I came above ground to a uniquely deserted Union Square. Pouring rain, the concrete flooded. My copy of Bluets got soaked in my backpack, but I didn’t mind. I’d been reading it on the subway and wondered if anyone had noticed me crying, but of course when I looked up, all the people had been replaced. It would be more accurate to say that they chose to get up of their own will and because they all had other things to attend to, but right now the world feels firmly not its own, like just reflections of whatever’s in my head. To do: learn about narcissism as an actual pathological thing and not something that people say when they talk about millennials taking selfies.
I had to sit on a towel in my therapist’s office. I lamented that Man and I didn’t have more time together, that I prefer to go down with the sinking ship and exhaust all efforts than to be left to wonder what might have been. I’ll take whatever I can get, really, though I ought to consider life itself the source of said taking, as opposed to this fraction of a guy-person. That always seemed so sad, though, the Annie Hall realism. It angered me when I was with Man to hear anyone allude to any future relationships, including Man himself. I knew deep down and on every level up to the surface that they were right, but to imagine he was only the first of many was to accept that I would continue to unlearn myself. My life had ALREADY changed drastically. I was hoping that’d be the end of it.
I told her I still think about Man all the time. Not of, in passing, but about: dissecting. She asked why. “Because I can still get myself to feel butterflies.” I said I think I just have to keep draining my system of these events by replaying them, as though this were all practical, like a method for recovering from intense joy. She said that I’m probably just finding new things to fixate on, which were perhaps never even there.
I asked a friend of a friend at a party if she is able to access pockets of past feelings for previous partners. She said yes. I said, “That’s kind of nice.” She said, “I don’t mind it.” But it’s hard to believe now that I’ll get there eventually. A few days after a breaking up that had felt like a business meeting, I demanded to know, over the phone, “Are you in pain?”
“It’s not really pain,” he farted from his mouth. “More like an…emptiness? I remember when I was younger, a breakup felt like the end of the world, like I didn’t know how I’d go on living. That changes when you get older.”
“Oh, good!!! Well I’ll just carry all these feelings for the both of us until I too become a crotchety old bag who doesn’t care about anyone and is on his phone all the time and is just, you’re just, you’re like, you’re not game!”
“I’m not gay?”
“YOU’RE NOT GAME!!!!!”
“Then why do you want to date me?”
“I don’t want to date you!”
“Then what do you want?”
What did I want? What did I want? Um, um, something First Wives Club-esque, maybe: “I want my time back!!!” But what I really wanted was to go back in time, not just before any of this happened; before he had the chance to be himself. “I have to go!”
He laughed. “OK, do you want to talk later?”
Of course. Always. But I said, “NO!!!!!”
Sarah had a night shoot in Fort Greene so I visited her and stayed till 5 AM before walking home across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise. In my delirium, I decided to play the songs in my headphones that would transport me back to the period of my life that I’ve now built up so much in my mind that I am collapsing underneath it. The unpopulated bridge so early in the morning seemed like a safe place—If I revisit these memories in my apartment, my eyes will roll back into my head to search for them, and get stuck. If I revisit them while walking their original settings, my old block and Man’s block and theater and the Upper West Side where Jessica and Warren met every night will become just pavement. If I play these songs in new settings as some attempt to reclaim my and Man’s shared experiences as purely my own, I will be detracting from the specialness of the perfection that existed for a moment between them and the pictures they first soundtracked. The view from the bridge—grays, lines—was neutral enough not to change the memories but New York enough to make me feel like I am still the person they happened to.
But this self-inflicted time travel now feels like something from which I have to recover, and I am devastated to consider that writing all this may not, in fact, save me. I’d had it in my head that I could crystallize the show, refusing to accept that each one of the 230 performances is meant to disappear. That I could retrieve who I had been in the months when I wasn’t writing, and what this new city had looked like to her. That by exorcising myself of every memory shared with Man by writing them all down, I’d no longer have to keep them in my mind. But maybe it’s all just a way to put off the moving-on.
