The Catalyst

A Writing Teacher Writes (plus some writing prompts and recipes)

Our Hero in Red May 5, 2021

Filed under: Aging,Teaching,Videos,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 10:04 pm
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It’s too violent, I think, watching them waterboard June, then threaten to tear her nails out. It’s gratuitous, this 4th season of the Handmaid’s Tale. But something about her journey, and knowing as I do, because of Margaret Atwood’s sequel, that she is going to survive, is enthralling, like a high. Maybe it’s just a familiar sense of hope and the desire for power that I struggled to find during the Trump era, when the orange sky and the spiking graphs of the pandemic left me wondering what was left to fight for. (Everything, the voice inside me says now. Everything.)

Oh, June! A soldier, a warrior, the one that cannot be broken. I know the story is an allegory, a metaphor for misogyny and slavery, or war and the battle for justice. But I still find it delicious when she smirks, when she tells the commander to go fuck himself. When she presses the electric cattle prod against Aunt Lydia’s neck, and I surprise myself in the silence of my living room by screaming, “Get her!” As if I can join the handmaids in their revolt, as if I am part of a group of rag tag femmes finally cornering a now helpless bully.

Too violent, I think, wondering about how Americans have become immune to this, video gamers blowing up cars, even commercials crashing and exploding. Such a violent culture. Callous. But I binge another episode because they’ve gotten out of the van now, and they are running, even with their hands tied, even with one of the Eyes dressed all in black, shooting at them, striking one of them in the back, their red capes and white hats disappearing behind the long, loud train cars. “Run!” I say out loud, “Run!” It’s terrifying and elating.

Who is this middle aged man alone in his apartment, the little belly, the silver hair at the temples? Wasn’t it just yesterday that he was a scared teenage boy who fantasized about escaping? Wasn’t it just last month that he was the twenty-four-year-old finally leaving for college? He’s still here in this shell, rooting for rebellion, joyous in seeing someone beaten down but never broken. June is back for another wild ride, and he’s already bought his ticket. He’s right there with her.

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The prompt this time was the list exercise (see an explanation of that prompt here). The titles of the two lists this time were: What brought me joy/What brought me sorrow.

 

Ring the Bells That Still Can Ring April 13, 2021

Filed under: Grief,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 11:09 pm
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The prompt this time was the Leonard Cohen Song, “Anthem,” sung by Perla Betalla and Julie Christensen (on the tribute album I’m your Man). Click on the video above to hear the song.

What I wrote is below.

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I wish you rest, that’s what I wish for you. Deep, dreamless sleep. Not those morning mares, like the one you had this morning, where you were being hustled by another sexy man who was out to rob you. Grabbed your crotch as a “joke.” Or the curious one you had Saturday morning, where your friend opened the door, all her hair grown back after chemo, holding a puppy named Atlas. I wish you dreamless sleep with nothing to analyze in the morning light.

You need rest, we all do, because aren’t we just so weary, so worn thin, so tired of having to negotiate everything: a trip to the grocery store, a visit with a friend, a hug? Even what’s for dinner. I wish you delivery service, someone with kind, shiny brown eyes behind a big black mask, delivering food to you in compostable containers. You’ll give them a 30% tip and do your part to keep plastic out of the oceans. A guilt free meal you don’t have to plan, shop for, scrounge up, or prepare.

I wish you some sense of warmth: a long bath with candles and a novel to get lost in, a white faux fur throw on the couch, a cat in your lap, or another body next to yours, another heart beat synching with your own.

The to do list can wait. The documents you need to scan, the recipe you want to share, the trip to UPS to return those drip pans you knew wouldn’t fit, but promised a porcelain finish, an easy clean up, one less household chore to accomplish. Water the plants tomorrow. Give yourself up to the not knowing, to wandering down a street you haven’t wandered down before, the way you used to dreamily drift past storefronts, before they were boarded up, before life changed from the one that you used to complain about, to the one that you miss so terribly now.

Rest, dear one. Make room for it every day, the way you make room for afternoon tea, or take the time to apply lotion to your skin. You don’t need a hammock or a Tibetan brass bowl. You don’t need anything at all.

