Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve
We Know You Have Eyes But There’s A Camera To Sell
“He’s the kind of person who uses the phrase ‘inter-webs’ un-ironically.”
“So? So, f**k that noise,” I said, and then lowered my voice. “I f**ked up, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a second act, does it?”
“It was pretty weird, Ian,” she said, and then looked at her mimosa.
“I don’t know! I don’t know why she didn’t give you another go.” She sighed and snapped her fingers a few times. “You might actually deserve it. But, you might not.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. I was never with anyone else,” I blurted out and nearly kicked the cooler of orange juice and prosecco, but then caught my voice. “I thought, at first, that she thought I had, but I was just depressed and angry. And then… it’s like she’s hopped on board this prince’s ship and fled to another country to instigate an epic war.” I pulled out a cigarette broken where the filter met the paper and pulled out another.
“Oh, okay, so this is a myth now? Yes, she’s Hellenic, you pompous prick,” she said with anger and sarcasm. “Does that make you, what? Agamemnon?”
I realized right then I was stupid with confusion and anger, and waited a moment to respond while the silence let us both think.
“Hey… Jesus. Okay. I’m sorry…. I’m not excusing it, and you know I’m not, but I can’t calm down.”
“No sh*t.” She sighed and I watched some ear bud deafened joggers in neon yellow running shorts cut off several bicyclists. One almost tumbled. The joggers moved onto grass and crossed one of the lawns of the park oblivious to the bikers who had slowed and seemed to be considering whether or not to suddenly hunt them.
“Look,” she began quietly, “I’m not sure what happened between you two… but holy goats and big ass blimpy retard Zeus did you two stir up everyone around you. Ian, for a while, she would literally just go to bars and drink herself stupid and then call you everything she could think of.”
“She drank quite a bit before that.”
I started ripping up blades of grass with my toes.
“She said you were the only one to ever do that to her.”
“Well, she said it.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said, “but I was not the first one to do that. That’s a part of her vision of herself that I’m pretty sure she’s used on other people. It’s a defense she probably learned from her mother…. And I didn’t know that she was doing that.”
“I think she wanted you to hear about it and go to her. I know what you’re saying, and I also know Kate. You’re so f**king stubborn, though. Sometimes people make a mess to invite a fight because at the time it feels better than nothing at all, which, is what you gave her.”
I took a second to let that sink in, and sighed because I agreed with her.
“I hated myself for leaving. I figured there was no chance. That if I went to her I’d just make it… well, a lot worse.”
“That’s why she thought you were with someone else.”
“I haven’t been with anyone since her.”
“Well, what are you holding out for?” she had a sudden annoyance in her voice. “What? What are you holding out for?”
“I heard you. I don’t know. I haven’t let it go. It hasn’t gotten to that point yet. The party where I walked in on her and that lame ass-”
“Now you’re just being mean. And that was after you broke things off.”
“That guy who could double for a used car salesman… you know if it was someone who could challenge her, or had half the talent she had, I’d feel a f**k of a lot better about all of this. I might have let it go by now.”
“You holding yourself above him?”
“Him? Yes. Her? Not a bit.”
“She’s no saint,” she said and then pointed out over the field. I tried to follow her finger but I couldn’t tell what she was getting at.
“I can’t see what-”
“Made ya look.” She laughed awkwardly. I was too angry to complete a smile, but I was glad she had interjected.
“Okay,” I said.
“I donno. Just okay.” The sun went behind some clouds and I closed my eyes and felt a pick up in the breeze.
“Would it do any good, any good at all… to call her and explain? I mean I’ve tried. She doesn’t return or pick up or… and I know why and all.”
“Do you want to explain what happened so you can feel better?”
“In part yes,” I said. “I don’t want to explain if it’s going to make her feel worse.”
“Well, Ian. You have yourself an interesting predicament.” She stood and I went to stand but she stopped me. “Just sit here for a while and wait. Something nice might happen.”
“Wait, is she coming? Did you ask her to come?” I sounded pathetically earnest.
She leaned back slightly and scratched at her head.
“Oh, I’m sorry. No. I, uh, didn’t mean that,” she scrunched her face. “Sorry.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t talk to anyone about this.”
“Yes you do.”
“But you don’t know that.”
“Yes I do.”
“Yes you do.”
She sat back down and opened her matte black cooler and pulled out a corked bottle of Italian prosecco.
“We’ll have another. I just decided to stay and hear more of your blabber.”
While she made the drinks a few memories skittered around my head.
I thought of the wrought-iron derelict bridge and a lacerating moment when I went back there one night self-hating and pissed and feeling lonely. I was there for a while, but the only two significant moments of that night occurred when I tried to focus on the starfields above, which doubled and tripled in my eyes, and right before I left I said aloud in some remnant of a voice: “did any of this really happen?”
The memory joyfully embarrassed me, I watched the carbonation run up the walls of the two Guinness pint glasses Sarah had brought.
