This Happened Before The Quarantine, So Nobody Can Judge Me Now (aka Cassie, Episode IV; A New Hope)

By 6PM we were getting eighty-six’d down a string of bars on Amsterdam, where I made ends in low places and chased my blues away in short skirts and everything except a positive outlet. Old stomping grounds where I’ve got a reputation worse than Diogenes, pictures of me hanging from The Lions Head on 109th Street all the way down to the Dead Poets Cafe.

NO ADMITTANCE written in thick, bold and black letters like a wanted poster from the old west. After all these years they hadn’t taken it down, and I couldn’t tell if it was because times change and people forget, or if the bounty on my head was worth so much to the bartender I called a thieving crook cunt for stealing tips and the bouncer who cold-cocked me. Don’t bother asking, because I won’t be telling you that story. It’ll be up to you filling in the blanks and decide if I deserved it or not.

“These’re some friends from work,” Cassie briefed me on our way to the table. “So don’t fuckin’ embarrass me.”

She charged ahead and I followed, passed by my college footprint staring back at me with that wide, stupid grin and a smile I can only describe as It-Was-Worth-It–So-Fuck-You-Too. I don’t remember being so reckless, but the look was something I recognized. There was a dog on my walk home from middle school that had it, these solid black eyes that could be so quiet and almost tender, but the stillness is what made him  terrifying. That gave the distinct impression of what they say comes right before a storm.

“Well now that’s all I want to do,” I said. “What’s a touchier subject for them- religion or white guilt?”

Coming back to Amsterdam Avenue was in a ways a sort of homecoming. I might have missed the ceremony but still graduated sorta-come-loudly. And what better venue to revisit my putida alma mater than the bar I met Sheila in before we painted this whole city red with our stupid fights about Facebook and juvenile love. Which, funny enough, had the same name as the guy who taught me how to pop a beer bottle open with a lighter.

“Me pretendin’ I don’t know you and you’re following me around,” Cassie replied.

Jake’s Dilemma, is what they called it; and his was like mine: Do – or – Don’t.  An easy answer when I was young, back when this place was a big deal because the bulldogs those pretty waitresses asked you to try while leaning just a little too close needed a goddamn leash, and they hung a bunch of bras over the bar top for reasons that were none of your fucking business (if you were stupid like me enough to ask why.)

“Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry.” I said. “Better be safe and just talk about my dead parents.”

I guess back then I had a hard on for experiences I would now consider in-genuine. Chasing highs in low places with my dick leading the way like a diving rod. My first memories of hunger surfacing in a language I couldn’t speak, but understood. I craved, wanted, needed and surrendered to these wordless demands my body exhausted me with. Cocaine might be a hell of a drug, but have you ever tried it on sex? Rolling down a hill of physical inclinations every single fucking night, waking up and not remembering where or how you got the bruise. Life lessons that I lost to whiskey sours, Sheila, Cassie, myself, and the infinite desires of the body.

“Is that really how you wanna go down t’night? The weirdo, then,” Cassie said grinning, eyes propped up so high they almost became a part of her hairline.

Madness may be doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, but to ruin yourself on a nightly basis for the fuck of it doesn’t have a name yet. For me it was an instinct, a deep and natural longing that watched over and laughed at me as I tried to not swear and give a damn about starving kids in Africa. An impulse that was impossible to ignore, and the nights I tried to was when I learned why lions pace around their cage.  And I was happy, to be honest, letting Jesus take the wheel while I didn’t believe in God. Wounded, really, although I couldn’t say from what.

“I guess not,” I said, trying to look like I wasn’t trying to smile.

And now, much like then, I think, when I look at it from a distance, it seemed to be happening to someone else. And through that lens, unhealthy as it was, or is, it also happens to hurt a lot less.

“How do you want to be remembered, then?” She asked, tugging on the strings of her sideways eight pendant dangling from by collar bone.

“Vividly,”  I said. Infinitely wondering what I was doing.

