The Light In The Closet

lightinthecloset

He always leaves the light on in the closet.

When my boyfriend and I first moved from a barely livable studio apartment to a recently renovated one-bedroom in a prime Manhattan location, I was elated. I imagined a fresh start with less stress, more space, and a truly adult experience. Sometimes it’s hard to be an adult in a city so prohibitively expensive that you can be fifty-years-old without a penny in savings and a revolving door of college-aged roommates helping to make the rent on your barely-affordable-though-thankfully-still-rent-stabilized-apartment. As my friends across the country have invested in four-bedroom homes in small suburbs, gleeful as their equity increases, I will defensively argue it’s all about location and we are two blocks from Central Park. Even if our monthly rent could buy us a half-million dollar home elsewhere, we could never find an apartment to buy in this area for that price.

The initial excitement about our move was palpable and our plans embraced the smallest details of organization. I insisted he take the massive closet in the apartment, located in the hall. It’s huge for an NYC  apartment and could effectively house a twin bed. I remembered how his early morning schedule when he was working full time could be disruptive and this way he could get ready for work without interrupting my unpredictable sleep and work schedule. I also figured that it was a polite way of getting him to stow away a very masculine and somewhat hideous piece of furniture. I had never imagined that a temporary out-of-work situation would become so permanent that I would be the one making noise in the bedroom in preparation for early morning call times and late night returns while he slept.

Our new place began to feel tainted and no longer new. Bad habits on both our parts became a circuitous battle that we were too overwhelmed to address.  Instead of focusing on the little things that I loved most, our interactions became a series of anger-inducing episodes. He drank all my wine and I came home to an empty bottle. The peanut butter miraculously disappeared in a 24-hour timespan before I even tried it.  The dog still needed a walk. No cream left for my morning coffee. And the biggest insult of all — he kept forgetting to turn off the closet light.

At first I would say something upwards of five times a day.

“Dear, you left the light on again.”

“You keep forgetting to turn off the light!”

“Are we made of money? You’re running up the electric bill!” Surely that low-energy fluorescent light used in classrooms, prisons, and also his closet was costing a fortune. But when your loved one has been out of work so long and every penny feels like an ounce of gold, the stress becomes so much that you just explode:

“WHY THE FUCK IS THIS LIGHT STILL ON? I TOLD YOU A MILLION TIMES!”

I am now the irrational villain, the angry mom, the terrified girlfriend who has no idea how we are going to find our way out of this mess. The pressure of such an expensive apartment becoming my own… when he has to leave. Because we aren’t getting along and it feels any day we are going to shatter into a million pieces– pieces just waiting to be swept up into the drama and the misfortune that life has now become. The raging headlines about joblessness being low and the economy being  robust are adding to the torment when I lie awake next to a brilliant, hardworking, witty man with a law degree and a path of rejection becoming so long it feels like a road that never ends. I am used to the rejection given my chosen path in entertainment, rationalizing that a decade of life spent being often rejected and overlooked is just the way it is.

We come to the brink so often, as months of normalcy and mutual love are unbound by the next near-despair moment before another financial life preserver finds him. I think of the very early years in our relationship, when I would have a dry spell of bookings and he would have his reliable salary and schedule. I would stay in bed, wasting the morning in dread that I would not make something of my life. Drowning the hours in tabloid news and social media, I would take whatever distraction came along to keep me from further rejection. Yet now my empathy for his plight is clouded by sadness and anger and absolute terror. I cannot see through these smokestacks of rage.

Everyone is getting married around me, full of certainty or a self-fulfilling prophesy I have yet to master. Their relationships are new and they must not have experienced the lows yet, I keep hearing amidst my mind’s chatter. It will be better when we are out of this patch. It will feel like a beautiful inhalation after you have held your breath underwater for much longer than you should have. Scientifically it is just impossible for something to stay the same forever. It will not always be this hard.

And then one night he doesn’t come home on time. A message lost in the digital space causes me to panic. What if something happened in East Harlem, where he is doing a side gig to make money? My mind wanders to the very beginning, as it often does when I imagine a life without him. I think of how new and loving and supportive everything once was and how willing I was to take this chance with him. I go to the kitchen to get a glass of water, noting that his closet light is off. I am struck still as I imagine that light were to never come on again.

He returns home but I have already felt the loss. We go about our routines that are going to have to change for us to survive. But some may just stay the same. He leaves for the gym as I am returning from yoga and I look to his closet to see the light is on. I silently turn it off this time, vowing to never mention it again. From now on I will flick the switch without complaint and use it as an opportunity to love and appreciate that we are still here.

 

 

Painting and Expression

Everyone has a boiling point. Mine can be extended, minor grievances overlooked but handled and discussed in healthy relationships. In unhealthy relationships, the buildup is worse than plaque and a bigger expense to the soul and life than my last porcelain inlay. Some people have to live in denial. They will avoid confrontations, conversations, and truth for the sake of feeling healthy and guilt-free in their daily routines. But this “happy-go-lucky” mentality is of course just a mask, covering the unconscious guilt that builds up worse than plaque. It’s more like cancer. I know many people who lived that way and hit a concrete wall around the time of a mid-life crisis and suddenly they were faced to look back on the trail they left. I do not ever want to be that person. Yet, when it comes down to it, I will be the first to forgive and move past a grievance of someone I love. It’s a curse and a blessing. Some people should be kept away.

I don’t have many answers but plenty of questions… ear-numbing, mind-torturing, ceaseless questions. I’ve made a pact with myself to change. I spoke with a good friend tonight and after attending a Kabbalah lecture, he retained an insight- “You can’t change people. But just maybe with a lot of work, you change a little bit of yourself.” I haven’t received the results I want from many pragamatic decisions. To be blunt- it sucks. I’ve managed to make a few daily changes that are as follows (some are still being instituted in daily routine):

1. Begin painting as a new form of expression. I’ve done this and will share my elementary-level “masterpieces” soon.

2. Start volunteering. Check: Bingo Sundays at a nursing home in addition to a Recreation Dance at a nursing home, an animal shelter visit, and a reading night in Inwood with underprivileged children.

3. Be as social as possible. Check: I’ve managed this for the past two weeks almost uninterrupted going out every night.

4. Join a gym: this time I’m giving the YMCA a try. I’ll have a body as tough as Madonna’s in a few months. Just wait.

5. Perform regularly: certainly in the agenda, and I’ve been getting up to the mic in random, unannounced venues the past few weeks.

The last is harder (number 6) but the most necessary. Forgive the patterns that have brought me so much pain, and forgive myself. I don’t think the core of someone’s being is ever changed. I know the core of me feels the same as it did twenty years ago. Still hard on myself, still in the direction of being the best I can be, and still sensitive as all hell to everything around me. And I’ll also use this note as a moment to acknowledge my own regrets at being impulsive and passionate at times when maybe patience would have worked more effectively. I suppose that will come only with time. It’s not yet at on the list… but I know for damn sure, when I put my foot forward, it with 100-plus percent of my weight. If the ground below is unsteady, I’m more than ready to take the risk and fall.

Sorry, DOB.

Joan Osbourne

Picture it: March 20th, 2003, New York. (I stole this set-up from Sofia on “Golden Girls).

I was driving down 87-South in my gold Ford Escort, still unable to part with my car although it would serve no practical purpose in my new home in Manhattan. In fact, it was such a nuissance, I drove it two hours north on April Fool’s Day to my parents and told them to sell it pronto. But, I digress. My life was in turmoil. The world was in turmoil. The US had just declared war with Iraq and I listened to NPR interviewing Joan Osbourne about her new album, “How Sweet It Is.” It was a collection of covers, many of which pertained to times at war. She spoke of her days in New York, struggling as a singer and making the rounds at different clubs. I nervously thought to myself, “This is my plan. That’s what I’m going to do.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever been that scared in my life and it’s funny because I had lived in New York for years. Somehow, this time was different. The station played, “I’ll Be Around” and her rendition moved me so profoundly that if I hear that song, I instantly go back to that moment in the car. Driving. Scared. I was about to move into an SRO (for you non-urban readers, a single-room-occupancy). Of all the more glamorous options I had, living with a family in a condo on Broadway and 74th, or renting with a roommate, I chose the independant route. I needed to regather in solitude. It wasn’t much solitude, as the walls were paper thin and I shared a bathroom and hallway with an African family of five, a Mexican couple, a Japanese man named “Choo” who would sneeze so much I’d count the sneezes to be spared the insanity, and a Russian guy who never bathed. Each family/individual shared a room no larger than 100 square feet. Seeing how much my neighbors struggled financially, I somehow felt incredibly blessed that I lived alone… that I was not entrapped in this place forever.

My first weeks back in town were rough, running around trying to land a “real” job. It never happened. It still hasn’t happened and that was just another blessing in disguise. However, during that struggling time, I was riddled with so much financial guilt, that I refused to spend money on the one thing I love the most- music. I used to walk to the Tower Records on 68th St. and stand there for hours, listening to Joan Osborne on repeat. I thought of her interview, how it all worked out for her… it just took time. I didn’t know how I would get the courage to sing, find the people to be on my team, or what I was going to do. I just felt the passion and hunger for it.

It’s four years later, and I can’t say I have much more of an understanding of how it will happen. But it will. Joan Osborne (though it hasn’t been promoted nearly as much as other nonsensical “entertainment” stories) just released a follow-up album called “Breakfast in Bed.” The girl even takes on “Sara Smile” by Hall and Oates… a song I’ve been wanting to add to my set but didn’t have the gall. She’s also doing a free concert in Park Slope on June 14th.Make that June 16th, MY show is on June 14th.  For anyone in town, or interested in some good solid covers, check out her album. I’m not in love with the photo on the cover, but the productions are fabulous.