Praying for the Enemy

I spent a good part of dinner talking about a person who irritated me, who set my teeth on edge, a person whose head I wanted to smack upside until it bounced like a bobble. I was completely justified in my irritation, but that didn’t make me any more fun to be around. I was annoying myself—I can only imagine how annoying I was to everyone else who doesn’t love me as much as I love me.

Someone said, “Have you tried praying for them?”

I thought: No. Really? Maybe. Really?

I thought about praying this person got the life I thought they deserved because I was, at that moment (honestly, there have probably been way too many of these moments) auditioning for the parts of both judge and jury of the whole wide world (which is different than the World Wide Web in several ways, the most important of which is the capitalization*). I’d already elected myself the Diva of the DMV, (Too slow to merge? Afraid of changing lanes? Not signaling when you turn? Not turning your signal off after you do? No driver’s license for you! Doomed to a life of public transportation.) so judge and jury of the known universe was not exactly a stretch

I thought a little bit more. I wanted this person to know how much they irritated me and why. So, I tried it. I prayed for their life to be filled with compassion, kindness, and awareness of their effect on others. I’ve done it for a few days in a row now.

I don’t know if they’ve changed at all. I don’t know if prayer works that way— changing other people or events or things at all. What I do know is that the chip on my shoulder slipped off somewhere along the line.

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*There will be grammar. There will be Oxford commas. I cannot guarantee there will not be pop quizzes.

No, he says, you don’t.

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I say I want to live in a small town.

No, he says, you don’t. You’re such a wonderful person and you’re so beautiful.

I can be wonderful somewhere less crowded.

He says, You don’t want to isolate, you’re so gregarious.

I’m not.
I’m a yappy little shelter dog who has learned enough tricks to keep the world at bay. That’s what I think.
I say: I like my own company.
I mean: I don’t think I like yours.
I think: How soon can I get off the phone?
I think: I want to be somewhere I can hear my own thoughts.
I think: I want to be somewhere I can walk down a sidewalk, a road, a dirt path and not have a man who doesn’t know me tell me who I am.
I know perfectly well who I am.
I have known me all my life.

He is still talking. Now, about how much I will love Fiji.

I have deliberately moved places people would not want to visit.
Several times.

I’m training to be a cranky old woman, I say.

No, he says, you’re not. You’re not old. Or cranky.

Looking at my watch, I think: I am older and crankier than I was before the phone rang.

You would have loved Belize in the 90s. You will love (insert hot tropical place).

I like Vermont. And I can like more than one place. But if the world crumbles until there is only Fiji and Vermont I will be the Queen of Vermont and you can be the King of Fiji, I think.

He’s written a script for his life and in his movie we live on a desert island, we backpack through Europe. A Rom-Com with no Com, I imagine that sounds to him like him and me against the world. Or him and me discovering the world. Or sharing. Or something tender and sweet.

I think: Who wrote this Hallmark Lifetime Mr. Rogers script for you, bub? Quentin Tarantino wishes he could option the scripts in my head. Chuck Palahniuk steals my dreams. Damon Runyon named a cheesecake after me. Nora Ephron wished upon a star for me. Patricia Highsmith wanted to be me. Hank Bukowski was my hero. These are my script writers. My collaborators.

I have intimacy issues I say, I’m a runner.

No, he says, you’re not.

A Lesson in Loss: On the Death of a Friend

A friend of mine died this week. The older I get, the more often I’m going to find myself saying that. It’s sad to lose someone you cared about. To realize a child will grow up without a parent. To watch a parent lose their child, a friend lose a friend. But there’s more than that, more than loss and grieving. There’s the lesson.

In everything you experience, every single thing–good, bad, or somewhere in-between (where most of life falls) is a lesson. The trick is to get the lesson the first time it comes around, to find the opportunity in the chaos. Broken hearts. Death of a friend. Lost job. Major illness. There are lessons in there, and we each have to figure it out for ourselves.

When Adam died, there was something vaguely familiar about it. Not because it was the same “rare” cancer that killed the love of my life three years ago. That just reminded me how fast it would happen, that will-to-live meant nothing to this cancer and there is no way around this one. No, it was the turn-out of support, the mass of people who contributed on the GoFundMe page to raise money for a last-ditch I’ll-try-anything-cure. Collecting almost three times what they’d asked in less than a month. The flood of posts and well-wishes that filled the Facebook feeds, the Twittersphere.

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Everyone always says “Oh, she was so special,” or “There will never be anyone like him,” but the truth is in the pudding. It’s in who shows up, who speaks up, what’s said and why.

And that was what was familiar.

A few years ago another friend died. No one saw it coming, no one was prepared. Is one easier than the other? Losing someone suddenly or having time to prepare? Can you really prepare? I think all you can really do is use that time to say a proper goodbye. Big Daddy Addy was lucky that way. His friends and family were too, even though it didn’t feel like luck at all.

Chloe Dzubilo died suddenly at 50. Violently. She died alone.
Adam Roth died slowly, peacefully, and surrounded by friends. He was 57.

10608786_10152817636030625_8912646138906773135_oThey were both performers, musicians, and stylistas. He went through dozens of hair styles, colors (oh, that frosted stage…). So did she, leaning more towards the peacock colors.  East Village icons and stalwarts. First generation Punks. He was dapper, a mod, a rocker, always dressed with intention. She, identified warmly by a friend as the “trans Courtney Love,” wore vintage lingerie and silks mixed with rock t-shirts and tight pants.  Both had struggled with addiction and gotten past it. One battled anxiety, the other, depression. And both were met with an ear-splitting roar into the abyss when they passed. A roar from the huge crowd that loved them. Huge. Crowd.

