A Sweetheart, Eating Alone In LA
I’m not lonely in LA, not anymore at least, but I am alone. Thousands of miles from the last five years of hearts I’ve warmed to, and still, despite the move back west, far down the coast from the hearts that first kindled mine. I keep stumbling upon my happiness here in unexpected ways, like the feeling that wells up when you see snow again after a long wait. The joy of recognition is greater than the joy of surprise. Los Angeles sings recognition to me, even after five years abandoned. This city holds no grudges, everything slips here, like sand through glass. I think I’m more me here, a better grip found on the old wooden bat than the shiny steel one.
Last year was so black and jagged I almost forgot the warm, round yellow of being okay. I’m okay here, getting to be better than that, but to feel okay, to be enough, this feeling keeps descending on me like a snowfall. All the jagged black gets a slick, powdery coat — it shines. I’m enough, suspended in the magic veil of this angelic city. I don’t need to land, there is no rushing. The grit of Brooklyn cannot follow me here, or, it is covered over with the promise of a new season, new weather. The sky forgets the east here, too busy swallowing blue.
I left Brooklyn running — a dead sprint — but running to save your life is as old a human instinct as fucking, or eating. Maybe I quit, but I saved me by quitting. Maybe I ran, but I’m alive now, and resting. Lately, I’d be back to wondering where the lions are, again, but I’m too delighted in my own survival to watch closely for more predators. They assume a different hide here, anyway. They might be snuggled up next to me, like last time, and I’d never even know. It’s okay that I don’t trust you when time has taught me that you’ll eat me alive, given half the chance. So maybe that’s why I want, so often, to stay with just me. I saved me after all; I have become trustworthy to myself for the first time. Caitlin, on my own side. Caitlin, the friend I always wanted.
So I go eat with my new friend, myself. We have a grand old time in diners and bistros, creaky Mexican joints, new ramen spots, seafood shacks and fancy old world Italian, taco stands and decadent burgers for $8, plus all the overpriced wine bars with winking bartenders. Everyone is shocked that I’m alone; there is no New York haughtiness to it. I’m very alone, they notice, but they aren’t measuring me. They are not trying to figure out who I am, they think I’m no one in particular. They’re right, of course.
The girl I am when I am not on display, there to please or entertain someone, that’s who I encounter eating alone. I take her out in public and buy her whatever she wants, a lover doting with small wonder. I knew she liked benedicts, forgot she loved cheap beer. I knew she liked lemons, forgot she loved to eat grapefruit with the diner staff, who bring it from their trees at home. When we eat it together we step outside the restaurant ecosystem, capitalism, supply and demand, class. We are just humans, sucking sweet fruit. With each sour slice, I feel I’ve known them forever. Alone, they see me as their peer (I am). Alone, they see me as a subject of quiet delight (I am). Maybe I always was, and I forgot that too, left it behind in the wreckage of my performative self. New York exacts a tax of flesh, all the old dark gods do. Los Angeles is a new god, maybe, lemon trees and white-gold sun. Maybe it’s not a god at all, just light and grace until you are able reign over your own heart again. It was my first escape, and this is the city that will be my last, maybe, despite Brooklyn’s long, proud blip.
Who am I when I’m eating french fries alone? I don’t know, but I love her. I love her undocumented and unseen. I love her for the very anonymity I fought to escape. Maybe part of leaving New York is getting that private self back. Maybe part of leaving New York is getting rid of all the public projections I let dirty up my view. What do I care if you’re back there, thinking I’m a heinous bitch? I’m not; I’m Caitlin. You’ll never know what led me to that particular mistake, or whether it was a mistake at all. You see privilege on a girl carrying scars of abuse beneath the skin. If you stay onstage too long your character is wrung dry, boring, didn’t Frances Ha teach you that? Better to rewrite forgotten scripts like Jo, in private, never having to face the mediocrity of it all because they’re already gone. Don’t kill your darlings, just burn them, and write them fresh. It’s cheaper than therapy and quicker than heartache.
To really be alone, it is best to go to the old empty places without cultural currency. The ones where I am there to eat, cheaply, and not to make a statement about my own taste. My taste is that I love to eat at someone else’s behest. My taste is that I’m still finding somewhere that feels comfortable enough to stop cringing in anticipation of certain punishment if I don’t clean my plate, sit up straight, say grace with hands folded. My taste is the weird rebellion of leaving something uneaten; a promise to myself that I will have this luxury again, I can afford to stop when I’m full. I am so used to eating that leads to pain and conflict, even tears, with you. I am so used to eating that makes you despise me, how it makes my body look. How I’m too weak to be thin, like you. I was getting so used to eating as proof of friendship that tastes empty after the check; the restaurant as signifier I made it somewhere beyond my shitty Brooklyn apartment and thirteen likes on a blown out dinner plate.
I have a new grace here, given without a god. My grace is living in a world that is not ruled by an endless moral binary that I’m violating just by living in this body, just by having great tits in a thin t-shirt. My grace is thinking they’re great, stretch marks and all, and ordering pie without the practice of counting my pounds (one in, one out) at home for two hours after, searching for a way out within the sickening cycle of it. I no longer want to be less of me, I just want to be eating alone, feeling like new fallen snow and thinking I’m worth at least this twenty five dollar check, at least this forty-five minute moment of public privacy. I’m here, and I like that I’m here, a balm after years of loathing my own face, my own shape, my own joy. I will honor my appetite in public. I will eat, and come away full.
When he brings my plate, and many, may other times throughout the hour, my waiter calls me sweetheart, he calls me baby. And I know it is not a word masking the poison underneath. And I know it is not a placation that comes just before commandment. And I know it is not a pet name before or after fucking, or a cajoling so I will stand down or believe myself less. He gives me grapefruit because it is good, and we are hungry human beings, and we deserve goodness. He calls me sweetheart and he wants nothing from me, he calls me baby because that’s how he sees me. Through him, it’s how I can see myself. And I am not offended. I’m not offended at all. Everything feels clean like a city covered in new snow. And I am not lonely, not yet.