It’s far too early in the evening to say here accept this and good morning, let’s be hopefully oblivious to whatever may lie ahead, maybe, maybe no, not by night. What you do is for yourself, so no worries, though, maybe. We’re all in our heads anyway, curators of our own realities—or so I’ve heard and at times repeated. I am making my anyway down the still sun-sizzled sidewalk carrying fear in a ragged black duffle to the pawn shop on the other side of the overpass to swap it for the awful, uncertain of the deal I’ll get. Are you afraid of dying? a billboard asks in terms so uncertain I swear it’s trying to sell me something dark and pointless and cliché like tears in the rain but the sun is still up and the sky is clear though our humanity’s tearing at the seams, overstuffed with what divides. The forecast called for an 80% chance of fate, and the rest of life will precipitate from the choices we make, or so I mumble under my breath, feeling ashamedly hyperbolic. Sometimes I have eggs for breakfast, though, and I’m much more matter of fact. Sometimes the shadows cast by spells from the trees outside make me think about how thinking about you as I lay right there beside you in bed the night before left an aroma on me that the simple sometimes not so simple plunge of sleep did not wash off, a residue which in the fresh fleshy light of morning has condensed into a thin film over my entire being that if I were a scientist I might cheerfully analyze and classify. If I were a shaman or a healer and this duffle contained strength, grace, and dignity, on the other hand, I could write to you and create a small space for us, a universe within a universe, a small space of space where the sense of time is utterly independent and we are merely supporting characters summoning essences to mix up in our rituals. Rise, fall, rise, fall, rise—and on and on and on and around till death marked the final up or the final down. Such would be the tempo and tenor of us, the trajectory of our necessary indifference to “them.” We’re still who and what we are, though, thankfully, retracing faint dusty dried up traces of what were once slippery existentialisms like soapy bathtub bottoms for collecting shower thoughts, thoughts to turn to pictures, pictures to turn to stories, always to turn to stories. A right turn, and then a quick left, just past the corner store, I’ll see you there, maybe, maybe no.
I woke up and my face was bruised and a front tooth broken half off and I couldn’t recall a thing. Then it came the way fear does that I’d just seen a man I knew get fired without ceremony or ostensible circumstance and all I’d done was walk along beside him down the anywhere corridor in some kind of semi-nosey, commiserative gesture of shoulder-patting reprieve though the shoulder-patting was completely figurative and the reprieve quite literally limited to two widened eyes and one furrowed brow of neighborly inquisition since I had no idea at all what a plain person in my shoes—or his—might do or how they’d lace them because mine had been criss-crossed and tangled since birth.
And I wondered without asking why he’d been canned with such abruptness while my lowly station I for the moment did appear to retain and I couldn’t shake the pesky sense of at least maybe somehow even more than partial responsibility, as if my existence within the situation we by nothing, I to myself insisted, more than chance shared meant—and by “meant” I mean “equated to”—complicity, apologetically aware as I nevertheless couldn’t help but be of looking down on him from sheer stature though surely many’d say it was in fact a more emblematic sort of looking down from some manner of privilege, relative, menacing, atrocious privilege poking through readymade apertures of irony, privilege which (they’d say) my privileged subconscious conveniently misunderstood as owing to certain innocuous superficialities of appurtenant physiognomy and meaningless coincidences rather than the harder, deeper-buried archetypal essences on which our fates are veritably determined, thinking it could’ve been me but it wasn’t me it was just he.
Made choices not from equilibrium, as sometimes thought, but from crests or troughs. Just a ship at sea. I can’t get over how primitive I feel in even acknowledging that, how human, how dare I.
Is it always this way, though, so reactive? I sometimes get sea sick and think it should be spelled -ee rather than -ea, thinking if enough people hear me as me (t=0, where t stands for thought) then maybe they’d show me how to cut the kinds of breaks I’ve been so loath to cut myself and be usual.
There’s a knife around here somewhere and I promise I’m just being dramatic. I would say it’s because I’m Latina if I were named Micaela, and a woman. I can imagine it, though, and did, so why not say so while we’re at it, just a little rocking back and forth. It’s not that sharp anyway.
Crests and troughs, highs and lows along this simple sinusoid since birth, growing to the kind of anthropoid that takes remarkable comfort in the disquiet of his expository tales of questionable oscillation and completely ordinary rates of change, stories of this for that and because of or despite, trying every which way of treating normal as a phase so he can be it but not just.
Rode the elevator up to the 20th floor from somewhere in the middle, the doors parted and I stepped out into a field of eyes and a sea of sound, a small podium before me like a restaurant check in, and they looked at me and I knew it was wrong, knew the 20th wasn’t the top, afraid it might be where I belong.
The black-suited man at the podium informed me of where I was before I made my fifth step forward and I heard the doors roll softly closed behind me, dreading the around turn coming that’d leave my back alone by itself to hold their stares, their thoughts thinking “here is yet another” in cacophonic unison like some discombobulated orchestra.
