Thursday, April 10, 2008

Words, Not Wine, Got Me Drunk: At the Table with Mr. Corkscrew

I guess a lot of people leave their hearts in San Francisco.

Perhaps they misplace it at the Ferry Building, or drop it in the Bay as they’re trying to feed the fish. It’s a lot easier to do than I would have imagined. Mine just sort of fell out of me, after squeezing its way through my esophagus. I started coughing and wheezing, sounding like a cat ridding itself of a hairball.

I guess it was a heart ball. When it landed on the carpet in front of me, I could see years of sadness and confusion tangled inside. It was blood-stained, and there were fossilized tears at the center that looked like tiny shells in a sea of moss and dirt. I’m sure the heart ball didn’t come out just because of him, but his treatment of me during our last visit had an effect not unlike that of ipecac. It was time to vomit him out once and for all. After all, it had been six years since we started this soul-crushing affair.

We met in 2002, at a communal table in a Napa Valley restaurant. I was the bored food writer, disabling a quenelle with my left hand and heralding a Cosmopolitan with my right, and he was the charming wine buyer with a puckish smile and two inebriated companions flanked on both sides of his smallish frame. We had been passing flirtations back and forth like a roto-virus in a Kindergarten class all evening, and when the drunk guy between us got up to go to the bar, our bodies were magnetically drawn to each other. We went on a date later that week and kept in touch after I flew back home, 2,000 miles away. I held out hope that things would take off from there, that we’d build something with our words and later, our bodies and our hearts.

He would send me emails the length of War and Peace, yet his prose was flowery and superficial, scattered across the computer screen like a Japanese crossword puzzle. You know they read backwards, the Japanese. Adrian felt backwards. His heart, like his words, always seemed upside down.

I said things like “potential” and “effort,” and he said things like “capricious” and “ephemeral.”

Why, then, did I always try to keep rewriting his story? Maybe it’s because I believed that if the ending were anything like the beginning, it would be worth years of patient editing to get there. Red marks be damned, I wanted a love story out of the deal.

It seemed only natural. Even the middle read like a great novel. On my last visit to San Francisco, he took me to the symphony, for moonlit walks across the city and out for tapas. There was fried chickpeas and chili powder; poached eggs and bacon on wilted Italian lettuce; wood fired broad beans and tomatoes; and celery root puree with roasted apples and Buddha’s hand oil drizzled lavishly across the top. And there was even dessert: a warm serving of his lips, drizzled across the small of my back, his arms, a shell of skin surrounding a frozen parfait of me, now thawing into a pool of sugar-crusted hope. When I was lying in the dark, so close to him we were almost sewn together, I thought I tasted a promise — an as-yet-unknown promise, punctuated by a silent announcement of consideration.

And when he dropped me at the airport, hugging me so fiercely I thought I might explode into peanut-shaped fragments, I truly believed he had invited me not only into his city, but also into his heart.

“Next time, I’ll take you to SPQR,” he said, the gleam of a small child in his eyes.

The whole way home my mind played a symphony of “next times.” Next time I will wear that red dress with the slit. Next time I will bring him my dog-eared copy of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” He likes Kundera. Next time I will make him a frittata for breakfast, with sundried tomatoes and freshly grated Parmesan.

But now is next time, and he is gone. Gone to see the world without me.“Was just in Vail for my annual trip,” he wrote. “Thailand is in two weeks. My business partners don’t like me being gone so long, but ah, life is out there, waiting.”

And so am I. Sometimes I want to slap myself for being one of those dreadfully obtuse girls I normally make fun of — the ones who mold their perception of reality around the first man who pays them a kind word. I’m not that girl. I’m the fiercely independent type who shuns marriage, has no desire for children and travels the world solo. But this time was different. Something about the way he touched me, the undulating swirl of blue in his eyes…

I emailed him after several weeks of an empty inbox, asking what went wrong, and he gave his usual reply: “Intention and action are, unfortunately, two very different things for me.” Yes, they always were. I had always given in to the excuse that he just wasn’t ready. He was a successful restaurateur. He was inundated with responsibility. He had no time for someone 20 minutes across town, let alone me, who lived 2,000 miles away. His superficial words and inattentiveness told me all I really needed to know, yet I waded through the years like a cautious beachcomber, hoping the next time we met, he would look at me and know I was the time he wanted to spend.

“I don’t care if you live in Egypt,” I imagined him saying. “I would scale the pyramids to get to you.”

Okay, so a little far-fetched, but I’d at least hoped he’d throw in a line or two about frequent flyer miles or something. Good thing I’m already adept at flying solo.

Now it's time to become adept at rewriting this story by creating a plot line that doesn’t result in him finally loving me, but me loving myself enough for the both of us. You know, the antithetically obtuse girl who scales her own pyramid and realizes that love shouldn't require editing. The best kinds are always a little grammatically incorrect.

In my new ending, I want to be the girl who accepts the fact that she will never catch the man who whispered into her ear the night she wore the pink orchid in her hair, “Let’s see what happens.”

Sometimes I imagine Adrian in my arms again, the way it was when I thought we were both part of the same dream. He’d confess that he has always been afraid of me. “You’re the closest thing I’ve ever known to real,” he’d say. “And I’ve forgotten what that feels like.”

For six years, San Francisco was real to me. I loved the hills; the way the wind floats magically from the Bay and blows kisses at your face and the sound of trolley cars clanging their bells in the distance. I loved a man who lived there, too. Or at least, I loved parts of him. His cheekbones, the way they seemed drawn into his face like the curves of Lombard Street, the feel of his fingertips on my stomach, like tiny flecks of sugar on a rugelach.

And his heart. So close, but like me, thousands of miles away.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was a beautifully written entry. I relate to it ever so much, mostly in that I am also independent, love traveling, write about food, and probably could imagine myself getting real starry eyed over a man who studies wine. I found your comment on charming but single. I am going to subscribe to your blog. I hope that part of you still loves SF despite all this. If not, please remember the Farmer's Market!

Also check out my crazy dating site:

- Oona