I woke up in the afternoon and found his outline in my bed. I stayed there all day and envisioned a life in which I fail to write this, walking an endless tightrope over “memory’s rapturous pain.”
I auditioned for Mary Warren in The Crucible last week and dreamt about Man every night that I was working on it, conflating him with Proctor, screaming and shaking and stamping my foot. The anger has become cartoonish, like I want to throw a pie in his face, or trip him on the street. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and write a furious email but not send it. Petra said this is good, that it’s what she did when she came out of a relationship with the same type of older guy, that sending them would be setting myself up for disappointment and to learn again that he is not who I’d hoped. But maybe I need to triple-check with him? Or quadruple-check that he’s aware that he’s lost all my respect?
ME: I just need him to know he’s horrible.
MY THERAPIST: Let’s talk about you. What do you need to know?
ME: …That he knows he’s horrible!
Sending the email is still a way of living for him, even if its contents appear to dismantle him of his power. I am not interested in I Love Dick-ing it, or, as Janet Malcolm wrote, falling in love with my own epistolary persona. I need him to both understand that I find him to be spineless, and apologize in such a way that confirms that our connection was real.
Mary Warren’s shaking turns steely once she reveals that it is she who saved Elizabeth Proctor’s life in court that day, who has the information, who could destroy them both. I am not interested in destroying Man so much as I am in using our remains to help me to access Mary’s feelings, or to write this. Actually, I am not interested so much as I have no choice: there would be no this to need to write if that had not happened, and that was 50 percent him. I’m sprinkling fairy dust in both directions, idealization and denigration. What would be the point of a factually correct historical document about a stupid fling I had when I first moved to New York? Shitty people date each other all the time. I’ve been resisting turning it all into a story; that was the old journaling habit that I broke when I stopped writing. Now I need to write again, or else I’ll remain stagnant. Maybe I should try having no agenda around how he comes off or I come off or even capturing the nice memories accurately. Maybe that’s the most organic way to reach infinity in writing, as in stage acting.
Acting defeats the Qualia Problem, that one can only ever truly know how the world looks to oneself. I know that Mary and I meet somewhere in the middle, but the physical sensation was real enough that I could have her brain instead for a couple minutes in the audition room. What sucks is that you have to really believe you’ll get the part in order to do the scene, then as soon as it’s over, you dispose of your notes and put the book back on the shelf and get used to a reality in which you lost this one. You part ways with the person you were beginning to understand. This is a business of falling quickly in and out of love.
On Sunday, Dad and Rivkah and her boyfriend and I had dinner on a boat on the East River. I’d never been drunk with my family before. We talked and looked out and made one another laugh, and Dad was so taken with the sunset that he began shouting, “Stop it! Oh, I just wanna stop it and freeze it and keep it!” Rivkah admitted to getting emotional when at the beach with Mom and Dad recently, trailing behind them and watching their footprints in the sand wash away before her. Dad said it reminded him of a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, which he then recited from memory. All I can remember other than the footprints part is when he says “the grave is not [life’s] goal.”
We took the subway back into Manhattan and I got off early to visit Jeff at his place in the East Village. Our friendship bloomed as our respective relationships ended, so he keeps having to give me back my own advice, and vice versa. All of my stoner snacks from the last time I was there were intact. He caught me up on a horrible-ish weekend on Fire Island. We went for a walk, stopped in a deli, I let him lead the way. I didn’t say anything when he headed down Man’s block, but for the first time since the breakup, I genuinely wasn’t worried we’d run into him. Instead, I pointed out his building as we approached it. I slowed down and lingered a moment. “I used to go in that door, press the buzzer, wait, turn the knob, go down a few steps, walk down the hall, go up in the elevator, turn the corner, be all excited…”
“There will be other elevators,” Jeff said.
We continued on but I looked back and up before we got too far. A head was poking out of a window, angled towards us. Four stories up, farthest on the right. A pale circle, brown hair, red collar.
