Wifi & Marriage

Personal Essay

It was two days before I left for a semester in London. I was sitting on the couch in my basement, drinking a glass of red wine and watching re-runs of sitcoms from the 90’s. I had been trying to check my phone less recently, but, in this moment, I couldn’t fight the urge; I needed to see if he was online. I opened Instagram and clicked on his profile. A small green dot signified his online presence. I smiled. It was 4 am his time which meant he had either woken up to use the restroom or he was returning from a night out with friends. I sent him a picture of the wine glass in my hand. It wasn’t a good picture, simply dark and blurry since the television screen was the only source of light near me. A vibration notified his response. It was probably something witty or sarcastic like “don’t go too crazy tonight” or “you better watch that drink.” He’s good at showcasing his sense of humor in only a few words. I’ve typed “LOL” to him an excessive amount of times. But it’s true. His short, charming messages make me smile and laugh. The best is when he sends me voice messages so that I can hear his surroundings, car horns and wind. I picture him walking through the city, holding his phone up to his mouth, and singing whatever song happens to be stuck in his head. When I press play my mouth flattens into a thick red grin. Sometimes I draft messages to him, saying how grateful I am for our friendship and how I wish, more than anything, that our lives occurred in the same time zone. The same country. I never send these messages, but I should.

After exchanging a string of sarcastic messages related to my wine consumption, he asked me something serious. I like how he prefaces his inquiries with deliberate phrases like “May I” and “I’ve been curious about you,” being careful not to overstep. He respects my privacy, but I am willing to share.

“You must get attention at school, going out, etc. Are you not interested? What are you looking for?” His question both flattered and floored me. I had been on a few dates here and there, but I had always been apprehensive to talk about them with him. Slowly, and with much concentration, I typed a thorough message. To the question of what I am looking for, I told him that I want to feel chosen. It is a truth to my womanhood that I cannot deny. I want to feel pursued. I ended the message with, “If something sticks, it sticks and nothing has.” I considered adding “except you” at the end but I ended up deleting those two words.

He confirmed to having been a few dates as well, indulging on the importance of a woman’s voice. I imagined him sitting with a tan woman, from work or in passing, eating pasta in a romantically lit restaurant and drinking Aperol Spritz’s and laughing at how irresistible it all is. Of course, I didn’t let on that I was a bit jealous. How could I be? We are not dating. We have never defined our relationship or gone exclusive. It seems strange to do any of this when your friendship relies on a sturdy wifi signal.

We began talking about long distance relationships. The how’s and why’s. The complexities and anxieties. He seemed to be admitting that a relationship with me would be too hard. And I have to agree. I began to feel discouraged and uncomfortable as if I could feel the process of losing him begin. I assume that this is what it feels like to lose something that isn’t even yours to misplace.

“I like you, there’s no denying that,” he typed. “I like you too.”

Then we got married. Not legally or religiously or course, but I enjoyed how natural and light it was to send pretend vows and gifs of rings to each other as a means of matrimony. That huge fat grin filled up my face. The corners of my mouth pushed up into my cheeks harder than anytime before.

“I’m going to bed a married man,” he sent.

“Goodnight husband,” I replied.

“Goodnight wife.”

Proof there is god

Poetry
The tears my mother cries as she washes dishes after dinner
Vaughn Williams on the stereo
The way my brother leans all of his weight into me when we hug
The promise my father keeps, “call me if you need anything”
The wedding, the divorce, the remarried women, the man she remarried
Women who make their own birthday cakes
And every time my brother and I refuse to part without saying “I love you”
That is god

Women of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar

Book Club

Mrs. Willard

“I had a picture of Mrs. Willard, with her heather-mixture tweeds and her sensible shoes and her wise, maternal maxims,” (Plath 218).

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“‘What a man wants is a mate and what a woman wants is infinite security…What a man is is an arrow into the future and what a woman is is a place the arrow shoots off from,’” (Plath 72).

