From Cannes to...Kansas?

If you had asked me in January whether I expected, come June, to find myself on a scooter in Cannes one week, followed by a ride on a Honda Valkrie in Kansas the next, I’d say that expectations of such random proportions were reserved for fiction.

Or blogs.

A year ago I attended Cannes Lions (the advertising festival) when I was single, on the heels of a semi-breakup (of a semi-romance) and was struck by the pervasive spring break everything goes fever. I wrote a post about it (Why Do Some Married Men Not Wear Rings?http://bit.ly/lrmsYh).

I don’t want to sound ungrateful or spoiled, and I enjoyed the experience, but perhaps enjoyment reaches an apex of diminishing returns – where the fun becomes painful, not to mention, meaningless. Maybe this is something you experience when you hit 35, or when you’re simply past frivolous ego-stroking flirtations, or both. Amidst tan, bathing suit clad Europeans, tantalizing and sparkly through my Rose´-tinted glasses, I felt more alone – and overwhelmed by the pressure of “You’re so lucky youre single! You can hook up with anyone!” – than I did as a single woman in New York City.

When the opportunity to attend cropped up again, I was nervous.  I was five months into a budding relationship which comes with its inevitable concerns, and I wasn’t sure whether I would be strong enough to weather the temptations and motto of “Whatever happens in Cannes, stays in Cannes,” even though I had every intention of doing so.

And yet, my anxiety evaporated the moment I arrived, replaced with unwavering conviction. As I listened to single friends strategize who they might hook up with and when, a calm gratitude filled me that this time I wasn’t stuck in that funhouse of mirrors. Looking at them, from the outside in (for a change), strengthened my dedication to my boyfriend. I didn’t even have to think about it.  It dawned on me that perhaps I had grown up a lot more (or was more in love) than I had realized. It helped to have a reference – to be in the same environment I had been a year ago – as a marker of my emotional development.

When I arrived at JFK, excited and counting the traffic filled hours until I saw my man, I didn’t have to wait that long. There he was, waiting for me at arrivals. (For those of you who don’t live in NY, New Yorkers don’t pick each other up from the airport. It involves trains and rented automobiles).

I was back at the airport five days after returning from Cannes – on my way to Kansass. To Meet the Fockers.  Yes, meeting the family is always a nerve wracking ordeal, but to me it was magnified by the fact that 1) I had never been to Kansas (or flown on a toy plane that landed next to a tractor)  2) I was a Jewish divorce´being introduced to my potential Christian in-laws, 3) I was nine years older than my boyfriend and even older than his (married with children) siblings.

At this point the question that might cross your mind is: Is she nuts?

Or perhaps you’re kindly thinking: She’s brave!

Fine line between the two.

To which I reply that the older you get, and the closer you get to reaching the daunting midpoint of your life, those questions – and their potential consequences – becomes sorta irrelevant. As does what other people think (although it’s worth mentioning that my mother was excited for me to experience some real life “Little House on the Prairie.”)

And a prairie I experienced.  The morning after I arrived, in 105 degree heat, I found myself poised on the broad seat of a Honda Valkrie, leaning against my boyfriend’s broad back, as we drove out of his parents’ driveway and onto the long expanse of highway. As the motorcycle picked up speed, the wind whipping my face (and the occasional whif of cow maneur), I wrapped my arms around him, my helmet sporadically tapping against his like some kind of love morse code. But I wasn’t afraid. I was surrounded by stretches of green and gold fields, dotted with a neglected farm house or two. Driving through the heartland. What people would call, miles and miles of nothing. But to me, and in my heart, well, I felt the opposite of nothing.

Somehow, amidst all the wind and engine noise, my boyfriend heard me laughing. “What’s so funny?” he said.

“I never thought I’d be forty and riding on a motorcycle through Kansas, with my Christian boyfriend, past Jesus signs!” I called.

“How does it feel?” he asked.

“Incredible,” I said. “I’m gonna have to blog about it.”




Cougel's Bittersweet Birthday

In my last post I discussed how this blog needs to evolve – naturally –  and asked for your suggestions (thank you by the way!)

But funny how life – and the universe – can provide the answer.

Several days after that post, the advertising industry was hit with another random tragedy and loss of a wonderful person. I knew this guy, who was robbed from this world, and all the possibilities of a beautiful life ahead – but I didn’t know him well. That didn’t change the impact of his loss or the heaviness I carried around for days. I met up with some of his close friends later that evening, and at first I questioned whether I had a place in that tight knit circle to mourn him. But you realize that the older you get, not only do you statistically know more people, and therefore are exposed to more loss – but the more blessed you feel to have the privilege of living.

