Monday, September 22, 2008

Saying Goodbye (I wrote this in a fit of inspiration, in one sitting)

Yesterday morning (Sunday) I woke up deciding that I would finally be an adult and cut off all my nails. These were nails I had nurtured and maintained with bi-weekly salon visits for the last couple years. Nails I had prioritized so much, they became the outfit and my clothing became the accessories. But as much they were a part of my character, they weren't a necessity in my life. Sure they became such a center for attraction every time I used my hands (which was a lot and I did have long fingers), but they started becoming a task. I stopped feeling inspired for new nail designs, and one day as I sat and waited for my manicure to dry I wondered what else I could be doing with my time instead. I told myself it was time to cut them all off, and once I said it out loud I wasn't that sad anymore. After this brief moment of epiphany I felt a sudden urge to rid my self of the clothes I had harbored for so long, starting with my sneakers. I could tell just by looking at them all laid out in their collective glory which ones would go first and which ones would stay. It was the start of a new day.

And then in that same instant I received message from an ex-boyfriend, telling me that he had started seeing someone new and that we had to "chill" on the texts. What. The. Fuck. We only broke up less than a month ago. What was this shit? How dare he decide the fate of our friendship by the presence of some girl? He didn’t even call her his girlfriend, just someone he started seeing. How did someone he meet 15 minutes ago get precedence over our 4-year history? And why did she get to decide that our only form of communication should stop? Texting was my only contact with him. Sure I knew where he lived, had his email, was his friend on Myspace and Facebook, but we had grown apart to the point where text messages was best for both of us. And now, that was an obsolete too. And what exactly did he mean by "chill"? I never texted anything remotely close a romantic rekindling (maybe that first week after the break up, but that was it really), nothing inappropriate in a manner that would raise suspicion or cause any alarm. Exes can still be friends, if both parties know where they stand. Where did stand, or better yet where did I cross the line? Was there some boundary I wasn't aware of? Texting was probably the most impersonal, un-deep way to keep it short and simple. It was the anti-conversation, how could I go wrong? He never told me before he started seeing anyone so how the hell was I supposed to be aware I was interrupting anything? How did it go from you can text me anytime to someone doesn't like when we do that so we shouldn't anymore? Was this another goodbye to add to my list?

It bothered me a lot. Not because he had moved on but that he was already settled on making sacrifices to make her happy. It weakened my opinion of what I thought his character was. And worst, because he was my exboyfriend after all, he was a reflection of my character and it weakened what I thought of myself. I wanted to not think of it anymore so I headed on down to the nail salon. Fortunately I lived in Chinatown so the nearest one was only 4 blocks away and charged only $3 for cutting nails down. As soon as I walked in a 30-something year-old Vietnamese guy greeted me with a "Hi, hello, what can I do for you?" in a very used-car salesman way, but chipper nonetheless. He didn't introduce himself but I wanted to name him Tony, because he just looked like a Tony. I explained that I only wanted them cut and he suggested I get a polish change to make it all look cleaner, and I agreed. He was already working on a another woman's manicure, a Trinidadian lady who was getting long white square tips, so he asked me to sit in the booth next to his and that shortly someone would be out to help me. "Don't worry, I'll make sure I take care of you baby", he added. I smiled. Guys in the nail salon usually got the girls going with their heterosexual charm, but "Tony" added the "baby" as if he knew the woman he had been talking to his whole life and that’s what he always called her. A Vietnamese woman with a burn mark on her bridge sat down in front of me and began taking the odd polish off. Tony watched through his peripheral, keeping his focus on his Trini customer, as the 4-color tiger-stripe designs that used to adorn my nails soon became washed away into a rainbow mishmash on the cotton ball. “You like those crazy designs? If you ever want crazy designs like that, tic-tac-toe with different colors squares, anything you wanted hand-drawn on your nail, I could do it” he offered me. “Just let me know, I’ll take care of you baby”. Well it’s too late for all that I told him, but next time. He was content with my answer and went back to making small talk with the Trini lady, telling her about his own Jamaican and Trinidadian friends and how he couldn’t tell the difference between the two. By then the Vietnamese woman had started filing my nail bed down and when she got a little too close to a nerve I shrieked in pain and pulled back. Tony looked over and they briefly exchanged words. Apparently she thought I was just trimming my nails short and getting a refill too, so Tony got permission from his Trini Lady to take care of me for a quick second. He worked with such voracity, filing my nails down like a carpenter taking a chainsaw to unwanted wood. He was too busy making sure the motorized filer that he now had cranked up to high speed wouldn’t shave my fingers off, that he hadn’t noticed the flying chunks of acrylic, glue and nail hitting my face and hair. I knew there wasn't a better way to get it done efficiently, so I didn’t complain. Sure he could’ve been gentle, and hand-filed it to perfection but then I would have been there all day, and this procedure was about letting go, as quick and painless as possible. I think Tony knew that too, seeing that my real nails nearly matched the long of their wildly colored acrylic overcoat, now reduced to a stubby short mess. He knew when I told him just to cut, no refills, no designs, just cut them all off, this wasn't a regular follow-up appointment, but rather the end of an old habit.

