On a trip to New York, away from my husband and kids and dogs, I find myself savoring my experience more than I do at home. New York looks more beautiful to me each time I visit. What I once perceived as the flaws of the city now look appealing to me: Air conditioning units hanging out of windows on a tall brick building, gray trash cans lined up against a black iron fence. My cabbie got pulled over on the way into the city. He gave the cop the business card of his cousin, also a cop. “What’s your cousin’s name?” The cop asked. The cabbie stuttered. The cop gave the card back, saying, “You gotta at least know his name!” But he let him off without a ticket.
“We call him Serge, or Sergo, but that’s just his nickname,” the cabbie told me. “I couldn’t think of his real name because we never use it.”
“You played it cool, though” I said. “You didn’t say a lot. That was smart.”
The cabbie laughed and said he was trying hard not to say too much or argue too much. We talked for the rest of the trip. When we said goodbye, I thought, “You just made a new friend and you will never see him again.”
In New York, I feel that way everywhere I go. I have mountains behind my house in LA. We live in a very ordinary suburb, but I can sit upstairs and watch the setting sun turn the mountains bright orange in the distance. I can watch the sky turn pink in the morning over those hills. I have a family, but I also have lots of space and time.
When I’m in New York, I feel a little too slow for my surroundings. But I love long walks on sidewalks crowded with preoccupied people. I have an urge to stop and commune with a busy and important bomb-sniffing dog I see at the airport. I want to go to the library and watch people come and go. I want to talk to the clerk at the bookstore about what he’s read lately. I want to sit at the rooftop bar and drink a cold gin cocktail from a tiny coupe glass. I want to see all of the musicals there are to see, and all of the plays. I want to eat all of the foods. I want to flirt with men of all ages. I want to sit in the dog park and introduce myself to all of the dogs.
And when I think of my husband, back in LA, dealing with drop offs and pick ups and homework and soccer games without a complaint, I think that I should look at him the way I look at these tall brick buildings lined with room AC units. I should stare at him in wonder and encounter his little flaws as enchanting and delicious. I should listen to him talk about students who can’t write that well and colleagues who commandeer meetings and I should understand how difficult it can be, to hold down a straight job in the straight world instead of meandering around all day, thinking your own thoughts and writing whatever you want.
But sometimes when I’m out of town and my whole life feels like it’s expanding in every direction, I talk to my husband on the phone and I want to say: It’s time for you to grow into something more interesting than a man. I want your longings to take on a more colorful shape. It’s time for you to mature into an artist. I want to feel my way towards you on a river of your words.
Most men are simple beings who traffic in concrete facts. I like concrete facts and the people who haul them around. But I want to live inside my imagination a lot of the time these days, because this world feels too mundane for my taste. If we spent an hour of silence together, we’d learn a lot more than we know right now. We could cut through the trivia without using words. We could wait quietly until we felt this drab world transform into something more unexpected and luminous.
I told an extremely smart and confident older friend of mine in New York about trying to let my hair go gray and she interrupted: “No.” That was all. I told her that I was trying to enter a new phase of my life, but some stubborn part of me didn’t want to.
“Phases of life aren’t for people like you and me,” she said. “They’re for other people, people who need a narrative, like a chapter book. We don’t need that, though. We just live.”
“I guess I feel guilty for wanting more,” I said.
“This is the most luscious part of your life,” she said. “You should enjoy it.”
I carried those words with me the rest of the day. Maybe I don’t have to yield everything I want gracefully, because that’s what good wives and mothers do, I thought. Maybe it’s ok to want whatever I want, to get a little greedy about it. Then I checked into my hotel room and the clerk said, “We’ve upgraded you to a King Suite.” No explanation. The room was enormous, with floor to ceiling windows and an outdoor deck. I felt like my friend’s prophecy was coming true. LUSCIOUS. It made me want to stay all week. It made me want to text every last person I knew in the city and ask them all to meet me for dinner: together, separately. I will usher in the most luscious part of my life however I please.
What do I deserve? We don’t like women who have a lot and still want more. These are the villains of our fairy tales and parables and fables: insatiable, vain, greedy women. But there is an evil queen rising within me, looking into the magic mirror and not asking any questions. She knows the answers already. She’s not preoccupied with some naive little tartlet out in the forest, napping with the dwarves. There is nothing to fear and no one to punish. These flaws look luminous. This curse is an invocation.