Sunday, April 8, 2012

To Lean In

It's strange the way things can get stuck in your head. Like when you wake up and there's a song running through your mind, or an image of somewhere you've been that crowds in at the periphery of your vision, or a phrase that you latch onto and keep repeating over and over and over. Sometimes it's all three and when that happens, you might be lost.

I keep thinking about the last time I saw you. It was the kind of day that you remember for a long time; one that you have to make a choice about: either you over analyze it and and you wonder what all of those nice moments will mean or do mean or don't mean and you drive yourself crazy, or it's one that you just enjoy.

I realized pretty quickly that it was not a day that I could afford to lose to thoughts that were anything but "this is lovely" and the like. I'd asked you weeks before for some time, and you gave it to me. The coming through alone was enough for me; that we had such a peaceful, caring day on top of it was almost more that I could deal with. Days like that make the parting at the end doubly hard.

I spent much of the morning expecting you to text me and tell me you weren't going to make it, and when you sat down beside me outside the restaurant, my heart was in my throat. It's not as if this was new for us - we've shared many meals together and many drinks together and we will share many more of each. Maybe it was that you'd been here for 2 days already and that I was seeing you so much more often than usual that it felt like we were approaching normalcy, and that was scary. I don't mean normal and boring, I mean normal and a life together and Sundays together and living in the same city. There is not a doubt in my mind that if we did... And that is scary, to be that sure.

We stood at the bar and drank while we waited for a table. I felt weird; we felt weird; suddenly I was wondering if it had all been in my head. When I said something about it you told me that we were cool and took another sip. I could smell the mint from your toothpick because we were standing so close, and I kept trying to convince myself that it wouldn't be that hard to just lean in. But something felt off and I hesitated, and then the hostess called your name.

After the waitress took our order we settled into well-worn patterns of banter and laughter, tenderness and knowing looks. I put your bandana on for a joke and the smell of smoke from the bar still clung to it; I remembered standing inches from you as you sat on the ledge, hands in your pockets, hunched from the cold. I'd stepped forward slightly so that your foot would hit my calf as you swung your leg back and forth, and now, I stretched my legs under the table to meet yours.

After a while it was time to get out of there, and you winked at me like you always do as we stood up and put on our coats. We made our way outside and turned east to go the the park, my arm immediately going through yours. The zipper on your jacket pocket was open and scraped my knuckles as we walked; my boots made a solid thump on the sidewalk. We stopped just inside the park to listen to a jazz trio play, perching on the low iron railing. The sun had brought everyone out, and we baby-watched and dog petted and talked here and there. For the first time I didn't think about touching you, I just did, as if there was no question about it.

We ended up sitting on a bench as the sun descended, my arm still in yours, and I had to lean in to you because the sun wasn't as warm as we'd thought. With my chin on your shoulder I looked past the back of your neck and watched bikers and runners and families on the road. When I turned my head my forehead was nestled underneath your jaw and your stubble was catching my hair and my eyes fell on the pulse in your neck. It was going crazy. I wondered if you were thinking about kissing me like I was thinking about kissing you, if you were regretting not doing it sooner, if you were wondering would I be ok with it. I stopped looking at your pulse - I'd never seen you that fragile, that vulnerable - and I looked away and lowered my head onto your shoulder. We stayed like that for a while without talking, and I could not have asked for anything more.

"We're losing the light," you said, and I said, "yeah." I asked if you were cold and you told me you were fucking freezing.

"Do you want to walk?"

"No. I'm good right here." It was then that I thought, maybe I was right after all.

We did walk, eventually, and I knew that even if it took us an hour to get out of the park, we were on the last legs of our time together. We meandered about and talked to some tourists when we stopped at the bridge. I loved just watching you walk, your curiosity and your boy's instinct to jump on things and climb things, your hands in your pockets and your easy gait. When I'd put my hand through your arm you'd squeeze it tight to your side.

We came out at Columbus Circle and sat down so you could figure out where you were supposed to go for dinner. As we sat there I started to separate: I took my arm from yours, I sat so that I wasn't touching you, I stopped looking at you. We'd been thisclose all day and now it seemed like we'd be stuck in this limbo forever. Maybe it just wasn't right: every time we stopped walking I stood close, and yet neither of us had the courage to lean in and touch their lips to the other's. I hated myself for putting importance on how one tiny thing hadn't happened, when we'd had one of the best days I'd had in a long time. I unwrapped your bandana from my neck and chastised myself as the wind whipped inside the collar of my coat; this was the day I had wanted, and that was enough.

You stood and tossed your toothpick to the ground. We walked to the subway entrance and hugged. When we pulled away you kept your hands on my arms, so I kept mine on yours, too.

"I'll see you soon. I don't know when the next time will be..."

"I know." I tried my hardest to look ok, to sound ok, to be ok.

"But I will see you." And then, you raised your chin slightly, and started to lean in. You pulled me toward you, and our lips met. There was still mint lingering on yours and your stubble was just barely feelable and we hardly moved. But there we were, a year and god knows how many missed moments later, leaning in.