His passing came, coincidentally, on the brink of my birthday. It was a big birthday. The number and the date had been beckoning for months, at some moments daunting me. I wondered how I would feel. Having been married for fourteen years, and then divorced, I didn’t predict that the picture of my life today would consist of the furnishings that now inhabit it. But of course, you can’t predict what your life will look like a year from now, or ten. We take comfort in thinking that we can (it gives us a needed illusion of control, and that’s okay). But this year, with the timing of my friend’s passing at such a young age, it underscored the preciousness of life. Of the now.

On the evening before my birthday, I was overcome by emotion. My boyfriend noticed my silence, and at first, he mistook it as sorrow.  And I wasn’t sure whether his guess was accurate or not.  But as the clock struck midnight (and I’m no Cinderella), as I sat beside him with a glass of wine on a porch near the beach, looking up at the stars, I realized that what I was feeling was gratitude. Gratitude for being given the privilege of experiencing this planet. And gratitude for the life that I had created for myself while on it, in the years since (and including) my marriage: my job, my love for my dog, my home life, my discovery of an inner writing life, and moreover – for the wonderful people who are an intrinsic part of it.

Are there tough times? Grievances that seem monsterous when I’m focused on them? Of course. I write about it plenty. But in moments like these, those musings seem irrelevant. 

And then the Happy Birthday wishes started pouring in on Facebook. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that as they did, throughout the day, I checked my now deceased friend’s Facebook wall, filled with heart breaking lamentation. Facebook is a funny thing, isn’t it? I couldn’t help but notice the irony. The celebration of the birth of a life on one page, and mourning the end of one (like a virtual tombstone) on another – simultaneously occurring on the same app. The cycle of life imprinted on Facebook.

When I met up with my friends to grieve, we ended up talking about every detail that led up to our friend’s death. For closure, to find meaning? But all we could do was share, connect, and feel united in that moment, in the hopes that by doing so it would alleviate some of the sorrow or honor our friend’s memory.  What can we take from such a thing? was a question frequently asked.  We concluded, at least publically, that we could not. 

But privately, it’s up to us – and not just when we celebrate the day of our birth – but every single day, when we wake up in the morning, to explore and celebrate what life means to us.

Should bloggers be writing about their relationships?

NO! (Caps intended).

It only took me six months to figure that one out. Duh.

For those of you who’ve wondered whether I’ve disappeared and gone fishin, the answer is yes. Except in a different pond.

I pulled the rod (no, not that kind) out of the online NYC dating pool, and by doing so I unconsciously hooked a very big fish. From the ex-boyfriend pool. And yes, he happens to be very big indeed (As in tall. Please get your heads out of the gutter).

My ex-boyfriend (call him Mr. Big II) reemerged on the heels of my last short-lived relationship. At the time, I thought it was merely a sign meant to spotlight the obvious things that weren’t working in the other relationship. I was skeptical to get back together with him, as most are.

I’ve heard divergent thoughts about getting back with the ex. Some people have said, “Your ex is an ex for a reason.” Others testify to the fact that a former ex can have future potential, specifically because they were your ex first. Not only because you already know eachother well when you rekindle and don’t have to go through the stressful (and perspective skewing) process of courtship, but because the act of breaking up itself fans the flames of the heart and reaffirms what it is you actually want – or had. Also, I believe that the experience of missing one another post break-up is a bonding experience in itself.

When Mr. Big II and I dated one year ago, I blogged for the duration of our relationship. I didn’t blog about him per se, but I frequently found it impossible to omit mentioning him or an incident when applicable to the post’s topic. People used to ask me (including the guy I was in the short term relationship with) how I could even reference him at all – a legitimate question. And “Short Term Guy,” after reading my blog before our second date, asked me not to even mention that I was dating him. He is a private guy, and while initially it was a jolt for me, I respected it. And so I didnt blog for the two months we dated.

I also considered that my posts over the last two years, specifically the early ones, were divorce-centric. I was still processing my divorce and in it’s aftermath, I had plenty to say (and consequently work out). Was the need to blog tied to those raw feelings I was digging through, and now that most of the pain has been mined and the learnings activated, am I officially over the divorce and therefore blogging about it?

So when Mr. Big II and I began dating again, I didn’t have the urge to blog anymore. I had also started a new book, and was pouring my creative energy into that, but I realized that was just an excuse. Taking a break made me realize the obvious (which was obvious to everyone but me):

Do I really want “the world” to be reading about my private life on a weekly basis?

If I did, I’d be writing a memoir – instead of fiction.

That said, I decided to write today because simply, frankly, I miss it. And oddly I miss my readers, invisible as you may be.

