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It was comforting, wandering into Union Square knowing I'd find friends. There was Josh MacPhee, not even a New Yorker. I hadn't seen him since last August. And there was Seth; we sat and talked, then strolled. I visited Erika, then went to St. Mark's Church and spent time with Savitri. She doesn't want babies, either; neither does Erika. A few hours of feeling connected. It doesn't replace this sense of isolation. Not feeling valued work-wise is a constant stress, distresses me. And when will I get over the continuing loss of friends to California, to marriages, to their children?
We took a walk around the manmade lake in Lincoln Park before sunset. An older fellow, fishing from the scummy end, saluted us: "Hello, lovers!" It was such an odd greeting, I could only nod and grin. We weren't even holding hands. I'd spent the day trying to rewrite an article for Rebicycling. Hubert, freshly released from 28 hours in the clinker, called to say it was too journalist-y, that they wanted more of my voice. I knew that. Trying to laugh, I told him I've felt dead inside. I said I'd try to scrape away more layers of flesh.
I always thought if I made it to 30, all my years of honing coping skills would prepare me for anything. Next week I'll mark seventeen years that Baltimore police did shit about my father's murder with a bottle of vodka, or maybe leftover Percoset from last August, when surgery removed the walnut-sized, precancerous tumor from my breast. Those things I can handle. I can't handle having lost my closest friends to California, marriage, their children. Or working so much that I can't do any activism—but neither can I do activism with only straight people or with elitist queers.
I keep returning to Jean Smith's lemony creaking, her voice's reedy vibrations and the metallic ones of the guitar. "Family man rants and goes and gets himself confused. He says, ‘Your mother is going to live another hundred years.' Oh, I wish he'd make up his mind. Either I'm killing her, or she's never gonna die." My own father's reproaches fall flat; he's been dead too long for them to sting. All these years later, I've started to hate him for leaving us. For gifting me with a twelve-year old who won't grow up, won't heal, won't die: diseased albatross.
I was only going to stay half an hour at Ludmilla's going-away party, but I didn't start the long walk to the PATH until one. I hadn't seen my friends in months—I've seen more of Billy and Andrew in the New York Times than I have in person. I needed to hear that I've been missed, that people still want me, that no one resents me for having to work so much. I sat in the garden, drank champagne, swapped stories. Did a loop of the block with the Hungry March Band and the New Yorkers I love best.
Coffee, overwork make me neurotic. The ironsmith didn't show up. I shouldn't be resting; I still have more best- ofs. Have I forgotten about all the freelance work due Friday? My mortgage payment posted two days late. There are gangs one block over. I'm the only white woman in the building. Patricia downstairs blasts gospel early Sunday mornings, and Jamaican hardcore late Friday nights. Maybe it's too much Jean Smith making me anxious, angry, sad, or maybe it's those feelings making me crave Mecca Normal. Or maybe it's September 10 approaching. Yesterday I called my very old grandparents from the park.
My sugar and white flour intake are off the scales. Walking into Jon Vie Pastries is always a dangerous venture. Especially today, since I told Nat, the owner of 42 years, that I was writing about them for New York Press. He pumped me full of their unparalleled rugelach, and I'd already purchased my favorite double almond macaroon and a black and white cookie—the only true such cookie in all of NYC. I started with small bites, spaced them out, savored every morsel. But when it came down to it, I was no better than Willy Wonka and crew.
Once or twice a month, I sit down with the stack of bills and prioritize: Who gets paid in full, who gets a partial payment, who gets postponed until next month. Once I'm finished paying off all the old utility bills, things should ease up. A big part of this move was to cut my costs. I see no end to having to work all the time, but today that feels okay; I've slept plenty the past two days. I'm taking care of myself, supporting myself without assistance. I bought my own home, however small and humble, before turning 30.
When my mind's eye seeks out winter in SF, the first image is always me in my tiny studio listening to Regina Spektor's then-new recording. Those songs would rush up past my toes, knees, neck, filling up the room in torrents. They crackle with energy: longing, verve, heat, moxie. I barely listened to anything else. "Soviet Kitsch" will probably always evoke those seven weeks. I transplanted myself for a time, devoted myself to difficult work, cultivated my then-new love from 3000 miles away while melting into the close friendships that NYC keeps me from. I grew irrevocably attached to Monkey.
He didn't come home before I went to bed, but that wasn't unusual. Sometime around seven a.m., Mom woke me up and said he hadn't come home at all. My sister and I stayed home from school—Mom was afraid, didn't know what was going on. He'd called to say he was coming home around nine, but she woke up at two and he still wasn't home. She didn't call the police until morning. I was twelve. I've forgotten how I found this out, but when Mom called Dad's brother that morning, he told her: "Jo Ann, he's already dead."
