The night before I left Michigan for New York City in 2004 I’d rented a room at The Courtyard Inn out by the highway so I could sit on white sheets alone and decide who to be next. Blake* came by and we laid on the bed and looked at each other and I took photos of him with my new cell-phone and we talked about how much we liked each other and how much he'd miss me.
Then we fucked and I could see in the mirror when I looked up that blood was dripping down both my legs, bright red and almost beautiful and I thought it’d scare him or me but it didn’t. (I mean I wasn't like that. I mean it wasn't like me. I couldn't wait more than two or three minutes after sex with men before dashing to the bathroom to scrub everything off me, to 'detail' my bellybutton ring like I could get pregnant or die that way. Then I scrub memories too but I didn't scrub this one and so; bear with me. I feel like it matters or I wouldn't be telling you, trust me.)
(But I gave that up, too: the idea of sex being clean, because I mean what makes you more vulnerable than being fucked and dirty too, and how can you have sex if you aren't vulnerable? But also so much has changed since then, about sex.)
He kept fucking me because this could be the end of it, after all. Who'd ever said that we didn't have to shed a little blood on our way out? Or leave some damages on the carpet or even stain my brain with the memory of my thighs in the mirror, shocked by myself and unsure, thinking to myself 'we are animals who bleed' and also how the Pill they'd switched me to was fucking me up, because you know, for so long, for a year or so I hadn't bled at all except on purpose. So this was a new thing for me and Blake.
I was thinking of that Tom Waits song we wanted to play at our funeral, Take it With Me, and thinking of the morning in February after we’d polished off $150 of cocaine in four hours and how he'd left my room and my house bleeding. I had the smallest room in a house I shared with seven Kappa Kappa Gammas and one best friend and when I was sad I'd just turn out the lights and turn up Fiona Apple and listen to my friends talk about me outside the door. Anyhow he was fucking me and I was thinking of how he'd left bleeding that morning and when I called him eight or eight hundred times later in the depressive throes of "coming down" and "wondering why he was spending the afternoon with that other girl after what he said last night" he told me that he'd bled all the way home, that his mouth was bloody and he'd bled all over his shirt and how I'd told him, 'my everything is bleeding' even though I was just talking about my heart but that was what I did with everything, then, I said 'do you want to get ice cream' and even then I was just talking about my heart.
I stayed that way -- splayed, bleeding, fucked, shocked by my reflection in the mirror, at various degrees for the whole summer. See I haven't been in love that many times, really. I've wanted to be in love so many times and sometimes I wanted to be in love so badly that I thought I was in love but I wasn't. But I was in love with Blake and he can have that forever if he wants it. The last man I ever fell in love with.
So that summer I was still that girl in the mirror but also; I was sometimes the girl I still am now if you happen to catch me laughing or vulnerable or honest for a minute. I was the girl who came to New York City because I thought it was the only place I could both be myself and be loved. I didn't know who i was but I showed up just the same in those obnoxious flirty mini-skirts I wore and purchased all summer in electric blue, bright yellow, hot pink and light pink. I also had these hot pink Puma sandals and a Star of David necklace I wore because 2004 was a year that a lot of people were talking shit about Israel and I was sick of listening to it so I thought the necklace would scare people. Don't ask me why I thought what I thought about politics, I'm sure I was just repeating whatever someone I admired had said out loud to me in a dark room while I nodded.
So that summer Blake kept me hanging on for a bit 'til he met someone else who he said was just like me, as if that would make it hurt less, and I wailed and screamed and then I eventually met someone else too, by September.
But in the meantime, that summer in 2004, when I got to New York but left my heart elsewhere -- girls were okay. I could be with girls if I wanted to and so I was. It wasn't hard to meet girls here.
I mean that's how it started. I mean that's what I told myself about how it started.
I'm leaving New York City in seven days and I don't know how to write about that. I don't know how to be honest with myself about what it means, with respect to the dreams I came here for and the fact that although I feel perfectly ready to admit defeat and flee, I don't honestly think that's true. I don't think I necessarily messed up though I definitely spent most of my time here messing up.
