It comes back to you
(A video photobooth project)
It comes back to you
(A video photobooth project)
I have these nights where I stay up really late and it’s 3 AM and I’m thinking about the relevant and the irrelevant and both feel too relevant and my mind is vibrating like someone has condensed all the noises of the city into a small ball of energy and released it into my head and now I am thinking of the concept of matter and minds and how mind is not technically matter but it matters so much and how my mind is technically nowhere anywhere and now I’m thinking about being in China where I couldn’t even see clouds because of how polluted the sky was and how I would breathe in thick smog like smoke and feel a heaviness in my lungs that would make me feel like I was drowning and I am thinking about being on subway tracks and I am thinking about being in that apartment building across the street watching me look out, pock-faced and unfathomably happy and sad and I am thinking about being in your bed with you while you sleep and I think you’d look really beautiful sleeping and how I would play a game where I would put my eye right up next to your eye so our eyelids fluttered against each other transmitting microscopic vibrations and speaking a language our tongues could never comprehend and now my eyelids kiss and flutter lonely by themselves in silent air and now I’m thinking about how fluttering eyelids must sound like birds’ wings to a fly and now I’m wondering how often flies sleep when they die in a day
and now I’m thinking about how many pills I would need to take to go to sleep or stay asleep and I am now thinking about how I heard that there is no purgatory anymore and I don’t know what that means but I remember being really upset when I heard that because I often don’t ever feel like I’m good enough to go to heaven but I can’t imagine myself in hell with Hitler and Satan and I always feel like purgatory kind of celebrates humanity and the fact that I called someone a bitch on the same day I gave a dollar to a homeless man
and neither of these facts define me as a human but they define me as a person now in this moment when I am too wired on coffee that I drank too late so I could keep up with the conversation in a room full of people I can’t even give half a shit about and I wonder why I do this too often.
Is it because I hate myself,
or love too much in spite of it all?
I don’t know.
I don’t know much. Even about myself. It sounds cliché but growing up teaches you that. I can’t even tell if that little bright dot in the sky is a helicopter or a star but either way it makes me feel lonely.
And now my back hurts and I feel the burden of being crushing my vertebrae and it’s too late for this shit and it’s too late to have my hands trembling to the tempo of my fluttering stomach and I feel nauseous and hungry for the poptart in my drawer and I am very very afraid of the morning and the sun but then I imagine seeing you soon and again I am thinking of you.
It always comes back to you.
1. He is soft and gentle and has the awkward jaw of a boy becoming a man. He is my age and all we do is kiss and nervous fumbling under clothes. Sometimes I look at his father and love the delicate grey flecks in his hair and the crinkles of his eyes when he smiles more than his son’s too quick laugh and perplexing love for video games and Magic the Gathering. I ask him if he thinks I’m pretty and he always shrugs and says, obviously. But he never looks me in the eye and I always tell my therapist that I’m afraid he’s going to break up with me, which is even more depressing because he’s too immature and childish for me. However, in moments where he is tired and we are just sitting on his bed reading or watching TV, I cannot help but grit my teeth in frustration at how much I admire his freckled cheeks with the one or two acne scars, the scraggly little pieces of boy beard that he forgot to shave, and the optimistic gleam in his eye that reminds me of how we are all still children, mad with laughter and giddiness and the knowledge that we have everything ahead of us and are free of the burdens of his father who is downstairs writing bills and cursing under his metallic wine breath. We break up after our high school graduation and I continue to facebook stalk him, watching him grow into a man who wears suits sometimes and has finally grown into that awkward chin and, most importantly, has learned the aesthetic value of a proper shave.
2. We meet in a freshman seminar, a typical essay writing class, where everyone is a little too brave and insecure at the same time and we all start our sentences with “I don’t know but,” though it’s obvious that everyone thinks they know a lot more than the person who spoke before them. He is the only one who does not start off his sentences with such typical angsty collegiate jargon. He talks concisely, and though I don’t agree with nearly any of his points, I admire the way he crosses his arm and gives everyone direct eye contact (his eyes are a nice gentle brown). We get coffee one day after class and bash our professor though I really respect him, and he invites me to a movie after I tell him I haven’t seen it yet. He says that all cinephiles need to see it. Most of his sentences are embellished with Salinger-esque italics that are meant to invoke in the listener a sense of idiocy and cultural mediocrity, but his eloquence continues to make me come visit him at ungodly hours on Wednesday nights to seek advice on scripts or editing for my essays. We go to museums and art gallery openings and watch movies together in his dorm and every time I must bite my tongue to stop myself from crying and saying that I wish he didn’t make me feel so stupid. He sees the scars on my arms and that I must have a lot of good writing material for my screenplays. He breaks up with me in April and I tell him he is so horrible and cruel and he says, “Well, April is the cruelest month” and I hit him hard in the chest and leave him in the café gasping for air.
