#33 Food Memories: Food To Break The Sadness

I didn’t find out until recently that my mother was once engaged to another man. This would be shocking to most people, particularly those that are obsessed with the theory of sliding doors and how one’s life could be remarkably different based on the choices that are made, but it took me especially by surprise because my mother has always told me that she doesn’t believe in the concept of marriage. She and my father, despite being in a relationship for 25 years and birthing two relatively well-adjusted daughters, never actually legally married, because they, quote unquote, did not need some fucking piece of paper from the fucking government to validate their relationship. In their words.

So when I was in my early twenties and buying bridal magazines just for the fuck of it and reading the Times wedding announcements religiously or when I would watch Father of the Bride on repeat as a child and pretend that I was Annie Banks, betrothed to Bryan MacKenzie, planning to get married in the giant suburban home of my very successful, charming, and relaxed parents, Steve and Diane, my real mother would always tell me that I was better than that, that I did not have to settle for that fairy tale ideal, that we are not white dress kind of people, that she and my father were together because they loved each other and because they loved my sister and me and not because of the state and that the only reason to get married is because of the taxes but screw taxes because that is the state too.

So much to my shock, I found out by accident no less— the casual slip of the tongue by my mother’s gossipy, neurotic best friend— that she had previously been engaged to a man. The biggest shocker was not that I could have been half black but that my mother once believed in the sexist, materialistic, arcane institution of marriage. She was going to have a wedding, with a man named Eric. Eric gave her a ring. I could have, in fact, been half black.

My family is super waspy. We love to drink. Our favorite activity is judging other people, and we throw excellent parties. Our favorite meal is a cheese plate. We watch tennis. We pronounce the word “homage” like “fromage,” the French word for cheese. We speak French. The biggest insult we can throw at someone else is calling them a “plebeian.” We also don’t talk about our feelings, and we definitely don’t talk about how my mother was once engaged. Like Uncle Eric, who was always known to me as my mother’s best friend, I too could have been born with the ability to cultivate amazing, luciously long and impressive dreadlocks, instead of the rat’s nest that I birth when I am too lazy to brush my hair. I too could have been celebrity hair stylist, a club kid, and star of the New York downtown scene, instead of a cardigan-wearing paper pusher who needs to go to bed early and is always worried about my mortgage payment.

Instead, I was born into a family that communicates through food. Likely a trait from my father, who is a man of few words and frankly the scariest person I know, but is known to show any sort of warmth or appreciation or joy or compassion through a delicious home cooked meal. His father, my paternal grandfather, did the same. He, a military man, knew no other way than to cook a feast and that is what he how he single-handedly raised his five children, one of whom happens to be my father. And this is how I was raised. Food. Food is good. I don’t know if Eric was into food, but I doubt it. He was too busy partying and cutting hair and probably doing cocaine and proposing to my mother.

I hate talking about 9/11, if only because it’s so many years later and still so vivid in my mind. I remember the weather (81 degrees and not a cloud in the sky), how I was running late to work and took a cab (I never take cabs), what I was wearing (a red button up shirt and khakis— like an employee of Target before Target existed in my orbit), what I changed into after the Towers fell and I finally made it home (a baby blue Echo and the Bunnymen vintage tee, army green capris, and flip flops— it was the early aughts, so sue me), the sound of the first plane hitting (a curious thud), the frenzy and frustration of trying to get through to my loved ones (my mother first, my boyfriend second), walking downtown with my father while everyone else was dazed and dusty and escaping in the other direction (I made a joke about feeling like a salmon swimming upstream to keep the mood light), and going on a wild goose chase around the neighborhood to eventually track down my mother and sister (they were at the grocery store buying batteries and coffee). I also remember the food. One of the most delicious meals that I have ever eaten. A giant pot of lamb curry, fragrant jasmine rice, dips, and pita, and wine, and scotch for the grownups. My father cooked for the dozen or so people stranded in Manhattan who were unable to return home and those friends and family members of ours who were simply too frightened to be by themselves. My father too tired for ceremony— he placed the large pot on the table and had everyone serve themselves. Until that day, we were never allowed to watch TV during dinner, but we all instinctively piled into the living room and ate in front of the television— it seems like we didn’t turn off the news for months after.

We didn’t say much that night. All we could really do was eat, though frankly no one was really hungry, but it was an activity in which we could all partake without having to say much at all. It’s not like anyone knew how to articulate what was happening around us— or what was to come— anyway. The adrenaline of the day finally settling down, the dust showered off, the windows closed to prevent the acrid smells of smoke and destruction and death and fear from seeping in, we ate for what felt for hours and wiped that giant pot of curry clean, sopping up whatever remnants remained with the leftover pita or maybe even with our fingers.

My father cooked a lot during the months that followed, likely to work through his own demons about the world changing before us, the new war, the uncertainty that all of it brought. That fall he taught me how to properly sear meat. He drilled in that salt and pepper should be added at every stage of the cooking process. I perfected a recipe for pizza dough then set my sights on bread. I made risotto and tackled other cuisines—some better than others, of course. I got nervous when my father would sample my food because the weight of our relationship seemed to rest on it. Despite a couple of (literal) fires, he was wholly supportive, though he still hovers and re-seasons and stirs as I move about my own kitchen as an adult.