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“…I knew Mrs. Willard was a real fanatic about virginity for men and women both. When I first went to her house for supper she gave me a queer, shrewd, searching look, and I knew she was trying to tell whether I was a virgin or not,” (Plath 71).

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Jay Cee

“Then she slipped a suit jacket over her lilac blouse…powdered her nose briefly and adjusted her thick spectacles. She looked terrible, but very wise,” (Plath 39).

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‘“You ought to read French and German,” Jay Cee said mercilessly, “and probably several other languages as well, Spanish and Italian – better still, Russian. Hundreds of girls flood into New York every June thinking they’ll be editors. You need offer something more than the run-of-the-mill person. You better learn some languages,”’ (Plath 33).

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“Jay Cee was going to lunch that noon with two famous writers, a man and a lady. The man had just sold six short stories to the New Yorker and six to Jay Cee…Jay Cee said she had to be careful at this lunch, because the lady write wrote stories too, but she had never had any in the New Yorker…Jay Cee had to flatter the more famous man at the same time as she was careful not to hurt the less famous lady,” (Plath 39).

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How to wear makeup on the days you do not leave the house

Poetry

Put it on.

Pull the mascara wand through your eyelashes.

Do not think about it.

Do not talk yourself out of it.

Put it on.

Pull your hair into a low bun.

Do not smile.

You don’t have to.

Smile if you want to, the decision is yours.

Smile if you can, knowing that your lips, like the rest of your body, will follow the rules of gravity before consulting you.

Put it on.

Butter the tube of lipstick across your lips. 

Fill them in.

Shape them.

Brew tea when you’re finished

Drink the tea.

Notice the stamp of your lips on the mug.

Trace it.

Or take a picture.

Or just remember it.

Or do none of this.

Maybe you feel prettier when reading.

Maybe it’s exercising.

Maybe that is still unknown.

Maybe you do not feel pretty.

Maybe you like how it feels to wake up with swollen eyes.

Maybe crying is more effective than chamomile tea.

Put it on.

Do not think about it.

Do not talk yourself out of it.

Or do none of this.

Footnotes

Poetry

I.

Back and forth we went,

trying to remember the word for words 

that sound the same but are spelled differently.

A word from our youths when we were taught this 

phenomenon in a classroom. 

 

It was childish for us to be leaning back, arms crossed,

looking at each other. As if the word might appear without us trying.

Part of me wanted to let the word die in our forgetfulness.

 

Through and threw, I said 

lite and light, bare and bear.

 

Jean and gene, you added.

 

The other part of me wanted to remember.

 

Onomatopoeia! I said.

 

No, that’s a word that makes a sound like boom or zip.

 

A man at the table next to us leaned over.

 

I think the word you two are looking for is homophone.

 

We said the word in unison. It exhaled from our lips in shared relief. 

 

II.

And like the Buddha, my day of enlightenment has arrived.

Nothing is guaranteed except the past which reads like footnotes to reference all the love worth forgetting.

  1. Hands might help a man fall in love but not just from the sight of them
  2. Hoping he’d at least fall in love with my hands
  3. Never apologize for offering
  4. Journals are important like memory because
  5. one day, if this works out, we can talk about first impressions
  6. Healed through sleep? Or slept through the healing?
  7. Forgetting, once again, that days do not end like they begin
  8. If you tell him to try poetry, his eyes might widen and become stiff because you just described his recount of finding God as beautiful and poetic
  9. I drove home for the weekend and saw a new blue in the sky, the color of sleep. Mornings in October blue. The fog around my arms and torso blue. I saw new leaves and long, quiet fields as I drove (like Polish farmland). And I thought how appropriate it would be to fall in love during autumn. 
  10. Is he a good friend to his mother?
  11. How many colors do you sleep with?
  12. Need and knead
  13. Piece and peace
  14. Flower and flour
  15. Ewe and you

A Two Euro Purchase

Book Club

It was nine twenty in the morning when I arrived at the used book sale. In forty minutes my English class would begin just down the hall. I stood in line for a few minutes, holding a list of required textbooks and forty euro in my hand. A black Dooney & Bourke tote bag hung from my elbow. Since it was only a few days into the semester, I carried only pencils and a yellow folder with me. Other minuscule details lived in the bag: lipstick, hair ties, a journal, a new currency.