I didn't come here to be gay, that's for sure. When I write "that's for sure" I'm actually just imitating the boyfriend I got to get over Blake, this ridiculously nice boy I met at my second serving job that summer who left his wife because of me but not FOR me -- it's just that we talked about things he'd never talked about before. It's strange how some men can go their entire lives without once talking about their feelings to anybody. He always said "that's for sure" in this way that made him seem so young and trying-hard-to-be-sure even though he was eight years older. But unsure. He'd lived here all his life and knew things that made me feel safe. That's for sure.
Anyhow I left him or we broke up. You already know that part. About how I leave and leave and leave and I've spent my whole life leaving and I only stopped because I ran out of the money I used to use to leave. Because I have a lot of books and books are heavy and hard to move and mean more to me than people. That's a lie.
That's something I learned here: meeting a person you really feel something for -- meeting a person you can't do without -- god, that's fucking rare. I mean that's something. It's something worth staying or leaving for, though I wouldn't advise it, but it's been known to happen.
I changed here. Dramatically.
I hate it here, I love it here. I don't want to remember loving it here. Something changed. It was me or it was here. It was me or it was you. It was the internet it was my heart it was the day I looked at a photograph of a window and decided I had to leave.
I wanted to tell you something about the people I met here who I love and who changed me. Or the things I did where I woke up or looked out the window and thought 'i could be anybody' or 'i am an animal who bleeds.' I'm not just talking about New York City who I also loved and who changed me or who let me change because the thing is you can be whoever you want here. You can be ten people in one day.
It's August 2004, before I got my new boyfriend but after I lost the old one and also my heart, and I'm standing in Justin's apartment in Columbus Circle and he is sleeping. I am in his living room and i am thinking, 'this is the nicest apartment I've ever been in.' I walk to the window and below me is the whole city, giant with it's golden mouth wide open and everyone inside on their way to somewhere else. I wonder how he keeps it so clean. I want to move things around, eat things and then put them back. I'm naked at the window and wonder if he'd ever considered, as I do, what it would look like to take a running leap towards that gigantic window. I mean how much glass would break.
It's February 2006 and I'm in a blizzard with Kat* and Jenny after the Black Hearts Party at the Chelsea Piers and me and Kat are in our boots and fishnets and our makeup is smeared and compromised but it doesn't really matter because the snow is more beautiful than either of us will ever be though sometimes together we did feel beautiful; and she was. She was graceful and even in anger had a precise velocity I admired a great deal. We finally get that cab to that subway to our home and it's only the next morning that I realize we crossed that line again, and I'd wonder what that meant if I wasn't so confused, in general, about what everything means. It was fun. I knew that much. We'd had a time. What were lines, anyway? I mean how fucked up were we? Why didn't anyone stop us?
We're in our Brooklyn living room after work, watching Pretty Persuasion for the third time eating spaghetti and things feel easy and sustainable. We're in our kitchen watching the couple across the alley again.I mean we've seen these people do everything. 'Do they know we're watching,' Kat asks, and someone (me or her) says 'Do you think they're watching us,' because after all, we know how to perform. We know how to be shadows.
She's one of the people who will still be here as I drive away, I think, and who may or may not know how much I loved her in a heightened, confusing and often self-destructive way that changed me forever, and I think changed her forever too, or maybe that's just what I told myself when I drove away, feeling like she hated me because I didn't really understand yet how the opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference and she wasn't indifferent.
I think she's doing what she came to New York to do. I hope she is. I mean I loved her gut and would've taken care of it.
These are the things you can do here.
These are the stories I can tell now because they're over. This is how I keep everybody alive. I pretend to leave but I'm not really, because as soon as I'm gone the stories begin, I can't stop telling them.
It's May 2006 and I'm in Haviland's bed the night before I have to fly to New Orleans and the way I cried earlier while Kat yelled at me and I packed like a maniac who didn't know how to wear clothing and who, consequently, had to wear beat-up Converse with Kat's polka-dotted dress to my brother's graduation ceremony the next day, much to everyone's dismay, and Haviland says "I don't know what's going on with us, but that's okay with me," and later on she says something about a treasure hunt and a few years later (I think) I'll know that part was from Tipping the Velvet.
