2014: Fantasy

Antanas Sutkus - 7A year ago last night, she proposed. I said yes. There were holiday lights on the cacti and homemade tacos. There she was, on one knee. All of our daughters were there. Two years ago, we had not yet met in person. How can this be? Time’s a trickster that thrives on our perceptions.

Two years ago, I kissed a stranger on New Year’s Eve after emancipating myself from what I’d thought was love and was afraid to leave but finally said didn’t feel like love. It was something, yes–something else. Lust, chemistry, karma even. But if it doesn’t feel like love, there’s a high probability it isn’t.

And what you know, you know, no matter how you may argue with yourself otherwise. For the record, this can hurt like hell and it can take a while; like a kosher slaughter, a clean cut can be the kindest gesture.

But back to love–love was getting on a plane. Love was choosing to be alone. Love was getting picked up at  the curb with no ulterior motive or hidden agenda. Love was the moment I set a timer and then stopped crying when it went off. Love was her hands on my back that first night together and her question to me: Do you ever relax? Love is my belated answer back, this week, doing so much of nothing in her company.

Love is the open road and the well run dry and our giddiness in the Asian market and my first time eating crab rangoon (oh my god how did it take me almost forty years to eat crab rangoon?). Love is the winter market and her face contorting happily to a mouthful of kimchi. Love is talking to the cheese-maker guy about kimchi being a solo experience and bread being a communal one, and then joking about how eating cheese can go either way. Or maybe you had to be there.

In any case, a year ago, she proposed and I said yes. We imagined it would be three, four, maybe five years of living apart, of being engaged. Her word of the year was “Sure.” It sure was.She was sure, as surely as she’s lying here next to me in bed, napping.

Life together is ordinary. In the ordinary come glimpses of fictional characters who could come alive on a movie screen. In the ordinary come conversations about our kids. In the ordinary come moments of melting down and desperately seeking old crutches and others of testing out deodorant scents and how excited she is for Sunday’s coupons. And it’s like this–the days begin and have lots of parts and then the sun starts its descent, although already the birds singing sound like spring and it’s not even January yet, and I wonder–what things will have happened a year from now that a year from now I’ll say hadn’t happened yet a year ago?

To live in this way–to live at all, to be loved without worrying about whether it’s love, to need sometimes to get away from myself but never from her, and to be with someone who mirrors back to me my ability to stay, to stay with myself, to offer myself the kind of kindness and patience and encouragement she gives so freely–this is what I often refer to as “lucky.”

Last night, I wrote some holiday cards. Actually, they say “Season’s Greetings” and they are mercifully undated and generic enough that I can send them as long as it’s within a few weeks on either side of the new year. I found myself wanting to say a handwritten hello to a handful of old friends, people I’m barely if at all in touch with lately but think of often. People who will not otherwise know I am thinking of them.

My head has been so full of thoughts lately, thoughts and ideas and lists I haven’t been writing down. Every time I write a poem that seems to resonate with people, I feel connected to my purpose in life and long to do more with it. Every time she looks at me with that slight crease between her brows, I feel loved beyond. Every time I sit in on Aviva’s learning sessions with the rabbi in preparation for her bat mitzvah, I wonder what will tip me over into the kind of Jewish study that could lead to my being a free-agent rabbi who does pastoral counseling and helps interfaith couples navigate child-raising and facilitates life-cycle events and teaches and tells stories and serves. Serves. Listens. Leads. Sits with people. So there’s that little fantasy, if you can call something that began around age sixteen and has ebbed and flowed and evolved and back-burnered and shape-shifted but never, ever dissipated a “fantasy.”

Fantasies are what happen in the life that you’ll never actually live, which to me really means that fantasies are often very tied up with suffering. They are where love lives when you don’t feel loved. They are where fulfillment occurs when you feel stuck. They are where every day life is easy when sometimes it just isn’t. They are where your crutch–be it a shot of whiskey, a pack of smokes, or a pan of brownies–really, really, really will make it all better.

Fantasy is not the same as dreaming. Fantasy is what your mind uses as a torture device. Fantasy is bullshit and you know it.

The opposite of fantasy is not striving. Not lying about love and not lying about health and not feeling like you have to hide the hard moments. The opposite of fantasy is this incredibly loving and accommodating thing life does: it keeps happening. It may suck sometimes, but wow, thanks, life. I’m dead serious. I thank you. I can’t wait to see what you have in store for 2014. I plan on sticking around for the whole thing so that in a year, I can sit down and say, it again: Wow. A year ago, this, a year ago, that. May it be so. May this be a year of not getting lost in fantasy, but of using the word itself as a timer, a catcher’s mitt, a sifter. A reminder of what’s here, what I can and want to do.

When I catch myself fantasizing, I’ll stop and ask myself one simple question:

Does this thing really matter to me?

If the answer is NO, I’ll knock that shit off and move on. And if the answer is YES, then I will ask myself what I’m willing to do (change, begin, etc.) to bring it to life.

Keep me honest here, people. And I’ll pledge to keeping it real.

Photo by Antanas Sutkus

8 thoughts on “2014: Fantasy

  1. Pamela says:

    Wow Jena. I am so so happy for you and Mani. And I am happy for myself for having you in my life.

    I have been leaning in crutches this holiday season. Thank you for helping me see things a new way. As fantasy and as the place love lives when I don’t feel loved.

    Happy new year! Xoxo


  2. Katrina Kenison says:

    Jena, there’s so much here for me to think about and take into my heart that I don’t even have an articulate comment, other than to echo your own “wow” and to thank you for reminding me of this: “Fantasies are what happen in the life you’ll never actually live.” This is so true. And it makes me wonder whether it’s time to ban my own pet fantasies from the life I DO actually live. Easier said than done. ( Very happy for you and Mani!) xo


  3. tingle says:

    As one who got the privilege of a quick glimpse of you two doing “nothing” together this week, I am thrilled for both and inspired by your “ordinary life”. And then there is this: “to be loved without worrying about whether it’s love, to need sometimes to get away from myself but never from her, and to be with someone who mirrors back to me my ability to stay, to stay with myself, to offer myself the kind of kindness and patience and encouragement she gives so freely–this is what I often refer to as ‘lucky.'” Oh hell yes.


  4. krista says:

    for me, sometimes fantasy is the road not taken and as such a kind of living in the past. sometimes fantasy is many of the things you describe, and in either case i am learning to focus less on the objects of my fantasies and more on the unmet needs at their core. fantasies, like everything else that passes through my consciousness, are hints about the subconsciousness that informs them. and i am discovering that bringing them to light is more necessary than bringing them to life. love this, jena. thanks for sharing. happy for you and mani!!!


  5. Elizabeth says:

    I notice that my only association with fantasy now is one of my favorite book genres. I used to use fantasies, as a crutch, as a way of living the life(s) I thought I wanted but I know now I didn’t. Feeling appreciative for that.

    Happy wishes to you and Mani. May the new year hold many blessings.


  6. Rivke says:

    Dear Jena,
    Real life is more generous than fantasy, that is for sure. By more generous I mean the pain is more raw, the joy more satisfying and the simplicity…oh, the simplicity! Thank you for this piece. You just keep on blossoming as a writer and as a human.
    Sending twin cousin love,



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