I Am Not Myself These Days, page 20
He appears around the corner, probably relieved that for the first time in months we might have something to talk about other than crack, booze, and our faltering relationship.
“Look,” I say, pointing down into the toilet at the thin sparkling ribbon lazily floating in slow laps around bowl.
“You’re shitting glitter,” he says.
Indeed I was.
I flush and we head into the kitchen to order our breakfast from the deli for probably the last time. Just like normal.
This is what I am dreaming:
It is Easter morning and my older brother and I are standing in our frozen front yard in Wisconsin. He is about ten, and I am about eight. The crab apple tree in front of us is still a good month away from budding, and the scaly black branches are decorated with hanging drugstore plastic eggs of various technocolors, vivid against the dark branches and pale blue early spring sky.
“Take one down for me,” I ask him.
“Leave ’em be.”
I want all of them so badly.
A frigid breeze picks up and sends the eggs swaying and clicking against the stiff branches.
“Take one down!” I ask him again.
He reaches up and pulls one off for me. As he hands it over, I realize that it wasn’t hanging by threads, it was hanging by a fuse, which sparked to life the moment it separated from the tree. Simultaneously, all the eggs release from the branches and fall to the ground, their fuses crackling and sputtering.
I rush to gather them all in my arms, ignoring the burning fuses.
“Time to go, buddy,” Rick says.
“Hang on, not yet.” I’m furiously grabbing at the slippery plastic eggs with frozen fingers.
“Time to go,” he says again.
When I wake up, the door to the balcony is open, and the freezing wind has blown the bedcovers completely off my feet.
And Jack’s standing over me with my good Wüsthof chef’s knife in his hand.
Every vodka has a story. And the ending is reliably rosier than the beginning.
The one I hold in my hand now arguably could be easily underestimated. A middle child in an expanding brood, it knows the stolid nonglamourous role it’s expected to play in the evening. It promises neither the first flush of disassociation that arrived hours earlier on the backs of its older siblings, nor the final fade-out of memory and reality to be delivered by an icy baby hours from now.
I pretend to myself that I use alcohol to escape, but actually, as time goes by, I’m discovering that drinking sends me home. Here at Tunnel, I am at home. I know that each hidden corner of each darkened room holds a comfortable promise of sex, or fan attention, or simple companionship. And like a gracious host, the club offers me a constant stream of liver-darkening booze, which, if turned down, would be impolitic. The fantastical world I craved as a child is now all too familiar. And habitual.
Jack has left again, and this time I instinctively feel that he’s been successful in escaping the city for the desert. I haven’t yet thought logistically about leaving the apartment. There’s a blissful empty month ahead before I have to fulfill my orders of disappearing, a whole blissful month so void of potential surprises that it’s surprising in itself.
“What are their names?” a girl in a too-tight Spandex top and a frozen narcotic grin asks me, tapping on my breasts.
“Vodka and Tonic,” I reply. She’s probably only nineteen or twenty and makes this trip into the city from New Jersey every Saturday night with her high school friends, who, one by one, will drop out of the gang and begin their lives of husbands, and jobs, and children. She’ll hang on, high and giggly, far past the age where she attempts to logically defend her partying, and her group of friends will shift and rearrange themselves until it’s just her and a handful of gay twenty-somethings who pretend to adore her but laugh at her outfits when she heads to the bar for another drink. Her gay friends will balance boyfriends, and careers, and increasingly infrequent nights out, while she will find more and more outlandish costumes and personas to eek out some sort of attention from the world that has passed her by.
“Speaking of,” I continue, “they could use a little company.” I hold up my empty glass.
Sometimes when I send someone off to buy a drink for me, they disappear permanently into the crush of partyers. But she’ll be back, most likely with a double, and several of her friends in tow. “Look who likes me,” her eager grin will broadcast to her friends, and once I have the drink safely in hand, I’ll turn to her cute friends and ignore her.
It’s an average night. An average crowd, and average music. On nights like this, all I want is to find a seat, drink, and wait for the sealed envelope with my three hundred and fifty dollars to be dropped into my bag. But tonight I feel industrious. I will be a valued member of this clubbing society. Ask not what the night can do for Aqua, but what Aqua can do for the night.
The group of boys surrounding me is beginning to bore me. Each trying to come up with a pithier line than the last, trying to make the drag queen laugh. I drain the drink that mysteriously appeared in my hand, and thank the group without having any idea if it came from them or not.
Dance. I think I should dance. Mingle a little on the main floor. Earn my keep. On my way to the dance floor I’m stopped every few feet or so by someone who wants to stare at the fish, or tell me about how they went in drag last Halloween and looked just like a real woman.
Finally turning the corner onto the main dance floor is like turning the corner into a seizure. Strobe lights intermittently light up the crowd with the beat of the music and then plunge the room into complete darkness between the heavy thumps. The force of the music overpowers the muscles; it’s impossible to walk, or breathe, or even blink out of rhythm.
The vodka works better here. I inhale lungfuls of air, a complex mixture of sweat, smoke, and the chemical traces of the smoke machine that faintly remind me of our kitchen crack lab. Moving now. The powerful bass replaces my heartbeat, and I move into a group of boys near the wall. Their faces light up with my arrival, like a group of five-year-olds when the birthday clown shows up.
Encompassing me in a circle, I pretend not to look at any one of them, alternating between gazing at my feet as they move back and forth and tilting my head back and swinging my hair to the rhythm. The movement makes me feel drunker than sitting, and my arms are growing numb.
I look down at my fish, one fish in each breast, lazily sloshing back and forth. They are face to face, staring at each other. What are they thinking? So close to each other, but separated by a divide impossible to breach. Or do they each think the other is a mirror? Or do they even think?
One of the boys grabs my waist and spins me toward him. He’s cuter than the others. Definitely the leader of the pack. Of course I think he looks a little like Jack. He takes off his shirt, never stopping his swaying, and his flat, rock-hard stomach arches and grinds. He puts his hands on my waist and pulls me to him. When our middles meet, his hands reach around and grab my ass, moving me with him, perfectly together, liquid with the sound. His friends widen their circle as we dance together, all of us lip-synching the monotonous sultry chorus of the song to each other.
And suddenly I am there. I am where I try to find every time I put on the wig, and the makeup, and the goddamned heels, and walk out my door. Right this moment I am who I am supposed to be. My raison d’être fulfilled. I exist to hunt down one person, and separate him from the rest of the mob. The rest of the herd who bounce, dully, hypnotically, along with everyone else. A great mass of nothing swaying and nodding blankly at each other.
I take this one person and save him from the crowd. Whether they want it or not, they find themselves decorated by me, rescued from the expected. And I plead, silently and invisibly, that he will want to save me back.
It’s too hot now. I should have had some water before going on to the floor, but I don’t want to leave
Why not. A little coke will keep me going as well as water could. I nod yes, still dancing, and the boy dumps a dime-sized clump of white powder from a plastic packet onto the first knuckle of his thumb. He raises it to my nose and I stop swaying just long enough to take it in.
Good. Done. Easier than finishing a drink. I don’t know why I don’t do more drugs. I like cocaine. It’s been helpful every once in a great while. Note to self: expand your drug repertoire. Maybe drinking’s just gotten to be too much of a habit. Maybe I should try other things more often. This is my new resolution. Quit drinking. Get healthy. Just use drugs. Medicinally, strategically. Be less messy.
I look at the drug boy again and put my finger to my nose, signaling for more. He raises his eyebrows. Yes, idiot. I want more. Don’t fuck with my newfound life here. I’ve decided from here on out to eat better, exercise regularly, and do more drugs. Give a girl a hand, pal.
He digs back into his pocket and pulls out the packet. Another bump goes up my nose.
This is perfect. So easy. I should’ve been doing more drugs all along. I can’t believe Jack wouldn’t let me try crack the one time I asked. If you like cocaine, my inner advertising mind was singing, you’ll LOVE crack! Who knows? It could’ve been the solution to all our relationship woes. Both of us on crack. We could’ve covered for each other. I could’ve come home from a hard day at the office and he would’ve had a nice fresh rock cooking in the kitchen for our dinner.
Well. Fuck. Him.
Something doesn’t feel right.
Suddenly, I can’t find the music. The hooks that moved my body in the right direction seem to be coming at different intervals. I lean farther into the cute boy, trying to get back on track.
There’s a buzz. There should be a buzz. Cocaine is buzz. Only it’s not electric. Not fizzy. More dampening. Flat. I close my eyes, trying to rein things in. Pull it together. I think the music has gone into another room. Someone is pushing me. Is it the cute boy? What cute boy?
Behind my eyes is a separate place. Something’s not right. Not cocaine. I need to pull it into one piece. It’s all spreading out and I need to keep it here behind my eyes. Think of a word. Find an idea. Concentrate on one thing. One. One. One.
I am on vacation at the beach in Cape Cod and I am six and I am on my stomach and I am on a raft and I am in the ocean. I am my own island. This rolling island. And I am frightened and I want more.
My stepfather is behind me, with the waves rolling past his chest. He will push me again. And again I will ride with the scratchy canvas raft, and the pushing wave, and I will scrape up against the sand on the beach, and I will tell him to do it again. And again.
And here is the wave. And this man, holding my feet, will do it again. Push me with the wave. This man who is new to me. This man who is on his first vacation with his brand-new family. This man who hopes to be less of what he is not to me, and more of what he will one day become. This man who does not share a single gene with me and doesn’t recognize anything he’s familiar with in my eyes yet is trying to begin to love me nonetheless. And the wave is here. And he lets go of the raft because he’s smart enough to know that holding on to someone is not always the same as keeping them close. And this wave, bigger than that wave, pushes me forward faster, more insistent. And the raft buckles under me, folding in half. And I slip forward with the wave now pushing me, just me, pushing me down.
And it is quiet as I fold up underwater. And I am afraid.
