Her Name Was Z Because She Was Supposed To Be The Last

Z’s name smiled from the capsule of my Motorola RAZR, her contact saved in all caps because even then I must have known: 2009 was a good year.

I found my old cell phone with a list of baby names saved in the drafts. Bullet points full of Connor, Clara, Autumn, Optimus Prime, and Abigail’s. A pleasant ring with each of them remained, had ripened against the test of time and our codependent fantasies. Dearly-Beloved’s from an Elvis preacher, personalized wedding vows we drafted in text messages- we were joking of course, but not really, because can-you-actually-even-imagine-us-as-parents? We could, I think, even if we pretended not to. Love is surrentine but not everything gets better when it settles. Some stuff rots if left unfinished or open ended. It’s all in the ullage, the empty spaces that tempers and separates grapes from wine, the quality of the batch.

“Let’s go to Coney Island,” She says. “I want to get my face painted.”

“That sounds like a stupid reason to go all the way to Coney Island,” I shot,  even when I was already Google-mapping our way there.

She was folded across my futon, thumbing the pages of her latest anesthetic on her Kindle. Something Jennifer Campbell or Sophie Divry, I think. Whatever it was, she wanted to read it together but changed her mind when I asked if the author was dead. I could never trust or like a writer that was still breathing. They might change their mind.

I watched her finger turn the page and remembered she always had such pretty hands, the kind that were made for holding. Thin, brittle fingers and fawn knuckles that shifted beneath her skin like a Rorschach. As she drummed her fingers against her chin, a habit she did whenever she was stuck thinking, the slender of her tendons slithered and I saw something waiting to be surfaced, like a kitten hiding under bed covers, or something Oedipal. A work of heart with a breast so full of feeling that she cried every time she had an orgasm.

“Your face sounds fucking stupid,” She harks, not bother to look up.

She’s always had too much imagination. The world inside of her head was so much bigger than the one outside of it. Every day at two she texts to ask what I’m wearing, but she doesn’t settle for a picture. She tells me to describe it, and when I asked her why, she said she loves the way I internalize. That I have a way of seeing things, a perspective she can’t get enough of. Then she sighs and shakes her head, a signature move when she thinks she isn’t making any sense.

It’d been six years since we had been so casual. It all (re)started with a benign butt dial that turned to small talk turned to catcalls, that evolved to morning texts reluctantly leading to dinner and a woo me. The hours snuck through the wine and what we thought would be so hard came easy. Her every word filled me with a hundred more and she couldn’t stop laughing when I kept calling our waitress by her first name. Relearning what we already heard about each other or didn’t know, almost like a first date, except strangers didn’t know each other this well. Caught up in catching up, oh my god look at the time. It’s already late, why pay a cab ride? You should stay over anyway.

“What if I don’t want to go to Coney Island?” I ask.

I leased a pocket in my heart and dresser reserved for her, and she occupied the space with her time and tie dye tops in a sweet but silent resignation. She refused to keep any work clothes in her dresser, not a single earring or piece of jewelry. Only t shirts and pajama bottoms, only things she could leave behind in case of a fire or some act of God.

Naturally, she packed for me the way people pack for disasters, and given my penchant for my love shifting like the sea, I didn’t blame her.

The love that bore me was violent. I grew up, having yet to grow into myself, and the way I wanted Z was constant and addictive. A young, brash, and preoccupying kind of love. The type of enamored that won’t go to bed, that stays up clutching at a pillow and a memory the way cats dig their nails to keep from falling off of a ledge. Desperate and needy affection, a passive addiction. Spending my nights yowling, scratching, pawing at the phrase trying to understand and get to the center of it.

“Then I guess I won’t go.” She says.

We never spoke about what was happening. The shift in our relationship going back to something similar felt about as reliable as a groundhog. Commitment chicken was the name of the game and she was doubtlessly afraid I would pull another Marcus, to leave just as she was getting comfortable and used to needing me. Marcus, her father, took sails when Z was 8 years old after digging the family in debt over horse races, lottery gambling, and drinking. She lived in a shelter for six months until her mother moved in with an uncle and put the family back together.

Prone as I am to habits, I think Marcus may be the reason I’ve picked up drugs the way people pick up hobbies, yet look down on gamblers the way people look down on heroin addicts. There is a difference. At least with (enough) alcohol I got a high – zero risk, high reward, and I’ve always preferred a safe bet.

“Why wouldn’t you want to go alone?” I ask.

