We went to a Jay-Z concert at the newly constructed Barclay Center in Brooklyn and after the concert, we went to a bar where a DJ was spinning and bass was pumping and the crowd was bigger than I’d ever seen in any bar. Everyone was dancing and there was a song shouting, “If you got $100 put your hands up…” And I had next to nothing, but I had a new dress and I had a man who said he loved me and he was looking at me like I was something worth holding onto and I figured that was enough. So I let him grab my ass and I put my hands up like the rest of the crowd. New York had begun for me.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
People’s faces look different when you kiss them – softer, maybe. I like kissing. I like the feeling of the warm, stubbled skin of the back of man’s neck against the palm of my hand. I like how hands can think for themselves. I like men who have slept with a lot of women because they’ve learned how to use their hands. They’ve lost their timidity. Or maybe they never had much in the first place and that’s how they came to sleep with so many women. I like the sides of men. I like the natural way my hands slip under a man’s shirt when we’re kissing, the way they rest on the smooth skin that covers thick muscle that could take a punch – or a woman.
I was sitting on a barstool, staring into my gin and tonic that I didn’t really feel like drinking, ignoring the man sitting to my right who kept trying to talk to me. He reeked of strong, smoky scotch and the smell of him was making me sick. Suddenly I felt lips on mine. I felt my head clasped by the strong grip of wide hands. The kiss was so smooth, it had slipped into my mouth before I knew what was happening and before I could decide if I liked it. I opened my eyes and saw the face of the Irish bartender, though at first I didn’t recognize him. He had been nothing special to look at when I had ordered my drink thirty minutes earlier. Now he was soft and somewhat lovely – or his kiss was. Or maybe I had softened.
“I’m saving you,” he said to me in a thick Irish accent, still holding my head between his hands, nodding discreetly towards the eager man on my right. The bartender kissed me again. I wanted to tell him that I didn’t need his help. I was good at being alone and I was certainly sober enough to know how to extricate myself from a drunk guy at a bar who was hitting on me. I liked to consider myself wise to most of the moves and lines men use to pick up women. I also liked to consider myself more skilled in the art of pick-up and seduction than most men. I figured that, “I’m saving you,” was probably a pretty handy line for an Irish bartender to through out time and again to catch a sad, single woman at his bar, but I felt that because I was aware of this, it didn’t count if I played along and allowed myself to be caught. And it was the first kiss I’d had since the hard breakup with the man I had loved. I gave myself up to it, letting my brain turn to viscous matter as all of me slid into the kiss and the low lighting of the bar and the pleasant strangeness of it all.
Monday, April 28, 2014
I’m about to graduate with an MFA. I’m told it’s terminal – though I hear there are some experimental PhD programs in places like California that could extend my student life expectancy. But basically, I went out into the world and got a degree that’s like a disease no sane person would ever want to catch. But I wanted to. As several people in a writing workshop class I took once commented, I tend to be a bit morbid. And that’s precisely why I wanted to get an MFA. I have a certain inclination towards morbidity – and also hyperbole. I like to dissect relationships. I like to cut them open, rip through the sinew that held them together, see where the heart is, find out if they bleed.
A terminal degree also appealed to me because I like endings. Well, I should say, I like writing about them. Things are easier to write about if you know how the story ends. [It ended when he said, “But why would you want me?” and she realized that she had run out of ways to try to help him understand. They both gave up on him.] Endings are also nice because they can often have a palatable combination of melancholy hope and perspective that is quite palatable to the page. It makes for delectable discourse when articulated alongside the raw heart and meaty parts of the severed relationship.
I really like writing about how things end. I even like to read the last page of a book before I decide if I’m going to commit to reading the whole thing. I don’t want to go on the emotional journey of turning through page after page in my bed at night, if it’s going to leave me sad or confused or somehow dissatisfied. Sex partners are for faking it; I want to be real with my books. I want closure and I want to feel like I learned something by opening that book and opening myself up to the experience of reading it.
And then there’s poems. Poems are great because they’re short, so you know they’re going to end soon and you usually don’t get bored or have unrealistic expectations of them. Poems are like a literary fling. Sometimes I cheat on my memoir with a poem. That’s how much I like endings. I like to flirt with them. I like to start something just to finish it. I like the way time bleeds out on the page.
