He Doesn’t Know Your Birthday
You are lying below the same ceiling and you are both on your backs. The light on the ceiling is one of those lights that he calls “boob lights.” The first time you lay like this with him was three years ago. You were on the outside. Today you are on the inside because last night you told him that he always gets the inside and you guys argued about that and he got defensive and yelled, “What!” But you were in that dark drunk place last night and you were fixated on it; thinking that since he always takes the inside and never asks you what side you prefer and you are always uncomfortable, well, you think that he might not love you in the way you need him to. Would like him to. So for the first time in years you are on the inside. You are nearing your twenty-fifth birthday and he is thirty-three and it’s October and you’re on East Third Street directly across from Hells Angels. First floor. One window.
You are stoned and you are thinking about how you have had four lovers that changed you while living in New York. You met three of them in Brooklyn. You met him in Manhattan. You think this has something to do with everything because you are stoned. The radiator bangs and bings dominating the apartment. It sounds like deer humping, he says, and in your mind, you marvel at his. Only he would come up with something so brilliant, you think to yourself. But at this point you know that that is something everyone thinks about the person they love.
You are both very high. It’s eleven a.m. You are both manic by nature. He starts to cry. You start to cry. You panic. You’ve read and re-read The Highly-Sensitive Person In Love. They don’t prepare you for these kinds of mornings that begin with large coffees and oat bagels and cream cheese and morph into high riding anxiety and tears streaming from two brown eyes and two green eyes. You decide that when two highly sensitive people in love fuck for three years, a random Thursday comes and they crash.
Author Stephen Elliott said something about two people he knew once that weren’t capable of love. They were capable of passion. As Carrie from Sex And The City would say, “I couldn’t help but wonder…”
Today is Thursday and he came into town on Monday. You’ve been drinking Wild Turkey Whiskey since then. You didn’t know Wild Turkey was 101 proof. You feel tricked. Hunter S. Thompson loved Wild Turkey, so did Stephen King, he tells you. Well we are not them, you think. We are us.
Since Monday you’ve been in four different beds, one hotel, and eight bars. You’ve had sex twenty times. You’ve been listening to “If I Was A Lover” by TV On The Radio on repeat.
He is still crying.
“Man. What’s it like hanging out with rain man?” he asks you. He is speaking slowly. He draws out both “mans.” He is not making a joke. He really wants to know.
You say, “I need to get out of here.” He says I’m sorry I held you prisoner. He is talking about the day, the morning. You have the epiphany that he has held you prisoner for three years. This fucks hard with your head. You go into the bathroom and grab your travel toothbrush and aggressively brush your teeth. Stephen Elliott also says that no matter what is what happening in your life, it is still important to brush your teeth every morning. You gather your clothes and put on your jeans. You need to get off of Third Street, you need to get out of the East Village, you need to get out of that apartment with one window. Now. You start nervously chattering about the movie TAPE. You’re not sure why. You have no idea why. You hear yourself ask him if he’s ever seen it. You’re making little sense. He is still on his back on the bed in his plaid boxers. “Tape?” he repeats, a little slowly. He sounds autistic and you are not looking at him but you picture his fingers doing an autistic mannerism over and over.
You put on your American Apparel backpack. Shaking.
That lyric. Who said it? “One man is the accident, the other is the hand that stops the blood.” You’ve always been independent and today—a Thursday in October—you want to stop the blood. You tell him you are going on a walk.
He embraces you and sweet words are said and he is stroking your head and you pull away and without eye contact leave the apartment.
You walk. You are lucky because you are in New York and New York can dupe you into thinking you can walk heartache off.
You go into the library on Second Avenue. You’re crying. You’ve never cared much about crying in public. You walk around the aisles. You find Eeeee Eee Eeee by Tao Lin. You know you won’t read it. You pretend you will anyway. It comforts you. You check it out. Throw it in your black backpack. Leave the library. Your phone is dying. Your iPod is dying. This is what he does to you. Sucks the juice out of your electronics and your heart.
You walk by Roast Town Coffee on the corner of St. Marks and First Avenue. You are horny. You’ve been making love all morning. You always need to masturbate after sex. You turn around and go inside because you have nowhere else to go. You get the key from the Asian man behind the counter and you wait in line for the bathroom. You go into the not so clean cement bathroom and get on your stomach and come and cry. You cry out his god damn name.
