I met the Trinidadian in the hazy days following 9/11 when the fall light was gentle and the city was toe to toe with a new and brutal reality.
We met in a bar. It seemed like all of Brooklyn was perched on a barstool in those days, ogling the television set, trying to make sense of the images, frightened of what was going to fall out of the sky next. Nobody wanted to be home, alone. We wanted to be shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the city, keeping each other upright by sheer force of will. We wanted to look into the faces of people we had never met and would never meet, and be filled with a silly, thankful joy that they were alive.
The Trinidadian ordered a margarita, drank it, and left. Before he did he took my number and said he had a friend he wanted to introduce me to. He said he would invite me and my husband to dinner.
“Right,” I thought. “That’s totally going to happen.”
A few weeks later I got a call. Dinner was on. Trinidadian food, home cooked. The Trinidadian’s friend was there. Naturally, we discovered that she was the niece of two of my parents’ oldest friends. My folks have a hauntingly beautiful oil painting hanging in their living room, a wedding gift from them. Coincidence has the best punch lines.
The years drifted by and we touched each other’s lives delicately, briefly, like a bees darting towards flowers. One year he came to my birthday party and brought a $250 bottle of Sauterne as a gift, but flatly refused to dance. He hates to dance.
He insisted that I save the wine to drink with my husband on a special occasion.
For a short while he dated a woman I introduced him to. She was blonde and they were young and fit and beautiful. They looked good together.
A word on the Trinidadian’s looks; tall, slender and elegantly turned out–always–he’s gratuitously, dismayingly, handsome. His looks make the lumpenproletariat feel even worse than we already do. There are Venezuelans lurking in his family tree, which only adds to the gross unfairness of it all.
He’s so far out of my league—or indeed most people’s—that I can’t even see his league from where I’m standing.
But he doesn’t trade on being handsome. He is cool, clear headed, and kind. To borrow his words; “a Boy Scout.”
The Boy Scout used to fly B-52s. The important thing to know about B-52 bombers is they carry thousands of pounds of nuclear weapons at relatively low altitudes. So cool and clear-headed doubtless came in handy. Despite his time in the military, or maybe because of it, his politics are slightly to the left of Trotsky’s mother.
Prior to the 2008 presidential election he stunned one of my larger dinner parties—stacked to the rafters with liberals drunk on the whole hope/change agenda—into utter, gasping silence by saying that Barack Obama was “bought and paid for.”
I’ve told him that if he ever runs for office I’ll be his speechwriter. But I doubt he will, because he’s shy, and because he cannot abide bullshit. He’s one of the most abrasively honest people I know.
Which brings us to dinner last week. He’s paying, so I’m making stupid jokes about getting the kitchen to slap some gold leaf on my appetizer, and asking the sommelier to excavate the most expensive bottle of wine from the cellar. He’s trying to explain men in order to help me process this life that I’m embarked upon, suddenly sans husband.
“Men are an island of one,” he says several times, probably worried, rightly, that the concept will not immediately gain traction. And he launches into an example. There’s a woman sitting behind me. His instinct is to pick her up and take her home. That’s his first thought from deep inside his lizard brain. I’m deeply impressed by this, because he doesn’t have a wandering eye. As far as I could tell, I had his full attention. Yet he was able to size up the room, select the best-looking choice, and form a plan. Without the person sitting opposite him noticing.
“That’s my instinct. I wouldn’t do it,” he says. “It’s instinct. But I wouldn’t do it.” The Trinidadian often repeats phrases, which gives his speech a delightful, poetic cadence
Well, it’s a relief to know that he wouldn’t do it on this particular occasion, because I’m enjoying his company. The Trinidadian has had more than his share of shit to shovel over the past decade, but tonight he’s lighter in spirit than I have ever seen. It suits him. He’s made a conscious decision not to worry. He’s decided to create his own life for himself and not wait for somebody to save him.
I have recently arrived at a similar conclusion. It’s tempting when one person leaves to replace him as soon as possible, I suppose. Our emotional compass drags towards a north of that kind. But true north is a different place, one where there are no white knights. No heroes charging last minute through the third act, sweeping all before them. True north contains only those heroes that we create within ourselves. Maybe that sounds like a truism, but some of us need it spelled out, very slowly, in words of limited syllables. More importantly, we need to learn how to live it.
So we hang out with old friends and commiserate about the state of West Indian cricket, and liberal politics, and why on earth we still support Arsenal, and not expect that one person will trundle along and make our lives any better than that.
By the way, I did save that Sauterne; I saved it for years. But I didn’t drink it with my husband. About a month or so after he left, I opened the bottle. I grabbed a glass. And I sat down on the floor.
I drank the most decadent, most expensive booze I had ever had. Out of a tooth glass, alone, sitting on my living room floor. It took three nights to finish.
No point in waiting for a special occasion.