I was starving on the train tonight. As it rolled on its wheels inching closer to my destination, I dreamed of burger patties and Italian meatballs and white pasta.
I don’t like to eat after 8 p.m. — and certainly never non-whole-grains — but tonight it didn’t bother me. I got off the train and visited the grocery store. I was only going to pick up a few things, but five minutes became 30, and suddenly I was standing at the freezer debating between angus and lamb. (I went with angus.)
Juggling 10 things in my hand, I made it through the aisles to the self-checkout. As I signed on the scanpad, the phone rang. It was Art. I dropped the pen and scrambled for the phone. “I’m sorry,” I said.
We’d had a fight, because I don’t often say I’m sorry. “For what?” he asked. I gave him my reasons. And he accepted them. The cold froze over and broke then, falling over the line and crashing near our feet, and suddenly communication was clear and warmth filled our voices.
I hate fighting. The worst part about having a fight is the period of silence that follows. Whether it lasts 30 minutes or two days, those moments never come back again. I will never know what Art did yesterday, and he’ll never know how I felt. Even if I tell him, I won’t remember exactly, I might miss details and exaggerate time. All this without my knowledge, because all we have is memory, our trusted friend, and we trust it no matter its performance. So, better than memory is the present. If we make it in the present, if I call him and tell him right now, “Hey, Art, right now I’m typing and thinking of you,” this moment will go down in history. It will be written in stone. He might sit under his lamp in his room and smile then, the yellow light making a pool on his cheek, before continuing whatever he was doing. And sure, we might forget this moment anyway (we may not even realize about the cheek), but that doesn’t matter either. Just because we don’t know something doesn’t mean it isn’t here. And just because we don’t remember something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and that it didn’t leave an impression on us, an impression so slight that it woudln’t make much difference alone, but working with its brothers and sisters and all those other instances, it might add up to a new identity. Or it just might be that one moment that we’ll remember once, by accident or not, and it will change things. It will change our mood in one evening, or it will bring some clarity that will fall like a missing piece into the right place and change our lives.
Or it will just take a page in the book of memories of our friendship.
But when we don’t talk, we miss it. We’ll talk later, we know. But in the meantime, we fill our lives with gaps. That’s what bad feelings do — cut things in half. Moments pass, and new moments come in and mend what was left unsaid, zipping up the time lapsed into its quiet grave that will never be talked about again, never remembered.
At home, I put the spinach in the blender, and as the blades chopped through the lives, I remembered it wasn’t spinach at all, but swiss chard. “Maybe it will taste more iron-y,” I thought to myself. It did. In fact, it tasted so green and iron-y, it was hard to ignore the solid taste on the pasta. So before the meal was over, I slathered it with spicy tomato sauce and feta, and only a faint aftertaste of green came through.
Why did I go into the trouble of making pesto pasta with Italian meatballs tonight? I don’t know. The idea came to me this morning, at our department meeting. As boss ranted about invoicing procedures, I nodded eagerly, my curles framing my face and nodding with me. I tapped my pencil on my notebook and scribbled “invoices.” Below that: “pesto,” in Greek letters.
I went through a busy day, poring over a big project ceaselessly through the hours, forgetting to even take my lunch hour. By the end, an hour after work was over, it was just me and boss. “Goodnight,” he said and put on his coat. I waved, and then I was alone. I remembered the pesto. And then, I got an IM from the guy back home. And the pesto was postponed again.
We talked for a little over an hour. We talked about school, his dreams, my reality, about work, movies and our feelings. We talked about school, him coming here for a doctorate. He wants to, but it’s not his dream to do it here. “What is your dream?” I asked. To teach, he said. To teach and have his students come back and say that some things stayed with them. I imagine him with his students. Often, I see him, serious, engaged, his black eyes shining with energy as his mind hits vague concepts with clarity. “You know what I like?” I ask. He guesses something creative, making something out of nothing. “That too,” I say. “But I was going to say that I like listen to you talking about your dream.”
I’ve charmed him, and it was by accident. Anything I’ve done was accidental. Isn’t that life? You try and try, and things come together by themselves. “You went through a phase. You had a lot of questions in your head last week, you had a lot of stress…I could tell. Am I right?” he says. Yes, a lot of questions. “Do you think I’m going through a crisis now?” He misreads it as a crisis. “No, you’re too smart with just the right amount of sensitivity for a crisis,” he says. “But we all have phases in life. You know what you’re doing deep down.” I think it’s crazy. “Life is. I’ve known you for so many years, and yet I’m only getting to know you now.” And he says, “Yes, but it’s nice this way. We are learning each other and I feel you so close to me now even though you’re far.” Yes. “But you’re happy these days. We’ve been happy.” You and me? I ask. “We,” he says. “Are you happy right now Right this second?” I blurt out my thought instantly: “No, because I miss you like crazy and am thinking June is way too far from now.” But then I joke: “But two seconds ago I was.” “I miss you too,” he says. And then we babble some more, making sweet jokes like any ol’ couple would over coffee in the afternoon by the sea back home. Only he’s at home at 3 a.m. with a few friends over, and I’m in a cold and empty office on a Friday evening in Manhattan. I shiver. It’s late, and I have to go. “We’ll talk tomorrow,” he says. But I’m going away tomorrow. I’m going on a road trip, away from the screen. “I’ll be on in the morning. If you are too, then great.” He says OK and sends me kisses. “You know, you understand,” he always says right after, reminding me what kind of kisses, what the passion from last week felt like in real time. He sends me more, on the lips now, he says, then on my neck. And I feel my body preparing itself for him. I feel goosebumbs, and my cheeks glow. As if I’m about to see him in the next ten minutes. As if I’m about to walk outside across the street to the coffee shop, sit down from the cold and say, “Let’s never be far again.”