3. We meet on a dating website. He is 40 years old and divorced. He works for the New York Times. He tells me after two dates that I mean the world to him, and he buys me nice dresses from Saks and long diamond chandelier earrings, which I once wear to class, hoping that someone will ask me where I got them. No one does, but I can see that people think they are embarrassingly gaudy. I stop seeing my friends and spend most nights in his luxurious apartment on the Upper East Side where everything is too stuffy and cold and there is not much to do but walk around Central Park but even the magic of that experience wears off. I tell him I want to ride the carousel like Phoebe does, and he says he doesn’t have time for such childish things. He says I’m just a girl, aren’t I? and caresses my cheek and smiles at me like I am something amusing. I tell him that I’m still going on the carousel and he should be gone by the time the song ends and that I don’t want to date him anymore and the way it comes out is childish but I couldn’t give less of a fuck. I tell him I would still like the internship at the Times and he scoffs at me and calls me a selfish bitch and leaves. I pawn the earrings to a luxury consignment store near his home, hoping he will see them in the display case, and use the money to buy a round trip plane ticket to Paris over the summer.
4. I do not go to Paris, as boyfriend 3 has let me keep the internship at the Times, and though we are in different departments I regularly scan articles for him, but the awkwardness between us subsides into contrived apathetic coldness. I sublet a very small apartment in the East Village. My downstairs neighbor is a musician. One day, after a few too many beers, I go downstairs and ask him what sort of song he is writing. He tells me it’s a love ballad that will hopefully be in the next Spike Jonze movie, if all goes well. He asks me if I want anything to drink and if I want to stay. If so, I could choose a record to put on. I put on the Smiths, hoping that it’s not too cliché but just edgy enough. He smiles and says that it’s a nice choice. He has brilliant green eyes and a tangle of curls and a lovely singing voice, gruff but sincere, like he’s seen a lot of terrible things, and only recently was told that he had a beautiful voice and not to sing so hesitantly. I come over and we eat dinner together, and he sings me songs he’s written. I tell them they’re beautiful, and I neglect to say that the lyrics are a bit awkward in structure and focus too much on rhyming and not enough on meaning. One day he picks me up from work very high, and embarrasses me in front of my boss, who already knows Spike Jonze personally and doesn’t seem impressed by my boyfriend’s ripped t-shirt and decaying Converse or his lovely gruff voice. That night I make love to him out of pity and a deep almost maternal affection and he sees my scars and kisses them and tells me I am the most beautiful thing, still. He shows me his own scars; long lines running down his stomach that look like ocean ripples in his skin, undulating like little white foam blending into blue. And then he grows depressed. He tells me he’s stopped taking his medication because it’s hurting his creative process. School starts again and I move back into the dorms. I miss the sound of his singing intermingled with fucks and shits when he messes up or realizes that the lyrics don’t work with a guitar riff. I can’t see him for a week. His mother calls me on September 10th, just a few minutes after I’ve gotten out of my philosophy class. She tells me he’s killed himself, hung himself in his room after he didn’t get the movie soundtrack. He wrote me a note, attached a song with it. Would I like to pick it up? I do. His mother is tense and uncomfortable, especially after realizing I’m only still in college. His mother and him have the same green eyes, but I do not tell her. The song he wrote me is pleasant sounding, but very dull and repetitive. I feel bad about this. It’s obvious that he loved me, but I can’t deny that I wished he had left something more poetic and tear wrenching for me.
