For your fast paced, always in a rush mistakes. Bumping into strangers, grinding your size 10 sneakers on top of their bony feet, knocking over their warm vanilla late with your elbows. When you become part of the lint that clings on to this city, you no longer have the time, the energy, the focus to say “sorry”. Instead, you learn to walk a little faster and hold on tighter to the things that really matter to you, letting the disposable go at the sudden push of another.
Age as a doomsday clock. The hopelessness of Craig’s List. The insanity of Friendster. Picking someone you loved up from a fivesome. The brilliance of Howard Dean’s scream. The Iraq War. Starting a novel, but only starting. Can’t pass math. The quadratic formula under pressure. Weeping in a professor’s office, please don’t fail me, shredding dignity. Sneaking into cemeteries to hunt for ghosts. Making contact with a ghost in the Redlands. Arguing about anything. Collecting rent checks. A Wesley Willis headbutt. The power of house party hallways. The power of spitting blood. City of Hope Needs Blood, Now!
The importance of punk’s continued existence. Comic books shrines. Engine problems. Flat tires everywhere. Smashed windows and missing CDs. A car crazy with the worst music and the best people. Trespassing at Hearst Castle. Bluebook essays in baby scrawl. History students complaining about Black History Month. Understanding how to drink. Exalting drinking. So many bottles of Mickeys on the curb. Pilgrimage to Rodney Dangerfield’s grave. Lil’ Wayne’s “Lollipop” becoming a symbol of human will and desperate resolve. Dumped with note cards on Christmas. So many bottles of Miller High Life on so many tables. So many screwdrivers.
The smell of the suburbs at two in the morning in the winter. The smell of the suburbs at three in the morning in the summer. Learning 80 words in Farsi. Fake ransom notes. Spaghetti night at the house I grew up in. Making dad laugh like he means it. Bickering with sister. Mix CDs for every guy. A mix tape for one guy. Terrible sex mostly, but not always. Misanthropic humanist. Cynicism is the natural ally of optimism. 40 cigarettes a night, but only as incentive to quit. Coming to terms with elevators. Knowing which marriages will last. So hard to look a human in the eye. People I hated saving my life. Just can’t get into Wilco.
Tame times in Las Vegas. Seattle with no Space Needle. Philadelphia with no Liberty Bell. Punching walls, punching my car. Realizing punching things is embarrassing and dumb. Jumping into a lake drunk. Dumb crushes. Knocking drinks over at a bar and watching yourself let a person down in real time. Vitriol goggles. Rather be asleep than awake. Sloshball redeemed the year, an hour and a half of inebriated purity. Spindly arms and a round belly. Black Dickies and band shirts. Romanticizing guilt and shame. Tearing up at stupid things. New Order covering “Love Will Tear Us Apart” or the last episode of LOST. The same clothes since high school. Closure is not real. Everything is left hanging eventually. The perfection of walking the train tracks with your best friends.
Running from cement factory security dogs. Abandoning people when things get messy. Being a murky girl. Friendly gay bars. Writing real life fan-fiction. The heaviness of being wrong. A record of my life in 140 characters or less. Revenge is stupid. People have sex. It’s what they do. Defending his ex-girlfriends from well-intentioned friends. Don’t give up on people. People are people but people are trying. Mostly. The different gaits of the different dogs I’ve loved. A salaried job. Netflix for hours. The Qur’an in auto-tune. Start a new novel. Making twenty free throws in a row with no witnesses. Did it even happen? There’s no excuse to fuck with what is precious to a person. Stumbling to a terrible beer pong bar one night in September. Meeting you.
Brooklyn is a cruel laboratory for the self. You will squeeze ungainly through narrow nicotine-yellow hallways, tripping over bicycle frames and sidestep anything damp, just to be safe, in your search for love. You will climb five sets of blood-colored stairs, a plywood bunk ladder, you will starve for air. Drink warm Gatorade, plastic-bottle vodka, piss-poor beer.
You are piss-poor, or it feels like you are. The walls are thin and everyone can hear you; you will be unwrapped and undignified on a floor mattress. You will not sleep if you’re not at home, smothering under a pilled fleece, a polyester duvet, the awareness of a complicated frame. 2 AM finds you fumbling for your buzzing phone as orange-stained lost-hour night bleeds in from behind heavy curtains.