I remembered another moment when Kate teased me and called me “the idealist professor” and I had chased her around the cabin we had rented by the ocean and I feigned anger and threw soft things that wouldn’t break but made a lot of noise until she let me catch her. It was bliss at the time, and then my mind jumped to a moment when I overheard Kate complaining about me to one of her friends over the phone. She had said something like: “He either leaves when he should, or gets out without warning. He doesn’t understand himself. He’s a….”
And then there was the night of the bonfire when Calvin caught Kate’s mother with one of Kate’s friends in a corner of their living room. Carolyn had lost most sense of herself at that point. She pushed Calvin far beyond what most people would deal with. Kate changed a lot after that. Whenever she went to visit, I recited hostile prayers that her mother would never mention the short affair we had, really she had with me, before Kate.
There was a night in a darkened car. We were joking about screwing in a Denny’s bathroom. Kate had said that it’d be too good for us—that we should get sh*t-faced at Chuck-e-Cheese and demoralize the kids at skee-ball and steal their tickets. I agreed, but I said I didn’t think they served beer. Kate said we could play in the ball pit.
That was one of the early nights when nothing made sense because it didn’t have to because we weren’t thinking about anything at all and our attention to each other tasted crisp and intense. There was one night, I think the night after the first one we spent together, that I held her and told her that she was beautiful. She had slapped me rather hard, but her face had rouged into an impossibly attractive color, and she turned and called me a pervert and we had hilarious sex mentioning ridiculous untrue facts about breakfast sandwiches.
And then I began to remember when the stage curtain crashed down. Echoes of her saying again and again that I was f**ked up. We both were. I think she knew that, but I never said she was. That probably doesn’t matter.
Sarah handed me a napkin for the glass.
“You can give yourself some credit,” she said. I looked at her with hostile skepticism. “Yeah, you can. You’re like seventy, maybe seventy-five in the red.”
“You’re too hard on yourself. Sometimes. A lot of times you aren’t when you need to be. But you’re forgetting how much Kate drove you nuts. And, although I didn’t say this, and to be honest I don’t know for sure. Some of those nights when she was popping pills in her mouth like Altoids… I know you heard the rumors. Her definition of faithful went one way, if the rumors had any truth in them.”
“Does that matter? I had heard them then, and the rumors stopped.”
“Yeah? You are a piece of sh*t aren’t you?”
“I hated that. I said it didn’t bother me, but it did.”
“Did you think she was going to leave you, and left first?
“I thought she was going to leave me, on one hand, but the idealist in me kept that cynicism in check, and then some.”
“Back to an earlier question: no you should not call her. It might actually hurt you the most. Kate’s been in a bad place, mentally. Brandon thinks she’s developing schizophrenia.”
I looked at her quickly, and then felt even more surprised. She stared down into her glass and sighed, and then my mind began to race.
“Like Carolyn.” My voice sounded thin and hollow.
“Yes, like her mother,” said Sarah. But then a rabid indignant mood took over in my head.
“Wait, what the hell do you mean? She’s barely twenty-four!” I could feel the words vibrate in my chest.
“Jesus, Ian. Stop yelling,” she said and placed her hand on my forearm spilling some of the mimosa on my legs. She started to wipe it up but I forced her hand away.
“It’s okay. I’m sorry. I’ll clean it up.”
“For yourself, man. You’re too hard on yourself. You need to find a way to calm down.” Her hand ruffled my hair and I took a large savage gulp, letting the drink flow down my cheeks and onto my shirt and jeans. Then I looked at her and spoke with my mouth full of drink.
“Seeeeeeeee? I’mmm calmmmm.”
“Yes,” she laughed. “And a lunatic.”
We talked like that for a while. The summer drinks resuscitated some odd animals in our minds and we left the park in a gleeful craze drafting on some lofty mental winds that our separate cynicisms would, under normal conditions, macerate and mix with shit. We wandered around behind colossal silver mirrored aviators and took turns revealing excruciatingly personal information and in a blind moment Sarah said something filled with what I can only remember as hope and we did something strange and hedonistic that we decided not to tell anyone about.
After, we bought bagels with salmon and iced Americanos for a sobering march back towards the park. Brandon met us near a Taco Bell attached to a Pizza Hut, but I’m not at all sure where because I was too drunk to make out the street signs.
The coffee sent us careening through the streets with Sarah and I leading Brandon on a chase he wanted no part of until he himself had a few drinks at our insistence and then he too got into the whirling eddy of it all.
After 2 p.m. we split a pint of Knob Creek and rode the L to Manhattan and I thought I had nearly forgotten all about Kate, but as we arrived completely unnoticeable in our state at Central Park I found that I had called Kate several times, according to the log in my phone. The shock hit me dully, but the alcohol could not completely numb it, and a shroud of self-centered anger wrapped tight around my skull.
I must have begun acting really weird after that point, because Brandon and Sarah almost never mentioned my behavior, no matter to what extent I dragged it.
I tried to explain myself using short phrases like “uncontrollably discordant” and “a total f**kdown” but they did not understand me, and I cannot blame them because I did not understand myself.
