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I came back to Massachusetts for one night to watch my friend compete in the Miss Massachusetts pageant and to say a final farewell. Specifically, I needed to say goodbye to this place. The people—dynamic, responsive, moving, I am not so concerned about. For some reason it keeps hurting my feelings that Massachusetts doesn’t track me down. This apartment, which I don’t want to give up, has been my first real home. How can I get over the fact that I will never live here again? The lesson I have learned is that if you let something go, you can almost certainly never, ever have it back again.
When I walked in after the pageant, the whole place smelled like new paint. I wanted to say goodbye but the apartment doesn’t remind me of living here. It reminds me of when I was a child and my family moved to Colorado into a freshly-painted house. Before there was anything there, I walked from room to room, sitting down for a few minutes in each, drawing a little in my coloring book. I wanted to remember it that way. Even at five, I wanted to try living, a bit, in each of the rooms. I made anagrams of life in little illustrations of cartoon characters.
I’m sure I wanted to be able to look at those pictures later and know that I had drawn them in each of the rooms. The coloring book, I’m sure, was discarded as soon as it was filled.
It’s the kind of thing where you don’t feel sad until you’re in the place, and then it freaks you out. Have you been sad all along and just not known? How much have I dissociated and how much of this is just part of the sad truth that we cannot live parallel lives? I don’t know why this is a question of pathology. The pathologically suppressed, I suppose, is more dangerous because the debt will eventually get paid. If I cannot properly mourn this place now, I will certainly be forced to do it in the future. I want to do it in this room. But after all these years in therapy I have learned a lot of things. One of them is that even the healthy, returns to haunt.
A week ago—almost two—it felt like I lost it all. In a moment of extreme panic, I reached in all directions, hoping there would be some fall back to safety. Abort. I wanted to abort. I wanted to say: okay, I gave this a go and it didn’t work and now I’m ready for plan B. But there was nothing else. There was only waking up and going on and waking up again. Even when the days are joyful—there is only waking up and going on, waking up and going on again.
Drifting, for the first time in a long time, I reminded me of me. It was scary both because I’m glad that I’ve changed and also because I’m sad that I cannot have all the parts of me at once. History, it always used to feel, was the truest part.
It’s hard to say goodbye to inert companions of all types. Place: you kept me such good and terrible company!
[Among other heart-breaking parts: the crack of the bus as it switches lines, the treetops, the endless and predictable opportunity for solitude, so many rooms to walk between (three), a large bathroom, how much fit into that small space, and everything I witnessed on the street below.]
The apartment also reminds me of the first night I moved here. September 1, 2006: I brought up my suitcase, alone. I unrolled my blanket in the corner where my bed was going to be. I went to the supermarket and bought a third of a pound of roast beef and an apple. I ate it on the floor with all the lights on and curled up to go to bed and thought, this is how my life is going to be.
But it wasn’t. It was another way, in the same room, with the burning out over time and me never knowing which wattage bulbs to buy until the whole place faded from its uniformity to a frustrating patchwork of off-whites. Only that first night was that way.
I am not five anymore. It’s been twenty years and still I am trying to figure out how to live in a world in which time is not reversible. I am still trying to not be acutely hurt by the simple fact that I live in a world in which time is not reversible.
I think about walking over to Tufts, through Davis. I consider a tour of Somerville. I feel pressure to savor this, even though savoring is not all that different from anything else. I sit down in the place where my bed was. I open my computer. I am certain now (although it only makes it hurt more) that the important part is not the place but the pulling. And because I might not ever be able to control the shape of my home, I continue to draw.
The New York Times prints a bevy of letters from New Yorkers, former New Yorkers, infrequent visitors to the city, wild-guessers, in response to the city’s renewed push to kill the subway rats. My roommate reads the letters aloud over a bad Saturday indie flick, over 65% humidity, over my temporarily soothed stomach. She is laughing periodically, pausing so that the rest of us can. This will become a pattern at this home. We take minute and barrel onward, later.
Someone told me they liked that once– when I paused the episode if they started laughing too hard. I wanted her to hear all the jokes, not miss any parts, never have to deliver a line myself. Don’t ever, for any reason, to anyone, for any reason, ever…
The letters about the rats are largely against the plan to kill the rats. Another roommate interrupts to clarify, “wait, what’s the new plan?” The reader flips between the pages and doesn’t find any answers, “probably more poison,” she guesses. It seems that if they were radically changing the system, there’d be details. The city must just be amping it up.
Once, on a ride to Boston, we read all about the rat in the Chinese zodiac. There were two rats in the car– embracing our good and bad qualities. That’s so true, we said, and read the whole story, aloud, again.
The arguments in the paper rely on two lines of reasoning. 1. personal experience with a pet rat (such as: I had a rat and rats are awesome). Or 2. an ethical claim: rats are innocent. We’re struck by this second argument and the way the writers anthropomorphize the animals. Rats, they tell us, don’t do any of the nasty things that humans do. They don’t pollute the land, they don’t drill for oil, they don’t strip mine, or oppress each other, or force corn and soy surpluses into the national foodstuffs. Sometimes the writers even admit that the rats do other nasty things like carry other vermin and disease. But they forgive the rats because, after all, rats are not as egregious as people. Rats are not exploitative capitalists. They’re not racist imperialists. And, if you can believe it, rats have been around thousands of years without waging a single war in the name of God!!! That’s right, as far as humans go, rats are pretty great.
(Even now: In lieu of recovery, I attempt to barrel now. Maybe forward-motion will deliver me to recovery. And maybe I’ll eventually succeed at being able to not have to barrel anywhere. I was able to prevent myself from pausing it at the time. I didn’t send any messages. I didn’t post it anywhere. But now I’m rewinding so that you can see, in slow motion. All of it.)
The letter-writers forgive the rats their disgusting features by pinning the features on people. Rats wouldn’t eat your garbage if you didn’t litter. Rats wouldn’t carry diseases if you weren’t all filthy and unhealthy. If the rest of you weren’t all horrible, greedy, slobs, no innocent animals would have to be slaughtered.
There’s nothing like a joint condemnation of poverty, capitalism, and religion in the name of benevolent rat-protection to end the week.
(Tuesday: I have made it through letters and days but backslide.)
If we’re supposed to oppose the plan because of poverty, capitalism, and religion, I’d like to know how the rats actually relate to homelessness, consumption, and God.
(Please rephrase all your arguments to me in relation to these three things if you’d like to get anywhere. Maybe I will rewrite the fights and do it myself. Maybe it doesn’t matter if I remember it incorrectly so long as I am finally able to move on.)
Throughout, the letters construct a personified “natural” rat with negative space: rats frolic in the wild, they have no ties to society, they eat organic grasses and don’t build industry or like plastic. They aren’t really religious but they might be “spiritual.”
It probably doesn’t matter that I warned you. I’m sorry– but there is no end.
1. in which I have to back-track in order to recover
– subway stops (two, on as many trains)
– the third floor
– the fourth floor
– an invoice
– a phone call from the Michigan Women’s Historical Society
– a fire drill
– my pill
2. in which I am uncontrollably moved to tears
– limburger cheese
– Wall Street
– Fulton Street
– sitting down at my desk
– two angry old ladies
– unzipping my pant
I haven’t slept enough this week and so I had to get up right with my alarm or I wouldn’t have gotten up at all. I probably should have called in sick (already) except that I knew I wouldn’t eat breakfast and would stay in bed all day.
3. in which it’s the point, I can’t find
– getting bad news
– finishing a task
– going home for the day
– going in for the day
– hearing a story which clears up some confusion
– unzipping my pants
I am eating and sleeping and spending time with friends. It’s just that everywhere I am haunted by the same sparkling smile, the same tilt of the head, a hip rocked out and and whole torso finding an arms-crossed center.
– pink pjs
– a red switch
– Caribbean fried meats
– Asian fusion v. pork
– Claudia Rankine
– the foreseeable end of the invoices (the fact that no other ends are foreseeable)
– seven o’clock
– five thirty
– seven thirty
– eight thirty
– nine to ten
– a beer
– drying my hair
– my fucking telephone
– a photo on someone else’s phone
I am temporarily lulled by a coworker’s email. After I break down in his cubicle and accidentally lose my glasses, try to ask him work questions through the unstoppable tears, he sends me a sweet message. “Put on your headphones and avoid nostalgic mixes, eat a heavy lunch and drowse through the afternoon; remember that the drinks are on us tonight.”
The only foreseeable comfort is the weekday flick from gold to red to gold to red to gold– in a list, in a window, shoved off the to far right of the screen. I dare not let my mouse hover over it. It helps and hurts to know that we’re both still in the world together. I will be starved all weekend but just cannot bear to lose it entirely. Please come back on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and again until we are both, at last, different.
2. this time because the good makes it feel so much worse
– 2 emails from concerned friends
– everyone’s analysis
– canceling a trip
– the notion of anyone wearing a swimsuit
– detergent in the East Village
4. my composure, my balance, my stomach
– the weekend
– Boys II Men
– getting dressed
– feedback about my job interview
So this is how it is.
