In my mid-30s, my initial confidence level with attractive men didn’t match my perception of enduring relationship success; I felt doomed to fail on a protracted timeline. In this instance, and others, I chose to pursue someone based on the short-term nature of the possibilities. I knew I had Jack that first night. Boys like me; that doesn’t mean they stick around, so I was now choosing men who wouldn’t.Read More
BY ERIN KHAR
This piece is part of the Relationship Issue. Read more here.
I met him on a Thursday. Or was it a Wednesday? It might have been my birthday. Maybe it was someone else’s. Those sorts of details, the ones I usually remember, are all unimportant. We met. And I knew he liked me. And I didn’t like him. That might be a lie. I might have liked him. That’s unimportant now.
If I were to tell you the truth, I would tell you that I met him in Paris, on my 21st, no 22nd birthday. But, I will tell you that I don’t remember because you don’t really want the details. You want to believe that no one existed before you. You want to believe that no one, especially not him, has known the mole just below my left breast, or watched me sleep, always on the right side of the bed, with 2 pillows please, and I can’t sleep naked, I have to wear underwear because I have an irrational fear of something crawling up inside me, up between my legs when I sleep. If I were to tell you the truth, I would tell you that he knows those things about me. And that truth would burn you and you would take the fire and throw it at me.
So, I say he didn’t matter. I don’t tell you about the snowball fight on the banks of the Seine, on a magical February night. The streetlights made the snow gold, and we slid down gilded patches of ice into each other’s arms and made confessions and declarations, as kids passing by doused us with powder, because it was Mardi Gras. Did I mention that? No, of course not.
Instead of telling you that I loved him grandly and absolutely and savagely, I tell you that he meant nothing. And then I remain silent. I imagine that this is better for me, to be loved excessively by a man I feel nothing for. I shouldn’t say that and I won’t, but I care for you, and despise you a little too, for loving me, for knowing that you will lose me, for trying to mute that sharpness left behind in the heart he shattered.
We sit across a table, a table marked by an ocean of time and other love, bolder love, but to you it is just a table. And you take my hand, to get my attention. Your hand is bigger than mine. Your hand is older than mine. Your hand loves more than mine. I focus on the table, the grain of the wood, the grooves, what made them, where the wood has traveled. Your hand over mine, I touch the table and try to recall where I am and who I’ve become. I say my lines, the words you want to hear. The words seem to come from someone else’s mouth. A waitress appears, and you are distracted, and I release my hand from yours.
You order dessert and I think about lying in bed under a heap of duvet, naked, with the man who broke me. It was far too cold to go outside, and we were starving. Starved from hours, maybe days, of learning the contours of every inch of our intertwined bodies. Chestnut cream and creme fraiche in a bowl, a big white ceramic bowl, swirled together, and a sprig of mint, and spoon feeding, and bliss. I had never been happier and I left the bowl on the floor next to the bed, which I would never do now. Now, I would take it to the kitchen and wash it. Then, go to the bathroom, turn on the light, and look at a stranger’s face staring back at me in the mirror.
You’re asking me something? It shocks me a little, forces me to come back to the table and the hand and the waitress and the dessert. What am I thinking about? I should tell you that I let him in. I should tell you I wrote him long-winded love letters, exposing all parts of me. I should tell you that I waited for him to make up his mind. Did I forget to mention that he had a girlfriend when I met him? Well, he did, and I waited, and he chose me, and I was a fool.
But, I don’t. I tell you about a story I read about bailarinas, taxi dancers, like in Sweet Charity, but in Queens. They’re mostly Dominican, paid $2 per dance. And, sometimes they get paid $40 to sit there for an hour and make small talk like they are on a date, or $500 for the night, and some of them prostitute themselves. Some of them have kids. Some of them wait for the men to leave their wives or girlfriends. And all of them are lonely.
I talk too fast and your eyes are kind and your cheekbones high and I study your golden face and I feel guilty. I tell you about Rosa, one of the women in the story, who has been a bailarina for 14 years. She’s waiting for her life to change and she doesn’t know how she got there. And, I don’t know how I got here.
I don’t tell you that I feel like Rosa. He didn’t pay me to dance. He paid for pieces of my heart. He paid for them with scraps of time and lovemaking and promises. I don’t tell you that I feel like Rosa now, that I pretend to be here, participating in a relationship. But, I am there still wandering in bliss and loss and ecstasy and devastation.
