Some people, if they say something enough times, begin to believe it. Not me. The more I repeat myself, the more I see through my own lies. I was never a good liar.
I saw a therapist when I was in college who, after three semesters of unloading my problems on him, told me I was my own worst enemy. He said I was standing in the way of my own happiness, and there was nothing he could do to help me. I obsessed that for years until a friend told me she saw that same therapist and gave her the same speech. He had been a therapist for twenty years. I wonder if he told everyone that. I wonder if you tell enough people something enough times, everyone starts to believe it.
No, standing in the way of my happiness was a group of tourists. They meandered slowly down Columbus Avenue three abreast, gawking at the museum to their left and the menu of the Pizzeria Uno Chicago Grill to their right. A tangled dog walker approached from the cross walk, two aging retrievers pulling in his wake. Across the avenue, the green market vendors wrapped up their unsold produce and organic chicken. The scent of warm, rotting berries mingled with fresh dog shit. That group of tourists stopped in front of the bodega, allowing themselves to be counted by a man with what sounded to me like a German accent. I wove through the roadblock. There must have been at least fifteen, all of them sweating and smiling feebly.
One of them had his shoes off. He leaned against the glass window of the bodega and wiped his brow. His shoes, tied neatly together, dangled on either side of his shoulder.
here was something else my therapist said in college, but I had forgotten it. He didn’t dispense much advice, which was okay. He was in his forties or fifties — it was hard for me to measure middle age when I was barely twenty — and went barefoot in his office. I respected that about him, at least more than I respected the degrees or piles of paperwork I had to fill out before each session. His bare feet was a badge of authenticity that alleviated how clinical and foolish the hour felt. I was depressed, but I was also staring at a grown man’s bunions.
When I asked my friend if he had taken his shoes off during her therapy sessions, she said she didn’t remember.
Wait — I remember when he had said. He told me to stop doing drugs. No, not exactly. He said something like: “Of course you’re depressed. You’re fucking high all the time.” And just like that, I didn’t feel depressed anymore. But I still got high. I got high every single day because I was in college and I was bored and had no idea what to do with myself except smoke pot. I listened to music and drank, too. But mostly I got high on a couch with a rotating cast of roommates, classmates and friends. No one, I had instructed, should ever wear any shoes or socks when they’re smoking with me.
“The funniest thing happened to me last month. Maybe two months ago? Anyway, it was cold, I remember that because I had my big Marc Jacobs bag. Remember Tom from college? We were at this house party in Brooklyn—Bushwick of all places!—and this guy, this absolute asshole, spilled his entire cup of, I don’t know, PBR all over my bag. So everything was ruined! And Tom, who you know isn’t even really smart but great at these sorts of things, goes into the kitchen and steals a bag of white rice! You know—here is the best part—I don’t think I’ve so much as touched rice, outside of the occasional spicy tuna roll, in like three years. So he opens it up and rice is going everywhere, and he plunges my phone into the middle of the bag and ties it off with one of my ponytail holders. And he says, We’re leaving and we march out of this disgusting house party in, like, Bushwick or whatever, and head to some diner and order coffee with this mountain of rice on the table when my cellphone rings! Through all that rice! It was a real miracle, you know, at the time at least we thought it was, and you know I don’t believe in that sort of crap anyway. So now I eat rice. Just brown rice, really.”
The building was a sheer, glass box that rose from the shops lining Avenue A like a dark-mirrored fortress. The windows looked like high definition televisions, and seemed to drain the avenue of light, absorbing it into a greasy black hole. There was a dull glow that radiated off of the huge square pains of glass, and one walked by with the uneasy feeling that if you paid enough, you could peer out, but no one could see in. There were no curtains. There was no leftover Christmas decoration. It was a fat, sterile thermometer poking rudely out of the city. Nothing about the dark, glass tower felt organic or soft in any way. It looked like a sad, fucked up idea of what a Howard Roark building might want to look like.
“We’ve received word,” was what she liked to say when she was good. When she was bad, she cursed or she cried or drank more of whatever low calorie libation she was slugging. She pulled herself up and pushed herself into taut shirts with torn stockings.
Her bleached hair was cropped in layers with a horizontal pillow of white hanging blunt over her lashes. When her eyebrows were exposed—they were typically covered by her bangs—they seemed to hold a permanent arch of distain. She had a tattoo of her sign, a gemini, behind her ear. She painted on wide bands of gray around her eyes and her lips were never not glossed. She was tall and thin, the type of nearly flat-chested woman who wouldn’t be taken seriously if she had a bigger chest. But she didn’t, and you could see the ribs down her chest in her low-cut shirts and the notches down her back. She didn’t appear to diet, but always looked thinner than the day before, until I was sure one day she would vanish all together and I would be left to explain what had happened to the incredible skinny woman. She oozed smoke and she radiated sex appeal. When she wielded her camera, she was deadly. When she spoke, her eyes dug into you until you gave her your complete attention. When she drank, she was a calculated bomb.
She drank though lunch and straight through to dinner, during cocktails hours and parties, through bars and late night holes, until her liver had been burning through alcohol for twelve or fifty hours and her body gave out and she’d hail a cab to her loft, often sleeping in the backseat. I’d be awoken be a cab driver pounding on the doors, holding her frail body up with one arm and her license in the opposite hand.
He came up that Saturday night, even though there were never any city people up when the weather got cold. People only came in the summer, filling the narrow sidewalks with little dogs and carriages, holding hands and smiling knowingly because they had, just for that afternoon escaped. But it was cold and the city people stayed put in the city. I guess he didn’t want to stay put that night. Even city people need to run away. That didn’t mean it made sense to me. It just wasn’t worth running toward.
The season was too long. I had split up too many sets up gloves, lost to the winter like lonely laundromat socks. My hands were dry and my nails were raw. The pockets in my pea coat sagged from constantly jamming in my ball-up fists. I had a nasty habit of picking my cuticles. I swore too much.
We trudged through the frost, the cold ghosts on the street rising up around us.
Some of us rested our fragile little heads over the perfect porcelain toilets and wondered what would become of us.
Some of us sat back and thought as loudly as we could without making a sound.
He wrapped his warm arms around my torso again, turned the light off, and went back to sleep.
His arms around my chest feel like armor.
I counted backwards in my head from one hundred until I drifted off like a log on a river, slowly and drunkenly falling asleep in a current down the navy night. I dreamt of bathroom fixtures. I tried to take a bath but the entire shower was filled with jutting metal accessories for holding razorblades and soaps and toothbrushes. I tried to angle my body to fit in the tub, to wet my hair, but there were too many metallic fixtures. They took over the walls, forcing me into awkward positions, folding myself into a corner surrounded by dull silver brackets caked with mildew and soap scum.
I dreamt I was pregnant.
I woke up in a drugged panic that I was forty and had aged into tragic housewife character in a Yates novel.
I traced my stomach with my left hand while he slept soundly. It was flat.