Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Confessions of small cruelties

Yesterday at my gym (yes I have a gym), I saw a woman who is a friend of a friend. We'd gone out a couple times. I'd all but forgotten that she'd existed. She was in the locker room and we both looked at each other with vague recognition but neither of us said hi.

I'd met her about a year ago. She was in my friend's apartment, they'd just gone to a party together, and were both already a bit tipsy. She was sitting, slunk back on the futon in my friend's cozy living room, her winter coat and hat and gloves were all on. She didn't get up when I came in. Already a small person, bundled up and ready to go, and sitting in such a deflated but expectant manner, she had the look of a petulant child. I couldn't decide how old she was but then she took off her gloves to accept a glass of wine and I saw that her hands revealed their bones and veins, their youthful fat sucked away. I decided that she must be in her late 30's at least. Within seconds of her first sip of Pinot Noir, she revealed an attitude of a petulant child, "I want to go out. I want to go dancing. I have one night out without my kids and my husband and I want to go out." A few more sips of wine and she'd already revealed to me some incredibly intimate details of her personal life -- petulant no longer quite cutting it as a descriptive -- including that she'd been repeatedly unfaithful to her husband, that she disliked her children, etc. etc. As a side note, I wonder why this happens to me relatively often, or whether it's just a common thing that I have never gotten used to. People tend to reveal certain stunning details of their lives immediately after we've met, as if they wish to either dazzle or shock me with their eccentricities. Little do they know that I could honestly care less, and would much prefer to engage in a conversation where stories are starting points and not giant, random paintballs of information pelted at my head. And so very often I'll try my best to be utterly non-reactionary, an attempt to diffuse the situation and get down to it.

In this situation there was really no hope for that. She would have her way, we would know her discontent, we would know how daring she was.

More Pinot Noir for everyone. My friend, I'd already concluded by then, was an alcoholic, or a burgeoning one. I decided that I needed the wine at that moment more than I needed any sort of discretion on his behalf.

So, onward. She'd gone to Mexico for a yoga retreat, to get her certification. Instead she dropped out after about two days and had had, "the most amazing fuck" with a man on a Mexico beach. He had long hair. He was either French or Mexican, I forget. I kept imagining Fabio even though I don't find him attractive and he doesn't look Mexican or French in the least. This little woman with a Czech accent fucking Fabio on a Mexican shore, as her brand new yoga pants, strewn carelessly into the sand several meters away, were massaged into submission by the tide. "It couldn't," she gasped, as she ran her fingers through French-Mexican Fabio's hair, "be butter..."

She laughed as she mentioned how she tried to explain to her rich doctor husband why she hadn't received her certification. "But I want to go out, I want to dance!" We'd finished the bottle of wine.

We got into her car. She put one of the two baby seats into the trunk, so that I could sit in the back seat. At this point, I'd finished feeling sad for her, I was mostly just fascinated. As I got in, I thought to myself that the safest seat in the car in case of an accident is the seat directly behind the driver. I'm stupid, shouldn't have gotten in.

We went to one bar with "dancing." I have to say, dancing in Pittsburgh in January is never going to be the Saturday Night Fever of one's dreams. I didn't have anything better to do, and at this point, I was already curious to observe her behavior. We went and stood while others danced, and then meandered to a different section of the club where there was some world music playing. There was a coalition of black foreigners there -- some were from Senegal, others from Côte D'Ivoire. We all danced, and I had some fun after all. In that environment, she looked so small, sad, opportunistic. She stepped in several times when I was dancing with my friend, and otherwise leaned against the wall, her arms crossed, downing a hard drink.

A man asked for my number and I told him no. We all finally decided it was time to go, got back into her car. I stayed at my friend's house overnight, but not because I wanted to. I did it to be cruel. I am cruel sometimes, and I wish it weren't an impulse of mine. I wanted to show to her that I was actually free to do whatever I wanted, whereas she had to reinstall her baby seat in the back. And live with herself ...

A few months later my friend and I went out dancing again, just us. She was there, with an older man. I asked whether that was her husband, and he said, "No, they're having an affair."

I wondered to myself how people in Pittsburgh could ever have affairs, seeing as it's impossible to walk outside without seeing forty eight thousand people you already know. As I watched them dance, I felt another cruelty brewing inside me. They were at least 15 years older than anybody else there. Who did they think they were? Granted if I didn't know the circumstances of their relationships, I might have been more forgiving, thinking, "Wow they look like they're having fun," or something nice like that.

When I go out dancing, I rarely dance with anybody else, unless I'm with my brother or a few choice girlfriends. I like to just dance, and that way it becomes about bodies and music and moving rather than crude courtship and sex.

Well. I instantly perceived their self-consciousness, and did nothing to abate their apparent discomfort. They were glued to each other at the crotch-butt, until eventually they made gestures to dance with me or my friend which I blithely denied, feigning a carefree attitude despite my sobriety and complete consciousness of their malaise. Instead, I wished its increase, wished every clumsiness and out-of-place-and-out-of-time-ness upon them. And eventually they stopped dancing. Later the man offered, "I really like how you dance, it was great just to be able to watch you." Half-disgusted, I offered in my best attempt at off-handedness, "Do you not go dancing often?"

I wish I could be somebody who did not judge. I keep listening to this song by the Roches (yeah, yeah, I know: I can't stop about the Roches -- they're great!). It's called "Everyone is Good." I was listening to it and listening to it on repeat for a while when I really needed a dose of goodness. I do honestly believe that everybody is good. But that doesn't mean that I think that everything that everyone does is ok. I try and try not to judge. I've met people who are insightful and sweet and not judgmental. And in comparison I feel like a caveman to their enlightened elvishness. I know there is great complexity to people, and that's what makes them people and that's what makes the world wonderful and frightening and interesting. But I judge anyway. And I try not to hack at my own crude sense of justice ... because I know that's wrong too. If everybody did that ... then things would be crazy fucked-up. And I mean ... I'm still young. Mother Theresa wasn't born a Mother. I know, excuses, excuses.

But sometimes I allow myself some small (intentional) cruelties, and they don't make me proud at all, but. Nobody's perfect.

So yeah, I saw her and I didn't say hi, and I figured that was a small decency to allow for the previous small cruelties. When I walked out of the dressing room, her lover was waiting for her. And I'm sure neither of them noticed any part of the internal drama which I just recounted, so ... who is actually the victim of cruelty here? Sigh. And so I blog.

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