Why don’t I know you (or, the quad, number 4)

It wasn’t at first a conscious decision, not to name these four guys. Thinking about it, I don’t feel like they need names. They’re all just what’s past. It has been six years since 4 and I ended things.

I still know exactly how the breakup felt. It felt like I was drowning and I had forgotten how to swim. And in a way, that is exactly what was happening. I was helpless and suffocated by my own thoughts and fears. Being single in New York City, no clue what that even meant, was beyond my comprehension. Everything that happened since, created the person I am now.

I met 4 in Prague. He was in my study abroad program, part of the NYU Bubble, as they’re called. We lived in the same dorm building. It wasn’t until one month before going home that we met in Radost FX, the club where Rihanna shot the music video for Please Don’t Stop the Music. I followed our mutual friend over to number 4’s group, and noticed him immediately. I looked him in the eye, and let, “Why don’t I know you?” escape from my mouth. We always laughed about that.

The weird thing about 4 is that I draw a blank on what it felt like to be with him. I can remember some. He was handsome. When I worked at Late Night, he appeared on-air in a celebrity doppelgänger segment, because he looked like a hybrid of Tom Brady and Robert Pattinson. He came from a much wealthier upbringing than I did and he was well-traveled. He grew up in Connecticut. He was a fellow-NYU student and studied Music Business, but would go on to work in Television, like I did. He was different from the others. And he was two and a half years younger than me.

His mother hated me, she made that known. It was jarring and hurtful. His sister became my sister. I loved her, dearly, and still do; she is still very much a part of my life. He was in a wedding band, and I followed him to his events. I loved watching him on stage. I learned to polka dance, poorly. It was a Ukrainian wedding band. His family was heavily ingrained in this Ukrainian community that was super tight-knit and huge and somewhat cult-like (to my standards at least, which, despite having a Polish father, were culturally limited). All these traditions, from the old country, I had found both eerily odd and fascinatingly charming. I went out with my friends a lot, still, that was important to me. And he came out with us a lot, too. He was quiet.

We fought. There were a lot of fights over “the principle of the matter” and “fairness.” And he hated my drinking, but in that respect, I was just getting started. We had great times though, and a good rapport and a supportive relationship, really. He was an actual partner. When I look back now, I realize what I never did then; all my frustrations with him, they were because I wanted him to be someone else. Ironic that we argued about fairness, but how incredibly unfair I had been to him. I’d text Jessica, my best friend (there you are), as I lie awake in bed next to him, to tell her how trapped I felt. I hear a lot of people complain about their significant other in ways that I know mean they want to change them. I want to shake these people. I want to stop them from going through what I went through, from putting another person through that, too.

He broke up with me, after three years. I think we could have been great friends, but we made an error in trying to remain best friends, for a full year immediately following our breakup. For us, that wasn’t right. I was clinging to this idea of whatever it was we’d had, because I was so scared of being alone. He was, honestly bless his heart, so reluctant to hurt me and also, scared of what it meant to let go. A lot of resentment built between us, and eventually, any semblance of any sort of camaraderie we had or could have had, faded away.

Number 4 was my most significant romantic relationship. I wish there was a fuller way to write our story, but, there isn’t. He’s just a ghost now.

The quad, number 3 

I’ve been food shopping and making my own breakfast, lunch and dinner, since Mexico. That’s a thing that most adults do, I realize, but I never had. I could make hundreds of excuses, but essentially, buying food out, wasting all that money… was just, laziness.

I just stopped in Sweetgreen (sweet Sweetgreen, how I miss your financially wasteful but delicious $14 salads) to ask if I could purchase a small side of dressing for the dressing-less salad I have waiting for me at home. This isn’t a normal ask, I just left my dressing at work and fuck you, I don’t want to use olive oil.

The cashier’s response? “I’m not going to sell you a dressing, but I will give you a dressing.” Her headband had a watermelon rind pattern on it and she was lovely.

That’s something number 3 taught me: people give you a lot of shit for free, if you just ask.