I know it’s unfair to you. I am paralyzed. I resent you.
Somewhere between the table and the dessert and the bailarinas and the check, you mention a trip to Paris. We should go to Paris together. You want to see the city through my eyes. I tell you I would love that. I tell you about The Catacombs and Place des Invalides and the many corners I unearthed in that city. This seems to please you and I’m nauseous. The years between now and then do little to protect me. I excuse myself.
There’s a line for the bathroom. A petite perky blonde woman ahead of me strikes up a conversation about how long she’s been waiting. I listen to her complaining and watch us in the mirror on the wall. She is small and light and I am tall and dark. We are both waiting. Rosa is waiting. The man at the table who loves me is waiting.
I waited for the man I loved to make up his mind. He did. He chose me and we left Paris and came to Los Angeles and he began doubting his decision. He should have told me, but he didn’t. I sensed it and the doubt worked like a knife, shaving off flakes of me. Slowly, or quickly, we unraveled from each other and I made him leave, because only having a part of him was far too painful.
The petite perky blonde has finished and it’s my turn. I lock the bathroom door behind me and weep. The wound has festered long but the tears are fresh. I don’t, I can’t allow myself to linger here too long. I remember you, at the table, waiting. I look in another mirror. I don’t know how I got here. But, I know I cannot stay.
I return to you, at the table. Your hair reminds me of wheat and I soften. You take my hand. I should tell you, but I won’t that when he left, I did too. I won’t tell you that he came back and when he came back I had already disintegrated. I was so deeply entrenched in self-destruction that I couldn’t find my way back. I wanted to love him again. I wanted to go back to the midnight walks and the breathless proclamations and all the tiny discoveries that felt so big and the submission to this wave of feeling that I could not contain. I broke his heart too, and left mine there.
I won’t tell you, but I should, that he taught me how to have a broken heart, that he taught me how to surrender, that he taught me how to be humbled by the pain of loss. I came to you broken and I don’t want to love. And, I know that when I leave you will have taught me how to love and that part of loving you is letting go, letting go of you, untethering you from my limp heart, so you can find a less broken heart who can love you back. And you might hate me for this, but I will have enough love to do it anyway.
I take your hand from across the table. I think you already know.
Erin Khar lives, loves, and writes in New York City and sometimes other cities too. She was the recipient of a 2012 Eric Hoffer Editor's Choice Prize for her story, "Last House at the End of the Street," which was published in the Best New Writing 2012 anthology. Her work has appeared many places, including Sliver of Stone, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, The Manifest-Station, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Dr. Oz. The Good Life, and as a regular contributor for Ravishly. She is currently working on her first book, a memoir. When she’s not writing, she’s probably watching Beverly Hills, 90210.
BY STEPHANIE N. STODDARD CORTÉS
“Steph, tengo que hablar contigo,” is the godforsaken sentence that makes the world stand still, and the bird living in my chest to hide beneath its wings. An unshakable sense of guilt was accompanied by the utterance of such a sentence, and immediately made time slow enough to quickly think back to everything I had or hadn’t done since the last time I was home. Nothing rang any bells. I begged the bird to calm down. We were safe there, on that table in the middle of the mom-made breakfast I can no longer recall clearly. Dad said, “no quiero que pienses que estamos molestos contigo porque no lo estamos.”
Mom interrupts him to say he shouldn’t be talking in plural because she has nothing to do with this. I looked at him first, confused; turned my head to look at my mother questioningly, then at my sister who had gone wide-eyed across from me: it was evident they all knew what dad was talking about. The bird shivered. I put on a brave face and asked if I could please be brought up to speed. The rest happened in a blur. Between the noise, I mostly remember feeling: incredulous turned to defensive turned to scared, and finally settling somewhere between angry and sad. There was a lot of shaking involved, and even some of that uncomfortable, disbelieving laughter that tastes like you’ve just bitten your tongue.
When I was about ten, on a morning we were about to have breakfast, I sat at the head of the table for the first time. My dad, after he came out of the bathroom, told me that that chair was meant for the “man of the house”. I was confused at first, because ten-year-old-me thought a chair was just a chair. The only special thing about it was that I could rest my lanky arms on its wooden side frames. Even then I refused to move, cross-armed and pouting: I had gotten there first, dad. I was comfy. I look back at this particular memory and feel Sarah Ahmed’s words float around ten-year-old-me slow-motion surround-sound-style. I realize now that could’ve very likely been my first unknowingly “feminist” stance. Today, when I drive home to Isabela, I sit there in a form of protest. I am very conscious of the fact that this bothers my dad on some level because he is “the man of the house” (he laughs, like he’s joking; I can’t ever tell if he is), and I am his child. His female child. To my amusement, he sits at the other end of the table in a form of protest as well: he’s still “the man of the house” if he sits in the other one, right?
