Essays from the Bushwick Collection (2017)

Essay #1 On my first day back in Brooklyn, I awoke with my favorite kind of hangover. The ache in my temples was benign and cranky; an old mannish energy of sorts. The pain hovered over me, but did not penetrate the core of me, rendering the whole world ugly through its eyes (that would be a bad hangover). In my belly was a curious, distinct hunger that I imagine must be akin to morning sickness: a thrilling pendulum of nausea and hunger vacillated in me, inevitably landing on hunger. I was a fat kid inside. My heart sang a rhapsody of Little Debbies and American Cheese singles, but my body was forced to obey certain rules. The golden rule, of course, being no carbs. Of course, on a hangover day, that rule was suspended. I loved the relinquishment. I rolled like a stillborn fetus out of the sheets of an unfamiliar bed. Lest this give you the wrong idea, I’ll tell you that it was my new bed, in a new apartment — not that of, say, a lover. I was celibate at the time, and there will be (next to) no sex in this story. Even still, this will be the most R rated chapter of my life. Never have I been less innocent and more desperate. Never has the word FUCK been more of a foundation of my thoughts, the exclamatory pulsing in my chest. I will also come out sober on the other side. But if you told me that morning, as I staggered into the punishing sunlight, I would have taken you for one of Brooklyn’s lost children, an emissary of wisdom and schizophrenia. My new apartment was a basement one, on Troutman Street in Bushwick. There was no window, and my mother worried I may be incinerated in the event of a fire. It was glum and monastic, and I did next to nothing to make it my own. I was never the type of kid who hung magazine cutouts in my locker, and I wasn’t the type of 29-year-old who hung HomeGoods proverbs on my wall. Eventually, I would hang my dresses, a beautiful plumage that carried an anthology of nights out and various dates. But I never did that for the first few weeks of a new apartment. I was only a few blocks from the JMZ train, which my landlady cleverly highlighted in her ad. Our agreement was an unusual one, which may be why it appealed to me: I liked to live like a character in a short-story. My rent would be $450/month (unheard of in the Brooklyn. Unheard of in Inwood!). In exchange, I would watch her dog for her while she was in Puerto Rico, and rent out the other rooms in her apartment to Air BnBers. I would also rent apartments for her real estate company. I had loosely practiced real estate since 2013. I loved being 1099, because it was far freer than being a W2. My new “lease” was conferred over text message, with me sternly promising six months of tenancy — then, WE’LL SEE! You may say that I struggled with commitment-phobia, but I think I actually did very well with it. I stumbled down Troutman with a burning belly, overdressed for August in Brooklyn. The asphalt bounced sulfuric heat in my face, the devil’s flatulence, and all my senses were roughly invaded. Sun-sapped colors and fermented smells teased the continuum of nausea and hunger. Spanish was exuded from the street corners like birdsong; Arabic licked the tiled awning of store-fronts. A laundromat trumpeted its wash-and-fold service: “$.50 a pound!” (Uninteresting to me, because my new home had a washer and clothesline). A massive Sunoco sat on Bushwick Ave, oddly pristine in this chaotic bazaar, as though it might be a corporate home-base for the whole burrow. Diagonal from the Sunoco, I found my destination; the universal truth of Brooklyn: the bodega. There is a bodega on every block from Myrtle Ave to Coney Island. Whether the owners are Tunisian, Dominican, Afghani, Pakistani, Bengali, Puerto Rican or Other, they have one thing in common: they make a superb fucking sandwich. I do believe the art of the toasted sandwich must be a prerequisite course before obtaining one’s bodega license. How else would the process be as perfectly uniform as an Egg McMuffin? The bodega sandwich always comes on a roll with some sort of yellow grains on top. You can choose to have it toasted (the only reason you wouldn’t is because you’re in a miserable hurry). You can have whatever you want inside: tuna fish, turkey and cheese; egg and cheese; bacon, egg, and cheese. You bob your head rhythymlessly to a satar while the sandwich is being made. As you unwrap the hot foil, you are seized by the anticipatory lust that this will be the best thing you ate today, or any day. That morning, I opted for turkey, egg, and cheese. The bodega boy smiled handsomely and called me “habbibi,” and I called him it right back, as though this was our pet name from the first day we were married. In my reasoning, we were entering into a marriage of sorts. We were going to see each other every day, and assume an elegant intimacy. I’d ask how his mom was, my eyebrows boinged with comic concern, and he would tell me I was beautiful, even on my most Tara Reid of mornings. As it turned out, we would be short-lived: my would bodega boy would find me on Facebook a week later, offering to pay me for sex, his wife at home be dammed. I would switch to the bodega on Myrtle, where the boys better understood the boundaries of flirty patronage. I sat on a bench underneath the train, tucking into my steaming sandwich. The bun promised with a soothing, grandmotherly hand to sponge up the Jameson in my system, which ran through me like a stagnant aqueduct. Jameson was my one true love, and no matter how many times I woke up feeling this way, I never disavowed him. The sun made the turkey glisten like rhinestones in a child’s tiara. I groped in my bra for my other Habibi, my Adderall. I unscrewed the capsule and dumped some of the bitter power on my tongue. This was a ritual I did at least four times a day, whenever I was bored or hungry or slouchy or hungover. If you had told me that I was essentially doing bumps of coke throughout my day, I would have spat defensively, “I have ADHD, thank you VERY much!” This was true, but I hadn’t written a paper since 2011. The fact that it was prescribed as a concentration agent was secondary. I never gave my attention to things that bored me, anyway. There was a gruesome satisfaction in my morning crust, the dawning impression that I was a wayward molecule here. I think it’s because I was powered by a purpose greater than Jameson, greater than real estate, bigger and richer than Brooklyn itself. I was a writer, and I was telling a story. I was so passionately in love with it that it made me indifferent to everything else. I had been writing it for a year, and delighted in my ability to plunge into my secret universe whenever I pleased. You cannot imagine the pleasure it afforded me. Sometimes I wondered if any other human had ever felt this way, but the thought was a dandelion puff in the wind. If someone told me I was bordering on schizophrenia for spending so much time with imaginary people, I would have contritely told them that I was still having fun. I walked back to my new home, emolliated and content. On the stoop, in the percussive buzz of wheeling bikes and shrieking children and honking cars, I realized I had forgotten my key. I spent $150 on a locksmith. I had only brought $400 with me to Brooklyn. Essay #2 My hangover was from going out the night before with two beloved friends, Yash and Kevin. Kevin was the one who drove me to Brooklyn. Almost every time I’ve ever moved in my life, he’s helped with the haul and schlep. He’s usually possessed of a car, too, which is a rarity in Brooklyn. Like me, he has ADHD, and resists the grind of 9–5 in pursuit of his art, or maybe just as an inner retaliation to a system he never agreed to. We met when he sold my brother his ID in college, a hot commodity to a thirsty freshman. He has the same height and coloring as my brother. As we drove, his peripheral animus formed my brother at times. They even smelled alike, a curious chemistry of boyish sweat and Tide and deodorant. It comforted me, because I adored my brother. I adored Kevin, too. The cadence of his voice was like someone continually reading a report where the words got smaller and smaller. Sometimes he tapered off all together, and sometimes he flared up. I don’t want him to be self-conscious when he reads this, because it’s one of his defining traits, like saying he has blue eyes or freckles. We drove down from Binghamton the afternoon before. I have no memories of this trip, other than texting the guy whose poker game I had been working to tell him I was leaving the area. I didn’t care for gambling, but I made for an adequate poker girl. Gambling men seemed to like me. It was as though the peaks and valleys of my own addiction beckoned to them like echolocation. This is 2020 me saying this. 2017 me would not have allowed the word “addiction” to enter her thought space. After Kevin helped move me in, we went out. This was my homecoming: I hadn’t been back to the city since before Trump was elected. Excitedly, I told Yash to