5. No more boyfriends for the rest of senior year. Not even casual dates or sex. All I can do is listen to that same shitty song. I barely make it through senior year. When I graduate, I’m given a job at a small art magazine that is just starting out. I move into that same apartment building where I spent that beautiful sweltering green-eyes summer and spend tireless hours working on articles and videos. People at work admire my dedication but tell me I am too stressed. Was I always this tense? I nod my head while continuing to look at my computer screen. My co-workers, all too hip and too intelligent to be paid so little, spend a few minutes each day asking me to ask him out. The him is a very tentative music writer for the magazine who has the wavering voice of a pubescent teenage boy and the gentle demeanor of rustling trees at night. You sometimes forget that he is there, but when you take the time to focus in and notice it, it’s near magical. And so comforting. He has thick black glasses and wears little tweed and cotton outfits and eats a yogurt every day at 3PM on the dot. One day I buy him a nice container of organic yogurt from Whole Foods and present it to him at 2:59PM. He says thanks and the next day on my desk there is a lovely watercolor of a rabbit in a meadow. I give him another yogurt that day. This pattern continues for a few weeks, and then he finally asks me out. We start to leave work together and go back to his small apartment in Brooklyn where we paint together and he reads my writing and I read his. One day we get too drunk and go to McDonald’s, and while eating french fries and Big Macs he tells me he loves me. I tell him, now angry and drunk and upset, that he hasn’t even told me that he thinks I’m pretty, or that I’m a good writer. How can he love me? He starts to stutter and tear up, saying of course he thinks all those things. I tell him I need some time, that he knows the last man I dated killed himself and that I just thought we were having fun (though we spent nearly every night together). He starts to really sob, tears soaking the bun of his half-eaten burger. He takes off his glasses and wipes away at his red swollen eyes. I hold his thin hand, our fingers greasy and warm, and tell him to stop crying because seeing people I…I love always makes me cry too. Snot dribbles out of my nose. And then we hug and kiss and go back to his apartment. A year later the magazine goes bankrupt, and he is offered a job in L.A. with a record label. He begs me to come with him, but I can’t do it. I just can’t. So we break up. He tells me he was going to ask me to marry him and we could’ve gotten married in the Mosaic Garden in Philadelphia and I realize just how weak he is and how I have to stop dating such delicate people. They are too fragile, and I need someone to keep my shards of sanity in tact when I break, myself.
6. I date casually till I’m now 29 and now slightly overweight and sallow-skinned and I am afraid of thirty and then forty and then death. Now my scars are only faint thin bruises on my skin and I don’t need to explain anything. I can just go out for wine or a quick dinner and a quicker fuck and leave the next morning feel effervescent and mysterious and not the ghost of judgement as the man’s eyes etch even more painful lines into my skin. I now work at the New York Times. They remembered me as the hardworking intern with the slacker boyfriend. I meet a man at a book signing who is 35 and lean yet robust looking, like he spent winters in the woods in a cabin he built himself and eating only things he had harvested and hunted on the land. We simply share looks all through the book talk and then are next to each other in line to have our books signed (not because I sprinted to get in back of him or anything). He tells me he’s playing a prank, he knows the author personally. He just wanted to come out and show support. I tell him I genuinely love the author and he says that they’re having an after party, I should join them. He’s an editor at Random House. He has murky blue eyes and a crooked tooth, which is endearing and sets off the almost painful symmetry of his face. He went to Columbia and still likes wearing preppy clothing. We only talk to each other and the writer friend at the party, my cheeks are flushed from wine. He hails a taxi for me and as the car pulls up he asks if he can kiss me and he is the first man to ever do so and I nod with tender ferocity. We date for three years, and I tell him voluntarily about my scars and he holds me and doesn’t say anything. He does not ask why or say that it’s ok, I’m still beautiful or healthy or seem sane, he just lets it be, the past carved on my arms the same as the rings that form on trees. It just shows how long and painfully I’ve lived. He is a gentleman, and pays for things and holds doors open for anyone he passes. He laughs very little though, so I constantly mentally store jokes I think up during the day. He tells me I’m funny, but I don’t always believe him so I try to make him laugh in those gut constricting fits I find so painfully enjoyable. He has a good sense of humor, but sometimes when I’m drunk I complain to my girl friends that he is to serious. But then again, I am too serious, so I should not complain. We trade books and spend hours in Strand every week. We write each other love poems and hide them in places around his apartment, which I move into just weeks after dating him. He proposes to me one morning when I am still groggy with sleep with a small but elegant diamond ring and I cry and then sob and through saliva choked laughted I say yes and he kisses my mouth though it tastes like warm sleep stenched breath and sour spittle.