His name. It escapes your mouth constantly. It surprises you every time. This man has given you multiple orgasms for three years and you yell his name when you come. At some point within the last year, you’ve found yourself using it as a relief. The way some people say Om, or Amen. Or fuck. You’ll be walking up a hill and you’ll be tired or on your bike and when you reach the top you hear yourself say it. Or you’ll be taking a shit. It hurts. You’ll say it. You’ll be masturbating to a different man, different scenario or porn, and you’ll come, and you’ll say it.
It pisses you off. You want his name gone. Out of your email inbox, your phone, your mind, your journals and memoir pieces. Vanished.
You give the key back to the Asian man. You sit at the window at Roast Town. Have a small coffee. Take out your orange RHODIA journal. You look at the picture you sketched of him this morning after sex. His arms are behind his head and his legs are crossed at the ankles. You showed it to him when you were done and he said, “You got the chest hair right.”
You add thought bubbles to the drawing. Verbatim quotes of sentences he’d said since Monday. “You got tangled up with a liar.” “You got tangled up with the wrong man.”
You squeeze out “Beautiful Child” by Fleetwood Mac on your iPod before it dies. “But I’m not a child anymore. I’m tall enough to reach for the stars. I’m old enough to love you from afar.”
You are almost twenty-five and you are kind of preoccupied with that.
He wouldn’t go to yoga with you last night. So today you go alone to Yoga To The People on St. Marks Avenue. It’s free. 4:30 power vinyasa yoga. You try your hardest to keep your crying quiet, because you have seen a girl get kicked out of yoga for crying. You will not be that girl. You will not let him fuck up your yoga class. He’s already fucked up your twenties. But you know that that’s your own fault. It makes you disappointed in yourself. Your favorite part of class is the end—when you lie in corpse pose and the instructor reads a quote. This evening’s quote is brought to you by Mother Teresa. The quote is about how you can spend years building something and it can crumble overnight. And to do it anyway.
Done. Can I die now, you think.
You leave yoga nice and sweaty and go to the pizza place PIE on Third Avenue. You drink one Peak Organic IPA. You eat one M&M cookie. Another beer. Another cookie. After the third round you go into the bathroom and scream silent sobs and repeat, “three years, three years,” and punch the paper towel holder and make yourself as small as you can on the floor next to the garbage can.
You go home when the sun goes down but you don’t remember going home. You probably cried on the subway. You walk up the stairs to your shitty apartment on Suydam Street and it will actually surprise you with how cozy it will feel, what with the radiators buzzing high heat and the Christmas lights and your roommate’s cigarette smoke. You go directly to your bedroom and belly flop onto your mattress on the floor.
“Do you have any Valium?”
“Can I have one?”
You lie on your bed staring at yet another boob light and you masturbate again and wait for the Valium to kick in and remember the first time he spent the night. You drank so much whiskey that night and in the morning your legs shook as you led him down the stairs. You we’re walking to get breakfast but you felt so malnourished and fucked that you went to the bodega for a pint of orange juice. He watched you while you chugged the carton. For the rest of the day you had diarrhea.
October, three years ago. He takes Metro-North upstate with you to meet your family. You each have your own small bottle of liquor in a brown bag for the train ride. Someone has rum and someone has whiskey. You’re both so excited about each other. You both have your Bukowski books and your journals. You’re on the same trip in every way. Your brother picks you up at the train station. Your brother is a rare bird but they feel a kinship immediately. The three of you go barhopping and then late at night you are sitting in your mom’s car that you borrowed. It turns out that you all have the same favorite Belle and Sebastian song. “String Bean Jean.” You want to drive around and listen to it. You start driving. You live in the city and haven’t driven in the country, let alone driven, in a few years. He lights a joint. He hits it. You hit it. Your brother hits it. You accidentally drive up a bike path thinking it’s a road. At this point you still don’t know it’s a bike path. The car gets stuck. You all don’t think much of it and you smoke more. You walk home. In the morning he is taking you from your side and there is a knock on the door. The cops want to know why you drove a car up a bike path and why it smells like weed.
In unison, you both jerk to your elbows.
“Why did you let me do that!”
“I’m not your babysitter!”
You turn to the cop.
“We just wanted to listen to “String Bean Jean!”
He tickles and mocks and hugs you later and calls you a brat.
November. You are standing outside of your employee holiday party on Greenwich Avenue and it’s nearing one in the morning. Your black t-shirt reads “New York City.” A co-worker lent you his iPhone because your cell phone is dead. Your lover grabbed his messenger bag that he calls his satchel and said, “I’m leaving, you’re treating me like shit,” and you ignored him. Now you call him and leave a nasty voicemail. You say something about loving him on the surface but not deep down. Even as you say it you know you are full of shit. You are trying to hurt him. Duh. You’ve inherited your anger from your mother. You say “Fuck you for coming to my work party and not even saying goodbye.” Then you call your own phone and check your messages. One. He is screaming at the top of his lungs. You can picture him perfectly in his hooded sweatshirt walking towards Avenue B to his apartment.
