Tuesday, April 27, 2010

death in paradise

It has been a week. I don't even want to talk about it because it's been pretty stressful, but at the same time I HAVE TO. That is what I do.

I flew about 31 hours to get here from Buenos Aires. I watched the worst movie I've seen in a while--'Did you hear about the Morgans?' Wow, what a terrible fucking film. While I've never been a Sarah Jessica Parker hater, this movie really did it for me. The movie was so bad it made me hate Hugh Grant as well. And, oddly enough, the other couple in the movie is the cowboy from 'The Big Lebowski' and Doc’s girlfriend Clara from 'Back to the Future.'

But this really has nothing to do with anything. I suppose I just don't want to talk about the stuff that has mattered these past 10 days or so. Because that shit is just overwhelming. It is so overwhelming that I wonder if I have, in these days of wandering and isolation, forgotten how to deal with shit, so much so that everything is suddenly overwhelming. But that is not really anything to decide.

I am in Singapore for the second time in this blog’s two-year existence. I didn’t feel anxious about leaving until I started to pack my things, as usual, and suddenly I felt very homeless and worthless. It’s funny—I’ve always equated homelessness with two polar extremes of poor nomads and worldly globetrotters, but suddenly I understood that homelessness is actually just a feeling that you don’t belong anywhere.

Not belonging somewhere is a reason to leave a place. And wanting to go somewhere else—or being needed somewhere else—that is a reason to go to a place. The former is typically a reason for moving, and the latter a reason for traveling. It was relatively easy for me to leave the U.S. and now to leave South America for both these reasons.

It took me three long flights it took me to get here; I felt very anxious and useless for many hours. I guess that’s why I sat through all those movies. I had made a promise to my family that I would stay with grandmother as long as she needed assistance. I’d like to say that this was purely out of the goodness of my heart, but I’d chalk that up to Fundamental Attribution Error. The fact of the matter is that I don’t have a job or much of a plan much less an acceptable reason for existence, so the least I could do was to volunteer my services. When I made this offer, I meant to stick by it, but I was still nervous because I didn’t know what it would entail. A month? A year? I’m not big on committing myself to anything, but suddenly I had done it. I was terrified. There are many worse fates than taking care of your grandmother in Singapore, and I meditated on this thought in-between movie-watching.

My parents and I arrived in the middle of the night and in the morning we went to the hospital to see her. On the way there, we stopped to pick up my uncle. There is a bit of a story behind all of this that I will explain later, but let’s just say for now that I have not seen my uncle in about twenty years, and he didn’t say hello to me when he got in the car with me and my parents.

We arrived a little too early and a nurse was attempting to administer some sort of treatment to her, and asked my father and I to give her some room, leaving my uncle and mother there. Dad and I stood in the hallway and I cried. Dad was in shock, I think, because he couldn’t even put his hand on my shoulder to comfort me. We both just kind of stood there, me struggling to pull tissues out of my purse and him just staring into a corner of his brain, searching for a solution. We’d been in the room with her for less than a minute, but we both knew that it was bad, much worse than we’d thought.

We stayed in the hospital all day, each of us searching for our own solutions in our selves and in the hospital staff. Mom and Dad are used to hospitals because they are doctors, and I am sort of used to them because of that. I have visited people in hospitals—people who may be uncomfortable but are recovering. I have never, though, sat with someone in such bad shape. She was struggling to breathe and couldn’t open her eyes because she was in so much pain. I held her hands—at first I was sort of holding her hands down to prevent her from clawing out her IV and breathing tube. She cursed me and wailed to her god for compassion. But when she removed her tube for the twentieth time, I didn’t struggle with her to put it back. It is ridiculous to fight with an 87-year-old woman who doesn’t want a tube in her nose. So I just rubbed her back and tried to cry as silently as possible. It is a bad feeling to know that someone you love is going to die. It is an even worse feeling to want someone you love to die as soon as possible because they are suffering so much.

My mother stayed with her through the night and my grandmother passed away in the morning. I was sleeping on the floor of my father’s room and I answered the phone, received the news, passed the phone to my father, and then went to the bathroom to get dressed. When I came out, I expected him to be fully dressed and on his cell phone. But Dad was sitting on the bed, his bare feet on the floor. I thought he was lost once again, in that corner of his brain where he goes to solve problems. But instead of springing to life when I told him we should get moving, he sat for a few moments longer, and I understood that he was experiencing something profound—my mother’s pain and a feeling of helplessness, two things which my father does not experience very often.