I wanted an MFA because I wanted to write about everything that had ever happened to me. I wanted to put my past on the page and leave it there to die, while I went on with my life – healthy and happy and loved. I wanted to say: This is how that ended. And now look at how I’ll finally begin.
I wanted an MFA because I thought that if I cut open my life, I would find the sinew and bones that held me together and I would finally be able to get to the heart of what’s the matter with me. And I had hoped maybe I could perform some sort of transplant so my heart wouldn’t be my problem anymore. But I couldn’t perform the transplant. I got an MFA. I’m not a doctor.
After a winter so long that it made me doubtful that there was really such a thing as seasons or change or hope, spring finally returned to New York. And with the return of spring came the rebirth of my belief in people and possibilities. On the first evening warm enough to only require a light jean jacket, I sat my favorite piano bar with a man I had somewhat accidentally started dating and was finally starting to take quite seriously. That day we had walked through Central Park that afternoon, where there were daffodils poking up between the brown patches of earth and pink magnolia trees bursting into bloom. Then we had returned to my Upper East Side neighborhood and I had led him to that bar, which had become my favorite place in the New York. The paint on its walls and tables were chipping. Everything about it had lost the loveliness it must have once had, but it was the most genuinely alive establishment I had found in the city. Its staff was all older singers who had never made it big but who filled the small bar with their larger than life voices every night until 4a.m. And the drinks were cheap and strong.
I loved it and I knew my mother would have loved it too. I could picture her and drinking and joining the piano player in off-pitch harmony on a hearty ballad. And I could imagine my grandmother there with the man I had always thought she should marry when I was young, who would be drinking whiskey the way I was drinking whiskey. I could hear their deep, ever-on-point voices soaring like his had when he yodeled for me at The Hotel in Wisconsin. And I knew my brother would have loved it because he had always loved anything I loved, especially music. And I felt sure the man I had dated and loved when I first moved to New York would have loved it too – he would have loved how the bar felt like something out of a black and white movie about old New York and he would have mouthed all the words when the piano player sang Frank Sinatra songs. The piano bar was a place that brought back to me everyone I had lost. And it was good to see them again.
The long months of winter had taught me forgiveness – something I had never really understood before. My whole life I had run from what had happened to me and when I had discovered that it is impossible to run from pain itself, I had tried to kill it with sex and drinking. I had never understood when people talked about forgiving and letting go. And the truth was that I couldn’t let any of it go because in spite of everything, there was love. But I had learned that I could forgive by accepting people for precisely who they were and for the ways they were able to love me. And I could love them back. And I really meant it. I loved them. Not in spite of anything. I just loved them.
I sipping my whiskey sour and my date was holding my hand under our table when I heard the first verses of the song. It was my grandmother’s song. I sat up straight and leaned my body over the table, towards the piano player, who was singing “The Rose,” a Bette Midler song. I remember riding in her car, cigarette smoke stale and thick all around me, her voice clear and strong as she sang the song over and over again. I was eleven years old when I wrote the words she was singing in my notebook because it had felt important. I lost that notebook but I didn’t forget.
Where do you go when you’re sad? I get lost inside myself. I dive into a wine bottle and go swimming through all the old memories that I thought I had left on the tarmac in Chicago. And now I’m at baggage claim. I’m mixing metaphors like liquors. Blacking out like I wish the past would. But I know better. I know I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been there. I’m tough like the times I come from. But I forget to be cautious when I’m sad and drinking. I drown in lost things. Lost loves. Bruises in the shape of handprints. My family. Love. God, what is love? And who has some I can borrow? Next round is on me. And I keep hearing the feeling ALONE. ALONE is a feeling that echoes. And then it’s not a feeling; it’s headlights and I’m in it. ALONE. Cheers! I’m good, I swear. This is just a moment in time. Come find me on a Sunday, happy with the way sunlight caresses me in the morning. Listen to me laugh at a passage in a good book in bed on a lazy evening. Watch me weave stories for you to dress me in. I don’t want to wear any of those secondhand words, offhanded remarks that the world gives me. Fall for the way I eat an apple as I tiptoe naked across the floor. But maybe you’re afraid of falling, the way I’m afraid of falling. So just come when you’re ready. I’ll be someone found.
Saturday, April 26, 2014
When I was eleven years old I became conscious of time. I had always been the kind of child to count hours and watch minutes move on a clock, but suddenly time was bigger than clocks or even calendars. Time was change. Time was loss. Time was newness. And then more change. And more loss.