 

To Dream or Not To Dream? (That is never the question.) February 8, 2021

Filed under: Travel,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 10:00 am
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He’s dreaming of Italy again. A seductive CNN video and a Forbes article recently revealed that in Biccari, a small town in Southern Italy, houses are for sale for 10,000 Euro, about $12,000 USD. Biccari is in the mountains of Northern Puglia, and is a two-hour drive to the closest city and major airport (that would be Bari: population 325,000). Biccari itself only has about 1,200 residents, and is surrounded by mountains and lakes, where the residents like to picnic on local artisan wine, cheeses, meats and bread. Except for a short, sometimes snowy, winter, Biccari looks like a fantasy.

And that’s just what it is: a fantasy, though he could actually borrow the money from his retirement fund. (He’s always been better at fantasy than reality.) Still, it’s a long shot. He knows this, even as he cuts and pastes the mayor’s email address, composing a letter in his head. Senore, I am sure you’ve had thousands of inquiries, but I wonder, how does one go about acquiring a beautiful little casa in Biccari?

He remembers the trip to his grandparents birthplace in Corleto Perticara, how he took the train to Potenza, (not far from Biccari, really, nothing is very far away in Italy). How he rented a car and wore that cute new jacket with the hood, the one he had purchased in Amsterdam the year before. How he and his third cousin somehow managed to communicate, though his Italian was rudimentary at best, and her English was non-existent. They could have been siblings: the same light eyes, the milky skin, the wavy light brown hair.

He met the only other gay person in town (the florist, of course, it was a cliché made for an old movie), and he remembered how on his way back to Potenza he stopped to let a flock of sheep cross the windy road, led only by a dutiful border collie; in the distance he could see the nearby hilltop towns. Why would anyone ever leave here? he wondered. But then he remembered this rented Fiat, and his little jacket, and for the first time he understood that his grandparents had wanted more for him.

He thought of what it would be like to actually live there: six hours to Rome, one gay friend, his cousin’s beau working the swing-shift at the plastic bag factory. There was fresh pressed olive oil; they sent him home with that, and big bottle of homemade limoncello, but how long could he be happy in such a place before getting bored or cynical, or becoming the subject of salacious gossip? Back then, he had wondered and worried over this, just as he did now, dreaming of Biccari. The quiet streets and the campanile with those dependable bells, the ubiquitous old men in the square, the promise of a quiet world with less traffic, less technology, less stress. Maybe a garden with a lemon tree. A little dog. And a cat who is good at catching mice.


The writing prompt that inspired this post is the poem, “Odessa,” by Patricia Kirkpatrick

 

Home Sweet Home October 1, 2020

The prompt this time was two lists. For a detailed description of how this prompts works, see this earlier post. The two headings this time were, “During the Pandemic,” and “When the pandemic is over.” See a few highlights from my lists here (what I wrote in response follows the lists):     

                                                                                                               

During the Pandemic

Madonna offered no solace

Horny every day

I try to exercise and feel defeated

I baked like someone on speed

Some nights the loneliness was unbearable

When the Pandemic is Over

I’m going to hug everyone, but not shake hands

I’ll have you over and you’ll eat brownies from my dining room table

We’ll look back and talk about it like people talked about WWII when I was a kid

I will dance to house music in a sweaty club

I will never complain about going to the gym again

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For the first time in twenty-one years, I’m not sharing my apartment. Though I’ve lived alone since 1999, I’ve been sharing my space with writers two nights a week, and on Saturdays and Sundays for day long workshops and retreats. On those nights and weekends, I sometimes scrambled to make it home on time to vacuum, to wipe errant hairs from the white tiled bathroom floor, to heat up the forty-two-cup water urn for tea, and to make sure that whatever I baked was ready to go onto my dining room table alongside some snacks. With the chairs in a circle, and a poem on each chair, I’d rarely have a moment before my doorbell would ring and a group of eight or ten people—some whom I’d written with for years, and traveled with on retreats, some I’d just met—would enter my space and take their shoes off.

The pandemic put all of that to a full stop, just as it did my dinner parties and my annual Pink Pride party (something I’ve been doing for 15 years). It also froze my sex life, and forced me to be more disciplined about watching exercise videos and taking daily walks, since turning my living room into a gym with a weight bench was one place I had to draw the line.

For two decades I’ve shared my home with others, and ironically, when that was no longer an option, I began to seriously nest. Oh, I still fantasized about selling everything and moving to the Costa Blanca in Spain, or finding a little house in Boca Tomlatán, but the longer I had my space to myself, the more I seemed to be settling in. I chose paint colors for the living room, hallway, and bedroom. I ordered fabric swatches and chose a sleeper sofa from Crate and Barrel. I reupholstered a few chairs, bought a vintage footstool, replaced the broken blinds in my bedroom, planted salvia and rose geranium on the deck, repaired my desk chair, and de-cluttered my fridge of old photos and silly notes.

I want to say I did all of this because the place was mine and only mine, and that for the first time in my adult life, I was making choices about my living space that served me only. But the truth is, I was preparing the place—setting the stage as it were— for a time when everyone could safely return. I even decided on a larger, more expensive couch than any lonely bachelor would ever need: three cushions and 90 inches—because I knew it would be more comfortable and fit more people when the time came to open my doors again. Change is coming, I told myself—even when I wasn’t sure I believed it—and you better be ready.

 

This Family to Which I Belong August 13, 2020

Filed under: Grief,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 7:26 pm
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The prompt this time was the five word free write. (To learn more about this prompt, see the link here.) One of the words, hurricanes, reminded me of the memoir, Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala.  If you haven’t read this incredible, frightening, beautiful book about loss and survival, I recommend it.

That night, I had just learned that a dear friend and mentor, Pat Schneider was dying. I would wake the next morning to find out that she was gone. I still don’t have words for how this makes me feel, although I am forever grateful to have known Pat, and I am indebted to her for showing me that being a survivor of loss was part of my gift as a teacher.                                                                         

Anyway, the five words that night were:

Pigeons   Figs   Grey   Hurricanes   Waiting 

What I wrote is below.

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He wants to pitch a story to a queer magazine, something about begin gay and going grey. Or maybe he wants to write a villanelle, or a sexy, saucy, sonnet. He could even return to that old manuscript, to the scene in GG Park where the pigeons rise all at once, then circle and circle.

Instead, he finds himself writing (again) about being a survivor. That old, tired narrative he’s written 1000 times before. His inner critic sighs and his inner adolescent leaves the room: nobody wants to hear it.

And yet, the irony of it. He was supposed to be a statistic: dead from HIV, suicide, or something brutal, like a bashing. He certainly had a death wish as a teenager. He wanted to die with his sick mother, because that way he wouldn’t have to endure life without her. Like that scene in Sybil, when they are lowering her grandmother’s casket into the ground, and the little girl—beside herself with the loss of that one tender love—wants to jump in after it. That’s how he felt too. I can’t possibly live without you, he thought, so better to die with you.

But it turns out, he wasn’t really morbid. He chose life. He grew older. He kissed dogs, marveled at yellow swallowtails, spoke to house finches, coaxed flowers to bloom. And now he finds he’s in good company.

The survivors just keep coming. Those who have endured pain and humiliation, fear, great, great loss. What a beautiful, unusual family they are: all ages and genders and backgrounds. He’s still surprised by their stories, by all that they’ve survived: the surgeries, the sexual predators, the bullies and the batterers. They’ve become good parents, or published writers, they’ve rescued abused dogs or sat with people who are dying. The irony doesn’t escape him, though: he never thought he’d live to see this surprisingly wonderful group of people he now belongs to.

 

Happier Times June 22, 2020

Filed under: Aging,Humor,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 1:50 pm
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The prompt this time was Sinead O’Connor’s song, “In this Heart.” You can click on the YouTube link above to hear it.

What I wrote is below.

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I arrive for dinner, and he’s a gentleman, as always, his face lit up like a child.

“Some wine?”

We sit on the sectional, and in about three minutes, I’m climbing on him like a puppy, some fire ignited that’s impossible to control now.

He’s so long. His thigh is longer than my entire arm; when we’re lying together, I trail my hand down, down, down, and I still can’t reach his knee. I feel like I’m climbing a mountain, or trying to stretch the canvas sails on a huge boat.

“I know,” he says. “It’s a lot.”

We’re two men in our fifties, but when his glasses come off, and I look into his eyes, we’re both fifteen again, all limbs and hormones.

“I thought you wanted to talk,” he says, while I’m lying on top of him.

“I did,” I say, “but I can’t keep my hands off you.”

I keep thinking he’s going to have bad breath or stinky armpits, but like a grownup, he has always showered, and he’s rinsed with mouthwash before I arrive. Wiped down the counters, straightened the throw pillows on the couch. Even his beard smells like soap. “You shampoo it, of course,” he says in his soft Egyptian accent, and then we’re kissing again.

I’m lost in his limbs in a way that’s unfamiliar, yet strangely comfortable. It’s easy in a way I don’t question. The little mole on his left side, the dusting of soft hair on his shoulder blades, the curls of silver in a cloud of black at his hairline. You would think I’d be humping him like a chihuahua, but I’m content rolling onto my back, or having him pull me on top, simply because I’m flooded with Oxytocin. Pillow talk, solid, wet kisses. I dare not tell him I’m trying to get as much as I can in case this ends soon, fizzles out. Tomorrow’s boytoy could easily distract this hairy, hunky giant lying beneath me.

I tell him it’s so good, but I won’t say that I’ve been starving for years now. That erotic massages and cheap sauna sex can’t fill this chasm I carry around, this nagging ache to be touched. I’m at the buffet now, loading up plate after plate, filling my mouth with everything delicious. I feel insatiable. I’m not moving, except for the occasional breath, or long sweet gaze, then I’m back again, back again, I’m back again for more.

 

 

First Visitor April 30, 2020

Filed under: Grief,Poems,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 12:03 pm
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In this difficult time during the Covid-19 pandemic, I gathered a group of trusted writers and asked for their help. Knowing that my writing workshops would have to go online, we did a “practice run,” and wrote together for a few hours. The prompt that produced the piece below is tried and true: listening to Breyten Breytenbach’s poem, “Your Letter.” See that prompt here.

What I wrote:

Jose comes into the apartment wearing a mask. “You don’t have to wear that for me,” I say. “But please do whatever makes you feel comfortable.”

He takes it off, looking relieved. Seeing his face after nearly three weeks of self-quarantine (except for two stressful trips to the grocery store)—seeing that beautiful Aztec nose, his wide smile—is like a lifeline.

We’re still here, I think. We’re here in my living room, together.

On the trail below Twin Peaks, we walk single file, trying to stay six feet apart. Seeing the familiar dusting of dark hair on his caramel colored calves feels like a miracle.

We are walking on a trail we have walked on before; he is telling me a familiar story about his romantic relationship, and the details that used to fire up my defense for him, now feel like a mantra or a prayer. Sacred. His body close enough to touch. The lovely sing-song of his Spanish accent. His breath.

“Everyone is afraid,” I hear myself saying, surprising myself, because now I’m defending his fickle boyfriend.

He turns to look back at me with kindness. It’s physical, his gaze. It holds me the way a parent holds a child: lovingly, unassuming. And we are only here, in this moment, with a view of the city skyline rising bright white into a blue, blue sky. We are here. Both of us. Bathed in gratitude.

 

 

 

My Life in Flowers March 11, 2020

The prompt this time was the flower prompt: everyone in the workshop is given a flower that has recently bloomed in San Francisco, and we write in response. For a detailed description of the prompt, see this earlier post.

And just to give you some context for the tone of the following piece, which I wrote last week: we do this exercise every year (and I often do it on my international and Hawaiian retreats as well). So for me, this is a reminder of another year passing. I’ve posted several pieces on this blog in response to this prompt. See those links—as well as what I recently wrote—below.

IMG_3517

https://lagunawriters.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/flower-fanatic/

https://lagunawriters.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/flower-fanatic-part-ii/   ____________________________________________________________________

Nobody sees a flower—really—it is so small it takes time—we haven’t time —and to see takes time, like having a friend takes time.

-Georgia O’Keeffe

World, I am your slow guest,
one of the common things
that move in the sun and have
close, reliable friends
in the earth, in the air, in the rock.               

-William Stafford 

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I want to tell you a story I haven’t told you before, but I fear I’m all out of stories now. No, really. Perhaps my head is just so filled with news about pandemics and Democratic presidential candidates that there’s little room left for stories that involve flowers, but I think it’s more likely that I’ve told you all of my stories already.

How I drove across the country with my parents on our big move and got stuck in a blizzard in Wyoming. How when we arrived in California at the end of January there were pink blossoms on the trees and mustard flowers growing waist high between the Live Oaks. How my next door neighbors grew orange roses that smelled like citrus, and in early April, the purple irises grew tall and opened lilac colored petals every year: dependable, elegant, the one small joy in my mother’s monotonous days.

