We were standing on the corner of Houston and Allen Streets. We had covered the entire west side and a good portion of the lower east side. My feet didn’t hurt, my hair still had a few good hours left in it, but the mist was beginning to turn to rain — a signal perhaps that it was time to call it a night.
Should we lyft, subway, or splurge on a yellow cab? Red asked.
I looked around. Houston was uncharacteristically jammed with “ready to hire” cabs. I answered the question by hailing one and said the fare was on me.
Red and I had talked freely all night, and continued to swap stories, each of us sitting as close to the windows and away from each other as possible. Like two kindergartners who were afraid of catching cooties.
As was my luck, I had picked a cab with one of those drivers who decides to pop-in on your conversation, then shares his life story, then offers you advice. He was wearing a powdered blue suit. He had class.
Are you two married?
Ha! No! We both replied.
Boyfriend and girlfriend?
Nope. Again, in unison.
Then Red: We’re friends.
We both remained silent and looked out the window. Our hazy night was reflected back to me in the silhouettes of NYC’s buildings zipping past.
Your date is so seeeeexxxxy! Red’s friend Leanna drunkenly announced when we dropped in on her Cinco de Mayo party. Keeeep herrrrrr!
Marry her! Another random party-goer said to Red when I sourced ladles as shot glasses.
We looked the part of couple, but were d-level actors at it.
It was a second date that should have been a home run given the success of our first and a long list of shared interests. I hadn’t been this excited about someone since Clark Kent, the museum exhibition manager with the kryptonite touch from the summer before. This one felt written in the stars. And yet, everything fell entirely flat. We were having a good time, but we would have been having a good time whether or not we were with each other. We were out together, but not really together.
The man should chase the woman, our dapper taxi driver said at one point.
It was perhaps his wisest remark of our northbound drive. I had quasi chased Red, and while I don’t believe in following all the standard rules of engagement in love and lust, experience had taught me to let the man take the lead.
Outside his apartment he gave me a firm hug.
I like you. I had a great time. You’re really sweet, but I don’t think we have much in the way of chemistry.
No. It seems we don’t.
We have a lot in common, and we should totally keep in touch.
Absolutely. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
As I walked to my car, I remembered I had a two-bite brownie in a hidden pocket of my purse. I sat in the driver’s seat. Cranked up some Beyonce. Ate the brownie in four bites, then drove off into the rain.
It was the patriot cluster of red, white, and blue that caught my eye as I walked past my office’s mail/copy room. The lone envelope in my mailbox was stocked with enough forever stamps to take it to the moon and back. When I saw the return address, I smiled warmly as I thought this was just like him. He never wanted to let me down or disappoint me. He would do whatever he had to to make sure the USPS wouldn’t fail me.
Inside the envelop, wrapped thoughtfully in a paper towel was my missing earring. A giant peridot-like stud that he had given me for Christmas and that I had left at his house weeks earlier, before we decided to part ways. The post of the earring had been bent in transit so it lay flat against the crystal (or perhaps he had bent it before he sent it? Another precaution so it wouldn’t poke through the envelope and get lost en route? That was also just like him.) I started to try to unbend it… it wouldn’t budge. Just then, my boss walked into my office.
“I have a jeweler who can fix that for you.”
“I have a pair of pliers.”
“You’d better heat it up then. Wouldn’t want to break it.”
That would have been ironic. I dropped the earring into a cup of boiling water and sat at my desk. I played our time together through my head as I let the metal warm.
Had he been different, had those earrings been different, I might not have asked for it back. Given how long we had been seeing each other when he gave them to me, they were the gift I least expected. Not only were they jewelry (remember the ex boyfriend who refused to buy me earrings?) they were the exact pair I had been stalking at the Kate Spade store near my work. It seemed that at only two months in, he had already figured me out.
And maybe he had since day one. Our first date had been 5-star, after all. He had worn a suit and tie. I had worn my favorite Milly skirt and red patent heels. A refreshing change from the oh so many swipe-started first dates where I almost didn’t care if I had shown up in sweat pants.
The relationship that came before him had been defined by a lack of communication. Ours had been defined by intimacy — we had been open about our relationships past and our fears entering this one, about our personal short comings, and about the road blocks we had faced that had in turn made us strong. We lusted after each other for the superficial things, but admired each other for the things that mattered. We weren’t afraid to take the risks that come with opening up. He was the first guy I’d dated who ever showed any genuine interest in all the parts that made up my life — from the gallery to my family to my sport to my blog.