come meet us. He took very little plying. I can’t remember Yash ever saying no to anything. He went to college with my brother. As you might infer from his name, he is Indian. I had an Indian stepfather for the majority of my childhood, and I think this had to influence my feelings for Yashy. Though three years younger, I found him deeply paternal. He radiated a serenity that soothed the crackling white noise inside me. Our triad had Mexican food at a bright cantina that was kitty-corner to Yash’s apartment in BedStuy. It looked like Frida Kahlo’s temple of love, but the tacos were hardly transcendant. Plus, they didn’t sell liquor, only wine. For me, drinking sangria was like putting a quarter tank of leaded gas in a race car. It wasn’t worth the calories. I left feeling despondently as though I’d chewed gum for dinner. We wound up at another bar in the neighborhood. It felt al fresco, because the bar opened to the street and was subtly festooned with vines. God, it was beautiful! Each table was its own isthmus, and I couldn’t investigate the faces of the other patrons. A tea light sat on our table, softly dancing about our cheeks, imploring us to tell our best stories, divulge feelings that violated the social code of insouciance. I had the glorious sense that I was finding here whatever it was I’d been seeking. Yash bought me a Jameson rocks without needing to ask for my order. He inquired about my new job and living situation. I flicked away his curiosity. He was so kind to care, but I had zero tolerance for discussing anything that wasn’t 100% ecstasy. Details made me want to jump out of my skin, and when I was drinking, I lost the ability to hide it. “We’re only a ride on the G apart,” Yashy told me, flashing his radiant smile. Oh, how I loved him! How I loved them both! Would I ever be able to love one man as much as I loved my friends? I didn’t care, because it felt so good to love them now. We may have danced in the bar, as the Jameson approached high tide, because we were inclined to break into dance, as though the world was our Bollywood movie. My friends didn’t know (and still don’t) how much they inspire my writing. My characters are suffused with the energy of my loved ones, which is why they’re so vibrant and dimensional. I always say that my characters have the soul of someone I love, but I usually don’t know who it is at first. For instance, it took me forever to realize that Yash is the inspiration for Shilah Walsh, a soulful character who plays a big role in my second book. Yash’s smile and serenity supplied the very bones of this character. And Kevin, such a loyal, righteous, just Aquarian, insisting on living life on his own terms. He’s the basis for Brendan, one of the fifteen Walsh cousins, who moves out to Montana to live off his land. (I can hear Kevin objecting, “but I’ve never been to Montana…” I get it, dingus! But your energy still powers the character!!) Someone, possibly Kevin, proposed that it was getting late. A tab was paid. I didn’t mind peeling off another twenty from my billfold, because it still felt thick and everlasting. I don’t remember how I got home. This isn’t as much a testament to my wet brain as it is my selective memory. I don’t remember the tedium of comings and goings, but I remember Kevin telling me that day about how his older brother turned him into good music from an early age. In bed, I didn’t know if it was 11:30 or 1. I hated the concept of time. I wish we could govern our engagements by the position of the sun in the sky. I also didn’t love the thought of being 29, and the onus of all it implied. What was the average 29-year-old woman doing tonight? Probably planning her wedding, with a chaste glass of wine in her belly. I should have, I should have, drank water that night, but I was already snuggly in my new bed. Should I be planning my wedding? I wondered. But there was no one I wanted to marry. All I wanted was to play with my friends and write my story. Was that okay? I wished a nurse figure would descend from the stained drop ceiling, nodding calmly and assuring me that I was perfectly normal. But the evidence against me was mounting every time I scrolled through my newsfeed. Basically everyone I went to high school and college with was getting engaged, getting married, or doing a name-reveal party in their backyard. I think age 26 was the equator between “Before” and “After.” It was though one Saturday when I was hungover, all millennial girls reported to a seminar which informed them that should plan to marry by 28 (“29 at the latest.”) In the next classroom over were bodega boys, learning to make toasted sandwiches. And across town was me, obliviously watching Aerosmith videos in bed. I craved to know someone like me, a single girl who loved having fun and wasn’t sure if she was the marrying kind. Someone who didn’t look at her watch at 9 and sigh that she had to get up early tomorrow for hot yoga. Someone who wasn’t sure how she fit into the framework of society, so she founded her own private club. A chick who kept a flask in her purse, because ennui was her enemy. Little did I know, she would come knocking on my door in the next few days. Essay #3 One of the terms of my tenancy on Troutman was that I help to welcome guests who would be staying in the the apartment. My landlady was renting out her room and her young son’s room while away. Her bedroom, which offered access to the garden, would be occupied by a revolving door of Air BnBers. Her son’s bedroom would be for longer term guests. Alina was the first to move into the son’s room. She came early on a warm Saturday, and I rued my boss for asking me to wake up and let her in. My acid move dissolved when I saw her: a sweet blond chicklet on my stoop, 21 years old, 5 feet tall, with a voice like Bavarian cream. Of course she was a Taurus, with her regal, unhurried carriage and her velvety voice. I soon learned she was 1/3 of a set of triplet sisters, though I never met the other 2/3. She was here for an “externship,” which was a big part of the curriculum at Northeastern, where she was a junior. I loved her height, and marveled that such depth of maturity and self-possession could reside in such a petite structure. As a woman who is 5’11, petiteness thrilled and mystified me. To see someone whose legs didn’t touch the floor when they sat down was like witnessing a bit of witchcraft. She may as well have been double-jointed, or a German speaker. I think my own feet had touched the ground in kindergarten. Alina was my first Gen Z friend. She was born the year I was in 4th grade, when being called gay was the ultimate insult (though most kids didn’t even know what it meant). I could tell this wasn’t the world she came of age in. She had likely known trans people in high school. Her friends could entertain the notion of falling in love, irrespective of someone’s gender. She spoke compassionately about racial politics, without professing to know experiences that she had not lived. She could have gracefully guided a bigot through the fallacy of the “All Lives Matter” movement. I welcomed her attention to these subjects, which were scarcely discussed amongst my white friends and me. I couldn’t imagine her being assailed with the indignity of boy-girl dealings; crude pick-up lines and unsolicited dick pics. If it happened, I could see her calmly instructing the man on the right way to speak, and him hearing her; doleful, penitent, and better for it. Alina wasn’t, however, the friend I was referring to in my previous essay. She was nine years younger, and though probably wiser, I felt a strong desire to protect her. I wanted her to feel safe in our home. If I mentioned my Adderall use to her, I would have packaged it in a breezy tone designed to curry coolness, a fun aunt smoking weed at Thanksgiving dinner. If I told her I did it when I was sad or bored or hungry, she would have been concerned. She was strong and smart and knew instinctively where boundaries were. I never drank in front of her unless it was appropriate: 10 pm on Thursday, with music playing from someone’s phone. The other nights, I drank alone in the basement, and told her I was writing. The fun friend was on her way to me. We had only met once before, years ago, when I lived in France as an au pair. She was coming through New York City, and needed a place to stay for a few nights. She messaged me over Facebook, saying as much. She had had a place all booked, but it fell through, for reasons that aren’t clear to me now and probably weren’t then. Her name was Chloe. She had a French father and a Brazilian mother. This automatically elevated her to the highest echelon of cool in my mind. There is nothing I find more exotic, most exciting, that dual-citizenship. Chloe had four passports and spoke five languages. She spoke English with an Australian accent, because she spent a few years Down Under, perfecting the art of yoga. She used the C word liberally and affectionately. When she drank, she stayed out until last call, or until her money ran out, whichever