And I know Mr. Big II wouldn’t mind if I chose to blog again. He encourages me to write honestly, first and foremost, and trusts that I will respect his privacy in the process. But perhaps it’s time for a change in course. Perhaps this is an opportunity for my blog to evolve.

But into what?

I welcome your suggestions. And hope you hang with me in the process.

Can we make emotional plans for the future?

When I was in my twenties and getting married, I believed I could control what was to come. I thought I could attempt to apply for insurance against loss, geographical or career changes and divorce  – by marrying “right.”
What does that even mean? I’ve written about the checklist before, and while the items on the list might vary for each of us based on our backgrounds, religion, culture, and the age (or timing in which) we “fall in love” – we all try to find certain qualities in our mate that we hope can inure us against certain hurdles.
They tend to be the kind of descriptors that show up on a dating profile, such as: “Successful as a muther fucker!! Loves travel! And dogs too! Cinema buff. Dinner parties rule! Will be patient while shopping with you!!” 
While these qualities may be attractive on the surface, they have nothing to do with the real person (and by the way, beware of those who lean too long on the exclamation mark key).
I’ve fallen for these qualities before, encouraged by witnessing friends getting married, having children, and seemingly on the path to happiness.  Why would anyone not pursue the same?
I’ve had a few conversations lately about this topic with friends who questioned why my recent relationship didn’t work out, although I’m hesitant to call it that, as the relationship was quite brief (and why you all didn’t hear about it). I wonder if it even lasted as long as it did because of the checklist; because of the on-paper qualities this man possessed that papered the flimsy walls of my hopes and expectations, and the expectations of my friends and family.
Although, one very wise person surprised me by posing the opposite: “The most important question to ask yourself is, do you want to be around this personality in five or twenty years?”
Personality = key word.
I wonder if we have to experience these kind of relationships in order to appreciate what matters most: the intangible. The moment to moment interchanges that feed and sustain – chemistry that noone can see from the outside.
I do think it takes time to come around to what you need and want. My ex-boyfriend emerged in my life a year after we broke up, without ultimatums, pressure, or a promise of what might be. He’s the same person he was a year ago, and isn’t pretending to be anyone else. He didn’t show up at my door with a big poster-board itemizing a new checklist of accomplishments. But he is able to say so. He has the capacity to not make false guarantees about the future. If he did, I wouldn’t believe him (as I might once have). Because how could he?
Today, a close friend asked me what is going on with my ex-boyfriend:  “What’s going to happen if you ex out the ex part?”

My response: “At this point in my life…and this isn’t cynicism or resignation…I can’t overfocus on the negative checklist, or the potential hurdles, because those things are mutable.”  (I probably didn’t say it with those pretentious words, but you get the gist).  Point is, a guy can lose his job, his money, or move cities. Falling in love with a checklist, or rejecting someone because of them (and hanging on to them for the same reasons), I believe is foolish, since they have nothing to do with the make-up of that person – the person they are today and will most likely still be in the future.
As I approach the big 40 (to those of you who don’t know me, I’m not admitting how many years more I have), something has changed. Instead of feeling this immense pressure to get it right, whatever that might mean, and tie together some illusory loose ends, instead, for the first time, I feel the relieving absence of that.  Maybe it has something to do with the elimination of too many perceived options (like you have when you’re in your twenties) when what you can do or think you should have, overwhelms and paralyzes you. Or propels you into making a decision ie. the wrong relationship, so that you can get some false assurance.

There is also something to be said for being okay without the assurance. For being okay with accepting and embracing where you are. For having faith in what is to come, which is beyond your control. And having faith in how you feel, and what you want. 

Today.
Because do we really know how we are going to feel, or what is going to happen, two years from now? Or tomorrow?
If you do, please message me.

A Single Divorcee at a Wedding: Part Two.

