I am...a New Yorker

[Previous entry: "Back in NYC"]

Wednesday, June 11, 2003
Skewering the Vampire

The sidebar is sad that most of the world can only see the external and only see faults; and that, no matter how much someone adores you, they can still be ashamed for stupid reasons we all say don't matter, but to which most cling so desperately.

The sidebar regrets wasting time on someone who wasn't even good enough in the first place.

The sidebar thinks the European tour photos and crazy travel stories were more interesting than the Snatch of the Week.

I am...a hypochondriac. My parents used to tease me endlessly about it when I was little. I squirted Bactine on everything. There was a delicious burn at first, then the pain or itch or annoyance disappeared. I wish my pains and annoyances now were that easy to treat, that all I needed was an industrial-sized squeeze bottle of Bactine.

I’m still a hypochondriac. Now, however, I tend to think I have mental ailments that I do not. For years, I have read articles or even rants about “emotional vampires” and worried that I was one

There’s a very good reason I thought I had this problem. When I’m planning a trip, move or project or when something goes wrong, I have a cabinet of friends from different walks of life who I turn to for their assessment, advice and opinion of a situation. Talking to all of them, gathering their varied viewpoints, helps me to clarify my own. I imagine this is the procedure after an earthquake. They plot all the blips on the map to find the epicenter.

I lean on my friends when times are tough. Sometimes I’m mad, sometimes sad, most often, confused. As a group, they are compassionate and supportive of most everything I do. Indeed, I’ve long known I’m making the right decision when my parents say it’s stupid and my friends are enthusiastic and say, “it’s so YOU, Erica.” If I do or consider something that’s not right, they will speak up as well.

I don’t have many emotionally light friendships. I eventually jettison people who refuse to go beneath the surface. That often makes it difficult to have plans on a Friday night, but I also know that I have two handfuls of friends who will be with me through anything, who are there for the duration.

Because I lean on this precious group so much at times, I thought perhaps I was guilty of sucking the life out of them. But opening up, listening, being there -- that is what friends do. With few exceptions, I have known these friends for at least 5 years, some as long as 20. These are no fly-by-night, fair weather friends that I pour my heart out to.

Further, I now know I am not an emotional vampire because, last weekend, I lost 8 hours of my life to one. I’d made plans to see K for the first time since I returned from Europe. We planned to catch up, look at photos from my trip and I had tons of stories to tell him about horny cabbies, my date with two Frenchmen and the humor of smoking a fatty while watching “That ‘70s Show” in Amsterdam.

I never had the chance. In fact, I hardly got a word in edgewise, as Vampira told us about her stomach stapling surgery, her issues with men, her self-hatred, how much “healthier” she was than when she was fat (though, clearly, not mentally), how this and that guy were after her, how horribly she’d lost her virginity and more personal details than I know about my best friend.

“Will you come take care of me after I have my excess fat removed next week?” she asked.

“Of course,” K said.

She announced she was leaving, again and again from about 4 on (they’d had brunch plans, I’d come around 3). She said she needed to be alone on Sundays, because Mondays were very difficult for her at work. She said she craved time alone, really needed to be by herself and close the door, especially on Sunday. As K made me dinner, she went to get a sandwich she said she’d take home, but instead brought back. She said she’d leave as soon as she finished it. By then, however, she decided she couldn’t walk the 5 or 6 blocks home in her 4” heels.

Uh, did her mother dress her that morning? You wear the big girl shoes, you can’t play victim when your feet hurt.

She, stayed and stayed, sucking the life from the room with tale after tale of trauma. K, stunningly enthralled by Potential New Pussy, acted as if I was the one who had exhausted him, as if I’d had much chance to interact with him. One by one, he asked to skip all the plans we’d made. By 9 pm, he looked like he’d been through the wringer and claimed exhaustion.

Vampira left shortly thereafter, but before I could have much more than a sentence with K, she called to say she’d locked herself out and could she come back. K’s face lit up, his sex voice went on and he said, “Sure, stay as long as you want!” So much for exhaustion.

She stayed until 11. I know, because I wasn’t about to leave first, when she had completely horned in on my plans. I schlepped to Brooklyn on my day off and K acted like I wasn’t there, except for cooking me dinner. Once she saw that tiny bit of tenderness and attention not directed entirely at her, Vampira had gone in for the kill.

I saw her panties more that night than I saw my own and I drink a lot of water, so I.P. frequently. She squirmed on the chaise end of the sofa, until her skirt edged up her hips. Other times, she spread her legs outright.

In situations like this, the surrealism stuns me to silence. It wasn’t my place to ask her to leave, and clearly K, faced with pink panties, had forgotten we’d made plans at all and that brunch ends at 3. I could have left much sooner and, if not for my morbid, writer’s curiosity, I would have.

Yes, part of it is how much it hurt to have that waved in my face. How he’s been keeping me at arm’s length for months, but tells me how close we are, how we were destined to know each other, how he’s “drawn to” me. He often tells me he admires my strength. Yet, when this nut job comes along, wanting to be rescued from herself every five minutes, he responds with openness and physical affection. He made time for her all week. He introduced her to his friends. She talked to his mother. All these months, I thought he was just shy and scared, but now I see how differently he would have treated me if I’d been the “right” color and size.

The thing is, I’m 32 years old. Men have been looking at me that way for 20+ years. I know that look in a man’s eyes. I thought at some point, K would get over his fears. I guess I didn’t want to admit to myself that he was ashamed of me. It’s absurd, really, my few friends who met him asked why I even bothered with him, that he wasn’t much to look at. There’s the thing -- I didn’t care what he looks like, I cared about the person he was and thought he had the depth to do the same. A coworker said I expected him to be someone he wasn’t, better than he was -- that it was absurd to expect him to let himself love me when I’m black (no matter how I explain that to people, they don’t get that I’m mostly white, particularly in terms of culture) and fat. “How would he explain you to his friends and family?” she asked.

I didn’t expect him to be someone he wasn’t. I expected him to be the person he told me he was, the person who was outraged when a guy I dated said, “Why do you sound white when you’re black?” I expected the man who called my therapist an unrepeatable name when she said no one would ever love me because I was fat. I adored the man who listened patiently and asked thoughtful questions, when, after 7 months of getting to know each other, he wanted to understand about the abuse and why I was so strong and smart and didn’t stand for abusive relationships. (Not physically, anyway.) I wanted him to be the man I’d grown to know and care about, the man he was when we were alone (which was most times we’d spent together).

But, after being ignored for 8 hours, for someone he met in the last two weeks, after watching him kiss her goodbye on the lips, while he could hardly let himself hug me, I had to admit to myself that he wasn’t ever going to get over his fears, his hang ups, his superficiality. It’s easier to lose an intelligent, incredible, talented, caring person, than it is to love someone who doesn’t fit one’s preconceived notion of what their lover should look like.

So, I go back to being pursued by men who, on the contrary, only like me for how I look and hope, perhaps senselessly again, that the next time I grow close to someone above the neck, that they can see the whole package in all its loveliness. After all, I had his rapt attention and adoring look for 8 months without having to flash my panties once.

[Next entry: "An American in Paris; a Nigger in New York"]
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