We wanted to look at the stars but this was the wrong place. We were right in the middle of his father’s land—cornfields all around and his father’s truck idling in the driveway a hundred yards away, front lights casting a fuzzy circle on the silo, rear lights illuminating the truck’s huffing exhaust. It wasn’t moving but the beast was awake and watching our lights before it made any decisions. We pulled into the driveway to turn around and then our car stalled, half on the road and half off, so that we were balanced like in an action film where the heroes and villains get trapped in the same car which hangs perilously over a precipice.

“This would be the perfect place to get stuck,” I said.
“Yeah,” he told me, “my dad has half a dozen cars we could borrow.”

For a minute, I couldn’t tell who was the hero and who was the villain. But the engine turned over and we backed out and drove twenty minutes to G_____.

We stopped at a park to see the stars but the clouds had rolled over the town. So instead we looked at the playground and the gray sky instead.

“We used to come here as kids and slide down that slide, which kind of sucks.” He was walking an awkward ten feet behind me, trying not to blow smoke anywhere near my face. “And roll down the hill. You can’t really see the bottom from the top and a lot of times there would be puddles there. We’d hit them and try to stand up but it’s impossible. The ground’s uneven so we’d just keep falling down, over and over, and laughing our asses off. Our aunts would watch, laughing too.”

I turned away from the hill, too cold to stay still, and walked across the lot to a maple which had had turned so golden that the sod around it glowed. I exposed a bit of ground with my foot so that I could get to the dirt more easily, and began to push my toe into the earth. I rushed to pierce the skin when I heard him getting closer.

“That’s a playhouse, right there. Sometimes my grandparents come back from that place and they’re just so happy.” He flicks the rest of his cigarette away from the leaves and we get back in the car.

All week he came home after the sun had set, when all the colors had been sucked out, leaving only turquoise and black and white. And then we’d go out. For the first five days I saw Iowa only at night. It’s not lit up like Boston or New York, it’s not pink and picture-ready. It’s not like being inside of city inside of a hangar, like Brooklyn. It’s not like being cradled in two conifer-covered hands pressed up to a purple sky, like Colorado. It’s not like being on the set for a movie about a futuristic factory, like Providence. It’s not like being at a buzzy and warm-wet porch-party, like Austin. It’s more like when you drive from here to there.

It is dark and you can only estimate the shapes of buildings when there are lamps on–  between the yellow rectangles there is a wall. If you keep going to the right or left and don’t find another rectangle, well, then at some point the house must have ended.

A month earlier he had flown to Boston and I had given him only nights. Over dinner he looks tired and I mention it. Actually he looks horrible and I mention he looks tired. Over burgers,  he tells me that he just finished radiation but wasn’t going to tell me because the cancer is gone and a year from now it will just be something that happened to his body. He is a person who believes things like: radiation can be over, the past becomes irrelevant, if one is strong, radiation can be over and the past becomes irrelevant, if the past is not over it is because you are not strong. I don’t believe any of these things but I believe other things, and I believe them strongly enough that I stay with him.

We drive around cities like that—looking at sets of windows hovering one or two stories above the farmland, above the sidewalk, above some distant dirt, and he tells me about them. His grandparents’ house and then their farm hands’. His father’s house and then his mother’s. Where he went to elementary school and middle school and high school and where his mother did and where his grandfather did, and the hospital where he was born. Where his high school counselor lives who he says is a lesbian but really actually a man who just couldn’t bear to come out. Where he used to live before he moved to L.A. and where he used to live just a few months ago. This sequence of illuminated rectangles.

I try to make a mental map. Over Mexican food, in the middle of the trip, I realize for the first time that he wants me to catalog all of this because it might be relevant. He is passing along the facts.

A month earlier at the next dinner, this time pasta, we are in the restaurant across from my apartment and I can see that my lights are on. He tells me about how a year before the cancer he was raped and impregnated. And then he got an abortion and HPV and then some cervical cancer. He tells me he is having kidney problems.  It is his last night in town and I sleep with the lights on. Then he leaves and I don’t sleep at all until he comes back a few weeks later.

