I couldn’t have known that it would happen this way. There is a feeling we get about certain people, as though they walk in a cloud of peculiar loss and around them manifests disgust, the things they do repulse. Little things, the way they butter the toast or brush the stray hairs from their face, mark them. When the feeling is there I walk, I shut my eyes and walk. I cross my fingers and walk. But how could I have known this then? Getting off an airplane near midnight in a snow storm, meeting a man I hadn’t seen since we were kids catching crayfish off the northern islands in the upper Midwest, finding myself the next morning drinking coffee in the bar below his apartment, he must have thought me crazy. But, he liked crazy. He needed crazy if only to feel the pulse of pulling back from it once he’d gone deep within. Like a drug, you had to go deeper every time. You didn’t know, eventually, if you’d pulled yourself out, or if you were treading in the shallows of it. But, it wasn’t him, I could see him, he would only interfere.
All these weeks here in rehab, I’ve thought of nothing. I have walked out along the row of pines in the yard, smoking cigarettes, which for some reason are allowed, thinking of my body as a disgusting hole, a rotten apple, a fleshy mushroom growing in the bush. There is so much self-hatred in this disease, your mind, the ability to calm yourself, to care for yourself, is destroyed. Then they give you drugs, and the drugs provide a simulation of salvation, and you sit in your plastic seat and draw pictures of what you fear, write words on a white board, try not to take your will back. But, he doesn’t call and having called him once, leaving the number, I wait. The thought of him makes me sick because it is the thought of me and what I’ve become. He is just there in the shadows of it all trying to stop me, holding me, keeping me for a little while as best he could. But, he doesn’t call, so I know he has shut his eyes and walked, just as I would, just as I have, only it doesn’t work to walk away from yourself.
That is what I was trying to do when I came here. Not to this facility, but to the city to work for my cousin. I thought a new place would make me change. Only in a foreign city, ‘you’ becomes all the more itself against the backdrop of the otherness that surrounds it. If you stay long enough, which I have, you change only because we all change if we stay in ourselves long enough. But, you can’t really change if all that time you stay is spent sucking hose, snorting pills, waking up in the morning with a feeling of death all over your skin and getting out of bed only because you know there’s a quart of vodka in the kitchen with which you’ll fix a cocktail. But don’t kid yourself, if you have the disease, even a single glass of wine each night will eventually get you to where I am.
I imagined myself a writer, that’s what I told others, I was a poet. And, I did write, I wrote nearly everyday, but it was all garbage. Geo thought it was good. Geo thought if I went strait I’d never write anything good again. That’s his name, Geo. And, he won’t call. I’ve been three weeks here, he won’t call now. When I came to this city, I had beaten myself so low I felt wrecked; I came here to be an artist. It wasn’t even about the art or the poems; it was a way of life I wanted. I had been working in politics for two years after college and I was good at it, I was fierce but calm and constructive, I understood what was at stake and since all I did outside of work happened in bars, work meant something good to me. But of course we lost the election; I remember my boss saying, we have to start fighting like them, we have to play dirty now. But, I honestly, back then believed in democracy, so to me, it was like, well this is what the people want. My boss would say they want anything that will keep them from being reminded of what they are. That was how we saw the world. Mostly people were slaves. Sure, there was joy in it, the joy of children, of a backyard in the suburbs, vacations to Mexico or Florida. But what they really were, they no longer knew, so they had to keep doing what they had done to keep from feeling the pity of what they’d destroyed.
Well, that is a lot of hubbub, no one can see into another person’s soul, so I don’t know exactly what the others want. You see, there is a flower garden here that I walk out to and along the side of it a row of tomatoes grows. I put my cig out before I get close to the tomatoes because I heard once that cigarette smoke gets into the tomatoes. I like to pick one or two cherry tomatoes and pop them into my mouth. They’re sweet and tangy as you might expect. Then I walk to the stone wall where there is a bench and sit with my tiny red notebook and write words I remember. Mostly I don’t remember words, I can talk, I can tell people what I want or need, but most words aren’t there anymore. So, writing a story would be impossible. But then, I don’t write stories. Today I write the colors I remember: sea-green, aqua marine, sanguine, violet. Each moves from an association with the former, nothing comes on its own. If I look at a word, if I really see it, each letter’s curve, tuck, jump, I remember something, but it is only another word.
