A muggy evening. Intermittent drizzles. Our second encounter. Cafe Mondegar. Your feet grazing against mine under the table. The jukebox slipping into song each time someone fed it a coin. Stuffed mushrooms. A pitcher of beer. You spread regions of your life across the mug-ringed table, your fingers a compass guiding me through twists and turns.
“I never expected it,” you said in reference to last night’s passionate combustion.
“I find that hard to believe,” I said as I sipped from my mug.
“The last time was a long time ago. In New York. She must have been a few years younger than you,” you said.
“How old was she?” I asked, unable to contain my curiousity.
“About 28, I think.”
“Three weeks ago I turned 23,” I said.
You were mystified. You were so sure I was older.
For a while I debated whether to ask about your age. I tried to decipher from the clues I’d been given. I tried to decide from the grey of your beard and the lines across your brow. But I couldn’t hazard a guess. Perhaps I was afraid.
Fifty-three, I learned. Exactly thirty years older.
“She was too overwhelmed by my age. She let me go,” you said.
I didn’t think much of it then. You were supposed to be a two-night stand, a ten-line poem in my grand anthology of lovers, a bookmark.
Tomorrow I turn 26. For three years you’ve watched me evolve. Sometimes you watched from the sidelines, but more often you interfered with the change. You caused my heart to beat faster than it should, you taught my body to understand age before it could begin its own process of aging. You fed on my youth and gave me spoonfuls of your middle-age in exchange. My muscles feel young and taut, my breasts are still wildly upright like intellectual snobs, my feet are still strong and my hands can do more housework than twenty housewives put together. But somewhere my spirit has aged, and the region around my aorta has had to make space for my heart that is growing too quickly and robustly in size and shape.
There was every chance that I would never be born. My mother was in her forties when she conceived me. She’d recovered from two miscarriages, her two sons had been born at least ten years ago. The doctors convinced her I was high-risk, that one of us could die, either her or me. She was insistent. She wanted a girl. A few months into her pregnancy her doctor predicted the exact date of my birth, the day of the feast of Mt. Carmel. She suggested I be named Carmel, in honour of that miracle. My mother chose Rosalyn instead, after my father’s mother, Rosy. I don’t have her fair skin and greenish-blue eyes and her elegance. What I did inherit from her, though, was her generosity even in times of duress. And what I remember most of her was how she’d sit me on her lap and offer me orange-coloured candy wrapped in orange paper. I called her Dadar-mai instead of Dada-mai, because she lived in Dadar, in the house where my father was born, near the Portuguese Church.
Twenty-six years later I wonder if my mother is disappointed in me. If she’s unhappy about my refusal to adhere to norms of decency, my refusal to find a man and settle down and prepare for grandmotherhood. I tell myself every night that if I wasn’t a writer, if I wasn’t a wanderluster, I would have been a faithful wife, a loyal mother, a “perfect” woman. But I cannot deny my affair with language and my proclivity for experience, my tendency to burn and burn and reduce myself to ashes before I rise again and begin anew the process of self-combustion. I ask myself if I should find another bookmark and let you go. But there are things I cannot consciously decide. My will is no match for my spirit.
I’m too in-love with life, I care too much for hysterical madness and the beauty of the daily. I love my house and the two beautiful women I live with who nourish my everyday. I love this little community of friends I inherited the day I moved to Khirki. I have old friends and new friends and too many strangers who are transitioning into friends. There is always wine, and butter, and bread, and eggs with which to make pancakes to feed anyone who drops by. There is laughter and forgiveness and the promise of rain and the threat of winter and the memory of summer. So much goddamn life to live for I cannot-will not-shall not settle for anything as mundane as domesticity.
At 26 I’m still afraid of cockroaches. I’m not as scared of authority. I believe more fiercely than ever in rainbows, and I still worship at the irreverent altar of Henry Miller. I love with too much abandon and I strip more nakedly than before. I’ve changed in ways too marvellous to document, too significant to contain. Look, I’m changing as we speak. I have learned to live with vanishings and I’ve learned of emotions more torrential than loss.
There are fruits I have yet to taste, visions I have yet to dream, scents I have yet to experience, lips I have yet to kiss, loves i have yet to bury, lives I have yet to live.
I never thought we’d survive three years. I never conceived you would love me with your simultaneous hearts–lover, father, child, sinner and redeemer.
I never thought I’d watch as you mock your fifties while I embraced my twenties.
I wish you were here tonight. I wish you could watch me blow candles and cut cake and wish for glorious things.
Somebody asked me what I wanted this year for my birthday. I couldn’t quite reply. There are many things I want. A new laptop, a CD of Jaco Pastorius’ Birthday Concert, a funky moleskine, a wooden chair to complement my writing desk, a copy of Jeanette Winterson’s Weight, a DVD of Our Lady of the Flowers, a fantastic book deal, a garland made of hand-picked flowers, potted plants of different herbs, specially basil and mint leaves.
I am full of want and longing for things I’ll never have. But this year, as I turn 26, I’ll celebrate because for the first time in twenty-six years I have all I’ll ever need.
Happy Birthday, Jaco Pastorius