He drives us to a park with a gazebo across from a Church of Christ. He lists all of his girlfriends and everything that everyone of them ever did to hurt him. Then he tells me how he hurt them. He talks about everyone who’s ever been suicidal and about Kurt Cobain and when he can buy the car of his dreams.  He points, “This used to be a high school, my grandma went here. But then they tore it down because they had turned it into a middle school and then they built a new high school and turned the old high school into the new middle school.” I can barely follow this. I see a time-elapse film of construction workers raising the building, changing the signs, razing the building. The whole night is like this: rapid motion history lessons from people in heavy-duty clothing.

He comes back to Boston for two days and looks worse. It is clear that he is not taking care of himself. If he is taking care of himself, something else is overtaking the care. I agree to fly back with him to help. The night before we leave he tells me that the cancer is back, that it’s spread to his kidneys, that they’re removing one kidney, that it’s stage 2 or stage 4 but they don’t know which.

The first time we go out during the day, I realize how many mortuaries there are. One every few blocks or maybe we’re driving in circles but there’s always one close by. The rest of the town is alienating in its familiarity. It looks just like the rest of rundown suburban America except that the chains are all different from the ones I’m used to. The shapes and colors of the buildings are familiar but instead of the store names I expect, there are others—ones I’ve never heard before which sound like parodies. It’s like being trapped in a movie which is trying to evoke America without copyright enfringement.

“I’m going to have to quit again, which fucking sucks. And my oncologist is going to kill me.” He says this the first day I arrive and tells me it’s just one cigarette a day. But I tell him I don’t mind and he starts up full-force.

We eat dinner at a restaurant. He sleeps most of the time. He gets home and smokes weed and sleeps most of the time. He wakes up and we drive into the black and turquoise night. He sleeps most of the time. When he is awake we eat dinner at restaurants and he tells me the whole story of his life in a list. In several parallel lists that make his life sound more terrible than it could possibly have felt. He says he is ready to put this life behind him and move on and finally do the stuff he wants to do. We spent a lot of time talking about using and not using heroin—which means we spent a lot of time not using heroin. And then we spent a lot of time talking about using and not using methadone.

His family doesn’t know. He warns me because his cousin is coming to get a haircut and is going to use the wrong name and the wrong pronouns and bring a puppy. The cousin brings a puppy and a girlfriend and uses the wrong name and wrong pronouns. It is disorienting only because the cousin is saying “Becky” which strangers haven’t called me since I was 7. But, of course, he isn’t using it on me. “He doesn’t know anything,” he tells me. None of them do. When I go, he will be alone again, in the apartment, at night.

“I don’t know why he insists on leaving this,” he put away the hair clippers and waves a ten dollar bill that his cousin had set on the counter, “I used to hold him when he was a baby.”

Go- My brother wrote me a long letter. I realized that despite the fact that we haven’t been in continuous contact since I left , loving him has been a healing thing. No one warns you that sometimes loving others, instead of being loved by others, is the most sustaining act there is.

Ongoing- In the mornings you rest your head on my shoulder and tell someone else that you are facing hiatus. I know because I’ve heard it before that you are wrong. You are talking about how everyone in your life is either leaving or already gone and how you have been told to wait and see. Frantically, people come over to your desk to tell you that it’s going to be okay. Which may or may not be true but what they’re really saying is that it’s about to get very bad and you shouldn’t freak out because later it will have stopped being so bad. But I know you’re not facing hiatus. Hiatus, even at it’s most dramatic, is a sucking crevice which you will have to navigate around or wait out– a dire but terminable period, an unfriendly maw. But I can see that what’s going on in your life cannot be represented with metaphors about pot-holes or blank spots or big-toothed sea animals. You are standing in a crowd of familiar faces. Some of them have announced an imminent departure and others are likely to drop out without warning. You are walking between them, holding their hands, one by one and asking them, “but will YOU stay with me?” They say maybe and then go, anyway, without a note. You only deal in sagas, you say. But remember that the characters in sagas are still destroyed in the traumatic moments even if there is more story. More and more and more and more story to endure.

Going- When we are not together, it’s the first thing people notice. When you are late, I tell them exactly what you’re doing, because I know. Sometimes all of that is the best part of my life.