In 2010 he came back to her life, full of regret, love, and kidney problems. All those years of the bottle catching up. He was dying but swore he wouldn’t, because he’d changed. But then he did, because he hadn’t. It was a Thursday when it happened and Z spent that whole night staring out the window drinking coffee, and all I could do was sit with her and do the same. She didn’t move an inch, only bit her lip the way she did whenever she was reading, either thinking or waiting to wake up and for it all to be some kind of dream.

We were six months past the honeymoon and the grief that grieved her was quiet, anxious, and sudden. She spent a lot of night crying after that, but it wasn’t over orgasms any more. Her sadness seemed to spring from everywhere. While we talked about the cute kid with a lisp from her job, returning books at the library, when we were watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The world was full of places and smells that shoved Marcus into her heart again, and the poor thing couldn’t take having lost her father twice.

I never knew what to do when it happened, except hold her in my arms until I couldn’t feel her tears or convulsing. Swear I’d never leave her, because I loved her. But then I did, because I didn’t.

“Because I enjoy you,” she says, to summarize.

She enjoys me, she says, but I don’t entirely understand what she might mean. No one’s ever told me anything so simple and disarming, and while I can’t make heads or tails of it, I still like the way hearing her say it makes me stutter, reminds me to feel. Reminds me of the excellence of skin, the great fire that tethers at the thighs. And the smoke oozing from their mouths like entrails. My lust is passive aggressive. I’m hopeless- trying to weigh my options but the scale is broken. It’s all love with me until the day it isn’t.

Women are like French fries in that way: spectacular, but I find very little appetizing about just one.

The distance happened the way it always does- not at all, and all at once. Soon weekend visits turned to afternoons until it didn’t really matter what the color of my tie was that day. Baby please aimed to tease, the affection was forced but her heart was in the right place. I was blooming into May and she was falling into Hunter, and despite my pretending to have absolutely any kind of will power, I had a deep and burning need to look him up. To see the face of my replacement.

Maybe it was envy.

I found his Facebook page. He had a long face and dead eyes- the nose of a philosopher. Notable and tragic. A modern agonist. Poets, always so sad and nostalgic, the boys in blue. Men more afraid of life than dying, whose hearts turn grey long before their beard does. I clicked the red ex and closed the laptop, listened to the lull of traffic from my window, had a glass of wine and went to bed.

The next morning Z was looking out the window with a cup in her hand, thinking…no, waiting. My memory sneaks between her and the hour like a second cup of coffee and that 2 o clock feeling. Something you indulge in behind a laptop and password protected WiFi, when the doors locked and you think nobody else will ever know. The secrecy of it is only to give a false sense of control. Like incognito mode, or the “close door” button on elevators.

I knew I was losing her. Our love had turned to a blank envelope, and before I let it go, I had to address it. Even water, if left to standing still, stales, and goes bad. We must learn to flow.

“Tell me a story,” She said. Women are always asking me to tell them stories.

“Once upon a time…” I said.

“Once upon a time, I forget from where. But there’s this story about a couple. They went to see this wise man. They weren’t sure if they should get married, but the wise man wouldn’t help them. He just kept talking about this treasure. He was blind, I forgot that part. It’s important. He was blind and he knew about this treasure, and it’s all he would go on about. The couple left and they decided, fuck it: let’s go look for that treasure. So they did. From all the shit the old man said they found exactly where to dig. They dug and they dug and they dug and they were crazy excited. Eventually they find something, it was this rock. Tiny little thing, they damn near kept digging when they found it actually. It was the size of like your thumb or something, and on the ground it looked like any other piece of rock. But when they held it up into the light, the thing shined like something they’ve never seen before. It almost looked like a diamond. So the guy says, well, it’s not much but this must be it. This is what the old man was going on about. But the woman, she wouldn’t have it. She kept saying this can’t be it, this can’t be it, it’s so small. There’s got to be more. We’ve got to keep looking. He takes the stone with him every day to help her dig. After years of going back, eventually she snaps. She leaves. So the man goes back to the wise man with the little stone, can’t bear to keep the thing. He tells him here, I brought you the stone you kept talking about. Wise man looks at him and says:

“What stone?”

She sat across from me, the lovely lashes of her eyes flapping slowly at her finger dainting the edges of her glass of orange juice. Her mind and heart transfixed on some soft, hurtful thought I couldn’t fathom or nerve myself to pry. All of a sudden she smiled, hummed a routine thank you, dashed her cheek, and the spell was broken.

“The point is…” I began.

“You still don’t want to go to Coney Island,” She said, glooming out the window, and something in her voice made it sound like more of a tragedy than a triumph.

He’ll never love you like I do, Z.

