Lonely or Alone

And if the night runs over
And if the day won’t last
And if your way should falter
Along the stony pass it’s just a moment
This time will pass

~ U2, Stuck in a Moment

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Bono has been quoted as saying that he wrote the song Stuck in a Moment about an imaginary argument with his late friend Michael Hutchence, an argument in which Bono would have been trying to cajole him or “slap him around the head a bit,” to talk him out of committing suicide.  I wonder how many people know how it feels to wish they had said or done something – or even known – about someone close to them contemplating the most final of actions.

I have never spoken about the suicide of my friend earlier this year. I was standing at baggage claim at DC’s Reagan National Airport texting back and forth with my very best friend of more than forty years, talking nonsense, really, interspersed with tidbits about my godkids or when I would next be home to visit when out of the blue one of the texts popped up unceremoniously and like every other before it except that it said, “Oh my God, Wagner killed himself.” I didn’t skip a beat. I closed the text window and called my friend and said, “Why are you just now telling me this?” To which she replied, “I literally just found out the second I told you. I’m sorry. I’ll find out what I can and let you know. Are you coming home?”

No. I wasn’t going home.

In retrospect I suppose what I was experiencing was shock of some variant; I didn’t feel anything. I got into the Uber as I always did – almost every week in the same spot – and road in silence to The Jefferson, was handed the key, made my way up to the suite to which I’d been upgraded – my favorite, they know –  threw my things on the floor and went about my evening as though nothing had happened. Except that it had. I changed into my running clothes and left the hotel taking a right heading down toward the White House and the mall beyond. When I returned I retraced my footsteps back to my room, went directly into the bathroom, disrobed, stepped into the oversized shower and as soon as the water hit me, I came undone. I cried so convulsively I could not stand and instead ended up sitting on the floor of the shower for what seemed like an hour, but I had and have no concept of the time that passed. When the water began to run cold and the well of my tears had seemingly run dry, I stood, turned off the water, wrapped myself in a towel and then a robe, took my usual place on the large, stuffed-mattress bed, ordered my dinner and went back to work.

My emotional fallout from his death and from the utter wrongness of it by virtue of it having been choice remained in that shower, in that cube, washed down the drain with the sweat of my run and collective grunge of my travel as though it never happened.

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The Shedding

Do you have a $12,000 dollar sofa? I did. I don’t know why, but I did. I also used to have two Cartier watches, two Bulgaris and an extra little Hermes that I threw on for more casual occasions.

Actually, I do know why I had those things; because I hated my life. More specifically, I hated my job which consumed my life and made me into someone I never wanted to be. I have heard numerous times over the years people whom I would deem as hippies say things about how we are slaves to our possessions and that the only true freedom is owning nothing. Of course in their version, there was also usually some added on mini-diatribe about being watched by, and slaves to “the man.” Discount or derive whatever you wish from any part of that, but it took me until the age of forty-seven to figure out that what they really mean is that ridding yourself of possessions allows you to be owned by nothing; and no one.

It took me to forty-seven to figure out that the reason I worked so hard to make ever-increasing amounts of money is because I craved the freedom that can be bought with large sums of money, except that along the way, I would become so unhappy with the daily toil of my life that I would buy myself treats. Mini-motivators, congratulatory concessions, feel good pick me ups, to get me through the hellish day/week/month/meeting and back to my apartment/hotel room/flight. All the while, my expensive tastes in mood-elevating materialism consumed ever larger portions of the money I made driving the need to earn even more, acquire larger clients, take on new roles and do even more things that I despised, resented or which made me feel like a soul for rent. I could tell myself whatever I wanted to, but I wasn’t working to buy my ultimate freedom; I was working to pay off the monthly limitless Amex. I had been captured by capitalism in the most gilded of cages and extricating myself from its grasps would become a dance of mutually abusive agony.

I suppose I should be thankful that I figured it out at all, let alone while still at an age where I could stop, take stock and make the serious changes required to keep me from dying in regret of never having truly lived.

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Hindsight (The Store Owner Man)

I was not an attractive child. A learned man in our town once told my Mother that he was certain that I would one day grow into a great beauty. The features were there, he assured her, just masked behind the muscular – if not masculine – pudge, ginger hair, and oversized freckles. Of course, the man was not from our time; he merely lived there. He was an outsider – a Yankee, to be precise – and perhaps one of the only people there who was capable of seeing beyond.

I was not an attractive child, but I was a bright child, and in a small Southern town where all of the girls seemed to have been of landed money that somehow entitled them to be born with blonde hair, skinny, never-ending limbs and privilege, I needed something to which I could cling in order to ensure my escape. Both then and later.