The sun had still not risen as we drove to the hospital in the dark. Dad gave me a charming yet totally unnecessary speech about death, something along the lines of “Death is a part of life; we have to be happy that she didn’t suffer; it is time to accept this and move forward.” Like I said, I am at peace with the idea of death, even my own. (I just don’t want to die in an airplane.) My mother takes care of people who are terminally ill, and I have absorbed her attitude toward death, which I agree with. When dealing with the terminally ill, families oftentimes prolong suffering in an effort to prolong life, which is not a good thing. I hope I don't die in a hospital. I hope that if something happens to me where I can't make decisions for myself, someone will pump me full of morphine and let me go peacefully. We can't live forever, but we do have some control over how we die. Dad ended his flowery speech with, “Seriously, when it’s my time to go, just pump me full of morphine, close the door, and walk away. No muss, no fuss.”

But no matter how unmussy or unfussy your death is, cleaning up after someone’s life is a different story. I didn't realize just how much stuff has to be attended to when someone dies. We contacted a funeral director, who swept in and asked us a million questions about religious rites, scheduling, caskets, cremation, all while the body of my grandmother was being prepared for the mortuary by two attendants wearing surgical masks. The following day was the wake, the next day was the cremation, and the next day we were cleaning out her apartment.

My grandmother was a bit of a head case. She was a hoarder. She kept every scrap of paper that came into her possession. In addition to boxes of receipts and newspaper clippings, her room contained jars filled with rocks, makeup bags stuffed with plastic bags, pantyhose from the 50s (still in the original packaging), about one hundred miniature locks with keys, decks of playing cards, dozens of umbrellas and fans, old calendars rolled up with mothballs. And for some reason, every item made of fabric--clothing, bags, etc--had at least one safety pin fastened to it. It was a bit disturbing. It makes me want to live a nomadic life and die, possession-less, on a raft in the ocean, just so nobody has to be bothered to clean up after me.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

where's my freakout?

So, a bunch of stuff happened this week and, as is my usual M.O., I guess I will just go through it chronologically.

The night before my friend left, we went out to dinner. There was a lull in the conversation during which I thought, "OK, I should tell him now how I feel..." It was all the shit that my Spanish-teacher-turned-psychotherapist and I had discussed--namely, that I like to ruin things before anyone else can, but that I still wanted to tell him that he is awesome! That's when he said, "I have a confession." My heart stopped. He continued, "My boss and I got hookers last night." Oh man, I could not stop laughing. Later that night, I ended up writing him a drunken note in Spanglish.

Way too early the next morning we went on a photo shoot together and it was amazing. I haven't done any abandoned or industrial photography since getting here, and he picked out a site that I'd actually noticed several weeks ago. The shoot was incredible; the photography was amazing, and then when we returned to the city center he had his camera stolen on a crowded subway car--containing my 8GB memory card with all of the photos that I'd lent him after he filled his own card. What a shitty fucking turn of events. My FC almost-love-affair had his Canon stolen as well when he was here a few weeks ago. I feel like it's just a matter of time before I get mine stolen as well. I did end up giving him the probably illegible note and then saying goodbye. I took the bus home and slept for the rest of the day.

I didn't have time to mourn the loss, though, because the day before, after the hooker confession, I'd talked to my parents about a family situation going down on the other side of the world. And tomorrow, I am flying out to the other side of the world to try and "help," i.e., I'm just going there for moral support. It is pretty much all I have to offer the world right now, so I didn't really think about it. I am a little nervous about it, because I also offered to stay out there as long as I am needed. I don't know what this will entail. I am now sitting in my room here in Buenos Aires and wondering how to prepare for this trip. Only now it is not about what possessions I bring with me, since I really don't have anything. It is more about what sort of expectations I bring with me mentally, and again, I can't bring much, since I don't really know what is happening. It would of course make sense to bring everything with me. But that makes me feel like I am not coming back, so I will probably just leave a random assortment of useless things and one important thing--my tripod.

I feel surprisingly calm, maybe because I haven't really had time to think about it. Whenever the anxiety rises up in me, I just say, "Ssshh, anxiety doesn't help. We have to go and just...be there." (like how we are a 'we?') Also I composed a three-page email to someone this morning and I guess it helped me to put my thoughts in order. Maybe I will post the email because it made me feel good about life. And shit, when you feel good about life, nothing is a really big deal.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

tuesday fail

Today I have been worthless. It is pretty much the same as yesterday, but the weather is a lot crappier. I stayed up late with a friend who is leaving Buenos Aires for good tomorrow. We climbed to the top of the water tank on top of his apartment building and drank Argentine wine until about three in the morning, enjoying the warm, quiet night.

