I have always wondered what people think of me, and have lapped up overheard comments or secondhand statements about myself like an anemic vampire in a slaughterhouse. Unfortunately, my reputation has not always been sparkling. I have heard dastardly, untrue statements about the quality of my integrity and the dubiousness of my morals, and I have heard blatantly false defamations of my character. People have referred to my rambunctious behavior in disrespectful ways and I have been shocked, truly shocked. My bad reputation only got worse once the cops got involved.
I’m no angel, hell. I’ve been called worse things. But where did my reputation as a rabble rouser come from? Maybe it was the cops, maybe it was COINTELPRO, I don’t know.
There is a lot of back story involved. We can start with July 2011, when I moved out of my Mom’s house for the second time in my adult life and into New York City in pursuit of fame and fortune, but mostly just true love. I immediately fell for the city, much as I had fallen for the man I was basically moving to be closer to. I could only see the best of it. I loved sitting on the fire escape and smoking cigarettes and writing as the sun set over the Brooklyn Bridge, barely visible through the rooftops of the tenement buildings of the lower east side, I loved the smell of dumplings and cabbage and fish that wafted out of the open doors of apartments crowded with entire generations of Chinese families, their shoes lined neatly on top of newspapers spread along the narrow halls, I loved climbing the six stories to the apartment I shared with the two brothers: two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and no air conditioning…it was cozy!
The object of my affection was my best friend, of course, and I couldn’t help but look at him in a dazzled sort of way, like you might look at the sun after drinking too many beers. We would go out for drinks, to play basketball, to shows, to the movies. The night before he left for Israel his girlfriend called him, wanting to hang out. He told her he was busy and hung up, then asked me to go to the movies with him. We snuck a six pack of Coronas into the theater and kicked off our shoes, resting our feet on the bar in front of us. He gripped my arm during the tense parts and I stared at the screen, frozen, knowing that if I looked at him I would reveal the intensity of my feelings.
We shared a bed when I first moved in; I lay quietly, almost immobile, pressed against the wall, afraid that an accidental touch might scare him away forever. This didn’t last long. We would get drunk together and I would black out often, waking up unsure of what had happened the last few moments before sleeping. One morning I woke up and I could feel his eyes on me as he sat on the corner of the bed and I knew what he was going to say before he said it.
“We need to do something about this arrangement. It’s not working for me anymore.”
“Please,” I begged, hungover, pulling the blanket over my head to avoid looking at him, “just don’t tell me. I don’t want to hear it.”
He was silent. I lie still, embarrassed.
“Ok, tell me.” I felt like crying.
“We need to go get you a mat from Chinatown, you can sleep in the kitchen.”
He said it kindly, I knew he was trying not to hurt me, but it meant the end of my fantasy, the one where we fell in love and got married and traveled the world and had beautiful, genius children together. I picked up the mat later that night. It had dogs decorating it, which I found appropriate. Laying the mat down in front of the stove I felt like a dog. The feelings did not improve when he started bringing girls home from his job at the bar, a different one almost every night. I would lie on my mat, not breathing, listening as the high heels clattered drunkenly through the kitchen, clenching my hands into fists as they giggled their way into his room. The final straw came when I overheard some of the bedroom antics. It was muffled, of course, but he was asking the girl to do something and she was hesitant, saying she wasn’t sure as he continued to persuade her. If my fantasies had not been completely crushed before, they were now. Where was the charming man who respected women and treated them with gentleness and compassion? All I could hear were a thousand other men that I had already met, fallen for, and been let down by.
I opened the freezer and took out the brother’s vodka, pouring it over a glass of ice. I took my drink up to the roof and chain smoked cigarettes while I carved a night scene into the roof with a kitchen knife. The next morning when I showed him the jagged moon and lopsided stars he said, “turning anxiety into art, that’s smart.” My heart ached.
The city was losing its allure; suddenly I was more aware than ever of the stinking garbage piled high on the streets, of the blatant using that seemed to comprise all human relationships; the mish mash of smells in the apartment building made me sick, the invigorating hike up the six floors of steps had become a painful struggle after I had broken my foot the week before. It was only a matter of days before I became drunk enough to call him during one of his trysts in the wee hours of the morning and leave a voice message brimming with insults and anger. I packed my suitcase and left, ready to go anywhere other than his apartment.
This was an interesting time as it coincided with the first two weeks of Occupy Wall Street, an ongoing event that I had been visiting and participating in every day, despite my broken foot. He and I had worked splendidly together to boost the organizational efforts of the encampment and now it was time for me to focus all of my energy on the work, to dive into it and not look back at the pain and wreckage that were my broken dreams.
Today’s post has been inspired by a prompt found at:
…stay tuned for the rest of the story!