I am at the airport again, just a quick trip this time, but I’m ill at ease. My daughter’s anxious about the new school year and M. is headed to his parents’ house for the weekend. The siblings are gathering to begin the process of cleaning out the house. Making preparations for what’s to come. The days feel fraught, tense; but mostly, we are all tired, each with our own persistent stresses.
I leave them love notes, scrawled hastily in the dark. I place them where they will find them as they make their way through the sleepy morning.
The other night, M. brought home flowers – a stunning profusion, really – and I ruined the moment with my incredulity. “Really,” he says, “no reason. I just saw them and thought of you.” A pause. “Should I not have done that?”
I tell S. the next day, embarrassed by my own cynicism. “But we’ve been trained,” she laughs, “not to expect romance.”
We are (post-)modern women. We make our own money, we own our own houses. We like our men creative, sensitive, and thoroughly nontraditional. We saw our mothers and what they gave up. The paths they did not take. And we vowed independence and a different kind of life.
In those early days, there was a time when touring around in the old rusted van, loaded up with amps and pedals seemed a reasonable life to want. We took Z. down to Philadelphia one weekend when she was small. Bought a toy tent and told her we were camping on the bare floor of the recording studio. In the end, it was me, and my need for steady pay and health insurance. And then the road trips started seeming less like romance and more like obstacles to the white-picket-fence life for which I had inexplicably developed a hunger.
In the sad, but strangely luminous film Blue Valentine – a love story for a certain kind of aging hipster – the male protagonist makes a comment that it is men who are more romantic than women. And I think there is some truth to this. Perhaps they are more willing to embrace the notion that love is simple – that the heart wants what it wants and that the wanting will be enough to carry all that is to come. Perhaps it is we, who have been trained (as S. might put it), to see the myriad complexities. And so it is we who twist and struggle beneath the weight of the wanting, when in the cold light of morning, the old van won’t start, and the flimsy nylon tent provides little warmth against the concrete.
“You have issues about security and you’re incapable of dealing with separation of any kind.” The other night, over drinks and oysters, my friend R. is on her second gimlet and has wearied of my tired monologue. She has now resorted to a kind of tough love. She pauses for a moment, then softens. “But really, given your history, who can blame you?” and she goes on to catalogue my various losses.
I hear “given your history” like an accusation, and as she carries on, reciting the events of my life back to me, I imagine they are being written down on an endless scroll that unfurls like a carpet down a long dark hallway. And for these reasons, an unseen voice intones, you are sentenced to a lifetime of uncertainty, self-doubt, anxiety, and fear.
“We should have a bonfire,” I say, suddenly, “for the birthday party.” I picture a big steel drum. Writing everything down on scraps of paper, throwing them into the drum and watching the smoke rise up.
“Oh, yes,” she says, brightening. “Yes.” She raises her gimlet to me and we tap glasses. “To the bonfire, which shall dispel all past despair.”
The plane lands and the morning is so clear, so bright, the view of the city is unobstructed. I make my way to the taxi stand and wait in line behind the other men and women on their way to conference rooms and office buildings. They clutch their messenger bags and their file folders. They tap on their blackberries.
At home, they are all just now getting in the car, backing out of the driveway, turning off Division Street, heading toward East Avenue, and then on to Hope Street. The hours will pass quickly for them, in their little worlds, as it will for me, here. And when night falls, we will shrug off this day like our sweaters and sleep, hoping for sweet dreams.