My mind quiets down as I shut down the computer. And as I turn off the lights, gather my things and walk toward the door, I wonder what he’s doing. Did he set the iphone down on the table and join his friends again? Did he put it down then walk away from it like I did from the computer? Isn’t that some math concept, where there is one point, from which two lines extend infinitely in opposite directions?
My logic fails me again. I never was that great in math. I walk outside, bracing myself for the cold. I’ve covered my neck with my woolen scarf and buttoned up my thick winter coat. But as I rush to the train half a block down, I suddenly notice the air around me. It’s crisp, and the chill on my face refreshes me. The city is starting to buzz as people prepare for their night, and I suddenly enjoy being part of it. Peace fills my heart, and I slow down. I pull my scarf down and unbutton the top of my jacket, and walk in the opposite direction. The next train stop is many blocks down, and I don’t care. I want to breathe this air, I want to feel alive. I want to walk, carry my thoughts with him, carry them outside.
I’m still thinking of him when I stop at the stoplight. Part of my brain assesses my surroundings; the other part rewinds our conversation, lingers on the sweet spots, then plays it back again. The feeling floods that part of the brain, and the other part still keeps me safe. I’ve been sitting in front of the same light for two minutes, and people are wondering why I haven’t crossed yet. So I begin now. And as I tread on the white lines, my brain tries to reconstruct his laugh, his eyes when they watched me intensely, and the way at only 23, his hairline recedes a little at his temples.
And when she reconstructs the face completely, she shuts down the memory. She’s scared a little. Who is this person? Who am I? What is happening to me?
And then she knows it: This is a gift. I’d rather him be away. Perhaps if he was here, I woudln’t be able to talk to him as easily. I’d filter more, I’d analyze more, I’d trust him less. Way less. I’d cry. Maybe life brought it this way to reward me. “It’s a beautiful feeling,” I think to myself. “Nurse it within you.” Nurse it because with every chat we have, daily now, I feel strong.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter, the distance. It doesn’t matter, the details. the face, the hair, the hands, the things you remember after a good date. These don’t matter. What is it that matters in life then? Love. And I use that freely. I mean all love. You don’t have to fall in love with someone and wait months to use that word. Use it freely. Love your friends, not just your crushes and boyfriends. Love your parents. Your siblings. Your co-workers, neighbors, pen pals, pets. Love the people you sometimes see at the grocery store and recognize in your neighborhood. Love janitors, baristas, gatekeepers and strangers. Love the moments in life that aren’t “special” — the everyday, the mundane, the routine moments that feel like they’ve been cloned infinite times. They may not grant you anything you’ll remember long, but they quietly offer you peace, predictable comfort, little mystery and mostly no surprises. Love them because everything has meaning, everything is connected, and everything has a point, whether the point is directly its own or it depends on two, 9, 25 or 1500 other instances for its meaning to be understood.
I’m not sure if you know what I’m talking about, or if you’re still reading, in fact, but if you’ve made it down to here, you may now realize that today is day 69. My last day of this blogging experience. I challenged myself to write every night for 69 days, and I did it. I said I’d do it for 69 consecutive days initially, but life happened, and I missed days here and there, and now I’m finishing three weeks late. But what matters is that I’m finishing. Had I finished on time, this journey would have ended right before I left for home. None of the love I feel these days would have made it in here. But perhaps it needed to be here for this to be complete, a complete and accurate slice of life as it happens organically.
I told myself that on my last day of this blog, I’d reveal my secret. So here we are now, at this crucial moment: The real reason I made this 69-day challenge was not to get back to writing, but to record the evolution of love. When I started this at day 1, I was head over heels for “Boy.” I gave it 69 days, because although I liked him, he was flaky, and I didn’t think I could put up with him for more than two months and some change.
In reality, the thing was over about 10 days later. But I kept going, recording random bits of thoughts, wisdom or events or feelings each day, trying to capture perhaps another stage of love — the afterward. If it wasn’t going to be 69 days of love, then it would be 69 days of life. Just life. And here they are now, 69 full snapshots. Love first, a long time of nothing spotted by random thoughts and revelations or simply picturesque descriptions of home life, or just a battle with feelings or nothing.
And then, love again. Eight magical days of emotion. Logic and Love. Life. The oridnary mixed in with the beautiful. Long stetches of mundane — peace. Gems of emotion, sparkling like ornaments on a tree — an instant glimpse, a glimmer at the edge of a smile, an eyelash, the corner of an earing. It’s so small, so endlessly moving, you can never capture it.
But you know it’s there. As with all those other moments, whether it’s moments you’ve missed with friends or moments that multiply so much you don’t even notice them anymore, it’s there. So that’s it. Life multiplies, and if it doesn’t seem to happen today, or if you seem to be stuck in the walls of time, be sure it’s happening. And the walls are moving, moving forward, endlessly progressing, drawing you closer to moments on the map.
My last two cents: The map is invisible, but the road is there. Use love to guide you.
My pesto has gotten cold.