Monday, November 30, 2009

Ghosts of Relationships Past

Last week I traveled home, along with everybody else in this country, to spend Thanksgiving Weekend with my family. I was a little on the skinny side when I arrived, due to a post-breakup decrease in appetite, but found that, when I weighed myself every morning on the bathroom scale, I weighed a pound more each day than I had the previous day. By the end of the weekend, I was more or less back to my normal weight. Green Bean traveled with me and was happy to get lots of attention and to have free reign of the house, and was also appreciative that he's been forgiven for preferring La Moustache to me in the past. There were a couple of semi-close calls, but I managed to keep him safe from my parents' obese cat, Kiki, thanks largely to Kiki's unmaneuverability and slow reflexes.

While I was home, I had a brief visit with my oldest friend, Ms. B, who moved back home from New York a year and a half ago, built a house, had a baby, and transformed herself with astonishing rapidity into an adult. When we had a moment to ourselves, she told me something surprising: “If I were you, I would call up L'Artista. It's probably not the right thing to do, but I would if I were in your shoes.”

Up to that point, I had not allowed this thought to cross my mind. L'Artista was my first serious boyfriend. I met him when I was 18 and had just arrived in Florence, Italy for a semester of painting lessons, where he was my 28-year-old painting teacher. He was charming, handsome, hopelessly in love with me (as I was with him), the most amazing cook I've ever met, and a disaster when it came to committed relationships. Still, he was scrupulously honest about this last aspect of his personality, which puts him several notches above La Moustache in my book. He took me for rides on his Vespa, painted numerous paintings of me, and cooked fabulous meals for me and my friends. We embarked on a meandering, romantic relationship while I went to college, then moved to New York and began my life. It should have ended there, when I grew up a bit and began to want a real partner, but L'Artista got carried away by his own romanticism and began musing about moving to New York and starting a life together. I chose not to heed his earlier warnings, and we talked about this possibility for over a year, without making any discernible headway. My patience finally began to wear thin, and the situation culminated one day on a bus in England; during a discussion about our future together, L'Artista got up, ran to the bathroom, and was sick to his stomach. This was too much for me, and I ended it. As soon as I did so, he told me he was ready to move to New York and get serious about me. HA.

Since then, L'Artista has maintained his romanticism, and continues to call me “amore” in sporadic e-mails that I rarely reply to, and muses about what it would be like if we were to see each other again. The thought is terrifying and, I have to admit, enticing. I e-mailed him in September to wish him a happy 40th (!) birthday, and told him about some of the difficulties of my life lately (though no mention was made of La Moustache, since I had a feeling he would get ideas if he knew I am single). He e-mailed me back several times, and finally wrote a note saying that my silence was beginning to worry him; he asked me to let him know if everything was okay. Angry and embittered against all men, I wrote back a cryptic e-mail saying that I was fine, I just didn't need selfish people in my life at that moment, or maybe ever. I composed the e-mail rapidly, without thinking, and wrote it in French because it seemed like too much trouble to find the words in Italian (even though I often chat online with old friends in Italy with no language problems). I quickly hit “send” before I had a chance to reconsider.

The response was fast; a hurt L'Artista shot off four e-mails asking what he had done wrong, and if it is a crime for him to tell me that I am important to him. I suspect that he's forgotten all about his role in encouraging me to hope for more from our relationship. I didn't reply to any of these missives.

There is a fine balance when it comes to memories of past relationships. Too good a memory makes it impossible to move on, and too poor a memory leads one to keep making the same mistakes over and over again, like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If given the chance, I feel sure that L'Artista would do it all over again with me, right down to vomiting in the bus restroom; absent that opportunity, I imagine he is making similar mistakes with other people (I flatter myself that I am still his first choice). Four years after the last time I saw L'Artista, I like to think that I am a wiser, better person because of that relationship. And despite his 40 years, I have a feeling I'm a lot wiser than L'Artista. For that, I am thankful.

Drawing of me at age 19 by L'Artista

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Post-breakup reading material

A few weeks ago, I surprised myself by picking up “Eat, Pray, Love” from my bookshelf where it had been gathering dust for several years, and beginning to read it. It's one of those books that I was always sure I would hate just because it is so popular, along with “The DaVinci Code” and “The Kite Runner.” If I actually read them, I would probably love them just as much as everyone else does, but I prefer to maintain my self-image as someone who does not have mainstream tastes. If I can spot more than five people reading it on the subway, it's off my reading list.

