Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Guy Who Called Me Girlfriend

I broke up with the Manboy about three weeks ago, although he doesn't seem to have fully comprehended the news. He texts me to tell me his work is boring today, or to complain about how much reading he has to do. He keeps asking me to join him for dinner or lunch, or Easter Brunch at Eastern Standard. I would, mostly because my weekly grocery budget hovers around $14, but I am pretty much done listening to him talk about his fairly manageable life in overly dramatic terms. And interrupting me. And one-upping every. damn. thing.

I still can't tell you how we wound up dating for six months. This past year has become a miasma of awfulness in my mind. I met The Guy Who Calls Me Girlfriend (after a month of staggered dating) right around the time I was hospitalized for 8 days due to a majorly infected central port. I emerged from that with a PICC line and a visiting nurse and syringes of medication and total exhaustion. My immune system has been utter crap since.

Basically, I was tired, unable to work, automatically ill whenever I did work (kids are germy, you know), and Manboy decided he would take care of me.

I was too tired to beat him away.

Not a stellar start for a relationship, you say. "Yeah, I know. I'm still not sure what's going on," I would say, every time someone asked me about him.

Things got worse with his temper tantrums, his hypochondria, his constant and persistently terrible "advice" to get my life back together. And then came the suggestions for how I could dress sexier for him, lose more weight (while he gained weight), "get over" my depression. Apparently I was supposed to call him and text him to remind him to study for his classes. It was my fault he didn't do well on his exams. And if I tried to introduce a new restaurant, suggested going to the movie theater, suggested pretty much anything outside of his habitual comfort zone, I was admonished and punished with angry silence. I learned to stay quiet and let his constant outpouring of opinions and emotions sweep over me. I learned that all his moods and outbursts were temporary, and if I just hunkered down and became as still as possible, as small as possible, they would pass.

I didn't notice the slow accrual of a kind of emotional silt. I was constantly fearful of the next outburst or indirect attack. Things he said about my body and my capabilities swirled around my head for days, then months... but I believed them already, so it was easy to catalog them with my own self-hating mantras. I knew I had become both more indefinite and more weighed down and it was a horribly familiar state.

But I needed somewhere to be that wasn't my apartment. And I really liked his cat.

I grew used to having him in my life. His gestures became familiar, and it was nice to have someone to touch. I don't let people touch me, especially in my city life. My personal space is sacred. So when I give permission, that effort, that act is momentous and painful. Once I allow someone in I am far too worn out by the process to close him out again.

He loved me. He introduced me to his best friends, his mother, paraded me around his workplace and called me his Special Lady, his Darling.

But I knew part of me had gone dormant. Whatever he loved about me... well, it wasn't me in full bloom. He couldn't know me because I couldn't trust him enough to actually inhabit myself.

And I wasn't comfortable bringing him around my friends. At one point he told me that I need him because I clearly didn't have anyone else in my life. Although that sometimes felt true in my lower moments, I knew I could access people who cared about me and that I had purposely kept them separate.

I was ashamed, not of him, but of how I allowed him to control me.

I noticed, at some point, that part of me had fled. I was protecting and withholding something very dear. I was behaving like a prisoner who had given up hope of freedom. I had taken on the role of a victim. He never attacked me physically, and I kept telling myself (and he kept telling me) that my wariness was my depression taking over. But the ever-present shame and anxiety had grown overwhelming.

It took an incredible effort to end it. I invited him over and I could tell he knew it was coming. He unwrapped his scarf and took off his kermit-green hat and said, "I love those glasses on you. I'm going to make you wear them more." I brought him to the brightness of the kitchen and got us both a glass of water while he complained about his day. I sat and pretended to listen, trying to find an opening.

Eventually, his monologue tapered to a few ready phrases. He took a deep breath and my eyes were already welling up with tears.

"What is it?" he asked. He took my hand and rubbed my knuckles with his rough thumb. I couldn't look him in the eye. I was suddenly awash with the thought that I didn't want to hurt him. To hurt him.

But I had to. I pulled my hand away and found a tissue for myself, mostly fiddling with it.

"This... we're not..." I desperately needed a script. How could I be so useless at a time like this? The tears burned down my cheeks and pooled at my chin, and of course my nose started running. Gross.