In relationships, I find I have trouble being faithful to the moment. I always have a secret affair with time. If things are going well, I jump the calendar and imagine a beautiful happiness that stretches on and on forever. And then when I notice that I’m doing this, I realize that I’m actually happy in the present and that terrifies me, so I start to imagine how things might not go well later. I become plagued with thoughts of time, change, loss and newness. I tell myself that even if I’m happy in the moment, things will inevitably change and I will lose the person I have grown to care about and then, just when it seems that hope was lost too, I will meet someone new who will replace the person that I once day dreamed forever with. My affair with time has ruined many of my relationships, sometimes by causing me to hold on too tightly out of fear of what I perceive to be inevitable change and loss, sometimes by causing me to push away preemptively out of the same fear of change and loss. Most often I have ruined my relationships with a combination of pushing away and holding on too tightly – the latter makes the act of pushing away quite uncomfortable for both parties.
Last week I sat in a bar with an old friend who was visiting from out of town and I became overwhelmingly conscious of time. Because we see each other infrequently, yet predictably, and because of the deep nature of our friendship, he always brings me back to myself. And what I mean is that he brings back his memory of the person I was when he last saw me, what I was thinking then, what I was afraid of and what I cared about. In this way I get an uncanny reminder of who I’ve been and how I’ve changed – and how I haven’t. He said he remembers when I used to wear a loose purple dress over jeans with moccasin boots and a wooden peace sign necklace. I remember that girl too. I was a freshman in college in Chicago, dating my first real boyfriend and utterly convinced that love is something you have to fight for – that its proof is in the hard work, tears, and sheer begging you have to go through to convince the other person that they love you back. I also remember how much that girl wanted to be a writer in New York City. Talking to my friend, I felt the presence of the six years that have since elapsed since I was that girl wearing a purple dress and a peace sign necklace. It took all six of those years for me to start to believe that love shouldn’t be a fight. But it only took four of them for me to move to New York.
Although I am ever-conscious of time, it still managed to sneak up on me recently. I submit my thesis in one week and graduate with my MFA in four weeks. And then what? The rest of my life? And what is life but a series of failed relationships and a couple good friends who see you through? Even though I’ve changed and succeeded in accomplishing what I now realized were short-term goals that I set for myself years earlier, I still don’t feel like I have anything substantial. Where does one get something substantial? And what is something substantial, exactly? It’s not a degree --that much I’m sure of. Is it a job? A career? (Is sitting in my bed writing about myself a career?) Is it a relationship? Jesus Christ, how is it that I can commit to writing a one hundred and fifty page thesis and be excited to write another hundred pages so I can turn it into a real book, but I can’t succeed in having a long-term relationship? Is it because I’m so self-involved that I enjoy spending one hundred and fifty pages talking about myself? Is it because I don’t even consider not making bad decisions since I know they will be fun to write about later? Is it because I have a habit of drinking to excess because I’m self-involved and know it will be something to write about later and it doesn’t matter if I make people hate me because they’re not welcome to sit in my bed with me while I write about myself anyways? And what if I don’t want to grow up? God, what am I going to do after I graduate? Am I just going to go to work, date men, get my heart broken, drink excessively, and write about it until I die?
Writing my thesis about my family and their relationships – and mine -- has made me conscious of time in another way. In the beginning, I am little girl asking my mother, “Why do people get married?” To which she responded, “People get married so they can live together forever.” Later, on one page I tell the story of my first four relationships. Then on twenty-five pages I tell the story of another relationship. It’s one hundred and fifty pages of time, change, loss, and newness. And it ends with me being alone but because I believe in the inevitable newness that follows all loss, I don’t think it’s that sad of an ending. And there is something else on those pages. There is my mother, my grandmother, my brothers, and someone that I cared so much about that they took up twenty-five pages. There’s my brother’s hand pressed against the window of the car as he and my mother drive away, leaving me to fly off to my new life in New York. And there’s a man I loved, under streetlights and stars, saying, “Here’s how it really goes.” And there’s another man sitting beside me at an Upper East Side piano bar while I clasp my hands to my heart because the piano player is performing a song my grandmother used to sing and suddenly I wonder if this new man could grow to love me for the way I love. There is all the things that I didn’t really lose after all because I can still put them right back on the page, still tell the story of how it was and how it meant something. Goddamn, it meant something. And that’s when I realized that time is LOVE. People change, relationships fall apart, and it hurts. It really really hurts. But there will always be Love. On and on forever. You can count on it. And I will write about it.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
“You’re lucky we found someone who doesn’t just take one look at your resume and say, ‘She’s overeducated.’ Because you are,” The career placement woman looked like my grandmother – when my grandmother was dressed for Christmas dinner. She continued, “What is this? – Oh, a Creative Writing major in undergrad and an MFA… Most people would look at this resume and think an office job would have you in tears but I understand, the creative thing is just a hobby. Don’t worry, I understand.” She made a note on the paper in front her and then looked at me. “Do you own a gray suit? And pearl earrings. That would really help.”