After a seven-week stint on the West Coast this winter, we came back to a balmy NYC. Ah, we thought. Our plan worked! We got the hell out for seven weeks of sleet, ice, sub-zero temperatures, snow, freezing rain, insidious drafts, sniffles, falling on our ass on icy sidewalks, tottering about in umpteen layers, 24/7 balaclava. A week later, we heard the mean-spirited cackle of NYC's masochistic god of winter when that disingenuous bubble of early spring burst. We may have been away for 49 days, but there was another solid 30 or 40 left in winter's foul, encrusted colon.
Jon asked if I wanted to go on the roof and look at the lights. I hate going up the bouncy iron ladder with its thin, peely rungs, but getting back down again is so much worse. Stepping over the small wall around the fifteen-foot plunge, trying to find a foothold, not certain I will fall, but knowing how bad it would be if I did. Once up there, the two beams of light kicked me in the face. I'd almost forgotten, what with the 10th. I shook. I will never integrate the image of watching so many people die.
I'm sick of the string of strangers coming into my home. Movers, locksmiths, security-system people, the ironsmith. Twice, someone's taken a nasty, stinky dump in my bathroom. Gross. But tomorrow should be it. The fabulous deadbolt is up, as are the iron bars. If it weren't for the security guy coming, tomorrow would be a proper day off—the first such thing since March. As it is, I'll sleep in, do some unpacking, and, after he leaves, head into the city, where I'll run some fun errands. Like depositing the freelance check that is already completely allocated to surly creditors.
Jon is sorting his stacks of thousands of records ("I'm just learning the alphabet; bear with me"), we're listening to live Getz/Gilberto, and I am still hazy/happy/giddy after my first quasi day off in six months. I was on the verge of happy tears all day. I visited Erika; bought some lovely clothes; walked around the city slowly for once; unpacked a box of German books; read some scary stories; ate dinner at Angelica with Jon. Simple and blissful. I learned last year that sleep is essential for physical and mental health. I'm realizing the same goes for time off.
I love watching women fall in love with Jill's clothes. Her work makes a difference in women's quality of life. I used to be indifferent to or apathetic about clothes, but as much as what I eat affects how I feel, so does what I put on every day. When I'm wearing something that Jill Anderson made, I'm wearing something beautiful, something that fits well, something handmade and high quality. I know it didn't come from a sweatshop, and I'm supporting a small business. Barring awful stain or other such disaster, I know I'm going to have it for years.
Joe snipped away at eight weeks of hair, and, towel around my neck, smock draping past my knees, I moved between chatting and dozing. Mr. Best Dyke Haircut from a Gay Man has been extremely supportive of my time on the other team. Just wants me to be happy. I said, I'm terrified of disaster. What if, what if?
He said, honey, that's not going to happen. It already happened. It's time for you to enjoy things.
I squirmed; who wants to cry in a chic salon where everyone else is already more fabulous than you are, without tear- streaked cheeks?
I planned the day around the rain. Someone at Kate's Joint stole my big umbrella in the 10 minutes between our leaving and my rushing back. That was a couple months ago, and I haven't replaced it. I took a grueling but basic yoga class, visited a friend, grocery shopped, came back. The rain didn't come until much later. I worry when Jon is doing a Philly show in bad weather. He humors me, calls when he gets home. Doesn't mock my worry. Sciatica is starting in my left leg, which is a first, and I'm trying not to panic.
I got a notice from my old wireless company, demanding $1000 that I refuse to pay. They changed my plan without telling me, but insisted nothing had changed for three months. Thieves. I sent a letter explaining my refusal to pay nine months ago. Then I got a bill claiming I owe $113 for six weeks' cooking gas. I was away one of the weeks, and I'm at Jon's three or more days a week. I made about a dozen cups of Earl Grey; pasta and broccoli perhaps six times. That costs $113? I sat on the couch and cried.
I couldn't sleep last night for worrying about the gas bill. Jon assures me something is terribly wrong, that they misread the meter or something. I'm convinced they'll stick me for the money anyway. I'm sick to death of worrying about money, and of companies trying to steal the little money that I work myself to the bone for. I pay my bills; I'm responsible. All night winds from Ivan howled outside the window; I couldn't sleep through it. I burrowed under Jon's warm arm and listened to him sleep. I lay there and obsessed over bills and back pain.
I'm tired, but so caffeinated the blood in my veins is quivering. My contact lenses are small crisp potato moons stuck against my eyes. Today 100 words feels like a lot. I'm watching the Warriors, and they've made it to Union Square, and at this point they're just spent. They know everyone is after them, and they look like little boys who only want to get home. They're grimy and bedraggled, eyeing up the rich kids in fancy party dress on the train. And soon enough they reach Coney. "This is what we fought all night to get back to?"