I took the earring out of the cup and bent the post back into place. I’d been carrying around its mate in my purse and immediately, I popped the reunited pair into my ears. When he and I broke up exactly two weeks earlier I didn’t cry. When we broke up, I don’t know that I felt the feelings that make you want to cry. I don’t know that I felt anything but relief — I wasn’t making him happy, and let me tell you, being unable to make someone happy can be exhausting.
Later that night as I went to put the earrings into my jewelry box, I cried. Running through it all — from start to last text message — I realized just how final our good-bye had been and I was sorry for that. But at least I had this new favorite pair of earrings, and to always wear with them, a cache of warm memories and lessons about life, love, and Legos.
In something of an ironic twist, about two weeks later I lost the earring again, at an art fair. This time, it is clearly for good. Lesson learned: somethings are just not meant to be.
I turned the corner just in time to see the Physicist walking up to the entrance of my gallery and stopped dead in my tracks. Before he could pass through the bronze doors he paused and turned, catching what I’m sure was a look of shock on my face. For a moment we stared right at each other, and in that same moment I traveled back in time three years…
He was standing in that doorway the first time I saw him, walking into the opening reception for one of our exhibitions. It was a wintry Sunday afternoon in February, and he was wearing a long white-black tweed coat over slim red pants and a black turtleneck. He looked so bloody French (which we was), and therefore was the best thing I’d seen in a longtime. I was wearing a sequined feathered whimsy on loan from one of Lady Gaga’s milliners. It happened to sit right in the center of my forehead and project a foot into the air. I looked… different.
He was walking out of that doorway when I decided to run after him to give him a piece of paper with my phone number scrawled on it. I was two weeks out of a serious relationship and was in an empowered mood that bordered on reckless.
It was a week later, on Valentine’s Day, when a few doors down from that doorway we went on our first date.
And then a month later, we were in his doorway and he kissed me good-bye. As I walked out into the lion’s roar of March, I was certain that I’d never see him again…
And then, here we were, three years later on a wintry Friday afternoon in January standing in that doorway again.
“I wish you had told me you were coming in,” I said. “I would have made sure my hair looked better.”
The Physicist was visiting a chapter of his old life, on vacation from his new life in eastern Europe. We caught up over coffee in a trattoria behind the gallery.
“You don’t blog any more,” he remarked once we made it past a catch-up on work life and started the transition to personal lives. “Is that because someone’s given you reason not to blog?”
“I’ve been seeing someone, but he’s not the reason I’m not writing. I just haven’t had any time to write. And maybe, these days, I have too much to say.”
“You should make time. I liked reading it. And writing mattered to you.”
He handed me a deck of playing cards — my gift. The face side of each card was a soviet-era “propaganda” poster. I laughed out loud as I shifted through the images and he showed off some of his Russian.
Sometimes it’s hard to attribute any value to the ephemeral relationships that make their way into and out of our lives. I always considered the Physicist as a quasi toxic vignette in my dating life (even if was French and had a six pack.) But his cameo at the start of 2017 was a valuable one — he reminded me to hold onto all the things that make me ME.
And so, just as the American political leadership is trying to silence the voices of women and minorities, and just as I start down new paths of my own, I return to my soap box.
I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m a sucker for a well-formed bicep. Some will try to convince you it’s for tattoos or beards, floppy hair or gingham, nerdy bespectacled types or architects. And while they may be right (depending on the season), show me a good set of arms (ideally attached to broad shoulders) and I’ll pass along my card… every time.
But then again, I’m just like most women, who according to a survey run by the oh-so-expert “journalists” over at Muscle & Fitness ranked arms and shoulders among a man’s 10 sexiest body parts (I think the only body parts omitted from this list were ears and toes.)
M&F writes on behalf of women everywhere: “Strong arms signify a man’s ability to protect a woman—and, inadvertently, his ability to lift her up…”
Captain Marvel picked me up then lifted me up at a wine bar in my neighborhood.
I had just hosted a career panel for teenage girls, moderated by a politician and decided my Gallery Assistant, LoHo and I needed a drink. With my male coworker at my side and dressed in a blazer, button down shirt, and skinny black tie, I looked more like a missing Beatle than a girl looking for a date, but what I learned that night was that some men really do love a woman in a power suit.
