He and I

by | Jul 25, 2010 | 0 comments

Just found this- it was something we had to write in my MFA program- modeled after an essay on marriage by Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg called “He and I.”

Julia Pirritano- Non-Fiction Workshop 9/17/02

He is grateful for everything. I complain a lot. And when I complain he always apologizes as if he is responsible for the problems and complications of daily life, “I’m sorry”. He sighs.

I sing. He plays the piano and cello. I had no formal training. His mother forced him to practice classical music for four hours every day when he was a boy. Today, he disdains classical music. He went to a music school where jazz and rock are studied and plays gigs in smoky little clubs in downtown Manhattan where I sit on someone’s old beat up couch from the 70’s and listen.

I compose a melody in simple chords on my guitar and write the lyrics simultaneously. I memorize them. He writes the notes for songs in his head on the bus or on the train, and transposes them onto lined sheet music. He knows music theory; I do not. I took one class in college and using the rules I had learned, composed the worst few measures ever for my final assignment. He has perfect pitch, I can pick out a note that moves me in a song or write a song around one beautiful chord completely unaware of the name given to that chord.

In the recording studio, he arranges all the instruments. I sit on a chair and listen or read until it’s time for me to sing. Sometimes he doesn’t like my ideas for harmony and suggests something different. I usually get angry and imitate it poorly on purpose. One time, I could not hit a certain note, and he laughed. I left the studio and went shopping on Broadway before returning an hour later.

He doesn’t need to practice much before a gig. I practice a lot. We argue when we practice.

I have nervous breakdowns before performances. He is incredibly calm. He thinks about a million other things while his fingers move over the keys or cello strings. He is never thinking about the music. I think about everything, the notes, the people watching, the words. His eyes are open, mine are closed.

I have light eyes. They are so sensitive to the sun. They tear painfully on a sunny day if I don’t wear sun glasses. He has dark eyes and long eyelashes. One of the first things people notice about him are his long eyelashes. He says they’re long because he trimmed them when he was a kid.

He wishes he could sing like a black man. He sings the parts that a cello or piano would play instead of a voice. It ends up being incredibly high and irritates me to no end when we are in the car listening to music and I’m driving.

I had a phobia of driving for a long time. He can’t understand why. My mother used to hold on the side of the car whenever we went anywhere, as if she were afraid for her life. When I got my driver’s permit, I would drive around with her, her hands hanging tightly onto the handle on the door, saying “Stop, slow down, look out!” One time I actually stopped the car and made her get out and walk home. Sometimes I am angry at her for passing on her unhealthy fears to me. I have a hard time forgiving.

He loves his family. He says he forgives all their dysfunctionality, his dad’s drunken behavior when he was a kid, his mom’s demands. I still feel bitter.

I have many fears. He hides his well.

I fear sudden tragedy.

I fear loving someone until “death do us part”.

I fear pain and disease.

I’m also afraid of heights. When we hiked to the top of a mountain in New Mexico, I got dizzy and had trouble breathing. He stood on the edge and had me take a picture of him as if he were falling. He loves amusement park rides; I’ve read too many news articles about rides gone awry.

I love deep conversations. He is afraid of them. Maybe he thinks he has nothing to say, he usually keeps those thoughts to a minimum. I feel like I’m stealing a few dollars from someone’s wallet when I try to bring up something important. I have to close it and put it back in its place before I am noticed.

I always ask him what he’s thinking. He thinks I think too much.

His thoughts though are often much more profound than mine, maybe because he doesn’t even realize how profound they are. He isn’t presenting them the way I do; he is just speaking. They are always poetic and child-like at the same time, a beautiful combination, like an award winning children’s book about the moon or the snow.

He loves children and babies too. He says he sees God in them. When we’re walking along the city streets, every time a baby is pushed by in a stroller or a toddler toddles by, his eyes are drawn to them instantly and he interrupts whatever conversation we are having and says, “Look at this kid!” or “Look at this baby”. If I can’t find him at events where there are babies, I look around and see him bouncing a baby in the air or talking to a child. He says he does it so he doesn’t have to talk to grownups.

He likes McDonald’s and Coke. These are his staple foods. I stay away from both. He likes red meat. I rarely eat red meat. I cook him pasta and vegetables. He cooks me rice and ground beef with onions. He claims the onions are a vegetable and make it a healthy meal.

I like to eat snacks. Chips, pretzels, ice cream, and chocolate. Otherwise, I try to be healthy. I buy Barley Green powder and juice carrots when I get the urge. I try to eat fruit and vegetables as often as I can. He tells me not to fill up when I am eating snacks. He says I’m going to ruin my appetite for lunch or dinner. I get mad and tell him he’s going to give me an eating disorder and that eating for girls is a very sensitive issue, does he think I’m fat, is that what he’s saying?

He doesn’t like sweets. I order dessert and he has a bite, usually adding the comment, “Too sweet” as he lays down his fork. He does like Tiramisu though. He usually wants to order that everywhere we go. He isn’t always very adventurous in trying new meals. Once he finds something he likes, he usually sticks with it. Maybe that’s why we’re still together.

