Short Story (as mentioned in Tumbling)

Here's the first story I wrote when I arrived in New York. It's a fictional version of my last night in Michigan. To read the post it was mentioned in, click here.   

Red Trunks and Blue Water

by Tanya Eby

When you see him on the beach, just the back of him, you see only the brightness of his red trunks, the slight dawning on his shoulders of sunburn. When you see him, when you watch him watching the water, you wonder what he would feel like lying beneath you. You can almost trace the sharp curves of him; how his shoulder blades rise like the curve of a Frisbee, how his hipbones, like bottle caps, would dig into the softness of you. Then you remember the softness of you. You are mounds of sand, folding. You are dunes and white hills. You would swallow him. There would be nothing left.

 

"You want some chicken? Have some chicken." It is sunset. You are on the back porch of a cottage overlooking Lake Michigan. Everything is washed in a warm, red light and you finally understand the term rose-colored glasses. Your friends, who own the cottage, bustle about. They want your last days in Michigan to be memorable. In New York, looking at the cool brick walls of your apartment, they want you to be able to close your eyes and hear water on the sand…and you will.

"Chicken is good for you. It's grilled." This is Brian. He is tall and blond and gay. He stands looking down at you, smiling. "You'll waste away to nothing in New York. You won't be able to afford anything. You'll have to eat Ramen Noodles."

"Ramen Noodles." His partner, Greg, echoes from the kitchen where he stands, doing dishes, listening.

You eat your chicken.

Later, the sun slips away in a burst of magentas and deep purple. You all applaud, you and Brian and Greg, as if the sun could come out and take a bow, as if the sunset would perform an encore if you shouted loud enough.

Brian sits next to you. "What are you thinking?" he asks. He squeezes your knee. You know you should tell him you're thinking of the flight tomorrow, of being scared, but you're not. You're thinking of the heat in the air, the lake rolling against the sand. You're thinking, briefly, in flashes of red, of someone you've only just met. You wonder what he's eating at the cottage next door with his sister and her family.

It's that slight time of bluing…daylight blending into the dark denim of memory. The bugs are out. You slap your thighs, your legs, your ankles. But none of you wants to go in.

"I'm thinking I'd like to go for a swim," you say. Brian nods slowly.

"Not too far," Brian says, ever the big brother, ever watchful.

 

In the water, you are a buoy. Your breasts bob, your stomach lifts, your legs drift apart. You can lie like this forever, suspended in the gentle rocking of the lake. It is a good time for this; the water is calm. Tomorrow there will be waves; great waves and heavy rain and you will have no regrets. You bob. You feel as if you are water breathing-your hair fluid around you; no sound, save the beating of your heart, the surge of sand beneath you. You stretch. You are beautiful. Here, the moon shining on you, you being water, you are a round pearl smoothed. You are reflective. You are light.

 

This happens earlier.

"Why New York? Why do you want to go there?" Your mom asks. She is not angry; she only wants to understand. You try to be honest with her, to not hold back.

"I don't know," you say. " It just feels right."

"But what are you going to do with your things?"

"I'm going to sell them."

"Everything? What about your furniture?"

"I'm giving it away."

"But why?"

You can't explain.

"I'll keep some things," you say. Your mother smiles weakly. "I'll keep my clothes. Some books."

"What about your movies? I could keep your movies for you. And your Christmas ornaments. You can't give up everything. It's not healthy."

"Would you mind keeping some of my things?" Your mother's eyes beam.

"No! Not at all!" Then she shows you the Martha Stewart labeler she ordered straight from the magazine, and the huge Tupperware tubs she bought at a garage sale for an event such as this. She's always like this. She plunges forward. She focuses. Later she will cry heavy tears and try to understand. You don't want to think of her crying.

"Promise me," she says. She holds you at arms length and stares you in the eyes. This is her old trick. She's done this for years to see if you ate the cookies, if you hit your brother, if you changed your grades with a pencil and eraser. "Promise me whatever you do, you won't use the elevators." She pauses. Waits for you to blink. "They have those rolling blackouts and I don't want you to get stuck in an elevator with someone crazy."

This is the only thing she asks of you. This is her one great worry about New York.

And then you laugh.

Both of you.

 

On the sand, he watches you, but you are not aware. In your mind, he is just a speck, a grain of bright red.

There isn't a reason for your moving…just a sense that something in you has shifted, as the shore shifts, as your body floating on the surface of the water shifts. You could give a hundred reasons if pressed. You draw your fingers through the water as if able to create an angel that will linger behind you, wings spread. There's only one reason that matters: because you want to. Because you want to become someone new. You want to emerge as an orange.