You will have to work. You will have to eat. You won’t be able to eat here and no one will offer to feed you. You won’t know how to lock the front door. You won’t know whether to text. You do not call. You ought not smile too much, laugh too loud, be too eager to kiss or to do anything or say anything. You must be eager only to have another drink.
You must learn not to want to talk. You are sorry a lot, or you should be. You think. You don’t know. Your feelings are your own peculiar lacy private tangled bowstrung aching burden and you must carry them in a bundle like a soldier. You can’t really carry anything with you but that; it is the only thing you own that is worth anything. Your uniform is yesterday’s bra. More people in Brooklyn will see your bra than your feelings.
You don’t stay too long in anyone else’s space. You don’t ask to, and nobody asks you. You get bitterly cold in the winter, apocalyptically hot in summer. You are never, never comfortable. Sometimes you break a little.
When you steal rare deep sleep in what little sanctum you have made for yourself, a place that mercifully smells only like yourself – only then – do you think about things like a Real House. The longer you live in New York City the more distant and fascinating the idea of a Real House becomes, like a model in a snowglobe. You think about a Real Man. He can build things. He will cook for you. He wants you to stay. He begs you to stay, like in a song or a movie. You are With Him instead of Performing For him.
You think about these things even though Real Man is as much a child’s snowglobe idea, a dollhouse model, as a Real House. They are things you aren’t even sure you want. You can’t even decide if you are supposed to want them. Is it normal to want them? What if you ended up in a dollhouse? Who would you be then? You have the freedom to be a woman who can make her own reality.
Which is good, because seriously “Real Man” and “Real House” are constructs that do not even exist. I mean, probably they don’t. You might find yourself fleetingly wondering, and then you stash the question guiltily away under your classwork or your stack of zines or your sketchbooks or your notebooks full of writing or whatever represents your ideas about who you are and what matters to you. You stash it like a vibrator in your drawer. All your friends own one. It is a way of owning themselves.
Mostly you’re just looking for yourself. You move sometimes bravely and sometimes fragilely among men and houses. Was that what I wanted. Was that what I wanted.
When I am old, I would like to move back to the beach.
I’d buy one of the cheap motels that line up before the sand. The ones with neon “Open” and “Vacancy” signs. Ones that decorate with shellacked swordfish nailed to the walls, with fake palm trees, with Jamaican trinkets and dried sand-dollars brought up from Key West. Where the wood of the walls might be driftwood from the way it flakes and peels. Where one person works lazily behind the counter and you bring your own bags to your small room decorated with hot-glued sea shells and paintings of jumping dolphins bought at garage sales. Everything will smell like Cuban cigars and wet sand.
Outside your window, in this fantasy, you can see the ocean, and the boardwalk of strange Floridian folk on rollerblades, men with bright white chest hair and leather-y skin in Speedos, women in T-shirts with skinnier women airbrushed on the front, teenagers on skateboards with flat-brimmed hats that say “Female Body Inspector.”
I would be old. I’d buy the motel and put tacky plastic flamingos in the dirt out front. I’d change the name to the “Seaside Wonderland” or something equally cheesy. Maybe a pun. I’d cut my hair short and let it go gray. I’d wear the same floral bikini every day with a neon yellow mesh dress over it. I’d sit at the front desk of my motel and drink coffee from a chipped 1998 Marlins mug and eat orange slices and watch the waves crest white and blue. I’d take my favorite rainbow deck chair and head out to water’s edge early in the morning and read good old books in the silence until the families begin to show up with their kids, like bombs dropped, umbrellas used as flags to claim territory. But I’ll know they can never own that spot of beach. I’ll know someone new will be there tomorrow.
I’d sometimes wear open men’s Hawaiian shirts that maybe belonged to my dead husband, or to my lovers who come and go. Maybe I just bought them this way or they were gifts from Tommy Bahama. I will eat arepas and bunches of grapes as snacks mostly and live upstairs in my own room, with carpets I inherited from my European grandmother — maroon and frayed, sometimes they’ll feel too rough on my bare feet. I will not wear shoes. I’ll sit in the fine, rounded, golden-plated chair I will also inherit from her and I will be by a window, with a large bookshelf that covers the room from wall to ceiling. I will wait until the sun is just right and I will sit in that chair and continue to read until a customer needs me or it is time for dinner. Sometimes I will light incense and meditate. Sometimes I will use stones and herbs. One customer will accuse me of voodoo.