Fortunately.

wonder

Advertisements

We Won’t Last (More Than Six Seasons and A Movie)

I remember Rose was the kind of girl you could drunk text at three am, who would laugh at any hardboiled sentiment trying to pass for a booty call. The kind of girl to make you think, make you believe, make you want to make something of yourself. Two cups of coffee for eyes and a personality like your favorite song- I used to love the way her quiet felt like she were full of secrets. The pleasant kind, like birthday parties, or discovering you don’t like men. A smile hiding something volcanic in her honey thighs and wise passive.

“Look who actually showed,” She said, brimming in a backless dress and grin.

“Hard to be a snowflake in July,” I said.

I remember how the caramel she called skin was mine- for a while, at least. Leased bi-weekly, the sweat of summer scented on her french tip touch, the arch of her spine divining a message only hands could read like braille.

“You’ll have a good time, I promise,” She said.

“Either that or I’ll get super drunk and embarrass you,” I said.

Two is company, but in my case one is a crowd. I wanted an escape, a life and a quiet louder than the silence that moaned inside of me. Uncomfortable in my own skin, and not knowing a better recourse, I resorted to only concerning myself with getting under hers. So I hung around, biding my time and pretending to laugh at what you can bet wasn’t funny. Surrounded by fifty shades of fucking stupid, my character condensed to a form of social tailgating; full of whole-hearted soft agreeing and very empty head nods. I wouldn’t take the chance of saying something no one would listen or respond to. Nobody says a thing but deep down we all know you just had to go and say that, just had to ruin a really good thing. That kind of silence is suicidal, it’s the elephant in the room everyone’s rushing to ignore or get out of. Like being the last comment on a Facebook status, but in real time.

“Drunk yet?” She asked.

“On my way there,” I said.

But that kind of declaration is devastating. A sweeping sentiment is moving in a movie, but in reality nobody wants you showing up at their doorstep at 1 am. Sincerity is terrifying in a dating sense, it’s a quality that should come last, like a notion or decent boyfriend. Polite and empty flattery will get you everywhere. The truth is that nobody wants a nice guy, but someone who’s just enough of a dick to give the impression that he has options elsewhere. Leftovers are only good after Thanksgiving, and nobody wants to bang a hand me down.

“I’m really glad you came,” She said, the honey in her voice like a hand that squeezes yours just one, lightly. An assurance, or confirmation. “It’s so nice to see you.”

“Yeah,” I replied.

Something snapped and in the distance I felt a door slam. I excused myself and stepped outside to smoke, standing daffy in the rain rather than under an awning, wrestling and losing against my lesser judgment. Dark desires seething in me.

I can never kind of, any emotion I evoke borders on extreme. On or off like a light switch. I’d never learned how to dim a feeling. Or maybe it’s possible to be angry for the right reasons at the wrong people.

I took a $50 cab home without goodbyes and never spoke to Rose again.

Two Minutes To Wakefield

It was cold that night – not that it made any difference to you back then. With your first step out of the smothering embrace of a stuffy building, the cold wintry air was a stifling but liberating pang against your lungs. There was something indefinably invigorating about leaving the warm pleasantry of home into the unforgivably bitter night at so late an hour. The tender, luminous bulbs from indoors seemed to shine brighter as you took your first steps into depravity. A soothing glow calling out your name with a flickering beckon begging for you to return. But you turned your back on these cries, stepping nimbly into the enveloping darkness while ignoring its silhouetted plea. Waltzing into the familiar embrace of a dark city, the last trace of light recoiled from your jacket and the transformation was complete.

It was calm that night. At this hour, even in a city so restless as yours, everyone was either asleep or on the verge of it. But not you. You took a deep breath, soaking your mind in the wet moonlight, reveling in the chilly stings of the winds embrace, and watching your soft breath take shape in the form of a thin vaporing smoke. You couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else. There was something almost exotic about this time of the evening – the silence deafening. Only occasionally could you hear the distant rhythmic melody of urban traffic joined by the thin blue layer glow of a television screen echoing from a first floor apartment window. As you walked, you enjoyed the rustling sound of your coat and the feint but persistent click clock click your shoes made against the hard concrete with each passing step. Not a soul to be seen for miles. The night was a voiceless orchestra.

Walking further, you crept toward the distinctive but familiar black car with the ominously tinted windows. The world seemed to echo off of the small but elegant vehicle. There you saw the reflection of surrounding cars, the distant flick of a lamppost, a nearby cat scurrying across, the past, the future, the present, and most importantly yourself. This was no regular car, too unworldly to ever possibly be of this universe, but neither was it part of the ongoing symphony. As you neared the apparatus the passenger side window slowly lowered, carting with it a cheerful and familiar tone. He said something, but you didn’t hear what as you slid comfortably into the sleek leather seat. The inside of the UFO was even more brilliant than the exterior. Glancing through the window you felt completely separated from the outside world; the hue of the tints increasing this effect greatly. Though only an inch away, the orchestra now seemed unreachably distant through the thick dark coating enveloping anything that nestled in its den.