I wanted to tell him that I loved him, but instead I just whined that I wished he weren't leaving. It would have been a good night for some kind of loving--a heartfelt confession, some raucous sex, or even just a night of sharing the same bed--but I couldn't go there. I was just sad, and I kept thinking how it was all my fault that we weren't lovers--because of that stupid first night where I got too drunk and ended up blowing coke and fucking someone else. The thought was too depressing. But it was a nice night, last night. We talked forever, and then I went to sleep--in his absent roommate's bed who is, incidentally, a guy I went on a date with several months ago. Total coincidence.

I woke up early this morning to the sounds of construction and was pretty confused as to where I was. I caught the bus in the rain and listened to Hot Chip's 'One Life Stand' on repeat on the ride home. Then I ate a bunch of food, watched some porn, and sulked. I've never watched porn before, really. I was trying to stream the movie 'Junebug,' which I thought would make me feel better. It is an excellent movie, about love and home and being there for people the best you can. But it wouldn't stream, so I ended up watching porn. One of the videos was really depressing. It had this young girl introduce herself in the beginning by saying, "I'm nineteen years old and I'm sooo excited because I'm going to do my first DP (double penetration) today! That's right! I'm going to have two cocks in me--one in my pussy and one in my ass! It's going to be soooo hot!" She flounced around for a while, all sassy-like, and then these two big guys came out and disrobed, one shoving his cock in her mouth while the other pounded her from behind. Then they would switch. One guy was really annoying. He kept calling her a slut and asking her if she liked it, to which she could only reply "Mmm!" in a really unconvincing fashion. She was gagging on dick, and the camera kept catching her frightened, miserable eyes. All of her "excitement" was gone and I just felt really sorry for her. I had to turn it off because it felt like I was watching her get raped.

I received an invitation in the mail today for my friend's wedding, the one where I am going to be the maid of honor. The invitation was really pretty. I thought about my friend who is leaving, and how easily I could marry him. I could. He is sweet and intelligent and incredibly thoughtful and socially conscious and has a great sense of humor--and even great style. I am supposed to see him one more time, the morning before he leaves. I can picture myself confessing to him that I would move up to Canada and marry him in a heartbeat. I think we would be good together. I imagined us cooking together and tickling babies and having a perfect little life together. But there is a really fucked up part of me that finds this idea so repulsive.

And I find myself stuck in that weird place I was last night on the rooftop with him, still wondering if I should tell him how I feel about him. I tried to purge it from my mind with all that horrible pornography and then a Coen Brothers film, but I keep thinking about it. I have never even kissed this boy. I don't know. I just see him as someone who is perfect and me as someone who is so fucking fucked up.

I am just not going to say anything. Maybe we'll meet again. And in the perfect future when we do meet again, I won't be so fucked up and commitment-phobic, and he'll be...still single.

Monday, April 12, 2010

more dating in BsAs

Tomorrow I was supposed to return to the states, but I'm not! It is a funny feeling to make it to a deadline and realize how meaningless/arbitrary time is. I definitely cannot imagine leaving tomorrow. I went on a date last night who asked me where I am going when I go back to the states and it was a very profound question.

Actually, I went on two dates last night, accidentally. I have a hard time keeping track of days and made a date for 'Sunday' and then also for 'tomorrow'; they happened to be the same day. The dates were interesting. Both the guys were so soft-spoken that I kept having to lean in and say "What? What?" It made me feel like I was stupid and hard of hearing.

It is a bad idea to do dates back-to-back, even if you have enough time. As soon as I realized my mistake, I wanted to cancel one. It's just not fair and it's exhausting and by the second date I was already kind of drunk and sleepy. But the problem with online dating is that once you have made plans it is kind of difficult to break them at the last minute. That is also just poor form.

My first date was with a third-generation Argentine-Japanese boy. He was sweet. It was interesting to hear about his experiences as a minority here, things that I can obviously relate to. My second date was with a porteño who nicely took me to see a Romanian movie with both English and Spanish subtitles. It was called 'The Happiest Girl in the World' and it is not a good date movie. I think the movie was done as well as it could have been done, but I don't think it should have been a movie at all. Date #2 kind of weirded me out because he told me he couldn't stand it that people eat popcorn in movies. I thought, 'Oh god, one of these pretentious, humorless, must-focus-all-attention-on-the-CINEMA guys.' But afterward, we went to a great bar and had cocktails and somehow got to talking about a favorite bar we have in common, and how last weekend I bought some bad coke there and got so sick that I couldn't get out of bed until 6 pm the following day and had to puke in a plastic bag next to my bed.

