Monday, February 13, 2017

Exchange

I live on the edge of two neighborhoods… on the cusp, on the border.  It suits me.  I am close to the park and short blocks from grand homes and institutions.  I am also two blocks from the projects.   Across the street from me, my neighbors have an East Harlem zip-code, although I'll wager all of them have a better income than I do. Personally I spend most neighborhood-time going north and east-- past the projects-- exploring bodegas, playgrounds, small bakeries and shops, listening to languages besides English, browsing among vegetables and fruits used in Mexican recipes,  reading labels in Spanish.   Even the Christmas decorations have a different flavor.

At this point in life, I am spending more and more time alone.  I walk; I think; I soliloquize and invent… I may even talk to myself.  I wander-- down strange and familiar streets, into places; when I am alone my ear is sharper-- I hear things outside and inside my own head.  It''s as though I dare myself to become lost in my own city--- to lose myself, to become someone else, in a way-- like a character in my own story… a kind of odd controlled schizophrenia; I leave my house and turn left and suddenly I am anonymous and unknown.  I blend in and I am simply a woman.  No one greets me or looks at me… I am free, in a way-- unencumbered and clear.  It rests me… it provides my blank canvas.

I think I've always craved some kind of solitude-- even the kind you have in a group.  I like people but am reluctant to commit myself to any society that excludes me from other choices. Maybe it was my dysfunctional family (we all have them) and their failure at honesty-- but I never feel that I completely belong anywhere.  Even marriage felt odd to me-- it required my husband convincing me this would be a good thing… and besides, I'd be making someone incredibly happy and giving up nothing.  It seemed to make sense.. and I got to cross another border-- to belong to two countries, as I chose-- and that suited me… but the boundaries of marriage never felt right to me.  Maybe I was a terrible wife, but other women encroached on the walls of my own marriage-- my husband failed to protect me, and I left.  Motherhood was quite another issue-- but I was still someone's daughter, someone's lover, someone's sister… I could still live between identities, go from neighborhood to neighborhood-- play in bands and enjoy my son's basketball games with pride.

It's possible that solitude gives us clarity… in my case, the acceptance of my own penchant for straddling borders--- for being two people, in a way-- the one who walks and the one who observes--  the speaker and the listener.   At my age, I notice I am more blunt, more honest.  I say things directly; occasionally I offend people.  I see my own peers walking around clearly burdened with their pasts.  We have all experienced so much; for some, they are stooped with the weight of it, fearful that little will happen in coming years to balance or complement their life.

My son's friend asked me to help him return a ring he bought his fiancée a few years back.  It's such a beautiful thing-- it's vintage-y and unique.   He lost his Mom recently, and maybe that somehow altered him; he also knows I've returned rings and changed my own mind many times.  It doesn't bother me and I've never really regretted much in my life; it all seems to have brought me to where I am, which is not a bad place.  There's a book of poems I remember reading: Loving a Woman in Two Worlds.  I've always loved that title… as though this is the way I've lived.  Returning the ring-- dealing with the receipt and the agreement and the salespeople… it all seemed so absurd that this intimate, personal decision we make gets so 'handled' by so many people-- the processes-- the invitations, and name changes-- the paperwork and vows and all the guests and witnesses-- the home-buying and the furniture choices… and suddenly it was as though I was so close to my own relationship thresholds-- maybe in the very same store where my fiancé  had bought the lovely ring that had felt to me like a 25-pound weight.

It took my son's friend 5 years: maybe 2 to really believe he'd made the wrong choice, and 3 more to actually find this ultimate closure.  Finality.  He has a new girlfriend now.  When we get older, some loves we realize were addicting, or consuming, or manipulative-- or they looked like someone else, or they reminded you of something, or your best friend talked you into it… or whatever.  And then some affairs look absurd and like some kind of period of insanity.  And after it all, after a lifetime-- there are those moments that shine-- through time, from the half-light of this moment, back to that one… there is still this beauty-- something right and true… and we feel lucky, even though we never held on, that we felt this way.

We have so little present-- all of us.  Just this nanosecond of awareness-- the rest is just a movie-- an invention.  So few of us take the time to appreciate these tiny things we are holding at this moment only-- unless we are on the verge of loss.   We mourn at funerals, we bathe in morning light when we are aware our days are numbered-- we love those we can no longer see, and we miss what we no longer have.  Handing over the ring, I was aware someone else's moments were in my hand briefly--- even the feel of the box-- I could imagine how much it must have meant at the time, and he'd spent many multiples over what was appropriate ('in over his head', as he put it)… but there it was, becoming an item in a shop window for someone else to give their loved one, to become part of someone else's story.  I felt empathetically unburdened.  These symbols never had much credence in my lifetime, as I've said… and the truly spiritual instances of the meaning of marriage are more like star points in the dark liquid sky of my own history.  But then again, I am someone who likes to cross borders, to travel between worlds and rooms and to inhale winter evenings and mix them with older constellations and lyrics I have surely misread or mispronounced… and I emerged, on my way back toward Harlem, to the song of the melting snow, me stepping every block from past to present to future, between worlds.