I live in a two-bedroom apartment above a bar called Whiskey Rebel with a roommate who leaves banana peels in the bathtub, and I have a broken heart. When he finally left me, we were sitting on the front steps of somebody else’s home in Midtown Manhattan. I can’t remember which street. Somewhere along 9th Avenue in the upper forties, just one avenue over from the theatre where his play ran all weekend. I hand him a package, wrapped. Inside is a coffee mug with the most famous quote from The Shining written all over it in sloppy cursive. On our first date, we went to a screening in Central Park and took turns handing a flask back and forth to each other and guarded the door of the Port a Potty for each other when one of us had to pee. When he opens it, he laughs. When I ask him why he’s laughing, he tells me that the girl that he’s been cheating on me with gave him the same mug this morning. I want to smash it, but I don’t. Instead I argue, beg, cry. I don’t even know myself anymore.
He doesn’t want to work things out. I always thought that cheating men would cry, plead for your forgiveness, send you flowers every day, and swear that they won’t fuck up again. Instead, he tells me that Claire is easier to deal with; she doesn’t have panic attacks that wake her up in the night when she stays over; she even got him tickets to a wrestling match next weekend, and she’s skinny and tall and beautiful and everything I’m not.
I miss him before he even tells me that he’s leaving for good. I miss the way his nostrils arch up like the Bat Cave, and the way he always smelled like home. I miss the way he held me on the nights when all I wanted to do was stay in bed listening to sad folk music. My last boyfriend hated that. He was a chef who loved cocaine and Desmond Dekker, and he would stuff his ears with cotton every time I turned on my favorite album, The Midnight Organ Fight by Frightened Rabbit.
“How can you stand to listen to this depressing hipster shit?” he would ask. I never had an answer. Something about the twangy banjo and the melancholy vocals just made me feel less alone. And I hated being alone. Sometimes, I would stay up all night, walking up and down the avenue outside of my apartment just to be around other people, listening to the song “Poke” over and over and over again until I knew every word.
You should look through some old photos
I adored you in every one of those
If someone took a picture of us now, they’d need to be told
That we had ever clung and tied a navy knot with arms at night
I’d say she was his sister, but she doesn’t have his nose.
And now we’re unrelated, and rid of all the shit we hated
But I hate when I feel like this
And I never hated you.
If you just go outside, you’re never alone in New York. Which is how I ran into him, standing in line for a black and white milkshake at Shake Shack that summer. I close my eyes tight and wish I never had. When I open them, he’s still there, but only barely.
When he heads for the subway, I stay where I am, light the first of the three-thousand cigarettes I smoked that summer. His shape fades into a herd of tourists shuffling from The Diamond Horseshoe towards the old Ed Sullivan. I open my mouth as soon as he disappears and a low, graveled moan that I don’t recognize escapes me and suddenly, I’m screaming. It’s like I don’t know language anymore, just sounds. Sounds that sound like the time I tripped on my towel and broke all my teeth on the edge of my grandmother’s pool when I was a two-year-old. Sounds that sound like the time my father left my mother the day after we got back from Hawaii. Sounds that sound like the day I came home from summer camp and my dog had died while I was gone. Sounds that sound like he fucking lied to me, he fucking cheated, that bastard.
When the screaming stops, I slip on my headphones and walk six blocks to my best friend Rachel’s apartment. Her doorman doesn’t know me, even though I’ve been there a hundred times, and I have to sneak past him on the way to the elevator. I can hear the lyrics to “Poke” pulsing through my speakers, but I’m not really listening. I might never catch a mouse and present it in my mouth to make you feel you’re with someone who deserves to be with you. Rachel comes home and tells me to stay as long as I want. I sit on her couch for three days in dirty sweatpants and eat exactly four bites of an everything bagel before I walk home thirty blocks to the windowsill outside of Whiskey Rebel, where I smoke cigarettes and eat stale popcorn from the bar until they close.