Monday, January 16, 2012

5:32 a.m. at Second and Houston

The bartender served the Jameson in a perfect glass: nice weight, clear so you could see the color of the whiskey, solid in your hand. The ocher liquid spilled down the sides of the ice cubes and met up with itself in the bottom of the glass as he poured it, smoking slightly because the heat was on in the bar. When both glasses had been filled they picked them up, one in his right hand, one in her left, and their eyes met. She smiled slightly, and they touched glass.

"To your visit." He smiled, acknowledging her toast. "To tonight." She smiled, acknowledging his. They drank.

Normally the raw feeling didn't start until the whiskey was already making its way down her throat, but this time it had started way before they even ordered. If she was honest, it had started in the restaurant, when they split a beer and sushi. Somewhere along the way she noticed that she was talking a lot and he was listening a lot and then, inexplicably, her mouth dried up and she'd lost track of whatever she was saying. He looked at her like he always does - a split second longer than most, with that knowing - and took a sip of beer. When they'd paid the check, he suggested wandering around the city until they found a bar, and as they walked, she'd slipped her arm through his.

They talked about everything. Well, not everything, but things that were important to them. He asked her about teaching and she answered with some of her craziest stories, making even the bartender smirk as he poured their second round. They spoke about music, dear to both of them, and as he talked she watched his hands move. She'd never really looked at them before, but now that she did, she wondered how they would look if he fingered the lapel on her coat or played with her ring. She took a sip of whiskey, hoping to banish the thought.

"Miss." He called her that as a joke, but it always made her smile. She heard it all day every day but when he said it, it was different.

"Mistah." She half smiled and raised her eyes, meeting his above the glasses. The ice had all melted and the whiskey barely tasted like whiskey anymore.

"You want to get out of here? My friends are having a party and I want to stop by."

"Sure." She went to the bathroom and took deep breaths. She had no idea why she needed them, except that she had the feeling that something was coming.

When she came back out they put on their coats. She was trying to zip hers as she walked out the door and couldn't figure out why it wasn't working, until she stopped on the street corner and looked down to discover that it was broken. She looked up with her eyes wide and genuinely disappointed, and watched him struggle between commenting on how adorable she was and laughing. He took the zipper from her and got it working, sliding the mechanism up the metal teeth. His hand reached her throat and stopped; her breath caught. She looked up again, but his gaze was already searching the street.

He grabbed her hand and they ran to the opposite corner, making it to the curb a few seconds before the oncoming cars. He let go and she stuffed her hands in her pockets, left palm tingling. She stole a glace at him - his head was down, he was on the phone trying to find the building - and then looked at her own shoes intersecting with the pavement.

"Hey!" They looked up and saw his friend hanging half of his torso out a window. He smiled and they had a short, shouted conversation. His friend disappeared back inside the window and they waited, not talking, facing some sort of mental precipice. The buzzer on the door went off and he opened it for her, then followed her up the stairs.

They were sitting on the couch, much, much closer than was necessary. They had kind of just plopped down and started talking to the other people in the apartment, and someone made her a drink and that distracted her. When she finally sat back she realized that her whole right side was touching his, and she wondered if she should move and if she did would he be offended, except that she didn't want to move but if she didn't move would he be offended- his fingers touched her knee and asked her something about the song that was playing. She twisted toward him and they talked close. They reached a quiet moment and she looked at the table in front of her, at the chips and the salsa and her half-finished drink and their knees touching.

"Thank you for coming." He was smiling, looking at her. She shrugged and smiled and gave a casual answer, took a sip of her drink. There was cayenne in it and she nearly spit it out, but instead she swallowed it, her eyes tearing. She coughed a couple of times and he placed his hand lightly on her back. When he took it away a few seconds later, she felt an emptiness between her shoulder blades. She squared them and sat back against the couch. He hadn't moved, and she felt his breaths moving his chest next to hers.

They were quiet for what seemed like forever. All of his friends were talking and she felt kind of awkward, sure that everyone could see the electricity sparking between them. His friend, the one who'd hung out the window and who he was staying with that night in Brooklyn, struck up a conversation with her, and soon they were sparring back and forth, trading verbal barbs. As they talked, couples became more absorbed in each other and, as the three single people in the room, all began to feel like it was time to go. They decided to find a bar and get a drink.

They walked down Second Avenue and found some bar that was kind of empty, with music that was way too loud and girls that were way too dressed up for the area of the city they were in. They found a spot and sat down, the friend going to get drinks. She rested her right espadrille on the rung of his stool, and crossed her ankles. As he drank his PBR and talked to his friend he turned back and forth on his stool, softly brushing her leg every few seconds. She watched and listened to them talk about music and college and people they knew, but she wasn't really focused. She found herself thinking ahead, about the rest of the night, how they would have to say goodbye soon and it was the last thing she wanted. She looked at him as she thought, and something in her gaze caught his attention. He looked at her, lingered, and his friend politely left to go to the bathroom.

"Are you good?" He set down his empty beer can and waited for her to answer.

