I was swapping winter clothes for spring/summer clothes in the storage boxes under my bed when “Tiny Dancer” came on the satellite radio.

For some reason, this sparked a memory of many years ago, when I lived in Washington, and whenever I got a taxi from Reagan National Airport to my house in Burleith, I inevitably hopped in the cab of this one, irritating taxi driver.  He would always ask me where I was from, and back then, still putting on my best, uncomfortable Californian front, I would mumble: Los Angeles.

He would then burst into a grin, and tell me all about the celebrities he’d ferried from the airport to important points within our Nation’s Capital.

But do you know who the best celebrity was?  Do you know who was the nicest?

Who?

Tony Danza.

300px-TonyDanza

Tony Danza.  This was one of those things I could not make up — and this happened so long ago, I think it was even before he had tried, and failed, at having his own talk show.

The taxi driver went on and on, extolling the virtues of The Tony Danza.  The Boss.  Wait.  Was he the boss?  Or was it Angela?  Or Mona?  I don’t remember.  Regardless, I spent many a tired, possibly hung-over ride from DCA with a strange Ethiopian man telling me all about what a stand-up guy Tony Danza was.

Years later, when I had left Andrew but we were still quite married — though I was living most weeks in Washington, and he was still in our apartment, with all of our things, and our dogs in New York — I stepped out of the airport and into Tony Danza Guy’s taxi.  I asked him to take me to my lonely little apartment across from the National Cathedral on Mass Ave.

Where are you from?  he asked me.  At that point, I was already on the phone — making calls; checking in with  my estranged husband; blah blah blah.

I’m from New York, I said, irritated.

I love New York, the driver said, oblivious to the fact that I was on the phone, I drive celebrities from New York all the time.  But do you know who I think the best celebrity is?  Do you know who the nicest guy is?

I pulled my iPhone away from my face.  Don’t tell me.  Tony Danza?  

Do you know him?  the driver said excitedly.

No, I replied, I just hear he’s a really nice guy.

Fears come in different sized packages. Tell the story of a time you had to face a fear, big or small.

You’d never know it now, but I am terrified of being alone.

When I got married, my best friend gave me an exasperated look in the basement of the Cathedral and said: You know you don’t have to do this.

Time passed.

When I decided I was going to move out of my husband’s house, I was in Las Vegas, crouched on the window sill of a hotel room, staring down at the Strip from the thirtysomethingth(?) floor; listening to Andrew fake-vomit in the toilet; watching my entire life crumble around me.

So my best friend said, When you are ready to go, come home to Los Angeles.

So I did.  I called my parents, and I had them come meet us, and I went back to Los Angeles with them.

Well, first, I called my psychiatrist, who was a former Vogue cover model, and a former Pantene girl, and, at one point, Richard Avedon’s muse.  Her father had been a lawyer, and sometimes, our sessions felt like I was the one doing talk therapy on her.

I’m in Las Vegas for a wedding in which my husband thinks he’s the best man, but he’s not, and when he found out he was not the best man, he took to bed, I’d said.

Shit, she’d replied.

Then we discovered that in Nevada, you can still call in a prescription for Valium over the phone.

The next day, I’d left with my parents, who had done that Thing they do, which was to stop in Baker, CA at the World’s Largest Thermometer, and also, to order gyros at the drive-thru at the Mad Greek.

And then I found myself back in LA.  Jade was still married at the time, and her mother hadn’t yet gone off to Melbourne.  So we got on the horses, and we rode the canyons.  We saddled up, and I rode.

That night Jade, James and I went out for drinks and music, and I didn’t bother to change clothes.  I was out in Hollywood, smelling of sweat and horses and hay.  Still in jeans and boots with barn on them.

But I was Free.

Scared and Free.

photome

Jade snapped this photo of me that night, as I was laughing.  We were at a bar on Sunset — a place we had gone to as teenagers, when it had a different name.