came first. She had lived nine lives, and she wasn’t yet 27. Of course she could stay with me! Essay #4 Chloe was beautiful. All of my friends are. If I’ve ever invited you to lunch or coffee, it means I love your face as much as I do your character. I never tire of admiring a nice face, no matter how many times I’ve beheld it. I noticed that the more attractive a person is, the less I am able to find fault with them. I think men appraise women by this same standard without even realizing it. Chloe had brown eyes, which could proffer the warmth of a teddy bear’s hug. Her square face with high cheekbones might have been whittled by an artisanal doll-maker. There was an ivory glow to her skin, as though the full moon shone through her pores. She had a beautiful pearly smile, and she soon admitted to me that she had veneers done that summer. (Vaguely, I wondered how she could afford veneers on a yoga instructor’s income). Though I could not fit into her jeans or sneakers, soon I would be mindlessly wearing her blouses. Chloe and I discovered we were kindred spirits immediately. Her suitcases sat upright in my living room, awaiting their next destination, while she and I connected over a bottle of wine. Any formality between us thawed after our first glass. By the end of the second, we were caught up on the last five years. As the red meniscus shrank lower still, we commiserated over the general fuckery of our existences. There is something very comforting about saying “our fuckery,” versus “my fuckery.” It’s a simple strength in numbers concept. One person waist-deep in fuckery is a tragedy; two people is a comedy. Chloe was heading upstate to teach yoga in Rochester. Her arrangement was apparently very common in the yoga world: you are given free room and board in exchange for teaching X number of classes per week. The whole idea had a nice ring to my ears. Yoga instructing seemed like a fine avenue for exploring the world (though privately, I didn’t think there was much world to be explored in Rochester, apart from Wegmans and the Kodak Theatre). Chloe wanted to go out and explore the watering holes of Bushwick. I was more hermetic by nature, so I would laughingly tell her I wanted to stay in (“I know, I’m so lame — ha ha!”) But Chloe was possessed of a cunning kind of charm. She knew exactly how to pitch a plan so that it appealed to my mild agoraphobia: “let’s go out for one drink, come home, and watch Girls.” (Someone could’ve inserted a laugh-track here for, “one drink.”) Girls was a new show for her, which boggled my mind. She was in Australia while Lena Dunham was setting flat-screens on fire with her pubescent tits and grotesque authenticity. What’s more, Chloe had not grown up in America, so she had missed out on all the movies that were basically required viewing for girls. She had never seen Clueless, She’s All That, and 10 Things I Hate About You. It was my absolute joy to watch these treasures with her for the first time. I tried to imagine seeing them through her eyes, the movies that were such a formative part of my experience. How many of my gestures and phrases had I absorbed from Cher in Clueless? How many of my romantic ideals had been formed by Paul Rudd and Heath Ledger? The first time I saw Paul Rudd watch Alicia Silverstone walk down the stairs was the first time I felt what it was like when a guy liked you. Same with Freddy Prince Jr seeing Lainey descend her stairscase, as ‘Kiss Me’ purred in the background (what the hell was with the slow-mo staircase trope, anyway?) So deeply had I internalized the character of Cher, I was pretty sure she was the bones of my own greatest character, Blaise Foley, a spoiled bourbon heiress, and the star of my first novel. Chloe was there when a twenty-something French couple came to stay. (Their arrival ousted her from the big bedroom to an air mattress in my basement). The guy had an earnest, slightly nervous expression, while the girl was relaxed and unfazed. They had been together six months and had a sweet shiftiness about them, understanding what a trans-Atlantic trip could do to their relationship. I insisted on speaking French to them as I gave them the keys and inquired about their journey. When Chloe met them, she spoke in effortless French, looking and sounding like she belonged in a café in Paris, smoking a Galouise. I wondered why she wasn’t, why she had wanted to come to this country, this state. When I spoke, my French got knotted up in my self-consciousness. I spent five seconds groping for the right word, and they all crumbled with laughter. We went out to the garden to party with the Frenchies. Two magnums of wine were drank between Chloe and me. (Incidentally, the Frenchies were beer drinkers) I left the empty bottles out there all season, even as frost coated the grass. There is a picture taken from that night of us, smiling hazily in the flash. I can’t remember one thing from this night, or what I was trying to say when I fumbled my French. I pouted when Chloe got on the bus for Rochester. “You should stay here,” I whined. She had only stayed with me for a week and a half, but we were cultivating the sort of intimacy that only summer campers or prisoners understood. I knew how she took her coffee. I knew where she went every time she left the apartment. I frequently said, “CRIKEY!” a la Steve Irwin, in imitation of her accent. She was teaching me not to balk at the C word (not crikey, that is). She had a bucket-full of stories that she dispersed as we walked, and I fastidiously collected each one, which I was placing in a folder labeled “New Friend.” (Which may soon be changed to — dare I say? — Best Friend) We had French, our secret language (we acted as though we invented it) and we openly spoke it in front of others, namely guys in bars (“tu veux bouger ou non?” “Non, ce type va nous acheter des boissons, je crois…”) We also had Adderall, our shared boyfriend. Chloe would have done any drug, but she easily adopted mine as her new beloved. I was happy to have someone to share him with, after so many years of secrecy. Polyamory suited us. As we waited for her Uber, I gave her her parting gift: a tab of my 15 milligram XR Addy. I was only allowed 30 in a month, so this was as precious as two pints of blood. Chloe understood. She gasped and hugged me. “Thanks for the angel bust, babe!” she said, as her Uber pulled up. “Let me know when you get to Roch,” I said, hugging her wiry body. I felt glum and overcast for hours. I probably wouldn’t see her again for at least six months. Little did I know how wrong I was. Essay #5 It was time for me to start focusing on real estate. My fortnight of shenanigans with Chloe had cost me greatly: now I barely had enough money for groceries. I forgot how goddamn expensive the city was. I could drop $25 in a bodega and have nothing to show for it but peanut butter, eggs, two dark Lindt chocolate bars, and coffee (minus Jameson, these were my essentials). Remember, I had only brought $400 with me, $150 of which was now lining the pockets of a Locksmith on Myrtle Ave. From Puerto Rico, over FaceTime, my boss taught me how to advertise for her apartments. I joined about 30 Facebook groups. Then I was to post the same ad in each one, every day, ideally several times per day. She had a boutique real estate agency with a number of listings across Bushwick. Most of them were 2–3 bedroom apartments along the JMZ, from Flushing to. Broadway Junction. If you’ve been to even one rehabbed Brooklyn apartment, you know what these places look like: the white, 12 FT tall doors; the thin, black, rectangular door-handles; cherry floors; melamine kitchen cabinets, and a doll-sized dishwasher which we agents present with Bob Barker bravado. I had a lot of experience in real estate, and I knew how to make an attention-grabbing ad. Price and neighborhood were paramount, so you put that in the headline. Then you dolled it up with pictures and solid, secondary details. (I liked to mention when a neighborhood had “strong bodega game,” and fun bars just a “stone-throw away!!” I should have mentioned that it would have to be the kid from Rookie of the Year who was throwing the stone…) Within five minutes of posting, my Facebook inbox was flooded with messages. At first, I was overjoyed. I would have these apartments rented out by tea time! But as I sifted through the messages, I grew disheartened. A lot of people asked if we accepted Section 8. My boss told me to say, “hang on, let me check!” and then never get back to them. If we said no, then we could be accused of practicing discriminatory housing. None of our landlords wanted Section 8 tenants. They wanted tenants with income 40x the rent, 700+ credit, who could afford to pay first, last, and security upfront. The problem was, this type of renter wasn’t looking in Bushwick. A lot of other responses were from twentysomethings, effusively filling my inbox with their big city dreams: “hey Carson!! I’m Erin/Maya/Seth! I saw your ad and I’m totally interested in setting up a tour! I’m going to be in NYC for