But I did, I turned toward the brass walls of the elevator bank, shimmering, reflecting that distorted roomful of eyes and I did my best Houdini and closed mine and pressed the bottom button like it dispensed nonchalance but all it did was illuminate.
A few silent toe-tapping seconds later the carriage came down and the walls consumed its doors and inside stood a man, generically older, and two women, younger than he but not springly and who I realized were not together as I got on and pressed the round plastic “1” button with greater firmness than I felt, glancing at him, glancing at them, thinking what accidents do befall us in elevators when the doors close.
And in I step and close they do and down the elevator starts and the down start turns to what feels like a fall, smooth and gliding, and I wonder when we’ll hit and what will break first and why they seemed so distracted, so consumed, continuing their piecemeal stranger exchange of looks and slight eyebrow shrugs and effortful non-engagement as he said
“men are more romantic than women, I know it” and he looks at me for confirmation like I knew he would before he did and the she against the back wall of the falling box forces out an “I don’t know about that” in the most non-committal manner imaginable, like a kid put on the spot by other kids she likes about something she doesn’t, or like a grown woman cornered in an elevator and uncertain about an older man’s burgeoning chauvinism, feeling for shreds of history or experience in his sentiment, abstaining from anything further or firmer and he smiles with only lips, cheeks, and
eyes and says “oh I do, I know, right?” and back at me. Right? but no, I shrug, joining the pensive chorus, smiling a little, saying nothing, releasing his gaze. No, I don’t know what you’re getting at, sir, or where this came from or what you mean or why but I do wonder,
I just got on this elevator, just got in here with you three strangers, just joined this fall, and I can see she wishes that the doors will soon open and we can all get out and go our separate ways and I know somewhere inside me despite everything, despite rises and falls and soul and spirit and passing strangers and idle fancies and prejudgments I know I do love the world and this life and
even those eyes back upstairs and these strangers and this awkward moment and this drop, this too-fast but nevertheless controlled descent, a few kilos of friction and resistance short of perfect freefall, and we finally decelerate like some mischievous deity hit the brakes and I cringe instinctively and brace myself out of
well-practiced fear of long drops and the dark things at the bottom as the elevator slows hard and stops soft and the doors open and I see that I’m in fact alive, still alive, again alive, and here, more alive in some unknown way than I ever thought I knew before.
We’ve stopped unevenly, though, confirming all my suspicions of transcendence, stopped a step or so above the ground floor and he gets out without offering a hand or a farewell to anyone and I look at them and say, relieved by all this fallibility, all this imperfection, “If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the drop to the bottom is lined with misperceptions”
and they smile and shrug a little less uncomfortably, knowing I mean no harm though I want to shake them by the shoulders and point and say “there’s light outside it’s bright outside!” but all I do is help them down to pick up the slack he left behind and after helping walk away on my way to nowhere, maybe everywhere, for that matter, I imagine, in this city,
and head through the brass- and mirror-lined marble and tile foyer and push through the revolving doors and step out into the rest of life and the first distinct sound I hear amid the din once I’ve maneuvered through traffic to the wide busy anonymizing sidewalk across the street there beside the lush garden park and short stone colonnade wall is one man saying to another that the fish has no knowledge of the water, none whatsoever.
If they only knew, I thought, shaking my head, and walked on, thinking I did, emboldened by this newfound semblance of freedom, imagining who’d drown first.
Food over rent
Booze over food
Drugs over gas
Smokes over leccy
Sleep over work
Sex over sleep
Firsts over familiar
Regret over loneliness
Fun over health
Sin over salvation
Lies over love
Fans over friends
Laughs over the Law
Matter over mind
Cash over heirlooms
Notoriety over change
Me over you
Me under the influence
You under the impression
Me under him
Him under control
Me under your skin
You under arrest
Us under the spotlight
You under pressure
Me under the weather
You under the bridge
Me under six feet of soil
All of us under the same old sky
With every drink
and every disco dabble
the reckless demolition of
a mind that thrives
on vague ideas of happiness,
promises of something better,
and desperate attempts to
experience whatever it means
to “feel alive” while being
mostly dead inside.
Devastation comes with freedom
and my worst version of myself
isn’t worth my immersion and
participation is what is commonly known
as “having fun.”
Maybe some people
don’t suit fun or don’t deserve it,
but I simply don’t understand it:
my definition of having
a good time is as warped
as my vodka-vortex vision.
I have no hair to let down,
I ripped it all out.
I do not care for my safety —
everyone that I love is a stranger
I smashed the tiles
that I was meant to dance on.
I spend half my life trying
and failing to order more drinks
for people who I don’t know,
with money that I don’t have
long after the bell for last orders
has rattled my rib cage
and leaving after the lights have gone out
and staying after the staff have gone home.
