Ninth Street Women

I’m listening to this audiobook called Ninth Street Women. It’s about the 20th Century New York abstract expressionist art scene through the lives of the women who created it. It’s fascinating. Compelling. Elucidating. Evocative. Infuriating. There are times when I want to scream from frustration and times when I laugh in recognition of something all too familiar as an artist in 2023 NYC.

I never lived with Jackson Pollock. But I know the type. He lived and breathed art. He was a cruel drunk. He was miserable when he drank and cunning when he was sober. I’ve known those drunks. You think they’ve blacked out because they’re incoherent and dark. But when you challenge them for their altered behavior, thinking they didn’t know what they missed, they will give you a play by play and tell you how you were wrong. They are tortured and therefore they torture.

That’s my mother. That was my grandfather. He was one charismatic son of a bitch. To his dying day he never stopped beating my grandmother, and in the end I was the one taking calls from his grown daughters who could not avail themselves of any help whenever he landed in jail. Whatever willpower they ever possessed they had long been robbed of. At their request, I drafted the documents to get my grandmother away from him. But their fear, their complex PTSD, their perverse and twisted loyalty, and their adherence to that old chestnut of “What will the neighbors say?” kept them from pulling the trigger and getting her away from him.

Listening to Lee Krasner’s side of the tale now, I know how hard it is to pull a domestic violence victim away from her abuser. Somewhere along the way, her survival got linked to his and telling her to get away is like telling her to stop breathing. It’s always temporary.

As for “What will the neighbors say?”, in a town like Nogales–small, overwhelmingly Mexican and Catholic, lacking in nightlife–the neighbors already know and they are saying plenty. To give you an idea, I once ran a red light on an empty, vaguely illuminated patch of Mariposa Blvd because the light would not change. A cop laid in wait (like I said, not a lot of nightlife). He pulled me over, gave me a warning, and sent me home. In the 15 minutes it took to get home, someone listening to a police scanner (I don’t know who, my mother liked to keep her sources secret from me just to make me feel like someone was *always* watching)  called my house and told my parents what they heard.

There are secrets that thrive in the dark and then there are evil truths that the public will tolerate, if only to use as fodder for gossip or to assure themselves that their lives are at least better than someone else’s.

I could go a lot of places with this train of thought. I could talk about the role I played in the continuing dysfunction of my family and how that wasn’t going to stop until I changed. But that’s not really interesting. Or about the lines of domestic violence and narcissism that run through my family and probably my DNA. I could talk about my increasing exposure to the BDSM/polyamory/spirituality scene here in Brooklyn, though not direct, and how the conversations in that community somehow start and end with trauma but interestingly enough strive to do away with dysfunctional behavior. That too is fascinating and I’m sure I will write about it or, at least, *informed* by it in the future. But today I think I’m processing the here and now. I want to check in with myself.

I recently and very briefly dated someone. My go to reasons for ending it were that he: 

1. Is a Drum and Bass (dnb) musician/dj and I have zero interest in accompanying someone in that world; and 

2. I was allergic to his Tom Ford cologne and he kept wearing it, in spite of me repeatedly telling him that.

While both of those things are true, they are not really why I broke it off so abruptly. I broke it off because it was a house of cards.

First, he was “falling in love” with a projection and he mistakenly thought it was mutual. He took my intuition for love. I know what that’s like. I’ve mistakenly fallen for someone who read my mind and knew exactly how I needed to be touched. That’s not love. That’s a gift. In this connection starved world, the two are easily confused. Unless and sometimes even when both people can intuit the other’s feelings/thoughts/needs, the ability to read someone and give accordingly doesn’t come from love. It comes from anticipation and care. Care can turn into pity or resentment if left unchecked. If you were ever the parent to one or both of your parents, you can be very good at something you feel loath to do. 

Meanwhile, whenever he voiced aloud whatever he believed my internal monologue was, he got it dead wrong. He assumed I was angry at things I didn’t even consider. He thought we both enjoyed being envied as the best dressed people in a room. And he worried constantly that I was too good/mature/smart/sophisticated/attractive for him. The truth can’t compete with that level of insecurity. And by insecurity, I mean the voice of his mother in his head. I’m done dating the Hamlets of this world who are haunted by the spectres of abusive parents. 

The dnb I could have learned to enjoy. I know because half the things I love I originally connected to via men I dated. If you present something to me with love and enthusiasm, I will make the effort to learn its ins and out. That’s a neurodivergent love language.

