Today is that day — the day I dread most every year: the anniversary of when I drove to Westchester to retrieve Frederic from rehab and help him start his new life. The truth is that I get weird in July. I talk too much about nothing; I ignore the conversations I should be having. Ifail to thrive. I mistake hunger for pain, and vice versa.
Each year, the memory of that trip to The Retreat at Westchester consumes me — with guilt, with longing, with…I don’t know what.
Except this year. Instead of flogging myself for past mistakes, I headed for sunnier climes. I went to Lisbon with friends for the weekend instead of wallowing in memories and guilt. (Disclaimer: I was in London for work last week. I’m not quite that jetsetty an asshole to just hop off to Lisboa from NYC.) Not having explained the purpose of the weekend to anyone, I think some friends wondered why I was going. They asked: what was I chasing? The real question was: what was I leaving behind?
The answer: Sometimes, I don’t want to be just a world-traveller, or a runner, or the girl who plays host all the time. Sometimes, I just want you to high-five me for surviving, instead of nagging me and saying condescending shit about my “lack” of work-life balance. Sometimes, I don’t want to doubt everything. The answer was also that I love sunshine. I love dry heat. I love cities on the water; I love seafood; I love the company of friends.
Last Friday afternoon, I arrived in Portugal in a sundress, with zero expectations. I was meeting a handful of friends with the object of seeing the city and seeing a concert, and I didn’t care about much else.
So I stumbled out of the airport into the smoky sunshine and was sucked into a weekend of food, music, and wandering around a city I’d never before visited.
The place itself was beautiful, in a crumbling kind of way. There were so many gorgeous, faded buildings; tiled facades in need of a good fixing-up. During our visit, the sky was the hard blue that you get only in the Mediterranean; the kind that Californians claim to have, but it’s not quite the same.
On Saturday, we walked over the cobbled streets, looking for the castle, which, on the map seemed easily located — and was visible from where we were staying — but once we got closer proved nearly impossible to find.
Look, said someone, there’s escalators marked on the map!
Just like Hong Kong! someone else exclaimed.
For a moment, in the run-down center of old Lisbon, we were convinced that it was “just like Hong Kong.” And we were earnestly convinced of this — as if this made perfect sense; as if there were escalators (!!) leading up the hillside and in between the stuccoed homes.
It then became apparent that the “esc.” meant escaleras. As in, stairs.
Once inside the castle, looking out at the view, I remarked, It’s just like San Francisco!
Before one of my companions could take in the vista, he grumbled, You bloody Americans always comparing…oh, yeah, it does look just like San Francisco!
We snapped photos and laughed. Ate oranges and almonds in the shade. Drank too much at a dinner in an old water tower, before seeing The Cure under the stars while the Portuguese club kids smoked their cigarettes and drank their Heinekens.
As all good things do, by Monday the weekend had to come to an end. I caught a much-delayed flight into Newark. Definitely not my airport of choice. I remembered, then, that Frederic and I used to do some work at Newark, back when we were colleagues.
The last time I’d been there, it had been for a flight to Denmark in the early days of my divorce. I’d flown the night before from California on the red eye; gone into the office; was off to Copenhagen that night. On the flight, I’d written a long email to the friend I sometimes bumped into in airports all over the world; on whose shoulder I still lean heavily. It was a peculiar message I never sent, in draft form in my gmail to this day.
This led me off on a strange tangent — thinking about sitting across from my friend at SFO last April, my arm in a sling, after I found out about Frederic’s marriage. Thinking about Frederic; his Danish wife. Recalling sitting on airplanes listening to Adele; Carly Simon; Ani DiFranco.
Then I remembered the first time I’d been at Newark. I was sixteen and on a layover between Los Angeles and Zurich, bitching about what a hellhole the airport was. We’d taken off, and I’d looked out over the lights of the Eastern Seaboard, and had a sudden flash of knowing that that would be my life. Airplanes. Airports. Those lights below.
Newark, for its part, was still a hellhole.
The flight touched down, and there I was in New Jersey again. Slightly tanned by the summer sun. Filled with the memory of sardines freshly caught and grilled, covered in a little sea salt, and served hot on a plate. Captured in happy photographs and covered with a layer of Iberian grime.
It was perfect.
I woke up today with those memories still lingering. I went for a run at 5:30am, then got on a spin bike, like I do most mornings. I put on a white linen dress and the cowboy boots Das gave me for my birthday the year I left my husband; I saw eee bright and early; I was in the office a little late. Someone asked me yesterday: Why do you eat so much?! And at first it shocked and hurt me, but today, it makes me proud.
This is an anniversary of a day that used to break my heart. But in reality, I did the right thing. And by leaving town; seeking sun; remembering that I am worthy of beautiful things, I know that this, friends, this is the day that the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad.