Even when I’m not being vagrant, staying home after work and spending time with Ethan, there’s still days I get the taste of gin and ashes on my tongue. Waking up like a skeleton, bare as bone, with nothing but a name. My veins poking from short-sleeves, tints of yellow, white, blue, green- pieces revealing what I’m made of, like wires from TV’s or old headphones you get ashamed to pull out in public. Some days leave me feeling…frigid, grey like the clouds I’m blowing smoke circles at from the balcony.
Ethan was lying on the sofa, the bedroom door was closed but had no handle because Home Depot didn’t have the parts we needed. There was a drip from the faucet and the microwave kept beeping, but I couldn’t remember what was in it. If I had leftovers, or stuffed in a supermarket frozen dinner because I hate cooking. And while Ethan slept I snuck a cigarette on the balcony before Kay could get home, my mind had this crazy impulse to just go somewhere I hadn’t been in a long time.
Flashbacks were tumbling against my head, making me dizzy while car tires roared by in a sort of symphony. The highway lines of I-95 stretching north, to Connecticut, Boston, Main, Brunswick. I was feeling nostalgic I guess- remembering and romanticizing the past, the way a particular type of weather reminds you of that time in third grade when it was raining. The day I saw Kay scrape her knee in the playground of PS 153 in The South Bronx; a gash down her leg so long you couldn’t tell where it began or ended, and all I could see between the crowd of kids that gathered around was a skinny, bow-legged girl hiding shame and that sensation of thick, red tar painted on the floor.
And while some kids ran for the nurse she just sat there, not crying, not shedding a damn tear, just staring into that cut the way adults look at sunsets or somebody they used love. Almost hopeful, like waiting long enough might make something jump out of all that velvet. Make it more than just colors, concrete and blood.
I remember Kay had come back that Summer damn near 5’5, towered above the rest of us with her home-cut bobbed hair and thick black rimmed glasses (way before that stupidfad came in.) The only girl in class who had a binder when all the rest of us were rocking drawstring Nike bags and spiral notebooks. She was always smarter than us, always thinking ahead, played our juvenile games but never cut school or went to parties.
Then come Junior high her eyes started drifting from us playing spades or casino to the windows, at this expanse of distance I can only understand in retrospect. She was bigger than New York, and she knew it, but she stuck around us anyway. Never talked much about her mean ass mom or all the scholarships she was getting offered. Whenever that urge to look away at what she could become came around, I’d look in that direction too, but all I saw was a bunch of low complex buildings and a highway named after some white guy that cut across our city like a vein. Some trees if it was Spring, or long and dead brown lines coloring all that pavement.
“The fuck are you looking at?” She’d say to me, testy as all hell. And I’d slam a ten of spades on the table, take my cards and say “NOT FUCKIN’ MUCH.”
I took the usual route of juvenile affections, found it easier to make her an enemy than admit her face was something that lingered in my mind every night as I laid awake in bed. Bluffed like I didn’t mind or care through all of her boyfriends for two years like a champ.
But you can’t imagine what it was like hearing someone you love talk about someone else. It’s like a Hurt you put off going to the doctor for, hoping it’s something that just heals or fades and falls off on its own so you don’t have to worry about it any more. She needed someone to talk to, and I knew her little brother was a waste of space waiting to happen, so I felt like I had to. I let it kill me every day until dying didn’t feel like the worst thing. When seeing her smile or smack me softly across the face for coming out my mouth made it all worthwhile.
Fake-It-Til-You-Can’t-Take-It was the name of the game, and I was good. Kept it cool until that one long walk home Junior year, hit a slump I couldn’t manage to flash a smile or joke over. She’d broken up with Matthew come four months, and she was tired of all the guys coming after her for the obvious. Said there was one of them, Anthony, who looked like he was kind of sincere, and he was kind of cute so she might as well give it a try. And I couldn’t hold it back any more, so I told her what I always felt. That my days were good but she made them better, and the only thing I looked forward to when I woke up was our long walks back home.
I even mentioned that thing about her knee in fifth grade.
She shrugged it off, saying that she always knew, called me a dummy and kissed me on the corner of Taylor Avenue while the deli lights flashing above our stupid little heads. A world on the verge of conquering us at seventeen, and a universe of sex and intimacy opening the floodgates. A honeymoon phase of going at it like jackrabbits and a lot of arguments over dumbs things. I didn’t care about grades or jobs and just wanted to make people laugh. And Kay couldn’t stop telling me how stupid I looked in a goatee, that I should take my life more seriously, and that she always hated my middle name.
Her love was comforting, the way a light from another room is when you’re afraid of the dark. Or yourself. When I couldn’t bare to go down an empty street because it just looked so damn lonely, she’d remind me that what I was scared of wasn’t outside. But in. Then Ethan came and we made it work, past the slammed doors and distance. Rebuilt trust from where there was none after jokes I shouldn’t have been making about her mom. Six month breaks that break easy over the holidays, and the slate wiped clean with something as simple as an I-Miss-You text. Enough distance that makes us wonder what we were so angry about in the first place, two weekends into Lets-Just-Be-Friends that ends the moment we notice its 4AM and the bar is closing. Goodbyes and lonely train rides home that turn the world into a stranger, that make us pull the breaks and reverse into each other like bumper cars.
So now I get to drinking when she gets to somewhere I can’t follow. I come home happy she’s still there and she looks around our apartment like she’s lost her keys. Puts KTU on the radio because we both hate that music, finding voicemails on her phone from women I don’t know asking for Crystal. And we only live on the second floor, but her eyes look out the window like we’re back on the seventeenth in Junior High. I try to look too, but all I see are a bunch of low complex buildings and a highway named after some white guy that cuts across our city like a vein. Some trees if its Spring, or long and dead brown lines coloring all that pavement. And I wonder, is it still falling if it’s the fifth or tenth of April we’ve been in love? Glossing over our past in grey summer weather, sitting out here not shedding a damn tear, staring at the moon rising like somebody I used to love.
Hopeful, like waiting long enough might make something jump out of all that cloudy velvet. Make it more than just the colors, concrete, and the blood we shed to each other.