That day—the day the godforsaken “we have to talk” spilled out of my father’s worried mouth— I wasn’t sitting where I usually sit, which is both interesting and weird come to think of it. The word “vulnerable” pops into mind for whatever Freudian reason. That day, it was mom who sat there. Dad was standing, his hand on top of the other man-the-house-chair at the end of the table. He says “Mami (as in Nora, my grandma, his mom) me dijo que Beatriz (my aunt, his sister) le dijo que Denise (my other aunt, not his sister) le dijo que tu estabas jangueando con una amiga lesbiana. Beatriz me llamó bien preocupada. Yo también estoy preocupado, como tu papá”. I don’t think I have to explicitly say my father's side of the family is very passive-aggressively homophobic (and racist). Everyone has different degrees: my dad is the most intolerant, mami es más eso-esta-bien-si-es-ajeno-a-mi, Alicia me da esperanza, y a Saulo le gusta decir que no es homofóbico, but he sees it more like a threat to his masculinity though he admits not understanding why, which I appreciate because it leaves room for the willingness to do so.
I remember I opened my mouth and what came out of it was a disbelieving “what” followed by a genuinely confused face as Titi Denise has only every seen one of my friends in passing. They didn’t even have a conversation because we were on our way to a tennis match. In the 3 minutes that I introduced them, smiles and pleasantries were exchanged. By some logic, no doubt stereotypical, Titi came to the conclusion not only that Emma was gay, but that this as she is my friend, was inherently bad bad bad.
My father thought it was important to have a conversation—a very serious conversation that is—about this rumor that was going around in my family that was tainting someone—his daughter—as gay, which he has always perceived as unnatural and somehow dirty because it reflected back onto him. Now, I realized three things while dad was talking. One: my brother had woken up and sat attentively in the computer chair across from us on the table. Two: the problem here wasn’t so much dad thought Emma was a lesbian, but that I might be her lesbian lover. This is subtext. Three: if they asked me point blank if I was into girls, I wouldn’t have been able to answer that question with an answer that both satisfied and relieved them. (Hago un paréntesis para decir que I am not coming out as anything mostly because I don’t think there’s anything to come out of, but really because I don’t know. I can’t say I am anything, not for sure. People are people. ) But they never asked that question. Dad mostly stressed that he was worried people were going to start calling me a lesbian too, which he assured me he knew I wasn’t. The bird inside my chest started to smoke.
I clarified that Emma wasn’t a lesbian, but that it shouldn’t matter if she was. My voice, which had remained unwavering, cracked when I told them I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation. I was torn between an all-consuming anger, deep sadness, and the fact that my parents were genuinely worried about how their daughter was perceived by the rest of the family, and how this could ruin my reputation, and thus— theirs. Dad told me I should be careful with friends like this because lesbians take advantage of female friendships and they can “attack” when I least expected it. The bird inside my chest let out a sharp noise, which I echoed in disbelieving laughter. I feel compelled to admit I don’t like to cause unhappiness. What I mean is— I will if I have to, but: I want to keep being a part of the family even if I remain unseated from the table where I thought I was safest.
The day the godforsaken sentence was uttered, I told my family I didn’t care if people called me a lesbian. My brother rose at this, agitated: “What do you mean you don’t care?” In a split second—though it had been building since I refused to move from the-man-of-the-house chair when I was 10— I experienced what Sarah Amed was talking about: I was unseated from the table. I caused unhappiness. “No,” I told Saulo—I told all of them. “Why would I? There’s nothing wrong with who you love.” Alicia smiled at me, like a secret. The bird inside of me felt proud. Felt sad, felt betrayed. Was on fire.
*Names have been changed.
Stephanie N. Stoddard Cortés is a 21 year old from Puerto Rico.