We marry at the Mosaic Garden in Spring and because I am me, I can only imagine that he gets sick of me and we divorce a year later, fighting over who’s fault it was that our basil plant wilted away the night I wanted to make pesto.
I think that I will step away from love stories for a while.
It seems quite silly, that I write these kinds of stories in the first place. It really is.
As I have never been in love.
I have experienced ephermeral love:
Ephemeral love (n.): extremely short-lived love that lasts approximately two minutes. Most cases of ephemeral love occur in such spontaneously mundane locations such as the subway, cafés, bookshops, locations that have elements of glamourized romanticism to them already. This love is purely sexual in nature, though silly girls like me will try and make it seem like we really love that book we’re reading and oh my God that must be such an intellectual but really I’m just in love with the way he cuffs his pants and that really love his hair and now I am thinking about him kissing my neck and-
Ok, end definition.
So, I have never been in love. I really haven’t. I canot make any definitions about love.
Last night I had a dream that my parents got divorced. I screamed and shouted (even now, in at 3 in the afternoon, my throat hurts, perhaps I was screaming out loud in my sleep). I clutched my flesh to punish myself. It hurt so much I couldn’t cry. I remember smashing a glass table (I don’t know where this glass table came from. My family purchases furniture exclusively from IKEA [this is how I should’ve known that I was in a dream]). My parents know love and I see it in the way they laugh about something together every night. I am most definitely certain they love each other. Which is why I think it hurt so much. They were giving up something certain that I could only fathom in a nebulous and cinematic form (also, my parents splitting up would mean tha inevitable depression and rebellion of my little sister, who I love and could not stand to see upset).
I do truly love my little sister. And my parents. I know this because I have this very weird mental addiction where I imagine the worst case scenarios for people and masochistically live them out in my head: the pain, the grief, the consequences. For instance, recently one of my friends was very close to getting hit by a car. Afterwards, I imagined what would happen if he indeed did get hit. Would he die? Would I as the soul witness of his death or paralyzing injury have some kind of responsibility in his funeral? Would I get depressed and drop out of school from sheer grief and guilt that I did not somehow save him? As terrible and sociopathtic as this all sounds, this little trick does a very good job of preparing me for the absolute worst. It’s like really terrible mental masturbation. Sometimes it hurts more not to have this sort of imagination.
But with my family I can never do it. Once I imagined what would happen if someone ever sexually harrassed my little sister and couldn’t get through it. I started crying. I had to stop because even the thought of something terrible happening to my little sister was near unbearable, not even masochistically and morbidly fantastical.
And I know that people love me too.
People that love me:
My little sister
Some of my best friends (i.e. Hannah, Talia, Sophia, Hiwot, etc.)
And some people love me in an ephermeral way.
Recently, a facebook page at my school called NYU Crushes posted a “crush” about me submitted my some anonymous boy (I know it’s heteronormative to assume boy but I’m 95% sure it is). He had called me “one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen” (NYU Crushes). I was, and still am, extremely flattered. I usually hate when people try and call me beautiful or even pretty because it always feels like a lie. But for some reason this post from some anonymous and probably very creepy or at least painfully socially awkward boy felt so fucking genuine.
Because he knows nothing about my low self-esteem and anxiety and depression and the way I always call my face fat and too big (which it is! If you don’t believe me I’ll send you a picture!). He only sees me for the exterior and Jesus it’s nice to know that someone thinks my fat face is really beautiful.
I sometimes wonder if people would think I was beautiful if I cut all my hair off. I know from even an objective point of view that my hair is pretty fucking cool. I also have a lot of it, about 20% more than the general population of girls I would say. For some reason, lots of hair is appealing when it’s on the head but usually not anywhere else which is just biologically interesting but confusing and kind of nonsensical. But people always talk about this abundance of hair I possess. It’s actually quite depressing sometimes, because I wonder if I would ever be considered beautiful or pretty or anything if I didn’t have this hair. I sometimes think I would be quite average. People always tell me my face is interesting but I have no fucking idea what that means. Is it interesting like a mutated fetus in a jar is interesting? Is it interesting like Jungian psychology is interesting?
