giving myself a seat at the table.

My local grocery store suffers regularly from a plague of strikers protesting the low wages. The salaries reflect in the growls and snarls of most of the store’s checkers. I jumped when the clerk ringing up my Genoa salami, pepperoni, crackers and pepperjack cheese actually spoke to me Friday evening.

“Do you have a cat?” she asked.

I asked her if she could tell by the hairs on my shirt, looking down as I did so to note that a recent de-rabbit-furring had left me relatively hair-free.

“No, I didn’t notice that,” she said, “You just buy the kind of food someone with a cat buys.”

“How so?” I asked, wondering if I needed to call the ASPCA and tell them Buffaloians were feeding their cats salami.

“You know, junk food, like a single person eats, living alone.”

I glumly gazed at the salami. “Well, actually, this is for Shakespeare in the Park, I’m meeting some friends.” But to myself I thought, She’s so right… I hardly ever have a whole meal at once, much less eat anything that requires more than toasting. She launched into what she thought was a hilarious story about threatening her boyfriend to leave him to become one of those crazy old ladies with a hundred cats, but since she had just successfully cast me as one of those women, I was too demoralized to listen.

Carrying my meats and wine to the park, I wondered if single life was some sort of punishment society developed for its untouchables, the way unlovely women had to live as spinster aunts with their mothers in the Victorian era. No one to eat with, to buy meats with, to argue over wine selection with… like excess weight or missing limbs, being ignored by Cupid seemed to prevent those helpless to “fix” their condition from experiencing the pleasures others enjoyed.

On the other hand, I didn’t have a house payment, didn’t have to watch my husband’s gut expand, didn’t have to drive my kids and their forty-two friends to party at Chuck E. Cheese’s. And if I just started cooking and using one of my many tables more often…

I could feel the romantic moaning I’d engaged in all week starting to voice itself yet again. Having just suggested to my mom that she find some mental trick to escape the emotional whirlpool she’d found herself in all week regarding my dad, I wondered if I should apply that advice to the whirlpool I’ve been in about my unrequited love for the Distant Friend.

Settling in at the park as The Tempest played onstage, I whispered to a friend that I wanted to try going the whole weekend without thinking about the DF. At the same time, I wanted to avoid last weekend’s unsuccessful attempts to avoid the whirlpool by combining beer with fruity shots and vodka and going home with a stranger. Outlining the mission in Powerpoint, I gave everyone handouts and went to bed Friday night determined to meet my goals without exceeding the budget or using up the paperclips.

I had a wobbly start on Saturday morning, reading New Yorker back issues, country music wailing from the kitchen, rain pouring outside. Finishing a horrific description of one of Mumbai’s airport slums, I stared at the ceiling wondering who I was, to complain about a little heartache. I had all the Italian meats I wanted, furniture, an absence of head-boils. As always, guilt worsened depression, and soon I was lost in a sulky little nap, determined to sleep through the entire weekend.

An hour later I had slapped myself out of it and sat on the bus riding to the charity store where my brother worked. Marveling that the warehouse full of old bathtubs and chandeliers felt bizarrely homey just due to its familial associations, I ate not one, but two hot dogs,chatting with the girls I am growing very fond of indeed.

A few hours later I was riding down to Rochester with one of them, to enjoy a barbecue with a few of her old high school friends. Returning to Allentown after midnight, we restored ourselves with some tacos and met my coworker for a drink. Some conversation, some flirting, some dancing ensued. Dropped off around four-thirty and woke up on Sunday without a hangover, meaning that part two of my business plan for the weekend (sobriety) had already been achieved. Now I just had one more day to get through without moping over the Distant Friend.

I took a strategic risk watching a romantic comedy but found it left me feeling less sentimental, rather than more. Gosh, I thought, watching the heroine weep over her unrequited love. I should take better care of myself.

As readers and people who know me are already well-aware, the past year and a half saw me end an engagement, accompany my mom through the dissolution of her marriage, months of travel and suitcase-living, finally starting over in a new town, at a new job, meeting new people, on my own.

I have never been concerned with defining relationships more than conversation requires. I’m not that girl who sits opposite her date on the first night out and says “I’m only interested in a long-term relationship.” I prefer to meet a connection as openly as possible and see where it goes. Which is what I did with the Distant Friend. But because the DF is a friend, I knew where his head and heart were, and they were not “Let’s start a long-distance relationship with Miss Buffalo.”

Why, then, did I indulge in the luxury of intimacy with someone who could not offer, and from whom I was not going to ask for, more than one weekend?

Because I told myself I could enjoy a few days of great and not ask for more.

I was full of shit.

I did not- and do not- have the emotional stamina to accept just a few days of great. I have already had to learn how to cope without Mr. Hotness and my father, this year. I did not need to learn how to cope without the Distant Friend as well. Yet here I am doing so because I can’t share our usual phone calls or emails without growling at the thought of him with someone else. Jealousy is superbly simple and stupid.

Yet, recognizing this, I didn’t fall into another gloomy nap, pick up the phone or laptop to rant to someone, or start crying. I walked to the Chinese restaurant, picked up Sesame Chicken, and ate it at a table on the front porch, enjoying the breeze.

My feelings for the DF, and the conversations I do or do not have with him, will continue along their unpredictable path. Meanwhile, thanks to the emotionally wise and funny Rainbow Brite Sisters, half a dozen interesting strangers, and a decent DJ, I had a great weekend in Buffalo. For now, that’s enough.

In the long term, it may turn out to be everything.

5 thoughts on “giving myself a seat at the table.

  1. I count it a privilege to have been part of the weekend’s mission. Also, must note that I love dancing but have spent two long years with people who will only dance when they’re drunk (I never used to be this way) Between DDing for those who require inebriation to cut a rug and fetching their drinks- I’ve become quite out of practice. Sat was a nice reminder of who I used to be (still am) Will gladly accompany you for dancing anytime and appreciate your patience as long-unused hips and arms become gradually more limber (sans or with less anyway- alcohol)
    Also just to reiterate- anytime you feel like breaking out your culinary skills and setting a table, I’m happy to show up!

  2. Ah, ze Buffalo, she beckons, she lures the unsuspecting…with grocery clerks? I had no idea salami was a marker for singlehood. All this time I thought you could meet Mr. Right in the Deli department if you had the right Brie.

  3. Ma, I think Brie and a decent haircut can reel ’em in… but not at a Pricerite. And yeah, according to this gal, salami is junk food. Who knew?

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