A sign-up sheet had to be created for visitors when Adam went into hospice at his parent’s home. Without it, the room was swamped, his family overwhelmed, himself, drained.

Judson Church overflowed with Chloe’s memorial and it felt like we were hundreds who marched in her honor down to the Hudson River.

Adam brought his sober-and-wicked-cool musician-funny-as-fuckness with him to work with at-risk kids via Road Recovery.
Chloe took her HIV+ transgender fierceness to help with the first HIV prevention programs for transgender sex workers.

And that’s the thing. The thing that made them each so special. That attracted crowds. The lives they lived. The love in their heart and their ability to open that heart, not just in the doing, but in their daily lives.The impact of their lives spreading like a pebble dropped in still water, they radiated outwards.

Adam was a high-energy, rapid-fire, snappy-dressing dynamo who could get a party started or be that guest you wanted there that kept it going. And he was your biggest fan.
Chloe tended more toward the soft-spoken, sometimes raunchy, often Southern-belle-ish delicate flower,  and earth mother. She was your tender and constant support.

They  made you feel seen. Heard.

She  spoke in a  Monroe-like whisper and you leaned forward to hear, and suddenly the two of you were in a silver bubble, an intimate conversation in the center of a chaotic city. And you felt beautiful, important, trusted. She shared her heart with you.
He drew you in, dragged you along wherever the party was, was sincerely happy to see you. Sincerely. He made you feel special–like you were the funniest, prettiest, smartest, somethingest. He shared his light with you.

They knew there was enough for everyone. Enough love, enough light. Like a moon reflecting the light of the stars and suns, sometimes you were the moon, sometimes you were the star.

So, the lesson? They were so loved because of who they were. Because of how they saw you, opened themselves to you, stood aside to make room for you. They were loved because in all their frenetic activity, talent, insecurities, battles, human-ness they made you feel as if you were the most important person in the room. Big open hearts. Hearts that were honest. That wanted love, wanted to love and be loved.

I was out with my “brother” (family of choice, related by hair) the other night, and we talked about how we are, he and I. How we are not that kind of people. We are the kind of people who don’t allow you to get close to us. We are afraid we will be crushed by all that love, that it will break us.

The lesson?  My lesson in the death of my friend? Love doesn’t break you. Love makes you larger than life.

Photo of Adam Roth courtesy: Jeff Smith~ReflectionsNYC

Hey, Chubby

A woman has her hand over her mouth trying to stop her hiccups, Detroit, Michigan, September 10, 1957. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
(Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)


“Hey, Chubby.”

We’re in the car, once again on our way to or from a doctor’s office.

“Hey there, Chubby.”

She’s not talking to me. The “Chubby” in question is a man in baggy black shorts and a sweaty purple t-shirt. And a complete stranger. He’s minding his business, walking in the opposite direction we’re driving and any minute we’ll pass, me and mom in my car going west, and the fat man walking east.

“Ccchhubby.” I look at her. “What? He is. He’s chubby.” She’s wrong, and she’s being kind. He’s grossly overweight. And lucky for all three of us, he is on the sidewalk, and we are in my car, and the windows are rolled up and the air conditioner is on and she is speaking what she thinks is softly, to herself. And it almost is, comparatively speaking.

She listens to the television with the volume set at 40. I had no idea it went up that high, but this is the volume things need be if you expect her to hear them and understand what’s being said. When she whispers you can hear her in the next room—her version of a whisper is my normal speaking voice. No one has ever accused me of being soft-spoken. I am not a person to whom anyone has ever said, “Can you speak up?” This, to my mother, is a whisper. Even if “Chubby” could hear her, she’s at an age where she feels that anything can be said as long as it’s true. More accurately, she feels that she can say anything as long as it’s true. I’m not sure how she feels about what other people say. Doesn’t matter, unless they’re turned up to 40 (and you thought it only went up to 11), she doesn’t hear them.

We stop on our way out of the doctor’s office to look at a beautiful little baby. The baby is Black, or Hispanic, a “baby of color.” The young mother barely notices our coo-coo-cooing over her baby, she manages a weak smile and turns away. Her mind is probably elsewhere, on whomever she had to bring down here to nuclear medicine.

I can feel my mother’s inner harrumph at being ignored, and then: “I didn’t shoot Trayvon,” she says in her stage whisper as we get to the elevator. I don’t think anyone heard her but me, but for a brief moment, I consider jumping into the elevator, letting the doors close, and letting Big Edie fend for herself.

On the drive home, she apologizes because she’s ruined my life, because she got sick. I’m here to take care of her, push through for doctor’s appointments, make sure she drinks liquids—“I don’t like water!”—that she eats something other than generic dollar-store fig newtons, that she uses the steroid spray when she’s congested—“I’m always congested. I have a deviated system.”

“You didn’t ruin my life, Ma. You fucked up my vacation, but you didn’t ruin my life.”

At home, I search the internet to find out what time and what channels and how many times a day her favorite show is on. “You know the one. Raymond, but Jewish and skinny.”

Seinfeld, it turns out, is on TBS every day at 6:00, 6:30, and 7:00pm.

Chocolate happens

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what’s the sound of two edies talking?

tjchocBig Edie: She handed me a Trader Joe’s milk chocolate bar. “Here, I got this for you. It came two to a pack, but I ate the other one.”

Me: “Who you kidding? These come three to a pack.”

Big Edie: She looked at me, shrugged, and turned away to hide the smile. “It happens,” she said, giggled and added a little skip to her step.