Interesting feels like an academic way to describe my face. Like my face is an essay published in the New Yorker (okay, that was a very generous statement. If my face was a piece of writing I doubt the New Yorker would even look at it). My face is a modern work of art that people don’t really get, so they say it’s interesting. I imagine people in a museum with beards and corduoroy suits analyzing my face which is now just made of abstract flesh-colored swirls and kind of squinting but this piece of art is in the MoMA (this I will accept as possible, the MoMA does have a lot of weird and/or ugly shit, not going to lie), so they have to pretend that they understand this work of art’s merit. Ultimately, I think that’s why people sometimes call me beautiful or pretty. Because they kind of pretend to understand my face and therefore me when they really don’t truly get either.
And I know that’s the most fucking cliché and angsty teen girl statement ever to make (ugh, no one understands me!” [proceeds to text approximately billion friends who definitely understand you]), but it seems quite true. I think a lot of this misunderstanding comes from how I try to make myself more beautiful. And the way that I do is through doing basically every single opposite of what most girls conventionally do. I think people are most beautiful when they’re a little tired: when their cheeks are sullen and the inside of them seems somehow more connected to their external flesh. Their faces are more dead and therefore more alive. I know that doesn’t make sense but I compare their faces to winter tree branches, because though in theory they’re supposed to be uglier I see so much more beauty in the delicate branches and the way they are so brave and willing to show their most barren form. That’s how I think about these tired faces.
And sometimes I try to achieve the same effect and I don’t wear make-up a lot of the time unless I have a terribly obtruse pimple like I do right now and it’s fucking terrible so I wear cover-up and foundation but besides that never really much make-up and also I wear loose clothes that never show off my figure and I keep my hair loose and uncut (also because I have no money to be spending on a haircut that always ends up being around 80 dollars because of the aforementioned large amount of hair I have) and a lot of people think it’s because I don’t try and I think that they think that this “beauty” of mine is very effortless but I put so much effort into looking kind of pale and sad and like I have more important things to worry about but I really don’t because I’M A TEENAGE GIRL AND THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT TO ME THAN WHETHER OR NOT BOYS FIND ME ATTRACTIVE. But if people think that I guess they’ve succeeded but I secretly worry that one day I’ll put my hair up and put make-up on and then people will see how I’m really not that pretty it’s just how contrived everything is and how my face is really just interesting in the same way that a deformed fetus in a jar is.
And now I stop to look at how the beginning of this very strange essay (writing piece? I don’t know what to call this) and realize that this has really nothing but kind of everything to do with love. Perhaps it has to do more now with the absence of love because I’m realizing how much I hate myself and I think about how many times I’ve heard therapists including my own say that no one will love you till you learn to love yourself.
I remember writing in my journal quite late at night after feeling particularly shitty about myself:
"I wish I could date a photographer
Who could find the beauty in me
that I myself
could not see.” (Kit’s Journal, 2013)
I thought I would make a new year’s resolution to try and love myself more and then I realized that I wasn’t a fucking overweight single thirty-year-old and that I’m too young and too lucky in life to not love myself and need to have myself validated by everyone I come in contect with and fuck why can’t I just like myself a little more and…
I take a deep breath, brush back my hair, scratch my scalp, sit back.
This is an essay about love.
Robert was 33 years old. He was a mailman in Troy, Pennsylvania. Had been for 5 years.
He lived by himself in a small house. When he turned 30 he joined Match.com and went on a date with a woman who he was 87% compatible with, but he soon learned that he did not so much desire the touch of a woman as the idea of having one in his presence, as a friend perhaps. Or a mother (his mother had died when he was 28 and he still went to visit her grave every weekend with her favorite flower: a classic red rose).
Robert was quite content with his life. He had a steady job, a kitchen to himself (though usually he just heated up a Stouffer’s meal [meatloaf was his favorite, the swedish meatballs a close second]), enough money to sponsor his monthly trips to New York City where he would go visit museums and art galleries and the Strand, and a semi-active Match.com account. Just in case anything changed.
However, something was gnawing at Robert. A dull ache that bruised his psyche till one day he could not ignore the purple throbbing flesh. Almost literally. For whatever reason, dogs hated Robert in the way that 1950’s dogs with too-big eyes would bite the butt out of the friendly, clean-shaven mailman’s trousers. One time another mailman, Charlie, commented on how fit Robert was. Robert said, “It’s because of the dogs. I’m not joking. They’re always chasing after me, I don’t know why.”
