Life

The Weeklies: December 16 - 22

Sunday began well but ended tragically. A light rain fell over New York. Alistair and I had some errands to run so we rented a car. In the late afternoon I took a spot on his sofa and wrote for a few hours. We tossed together a pasta dish for dinner, one of his favorites: tomato sauce, garlic, onion, tuna over bucatini. 

My evening was interrupted by a social media discovery: all my friends were at a party and I had not been invited. This happens to me a lot, actually six or seven times in the past few years. I told Alistair. Then I cried and said: "I knew it was coming." Its easy to see paths diverge from far away, especially when it's my own fault. Friendships, they say, need to be tended like gardens but I'm too insular, too fearful, I don't trust that I am interesting enough to maintain a conversation or come up with something fun to do. And then the years pass and that trepidation turns into avoidance. 

That night I sighed and watched everyone's Insta stories and photos from the party feeling empty and even embarrassed.  

Monday was my office holiday party. Which meant a half-day in the office and the other half mingling over canapés and a soda. After failing miserably at the dinner party on Friday (if you missed it in the last Weekly: I laughed at French jokes that I did not understand, etc.) and feeling kind of rejected on Sunday night, I just wanted to hide. Luckily, I was seated next to kind, patient coworkers. When the party ended I got on the train and speed walked from my station to my front door and felt as though I'd spent days running from my faults.

I had an easy work-week. Knowing that I'd be off for ten whole days (Christmas to New Years) relaxed me. I got off work early on Friday and met Alistair at his place. He was under the weather, so I put a hand to his forehead: he had a fever. We went out for ramen and I tucked him in bed early after a bath. 

On Saturday I woke up, checked in on Alistair, then headed to Stumptown coffee in West Village. Felix was in town from Paris, we had time for an lively chat before his flight out. He asked how my writing was going, and I immediately rolled my eyes. It wasn't going at all, "I'm blocked," I said. I wanted to spend another hour in there just writing, but I needed to use my time alone wisely and buy Alistair's gift. It was a real coup-- I had to go to two stores to find what I wanted in stock. Then I rushed to a gift-wrapping store, and finally, while sweating, lugged everything to the subway and back to Brooklyn to nurse Alistair. 

I put his gift by the window seat with the other gifts from his lovely relatives. We hung string lights till the tree arrives. It'll be my first Christmas with Alistair and my first Christmas buying a real tree. I can't believe I'm writing this, but I'm actually looking forward to it. 

The Weeklies: December 9 - 15


In the window of a restaurant, over biscuits and fresh-fruit mimosas, I slumped over the table sheepishly and divulged a secret to Philippa. I watched her mimic my posture (I always crouch when I'm guarding myself) and she whispered, a devilish look in her eyes. I love secrets. Especially my own secrets, which make me feel powerful and, that in a chaotic world, I have some sense of control. My secret is nearly absurd, but it was enough to keep us laughing over brunch. We went next door to share a pitcher of Sangria and I realized -- oh how I miss talking one-on-one with other women! I had been very lonely the past few weeks.

I walked west to the train and my Sunday scaries followed closely behind me. On Monday anxiety about the week deepened: I would have to budget wisely till pay day, so I went to the grocery, bought the necessities. Back at the apartment I tried to write but my ideas were terrible. I feel like my creative momentum was shot, and I woke up Tuesday severely cross. So severely, that I wondered if it was a side effect from medicine or what? That night I tried to sleep but was awake from three o'clock to six o'clock in the morning.

On Wednesday, Alistair planned date night: karaoke for an hour (just us two), then a talk at NYU with dinner after. He'd been away all weekend so it was great to catch up in the middle of the week. Karaoke cheered me up, the talk made me laugh. We had pho for dinner and it was, no joke, the best pho I've ever had. 

On Friday we had a holiday dinner party to attend. "Fancy dress" read the invitation. I put on a floral cocktail dress and Alistair wore a tuxedo jacket. That evening I went into a wine store on the Upper West Side and and opened the refrigerator. 

"What can I help you with?" a woman asked. I told her I wanted a dry champagne, or the like, and she handed me an ornate bottle of Segura Viudas cava. "You'll be coming back for this, I assure you," she said confidently. 