It's December 2007 and I'm sitting in the corner by the bathroom in my apartment in Planet Harlem, maybe tripping but maybe not, and Alex is there too and I look at her and I tell her that I'm bad news. I tell her if she thinks this is bad, it's only going to get worse. She says it doesn't seem like bad news to her and it takes me a year or two to realize she meant it. I think she is the happiest and purest thing I've ever seen in my life and I want her to stay that way forever, no matter what happens next, and I don't want her to ever stop dancing or being a rabbit.
It's a few days later and I'm having breakfast with Tara at a diner a few blocks from the Upper East Side hospital where Heather is sick and I want to eat Tara's head off I love her so much. I'm texting Caitlin, maybe, I mean that's likely. Haviland is slipping and she'll move away soon. We're all still excited about that fake vacation that never happened. I think about how much time I've spent in hospitals that year and how much better 2008 will be. I grin at Tara because she's not in the hospital anymore and I can touch her face whenever I want to.
Or it's September 2007 and I'm on the island between streets on the Lower East Side practicing with Stephanie for my reading at Happy Endings. I'm happy that she's agreed to read with me, happy to see her again after so long, happy that she didn't forgive me that December prior when I'd asked her to because she forced me to change. I think of how she's such a beautiful person and whomever gets to crack the surface is likely to find wells of empathy and history and heart there. I think someone has, now.
After the reading I'm sitting on that street in the Lower East Side with Stef (not Stephanie) and I think I'm crying. She's rubbing my back and telling me it's gonna be okay. I've never cried on the street like this before and I'm crying about all this other stuff, the stuff that made me afraid to leave my apartment except for previously scheduled events. I can't remember. New York City is a place to love people but it's also a place to let the night shatter you into pieces -- not neat pieces, not clean jutting diamond blades from hell but into just MUSH, into just something gross that you want to scrub off later.
It's November 2007 and I'm running down the stairs of my apartment away from that ridiculous 'potluck' my roommate held to sell us something with Caitlin and Haviland and we're laughing so hard I think we all might die, dashing into Caitlin's crappy car and making jokes… It's July 2007 and I'm on the rooftop with Carly at the gallery opening from hell where we were supposed to sell something to somebody I think but instead just made fun of everybody… it's January 2008 and Alex is walking into that hotel room at The W and she says "what the FUCK is going on here" and then she turns around and then she turns back and it's too late, we're already laughing, I mean it's over, I mean how fucking cute can one person get, "I am REALLY drunk right now," she adds, but really, what's that to any of us then at that point.
I don't know the person in any of those scenes. I recognize her but I don't know how to hold her or keep her safe. I love her though. I love her because she gave herself permission to love recklessly and jump heedlessly off things more serious than cliffs. I love her because she hadn't paid her processing fees. I don't want to be her again because being her was often sad and hard but worth it. Because this is "it."
What of recent history? I can't handle that shit. Whatever just happened is a thing I just can't think of just yet. I don't ever think of what I'm doing while I'm doing it. Like right now? How I'm packing and leaving? How I honestly think that I maybe picked the right place this time? How I feel like I learned something from experience and I trust my gut for the first time ever and as fucking pissed off I've been, I also feel more certain of the future than I ever have before in the weirdest craziest way possible? That's a lie. I know things now, though. That's not a lie.
Do you feel me walking away, probably not, because I am already hiding behind a rock, packing my slingshot. That's just a thing. I mean that's just a story I'll tell to the 6-7 people who want to read it, way later. There are some secrets I'll keep for years and I don't know yet quite what those are. There's some I'm only now learning how to tell. There's some I want to eat and dance about. There's also most things which are not secrets.
I can't. I mean really. I've spent this whole post trying to get to a point about leaving New York City or about loving people or about how I came here splayed and bleeding and left here with hearts beating still and all I could do was talk about moments where everything was so heavy that I couldn't walk around it or lose it. Moments when I couldn't starve me out of me.
I'm moving to California for no reason and by that I mean I want to step into a circle of light, break right in there and raise some hell.
I want to say that I want to look in the mirror and recognize something in it. But when the blood is that red and that beautiful, I'd be lying if I said I didn't love that, too. I came here to have adventures less local than a highway or a mirror or a clean white hotel room or my familiar, dull, heartache.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to do it all over again, but smarter this time, but stupider this time, and in the sunshine.