It’s Not The San Andreas Fault, But Someone’s Taking The Blame (aka Sorry I’m So Sorry I Think You Look So Good In Blue)

And where love used to come to me at night like dreams, she dawned upon me suddenly in broad daylight. A calm, quick and, at first, uneventful revelation whose silent gravity weighed on me greatly in the hours that would follow it’s discovery. I noticed that I loved her the way you discover liking pineapples, or that you should call your mother more. When a thought flashed, crowded by some nine others, and I softly filed each to where and when they belong. But when I thought about her an awareness happened, one I couldn’t blink or wave away as easily as I would have imagined.

Maybe, was all I could think. And Maybe persisted throughout the day until Maybe erupted and it was all and everything. Then, having awakened this nameless consciousness, I felt it inhale its first deep and gasping air for breath, and like a newborn, take one long and finite pause before screaming.

Maybe.

For a while, days which were only seconds, I refused to acknowledge this very daunting and real idea. I ignored it, the way I ignored the concept of me liking pineapple or that I should call my mother more. Whims exist and are only true for a certain amount of time, after all. But this only kept the Maybe silent, I felt it panicked, pacing around my heart, thrashing and waiting desperately to finally exhale.

I said it once to myself, unsure I guess, or perhaps to see. Sometimes putting words to a feeling does not make it real, but only exaggerates how ridiculous it really is. I said it once to myself: what if I love her?

And suddenly I felt the world around me twirl and change it’s shape. What I cared for grew twice the size, and what I didn’t now had such a tremendous sympathy with it. I looked around, expecting a disaster, but the people and my desk were all the same.

Maybe I was the only one wasn’t.

 

 

Cassie, Episode III (aka Baby It’s Cold Outside- So I Hope You Called An Uber)

Most people are barely people and I’ve met everyone twice. Personalities copy and pasted from recycled memes you can find on Reddit, who pretend to exhibit behaviors they borrow from social disorders on Wikipedia. Give a hungry man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day, but give him the internet, and he’ll probably spend it anonymously calling other fish faggots right before his 10AM Sociology class.

“Gotta light?” She asked me outside, with peach mixed moscato on her breath and the feint scent of burning incense lingering in her hair.

She had a way with people- even in my heightened state of over compassion I could tell as much. There was a manner she looked your way that was so notable, that felt like suddenly hearing your name in public, but with eyes. Disarming and little captivating; how being noticed always is. And yes, it helped that she was beautiful. An all-American vee’d chin with an uncle named Chip, that mythical half they must be talking about when they mention two point five kids and a picket fence.

“Brighter than you know,” I replied, and struck a fire for her.

“You’re funny,” She said grinning, smoke and hair billowing from her nose. “You look unmade, and a little dangerous. But I can’t believe you smoke this menthol crap.”

She played it loose and hated slow songs, always kept a 20 hidden in her bra because mama didn’t raise a sucker, and she’d herded her own fair share of douchebags. Ink resembling May 2nd with a year I can’t remember occasionally trailing from out her sleeves.

“If I’m going to slowly kill myself, I’m going to do it right.” I said.

Her name was Cassie, not with a y, and it was short for Cassandra but don’t you fuckin’ dare ever call her that.  Stacked to a low 5’4″ on her tippy toes- beautiful skin tinted in a blushed red, lips curved like a sunset or rose tinted Cupid’s bow. She had it going on, beautiful, but basic at best, eye shadow of a modern fashionista, but not the kind daft enough enough to romanticize vogue models or an eating disorder.

“I can’t handle it, I’ve got a VSD.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s like a hole in your heart,”

“I’m so sorry,” I replied. “What was his name?”

She was not a miserable person, nowhere near delicate- only threaded, maybe. Overexposed like an electric wire in the rain. A victim to the elements and boys who swear they’re different. With a hot heart for the coldest matters and a gentleness that feels more earned than inherent, she cried when she missed her train for work just like any body else. That bitter and hardened exterior only a New York experience can make.

“Who you here with?” She asked, squinting at something other than the smoke in her face.

But I’ve been wrong before.

