My head is in the clouds and my heart is lost, the two periodically, momentarily grounded by the change of songs as iTunes shuffles through the depths of my daydreams. Lauryn Hill coos and I want. Companionship. Jack Johnson pines. Cary Brothers tell me of inspiring eyes. Radiohead’s had their heart broken. The Temptations know I am looking for my girl. At my desk in a daze, I sit with a blank face concocting images of perfection and beauty, writing fairytales of love on the ceiling tiles in the next room. This is a feeling I get in the middle of crowds and when I am all alone. This is a feeling I have sitting in the most comfortable places, with familiar faces, in the arms of lovers. This is a feeling of painful hope that makes every love song feel like it is made for me and that dreamy someone I am yet to meet. Alone, only she understands.
Indian women are everywhere and nowhere, all around and unapproachable. Their beauty, the color of their dress, perfection of their hair present constantly but guarded by cultural norms, sexual repression, lack of freedom, choice. This is the part of my life that makes me feel the most like a tourist, in a museum, walking through hallowed halls with high ceilings, riding my bicycle on the streets of a living gallery, a contradictory exhibition on the Western media’s obsession with these often-fetishized women and my chaste existence. Vaguely Indian, international-looking women writhing on the screens of Bollywood’s latest release cloud the Western mind. Fair skinned and traditionally dressed, Itialian, Brazilian, Spanish, Puerto Rican, Persian, Greek, North Indian, Turkish, Saudi, Moroccan, Egyptian, Sri Lankan all at the same time, this ambiguous, skinny, tame caricatures emerges as the pedigree of beauty. Her eyebrows are perfect, clothes exactly stitched, blemishes airbrushed, skin fair. Of course she can cook. But the brochure for this installation piece leaves an expectant Westerner wanting. The women of those glossy pictures and billboards do not exist, real women do and they are beautiful, but repressive gender roles guard this museum’s many Mona Lisas.
In the streets, cafes, restaurants, and shops in my life the eyebrows are less perfect and there are blemishes. There are real women everywhere and they are beautiful; every day I fall in love. I try to be conscious of my coached response to this ‘exotic’ beauty. But I can’t help it and I don’t care too, refusing the sociological unpacking of my mind. I fall in love with a distant grace, a perfect braid, exposed shoulder blades, stunning silk saris, a beauty that assaults my senses, women that I have no adequate response to, no understanding of. A fleeting glance, hennaed hands and feet, bindis, exactly matching outfits, gold.
No touching, no talking, no photos, please move along sir.
I cannot talk to them; usually my armpits smell too bad. Perhaps in other, more cosmopolitan Indian cities it is possible, but here in the home of resurgent Hindu conservatism, I can count on one hand the times I have had a one on one conversation with a single Gujarati woman. A friendly wave hello is met by suspicion. I am just saying hello. We live in the same building. We see each other all the time. Just hello. You don’t have to insult my soul with that sneer; a simple wave would do. I’m fine, thank you for asking.
I left the U.S. on August 11; I am horny. It is more than that. I am horny to be horny. I want my brain to be active, to be stimulated by a glance from across the room, that it might be her calling, a stupid text message, body language, dancing, writing her name in the margin of the page. I crave the fun part of crushes and courting. The physicality is nice (really nice?) and missed, but it is secondary. I want to share this with someone, to have someone to retreat to, to work with, to be there for. So I retreat into my mind and I think of her, giddy not with a person in my life but with an idea in my mind, a classic move for me, consoled by the deity I dream of.
Jon tells me that I am good at putting myself out there, going out on a limb to far places outside of my comfort zone. But only in certain areas. When it comes to loving, partnerships, relationships, I rarely crawl outside of my tree trunk and never on to branches far from the ground, afraid to be cut down. It is usually worse than that, letting someone in for a peek, then like a paranoid old Jewish lady living in the South Bronx with seven cats and newspapers from the past 40 years, scare them away, close down, bolt the eight locks of the door and, alone, eat my matzo ball soup, almost resenting that they got to see my prized newspapers and antique phone -- places strangers don’t get to see.
Maybe this is why I travel, an escape, a place to do the opposite of what I just said, to be vulnerable far from friends and family, to love, to work hard in a place that I enter already knowing when I am going to leave. So too does it make a firm excuse to avoid relationships in the U.S., convenient excuses that I convince myself of and tell to others: now is not a good time because I am going to Kenya for the summer, Scotland for the semester, India for the year.
Thelonius Monk plays beauty into a religious experience. The Beatles tell me love is all I need.
Deep down I know I am not lying. I want to be in love, to be loved, to pain through it, to have someone to share things with, to make me stronger. I want this so badly. I want to write love songs with my actions, to write corny things like: I want to write love songs with my actions and I sit here dancing through this thought in the love songs of the world, indulging in a thoughtful loneliness that makes me smile.
But I can’t live in love songs, or the thought of writing them. This is the least mature facet of me. I see that limb right in front of me but I am so cozy with my newspapers and my cats, aware that I got the best friends in the world, family who love and support me, a core group that is there for me no matter what and all they ask for in return is some warm milk. The thought of compromising that for someone new is a branch I can’t crawl out on just yet, knowing full well that it is the only place where I will ever meet the imperfect version of the woman in my mind.
And I want to be with her so badly. Since arriving in India I have thought a lot about the world, how I want to be in it, what is important, my priorities, work. Sitting here daydreaming on a Saturday, I know what my long term priorities are: to never have to work on Saturday. Saturdays are going to be for cartoons, making pancakes, loving, learning, growing, tee ball and recitals and little league, dinner with my wife, the newspaper in bed in the morning, work around the house, school projects, a partner I adore and family I love more than anything. Family will define me. Consistence in my life and in my work will be the litmus test for the type of person I am, and my children will be how I change this world.
This is not magic, it takes sacrifice, selflessness, commitment, acknowledgment of imperfection; or so I am told. One day I will be ready. For now maybe it is better that I am in a museum because it is more difficult to drive recklessly, to hurt people, to showcase my immaturity. For now I just feel alone. Alone and thinking of her, lost in love songs made for us.