"I trust you," I said and brought the bottle to the register. Coincidentally, the radio was playing a song that also appears on the soundtrack of my favorite film, "You've Got Mail."  As a teen all I did was watch "You've Got Mail" over and over on cable TV. The entire film takes place on the Upper West Side, and the wine store happened to be a block from one of the filming locations, Cafe Lalo. I smiled to myself as I walked slowly down the street. It was really nothing at all, just a something that reminded me of something that reminded me of something else -- and the sum of those things, made me feel good on my walk in the rain. 

Essentially, the cava was a hit at the party. We were served curried lentils and rice, with baked cod and for dessert chocolate gateau with berries and ice cream. All the guests spoke French fluently except me, I struggled to keep up and awkwardly laughed when everyone else laughed but was unsure what the jokes were about. 

On Saturday afternoon I went to Times Square to meet Alistair and go shopping. That evening it began to rain again so we stayed in and watched one of the "Mission Impossible" films, and in the evening had dinner at an Italian restaurant in his neighborhood. We got cozy at the bar, chatted with the other patrons. We were served Aperol spritzes with rosemary sprigs, which made us both fondly remember Varenna. One more week left of work before I’m off for the holidays.

The Weeklies: December 1 - 9

I woke up last Sunday morning at 5 am, pulled off my eye mask, and looked around my hotel room in Louisville: a big wide corner room, a dining chair up against the door (put there by me), the light on (I never sleep without a light on). I hopped out of bed. I cut on the shower -- the tub was pink -- and very quickly washed. I suddenly realized that I didn't pack a toothbrush. While shrugging, I put paste on my finger

I had a quick breakfast in the hotel, ran back to the room to grab my things and then to my rental car. It was 7 am, the sun wasn't up yet. I started driving south on the highway and the light started to spread out over the land. I minded my speed and darted my eyes left and right for my exit. "What a moment!" I thought. "How did I get here?" Sometimes life feels like a combination of impossibilities. I can trace my past very clearly to now, but it seems like one missed connection in the machine and it never would have happened.

I worked half the day and spent the other half exploring Louisville. I had lunch at a spicy fried chicken joint, and then went to the Speed Art Museum. I had a business dinner that night at a rooftop restaurant. 

I flew back at 5 am on Monday. I got to see the sunrise over New York city from my plane window. As the sun reached from the east to the west and pushed between the buildings, I thought about my secret nickname for New York: The Grid. I repeated my mantra, a nonsense sentence I started saying in my teens and never let go: "Never stop loving the Grid."

On my train ride to Manhattan I had a horrible experience with two women commuting to work. I was so angry it soured my whole outlook for the day. I went home, ate a sandwich and crawled into bed for a four hour nap. I woke up groggy but pulled out my computer. I tried to write unsuccessfully.

The rest of the week was very pedestrian until Friday. I had the day off early and met up with Alistair. We were hosting a dinner party at his place, this time with one of my friends and his girlfriend. We put a chicken in the oven and Alistair made vegan chocolate pudding. For a few hours I laughed, I ignored my to-dos, I ignored my writers block, I stopped note-taking in my head. I woke up hungover. 

The Weeklies: November 18 - 24

Before Thanksgiving, before the drive to Boston, the apple pie, the turkey -- Alistair and I got a private karaoke room in Flatiron. We ordered two rounds of gin and tonics, and we sang our favorites for an hour. We migrated to the bar after the happy hour special ended and Alistair sang a few more songs. I’d had a busy few days and karaoke was just what I needed. We took a car back and laughed the whole ride: "Now that's how you begin Thanksgiving Holiday week" we said. 

Last year I spent Thanksgiving with Alistair's family in Hamilton, Mass. It's an idyllic place for the holiday. His aunt and uncle own a historic home where wild turkeys cross the street, chickens sleep in a coop, and in the great room a small fireplace always flickers. 

This year we were returning their house for Thanksgiving. On Wednesday morning Alistair's cousin came to pick us up for the four-hour ride to Boston. The weather was a big topic on the ride up: this year temps would drop into the teens. We woke up Thanksgiving morning in our Airbnb and it was only 13 degrees. Alistair loaned me ski socks and I put on extra layers. The traditional walk on the beach would be cancelled. 

We had fun regardless, his family is so kind and easy to get along with. On Friday the temp warmed to 30 degrees. We went to the Ipswich Wildlife Sanctuary for a walk and to feed the birds. Little chickadee's and tufted titmouse's ate the seeds right out of our hands. The lake on the grounds was frozen over, and most of the icy mud crunched under our feet. (My toes felt like they were frozen solid.)

