A month or so ago, my friend Rachel and I were in Union Square park here in NYC filming a scene for the book trailer. Because the scene took multiple takes, she and I had to walk repeatedly along a pathway that was lined with benches up to a certain mark, then go back to start and do it again.
The mark was just past a couple in their early 20s, maybe NYU students, sitting on one of the benches, angled towards each other. The guy was breaking up with the girl. Because we didn’t linger to eavesdrop, we caught snippets of their dialogue each time we walked by. It was usually the woman speaking, or, rather, wailing. I truly felt my heart twisted up like a sponge being wrung out.
“Please! Don’t do this!”
“I know I can be different!”
“This can’t be happening! NO, no this CANnot be happening”
“I can be a better person for you! I know I can!”
“You just have to give me another chance! Please!”
“No, you can’t do this. I love you! I can change!”
The guy mostly held her hand and rubbed her back and shook his head as she screamed and cried. It being New York City on a beautiful spring day, the bench was filled on either side of them, people walked their dogs and drank their coffee and filmed their videos and everyone pretended to ignore them. This is the New Yorker’s version of giving people privacy. I’d wager the guy chose a public place to do the deed so that things wouldn’t get too out of hand. Perhaps he was hoping that some screaming schizophrenic transsexual would swish by in sequins and feathers and take the spotlight with him. The odds were good, but he lost that bet.
God, I felt for that girl. While I don’t think I ever uttered those exact words–changing for someone else was never something I really thought was possible–I had my own litany of desperate I-will-die-without-yous that I certainly thought, and on occasion even verbalized. It turns out that even hot girls are not immune to such symptoms of emptiness and need. I’m sure you’re shocked.
Just last weekend, I had lunch with an old friend, a guy I was madly in love with at that age (emphasis on the madly), and his wife. We all got to talking about nutty love-related stuff we pulled in our twenties–he was quite the dramatic auteur, and he brought out the crazy in me, too, which when it came to him wasn’t buried too deeply beneath the surface. I recalled sitting across from him at the Waverly Diner in the village, and insisting that I knew that he did love me–that I could feel it–even if he couldn’t say it.
I think of that scene now, still vivid, and I think, My God, who says that shit? I guess I Formerly did. Not often, but for sure more than once. I had so little “me” to wrap my emotions around that they floated freely and unraveled, impossible to contain. I guess I looked to this guy, and others, to contain them. Reading about Alexa Rae Joel and her breakup, it sounds to me like that early 20s fragile sense of self thing many of us slog through.
No need to belabor the point, but I am so, so glad that is far in the past. It’s been so long since I’ve felt any of those things, let alone said them, that the girl who did feels like that young woman on the bench–from another time and place. I’m glad she’s moved on.