The last time I went to a wedding, I wrote about what it feels like to be the only single gal in attendance (It was fun, but self absorbed displacement was the theme). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/oritte-bendory/how-does-it-feel-to-be-a-_1_b_959085.html
Tonight I went to a wedding too. I didn’t have a date with me, but I didn’t fret. I had a lot on my mind so I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I finished the first draft of my book last night (yeah!) and had a loss in my family that trumped self-pity and over-preparation.
I didn’t fret over what I was going to wear, or whether I was going to meet someone. All that mattered to me was being there for my friend on her momentous day. We had gone to high school together and she had endured some hefty challenges that led her to this moment.
She’s Jewish, from an observant family, and the love of her life wasn’t when they met. But he converted. Like, full on.  When you sit at a wedding and see two people make vows to be together for the rest of their lives, it means a lot when you know they’ve gone through a religious obstacle course to get there.
I got married in my twenties. Most of my friends did. For me and my ex-husband, our checklist fit. We were age appropriate, our families meshed, and we had the same backgrounds and religion.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Having similar backgrounds- where it feels second nature- is beneficial. It eliminates the barriers to entry. But when you have barriers, and your commitment to one another – your love – overcomes those barriers…Well, you could say that I might have shed a few more tears at this wedding than I did at my own.
When I walked into the lobby full of people mingling pre-ceremony, I wished I had arrived later. I moved around, pretending I had somewhere to go. I sat down on the couch and checked my phone with purpose. I didn’t know who I knew, and how the night was going to go.
“It’s time to go upstairs for the ceremony!” I realized with relief. I slipped into a seat on the end. And then someone waved to me: a friend from high school I hadn’t seen in twenty years. I jumped up, grateful to have a plus one, or a plus three (she was with some other high school pals of ours).  We immediately began talking about our mutual grievances from that time – how our high school experience was unlike the people we’d since met who went to public school, who didn’t have Rabbis as their teachers. I’m not bashing this form of education, because I know many for whom it’s been fruitful. But for me, it wasn’t.
You could say the evening was a collision of my upbringing, my marriage, and where I am today. When the bride circled the groom seven times, I remembered circling my husband in the same manner, and sensing my sisters’ and mother’s presence behind me. When the Rabbi talked about the union of these two people, I vaguely recalled a Rabbi talking to me over ten years ago.
When I was the first to rush to lift the chair that the bride was seated on, and carried her to greet her new husband floating atop the sea of people in his, I remembered myself being lifted up on my wedding day.
When the bride was lowered back down, she spotted me and hugged me. “Did you get the necklace?” she asked. I shook my head no, feeling confused and remiss in my guest of the bride duties, before she was whisked away.
We have the opportunity to be there for others – to connect. And at the same time reconnect with ourselves.  I was seated at a table with a woman I hadn’t seen in years, who used to be a close friend in high school whose house I’d slept over twice a week. I kept a toothbrush there, and knew what shelf the peanut butter was on in anticipation of our late night pig-outs. And now, we were catching up on our lives, in our late thirties. She married with children, and me- not. But I wasn’t sad. We talked about loss, and love, and life, as the bride – our mutual friend – was preparing to give her speech.
We talked about what matters in relationships, day to day. How the inked boxes on the checklist blur and evaporate over time.  We agreed that you aren’t taught those things in high school…or in any school. You learn it through living.
Later, when I came back from the bathroom, my friend was talking to a woman I didn’t know.  “Who’s this?” the woman asked my friend. When I told her my name, her face lit up. “I have something for you! I couldn’t find you before!” she said, pulling something out of her bag and then opening her palm. It was an amulet – part of a necklace. I realized it was a diamond studded “Chai,” which in the Jewish tradition, means “Life” (“18”).  She looked at me and said, “The bride wanted you to have this, but I couldn’t find you. She wants you to find peace and happiness, as her single friend here who deserves it.”
I thought I was emotional during the ceremony, but this gesture took the cake (as the waiter deposited a slice of wedding cake in front of me…).
I guess the bottom line is that in friendship, as in love, the unconventional and the unexpected means a whole lot more. And (hopefully) lasts for a long time too.

Return of the Cougar

When I started this blog, some readers took issue with the term “Cougar.”

“You’re too young to be a Cougar,” and “Cougars are trampy women in their fifties who hunt young guys and just use them for sex,” are some comments I received early on.
My rebuttal was:
1- Cougarism has less to do with age and more to do with having an affinity for younger men whom tend to have less baggage, and are more emotionally available (not to mention, not married.)
2- Hunting is in the eye of the hunter (and huntee). Just because a woman happens to fall for a younger guy, that doesn’t make it some strategic conquest.  They might actually be good together.
3- While I may have had several young boyfriends, I surely never planned it that way. I liked those guys for their personalities (and other things), not their ages.
4- I’m a Cougel anyway, the sweet and mushy kind with old-fashioned Jewish origins.
OK, so none of those relationships worked out so well, and lesson learned, I made a pact to start opening myself up to more age appropriate men. My Jdate profile specifies my ideal match as “34-52.”
But that doesn’t stop the cubs from knockin, or change the fact that some men simply prefer older women. I’d like to believe that those that do are more mature. Women their own age don’t challenge them, or have enough going on in their lives to keep the relationship eventful (drama?) and rich (unstable?).
I guess it is inevitable that after a potential relationship with an older man imploded, I’d start idealizing the appeal of my ex-cubs and consider reaching back out to them. It’s impossible not to compare, or to come off one relationship and react to it by thinking your previous ones had more to them than you realized.
Coincidentally, the young finance cub (“YFC”) I met last month must have sensed where my head was going, because he started texting me again (I was not responsive to his earlier requests).  He didn’t play games or bother with passive aggressive subtexts. He simply wrote: “YFC seeking fit Cougar for libation.” Followed by: “When can I take you out? Let’s make this happen.”
That kind of stuff (humor and candor) goes a long way at any age. But especially for someone ten years my junior….
…who looks fifteen years my junior, I realized when I met him for a drink.  Was it in my head, or was the bartender looking at us funny? And then I saw some colleagues I know having drinks at the other end of the bar, and I considered hiding.
Conversation flowed. Great guy, I thought. The kind of guy with promise for the long term.
I’d go out with him again, but I should I? How many times do you have to burn your hand on the little stove, I thought, before you stop touching it? (I might have even said this to him after our second mai tai).
But “we’ll see,” “you never know,” etc. are my new mantras. Read: openness.
For example, the other night I went to a Jewish Fundraiser (I was invited last minute) at a Greenwhich Village club. I’m normally reluctant to attend such functions because the women there tend to look like they spent days getting ready, hair perfectly curled, and I usually feel like the odd tomboy out. But I was open. You never know, right?
I ended up hanging out with the cool girls at the coat check. And then an employee at the club started chatting me up. He was moving garbage pails around so I’m guessing he wasn’t the manager of the establishment. He was stocky and bespectacled, and in his early thirties.
“I like Cougars,” he said to me.
Really.
He proceeded to explain why he loves older women (I happened to agree), that he had been in the military, and has a wife and four children.
“What are you doing here?” he asked me. “You don’t seem like the other girls in there.”
“No kidding,” I said.
“Listen. Go out with me. Winter is coming up. I can keep you warm at night,” he said.
Luckily I could cut to the front of the coat check line without any problems.
So is the Cougar back?
Well I’m definitely not hunting young cubs, but seems to me they couldn’t care less.

Atonment. Change. And of course, Kugel.

It must be timely that I’ve moved to a new apartment on the Jewish New Year, which is a time of self reflection that leads to resolutions for change. I usually visit my family in NJ for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, but this Yom Kippur I wanted to stay in my new apartment. That wasn’t enough of a legitimate reason for Mom, so I told her I’d find a synagogue to go to here in the city. To Mom (or any Jewish Mother for that matter), what this really means is: I’m going to single mingle with other Jews. Aka, meet a nice Jewish Boy.
“Go to the Soho Synagogue! You must be with your people!” my mom said, excitedly. I’d heard about this Synagogue, a progressive and fancy new place that aimed to attract non-affiliated Jews who don’t have time to regularly observe. “I brought an article from Israel, from an Israeli paper, that says there are professional singles that go. And it’s in Soho. You like Soho.”
I’m not sure why Jews that hang out in Soho would be any different than Jews who don’t, but I did briefly live on the Upper West Side, and so..I had hope.
When Mom asked me on Wednesday what my plan was, I told her I made a reservation for Saturday morning services. I hadn’t, but I figured it wouldn’t be difficult. But with my busy week, by the time I got around to purchasing a ticket (yes, praying costs money….especially when you’re a Jew cramming in a years worth of repentance into two hours), it was sold out! What to tell Mom? I had already fibbed. Not a good beginning for a day of atonement.
I had to go now. Besides, since they were sold out, it naturally made me want to go alittle bit more.
So after a long work day on Friday, I got home to my unstocked kitchen and realized I had no food to kick off a fast day. Usually, I eat a bland (salt makes it harder to fast) matzo ball soup and chicken meal at my parents before sunset, with lots of water, but this time I walked down Sixth Avenue with my dog, and got myself a salty burrito at Chipotle, which I inhaled with a glass of wine.
By the time I got down to the Syngagogue, it was close to 9pm. My “people” were mingling outside the swank space (which resembled a Marc Jacobs store), and I was alone. But I didn’t mind. I knew being alone meant that I could leave whenever I wanted.
Women sat on the right, men on the left. I sat on the aisle, and felt like I was back in sleepaway camp, being checked out by the boys, and wanting to check them out too.  My first impression was that they looked kinda cute. I like the jacket and tie with Converse sneakers look. These guys are well dressed, I thought. But I soon realized that you’re not allowed to wear leather on Yom Kippur (I was wearing knee high leather boots. Woops). I’m also a sucker for longish hair under a yarmulka (don’t ask me why), so I thought, hey, this isnt that bad.
Twenty mintues into the service, I got progressively sleepier (wine), and my stomach hurt (burrito), and the kinda cute guys didn’t look kinda cute anymore. Did they look good initially because my expectations were low, or was my judgement distorted because of the “jewish singles” setting? Was I once again, just like the last time I was in synagogue a year ago, wearing synagoggles?
I made it for an entire hour and fifteen minutes before turning into “that kid” – the only one that bolts before the sermon. The kind of meditation I was in need of was the closed eyes kind that happens in bed.
I have nothing against prayer. I admire, and in a way I envy those who go to services each week, who enjoy it, who get something out of it. I did try to concentrate. I swayed, I sang the kol nidre, and respectfully stood when the ark was opened. Maybe it wasn’t for me. Or maybe I was just too worn out – and distracted – to be present enough to draw meaning from that experience. Perhaps that was what I needed to find out. It’s not supposed to be as easy as flipping a switch. Maybe if I keep going, if I keep showing up, I will eventually get into the flow and connect with it (not unlike writing).
I fasted, like I do every year. And then went to my good friend’s break fast in Brooklyn and broke my fast on bagels, lox, and three different kinds of…uh…yeah…kugel.
Post script: I wrote the above after a lovely (and long) day with my beautiful family. They came in to help me with the apartment. My nieces made hairdos for eachother while my dad changed lightbulbs and brainstormed how to add a shower head in my bathtub. I had half an hour before changing for a date I was not thinking about (due to all of the above). The date was good (nope not talking about it!), but I wanted to come home to post. I don’t yet have internet in my apartment, so I came down to the “lounge” in my building that has internet – and an outdoor patio. Which is filled with people having a Sunday night BBQ and blaring Coldplay. As I sat here to open my computer, a nice guy (young finance cub) came over to apologize for disturbing me, brought me a glass of Cabernet (not a beer), and invited me to join them “when I was done with my thing.”
So do I think change is a coming, and is good?
Definitely. To be continued.

