Here is a ten year challenge when the city takes hold and squeezes your savings, your sanity, you’re old. I could jones in the street for one more no-name bar. Look up: unfamiliar intersections littered with twenty year old young skin, taught and dizzy. I can memorize the maze. What is left for me? you would ask but you don’t write anymore. The magazines all shut down. The soft faced boys moved home. The city multiples like so many nights in a car, blurring into two or three, this quick-spinning universe of everything at once in deafening unrecognizable roar. Too much, stop, spit those adjectives. I swear I remember where I was when I left. Someone buzz me in. Deadeye, I want to go back. It’s been ten or twelve years, maybe less, maybe more.
I was shot up with painkillers before she turned on the drill. She said the rapid heartbeat is normal. It’s an adrenaline rush, she said, which explained why my hands were shaking. My mouth was stuffed with gauze and tubes. My chest felt small and hallow. I looked out the window at the alley, watching the late afternoon sun spread shadows across the wall. If you need a shot anywhere, she said, always choose the upper-back part of your mouth. Then she turned on the noise inside my head, and I drifted.
I had so many cups of coffee today that I think I’ve developed an ulcer. There is some sort of bloated knot in my stomach and all I have to show for it is bad breath. If anything, the weight of the acid had dragged me down, and I feel even slower than I did this morning when I sat on the subway, staring at my own face in the window across the way, thinking “Hello, 1 train. Hello, you.”
I wonder if this is what pregnancy feels like, the heft and the bloat and the drag. I’m not pregnant. I would know if I was. I have always been extra sensitive, always a feeler in the worst sense of the word.
Everyone on the subway this morning looked drained except the tourists. You can always tell, because no one else could be bubbling over with such emotion, so much visible anticipation and zeal that it makes you feel sick to be awake so early to have an ordinary day. Their excitement probably cripples their ability to absorb anything real. “Hello 1 train!” their wide-eyes shout. “Hello, you!”
We can’t live in the city, it’s too expensive and we would slowly turn into those people, the kind who empty their wallets just to breathe in their own private air. Even if we could afford it, we wouldn’t.
Renting feels almost like permanence, anyway. A year is enough of a promise to make. I don’t know what we would do if we went any father.
We say the country like it’s unachievable because what would we do there? we ask, not thinking about the bars or subway but rather desk jobs and salaried positions that don’t mean anything outside of a five-block radius downtown. It’s not like we have any real skills. It’s not like someone upstate is going to pay me to tell them jokes and write succinct tweets.
Running away could work. We could be entirely different people. I’d die my hair and be someone’s something. But I don’t know what he’d do, what someone he could something, and I just don’t know where we’d live.
We went to a comedy show. He insisted.
It wasn’t even a normal showing of stand-up circuit comedians. It was worse because it was just joke writers. Most of the jokes were about how they were Jewish or hated themselves or both. People laughed anyway, too much, because they had paid and they had made plans that night to drink watered down cocktails and fucking laugh. They even laughed at the joke set-ups, like they had been so conditioned to the situation that they couldn’t help but flinch laughter. So I drank extra so I would laugh more, like my laughs would soothe him. I drank extra so he would drink extra, too, and maybe he wouldn’t think too much about the news that his grandfather had died that morning.
It might have been the morning, or the night before. He didn’t know, and he didn’t ask. I don’t know why it mattered to me. I guess it doesn’t matter when time stops, if you think about it. When the ride is over you have to get off.
The comedians were terrible. We each had six scotch and sodas and shared an order of greasy fried shrimp. I had the urge to pat them off with a cocktail napkin but I didn’t want to garner the attention of the comedians. I had a panic attack that they would run out of material and angle in on the audience, notice me patting off a basket of fried shrimp and ask what I was doing there, and I would blurt out, “His grandfather just died,” and everyone would laugh and laugh, looking at the joke writer for the punchline.
I doubt everything except doubt. It’s my one constant — it’s omnipresent. Noise pollution. The narrator.
If I had to describe him in one word it would be lucky. I wouldn’t think twice about it. He wasn’t strikingly handsome, but he resembled a celebrity who was handsome. That was lucky. He was the son of an American car company executive. He was the middle child, browbeaten by lovelier children, protected in private palm tree enclaves. Statues were erected in his father’s name. He was shipped off to university. His roommate fell out of the window. It was the sort of secret he kept to himself until he felt close enough to someone to need to win them over. He told too many people. It was a badge of sensitivity. It was an excuse to drink too much, to dramatize relationships. He wasn’t even close to his roommate, he admitted, seven years later. He was drunk and fell out and he was gone. He told me like that as a perfectly good reason to sleep with him. He was used to getting lucky. Big, blue eyes and subscription to a political magazine. A mild, unimposing voice. He thought he was completely fucked up. He thought he was a writer. The laundry room in his house smelled like lavender. The bedroom smelled like pewter. Photos of palm trees on a near-empty bookcase. He was the charlatan of the neighborhood. He was lucky boy of Brooklyn.