After years of building strong calves but having his ego wittled down, Robert decided that he had had enough. Every night he would examine the growing amount of cuts and scars that the neighborhood dogs inflicted on his ruddy hairy limbs. One particular bite mark from the Smith’s English bull terrier still oozed pus occasionally (it had gotten infected and never truly healed [sometimes Robert had sadistic fantasies of needing that leg to be amputated and then he could spend all day watching TV and eating Stouffer’s in a little apartment in New York above Strand, paid for with money from the Smiths]).
Robert was tired of being hated by what seemed like an entire race. He looked in the mirror and saw only kind eyes and an extremely average face. He wasn’t menacing. He got Christmas cards from nearly everyone on his route. He was generally well-liked. Sometimes he needed to remind himself that. Sometimes he wrote letters to his mother asking her what he did wrong.
One day he was skimming the newspaper and saw that mailmen had some of the highest suicide rates. That same day he went to PETCO and bought a baby mutt that had been rescued from Lancaster county. It had thick brown fur, white spots on its back reminiscent of a fawn and delicate playful brown eyes. The PETCO employee assured Robert that she would not grow to be very big. So, armed with dry food, a bowl, a leash and collar, and a small cushioned bed Robert went home with Lilah, who trotted alongside him happily. He wasn’t a very cheesy guy, but “Walking on Sunshine” seemed to be playing in his head to the jingle of Lilah’s new purple collar. He thought about running with her on the beach, reading her books, having people come up and pet her in the dog park, and then asking Robert who he was, their eyes growing in pleasant surprise when he told them that he was their mailman. Soon people would hear the creak of the mail slot opening and run over to the door before Robert could walk away, handing their good friend some lemonade e in the summer, hot chocolate in the winter, inviting him to parties or to watch a football game on the weekends.
Lilah scampered into the house as soon as Robert opened the door. Two minutes later, there was a crash, Lilah yelped, and Robert went in, already exhausted from carrying all of the PETCO bags and hauling Lilah on her leash, to see that she had pulled down his bedside lamp down, where it shattered on the floor. Lilah had then hopped up on Robert’s bed and defecated a large and watery pile, staining his new bedsheets a murky brown. Robert went to go yell, plead with Lilah and saw that the playful gleam in her eyes had vanished. Perhaps the corporate fluorescent lighting had played tricks on Robert, but now Lilah’s eyes seemed hardened and cold, like the marbled eyeballs made for taxidermy.
The following week was just as miserable for Robert. The dogs, now smelling the traces of urine and dry food on Robert, were even more vicious. Robert spent the day running, and returned to his now tarnished house exhausted and hopeless, to find that the couch cushion his spine longed to rest on, the book he had been thinking of reading, or the new bag of chips he had gotten at the supermarket torn to pieces, as if Lilah was set on destroying everything Robert desired. Robert was so tired that he didn’t even have the strength to microwave a meal. He simply sat on his newly dalapidated couch and wept.
Robert came to the conclusion that Lilah was the devil in disguise. He stopped going to work, and people often complained that their mail arrived at odd hours of the day. Sometimes the envelopes smelled faintly of urine. The town of Troy was perplexed that there once clean shaven and good natured mailman, the intimately anonymous face, was now scraggly and red and blotchy, walking with a severe limp (Lilah and bit his ankle to bits when he had tried to go to sleep, foolishly leaving his feet dangling off the bed like beckoning chew toys), and who often responded to the casual hello with a paranoid grunt.
Robert was fired 12 days after buying Lilah. He then retreated into his house, where he did not turn on lights or leave to buy Stouffers meals or chips or go on his monthly trip to New York.
Charlie came over with a home-cooked meal his wife had prepared, but no one answered the bell. Charlie felt a hole form in his stomach. He called the police. When they came, they broke open the door, where they found the carcass of Lilah, her body ripepd open, blood everywhere, her eyes glassy and open in fear.
Next to her mass of organs and tissue was Robert’s limp body hanging, his limbs expanded and purple and his lips blue.
Charlie dropped the plate of his wife’s food, meatloaf splattering onto the hardwood blood-stained floors, ground up ketchup-glazed pork mixing with the meats of Lilah.