My mom’s former fiancé Eric died tragically when I was five years old. A spontaneous aneurysm if I remember properly. My mother was devastated and stayed in bed for what felt like days. I had never seen someone so sad, and in retrospect, it was probably the first time I realized that my parents were mortals rather than waspy automatons whose sole purpose was to spend money on me. I didn’t know how to console her, the concept of death not yet understood, but I knew that this was the most vulnerable that I had ever seen her. My father, too, seemed at a loss at his inability to care for her, so he stayed out of her hair, relegating himself to the kitchen downstairs while making sure that I was bathed and fed.

My father and I made my mother a pot of fresh chicken noodle soup. I insisted. Chicken noodle soup. The food always associated with both emotional and physical healing. My mother, not the cook in the family, would always head up a can of Progresso chicken soup when I was sick and, to this day, I associate it, like ginger ale, with comfort. But this, this we made fresh. My father, a firm believer that soup should take days to make, indulged me in this poor man’s culinary exercise, if only to instill empathy rather than actual culinary technique in his five year old daughter. Sweat the onions, then the garlic, chop the carrots, and the celery, simmer the broth, shred the chicken, wait until the last minute to add the noodles, for there is nothing worse than a mushy noodle, salt and pepper at every stage of the cooking process.

My mother still didn’t want to get out of bed, exhausted by her bereavement. I wonder if she ever looked at me and thought what if I didn’t exist, what if I had been Eric’s child instead of my own father’s. I brought a tray up to her with a tray of soup and said, “Eat, Mommy, eat. Food to break the sadness.” She obliged with a few bites. I knew at that moment that food is the language that I speak and really the only the emotion that I understand. It is the reason that I cook for an invisible army when I am sad or why I am willing to travel hours on the 7 train for a good, cheap meal. It is how I try to impress new loves and what continues to bring my family and me together despite many bumps and bruises and divorces and deaths and wars since. It is why I know that I could never give up carbs and why I have uncomfortably resigned myself to eternal love handles. It is how I measure my day, undoubtedly planning my next meal before I am finished with my first. I read cookbooks like any other book and have them piled in stacks around my apartment—most of them I took from my grandfather’s home after he passed away and the entire family flew across the country to get their hands on a piece of him, this great force in their lives. Someone called dibs on his microscope, others on his art, a few took puzzles. All I wanted was his cookbooks, so I shipped them all back to New York, and they have been following me from apartment to apartment since.

My mother wrote a poem a few months later called “Lullaby.” It was published in a book and everything. Writing was her outlet, to deal with her loss and ultimately the pain of unexpectedly losing a loved one. For all she talks, she’s rarely one to say much at all. She is parties and cocktails and joy, but in this poem, she wrote:

I cry big fat tears
stir up the phantoms
of dread
baby, baby
there are so many dead

You crawl inside my head
make it all better
sing
“hush, mama, hush…
food to break the sadness…”

Sing
“eat, mama, eat…
food to break the sadness…”

I remember feeling both honored and embarrassed that I had been featured in her work. It wasn’t the first time, and it wasn’t the last. I had become accustomed to popping up in her writing and having her friends and admirers tell me how I should follow in her footsteps when I grow up. Little would they know that I would settle into a career of cardigans and paper pushing, far from the glamour of galas and book parties and book tours, before the publishing industry went broke.

I don’t know what would have happened had my mother actually married Eric. Regardless of my complicated relationship with my parents— particularly my father who makes me cry randomly and who I still want to please more than anyone, despite not respecting many of the choices that he has made as a partner to my mother, father to me and sister, citizen of the state, and aging man who hit his midlife crisis hard— selfishly, she made the right choice. She is not the marrying kind. My father provided her beyond what, I think at least, Eric could offer: stability, fatherhood, love through food. I never heard my parents refer to each other with loving pet names and because they were not married, they often referred to one another as their “partner”— it was the nineties, after all, and they were political. Yet on that day in 2001, as my father and I descended downtown toward our home, amid all the chaos, before the lamb curry, my father said, “I need to go find my wife.”

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#32 Disappointment: Yeah Whatever, Cupid

It was only a matter of time, but I finally bit the bullet and signed up for one of those dumb online dating profile things. Somehow, in the last few weeks, online dating has lost all of its stigma and people are just openly talking about the fact that they met their spouse/fiancé/man friend online instead of concocting some elaborate story about locking eyes at a bat mitzvah or on the G train or what have you.

It seemed like a natural progression from trolling the Missed Connections section on Craig’s List. I am 31! I am going to take control of my own destiny! Like Kathleen Kelly from You’ve Got Mail, I was going to go online. I am also super sick of people telling me that I need to put myself out there because that is condescending bullshit. I put myself out there. I don’t know what else I should be doing without compromising my integrity. My integrity is saying that I’m going to continue being me and I am not someone who goes online. But when you are 31, the chatter can become deafening. And though I am stubborn, I’m not self-destructive, so like Kathleen Kelly, I was going to see what the fuss was all about.

I have several friends who have met their partners online, and for the majority, they are reasonable, responsible individuals and are compatible enough with my friends. Of course, there are a few outliers, but I’m okay with it because, fuck it, I’m not the one dating that guy with the weird eye or the one with the speech impediment or the one with the weird eye and the speech impediment or the one who eats too fast and literally licks his plate or the one who definitely has commitment issues or the one who is just kind of a dick to my friend. Nope, I see those guys twice a year at some holiday brunch when my friends invite me over, and I make use of my excellent interview skills, and then I make up an excuse, and then I leave— free from responsibility for the next several months. In truth, I’m not sure what the tipping point was when online dating became okay, and while I’m glad the stigma is gone, it just seems like yet another platform for me to be judged by strangers.

Putting together an online dating profile is really no different than writing a cover letter and resume for a new job. You have to come across as funny and smart and like a team player and not some lunatic serial killer. You don’t want to say too much but definitely can’t say too little because you’re not photogenic enough to win people over purely based on your looks. No, you need to thoughtfully, concisely, and practically use your words because, like Kathleen Kelly, you are looking to date someone. Otherwise you would have ticked the casual sex box. No, you made a conscious decision not to tick the casual sex box because if you wanted to have casual sex you probably could make that happen by dialing up one of those guys in your phone that broke your heart or that guy in my office who is totally married with two children but stares at you inappropriately all day.

The funny thing about online dating profiles is that no one really tells the truth, and if they do tell the truth, they probably are in fact lunatic serial killers. I, for example, said that I like to travel, and while this is most certainly the truth, it is also possibly the most generic thing I could have said and also something that most normal humans like to do. I actually have a friend who is dating a guy who does not like to go on vacation because it causes him anxiety and he’d rather just sit at home in front of the air conditioner. If he’s forced to go on vacation, he will sit in front of the air conditioner in the hotel. And while I love free air conditioning, free cable, room service, the ability throw my wet towels on the floor with no consequence, and have access to all the ice I could ever dream, I feel like there is something ultimately wrong with this guy. Yes, they met online, and I have a strong feeling that in his profile he did not mention that he does not like to experience anything new, that he does not believe in the concept of rice, and that he is mediocre in bed at best. No, he probably also said that he loves to travel because that is something that you’re supposed to say. Like me, he also probably said that he is a runner because that apparently makes one more desirable, when in fact I much prefer to sit on my couch, in front of the air conditioner, and order take out, which is essentially like room service because my apartment is small. I did not disclose that my apartment is small because that may make me seem desperate, like I am really only interested in going out on a date because I want a free meal and to hang out with someone who can fit a queen-sized mattress in their bedroom. I didn’t say that my bed is only a full but that I like it that way because it’s more intimate and frankly I’ve only ever had full-sized beds and I can’t be bothered with buying all new sheets.

I said that I am a social worker and that every day is an unpredictable adventure. I hate that term “unpredictable adventure”; I have clearly been watching too much Bachelor and other Bachelor-adjacent content. What I didn’t say is that my patients are fucking crazy and that there are times when I need to come home, keep the lights off, and lie on my living room floor while drinking a bottle of wine by myself. No, that makes me sound like a lush when in fact I am trying to sound fun and spontaneous instead of what I really am which is cynical and burnt out and also kind of a lush. I said that I am always in search of a good book, a good dive bar, a fun project, and an excuse to go to the beach, which again are all true, though I probably should have clarified that I spend more time in bars than I do reading and that fun projects often include giving myself a pedicure or googlestalking the wedding websites of my ex-boyfriends. I said that I am a dedicated rider of the A train, which yes, in theory is true, but I actually live off of the C train local stop, but I didn’t want to scare away any of my potential new paramours who may live in a two-bedroom apartment in Chelsea and aren’t at all that familiar with Bed Stuy.

I made it very clear that I live in Brooklyn because I am sick of schlepping. I have been schlepping since I started dating when I was 16 years old. It’s a particular phenomenon being a woman in the city, lugging a giant tote bag around filled with multiple outfits, gym clothes, dry shampoo, a toothbrush, flip flops, a change of underwear, deodorant, a cell phone charger and spare battery, and some eyeliner, all in the event that sex and/or an adult sleepover may occur on a school night. It is exhausting and probably the reason why my spine curves slightly to the right and why I have so many ugly shirts that I purchased in a pinch when I realized I was unprepared but simply could not show up to my staff meeting wearing the same outfit I wore the day before.

But Brooklyn is huge! In truth, I have no interest in Brooklyn and cannot date someone who lives in Ditmas Park, Bushwick, South Slope, or, god forbid, Bay Ridge. Unfortunately, there is no option to filter out the men that don’t live off of my local bus route or only select those that are gainfully employed but still like to frequent my favorite coffee shop around the corner. I’ve spent a lot of time in that coffee shop, and he is not there, I swear. And while I am trying to keep an open mind, isn’t the point of having all the available men in New York located on one online platform mean that I can be really picky? And also the fact that I have dated for sixteen years and have yet to settle down also mean that I can be really, really picky?

In truth, I have not responded to a single message from any potential paramour. I read all of them, check our compatibility rating, and usually click on the link to skim their profiles, but I always stop at that. And while I never thought that I would be one of those people that starts a sentence by saying “My therapist says,” my therapist says that it is manipulative on my part, that this is a space where I can be in control and turn down men behind the safety of my computer screen, that I get a thrill from the empty compliments that they write about me but that my own anxiety prevents me from indulging them with a response. He is right, kind of. In my head, I am not interested in a man who just writes “hey :)” because he has probably written “hey :)” to hundreds of girls and I can’t be bothered with a man who uses emoticons and uses them incorrectly while at it (everyone knows that the old school smiley face is supposed to, at the very least, have a nose). I also don’t want to see your gym selfie or your car selfie or your work selfie or a photo of you with either a large group of people or just one female friend who could be your cousin but could also be your girlfriend. I am fearful of the guys who say that they are interested in “long term dating, short term dating, and casual sex” because, let’s be honest, they probably only care about the latter. I’m also wary of those guys who set their age range of women that they would consider from 18-50 years old because, let’s be honest, they probably really only want casual sex. As I said before, I could have casual sex. I think.

No, instead I am looking for someone who will tolerate me and is willing to tolerate me for a long time. So instead of presenting my most perfect self— the traveling, running, reading, interested, and optimistic individual that I am sometimes— I should have told the real truth: that I am highly anxious, grow hair in weird places, grind my teeth in my sleep, and cannot get rid of my beer belly no matter how much I try; that while I’ve run marathons, I stop to walk a lot and I get nervous when I run with other people; that I am allergic to cats and don’t really like dogs; that my family is weird and that we yell at each other a lot and that my father has made every single one of my boyfriends cry until I stopped introducing them to him and that that has caused a weird rift between us and that I think he thinks I’m a lesbian; that I like to go to bed early and that I sleep diagonally on my bed; that I give off an apathetic vibe sometimes but that’s because I’m really shy; that I need my alone time; that I’m a messy person and I like to pee with the door open; that I hate giving hand jobs because I don’t think any woman knows how to give a good one; that I think that sex in general is really funny and that I have the sense of humor of a teenaged boy; that I eat a lot; that I think I have undiagnosed ADD and have a really hard time with people who talk a lot; that I talk a lot sometimes but sometimes I don’t want to talk at all; that I don’t always wash my hands after I go to the bathroom; that I’m a morning person; that I don’t drink enough water and that sometimes I get dizzy because of it; that I could easily sit on the couch all day and watch 14 hours of television at a time; that I have no savings whatsoever; that I don’t know if I want to get married or have children even though I always thought that I did; that my feet smell really bad, probably because I rarely wear socks; that I get sad sometimes; that I’m not always great at expressing my needs to men and that it’s caused problems in past relationships; that I really like board games and I’m pathologically competitive; that I fall asleep with the TV on; that I eat tacos almost every day; that I don’t eat fruit; and that my last relationships really fucked me up and I am a little rough around the edges.

Instead I kept it light and breezy and said that I am in a book club that only reads celebrity autobiographies and that I’m really good at cooking pasta and making obscure references to 90s romantic comedies. All of these things are true but none of it gets to my essence; my essence is cynical and burnt out with a splash of positivity and a lot of insecurity. I’m kind of sick of playing the game and pretending that I am this perfectly coiffed individual because, let’s be honest, I brush my hair maybe once a week. Perfectly coiffed is not my thing and any man that I am remotely interested in will not be into perfectly coiffed. But I read those profiles– the ones where men say that they drink too much and always leave the toilet seat up and had to move back in with their parents and tick the box for casual sex– and I am turned off by their honesty. I want them to tell me about their weekly dodgeball league and the fact that they love their parents and that they are interested in long term dating too. And while the contradictions could easily resign me to a life of spinsterhood, I am Kathleen Kelly goddammit, and I am going to remain hopeful and open and, as all my friends and my therapist say, put myself out there, but on my own terms. Maybe there is a man online who can put up with all of these things, all of my truths and half-truths and straight up lies. And if there isn’t, I think I will be okay. But maybe, just maybe, Cupid. Maybe you’ll prove me wrong.

#31: Hot in Herrrrre

There are a few things that will forever bind me to my friends from college. These include, but are not limited to, any mentions of the following: cafeteria tray sledding, Otter Creek beer, Purple’s Pleasures, four square, stating that “I can’t feel my features,” Jeopardy! boy, 7/11 doubles, Dr. Feelgoods, naked foosball, and the Great Alien Scavenger Hunt of 2003. Each of these invokes memories of laughter, warmth, happiness, and belonging, which encapsulates only a fraction of the emotions that I felt during college. For the rest of the time, I was tired, shy, cold, awkward, frustrated, jealous, homesick, confused, anxious, lonely, and hungover.

Let me be frank: I didn’t really like college. I had a long distance boyfriend and didn’t spend much time on campus if I didn’t have to be there. I wasn’t involved in any clubs or extracurricular activities, and I was an average student at best. I also quickly learned that I hate frat parties, even though I went to a school that technically didn’t have frats— it did have meatheads though, and I am not into meatheads either. And I was hit over the head with the fact that growing up in New York City is akin to living in a foreign country, which I mean in the least condescending or arrogant way possible. I legitimately felt like an immigrant fresh off the boat, not so different from my friend from Jamaica who saw snow for the first time on the day he arrived to campus and was so excited that he jumped in a pile of it not expecting it to be blistering cold and uncomfortable.

But if there is one thing that brings me back to my college years, one thing that is really embarrassing and inappropriate but is so engrained in me that I really won’t give a shit, it is that if I ever hear Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” I will inevitably, definitely, quickly take off my shirt and start dancing. And so will all of my friends from college.

I often wonder about the etiology of traditions and why or how certain rituals last and others do not. I guess my fancy anthropology degree does, in fact, have real world implications. It turns out no one really knows who the first drunk asshole was to disrobe during “Like a Prayer” or how it began a campus-wide tradition during both school-sanctioned and informal parties. But someone did it– and let’s be honest, it was probably a dude and then some girls joined in and all of the sudden, everyone was topless. And because we thought that we were adults but we were actually still children, no one really knew how to process feelings or talk about sex and we were all still curious about our bodies, and so in a safe space, with the lights off, the music blasting, and the comfort of alcohol, it just made sense that everyone would get naked together. I was naked a lot in college. For no particular reason other than I was a horny, confused, curious teenager who was free from parental supervision, so a streak around the dorms seemed like an obvious and worthy sacrifice for a guaranteed good story.

There are two kinds of people in this world– naked people and clothed people– and I was most certainly a naked person. Despite always being very insecure about my body and having gained a significant amount of weight in college because of the ranch dressing and Captain Morgan pulsing through my veins, I also experimented with the concept of being a free-spirited hippie who didn’t care if my gut hung out. Of course, I did care, but like libertarianism or bisexuality, college is a time when people let their freak flags fly, and my freak flag was my beer belly. “Like a Prayer” oddly brought everyone together, the nakeds and clotheds. Even the most prudish or moral of my classmates would come out of the shadows, remove their shirts, and start dancing with the most reckless of abandon. In another tradition, the president of our school always reminded the incoming freshmen and graduating seniors to “dance like no one is watching.” I’m not sure if he intended this literally, but when Madonna cam on, we most certainly did.

I actually wrote a term paper about The Immaculate Collection my sophomore year of college that somehow counted toward my very expensive liberal arts degree that I will be paying off until I am 58 years old. It turns out anything, and I mean anything, goes in a Women’s Studies class. And while the paper was average at best, it gave me an opportunity think about how Madonna was fundamental to my upbringing— my father claiming to have bought donuts from her at the Disco Donuts on 13th and Third; my mother, a fallen Catholic, similarly obsessed with crucifixes and bustiers in the Eighties; them trying to impart the significance of a black Jesus in the “Like a Prayer” video; me learning from Pop Up Video that Madonna had her period while filming “Like a Prayer” and was actually in grave danger of being eaten by that lion; thinking about my best friend who danced her solo performance in the spring dance recital to “Material Girl,” which cemented her cool girl status for her very short life.

And while it might be a little embarrassing to disrobe public now that I am well into my thirties, it’s nice to have a song that teleports me back to early adulthood with my very best friends. Those that knew me when I wore bell bottoms and didn’t shower regularly and hadn’t yet played beer die or boot and hadn’t yet been to Denny’s or Chili’s or IHOP; when I hadn’t yet been to Belize and sat on a dock with them listening to “La Isla Bonita,” another favorite from the Immaculate Collection; when I hadn’t yet experienced heartbreak or a UTI; when I still smoked cigarettes and drank full calorie soda; when it took a little Madonna and a campus-wide blackout to bring us all together and break the ice. Fourteen years later, a lot has changed but so much hasn’t.

Nostalgia is a tricky thing. Like acid, it can be  a dangerous drug. Sure, from what I hear at least, it can be dosed in a way to promote warmth and happiness and creativity, but if not done carefully, it can quickly lead down a rabbit hole of unprotected sex, panic attacks and regret. I have a tendency to overdose– to reimagine memories with the most beautiful of rose-colored lenses and invent a world where relationships were stronger, the love was intense, and I was twelve pounds skinnier. And though I think of my college years as a tumultuous time in my life, when Madonna comes on, all of that negativity fades away. I catch an eye of an old friend across the room, completely interrupt whatever I am doing in the moment, and start to dance like no one is watching.

#30 Banana: The L Word

And then I thought that maybe I’m just a lesbian. I’m not from one of those crazy uptight families— I grew up in the West Village, both of my parents are artists, I am a freaking social worker in the field of sexual health. It would be totally okay with my mother and most likely my father if I were gay.

I am not particularly dainty and I kind of know how to use a power drill and, as I’ve said, I really like Birkenstocks. And I keep having these failed relationships with men, so maybe it’s me?

So I did what any person with no boundaries would do, and I asked a lesbian. My co-worker recently went through a divorce from her wife quite publicly at work, and I had to deal with her labile behavior and when she would leave early to go to mediation sessions and meetings with her lawyer and therapy and court. And I remained supportive when she had tantrums in her office and threw furniture at the wall and let out wails of frustration so loud that our patients— our smelly, drug addicted, psychotic patients who, whether by choice or chemical imbalance, spend the majority of their day disconnected with reality— started to ask if she was okay. So I figured that she owed me one.

She was in my office one day complaining about her ex-wife, and, completely unprompted, I said, “What if I’m into chicks, and that’s my problem?” She was silent and presumably caught off-guard, so I continued: “But not that it would be a problem or anything, but like, have I really made it to my thirties and not known that I was a lesbian? I mean, I have a girl-crush on Penelope Cruz and have joked that I would probably go gay for her, and I had a boyfriend once who claimed to have slept with her, and while he was probably full of shit, maybe I was a little bit jealous, and I have kissed three women in my life— once in the second grade and twice in my early twenties when everyone was making out with each other— and I look at women on the street, but it’s mostly just to see what they’re wearing, but maybe I’ve been going about this wrong the whole time?” She laughed. Hysterically. She said, “There is no way in hell that you are a lesbian. And do you know how I can tell? Because you’re only attracted to pretty women. Everyone is attracted to Penelope Cruz because she’s fucking hot. Me? I like them pretty, but I’ll also take them ugly. Have you seen my ex-wife? Are you attracted to my ex-wife?” I shook my head no. “I didn’t think so. I am definitely into chicks. You, my friend, are only into the women that everyone is into because they are empirically attractive.”

She walked away nonchalantly, chuckling and muttering to herself as usual, retreating back to her office to actually do some work. I sat there, mouth agape, like she had just said the most revolutionary statement ever known to man. Or woman. Because, you know, lesbians.

And then I started to think: Man, I am into some ugly dudes. Of course, I am into the beautiful ones as well, but I have dated old guys and chubby guys and chubby, old guys and am now finding myself more attracted to guys with receding hairlines. Not fully bald— I’ve done fully bald— but guys who maybe need to throw a hat on from time to time and might have started to grey along their ears and in their beards and they spend a little too much time at the office and have a signature drink and are a little rough around the edges. If there is one unifying theme between all of the men that I have dated in the last eighteen years, it is that they are all a little rough around the edges.

There was that period in my twenties when I went hard on chubby dudes. I liked men that could lift me up and throw me around and if that came with a little bit of lard then I was okay with it. It also meant that I didn’t have to work out as much and that we could eat at all hours of the day and maybe the sick, twisted truth of it is that I wanted to be the hot one in the relationship. My old roommate, formerly a big dude and now a regular dude, still makes fun of the fact that one night, after living with him for two months, I stumbled home drunk and tried to have sex with him. He was home watching television as most people do on weekday evenings. I came home, threw myself on the couch, and seductively whispered, “You know, I’m kind of into big guys.” He laughed at me, sent me to my room as punishment, and never lets me forget it when I complain about my love life ten years later.

And then there was that phase when I only dated guys who lived in Astoria and when I was into inappropriately old dudes, and I guess that also coincided with those few years when I was only dated men who were currently or formerly my boss. And speaking of old dudes, there was that time I had a sex dream about my friend’s father. And that time I had a sex dream about my own father. And that other dream when my father died. Alas, I digress and have now found myself in the deep, dark rabbit hole of my Electra complex.

Listen, penises are weird. They’re ugly. I don’t really understand them. They’re unpredictable and actually quite comical and have a mind of their own and definitely, usually bend to the left, or maybe to the right. And while I don’t find penises particularly beautiful, I even more so can’t get down with a vagina. To each her own, but there is no way that you are getting a piece of my body close to a piece of that body. It wasn’t even until a few years ago that I looked at my own, and it was fucking terrifying and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since. Except for maybe that one time for that one thing that turned out to be nothing but for a second I thought was something.

I am not white, but I grew up in a bit of a Waspy family. My father is a stern man who grew up with a stern father and no mother, so he doesn’t know how to talk about his feelings. I remember the night that he and I had The Talk, and I blame it all on 90210. It was May 21, 1997, I was thirteen years old, and the season finale of 90210 was scheduled to air that night. I had done all my homework in preparation and, while my father was cooking dinner, in what was likely an obnoxious Valley Girl accent, announced that I had dibs on the TV in the living room because “David is totally going to pop Donna’s cherry tonight.” Now, I didn’t really know what the term pop one’s cherry actually meant, but I knew that Donna had been a virgin forever and tonight they were totally going to do it.

My father, ever so sternly, responded: “Have you had your cherry popped?” I was horrified because I think my father just asked me if I was a virgin and I’m thirteen and haven’t yet kissed a guy and who is having sex and oh my god this is so embarrassing and I ran out of the kitchen yelling about how gross he was and we never talked about it again, even when I did have my first real kiss a couple of weeks later (more on that coming soon). Sex was not mentioned in our household again until my mother, who is less stern but lacks some maternal instincts, took me out to lunch the week before I left for college to take a stab at it. At this point, my boyfriend had already been living at our apartment for six months and we were most certainly having sex and my mother most certainly knew that and I was definitely already on the pill and she knew that too. Yes, Mom. Okay, Mom. Please pass the chips and guacamole, Mom. As I said: Wasps.

When I am into a dude, something happens to me. I get weird in a way that I have never gotten even in front of the most empirically attractive of females. I think about him all the time. I want to touch him. I look at his hands. I twirl my hair. I sit up straight and probably stick out my boobs a little. I concoct situations so that we run into each other, and I send him flirtatious texts. I get nervous. I find excuses for our knees to rub up against each other, and I sit close to him when I can. If I can’t, I will always try to catch his eye from across the room. I smile. There is a different lilt in my voice. I usually, without knowing it, lick my lips. Sometimes I also jump the gun and picture a life with him— what it will be like to wake up next to him and spend a lazy Sunday on the couch in our pajamas— and I wonder if he will get freaked out by my very unconventional but Waspy family. I am electrified.

No, this has not happened with a woman, and I assume that in all my years on this earth and in all the people I have met that it would have happened by now. I would have felt that spark. I would have twirled my hair and thought about more than just where she got that purse. Or maybe not? I’ve had patients and my friends’ parents and Ellen DeGeneres and maybe one day Kevin Spacey who have come out of the closet late in life, after they have gone through the pomp and circumstance of a heterosexual wedding or after their children have gone off to college.  But in my heart of hearts, I don’t think that’s me. I, unfortunately, like men. Ugly, old, bald, chubby men who live in Queens and who are my boss or my friend’s father or my own fucking father.

Sometimes I think it might be easier if I were a lesbian because at least it would explain why I am the last single girl in New York— the straight girl who couldn’t make it work with eighteen years worth of boyfriends because she was into chicks the entire time. And then I think about a vagina and realize that I am insane. Being a lesbian is not my problem. My problem is that for whatever luck or circumstance or general neurosis or career choice or self-esteem or depression or laziness or psychosis or geography or dreadful taste I have not met the right man yet. I hope he’s out there but— fuck it— maybe he’s not. Maybe I have in fact dated and/or found fault to the point of undateability with every bachelor in New York who is decently literate, has all four limbs intact, and has an unlimited Metrocard. Maybe all these funny anecdotes— all thirty of them by now— have crossed the line from picky and independent to lonely and hopeless. I’m not lonely and hopeless, though. At least not yet. I am picky and independent and still on the search for that man who is rough around the edges because I am clearly rough around the edges too.

#29 I Wish I Could Tell My First Boyfriend The Following: Mix CDs and Apologies

I’m sorry that I used to wear socks when we had sex. I don’t really like feet, and I was uncomfortable being naked. Socks were like my security blanket. I’m sorry that I cheated on you while you were away at camp that summer. It was only a kiss, but I shouldn’t have done it anyway. I’m sorry that we broke up because I couldn’t handle a long distance relationship. Thank you for checking in on me after and respecting my choices. I know that you haven’t always liked my other boyfriends because you thought they didn’t treat me well, but I appreciate that you let me make my mistakes while keeping a watchful eye from afar. And I’m sorry about that time in that hotel room in Vermont with that thing and that other thing and you know.

I’m sorry if I was bad at sex and if I made you put on a condom right away even if you weren’t ready. I had no idea what I was doing, and I was terrified of getting pregnant and thought it better to be safe than sorry. I did have a pregnancy scare that summer but thankfully it was fine. You and I were not ready to be parents. I’m still not ready to be a parent, and you somehow have two sweet children. I know that you are a wonderful father because you were a wonderful big brother.

I was jealous when you and your wife got together, even though you and I weren’t together at the time. It makes sense that you met her at camp. You loved camp. It was your happy place. And while I sort of thought that she was using you for a Green Card, I sound like a bit of an asshole now that you guys are married and still together fifteen years later. From what I hear, she is darling.

I will always remember that talk we had when I was living in California and you were in New York and we both decided that we weren’t going back to school in the fall. I could have talked to you for days. That was the first time I felt like we were grownups together. You were no longer the goofy, attention-deficient jock, and I was no longer your flirtatious, air-headed sidekick. We hadn’t dated each other in years and were both in serious relationships at the time, but it felt like we had been through a war together and made it out okay on the other side. Something was different in that moment. It was probably the most comfortable and honest I had ever been.

When we talk now, I know that you say that you feel bored and unfulfilled, but I look at your beautiful family and the smile on your face, and I know that it’s all a ruse. I am feeling some of that stuff too— of living in my hometown and having a complicated relationship with my parents and feeling disconnected with my friends and still thinking about high school and wondering what I could have done differently. I know that you are worried about me for not settling down yet, but I’m fine, I promise. I will be okay.

I wish I could write more, but it was a long time ago, and I don’t know you very well anymore. We’ve made a lot of promises to each other over the years and have broken most— if not all— of them. All I ask is that you please don’t forget about me because I haven’t forgotten about you.

#27 Height: Home Alone

When I was 28 years old, I bought an apartment by accident and on a whim. This is not something that you would expect from someone as disorganized as me, who basically works a blue collar job and lives in one of the most expensive cities in the world, but that is what I did. I found out that my apartment existed on a Tuesday morning and was expected to tour it and commit to it by Saturday afternoon. I had just started dating someone, a man who I thought actually had potential— he was a friend from middle school who I ran into at a bar one night and hit it off immediately— it would have been a great story to tell our children and publish in the alumni magazine.

He wanted to tag along and see the apartment, which surprised me and made me think that he actually thought of me as his girlfriend. He, however, was 40 minutes late to the appointment which irritated me beyond belief, but I couldn’t say anything because we hadn’t been dating for that long. He hadn’t yet gone down on me and I didn’t want to piss him off— I wanted to be my most perfect self. I didn’t know at the time that he never considered me his girlfriend and that he also didn’t believe in oral sex. The realtor showed us the place then asked if we were planning on living together in the apartment—there were two-bedrooms available as well. He blushed and said that he was just a friend. It hurt my feelings. The realtor recovered swiftly and called him “Mr. Moral Support” for the rest of the afternoon.

He said that the apartment had no character; that the ceilings were too low; that it was far from the train. He said it was far from him. The ceilings were low, but it didn’t bother me because I’m short. The apartment did have character— it had huge windows and an open kitchen and a giant living room for me to do cartwheels and a place that would be all my own. And it was far from him, but when we broke up four months later before I had even closed on the apartment, that matter was irrelevant. And there was an elevator. And a washer and dryer in the building. And a grocery store across the street from me. If he knew anything about me, it is that I love grocery stores. Coming from a cramped apartment in a sixth floor walk-up with two other roommates that was once robbed twice in a ten day span, I didn’t care about the ceilings. I cared that I was going to be able to finally live on my own, invest in my own financial well-being, and be an adult.

My father, who I once thought to be a feminist but who has become increasingly more Republican as he ages, also caught me completely off guard. While I thought that he’d be proud that his eldest daughter took a giant step toward acquiring equity— something that he did not do until he was in his fifties and well into his midlife crisis when he bought multiple houses at once— he dissuaded me from doing so. The man who never calls me actually called me and said that purchasing a one-bedroom apartment was a terrible idea, particularly for a 28 year old, single woman. “But what if you get married?” he asked me. “I don’t want this to limit you.” “But what if I don’t get married?” I replied. “And why should a hypothetical marriage limit my life choices? Do you expect me to rot away in a sixth floor walk-up with two roommates and wait for a man that may want to marry me?”

My father’s reaction made me a bit defiant. It didn’t matter that I was fresh out of grad school, in a scary amount of debt, and that there was a good chance that I wasn’t going to get approved for a mortgage. I was going to prove my father and my boyfriend/friend/missionary sex partner/Mr. Moral Support wrong. I was going to buy that fucking apartment if it killed me. And so I did and here I am to tell the tale.

The first days to months to years of living alone were both liberating and terrifying. I went out a ton and stayed out late, probably because I was lonely. Because I missed having people to talk to all of the time. Because it was too late in the year to install my air conditioner, but it was really fucking hot. Because I had trouble sleeping because I wasn’t used to the noise of the bus that passes in front of my building throughout the night. I don’t even notice that bus anymore, and I am happy that there is a bus to bring me from Target, my favorite place in Brooklyn, directly to my home. And while I am far from the train, I like the exercise and am really only bothered by it when I’m drunk and it’s late and I probably should have taken a cab anyway.

I bought adult furniture and real pots and pans and searched far and wide before finding blinds to fit my windows. I learned that I cannot own any plants or living things because I will inevitably kill them, even if the plant man in Union Square says that I will not. I’m a bit of a slob, but it’s controlled chaos. I have only locked myself out of my house three times, and each time, I solved the problem without the assistance of a locksmith or shimmying up a drain pipe. I have become accustomed to walking around my apartment in my underwear, and it turns out that I can eat tacos pretty much every day and I don’t drink coffee by myself and I usually eat dinner while sitting on the floor in front of the television. I also don’t really drink at home unless I’m entertaining, and it turns out that I don’t really like to entertain.

Of course, I have fears about choking on a piece of spaghetti and being murdered in my sleep by a burglar. I still close the door to my bedroom at night, like that will somehow deter crime. I worry that I will still be living in the same place when I am 83 years old and forced to eat cat food for breakfast because I am poor because I didn’t contribute enough to my retirement account and because I have arthritic joints and osteoporotic bones because I have always hated milk and because I have no children to care for me— that my father was, in fact, correct.

There was another paramour I started spending time with shortly after I moved in, when Mr. Moral Support was officially out of my life. He and I were at that point in our relationship where I still felt like I needed to impress him and sleep in cute, lacy attire rather than my usual ratty sweatpants. I stocked the fridge with late night snacks and bottles of wine, all of which I purchased especially for him, because I wanted to present myself as being nurturing and fun and ready to hang out all night, all while looking sexy in my negligée— my most perfect self. And while I wanted him so badly to be in my life and for him to let me in to his, I also just kind of wanted to go to sleep. And the problem with entertaining is that your time stops being your own. He also agreed that I was kind of a slob, and one night after a night out on the town, I caught him using Windex to clean the toothpaste stains off my bathroom mirror. This is probably the most he ever did for me, so I graciously obliged.

It turns out that the more I live alone, the more I need my alone time. I want to unwind and lie on my couch with no pants and watch horrible reality shows with no judgement. Maybe I’ll want to lie on my floor because my back hurts. I also like to blast 90s music and dance around with the lights off, and I don’t mind if the dishes pile up until they start to smell a little bit. I want to be able to go to bed when I am tired and pee with the door open and cook elaborate meals but also allow myself to order in twice in a day if I really have to.

I guess that perfect partner will allow me to do all of these things. I imagine that it won’t feel like a chore to let him into my space. I didn’t find him this week, but maybe, contrary to my father’s belief, he’s out there somewhere and loves grocery stores too.