"Yep." She twisted her stool back and forth and smiled. His friend came back from the bathroom as they were looking at each other.

"Want another?" He nodded yes and the friend looked at her. "Yes?"

"I'm done for the night. But thank you." He nodded and walked to the bar, his weight on one leg.

After finishing their beers they walked down Second Avenue toward Houston. Something was going to happen- she could feel it rising in her throat and it made her steps slightly uneven, though she was sober by this point. They got to the corner and she hugged his friend, who then turned away to check his phone. He stepped close to her and put his arms around her. It felt different and she immediately discerned the change: normally they hugged like old friends, which they were, genuinely happy to see each other, but this time she felt his wanting and her wanting and the uncertainty about what to do about it. He pulled away a little bit, but kept his arms around her waist, her hands on his shoulders.

"I don't want to go. This sucks." He stole a glance at his friend, who had dutifully made a phone call and turned away from them.

"I know, I don't want you to go." She looked down at the zipper on his jacket. When she looked up, his eyes were on hers. She thought he would kiss her then, but instead he pulled her in close. Her chin was on his shoulder and she told him she wished he wasn't leaving town tomorrow. He said he wished he wasn't either, and let her go. He walked a few steps away, then came back and stood in front of her.

"Come to Brooklyn. Just come with us."

She wanted to, so badly. She wanted to be there for the awkwardness, the delicious discovery, and newness and the oldness and familiarity and surprise that it would surely be.

"I can't." Even as she said it, she started to berate herself in her head. Why would you ever say that? It's exactly what you want. What is your problem?

He looked at her, then looked down. When he met her eyes again, his were sad - no, disappointed. She'd never seen them that way before and she hated that it was because of her.

"You're sure you don't want to come? Just come hang out with us, spend some more time." His eyebrows raise and his eyes searched hers, and somehow even the harsh glare of the gas station couldn't cover the hope in his face.

"I should go home and go to bed." You stupid fucking girl. "I have a lot of work tomorrow." But what I really want is to wake up next to you and drink coffee and have the warmth of your body next to mine and see the tender way you would surely, surely look at me. "But I'll see you when you get back." Because I'm an idiot, and I'm scared, and please, please, please don't let this be my only chance.

"I get that. It's a long way to your place from Brooklyn." He wouldn't look at her while he said it, and even though she knew he did sincerely understand, she couldn't help wishing that he didn't.

They hugged again, longer, and parted. His friend hailed her a cab and she got in the back, eyes on his as he shut the door. The taxi pulled away before she was ready, and when the driver asked where she was going, she didn't know what to say.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


I came across this article in the New York Times yesterday about how yoga can wreck your body if you don't do it properly. And I thought, duh.

Then I realized that most people don't understand that yoga isn't about being in exactly the right position and being able to put your foot over your head. It's about something else entirely.

Yoga is, first and foremost, about awareness. You learn through the poses and the breathing to notice: your breath, your facial expression, tightness or looseness in your muscles, effort or relief. I remember when I first learned to focus on my breath and not on the pose itself, and yoga completely changed for me. It became a radically different experience. I had been concentrating on making sure I was doing the pose correctly, worrying about it, fretting about why my muscles wouldn't hold the pose as long as other newbies. But when I started to think about my breath, just the words in-out-in-out in my head, it's like all of the pieces snapped together. It became easier to move smoothly from one pose to the other, I cared less about the effort my muscles felt, I was able to hold poses longer. Everything changed.

Awareness is perhaps the biggest gift that yoga has given me, and one that I'm thankful for every day. And it's not just about how my body feels during the practice, though that is very important; that awareness permeates my life. I'm aware of how delicious the cold air feels after a day in my stuffy classroom. I'm aware of the minute changes in your expression that tell me you're happy or sad, frustrated or calm. I'm aware of when I start to get aggravated before my brain says I'm really annoyed right now. I'm aware of how good that sushi tastes and how much I've gotten to laugh today and how awesome my friends are.

That awareness becomes a way to control or to let go. It helps me remember to breathe and not get frustrated when I've been giving my students all week to work on an essay in class and told them the due date a million times and inevitably someone says, Miss we have a essay due?! Yoga helps me control my frustration with others, and -this is key - with myself. It helps me to acknowledge mistakes that I've made, and it helps me call others out in a respectful way. And then, it helps me to let go. It helps me to let go of what happened last period so that I can teach this period positively. It helps me let go of my disappointment or frustration or hurt. It helps me let go of assumptions I have or unrealistic expectations. It helps me let go of myself, which is scary and confusing but ultimately incredibly liberating.

And always, I come back around to awareness. Because I'm learning to let go of what I don't need, I'm learning what I do need. I don't know all of it and I never will, and that's ok. But I'm learning that there are things I'm willing to accept, and things I am not. I'm learning that there are things I want, and things I do not. I'm learning that there are things I expect, and things I do not. There are things that I deserve from people in my life, and things that they deserve from me. There is love to give, and there is love to receive. And at the bottom of all of that is the feeling of down dog and the steady in-out-in-out of the breath.