I just saw an old lover on the street. He didn’t see me (or pretended he didn’t) but I got a good eyeful. We were together off and on for four years and I hadn’t seen him in two. Recently he turned fifty, so he’s been on my mind though our connection is too dangerous to ignite with a polite phone call or card. We live in the same neighborhood so it’s a wonder we don’t run into each other. I often think spirit is protecting us by ensuring this doesn’t happen; we caused each other a lot of pain–more than the pleasure we gave each other, even. I watched him talk to someone–a friend, it looked like, but not a close one. Maybe a colleague. I watched him clasp his big hand on that man’s shoulder, then make his way down the street in the opposite direction from where I was standing. My old lover seemed smaller and bigger, blurrier and more filled in. It was a shock to see him alive at all–still human, not just an animation of my many memories.
I felt a terrible longing to run alongside him, squeeze his bicep, duck under his shoulder, climb on his back, until he folded me in his embrace. This is a man I’ve known since I was a kid though we only became lovers in our forties, and it seems to me his body has always been familiar: his smells, good and bad; his fingers (his cock), the tiny stud in his ear (how many times I tongued it), the hairs curling on his chest, and, of course, his mouth. When we were together, I was always burrowing into him in a way I’ve never done before or since. Sometimes he loved it, sometimes it put him off, but what is miraculous is I didn’t care either way. It’s not that his feelings didn’t matter to me (they did, so much); it’s that, with him, I was not angling to impress. I was present in a way that precluded any premeditation. I felt him in my blood and bones and pussy and so, without thinking, I’d reach for him. Into him.
I watched this man–this collection of human atoms whom I first beheld when he was 10 and then 19 and, o, you get the picture–I watched him bob down the street away from me. His gait was the same. He always takes it light, bounces a bit on his toes, keeps his carriage erect, as if he takes real seriously his mother’s famous farewell phrase: “Walk good.” He looked heavier and furrier and still, to me, extremely beautiful. For a minute I remembered it all: how many times he walked away without looking back, how many times he opened me when my heart seemed shut to everything. In that rush I wanted my friend so much–not just in bed but cross-legged on the floor, where we could share every story we’d collected since we’d last been together. I wanted to climb the stairs into whatever home he occupies now, work and live side by side, match heartbeats. I wanted to greet the new moon with him. I wanted to say hi.
But there was no point in reaching across the great divide of space and time that looms between us–two tesseracts, at least. I know his smallest and biggest self, and in some alternate universe both will always feel like mine. But in this one, the man walking down the street was in no way moving toward me.
I sent him love instead.
It reminds me of that Grace Paley short story, when she returns a library book at least twenty years overdue, then checks it back out because she still hasn’t had a chance to read it. Her ex husband, someone she hasn’t seen in decades, walks by just then, and she says: “Hello, my life.”
Hello, my life.
Beztie and I toasted the Summer Solstice by going to hear our favorite character actor, Ann Dowd, speak at the SAT-AFTRA Theater about her brilliantly built career, from Philadelphia with the late, great Jonathan Demme, to Compliance, The Handmaid’s Tale, and, our favorite, The Leftovers. Dowd’s the best kind of transplanted Masshole: compassionate, committed, plainspoken as fuck, and a matter-of-fact witch. Her favorite phrase: “Can you believe?” Also she speaks with audible em dashes and is a legitimate late-bloomer; her career didn’t really take off until she was 56. Since I believe celebs stop growing as humans the minute they get famous, she may be one of the only palatable ones around. Oh, we just loved her.
This is Rosa and Vera. Both are Jews who fled Nazi Germany, emigrated to Argentina, and eventually made their way to New York City, where they have rent-controlled apartments, speak four languages, and take long walks every day. I met these longtime friends while waiting for the East River Ferry at 34th street. All three of us were fretting because the ferry were delayed, and bonded when they found out I was a card-carrying feminist who hated Trump as much as they did. “How do people not see this is what happened to us in Germany?” Vera wailed. I felt ashamed that they should survive so much only to witness later generations forgetting everything. “Past is present,” said Rosa, clasping my wrist. Then she complimented my Audrey Hepburn glasses. “With this style, you’ll find a new job soon.” “What are you doing in Brooklyn today?” I asked, admiring her pretty necklace in turn. “Well, we thought we’d sit by the Promenade and then stroll down to Sahadi’s,” she said. “Just because the world treats 80-year-old women like they’re invisible doesn’t mean we don’t like to do things.” Meeting these two birds is why I’ll never leave New York.