“This is the most Elizabeth Tannen night of all time.”
Prone on her bed, A snatched the green shirt she’d been using to shield her eyes and flopped it back over her face.
It was 11:30 pm, Saturday.
Moments prior, I’d hurtled into her Brooklyn Heights studio from Atlantic Terminal–where a train had delivered me from two days at my brother’s house in Sag Harbor.
My flight to Minnesota was 7 am, Sunday.
I raised my forehead from the pillow beside hers and enumerated the moment’s conundrums:
“Let’s see. I kissed a stranger on the Long Island Railroad. I have no idea what I did with my Driver’s License. I’m supposed to fly home in less than eight hours. And I’m pining for a man in another state who’s probably, at this moment, unavailable.” I cleared my throat. “It’s true. I’ve never felt so myself!”
The Comedy of (Elizabethan, sorry) Errors continued: after a few hours of (rather wretched) sleep, I got in an Uber to JFK—only to realize that I’d been dropped at the wrong Terminal; in hopes of being a (slightly) less distracted writer, but at the risk of becoming an (even) less resourceful human, I’ve removed Safari from my phone–which meant I had to stagger around Terminal Two in search of someone kind enough to navigate me toward Terminal Four. A twenty-minute Airtrain and a wait in what must have been the longest ticket line in the history of Sun Country Airlines later, I entered the (equally profound) security line; with less than 45 minutes to spare before my flight, I managed to talk my way through two unsmiling TSA agents with the (extremely fortunate) use of my (highly expired) New Mexico ID.
“I made it!” I texted A from the other side.
“Of course you did,” she wrote back. “Classic Elizabeth.”
Back in Minneapolis, things continued in familiar form.
Not to be dramatic (but to be dramatic), they did so in a less comic, more tragic manner: in the time-honored tradition of assorted predecessors, the dude, following our month-long pause, announced a newfound clarity that he needs to work through his intimacy-related issues on his own–and not with me.
“This is definitely a success.”
Days later, crumpled across from my therapist in a limp pile of sadness and rage, “successful” was not the concept with which I felt most, um, connected.
“But I’ve never been in a relationship,” I objected, “with someone with whom I’ve felt so compatible.”
“Exactly!” she said. “That means you’re making progress.”
This was only vaguely more comforting than the response of my dear friend K, who, upon arriving at my house in the breakup’s immediate aftermath, assured me that my time with him had been a rich learning experience:
“We know so much, now, about the kind of person you need!” she said, embracing me from across the living room piano bench.
“Like what,” I sniffled.
She tilted her chin toward the ceiling. “Well, like…someone who looks very Jewish!”
(For the record, my attraction to Jewish men isn’t new information. Nor is it one that, generally speaking, has served me well. Also, I live in a state that is 95% blond, meaning that this observation was neither hopeful nor of much use. I never said it was easy being my friend.)
“I don’t know what’s up with us man-boys.”
Before things ended officially, I had a brief exchange with the (ex)-dude’s and my mutual pal–one who once ended things with me on not completely dissimilar terms.
“Me neither,” I said.
And, truly, I don’t. I tend to stick to examining my own dysfunction in this space, and others; I can speculate, but ultimately, I can’t earnestly reveal much about what goes on in the hearts and minds of those 30-something men who can’t or won’t settle down.
I’ve got enough work to do, besides, with my own mess.
And when the universe puts you on a train beside a flirty male model on a night that you’re yearning for someone you sense has checked out while realizing you’ve left your ID (along with some negligable arm-strength-related pride and Ira Glass running on a treadmill) at the Crunch gym in Chelsea, you have to wonder.
Of course, the universe tends not to communicate very directly. And, as such, I have no idea what the hell it wants to say.
Allow me to grasp:
I’m still my spacey, messy, impossibly open-hearted and mildly peripatetic self: the self that is drawn to those my therapist likes to call “risky bets.”
I’m still prone, in other words, to make bad calls.
But I’m also, with each one, a little more aware, and–in their aftermath–a little less fragile.
On Sunday, I woke up feeling strong: I went for a run, did some writing, biked to the meditation center–where a guest teacher was leading practice.
She spoke about time with monks in New Zealand, the persistent difficulty of quieting her mind during a long stretch of being on retreat.
She spoke, also (as Buddhist teachers do) about the need to be kind with ourselves as we continue to struggle–as we continue, with ever-increasing clarity, to watch ourselves repeat those (extremely engrained) patterns we know cause harm.
It is our (slow, slow) work to grow more skillful.
But it s also our work to recognize and acknowledge our slips of progress–however small, however challenging, however faint.