Captain Marvel sauntered into the bar. He was hard to miss — besides his physique, he a veritable Clark Kent transformed into his superhero alter ego, with jet black hair, and black plastic-rimmed glasses tucked into the neckline of a Superman t-shirt. He shimmied onto a bar stool and was joined by two more broad shouldered “bros.”
LoHo disappeared to the little boy’s room, and then Captain Marvel made his move.
“So, yo, is that your boyfriend?” (imagine a voice very much like Sylvester Stallone’s.)
“That’s a little forward, don’t you think?… No. He’s my coworker.”
His arms were the size of my head.
“Good, cuz ya know, I wouldn’t want to move in on another guy’s girl. I mean I figured he was gay, but ya know, ya never know.”
“He’s not gay.”
“Has he hit on you? Cuz if he hasn’t, he’s gay.”
“I’m his boss. That would be inappropriate.”
“Nah, I’d still make a go for it. What do you do, Boss Lady?”
I told him about the gallery and about why I’d been working late.
“So you like art?”
“Yea. So you like to work out?”
“Yea. Do you?”
“I do. You can clearly out bench-press me, but I can probably out squat you.”
He scanned me up and down, gave my bar stool a spin and then gave me an approving head nod.
“Have you seen Batman vs. Superman yet?”
“You should. I’ve seen it like, 3 times already. I’ll take you.”
“I mean, like, I get a 4-day pass every year, but I don’t, ya know, dress up or anything. I go for the costumes other people wear. Man, they’re art. I mean, real art. You’d totally dig it.”
Somewhere in this exchange, LoHo returned from the bathroom, allowed me to pay for his Peroni, and then left me to my own devices.
Captain Marvel proceeded to clarify the difference between DC Comic fans and Marvel Comic fans. At the time I’m pretty sure I was playing close attention, but I was probably mostly paying attention to the way his forearm bulged every time he went to raise his glass. I found him endearing and completely different than the guys who typically saunter into my life — ones who preferred philosophy and politics to pop culture. He was refreshing.
“I bet you think I’m stupid. Well, I’m not stupid. And I’m not just a bunch of muscles. I like museums and shit. In fact, I’ve been to like, every museum on the east coast. My favorite is the Museum of Natural History. Man, I go there like, once a month. I fucking love science.”
Captain Marvel walked me out of the bar. As a good-bye, he picked me up and threw me over his shoulder.
“Ok. I’m in. I’ll be your Lois Lane. You can call me,” I said, the blood rushing to my head as I dangled over his delts.
Captain Marvel and I met for a date a week later. At an All-American diner. He wore a Captain America t-shirt. He spoke plainly about being the youngest of 10 (“I mean, I’m the youngest as far as I know. My father was a jazz musician who traveled all over the world. Who knows. I may have like, 20 half-siblings.”) He asked me about where I went to school (“Someplace fancy, I bet”) but evaded similar inquiries into his education or his state of employment. He revealed his failed attempts at acting and modeling (“I was like, too immature for grown-up parts, and got suckered into some schemes”) but shared an instagram account that looked like he hadn’t given up hope of getting discovered (and that the only t-shirts he had were superhero t-shirts.) He told the story of the scar on his bicep (“I fell off my bike. It was no big deal, but then I started picking it”) and defended the patchy goatee he insisted on growing.
Again in the parking lot, he showed me the benefit of dating a man with giant arms and an incredible Hulk chest. He wan’t my usual cup of tea, but I’d see him again…
Not un-ironically a few days later I met Clark, a mild-mannered, side-parted, Warby Parker bespectacled museum administrator who shared my language of loan agreements and non-profit budgets. He listened to podcasts and was a former swimmer and soccer player turned cross-fitter. His touch could take me to another planet and his kyrptonite was a gin martini with a twist. He seemed like the superhero I didn’t know I needed.
Captain Marvel: “So babe, when am I seeing you again?”
“I’m sorry, I met someone else.”
“Can we at least hook up before you guys get serious?”
“Not that kind of girl.”
“Well, remember me for when you get tired of him and need some rescuing.”
After publishing this, I learned that Captain Marvel is in fact, a Marvel Comics character, and also a WOMAN (and will be played by Brie Larson in a movie set to premier in 2019.) Whoops. See, this was never going to work out between us.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just not properly equipped to be in this relationship.”
Frank Hampshire had sent me a text message asking if he could catch the next train to come see me.
No, I said. He could call me.