Later, I discovered gardenias in Los Angeles—entire paths lined with bushes—so fragrant, they produced a near trance state, and how later, my one big love floated them in a bowl next to the bed we slept in together. In California, I learned that wisteria, with their old and snarled branches, thrive every spring, drooping under the weight of their blossoms, buzzing with bumble bees.

I learned about the Dahlia Garden in Golden Gate Park —about as close to Oz as I was ever going to get—how they came from Mexico originally, how tubers were different from bulbs, how jonquils and narcissus could bloom even in the rainiest February. I want to tell you why lilacs make me melancholy, and why Cecil Brunner roses—tiny pink and candy sweet—remind me of permanence, though flowers are the very epitome of impermanence, and no matter how many babies come into my life, and friends and relatives die, I still have to learn that nothing lasts forever over and over again. Frankly, I’m tired of that lesson, just like I’m tired of telling the same stories over and over again.

What irony, I think now, as I put this pen to paper, that the flowers come back year after year, the cloud of lemon-scented acacia blooming along the back driveway, the Japanese cherry blossoms on 19th Street between Castro and Hartford, the Victoria Box clusters dangling over Sanchez Street near Duboce Park, even the tulips below the 1960’s sign that marks the aging development I live in  (“Vista San Francisco”); they will burst back to life year after year only to die again. Still, I keep loving them. Every. Single. Year. And I keep telling these stories over and over again, with these flowers, these old companions, as my backdrop.

 

Just Another Day at the Office February 9, 2020

The prompt this time was the bizarre clothes catalog, Shinesty, with a tongue-in-cheek holiday theme that I still can’t  figure out. Just as we approached the winter holidays, each writer took several pages from the catalog and wrote in response. I still don’t know how to describe the clothing in this catalog; it could be consumerism at its worst, or it could be a clever joke. Either way, it looks like Shinesty is here to stay. You can check it out for yourself here.  

I focused on this cover image. What I wrote it below.

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As usual, Ben was not cooperating. I knew from previous photo shoots that he was a prima donna. Not that he wasn’t beautiful to look at: the thick cocoa-brown hair, those long eyelashes, the silky beard. His legs were solid muscle, and even though his nose was wide, it was luscious. Edible, really.

“He’s sniffing under my skirt again!” Jasmine screamed. I had only looked down for a minute, and there they were: Ben (looking sheepish) and Jasmine, both of her hands trying to push away his huge head. “Can’t you just photoshop him in later?” she pleaded.

“Carl!” I hollered. “Would you please do something about this?”

Carl walked over with an apple, and Ben, 2,000 pounds of Bison beauty, started towards him, looking excited.

“Watch your feet now, everyone,” my assistant, Kareem announced. “Big hooves are moving!”

It was one of those perfect windswept days in the Central Valley. The backdrop was golden grass, shorn to a few inches, a low line of trees in the distance, and a blue sky painted with wisps of cirrus clouds. Cool, but sunny, the shadows perfectly composed. It was a photographer’s dream.

“Sorry, Don,” the handler said. “He’s extra feisty today.”

“He’s feisty alright,” I said. “Okay, everyone. Let’s take ten and regroup. Makeup?” It was time for a touch-up. Jasmine needed to be de-shined; Ben got his apple and a thorough face brushing, to which he groaned with pleasure, the god damned beast.

It was my third time working with Ben and Carl this year. Apparently, Bison models are all the rage. Ben even has his own Instagram account. Comments on Ben’s posts range from, “Vegetarians against Buffalo beef!” to “We love Benny!” to “WTF? How come I’m sort of in love with you?” to “Ben for president!” It seems everyone is in love with the idea of a catalog cover featuring this handsome ox, but in all honesty, I think it sets a bad precedent.

“Don?” Jasmine was suddenly over my shoulder. “I can’t work this way! He’s freaking me out.” She had tears welling up in her eyes.

“Jazz,” I said, “Don’t do this to yourself. You’re a professional. You’ve worked with much worse. Remember the monkey in Nepal?”

“That little asshole,” she said, and as she laughed, two big tears popped out of her eyes.

“Makeup!” I yelled again. “For Christ’s sake: Makeup!” Jasmine laughed again and wiped her eyes.

“It’s a crazy business,” I said. “Isn’t it kid?” She nodded.

It was going to be a long afternoon.

