She may live in Queens now but Lilly was a Brooklyn girl through and through. I first came to know her in the finer parts of Red Hook. Heaven knows everything there smells like it came from the sewer. I would tease her with my Ed Norton impression whenever I’d bump into her at the grocery store with my old lady shopping cart and my military boots. “It’s really for the best that you wear those,” she would say and I -as Ed Norton- would reply, “They only work in the shallow end, my dear. Sometimes a man can’t help but find himself with water up to the tips of his ears and a lot of good these boots do me on those occasions.” She would laugh at my casual repartee, and I’d sometimes spend hours rehearsing it in hopes that I’d come across her again. One day I got up the nerve to ask her to have some coffee with me, but she replied that she had somewhere else to go. I wasn’t sure if it was something she said to get out of spending time with me or if she genuinely had someplace to go. Some women are transparent, but she isn’t. She’s opaque to the degree that I could never quite be sure what she thought of me. I started to wonder if she merely put up with my Ed Norton routines out of politeness. Maybe she thought I was a creep or a jerk. It came to a point where I could no longer stand all the agonizing speculation so I became determined to put my cards on the table and admit my feelings for her for the final time, but then I never saw Lilly again. Word came around from Nancy (the nice lady who slices my cold cuts) that she had moved. When I inquired where to, all Nancy would say is that Lilly’s a Queens girl now- living all the way in Astoria. Astoria isn’t that far away. I thought maybe I’d hop on a subway, head on out there and try to find out where she does her groceries and see how she’d react if I did my Ed Norton impression for her out of the blue. Either she’d be surprised and delighted to see me or she’d repel from me as if I was some kind of stalker and tell me to get away from her because I was some kind of creep. Either way, at least I’d have an answer.
Then for whatever reason I lost the nerve. Maybe it’s because I’m a coward, maybe it’s because deep down inside I know I’m just a loser who told her some jokes while she waited in line to get her cold cuts, but overall I just know it’ll never work. It’s one of those things where the fantasy in my head of what it might be like to be with her likely exceeds any kind of basis in reality. Maybe she’d find me to be a real drag. After all, I’m not always full of wit and humor. Sometimes, I can be quite introverted and withdrawn. She’d probably hate that side of me – that is if she’d ever consider going out with me in the first place. I can picture it now in my little hypothetical scenario I’ve got going in my brain. I’d run into her, she’d be perplexed at first as to why she’s seeing me all the way out in Astoria. Guys from Brooklyn don’t just venture out there for no reason. I’d make up some bullshit story about visiting an aunt or an uncle or something and we’d get to talking. Eventually, I’d see a look in her eyes that would tell me she’s happy to see me and then maybe … just maybe… she’d actually say it. Then, I’d have an opening. I’d admit to her that I didn’t come out to Astoria to see anyone but in fact I came out here just to find her – to see if there was something (anything) there, and in my hypothetical brain scenario, there would be something there and it would work like magic- like the movies. Then, we’d start dating and after about two months she’d say something like, “You aren’t as much fun as I thought you’d be. I’m sorry but this isn’t working for me.” End scene.
Of course if that happened, it would just crush me. It would crush me even worse than if she just rejected me and called me a creep. I’m reading a book by Phillip K. Dick now that deals with a man who goes mad after getting rejected late in the story. I don’t want to get into too many details but the plot of the novel has to do with a woman named Pris who designs an android version of Abraham Lincoln. Things don’t happen the way the protagonist of the story would like and he ends up going through a bit of a psychosis resulting directly from romantic rejection. The thing about these kinds of scenarios is that everyone experiences some kind of heartbreak and everyone has a different way of dealing with it. I don’t think I’d go mad like the protagonist of the novel, but what I did find interesting is in researching Lincoln the protagonist comes across the alleged relationship between Lincoln and Anne Rutledge, who some purport to be Lincoln’s first love. Rutledge was engaged to be married to another man, but while separated from her betrothed, she and Lincoln came to know each other. Historians disagree whether or not a romantic relationship commenced, but Rutledge died during a wave of Typhoid in 1835 at the age of 22. This was said to have had a profound effect on Lincoln resulting in what would be described as a “severe depression.” When asked about Anne years later, Lincoln is said to have replied, “I loved the woman dearly and soundly: She was a handsome girl—would have made a good, loving wife… I did honestly and truly love the girl and think often, often of her now.” In Phillip K. Dick’s novel, the protagonist then goes on to draw comparisons between his love for Pris and Lincoln’s love for Anne.
