Lost Chutzpah, Matar as Saudades…and my Messy, Messy Process
July 4, 2012 § 3 Comments
On twitter last week, a Jezebel writer wrote that she’d seen a girl crying on her cell phone outside a bar.
“Never going to be that girl again,” she tweeted.
I starred it.
I’m not sure what the technical proximity is to whether or not you’re “outside the bar” but I was two blocks from 10th and Willow on Sunday when the tears hit hard. God. Some guy looked at me all judgmental like maybe I’d been dumped and needed to pull it together, and I wanted to pull my phone away from my face and cuss the shit out of him that I really just missed my mom.
He was gone by the time I got relieved I hadn’t done that. I mean, crazy crying girl you think is pathetic because she’s dumped actually turns around and yells at you for raising your eye brows because she misses her mother?
But I digress. It wasn’t even my mom in particular that I missed, although it was her voice that brought the tears. It happened like it did when I was 14 and calling home from a summer camp I never wanted to go to. God. Mom! This is hard. I don’t know where I fit. I don’t like the planned activities! Can I come home yet?
Nothing’s going like I planned, Mom.
I came to New York looking for gold. I was told it would be difficult, building a life here for myself. But I’m more than a dreamer – I’m a do-er. I’m a make it happen -er, I’m a hustler, I’m a bust balls till it comes to life -er. And, that’s why I came.
A friend told me tonight that I was a ball buster. “You’re organized and you push hard,” he said. “You push really hard.”
He meant it positively. But I know I push so damn hard I break. That’s what the two-blocks-from-the-bar cry was. I broke. Done. Over. Finished. Don’t ask me for one more thing, New York. I’m out of steam, chutzpah, bravery. Cut me some slack. Hand me a friend. Give me a break.
I felt utterly alone this weekend. Not just alone, but alone in a place with a lot of people where no one really knows me. There’s not a sofa for miles that I could curl up on and feel understood without explaining myself.
This kind of echoing aloneness has happened twice in my life. It happened for the first time in Haiti, when I had signed on for a summer of volunteerism in Port-au-Prince. I was 18. I showed up excited. Two weeks in, without running water or internet and tired of my developing heat rash, all I wanted was to lie flat and silent on American soil for hours. It happened again at 20, in Washington DC when I got the phone call that my 7-year-old cousin’s cancer had relapsed. No one even knew the name, “Max,” or what it meant to me. Hell, my roommates were still learning my name. I came downstairs to a flirtatious guy from across the hall and a long guilt trip about my refusal to come on a late night dessert run.
I told the flirtacious guy to get the fuck out of my apartment, and I cried in the shower until my ribs hurt.
I kissed him two years later at a pool party in downtown Los Angeles, and I told him I was sorry. He smiled, like people who know you do, and he said, “we were both in bad places.”
Thing is, I look back on Haiti and DC as two experiences that changed my life completely. I’m so glad I stayed, pushed through – made myself keep going past the point of lost chutzpah. I wouldn’t trade them for the world – difficult editors, heat rash, flirtacious guy et all. They were places that made me who I am. Not to mention summer camp. It took one week, and only one, for me to learn that I’m just not a group activity kind of girl. Don’t ask me to make a human web with six other people cause I’m just not down. I’m also not a fan of capture the flag, boys named Josh or sloppy joes. And, these are important things to know about oneself.
Anyways, I just kept right on crying and telling my mom how much I love New York City and how much I made the right choice and how my business is growing and all the amazing contacts I’ve made and how I want a flat in Tribeca someday, and all the things about my life I love. “I made the right choice, Mom,” I sobbed into my big mascara pools. “It’s just that I’m lonely. This is the part of the process I knew was coming, but I didn’t want to deal with.”
My mom told me I sounded good. Me. With my big mascara pools and my Monday morning hangover, with my 1.5 friends who both had plans for the 4th of July, and my tiny, loft bed and room in a corner of New Jersey I never planned on living in.
“You sound like you again,” she told me. “I was worried we’d lost you for a minute there – like your light went out, but here you are, back sounding like my daughter.”
I’m big, you know. I have big emotions and a big laugh, and I have a lot of things to say. And, sometimes, I cry till my rib cages hurt, half drunk on the phone with my mom.
Not because anybody broke my heart. But, just…you know, process. Real life. Messy. Not figured out.
Learning to be okay with it.
Tonight, I watched fireworks from my New Jersey balcony with a Portuguese woman I barely know. She asked me why I wasn’t out, and I got emotional again.
“I just couldn’t do the fourth without my family,” I said. “Just my cousin died last year. He loved the fourth. I don’t have people here. Well, not people I want to cry in front of all night. I just, you know. I needed to do it differently.”
“Ah,” she nodded at me. “Saudade.”
It’s a Portuguese word. She told me we don’t have an English word for it. Instead, we have about 12: “a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone.”
My friend used eight, “you miss that which is not with you.”
She told me that sometime, when I was ready, I would have to matar as saudades.
To matar or kill your saudades is to return to what was, so that you can come away and live again without it. She told me that she could tell I didn’t need it now, but when the saudades took over, and I could no longer go on with the weight of it, I would need to return to matar my saudades.
“You’re not there in your process,” she told me. “You’re beginning a life here. But, sometime, you’ll need to return to your old life and grab a piece of it so you can keep going with this one.”
She told me that she misses Portugal – the old village life, where your neighbors recited your family’s names six generations back, and the history of each family mattered so much that ordinary folks were treated with importance. She can’t go back to that anymore – it doesn’t exist in the modern world, she said. But she’s found her grounding – and a kind of matar as saudades – in the traditions of a Jewish Synagogue near where she lives. And, that’s working for her. That’s her piece – the part that keeps her process moving forward.
When the fireworks started, they were positioned behind two tall trees across the way from my third story apartment. I got frustrated, but my friend smiled at me.
“Look,” she said. “Life gave you a way to process. You can take them from here, can’t you? You can handle the celebration through the trees, from your balcony, here, with me.”
I nodded, and felt the tears running down my face again. Matar as saudades will have to wait because I’m still okay, here. I’m learning that – if we let it – life gives us just, exactly, what we can handle. Not more. Not less. It’s in accepting exactly the next thing, and then the next thing after that, that we continue moving forward. This is how we create relationships and start lives for ourselves in places where we wonder where we fit. That’s the only way we ever do fit.
Next year, I’m sure I’ll wander down to the water front and have a few cold ones with people I’ve come to know and love. Who knows, maybe I’ll even plant a big wet one on judgmental cell phone conversation guy, should we ever become friends.
Regardless, I’m set on having allowed for my process. I’ll be ready to be celebrating with the joyous throngs of bright red tourists and my fellow NYCers. Or, maybe, if I’ve found I just can’t take it anymore around that time, I will have taken a few days vacation to go back to Northern California and smell the hot, dry earth and hug my mother. Matar as saudades at its finest, in the hot California air.
For now, I’m cozied up in my bed after spending the fourth exactly how I was ready to, here in my new home.
Come this Saturday, I know my friend will be headed out to the synagogue. And, me? I’ll be headed out into the city again to take another shot at my new life in a place full of people who don’t really know me.
I’m not sure where I’ll be, or who I’ll end up with.
But, regardless of where I am, I know that I’ll be able to take it, and to take whatever comes the week after that. And, one of these weeks, I’m going to find that sofa where I can curl up on and feel understood without explaining myself.
Until then…you know, process. Real life. Messy. Not figured out.
Learning to be okay with it.