"What? What are you trying to say?" His turquoise eyes burned into me as I wiped my nose and chin.

"I can't... This isn't..." I had worked myself up with fear, uncertain of his reaction. Would he jump up and yell? Throw something? Slam his chair against the wall? Would he go through the list of reasons I was mentally unfit to make decisions? Try to convince me of my own feebleness?

"This needs to end," I said, kind of warbling through the snot and tears.

"Yeah," he said, almost whispering. "I was wondering when..."

We sat there and I cried, ablaze with the shame of crying.

"You're gonna make me cry," he said, and his eyes did grow red and wet.

He stuttered through several unfinishable phrases about his lack of surprise and his sadness about losing me. He told me, again, that I was his Special Lady. He repeated over and over that we would still be friends.

I didn't respond, but I never did respond. He must have decided, as always, that no response was a form of permission.

Eventually he stood up and we hugged in the kitchen. He squeezed me extra hard, held me out at arms length and kissed my forehead before hugging me again. In the foyer he kissed my head again before awkwardly scrambling to put on his coat, locate his hat and scarf.

"I'll talk to you soon," he said as he opened the door. "I'll text you."

God, I need to learn how to say no again.

And I need to wash this silt out of my brain.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Blossom with me


I love Blossom Dearie, in case you were wondering. (I'm actually fairly sure you weren't wondering.)

Some talented person with a lot of time on her hands made the above animation to accompany one of Dearie's most darling tracks,"Doop Doo Dee Doop." First of all, that's a genius song title, and the promise of the title comes to full fruition with the first lines: "Why don't you join the group? It's better than being a party poop." Although I have a gorgeous and growing list of replies to that question, the lighthearted joshing of the invitation could almost convince me.

The animation confounds me, however. It seems to depict a dream sequence, or a shopping trip to the local greengrocer. Or it could depict the complicated life of a carrot. Hell, I don't know, but it's charming, nostalgic and makes you wonder if the artist was a Freud fanatic. It could also be complete artistic randomness. I couldn't find much information about the animator. All links led to... well, nothing much.

Back to Dearie... She's one in a list of unapologetic artists who purposely promote a stylized character in their music. Dearie's is quiet but confident, straightforward but playful, naive and simultaneously savvy. She chose standards with heartbreaking stories (Sophisticated Lady) and sang them as a confidential counselor, empathetic and unintrusive. She transformed downright corny Broadway tunes like "Surrey With the Fringe On Top" into salacious, private invitations.

She's been criticized, of course. In an interview Fresh Air's Terry Gross, Gross asks about detractors of Dearie's "tiny voice." Dearie says, "It's very funny to have worked and sung for so many years, and then someone tells you, 'Well, you're not breathing properly.'" But she was unconcerned: "I think that [working with a vocal coach] would probably make my voice more powerful, but at this age, I don't think I'm going to worry about it."

In other words, I'm the one with the career. Buzz off.

As a singer, I find I'm also amazed by her conversational diction. She speaks the words with unabashedly American pronunciation - strong R's and nasal vowels - and rarely elongates a word, even if she slows down the song. She places lyrics, almost talk-singing, and the style makes me feel like she's having a friendly chat, telling a story over coffee. There happens to be a jazz pianist at this coffee shop, but that's just fine.

Actually, I would pour money on that coffee shop. If I had any.

Of course, Dearie was the pianist - a pianist first and a singer second. Her sense for rhythm and restraint starts on the keyboard. She punctuates the song with her voice rather than possessing the song with a full-body belt. I envy her musicianship, her sense of comic and dramatic timing, and her minimalist abilities.

In later tracks, she shows off her vibrato a bit more, and this reinforces, for me, the deliberate choice of her delivery; she didn't whisper her songs because she couldn't sing, she chose that character. She laid back on her piano bench, approached the mic with her sweet secrets and became an icon.

I would love to have that confidence. I have no idea whether I even have a signature style, especially since my tastes range from the self-possessed divas (and divos) who came out of the Big Band era to the subdued (and possibly stoned) understatements of Cool Jazz.

Perhaps if I pursue a carrot amidst a rain of fish, it will all become clear. I'm taking a nap.