Three students worked the book sale. They searched for and retrieved textbooks based on ISBN numbers. I handed my list to a girl wearing a mustard yellow turtleneck and round glasses. She walked to the room behind her, examining my list. In a few minutes she would reappear with a stack of books pressed to her chest, the pages already wrinkled with sentences highlighted, and notes sketched into the margins. All signs of someone else’s experience with the text. And soon, my own cursive evidence would be added.

For a moment, I peered over the collapsible table, watching the girl search for my books, using her first finger to guide her eye along the shelves. I pictured her in a library doing the same thing. A bustling sound near my feet pulled my eyes away from the girl. It was another student. I could only see the top of his head–tan curly hair, a navy blue collar lining his neck. He was digging through a cardboard box filled with soft and hard cover books. A sign was taped to the box: TWO EURO EACH. I squatted down next to the boy, joining his excavation. I placed my tote bag on the floor next to me for optimal use of my arms. A strange territorial mood overcomes me when a box of books appears before me for so little a price. I makes me ravenous, excited. I love to sift through the books, listening to the thump of book covers falling into the next. A few minutes passed and the boy had left. I continued my search in privacy: just my squatting body and a large quantity of discounted books. A familiar title fell before me: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. It had a different cover than the one I read, the one that didn’t make the journey with me over the Atlantic. This cover was better. It was the silhouette of a woman with her hair parted in the middle. The dark browns and purples of its soft cover were irresistible. It felt like a portrait. And suddenly, I realized, I needed the profound consolation of Jhumpa’s words and stories. I needed it on me, bouncing within my tote bag.

I walked to English class with a stack of books beneath my chin. It was now nine forty-five, fifteen minutes until the professor would continue her lecture on Queen Victoria’s life and reign. After settling at my desk, I opened the two euro paperback to a short story titled Mrs. Sen’s. It felt good to read it for a second time, like revisiting a terrain I’ve walked before. Jhumpa’s writing is simple, inviting. Many people describe it as unpretentious and I agree. I read the first page, noticing how it feels to be familiar with words and details. The story is about an Indian woman named Mrs. Sen who babysits a young boy. During the day, she chops vegetables and skins fish in her living room on a piece of plastic tarp. And just like Eliot, the boy she babysits, the sounds of Mrs. Sen’s chopping and the jingling of her bangles invigorate me.

Because I was reading mindfully, aware of each word’s essence and impact, I only got through a page and a half by the time class began. The professor, a tall British woman, entered the room. Her bell bottom pants sat high on her waist. They looked uncomfortable but regardless she moved fluidly. With her back toward the students, she wrote that day’s topic on the board. Queen Victoria: Empress of India. It was written in an effortlessly pompous script that only a woman of her demeanor could contain. I was hardly amazed by the coincidence. Something about it made sense just like finding Jhumpa’s book earlier that morning.

Later in the semester, March 18th to be exact, I met Jhumpa Lahiri at a public event in Rome. I skipped my six o’clock religion class to cross the Tiber River and helplessly search for the address listed on the FaceBook event. After excessive wondering and nearly giving up and going home, I found it. It was a theatre with wide stone steps and massive pillars. Inside, the room was hot and filled with people. Every seat was taken. Some people even sat on the radiators. I saw a table in the back corner stacked with Jhumpa’s books. I noticed that, after purchasing the books, people formed a line in front of a chair that held a beautiful Indian woman. It was Jhumpa. In the most gentle and sincere way, I was envious of her. Of her talent and success. Of her ability to affect people. Of her use of words. Of her culture.