six months for a photography internship/filming a movie/having a summer session at NYU…” But three, six, nine month stays wouldn’t work: our landlords wanted a 12 month lease. And forget about the internationals: they didn’t have credit in the US. When I gently pressed them about finding an American guarantor who had good financials, most of them ghosted me — understandably so. The work became like pan-sifting. Every day, I shook through piles and piles of sand, occasionally getting excited by glints of shine, only to find it was a gum wrapper. It may take me a day or two to qualify a lead. Then, of course, I had to show the place. I would show an apartment an average of 5–20 times before getting it rented. To save money, I would walk there and take the subway back. I logged 7,000 steps daily, hoofing down Bushwick Ave, past liquor stores and laundromats and Key Foods, past withered septuagenarians with push-carts and healthy, sinewy hipsters in Converses, past Halsey Street and Putnam Ave, and other streets that haunted me worse than any nightmare on Elm Street, because I couldn’t get those apartments rented. My lower back ached and the sun set, and my feet were now encoded with the wisdom of the laborer, who knew how to let the dregs of the day go, and pin their prayers on tomorrow. I wasn’t dating at this time. I was too obsessed with survival to be coquettish. Plus, I didn’t know what I wanted from men. Actually, I did: I wanted them to look at me in that yearning way, reminding me that I was still 5’11 and willowy, and making me feel as powerful as Circé. Then I wanted them to leave me alone…until I needed something fixed. I mentioned in my first essay that I was celibate back then. I think it’s important to tell you why. For all the Medium articles and Cosmo magazines I’ve read, I’ve never encountered a story about a girl having feelings like mine, or acting how I chose to act. Maybe my account needs to be added to the world’s narrative. Maybe it’ll even resonate with you. I was 15 when Xtina was liberating us women from slut-shaming with Dirrty. By the time I was in college, it was utterly passé to call a woman a slut. “Slut” and “whore” went to rot in the same putrid landfill as “f*ggot” did. Good riddance. I guess we were free to f*ck anyone we wanted (pardon me, I loathe “fuck” as a verb — I’m an Irish prude at heart). It was liberating…wasn’t it? Since as far back as I could remember, the predominant message I’ve received about sex was, “do whatever makes you feel good.” Any further detail could’ve threatened the progress we had worked so hard to make. But with that, I remember always thinking…THANKS A LOT…BUT A FEW GUIDELINES WOULD BE NICE!!! I had been conditioned since kindergarten to follow rules. We had guidelines, etiquette, protocol, and laws for every other human transaction. Except for THIS transaction, so big and all-consuming, that one single act of it could bring about life or death. The act that was so unspeakable that, if a guy had you over for dinner (that led to s-e-x), you sheepishly said afterwards, “well thanks for dinner.” How the hell was I to know what was right and wrong? For about five years, I had been constantly contacted by a guy from my hometown. Let’s call him Sam. At least once a month, Sam hit me up over Facebook messenger, text, or SnapChat, trying to arrange to see me. Of course, he never explicitly said, “I want to sleep with you.” That would be in violation of the tacit rules that exist between boys and girls (incidentally, I may have respected his candor, had he done so. That would have given me leave to decide if I wanted to or not). He would send me cute pictures to tempt me into coming over. He was famously hot in high school, becoming endearingly maladroit as a man. I took the attention, and tinkered with the idea of him. One night, about six months earlier, I was feeling very low. Not even five Jameson rocks at the Belmar could raise my spirits. Sam had texted me earlier, making his usually rounds. I finally acquiesced: “do you still want to see me tonight?” “Yes!” he answered right away. It was arranged that he would come to my house at 1 am, the witching hour for all shadiness and skullduggery. I went right home and dug out my linty lingerie. He showed up in a flannel shirt. I sultrily asked him to remove it, recalling a Facebook picture of him from circa ‘08, boasting a sweaty eight-pack. Well, now it was 2017, and that eight-pack had sank into pure corpulence, oozing over his waistband like a liverwurst sandwich. Maybe it isn’t nice to say, but these were my thoughts. In bed, his energy was off, a weird mixture of mechanical soullessness and pure, rabid wolf. I wish men would abstain from PornHub for 10 minutes to listen to what truly makes a woman weak: it’s kissing her collarbone, stroking her back. Sam showed me no tenderness. I felt like I had entered a vacant, drafty room without a blanket. In his eyes were cold calculation, anarchal disregard, and maybe even a little insanity. It scared me that this energy was what I had attracted. His coldness pervaded me, and I felt utter distance from myself. The next day, the postcoital glow faded around 10 am, leaving me feeling empty and hollowed out. That’s it? I thought, that’s what he was crusading for this whole time? Does he feel satisfied today? Because I feel pithy and vacant. And I’m one half of the participants in this thing. Why does it feel like I lost and he won? Suddenly, the idea that women fought for casual sex seemed both disturbing and laughable to me. Who the fuck wanted this feeling?? I had a chemical reaction to this shit! I used to never think about Sam, now my heart swelled with tenderness at the thought of him, and broke at the absence of his text. He who was cold and tenderless!! My body, every woman’s body, produced oxytocin from sex. It was the hormone that bonded a mother to her baby while breastfeeding. It was the tenderness that kept families glued together as they time frayed at their edges. It was the potion that taught women the ancient ability to mother and nurture. I felt that it was sacred, and not to be tampered with. Afterwards, he deleted me off Facebook. I learned soon after that he had a girlfriend, safely tucked away in another city. I only heard from him one other time, months later, when he tried for an encore. Remember, he had hit me up with biweekly frequency for five years. And now, nothing. Was this encounter with Sam consensual? 100%! But was it satisfying? 0%! I know that behind me stands a generation of women, many of whom have dozens of stories like this one. I think a lot of us have accepted this behavior as endemic to our dating culture. So much so that I wondered if I even had a right to my own audacity. Was just this how things were? Well, I’m blessed and cursed with very strong emotions. I’m really just a cotton candy cyclone in a pair of two-day worn leggings. I decided that I for one never wanted to feel this way again. I would be celibate, walking the road less traveled. I didn’t take a formal vow or anything, I just flipped a switch in my mind, and let the peace flow in. I retreated wholly into myself, instead of looking to men to see my reflection. My writing would be my boyfriend now. It would last for as long as I wanted it to, and not a moment sooner. I can hear guys asking if Sam could have done anything different. I can say that if he treated me like a friend afterwards, I would have an entirely different view of him today. It was the feeling of being disposed of that lingered. I was so obviously his banana peel, his used condom. One text the next day would have been enough to cloak the coldness. In college, my best friend Corey was very promiscuous. When she went to Miami for spring break, she hooked up with a girl for the first time. “It was a very different energy,” Corey mused to me. “Not even just sexually. The next day, the girl texted me to say thank you, and made sure I got to the airport okay. I didn’t cease to exist in her mind at the moment of orgasm.” I think that if men could infuse some of this energy into their behavior, a degree of concern, a post-coital kindness, there would be a lot less animosity between men and women. There’s a reason why lesbians stay friends with their exes, while straight couples often do not. Or at the very least, it will keep yourself from being the impetus for a woman choosing to take a vow of celibacy. (PS: I’ve had a lot of people ask for Sam’s real name. I’ll never tell…unless you want to Venmo me $50 to @carson-mckenna…just kidding, of course…) Essay #6 I had been in Bushwick for three weeks now, and still hadn’t made a commission. I felt wild-eyed and desperate. I ate more Addy and drank more coffee to keep myself from getting hungry. As you can imagine, the uppers only vaulted my anxiety to full-blown terror. I could feel it ever brewing in my chest, an awful nexus of nerves that seemed to multiply daily. My obsessive thoughts became the tempo of my step: what if I don’t make a commission? How will I pay rent? How will I