Pathmark aisle misconduct, condescending at the magazines lining checkout. Pointing at other customers that look strange, or take twenty minutes to get their debit card out at the counter. It’s a woman with a purse the size of my impatience, she rummages through her bag and takes out an entire liter of seltzer water while I fight the urge to scream What-The-Literal-Fuck.
Behind her is an old couple standing desolate in marriage, still and confident in a silence only too much time together affords. One more person back is a boy with raven hair down to his flannel shirt he definitely got at Hot Topic – black nails, guy-liner, and a septum ring. The kind of kid you could tell does molly or LSD and definitely had a falling out with Fall Out Boy.
“You’re so judgmental, stop,” She says, and I make a face. “…maybe he likes Panic! At The Disco.”
I’ve been domesticated and it’s the slowest kind of suicide. My love used to be in a lonely street and empty parking lot, counting the grey tiles of the sidewalk and dingy lights of apartment windows. Empty sirens of the fire department whining down Broadway. I was mad and roaming, rabid and a little moody; roving Amsterdam for a fix, thigh, or feeling. Hardly a name, I dove into every speakeasy I could find in Manhattan. What I was looking for, I couldn’t say, but every night I thought I found it. In a strangers laugh when I said ‘you remind me of Tom Selleck,’ or the way a woman looked at me with disgust or elevator eyes. I tried to make love and friends quite endlessly, but then daylight would break and that victory, touch, or feeling would melt away from me like a dream.
“Gross, what was that?” She asks.
“What was what?” I said, hiding behind a grin.
“That thing your face did.”
My smile was a kind of sob nobody heard or could understand, a nightmare I share with May over dumplings and teriyaki sauce, or that bar with little pink umbrellas she likes to twirl and put in her hair. Johnny Utah’s, I think. Or was it Connolly’s?…Just some other pointless place to meet like a round table and discuss the immaterial but crucial happy accidents of our lives. I could give a list of what you should expect of her as a coworker, and if someone asks why I look so angry May could answer in numeric or alphabetical. It’s strange, how in the inconsequential we’ve found the pattern of each other. Not by some deep or alarming gesture, but with space, patience, an open heart.
“You mean smile?”
“Yeah, don’t do that again.”
“I’ll have you know my mom thinks I”m very handsome.”
I look back at my Bukowski, my era of erroneous, and I think I simply broke down in unrealistic expectations and the company for it. I mistakenly thought the onus of happiness was a burden, something to be waged and fought for. So I roamed for romance, thirsted for touch, lusted after the lack-luster and fleeting fulfillment of friends and flesh because I had a deep and awful yearning I’d yet to give to another person. And I was worried this rare and strange fruit I did not know how to grow might go unused and unfulfilled, left rotting in the dark cellars of my heart. Anxious and a little desperate- I gave it to any pretty face or fiend willing to take it. I was afraid, and over loneliness, I preferred to go bankrupt on a feeling.
“Never said it was ugly.” She replied.
“Then what is it?” I asked, and she thought for a moment.
“You’re always grumpy, like you’re constipated or that! Laughing, yes. You’re either mad or laughing. So when you smile its like this weird in between that’s not natural.”
But life is not a victory march, and much less a destination. Happiness is not a place or moment, but a pursuit. So when May tilts her face and I ask her what she’s thinking, with her smile wide as Sisyphus coming down to his boulder, I’m reminded that desire to throw myself against a wall is selfish and destructive. I remember that since September I’ve been living for more than myself.
“I know it sounds funny, but your laughter, it’s the most honest part about you. Like it comes from somewhere so deep inside of you that…I don’t know. I just like it better than whatever the hell that other thing was.”
“Some of the doctors said I was the best looking baby they ever delivered.” I replied, because the line is moving, and we are in Pathmark no matter if we are somewhere else.
“Can you back up a little? I don’t want anyone to know I’m with you.”