At night, I’d have seafood down at the restaurant near the water, it’d be loud sometimes — full of tourists drinking carafes of wine, corralling kids I will no longer have, fighting with partners when I am alone from here on out. I will read with my dinner too, and ask for a single glass of wine or a whiskey on the rocks. Then I’d take a walk down the shoreline to the half-shell where an enthusiastic Cuban band will play old Spanish love songs and the air will be thick and humid, blown cold and salty by the proximity to the ocean. Sometimes it will be enough to remind me of the north, but I can appreciate it.
Sometimes old friends will recognize me as they come through, but I won’t feel any pressure or hurry or rush or desire. I will offer them beers or a smoke. I will say, “Yes, it’s been quite a while. Good to see you, too.” But generally, I will have no obligation to anyone but my customers, to anything but the motel. I will smile when a couple checks in for a few hours only. I will watch the slowness overtake them. I will see colorful birds and I will never wear a coat, or anything just black.
At night, I will write. Because I will be old and that is when you should write. I will have much more to say, and much less shame than I did in my younger years when I was so eager to publish everything without proper skill or patience or eloquence. And it will be dark, but lit by ocean stars and boat beacons. I will be old. The words will come much easier to me then.
Stevie has one of thoe ‘70’s kitten-in-a-tree posters - Hang in There! She posts her poster with all sincerity. I like to picture her running into some self-impressed Williamsburg bitch, all Bettie Page bangs and pointy glasses, who owns the same poster ironically. I’d like to listen to them try to negotiate each other. Ironic people always dissolve when confronted with earnestness, it’s their kryptonite. Stevie has another gem taped to the wall by the soda machine, showing a toddler asleep on the toiler - Too Tired to Tinkle. I’ve been thinking about stealing this one, a fingernail under the old yellow tape, while I distract-chat with her. I bet I could get some decent cash for it on eBay.
Then there was Tanner. I was positive Tanner would drive a pickup, but he guides me to a shiny Ford hatchback, a heartbreaking car, the car of the new college grad with big plans and a modest budget, not the car a grown man should be driving. He catches me watching him and makes a goblin face, all crazy eyes and leering tongue. He isn’t my type. The fur on his face is too bristly, he does suspicious things with fish, but he is nice looking. Attractive. His eyes are very warm.
He leaves the windows down as we drive through the forested hills, the gravel dust coating my stubby hair. It feels like something from a country music video: the girl in the sundress leaning out to catch the breeze of a red-state summer night. I can see stars. Tanner hums off and on.
A lethal looking bottle of green apple liqueur, the host’s ironic purchase, will soon be the fate unless someone makes a booze run and that seems unlikely, as everyone clearly believes they made the run last time. It is a January party, definitely, everyone still glutted and sugar-pissed from the holidays, lazy and irritated simultaneously. A party where people drink too much and pick cleverly worded fights, blowing cigarette smoke out an open window even after the host asks them to go outside. We’ve already talked to one another at a thousand parties, we have nothing left to say, we are collectively bored, but we don’t want to go back into the January cold; our bones still ache from the subway steps.
I think about eating to give myself something to do besides standing in the center of the room smiling like the new kid in the lunchroom. But almost everything is gone. Some potato chip shards sit in the bottom of a giant tupperware bowl. A supermarket deli tray full of hoary carrots and gnarled celery and a semeny dip sits untouched on a coffee tables, cigarettes littered throughout like bonus vegetable sticks. I am doing my thing, my impulse thing: What if I leap from the theatre balcony right now? What if I tongue the homeless man across from me on the subway? What if I sit down on the floor of this party by myself and eat everything on that deli tray, including the cigarettes?
I nudge in, aiming my plastic cup in the center like a busker, get a clatter of ice cubes and a splash of whiskey from a sweet-faced guy wearing a Space Invaders t-shirt.
Heat seeped from the weathered wooden planks. Summer, dry and smooth like a polished stone, skipped over the trembling surface of our heightened senses. I was full of you, flooded. You were flow and tide rising and brimming, barely contained. I could feel our syncopated pulses in the webbing between our fingers, quicksilver ripples running up along my nerves, liquid sunlight threading through my vertebrae like nylon through hollow beads.