His thing was free sodas at Taco Bell. Mountain Dew. His literal pride and joy, outside of Guitar Hero and conspiracy theories and racing cars.

I’ve never been one for hand outs. When I was 12 years old, my parents said, if you want fancy new clothes (Abercrombie) and spending money, get a job. So I did.

Everyday after school I babysat two girls, and their dogs, for three hours. And on the side, I worked making classroom posterboard presentations for their mom, a teacher, at an hourly rate. Hustling before I knew what hustling was. Eleven years old was the last time, in my entire life, when I was unemployed. They’ve given me a lot, my parents, and I know that, but I have always been accountable, which to me, is worth noting.

So even having a guy pay for me on a date felt like a handout. That was never me, I always split things, right down the middle. Insist on it, because that’s what’s fair. I remember when online dating was still taboo, when I was with number 4, and my friends had quietly joined. This one girl would say that even if she hated the guy, she still got a free dinner out of it. I couldn’t grasp that logic.

I met 3 through his friend who I worked with at Macaroni Grill. I was a hostess. When the manager hired me he’d said my smile would bring in all the customers. When I was training, as a runner, I spilled hot pasta sauce, covering a man’s lap. My manager had laughed when I told him and said not to worry, we’d just comp him. They hung my written test on the board in the break room, because I was the only employee to score 100. Number 3’s friend had a crush on me. But when I was introduced to 3, he won me over, by jumping through the sunroof of my Volkswagen Beetle. I’d been a real sucker for mindless assholery back when.

He was a lot of fun for a few months. He was spontaneous and silly. He was alternative, compared to my friends and I. He had snakebite lip rings. And he adored me. But he was the kind of guy, I always knew, that would adore anyone.

Eventually, he started to annoy me, a lot. He would visit me at school as I tried to study and beg me to play video games with him. I took school very seriously then, finally, because it was my money (the loan company’s money) paying for it. I spent a whole summer trying to break up with him, before I left to Prague, but he would cry, and I would take him back. An endless cycle of break up-cry-take him backs. I don’t think I had ever seen a man cry. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, I just, I didn’t know men that cried. I never cried in front of anyone. My best friend, to this day, has maybe seen me cry once.

I went to Prague, still dating him. My friend Amanda and I rewrote the words to Miley Cyrus’ Seven Things I Hate About You to a parody about how much I couldn’t stand my boyfriend (well, there’s a funny word). After a month or two abroad, I broke up with him. He hadn’t been able to understand why I couldn’t spend my full days Skyping him. He had been so controlling. I never saw him after that; I never saw him again. We had dated for a year and a half. Later, when I was returning home, he contacted my mom to beg her to let him pick me up from the airport with her; I told her she shouldn’t dare. I regret this cruelness now, to leave him with zero closure, but at the time, it was the only way I saw possible to remove myself from him. I was single for the first time in almost five years, for a whole whopping month.

After I broke up with him, I had a one night stand with a guy named Greg in Poland, the night before I went to Aushwitz. It made me feel sick; both aforementioned made me feel sick. But the autonomy was vibrant.

And then, I met number 4.

The quad, numbers 1 and 2

To move forward I have to move back. They say you’re not supposed to look back, I’m making an effort to not do so as often, but back is where it all began.

From ages 16-24, I was in a relationship. Not with the same guy, with four different guys, back to back to back to back.

My first boyfriend was at 16, when I lived in Florida. I cannot talk about him without saying that he died last year. I found out through his sister’s Facebook post. It is a strange feeling, knowing that the person you lost your virginity to is no longer here. I hadn’t spoken to him in years, but I knew he was out there.

What I will say about him, when I knew him, is that he was a ball of energy, incredibly charismatic, and loved by many. He wasn’t a “good kid,” he didn’t care for rules and he was reckless, trespassing, skipping school, smoking, drinking codene and doing whippets. I didn’t even drink alcohol until I was 21. I was a bystander to his usage, but it didn’t bother me. I was an intrigued observer; I felt edgier just being around it. He knew that he would not live all of his days as a typical youth could expect to, and so he lived his version of living life to the fullest, then.