“FUCK ME? FUCK YOOOOUUUU! WE HAD SOMETHING SPECIAL AND YOU FUCKED IT UP! YOU’RE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T EVEN EXIST! YOU’RE LOOKING FOR THE PRIZE THAT DOESN’T EVEN EXIST!”
In the morning you listen to this voicemail again on speakerphone with your best friend while eating bagels with egg, cheese and turkey, and you guys laugh so hard your abs ache. He emails you that you are more unstable then he is and that he will mail you your stuff.
December. You took on the responsibility of booking the hotel this time because he booked the last one. You book a cheap (ish) hotel in the West Village near the meatpacking district. Just a couple blocks from the water. When you get there and check in and follow the bellhop to your room, you find out that you accidentally booked a room with bunk beds. Your jaws drop and you mouth “Oh. My. God,” to each other with big eyes. You blow an oxy-contin pill together and then go to get diner at a diner called BonBonniere. You abruptly feel suicidal. “Jingle Bell Rock” plays over and over from one of those butt-shaking Santa Clauses on the counter. You’re sobbing. The wind is harsh and gives you no mercy on the walk back to the hotel where you blow more drugs, take showers and buy nine-dollar gin and tonics at the bar in the lobby. You try on the robes and slippers that come with the room. You share a bunk bed and sleep in your robes and one another’s arms.
Cape Cod. January. You didn’t know they made beds this big. You’re wearing plaid boxers and a t-shirt that says “African Beer” and he’s wearing package-enhancing boxers. The first night was fantastic. You were fucking and he said he felt like Jesus with a halo around his head and you said you couldn’t feel your feet. Oh the laughter, the love. The second night of course, goes to shit. You told him you didn’t want to fuck. You told him the relationship is toxic and that he is toxic. He cries in an honest way you’ve never seen. You’re scared. You console him and tell him how much you love him. He is eager to show you the documentary “Cruise” by Timothy “Speed” Levitch. You fall asleep. In the morning he makes you French toast.
He calls you this morning while you are in bed with an African oil painter with dreadlocks. It’s the day after Valentine’s Day. You answer the phone and go downstairs into the bathroom. He can’t hear you so you go to the roof. You’ve both been fucking different people the night before. But you still talk to each other in the morning. His train came. The rain came. You cried. Asked him what you should do with your life. Felt weak. Wanting your worlds to collide again. They don’t. He goes on the train and probably phones his girlfriend to make plans. You go onto the balcony where the African painter is smoking weed. He asks whom you were talking to. “My brother,” you say. You hit the joint he hands you. You go upstairs to put more clothes on and it is too quiet. Something is wrong with you. You feel desperate.
To stop the sobs, you yell, loud and fast:
“Are you a vegetarian!”
And then you are going to cry out again so you yell, “Were you ever!”
All is silent. You want to jump off the balcony. A few days later you receive a long email from him of ideas of what to do with your life. The idea is to keep writing.
He meets you at the dingy Bar None on Second Avenue. It’s late March and the muddy snow is finally melting and the air makes you horny and brave. You want each other badly and you fuck in the bathroom. You sit on him while he sits on the toilet and you pull your black tights down and he says he never saw anyone pull their tights down so fast and you take your necklace which is a metal pendent carved into the shape of a spade leaf and carve your initials in a heart into the bathroom stall. You come within three minutes.
He knows your vagina like the back of his hand but sometimes you wonder if he even knows your birthday.
In April you are the closest thing you’ve ever been to invincible. You wear a headdress and happily let cocaine run through your veins. You tell the woman you are buying cocaine from that you are on your way to your first orgy. She lends you a red dress with a halter-top and a deep v-neck. You walk to Lucy’s Bar on Avenue A and pound two whiskey sodas to ease your nerves. He texts you “Hurry. Get away from the coke.” You walk up the stairs to his apartment. He does some coke and declares himself the goat prince while he prances around in your headdress and his neon pink American Apparel briefs. You’ve never loved him more. You give his brother a blowjob and have sex with his best friend because it turns you both on. You fall asleep when the sun comes up with his hand coiled tight around your neck.