”…I didn’t say you could get in.”

You laughed, briefly, and flashed an unimpressed smile.

“Will you shut up and drive? We’re going to be late.”

He laughed too, as were your way of things. There was never a need for hello’s or how-have-you-been’s. Changing gears as you slipped on your seat belt, the engines soft rumble exciting your heart as the spacecraft came to life, bound for distant unimaginable lands. The night was young, adventure was just one mistake away, and you had an entire list to finish before the sun rose and made you human.

It’s All Over With Humanity- But There’s Still You and I, Stranger. Two Of Us Left

“It’s getting late in my city and from my window I can see the people shuffling from the warm Summer air to their homes, bars, beds or orgies, and I wonder where their life is taking them. Also sometimes the color of their underwear.

I like to count people in public and anti-socialize. Today I’m at 103 and a lady who asked me what I was writing called me a faggot under her breath when I walked away, so I must be doing something right. It takes a while to get self efficient, to really enjoy anything if you’re alone doing it. Kisses are nice but I prefer letters, because intent has a wider palette than the tongue, and I’ve got the cowardly heart of a man which makes me prone to sex and bad decisions. So now I spend my afternoons wandering the lust away instead of dulling it in a bar or bedroom.

While I’m walking I can’t help notice there’s something so unnatural about cities: paved roads along concrete sidewalks with giant, monstrous buildings that tower over you. They make you feel so small, how they loom over you like that. And the trees, so thin, and miserable. Branches so small they might fall off with the next strong wind down Park Avenue. Trees out of breath and just about shaking from how sick they are. Besides, from what I read they aren’t even really trees. They’re decorative; some advanced faux-wood, constantly trimmed and cut and probably kept on a drug to keep them from ever growing too much. Everything about New York is artificial; dressed up, disguised. Flashing signs on stores and awnings, marquee billboards. Bright lights, dull city, overexposed to the man-made elements. Like Plato’s burning cave, but with neon lights and too much tits on magazine covers.

It makes them complacent so complacent, all 103 of them. So complacent they don’t notice anything. Like sometimes, I see snow. I’ll be out on Madison Avenue in the middle of Summer and I’ll see snowflakes, tiny and quick, flurrying all over the street. And I’m obviously shocked, but when I look around to see other people’s reactions, nobody else seems to notice while they power walk down the street in a rush to absolutely nowhere. Snow, in the middle of god damn Summer, and nobody seems to notice.

But if someone were to ask me about it, I’d probably call them a faggot under my breath when they walked away.”

Cassie, Episode II (aka Never Go Out Of Your Way To Be Unkind)

That morning I had called in sick to work on my way there, because something about subway posters at 7AM can just be so fucking depressing? Those wide, grinning, dead-eyed actors trying to sell you college courses, some stupid movie, or Old Navy cargo shorts. Baby crying in a stroller, some asshole blasting music through the speaker on his iPhone, some sixty people crowded side by side with nobody saying a fucking thing. Just the hum of the subway train burrowing to Manhattan.

Kachung, Kachung, Kachung, 

“Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” 

Ding-doon. Ding-doon.

It was enough to make a man exhausted, too tired to clock in and pretend to give a shit about Bridget’s new baby or an Excel spreadsheet. And if you can’t relate to that, well, then this story isn’t for you, bud. 

So I sent a text pretending I was sick and got off on 96th street, booked a room at Carmine’s like I used to when I was more degenerate. I wanted to get away, needed a low cost escape and bottom shelf liquor type of abandoning ship, and not knowing where to go, I went back to Amsterdam Avenue, where I had traumatic and yet awesome times in my youth. An instinctive return to chaos and creation; natural, the way sea turtles go back to die or lay eggs in the same beaches where they’re born.

There’s also such a safety in what’s familiar, how easy it is to slide into old habits like a pair of your favorite jeans. 

After an hour of checking and settling in to my room I hopped back on the train downtown. I had to get to 79th, which was where the bars stopped and everything south became  skyscrapers and big businesses. Suits, ties and bored housewives walking yorkies on their way to $200 manicures. Not my tempo or atmosphere, to say the least.

The subway was less crowded by then, only a handful of bodies too distinct and all over the place  to categorize as 9-5’ers.  Those wide, grinning, dead-eyed actors on the posters didn’t bother me as much. I felt better, knowing I was on my way to a good time I should not be having. I sat down and let the hum of the subway train burrowing through Manhattan rock me gently to all the irresponsible things I planned on doing. Satisfied, anticipating, feeling like I escaped.  