Nonetheless, I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert's book because it is about a subject I relish these days: a painful divorce. And I loved many of the details in the beginning: her disastrous rebound relationship, the depression she suffered from for years after the breakup, her guilt, how she found herself penniless and homeless in her mid-thirties.... Bizarrely, I found myself getting angry at her as I read, since in her breakup she played the role of La Moustache. She was the one pretending to be committed to a relationship that she wasn't actually committed to at all, and even went so far as to try to get pregnant, praying each month that it wouldn't take. And guess what she did to try to get over the whole breakup experience? She went and traveled the world for a year. How cliché.

Midway through the book, while she's meditating in India, Gilbert forgives herself for what she did to her ex-husband and comes to terms with the divorce. (Really, Elizabeth? Already? Don't you think you deserve to feel guilty and miserable for at least another year or two?) I could see the writing on the wall: we were getting to the third, “Love” section of the book, and she was going to go to Indonesia and meet an amazing boyfriend and have lots of sex with him. I lost interest and put down “EPL,” vowing never to pick it up again. (I'll consider seeing the movie though.)

After that, I turned to the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson. The first book in this series is called “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in English, but its original Swedish title is “Men Who Hate Women.” As far as I'm concerned, the latter title is much more appropriate, and could even be the title for all three books: “Men Who Hate Women, Parts I, II, and III.” The books are filled with one misogynist after another, and these are not David Letterman-style misogynists. These are the kind of misogynists who rape, kill and torture women, regardless of whether their victims are their own daughters, wives or sisters. In the third book, there's even a scene in which a character tries to recall whether he killed a woman or not, and is unable to; that's how casual it is. One victim's father and brother conspire to shoot her and bury her alive. A sadistic lawyer who is assigned to be guardian to a ward of the state rapes her. Policemen regularly refer to women as “bitches” and “whores” and other, worse words that I prefer not to repeat. I could go on; the three books are each well over 500 pages, and they are chock full of these details. It's enough to make one become a misandrist (and vow never to go to Sweden).

But the satisfying part is how all these men get their comeuppance. This skinny, 90-pound, tattooed girl goes around and, with a little help from some other good guys, makes these jerks suffer. She kicks the asses of armed thugs who are three times her size. She nails her brother's feet to the floor. She uses her intelligence and amazing computer skills to outwit high-powered, corrupt politicians and businessmen. And, just for fun, she gets a boob job. She's like a bizarre Swedish superhero with really bad social skills. They're not great literature, but they're an awful lot of fun to read.

Any suggestions for what I should read now that I'm done with the trilogy?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Last Exit

A couple of weeks ago, I talked to my landlord in Brooklyn, Big Guy, about moving, and asked him if he knew any movers. He quickly volunteered one of his vans and a couple friends for the job. And so it was that two days ago La Moustache, Big Guy, and a few neighbors loaded my remaining possessions (after being carefully culled through to fit into my new limited quarters) into Big Guy's van. The next morning I hugged a tearful Moustache goodbye for the last time, and Green Bean and I drove off in my little green car.

Big Guy was not available to accompany me to my new city, so he entrusted the job to two of his friends, Corleone and Jesus. I don't know Jesus too well, but Corleone and I go way back; he was the first person to give us a tour of our apartment, he was there for the lease-signing, and he's been a constant presence ever since. I was glad to have him with me on my journey out of New York, and happy to see his face when I stopped for gas midway through the trip and he came knocking on my car door to say hi.

Corleone and Jesus teased me that I drove too slowly, and they also had the benefit of a GPS to prevent them from getting lost in this maze of a city, so by the time I arrived they had been hanging around for a good half hour and had had plenty of time to assess the situation in Boston. At first, they were none too impressed. “Where are the pretty girls at??! There's no one around!” they told me. “You're not gonna last here two months. You'll be back in Brooklyn in no time.” They went on to compare my new neighborhood in Boston to “WAAAAYY out in Queens, or maybe Long Island.” I told them that not too long ago this neighborhood had had a bad reputation, and they responded, “Yeah, it's mad dangerous around here. Like, that guy on the bike is SPEEDING! Crazy! And look, that lady over there is jaywalking. Somebody littered over here! Call the police!”

After unloading my belongings, settling Bean in, and saying a quick hi to the kittens, we headed out to an Irish pub before the boys headed back. It was at the pub that their opinion of Boston began to change, due to the large portions and low prices of the drinks. They were also impressed that it was 5 pm and the bar was pretty full. As Corleone and I downed a few drinks and Jesus rolled a joint, the conversation turned to La Moustache. Corleone and his girlfriend of four years, the mother of his adorable son, split up recently, and I asked him what he did to feel better. He told me that he really didn't feel so bad since their breakup was amicable and they still spend a lot of time together, but it was helpful to “call Tanya, Danielle and Jessica.” He recommended I try the same technique.

I told Corleone and Jesus about the painful last few months, and they initially defended La Moustache. They said every man is afraid to settle down, and after his trip he'll surely come back to me, begging forgiveness. After I told them more of the story, though, they agreed that he had been unfair to me. I briefly considered giving them a few extra $20 bills to slash the tires on the Monster, but decided against it, and instead asked them to give him some dirty looks for me before his departure. They promised they would do so.

We walked out of the bar and headed back to the van, and Jesus lit his cigarette and offered it to me. I took a quick puff and handed it back to him, but he refused it, saying, “Take at least three. You need it.” I followed his instructions and breathed in deeply, enjoying my last taste of Brooklyn.

Friday, November 6, 2009

True Love

There is someone else who will be devastated by La Moustache's impending departure. Someone who, like me, considered Moustache to be the love of his life, and who is entirely dedicated to him. That someone is our little pet lovebird, Green Bean.

We bought Bean nearly two years ago, in February 2007. We purchased him at a pet store in the far north of Manhattan, where English is like a second language to Spanish. The people in the shop used gestures and broken English to explain how to take care of him. Given his origins, I wanted to name him Pollito, or Little Chicken in Spanish; La Moustache voted for Poupoule, which means the same in French. We kept going back and forth like this, but finally after a week or so we were able to agree on Haricot, the French word for bean.

When you purchase a parrot at a pet store, it does not come tame, and Green Bean was no exception. He was terrified of us, and clung helplessly to a pinata toy hanging from the top of his cage, refusing to come out. I sat next to the cage and talked to him and read him the newspaper, and La Moustache enticed him out with yummy seeds. It took a long time, but eventually Bean came to trust us so much that he lets us pet him like a cat, turning his head from side to side appreciatively and closing his eyes. He likes to cuddle under our chins and snuggle down for a nap. On weekends, we used to enjoy lolling around in bed in the mornings, and would bring Bean in to play hide and seek with us under the covers.

At a certain point, it became clear that he did not love us equally. There is a reason, of course, why lovebirds are called that. Green Bean had made his choice of mate, and it was not me. He was happy to spend time with me when La Moustache wasn't around, but the instant he arrived in the door, Bean flew to him like a moth to a flame. Moustache took to calling him “my little glue” because of the way Bean stuck to him. Not only did Green Bean want to be nearby, he wanted to be as close as humanly possible, and would dive inside Moustache's sweater and crawl around happily in there, occasionally poking his head out of the neckhole like a prairie dog before diving back in.

Lovebirds have some funny mating habits, and Green Bean tried them all out on La Moustache. He wanted desperately to express his love by regurgitating his food to him. The first few times he did it, we wondered if he was having an asthma attack; he would sit on Moustache's shoulder and dry heave, panting heavily and hoping against hope that Moustache would finally open his mouth to receive Bean's gift. Lovebirds also have a mating ritual called “the clicky dance,” which Bean does for Moustache at least once a day. He demonstrates his prowess as a mate by flapping his wings and calling out loudly and by moving his body quickly back and forth in front of Moustache, sometimes running and sometimes hopping. At the same time, he makes a clicky sound with his beak. The clicky sound is apparently very sexy to lovebirds, but the downside of it is that the vibrations from the clicks make him itchy, so he has to pause his dance frequently to scratch his face. Again, when this first started we were not sure what to make of it, and wondered if we should call the vet.

One day I was home alone, and was thrilled when Bean started doing the clicky dance. I texted La Moustache excitedly to let him know that Bean finally considered me to be mate material. A moment later I realized the sad truth when Bean mounted on a plastic toy ball and attempted to mate with it as it rolled around awkwardly beneath him.

Green Bean is sad when either of us goes away, and even when we are only gone for the weekend he welcomes us back excitedly and affectionately. I wonder if he thinks of us when we are not there, and how he will feel when he realizes that Moustache is not just away for a few days.

I am moving to a new city shortly, and am facing the prospect of being a single mom to our little bird in a place where I don't have a lot of friends who I can use as birdsitters. For a time, when I thought about how difficult it would be to take weekend trips or even stay out late at night, I considered finding a new home for Green Bean. Ultimately, I decided that this would be unthinkable. I recently purchased a travel cage for Bean, and checked Amtrak's pet policy (not a problem). I hope to be able to take lots of weekend trips and bring my little one along. And who knows, maybe I'll get lucky and find a roommate who will like him and be willing to take care of him sometimes. Plus Moustache is pushing for joint custody after his return - we'll see about that.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I promised myself that this blog wouldn't be all about La Moustache. He doesn't deserve to be the subject of my blog, and I hope to move on soon and write about more worthy subjects. Next week I'll be hanging out with a litter of kittens in my new apartment in a new city, Moustache will be off on his voyage, and it will be easier to pretend he doesn't exist. But right now it is awfully hard to think about anything else. Somehow the fact that a school I was supposed to work at is threatening to sue me and is (falsely) accusing me of taking computer equipment is like a punch from a baby mouse compared to the painful public demise of my relationship.

