Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Singles Awareness Day!

I've never really been single, not for more than four, maybe five months. I'm not bragging; this isn't a point of pride. There are certainly times I should have hung the "closed for business" sign, or cloistered myself for a designated period.

I thought I was doing the latter when I went to stay with a friend in Greenwich, CT, following a breakup of a relationship that had followed a breakup. I felt like I was lurching away from a three-car collision, technically intact but unsure of my whereabouts or who the current U.S. President was. My plan was to move back to California after a short stint in her guest room, settling my affairs without having more affairs. I'd only spent a few hours in Greenwich before, mostly at Whole Foods, the only one in the county at that time. My frame of reference for health food stores will forever be the food co-ops of my childhood: bulk vats of tofu and tahini; a peanut grinder that produced a dreaded bland and sticky paste that Skippy and Jif would have beat up on the playground; Dr. Bronners soap, natural sea sponges for sopping up kitchen spills and/or mentrual cycles, and chunks of crystallized mineral salt with purported deodorizing properties not in evidence among the co-op's worker-owners; posters of Angela Davis and Cesar Chavez.

Of course I knew by then that Whole Foods, or any natural food chain, bears little resemblance in either content or labor practices to its 1970s forbears. But the patrons were a total mind fuck. In place of an earnest and gentle bunch with reusable canvas totes bearing public radio call letters who were still the mainstay shoppers of such stores, coiffed women in fur coats (!?) and men with tiny whales on their neckties commandeered Range Rovers and Beemers through the undersized parking lot, hollering at each other and at their children  and at workers collecting shopping carts -- anyone coming between them and the juice bar.

Add to those experiences the episode of TV Nation where Janeane Garofalo takes a coach bus of NYC residents on a field trip to Tods Point, Greenwich's residents-only beach. Turned away at the gate, they attempt to reach the beach via a fleet of dinghies, only to be intercepted by the cops. And the Coast Guard. Residents regrettably respond as expected, making "shoo"ing gestures and protesting that they embrace diversity by employing minorities in their homes.

I knew that if my friend, a writer and yoga teacher, lived there, she surely had a community of like-minded and lovely friends. The town boasted an incredible library (I went to readings by Frank McCourt and Jhumpa Lahiri), two independent bookstores, a cheap French creperie, and oh, those beaches. But all told, the overarching attitudes and aesthetics make my libido curl up like a pill bug. Which was a very good thing.

This lasted five weeks. Then someone who either lived in Greenwich's gritty neighbor, Port Chester, NY, or, as indicated by his work boots and Carhartt jacket flecked with sawdust, was working on one of the myriad palatial residences that went up during that prerecession housing boom, came into a diner where I sat with my friend and her like-minded and lovely friends. We spotted each other, and there's no way to describe it that isn't a cliche. All I knew was that my celibacy was inevitably over, however the logistics would play out. He was Italian, and had hands that swung a hammer, not a golf club. He had tattooed, Popeye forearms. He swaggered in not a macho way, but in a way that said he had swaggered since age two. Women got all primal and squirmy in his presence, voices involuntarily rising an octave, chests thrusting forward. Still, I tried. I literally ran away from him that day and the few sightings thereafter. Finally, too annoyed by the junior high vibe of it all, or too turned on to help myself, I introduced myself.
"You want to go get tea?" he asked.
"I'm not dating right now," I said.
"So it won't be a date," he said. We both laughed. It couldn't be anything but. I moved in with him a month later.

It was all wrong on paper (though the actual paper record of my swoony journal entries declared otherwise). He had a kid and wouldn't move more than 20 miles away, never mind to the West Coast. He was five years younger and hadn't graduated high school. He drove a van with doors a different color than the rest of it, and lawn chairs where a back seat ought to be. He had just gone on short-term disability for a work-related back injury. The first time I met his son's mother, she threatened me with bodily harm. I was no prize, either, what with my track record of serial (and occasionally overlapping) relationships, crash-and-burn breakups, and mounting debt from some compulsive post-breakup shopping and a dry spell in my freelance work. But he was deeply intelligent and funny. He could cook, and listened to Charles Mingus, and he was a great dad. And, fortunately for me, his ex's temperament and life choices made mine appear entirely sane.

Dare I say it? Despite (maybe because of, who's to say) the circumstances, it turned out to have been love at first sight. We lived together well, especially considering that the whole place was the size of my friend's guest room. Which kind of made it feel like we were teenagers holed up in his bedroom. The whole thing felt young for some reason, considering we were 29 and 34. Maybe because he'd do anything to make me laugh, we were broke, and we had sex all the time.

When Valentine's Day rolled around a couple months later, my expectations were low, given our financial status. Call it a Hallmark holiday, but I've always been a fan, from the days of gluing a construction paper heart to a doily for my preK teacher crush. I also haven't been single on Valentine's Day since I was 13, which a friend who refers to it as "singles awareness day" pointed out when I so very ignorantly asked what she was so grouchy about, as her coworkers' desks filled with obligatory, overpriced bouquets.

When I came home, though, the kitchen counter and coffee table were covered with flowers -- several vases filled with roses, gerbera daisies, cala lilies.
"What is this? They're gorgeous, but--"
"It was no problem. What, I'm not going to give you flowers on Valentine's Day? Come on."
As I admired them more closely, I noticed something odd -- while they were loose bouquets, some of the stems had little green clumps stuck to them.
"What's that green stuff?"
"Oh, that's nothing. You want something to eat?"
"It looks like that foam from flower arrangements."
"Where did you get these?"
"From the flower place."
"What flower place?"
"It doesn't matter. Here, eat your sandwich."
I realized the only two places he could have gotten the flowers were a wedding or a funeral, and he hadn't been to either that day. "Please tell me you didn't take these from a cemetery."
"Ok, I didn't take them from a cemetery."
He totally took them from a cemetery. It was horrifying, and the most romantic thing anyone had ever done for me.
He shrugged, and bit my neck. "What? You deserve flowers, and they don't need them anymore."

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr