You can tell a lot about a person by the way they react to tragedy. Whenever the bus is running late, or I lose my favorite lighter, or even when my uncle died, my immediate reaction is always just to laugh. There’s no use crying over spilled emotions, and I can never see the point in moping. There’s a strength in finding your own weakness, in owning it to the point the misery of the world turns to this awful joke. My manic borders on hysteria, because sadness is unsure of itself and fumbling. But madness, madness knows its own shape.
Last year I was enamored with an enthusiast just as abhorous as I was. Met her one seedy morning when I was wandering Jerome, high off fumes and fast tracking towards a hangover. It’s funny how books and songs make meeting people seem so legendary. That there’s this instinct or impulse so powerful that neither of them could deny. Chemistry or fuck if I know at first sight. But with Brenda it was different.
I was sitting on the building stool because my feet were killing me. I left my apartment for…something, I forget. More drinks, maybe, but definitely not coffee and a donut. Then I liked the way a street looked, how the moonlight kind of shimmered in the grey tarp of the sidewalk, and the road curved so naturally I wished it was still snowing so I could slide down. Next thing I knew the sun was out and I had only a vague idea of where I was.
I’m so easily sidetracked like that. All it takes is a warm feeling and I end up chasing the vague, a stray dog that catches up to the car but doesn’t know what to do with it.
So I was sitting on the stool when she came outside and lit a cigarette. I asked her for a light, and then…that’s it. We just started talking. Like it was something we’d always done. Not about the weather, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something just as unremarkable. I only remember mentioning how much it sucks to be a smoker in the winter, and that she looked simultaneously beautiful and like she just washed up from the river with the way her hair looked. A wet, tangled mess, the word Juicy printed on her pants in bold white letters, and wearing sandals with socks on. Which, even in the winter season, I think are reasonable grounds for public stoning.
A first impression full of instant red flags – and yet, for whatever reason, we got along enough to want breakfast and share some tenderness with each other.
She had eggs with a side of soup, which to this day I still find baffling.
“Now it’s like ramen,” she said. “Dominican style.”
“We have a word for that in my language.” I said.
I asked for a beer with my egg brulee and she couldn’t stop laughing. Said she never met somebody that was so bourgeois and trashy at the same time. The curly headed kid with tired eyes and a fuck-it face didn’t mind when I snuck two coronas to our table, courtesy of the deli next door. He only asked we take them with us before we left, and even recommended some delicate drug spots to Brenda where the service is superb.
It was the start of an awful entree our respective annihilations and self-detriments. She took me back to her apartment so she could shower, and I spent the better part of an hour nosily numbing across all the pictures on her dresser, because the rest of the space was absolutely bare. No welcome mat, no mirror, no posters on the wall and one single brown leather loveseat that made the room feel larger than it should be.
When i asked about the pictures, she said they were friends. All of them, each with an elaborate backstory. There was Karen that was pregnant and made her the curtains draped across the window. Theo was a real lazy prick, but when it came down to it, he was the only one who came when…mumbles, something about “That asshole.”
She should have emerged from the shower like a Goddess, steam succulent behind her, but all I saw was a girl in a towel over-excited about the marijuana we were on the way to buy.
One Uber cab and draft beer later, we went to the address, halfway between St. Nicholas and Wadsworth. Six flights upstairs where one floor was full of empty, and the next red cups decked along the window sill, and third where even stranger still, a couple swayed by the doorway to an empty house. I saw them, so together in ther alone, a goodbye or hello that felt so unbelievably important. Her back to us and his huddled in her neck, to the point I made sense of “the beast with two backs.” No words, sighs, or moans. Only a unity, some creature impossible to tear from itself. Avoiding eye contact and the obvious we walked past with heads down, never said a word after, as if we hadn’t witnessed something beautiful.
She smoked and I drank. The lights were off and the candles on the window sill turned my apartment into a hiding. Nothing could touch us in this dark island-We were isolated from every single demand and danger beyond the pains. Six degrees of separation from the neighbors and ourselves- a place where hurt doesn’t bother to look- the quiet of two people turning their back against the world.