Can looking back help us move forward?

Some people believe that talking about the past sounds melancholic, burdened, and downright sad.  But how can we fully appreciate where we’ve come, without acknowledging where we have been?
I’ve moved numerous times since my husband and I separated. Whenever someone asks me how many times, I have to count again – just like when asked how many years I’ve been divorced. I have to take my hand out of my pocket and count on each finger. “I’ve moved 6, 7 times? I’ve been separated 4, 5, years?”(as if they know the answer).
I moved to a temporary corporate apartment (aka upscale dorm room) because I sold my house in LA, and then from there I moved back to NY where I sublet a friend’s boyfriend’s (now her husband) Upper West Side apartment. It was furnished with guy things: a massive wood entertainment center for Football watching, and beer glasses lined the shelves. But it was comfy; and a block from Central Park where I could take my dog off leash before 9am. From there I moved to a small place in Soho, which was finally my own. I painted the walls pink in celebration of my newfound single girl hood (and I don’t do pink). The kitchen was the size of a shelving unit, there was one tiny closet, and the walls paper thin. My pesky neighbors left weird psycho killer style notes in crayon under my door. So I upgraded to a nice apartment in NYU-ville. The rent kept going up, and alas, today I moved to what I hope will be the last stop for me for awhile.  I just unpacked the last (visible) box. The rest are shoved in a closet (but at least I have closets).
When I was packing last night, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that midway through, looking at all the boxes splayed open before me, that I wasn’t momentarily gripped with an achy emptiness in my chest. Naturally I told myself, this is a good thing! Change is good – you can never go wrong with a fresh start.  The apartment I was leaving held memories of my last two cub boyfriends, and I understood that moving to a new place would help me move on.
I like stability. People who saw my Facebook status wondered why I was moving again. Why couldn’t I stay put? I’d like to. Unraveling your nest, in one day no less, is unsettling and disruptive. Noone wants to move knowing that the next place will be temporary. We have to make each place our own, and hope that it sticks.
My movers were timely and diligent. The foreman was playing smooth jazz from his iPhone while he flipped my mattress up against the wall, and then turned to me and said: “Do you have a boyfriend?”
When caught off guard, I tend to be naïve (a close cousin to dumb), so not realizing what he was getting at, I said (projected): “If I had a boyfriend don’t you think he’d be here helping me?”
“I’d like to take you out tonight,” he said.
“What? Tonight?” I replied.
“Yeah. You’re an attractive women and you have pretty hair, you should wear it down more often,” he said, plastic wrapping my mattress with a squeak.
I looked away and pretended I received an important text on my Blackberry. “I can’t tonight, I have friends helping me unpack.”
I wondered if I had said no, would he mess up my move? If I had said, “sure,” would he have given me a discount? (My Jewish Mother said the same thing when I told her later).
When I texted my sisters: “My mover just asked me out,” they both replied: “Hot Israeli?”
I cracked up, and then decided to keep the humor going.
“No,” I wrote back. “Nice looking cub, but he’s black, and Mom and Dad are still having a hard time accepting a white Christian guy.”
When the last of my things were out, I walked through the place to pick up last bits of trash. Tucked in one corner, and in one of my closets, was my ex-cub’s business card, and then one of his CDs (he’s a musician). And then I found – and threw away – my other ex-boyfriend’s love notes (I did hesitate, but at least I didn’t re-read them).
So here I am. Sitting on my couch with my dog’s head in my lap, boxes on the floor and the walls in serious need of a paint job. But that’s ok. I’m in no rush.
I don’t plan on going anywhere for awhile.