eat? What the fuck am I even doing? I had never in my life been so broke. I was too proud to ask my mother for money. She had objected to my moving back to Brooklyn in the first place. If I asked her for money, she would declare that my new life wasn’t working, and insist that I come home. Yes, I would rather eat the packets of Swiss Miss left in my boss’s kitchen than ask my mom for help. You might ask why I chose to move into such a shaky situation to begin with. I had a fine life back home. My two best friends, Lila and Cody, were there, as was my beloved little brother. I could live at my mother’s house for free, writing my novel at my leisure, and only occasionally suffering her harangues about finding a real career. I could also work at her restaurant, and eat her delicious food every day. But the truth was, I had already lived 5,000 days of that life. I felt like I knew every permutation of every possible night out; had met everyone I was meant to in that town. I was in pursuit of adventure, intrigue, uncertainty, newness. Since I was 18, I had felt this restlessness vibrating in my core, an all-consuming desire for something to happen. I had this bizarre pattern of living at home, feeling antsy, running away for 10–12 months, and coming back (because I missed my mom and/or was out of money). For all my pride in my rootless unpredictability, it was actually very cyclical. But I thought Stevie Nicks should be following me around with her guitar, crooning ‘Gypsy’ while I frolicked through France and Switzerland; Aurora and Spanish Harlem, turning 22, 24, then 27, my hair going from blonde to red, like the foliage of New York. I blame my father (because, why not?). If my song was Gypsy, his was Desperado. Like most things with him, I heard this about him rather than witnessing it firsthand. He, too, had incurable restlessness. He was a wretch and a writer, my inspiration for the character of Black-Jack Walsh. One time, as a teenager, I stumbled upon a short-story that he wrote when my brother and I were toddlers. He described our mother’s blitheness, her total contentment with her life, which was something he could see, but not access for himself. In the story, he went to the gas station to buy a six-pack of beers for $1.99. These were described as good, seeming to be a beater vehicle for his own contentment. His writing had the taste and texture of coffee grounds. My mom said that Henry Miller was his favorite writer. He sounded like Henry, minus June, plus a Baby Bjorn strapped to his back that chaffed at his shoulder. My father was an Aquarian, the eccentric rebel of the zodiac. I’m a Cancer, which means a few things: 1.) I will bring up my mother within ten minutes of any conversation 2.) At my center, I crave a comfortable home, security, stability, and peace But in my wild, wandering 20s, the quest for adventure always won out against the ache for security. It made for a very embattled existence. When I saw my boss’s profile on a workaway website, saying she was leaving Brooklyn and needed someone to step into her work for her, I knew she was my next great adventure. As for the uncertainty, I had Jameson as my lord and savior. The only trouble was, I couldn’t afford my own salvation anymore. I had a second showing for an apartment with a couple of Pratt students. Second showings have all the hope and promise of a second date, so you can imagine my excitement. They liked a four-bedroom garden apartment that I had on George St. They were girls, two Indian, one Russian, and looking for a fourth. My decorous manner melted after the showing, as we segued into giggly conversation. As usual, in that moment, I was just as hopeful that they liked me as they did the apartment. They were willing to let me find their fourth, but stipulated that they only wanted a female. In Bushwick, where trans was the new cis, I found “girls only” to be a quaint edict. They were all international students. Luckily, the Russian had an Uncle in Staten Island who was willing to be guarantor. So now I had Uncle Oleg’s papers emailed to me, including his permanent resident card, in which he wore a formidable glare. I found it funny that there was a man out there whom I would never meet, but knew exactly how much he made last year at his BMW dealership. Finally, after Uncle Oleg was approved, we signed the lease. My relief was oceanic. I wanted to hug these girls. My boss and I had an arrangement not unlike work on an Alaskan oil rig: she supplied room and board, and docked it from my pay. Ergo, we used my commission to pay my October rent. I had $200 left over. It might as well have been a million. I rode the F train through Hasidic Town, feeling like I was in first class on the Concorde. I walked through my beloved, smelly bodega, calling out Habibi and picking up items without looking at the price. No human has ever been so happy to receive a Venmo. I went home, arms full of $6 salted chocolate and organic peanut butter, ready to sink into Dawson’s Creek and sail into blissful non-existence. Then came a message from Chloe over Facebook: “hey babe, I got kicked out of the yoga studio. Can I come and stay with you for a while??” Essay #7 “I’m so glad to be done with that place,” Chloe said sullenly. “I hated my boss.” She was sitting at my dining room table, safely restored to Brooklyn by way of a five-hour Greyhound bus. She wore a white linen nightshirt that put me in mind of a storybook princess. I loved how the September sun filtered through the fabric, as though slowly powering her to 100%. The friendly chatter of Saturday morning ran abundantly in the apartment. Alina slunk out of her room in a t-shirt and boxers, greeting Chloe warmly. She joined us at the table to hear her story over cereal. Maria, the cleaning lady who my boss employed, swished through the apartment with her mop slung over her shoulder, smiling shyly in our general direction. Chloe spoke effortless, wispy Spanish to her, not the over-enunciated Spanish that Americans usually speak. She hadn’t learned it in a classroom, she learned in Chile. I hadn’t even learned yet what Chloe was doing in Chile. We were too busy writing the next chapter in her life story. “He hit on me and assaulted me while I was drunk,” Chloe explained to Alina (I had already heard the story at length, in person and over messenger). “Then he fires me for sleeping in through a class?” We lathered her with womanly compassion. At the time, #MeToo was just hitting the airwaves. Powerful men in every in industry were getting outted as pigs. We agreed that Chloe’s boss was of the same ilk as Harvey Weinstein. Still, there was a general air of skeeze surrounding her story. Why was the owner getting drunk with the yoga instructors and touching them inappropriately? It seemed to me that she could launch herself into a new life easily, with little concern for how she landed. I thought she deserved to be treated more preciously by herself, and whoever else handled her. But we didn’t spend much time dwelling on the sleazy yoga studio in Rochester. We were busy making new plans. I felt optimistic about our chances for life, as one always does when their rent is paid early and they’ve got extra money. My talent was writing. I would help her revise her CV, and we’d find her a job at a yoga studio in Brooklyn. We dipped our fingers in my angel dust like two kids eating Fun Dip. She caught my optimism, and aided along by Methylphenidate, we began applying to studios. She borrowed an air mattress from Patrick, the sweet yogi boy from Idaho who lived upstairs. We blew it up in my basement, and she lined my bathroom with her Brazilian toiletries. She, too, informally decided she was off men. In spirit of our celibacy, we decided to give our vaginas ugly names (I opted for Myrtle, after Myrtle Ave, and she chose Gertrude) We said we were filming Season 2 of the Car and Chloe show (season 1 having taken place last month). The first season was fun, but the second would be full-tilt madness. The Car and Chloe show had filming locations all over Bushwick. In the morning, it was Baby Skips, where we were empowered by a Cortado (her) a cold brew (moi) and a toffee cookie (split). We brought our laptops along, so Clo could cruise for jobs and I could post ads. But that was dull business, and it never lasted long. Coffee hour was really about planning, trying to get a foothold in our lives. We were both bulbs trying clumsily to pot each other. She had planned on working in Rochester, now she had rerouted herself to Brooklyn, just because that’s where her only friend in America was. She was a weathervane of a person, the stuff Bob Dylan songs are made of. But she had pith to her. Her life experiences had made sure of that. She had lived on every continent except Africa and Antarctica. She had buried her mother. She had loved and lost and mourned and been reborn. Even though she hadn’t read my writing, she told me she knew I was a genius. When I made her laugh, I felt a surge of energy that even the angel dust couldn’t give me. She was sure that