When I can’t sleep, I spend more and more time outside, just walking. I start to wonder if I have fatal familial insomnia, but Wikipedia tells me that the disease only affects a tiny percentage of a village in rural Italy. I stalk the Lower East Side like a lonely, hungry night-thing. It is 2013, and every bar I pass is playing “Fancy” by Iggy Azaelia, but I can’t fucking stand it because I am always drunk and always angry. I fantasize about throwing a brick through his window in Bushwick, but I know he’d know it was me. I drink gin and tonics until I can’t feel my tongue, and listen to “My Backwards Walk” on repeat.
I’m working on erasing you,
Just don’t have the proper tools.
My clothes won’t let me close the door.
My trousers seem to love your floor.
It always leaves me feeling sad that he didn’t want to fuck me one last time, just shook his head when I begged him to stay the night.
I get hammered, forget that you exist
There’s no way I’m forgetting this.
I make friends with the bouncer at Whiskey Rebel one night in August. His name is Lenny. He tells me to get off the windowsill, and I tell him to go fuck himself. He laughs hard, loud, his whole belly shaking, and he wraps me into a hug.
“I was just playing,” he says. “But damn, you talk like a real gangster.”
For the rest of the summer, Lenny tells me I’ll be okay. I suck down more Marlboros, and I refuse to believe him. He chases away drunks from my tiny little windowsill, and I bake him fresh muffins to take home to his six-year-old. I get phone numbers from guys who try to talk to me when I’m in my pajamas having a smoke. Sometimes, I get numbers from the girls, too. One girl sits down with me one night when I’ve had too much red wine and can’t stop crying. She hugs me and prays for me out loud, her hands covering my hands, her legs sweating next to mine. I cry harder, wiping snot on her perfect balayage highlights. For a second, I want to kiss her, but then I remember that my mouth probably tastes like the La Brea tar pits after all the cigarettes I’ve had and decide against it.
I go out on dates, but everybody feels the same to me: numbingly uninteresting, and terrible choices in restaurants. I date everyone that summer: girls who speak Russian and look like Kesha, guys who leave my apartment at three in the morning and never learn my last name. When I get in the shower at the end of the night, I stand in the hot water until my skin turns red, Scott Hutchinson reminding me from the speakers on my iPhone sitting on the edge of the tub that “you won’t find love in a hole/It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.” I don’t care. I just want to feel anything.
At the end of August, I get hit by a semi-truck when I’m crossing the street after a comedy show. I say I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, but every cab driver in the city is yelling and screaming, and when the police don’t come for forty minutes, I finally agree to go to the hospital. I text him, of course, because I’m pathetic, and he races over to Bellevue Hospital in the middle of the night to sit with me while I get my X-rays done. While I’m waiting for the doctor to come back with my Vicodin, he tells me that he fucked a stranger in the bathroom at The Box on Chrystie St. and now he has chlamydia. I let him pay for my cab ride home.
I post a vague Facebook status with a YouTube link to a live version of “The Twist.”
Let’s pretend I’m attractive and then
You won’t mind, we can twist for awhile.
It’s the night, I can be who you like
And I’ll quietly leave before it gets light.
Twist and whisper the wrong name, I don’t care, and nor do my ears
Twist yourself around me, I need company, I need human heat
I need human heat.
I listen to it over and over on Houston, on Delancey, on Avenue B. I listen to it when I’m brushing my teeth and when I’m sprinting to the subway in the morning. I switch to whiskey when the leaves start changing, and I’m late to work every single day. At lunch time, I walk as far as I can into Central Park before I have to turn around and clock back in. I spend most of my money on extra large iced coffees from Milk Bar, because I still haven’t figured out how to be hungry again.