Ongoing- A year ago you lied and told the dealership I was your girlfriend so that I would be a better character witness and you could buy the car you always wanted. Your dad would be pissed and proud that you had done it without him. We drove it off the lot and we drove around for a week, always after dark.

Gone- You have defaulted on your payments and I get messages weekly, asking me if I can help find you. There is a reward if I can tell them where you are. I don’t call them back or pick up the phone. I don’t tell them that you are gone. I don’t offer a reward if they can help find you.

(Ten Points, in order of appearance)

1. The video promotes metro-centric and anti-religious sentiment. By aligning their bullying with the religiosity and “small-town mentality,” Dan and Terry tacitly reinforce the belief (especially rampant in queer communities) that the religious and the rural are more bigoted.

2. The message is wrong. Sometimes it gets better– but a lot of times it doesn’t get any better. Emphasizing that things will improve upon graduation is misleading both to young folks struggling and also to people with privilege who are looking on (or looking away).

3. Telling people that they have to wait for their life to get amazing–to tough it out so that they can be around when life gets amazing– is a violent reassignment of guilt. Dan Savage telling kids that if they don’t survive their teenage years they’re depriving themselves? What kind of ageist garbage is that? This quietly but forcefully suggests that if you don’t survive, if you don’t make it, it’s your own fault. It blames the queer for not being strong enough to get to the rosy, privileged, fantasy.

4. Stories of how your mom finally came around, over-write the present realities of youth. Arguing that in the future, the parts that hurt will be fixed, not only suggests that folks shouldn’t actually inhabit their own suffering but it also suggests that the future is more important. For a lot of folks, it doesn’t matter if your mother might come to love you and your spouse. It matters that right now she does not love you at all.

5. The rhetoric about being accepted by family, encourages folks to come out– even when coming out isn’t a safe idea. There is no infrastructure to catch you when your family reacts poorly. There is no truly benevolent queer family, waiting to catch you, ready to sacrifice so you can thrive. For a lot of folks, coming out doesn’t only mean that your parents will promise to hate your lovers– it means violence, homelessness, abuse.

6. Bar story: vomit. It’s no coincidence that this is the first place where Dan and Terry mention queer space. Codified queer-space, restricted to 21+, w alcohol? Try again.

7. We shouldn’t be talking, we should be listening. Telling our own stories from our incredibly privileged positions, overwrites youth experience.

8. Stories of over-coming adversity: no thank you. Narratives of how life was hard and but now is good, belittle lived pain, imply that a good ending is inevitable, and also undermine the joy and happiness in even bullied kids’ lives.

9. There is actually no path to change in this vision. Promoting the illusion that things just “get better,” enables privileged folks to do nothing and just rely on the imaginary mechanics of the American Dream to fix the world. Fuck that. How can you tell kids it gets better without having the guts to say how.

10. Then we get a baby and go to Paris? WTF? This is a video for rich kids for whom the only violent part of their life is high school. It’s a video for classist, privileged gay folks who think that telling their stories is the best way to help others. Telling folks that their suffering is normal doesn’t reassure them– it homogenizes their experience. It doesn’t make them feel like part of a bigger community, it makes them feel irrelevant.

Plus three (with a little help from my friends)

1. When we treat campaigns like this like they’re revolutionary, they undermine all the really amazing work that the youth already does for itself. Too often in the LGBT world, we are asked to thank our brave queer activist ancestors who made the world safe for us. That does have its place. But queer youth take care of themselves. They nurture and organize and love in order to save themselves and each other. Making famous messages legible as THE messages makes youth-work look minor, haphazard, or unofficial.

2. Campaigns like this lump everyone together. It doesn’t honor or respect the individuals. It turns them into icons. It sends confusing messages that we only attend to folks when their dead– when giving care doesn’t actually take anything out of us.

3. Broadcasting your story into the world, or congratulating others for broadcasting theirs is an anesthetized, misguided approach to connecting. We should help folks feel seen— by trying our hardest to see them.