It was the night after I’d left Las Vegas; left my husband.  I’d gotten a job offer; I was leaving New York for at least nine months.

Nobody knew any of this.  Nobody but me.

You would never know that I am not particularly fond of being alone.  But until I had made the decision to leave, I had always been in relationships — my entire teenage and adult life.  I had never been without a boyfriend, or a husband.  One after another, I was a serial monogamist. 

I love to talk; I love to check-in with people.  I love to have guests and company.  I love to host dinners and parties.  I love FaceTime and Skype.  My parents installed my own phone line in my bedroom when I was a young teenager, and I have happily chattered away ever since.

Filling the void of time with the sound of my own breath and the clatter of my own footsteps was terrifying.

But, strangely, it was less terrifying than being lonely.

Scintilla Prompt #8: What are your simplest pleasures? Go beyond description and into showing the experience of each indulgence

 1)      Cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin: I went to Washington over the weekend for an event, and to see friends.  I’ve waxed poetic about the cherry blossoms before, but I do love them.  During my years living in Washington as an intern, as a student, and as a professional, I fell in love with the springtime blooms.  They’re delicate; hopeful.  Ephemeral.  To me, they were and are the amuse bouche of the garden – a quick bite of something beautiful before the springtime truly takes hold.  They always meant the beginning of good things to come.

 2)      Unexpected upgrades:  eee and I were both in Washington over the weekend.  I was to meet her at her hotel on Friday, where we were going to stay, before going to Bethany’s on Saturday.  eee messaged while I was on the train to tell me that we’d been upgraded to a suite at her hotel.  It wasn’t just any suite – it was literally a princess suite.  A massive living room, two full baths, a full kitchen, etc. 

 I made a video tour of the whole thing, but can’t figure out how to upload it.  The next morning, we showered in our separate showers, and played our own morning music from opposite sides of the suite, never hearing or disturbing each other.  We were still giddy with joy at the space.

 I’ve stayed in some of the best hotels in the world.  I should be inoculated against excitement at large, otherwise ordinary accommodations.  But eaven help me when the unexpectedly pleasant no longer thrills me.

3)      Gold ballet flats:  For reasons I don’t quite understand, gold ballet flats have become a staple of my wardrobe – particularly the type you can fold in half.  I love them; they give me immense joy.  I’ve tried the exceptionally expensive kind that they make by hand; the cheap Gap kind that go on sale and give you sweaty feet; right now I have a middle-of-the-road pair that has held up quite well, but is looking a bit long in the tooth.  I love the feeling of ballet slippers.  There’s something terribly luxurious about the sense that your feet are nearly-naked.

 4)      Penguins:  Ever get sucked down the YouTube rabbit-hole of videos of penguins doing adorable things?  You’re welcome.

5)      That moment:  When it becomes clear that there are several ways something will ultimately end, most of them won’t be very pleasant.  Regardless, the ride is and will be a gloriously complex, uncomplicated joy.

Frederic and I have been talking more, in a manner reminiscent of how we spoke when we were Just Friends.  Can men and women ever be friends?  Does the sex part always get in the way, as Billy Crystal once suggested?  I don’t know.  I know nothing about men – not the American ones, not the European ones.  And the thing that truly escapes me is why they inevitably move on from me to someone more Nordic.

Maybe I attract it.  I too love all things North Atlantic.

I think it began in March 2005.  It was the day after my birthday, and the Washington Post published a travel article about one writer’s quest to explore Iceland.  He had driven the Ring Road; visited many of the country’s public swimming pools.  I read the article three times that night on the paper’s website.

Darling, I said to Andrew, Let’s go to Iceland.  You know how I love to swim.

Iceland is cold. You don’t like the cold, he reminded me.

I let it drop.  But I never forgot about Iceland. It was a private obsession; a fantasy land where there were no cats, and the streets were paved with cheese.