It wasn’t visible that he was sick. I knew it, he had told us, but at 16, you are invincible and illness inconceivable. All I saw was this guy with a zest for life. I loved him for that. Even when I found out he was cheating on me, my first heartbreak, I still loved him for that. My friends back home in New York, they didn’t understand me losing my virginity then. They expressed it cruelly. It was isolating. I remember sitting alone in a dark room, having been betrayed by this guy, having no one to really talk to, hysterical. He’d gotten a new girlfriend, too, and I was still sleeping with him. Virgin to harlot, in less than a year. Sixteen, in retrospect, is very-very young.

I moved back to New York from Florida in time to finish my junior year of high school. I had been in Florida for eight months, but the story of how and why I got there, or why I had to move back home, does not fit here. I never did attend my senior year, I had enough credit to graduate with a full diploma from all of the honors and college-level classes I had taken, since I was twelve. My guidance counselor, when reviewing my low attendance and flunking grades from my time in the F state, only remarked “Well, you clearly don’t want to be in school anymore.”

So I graduated early.

Instead of attending senior year I worked at Dylan’s Candy Bar in the mall. I had a lot of fun there. While interviewing a prospective employee, my manager pointed to me and said, “Thats Lily. If you’re ever in a bad mood, go stand by her. I swear, you could put that girl in a padded room alone and it would take her hours till she was bored of herself.”

I liked Dylan’s. I liked not sitting in a classroom, a disinterested teacher dictating old ideas at me. I liked getting out of my house, which wasn’t a house, but my neighbor’s basement that my mom, dad, brother, sister, dog and me were all crammed in together. We lived there as our new house, a purchase made when we decided to fully forgo the Florida move, was being built. It took half a year.

There’s not much to say about boyfriend number two. He was my manager’s best friend. He was six years older than me. He worked the night shift at Target and I would visit him at his parents’ house during the day; coincidentally, his room was in the basement. He nicknamed me Flannigan, not-so-aptly after some bar, Lily Flannigans. I still didn’t drink. He thought men were smarter than women. I got a real kick out of that. We dated for two years. Eventually, we both realized we were just wasting time.

I have no idea why, but he called me at some point, years after we’d split, completely out of the blue, to tell me he was getting married.

“Who knows,” he’d said, “maybe the next time you hear from me, I’ll be having kids.”

Jed’s living in a hut in [?]

Sarajane used to tell us stories about Jed. A world traveler, nomad, living everywhere from South America to India, surfing, white water rafting, riding motorcycles through Asia. It was like hearing stories out of my childhood dreams. But he was a real person, living them. 

We’d be out at some overpriced West Village bar, elbowing our way through the crowd to order a drink, and Sarajane would casually mention, “Jed’s living in a hut in El Salvador (it might have been Ecuador, who remembers such things) now.”

I couldn’t believe a person could actually do that. How come I never did that? 

When he came to visit Sarajane in New York we all went out to one of those East Village Indian restaurants with a comical abundance of Christmas Lights and a BYOB policy. I don’t remember too much about that first time meeting him except for the following:

1. He was with his girlfriend. They both seemed nice. 

2. I think I asked him a lot of questions about traveling and his life in general. 

3. He bore a striking resemblance to Sarajane (which in retrospect is an odd thing to say, but let the record show, in the interest of truth, I’ve said it dozens of times).

But that was it. I met Sarajane’s nomadic brother, nothing more, nothing less. In between then and now, which is either three, four or five years, I can’t quite say, he came to New York for a handful of visits. I just know that I’ve met him a few times. 

My interest in him peaked when he lived here for a 4-month stint, a couple of years ago. Sarajane, Dan, Jed and I went out one night and when I went outside of the bar to smoke, he followed me. I had been trying to play his wingman earlier in the evening, to which he said I was doing an awful job. I don’t remember too much about that time outside, just him saying something about me not being so much older than him and knowing that he was hitting on me. 