I feel gross and I know I am a mess,
but I pretend that this is fun,
that I don’t have a drink problem
that I don’t have a drug problem
that this is what everyone my age is doing,
that I DON’T HAVE A FUCKING PROBLEM ALRIGHT?
and I am an exceptionally good liar
(as all addicts are)
even I believe me.
Do you enjoy it?
Do I enjoy it?
Sparkling powder on dirty cistern
on painted thumbnail
on shattered iPad
on kitchen counter with breadcrumbs
on dusty dashboard
on pirate dvd
on corner of stolen credit card
on someone’s wriggling stomach,
with unsuccessful lottery tickets
with a strip of the Evening Standard
with doctor’s notes
with fluorescent straws
with glass test tubes
with torn-up takeaway menus
with your brass house key,
up it goes,
up a nose that never asked
to be involved.
I don’t enjoy it,
but if you’re offering,
yeah, why not.
It would be rude not to.
I don’t want any of this anymore.
I don’t want to be like this.
I don’t want to fight
this person anymore.
I want to kill the bad half of me,
just strangle her while she’s in bed
with another stranger,
smother her silly
until she enters a sweet forever-sleep.
Oi, leave her,
just let her sleep,
she’s so tired.
She doesn’t want to wake up
to face the morning
Don’t let her wake up
and remember what she’s done.
Don’t let her.
Just let her sleep.
I fill the void with
two litres of cheap wine
and morph into a monster in a mini-dress.
Really though, one sip is all it takes
for the worst version of me to arrive,
uninvited, aggressive, ridiculous.
I want to strangle her
and I think other people do too.
Some guys do, in bed,
but I tell myself that’s different.
“Something’s gotta change.”
“I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“I need to change.”
THIS IS IT.
And so I quit, cold-turkey it, miserable, isolated.
Usually something bad has prompted my decision
so I just hide inside and want to die.
And the change is bad,
and the change is good,
and the change is very good,
and then I go back to my old ways and it starts again.
I hear them mumbling something about leopards,
and spots, and dogs that can do tricks,
and how an addict will always be an addict,
and that I’m going downwards and backwards
and upside-down at an astonishing rate
and they mention spirals and catastrophes
and concerned and worried and disappointed
but I’m not really listening because I don’t want to
I’m gorgeous and I’m laughing
standing at the bar
and knocking back another jar
all eyes on me
the version of me that’s the crowd favourite
everyone gets to see this crazy show again
and I entertain for free –
I don’t mention how much
my party-girl persona costs me
but fuck it
as long as we’re all happy
then that’s good enough for me
The next day I always feel
more panic than shame:
it is dread, utter dread,
and fear at what I have done and said,
and it’s terrifying.
I try to push it out of my mind. “It’s fine,”
I say, “it’s fine.”
I forget that other people’s memories
work far better than mine.
“Oi, Party Girl, why do you care so much about everyone else, but not yourself?”
“That’s just how it is.”
“Well, you should. Start caring for yourself.”
“Nah, I’d rather invest my energy in others.”
“But you deserve to be good to yourself.”
“The damage is done.”
“No it’s not, it’s never too late to change. You can turn your life around.”
“No I can’t.”
“Stop being so fucking pessimistic.”
“It’s like when people continue to put food out for their pet after it’s dead and buried.”
“Like shutting the stable door after the horse has already bolted and run miles away.”
“You’re not an animal.”
“Oh, aren’t I? I know a few guys who would disagree with you on that one.”
“For fuck’s sake. Fine, I give up. Destroy yourself. But I’m not going to play a part in your death.”
“Oh, thanks. It is your round though…”
“No, fuck you.”
“Large chardonnay with a dash of lemonade please, darling.”
“No. Why do you do this to yourself?”
“Because vodka is cheaper than dialectical behaviour therapy.”
“And I get to hang around with you fine people.”
“You’re the most frustrating person I’ve ever met.”
“Why thank you, kind sir.”
“If you were a bloke, I’d probably have hit you by now.”
“You’re so sweet. No ice.”
“In my spritzer. No ice.”
“Agh, okay, but this is your last fucking drink.”
“For fuck’s sake.”
“Thanks, you’re a real pal.”
“We’re all worried about you though.”
“Hey, enough of that. Now hurry up and get me a beverage, there’s too much blood in my alcohol stream!!”
It’s all fun and games until
it’s no longer fun?
it’s no longer a game?
you struggle to remember the last time it was fun?
you begin to think that drinking and drug-taking was never actually ever fun?
It’s all fun and games until you admit that it was never fun,
nor was it a game, but rather 12 years of socially-acceptable self-destruction made excusable because of my youth and troubled childhood.
“The fun stops here, kiddo.”
Something has got to change.
I think that “something” might be me.
Featured image source “You will drink and drink till you die!” from The Windsor Magazine, 1902.