then they will leave. Some of my fellow owners say hello as they corral their little ones up the ramp to their building or collect them from the pool. I’ve met two other single women who live alone. One is in her seventies. She told me she didn’t know how much longer she could stay in her studio apartment, rescuing the neighbourhood cats. The other passed away from cancer a month after I met her. Her sentences would trail off. She would apologise and say, ugh my memory. It’s the chemo, you know. I do know. I work in cancer and see it every day. No such magic.
Outside in my neighbourhood there are more young people, young couples mostly, jogging together, walking together, inane chit-chat. Or there are clutches of young women-dressed identically-long hair (straight or curled with a large-barrel curling iron), knee-length sundresses or jeans tucked into boots, big sunglasses; leaving no doubt of their femaleness. Philadelphia is interesting in that regard; nothing is left to doubt. If someone has something to say you will hear it. Philadelphians have something to prove. The men have to prove they’re men-maker culture, beer, beards, polo shirts, street harassment. The women feel the need to prove they’re women-long hair, dresses, heels, cleavage, hips. Their city is the best in the world. There’s nothing New York has that Philadelphia doesn’t have. Then they marry, have a baby, and move to the suburbs because it’s safer and the schools are better. I find the posturing tiresome and hilarious. I’m a New Yorker in exile. I have nothing to prove.
And yet I find that I have to hew a place for myself out of every rock. My synagogue is full of families, young children, couples. I look for myself in my community and I’m not there. My therapist told me to practice flirting. You work in a medical centre right? You’re surrounded by men. Flirt with them! Practice! Do I want to garner a reputation as the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous? Not a good reputation to have these days. These days we meet and mate our equals. Besides, doctors have wives at home and when they cheat they stray with nurses. While both are female-associated professions, nurses are more nurturing than librarians. I have a Masters degree, but no equal. Flirting is pointless. Nothing comes of it and in my frame of mind the slightest rejection is deeply personal and unbearable. I discovered this when I took my therapists advice. I flirted with a project manager with floppy brown hair and doll-like eyes. He spoke softly and leaned against my doorway as I threatened him with the LLBean ski team if he didn’t return his books on time. I might be able to out-ski them, he said. The next day he walked into a meeting in our training room and stopped dead when he saw me setting up the computer. I know it means nothing except I can still flirt and feel that spark of flirtation, but I shouldn’t because it hurts too much when that spark fades and dies.
There is no magic here. Not that I ever believed in magic. I’m not sure I know what love is, much less believe in it. Someone told me the other day that she believed when we put good out into the world, good comes back to us. That must be her experience because it certainly isn’t mine. Then again, the alternatives are that a. I do not put good into the world or b. it doesn’t make a damned bit of difference what I do. I will keep trying, keep feeling like I am not a good person, and will continue to be alone-probably for the rest of my life. I don’t think I will be one of those divorcees who dates. I keep hearing how much lighter and happier I seem, but these days I don’t feel it. Lately, I think that my marriage was the biggest mistake of my life for which I will continue to pay. I hope I’m wrong. Then again, I also thought I would probably never date again, and so far I’m not wrong. Then again, it’s too soon to tell. There is no magic here, but this too shall pass, right?