I do not like the water—what I can’t see underneath. The color by numbers book that my mother bought me sits on the beach on a towel. What Is It by the Sea? it asks on its cover, with black outlined creatures and monsters swarming on each page. My mother hopes that by knowing the mysteries of the alien detritus tossed up onto the beach I will be less frightened of the ocean itself. Only I am not. I do not color number 5 brown, and number 7 navy blue. I color in these creatures as I imagine them to be, in their hidden depths. Lime green, bright pink, electric blue.
And now I am with them underneath. Roiling. Flipping. Sinking.
And Jack is sleeping on a beach far from any sea. On sand, cool sand, at the base of a tall saguaro cactus. And all around his still body, the purple desert night floods in. Tired, wanting, needing. He is thirsty for something that is emptying from his cells. Something that he cannot find in the desert. And the stars collect above his head as he sleeps, slowly emptying. And I am not there, either touching him or in his memory. No one is there as he empties.
The saltwater that fills my mouth when I scream does not choke me. It seeps through my body, making me give in, and sink. What Is It by the Sea?
Under the water I am sparkling with the creatures. I feel them swarm around me and I am afraid to open my eyes, but then I do and they are everywhere. Floating, swimming, dancing, swirling. Those creatures of the sea. Darkly sparkling. My sun-blond little boy hair weightlessly waving as I somersault and flail, trying to find the rhythm of the currents that push and pull and bend me. The sea grass and kelp tangle around my legs, tugging, dancing a strange tarantella with me, absent of any music, of any sound other than the bass rush of water entering my lungs.
Jack sleeps on as a river of scorpions and spiders and lizards scamper across his body ahead of the rush of water racing toward him. He does not notice the mineral smell of ozone that precedes the storm coming from the west, or hear the thunder constantly rolling. He is a dry husk, and is lifted up and pushed by the water as it streams in. There is nothing to hold him, to anchor him as he drifts off with the rolling waves, the quiet mariachi music from a faraway village echoing over the rushing water. He is drowning like a fish in the desert.
And hands on my chest. And hands on my legs. And I am back above in the noise of the air and the waves and the beach. And my dad’s arms carry me back to shore as the sun bakes the water off my skin, leaving a faint white dusting of salty residue.
I am not crying. I have seen a place for me. Falling sparkles all around. Black and crushing. Crushing and hugging. Liquid and thick. And as deep as one sinks, the sparkles still come from above, from the sun. And I know the way up if up is what I want. When I want it.
Because I am not crying, my new father is laughing.
And my mother, far away on the beach, tan and young and beautiful, is laughing.
And my brother, busy rescuing the runaway raft, is laughing.
And I am Laughing by the Sea.
I am outside the club by the back entrance on Twenty-eighth Street. I drink the club soda that is offered not because I want it but because it is offered nicely. They are all talking and laughing about the times they’d fallen into K-holes.
Ketamine. Special K. Well, at least it wasn’t heroin. I’d always thought heroin was such a trashy drug.
Across the street men are loading boxes into a line of UPS trucks, their breath steaming in the morning air. The air is pink and flat, the sun lazy in its arrival. It’s snowed during the night—a light dry snow like sand that scatters easily as the busy men walk around their trucks.
Standing up, I thank the strangers for the soda, and for sitting with me, and tell them it’s okay, to go back into the club. Which they do.
I’m a little dizzy and I lean against the outside wall of the club. I scoop a handful of fresh white snow off the stair railing next to me and put it in my mouth. It’s clear and cold and clean and new.
I try to make myself realize, because it is morning, and everything is white, that I am starting something new and good. But I know this is not true. Wha
I try to make myself realize that I will go back to the penthouse and start packing up my things in a fever of rebirth. But more likely, I will simply watch a little TV and read the paper and order some eggs from the deli. I will maybe make a few calls to see if anyone’s looking for a new roommate.
I try to make myself realize that I had beaten up the city. Or that it had beaten me up. But instead I know that in the short year we’ve been together, the city hasn’t really noticed me at all. We merely weakly smile and occasionally nod at each other like second cousins at a family reunion.
I try to make myself realize that Jack was and always will be the greatest love of my life. But I know eventually he will be filed under “H” for “hooker” in my expanding file cabinet of funny stories to be pulled out whenever I need a cheap laugh.
But the thing is, right now, he still is all that I love, and I don’t really have it in me to look for something else to take his place. I am finally, honestly, tired.
I try to make myself realize that I have learned the difference between right and wrong. That there is such a thing as right and wrong. But instead I’ve learned that these are things—this “right,” this “wrong”—these are things that we are told. Simply told to believe. These are things we have not tested. And while most of the things we are told may be true, it is not until we have tested them, taunted them, flaunted them, that we truly know they are right. Or wrong. Or true. Or false. Or somewhere in-the-fucking-between. And I think I know now a little better which is which. And I also know I’ll never quit testing this world. I’ll never rely on common knowledge. Or common denominators. Or even common sense, for that matter. To do so would be too, well, common.
So. I’ll keep dancing in my costumes. Day and night. And I won’t sleep as much as I should. And I will drink more than I should. And maybe, as I’m twirling and glittering, playing a retarded game of hide and seek in the middle of an open field, maybe, just maybe, whatever happens next will be bigger, and I will forget that which seems so huge to me right now.