“Oh baby,” he asks, “can you get my computer.” The whole house smells like sweet potatoes because my roommates have been dipping them in and out of the oven for the last fifteen minutes. They’re white on the inside. They’re still a little crunchy. They are eager to eat them and nibble at the steaming ends before re-wrapping them and putting them back because they’re still raw. That’s one of the ways it is.
On the way over I saw something dead on the road. I’ll come back to it.
To learn Chinese (she said it would be easy) we start with the pronouns.
“Wǒ is me, nǐ is you.” We sit across from each other before breakfast and it makes sense to point to each other. This requires that we stop holding hands. She is teaching me because someone else is eavesdropping and she wants there to be another way to communicate.
A man crossed the street, thinking it was still alive and he offered to kill it. Three ladies standing nearby asked him why; “we already killed it,” they say. A man comes out of the restaurant to move it away. “It’s really okay. I can kill it for you,” the first man insists. The women laugh.
By the time I got home, my roommates were settling in. They were over-turning cakes onto the sofa, watching Top Chef, just finishing dinner, and starting to snack. One brings me chocolate, nuts, Asian sweet potatoes but I cannot eat. What is wrong with me that I cannot eat? He tells me that he eats through everything– even fights. And I confess the same. There have been so many dinners during disagreements: how can you eat at a time like this, one asks? What do you mean? I want to say: above all, it is dinner time.
“Tā is third person,” she tells me that there is no he or she. And she is right, of course. At that point, forever now, it will have just been the two of us. “To make it plural,” she proceeds, “you just add ‘men’ to the end of them.”
It happened once before. I was crossing my neighbor’s yard behind my sister, and she started shrieking. I froze and she sobbed, pointing down. It wasn’t dead yet. We would need a hoe before we needed a broom. It was reared and bleeding. In my memory it is a cobra.
Us, you-people, them. In Chinese, it must sound different. But in English everything but the first-person plural is delightfully insulting.
I am embarrassed that I don’t need any allegories. It is humiliating to write a post about about literally not speaking the same language when you know that I must mean the whole thing figuratively as well.
The only thing, I had told her, that I was really sad about leaving behind, was the proximity to nature. And now I’m in Brooklyn facing a dead animal I’ve never seen before. On the corner ahead she is waiting, and I turn to watch the rest of the scene unfold. The man sweeps the creature into the street. The three women laugh. The passer-by continues to offer to take care of it. What does he mean? I can’t tell if he’s just ashamed and sticking to his story.
Maybe it is right. I was skittish. I was building slowly. I didn’t have the heart to lose anyone else. I didn’t have the heart to gain and lose a mother. I wanted to be deliberate and slow and respectful. I wanted the way it felt so good to not be a miracle. I needed it to be more mundane than a miracle. I had to learn how to make it, between us, and not just let it abide there. What kind of man continues to offer to help kill a dead animal? I always believed that she could cure me– but knew that if we broke up then the pain would come back and be catastrophic. I have become accustomed to living in this amount of pain. I am scared of it ceasing because I am scared that it must also return. Sorry. I don’t feel that way about any other kind of pain. I promise. It’s just the physical, chronic, debilitating kind that I fear.
Maybe it is the kind of man who thinks that what everyone will be worried about when faced with a mysterious, three-foot long, black snake, thicker than a roll of quarters, on the streets of Brooklyn is what kind of man he is.
I moved here slowly. It turns out: tragically so.
We stopped after the pronouns– not really so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed with new words but because the man was watching us talk. It was sunny. The summer was ahead. I thought that I had finally learned the right way. I had half a dozen earnest little heartfelt gifts to give. I had gestures of my whole self. I had the letters and had planned everything. I had perfected, I thought, the art of the gesture and was about to amaze. I had started with a small gift when we had barely seen each other.
My roommates are trying to hold me in their love. It is working sometimes. We joke again about the same things and no one spills anything and we break between stories to test out the potatoes again.
Once, on a first date, I said: “you know, we’ve met before.” Because I thought it would be terrible if she found out another way and I’m awful at feigning surprise. But it turned out that she thought the disclosure was as creepy as I was trying not to be.
Are there many snakes in Brooklyn?