If Pain Is Weakness Leaving The Body Then I Must Be Bullet Proof By Now (aka Ask Your Doctor If Fukitol Is Right For You)

These pills are small and delicate, helpless little orphans,
and my body is a temple. Ain’t nobody got it like
this little bottle of mine- white little capillaries
pills of death that pulse and keep me (from) breathing.

One every four hours, do not exceed six.
I’m sixty nined from bars and dimes every minute so
I dose in doubles, puffing silver linings
on a rummy cloud. I am The Great Pretender,
forgetful historian, a series of bullet points
on what it means to be listless. I am the vague biographer,
caustic chronicler of the categorically insignficant.

But it’s not so bad. These woes whoa me no more
and dreams feel more real when I’m awake; I call it
lucid living. Though I’m still full of envy
a the bravery of corner vagrants, shouting crack-ed lungs
at pigeons in the park. But now he fades away, vague,
I don’t know where, like ripples in a pond. At least
he doesn’t linger in my mind and ruin me any more.

My heart no longer brags- no more
I am I am I am’s– it sighs.

But twice every four hours, my smile comes
easier, and I can see the faults in our starlit eyes
and badly thatched hearts. Stale highs eventually swing
violently low and I have to stop myself
from smashing something delicate. A bottle, or myself.
And I would, if only I could get a grip, but when
the night grows teeth and digs into the heart and
memories, what is there to do? Set the alarm
and try again tomorrow.

Keep The Lights Off In Chicago (aka I Ain’t Coming Home)

January brings out the optimist in me. As the trees ash and turn pale I always get a little giddy. The dead of Winter is a vibrant reminder of how beautiful the death of things can be, that life is only an episode in a cosmic comedy with an indifference to both. The syndication is a good one, but always on the brink of being cancelled. Its hard to think that now, someday, something could ever grow. But Spring is coming, like it or not.

Spring, when the air is thick and always wet, loaded as a sentence and on the verge of tears (or rain.) Where my nostalgia goes into overdrive and I’m overrun in moments that are bulging like clouds; thoughts that are full yet empty and easy to navigate. Standing near the bus stop the first day of school with an over-sized hoodie. Kissing Tiffany in Bryant Park while something under our feet crunched loudly and made the world smell like skin and an end to childhood.

The experience is a winter wonderland of wondering where all that time has gone, but I don’t want to come off as a nihilist. To be honest as I get older, I no longer look to the past as often. But when I do, I look back at it all much more fondly. I want to reach out and call someone I haven’t spoken to or of in years, just to remind Tiffany, Kevin, Jimmy, Corina, or hell, even my father, that at some point I loved them dearly, and I might still.

Why Do Bad Things Happen To Marginally Good People?

I’ve lived, broke bread with kings and
slept in tubs and public with the
broken and Diogenes. Alms and dearly departed’s
to men slain, made high or even by the needle.

Men leaning on a parking meter on 149th Street,
neck limp on passage to methadone clinics
and Elysium. Cigarettes bought and passed along
from one to his dearly delirious brother; shared puffs,
solemn thanks thank you th-thank you papa,
mumbling vows as they put the filter to their lips, sacredly,
like a Eucharist; an overdose baptisms.

I’ve lived, I have beloved and been beloved,
honey-eyed and drunk off nothing but a feeling.
Soft Saturdays staring at the freckles of her forearm,
fingers wandering and reading the arches of her body
like her skin was braille. Doors locked, blinds wide open,
condemned couch confessions with kisses and a slight of hand
trying to figure out where one of us starts and the other ends.
Stuck in a snowstorm of Tennessee and ourselves,
trying to justify why together we felt so centered.

I’ve lived, needed, and learned to do without.
Nights fought against the sun, savage at a sunrise- circling
Columbus Circle hungover on Amsterdam, searching SoHo
solely for a pleasure. A fool letting the music confess things
so I didn’t need to, blowing a buzz and two hundred dollar tab
on a backless dress that was not worth it. Draft beers
and daft company homering in, the distinct reminder,
I am alone in a world of people.

I’ve lived, by God, I’ve lived, because my life has been my own.
And everything that has been is mine, and shall never be again.