“Is that him?!” I said. My feet kept on but I stayed twisted and squinting up at the moonface. He didn’t budge. I know that shirt.
“I’m so sorry to be the voice of reason, but it’s probably not.” We neared the end of the block and I turned my gaze forward.
“That was his window though. That was actually his window.”
“Alright, so there will be other windows.”
“I mean, think of where you both are right now: he’s in his apartment alone at night, looking out at you, while you’re walking around the city with your new haircut and a handsome guy, eating some blueberry oatmeal to-go. It’s sad for him!”
“Yeah, I’m sure once he saw the oatmeal he was just like, Oh. I see. Glad she’s doing well.”
Today Rachel held a flea market where I’d been invited to sell some of my stuff. I picked all the clothes from before I moved to New York: cutesy miniskirts, disco gowns. (Every aesthetic has two versions: the real one and then the Fangirl edition, e.g., there’s real gothic and then 90s Mall Goth; mod and then British schoolgirl complete with buttons and patches.) I was happy to pare my wardrobe down to what I ended up naturally gravitating toward once I got here. Eliminate the time zone of expectation. I bought a Samantha Pleet dress with Joan of Arc embroidered on the front.
Jack asked how things were going with Man at Rachel’s birthday party a few weeks ago. I told him we’d broken up.
“It wasn’t going well?”
“Nah. I mean, you saw me on New Year’s.”
Two of my closest friends from high school were visiting. The show would close January 4, and I was trying not to think about it. We took a cab across the bridge to a party Rachel and Jack were hosting at a restaurant, filled with colored lights, sparkly snowflakes, streamers, and everyone in top hats like the tea party in Alice in Wonderland. I got so drunk that by the time Miles brought me my millionth vodka soda I took a sip before frowning and squawking, “This is just water!” We ran inside to dance when “Blank Space” came on. I met Durga while “Flawless” was playing and was reminded of who I was when that Beyoncé album first came out and I liked myself more than I could ever like a boy and I wondered where she’d gone. I texted Man to sound more drunk than I was so that there would be an excuse for my forwardness in asking him to join us before midnight. He didn’t feel like leaving Manhattan. My friends told me I flirted a lot with another dude and put my hands on his shoulders and stared into his eyes and then wailed Man’s name. We went up to Jack and Lena’s apartment where my despair turned to laughter with no explanation. There’s a photo of me lying on the white carpet and cracking up, Siobhan and Miles hovering over me but not let in on the joke. We party-hopped to Kieran’s brother’s where I tried to play Mario Kart for an hour before Kieran started a game of charades just for me and indicated “three words” and pointed to his eye and I said “WHO’S THE BOSS?” and he kept saying I was wrong and I kept saying “WHO’S THE BOSS. WHO’S THE BOSS. WHO’S THE BOSS.” It was I Love Lucy. I was told that I ran out and flew menacingly in and out of the hallways and down the back stairs in the coat I’d bought earlier that day: teddy bear fur, bejeweled cupid’s arrows. I dropped my red leather gloves that had belonged to Audrey Hepburn and then Winona Ryder, on the street. My caretakers shrieked and saved them. I ended up at Man’s. In the morning, I teared up, hungover, and texted Sarah with my back to him. “Why do I keep doing this he doesn’t care about me he isn’t paying attention to me.” I turned around and realized he was, in fact, sleeping.
We had such a nice day of doing nothing. At breakfast he asked me to walk him through my whole bizarre career and he looked up the magazine cover I was on when I was 13 and I was so unprepared to be reminded of who I had been that I blushed and tried to grab his phone. He said “I know what you look like!” and took my hand but then we both became aware of the restaurant so he lowered it onto the seat of the booth and let go.
A listener at Rachel’s party: “You shouldn’t feel like there’s something wrong with you for having loved a kind of messed up person, because there’s good in him too, and it is real, but it’s tricky with people like that because you see it and they don’t. So they can’t give more of it. It’s like being in love with a ghost. But it was there.” ♦