Peeled.

 

Brian and Greg ring the dinner bell. They're telling you to come in; it's too dark; they can't separate your shape anymore from the water. You swim to shore trying to memorize each motion of your body. Crawling out of the water is like surfacing from a dream. It still clings to you, still wants to pull you in. You wrap in a towel. You can hear laughter between the two cottages and the crackle of a bonfire.

You imagine the rest of the evening before it happens. This is not to say you're psychic; they haven't created a word yet to describe how far from psychic you are. You imagine because you are bored. You are trying to keep your mind from thinking other things…of things like leaving everyone you know and love, of moving to a place where everything, even the rain, will be terrifyingly, wonderfully new. It's the ripple effect. You toss in a stone and follow each ripple as it grows. Sometimes you get lucky: sometimes you see where the ripples go.

You imagine there will be laughter and stories passed and marshmallows too burnt laid over half-melting chocolate. Your friends will sing your praises of having the balls to move. You will glance between your legs and the circle will laugh because, clearly, you have no balls. You will catch his eye and your face will redden and you will blame it on the heat of the fire. "This is a great fire," you will say and their faces, illuminated and shadowed, will nod, heavy of sleep.

It isn't that you want love. It isn't that you need it necessarily. You just want someone to notice you. To do a look-again. To imagine kissing you, touching the soft of your arm, brushing the bangs from your face. It is always about this: hoping for someone to pause because you exist.

This, too, is a memory being made. Later, in the heart of Manhattan, you will have trouble recalling the exact shade of blue of the night sky, the exact words spoken. You will remember only this:

You sat on the beach, you and the man whose name you won't quite remember who looked at you from the beach and wore red swimming trunks. You sat on the beach while the rest of the world was weighted with sleep, shoulders just touching as if by coincidence, as if you weren't aware of the closeness of your skin, as if electricity were normal. You were talking and then he reached over and touched your cheek. "You're touching my cheek," you said, though maybe that's not what you should have said. And then you were kissing. And then, later, you will remember that you imagined you were outside yourself, observing. You watched from above; your two bodies like bleached wood entwined, rolled smooth from years of wind and sand.

You will remember kissing him and looking at the night sky and feeling vastly empty. You will remember that your tongue moved and your body moaned and you tried to count the stars one by one by one by one. I am not this, you thought. Just that.

This is not who I am.

In the morning the sky is smoke gray. It's an old stretched canvass empty of paint. In the car, your cheek against the glass, the rain heavy on the window, you have no regrets. Not really. It was a good swim. You felt so alive then, buoyed by water, floating in the own expanse of your skin.

You leave quickly. A hug and a kiss to Brian and Greg. Chin up. Feet moving forward. No looking back. Ghosts of you, of the turns you could have taken, spiraling around you and then evaporating as mist.

Barreling through the clouds, the plane hits a great lake of blue. It is so blue and so bright, you shade your eyes. You are now soaring from the bottom of the deepest lake, reaching bravely for he surface that somewhere stretches just before you, blinking white.

My Last Night in Michigan. July 09, 2001

July, 2001 (28 years old)

After I said goodbye to my friends and family and packed my remaining belongings into two suitcases, I decided to spend my final evening in Michigan in the best place I could think of: on the shore of Lake Michigan at my friends’ cottage.

Brendan and I were so close that we could finish each other’s sentences. Sometimes we’d have entire conversations just looking at each other. But it wasn’t the healthiest of relationships for us since he was George’s partner and they really should’ve been sharing that kind of telepathy; and I was a single girl looking for love. Brendan and I filled a gap for each other that should have been filled by a love partner. Do you know what I mean? It would take time and distance before either of us would be able to let go.

You see, as much as I loved Brendan and George, there were certain things they couldn’t do for me. Not even if they were really, really drunk.

So I spent the last night at their cottage. It was a beautiful day. There was a family renting the cottage next door and I noticed a very attractive guy about the same age as me. And he was French. Since it was my last night in Michigan, I decided to flirt. I was a terrible flirt, but somehow we ended up taking a stroll down to the water around two in the morning and kissing in the sand. It sounds romantic, but it really wasn’t. It was another one of those moments that on the surface seems beautiful and sexy and emotional, when really it was just cold, sandy and with a lot of pointless lip wagging.

I woke up in the morning in my own bed (alone of course) and then Brendan and I drove my car to the airport.