I was a bright child, but not as perceptive in hindsight as I would have then proclaimed myself to be. I was loud and brash and preferred the company of adults to the exclusionary treatment at the hands of my peers. My days were never good, at best being ostracized at the hands of the popular and yet shunned by the ones they considered undesirables. At worst, I suffered endless abuse from classmates and teachers alike. I was in my own class; between, wherein only I dwelled. I was brash and I was loud to make it seem okay. To make me seem okay.

My parents were loving – if not obsessed – and yet not overly affectionate or effusive. I knew we were the center of their world, but somehow for me, that was not enough. When you are young and insecure, the love shown by working two jobs to provide you with the best is not as apparent as showing up for school plays or field days. And so their overwhelming devotion having been interpreted by me as a slight, I was attention and affection-starved.

Our daily routine was the same. I went to school. I hated it. I longed for 3:15. After school, I went to the sitter’s house, a not very nice woman named Yvonne who for some unknown or perhaps uninformed reason insisted that her name was actually pronounced WHY-VON in the most heinous of Southern tones. The white trash kind, at the most opposite end of the dialectical spectrum from anything resembling genteel. Whether or not she knew that they phonetics of her name amplified the perception of her as having an inborn inhospitable nature, I did not and do not know. She was a dreadful woman who made no secret of the fact that she looked after children for only the financial benefit derived from filling a market void rather than from any form of maternal or nurturing instinct that may have existed within her. If possible, she liked me even less than I did her. I was not attractive and I did not obey. I would lie on the floor of humid green shag looking out through the screened front door from the time we arrived until the time we departed, just waiting for my mother’s Cadillac to appear in the driveway with the same anticipation and impatience I otherwise reserved for the school clock.

Mom would occasionally come on time, but never early. On Fridays, she was always late.

 

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My Greatest Affair, Part I: Honeymoon in Paris

For anyone expecting to read salacious details of my love life, you’ll need to check back once I have finally met my eternal demise, as any such details will not be forthcoming as long as I trod this earth, and for any myriad of reasons from not wanting to embarrass my son to not wanting long-since-left men to drag themselves from the recesses of my personal history and feel compelled to get in touch. No, the past is very much that and far from living with the regret or reflection — or what I refer to as the woulda/shoulda/coulda —  which I find especially common in women of southern progeny, I move only forward.  There are no men who have earned such a lofty moniker in any event, and even the ones who could potentially compete for it would never be able to hold a candle to the place which I only realized recently is actually title holder of my longest and greatest affair. I am currently in London – as I often am — and in my happiest of places; not just the city itself, but the hotel I have been blessed to call a second home for more than twenty years. It has been there for me and my family through thick and thin, good and bad, its protective staff and gilded halls carrying me through celebrations and devastations alike. Things go well in my life, I come here; things go badly in my life, I do the same. This is no fair-weathered love we have, and nor is it one that could ever be trumped or even threatened by any other place in the world.

The first time I stayed here was July 1996. My son was just over six months old and though very young, I was on a business trip for my first employer out of school, having already made enough of a name for myself — for better or worse — to be working directly for the co-founders of the company who allowed me perhaps more latitude than they should have, and in no other area was this as true as it was with travel. They were a married couple and though their company was considerable and successful, they could still be very hands on and involved when it came to the arrangements made — especially for their younger female charges — and would often give us their personal upgrades to first for our transatlantic flights and would similarly insist that if we were alone, we should stay in only the finest hotels in order to be as safe as possible. I, being a spoiled and unapologetic daddy’s girl, also still had a secondary card on my dad’s Platinum American Express card account. My parents worked very hard for everything they ever had in life, neither of them having graduated from college and both being born into poor southern families, and perhaps as a result of their hard graft as well as the guilt that was (and likely still is) poured onto parishioners every Sunday in many southern churches, never felt comfortable indulging in or enjoying the fruits of their labors. Dad used the platinum card for all things practical, from business related expenditures to paying for my wedding, but never once — in all the years he was a member — for anything frivolous or superfluous, and similarly never opened the Departures magazines that came with it or thumbed through the Platinum Card Hotel Guide which arrived annually. No, those were reserved for me and my lofty dreams as the kid who had seen one too many repeats of the I Love Lucy European episodes and just as much of The Love Boat. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to break free and explore, Departures along with the hotel guide serving as representatives of a life others lived and in which I longed to partake. But whereas this at least partially explains my initial taste of and for all things 5 star, the ongoing and severe repellant reaction to anything ‘less than’ was likely borne of and shaped by a singular, definitive event: the trauma of the Great Honeymoon Fiasco of ’92.

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