On Saturday Alistair and I rented a car and drove ourselves home. We got to Brooklyn Saturday afternoon and spent the day being lazy. On Sunday we went to brunch at Bessou and afterward I went home to get ready for the work week. I'll be traveling again on Saturday.  

The Weeklies: November 11 - 17

It was a week where everything happened, I had to write an outline just to make sure I got it all. But in short: yes, it was quite good.

It started Sunday. Ideally, I hoped to rest on Sunday but sprinted from one event to the next closely minding the time. Around two-something I slipped on a coat and walked a few blocks from Alistair's place to Relationships Coffee. It was on of those built-for-the-insta coffee shops: millennial pink, lifeless baristas in beanies and minimalist skincare products up for sale. I got an almond latte and perched myself on a stool int he window, and waited.

About a year ago I joined a networking app, Shapr, and since have been meeting new people from it for coffees. It's always worth it: I learn something, give some advice of my own, and often pass on a contact or two. On Sunday I agreed to meet another writer named Liz. I was nervous because I'm always nervous. My people-pleasing side wants to give them all the information they need. I go through the same mental anguish that I used to have on first dates: am I likable? 

Liz approached smiling big, and was so open and friendly. She'd only been in town three weeks but had hit the ground running with some freelance gigs. I saw two friends walking by on the street. Both came in to say hello. 

"It's kind of funny," I told her. "I never run into people I know." 

Around 4 pm I left coffee and met Alistair. We had plans to go to Bemelman's Bar, the most magical bar in all of New York. I've only gone twice prior: once on a first date and once last year to introduce it to Philippa. 

"It's just like being back in time!" she said when she saw it. I wanted to take Alistair for our anniversary. It would be the perfect cozy, romantic place. We took the train uptown and arrived around 6 pm. There was a long line waiting. Two older women arrived and shrugged. 

"It's never like this!" they said. I agreed. I'd never had to wait. Finally we were seated in a booth facing the pianist. We ordered two Negroni's and snuggled up close. Afterwards we took the train to the Japanese market in East Village to buy sukiyaki ingredients. After paying for our food at the market, the cashier handed me the receipt with both hands, bowing slightly. As I took it from him, I did the same. A short cab ride back to his apartment and dinner was on the table by 8 pm. 

We weren't expecting much from our homemade sukiyaki. This was our first time trying out the dish and we were going off of an online recipe--but it was amazing. The broth was salty and rich, we filled the pot with thinly sliced meat, tofu, cabbage and mushrooms. We ate so much we leaned back in our seats rubbing our bellies. 

#


On Monday, I couldn't stop thinking about my first week in New York. It was 2007, and my parents were helping me settle in. Within my first two days there had already been snow, and the light wool coat I'd brought from Mobile wasn't enough. On the morning of our third day we took the M15 bus down to Macy's. A kind salesperson took us to a North Face section and told us that they were the best winter coats for the money. We looked around the store and noticed that every New York woman was donning one. 

"But we're out of size small," the woman said. The medium swallowed me, but my parents shrugged. 

"More room for sweaters," they said. 

"Can we come back when they have my size?" I protested. 

"We're not leaving till you buy a winter coat," my mom said. 

I wore that black North Face coat for 11 years. The sleeves started to fray, my iron burnt a spot in the front but it was nearly unnoticeable. Last winter I realized that I had changed. The coat didn't suit the style that I had grown in to. After work on Monday I took the subway to Soho. Night had fallen, and in the late evening Soho tucked itself in. The tourists went into restaurants, the stores emptied and the windows darkened. I went to the Everlane pop-up on Wooster and bought the first coat I tried on in navy blue. Later that night I tried to rationalize my decision with my mother over the phone. 

"It was a little frayed. It was a little old," I said about my previous coat.

"Well sometimes," she said, "you just feel like something new." 

I hung the coat up next to my old one, and it felt little sad. 

#

Wednesday morning, unexpectedly, I found myself in midtown at eight o'clock in the morning. As much as I love sleeping in, I also love early mornings in midtown. I was wearing my new coat, stepping confidently in the crowds towards my destination. I looked up at the gray sky and could smell the damp snow on it's way. My friend Felix was in town from Paris, but only available for breakfast before a conference. We'd met last year via a networking app and had drinks at the Plaza Hotel. He was also a writer, but unlike me, he had published book and he was celebrated in Paris. Our last meeting was brief, and it was so long ago that it left only a vague impression in my mind.