Fast forward to the Autumn of 2007, and the world was ending while Frederic sort-of propped me up.  I would say to him, Let’s go to Reykjavik. I’ve never been.

We’re married to other people, he’d remind me.  We’d sit in our offices – on the 41st and 42nd floors of the MetLife Building, respectively – and dream.  In those days, I had an unobstructed view all the way up Park Avenue.  On a clear day, I’d swear I could see to Westchester.

We’re friends.  I just want to go swimming.

Iceland became one of the many things we were going to do: run the New York City marathon; travel to the Caribbean; buy a house in New Jersey where we could both write; take that trip to Iceland.  It was all an escapist fantasy

But things couldn’t hold; the center fell apart – our marriages failed; I travelled and moved away; time passed; the best parts of us lacked all conviction and the worst parts of us were full of passionate, furious intensity.  Perhaps we should’ve been angry at ourselves; our former spouses; liquor; food.  Instead, we acted it all out on each other.

We angrily kept in touch as I made my way through China where I prayed in Buddhist temples and made wishes on Tibetan bells; through Africa where I held the hands of kids thin and bloated with the things that would soon kill them.  We sent hateful messages as I travelled around California and drove canyons, rode horses, tried to write and feel relevant again before I finally gave up and stopped smoking.  I remember one of my last cigarettes, with my arm slung out the window of the car of my college roommate, Legs.  We’d gone to dinner in Cole Valley, maybe?  Clad in skinny jeans and fleeces, we looked like California girls – she was, I wasn’t.  And on the way back to her apartment, I leaned out the window of her car and puffed, while Meatloaf sang “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” and Frederic ignored my messages for the first time in years.  So Legs and I changed plans and drove around Pacific Heights instead, smelling salt air and trying to forget.

Frederic and I sort-of talked when I moved to Washington and I resolved to run a marathon, facts of which I don’t think he was ever fully aware.  At some point during my adventure, he took up with our Danish ex-colleague, a fact of which I wasn’t ever fully aware either, at least, not until it was too late.

By the Autumn of 2009, I was back in California on a deal when I messaged Frederic (in typical, antagonistic fashion): I’m running the New York City Marathon.

He replied: I thought we were going to do that together.

Don’t.

The exchange smacked of loss – what had I expected!  I crumpled against the support of the awning covering the path leading to the lobby of the hotel in which I was staying.  What was done was done.

I needed a shock to the system.  I needed a swim.  I had a run instead; it was my first marathon – New York City.  I crossed the finish line, and for 20 minutes, I knew the meaning of life.  But I still craved the water.  A week post-marathon, I was back in California; back on the deal.  My roadwarrior friend (the one who always meets me in airports) and I drove down to Big Sur and we walked along the shores of the cold Pacific.  We strode barefoot along the beach as the strong current sucked the sand out from underfoot.  It was dizzying; my head spun; I needed to be steadied.

The deal ended.  At the end of that trip, my friend and I drove up the coast and had dinner in San Francisco before our respective flights out of SFO.  I could still feel the sand sucking out from under my feet, even as we sat on Market Street eating sweetbreads.

Go back to New York.  Sort things at home, my friend advised.

I went back to New York.  Time passed.  There were airports and hotels; lounges and lobby bars.  Frederic became a ghost, a shadow.

I never forgot Iceland, though, and one day I saw an advertisement for an Iceland Air deal.

By then I was dating Bill, and I convinced him to join me on the adventure.  We arrived in Reykjavik on a cold December morning, under cover of the Northern Lights.  Have you ever seen the green in the sky, or borne witness to the barren volcanic landscape?  Have you ever experienced the short, short days, or the dim daylight?  Iceland in real-time was better than what it had been in my head.

And the pools!

It had taken years to get there, but I was swimming in Iceland.  I wanted to drink the water; I wanted to suck up the steam.  I wanted to stand naked in the shower for the rest of my days, being born again with each pulse of the faucet.  I never wanted to leave.  I wanted to stand with one foot on either side of the continental divide – North America and Europe – and remain forever.  (Though I didn’t know at the time how prophetic that longing would be.)