Glinting hints of love swam just below the surface, weaving orange-gold around our sandy feet. I felt their tiny lips nibble at my toes and I was already slipping, like the droplets sliding smoothly down your anklebones. We were ready to dive, me and you, the certainty of it hummed in my chest. We would brave the instant of icy cold hesitation to meet again amidst a million diamond bubbles, my legs wrapped around your middle, your mouth tasting salt upon my neck. So we made a playful deal, a mutual dare. You counted: one, two, three.
We sat there, crouched like dead pansies, against the age stained brick wall of the warehouse.There was something so meticulously significant about this moment. It was one of those things when you sit there, knowing that you’ll remember the very moment you’re witnessing, not as a memory, but as a thought. I had come to the realization that time isn’t gradual. It’s just subtle millisecond hiccups which are masked by the deep breaths of life. Each time you blink, there’s some kind of shift of who you are as a person, similar to a white to black spectrum. You can’t ever identify the prominent difference between one color to the next, but you know it’s there because the proof is on the other end. It was just that this time, I had actually noticed the change because I knew, had it been a year ago or maybe even a week ago, we wouldn’t have been here. We would have chickened out before we even reached the pathway leading to the back of the warehouse, but here we were, in such an anticlimactic state, nothing but time, and juvenile fantasies leading up to this moment. We had never thought this far. We never realized that sometimes time eggs us on rather than our very own urges and that scares me, because temptations often feel like the strongest force to resist. But they’re not. There’s always time. Always.
Memories come at me in snapshots. This day in the summer we bought kites after we had both finished our shifts. We were working as cashiers. The kites were printed with different cartoon characters. We bought extra spools of string so we could fly them higher than the manufacturers intended. It took the both of us to get mine in the air. The wind almost cracked the plastic that held the thing together. I could see the rods bulge through the cartoon’s goggled face and worried mine would break in the wind. I didn’t want to sit back and watch someone else’s kite.
We got bored and tied our strings off on a tree. I laid in the grass and closed my eyes in the sun, waiting for a body to fall next to me. Instead I was shocked as a bottle of water dowsed my stomach. I started thrashing around and it was all lips and limbs. We only stopped to laugh and wring water out of our shirts.
When we came to, the kites were a hundred or so meters away. Their lines must have crossed. We always split the bills.
In a different summer, we would take long drives at night. We would talk about movies and politics and vacation homes. We would discuss our future real estate, combinations of apartments and houses, mountains, cities, lakes. The need for a boat versus the desire for a boat. We would someday purchase bags of groceries from a joint bank account.
We would make out in parking lots. We would make out in strangers’ driveways. We made out on overpasses, crossing train tracks, sitting under radio towers. Today I could point to almost any location around our neighborhood and present it as a reference point to a place where we made out. I would come back late and my whole face would be raw with spit. I’m not sure anyone could have slapped the grin from my face.
Once in the winter, we went for one of these drives. There was a snowstorm, an inch of ice on the roads. We floated our way into the parking lot and I led us to the backseat and we sucked on each other’s noses to keep them warm. The heat was turned up to 93 degrees until it wasn’t. The stereo cut out. A few hours later a tow truck arrived for an emergency jump. We wouldn’t look each other in the eyes we were so embarrassed, but I remember we split the bill.
Rock shows. Folk shows. Jazz shows. Festivals. Ten dollars worth of tickets to ride the rides. A bluegrass band under a tent on a football field, rain pouring down around them. A quilt that was never finished. The blue ink from a broken pen coating the inside of my hands. The first time we’d tried sushi. The first time we’d tried fondue. The first time we’d tried Ethiopian flatbread. Licking drips of ice cream from each other’s fingers. The jealousy I’d felt at a mall when I’d see people looking. The first time we’d showered with one another. The way we would stop what we were doing and cover our ears and scream when we heard motorcycles approaching. The pile of t-shirts I’d soon accumulate and never have it in me to give back.
….the way memories persist.
This isn’t a diversion or a distraction or something I even needed to acknowledge because I need them. I need these memories. Sometimes I miss them. Not always the people, but the experiences. I’ll never see exactly this or exactly that again. I’ll never feel exactly this way at exactly that time. And if exactly this time or exactly that way felt exactly this good, how can you help missing it? And I miss them. I do. I miss them all.
But I don’t want them anymore.