I opened the door to Le Pain Quotidien and Felix was sitting at the very back table, waving. We ordered coffee and pastries and miraculously, there was no small talk. He asked about my family, and I told him about the history of Mobile, my family history, what my grandparents and aunts and uncles were like, and what growing up in the south was like. 

"I'm getting a little bit of American history!" he said. He told me about his family too, and in that way, he transformed from the two-dimensional person I imagined into a person with dimensions and depth--like watching a ginger bread man rising in the oven.

"Tomorrow it will snow," I said. 

"What?" he asked. 

"Neige," I said. I mimicked snow with my fingers.

"Really? Tomorrow?" 

"Yes!"

And oh boy, did it snow. At noon on Thursday it was a dusting and by the evening it was a full blown storm. Surprisingly, my commute home was nearly two hours long. No one, including the New York City transportation department, was prepared for the six inches of snow we got. 

Friday night I spent cooking dinner with Alistair and recapping everything that happened. On Saturday we didn't have plans but decided to have lunch in Dumbo, Brooklyn. I told Alistair the story about my first time in Brooklyn ever. It was in 2008, a friend suggested we walk across the bridge and walk back. Back then Dumbo was just a few restaurants and an ice cream shop, now it's built up completely, there's even a J.Crew. 

Back at his apartment we cuddled on the couch with sipping chocolate and TV. I was already feeling the Sunday scaries creep up on me, but then I remembered it was a two day week. Thanksgiving was only four days away.

The Weeklies: November 4 - 10

On Monday, November 5, I stood shivering in the rain on the corner of 18th Street and Seventh Avenue. I'd had a hell of a time trying to get home. There was an issue at 34th Street, the one train service had stopped completely. I waited on a train platform for thirty minutes before calling it quits. The first Lyft I called drove off without me.

Finally a yellow cab picked me up. I told him where I was going, he turned on to the West Side Highway. 

"All the trains are so bad when the weather is like this," he laughed. I'd just come from my first dinner with my writing group. We've been meeting for months in a therapy office in Flatiron, and someone suggested instead of meeting that we just get together. I was with a writing group in 2013, we had such magical chemistry that every meeting stretched for hours. There were the critiques, sure, but then we'd go out to dinner and drinks and march around the East Village in a gigantic, drunken group. I'm still friends with almost everyone I met there, and two of my closest friends: Philippa and Suni, I met in the group. There wasn't that same instant chemistry with the new group. Over dinner we laughed a bit, but there were big swaths of quiet time, and eventually, after eating and drinking at record speed someone said, "Should we get the check?" 

After dinner I was ready to spend my ride home agonizing over every stupid thing I said. But my cab driver was a talker, somehow I get one of these twice a year. They always turn the meter off early since I was "such a good listener." 

My cabbie had white hair, slim build, deep set eyes, an accent I couldn't place. He started telling me about his life. He had two kids, a boy and a girl. He lived in Ridgewood, he was a former pro boxer. He was interested in health, fitness, etc. He had a friend recently die, "...he didn't take care of himself!" he exclaimed. He eschewed consumerism, a trait common among talkative cabbies. Sometimes it feels like they are all optimists wearing shields. If they had pain, they'd never feel it. They're always looking to the sky.

"I give my money to my family because you can't take it with you when you die. What are you going to do, hold on to your money with your teeth and drag it up to the heavens?" I was envious of this attitude. If I took a hard look at myself in the mirror: I want everything. I'm the adult version of Veruca Salt. Of course, I didn't tell him that. I just did my nod and occasional, "Yes, you're totally right." 

I asked him about his family. He lifted up his cell phone, his son was the photo on the lock screen: a seven-year-old boy, with a bowl-cut and a blue soccer jersey. He lit up talking about him. "All you need is family. All you need is kids to give love and receive love. The chain of love." 

We turned down St. Nicholas and just as I suspected, he cut off the meter 10 blocks from my home. 

"I don't need all this money," he said, "and you are so nice." We pulled up to my building and when I got out he turned round in his seat.

"Remember, Ariel, receive the chain of love." 

I got to my apartment, slipped on my night clothes and opened my computer. I started a new document with the quote from him at the top of the page.

