Sunday, November 6, 2016

Thrwn: A Dating Series, Pt. 2


This series is sponsored by CRWN Mag. You'll find quarterly installments in the magazine that you cannot find, digitally. CRWNMAG exists to create a progressive dialogue around what it really means to “go natural” in America. Through beautiful content, thoughtful commentary, hair inspiration and resources; we’re telling the world the truth about black women by showcasing a new standard of beauty —  and documenting our story in tangible, print form. You can read part one, here


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My blinds are broken. 

I had a gathering at my place and someone tried to let air in. They yanked the cord too hard and something snapped, now the blinds are leaning and it's easy to see that they're unkempt from the outside.

I'm sure this is how men describe me, right after they say I am hard to love. But loving anyone, for me, is a battle. To have my feet carry me from a full work day, to an hour writing session, to a video curriculum consultation, to holding your hand across a table, is love. The only way I know how to love anyone is to push them between the crevices of this thing I call life, to move things aside, to swallow my anxiety, to act as if it doesn't exist, to pray it doesn't swallow them whole.

Carlos stops momentarily, before he leaves my apartment, after our umpteenth date. He stares at the leaning blinds, "You should really get that fixed."

He keeps on staring and then he picks up his book bag and leaves. 

I call my father shortly after, "Dad, do you mind dropping by to fix my blinds. It's annoying and the..."

He cuts me off, "Isn't your boyfriend there?"

"Well, he had to leave and..."

My dad sighs, "I'll run to Home Depot and get there when I can."

But I'm not broken. 
I swear. 
I think so.
I'm quite sure.

An ex calls to ponder if I still am. He doesn't say this, but his body language says that he's seeking something. He wants to know if his voice can still beckon my excitement, if I still think about him, if my latest post hinted at our past. Instead of saying this he asks me to dinner to "catch up."  

We sit across from each other, another person that I still love pushed in between the slits of my busy, at a restaurant that I wouldn't allow to be etched into my mind. There's no need to remember moments that shouldn't have been. 

He asks me how I am and I list superficial things. We plunge our forks into half of our meals before he comes out and says it, "I've been seeing this girl..."

"Okay..."

"She's super difficult, complains about everything. The other day she asked me to do something and I didn't know how, but I took the initiative. I called John (his friend that works in construction) and he told me how to put the TV stand together for her..."

I sat there, stunned. Could he see that I was still sitting here? Had I suddenly become invisible? How had I come across, so forgiving, so naive, that he could really think I'd be into listening to his new relationship problems? 

He continued, "It just got me thinking about all the times you asked me to do small things..."

Hammer the nails into the walls for the frames.  
Take out the garbage. 
Meet me at the train station at midnight, after a business trip. 
Make dinner. 
Drive our party guests home afterward, instead of falling asleep on the couch. 
Talk me through a difficult decision. 
Not have me hold you through an entire depression, while I get a pat on the back for a cold. 
Have your actions say you love me, instead of just your words. 

"...you would have been so grateful for me to just try. I felt inadequate. I didn't grow up with men around me that did those things. I'm sorry I wasn't a better..."

I remember sitting flat in the middle of our living room floor putting together an IKEA dining room table. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was excited about throwing dinners. When my ex told me that he didn't know how to assemble it and he'd call a friend to do it, I decided I would do it myself. It took me five hours. He laughed from the sofa the entire time but was actually impressed when I finished.

There was nothing impressive about our current conversation.

"...boyfriend. Do you know that I put her TV stand in the wrong place and she cursed me out? At least I tried. Couldn't you just give me credit for trying?" 

"I'm sorry to hear that," I pushed the leftover food around my plate and looked for a waiter to ask for the check. 

"I learned from our relationship that I needed to try. I appreciate you teaching me that." 

& I realized I was tired of being a lesson. 
I no longer wanted to teach lovers how to love someone else. 
I wanted to shed myself of the cycle of partial adoration. 
I deserved to be loved fully.

Yet, here I am. 

__________________________________________

There is vomit on my sofa.

There are two people I can be right now. Actually, I can be anyone I want to be. But there's a mix of anxiety, not wanting to be an angry-black-woman, compassion, matriarchy, and a conversation about accepting people for their flaws swirling in my mind at the same time.

I can be the woman he anticipates, has already deemed me, deep down, until I've proven myself. I can kick him out, with his pride in hand, and tell him not to come back until he's matured. I might even tell him not to come back, at all.

Or I can be a variation of me--newfound in this moment--because during my last relationship I'm sure I would've thrown a paper towel roll at him and excused myself. But this variation was different.

Or desperate. 
Or tired.
Or settling.
Or something I can't quite put my finger on. 

She jumps into action, without much thought, and assists him.

