In the cross-fade: As one phase disappears, a new one begins...

My husband and I put our Chelsea apartment on the market about 2 weeks ago, right after we found an apartment we liked on the upper upper west side. Since the sellers weren’t in a rush, I figured we weren’t either. I had until at least August to chill out in my current one bedroom, the one that I had moved into when I was single, before my husband and I started re-dating. I had some time to enjoy the roof in the summer time, and my eleven-year-old dog Gemma could chillax in the dog run too. I had some time to acclimate to the life stage shift that comes with moving to a bigger space that can accommodate a family, and all the psychological and emotional adjustments that come with it.

So we cleaned and de-cluttered our apartment. Showings began immediately, and fortunately I am able to work from home and can be on call to de-dog the apartment beforehand.

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As in, removing her dog bed from the floor, the sheet from her chaise lounge, and taking a lint brush to the couch and comforter on the bed. It’s her house, we just live in it. (and the rent aint cheap).

Around this same time, I had put the finishing touches on my memoir proposal, and my agent decided it was ready to go “on submission,” which means she puts together a list of publishers with names you may have heard of such as Random House, and submits it to them in the hopes that they buy it. Saying that I had butterflies is an understatement. My story, in a way, my baby, which had been gestating for years was going out into the world, and I was worried and excited. I had written a novel several years ago that had also had a shot at publication, so this wasn’t my first book barbecue. I knew what to expect in terms of process, patience, and the inevitable rejections. But this, this was different. This was not – and is not – fiction. This is real, this is true – or at least my experience of what is true now, and in my memory. With this book, the butterflies had blown up into monarchs that needed to chill the ef out. The book also represents my very own gestation, from young, self-absorbed, and clueless twenty something through the disillusionment and identity crisis of a single divorcee, and then to the third act of me – finding myself and subsequently my true love, my husband, whom I marry at the wizened age of forty.

On the morning my literary agent hit the proverbial “send” on my memoir, my real estate agent emailed my husband and I to say that an offer had been made on our apartment, and they wanted to move in as soon as possible – in no less than four weeks. This would mean we might need to find a temporary housing solution in the interim.

Luckily, I was in a taxi with my best friend and colleague, Kelly, because I burst into tears. “Isn’t this good news??” she asked, looking at me with compassion and confusion.

I nodded at her, as tears streamed down my face. “I feel like I got shot out of a canon, ” I told her, aware of how dramatic that sounded. “It’s a just a lot,” I said.

But tears? Like this? This was indeed good news. My thoughts immediately went to Gemma, who had just turned eleven, and this only made me weep more. I thought of her then, curled up on her throne in her palace, white face tucked into her lumpy chest – my furry baby with whom I had moved close to ten times with in the last decade, from multiple temporary homes after my ex-husband and I separated, to NYC in various sublets. Who had been my companion through all my joy and pain, and the thought of moving her yet again undid me.

But that couldn’t be the reason. Her new apartment would be so much bigger, with more territory to mark.

A few days later, the real reason dawned on me. My current apartment represents and is the last tangible vestige of the “before me.” It was an apartment that suited me when I was single and unsure of what my future looked like. It was the apartment that my husband joined me in. And now, soon, that proof of this stage of life will disappear into the past, and we will move in together to our new home – our home. This was unequivocally a joyous and momentous step and one that I had yearned for, but I don’t believe that we are able to look forward, to move forward both literally ad figuratively, without looking back at where we have been.

And Gemma represents the me that I had been. She is the one remaining thread that links me back to my former life, when I lived in LA with my former husband in my former house, and on my thirty-second birthday, I drove to the breeder’s ranch in the valley to meet her, on a mission to have a puppy. I named her Gemma because I’m a Gemini and she’s a gem and that’s the kind of cheesy shit you do when you fall head over heels for a floppy eared animal. I needed to have that dog. I needed her love.

