It is 4:48AM. LaGuardia airport, Terminal B. I know this terminal well. I am also quite familiar with what this time of day looks and feels like. It’s dark but not as dark as 3. It’s quiet but not as quiet as 2:30. This is the time of day when the world starts to come awake and the creatures who live in it start to move. I’d like to tell you that I am usually asleep at this hour, but I’m going through a period of not quite but almost insomnia these days.
I’ve always been lucky that I can rest almost anywhere – I’ve often told people that I could fall asleep hanging on a hook. My upbringing trained me to tune out the world and made my mind and body into a self-soothing machine. My adult life and the work I chose bolstered that – strange hours, periods of intense work, horrific schedules, and the constant push of adrenaline and subsequent fall out encouraged an exhaustion that even anxiety and strange beds couldn’t very often defeat. But here I am, at 47, fighting what I call the 3 o’clocks. Hormones, peri-menopause, ghosts, worry and anxiety, whatever it is — it’s where I am. Though of course I set one, I didn’t need an alarm to wake me for my 6AM flight today, not even after only about 4 hours of sleep. Honestly, I was thankful to get the 4 hours, but after too many nights of too little restoration, my body and soul feel a bit raw and ragged. Mornings have edges much too sharp when there hasn’t been a long enough period of rest.
There are times at which life is so extreme it shocks me. Like holding two opposing thoughts in the mind and allowing them both to be real and true, we have to do the same thing when considering life, I suppose.
This is so beautiful.
This is also so hard.
Just Monday morning, as I was making my way from a meeting at my son’s school to have lunch with my dear friend and literary agent at one of my very favorite restaurants — sounds like a great morning, doesn’t it (and it was) — I experienced one of the things I always hated worst about living in NYC — an altercation with a verbal rapist. I could feel him coming up behind me before he even started muttering. These guys are the creepiest — they walk at the same pace as you, just three or four steps behind — far enough away that they couldn’t exactly be accused of being physically threatening (and they know exactly how to do it so they can’t be accused), but close enough for you, and usually only you, to hear exactly the disgusting things they say.
“Mmm I’d like to get me some of that. How am I gonna walk away without getting a piece of you… look at that (insert fixated-on body part here)…”
and on and on and on. You can imagine. They aren’t very creative in their verbal vomiting. You can hear the vile lip smacking and shortened breaths being directed your way and it’s terrifying. It’s also been happening to me since I first moved to NYC in 2005. I’m no less shaken by it today than I was then.
That they do this has nothing to do with a woman’s attractiveness — these assholes aren’t really trying to hook up with anyone because they see someone they think is pretty, or even hook up at all — they’re only trying to assert their power or get a thrill or maybe just scare the crap out of someone because they can. And dear reader, this never, ever happens to me if I am walking with a man. That explains a lot, doesn’t it? These mumbling, gutter-breathed excuses for men are true sweathogs, the lowest of the low, and upon being assaulted by one, my compassion goes away from me like a popped hot air balloon. I just get pissed. I’ve tried dealing with it in various ways — ignoring it, confronting it, reporting it, wearing my glasses and hat every time I hit the street — but none of that matters. Because the intention and method is so sick of spirit and black hearted, there is no remedy that could come from outside the person who is committing the offense.
This particular morning, two days ago, I just kept walking, not particularly scared because it was morning and the shops and such were beginning to open, but also aware that I was on a less than busy block. Maybe it was because he got no response from me that he decided to come up beside me to continue his putrid rant, daring to try to make eye contact with me. He had no shame. Of course he didn’t. I finally turned my head toward him, looked him in the eye and said, “Don’t do that.” And you know what he said? He said, “Why?”
I rose my voice and said, “Because it’s WRONG!”
He laughed at my principled idea. I cringed. He then decided to turn it all around and start cursing me, calling me a bitch, asking if I liked that better. I had reached the corner of Sixth Avenue by that time, and as soon as I had enough people around me I shouted him down. “Shut Up!” Of course he didn’t care. I just gave up. I wasn’t going to get through, no one ever does, so I saved my breath and shook my head in pity. I went my way, and he went his.
I wonder if he thought about it again after taking his eyes and language off of me? I suspect not. He probably just went on strolling and quickly found his next victim. I shook it off because I’m a tough enough gal, but I still haven’t forgotten about it, now have I? It also brought back all the memories of it having happened so many times before — I’ve had it done by doormen, teenagers, dirty old lascivious pros — and I’ve always felt assaulted, threatened, and incensed. It’s a crime. How dare women have to walk around in this world feeling so vulnerable. And yes, we are. We just are. The sheer physical differences between women and men leave us, most always, in the inferior position. Think about that. I’m not whining — I don’t want to be a man. I’m just saying it. And what I’m saying is that just because I’m not male doesn’t mean I should have to feel like prey. No one should.
Later that day I thought about who must’ve taught the wretched jerk how to do such a thing. Someone had to model that behavior to him — I don’t think most human beings would naturally do that kind of thing on their own. What’s the saying? We must be carefully taught. Thank you Rodgers and Hammerstein. I wonder where that guy is this morning. I practice my loving kindness exercise and hope that he finds some peace in his heart and soul and won’t continue to antagonize and bully women. I also hope someone puts him in his place better than I could.
The two opposing thoughts…
Deep breath, deep breath. Burn the sage. Rub the crystals. Visualize being held within in a soft, pink cloud.
Fast forward from Monday morning to last evening, when I had a magical experience with my new friend and someone I’ve admired for many years, Dani Shapiro. I was thrilled when she asked me to be a guest on a live taping of her podcast, Family Secrets, in celebration of the paperback release of her wonderful and haunting “Inheritance.” We connected quickly, and I felt so closely held, so full-heartedly supported by her and her dear husband, Michael, throughout the evening. As she gently and masterfully guided me through telling my story to about 300 people, I thought about the beauty in the world and in people, and how when you can catch it in your hand for even a second, being here is so worth it. I try to catch all the beauty that I’m able to, and as I get older I’m getting better at finding it in more and more places. I’m so grateful for that development, however slow — there are many advantages that come with age.
I didn’t think about the predator once last night. Not until I was standing on 8th street waiting on a ride to take me back to my hotel, post after party. I wasn’t very far from where I’d been the day before when I went through that decidedly ugly human experience. But when my Uber car showed up, the very nice driver hopped out to help me get my guitar into the trunk for the short ride to my safe spot for a handful of hours. And there it is.
There. It. Is.
There is peace there. But maybe something’s just bothering me. Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep — maybe a lot is bothering me that I can’t quite reconcile. Maybe those two opposing ideas I’m talking about just don’t work — maybe I have to decide that it’s ALL beautiful despite the tragic parts. Maybe I have to love the sweat hog as much as I love Dani Shapiro. God, I hate that idea. But it may be the only one that works. I do hope that I sleep well tonight, in yet another city that isn’t home. I hope that wherever each of you are, that you do too.
Happy Wednesday, y’all.
Peace and love.