Wait.

Before you judge me, you've got to understand how we got here. See, this isn't the first time Carlos has shown up drunk to my home.

Wait.

The first time, it was kind of cute.

It was 2 am and I could not sleep. My mind refuses to sit still when a story is dancing through it. Literary elements are pirouetting through my conscience when my phone went off. It's never too late for him.

This is the first man to take me dancing.
He is the first to talk to me in a diner until sunrise.
He is the first to hold out sweaty palms and ask him to walk with him. 
He rocks a teenager smile, when I arrive to the promenade. 
He is all open arms, conversation, laughter that erupts from his belly.

You ever realize how horribly you've been treated, when your body shakes at the bare minimum? 


I answer the phone on the first ring, "Hey, I was just thinking..."

His speech is broken, he pushes the words forward all at once, "I'm...I'm leaving the bar...I'm drunk...I think...can I...I'm should....can I come over?" 


Usually, I wouldn't. However, he'd called first. There was also the fact that our movements had been far more rapid than any other affair I'd had. My vulnerability sprouted from a place that'd been tucked for years, my ex's face and an array of rejections sunken beneath it. Carlos was an oasis in the desert of the New York City dating scene.

The first time, I answered the door to the man I'd been dating for a month, a cab drifting away in the background, his smile tipsy and genuine. 



He asked, "Are you going to let me in?"

I smile at what in hindsight I realize was not comfort. Instead, this was Carlos' way of running from the notions that the alcohol prompted. Everything was not all good. It would take a while for me to realize this. 

He slurs, “I just wanted to tell you that I think you’re the one.”

I have been waiting years to hear someone say this and mean it. This is not the moment. I am far too aware that he will regret this in the morning, that he will tell the story a different way. 

"I think you should get some sleep and we'll talk about this in the morning." 

"Sleep? I don't wanna sleep. I want to stay up and talk with you. Do you know I could talk to you all night? You always have so much to say." 

I walk to the linen closet to grab him a blanket and prop a pillow underneath his head. I lay on the sofa perpendicular to him to make sure he'll be okay. He falls asleep quickly. I listen to his labored breathing and know that he'll tell himself not to drink again, when he wakes up, only to renege on that promise a week later. 

The second time he shows up this way, the same scenario happens. We talk until he's fast asleep beside me and I am trying to fathom if he has a problem. We've had ten dates in between his last foray with alcohol and right now. He was sober every time and we spent it dancing, listening to jazz, or smiling at one another across a dinner table. I decide that he goes too hard whenever he's with his frat boys and I would talk to him about it, in the morning.

It is about an hour later when I feel something wet on my hand. I wake up, hoping I hadn't drooled on myself when I realize he's vomited all over the sofa and is paralyzed with shock. I jump up, escort him to the bathroom, where he throws up around the porcelain throne, and I head back to clean the sofa.

What the f--- am I doing? 
He should be cleaning this up!
If I let it stay, it'll dry. 
Are you crazy, Erica?

I must've been. I stormed back to the bathroom, where he lay asleep on the ground and could remember my nights in college where I'd been this way. I felt sorry for him. I was prepared to give him a speech, but I knew he would hear nothing I had to say. 

Carlos woke up the next morning, hungover. He stares at the blinds, bursting with sun like it's the last thing he wants to see. He sees the towel I'd placed underneath him, on the sofa, hoping he wouldn't throw up again. 

"Was I that trashed, last night?"

"Yes, you were. You threw up twice. You did it once, right here."

"Damn babe. I'm sorry. I guess the fellas and I went too hard."

"Yeah, about that." 

I told Carlos that the night before was unacceptable and we were too old to be drinking to the point of incoherency. It was clear he felt bad, but he listened and nodded.

"It won't happen again." 

I couldn't help but wonder, as Carlos got ready to leave, what kind of woman I'd become. Was I one that was newly compassionate and understanding? Or was I a damn fool that should have sent him home to never return? 

Carlos grabbed his book bag, put it on his back and said he'd make his way back later. We'd planned to go to the botanical gardens that day. 
He stopped momentarily, before he left my apartment, to stare at the leaning blinds, "You should really get that fixed."

As he says this, all I can think of is my broken and I wonder, with all that's happened overnight, if I've ever really fixed it. 

_______________________________

Erica B., formerly “Rivaflowz”, is an author and arts educator based in Brooklyn, New York. Erica writes fiction and memoir that elaborates the experience of the millennial woman of color. She’s written/published three books: (Intention, Boroughs Apart, and Of Micah and Men). She’s an HBO Def Poetpoetry slam champion, and content & arts education strategist for bloggers/writers/companies.

Join her here, once a week, for her dating series. 











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