It has been my experience that people are ashamed to help the folks they see as destitute. They are willing to let someone crash on their sofa for a night if they know that they have a back-up bed, somewhere else. They are happy to provide dinner, so long as they know you would be eating even without their generosity. It seems that if you’ve never been homeless or lost or hungry, if you don’t know what that feels like,  is too embarrassing to give things to people who might die without them– it is humiliating to hand someone the only food they’ve had all week.

No one is skittish about giving things up so that others can live comfortably. But they are unspeakably afraid of giving away something so someone can merely live. Campaigns like this exacerbate these realities by dehumanizing the people they address, turning them into a depressing mass, ready to be farmed for beautiful tragedies, and transformed into class-passing, successful adults.

How about instead of hope: change. Even if it’s really small change. Even if it doesn’t inspire anyone and no one is grateful and no one even notices. How about doing the kind of work that makes differences in peoples lives without holding them responsible—without turning them into an icon of suffering or of hope, without using their story for a soundbyte, without using their life as your proof of goodness, or of how the world is so liberal, or how it’s great to be gay. I mean money. I mean listening. I mean time. I mean giving people space that we respect and don’t enter. I mean listening to needs and finding ways to fill them.

How about instead of honoring the bravery of youth and the sadness of our times: respecting queer youth for all the incredible work they do– despite the fact that it is so rarely recognized as work, or as adequate work.

Instead of jettisoning our religion, our upbringing, our origins: a cohesive self.

Instead of narratives of suffering and then, finally, success: a celebration of the pain and pleasure throughout.

And listening– way more listening. Because telling your personal story of adversity from a place of privilege, might have a lot of applications, might be asked of you perpetually, might seem alluring because it’s so often milked from us. But it’s not the way. Saying, “I know how you feel, because I used to feel that way, and let me tell you, I don’t feel that way anymore,” doesn’t help, it hurts. You’re dwelling in the present. Don’t insist that those in pain relocate themselves to the future.

There are older drafts– not of this but of others– and sometimes I wonder what will become of them. My roommate wants to throw out everything when he moves. That’s what his boyfriend says, “he likes to get rid of everything.” I say, “me, too,” but only after I keep everything first.

“That sounds like you,” he said.

Sixth months ago, at the doctor’s offices I addressed some anxieties I was having by just getting all of the questions out. My body and head are full of twinges, pinches, flashes of blinding pain. I asked him what an anuerysm feels like, what a stroke, an infarction. It was so satisfying to discover that they are either persistent, perpetual, agonies or completely painless. So– should one of them happen, I will know or not know. This is so much better than the precarious limbo of threat.

More and more, I am able to control the terror of catastrophe. I know that terror is it’s most potent effect. Like the brain disaster, it will either be reparable or irreparable, painful or unnoticeable. Deadly or not. And I only have to make it through the catastrophe. On the other side I will again be faced with keeping everything or throwing it all away.

It’s in boxes, drawers, cabinets, files, folders, tins. It’s on websites and in emails, in other peoples’ homes. My roommate wants to know if I need a new toothbrush. “Yes,” I tell him and choose the blue. “What about ten, then?” He has a handful now. It’s hard to believe that he’s the one who likes to throw everything away.

I flew to Colorado for a few days. Over breakfast my brother handed me a bottle of apple whiskey. My mother wore her new uniform to dinner. For the first time I can remember, I got altitude sickness. A few days after I left I got a phone call to tell me that a fire was raging just miles from my childhood house.

I cannot enumerate the things I have lost in the last few weeks because it wouldn’t be respectful to the people who took them away or back or into their own holds for safe-keeping. It’s Yom Kippur and I can tell you what I’ve gained.

Every day I remember a little more, rely on drafts a little less. Catastrophe, which used to make me comfortable, is beginning to scare me. And all the rest– all the rest is breaking into sometimes unpredictable gradations of joy and pain.

Brooklyn: tornado warning to be followed by heat advisory.

Bedtime: ice water to be followed by marinated potatoes and haricots verts.

all of the last songs I learned my father liked (in the style of mbc– home alone but with headphones anyway).

memories of reading next to him in the car, of looking out over the farmland, while he was on his phone, and I felt ageless, or, like all of my ages were nestled into the one, and the sun was a glorious, eternal, justification for our silent intimacies. of sitting outside in the dark while he smoked cigars and listened to cds; I was hesitant to go get a blanket, a book, a jacket, for fear that he would go to bed while I was away.