The timing of all of this and the inherent and prominent markers of the cycles of life are not lost on me. I am getting older – transitioning into the stage of being a homemaker and a mother – as my furry child transitions out.IMG_0036

The pain and anxiousness I am experiencing must be growing pains. Or a shedding of skin. Like a caterpillar hanging upside down, getting ready to be a butterfly.

Or like standing in a crossfade. One stage of my life is fading out, and another is fading up. And I am standing right at it’s plexus, where the frames on the end of one film strand begin to darken, and a new strand, a new scene – a new life – begins to brighten.

 

A Cougel's father's day

Today was my first time hosting a meal in my new apartment. And the first time I hosted my family, ever. Between both my sisters, their kids, and my parents, there’s usually an occasion to celebrate every other Sunday. In New Jersey. Since I lived away from my family for so many years, I don’t complain, and make the guilt-trip out by train every time. But this time – for father’s day and my sister’s birthday – I went out on a limb and invited the whole gang into the city. I was worried my mother would say no. She can’t bear the traffic (or my father’s agitation because of it) and whenever I suggest a dinner in the city instead of a brunch in NJ, she says, “Tell me, what can I get in NY that I can’t get in NJ?”
They all agreed to come.  They were happy to. I made a list, I checked it fifteen times, and because I don’t have a lot of space or roommates to eat leftovers, in the end I  asked Mom to bring half the things on my list. Orange juice (too heavy to carry with all the other groceries from whole foods), lox for ten Jews (Costco carries family size), a large platter for said lox, kosher bagels (from the extra freezer in mom’s basement), and all the tiny but necessary things I didn’t realize I was missing, like a grater, a vase for the flowers I bought at the farmers market, a salad bowl, and drinking glasses for 4+.  Although as Mom pointed out, I have plenty – an entire shelf! – of martini glasses, in different colors.  (“It’s because I never use them and they haven’t broken yet!”)  In my defense, I would like to add that I did not serve alcohol. Not even mimosas or sparkling wine. Not because it was early in the day, or because we’re Jews.  Nor was it because Mom was there.  But because believe it (or fine, don’t), I am making a concerted effort to cut waay back on all things that are bad for me.
A blog I posted in late February introduced the ongoing saga of my health, and how I try to maintain it, while simultaneously maintaining the illusion that I don’t need to.  http://thecougelchronicles.com/?p=122
This past week had me back at the same doctor because of reoccurring stomach pain that I thought was food poisoning, but I think what I’ve really contracted is mood poisoning. Maybe they go hand in hand. Bottom line, I felt like shit this week and I was sick of it, literally.  Mom, hearing how I felt, urged me to go to the doctor, who immediately sent me for an ultrasound. He told me not to eat; to wait until after the ultrasound.  When I called Mom to update her – even though there was nothing new to report since I hadn’t even had the ultrasound yet, let alone the results – she yelled at me.
“YOU HAVEN’T EATEN SINCE YESTERDAY? It’s 2 o’clock. You must eat something!”
“But Mom, I’m not supposed to. They’re examining my STOMACH. The doctor told me not to.”
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
She proceeded to call me when I was in the waiting room to whisper conspiratorially: “Tell the receptionist that they need to take you now, or you’re going to faint from not eating.”  I wanted to remind Mom that Jews fast, a lot, for much longer hours, while standing up in a hot synagogue, and they don’t complain about it (until after break fast anyway), or seem to suffer any long-term effects. While I was in an air-conditioned room with free filtered water, and it was only midday. But I kept my mouth shut. 
Anyway, I didn’t get a scary phone call from my doctor late Friday or over the weekend, so I’m assuming that he didn’t see anything too scary. But the episode was enough to set me straight. Sometimes I wonder if we scare ourselves on purpose. Like maybe I needed to sit in a room with twenty other people whom I suspected were there for far more serious reasons than I was, to decide enough is enough.
Brunch was wonderful. I bought tater tots for the kids, but half of them escaped from the cookie sheet only to fall to their death in the inferno below, smoking up my kitchen. My dad came to the rescue, deftly plucking the burn victims out of the oven crevices with a fork. It was quite dramatic, really.  I locked my dog in my bedroom with a rawhide (my niece is afraid of her – for good reason) and after Mom and I argued over whether everyone should eat buffet style or just pile everything on my dining room table and let everyone sit where they want, we had a blast.  
My three favorite moments:
1) I “made” yogurt parfait. Which basically means throwing vanilla yogurt, granola, and fruit into a bowl, and I had never seen Mom (or my sisters) so amazed and impressed with me in my entire life. It was as if I had cooked chulent, all by myself. Or told them I was marrying a nice Jewish guy from the upper west side and was having three kids with him immediately.
2) I have another shelf that needs hanging (it’s the last one, I promise), so Dad was happy to help. It’s his kind of father’s day.  Like the last time, he didn’t have a leveler. But never fear! My brother in-law has an I-pad.  And apparently, it has a toolbox application or some shit on it, leveler included.
3) My father is impossible to buy a gift for. He insists that he doesn’t need anything, and therefore refuses to give us any pointers. This year, it was my turn to “do” father’s day.  Mom told me he needed a new belt (he had a wake up call too I guess, and started a diet. And you can tell he’s lost weight. He kinda looks like a stuffed bear whose lost some of his stuffing.). I got him a belt from Ralph Lauren, and some after-shave. A cliché father’s day gift, but my dad isn’t one for originality, just practicality. I was nervous he would say what he does every year, which is smile and say “thank you” before placing a kiss on each of our heads. This means, Mom’s got returns to make at Bloomies. But this year, his eyes actually lit up.  He stood up and put the belt on, and said to me, “It’s perfect. How did you know?”
It was the perfect day.