Dear Lynsey G,
I wonder if you'd be able to answer a question for me. I am looking to purchase my first vibrator and was thinking of obtaining one of the various brands of rabbit type toy. I recently read an article of yours from Luna Luna and found myself wondering if I should take the plunge, so to speak, and finally purchase one. I have never really needed one in the past, as I have been able to see to my needs (by myself or with a partner) satisfactorily without. However, reading all the hype and reviews, I find myself curious but skeptical. Reviews like, "intense orgasm within seconds" and such leave me wondering if all the hype is accurate, or marketing. Is it worth spending the money? By never having tried these types of toys, am I missing out?
Love, Curious but SkepticalRead More
Handfasting is considered a formal contract by ancient practice but the visual aspect of the ritual can be very performative. The physical act involves the binding of the beloveds’ hands (actually wrists) with ribbon, rope, or cord that "fasten" the couple in marriage. Beyond the very simple visual act, handfasting can be extremely spiritual.Read More
Word Witch Rebecca Cook, offers up advice for your lovely little heart. If you need advice, you can email her (lunawordwitch @ gmail.com)
Dear Word Witch,
Are our bodies inextricably linked to our interpretation of the universe?
Rub your open palm against your bottom lip inside out really fast it will taste very raw very copper very dry as your feet once dried caked muddied that was a good day, you see. It’s you. Look up. Your foot. The achieve of the thing. Your thumb. Or another fruit. Your mother’s bright spoon. What happens when the window opens onto the desert--you’re standing there an expensive pair of boots a hot wind you’ve dreamed more than once the brown bottle beside the cotton balls. A redhead blows smoke past your ear. You reach up and also to listen. There is a sound. A baby tooth. Your toe touches the face of a man who understood what it is to be good and it’s you again. Something you swallowed. Your hand, your fingers. The window closes. Cotton ball sting to blister. The redhead has blown past you entirely now. Briefly, you inhale. You separate yourself from your daughter’s hair your mouth from what will become of her. And you are born and born again a loop atop your father’s shoe. That it would come to that. And from it, too.
Dear Word Witch,
I am old. Everyone wants me to pretend that I am not old; to dye my hair, to go out dancing until the wee hours of the morning, to talk about Beyonce more and long-term care insurance less (if it all). I don't want to do these things. I just want to be old, because really, it's kind of a relief. How do I explain this to people?
-Please Let Me Alone
Dear Please Let Me Alone,
This hair this chin these forty fifty perhaps a century will sip its gin straight will come this way across the field what a fine rough linen dress she can afford neither caring the line above the lip the hairs there, that were not before time’s grip around the hip creaking the knee the softened what squishes weakened what bends a woman this one shedding sloughing the girl her world would be entirely without mirrors without paints and the hoists to hold her in, only a pansy in her hand the socket wrench she’ll plunge the sink herself now she’ll sit uncovered the blistering deck smoke confidently and fuck too the barn roof is falling in the staircase squeaks she walks up and heaves what was, what has gone quite grey, quite lifted of head quite refined husky boned and hooved fallen back into love, October fleshy, she smells the dusk stink relief a bottle opened and reopened and released its breathe very fine then shallow then, let loose.
Dear Word Witch,
I am distressed beyond reason at the tiny blond chin hairs that have suddenly begun to sprout with regularity. What to do??
-L of a certain age
Dear L of a certain age,
Tiny blond hairs are best gathered in late September best stored beneath the bed of your young lover’s house slipped into the chinks of the logs the lake the mountain, of course it would be France and she would be you again it would be snow again and your hair is long your breasts are themselves again by the window you wear white, you braid and ribbon and woozy lean forward catch yourself mid-romance catch yourself falling into the straw this time, onto the wagon this time, another world this time no hitch, no drought too soon, no veering off course a steady star you will steer clear over your golden hair, that promise those apples those fattened hams, the newel post, your hand encloses it back to the cusp back to that girl the sharp air to Utah before daughters coiled tight, before love, you can pluck them free of her and gild her again leathern her boots silk stockings turned down but such fine feet, still, wrists chin too and brows wherefore mourn this small basket of baby hairs?
Dear Word Witch,
Deepak Chopra says, “God is the union of all opposites.” Is this more of his blathering or is he onto something?
- A Seeker
Dear Right Reverend,
Begin like this. Bring a cheap silver dipper and a coil of rope. Walk outside your village and you will find a burro there, packed and saddled. Mount and ride west for three days until you find an open plain with no grass upon it. Ride into the middle of where you find yourself, dismount, stretch your legs and lean forward. One of two things will happen. A fount will spring up, or a hole will open.