Well, I think I omitted the last part. But he did tell me that the next time we go out, he'll make sure I don't get bad cocaine. Now there's a second date to look forward to.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

la vida riquissima

Yesterday I fell in love with Buenos Aires. I spent the morning writing, then went off to a Spanish lesson (after four months, I finally decided I needed a boost) and had a 4 pm lunch at this old-school restaurant filled with men of all ages in uniforms that made them look more like mechanics than restauranteurs. I enjoyed a large mug of café con leche and then went off to play piano at the cultural center where my roommate works, and ended up playing for almost two hours on this gritty old grand piano overlooking Avenida Callao, a bustling avenue. When I came out it was dark.

There is something about playing the piano that is extremely good for me. It makes me focus and listen and work. I found this great music store that sells their own crappy copies of classical sheet music--you know, with terrible page breaks and strange key signatures, but if you know the piece, it's okay. I start off by playing something new and easy, and then work into something harder. I have been trying to learn Beethoven's Pathétique and Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu forever. The second is very difficult. But here is a 7-year-old playing it:

Sigh. I have been intermittently trying to play this piece (and the Beethoven) since high school. Anyhow, I came out of the cultural center feeling a million fucking bucks and then returned home to celebrate my (new) roommate's birthday. And as I was seeking a bottle of champagne, I fell in love with life, with the city, and with everyone in it.

Hello, fall! It is a transitional period right now, to be sure. My handful of friends who were just here for the summer have left or are leaving soon, and it is the start of a new phase, I think. You know, the part where I suddenly start speaking fluent Spanish, fall in love with an Argentine, finish my novel (in English), and then of course leave it all and go back to the States.

Because, folks, that's (my) life. Although when I woke up this morning, this strange thought entered my head: I want a family and kids.


Friday, April 2, 2010

on turning 30

I had sort of a birthday fail and spent the day traveling, largely alone, in the middle of nowhere. There was a big chunk of the day where things were getting a little desperate and I was feeling like a lost, pathetic, idiot. Fortunately, I was able to pull myself out of that zone and give myself what I needed to rescue the day: a shower, a movie, a soda, a joint, some dinner...who says I don't know how to take care of myself?

Have you ever seen the movie Lars and the Real Girl? I liked it so much that I have probably mentioned it before. While I was coddling myself into a better state of mind, I found this movie on the television of my creepy but life-saving hotel and I lay in bed to watch it. There was a particularly poignant scene that was about growing up, "what it means to be a man." They concluded that becoming a man is about making decisions that aren't just about you.

It would have been easy to just let the day pass me by completely and it kind of did. I drank a liter of beer and ingested a huge sandwich composed of a flank steak, an omelet, cheese, ham, and, I think, another egg. I smoked cigarettes under the Pepsi sign of the restaurant in this small town and watched the townsfolk greet each other. I thought about the movie, about growing up, and how to grow up if you are by yourself. If you don't have a family to take care of and are kind of a drifter, it must be that you never truly grow up--or that growing up means finding your meaningful place in society. Which I have not done. I am a single, unemployed woman now in her early thirties. So hot, right?

Last night I went to party where I engaged in a pattern I am becoming used to now. I try to be social for a while, but then I get tired and bored, and kind of drift off on my own. It's the language thing that becomes tiring, that and the not understanding men here and feeling done with casual sex for...forever maybe. I had a dream about the party, a flashback to when I was dancing with a boy I should have dated but instead the first time I went out with him I did a bunch of coke and went home with someone else. I opened my eyes this morning and this thought crossed my mind: I am only attracted to men who expect nothing of me. It was such a weird thought to wake up with. I wondered why it was there.

Turning 30 is more than just brooding over the typical thoughts of some of the things that seem to make a person whole: a partner, a job, and a home. It is also a time to say, "Well, what kind of person do I want to be in this new decade?" Because really, by now, we are pretty much fully-formed beings with personalities and sufficient life experience to know ourselves. And with all that, what kind of person can we choose to be?

I would like to be a non-smoker. Not because I don't like smoking anymore, but because turning 30 was my ultimate deadline for quitting and I am so unbelievably addicted that the only thing to do is quit. I would also like to be thinner. And really, I would love to return "home" but I don't know where that is anymore. I would like to have a home, but that requires commitment. I am not sure what to do about that.