Bill and I flew home to New York, and within a few months, Frederic called out of the blue to say he was getting married.  I was promptly hit by a car, and within so few days they could be counted in hours, I found out about Bill’s indiscretions.  Then I flew out to San Francisco for Legs’ wedding, where my roadwarrior friend met me at SFO for an hour or two before I drove back down to the place where we’d once walked along the cold Pacific together, and I tried to steady myself.

It was a second coming of the things that had happened before; two years in a circle; turning and turning in the widening gyre…

At some point, between then and now, the world began to right itself.  Bill, for his part, is apparently dating a woman who used to live in Reykjavik.

The other day I said to Frederic, Do you remember that time we thought it was a good idea to go to Iceland? While we were both still very married?

We wanted to run away, he replied.  From all that, and together. 

I mused: I spent the last few years, in fits of rage, doing many of the things we said we’d do together.  Iceland was…breathtaking…

I was there last May, he said.  Thought of you.  It ruined things a little bit.  Ruined things “a little bit.”  Funny, but I mean them both, both the “ruined” part and the “little bit” part.

It took me a few days, but it finally occurred to me that he was married last May.  He must’ve been married in Iceland.  But his wedding day was the day I’d taken a train from Edinburgh to London.  So that had been a beginning, not an end.  And for me, Iceland was still unspoiled.

Meanwhile, back on travel…

It is no secret that I love airports.  I do not bother to hide the fact that I believe they are a snapshot of the values, the culture, the mechanics of one moment in time for a people and a place.  The world changes so fast; airports can’t possibly keep up.  That’s what’s so beautiful: their mere existence is nostalgia.

As I mentioned, Dileep had dropped me off at Dulles.  At night.


Dulles is a place I love; it was the razorsharp hallmark of my Washington days.  It was the place from which I came and went; the serrated cavern where my Aunt and Uncle retrieved me that day over a decade ago when I first came to Washington.  I had arrived with only a suitcase, and my stuffed monkey — probably looking much the same as I had as a tiny girl when I left the East Coast for California, except now I was a grown woman who wasn’t ever permanently heading back the opposite direction.

I was flying to London again.  When I checked in, I obviously had the look of a frequent traveller (I have a theory on this, but that’s another post for another time).  The counter agent told me to “go to the lounge.”  Where is the lounge?  I usually fly from JFK.  Oh.

I cleared security, then sat in the lounge waiting for my flight, issuing apologies for my distressed messages the night before; from the dinner where I’d had too much to drink.

imsorryimsorryimsorrysomeoneshouldvetakenthephoneawayfromme.

We still like you anyway.

I slept fitfully through the flight to wake up as we were coming into Heathrow; to watch the sunrise.

(I watch a lot of sunrises.  I see them because I am a runner — I watch the great shiny orb rising out of trees or water or a gnarled mass of highways surrounding the start line.  I see them because I am a frequent traveller, and I wake-up in the early morning hours in places exotic and mundane.

I am not a morning person, that’s for certain — that too, is another post for another time.  But the past year or two has given me new appreciation for sunrise.)

Back into Central London; a day of little to do for once.  I went for a run in Hyde Park later in the afternoon, as the sun was setting.

One thing we’d talked about at the top of Mount Whitney was that all of the junk we carried around didn’t need to be there when the sun rose.  But I saw so many sunrises, and was still carrying around so much junk!  I was working through the idea of failure, but hadn’t quite resolved the idea of fault.  Maybe the sun should set on blame.

What do you want?

I wanted to wake up on my sixtieth birthday and have someone look at me and say: Darling you’re just as beautiful today as you were on your twenty-fifth birthday that rainy day in Paris.

That’s not going to happen.

I know.

