I don't want to write about seeing Liev Schreiber in the lobby of the Mark Hotel. What should've been a fine, passing starlit moment became, with Alec there, a crisis.
I liked Alec the first time we went out, and I love him today. But I'm afraid we built our relationship on loneliness and fear. And it seems to me that the six years since we met have passed by in the hazy comfort of our predictability. The sex -- we made our attempts early on -- never worked work for me. (Unless you count the time we watched his porn together.) So it moved into friendship, with cuddling. We were never a couple, but it was so easy, every month or so, to walk into his apartment and feel natural and unselfconscious. So easy to sit on his sofa watching HBO-on-Demand and eating Malaysian takeout. I usually felt empty when I left, but that may have been related to the night, three years into our friendship, that he, falling-down drunk, showed up at my apartment, collapsed on my couch, laughed, sobbed, and stammered, "You're so beautiful. Do you have any idea how amazing it would be to wake up next to you every morning?"
My romantic life, for as long as I've been paying attention, has been an oil-and-water mix of cloudy friendships with guys like Alec and glimmering fantasies of superhero guys like, say, Liev. Standing beyond an archway 30 feet away, with his wife and a small group of friends, Liev in his paperboy cap was so tall, and his body was so large and superhuman inside his dark clothes. The little bird heart inside me fluttered. There. There's my cure. He's clever enough, big enough, and strong enough to scoop me up and fly me away. Or home.
Alec and I stood stock still. I knew that no one was coming to fly me away. All I wanted to do was look, blush, and fade into the black and white tiles and soft lights. I took two sumptuous, giddy breaths and was planning to heat my soul all night on those breaths. But Alec started prodding. "Go talk to him. He's just an actor."
Fantasy and reality clashed and battled. I wanted to bolt, but Alec wouldn't budge. The inside of my skull filled with polka dots, and my legs started to tingle. Looking at them -- staring now -- I saw how the night and light magnified them, how time slowed down around their faces. Then I saw something else. Naomi stumbled, and Liev reached a hand to the small of her back. From that gesture -- his hand darting reflexively to support her -- all was confirmed. They were a different species, and they were happy, and he was in love with his wife.
But what killed me, beyond all killing, was this: The thing I want most when I see Liev is to be Liev. Or, at least, to wend my way through him by torchlight, hold my flickering fire up to the drawings on the walls of his psyche. Lying on the cool cave floor with the clicks of grit and drops of life-water echoing around me, I'd dream up at the textures and shadows on the stone walls, the dyes and smudges of flowers and seeds and blood. I want his smudges, his dark straight or curving lines, his Kandinsky, his Picasso, his Hirschfeld. Ancient masks, modern strokes. If I could find, within myself, those smudges and that ancient blood, maybe I wouldn't feel so hazy. Maybe I wouldn't lose any more time to predictable or numbing relationships.
I also want to be Naomi, loved by Liev.
But the truth is I may never stand in a marble lobby of a quietly posh New York hotel looking phenomenal and being loved by my handsome, brilliant husband. My famous handsome etcetera was missing, and in his place was Alec. Alcoholic, wayward, perilous Alec. Alec will sit down across from you at a restaurant table and immediately take out his BlackBerry. He'll flake on plans so often you'll develop a surplus abandonment phobia. It was, finally, the mood stabilizers that made him easier to be around. After six years of kamikaze rudeness and "Let's keep it fluid, baby" flaking, there emerged suddenly an openness which came from the meds and the AA meetings and therapy and his new, stable relationship.
In my bed alone, I blamed Alec for my soul-freeze and the emptiness I now felt. I was hovering or hanging from tiny wires with no way up and no way down. I blamed Alec, but the truth is it wasn't his fault. For years I've been attaching to loss and loneliness, and now all my friends -- even Alec! -- are in relationships, so what kind of freak am I? I may worry they're all doing it out of convenience, fatigue, and fear, but aren't those impulses the stuff of survival? Do my friends have survival instincts I lack?
But then I hear Gina the Psychic tell me to keep building on my talents because one day, when I'm fully in myself, I'll meet someone who's fully in himself and off we'll go. But if you always expect to be more full, then you're never full enough, and you're never in love, because you're never ready. And here I am, stunned and aching and crying in a dry heave, and I see only that I'm alone in my studio, with my high ceilings and gaping tall windows, and I see only the dark walls and streetlight coming skim-milky and anemic through the blinds, and I know that it doesn't matter if I'm "writing like a maniac," as Gina prescribed, and it doesn't matter if I'm "jumping down the rabbit hole," or being, without apology, the "beautiful woman in the brownstone on the Upper West Side." What matters is this abandoned well of stagnant water where there should be heaps and ripples of warm life, lush and sustaining. What gives life currency and value is emotional sustenance. I've been groping my way in semi-blindness toward sustenance for years, and still there lies at the bottom of the well, like a stone, my immutable fear that even if a viable guy does show up -- maybe he already has -- he'll only turn to skim milk in time. He'll fade, and it'll be my fault, because of some fear I cannot overcome or some self-acceptance I cannot conjure. Worse than my fault, it's my fate. When love emerges before me, there's always something off. It's not good enough. Not sexy enough. Not Liev enough. No magical cave-lit flower-smudge stains. All I'm doing, over and over and over, is searching my soul, by torchlight. Alone. But then I think, What was that golden light coming from Naomi? And I look up and see, far above, a silent wiry bolt of orange-yellow sun dancing at the surface of the well. And then I think, What's the difference between Naomi and me?