Song: “I love you like an alcoholic” – the taxpayers
I don’t know which vice to indulge in today. My chest burns with what has been diagnosed as anxiety, because no one can figure out what the fuck is wrong with me. No one can comprehend why, at twenty-one years old, I’m left in a debilitating state of chronic breathlessness. I’m not a saint, I’m an addict. So, I understand why my health might take the occasional left turn, why it might veer off of the highway and crash into a pole in the blue dark and force me to slow down. But, this sensation of chest tightness, impending doom, is so isolating. I’m struggling to explain the terrifying ostracization of feeling a psychological disease as a constant physical manifestation, similar to the sensation of an elephant sitting on your soul. It feels like I might die. Happy Sunday.
I made plans to let a Tinder guy tattoo a large spider on my outer forearm tonight at seven’o’clock. I don’t know if I had any intentions of actually going, but I don’t mean to waste his time. I’m teetering on this strange tightrope that divides my two needs – 1) the need to not be alone, to stop wasting my days in empty aimlessness and 2) the need to not be perceived, the fear of suffocating and melting into the ground due to this condition. Strangers have been rendered a challenge for me, just like love and grocery stores and sobriety. There is not much that prevents me from feeling absolutely, utterly concave – not beer or SSRIs or my old, favorite sad movies. I am strictly vulnerable, strictly bones and shame, strictly rib-cage and wilting lilacs and shitty poetry. I don’t mean to monologue my way into the darkness of pity-seeking. Pity-seeking is not interesting or meaningful, and despite the peril that I feel that I am in when my body decides to mimic rejection, I am determined to hold onto the shreds of myself that are me – and those, motherfucker, are interesting.
However. On a hungover Sunday that leaves me particularly restless, I call my best friend, Rosie to complain about the agony of my recent, two mundane tinder dates. I tell her that I am a hopeless romantic and that I want dark, nuanced, cinematic immediate connection. I want flowers in the bathtub and soul scorching intimacy and sarcasm that makes my stomach flutter. I want closeness that feels like sharing an inside joke, flitting around the damp streets of an empty city. Rosie says that the bleakness of Tinder is a sign to focus on “mer.”
But I see two people getting married on this Sunday morning and there is not enough space for Jesus for me to be anything but jealous. And jealousy is unholy. I feel jealous that my relationship with the only man I ever loved became a black hole of turbulence and bruises and anger. I am jealous that I loved him into a pit of comfortable, deeply wounding loneliness, one that is hard to climb out of. I am jealous of people who don’t need the way I need, of people who don’t quiver with inexplicable desire that punctures their days like a needle. I am jealous of people who don’t become angry when there is nothing left to say, of those who don’t feel slighted by the moon when it hangs in the sky as a tiny crescent. I want to scream “give me more of you” because one tiny slice of it isn’t enough.
As a matter of fact, I want to swallow the sky. And perhaps this is why I am a complicated, terrible lover. My raging immoderacy spills over into every facet of my life, and the only cups that can seem to hold it belong to equally immoderate drinkers.
I get a flashback of the love that I miss so deeply.
It’s summer. Muggy, five am, I wake up in Aidan’s* bed, to the sound of birds chirping and a full body anxiety that resembles only what I can imagine being trapped in an elevator would feel like. Aidan has a house now, one on South Street, which he shares with his brother, and two roommates who boast hair just as long and knotty beneath their beanies as his. One roommate is into the streetwear scene, which doesn’t bring me particularly fond memories – considering my first boyfriend deciding to name a shitty hoodie brand “heartbreakers” – a direct dig at me after our uh, falling out. Their house is surprisingly uncluttered, give or take the odd misplaced bicycle or skateboard strewn at random in the kitchen or living room. However, his bedroom is exactly what I would’ve expected – navy blue sheets on my old mattress, sitting in the center of the floor without a bed frame. He’s hung these obnoxious, large, black out curtains over both of his windows – and the rest of the space is empty minus his grandmother’s old, stained leather arm chair and a tv. On the arm chair sits the vintage Camel Cigarettes cap I got him for Christmas, some collectable edition vintage matchbooks, two empty packs of Marlboros, a half-full bottle of whiskey and a Modest Mouse record – the essentials.