“BECAUSE DISEASE IS NOT OF GOD.” A womans voice, booming, echoing. I didn’t look, because I didn’t care. Religious fanatics were pretty common at any hour of the day on any corner of New York.

“SATAN IS THE AUTHOR. HAPPINESS RESIDES IN YOUR HEART, BUT YOU SHRINK FROM THE LIGHT. YOU HIDE FROM GRACE. YOU WALK IN DARKNESS.” 

79th Street came and I stepped out of the subway car, the woman’s voice echoing behind me as the doors closed. 

“But what about your soul?”

Stand clear of the closing doors, please. 

“But what about your soul?”

Ding-doon. Ding-doon.

“But what about your soul?”

Kachung, Kachung, Kachung. 

“But what about your soul!?”

Cash Bar Only (aka Only Dickheads Tip On Their Debit Card)

A part of me likes to socialize for the sole purpose of disliking it. Self prophecy or flagellation, I don’t know. You be the judge, boo.

Instead of rotting at home between four walls and the endless void of myself, I could grab my coat and finally answer someone I only left on read as a power move. Boys are cute and men make for better conversation, but in the end I like to think the games I play are less because I’m a bitch and more  just window shopping.

Some guys still get angry at the fact, but then again I guess most guys never worked in retail.

“Can I buy you a drink?” He said, a little nervous, but hiding it well.

“I hope so. This dress doesn’t come with a wallet.” I said, not disclosing the fifty dollars I had stashed in my bra because mama taught me well (and had dead beat boyfriends. Hi dad!)

I like my loneliness throughout the year but then Summer starts turning the bend and the heat creeps inside your bones. Then all those days I spend bird watching in Central Park, or drinking enough wine to want to practice yoga poses at home, they start feeling less and less fulfilling. Those wide, dead eyed Macy’s-summer-Sale ads glaring from the side of buses and subway platforms. Half naked and generic couple or family staring at you, actors probably, complete strangers that still manage to give you the impression like you’re missing out on something.

“This place is nice,” I said. “How many other pretty girls have you brought here?”

It’s all bullshit, and I know I go right back to being bad all by my merry self once September comes around. But who doesn’t like a nice looking stud or vixen to grab you by the waist, pull you close and treat you like something thats only good for being used for a night? I sure as hell do.

“Its my first time here,” He said. But the way the bartender doesn’t even glance my way makes me believe otherwise.

“Let’s dance,” I said, fully aware that he doesn’t like to.

“Hell yeah,” He replied, smiling in a way that almost makes me start to like him. “I’ve been practicing.”

So I’ll be gone til’ November and when December comes, I start taking those eggplant emoji’s less seriously. A couple drinks in Mulberry’s or High Bridge with another yuppie that thinks he either has me figured it out or has it all together. Throw the dust off my social withdrawal and take my place in a song, dance in the hysteria of a mob bouncing to a base and dissolving into a sea of other people. Move my hips in a rhythm that begins to feel instinctive, almost natural, and that despite myself feels on the fringes of a good time. A place where words or thoughts or how stupid he looks in that ascot are no longer necessary.

“You’ve gotten better.” I said, and he has. It’s the most honest thing I’d said to him his entire life.

“I was tired of you making me fun of me,” He said, trying to laugh.

Then I could bring him home, sleep sound and full of thoughts, and sentences, and sometimes bodies, other than my own. Happy, or at least, on the verge of some semblance of it. Him hopping through the hoops and traps I lay behind me. My conscience feeling awful for it every time he lands the fall. Then Christmas comes and he gets me something stupid and sweet like a yoga mat or blue rose, and then I wake up to hate myself for being so mean and a hypocrite.

“Then you definitely should not have worn that thing around your neck,” I said.

Or I could sit outside of it all as an observer and reinforce my prejudices, safe behind the looking glass of a bell jar. Convicted of my convictions and incapable of seeing the other side of the coin. Say Fuck-You to Macy’s the next time I see her, grow out my underarm hair and make an Instagram entirely dedicated to The Makings Of A Cat Lady and Drunk Yoga. Isolated and un-reproachable, impossible to hold the mildest of conversations with until he goes to the bathroom and comes back without the ascot because I can be that cruel. And as I’m emotionally ostracized and lie about having to work early because his eyes start looking a little angry, I can wander off home. Alone but a little glad- proud and the champion of my own misery.

“You’re kind of a bitch, you know that?” He said.

I guess he never worked in retail