I was driving and I was nervous. Brendan was going to let me keep my car at their place for a while until I could figure out how to turn it in. (It was leased.) About thirty minutes from the airport, a woman pulled out in front of me and we collided in a crash of screeching metal. Brendan was tossed forward. I think I was too but I was too stunned to do anything. The car was totaled, and my flight was leaving in an hour and a half.

I didn’t know what to do. Was it a sign? Was the universe saying I should stay home and that only way it could get me to listen was to put me in a car accident?

Then I told myself that was ridiculous. Of course it was just an accident, and the cop told us it was the other driver’s fault entirely. She was seventeen and scared bloodless.

I don’t know how I got to the airport after the tow truck came. I think Brendan drove me. His back was messed up and I ached all over, but I was getting on that plane. I had a destiny to meet and it wouldn’t wait any longer.

I got on the plane. I said goodbye to Grand Rapids.

Later, I would write a story about my last night in Grand Rapids. I changed the details, added some salacious bits, but at the heart of it the feelings were real. I’ll post it in a separate post. It’s interesting to me because I wrote it just two months before the Towers were hit, and it seems to be a story that is relentlessly hopeful, even though it’s weighted with sadness.

I find that very curious.

Tumbling 9/11--A million little details

August 8, 2011 (38 yrs. old)

It’s weird when you look back on your life and see how a million tiny decisions lead up to something that feels like fate. Maybe it even IS fate. I don’t know.  I probably would never have moved to New York if all of these things didn’t happen. So part of me thinks I was slowly preparing for it, even though I wasn't aware of that.

2000 (28 yrs. old)

1) I had a gorgeous boyfriend who was a partial inspiration for Ronny the Rocker in “Easy Does It”. He was fun, hot, and we didn’t have a whole lot in common. I probably could’ve happily dated him for some time, but after a few months, I broke up with him. It didn’t feel real to me. It felt like we were pretending at being in love, and as fun as that was, it didn’t leave me feeling very fulfilled. I broke up with him. Or he broke up with me. Basically, we shook hands, said “That was fun” and parted ways. I wanted something “More”.

2) I thought I had that something “More” with a guy I’ll just call M. I’d known him for two years and was seriously head-over-heels in love with him, even though I knew he only saw me as a friend. (He’s the inspiration for “Blunder Woman”.) Because of this unhealthy fixation on him, I couldn’t seem to move forward. No other guy compared.

It was Christmas time and we met at a coffee shop to exchange gifts. The snow fell outside in great big flakes, that soft snow that happens in movies where the guy kisses the girl outside. I thought this could happen. I made sure I looked cute in my big scarf and red peacoat.

I gave him a quilt I hand-quilted. It took me weeks and as I quilted I made little wishes for him, wishes for his happiness, for love, for health. (I blush to think of this now.) He liked the quilt, said thanks, and then gave me a book he found in his parents’ basement. He didn’t read it or know anything about it, just, well, it looked old. And then he told me he’d met and proposed to a woman he met just a few weeks before. I said “That’s great!” stumbled out into the snow and never felt as cold as I did on that night.

Later I found out that, like me, he had three or four other ‘very close female friends’, all of us pining for him to love us. All of us thinking we were special. It broke my heart. And worse than that, I was embarrassed to have fallen in love and had a relationship that primarily existed in my head.

 2001, (27 yrs. old)

3) In January, I was waitressing at The Sierra Room. It was fine dining with lush velvet curtains, fusion cuisine. I started really learning about food and wine there. In between shifts, I acted in a lot of shows, got together with friends, partied, and came home most nights tipsy and lonely. I lived in a two bedroom apartment in a not-so-good area of town and I was beyond broke. A waiter at the restaurant (Tommy) needed a roommate. We had good chemistry, softly flirtatious, but nothing serious. He said I could move in with him. I sold all my furniture for extra cash since he had a furnished room. I packed my three suitcases, and my computer, and moved into the attic of his very cool apartment. He was training to be a chef, and I started to realize that I was a foodie in the making.

The main thing here is that I sold everything. I was now boyfriend-less, without furniture, and heartbroken. The perfect storm for a writer. The perfect storm for change.

4) In the spring, a friend of mine needed help making a short film. We tooled around Northern Michigan and tried to film this short piece. I was in charge of locations and script. We never finished the piece…it was way harder than I thought it would be, but we’d become friends. In June, he called me in a panic. His sister needed a roommate in her flat in New York City for two months. And she needed a roommate immediately.

June, 2001 (28 yrs. old)

So. I was renting a furnished room, had no relationship, was heartbroken, desperately wanted a new start, and I wanted MORE from life. And I’d just turned 28. 30 was looming. And what was I doing? Did I want to be a waitress my whole life? I could be a waitress anywhere. If I was going to be a waitress…I was going to do it in New York.