Before I can realize and consciously reject what I’m doing, my finger is tracing the pillow indent in Aidan’s cheek, and I’m playing with the matted brown hair stuck to his forehead. His eyes flutter open, and it feels exposing – so familiar that it’s unfamiliar, like the two of us got trapped in some dejavu fever dream and we don’t know what we’re doing here in the sobering, (albeit minimal) sunlight trickling through the window. I sit up and push the heavy god damn curtains to the side, to light the cigarette short I see on the windowsill.
“These curtains are depressing, and they’re making it so that you have less serotonin,” I tell him, matter-of-factly – as if it’s not entirely weird that I’m in my underwear in the only person I’ve ever loved’s sheets after six months of radio silence and a pandemic.
“Wait,” he says, and takes the cigarette out of my mouth. He replaces it with a full Marlboro, and lights it for me. “Come here.”
He lights his own cigarette and takes off his pants, grinning.
I laugh. And so we do it, right there, by the open window, while smoking with the light and the street and the noises of the rest of the world seemingly miles below us.
Aidan has depression and I want him to do things with me – which isn’t necessarily a fair request of someone who has depression, but he refuses to get help.
“We’re going to the beach if you want to come,” he tells his roommate, Jack. All of Aidan’s best friends live at the beach. He grew up at the beach. He was traumatized by the beach, he found companions at the beach, he watched his mother lose herself to drugs at the beach. The beach gave birth to him. It’s not obvious, he’s not a surfer type or particularly fond of being outdoors, at all. But the Jersey Shore is a part of him, nonetheless.
Jack, being the happy-go-lucky down for whatever type, happily obliges. He’s even cool with driving my car, which is a literal gift from God, because highways render me panic-stricken and disoriented on a good day, at this point in time. And I think Aidan’s doing better, I really do. He’s laughing and eating french fries and reaching up to the front seat to offer me cigarette hits without me having to ask on the drive there.
We pick up his childhood best friend, Lake, (yes – his nickname is Lake, after an embarrassing incident at summer camp where he narrowly escaped drowning) and head over to the tiny, yellow home that his friends Jay and Cristine rent. The grass is browning prematurely in their lawn (it’s only August) and the skeleton of a Chevy truck sits, wheel-less in the driveway, but Jay is “fixing it” and Aidan seems happy to be interacting with them.
“How’ve you guys been?” Cristine asks me.
“We’re good,” I lie.
“How was Germany?”
I don’t tell her that we broke up over the phone while we were oceans away from each other.
“It was good,” I say.
She lights a Menthol.
“I need a vacation, you know?”
“Yeah. My dad has a place in..North Carolina. We should go there together sometime, it wouldn’t cost anything and the beaches are big.”
Her face lights up. “Really?”
I reach up and play with a strand of her curly, green-dyed hair.
“Yeah, why not?”
Aidan, Jack and I head over to a motel on Route 73, accompanied by Jay, Cristine, Lake, and another one of Aidan’s friends – who quite literally has only one tooth left, nicknamed Creature. The name doesn’t have anything to do with his lack of dental hygiene, but I’ve always been too afraid to ask about its origins.
Aidan pays for the motel after I promise that I’ll pay him back in two days, when I get my monthly allowance. No, I don’t want to talk about the fact that I’m 21, receiving a monthly allowance.
We pass around shots of tequila, and another type of vodka so strong that it makes my eyes water. The motel is dingy, rust stains in the bathtub, and unidentifiable stains in the sink. I make a silent mental note to refrain from sleeping under the sheets – even bare legs on the comforter would be pushing it.
“I wanna gamble,” says Creature. And when a group of twenty-somethings, stir crazy from a pandemic have all begun to pollute their systems with seven dollar liquor – it’s a hard prospect to hate.
“I’ve never been gambling, legally yet,” I admit.
Creature grins and high fives me.
“So, that’s a virginity we have to take.”
The casino is grand and vacant. It’s weird, walking by these unattended, lit up game machines – almost haunting, like an abandoned amusement park.
Aidan leans in really close to my ear, so close that his breath raises goosebumps on my neck.
“I’m feeling really manic,” he says. “Can you watch out for me?”
I touch his arm, lightly.
“What do you mean?” I whisper back.
We’re following the rest of the group down the casino’s runway-wide marble hallways towards the ATMS.
“Just, please make sure nothing happens to me.”
I think his voice is trembling, but it’s hard to tell at such a low volume.
I can no longer keep that promise. But, on nights like this, I wish I could.