I looked away for a second and the tension broke into a messy yoke across the ground. Before I could do anything, it was partially cooked, flat, irregular. It is only the same because we remember it came from the same place. We shake hands and agree that there used to be an egg there. We sit next to each other across the country and listen to music. But no one can see it now.

Twenty-three years of my life, I have not understood the meaning of centrifugal. I am not positive but pretty confident that I did understand it for two years (16-18) during high school physics. But now I rely on wikipedia to remind me every time it comes up, every time centripetal and centrifugal swing close enough together that I must verify the difference. I don’t know why I can’t keep them apart. They are companion forces, two aspects of the same thing.  Two sides of the same sheet. I can remember convex and concave.

I had only heard the word until high school. Centrifutal: like when you swing a bucket full of water all the way around you and nothing falls out. It’s not a miracle when you’re a child. Plus, there are other dangerous things like the weight of the bucket and whether an arm can or cannot swing all the way around. I try to get my mom to use the word in conversation so that I can figure out whether I learned centripetal or centrifugal first. It isn’t hard. My mother is rugged and fastidious, a well-spring of knowledge on forces and willing to use the words in sentences. “Centripetal,” she says, “or, is it centrifugal? Are those both words?” During those two years of knowing, I must have destabilized her, too.

I try to remember by attaching them to convex and concave. I picture the inside of a spoon. I picture a spinning propeller. But instead of helping, it just weakens my grip on the two I knew. It’s all funhouse mirrors on merry-go-rounds.

I might not remember what they’re called but I understand how they work. I can draw you diagrams of the forces. I can do small calculations that are useless in my daily life and uninteresting as conversation because I do not have the right names. Formulas are nothing, in stories, without names.

Centrifutal: like when, upon waking to a terrifying noise, you throw your whole body over the person next to you, to protect them, because that’s so deep in you.

The fireworks were over by the time we went up to the roof, in Brooklyn. Smaller, private shows were going off around us in Clinton Hill and Crown Heights.  I felt briefly guilty that we had lured friends over with false promises of pyrotechnics but was secretly relieved at the quiet. Every time someone set off fireworks on Franklin, T would point and call them my cousins.  I don’t have any cousins in Brooklyn. I stayed away from the edge and once in a while tried to count how many people I knew. It was quiet.

KY explained his Silly Bandz to someone else. “This one’s a camel,” he told her, “but I can’t give it away.” He looked up at me, without pulling the day-glo band from around his wrist to demonstrate that it would snap back into the shape of a Bactrian. It was too dark to see any faces. “You can give it away,” I told him, because I had given it to him. I was probably the only sober person up there, but suddenly we were all atop a tottering plate. “I won’t,” he said, because he was going to keep it. The roof shuddered on its axis and dipped violently to the right, flipped all the way over. I was the only one to nearly lose my footing in the imperceptible flip. The rest were left unscathed atop the saucer.

In a tent full of animals at the Nassau County Fair, the camel is swaying. There are goats and sheep and cows, baby buffalo, and steer. They’re all eating or sleeping or pressing their heads through bars to get a little attention. But the camel is shifting dramatically from side to side. Over the P.A. system Katy Perry’s “I kissed a girl” competes with a reminder that the fair will end in thirty minutes. It’s almost the middle of the night on Long Island. The camel shifts its weight as if to settle  in, but then heaves itself upward and over. It rocks around again, nose up, head nearly brushing the roof. It looks like it’s keeping time, but it isn’t dancing.

Weekly, daily, hourly we are flung outward and pull in. We fly off in what seem like lines but turn out to be arcs.  We are kept in motion. We are returned to each other. I’m sure I don’t know how this works– but I do know what to call it.

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
– plaid
– 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.

2. Reprise
– 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
– eight
– nine
– ten
– four
– five thirty
– seven
– seven thirty
– eight
– eight thirty
– nine to ten
– a beer
– drying my hair
– my fucking telephone
– a photo on someone else’s phone
– FB

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
– UPS
– 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?