I have learned nothing. Across the table I wanted to tell her, but didn’t, the truth. I wanted to confess the half dozen things that I had waiting but thought they deserved their own, unwitnessed moment. I was trying to learn a new way of communicating– I was trying to give love back in ways that felt like love to her. I was trying to master the language of the sweet and heartfelt effort. We held hands until the food arrived. She asked me what I was thinking and I didn’t say:
what has it been: lìu? qi-? ba-? weeks that I’ve been working on it. I wanted to give it to you humbly. I think humbly is the only way to perform a grand gesture. I wanted to be able to say: this is all for you but only because it is the least of what you deserve. But now what? There is no he or she. If there is just me and you then
zhe shi shen me?
As children we used to play a game called Broke or Not Broke. We would break or not break a twig, a cookie, a shard of plastic and hold it up to one another. “Guess,” we would say, “broke or not broke.”
You were allowed to use other tricks to fool each other– crease the object or nearly break it. You could hold it delicately from the ends like you would hold a broken object. “Broke,” one would guess. “Nope!” and joyously let the tender grasp go and wave the stick around joyfully, “not broke.”
I am in Brooklyn now: finally, indefinitely. Thank god. And for the most part I am no longer playing the adult version of Broke or Not Broke.
In a few months, so many people that I love will be here, too. In one year, even more of them. In the meantime, I’m running through the game with myself, my work, my friends, my relationships– a big stack of plans I was getting excited to tick off.
Two weeks ago I retired from one job after just over ten years. Someone is trying to fool me. I am strategically creased in the middle. I am holding you together delicately by the ends and pushing. For once it is you and not me who is either. Thank god for leaving academia. Thank god for the end of both/and. I am not both Broke and not broke.
There is no 401k. I have a new job now– one that recast the words written on my body into jokes or Calvinism. I am learning a new job and have a folding chair in my cubicle for people to pass by and teach me things. I am learning how to encode, correct, distribute.
At night I go home to an apartment full of roommates and realize how much I missed having an apartment full of roommates. I never want to live alone again. We try to work the DVR. Our boots lean against each other in the hall. One makes a chocolate pie and nearly drops the unfilled crust off the edge of the counter. I catch it with my fingertip, rearrange the refrigerator magnets to spell FAMOUS TALLEST WOMB, I make a pile of clothes for EEM to hang up. For once it is you and not me that is either. It doesn’t matter when I lock myself out because someone else is coming home soon. Even if you held it from the edges– even if you sawed right down the center– even if you folded it over and over until it was so weak it nearly gave. This whole home.
In my spam folder everything is either SOLD OUT or NEW THIS SEASON. I recognize that these phrases are supposed to make me want things through some artful mix of novelty, popularity, and scarcity. But they’ve got the wrong lady. And it’s not just because the ads are selling confusing sexual products for male penises and het intercourse! I’m about to move in pursuit of comfort and abundance, in pursuit of indefinite time with my people, in pursuit of folks who seem to have a lot left, in pursuit of (incomplete sentence).
But it’s the crest of departure and, of course, novelty, popularity, and scarcity must make an appearance. I’m wary of this cloud around leaving which might make things seem better than they are. (Not because I have been directly susceptible to this phenomenon– but because others have ensured my indirect susceptibility. Departure, for me, spoils and terrifies. But I worry about other people attaching to me unfairly, momentarily. I get that my solution perpetuates the problem but I try to compensate by: speeding through the getting-to-know you so that we can all walk away with clear impressions and good decisions.) Ha! At least this time it’s different: we’re all young, old, responsible, and unencumbered. Everyone has feelings and at least two of us have patience.
J: who has returned in times of change
J: who has, regrettably, not
S: who did not respond to an emailed photograph of my graduation, my eyes bugging out ever more like ___
S: who responded to each photo and some more than others
C: who wants to see me more before I go
C: who cannot
P: It feels like it’s been years and years and years and years and years even though it has only been year and year and year and year and year
P: in the same amount of time, it has been so much longer
R: please forgive all the twinning. I, for one, do not have a double any more than you do.
The other day, M and C were driving me to Harvard Square with unwieldy boxes. I hadn’t left my apartment all day and the air seemed wrong. M said it was haze. C said it was haze. It was just a thick mist and when I walked outside I thought there might be a fire nearby. M has been a beloved champion of reality for almost two years. She is the best gauge a sister could have. They promised me that Central Square had the haze as well. They promised me it was everywhere. M initially thought EVERYONE was bbq-ing. The next day we learned that it wasn’t haze but the smoke pouring in from catastrophic fires in Quebec:
R: Every time I think of history, it’s like this. Before the air was clear…
Actually, M and C learned about the fires on the day of the haze. But then M told me, at work. I am afraid that this is what it will continue to be like. I wanted to know what we were inhaling but did not look it up.