He hates sticky hands. His room is a mess, but he has to wash his hands immediately if there is any food on them. I can eat cheese doodles until my fingers are orange and just wipe them on my shirt.

I like to keep my space neat. If it gets too disorderly, I can’t think. I hate clutter, especially the kind in my mother’s basement. She has furniture from everyone in our family down there, filled with baby clothes and blankets. If anyone ever needs anything, she tells us to “look in the basement”. I think secretly she fears that if she ever does throw anything out one day someone will ask for it and she won’t have it.

He doesn’t even try to keep his room orderly, yet it is not cluttered. His CD’s, books, computer, and things that are important to him are easily accessible. His dirty clothes are in a huge pile on the floor. He has lots of clothes. I have lots of clothes too. Every now and then I make a vow that I will never buy another item of clothing again because I clearly have more than I can wear and it’s ridiculous when some people have nothing.

He hardly ever shops. The few times he has on his own, he’s gone to Kmart or Walmart. He’s always proud to show off the great deals he’s found. I’m never too impressed. He is thrifty but he worries I’ll think he’s cheap.

I don’t spend a lot but I shop impulsively. I buy gifts for other people more than I buy anything for myself. I don’t like shopping because it makes me feel like a less of a woman than I thought I was. I easily fall prey to the advertiser’s ploys to seduce me into thinking I need one more thing to be complete. He tells me I look great in whatever I wear.

I buy things and dislike them in a few months. The thrill is only in their newness.

He likes garage sales and old stuff. He took home an old film projector someone at his office was throwing out.

I am always on time. He is rarely punctual. Once he left me waiting at Port authority for over an hour on a Saturday morning because he’d overslept. I didn’t speak to him for an hour train ride to Brooklyn. He blamed it on a train even though when he’d called to tell me he had just woken up it was already the time he was supposed to be there.

I’m a light sleeper. He snores heavily and sleeps anywhere. We think maybe he has sleep apnea. He sleeps until 1 pm on his days off. I wake up by 9 at the latest even though I’m tired. There is something that scares me about staying in bed. Maybe it’s because my dad used to yell at us when we were kids watching cartoons at 11:30 on a Saturday morning, still in our pajamas. I don’t like to waste the day. He considers sleep his favorite part of the day.

He has no trouble waking up early if the World Cup soccer game is involved. He claimed that it was Korean pride that made the games so important for him. He had lived in Korea almost ten years and been rooting for that team he said, “ever since he stepped foot on Korean soil”. I thought it was sweet. Then I realized he was staying up til 2 am or getting up at 6 to watch games between countries that were not Korean. England and Sweden, and all those other ones.

Besides watching sports, he also loves movies. I enjoy them but I’d rather talk. I never used to watch cartoon movies until I met him. I never watched action movies either. Now I watch a little of everything. Still it seems he has seen many more movies than me, even recent ones, except I don’t know when he sees them since we’re always together.

He knows all the actors and is always spotting them in New York. A few times I was with him and he points one out to me. I never would’ve noticed them, would’ve walked right past. I’m bad with faces. I couldn’t remember what he looked like every time we separated when we first met. Finally, I had to ask him for a picture.

Besides movies, he watches TV a lot too. He looks up to Homer Simpson. He takes it as a complement when I tell him he’s really starting to remind me of him, drinking beer and lying on the couch in front of the TV. I mean this as an insult.

He asked me once what character in a movie he reminded me of. I couldn’t really think of anything. He said I remind him of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. He thought he was a combination of the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion.

He’s excellent at making analogies. They are always simple yet poetic and they usually make me smile.

I like to stay home. I work hard to make my home a sanctuary, a refuge from the world. Traveling is fun for a day or two and then I want to come home. He loves traveling and can adapt to being just about anywhere with very little luggage or amenities. The fact that he can sleep anywhere helps too.

He loves his neighborhood. I think Harlem is dangerous and I worry about him. His street is pretty though, and there’s an old Spanish man with white hair, blue eyes, and dark skin who sits in a window. He waves to him every time he sees him. The old man smiles and waves back.

I am serious. He is easygoing. He likes to be around people. I become drained easily. I take them like a vitamin and then I make my exit before depletion begins. He wishes I could be more easygoing. “I just wish, I just wish…” he always says, “you could be more easygoing”.

I make lots of lists. I have two planners, one for my desk, one smaller size to carry around. He writes things down on one calendar that hangs on his wall. I type up my goals for every area of my life once every year. He gets bored when I read them to him.

I cry. When I am hurt, or nervous, or angry, or stressed, I cry. The last time I was under extreme pressure, he had to lift me off the hardwood floor where I laid curled up in the fetal position crying. Somehow hard floors are sometimes more comforting than a blanketed bed when I reach the bottom.

One time he actually told me it “pained him” to hear me go on and on in my own self-absorption, talking about life’s complexities. I didn’t think I’d be able to share anything with him after that, but I do.

We recently took a personality test. His said he was like “sunshine on a cloudy day”. I love the sound of hard rain falling on the roofs and running down the gutters. I turn my stereo down just to hear it.


July 25, 2010


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