I’m not saying that my feelings for Lilly are the same – whether it’s the protagonist of the Dick novel or whether it’s Lincoln’s alleged feelings for Anne Rutledge. That’s not the point I’m trying to make at all. All I’m saying is that Lilly and I might have had something if circumstances had been a little different and now I must live with the agony of not knowing whether it was as the age-old cliché goes “meant to be.” I suppose it’s only fair that since I’m not a proponent of fatalism or superstition or religion of any kind that any such unexplainable connections I feel towards a woman must meet pragmatic ends in the strictest possible sense. I suppose it’s for the best since I fear that any kind of gesture I might have made would’ve come across as unintentionally prosaic, but that’s just who I am. I’m just a guy – a regular guy after all. I take my coffee with milk and sugar, I get up, go to work – slaving by the way at some go-nowhere job where no one appreciates me- then, I go home read a book, watch some boob tube, and go to bed. I don’t have it in me to regale her with stories about interesting people and fascinating places. I only have it in me to be me, to tell my story. I’m afraid it just wouldn’t be enough. Women want to be swept away on an adventure. They crave the exotic, they crave romance, they crave tall dark, and handsome, and I’m none of those things. I’m Ed Norton joking about the sewer.
So what’s the next best thing? It’s either going into a “severe depression” like Lincoln because I can’t have the girl of my dreams (only she hasn’t died of typhoid, she just moved to another borough), or I make it up and live in my hypothetical brain scenario where I see her, she’d happy to see me, we go out, and then she eventually leaves me because I’m not as fun as she thought I’d be. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking why doesn’t this sorry sap just force his brain to give himself a happy ending, one where he marries Lilly and they live happily ever after without her getting tired him? It’s my imagination after all. I’m sorry, but that’s just not how my brain works. It’s not how I’m programmed. Besides, if I let myself go in that direction, I might never return to reality and then I’d really go insane.
No, it’s better to just retreat for a short while and then come back to my miserable life as if I had been immersed in a dream and awoken just when things were about to fall apart anyway, but at least the dream was nice for a brief while.
So, Lilly was a Brooklyn girl through and through. The only problem is that she was forced to move to Queens when her aunt got sick and needed her assistance. I had been unaware of her move until Nancy (the kind old lady who slices up my cold cuts) informed me. When I heard the news, I immediately set up plans to go and find her, and find her I did. I figured she’d do her groceries at the same time every Sunday only it would be at some grocery store in Astoria instead of Red Hook Brooklyn. As chance would have it, I picked the right grocery store. Lilly had mentioned that she loved Greek cuisine and low and behold a Google search revealed that Titan Foods on 31st Street would be the best place to go. I saw her at the Deli counter, strolled up behind her and launched into my best Ed Norton impression, “Hiya Trixie!”
She turned around and when she saw me she was perplexed at first but then she threw her arms around me and offered a broad smile. We got to talking and we ended up spending the rest of the entire day together. By the end of the night, she gave me the look that informed me that she wanted me to walk her home. We talked about everything from books to TV, music, and movies. I told her that one day I hoped to write a novel and that she had been my muse for most of my writing for quite some time. We drank wine, ate a meal that we both prepared together, and spent our first night just talking until the break of dawn. Then when it was time to part, I leaned in to kiss her and she kissed me back and told me she had one of the most incredibly romantic nights of her life. From then on we started seeing each other. We’d go out. She’d meet my friends and I’d meet hers and we would just gel as a couple and have fun just about every night we’d spend together. She’d teach me how to make some Greek food, I’d show her how to make arroz con habichuelas, and we’d stay up late watching movies on Netflix and discussing life, culture, and our future together. We’d make love before retiring to sleep, and we’d each drift away into our dreams with budding smiles on our faces.
The loneliness rooted inside of me would only be assuaged temporarily. I’d start to get moody. I’d drift away when we were around our friends. People would start to notice that I “wasn’t my usual self.” Maybe it’s the frustration of not following through on that novel I had planned, maybe my day job just gets to me, and suddenly I’m no longer the fun me to be around. Reality comes crashing in eventually. One night just as we are about to have dinner, she pulls me aside, gives me a look of complete utter pity. Her black hair falls frazzled on her shoulders, her round beautiful face no longer holds any warmth for me. She opens her mouth and she says the words, “You aren’t as much fun as I thought you’d be. I’m sorry but this isn’t working for me.” That’s my cue to get up and leave. She gives me a pity hug, which I accept because I know it’ll be the last time I’ll ever touch her – the last time I’ll ever feel the warmth of her body.
Now back to reality where I’ll live out the rest of my days thinking of this imagined relationship. I come back from my hypothetical brain scenario to the cold bitter truth and I try to hold on to the imagined memories- the conversations that went late until dawn, the food we’d cook together, the laughter, and the sex. None of it was real, but perhaps (and sometimes I believe it and sometimes I don’t)…… perhaps it was better than the real thing after all.