I imagined being the sort of person who not only owns, but who also regularly wears a gray suit – and is totally fine with it. The one thing I had been sure of two years ago when I decided to go to graduate school was that I did not want to be that sort of person. And then I thought of how I cried in the bathroom almost every day for the first year at my last office job because I didn’t like the kind of person I was. I decided it would be a good idea to lie, “Yes, I own a gray suit. And I have pearl earrings.” The latter, was the truth.
She smiled, “Small pearl earrings? We don’t need anything else distracting people from your brain.” She looked me up and down again. “Your hair is fine if you keep it tied back, but you really have to be careful. You have a certain look – people will think you’re not smart if you’re not careful. No more lipstick. But do wear lipstick, no one wants to look at an ugly face all day.”
I nodded. I gathered that I was overeducated, so I should underplay that but also find a way to be less attractive so people didn’t think I was stupid but also not be too ugly to be employed. The line was getting very fine and gray. And my lipstick was too pink. And the pearl earrings I had would be too big. The wrong person might get confused and think I was wearing them to compensate for my tiny brain.
I could feel my brain shrinking as I sat talking to the career counselor. I should have been a housewife. I should have found a nice, rich, conservative, sterile man who believed a woman belonged in the kitchen and then while he was at work all day, I would sit at the kitchen table and write. I do like being in close proximity to the refrigerator.
As it happened, I was going to end up alone with a closet full of gray suits because I would become so depressed again that no one would want to be around me. No one likes sad people, least of all men. Most people are a lot like the career placement woman – wanting you to enact their idea of you, while you tolerate them slowly chipping away at your self-confidence. And see, I’m so over educated, that I’m convinced I’m quite right.
“Do you know how to make coffee?” the career placement woman asked.
“Of course,” I replied. I thought of my first job at a truck stop diner in Wisconsin where they had industrial sized coffee makers which I had lied about knowing how to use and then subsequently flooded the whole place with coffee but no one had really noticed as I mopped up the brown mess because the floors were so dirty anyways.
Interviewing for a job is like dating, if you’re desperate you’ll say “yes” to anything. And if you’re eager to please, you’ll perform tasks you’re not comfortable with. Maybe I should have been a prostitute. I find I have a talent for anticipating people’s needs.
I thought about my needs. Employment so I could feed and clothe and house myself. Mental stimulation so I know I’m not dead yet. And when mental stimulation fails, just plain stimulation so I can compare the sensations of death and dying.
I remembered last spring, being in the back of the taxi, leaving Wolfgang Puck’s on Park Avenue with a co-worker, both of us a bit drunk and entirely miserable. I kept telling him that I was hopeless, but he kept telling me I was better than that – maybe it was because I kept quoting Joan Didion. And we both needed to feel something – better. And then he kissed me like I was the best damn thing. I remembered how that story came and went. And the thought of wearing a gray suit in another office made me want to have three martinis for lunch on a Tuesday and then have some sex in the back of a taxi all over again.
“If you’re a writer, does that mean you type quickly?” the career placement woman asked.
I certainly do move quickly, “Oh, sure.”
As it turned out, the only thing I do exceedingly quickly is have sex. The career placement woman gave me a typing test with the requirement of hitting at least eighty words per minute. I couldn’t get past seventy. I was a writer who failed at writing. I had written a one hundred page thesis, but I couldn’t write fast enough. Maybe I was actually undereducated.
