Ever since I uploaded my big green post, life has opened back up and I’m grateful. What I remembered–and it shouldn’t have taken so long to recall this fact–is that my adoration of strangers does not preclude other sorts of communion. Also I forgot my most ardent belief: we are all cousins.
The cousin dynamic is my favorite model of human relationship, because it implies an innate connection that, as my shrink puts it, “does not affect the matrix of your life.” Parents and siblings and children can fuck you up, while resonating with a cousin just lends life an extra glow. And if you don’t resonate, it’s no skin off anyone’s back. You just wave across a room and leave it at that.
I always think about what my second cousin Martine Rothblatt said when we met. One of the first transgender women in the United States to undergo reassignment surgery, she had been a tall, brainy lad known by my dad as “Cousin Marty” when they were coming up. (Rubenfire was their grandmother.) Given how estranged I am from my clan, I’d been reading about Martine in gender theory classes and magazines (she’s also famous for launching Sirius Radio and the transhumanism movement) long before I realized we were related. After I did, I mentioned her in a book review, and she made her way to Brooklyn from Central Park Avenue South so we could meet in person.
Insisting on a 1am appointment (S&S readers know I’m an obsessively early riser), Martine slid up to an all-night diner in a silver stretch limousine from which she emerged, impossibly tall and thin, in a swirl of blue robes and long silver plaits.
Fluttering spidery fingers in greeting, she said with the hyper-bluntness of the impossibly overextended: “I was interested in meeting you because I enjoy the ideas expressed on your blog. But I don’t care that we’re biologically related. I don’t even believe in genetic family. DNA has utterly failed me in terms of the XY chromosome, and the fetishization of human blood bonds is illogical. Biologically speaking, we’re all cousins–the genetic difference between someone to whom you’re ‘related’ and ‘unrelated’ is simply miniscule.”
My smile, formerly polite and tight (boy o boy do I hate staying out late), broadened into something grateful and aglow.
Upon examining a geneology chart a few years later, I discovered that R, my heartbreaker of an ex whom I revisited this summer, was actually a second cousin twice removed.
No wonder we’d found each other so devastatingly attractive; genetic narcissism is hilarious.
But our kinship did not mean we had to stay close in the wake of that cataclysm of a romance. Because deeming every human a cousin–and I think Martine would approve–dispenses with the pressure of trying to make every one of these relationships work. You like who you like, and Goddess knows it’s easier to love people than to like them. Like is elective, selective–finicky. Love is the recognition, however unconscious, of another’s soul–and all souls are beautiful, contrary to popular opinion. It is a person’s dissociation from their soul that can be ugly.
Thus when someone’s in trouble, most of us instinctively wish to help them, even if’s a stranger on the street or someone we only know online. This remains true even in the shadow’s of this American Fourth Reich. Over and over I am reminded that most people want to be of service, even if they don’t know how.
It is the best lesson of Virgo Season.
So I’ve been participating in the human parade again–venturing to parties, performances, other people’s living rooms. And while I sometimes find this grating and even terrifying (o the pain and pleasure of complimentry and conflicting desires), it’s also emboldening and beautiful.
Just what the divine physician ordered.
And it’s reminded me that when you climb back in the flow–once you stop trying to control every interaction and outcom–you create room for happy surprises. Because as much as the sun wants to rise and flowers want to bloom, people want to give as good as they get. Even when that impulse is profaned–and bad bonds, brain chemistry, and capitalism certainly addles the best of us– its seed still exists somewhere within each of us.
To me, that seed is the soul.
I spent Sunday with an ailing friend. A purely kind badass whose other female friends–all amazing, ridiculously accomplished women in the arts– healed each other with shared insights and laughter as much as, I hope, we helped healed her. Driving home from her apartment, one of these women (strong and serious mouth; warm and mischievous eyes) and I laughed even more as we shared advice, notes, gossip. I felt as energized as I did enervated. I felt the way you’re supposed to feel with a friend of the heart rather than generic company.
Then last night I took zumba.
In my late 40s I find dance to be the most reliable way to maintain sex and silliness in my life and that class did not disappoint (though, to be clear, I did not get laid). Afterward, the weather was mild, the night sky that gorgeous grey-violet that only NYC night skies achieve, and my heart was full from ogling the studio manager’s grandchild–an absolute doll, a tiny bright-eyed Muppet baby. I floated out in a swoon, an absolute swoon, and then a wave of dehydration and exhaustion hit me and I collapsed on a bench to collect myself in the evening air.
Like a dummy I took that minute to post an Instagram story–I swear I mostly post while I’m high on something (happiness, heartbreak, an excellent winey meal )–and then wandered home. At which point I realized that somewhere between my house and the studio I’d lost my fannypack. (Though I loathe most neo-90s trends, I’ve embraced this one because of the freedom it confers.) Hyperventilating, I retraced my steps with my phone light; except for the phone, the pack contained everything I needed to get through the world (credit card, bank car, keys, library card, favorite lipstick; I’m hyperventilating again just thinking about the list). By the time I returned to the empty bench I was too dehydrated to work up tears; the devastation felt like retribution for all the good vibes I’d been enjoying.
Had I absentmindedly dropped it in a bush on the way home? Had someone swiped it? I could forgive dimwittery far easier than fuckwittery.
Desperate, I walked up and down the block, even returned to the studio though I knew I’d had the bag as I left. The manager began to comb the area with me, her grandbaby cooing soothingly in her carrier as if she knew I needed solace. Finally a woman burst out of the closed storefront of BFF Animal Wash and called out: “Are you Liza Rozman?” I nodded–close enough!– and she ushered us inside to hand me the purse. “Oh, I’m so glad it’s you!” the woman said, grasping my hand and introducing herself as Indira. “I found this on the bench and when I saw you walking around with the light I had a feeling it was yours. Your phone number’s not in your purse, mami.”
In retrospect it’s not just that Indira tracked me down on the street. It’s that her relief and happiness on my behalf filled the room.
The studio manager clasped my other hand then and we all hugged. Trapped in the three-way embrace, the newborn bleated only the tiniest bit–a polite little mew to remind us not to crush her entirely.
I walked home slowly afterward, every cell in my body vibrating in sync with every cell outside my body. Who knows if we three broads would’ve liked each other in another context? I needed help and they gave it to me as readily I would have given it them. The interaction wasn’t transactional; it was grace in its purest form.
This is what I love most about NYC–that cheerfully grim foxhole solidarity.
For, yes, I’ve backed into my lede, as my journalism teacher used to say. Today is September 11, the 18th anniversary of the day when, as then-12-year-old Mariah Erlick wrote, “New York’s children stopped being young”–keeping in mind that in NYC we remain children forever in the best and worst of ways.
But while corrupt institutions and individuals use the events of 9/11 as an excuse to build more walls, shed more blood, invade more boundaries, we New Yorkers have responded the way we’ve always responded to hardship and hilarity alike. We’ve been there for our cousins, even as we’ve wept. We’ve risen from the ashes of that day (the literal ashes of our friends our coworkers our cousins) not like phoenixes so much as the spiritual peacocks we’ve always been.
Most of us have even kept dancing.
Maybe that’s why, when people from other countries ask what I think about America, I always say, “I’m not from the USA. I’m from the nation of NYC.” Nowhere else do you witness such magnificent daily evidence of the fact that we’re all cousins. Here on this crazy apple, this gloriously granite playground, all you have to do is ride a subway to see people from all walks of life matter-of-factly jostle and foster each other like–
well, like you’d treat a cousin.
But, really, even in the shadow of stupid stupid Trump, it’s what I love most about everybody everywhere.
We’re all cousins.