My stomach is enormous now from the baby, they let me smoke though. They don’t understand that smoking lets us all remain half-way in the former world, it keeps a little of us there so that we’re never really free of it. And if the door hasn’t closed I expect re-entry’s possible. I’ve already signed the papers for the baby to be given to someone else. I know that I can’t care for it. A part of me feels sour about giving away this part of me that I have to toil so hard for, but I understand, I want the baby to have a good life. I want it to live. Geo doesn’t care, either. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him it’s his baby. He signed the papers. He said he knew it wasn’t his but for my sake he’d sign. That was before I came here. By then he wouldn’t see me except to sign the papers. Afterward, we stood in the street together and he looked at me, but I could tell he wouldn’t let himself see me. “I love you baby, you can do this, you can take care of yourself now.” Was he even talking to me, or was he looking through me at some woman in the street, walking her dog with a paper cup of coffee in her slender hand. A hand that he would take into his own with such care that the hand would reach for him without knowing its own thirst, it would reach and reach until it needed him, and then, he would crush that hand. He would throw that hand to the wind as though there were a thousands hands with a thousand paper cups just like it.
Now, you’re really not going to believe me. But, trust me. I swear I didn’t know it was going to happen like this. I’m a nice girl, a woman, I come from a good home, though I hated it there, they still love me, they write to me, and say they’re going to visit. They want me to come home. But, I can’t.
It was so awful in the end; it’s what you’d expect. I had to go to this apartment building. It was the ugliest building. I didn’t think anyone should live in it. I would press the button. It was a square button with a number six taped beside it. Someone had written the six with a Bic pen, in blue ink. I know that ink, I have used every pen ever made. I was a connoisseur of pens back then. I would stare at the blue number under the shiny yellow tape until I heard his voice. Then I’d press it and say my name and this buzzing noise would happen and I’d push the door open. The halls were yellow. Not painted that way, yellow from smoke. As I walked over the brown carpet with all the stains, I’d think about the wall and it would remind me of an old man’s greasy head, no, not the head, but the grease mark against the bed or in the pillow. It would make me sad. I think I wanted to feel sad, but I was so anxious, filled with adrenalin, I couldn’t feel sad. Now I know it was because I was always sad and the sadness hardened me so that I no longer knew it as emotion, but as my constitution.
I’d knock on the door, a soft rapping noise. He’d open it, never wearing a shirt. His hair was black and greasy and I think maybe his mother had been Italian. There was a scar on his chest, a tiny purple line. I’d look at that when he fucked me. But, he always, I swear, he always used a condom. He’d get me high first, then we’d do it, then I’d leave. I’d go home and lie on the floor until I fell asleep. You’d think a person would get tired of it.
I did. And when I did, Geo left. It had been years we were together at that point. Three years almost. But, time didn’t occur to him. He cleaned the room we lived in, bought me groceries, and then laid a long silky green scarf on the table as a gift to me. The scarf is with me now. At night I lay it over my pillow and press my cheek to it. There was a note. I could see where he’d scratched out the heart and made a star. I could see him writing it with the heart out of habit and then scratching it out.
I would call him, crying, he would come over at first, but he was closed. He had closed himself up, nice and tight, no leaks. Just the word, No. No, no, no, no, no. I’d opened myself to him, given myself to him as I never had another, loved him, so how could he leave? I hated him, with a rage I’d never felt before. He was so stupid and smug every time I accidentally ran into him on the street. He’d grown his hair out a little and it looked good. I didn’t know what to say, my whole body was filled with rage that iced my pain. Once I screamed at him on the street and he just stood there, looking at me, like I was a dog he wanted to kick but knew better. No, I couldn’t have seen the way Geo was, he didn’t wear it on him, it wasn’t in anything he did, it was so deep in him that I never once got a glimpse of it until the end, then I knew what he really was, who he was. But, it was too late for me.
I want you to know this, because you’ll never see me again. And I know you’ll remember me, even if you’re so fucked up on whatever cocktail you’ve mixed for yourself, weed to sleep, pills to party, booze like water all through the night. You’ll remember me some morning and it’ll hurt. You’ll say my love wasn’t safe. You’ll turn over, away from whatever twenty-something harlot you’ve got snoring beside you, look at the wall of your ugly room, a white wall, not the robin’s egg blue of our room, and you’ll think of me. But, our baby will be gone then, and I won’t be here. I’ll be in another city, far away. With a name you’ll never guess. I’ll be a story to you; a long winded story that reads like a poem, because it bursts and thrusts and shimmers, finally. I’ll be better then. But, you won’t see.