The Tom Ford I was never going to tolerate. In fact, every time I smelled it, the association became more and more vile. Did I communicate this need as well as I could have? Probably not. He’s autistic and I don’t have a lot of experience communicating with other autistics. I could have said, “Don’t wear that cologne around me ever.” What I did say, repeatedly, was “I’m allergic to your cologne.” And “I had to wash the sheets because they smelled like your cologne.” And “I need to wipe this cologne off of you because it’s giving me a headache.” I didn’t connect A-Z but I got over halfway through the alphabet.

I could have been more explicit. If I had felt like there was a connection, I would have continued trying. Ultimately it came down to intuition and woo woo. Roll your eyes, but when I say that his Venus was in Scorpio, I mean that his love came wounded and its application was consuming, constricting, suffocating, oppressive and a foregone conclusion. He called me “babe” and “V,” which both make my skin crawl. The “babe” thing is something Mexican-American guys do. He’s been on the East Coast for 14 years, but as we say in Mexico, “No se te quita.”

He also once asked me, “Babe, don’t you think it’s weird how you came to the East Coast and ended up with a West Coast Mexican-American?” I don’t think he knew that every part of that sentence was a NOPE for me. Instead of addressing the part of “ending up with” after three weeks of dating, I simply replied, “I’ve known for a long time I won’t end up with an American.” He took that as affirmation.

Ultimately I hid the ball in ways to keep from hurting him but was explicit enough in good faith to judge his ability to meet my needs.

I never slept well with him in bed next to me. That’s a NOPE for me too. He fell asleep instantly, snored, shook in his sleep, and smelled like his cologne. He’d wake me up before I was ready to wake up and I am a classic ADHD angry morning person. I’ve only ever had two boyfriends in working memory who were wonderful co-sleepers. In both of those cases I craved falling asleep next to them just so I could wake up with them the next morning. With pretty much everyone else, I’m counting the seconds until they’re gone so I can have my space to myself.

That last morning, he woke me up unintentionally so I got up and did the dishes from the night before. I talked to myself, trying to calm down a feeling of anger before it exploded disproportionately when the fourth me, the “I” who can see the other “I’s, felt something I’ve only ever felt maybe 10 times before.

“Uh oh. You’ve already made the decision and there’s no going back. You’ve locked this one in.”

There are so many things I waffle on. So many people I will give too many chances to, hoping they’ll reform or I’ll learn to manage them better. All of this happens in the space where loyalty still exists, no matter how perverse in origin. I’ve tolerated so much abuse and neglect because of this sense of loyalty. At the core of that loyalty is survival. Just like Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock.

I’m getting so much better about spotting this now that I can’t trick myself into the bondage of loyalty anymore. Something inside me pushes through to the conscious level and makes the decision for me. There’s no going back. If I’ve gotten to this point I have played out the chess board and figured out that I can take the hit and keep playing. That’s what comes of a lifetime of losses. They don’t scare me like they used to.

The only thing left to do is find the way out of the situation with the least amount of damage done. Everything up until this point I feel like I have practiced and gotten better at. I know how to slow down my feelings. Examine the situation. Figure out what works and what doesn’t. State my needs in multiple ways. State my boundaries reasonably. Manage situations on the fly. I’m proud of myself for all of this.

But when I’m done, I’m done, and I don’t exit gracefully. I walk over the bridge I’ve already strapped dynamite to and then I wait for the other person to strike a match. There is no whimper. There is only bang. No grace. Just an end. And probably a lot of confusion on the part of the other person because they didn’t possess the discernment to see the fuses all around them and the match they held in their hand the entire time. We co-created this reality. I take responsibility for my part and they still think that life is something that happens to them.

Grace is what I need to learn. The grace is what will, I pray, quell the voice that says, “HOW HARD IS IT TO GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER WHEN I’M DOING IT AND I’M THE LEAST EQUIPPED?”

Rilke, I’ve recently learned via the Ninth Street Women book, has something to say about the loneliness of having learned lessons and the grace one must afford to others who have not yet learned them. I want to read it over and over. I’ve never been patient when people couldn’t understand things that came quickly to me, possibly because I didn’t understand compassion or that my gifts gave me advantages as well as existential loneliness. I only knew that I was alone and bored and I struck out at anyone who could not match me where I was. When I see the men who feel this way, the very Holden Caulfieldness of it all makes me sick. I have to learn the grace to overcome what it is I feel that makes me less compassionate so I can finally work around that last hurdle of bridge annihilation.

Then we can level up and start working on other, better things.

“Be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again…”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

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