He meets me in the park in October to give me back my stuff. Everything fits in a small, black duffle bag that I loaned him when he moved from Harlem to Brooklyn when we first started dating. I open it when he leaves, and I can’t stop crying. Inside is a stack of letters, some pages torn out of a coloring book we both loved, his favorite flannel button up that I used to always borrow because it has pictures of dogs all over it. Everything he loved about me fits into one little bag, and I don’t know how to deal with it, so I drink. I listen to “The Modern Leper” like the lyrics are going to save me.
I am ill, but I’m not dead
And I don’t know which of those I prefer
Because that limb that I have lost
Well, it was the only thing holding me up.
It’s not a surprise when my boss fires me in mid-January, just a week after my birthday. I surprise myself when I tell her, “I’m moving to California anyway,” and steal a paper cup full of bourbon from the conference room before I go. My mother asks me if I’m sure I want to come home a thousand times on the phone and I always answer yes, but I’m not sure. What will happen to Lenny? My apartment? Roberta’s pizza in East Williamsburg? The girl who used to give me free tequila shots at brunch because she liked my writing?
I know I can’t stay here anymore. I am dying. I can feel myself shutting down from the inside out, sitting at the bottom of everything, but I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die. I tell myself that every time I stand too close to the subway tracks, every time I reach for another sip of whiskey. I tell myself that enough times that it becomes real, and I buy my plane ticket home.
When I tell him that I’m leaving, he offers to meet me for coffee to say goodbye. I don’t respond. Instead, I stay up all night packing and eating Indian take out and laughing and crying with all of my friends and listening to the cab drivers on 28th Street argue outside of my window.
I land in Los Angeles, and immediately miss my windowsill. I miss WORD Bookstore in Greenpoint and the disco tots at Queen’s Comfort in Astoria. I miss walking through the Lower East Side when I couldn’t sleep, and I miss the way summer afternoons felt when I was wasted and giggly. I miss walking past the dog park by my apartment, the long walk from my friend Clay’s house to the L train, the cranky guy at the bagel place who never gave me change when I paid him. I miss my friends and my rain boots and falling asleep with a stack of books piled high next to me in my double bed. I don’t tell him this, but I miss him every time I laugh for a year.
My suitcases pop out of the conveyor belt one by one, and I realize I’ve made a terrible mistake. Where will I walk when I can’t sleep in Los Angeles? Where will I smoke cigarettes when I feel lonely?
When I get home, I stay up all night, googling things like, WHEN WILL HUMANS KNOW THAT THE SUN HAS BURNED OUT? WHAT ARE SOME SIGNS THAT YOU’RE DYING?
Here’s what I learned about the sun: If the sun turned off like a light switch tonight, it would take us eight minutes to notice. But that won’t happen. Instead, it will get too hot, slowly, over time, and the core will collapse in on itself in seven billion years.
Here’s what I learned about dying: You will sleep all the time. You will refuse food and water. Your fingertips will be cool to the touch. You will withdraw socially, and your energy will be low. Your breathing will slow down. Your body will die from the outside in, like the sun imploding, only faster.
I start thinking about a lot of really terrible things. I start thinking about dying, and how it’s probably happening to me so slowly that I don’t even realize it. I start thinking about how boredom is just an idle form of depression. I start thinking about how I can’t remember what it’s like to fuck someone who loves me anymore. I start thinking about my drinking, about all those cigarettes, about my broken heart and my suitcases on the street outside of Whiskey Rebel.
But then I start thinking about that semi-truck and how it ran right through me last summer. How strong my bones are. How I didn’t even cry. How I walked myself to the grocery store and bought a bag of frozen peas for my shoulder, and some Popsicles for my bruised tongue. How invincible I am. How eighty-three tons of steel and rubber can smash into me and leave me whole.
I turn my music on shuffle, and the first song that plays is my favorite: “Floating in the Forth” by Frightened Rabbit.
I’ll steer myself through drunken waves
These manic gulls scream it’s okay
Take your life, give it a shake
Gather up all your loose change
I think I’ll save suicide for another year.