Sunday, June 20, 2010

Varet Street

We walked through the streets late at night, early in the morning, noticing the industrial buildings around us. The air was warm and my heels clacked like army boots. Everything I'd been worrying about felt safely far away - my sister with her stomach stitched up, my father with a tube in his head. Music from a neighborhood party echoed off the rooftops. We shared a bottle of water and looked at the factories, where the Boar's Head cold cuts are frozen and distributed, where corrugated boxes are made to order. Bushwick had never felt so safe, all five of us marching like a little band. I wondered if these were my friends, my Brooklyn family. It's lonely here sometimes.

We made our way back to Mark's car and drove the short distance to my apartment, gazing at the late party-goers straggling home. I said I worry sometimes that living here prolongs a sense of adolescence, freezes our growth in time. We're almost thirty and still doing the same old things, still noticing things together. What will happen when that changes? And when should it change? I don't think any of us knows.

I let myself into my apartment and started cleaning. I swept under the couch, in neglected corners, coaxing balls of hair and dust from hiding. It felt like teasing out pockets of shame, the detritus of my life. I listened to the mix I made for my parents' wedding anniversary two years ago, the old love songs I'd put in order for them. How do you know what your own life is, and what your managed idea of your life is? I spend so much of my time thinking of myself as I relate to other people. I don't know where I am if there's no one there to place me. I finished cleaning and I sat on the couch and I listened to the Byrds, and I thought about it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The first time

The first time we thought my dad was really sick was a summer night two years ago. I had gotten off the Greyhound in DC and found my sister's car waiting outside, slung my bags in her trunk and climbed in the passenger seat when she looked at me, gripping the steering wheel, her eyes like bowls.

We drove straight to the hospital.

It took some time to get back to the room where they had him; they were only letting in two visitors at a time, and there were four of us: me, my mom and my sisters. It became a game, dodging past the orderly when he wasn't looking - slinking through the electronic gated doors.

My dad was scrooge in a nightgown, white-haired and naked under his hospital gown. He was busy plucking off the electrodes stuck all over him, which was sending the heart monitor into an alarmed wail. No no no, we said, pulling them from his hands and pasting them back onto his skin. Even with them in place the heart monitor was skipping all over the place. I'm leaving, he insisted, trying to swing his legs off the bed. Tracey sat like a bulldog at the foot of the mattress and taunted him: How are you gonna do that?

Dehydration, they eventually said. My mom had found him in the backyard with soiled sweatpants and a sweat-drenched sweatshirt in the afternoon sun. She had washed him in the shower and he had gone to the bathroom again, so she washed him off a second time. She thought he'd had a stroke because he couldn't string a sentence together.

That night on the way to the hospital we didn't know if we were driving to say goodbye, and so I started memorizing. My sister's face, the shake in her voice, the night highway.


Saturday, June 5, 2010


New York was breaking my heart yesterday. It was one of those days where I was rattled, feeling less than sane, and so everywhere I went I saw castaways. Men lurching past me, reeking. Women who looked normal, were dressed well enough, but upon passing were sputtering gibberish. People cross-legged in doorways with filthy, encrusted feet. Why does that happen? It's like a magnetic force, my crazy drawing all the other crazy into my field. In the city you see plenty of damaged people every day, but it's not usually all you see.

I was done, finally, with my day, descending into the bowels of Port Authority when a bright-eyed Chihuahua wanted to say hello to me. He strained at his leash, ears perked and tiny tail vibrating. His owner was an old man having trouble with the stairs, paused halfway up with a walker, and I went to smile at him, him and his dog. But his eyes were milky and he was muttering. That was it for me, the last straw. I went home home home and quickly to bed.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


They say evolution comes in spurts, and I believe that’s true. The sudden explosion rather than the gentle uphill slope. I worried so long about what to change and when, but when change came it came of its own accord, without my consent.

You do the work. You plod along and do what you believe should help, and nothing changes. You obsess over one thing over and over, night after night, losing sleep and drinking too much. Friends get tired of listening, poor things, and they’re right. You’re going in circles.

What I know is that the real growth happens without forethought. You’re in the middle of an argument and suddenly you say words you’ve never been able to say. You say, “I’m sorry. I really am. I’m sorry.” Or you say, “Go to hell.” You watch as the light changes around you, revealing a new landscape.

The Bible has a line about God never giving us problems we can’t handle, and I don’t believe that. People shoot themselves and hang themselves and drink themselves to death because they can’t survive. So I don’t believe that’s so. Still, we can be surprised by our sudden ability to take things that for so long were the stuff of nightmares. Things can suddenly become easy and right.

I’m being intentionally opaque, and I’m sorry about that. This is a public space and so I don’t want to be specific. I’m not deluding myself into thinking my prose is poetically elusive rather than just plain hard to get through. You, whoever you are, are probably rolling your eyes. But that’s alright. I can’t believe you’re reading in the first place.

It’s a beautiful day here in New York. Is it sunny where you are? Funny how things devolve to small talk when there’s not much more to say. We might try silence.