I would be a famous writer someday, and I believed her. She had the power to alchemize the decrepitude of my life with her charm. Even when we were too broke for the bodega, I felt like we were bohemian creatures in the style of Rimbaud or Patti Smith. I couldn’t have entered this space alone. At night, we went to Happy Feet, the bar around the corner. I didn’t know exactly how much money Chloe had, but she could always afford our Jameson rocks. I wasn’t sure if she drank Irish whiskey before me, but she adapted to my life so well. No men bought us drinks. Bushwick is the weirdest, least socially normative area in the world. I couldn’t tell who was gay (Patrick the yogi?), trans, (the barista at Little Skips?) or asexual. The men had bodies like cigarettes left in the rain, and colorful, bushy hair. They were here to sculpt, sell weed, take artful photos, work at startups in Williamsburg, eat pho, and drain the coffee shops of their oat milk and Kombucha. They were vegan, poly, pans, trans, and their pronouns were not the ones I was taught to use for boys in 1st grade. They were all either 23 or 33. We picked a convenient time to be off men: none of them were interested in Gertrude or Myrtle. They ignored us like they ignored the fact that Trump was president. Oh, except for Heroin John. Johnny Mariani! I refuse to change his name for this story, because it’s just so fun to say. Doesn’t it sound like a cartoon character, maybe someone Andy Dwyer would have invented? But he was real, the first and only man to approach us in a bar. He had feather earrings in his lips which kept falling onto the bar floor, and, undaunted, he would pick them up and stick them back in. He had the lithe physique apropos to Bushwick (and poverty) but he covered it with a huge, faux fur coat. He earned the nickname Heroin John because his opening line to us was, “I can get you ladies anything you want in twenty minutes. Heroin, coke, whatever.” I was appalled. “You’re using heroin in your pick up line? At least wait to see if it comes up naturally.” (For my aunties who are reading this: I have never, nor will I ever, do heroin) He followed us home, abstaining from bringing up the H word again. He friended us both on Facebook. We went on to become friends, and I feel in love with his gentle, marauding soul. He could only communicate over Facebook messenger; I don’t believe he had a phone. He would hit me up frequently, telling me he was coming to Bushwick from Brownsville with $230 on his EBT card, and he wanted to take me out. He wanted us to collaborate on an art project together; he wanted to rent one of my apartments, he just needed to get some money together first. One time, he called me Carson Daly. I asked him not to, because I had heard that nearly every day of 7th grade. He demurred with, “But I want to see Carson…daily.” I let it slide. Around June 2018, Johnny Mariani stopped messaging. I looked on his Facebook last month. It was filled with posts from his friends and family, asking him to please let them know where he was. I had a cousin who was into H, who would disappear for months at a time, resurfacing in a different state, cicatrized and replete with harrowing stories. Oh Johnny. Where are you now? Are you alive? We never got to work on our art together, or meet up for Indian at that little place on Cypress. ❤️ And Chloe, chérie. Where are you? Essay #8 I had my first anxiety attack when I was four. I remember it vividly: I was watching the opening credits of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, with chocolate glooping along in different stages of production. It looked like watery, adobe clay in some slides, and sewage water in others. The juxtaposition of the brown slop with the cheery musical score rendered my nauseous. I paced the living room of our house on Murray Street, asking my Grandma Foley over and over, “what if I throw up? What if I throw up?” “If you throw up, you throw up!” my Grandma screeched, easily matching my hysteria. Had she cooed at me that I was fine, I wouldn’t throw up, maybe things would have been different. Everyone said that nerves were a Foley trait. It was a genetic burden, something we had inherited, like fair skin and freckles. Our famous neurosis became a family pet of sorts, chuckled over at picnics and pizza nights. We’re Irish, and the ultimate sin would be to take ourselves too seriously. Our way of acknowledging our nerves was to involve them in funny storytelling. When my mom was five, she choked on a peanut, and was certain for the entire year that she was choking. It took her mother slapping her across the face and screaming, “YOU’RE NOT CHOKING!” to finally convince her that she wasn’t. My mother frequently retold this story, always laughing at her poor, scared little self. My fear of throwing up would become the great compulsion of my childhood. Everything wrong or scary with the world could be paralleled by a puking. For me, throwing up was on par with having a meteor strike the earth, or my mother and brother dying. Actually, those fears were child’s play compared to my vomit phobia, because I never worried about them happening. That would be ridiculous! I knew everyone I loved was safe and fine, except for me and my stomach. No one could promise me that I would never throw up. Adults didn’t seem to realize what a nuclear crisis I was facing. Their stupid, shoulder shrugging insouciance of, “If you throw up, you throw up,” was like handing a scarf to someone headed to the guillotine. My anxiety was always with me, a gross, parasitic twin that took up at least 60% of my daily energy. I learned by the age of 11 or 12 that no one wanted to deal with it. When I went to the school nurse to tell her I was feeling anxious, she pursed her lips and coolly offered me a cot, saying “you really can’t stay longer than a period.” I understood that there was nothing she could do for me. If it were a wound, she could treat it. If I actually threw up, then I would be deserving of their nurturing, Nightengale sympathy. But the malaise was in my mind, so it wasn’t real to anyone but me. I learned to keep quiet about it, and suffer in my own private hell. By the time I was in 10th grade, I could have an anxiety attack in the middle of French, and still recite my Dr. Mrs Vandertramp verbs if called on. When my teacher mercifully moved on to someone else, I could resume monitoring my frenetic heartbeats, and meditating on, “what if I throw up? What if I can’t swallow? What if I have a seizure?” It took me a shockingly long time to realize that alcohol was a delicious tonic for my nerves. My Mom forbade my brother and I from drinking growing up. Our father’s alcoholism had scarred her deeply, to the degree that she didn’t drink for the whole of our childhood. “Don’t you ever drink,” she cautioned us repeatedly. We listened to her. At our cores, we wanted to be good kids, the opposite of our father, whose behavior had cast him out to the fringe of society. In high school, drinking was about the coolest thing you could do, apart from having your own car or dating a senior. But my brother and I were teenage teetotalers. He was a runner, which is about the most wholesome, healthy lifestyle a person can lead. My friends were starting to skip school to drink with their 21-year-old boyfriends, but I wasn’t tempted to join them. Those guys all seemed like lords of lesser things to me. When I skipped school, I went home to reread Harry Potter, or to CVS to buy US Weekly. When I was 19 and 20, I began to get ravenously curious about drinking culture. Moreover, I wanted to know what happened when people went “out.” On AIM, everyone’s away message on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night said, “Out DT…come find me!” with a string of cryptic kissy Emoticons. Who were their kisses for? The mystery still haunts me. I went to school at community college, worked at my mother’s restaurant, shopped at the mall, went to the gym, and went home. But there was an entire part of the human experience that I felt I was missing out on. I was sure that this blank piece of my pie chart could be filled only by the mysterious vacuum of being “out.” In 2010, I transferred to BU and met Tim. Oh, my God, Tim. He’s certainly the most fabulous, funniest person who’s ever walked this planet. I mentioned earlier that all my friends are beautiful. Tim is so beautiful that Kiehl’s once chose him for a advertising campaign. He had the ornate bone structure of David Bowie, the comic charm and wit of Hugh Grant, and the sensitivity of a cashmere sweater. His taste was impeccable, from his music to his fashion to his entertaining style. When he asked me to move into his loft apartment downtown, I was beyond flattered. We would both be starting at BU, two townies buoying each other in a sea of Long Islanders. Every day, we drove to campus together, sighing behind our sunglasses, sucking our iced Starbucks, spouting a commentary of our life that made us chortle every other sentence. He taught me everything he knew: that Herbal