I called my friends. I quit my job. I had a going away party where my friends and family came together and donated money to help me start over. I booked a plane, and with about $800, I was ready to make a new start. In New York.

This was it! This was fate! I was going to New York. I’d find my heart’s desire. I’d find true love, my writing career would take off, and I’d live happily ever after. I was made for New York.

What could possibly go wrong?

Tumbling 9/11-- It starts with a conversation

August 7, 2011... 38 years old

I’m having a hard time writing about my experience in New York. It’s not that I’m all emotional or anything…it’s just that it was ten years ago and I’m having a hard time organizing my thoughts and memories. I didn’t keep a journal and I can’t find the calendar I kept then with all my appointments and meetings (which might trigger memories). All I have are sort of disjointed flashes of memory.

But I guess if you don’t at least try to organize your thoughts, they’ll never get out there. So. Let's go back.

1999...26 years old

I was in Actor’s Theatre’s production of “Angels in America” in Grand Rapids. I played Harper. And I remember a conversation I had with one of the actors, Craig. We were in the hallway waiting to rehearse and he said: “Tanya, you’re so talented. I just have one question for you.”

“What’s that?”

“Why are you here?”

I looked at him, puzzled. “What do you mean why am I here? I love acting? This is a great role?”

Then he cracked his big ol’ grin and he said, “No. Why are you here in Grand Rapids? You should be in New York or something.”

I shook my head. “I’m twenty-six. I’m too old. Plus, I’ve got my life here.”

He laughed. “You’re still young. Honey, if I were you I’d pack up and move.”

That little conversation stayed with me. I thought I was so settled, but what did I really have? I worked part time at a music society (St. Cecilia), I waitressed, I was just out of another bad relationship. I didn’t have kids. I wasn’t married. And according to Craig…I wasn’t even old yet.

But it would take me another two years before I’d take him up on his little challenge, but in that hallway, the seed for a major change was planted.

(It’s funny that a little conversation with someone in a hallway could change your life. But I do look at that moment as a life-changing conversation. I guess it shows that you never know when or how you’re going to affect another person. It’s an awesome, beautiful thing.)

New series of blogs on 9/11 starting soon. Maybe.

While working out yesterday with a friend of mine, we somehow got on the subject briefly of New York. She knows that I lived there from July 2001 to February 2002. I didn't even last a year there, but it was an experience that has shaped my adult life. For many reasons, but most of all because of 9/11. Over the years I've had people say that I should write about my experience there and what happened. I've always said no, for the following reasons: I don't want to capitalize on or trivialize the experience; I was just an observer to the events; I don't feel as if my experience sheds any light on what happened. My family and close friends already know the story, so I also feel like I'm repeating something they don't want to hear. Mostly, I just don't want to be another writer capitalizing or dramatizing what was a devastating experience for so many people.

But...

The ten year anniversary is coming up, and of course I think about 9/11 and that day; more and more though I think about my life as it is now and the reverberations of that day. I have "What Ifs" about my life. It's like my life split. In one life I stay in New York.

I can see my life as it might have been: me still in New York, working at some nonprofit arts organization, working up the ladder, attending social events. In that life, I'm a more successful writer than I am now. I'm published by a big literary house. I have artistic friends. I'm still single. I have no children. I am happy but missing something. I have hard edges. I am lonely.

In the life that I chose, I'm here in Grand Rapids with my kids, my house, my fiance, planning a wedding. I've written three books that haven't sold much. I'm working on a fourth. I teach. I cook. I am happy, but still wonder if I could've been something better artistically. I wonder if it's too late for my work to be anything more than it is: fluff. I am loved. I am supported. I feel like I matter.

I guess this is why I've decided to write about my experience in New York, but not just the day on September 11. I wasn't there that long, and I'd like to tell the story from the beginning. Thankfully, I didn't lose anyone in the towers. I didn't see some of the horrors that others did. But I was there. Maybe in that story, of a 28-year-old giving up everything and moving from Grand Rapids to New York, working at Carnegie Hall, going through September 11, and drastically changing her life...maybe there's something valid in that too. I'll try to be totally honest. I'll try not to sensationalize or make September 11 about me. It wasn't about me. But maybe my little story shows how that day changed all of us. Sometimes for the worse...but...I think in my case...it changed me for the better.

I'll still do some fun, pointless blogs too.

Look for the "Tumbling 9/11" tag to read these posts. Other posts will be sorted into the regular 'blog' post.

-Tanya-