the you i think you are

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Nikki and I are sharing a bottle of wine at a new restaurant in my neighborhood. Her boyfriend Tom is outside, phone glued to his ear, fighting with his wife. He’s been outside for five minutes already, after a rush of angry text messages. He’s smoked two cIgarettes. He’s pacing.

She pours wine into my glass, then hers. We watch him pace.

The lull is uncomfortable. It’s hard to scare up conversation when one is watching one’s friend watch her boyfriend fight with his wife.

“What’s up with Bob,” I ask. I wish I hadn’t.

She shrugs. Bob is Tom’s wife’s boyfriend. A true modern American dysfunctional family on the rocks.

“I’m not sure if I’m staying with Tom because I love him, or because I need to find Bob.”

Nikki’s been looking for Bob for the better part of the year. He’s the only person who can help her put together the pieces of a fairly straightforward puzzle. Then again, I have my opinions, the strongest one being: don’t start something until the other thing’s over. Especially where there are potential casualties.

Anyway, all she knows about Bob is that he’s bald. She suspects he teaches yoga and rides a bike with a basket, but that’s all conjecture.

“I’ve lost heart,” she says, “but I can’t stop looking.”

Outside, Tom lights another cigarette, pushing the phone into his ear.

There’s another lull as she fixes her hair in the decorative restaurant mirror. The rolodex in my brains spins, searching for a subject to fill the air. It’s going to be a long night.

***

“I’m deep in the throes of a Spelmun,” I tell her.

“Oh,” is all she can muster.

A Spelmun is a crush you develop on someone you’ve had limited, but excellent, rapport with, usually an easily cyber-stalkable individual on an internet dating site. It’s really a crush on their good PR, but if they have online photographs, you feel like you’re looking into their eyes. I had a big one earlier this year with a musician. I was able to read all about him based on his first name and a few details listed in his profile before we even spoke, and figured that if I were as easily cyber-stalkable as him, he would feel the same way about me.

In short, his web presence and my web presence could make some beautiful SEO.

We spoke on the phone while he was driving. And when he dropped the phone on his lap while passing a patrol car, I felt so close to him. Everything was easy. We laughed. We joked. We planned to meet. I was certain it was fate.

I realize now that this Spelmun was a rebound from another Spelmun I had with a filmmaker I dated for a short time – my crush for him was based solely on his films and the way he looked at me. But when he started acting the way he wanted to, instead of the way I wanted him to, we were doomed.

“You’re stuck in a Spelmun of sorts, too,” I say, sipping the wine. “Except Bob can be anyone you want… until you meet him.”

She glances towards the window. Tom tosses his cigarette butt into the tree well and starts  towards the door.

“Bob is the glue that holds this whole mess together,” she mumbles. In one swallow, she finishes her wine.

***

I’m walking home alone and I see a beautiful little girl who loves my dog, even though my IMG_0858dog is deathly afraid of her. Megan’s her name and she waves at me every time we meet. I ask her how she’s doing and she tells me she’s good. She’s got a lot poise. I’ve known her since I’ve had my dog, two years, or so, and she’s taller and lankier. Still a kid, but growing.

Up the block, I see another neighbor. I don’t know her name, but her dog Angie is literally on her last legs. I see the woman, a huddled, grieving shadow, lift Angie up and hold her close to her chest. She doesn’t want to let Angie go.

The Dominican guys around the corner from my building are playing dominos on a table they set up every night on the sidewalk. When I walk my dog later, one, if not all of them, will say hello and I’ll smile back and pretend I’m oblivious to their innuendos. In the elevator I run into the trombonist who lives in my building who used to play for Tito Puente. When I first moved in, he was lanky and lean. That was thirteen years ago. Now he’s thicker. I’ve watched him turn into a man.

As the elevator doors open on my floor, I see so clearly something I’ve never considered before. I’ve watched all these people grow and change and get fat or thin. I’ve watched some couples become families and others split up. I’ve watched little kids become big kids. And old women become widows. But it’s not a one way mirror. They’ve also seen me – in love and broken-hearted, pulling my small puppy down the block in her blue sweater, teaching her to walk down the front door steps, the grey hairs sprouting from my head. Over-employed and under-employed, dragging my friends ratty futon up the hill the first night I spent in my apartment and had no furniture. Early morning, eyes squinty from sleep, sitting on the stoop with my neighbor and laughing.

I know I’m not the person they think I am. And they’re not the people I think they are. But wouldn’t it be great if we could say things like: “I see you” and “I love the you I think you are.”

***

Nikki calls. My dog and I are back from our walk, caught in the sickly sweet smells that invade the lobby every night.

“I think someone’s cooking crystal meth in my building,” I say, answering the phone. “It smells like maple syrup every night when I when I come home. I don’t know who it could be. It’s not that kind of building.”

“Maybe someone’s lighting a Yankee candle.”

“Who would burn a candle that smells like maple syrup?”

“Someone who likes pancakes. I found something out -”

“About Bob?”

“He likes to knit.”

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