We plopped down near some water in the shade of trees and when I woke Sarah and Brandon were still asleep, their faces burned pink as if they were characters in a used coloring book exemplifying reasons to finish school and stay away from certain people with certain harried proclivities.
Kate had called and left a message. The thought of listening to her voice, in any tone or mood, brought extreme excitement into whatever I have that makes a person feel, possibly a heart, but the thought also prompted harsh tremors that I wished were just the drunk shakes, but I knew that they were not.
For a while I sat and watched people walk up and down the paths and then went and bought an iced coffee and sat back down while Brandon and Sarah slept and I searched desperately in my head for memories of what I had said to Kate when I called, but it was no use.
At some point a trio of young women stopped near us and when I heard whispers and something of an excited gasp I turned to see that they were walking over. Two of them held back while the third walked closer and asked which way they needed to walk to find the Met. She had neck-length black hair held back slightly by a circle of two thick braids. Her skin was very pale, but pretty and accented by a scattershot of freckles.
We talked for a few minutes, and when I said they’d be welcome to sit down and enjoy the sun and lithe breeze, they agreed. The two who had held back sat as a pair and must have been younger than I thought, or at least youthfully minded because they made no attempt to hide their amusement and interest in what began to develop. The third girl sat relatively close to me, and told me her name, Chloe, and spoke with such an alarmingly nice smile that it made me blush several times. It was obvious that she noticed, and she somehow smiled more nicely each time.
The sleep had helped my mind slow and calm. She asked what I was doing drinking so early. I explained with brief dismissal that it was simple summer fun and referred to my iced coffee several times as example of my sobering up.
We talked for a bit longer and I asked her if she would like to go out sometime, yes, and we made plans to do so. I thought to ask her what she was doing that night, but stopped myself from that kind of short-sighted blurt. Before she left she told me that she and her two friends were having people to their apartment the following night and would I like to come by? I said yes a bit too enthusiastically and then rephrased my answer. She laughed and said something sweet and stood holding her hand out. I got up and held her hand and said it was nice to have met her, and she said she felt the same, and then laughed and I looked down to see an incriminating damp spot on my groin.
“I swear that’s just condensation from this iced coffee.” I wasn’t sure.
“You’re right, I’m lying. This is how I make stellar first impressions.”
I must have done something with my face because her expression changed slightly and she said I shouldn’t be so quick to criticize myself. I nodded, and told her I would not take her number. Her eyes grew curious and she asked why.
“Some people regret giving out their numbers later on,” I said.
“Well, I’m not that kind of girl.”
She wrote the number in purple lipstick on my wrist, and left me there in some kind of peripatetic shock that subsided quickly when Brandon and Sarah woke. The walk to Grand Central went slow. After a few minutes I asked them if they had been listening in while I talked to Chloe. They looked at each other and laughed.
“You are wasted,” Sarah said.
“No, not anymore. Think I can write this neatly with my left hand?”
I showed them the number on my right wrist and they admired it for a bit and then Sarah playfully smudged the last digit and held my arm threatening total erasure. She let go in disgust when I mentioned I took a picture of it already, a bluff. I took a discrete pic of it moments later, realizing that Chloe could possibly be the kind of girl that you have to call.
At Grand Central we parted and I walked around for a while in periods of thought and moments of blank existence.
Eventually I stopped and stood in a sterile patch of grass shaded by a sickly truculent sycamore that vibrated some weirdness that I could not discern well enough to explain. From the savage shade of that crooked and craggy sycamore I listened to a group of kids explode firecrackers as they ran by behind me.
After wandering for a while I sat down for iced water and bacon mac and cheese served in an iron skillet. Back out on the street I noticed a faded image of a Polaroid camera in a storefront window, and went in and spent what I had in cash on a camera and cartridges.
I kept walking down towards the new Trade tower where the lines of people looked sweat-caked with agitation and discomfort. Then I decided I wanted to see the Lady and kept moving down the island and stumbled upon the Irish Hunger Memorial where I took four pictures and stopped as something bothersome got me thinking. Before the pictures all fully developed I had the rare suspicion that the photos picked up on something that was not there at all, something that took from the county stones of Ireland, and the roofless house, some actual historical importance and replaced it with excessively grave sentiment rudely accented by neon lighting.
And because of the scale and available angles, it seemed impossible to capture the sharp disparity between the wealth of the tall buildings and the expressed poverty of the small plot of expensively arranged impoverished land. I left the memorial with a taint of disgust and sat on a bench and watched the ferries and birds and the sun lower a suspiciously golden veil over the Lady.
For a while I thought about Kate and very briefly about Chloe. The ambivalence at the memorial resuscitated some good thinking. Then some spastic self-criticisms manifested that grew so absurd I could not take them seriously and began to laugh at myself and cheer up a bit. The walk back towards Union Square washed away some of the vitriol and it felt more manageable to work over those tenderized memories that for many people paint such a violently brutish portrait of that weird and inelegantly polished emotion that attracts people to one another in flashes of fiery bliss and—
To be continued.