LOVED FROM AFAR

By Katie Hare

I had a star sighting the other day at a Chinese restaurant and the only thing I could share it with was my coat. I was dining alone, something that at one time was unheard of but is now my norm. While I do have a boyfriend, something recently has come between us; unfortunately it's the entire US of A.

Ever since I graduated from Barnard College in 1993 I've felt like I had some unfinished business in New York City. I left on the day of graduation, convinced somewhere deep inside that I just didn't have what it takes. Four years later, I was determined to reverse that feeling and was coming back as a yet-unrecognized-theatre-powerhouse with James, my boyfriend, who was set to start up an e-biz with his closest friend from college. We had a pretty nice life together in San Francisco, but New York beckoned from across the plains. We came to conquer.

First, we sold off almost all of our belongings, gave our notices and drove cross-country in an ë89 Buick I liked to call Big Blue. Like gypsies, we unloaded and reloaded the grocery bags containing our belongings as we looked for an apartment and moved from a friend's couch to another friend's floor. We finally found a less-than-chic but also less-than-$2000/mo. apartment in an up and coming neighborhood and breathed a huge sigh of relief. We went to IKEA that day as if to cement the deal. James and his friend hurriedly began a torrent of business plans and meetings with their network of buddies and I immediately got a temp job to begin paying off all of those New York start-up costs. If we can make it here, we can make it...

Two months later, the entrepreneur partnership was on the verge of collapse. I never liked the guy that much anyway, but James was devastated, and very poor. He began sending out resumes like mad, and all the potpourri in the world couldn't cover up the smell of fear in the air. What the hell kind of stupid people traipse across the country without a real plan? Us, right here. I figured we'd pull through, like always, but while I was busy decorating and buying soap dishes, James dangled his resume on a monster board and a firm on the West Coast bit.

They flew him out for an interview and while I couldn't begrudge him that ego boost and the incredible opportunity, I also really didn't think he'd get the job. But as the weeks went by, it was clear that his e-partnership was kaput and when he got his offer, I knew that the only reason he wouldn't take it was to make me happy.

Talk about a hard conversation. Girfriends aren't automatically part of those relocation deals and something told me his new consulting firm didn't require the services of a freelance writer/temp/actress. So he'd be on the lear jet while I'd have to settle for the Slowbus, that is, if I decided I could make a transcontinental move twice in less than three months! I didn't even know my new phone number by heart and I was being asked to contemplate moving back to the West Coast? With the advent of sending resumes over the web I suppose I should feel lucky that he didn't accept a new job in Antarctica.

Something in me said wait. It said "Don't go out there yet, the bet with New York hasn't been won." That's a little overly melodramatic, but I hadn't even gotten my act together enough to get headshots, to go on one audition or meet any other stuggling actors. I had also used up the entirety of my financial resources and was basically looking to double that cost. This was going to be a test, I told myself, to see if we really loved each other. It would be a good thing. If we weren't meant for each other, we'd definitely break up, but if we could make it through this, we could handle anything.

So he went, and I stayed. I don't think either of us really believed it would be more than a few months we'd spend apart. He was sure I'd pull up stakes and join him in Seattle and I thought if the rain didn't get him the 24/7 allure of the Big Apple would.

We were both WRONG.

The first few months were really, really hard. I found a share, something minuscule, so that I could stay afloat and luckily, I have several friends who have now entered the "real furniture" phase of their lives, providing a pool of cast-offs for the taking. After assembling a stunning bedroom ensemble of cement blocks, plastic crates, a friend's daybed and a card table, I reconstructed all of that IKEA crap and set up shop. It's hard to live alone after sharing an apartment with someone, but I managed. I'm certainly not living in a palace, but as I say here in New York, "room, sweet room."

His move was a huge adjustment for both of us. Okay for me then. We are the classic example of opposites attracting -- he's totally hyperactive and I'm your basic wallflower. I used to go kicking and screaming to Saturday night parties, but he was there to mollify, making jokes and replacing my pout with a reluctant smile that quickly made me wonder what the hell I was so nervous about. We'd go out and have a wonderful time, or we wouldn't and we'd come back home to peel off our various get-ups to our fuzzy pajama cores. After his departure, I, of course, skipped outings altogether and jumped right to the pajama part, sometimes fully clad in flannel by 6:00 p.m. I'd try to fit in certain activities that could be relayed in our conversations so that even from Seattle he didn't come to the conclusion that I was a complete dullard and not worth waiting around for. We'd get together when we could which was not all that often, since not too long after his move, he left that job in search of even greener pastures. There is a lot of rain there, I guess green pastures are a dime a dozen.