I was nostalgic for something that had never existed, something that was now never going to exist.  Sort of like how airports romanticised things; points in time that had never necessarily been indigenous to the places in which they were located; perhaps had never really existed in the first place. How could I keep blaming myself for not holding up my end of a bargain that hadn’t ever been agreed upon?

I left Hyde Park; went to shower off the sweat and airport.  Blaming myself for my non-failure continued to make less sense.

A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. -Samuel Johnson

Five days after running the NYC Marathon, I shoved clothes in a suitcase and caught a plane to Washington DC for a conference.  I knew I was going to bump into a number of people I had once known, and I was dreading it. Was I going to forget all about my revelations from the week prior?

Probably.

I arrived at Reagan Airport on Thursday and instantly, awkwardly ran into someone I hadn’t seen since law school graduation.  The next day, among a cluster of people I’d once known, I faced uncomfortable moments made more awkward by my snark.  Accusations that were couched as “jokes.” Inquires that felt too personal.  After a while, I had to give myself a timeout.

Washington was filled with ghosts.

I was staying at a hotel at the intersection of familiar streets, near a church I’d once attended.  And on my timeout, I walked through the painful places I knew best: past the UPS Store from which I’d mailed my separation papers; past my old office on M Street where I’d gone to take a conference call to Hong Kong after the papers had been sent.  I traipsed farther down M Street, over the bridge, into Georgetown — past the restaurant where Andrew and I had had our first date, and where we’d celebrated our engagement.  The place where the ring I’d just sold had once been brand new and the chef had poured us celebratory champagne.

I messaged my friend Dileep.

Do you want to have dinner tonight?  I could use a friend.

So dinner it was — dinner and lots of wine. I was agitated, maudlin; a sad drunk of proportions rivaling my undergraduate days, when Legs and I would cry in our beers while eating cheese fries and watching Golden Girls reruns, debating which roommate among us was Blanche, Rose, Dorothy.

(Somehow, I was always the Dorothy.)

Why do the men I am with keep telling me I’m unlovable?  Am I unlovable?  I must be. I suppose I need to reframe my thinking and become okay with being…alone.

I’d had way too much to drink and was on a tear.  And then my ex-husband, out of the blue, sent me a message:

I just found in my cummerbund the love note you wrote me on the first day of spring, 2006.

I had tucked years’ worth of lovenotes into his things; surprises meant to sustain a marriage.  Divorce had intervened; the notes remained — remain — I wasn’t sure he’d even found them all yet.  He’d always accused me of not being a romantic; he just didn’t know me very well.

And at that point, gentle readers, instead of feeling heartened and fortified by the previous weekend’s revelations, I had a relapse of batshit crazy.

I proceeded to send a series of messages to my supportive friends in which I took responsibility for things that had not been my fault and demanded that they learn from my public and awful mistakes.  Mistakes I had not, in fact, fully and/or actually made, but of which I had been accused earlier in the day.

Dileep drove me back to my hotel, and feeling defeated, I went to bed.

The next morning, I woke up late for an alumni event.  I had wine-sweaters on my teeth that no amount of brushing could remove.  It was too late to wash my hair.  I was insecure about the way I looked — what else was new?!  But the breakfast program was lovely; the company was even better.  It was nice to hear stories of successes.  It was nice to share an honest account of my own roundabout journey.  It was then that I realized that I hadn’t had to spend the previous two days being so damned awkward.  We were far enough removed from our competitive law school days to now be more vulnerable with each other.  Life was happening.  We weren’t being graded on a curve anymore.

I left the breakfast, and the conference, and went out for a run along the Potomac.

Staring at the water, passing the Boathouse, I began to calm down.  For one thing, my old colleagues knew my history, and they still seemed to think I was an okay person.  Hmm.  For another thing, my ex had known exactly who I would see at the conference (he was a member of the same organization) and he’d blasted me from the past anyway.

Was it him and not me that was the problem here?  That thought had never occurred to me.

