No Magic Here, Move Along

No Magic Here, Move Along

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?




Been Down So Long…

Been Down So Long…

If you don’t believe I’m sinking, look what a hole I’m in
If you don’t believe I love you, look what a fool I been
Baby don’t believe I love you? Just look what a fool I been
Don’t believe I love you, baby, just look what a fool I been

-“I Will Turn Your Money Green” -Alex Chilton (orig. Fuzzy Lewis)

I would greatly appreciate it if the mainstream media would kindly refrain from telling me how everyone from grade schoolers to nonagenarians is having sex. I am not. And I’m sure I’m not alone in this. A couple of weeks ago it was The New Yorker. Today it was The New York Times. Apparently at 70 and 80 you are not too old for sex, and that’s great. Apparently, at 46, I am. The expectation is, of course, that I am married and safely ensconced in the suburbs with my children. I am emerging from my divorce into no-man’s land-literally and figuratively.  It’s bad enough that nearly everyone I know is having sex and those who are not are doing so voluntarily; trust me, they would have no trouble finding a partner, if they so chose. So far they have been kind and not made fun of me, but I can’t help but think that it’s only a matter of time.

Two weeks ago my therapist advised me to flirt. You work at a research hospital, she said. You’re surrounded by men. Flirt with them. Learn how to flirt again. She doesn’t understand the rigid caste system that has arisen in such communities. I do not have an MD or a PhD. I have a Masters degree. I am also not 25, like most of the nurses. These factors put me, socially, on par with the administrative assistants who are mostly married women around my age or older. In short, I am useful but invisible. Doctors pair up with doctors, lawyers pair up with lawyers, executives with executives, and librarians used to pair up with librarians (if you were lucky enough to find one). If anything, I would get a reputation for being – I think Jane Austen may have said it best – the most determined flirt that ever made her family ridiculous. It’s hard enough to get respect where I work. who needs that. Besides, flirting is pointless. Sure it’s fun but and it’s nice to feel that little spark, but in the end it serves as a reminder that you have no prospects, that you are alone, and that you have been cast aside for someone younger, more traditional, with proven fecundity. Fuck flirting.

She’s Leaving Home

She’s Leaving Home

“Quietly turning the backdoor key
Stepping outside she is free.” – “She’s Leaving Home” John Lennon & Paul McCartney

The other day my mother asked if my ex ever hit me. No, I replied. We wondered, she continued. His temper had gotten so bad, we thought he might… It hearkened back to another conversation we had where she asked why I hadn’t left sooner. Other people asked me why I hadn’t left sooner but it wasn’t until Sunday night that I really had a chance to think about it. The simple part of the answer was run where?

When we were out West I could have, in theory, gone to my parents, but there were several problems. First, how was I supposed to get there? I’d been out of work for a long period of time and had no money. How was I supposed to get myself, and later a cat, across state lines? Then I would have had to go back and do all of those administrative things: remove him from my bank account, get my cell phone number back, find health insurance. Second, if I had been unable to get work where my parents lived, which was a real possibility, I would have gone into bankruptcy trying to get work. Finally, I hadn’t been asked. When things got bad between my sister and her first husband, my father took her aside and told her to come home. In my case, no such conversation occurred. When his third postdoc brought us back east my situation was less precarious. I got a job within three months of arriving and I knew my sister and brother-in-law would take us in if I needed to run. Having been in that situation herself, she told me that they always had a bedroom for me. I would have been out in the country, safe but isolated. I bided my time and then I left.

The other reason why I stayed is more complex. What I didn’t tell my mother was that I stayed because it was what I knew. I had become inured to his psychological and emotional abuse because it was similar to the psychological and emotional abuse I’d suffered at the hands of my parents. And much like when I was a child, I kept thinking that if I did everything right things would change. The fault in my childlike logic was that of all his problems, I could only try and fix one-the baby. I did my best with as many of our shared problems as I could and things did change. His temper got worse, the physical tics were more dramatic. His regard for me nearly vanished in private. In public it was all about saving face, something all too familiar to me. His disapproval was palpable, the criticism constant. Nothing I did was right. He set me up for failure. I was the convenient target for his random outbursts. Then he would say that I shouldn’t let his depression affect me. The kindnesses he extended became more the carrot for the stick than genuine affection.

The other night I had dinner with friends. One of them, in particular, asked me the tough questions I know he’s been meaning to ask for a long time. Did my upbringing, particularly the strict gender roles in the culture in which I was raised, influence my decision to stay for as long as I did? Was he ever physically violent? Were you ever afraid of him? How long was he on his best behaviour with you? Do you think the cause of the change is organic? Do you really think you can be friends? Does he know what friendship is? So I asked him some in return.Is someone who admits to being ’emotionally unavailable’ capable of love? When he posted the article on ’emotional infidelity’ on Facebook what he admitting something about himself or was he accusing me of something? I didn’t tell him that while we were still married my ex was texting a friend about their relationship-a relationship they didn’t have.

I know I’m not blameless. I withdrew emotionally and physically from him long before we actually separated. What I know now, however, is that I wasn’t emotionally unfaithful. He was.