Essence wasn’t an acceptable shampoo; coaching me to buy salon-grade products instead. He introduced me to his friends, who were all beautiful, storied humans with mythological parents. He was from Vestal, a bougey suburb just 10 minutes away. Culturally, it was different: waspier, more privileged. There was only one black kid and one teenage pregnancy in his graduating class. In my high school, the kids were Laotian, Ukranian, Chinese, Black, Thai, and Vietnamese. Teen pregnancy was so rampant that there was a daycare in the school. Tim also taught me how to properly drink. He was darling and patient with me. His tastes in this domain, like all others, were elevated above the average 20-year-old’s. He could command a martini with such authority and dignity, no bartender in our town would card him. He taught me how to do the same. The bars became our playground. On Thursday nights, it was Dill’s, where we all swore we would have a Cinderella curfew, because we had class the next morning. To this day, if I hear anything by Kesha, I am instantly transported to the dance floor at Dillenger’s, Tim laughing under the strobe lights and pushing his highlighted blond hair from his face. On Fridays, it was Tranquil, where Tim worked. In 2011, it was the sun in our universe. It was unofficially a gay bar: the owners and patrons were all gay, and they played show-tunes every Sunday, calling it “Sassy Sunday.” (Tim hated working those. He wasn’t the kind of gay who knew all the words to Wicked). On Saturdays, it was downtown, and we frequently stayed out until 3. If I lost him on the dance floor at Score Board, he was bound to turn up at Pasquale’s, the shoddy pizza place across the street. He would be silently eating Rat Wing pizza with hot sauce, something he would never have indulged in during waking hours. I loved how alcohol made me feel. A drink made me feel alive, immortal, present, transcended. It cleansed the crusty, rusty worries out of my internal circuiting. It tranquilized the anxiety beast within me, making a mockery out of my former life force. Alcohol was my new life force. Drinks were the binding agent of all this fun chaos. Who would eat Rat Wing pizza or stay out until 3 sober? I was finally understanding what happened when one went “out.” I also understood the inability to verbalize the happenings of nightfall. What happened? You played pool. You drank four Malibu and Diets. You had your feet stepped on. You accompanied your friends to the bathroom. They accompanied you to the bathroom. You saw a girl from your Women’s Wellness class, screamed, and hugged. A guy with his daughter’s date-of-birth tattooed on his arm asked for your number. Someone bought a round of Cherry Bombs. One of your friends left their debit card behind at the bar. A whole pile of beautiful nothing. Stories for the brunch table the next day. An ailment for the all-consuming ache of ennui. Here we are in 2020. Everyone warned me that getting sober would cause certain relationships to dissolve. I am pleased to say that Tim has steadfastly remained one of my truest, dearest friends. Our love is stronger than alcohol. Essay #9 I was diagnosed with ADHD in fall 2005, my senior year of high school. My mother had been pushing for my diagnosis for years. Her therapist had made the suggestion, after listening to my mother beseech for advice with my constant truancy and incomplete schoolwork. I’ve heard accounts from friends who were diagnosed far more casually than I was. The common convention in college was that any of us could go to the health center, tell the doctor that we were having trouble concentrating, and skip away with an Adderall prescription burning in our pockets. Mine was more involved than this. A doctor who specialized in childhood ADHD hooked me up to a machine that measured my brainwaves. He asked me to think of a subject of my choosing for 90 seconds. I remember deciding to focus on my middle school principal, a white-haired gentleman with presidential decorum. I made it 12 seconds before my attention wavered. My principal was my pal with principles, but he had no longevity in my ADHD mind. I had the dreamy kind of ADHD, not the hyperactive kind. Heaven for me was staring out the window, basking in the translucent ephemera of my thoughts. My mother fought to have my diagnosis recognized by the school district. Our reward was my getting longer time on tests, and being able to walk the corridors once an hour during exams. This latter was mandatory: when I took the NYS regents, an aid tapped my shoulder and signaled when it was time for our hourly promenade. It was mortifying. My classmates probably thought I had some weird incontinence issue. I still don’t know how milling around like livestock in a pen was supposed to help my ADHD. I wish someone had asked me what I wanted. I would have asked them to give me an independent study, so I could write my stories down. At 17, I had a great concept for a fantasy knights-of-the-round-table story, complete with a Guinevere figure and unicorn racing. I felt like I had come into this world fully knowing my purpose: to create stories. But life was slowly training me away from my certainty. It seemed like one had to be a writer/something. Writer/teacher; or writer/B&N employee. What if I wanted to be a writer/nothing? I didn’t dare pose such a question the ladies in the college connection. At 10, it was dreamy and sweet to say I wanted to become a writer. At 17, there would be practical talk about journalism and the future of print media and the employability of the English Major. All of it got garbled into nonsense on its way up to my ethereal plane. Another reward of my diagnosis was that I now had a Ritalin prescription. My mother had been after me for years to try Ritalin. I resisted, in the same way I’ve always resisted change. If only I knew how good it would make me feel! My prescription was 30 milligrams a day. Three little white pills in the morning. It murdered my appetite. I would have a dainty Yoplait for breakfast, and not think about food again until 2. Fifteen pounds fell off me like I had cast a slimming spell on myself. At school, my friends complimented me in the corridors. I began to care about my appearance more: I bought a hair straightener, in an effort to tame my unruly auburn mane. I began getting my brows waxed (in ’06, having them waxed as thin as parenthesis was de rigeur). I entrenched myself in the exploration of clothes and makeup. There is nothing more satisfying than a movie makeover montage, and I have to say mine was up there with Princess Diaries. Tina Fey once said how she felt she came into visibility only after ditching 20 pounds. People whom she had already met would introduce themselves to her, and she was able to gain more momentum with her comedy career. I will firmly second her statement. I can’t fully explain what took place when I lost weight at 17, save to say it felt like a rebirth. I felt at once weightless and strong. It seemed my life accrued more value with the number of smiles I was getting, the more guys talked to me. My psyche internalized this so deeply that I still feel fundamentally wrong when the number on the scale goes up. Yes, Ritalin helped me to concentrate. But I plunged into the belief that I needed it to do anything more daunting than open a jar of pickles. It was always, always in my purse, like a methy box of Tic Tacs. It promised me that I would get to keep my power. I didn’t take it to do math homework, I took it for a burst of joyful immortality. I took it to crunch out my wheedling hunger with an iron heel. But it’s Newtonian Law that what goes up, must come down (I’m singing the Schoolhouse Rock song as I type this). By 4 pm, my joy would plummet into deep crankiness. My nerves crackled if asked the same question twice. If something didn’t go the way I envisioned it, I felt like a 2-year-old who didn’t get her nap. I would soon discover drinking to hoist myself out of these valleys. I took Ritalin every single day for 11 years. When my doctor suggested I take a Drug Holiday on weekends, I nodded politely, the way you do when someone tells you you should listen to a podcast. She might as well have been telling me to stop wearing a bra or brushing my teeth, or any other quotidian task that kept my life in order. Finally, in 2016, I asked my doctor if I could try Adderall XR. XR stands for extended release, for those of you not as pharmacologically experienced. I was in pursuit of a more balanced drug. I wanted my energy to not feel like the Dow Jones on Black Friday every day. The XR came in the form of tablets with powdered granules inside. For a few months, I took the XR in the morning, and enjoyed a more consistent, balanced feeling. But I soon grew restless with this. The highs aren’t high without the lows, right? I discovered I could unscrew a capsule, lick my pinky, and get a little powder. I figured each hit amounted to 3–5 milligrams. Of course, this negated the extended release concept, making it an instantaneous high. By the time