I ran back to the hotel, finished out the conference day; met up with old friends and new friends, then Dileep drove me to Dulles to catch my flight out of town.

We should do this more often, he said, This thing where we get to see each other for more than just an hour or two in a weekend.

Agree, I said, then I hugged him goodbye and I was off.

I cleared security, then sat in the lounge waiting for my flight, issuing apologies for my distressed messages the night before.  I probably shouldn’t have gone to Washington in the first place.  But in going, I’d stripped away another layer of junk left behind by a painful decade.  True, life had gone on because hope had persisted.  But realizing I had never actually failed in the first place — that was the triumph of hope over experience.

And while it wasn’t a second marriage,  it was maybe a second chance to have relationships with people I’d been too scared to even know in a previous life; a real chance to start new ones with people I was just beginning to know.

I talked to my ex-husband yesterday.  Sometimes, we talk three days in a week.  Sometimes, we go for weeks; months without talking.

We’ve gotten along much better lately.  Perhaps because all of our unfinished business has finally been separated after two malingering years.  Perhaps because the fact of our marriage is so far behind us and we simply…irritate each other less.  (I mean, sometimes he still says some very irritating things, but after seven years together and having known each other for just under a decade, one gets used to it).

On Saturday, I had said to him:

I need to drop something off for you, are you home?  I’m coming out of the park and I can swing by your house?

No, I’m in Connecticut?

(Remember: we speak to each other in questionmarks).

As it so happened, about an hour later, it became apparent that I was going to be able to retrieve my kayak that day — which meant a trip to both New Jersey and Connecticut.

Hey.  I’m going to be in Connecticut.  Shall I drop it off to you there?

Radio silence for a few hours.  As it turned out, he was leaving Connecticut that night and going down to DC.

What’s going on in Washington?  Work or pleasure?

(Many of our friends from law school still live in the DC-area.)

Both.  Seeing a girl, and working in the DC office on Monday.  Say a prayer that this goes well?

I’m sure it will, I said, Remember that Washington is a place where you thrive; keep your heart above your head?

The heart above the head thing was something my yoga instructor said lot; something she asked us to practice — both physically and emotionally.  I figured it was good dating advice, even if I wasn’t taking it myself.

Thanks?

And off he went, to Washington and Beyond.  And off I went, to finally retrieve my kayak.

When my cheating ex (who insisted upon accompanying us to get the boat) got in the car, he recounted a story of having seen my ex-husband a day or two before at a bar.

He didn’t stop and say anything.

Why would he recognize you?  He has no idea who you are in person — met you only once; just knows the story of all that happened.  He’d never be able to put a name to a face.

We were with CJ.  He didn’t say anything to her, either.

Oh.  Not unexpected, really.  But also not surprising that my ex-husband wouldn’t say hello to a woman who was so deeply embedded in my life at the time of my divorce; whose constant presence in our house was probably the only thing that kept me sane and kept Andrew and I from killing each other at the worst of times.

(As I found out later, he sent a friendly text after leaving the bar, and realizing he hadn’t said anything; she responded in kind, and that was that — which Bill probably also knew.)

We drove to New Jersey in awkward relative-silence.  We retrieved the kayak — the thing that had been integral to my getting-together-with-Andrew; the item that was the hallmark of my Washington life — and ferried it back to Connecticut, where it belonged.

So we talked yesterday.

How was Washington?

Date went really well, thanks.  Your advice was really good.

And there it was, a statement.  Something we’d barely made to each other since the early days of our courtship.  In just a few words, he’d been able to take something for himself and give me something in return.  With that, a misaligned piece had finally been righted, and something caught-up had finally been released.

Looking back on my marriage, I had so many moments of knowing it was over; have had so many moments of feeling trapped and broken — feeling unworthy of love, feeling generally ungood.  But there are moments, now, where the dynamic has changed.  Now deep in the true business of moving on, there are these remarkable moments when I know that I am free.