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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Need a Girlfriend: Blogging a Broken Heart

This guy goes on a cruise. There is a terrible storm at sea. Boat sinks. Guy survives. Finds himself washed up on a desert island. There is one other survivor: Angelina Jolie. So, this guy is alone on a remote island with Angelina Jolie, the most desirable woman in the world.

Time passes. They have learned to spear fish and catch rainwater. The inevitable happens. They make love on the beach under the vast sky full of stars, the sound of waves crashing in their ears.

More time passes.

Angelina notices that her man is not fully satisfied. He obviously wants something she is not giving him.

"Honey, what is it?"

"Oh, Angelina, our lives here are almost perfect. The beach, our love … it's all so great. There's just one thing … one thing I miss … one thing I need."

"Anything, darling. Name it. I'll do it for you."


The guy snips a lock of hair and affixes it to Angelina's upper lip – a mustache. He takes another lock of hair, and affixes it to her chin – a beard. He makes her wear his baseball cap. He teaches her to walk like a guy. "Now, Angelina," he asks. Please pretend that you are my old buddy John, from back in the States."

Not sure what is going on, Angelina agrees to act like a man, and pretend that she is John.

The guy walks up to her, slaps her on the back, and says, "John! It's great to see you! Long time no see! Listen – you wouldn't believe who I've been fucking!"

I love that joke.


God hasn't given me an easy life. The past three years God has been really letting loose.

There have been two hurricanes, two and a half cancer diagnoses, a chronic illness, a broken arm, and endless struggles to get health care, struggles that have resulted, more than once, in wrong diagnoses or even worse illness.

And a broken heart.

In all this agony, I have often wished that I had a girlfriend.

There was a time in my life when having a girlfriend was a really easy thing. You just showed up – on the playground, in the high school cafeteria, at the university, the protest rally, the tramp steamer plying the waters between Burma and Thailand.

One night in an airport in, I think, the United Arab Emirates? – I honestly don't remember where this airport was – I unfolded some newspaper and lay it down. I would sleep on this newspaper. A couple in their fifties approached. They wanted to sleep next to me. Sure, I said. Bob and Sally Herbert, from Lake Park, Iowa. Bob and Sally and I ended up traveling through Israel and Greece together. I loved them. When I got back to the States, I visited them in Iowa.

People were just there.

Marie Center was my girlfriend in Nepal. Marie fell in love with John. She was a tall and brilliant Dartmouth grad. Feminist. Very liberal. He was a plug ugly, abrasive, macho, dope-smoking, bongo player from Jersey.

Marie and Julie and I had a pajama party. We stayed up all night. All we did was talk about Marie and John. It was blow by blow. "And then he said this, and then he did this, and then I felt this, and then …" There was another pajama party after Marie and John broke up. Years later John would email me after Marie died. He was in Southeast Asia then. Or maybe Egypt. But thanks to email, we got to talk. Really talk.

Through my recent cancer diagnoses, the hurricanes, the evacuations, the broken heart. I have wished for this. I have wished that I mattered enough to someone else for that person to say, "I will have lunch with you Tuesday." And for that person to spend time looking at my face and saying my name and hearing what I have to say and responding to what I say.

For there to be time for that. Not, "Oh, I can squeeze in fifteen minutes a week from now" and then canceling at the last minute because something more important has come up.

Not a casual encounter during which the other constantly stares at her cell phone. "Oh, my daughter just sent me a photo of the house she is thinking of buying."

Sometimes people say, "Oh, I wish I could do something." And what they mean is: "I wish I could cure your cancer / cure your sister's cancer / drive the Passaic River out of your home after the hurricane / hire you in a fulltime job so you had health insurance."

But that's not really what I want. I want someone to be willing to pencil me in for lunch, look at my face, not at their cell phone, say my name, and HEAR me, and to have time for that.

There was a time in my life when I had that. And I think that time is forever gone, and has been gone for a good ten years at least.

So I talk to myself through my writing.

I sometimes post about the broken heart on Facebook. I always say, "Please don't give me unsolicited advice, and please don't say hateful things about Ted."

And some – not all – people respond by giving unsolicited advice, and by saying hateful things about Ted. "He's a bastard!!! Forget him!"

And I remember the rich luxury of talk during that pajama party with me, Marie Center, and Julie. It was a feast of words. We could pick and choose; we had all night. No one was rushing us. No one stayed our hands. We could grab, or pick, suck or swallow any word from the fully laden buffet table. We could laugh or cry or burst out in what suddenly seemed to be unbearably profound pop song lyrics that had to be sung at that exact moment at top decibel. No one was looking at her watch. Cell phones had not yet been invented.

The other day I took the risk of asking someone if I could phone her. She emailed back. "Yes," she said. "I have time now for a phone call, as long as we don't talk about Ted."

I passed.

Women my age have husbands and children. I've never had either. I think that's one reason I have no girlfriends. Women my age like to talk about their daughters. It's a different kind of talk. They are not talking to discover the workings of a relationship, and how to best fit in that machine. They are either bragging or mourning their daughter's successes or failures. That's why they use words. Their husbands are permanent fixtures that they take for granted, like furniture. How often do you feel the need to verbalize about a couch?

So, in the past three years of utterly pointless craptastic misery, amidst the broken bones and once glamorous body parts that once held such promise and once demanded so much attention, and that have since been gauged out to become medical waste, over the Passaic River flowing into and out of the building, there was a heart, and it was broken.

I want to blog about that here because I don't have a girlfriend, and I am convinced that talking is healing.

I have no plan or discipline. Yesterday I blogged about the horrors of the massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar, Pakistan. Today I blog about one small broken heart, and my wish for a girlfriend.