You leave the city because you think you might explode from excitement. He rides his motorcycle from the city upstate to your mother’s house in a thunderstorm. He is sopping wet and shivering and three hours late. He takes his clothes off and huddles around your mother’s woodstove as if he’s getting heat from it though it isn’t even on. It’s May. “My therapist thinks I’m bipolar,” he says, before even embracing you.
When he leaves after the weekend you fall into a depression in your mother’s bed. Your mother strokes your hair and tells you that you have your whole life to be in dark and heavy relationships. And that you should maybe get out of this one.
“You’ve never seen how good we are together.”
“I’ve seen you be manic together,” she says.
You are wearing camouflage shorts and he is wearing a yellow t-shirt. June. It should be a light and happy month. He is driving to his parents’ house on his motorcycle. You are sick with anger because this morning you reached your arm down between the bed and wall to find your underwear and you pulled up someone else’s underwear. From Target. Pink bow. Size extra small. He asks you to hold the helmet as you walk down the stairs from his apartment. You are sick with anger. You are sick.
You accidentally drop the helmet on the concrete and he yells, “FUCK!” in a way that simultaneously scares you and turns you on.
“I’msorryI’m sorryI’m sorryI’m sorry.”
There was always an episode. There was never not an episode. It’s never been fine. You go to spend some time in Berlin.
Washington Heights. July. You’re wearing a tight black dress. He’s wearing a t-shirt with a pirate on it. You were doing Mad Libs and eating pizza from Papa Johns and now he is crying out of nowhere because all he wants to do is to be a writer and he doesn’t know if he has it in him.
August. You ride on the back of his motorcycle He has motorcycle gear on. You have a purple spaghetti strap tank top and cut off jean shorts on. The sky is bright. You like looking at the shadow of the two of you on the road. You envision yourself flying off the motorcycle and dying. Though he suggested you put jeans on, he wasn’t adamant about it and you think he doesn’t love you the way you love him. You look at the other motorcycles on the road. Nope. No other girls with shorts and tank tops. He makes the right turn into your mother’s dirt driveway. The house you grew up in. You start to get off the motorcycle. You step with your left foot and put all your weight on that side of your body. You fall and he falls and the motorcycle falls and the side mirror breaks. No one breaks a foot. He screams and paces and yells fuck in the driveway. His t-shirt reads: “Eat your heart out. I’m retired.”
September in Seattle. You find a box of free eggplant on the street. You carry it home and check your mailbox. He’s sent you a letter from Tennessee today, reading: “Waking up in the rain and drinking beer and playing drums makes me miss you. Now I’m going to eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich on English muffin bread with a banana and kiwi and watch this British mini series called Red-Riding Trilogy about murders and rain. Please remember that even though we don’t always see eye to eye, I love you, and that place of love is always where I am coming from.”
October. On the corner of Eleventh Street and First Avenue you get lamb and rice from a cart. While waiting for it to be made, a woman starts talking to him about the weather. You join in a little bit. She runs a Girl Scout recruiter program. You hear her say: “Tell your wife about it. We are always looking for positive women.” When you guys walk away you laugh for forty minutes about the prospect of you two being married. “We’d kill each other in two weeks,” he says, but you know it’d be more like two days. You see a blue couch. You don’t have a couch at your apartment in Bushwick. He knows this and when you see a couch on Eighth Street and First Avenue, he wants to carry it back to Brooklyn. He is stoned and when he is stoned he thinks he can do anything. He thinks getting it through the subway turnstiles will be hard, but besides that, he thinks you can do it. You carry it together for one block and then leave it on the corner. You get coffees the Hot And Crusty next to the subway. You’ve always liked watching him drink coffee and/or smoke weed. It’s like watching a clown. “This coffee’s making me sweat,” he says and takes off his scarf. “This coffee’s really affecting me.” He is shaking his leg up and down and you get into a conversation about life and relationships and he says that he is aware that if he can’t commit to one woman that he might end up alone, and you say yes, and he reaches across the table and touches your hair and his eyes shine while he says, “How did you get so wise?”
Your twenty-fifth Birthday lands on a Sunday. The most depressing day of the week. You have not spoken to one another for almost thirty days. The last time you spoke sounded like this:
“I’M NOT EVEN LISTENING TO YOU RIGHT NOW! MY HAND IS DOWN AT MY THIGH!
“I’M NOT LISTENING TO YOU EITHER!”
There is never a resolve.
It’s the longest you’ve ever gone without communication. You listen to Stevie Nicks. You stare at yourself in the mirror above your writing desk until you don’t recognize your eyes or face anymore. You sing along.
But I’m not a child anymore. I’m tall enough to reach for the stars. I’m old enough to love you, from afar.