Choose Your Own Adventure.

When I got divorced and left Los Angeles almost six years ago, going back for a visit has always been surreal. My job producing commercials took me there every three months or so, forcing me to confront a life I once led, from a different perspective.
It also forced a spotlight onto my emotional healing and the progress I was making. The first time I got into a rental car, rather than my beat up Saab which I sold upon moving, and drove up La Cienega Blvd. towards the Hollywood Hills where I used to live, the thick knot that inhabited my chest would expand, engulfing me in a surreal melancholy and sense of loss.  Checking into a hotel with my new coworkers, who weren’t privy to my past or the knowledge that I was in a way “home,” although it was no longer my home, created a disconnect that I knew I’d get over in time, but was palatable nonetheless. Every café, intersection, even the perfumed scent of bougainvillea, elicited a jarring memory of a moment I had shared with my ex-husband, and there was no way around it. 
Part of me was compelled to confront it. For the first three trips I made out there, I’d find myself steering my car up into the hills, towards my old house. When my husband and I bought it had been in shambles, and we had lovingly renovated every inch of it: we built a deck, paved the driveway, and installed a colorful orange tiled “kid’s bathroom.”
The house was still there, now inhabited by a family. I’d slouch down in the seat of my rental car, parked in front of the house across the street and stare at my old house. I was a voyeur of a stranger’s life, merged with – in a way sprouted from – my old life.  The house looked the same, yet foreign; the driveway now jammed with a Volvo station wagon, a child’s pink bicycle, and a baby carriage.
I didn’t confess to anyone (until now, publicly!) that I had done that. When I asked myself why I willingly put myself through that, I think it was because I needed the concrete evidence that that life had existed. That it wasn’t an intangible memory that existed solely in my mind – in my past.
You could say that in the way divorce is compared to a kind of death, it’s not necessarily different than pulling out pictures of a lost loved one, as a reminder, or more so, to honor a past life that once was.  I was also in the midst of writing my novel, based on that experience, and I suspect I did that to activate some kind of sorrow so that I could feel it in the present and write from that place.  That might sound masochistic – like sticking a fork into your own heart – but there was no stopping me from that trancelike endeavor.
As the trips became more frequent, the sorrowful cloud began to dissipate. And as my colleagues became my close friends who understood what I had been through, it got easier.  One of my coworkers, a confidante, surprised me one day. “Do we have some time before callbacks?” he said. “I want to see your old house.”  I was shocked, but willing. Driving by the house with a friend from my new life in the passenger seat, and watching his reaction (“Wow, I get it now. You had this whole other life before us!”) gave me a sense of validation. But it also made me realize that I was no longer sad. I felt nothing but pride. I was proud to realize that I had finally moved on. That wasn’t my last trip to LA, but it was the last time I saw my house.
I now have a new job, which hasn’t required me to travel to LA, except this weekend. It’s been nine months since I’ve been back, and this time I’m not here with my coworker pals. I’m here alone; a businesswoman staying at a hotel on a business trip.  Again, the changes I’ve made, and the life I am living in NYC is thrown into sharp contrast with the life I would have had had I stayed in LA.  My LA friends are now married, living in pretty houses. Some of them have kids. Seeing couples my age at lunch, with their toddlers in the seat beside them, makes me think of the almost life I would have had; had I stayed married to my ex-husband, and stayed in my old house.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was strange, and that a new kind of melancholy didn’t possess me.  The inevitable questions swirled: What happened? I was so close to having a certain kind of life, wasn’t I? Was I just a few years away, or even months, from having the kind of life where the strollers in the driveway could have been my own?
I realized that the timing, as always, is noteworthy. As I bid a final farewell to the life I didn’t lead, memorialized by the four walls of a house that is no longer my own, I am beginning to embrace my new life in NYC, and a new apartment that I will be moving into that is mine, and mine alone.
We make choices in life that are born out of the present moment. When we make them, we consider the impact it might have on our future, but that future is hypothetical.  It is a hypothetical path that we cannot travel down if we are to choose a different one. It’s like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that I was obsessed with as a child, where you are “the star of your own story,” and there are forty possible endings. We choose our own adventure, and once we do, the other choice and its consequences fall away. And we have to live with that.
But it doesn’t mean that sometimes we can’t play the “what if” game. It is human to wonder how different our lives would look had we stayed put – had we not encountered the people or events that spun us in another direction.  But that choice is ours, and in turn, the reward comes in the form of a new experience. Life is short, but it is also long, and while we can only live out one possible ending, there are infinite choices we can make along the way.
As long as we learn to embrace those decisions – and make the most of them.