When all the nails were short I was able to make a fist. As Burn Victim manicurist came back to smooth them down and paint them over, I became occupied thinking of all the things I’d have to relearn that I hadn’t noticed the drama unfolding next to me. Apparently Trini Lady was a con artist. She liked to come in, get her nails done, and halfway through complain about it so she wouldn’t have to pay full price. But Tony wasn’t having it this time. “Listen if you’re not gonna let me do what I wanna do, then you can go somewhere else”, he told her softly. She called his bluff, picked up her plastic bag of random stuff with her now fully tipped and painted fingernails and told them she’d never come back again. “Before you leave let me cut your nails”, he said, his hand out waiting for her to oblige. She did not. “I can cut them myself” she replied in an indistinct Island accent. That’s when Tony flipped. “Give me your fucking hand!” he screamed. “You did this shit last time, but you not gonna get away with it, not me, I ain’t the one.” Wow, Tony had hood in him, and heart. “You ain’t gonna walk out of here with my nails” he continued. The Trini Lady was twice his size, and what Tony lacked in weight and height he had in speed. Just as Trini Lady announced she would be calling the cops, Tony urged her, go head, then lunged forward and went for her plastic bag of randoms. Standing behind the table he held them up as if to tease her, told her that now she couldn’t leave and to go ahead and call the cops. Tony was neither scared of big-boned black women nor police enforcement. Perhaps he was in a gang when he was younger, I wondered. Trini Lady picked up her cell phone and started the conversation with the 911 operator with “Hello I’m at a Nail Salon and the guy here is going crazy, he’s asking to cut my hand, cursing at me and he took my bag and he wont let me leave.” I think Tony knew what the cops knew, nail salon drama doesn’t require much back-up. Even after my third coat of polish and three pushes of the air fan dryer, no one showed up. I left, not wanting to be a reporting witness, in case anyone did.

The scenario in the nail salon reminded me that I should try to occupy my down time with some entertainment. Responsible entertainment I should say. Maybe it was receiving that text message from my newly pussy-whipped exboyfriend that I didn't want those bad feelings lingering on me, I decided to get a book. Reading a book I could emerge myself further than say, watching a movie. I loved reading when I was much younger, I even wrote an essay in the 6th grade about what I would do if I won a million dollars and I said I would buy books, read them all and end up smart (you believed those kinds of things when you’re in the 6th grade). You could say that didn’t help win any friends but I had my books anyway. That was until puberty came along, then boys, then fashion, and finally term papers with their technicalities and footnotes and bibliographies, and that was that. I walked a couple blocks to Borders and bought a copy of Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I had been eyeing that book for some time but for reasons that I can't remember now I never got around to getting it. I had other books on my mind too, from established authors like Ayn Rand and Salman Rushdie. But for some reason I felt an urgency to read Oscar Wao first. Maybe it was the name, for a long time (before I Googled it) I thought Wao was Asian. And then I discovered it was Dominicano, and that the author had taken the liberty of making parts of the text in Spanish. I was intrigued, I loved reading literature that included ethnic terms because it made whatever original language the terms were from seemed too superior to be translated into whatever language the book had been written in. That was why Wild Meat and the Bully burgers by Lois-Ann Yamanaka was one of my favorite books, because for her to keep the island pidgin in its original form - even if some people didn’t recognize it as a language, even if some people considered it Hawaiian ebonics - her keeping it in the text was far more important than trying to translate it into something that may or may not be its equivalent in meaning. I was excited for this new book; I was excited to learn Spanish this way. I was excited to be reading again. And when I found out it was a New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer, that was it for me. I got home, and wanting the first reading to be comfortable, I took a shower first.

When I was finally all settled in, I took in the book like it was a five-course meal that was meant to be consumed in a day. And boy did I love every minute of it. Footnotes about DR history read like post-it notes from your really smart but really suave Dominican friend. I finally recognized the proper spelling of pendeja, and preferred to used my fill-in-the-blank thinking to deduce Spanish words instead of stopping to look them up. I enjoyed seeing literature that used words like “mad” as an adverb for other adjectives like East Coast slang, and reading “swagger” and “fucking” and “bitches” among SAT flash words and still feeling I was taking in rich literature. It was like reading a book written by a peer, and not someone dead, dying or formerly in hiding. Every now and then I’d find a quote I really liked, and tried to repeat the line so I could remember it instead of having to mark its place. I was only on Chapter 3 but I already knew this was an immaculate piece of work. Still, something was bothering me. Every time I stopped reading I kept thinking about ----------- and his dumbass text message. He fucking had the nerve to text me at 9:28 on a Sunday morning. It was then I knew that everything I was doing to distract myself from the anger I felt was making it worse. Here I was liberated from my high maintenance manicured nails and reading a Pulitzer prize book, and this motherfucker was ruining it for me.

So I put the book down and did what came naturally. I started writing a story about a girl who once admired her independently responsible and practical exboyfriend but lost all respect for him once she realized he was a pussy for pussy. It was such a release, such a relief. I hadn’t noticed how much I had typed and how much easier it became by the 4th page. It was odd having to adjust to feeling of keyboard with my fingertips for the first time after years of meticulously working out ways to type with just nail tips. I had to remember that the keys my fingertips rested on were the right keys and not the one above it. I realized then that by saying goodbye to one superficially satisfying distraction, I had re-welcomed another, my writing.

Thank you, Tony, Junot and Fuckface.

Sincerely Catzie.

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