After that I lowered the age range on my Tinder to include males four years younger than me. I confessed this to him in Mexico, in the woods over a campfire that he taught me how to build. I guess when I lowered it, I was just, seeing what would happen?

He left New York, I’m assuming shortly after that, to some other place in the world. 

It’s Bean awhile 

I met Sarajane in 2009. It’s crazy to think how long ago that is.

We met at work. She was the desk Page at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and I was the Talent Assistant (assisting three talent bookers, the leader of the three had gained the reputation of Mean Girl throughout the New York entertainment industry). We got to know each other through Zarah, the Roots/Questlove’s assistant. I’m not going to be modest here, we were really cool early 20 somethings, with highly coveted jobs.

I mean, imagine that, everyday you swipe your employee ID into 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where security is so tight that even A-list celebrities can’t get in without a visitor’s pass. When friends visit you at work, you casually stroll them through the SNL studio, let them take their photo in front of the famous stage. Celebrities come to your job, two at a time, every single day. Even though you thought it could never happen, you become jaded to their fame. Gwenyth Paltrow and Mario Batali are on the dance floor next to you at your office holiday party. You transfer Alec Baldwin’s calls to your boss, who is Lorne Michael’s wife, regularly. Chefs invite you to their restaurants and producers to their plays, as their guest, in hopes of getting on the show. You go to red carpet movie premieres with Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon feet away from you and sit front row at Britney Spears concerts, for free. Imagine that, at 22-years old, and you’re somehow there because you cold applied online while you were traveling in Italy and had your first phone interview drunk from your dorm room in Prague. A month later, you danced in Penn Station at 2am to Jimmy Fallon’s “Idiot Girlfriend” playing on your headphones, when you read the email that you got the gig, which at first was an internship, before the show had even aired. You were on the way home to Long Island, after a night drinking in the city, back home to where people only watched TV.

I worked there for three years, and I can barely imagine it anymore. There’s photographic evidence.

But it was never enough for me.

Sarajane impressed me. She’d moved to New York from Montana, to attend college at Vassar. She’d always dreamt of being a New Yorker. I thought Montana sounded amazing. Her family were outdoor people, skiiers, campers. I didn’t know anyone like that, let alone people who woke up to mountains everyday instead of cul-de-sacs. Of all the different lives we could get, why do we get the ones we do? I’ve always wondered that.

We bonded in the way metropolitan young professionals do, over drinks and career-talk, and boy talk. We went through our biggest break ups together, we told each other everything about the pain we felt, about our dating (mis)adventures.

Her drive in her career amazed me. She was so focused and determined. She knew exactly what she wanted and she went after it, with full confidence. I had no idea what I wanted, I had just wound up there; that kind of clarity was enchanting. She worked for the biggest names in entertainment, and they adored her. When she moved to LA for work, I moved into her room, in Zarah’s apartment on the Upper West Side. I went on to live there for six years, up until last August. More on that, some other time.

I visited Sarajane in LA a few times over the years she was there, and she visited New York. We remained close, spoke on Gchat daily. We just got each other. She took on more of a mentor role in our relationship, she would lend me advice, and I appreciated that, because she seemed so sure of everything I was unsure. We related to one another, she wasn’t miles ahead of me or without confusion or desire, she just had a clearer head than I did.

She moved back to New York a few years ago. We hung out a lot then. Eventually she met this guy, Dan, who was ready for all the things she was, and who is wonderful. A genuinely good, caring, charismatic all around great human They’re engaged now, and I don’t see her as much, and we aren’t on the exact same page anymore, but I love her and admire her, just as I always have. A friend for life.

Jed calls her Bean.

Riddle me this

When I was a kid, I loved fishing with my dad. We’d go out to Jones Beach and set up lines along the pier, throw a crab cage into the ocean. For the fish, we had worms that we’d buy at a little shack on the way to the beach, and we had those fancy, shimmery plastic bait, too. Usually we’d sit for a couple hours, until he’d drank a few beers and felt too hot in the sun. The best was if we caught some crab, and he’d let them loose on the dock so me and Spencer and Ally  could chase them around.

