I Always Did Want to Go There
I'm playing with a glitter ball when he tells me: "So… I'm going to New York in the fall."
If you have never seen a glitter ball before, you should just know it is just about the most remarkable toy known to mankind. It consists of a massive amount f soft, delicate glitter (none of that harsh, pointy stuff they use for kids crafts- this the pure, fairy-dust sort of stuff we're talking about here), encased with some kind of liquid (can it really be water?) in a see-through rubber bouncy ball. The swirling waves of glitter combined with the satisfaction that comes from catching a bouncy ball- any bouncy ball- on its return from a fling against the linoleum floor or a toss in the air- this combination is unbeatable. And so I was indulging in this joy when he told me he was going to New York. My New York.
"Oh, wow, really? You know, I always wanted to go there."
"Really?" He asks in that fake tone he uses when trying to demonstrate his sincerity and curiosity about the lives of others. This tone stopped working on me a long time ago but I don't think he's realized it.
"Really really," I say in that tone I use when I want to participate in a conversation but remain slightly aloof due to what I may perceive as a slight. No one, however, seems to ever notice this tone and therefore these slights are never corrected. I live in a Jane Austen world and everyone else lives in a Stephen King movie. Passive aggression, if that is my condition, never really seems to pay off these days. Then again, neither does sincerity, so what does it matter?
"But that's awesome, really- for the whole semester?" He nods, taking a forkful of potatoes. He always looks deathly serious when he eats, as though he has a secret past of poverty and starvation. He must sleep with a loaf of bread beneath his pillow and hoard appetizers like you read about former starving orphans doing after their adoption. They just can't believe all this American food is going to be around for forever. So they make sure to protect it.
As he shovels in his food that I'm treating him to, I can't help but think the orphan comparison is pretty apt- he is my little adoptee in some kind of mixed-up way. Over the years I've cleaned him up, listened to him, tirelessly rallied to lift his spirits when he became inconsolable, even went with him to help him unload on his first day at college. My little Russian Orphan, I think, and here I am still treating you. It's not a duty, it's a natural choice, I think. If I want to enjoy a lunch, so must he. Isn't that a part of being a mother? To a boy who's going to New York?
"And the cost? How're you going to handle that?" He munches for awhile and then begins to explain to me that studying at his college's affiliate in New York is actually cheaper, minus traveling costs, so it all evens out. I think he's not taking into account the cost of living in the place where a hot dog cost five dollars, but I don't say anything. He's still talking anyway.
New York is sort of the Cultural fairy tale place that everyone buys into, and I see my friend taking the bait right before my eyes. He, like myself, had been one of the few friends remaining from our tight-knit highschool group to stay firmly rooted in our county- just outside of LA he and I did our duty and attended prestigious schools in our own right, but conveniently (or not so) close to home. Everyone else had found some way to escape, many of them parading across Europe, studying at Oxford or browsing through Italian museums or going so far as to tromp through Africa. We barely got postcards from them anymore; we heard about them through our parents and mass emails or texts. I didn't care so much about this as he did. What I did care about was my turn.
You see, all of them had gone, all of them had traveled, but all of them had stayed away from There. As more had left me and I mourned their presence, my city grew beautiful in my thoughts. It was independence, individuality, but perhaps even more the lack thereof—the ability to slip into that great big nothing . I could wander there like I as I did at home and be perfectly justified and fulfilled. The streets would not make me feel empty, they would make me feel more me than anywhere. It would not be my life but it would be my completion, a city I could call my own. The idea was more romantic to me than the idea of ever finding My Match, a man who was most certainly not to be had in this century. To me, it is not the notion of possession but of having something that is individually, purely mine. Songs belong to me, art belongs to me, this glitter ball belongs to me. I feel as though I'm owed this- I am a talentless, decidedly un-enthralling girl with a fairly nondescript life. I deserve something- some Thing, to pick up and hold in cupped hands and say this, this swirling world of pink glitter dust is my world, and not yours.
But here he was getting up. I aim the glitter ball with great concentration at a spot on the fast-food floor tile. It delivers, atta boy. If my friend were normal he would probably embarrassed by my glitter but the beauty of my Russian Orphan is that he's forever in his own world. "So anyway, that's the plan. I'm finally going to cash in on all this stick-around time. Cool, huh?" I smile widely, almost offended at my own convincing happiness for him. "Very. You gotta write me a postcard, huh?" He says he won't commit to that, but I'm sure he will. He'll probably send one every month, tacky ones with pictures of all the tourist traps that he'll be undoubtedly drawn to like a moth to the flame. I notice it's raining outside.
Recently I was at a store and saw a collection of glasses in different tints in a specially packaged gift box. Below each glasses was the name of a city- Paris, Rome, London, New York. As I admired the familiar shapes of the glasses- meant to be so that one might have a drink in each great city- my heart ached suddenly because I hadn't been to a single one. I was who they were catering to- the silly regular person who hadn't been anywhere. I found myself cursing people who just happened to be born in those cities, those legends. I hate them, just because they can check one of those cities off the list without even thinking. I am stewing about this when I notice he's standing by my chair, gazing at the glitter ball in my tight grip.
"Can I see that?" I want to say NO and swipe it away like a gollum, but I'm too hung up on city glasses, on granny smith apples to object. He takes it and admires it, then hands it back. He looks at the toy, then at my joy upon the glitter's return. "Weird," he says. I suppose it's the first time today he's noticed me at all. As we walk out to his car in the waning rain, I give him a big awkward walking-hug as I always do when we part for months at a time, and he claps me violently on the back as if he's trying to dislodge something from my throat. "Love you," I say, because I always do. "You DO, do you," he says, be cause he always will, and we chuckle and he gets into his trashed mobile that deserved to be put out of its misery long before its present owner came along. I wave at the two of them, and the rain comes down harder. I don't mind the water so much, I don't know why.
When was little, I took a survey to demonstrate graphing my Saxon Math class, and I asked everyone I knew what kind of apple they preferred. I lied about the results, I said more people liked golden delicious rather than granny smith. Granny smith was my favorite kind of apple. I don't eat apples much these days, though, so I don't know why that matters.
Tonight when I get back home I have a garbled message on my machine from his mom, she's wondering where he is. I figure he'll find her eventually. Later, I will think of our friends gallivanting in France, our loves getting drunk in Dublin and dancing in Mykonos. I will forget where I lost that glitter ball, and I will remember that I bought him a monster burger for 3.99 and I'll wish it was at least two dollars more than that. I'll wish that when he clapped me on the back that he would have done it with all his might, that I'd at least have a bruise there, and most of all I wish that we had just stayed out of the rain.
Tonight I will have a dream that I'm in love with Bob Dylan circa Freewheelin' days, and he and I are walking around my city in the cold, but he's warm. Eventually I lose him in the snow and realize, as much as I liked his arm around me, I don't miss him as I keep walking through Central Park.
But it is colder there than I imagined it'd be.