I wondered if there was such a thing as a housewife placement service. That should be my career, pleasing a man at night and sitting in the kitchen while he was away at work. Being in an office is mostly about pleasing a man – or several – anyways, and I’d rather spend my days at home in the kitchen; it’s closer to the food.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
“I never really liked him,” she mused aloud as we walked on. “I always thought he was gross and kind of an idiot.” She laughed her mean laugh, “I just liked that he loved me.” I laughed a mean laugh too because I knew what she meant and that was what made us both mean: we knew what it was to hate the person who says “I love you.” And if you hate the person who loves you, you can be damn sure that sooner or later you’ll start hating yourself. And that makes you mean.
New York began for me on Sunday, the nineteenth of August, when I was not quite twenty-two years old. As my plane began its descent into LaGuardia I looked out my window for views of a glittering skyline or the Statue of Liberty. Instead I saw muddy brown waters and brown buildings, gray roads and a sad, gray sky. When my plane had left Chicago that morning I had watched the skyline tower and shine in the hazy silver morning mist, keeping my eyes on the city until the very last skyscraper was out of sight, as if I was taking a last look at an old love.
When my taxi driver took me over a bridge on my way from LaGuardia to the New York City apartment I would be sharing with two roommates who I hadn’t met yet, I asked him the name of the bridge. And when he said it was the Triborough I smiled and made a note to write about how I had rode over the same bridge that my favorite writer, Joan Didion, had rode over when she first came to New York. But for the most part, on that first Sunday, New York was not even a place to me but a sad, gray, misremembered dream. I wandered from my William Street apartment to Fulton Street, which was lined with open-air shops and vendors. I looked at it as if from a distance even as excited tourists bumped up against me.
I walked on Fulton for a while until I reached the South Street Sea Port, a place of cobblestones and life-size pirate ships, acrobats and storefronts that looked like London. And as crowds merged and swirled around me I felt lost and alone even though I knew exactly where I was. That was the thing about being in New York – it didn’t feel like mine, nor did it initially feel like a place that I could be. It felt like it belonged to the tourists of the world and to the artists and the Wall Street brokers and the kind of people who lived in high rises or brownstones.
For the first couple days I moved about New York not in youthful or touristy awe but in the practiced irritation of someone who has lived and worked and loved in a city, someone who has run to catch a train and missed it and showed up late for drinks with a friend and been overly bothered by the inconvenience of the whole thing because it had been raining all day and the wind had blown their umbrella inside out. But then, on my fourth night in the city, I met a man outside a bar when the friend I was with asked him for a cigarette. And I had thought to myself that he was talking in a real New York accent. It turned out he was from Boston; I was just too new to New York to hear the difference.
That night was a wine and whiskey dream -- dark but bleeding brightness. My friend and I took a taxi with this man and his friend back to their apartment because they said they had a roof deck and we wanted to see the city from the sky and we were still young enough to believe in people. As the taxi carried us uptown, they were talking and the window was rolled down so I stuck my head out, so I could feel the air and the city. The wind rushed summer cool and dirty against my cheeks and I could see the dark shapes of buildings and the blurred red, green and orange lights of bodegas and bars and traffic. And then I was their roof looking out at the East River and down towards the Upper East Side and everything was still but sill all wine and whiskey, still darkness with light bleeding in. The city was sprawling out before me, like the possibilities I swore I no longer believed in.
He handed me a Corona and I quoted for him from my favorite movie, Annie Hall, because he said it was also his favorite movie. And when I had finished quoting Woody Allen paraphrasing Groucho Marx saying, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member,” he smiled, stepped a little closer, and said, “That was good but here’s how it really goes.”
And soon that’s what I was telling myself. Here’s how it really goes. New York had to be the real start I had been waiting for.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
I was crying in a public restroom because I miss sitting at my mother’s kitchen table. But really it was not about what I missed but what I could someday miss. Love is a hard thing. Like truth and growing up and learning to let go after you fell in love with the way your knuckles turned red from gripping too tightly. And I could have cried forever because nothing is forever. And I thought about how being alone is easier because when you have no one you have no one to lose. I get homesick when I’m happy because at least at home I know what I have and what I have to lose.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
I saw the pink magnolia trees blooming today and I thought about loss and how it was really just time.