Moving. And all the stuff that goes with it.

It’s looking like 2010 is off to a good start. Seems that way for a lot of my friends whom have had some serious rough patches in the last two years. But something happened in late January. Maybe we were all so desperate for this year to be an improvement that we made sure it would be, by doing something about it. Like implementing those resolutions asap. We’ve heard them before. Join a gym. Quit drinking. Two of my girlfriends got into therapy, and one fired hers (might not have seemed like a productive decision, but a proactive one nonetheless).

Like many people, I decided to check in on my health, and went to the doctor. It was my first visit, so the doctor had to run through the long list of probing health questions. When I was twenty-five, those questions seemed innocent. Now? Not so much.
Doc: “Any ailments?”
Cougel: “No, none that you can see.” (Yes, I even employ witty banter with my doctor).
Doc: “How old are you?”
Cougel (pause): “Thirty seven.”
Doc: “Married?”
Cougel (longer pause): “Divorced.”
Doc: “Children?”
Cougel (no pause): “No! I thought doctors were supposed to make you feel better, not worse.”

He was not amused.

Maybe that’s why I could feel him smirking when he phoned to tell me my cholesterol was “very high” and that I needed to “drastically change my diet, immediately.” I understood this to mean, no more Ben and Jerry’s binges. I was not amused. Ben and Jerry had been MY late night therapists over the past two years, and now it was looking like I needed to fire them both. Bottom line, as with your boss, or your spouse (and you married men know this), even if you don’t like what you’re hearing, nod your head and agree.

But, a major nutrition overhaul wasn’t enough change for me. Oh no. I needed more. I decided to move.

This was optional. Optional drama. I didn’t have to go anywhere. My lease was renewable, and the rent had been lowered. Staying put was enticing. But maybe the lease expiring was a sign. Telling me I needed a real change. I questioned whether I was just searching for something new and benign to talk about with friends and with my parents (my father loves reading leases and anything which requires his daughters’ signatures). Or maybe it was a subconscious attempt to shake things up. Because I didn’t really have much going on. The post divorce dust had finally cleared, I had completed a challenging revision on my novel, and my dog hadn’t bitten anyone or downed a bottle of Advil in a whole year. She too had made some resolutions it seemed.