I idolize my father. I do now and I did then. Back then he was very mysterious to me. A man who came to America from Poland at 15 years old, not speaking a word of English, became a Marine, married a Polish woman, worked in his sister’s hair salon in Queens, had a son, divorced the Polish woman, met my mom in the hair salon, married my mom, became a Police detective in Suffolk County, and had me, my brother and sister.

He wasn’t around a whole lot. He worked nights every other fortnight. When he wasn’t working he went to the bar alone, to just sit there and drink beer, or, do things less innocent, likely. If he was home he was sleeping or fighting with my mom. He was villainized a lot, and my allegence was to my mom, but I still worshipped him. He was fun and brave and sociable and worldly. But he was also scary and had a quick temper. He gave me funny nicknames like Peachka and Lola. He was my protector. He’s the reason for this.

That’s me. Four years old, not afraid of anything. What could hurt me with my dad by my side? What would even dare to try?

When I visited Jed in Mexico in April he tried to take me spearfishing. I was really excited. He gave me a wetsuit and water shoes that both belonged to his 6′ tall male friend, who he said had likely peed in the wetsuit dozens of times. He gave me the spear and the snorkel and told me that once we got past the rocks, start swimming, dive under the waves, and when you see a fish, tighten the elastic grip on the spear handle and then release it quickly. Once you spear a fish, it might be a struggle, but wriggle the spear a bit and swim, dragging it back to shore.

Cool. I’m not afraid of anything. 

I couldn’t get past the rocks. The shoes kept falling off my feet and the rocks were huge, completely lining the ocean floor for what looked like a mile. I was slipping and kept falling on my ass. Jed made it looks insanely easy, flying over them. I was so frustrated and angry. I gave up. My feet were completely cut up, he said from barnacles on the rocks. Thinking about it now, my body heats up. That was day three in Mexico.

He took me surfing the first day. Disastrous. Granted, I’ve been told post that the waves in Mexico are not for beginners, but it was the same feeling I’d return to two days later. I was unsure and unstable and my own brain said no, somehow against my will.

The day I got back to New York, I signed up for three surf lessons in Far Rockaway, spaced out from the end of May through the end of June. I’m not going to just not be able to do something. I have to prove to myself that I can. I’m brave, like my dad. I can do anything.

Yesterday I tried to go to my first lesson and missed it. I was 15-minutes late, so I rescheduled. On the way, some kid on the street chased me down to ask for my number. He told me I look Latin. The Spanish apps must be working.

The only other time I went out to Far Rockaway, which takes about an hour to get to by subway, was with Chelsea and Sarajane. Some weird guy followed us for five full blocks repeatedly screaming, “Riddle me this, riddle me that!” It’s funny that the only other time I was there was with Sarajane.

I’m back on my way now, for my actual first surf lesson.

Update: I stood! Several times. My instructor Jeff with Skudin Surf was great. I fucking knew I could do it. 

Ps I am going to my first surf lesson today 

Did you ever write letters with anyone? I did, with Julie and Krista. I knew them both from Carousel Day Camp in Hicksville, NY. I affectionately referred to Krista as my camp mom. She was my counselor one year and after that, I clung to her. She had this smile that was infectious. I worshipped her. She’s the reason I watched Friends, even though I didn’t get the humor at the time (Krista was five years my senior). I love Friends.

My real mom had breast cancer. She’s alive and well now. She’s been in remission for years. But, she came out of chemo and got a job as a bus driver at Carousel Day Camp because we couldn’t afford to send me and my brother and sister. She worked there so we could go to camp. My real mom, she’s, amazing. I don’t think she knows that I feel that way.

Anyway, Jed is a white water rafting guide. It’s a world I am unfamiliar with and fascinated by. He leads 14+ day expeditions on the Grand Canyon, in Tibet, Idaho… Jed, he’s amazing. I want to be amazing, but, I digress. Jed has no service on the river, so, letters.

I called the gym. They have my Benny Lewis book.