As spring rained into summer, I played love like a tambourine, shaking and rattling it – but it was music all the while. It was a time when I was mad. Crazy mad like a starved fox in heat. Mad for really good sex and tequila and rock’n’roll and a man that wouldn’t shy away. I wanted a love that was as fierce as I felt when I walked down the street in my black boots. I wanted a love made from sweat and teeth, ripped lace and walking shoes. And I drank because most nights I couldn’t find it – and because, some nights, if I drank enough, I would think I did. But, in the sunny, sober, morning hours, I would remember that it wasn’t love that I was looking for – it was timelessness. It was that ever fleeting, ever forever, feeling of a first wine-drunk night and a great first kiss and the luxurious carelessness of youth. It was a time when I was becoming aware that every night as I was getting drunk -- and every night I wasn't -- I was also getting old. And the feeling I had once had of endless possibilities and infinite passion, was dying as fast as the minutes and hours of the night. So I had to drink and have sex and dance and cry and scream and listen to really good music because in possible self-destruction, there also seemed to be a kind of self-resurrection; a kind of saving grace -- as I think there is in most madness.
That spring I had a man who was whiskey and weed and a stubborn instance in god. He was dying of the same nothingness – or everything-ness – that I believed was killing me. I was wine, white paper, and blue ink one April night at a bar on Park Avenue in the Thirties where I kept telling him that I was dying, that I was like him. But he kept telling me that I was so much better – maybe it was because I kept quoting Joan Didion. That’s how it happened. We left and the bar and shared a taxi uptown and we shared a need to feel – something, better… And then he kissed me like I was the best damn thing.
Every past moment of that evening and the previous six months flashed and sped through me. His hand on my wrist, my shoulder, my knee. Jokes and secrets and small things -- the way he said my name. His hands sliding up under my jacket, on my hips, warming me through the chiffon dress I wore. A thought that had crept into my mind the first day we had met -- something about souls.
His life was all longing and voided hope but for the moment he was enough for me. I had known enough men who were enough like him to make me feel like I knew a thing or two. And from the way he was talking I got the feeling he had known a handful of women who were almost like me. Hungry women. Women who came at him with fox fierce eyes and dagger tongues. Women he enjoyed filling with sex and wine and cigarette smoke and fine food. But he and I were insatiable.
That spring I could have told him anything and he could have understood because we were both members of the same late night, lonely hearts club – both veterans of our own secret wars, wearing our damages on our sleeves like purple hearts.
“You’re in love with me,” he said as he held my hand inside his apartment, standing next to a bookcase that held the Torah and the Talmud and every book Kurt Vonnegut ever wrote.
“You don’t know what love is,” I replied. And what I meant was that I didn’t know what love was, so how could I be in it with him.
Outside, on Park Avenue, pink magnolia trees were in bloom.
On a Sunday I told him that I think life is simultaneously too long and too short until one day it’s one or the other and we have to do what we can to save ourselves from time. To which he said, “If you’re looking to be saved, don’t look to me.” And then he took my hand in his. And I thought about the difference between the things that save us and the things we’d die for.
Time is such a curious thing. There is always too much or never enough. And it’s never quite right. And we’re running out of it, even as we try to kill some more. We think we’re killing time with drugs and TV and sex and conversation but time is killing us. We were dying for something.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
I spend most days lately sitting in my room, trying to finish my thesis, which is the start of a memoir that spans three generations of women in my family. I write about how they loved and how they couldn’t, how they were loved and how they weren’t. There is trauma, dysfunction, abuse, and that vague word: complications. I tell my thesis advisor and anyone else who will listen that I’m trying to show people that love is sometimes things we don’t want to admit it to be. Love is all about what you are capable of. Think, what are you capable of at your best? What are you capable of at your worst?
Every morning I wake up and start tracing the choices of myself and my female relatives, looking for our intentions and following our paths through to our outcomes. Why am I here in New York? What happened to me? To them? To us? What was I running from and why didn’t they run?
I think about what we become. I think about being a little girl, in love with the way the southwestern Wisconsin countryside sloped and curved along the two lane highway and gavel country roads, the way the sunset was pink and purple and orange and limitless over the cornfields in the summer. The horizon seemed endless in the Wisconsin countryside and I grew up feeling boundless. I think about the women I loved who were bound to things too close to home. I think of the chains the world gives us and the ones we earn for ourselves. I think of how maybe I am lying when I say I felt boundless, because I have traveled quite a lot – from San Francisco to Istanbul -- and I have always felt tied to that place and those people and our secrets. The heaviest chains are the ones we carry with us, not the ones that hold us back.