I announced to La Moustache yesterday that I am going to be on Oprah. In my fantasy Oprah will thoughtfully ask me about the horrors that have happened to me recently, beginning with the injustices that I lived through as a first grade teacher in a nightmarish Brooklyn public school last year. In an outraged tone, she will question me about the end of this traumatic year, when I was offered a series of dream jobs that fell through one after another. How as this difficult period dragged on my boyfriend became depressed and gradually transformed from supportive and comforting to an empty shell, and how the situation culminated when my final job offer fell through and he was so emotionally absent that he lied via text message and told me he couldn't call me because he was in a meeting. How I decided I needed to go away to Europe to convalesce, and how upon my return my boyfriend asked me if I would travel the world with him, then abruptly changed his mind and announced that he would be doing the trip alone. Finally, she will ask me about the effects of the media circus surrounding my now-ex-boyfriend's voyage.

Following this moving conversation about my suffering, Oprah will open her arms to me and hug me to her. Oprah's hug will be heartfelt and comforting, and I will tear up a bit. Oprah will pull back, offer me a tissue, and then resume the hug as the crowd claps compassionately. Finally, toward the end of my time on her show, she will hand me the keys to a new car. No, not a Land Cruiser, a Prius. Oprah knows that I don't have the slightest interest in owning a Land Cruiser. The audience will roar their approval.

I spoke recently with a Wise Woman who helps me navigate the intricacies of life, and she gave me some advice: I need to hitch up my britches and start protecting myself. That means not Googling articles about La Moustache in the news, and not reading comments people post about how cool his trip sounds. Not perusing lists of people who have donated money to help him pay for gasoline. Not checking his blog or his Twitter, and not glancing out the window at his Monster. I am good at protecting myself, and I know how to do it. Most of the time, I have great powers of self-control.

I did really well with this the day after our conversation. Not a single click on his website or a peek out at the driveway. However, over the weekend it has felt that I would need to be buried under a glacier in the Antarctic to avoid mention of the Great Adventure. Three days after Moustache's article came out, I thought the media was ready to move on, but it turns out that the weekend is when newspaper travel sections come out, and things were just beginning to heat up. Mutual friends are posting it on Facebook (and then immediately getting blocked by me). My friends' parents are calling them to report having spotted it. Moustache is spending his days talking on the phone to television producers and literary agents and answering e-mails from adoring fans.

Dutifully trying to follow my Wise Woman's advice, I asked La Moustache kindly not to mention any news about his trip to me. However, I later amended my request: If there was some news that I likely would hear elsewhere, like if Moustache were to be the subject of a reality TV show, it would be easier to hear about it first from him. As an afterthought to emphasize my seriousness, I threw a block of Gruyere forcefully on the kitchen floor.

But recently some of the media frenzy has taken a subtle turn and honed in on our relationship, briefly mentioned in Moustache's article and leaving much to the imagination. One website put the piece on its homepage and for a time (I've been told) attached the description, “Man leaves girlfriend and job to travel around the world.” How many comments did it receive? 902 and counting. How many did I read? I didn't count, but probably in the neighborhood of 830. I know, not very good in the self-control department. Many of these comments were about me, and a handful were actually insightful. Naturally, others were offensive. Today Moustache met with a TV producer who is interested in doing a show on the trip, and is interested in our relationship. He envisions a scene of us Skyping on Christmas day. Let me tell you, if a television station ever gives me airtime, I will have a thing or two to say about La Moustache, and I seriously doubt that the words “Merry Christmas, darling” will be involved.

(In an ironic little twist, this same producer suggested that La Moustache could make a killing through corporate sponsors, and specifically told him that the outdoor clothing company where my father is a vice president would surely be happy to give him tens of thousands of dollars if Moustache would don some of their outerwear. Little does he know that the chances of this happening are even less than his happy Christmas scenario. As my father said, “Over my dead body.”)

It feels very strange to have people I don't know speculating about me, and particularly strange that my self-involved ex is controlling the discourse. I am thankful that this is all anonymous. I'm looking forward to cozying up with the kittens in Boston, and thinking that a vacation to Antarctica may also be in order. If Oprah tries to reach me, let her know she can find me there.