When I'm working like this, I feel curiously blank. Nothing to say. It's all about the work, my accuracy, how efficient and productive I'm being from hour to hour. There is a relief in that: no time to think about debt, about working too much, writing too little, having no time off. When I had days off last week, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the mess of boxes in the new place, when generally I ignore it, contenting myself with unpacking a wee bit here and there, unloading random stacks of books to shelves, accumulating empty- cardboard-box piles slowly and surely.
The new bedroom is like my old one in that it's sparse, pretty, plain. I have the Deco dresser set, bed, antique floor lamp in here. My favorite Abel Pineda drawing is on the wall. So are my favorite Alicia Cayuela tiles, two above the bed, and one on the little shelf Brian made me. In my old house, the bed tilted down from my pillow. Here, it tilts up. I want to shim it, but the bed is way too heavy for me—or Jon—to lift. I crave the sensation of falling asleep on a perfectly flat surface.
My mother was a beautiful child: a slender, delicate tall redhead. Young, she lacks the look of hard, frayed grief that she's worn almost as long as I can remember. She tells me that her classmates made fun of her for being tall and skinny; it made her self-conscious. But she looks graceful to me in the photos. I remember a yellow plaid jacket she wore through the 70s. I remember how it smelled. I've always assumed it's what happened to my father that broke her, but I think things were wrong much earlier. But those are just my perceptions.
I was looking for places where the mouse could be getting in, and found a hole near the bathroom radiator. When I replaced the big metal radiator cover, its lid crashed down onto my head and arm. I've been a little dazed, a little nauseous. I got sleepy. I called my mother, and I felt keenly aware that sometimes living alone sucks. No one to kiss the owie, and on a purely practical level, no one to help if something awful happens. My mother was uneasy; I promised to go to the hospital if I start puking or get dizzier.
The part of city living that wears on me most is sometimes the crowds, all the people moving at different paces, vying for sidewalk space. Mostly, though, it's having to be on guard all the time. I call the expression "city face": the hard, don't-fuck-with-me look like a cast-iron skillet, the thing I carry around with me instead of mace. I believe there's at least some power in how you carry yourself. But it's incredibly tiresome to be so aware all the time. I don't spend much time outdoors relaxed. Outside, I have to be aware of what's around me.
I copyedited about 130,000 words this week. I've done this before, and I knew what to expect. So I was able to space things out properly and get adequate rest. I used to read that much just for fun; it's all I did growing up. This, however, while enjoyable, is work. All of those words, under my eyes, processed, corrected. So many pages marked with my red ink. I came home tonight and watched a PBS program about puppies—and was chagrined and amused to realize the only thing more I would have asked for was movie-style screen and seating.
Fourteen floors below, Scott was walking back from lunch when he heard a shot. He looked up, saw a guy in a t-shirt dart into Seventh Ave. near 23rd. And then two more shots: "Cap! Cap!" and the guy hits the ground. Scott thinks he was a disgruntled construction worker. The shooter who killed him was an undercover in a suit. Acoustics mean that even this far up, street sounds are loud to deafening: a 45-minute spurt of sirens, beating our windows. Scott told me his sister died today, in 1996, of breast cancer when she was 37. He's rattled.
I made a big to-do list for today. Do some writing of my own, work on three articles, do the laundry, set up the DSL service. Midday, I realized I had no energy for any of it. I started slipping into my usual what-the-fuck-is- wrong-with-you routine, where I take out the machete and start hacking myself to bits for being unproductive. But god bless the NYP Best of Manhattan issue. It takes a 115-hour work-week, but after that, I can say, hey, you just worked a hell of a lot. It's the very first day after. Give yourself a break, okay?
Tonight I made the first thing that even approaches an elaborate meal here: baked tofu in a garlic-ginger-tamari marinade, and roasted yams. Now I'm baking up an acorn squash that I'll slather in maple syrup for dessert. The tofu is my favorite kind from California; sometimes Tops in Williamsburg stocks it. Squash and yams are both from local farmers.
Jon whips up incredible meals for me. Monday night was an onion tart—homemade crust, of course—and hand-picked arugula with homemade vinaigrette. His meals are stupefyingly good. But I also take great satisfaction in the humbler creations that I concoct.
I'm fending off what looks to be the first cold of the season. For days, Jon denied he was getting sick. What started as a little sore throat that he insisted was a mere nuisance is now full-blown coughing and sneezing amidst stacks of damp, crumpled tissues. I did not assume this would make me sick, and I'm still hoping I can elude its puffy, red-nosed grasp. A liter of water before bed, some Chinese herbs, and If I feel crappy in the morning, it's straight to the acupuncturist's I go. I've got too much work to lose any days.
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