I think of the way I was loved and the way I wasn’t. The ways I’ve loved and the ways I haven’t. I think of my childhood, my family. I think of my ex-boyfriends and all the different things I meant when I said, “I love you.” I meant, I love the way you love me. I meant, I love the idea of you. I meant, I’d love for you to make me feel better. And once, maybe once, I meant, I know you and I love you. And I think of how sex can be like a transaction, an exchange or a ruthless taking of power. I think about being held and caressed. I think about being pinned down and bruised. I think about outcomes. I think of the Upper Eastside Irish bartender, after hours, saying “I want to throw you over this bar and fuck you.” I think of how I walked away. I think of the married man in the Lower Eastside bathroom. I think about what we become. I think about the boy in my bed who said, “See, sex doesn’t have to mean anything,” and the way I turned out the lights and frowned at the dark.
But don’t get me wrong, this is not about making bad choices. This is about being alive. What do you call your choices?
I see my life still mostly in boxes, even after over a year in a half in New York. I see my favorite books on a shelf – the only piece of furniture I have bought so far. I think of how happy I finally am, how for the first time in my life I don’t feel like I’m looking for something to make me better. I made me better. And now because I am not looking for anything, maybe I will find love. I think of how much I was crying a year ago, how I woke up every morning and my heart ached with the pain of missing my family, my old friends, and with the acute worry that love was not what I had cracked it up to be. I wanted to be loved at least as much as I loved my favorite books. I wanted someone to know me by heart the way I knew my favorite Joan Didion essays. The want is important. What I became is the story. Words like girlfriend, drunk, unfaithful, broken hearted, easy, used, alone. And finally: better.
Sometimes I find myself at brunch with a man who’s conversation I enjoy or at dinner with a friend and I look at the gleaming floors of the restaurant, the well dressed patrons, the cocktail I’m drinking, and the smooth ambiance of being young in New York and I think of the cracked linoleum floors of restaurants in my hometown; I think of my mother’s kitchen table, cluttered and sticky. I think of what we become. I find myself in bars on the Lower Eastside, listening to people debating the contemporary relevance of Hemingway and idealizing Bukowski’s drinking problem and as I take another long gulp from my cocktail I hear myself telling my friends that where you live and what you read does not make you better than anyone else. I think I hear myself growing up. I see those friends walking away and I find myself walking alone along the streets of my Upper Eastside neighborhood, remembering the way dead pine needles filled the cracks in sidewalk outside my mother’s house in Wisconsin and how I used to walk home from school, telling myself stories about how I would move to New York and make up for where I was from. I think of outcomes.
My mother doesn’t like being written about. I doubt my ex-boyfriends or the rest of my family care for it either. I think of Joan Didon: Writers are always selling somebody out. But this is not about the price of things. I think of James Baldwin: People pay for what they do, and still more for they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it simply by the lives they lead. Maybe it is about the price of things. But I am talking about what I have paid for and what it’s worth and perhaps what I’m worth. I think about outcomes and I tell my mother that I come off worse than her in my writing. I worry that anyone who has read my stories, who sees me drinking in a bar, thinks to themselves: I know why she’s drinking; she’s damaged. And I think I am, but I don’t mind. Do I? I think about outcomes.
I came to New York from a small Midwestern town and I fell in love with the first man I met who reminded me of the city sky at night: a blank slate, starless. But I could never be a blank slate and in the end, I want a love that reminds me to look for the stars.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
The nurse took a picture of my face. I imagined a vault somewhere in the hospital with the pictures of hundreds, maybe thousands, of rape victims. I wondered if they were smiling. It’s strange not to smile for a picture, but it felt stranger to smile for this one, so I just looked into the camera. I wondered if I looked sad or scared. I wondered if some women have mascara tear stained cheeks or big puffy eyes in these pictures. I wondered if some of them have bruised faces. I thought about all the pictures we take in our life. Family photos, yearbooks photos, Facebook photos… And now there was this: my rape photo.
I had never let a boyfriend take naked pictures of me. But now there I was lifting up my hospital gown for the nurse to photograph my butt, my hips, my thighs, my knees, my ankle. My skin. My bruises. Now somewhere, stored away for years, there will be pictures of my naked body. And a picture of my face to accompany it. All of my rape evidence was being placed in a rape box. Maybe that’s where the pictures would go – into a box labeled with my name, my social security number, my date of birth and the day’s date. If only it was as simple as sealing one’s rape off in a box and tucking it away inside a cupboard and locking the door.