I joined the line. Waited. Listened. When I got closer, I heard a woman telling Jhumpa that she was an English teacher, that her students just studied her works. When it was my turn, I pulled the softcover book from my tote bag. A mild shake ran through my arms. I handed Jhumpa the book.

“My mom turned me on to your writing. Could you sign it to her, to Erin.”

It is now a Sunday evening in August. Since giving her the signed copy of Interpreter of Maladies, my mom keeps it on the coffee table on top of a stack of Food Network magazines. I spent this afternoon re-reading a short story just as I did that Monday morning in Rome. By the time I finished the story, my mother returned home from grocery shipping. She walked into the living, asked me what I was up to.

“Reading,” I stated, holding the book up into her view. Suddenly, I imagined Jhumpa’s hands holding the book, bending the soft cover in order to sign the book to my mother.

“I can’t believe Jhumpa’s held this book,” I said. And then I realized how Jhumpa’s mark, her inscription is embedded into the pages. Her presence will always be contained within the softcover, beneath the silhouette of a woman with a middle part in her hair.

I am grateful to have met Jhumpa. But most importantly, I am grateful for the companionship her texts provide.

Book Spotlight: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Book Club

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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I could picture myself as a mother. The children and laundry. The sacrifice. The teaching. I could picture myself at a sink full of dishes, my hips bones pressed into the counter. I could see the bare nails, never painted. Always a bath to give. Always a plate to wash.  The names my mother and I discussed, would they be used? Or would I come up with new ones by then? It was a clear and certain future. A satisfying one. I had already accepted the extra weight that would accumulate on my thighs from finishing the children’s leftovers, trying not to waste food. How else should I spend my life?

There is a sweater of my mother’s that I wear often. It is light blue with smooth wooden buttons. The cotton is soft and retains her scent.

In freshman year, I brought the sweater to college. I wore it to class paired with sweatpants and rain boots. Sometimes paired with jeans if it felt right. One time I slept in it. The next morning a girl who lived in my hall needed coffee creamer. I handed her the cold, plastic container. Before leaving, she told  me that I looked like Mary.

“It’s just so maternal,” she added. “The blue with your dark hair.” It made me feel whole. As if all the things I was reaching for–motherhood, a family–would one day be handed to me.

What is the opposite of motherhood? Of family? Of children? Is it unbruised hips? Is it one stack of laundry instead of six? In the past few months I’ve tilted in this direction, indulging in the thought of developing stories instead of kids. Bathing in the excitement of traveling instead of settling down.

“Do you have your heart set on being a grandpa?” I asked my dad.

“Mom, would you be heartbroken if I didn’t have kids?”

But there is a middle ground. A terrain in which I am living abundantly, not worried about my future identity. My identity is now.

I finished the book yesterday, shuffling through the beautifully crafted sentences, slightly envious of them. The last sentence bulldozed me. I stared at it, read it over and over. It is a story in itself, I thought. A poem. Then, like a hiccup, a laugh popped out of my throat.

Thank you, Khaled Hosseini, for taking me to Afghanistan, for introducing me to Mariam and Laila. Thank you for showing me the height of womanhood. For reminding me of life’s abundance. For describing motherhood in such an irresistible manner. Khaled, your book A Thousand Splendid Suns calmed me. I feel peaceful. I no longer reach for a certain life. My life does not have to be aligned in a certain direction. I can point and elbow and look and acknowledge so many different directions.

And I don’t know how love will change me. You made me see this. You taught me to be open to the potency of love. Like Laila and Tariq. A friendship. A profound understanding of the other, manifested in the most gentle of acts.

After memorizing the last line, I closed the book feeling satisfied and whole. Then, draped over my shoulder, I noticed my dark hair against light blue cotton.

I want to leave you with my favorite quote from this book (besides the last line which would be a HUGE spoiler if I typed it).

“She had this laugh. I swear it’s why I married her, Laila, for that laugh. It bulldozed you. You stood no chance against it.”