Without his constant badgering for us to go out and do what the cool people do, I had more than enough time to devote to my decidedly uncool pursuits. Dancing classes, writing classes, acting classes and exercise classes filled up my week, but I still had time on my hands. I took up knitting, cleaning and TV watching as other fave activities, but I still had more than ample time to sit and be alone. Here I was in New York City, unencumbered, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and all I really wanted to do was sleep. And to make matters worse, with each passing week, I heard that James was making friends, enjoying his work and while he still missed me like crazy, he had to go because he was going to the theatre. Seattle even had good theatre, damn it.

Boo-hoo. There is a lot of feeling sorry for myself to follow.

As if in rebellion, I took to parading about in all of my unkempt glory. The "I have a boyfriend so I don't have to care about my appearance for YOU" look lasted until the reckoning. One crisp Sunday morning, I had rolled out of bed and galumphed my way into the local coffee shop. Still wearing my pajamas under a pair of tattered overalls, sporting the latest style of bedhead, I sat for hours until I got a whiff of my distinctive Sunday morning smell. I went into the ladies lounge to bird bathe and was startled and appalled by the monster in the mirror (hi ugly) who greeted me that morning. I'm a jeans and sweatshirt person at heart so it was James who looked at me and saw someone stylish underneath. I took him shopping when I needed something new and we were working towards a wardrobe of hip yet low-cost clothes that actually enhanced my image. With him gone, I had reverted in a big way, to the point that I often wore the same clothes for days on end. The day of the reckoning, I went home and cried, actually cut my own hair, not being able to tolerate my headmop anymore (bad idea), eliminated most of the flannel from my wardrobe and began to take a little more pride in my appearance. A few days later, the "new me" sauntered into the coffee shop where only the scruffy me had lounged before and no one cared, but I felt less like a troll.

That was two years ago. He's still there and I'm still here. Little by little, once I realized that this situation had not yet played itself out, that there were many cards left in this deck...I began to accept it. We began writing to each other semi-regularly and calling at least three or four times a week. I got manicures just because and bought outfits I knew he'd never see. I just wanted to feel like I could survive without him. We went on a European vacation together (thank you Priceline) and we do go back and forth, although this year we've both been unable to come up with much available cash since he's involved in another business and I'm getting a show together. We keep saying, we've done it this long, what's a few months?

It's strange to think how much time we've spent apart -- almost half of our total relationship but it still doesn't make me understand those women who marry men in prison or on death row though. At least I had the pleasure of living with my boyfriend and have hope that I'll one day do it again. We've decided not to see other people and although I'm sure everybody thinks he's cheating on me, I know he's not. I could definitely tell. He bumped into an ex-girlfriend at the supermarket after we'd been dating for a year and when we saw each other that night, he was so confused by the fact that he could love me so much and still be moderately attracted to her that we spent hours analyzing it. If he'd found someone he wanted to be with more than me, he'd want to break it off. Anything is easier than what we're going through.

So the other day I took myself out for a Friday dinner. Ho hum, nothing special, but something I definitely deserve every now and then. I had brought a few things to read, I planned to order dessert and coffee and to rent a video on my way home to complete the evening of indulgence. I was probably stuffing like mu-shu vegetables into my gab when I noticed this star of stage and screen sitting, also alone. I immediately began trying to look unattached, put-together and chic so that he would wonder how, in what world, on what planet was this peach, this undiscovered blossom sitting ALONE? When your boyfriend is on an opposite coast, it is important to know that you've still got it. Incidentally, we do have the caveat in our no-dating-other-people clause that he can dump me for Heather Graham and I can dump him for Liev Schrieber. It wasn't Liev, but it didn't matter because of course, Mr. Big Hollywood It's-All-About-Me-THE-Star did not care, he did not glance, he did not stare. But in that moment of sizing myself up, I was certainly surprised by what I saw.

I realized, sitting there in Ollie's that I had achieved a certain freedom. My coat and purse and satchel were heaped in the chair across from me, the chair where James would have sat, and my books and newspapers were splayed all about because I planned to be there for at least three hours. I had ordered a ton of food, knowing full well that I could take home what I didn't eat home for leftovers with no one watching every bite I took and no one vying for the last spring roll. I ate for the sheer joy of eating. I double dipped.

Now I will admit that I felt a little piggy when I saw all of the plates on the table and realized that they were all for me. And I do miss the recapitulation of the day's events over coffee, but all in all, I find eating alone and sometimes even being alone, relaxing and indulgent. Of course, when dining alone, there is never the chance that someone else will pick up the check...but then there wasn't much chance of that anyway.

I'm learning what I like and what I don't and what peanut butter tastes good on and what it doesn't. These are life skills. I've also found a great group of friends who I see regularly and while the theatre powerhouse thing may not have come to fruition, I done some great work out here. I desperately want my boyfriend to move here but am also looking at Seattle if that's where he's going to stay since I can't imagine this can continue much longer. Today, I basically have a cyber-relationship, but at least I know that the other end user is an adorable, blue-eyed, curly haired, 5'11" man, and not some techno vampire who's only other girlfriend wasa humanoid he created with a few electrodes and his sister's Barbie doll.


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