I knew what was coming even though there had been no preemptive discussion. I have a 6th sense — I see dead relationships. I always know when we’re over, even when all signs say otherwise. In retrospect, I probably should have made him pay the $20 in transportation fees…
What exactly Frank Hampshire meant by “not properly equipped,” it’s hard to say, but he was right. We were fundamentally ill-equipped for each other, despite a Thanksgiving-dinner-grocery-shopping list of reasons why we had been great plus-1s over the last six months.
We had hit that perfect grove of a stable relationship — game nights with his friends, concerts and outings, Seamless or Blue Apron and pirated movies at his place, a holiday with my parents, my toothbrush in his medicine cabinet and my shirt in his closet. There wasn’t anything glaringly out of place. But then one cold January morning, after a perfect night of laughter out with friends, I woke up in his apartment, looked around, and knew I had better take my toothbrush.
Frank was still asleep. From his bed I had a perfect panorama of his apartment. Through the bay windows in front of me I could see the whole of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I loved that view. Dawn was breaking but the sky ached with the weight of late winter grey clouds. On the windowsill, I could see the sombrero ashtray his mother brought him from Mexico — the ashtray he swore he never used, even thought I caught him leaning his head out of the window dragging long puffs on a cig from his secret stash more than once. And I could see his elliptical machine — the one he definitely never used because it was thick with dust and which had become symbolic of our divergent lifestyles. If I turned my head to the left, I could see into his closet where the purple dress shirt I gave him for Christmas because it made his blue eyes pop hung in a sea of white and solid blue.
And I could see him.
For all the things that had been good about us, the things that had gone unsaid were becoming palpable.
It’s like inception — once that idea “this is over” creeps into your head, you can’t get rid of it. You can say you’re being silly. But it bores away at you. And before you know it, you’re trapped inside a collapsing deep daydream. No matter how much you try to reason your heart into believing you’re in love, you just know — it’s over.
I was in the middle of my attempted return to a nightly yoga practice and (un)comfortably contorted into a parivrtta parsvkonasana (a revolved side angle pose… ) when my cell lit up with a text message fit for the opening lines of a Camus novel:
“Today, our Japanese rabbi died.”
My best friend, a bubbly, intelligent, and kind culturally-Jewish girl from the suburbs of New York City, was getting married to a warm, thoughtful, and humorous Japanese bar owner in exactly one month. And after all the pinterest boards and dessert tastings, this was the last thing she needed.
Shocking, I know, but like unicorns, Japanese rabbis are kind of rare.
There was a few exchanges — she had a Plan B, everything was going to be fine.
The next morning I got a phone call.
I was the plan B.
When she asked me if I wouldn’t mind the promotion from bridesmaid to stand-in officiant, I flashed through the last seven years…
To the weekend she crashed at my small “efficiency” studio on the upper west side of Manhattan and I suggested we go to this fancy cocktail bar downtown. After comping us a round a drinks, the bartender made us a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage to help us make our way home. That bartender would become her boyfriend…
Flash forward a few years later, she and I were standing in an elevator she was wearing a kimono the bartender’s mother had gifted her. “He’s the one,” she said without reservation. “Women know these things”…
And now I was standing in the bathroom at work, on the phone, being asked to officiate their wedding.
“I really can’t think of a bigger honor than getting to marry you two.”
“Great! I hoped you’d say that! I think it’d be really awesome to get married by officiant in a blue jumpsuit!”
That’s right. I was the bridesmaid who was told “wear whatever you want, as long as it’s blue,” and decided on a cobalt blue jumpsuit. A Reverend in a jumpsuit. I could see the branding opportunities already…
Up until this point, my day-of wedding responsibilities were fairly simple and superficial:
Make sure the make-up artist doesn’t make the Bride orange
Make sure the Bride’s dress corset is pulled in as tight as it can go — don’t worry if she seems to be suffering from shortness of breath.
Make sure the Bride has a shoehorn so she doesn’t smash the heels of her Jimmy Choos when she’s putting them on under her dress.
I had just picked up a few more responsibilities that were significantly less superficial (Learn Japanese sake-pouring ceremony. Learn how to say “chuppah” in a way that doesn’t sound like a sneeze. Make sure Bride and Groom say “I Do” and sign marriage certificate) but I would handle them, because for her, for them, I had to. There are only a few times in your life when the people you love really ask you to step up to the plate for them. And when they do, you owe it to them to bring your A-game… to try to hit a home run… and if you don’t, at least you go down swinging.