When I was maybe 28, I ducked into an upper east side bar to avoid some creep who was following me home. It was about 2 AM; I think I'd been at JP's-- one of those late-night rockstar hangouts where occasionally you'd see a seriously magical gig-- people like Robert Plant or Bowie doing a jump-up. Things like that-- the near-perfect synchronicity of low-profile and high-profile-- happened then; today instagram and twitter ensure a mob-scene within moments.
Anyway, way back on that night, I talked to the bartender for an hour or two, and left when the coast was clear. I worked in an art gallery in those days; his brother-in-law had had a gallery at some point. We must have exchanged first names and some nominal details because weeks later a colleague told me some guy was calling up every gallery in town looking for someone with my first name. Inevitably he showed up, and yes, it was flattering that he'd embarked on this journey to find me, and yes, I had a boyfriend but he was always on the road, etc. He had a new job, downtown… one night I gave in to impulse and went in --alone; he remembered my drink. I had plenty of time to watch his hands, his mixing grace, his profile with the perfect hair falling just-so over his eyes… his body. He was tall, like an athlete. We left in a taxi, hardly spoke, ended up in his west-side apartment-- one of those perfect spontaneous anonymous encounters where you confide everything you are, without words, because he is a stranger, and that was safe in some way, and he'd passed some kind of test of desire making all those phone calls.
It went on this way for maybe a year-- my guilty pleasure. I'd show up, late; sometimes he'd whisper something to another bartender, fold up his apron and we'd be in a taxi within minutes. Other nights I'd sit-- listen to music, watch the ice melt in my drink, indulge in the indescribable calm of these hours where I'd abandon everything in my life for something unfamiliar and undemanding that just felt so safe. We were intimate in ways only strangers can be. Sometimes we'd watch TV and eat… we'd laugh and lie there, like husband and wife… and then I'd have to leave. Sometimes my boyfriend would be home and fail to ask me where I'd been, fail to recognize the scent of passion. I began to resent him for this-- a sign of his apathy-- failure. I'd shower and dare him to interrogate me; he never did.
One night-- and it was inevitable-- the bartender was magazine-beautiful-- he walked into a club with two gorgeous blonde women. I tried to run out, but he'd seen me; I took refuge in the bathroom…. he was banging on the door, the blondes were drunk and laughing, and I exited through the window, ran home feeling humiliated and scolding myself-- really, what did I expect? That I could prolong some temporary moment in my life indefinitely? I'd already stretched it way thinner than any version of reality. But I was hurt. My own boyfriend provided little consolation. Still, it felt like the magic of New York had been zapped into dullness… the glitter had washed away; here I was, on the curb beside my smashed pumpkin fantasy.
Of course, a year later I'd met my husband, and these New York adventures began to recede into some archived anthology of dreams-- something to take out and look at on a night when I begin to doubt that this version of me really existed. Love is enchanting-- in all its forms; it transforms us, and the dream of it-- the strange dream of unqualified desire-- floats somewhere above us and behind us.
Today I walked through the park with my son-- the son I could never have imagined in those old magical New York days. I listened to his struggles and angst, his relationship doubts and anxiety, his career concerns. His style is so different from mine-- he's kind of a millennial hipster-- well-dressed and confident, with an army of accessories that seem to constitute success at his age. His context is so foreign-- his needs, his ambitions-- and I love him with a love I could never have imagined. He is of an age where I am now able to see him as a man-- anti-maternally. And I began to realize-- here he is, making his own New York tales-- with cell phones and texts and workplace flirtations-- but unable to bring any of them to any kind of emotional closure. We stopped by my favorite uptown church-- St. John the Divine, where the Poet's Corner always provides an appropriate message… something he can send his girlfriend. The one he usually picks is Mark Twain-- 'There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth'. He has always been a bit of a truth-evader; his first girlfriend put a poster of Pinocchio on his door.
What I do realize is that my tales and experience are a little dated and useless for him. I no longer bother to offer these; after all, I can't keep him from his mistakes and bad decisions, from his penchant, like so many young men, of mistaking his dick for his heart, which I suppose is preferable to the reverse. But there we were, in this sacred Church, with the soaring Gothic space and the passion of truth and the spirit of God and the heart wrenching sadness of Mary and her tragic beautiful son… people praying, an organ practicing hymns… and here is my son…. losing his religion-- his religion of trust that love will come and it will be happy and good and fulfilling, and he will be saved and safe in its clarity. And this is not the version of life as we know it.
As for me, I will never again feel that total abandon and passion and paradoxical safety of a strange lover's bed. I have learned what I have learned, I have felt what I have felt. Love is sacred, love is painful, love is searing and ripping and confusing and wrecking and is maybe never safe, except the love in our hearts that we hold for our sons and daughters and even our lovers, even though there is no guarantee they will return or honor this. Love--like a heart-- can be bloody, and dark. Love is Gangster. Guns and Roses. No one punishes and goes unpunished like love lost. The death of love is like no other.
My son swore he'd never get hurt again, or hurt anyone else. But that is impossible, I don't say. Every single hurt is at least as bad as the one before, and unfortunately, if we are honest, we will hurt our loved ones. He will revise his wisdom, time and again. Hopefully, his path will be straighter than mine, less cluttered with mistakes and detours and regressions. Because I loved all these mistakes and heartaches and diversions. Everyone who loves must be hurt…but they will go on… they will mourn, they will create and redeem memories, they will leave little souvenirs like stones in a pathway so they will not forget, or for some of them-- they will forget.
On the way home, we passed a huge bag of basketball trophies outside a tenement building. For me it felt sad; I kept shelves of these in my son's room. He was relatively unsentimental, like the person who'd discarded these: after all, it wasn't about the trophy-- it was about the man. So our Sunday afternoon walk, like all things happy and sad, came to an end. A little maternal advice, a tiny gift for his girlfriend, and he went home with his truths, and I with mine, stretched or not.