My father was not a sentimental man. When he walked in the door every night after working on Wall St doing something incomprehensible and financial and probably a little illegal the first thing he would do, before greeting anyone or even loosening his silk Armani tie (usually a solid navy blue which was both subtly domineering and classically luxurious, the perfect mix for a man who spent most of his time being terrible to people without them realizing) would be to take a long swig of whiskey from the little mahogany bar located conveniently next to his office. He would then say a quick “Hello Aldy.” to me, not facing me, and walk briskly into his office, shutting the large oak door with a compressed thud to signal that we should kindly “fuck off.”
My father was not sentimental when my mother died. They rarely spoke, I know, but I always thought that perhaps they shared some telepathic connection which allowed them to spiritually communicate at all hours of the day, even when Mother was shopping in Paris and Father was at a conference in Berlin. Neither of us cried at the funeral, me because I saw it coming: Mother had started giving me her jewelry piece by piece and was teaching me the ways in which to store her perfumes to best preserve the essential oils. The day she gave me her most prized necklace, her black pearl and diamond number that was worth about three million dollars, I knew that she had submitted herself to a fate where such luxuries wouldn’t be needed. Besides, requesting such an extravagant necklace to be buried in was tacky. I found her neatly tucked in her silk sheets, blissful after a bottle of codeine with a note that said that she loved me and that she was sorry and that I hoped I got into Harvard, darling.
My father was too tired to cry. He had been woken up at four in the morning by his secretary calling an emergency Skype session with a client in Switzerland. He sprayed whiskey-soured-saliva on the pages of his trite eulogy to my mother who did not deserve much more.
I came back home for Thanksgiving with a head full of philosophy and a cumulative three-month hangover and a terrible feeling that something was not right. My father had sent me a text message on my train ride over saying that there was a new member to the family that morning but after checking the New York Times social section to see that my father was not featured as an upcoming nuptial subject with a model and/or actress I had a strange feeling that my father had taken some sort of mail-order Russian mistress that he was too ashamed to bring into the public eye.
Instead, I was greeted by a small white rabbit at the door. My father, cradling her in his pudgy arms told me that her name was Lydia (Lydia was my mother’s name but also honestly a lovely title for a snow-white bunny with clear blue eyes and a gentleness to her face that my mother never possessed [this was usually the fault of the botox and not her general demeanor]).
It was strange and almost terrifyling sweet how much Father cared for Lydia. He nestled her against his chest while he drank, dipping his finger gingerly into his glass of whiskey and letting Lydia suckle on the droplets stuck in the rivulats of his fingerprints. He let her roam around his office while he worked, allowing her to explore the persian rug under her padded feet and chew on the bits of Dean and DeLuca pretzels that crumbled out of his lips. Her made abstract swirls in her soft fur as he read the Times, sometimes muttering to Lydia about the absurdity of this politician or the demise of the U.S. dollar. She perched wherever she was needed with a delicate elegance and listened to my father ramble on about matters I didn’t even try to care about anymore.
During Thanksgiving dinner Father left the dining room table repeatedly to check on Lydia who was being looked after by our maid. Maria, who was feedind Lydia vegetable broth with an eye dropper every twenty minutes. I watched Father’s gravy grow cold and curdled while his friend Marty tried to feel me up under the table. Someone asked me how Harvard was and I said it was “shit” and picked at my turkey the rest of the evening while people around me made small talk about the food and my “lovely” house and my “beautiful” dress. I felt tears well in my eyes and I excused myself before pumpkin pie and coffee and went into my room with a bottle of wine to read e-mails from my father’s Gmail (his password was Lydia).
Father went to sleep early that night, drunk on whiskey and angora. Lydia slept in a little cashmere cocoon made personally by Vera Wang next to his bed. I don’t think I’ve ever hated anyone or anything more. Light blue eyes still scare me. They’re capable of some kind of love I can never give.
The night before I was to leave to go back to Harvard I drank a half bottle of red wine from Father’s premium collection A note taped to the bottle said, “For dinner with Baron, 12/02). DO NOT DRINK.” but I pretended not to noticed and crumpled it in my fist and threw it into the firelpace. My father had seemed to catch onto the inebriating trend of the night, and had drunk quite a bit of whiskey himself. You could always tell when he was drunk because he would start blaring Frank Sinatra. The classic New York was on very loud, Sinatra’s voice filling the empty rooms with a ghostly treble that made my skin prickle. Drunk on Jasper Hill and a strange post-adolescent fury I stormed upstairs. I opened my father’s bedroom door to find him in only a t-shirt and boxers, his paunched belly out. He was sobbing, hysterically, the tears reserved for my mother’s death.
