“I just want to find my friend, wish her a happy birthday and then we will leave.”
Willow holds my hand in the late August afternoon.
I implore the model drumming on the clipboard on a Saturday afternoon to allow me into the Meatpacking brunch establishment.
“I can’t let you in. Not with her.” She waves in the general direction of Willow’s head, which is full of humid, parsed curls. Only in New York, I think.
“I know,” I admit. The ground pulses with the EDM, champagne bottle brunch, “Maybe I can text her to come out.” In my other hand is the box with G’s gift - a hardware bracelet that I hope she’ll cherish for her 30th birthday. There was a babysitter mix up, and with J out of town, there was no one to watch Willow.
At home, I had agonized for an hour, texting baby sitters, applying labored “effortless” makeup which was already melting, trying on strapless bras with padding, mesh halter bras, and finally no bra. Then, I thought specifically about what to wear. I mentally settled on high-waisted maroon pants with a cream spaghetti halter, only to completely scratch the entire ensemble when I looked like an under dressed “secretary.” It was brunch, but over the phone the hostess informed me that it was strictly 21 and over. No, my 4 yo would not be allowed in.
That information shifted the parameters of the event, and I made my way into no-stretch high waisted frayed shorts and a heather gray collarless shirt dress tucked in the front untucked in the back. My hair, although having undergone an hour of styling, was unfortunately and puzzlingly so still a mess, so I ducked my entire head under the tub faucet, applied handfuls of smoothing gunk to get the whole rebellious thing into a bun. After 10 minutes and lots of petting, it obeyed. I was already late.
Just a month earlier, G arrived to my 30th birthday party and made sure that the Prosecco arrived without lapse and that the DJ was spinning something I could dance to. For 8 years, she’s helped celebrate my birthdays, planned a dope baby shower, and was at the hospital when Willow was born. She has the fabric of friendship woven into her being.
I am the worst friend, I texted J.
I love you. J texted back because he knows how I can get.
“Mommy, I want cake.” I’d forgotten that I’d informed Willow that this was a birthday brunch. To her, this meant a sprinkles-frosting-balloon-filled disco to Taylor Swift. I looked at her big eyes and braced myself for the inevitable tantrum.
We made our way to tear-filled cab, to Flat Iron for the gift, and ultimately to Bagatelle brunch-club.
I caught Karen on her way in. She looked dewy and relaxed.
“Hey, don’t cry." My eyes watered. "You don’t want Willow to see you cry. Hey, let’s grab a drink - just us 3. It will be like girls night all over again.” Then she leaned in so Willow wouldn’t hear, “I still have pictures. Remember you with that bottle of Grey Goose?” I smiled weakly. A part of me was sad because I could longer do those things.
There's the feeling that I cannot shake when I am not allowed to do something. I become trapped in walls of obligations, age restrictions, and taboos, and I’ve flung myself so far into these prisons that I have crafted an edge that I want to grind against it. It is the acute nostalgia of wanting to always be elsewhere. When I catch myself there, J knows and Willow knows it, and sometimes it takes me far away for wherever I presently happen to be.
At the mouth of Bagatelle, I still needed to make a decision. I hip-shift from platform wedge to platform wedge so my hips have something to do. Willow keeps pulling the strap of her kid purse up onto her shoulder.
I turn to the hostess. “She’s Armenian, about this high, hair down to here.”
“You’re going to have to do better than that.” Two middle age men of at least 6 feet, who looked like they could have played college ball in their prime, started to take interest.
“A cute girl you got there. How old is she? Two?”
“Almost five.” The other bouncer threw his head back in the sort of laughter meant to ridicule his counterpart. I smiled the kind of smile I've yet to master when I don't think something is funny but I’m trying not to be a bitch.
What happens if you always want the other experience? If you always wanted to be older your entire life, until you turned 30. You may reach a pinnacle of craving where desire for desire’s sake is suddenly stale. My former boss who also lost her mother around my age warned me about the temptation to live in the past with all the good memories. But I still go there. I remember my mom’s 30th birthday. It was an occasion marked by a gold and sapphire heart necklace bestowed by her mother - so I was aware of her perfect semblance of mother and daughter at that very moment.
But I am almost perfectly a daughter, even in motherhood, my experience at every moment defined by leaving home, attending school in the Bronx, and aspiring to build a career in the city. My life was crafted by awayness - away from family and from Houston at 18, and I was always aware of the tension that caused. I thought of myself as free or unafraid, but I was always turning to men to create a safe space for my life in dorms or in Brooklyn by loving me.
They always had their own problems.
The fall of 2009, he wanted a fling but when he fell in love with me, I stopped writing, didn’t go abroad to teach or travel, and spent days that winter watching him create short films about cooking. People I recognized from the internet came in and out of the stable house edifice on Broadway, one day a protruded nail from the floor board stuck the sole of y foot, Grizzly Bear was always on play, and everyday the the roar of the J Train roared It all ushered me to the day I held the First Response to the light and saw the faintest +.
Rapidly, I was a grown up because I was going to be a mom. So I say that my 25 was actually a 30 of most. I was catapulted into a strange stratosphere away from my friends who were interning, partying, traveling. Early in my pregnancy, I went to a rooftop party in South Williamsburg, and as I parted the crowds with the beginnings of a babby bump I knew that I couldn’t be there anymore. That place was too ambivalent, too filled of meandering uncertainty.
When I had her, I made a commitment, a promise even slightly unclear to me at the time. I devoted myself to creating a place for her that was nurturing and protected, and I shifted from desire to love, and for the first time I felt calm. It was in this determined calmness that I met J, and I had already learned to be with myself and take care of myself because I had done it with Willow. And I knew that because he didn’t need it, I could love and take care of him too.
It is always there, the despair and compare, I suppose. But life is richer when I draw it closer, instead of looking for a tide to take me away.
G emerged from Bagatelle with a loving smile and hugged me through my blabbering excuses. I hoped that Willow was seeing that -- that love and commitment and being there for each other is presently. It is the cure for awayness.