I went to sleep shortly after, but I woke up every hour and worried about missing my chance to vote. When my alarm finally went off at 6:30 I jumped out of bed, had a quick breakfast, and speed walked two avenue blocks to my polling place. I voted without incident and without waiting, then I walked proudly to the subway with my "I Voted" sticker on my bright blue coat. When my train rolled into Wall Street station, there was a man in his 40s or 50s watching me and eyeing my sticker. When I got off to go to the office he smiled. "Have a blessed day," he said.

Friday night I met Alistair at his apartment with a bottle of our favorite whiskey, Suntory Toki, tucked under my arm. Our two year anniversary was on Saturday (today!) and we'd planned on a low-key evening at Bemelman's Bar. After lunch today, my stomach was upset (I was diagnosed with a hiatus hernia when I was 23, so this is pretty common). I took some medicine and fell asleep around 6 pm. Bemelmans' would have to wait till Sunday.

The Weeklies: October 28 - November 3

I left work Wednesday evening when the sun was up, and after my hour-long commute home, I reached my neighborhood and night had fallen. Kids were everywhere. I saw a Superman, a lot of princesses, two boys wearing impressive blow-up dinosaur costumes. It was the warmest day of the week. I almost regretted not joining Alistair in his neighborhood for the annual Halloween street-party. 

It is common small talk to say, "I can't believe it's already [insert holiday here]" and I found myself saying that about Halloween. The idea that time is cyclical made me sad on my way home. The things that bother me year after year may continue to come back, to never end. I have lots of normal, productive days. I also have many days where the ritual makes me angry. 

Lately, I've indulged in a temporary cure. At my apartment I settled on the sofa, opened my computer and began my latest diversion: summer travel and event plans. Ever since I was a little girl there was one special event I've always wanted to attend. It isn't held in the US, which is half the reason I haven't gone already. That night I delved into the details and tried to make it a reality with handwritten lists and ideas. It was almost as nice as relaxing with a cocktail. Having something to day dream excitedly about keeps me happy enough. When things go wrong I imagine future me at future place during future time, and I forget everything. This was my work week in a nutshell: work, home, work, home -- but with excitement on the evenings. 

The weekend came faster than expected. Alistair and I decided to have Japanese breakfast at Okonomi in Williamsburg. The warm weather we had on Wednesday and Thursday dipped back down into the 50s; I grimaced as the wind whipped up around us on our walk to the restaurant. Okonomi is a quaint place, only enough tables for ten guests, and all of them were taken. The hostess told us about their new "policy" -- $20 upfront to hold a spot on the waitlist -- we forked over $20 and spent the next few hours grumbling. Alistair went and got a haircut, then we walked around the neighborhood waiting on our table to become available. In a hardware store we said hello to an African grey parrot and in the garden saw a pig sleeping in his pen. 

Unexpectedly, one of my old friends was in town for a wedding and asked if I could grab dinner. We met at 7 pm at Cafe Cluny, one of the many cute places in West Village. It was nice to catch up and feel like I was "out on the town" on a Saturday night. After dinner I waited on the platform for the C train to meet Alistair. There was the typical delay, so I watched the pairs of people passing by and I looked at myself and felt quite gross in comparison. Another week was coming up, and I worried that my evening diversions wouldn't stave off my usual apprehension or my insecurities. What's next? 

The Weeklies: October 21 - 27

Last Sunday, Alistair and I put on our coats and scarves and took the G train to Gownus. His cousin was participating in an open studio event. 

"This neighborhood goes all out for Halloween," Alistair said. Most of the stoops were decorated with pumpkins. It was nice to cap the weekend in this way: sipping hot apple cider and looking at art.  

Monday was Suni's last day in the city before she returned to the west coast. (If you remember from last week, she joined Alistair and I at the opera.) She planned for us to have lunch near my office. It was a quick, 45-minute meal, but it was so good to talk, again. Its never enough time. I realized that since my two best friends in the city have moved away, I'm a bottle about to burst. There are many ideas and stories and thoughts I want to share with them, but I forget them after awhile. 

The rest of the week in one word: painful. I was anxious, tearful, tired. A storm hit the city on Saturday. Alistair and I stayed in binge watching the most recent season of "Love Island." (Don’t ask.)

My few moments outdoors were in the cold and wind. Fall is a primer for winter, I don't much get the appeal.