Life, Take Two

On most Sunday mornings, I look back on the week I’ve had and think about what to post – whether there are emerging themes or repeat occurrences that are worth discussion. 
This past week was packed with what seemed to be a lot of disconnected events, all noteworthy in my mind, but not necessarily related. It kicked off with the passing of a dog I loved, at the young age of nine, who my dog played with as a pup when we lived in Los Angeles. My reaction (tears and an impulsive phone call to my friend) surprised me in its intensity. The obvious reason is it made me think of my own dog’s mortality (but also forced me to make an appointment for her exam which was overdue and drag us both to the vet at 7:30 on a hung-over morning). And then two other friends’ pets suddenly passed this week as well (without Facebook I would never have known).
Divorce is often compared to a kind of death – the death of one life, and the beginning of a new one.  And when the divorce is bitter and contact is terminated, the remaining vacuum and feelings of loss are akin to death too, which unfortunately is something I can relate to.  My ex-husband and I met in college, at the ripe young age of 18, and when we split 16 years later, the seven stages of grieving per Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (who I studied in my University Psychology classes) were unavoidable (although not as long, and surely not as deep and painful as an actual death of a loved one).
But a rebirth is inevitable too, as finally, thankfully, the last few years have been for me. I can always tell when I go home to New Jersey to visit with my family, who serve as truth check or mirror to what is really going on with me (whether I welcome it or not), when my sister looks me in the eyes and says, “You’re doing good. I can see it,” as she happened to say to me today. 

In another seemingly unrelated moment, a friend of mine mentioned that his ex-wife remarried this weekend, and I’m guessing he was feeling a disconcerting internal shift too; a release of the past and a fierce desire to build a new future for himself.
A girl (I’ll call her Jill) whom I was friendly with from my college dorm (and who knew my ex-husband) reached out to me several years back and we forged an immediate connection, fueled by our common struggles as single women in our late thirties.  We didn’t see each other often, but when we did, we discovered uncanny similarities. I’ve recently been swamped at my new job and all the social outings it entails, and while I had heard she was searching for an office space for her business, I didn’t give it much thought.
Until she told me she coincidentally found a lease in my building.
On the heels of my whirlwind week, I stayed in the city this weekend with the intention of doing nothing. I bought a present for my niece’s birthday whose party I attended today, and caught up on the phone with old friends.  I’ve been struggling with finding balance – time to give to the people who really matter to me – and while I didn’t plan anything, I felt myself open up and turn towards those who had been giving to me. 
Jill happened to move into my building this weekend. Unbeknownst to me, she had bravely made the decision to take a leap, and then made the move on her own, as strong women with faith – and a kind of trust in the universe – do. It reminded me of when I moved into my first apartment post divorce, and then again post breakup, and how difficult it was. Without much fanfare, I turned off the Facebook, grabbed two glasses of wine, and went downstairs to give her a second opinion on paint colors and furnishings.  When I opened the door she had left open for me, I felt the rush of memories from our dorm life flood in. 
Later, she texted me to say that my presence in the building felt like an omen of sorts; that a woman she knew from college was there, “fighting the good fight, taking risks, and forging a new path…maybe the univ has given us both a big thumbs up,” she wrote.
By “univ,” she meant “universe.” 
But then it hit me. I thought she meant “University.” Not just because we went to University together, but because our building happens to be on a street called “University Place.”
I’m not going to get into the whole “signs and omens” thing here again – I’ve written several posts about it already.  But my skin was suddenly covered with goose bumps, when it was 89 degrees out.
It made me think about rebirth again. The odds of my life intersecting with an old friend of mine at this specific time, when we are both grabbing change by the gut, was not to be overlooked.
No connection is tenuous, in my opinion. All of these seemingly disparate events could easily be hidden from view if we are not primed to see them. But this week, I was fortunate to have banished the clutter of frivolous flirtations and distractions so that I could.
And then tonight, as I sat trying to figure out what to write about and trolling Facebook as I always do when I procrastinate, a quote on a friend’s wall made it all click together:
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”  — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross