This story is inspired by this song 'My Ex Lover Is Dead' : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5Or6-HOveg and has some words and phrases taken from it
It was summer when I first landed in New York. Straight from the muddy streets of Kolkata to the only slightly less dirty streets of New York.The crowds - like an organism in itself each of whose cells the millions of people from all over the world - didn’t feel foreign to me. The light was different-a brighter, lighter shade of gold that didn’t burn like the sun I was used to, but the crowds made me feel like I was not alone.
I moved into a studio apartment that my company rented for me, just a stone’s throw away from Times Square. It was a nice setup-wood flooring, abstract art work on the walls, a fully fitted kitchen. I just moved in with my two suitcases (each 23 Kgs, as per the airline’s weight limit); and bought a nice coffee machine to complete the place. Working in finance has its perks.
The first evening I went strolling at Times Square and was amused by the cacophony and the cluster of cheap shops selling trinkets and miniature Statues of Liberty and key chains with “I heart NY”. The gaudiness gave me comfort- it felt familiar, much alike the streets of New Market back home. I felt good about my life. Whole. Complete. I missed home sometimes, but it was okay.
I spent the next few weeks exploring the city’s tourist attractions. A single woman trying to find her place in the humdrum of commerce, art, fashion, parties, and beautiful men everywhere. I downloaded some of the more popular dating apps, hoping to find something casual, someone to go out with, but quickly got bored after a handful of first and second dates and drunk, meaningless, non-intimate moments of forced physical intimacy.
I met N at the famous Strand bookstore in Union City, at the rare books section on the third floor. I had spent the last two hours in the used books section looking for something about the early suffrage movement -research for the novel I was trying to write after work. (Five hundred words everyday was the target, but usually I barely managed around two hundred). Feeling the need for a break and a sudden desire for the leather-bound-books-smell, I had wandered into that section curious to look at some of the classics and first editions I had read about in blogs.(Like Kafka’s “The Castle”, price tag 2500 dollars).
I found him engrossed in a huge leather book with gold lettering. What are you reading, I asked, genuinely wondering what this monumental tome could be.
N was different from anyone I had previously dated. Ofcourse, he was white, Christian, and an American of Italian heritage unlike any of my past boyfriends-but that’s not what I am talking about. He made me feel different. More sensual, more feminine, more like an artist than a finance professional. I published my first paid story while dating him- he just brought out that side of me. It was as if I had discovered this ‘fountain of eternal spring’- that’s how I thought about it at that time. Now I cringe at cliche’ of it.
Thinking about it now makes me feel that there was no sense, no rationale, no explanation to the way I felt around him. But there seldom is much reasonableness to these things.
He was a curious man, N. He was pursuing an art internship at Sotheby’s while finishing up grad school in Computational Linguistics. Isn’t that a bit unrelated, I asked him. He said he didn’t think so, and that it was all God’s design and it was our duty to appreciate the beauty and advance it further.
We spent the summer flitting out of each other’s apartments. Warm, sweaty, Sunday afternoons entangled on the bed. Reading aloud Kafka and Camus and smoking cigars inside all the while giggling in anticipation of the fire alarm going off (it never did). I would bake cookies in his built-in oven, as I only had a microwave at my place. He would do the laundry at mine, since he didn’t have an in-unit washer. We would walk hand in hand along Museum Mile. It was some kind of fugue state I had never experienced before. He told me that he had never felt such a connection with any of his past lovers. I said I thought I was falling in love with him.
We broke up around the end of summer, after three months and twenty-four days of giddy highs and spectacular lows. He told me he would like to see other people. That he hadn’t really given a thought to a “committed relationship” or how that would look for him. That he felt I was getting ”too attached”. That he was just looking for someone to go out with, while I was apparently looking for someone to come home to. That he didn’t know didn’t know didn’t know.
I thought to myself, how could someone be so in touch with the outside world, and so out of touch with himself?
I felt frozen-like the insides of me had suddenly stopped moving.
Everything seemed to be in a precarious balance. The sun, the sky the earth. A whisper could have set off an avalanche.
That night of the breakup, I dragged myself to the nearest Chinese restaurant I knew of, and consumed 53 dollars worth of fish ball soup and glass noodles and pork pot stickers and sesame chicken and green tea. Copious amounts of tea. I ate and drank till I couldn’t breathe anymore. When I got back to my studio, I ran straight to the washroom and vomited it all out. I wanted everything out. I wanted my entrails to melt and flow out with all the food. I felt like my blood was poison- love turned into something toxic that I could no longer bear to keep inside me. And I wanted it gone. So I threw up till I passed out.
When the leaves turned yellow and curled at the corners, and the chill in the wind was strong enough to fog one’s breath, I decided that my time in New York was past its expiration date. My life had started to feel stale, the very sunlight a little less sunny. For some reason, I imagined myself as a dried-up prune. It was time to move on.
The kids loved the drive down to their aunt’s place in Palo Alto. Mila would purposefully delay taking a shower till the last moment, so that when she put her face at the open window of the car the wind would swirl through her wet hair and make her squeal at the cool sensation.
I smiled, and breathed in the city. I thought of how the breath would travel through my body’s machinery and be absorbed in my blood and flow through me as if the city itself were flowing through me. This way I would hold in me all the various places I had lived in. Calcutta. New York. Now San Francisco.
We dropped off the kids at their Aunt’s place amidst hugs and shouts and wet dogs. The party was only a few blocks away, and we would be back in a few hours to spend the night. Elaine and her family were always nice to us, and I was grateful for the wholesome brand of steady that they brought to our chaotic life.
The party was at a my colleague Anette’s sprawling stone faceted bungalow in Old Palo Alto. Her garden was beautifully landscaped, and we could see people milling about at the large deck, tinkering laughter floating in the air. You could smell the luxury. Tech money. We walked up to the temporary bar set up for the occasion, and chose our drinks.
“Lily!” -someone squealed from behind me. Anette, glittering in her shimmering gold floor length gown, her bare arms glowing in the dim terrace lighting. She looks radiant, as one should at one’s engagement party. I was curious to meet her fiance- I knew he was one of those tech CEOs whom ‘the paparazzi cannot have enough of’, but she would never disclose his name for “privacy reasons”. (She had a good reason I suppose- I see a couple of press-looking photographers trying to unobtrusively videograph fly-on-the wall moments I am sure would turn up on celebrity websites tomorrow. She needed to ‘control the story’, as it were).
“Come, meet my fiance! Nick, these are friends from work - you know the ones I told you about? They really saved me that time I had to make a presentation about our finances to the VCs...”
He turned his face towards me, and I’m sure if someone had videoed me at that moment, it would have captured a series of cut-frames of expressions transitioning into each other in slow motion. For a few seconds, I don’t recognize him, and just hold a curious face. I don’t think he recognizes me either. Then I could feel my own eyes widen in recognition, before it could recompose itself into a milder expression of polite interest.
N. How many years had it been? Seven? Eight?
I remember looking inward, curious how I might be feeling. I couldn’t find anything.
He says, “Oh, uh, I think we’ve met before”. He looks like he’s trying to remember something.
I smile and say hi. But couldn’t really think of much more to say. There’s nothing in common between us anymore. Maybe there never was. He turns away to chat with a guy with an electric blue hair who has been trying to grab his attention for a while.
At one time in my life, he had been what I wanted. I chose to feel it,I chose to feel it all, he couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Maybe he is sorry about it; I see him steal embarrassed looking glances at me a few times. Maybe he couldn’t even remember my name.
At one time in my life, I would have told him that his abruptly leaving me had turned me inside out. At one time in my life I would have told him that I had been so broken by his abandonment that I spent every morning, month after month, trying to get out of bed and just ending up dry heaving for hours before I could drag myself to work. At one time, I would have told him that I cried so much that I think I spent all my tears for years to come- I never cried until my own wedding, when a blockage somewhere had come undone and things had started flowing again.
I remember feeling those feelings at one time. But now, I feel nothing. Maybe there was a fleck of a shallow scar somewhere. But now, I couldn't find it anymore
But now. But now, I’m not sorry that there’s nothing to say.