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.

#911Memory

505428_holding_handsFifteen years ago I was on the phone with my then boyfriend, when he said, “Hold on, I think the boiler just exploded,” and put the phone down. After a few moments, he picked up again. “I gotta go. There’s body parts and plane parts all over. I gotta go.” I was still saying What they hell are you talking about when the phone went dead. He worked at the Marriott Hotel opposite the World Trade Center and it was early and the story hadn’t hit the news yet.

Then we heard. And it still didn’t make sense.

Then we heard that a plane had crashed at the Pentagon, and I didn’t believe it.

When the towers started coming down, crumbling, and imploding everyone started leaving work. Everyone in the whole city was leaving work and going home or leaving their homes and going somewhere else. Everyone was just leaving. People had barely started their day when they left.

Except me. I stayed. I didn’t want to be on the streets with thousands of frightened people. I didn’t want to be trapped underground, crushed in a subway car filled with people who were panicking. I stayed and listened to and watched to report sand videos online, all day. I sat in an empty office for seven or eight hours and when I finally walked out at 5:30 pm I walked out into an empty city.

I walked across midtown Manhattan via 34th Street, up Broadway through Times Square, into Hells Kitchen. Like an abandoned movie set of NYC, traffic lights still blinked red, yellow, and green; walk or don’t walk. And there were no cars to care. The light of neon signs already starting to be obscured by ash. I don’t remember seeing anyone on the street at all, although I’m sure were a few.

I walked until I got to the west side men’s shelter where I had a speaking commitment for the 12-step group I was in. It had never occurred to me not to go – I had nowhere else TO go. Here was a room full of men waiting to welcome me, to listen to my experience and hope and my fears, and then to share theirs. And I did, and they did, and I don’t think we talked about the attack at all, we talked about ourselves because no matter what was happening we all wanted to keep whatever sobriety we had. We held hands and I walked out into the empty streets and down into the now empty subway and rode home.

Verbatim & Translation

Overheard at Juju’s bagels. Verbatim.

Scene: Two elderly neighborhood women–let’s call them Myra and Sylvia – playing scratch-offs and schmoozing. Myra goes up to the counter and orders tea for them both.

Myra,  turning to Sylvia: Sugar?
     translation: You want the boy should put sugar in your tea?

Sylvia: Sugar?
     translation: What? I can’t hear you.

Myra, louder: Sugar?
     translation: What, now you’re deaf? Sugar. Do you want sugar?

Slyvia: Sugar?
     translation: You don’t have to yell, I’m not deaf. Do I want sugar? In my tea?

Myra: Sugar?
     translation: Yes. What? You think I mean a pile in the middle of the table? A ten-pound bag maybe?  Sugar?

Slyvia: Sugar? Yeah. Sugar.
     translation: Sugar? Of course, sugar, what do you think? Thirty years you know me, did I ever not have sugar? You have to ask?

Myra, turns to counter man: Sugar.
     translation: One tea with sugar, for my meshugah friend. A lovely woman she is, but a little deaf she is going.

photo by jshdoff 2016
photo by jshdoff 2016

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