I heard running water, and I stumbled over into the fluorescent lit bathroom.
The sink was runnig a slow but steady stream, overflowing just then. Lydia, like a small ghost, was underneath the the transparent glimmering film, slightly soapy and glistening like she was trapped in a bubble, body crouched in on itself and limp. Her magnificent transulescent fur dancing off her small body. I could see her bones underneath, the bird-like skeleton delicately languid as it moved slowly side to side. Her eyes were shut in anguish. I’m grateful every day that I did not have to look at them.
I turned the tap off, and cupped my hands together, bringing Lydia out as slowly and methodically as if she had just been baptized. I set out a towel and lay her there, her body creating a halo of dampness around her as moisture left her body and seeped into the terrycloth. The sound of dripping water and nothing else, and the tunnel woosh of water going down the drain. I left the room before the gutteral sputter of the last of the water being cleared from the drain came violentally. I patted my father on the shoulders, but it did not quell his hiccuping cries. So I poured him another glass of whiskey and went to sleep.
The next morning I woke up and took my suitcase downstairs. My father was at the dining table with untouched coffee and a croissant that had been picked apart layer by layer of flaky dough. Buttery carnage.
"Father? I’m going soon." I said. Maria came over and set down a croissant and latte for me at the opposite end of the table. I thanked her and she shuffled away quickly.
"Oh, Aldy." My father responded, voice gruff but wavering. His eyelids started to tremble.
"I’m sorry about Lydia." I said. I sat down on the edge of the seat and took a sip of the drink, hesitantly, so all I tasted was the light milkiness of froth, I saw the small tidal pools of steamed milk ebb side to side as I set my cup down. "I’m sorry that I did that. I was just so angry and jealous of her. And I was drunk. I just let my emotions get the best of me and I’m very sorry. I really regret it." I took another sip, wiped the foam from my trembling lips with a shaking hand, and then stood up. My father came up to me, looked me in the eyes for the first time (I saw that his eyes are gray, like mine) and slapped me hard across the cheek. I caught my breath and the sting and then I exhaled hard. My heart settled. The worst was over.
I kissed Father gingerly on the cheek, my lips stinging from his stubble and the strange metallic quality of his skin, and walked out the door. I hailed a cab and then started sobbing to a taxi driver named Ali, who did not understand much English and could only really offer me tissues and a bit of a paprika dish his wife had packed for him.
A month later I saw in the New York Times that Father was getting married to the daughter of the CEO of PETCO. I was not invited.
My father has not spoken to me in four months and I don’t think he’s ever loved me more.
Today on the subway
dressed in a dark wife beater and sweatpants
carrying a large duffel bag in one hand
and in the other a delicate salad
as big as my outstretched hand
of baby spinach and large shrimp.
He sat down, across from me
not noticing me
but me very much noticing him
and his shrimp salad.
He struggled to dress it with some
indescribable thick white sauce
that must’ve tasted delicious,
because the subway is really no place
to be focusing on mediocre salad
when the possibility of shifting in one’s seat
and splattering everyone with your
that it was worth the risk.
And I saw the way that you salted and peppered
with delicacy, care,
measuring the ratio of white and black to
achieve the perfect yin-yang
before mixing together all the
still ignorant to the face people were making:
does he really think it’s okay to eat that on the subway?
In front of everyone?
And I wanted you to stay ignorant to it all,
because what could taint your feast more
So I told you through an unmet gaze
there would be no other way
that any of us
could get through our day
unless you did so.
And you did.
You really did.
Moreso than I think I’ve enjoyed food in a
And then I remember feeling my body jerk as
the train came to a sudden halt
and how I saw your little dish of salad
slide off your bag
that you had been using as a makeshift table
and I caught my breath
and you caught it just in time
and proceeded eating it
as if the possibility of complete depression and
annihilation of all hope
wasn’t present a second ago.
And I remember thinking that if that salad
had indeed spilled
I would have started crying my eyes out,
my palms crushed into my chest,
breathing heavy but without much oxygen
right there on that hard plastic seat
surrounded by confused and judging strangers
and my feet stinking of shrimp and salad dressing.