 

Wise Guy September 2, 2019

The prompt this time was to begin with a list of five cities you are familiar with, then to write about one of them.

First on my list was Mexico City, but I also had my inner adolescent on my mind. What I wrote is below.

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My inner adolescent is on the couch reading when I arrive. He looks up as I struggle through the door with my gym bag, school bag, and lunch bag. “Hey, bag lady,” he says. “Need some help?” He’s wearing white socks, tight Levi’s, and a red tank top; with his 30-inch waist and bulging crotch, he looks like a Blue Boy Magazine model: oozing sex and yet totally unsure what to do with it. I ignore his offer, knowing he’s only being polite, and heave my book bag into the corner by the printer. 

“What are you reading?” I ask, bracing myself for his naive criticism. He only likes National Geographic or Vanity Fair. Quite frankly, I’m not in the mood for him today.

“Something called Saveur,” he says, surprising me. “A special edition on Mexican cuisine. Pretty delicious.” His eyes are darker blue, more like Mom’s, and the whites are bright and clear. Young eyes. His hair is curlier than I remember, from getting caught in the rain, perhaps, or a working up a good sweat.

“I’m just wondering why you’re here,” I say, heading to the kitchen to put a kettle on.

“Beats me,” he says, leafing through the magazine, “I figured you needed to see me.”

“Tea?” I ask.

“Gross,” he says, then catches himself. “I mean, no thank you.”

We volley this way sometimes. That lovely boy I once was who plays cynical now, but really lived in a world with a sense of wonder and spontaneity, two things I have to get high or travel 1000’s of miles to tap into now.

“Actually,” he says, “I was wondering when you were going to buy that ticket to Mexico City.

“You want me to go, is that it?”

“You’re awfully bitchy today,” he says. “I mean, more so than usual.”

I sigh. He sighs.

He looks so earnest. I want to tell him that forty years from now he will sometimes be driving home in the rain so filled with a sense of melancholy that he will want to drive to a bar instead and get good and drunk. That some days, his work will feel like helping countless young people with their whole lives ahead of them, while he feels stuck in his own life, fearful of chronic illness. That he will feel bone-tired.

Anyway,” he says, “have you bought your ticket yet?”

“I don’t know about Mexico City,” I say.

“Why not? You’ve always wanted to go there: Casa Azul, the museums, and now this hot guy you’ve met online—”

“I don’t think living in a fantasy world is healthy for either of us,” I say. He laughs then, that shotgun laugh we get from Mom.

“Oh, please!” he says. “You’re a writer. We’ve always lived in a fantasy world.”

What could I say in response? He claimed me as a writer, and the kid had a point. Has always had a big heart too. Had no qualms about saying no to dissecting a fetal pig in Biology class because it was “disrespectful to the poor, dead, baby piglet.” (His words exactly.) I knew his love for flowers—roses, jasmine, violets—was a reflection of this big heart, and an attachment to romance.

“What do you have to lose by going to Mexico City?” he asked.

“About $1000,” I said.

“Just charge it then.”

“And my dignity, if I contact that beautiful young man.”

“Your dignity?”

“Yeah,” I say, taking the screaming kettle off the burner. “Once he sees what I actually look like in the flesh, he’ll run for the hills.”

“You underestimate how beautiful you are,” he says.

“So do you,” I say.

“You’re better looking than I am,” he says.

“You just have low self-esteem.”

“I’m serious,” he says. “You need to own it.”

I want to tell him that I only feel beautiful when I put eyedrops in my eyes, when I haven’t eaten very much, when someone I love looks at me and I can see myself through his eyes. Or when I am dancing. But I don’t dare. I don’t want him to feel this kind of sorrow yet. I feel protective of him.

“Oh, I know sorrow,” he says, reading my mind. “I stayed home and took care of our dying mother, remember?”

He’s right, of course. Back then I didn’t have the mindfulness I have now. I didn’t have the vocabulary or the lifelong friendships to talk my way through a bad day, a big worry, or the tug of grief when it came in waves. I have options now; I have the freedom to make my own choices.

“If I meet him in Mexico City,” I say, “it’s probably just going to be a sexual thing. Nothing more.”

“Sounds good to me,” he says. “It’s only $366 round trip if you buy the ticket today.”

We look at each other for a moment, and then he just smiles that big white smile. I want to smack him, but I also want to thank him. Instead, I just smile back.