Chloe moved in, my Adderall bottle was a graveyard of spent capsules, and a beach of sweet sand. I don’t know if she started calling it angel dust, or I did. I don’t think I called it that until I had someone to share with. Does anyone name the illicit things they do before they have an accomplice? Aren’t they only brought into being by the presence of another? Essay #10 (Thanksgiving Part 1) Chloe had been living with me for about a month now, with no end in sight. She lived in my basement with me, on an air mattress right outside my bedroom. She had no privacy. I could be upstairs making coffee (that fall, McDonald’s was the only joe I could afford — I can hear Tim groaning) and I would hear Friends and know exactly what season she was on. She was also watching Gilmore Girls for the first time. She watched for Rory, not for Lorelai. She couldn’t have been comfortable without privacy. I know I wasn’t. We took the Myers-Brigg together, which scored us both as 90% extrovert. By theory of the test, we should be fiending for human contact for all waking hours. We should love to have a twin-flame gypsy of a best friend right outside our bedroom door. But I disputed such a binary. Likewise, I’m sure that not all introverts were at home all weekend, planning their wedding to their cat. What I need, what I’ve always needed, were people. I am an androphile; a lover of people. I want their emotions, their quirks, and their nuances. If I’ve ever met you, then know for a period of time, you were the most fascinating being in my universe. I may have asked you a lot of questions. If you were a soup, I would slurp you up and lick the bowl. I want to know what your first apartment was like, what drugs you do, what you’re afraid of, if you’re in love, how was your parent’s relationship, what you’ve figured out about life, who your friends are, what you revere, and what you despise. (Feel free to answer my impromptu survey in the comments) Please give me the blood and marrow; what’s true, what makes you vibrate with emotion and desire. You have something that you can do better than anyone else on the planet, and I want to know your unique genius. This androphilia must have something to do with being a writer. All this delicious data sinks into a subconscious composting pile, where I can try to assemble what humans are made of, so I can render characters into being. I read that humans have 60,000 thoughts a day (I also want to know what your 60,000 includes). 50,000 of mine have to do with people. They can be fictional characters, too. When I sat in an ADD fog, mouth ajar, starring out the window in class, and my teachers called on me, they cruelly yanked me away from an inner sanctuary populated with rich characters: Kelso and Hyde; Fez and Donna; Will and Grace; TJ and Spinelli; Winnie and Kevin; Kathryn and Laura (who are actually real people). Ideally, what I want is an hour or two with people, then five or six hours to reflect on them. At the time, I was midway through writing my first novel, so I had about 25 characters of my own to develop. The best way for me to do is to go on long walks, thinking about my characters and letting them flower in my mind. It was my own spin on Eastern meditation. Somewhere between Broadway and Bushwick, I felt my plot and characters snap cleanly together. I suddenly knew things about them, as though they had been implanted in my brain: of course Uncle Avi was a Jeopardy champion! Of course, the valedictorian and the head cheerleader got together! But I couldn’t have this glorious privacy of thought with Chloe around. I didn’t know how to explain to her that I needed hours to myself. We didn’t even have a door between us. I wrote less, and my resentment spiked. She hadn’t had luck finding a job yet, so she was always around. One night, after making a commission, I invited Yash to Le Garage, a French bistro down the street from me. It was one of those places you left $80 poorer and not at all full, but it seduced me beyond the gastronomical plane. I loved the magenta and marigold walls, and the cement floor. The Francophonic hostess was fun to flirt with — she told me about her home in Algeria, and said I should come visit. Ditto the charming ginger bartender who poured me bourbon cocktails as red as his hair. He let me try some new rosewater mixer that came from Tribeca with pretty, eau de parfum packaging. This was my first time being alone from Chloe in a full moon cycle. I felt horrible, Catholic guilt for even talking about her when she wasn’t there. Half an hour ago, we were watching Friends and wondering if we were Phoebees. I told her I thought I was secretly a Monica, and she didn’t believe me. No one does. “How long do you think she’ll be there for?” Yash asked me, with his usual Zen. “I don’t know,” I admitted into my cocktail. “She looks for jobs, gets an interview, then gets rejected, and becomes all sulky and depressed. We don’t have a plan, man.” “Do you think she’s a squatter?” Yash asked tentatively. He would know. Last summer, he had unwittingly brought a squatter into his BedStuy apartment. The squatter, Jonathan (name has not been changed) was a Craig’s List find whom Yash hastily ushered into his spare room before going to visit his mother for a month. When he came back from India, Jonathan stopped paying rent. So far, Yash had shelled out about $5000 in legal fees trying to get him evicted. As we spoke, Jonathan was probably in Yash’s apartment, doodling Manga and taking selfies. “No way!” I shook my head vehemently. “She’s like, my best friend.” “Because, after 30 days, she can claim tenancy,” he said, regrettably well-versed in NYS housing law. I told Yash that the word “tenancy,” in this context scared me. Indeed, it was giving me the same chill as words like “student loan delinquency,” “throat culture swab,” and “Miss McKenna, we can’t fill your prescription right now.” I told him that we just needed to get Chloe a job so she could rent one of my apartments. Then I could finish my book, get a book deal, and give her a dedication riddled with adorable inside jokes. (Crikey, mate!! You’re the Phoebe to my Fallula!) I really thought she’d probably have her own yoga studio in a year. If you want a glass half full of sunshine and Tang, come see me. “And she’s coming home with me for Thanksgiving!” I squealed, and the bourbon milled through me, a creek of quick-silver optimism. My family would love her. Now she would be on her way to full-fledged adoption. Screw tenancy, I was talking about tenure. Because once I had accepted her as my sister, there would be nothing she could do to keep me from loving her forever. Maybe you know my family. I happen to have a really nice one. My mother, my stepmother, my little brother, and his fiancé, Lila, whom I mentioned earlier. To give you some idea of who Lila is, I’ll say that she recently kicked down Jonathan’s door, got in his face, and told him repeatedly that he needed to get out of Yash’s apartment. She looks like a real life Princess Jasmine, and she’s 5’2, but I refuse to believe that he didn’t consider fleeing that very night. And Cody, my ride-or-die Taurus, who often supplements the missing half of my brain. He would be there. I couldn’t wait to introduce Chloe to my people, and to bring her to my mother’s restaurant. I had been enticing her all month with descriptions of the. menu, telling her we would eat a Greek Chicken, and cafe fries with cayenne seasoning, and a Mambo Chocolate Love for dessert. We had been on a stingy bodega diet consisting largely of $2 tuna, so this would be feast after famine. A Bacchanalia soaked in cocktails we couldn’t have afforded in Brooklyn. Just what we needed to pumice the callouses of gypsy life. We see out for the three hour Greyhound home to Binghamton. Our bus was delayed for hours, thanks to the excretory push of holiday travel. If we asked any of the Port Authority people what the ETA was, they listlessly told us they didn’t know, without making eye contact. People were starting to camp out in the floor, clusters of droopy coats and wan faces. A local news cam showed up to film the melee, a pert, young journalist speaking into a microphone that looked like Bobby Brown’s hair circa ’89. It felt like a detention center meets Lost. Chloe was taken in by a troupe of people who wanted to rent a ZipCar and carpool upstate, but I told her it sounded sketchy. Why did I picture us getting dropped off at a gas station in Scranton at 5 am, with the driver sending us a PayPal request for $500? Fortunately, I had had the presence of mind to bring a flask of Jameson. We warmed ourselves by it like a campfire. At 1 am, when our bus finally came, I was skippy-giddy. I sashayed aboard, slid into my seat, and called jubilantly over my shoulder, “Everyone settle in, take a nap, and we’ll be in Cincinnati before you know it!” Chloe elbowed me, giggling. We were on our way. It never occurred to me that my family wouldn’t love her like I did. Nor did I think that when I came back in three days, she wouldn’t be on the bus with me.