So with only three weeks remaining on my lease, I hit the pavement in search of an apartment. I had high standards, a lot of criteria, more than most. For those of you who’ve read this blog thus far, I’m sure this comes as no big surprise. My argument against settling for Mr. Good Enough, also translates into Manhattan rentals. It seemed that finding an apartment that was right, that suited my personality, under a time crunch, was as frustrating and hopeless as finding a partner (for the same reasons). Nope, nothing seemed good enough. Exasperated, I questioned my decision. Was I a fool for not staying where I was comfortable, for courting this kind of stress? Not only that, I admonished my preferences, my tastes. Why couldn’t I just freaking like something? I couldn’t even look my eager broker in the face when she’d wisk me into a unit she was sure I would love. I wondered if I had contracted the “perceived options disease” that afflicts many New Yorkers. Just like with dating, you think there might be something better, tomorrow, around the next corner. Making it impossible to commit to the here and now.

In the end, I found a place that I loved (I know, I couldn’t believe it either), and set up to move on the last Friday of the month. As in, last Friday. The day of the biggest snowstorm New York City has had in years. I woke up at 7am, with all of my belongings packed up, sick with a sinus infection, and when I saw that shit coming down (there was nothing white and pretty about it) I told myself not to freak out. If anything, this would be a good story!

But it didn’t work. I was already feeling quite vulnerable. In 2007, the year in which the path I was on took a sharp turn, I moved five times. Knowing that people move all the time, doesn’t seem to make it easier. The upheaval in our physical environment reflects the emotional, and vice versa. For me, it triggers feelings of loss. Moving forces us to take a hard look at where we’ve been, and where we hope to be going. And for those of us who have been married or lived with one person for a long time, it inevitably underscores their absence. Especially when you’re up late packing and the smallest thing can serve as a heart-wrenching reminder of what once was. For some, it’s a found photo or a piece of jewelry. For me, this thing was a dishtowel I had purchased on my honeymoon.

I fell in love with my movers. And not just because they actually showed up and parked their truck on a snowbank, coming to rescue me at all costs. The Forman, a dead ringer for Snoop Dog, kindly told me to step aside and somehow, five hours later, I was riding shotgun in the truck next to Snoop on my way to my new place.

My parents were in Israel, and called me four times, concerned and upset that they weren’t in town to help me. My younger sister and seven-year-old niece took a train in from Jersey and trekked in their snow boots to bring me lunch. I kept telling them that I was fine, that I didn’t need any help. I guess I was relishing that taste of empowerment earned from doing something completely independently. Which in hindsight was completely moronic.

That night, after unpacking as much as I was able to alone (my sister had left hours ago), I decided to quit for the day. I had done plenty! That, and because I had tried to drag my couch to the other side of the room, and ran over my pinky toe. I thought of Samantha from Sex in the City, in the episode where her blinds come crashing down on her head, and she wails, under a heap on the floor, “I need a man!!!!” She had a point. But that wasn’t going to stop me from celebrating.

I went to eat at Gramercy Tavern, and toast the day’s events and the promise of the future. On the street right outside my apartment, I ran into Mr. Big. Another sign, you ask? That’s what I thought.

I woke the next morning to my buzzer ringing. A surprise delivery. From Fresh Direct. In my parents’ absence, my sisters had ordered five boxes worth of food and supplies to stock up my kitchen (yes folks, it’s always about food. There weren’t really any supplies).

As I unpacked everything into my first “real kitchen”(my last apartment kitchen was more like a built-in shelving unit), it began to dawn on me how each and every item was selected with such love and care, from the two people that know me best.

This time it wasn’t a dishtowel, but dates (the fruit) that undid me. This time, it wasn’t tears of loss that surprised me, but tears of gratitude.