July approaches, and peonies still preside on my bedside table though their season used to end in May. I chalk it up to the unseasonably mild weather, and complain not.
The baby doves on my fire escape are not babies anymore but also are still hanging out, peep-peep-peeping while their mother fusses over them like all the other Brooklyn mommies. Every morning as I drink my coffee I watch her nag them into flying a little further while their father observes from on high. Grace watches too, ears flattened, a burr forming low in her throat. Twice I’ve had to snatch her mid-air lest she hurl at them through the screen window; she seems to have located her predatory instincts quite nicely, thank you very much.
It’s all blooming pink and green now, and I’ve adjusted my emotional palette accordingly. Even my lipstick boasts more fuchsia than red, and I’ve fashioned a new Venus candle—rose with oils and flowers and dimes for the ancestors and leaves in all shades of green. I’ve slipped a few requests inside, meditated while holding it in my hands, drunk a glass of champagne in its honor.
Love’s in need of love today.
At therapy earlier this week—of course I’m in therapy; aren’t you?—my shrink pointed out that I take lovers but crave family. “There’s a disparity,” she said drily. “Lovers have boundaries,” I said.
Later, I decided she was right. Our exchange had taken place on the heels of a glorious weekend with my godfamily, who’d come up from Boston heaving sleeping bags and stuffed animals and sunflowers and sparkly sandals. The emphasis of our visit, somewhat inadvertently, had been our shared Jewish history. We went to a Museum of the City of New York exhibit on Yiddish theater. We saw the latest Fiddler on the Roof production—so good! so timely!—and galloped down Broadway roaring “Tradition!” at the top of our lungs. We trooped to Ellis Island, where the long sweaty lines seemed like method history and the building itself made us cry. You didn’t need to be an intuitive to sense all the hopes and dreams still looming in the great room that had served as our country’s entry hall for decades. As an experiment, Melina, Delia, Luci, and I sat on a wooden bench, closed our eyes, and “noticed what we noticed,” which is how I describe tuning into the spirit world.
“I see a little girl scared,” said Luci.
“I feel a little scared,” said Delia.
Melina was quiet. Her mother had been one of the last immigrants to come through the island, so she was even more moved than me, who bawls regularly over what my family survived in Poland and Lithuania before my birth. Finally, my old friend said, “The people who made it to America were such strong innovators.” We smiled at each other over her children’s heads.
Over our children’s heads.
Earlier that day, while the rest of the godfamily slept, Luci and I had squeezed together on my favorite yellow chair and watched the dove family while we ate buttered toast. “I like your house,” she said. “There are little treasures everywhere.” I’d felt pleased, and told her the names I’d given the birds: The chicks were Sweet Baby Blue and Pinky Whitehead; the parents were Ruby Rose and Max the Grey. Like your old cats! she exclaimed, and I nodded in surprise; they died when she was a toddler. Grace sat on my feet, purring, though she wore an obligatory cross expression.
I’d felt like purring, too.
As a child I used to experience a tightening in my chest, a stone in my stomach, a spinning in my head whenever my mother, father, sister, and I congregated in one room. This I called the “family feeling.” It was a sense of being trapped in a drowning ship with no escape hatch, and I had it beginning at age eight, when I learned the hard way that there were almost no true adults. I was younger still when I decided, observing the murderous fights between my Jewish grandparents and shiksa mother, the general psychoses of our clan, that family was not for me.
Loneliness seemed a very low price for peace; solitude an even lower one for safety. That I gravitated toward dangerous men only deepened my conviction that I was best on my own.
And I did thrive by deciding to stand on my own two feet. It was a decision that served me for such a long time that I scarcely noticed when it didn’t anymore. I should have—why else would I have dated a (distant) cousin?–but I am a creature of habit. I see it now, though; o lord, do I ever. I see it when I rush home, terrified my baby birds have already left. I see it in the tears I wept after my godfamily, hot and tired and decidedly ill-tempered, took their leave. I see it in the fact I preferred washing dishes with my friend’s daughter while he played guitar (no need for huffiness, sisters; he cooked) over the film premiere I attended the night before with a suitor.
Don’t get me wrong. I have zero sights on biological family, and am more than aware that a Venus candle will not cut it. I do believe, though, that it’s working along with my ancestors and guides and smartest self to release my obstacles to daily tenderness. The first two candles exploded spontaneously, to give you a sense of the scope of my resistance, but I have faith–in myself, in eternal love, in something. I keep smiling at my peonies and whispering: “Venus strong, baby. Venus Strong.”
If you heard me say “penis,” that’s not my fault.