A long time ago, when the outskirts of Atlanta were mainly still farmland, there was a cabbage truck accident that sent cabbages, like leafy green bowling balls, tumbling into the street. Hundreds and hundreds of heads of cabbage were met by the cheering children, who then rushed and shoved each other, picking up their vegetable prizes and running far and fast. That part of the city was henceforth known as Cabbagetown.
George lives in Cabbagetown, in a two-bedroom house with a screen-in porch that has no screens. On Thursdays, he plays and sings acoustic covers at a ritzy bar on the 28th floor of the Empire State South building. Afterward, he breaks down his set and loads it into his very old, black truck and drives home to smoke a bowl before the night’s festivities begin.
I met George on the outdoor terrace of the 28th floor. He had just finished his set and came to the bar to order a Jameson Coke. He looked at me like he recognized me, and introduced himself. George had a smile that settled like hot apple cider somewhere in me, which made me nervous. He told me that he was interested in intelligence, and kindness, and surprises. I wanted to ask him to stop talking to me — doesn’t he know that meeting someone who smiled with his entire face and moved with easy limbs, talked with frankness and has a kind voice — doesn’t he know that it is terrifying? I have conditioned myself to handle adversity, to bristle with defensiveness, to ask for what I want but not to be prepared to receive it. Don’t talk to me; I fall in love so easily.
George takes me to an Irish pub for live-band karaoke night. It was packed and smoky and loud. Girls in strapless tops and expensive jeans wiggled and cooed at each other, their boyfriends watching this peacock display approvingly in their immaculate grey suits. I felt ridiculous, too young, a sense of steely alienation. But then he grabs me by the elbow and says, hot and hurried, “well come on.”
It takes three beers and a shot of tequila to get me on stage, standing before a hub of people I don’t know. I hold the mic in my hand like it’s a death sentence until he puts two fingers on the part of my back that curves, crooning “Today is gonna be the day that they’re gonna throw it back to you.”
And then we’re singing, and people are smiling, and I imagine what a sight we must be — young and glowing with the newness and the buzz. I imagine people looking at us and wondering if we eat breakfast together. I like this, I realize. And I think I’d like to have breakfast with you.
You’re a tiny pinch in my heart lately. Without thinking, I buy the type of cigarettes you prefer. You live in songs and lasagna; I want to tell my friends about you. You’re a good thing, this is a good thing, I know. It’s so young and has so much potential, but potential is terrifying. The days are getting colder and my heart is working hard to keep me warm; I want to ask if we could maybe keep warm together. It is terrifying to be vulnerable and willing and to be selflessly kind because you like somebody so much you just want to wrap them in cotton candy and clouds. It is terrifying but I am doing so anyway, I am shutting my eyes and diving, I am hoping to fly. I am doing this, I am doing this, and I’m asking you to do it, too.
The quiet of Cabbagetown at night settles in the darkness, making the early-Autumn breeze tangible: I catch it with my fingers. We wander and are contentedly warm despite the biting chill. George gives me a boost so I can sit on the edge of the concrete bridge with him beside me. We watch people shoot a music video with lots of smoke and flashing neon lights in the abandoned warehouse across the street.
“I want something real, you know? I’ve been wanting it for a long time but no luck — still, I’m looking. I want something that lasts, and is solid, something I can touch and wake up to and lean on,” he tells me. I want to ask him if he’s an alien. I want him to kiss me, you can kiss me, but he doesn’t. Instead, his hand finds mine and I give it a squeeze, hoping that he understands I mean, “okay, yes, me too.”
It’s Saturday afternoon and we sit on Aimee’s bed. There are four of us in this tiny room, tucked in a dingy part of Atlanta, but with relentlessly bright walls of lime green and orange and strawberry-fields-forever-pink. We eat the weed cookies that Aimee’s made and grin at each other. He’s playing The Smiths covers as the cookies get us high, and Aimee whispers in my ear like a conspiracy, “I have something to show you.” She leads me to the beanbag in the corner and hands me headphones to put on — “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.” Enveloped in the lull and pull of the music, in the hazy fuzz of cannabis bliss, I measure my inhales and study each face. Patrick, the drummer, who wants a milkshake. Marley, the happy black dog. Aimee, who is so shy that every time she laughs she covers her eyes. And George. I remember the first time I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower when Charlie gets high. “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
Later, George takes me downtown to the Flux Festival — four blocks of drunks and artists, of dancers wrapped in duct tape throwing their bodies to the beat of ethereal trance. My fingers hooked in his, we navigate through the throngs of people. In the wildness of the night, I find assurance in the tug of his hand, I find comfort in following rather than forging forward alone, for once. People are screaming but the inside of my head is quiet.
Give me a reason to stay, I want to say to the boy who sat on his washing machine with me, in his tiny laundry room, singing “Isn’t she lovely?” while he waited for his darks to get done. What I want, you could give. As with the beginning of anything, uncertainty fills all the spaces between shared interests and laughing together in your truck. It is the uncertainty that we see, rather than the brilliant pinpoints of hope. But I want to hope, damn it. Let’s be brave.
I want to wake up in Cabbagetown, someday, and be warm in the winter morning light. Let me have that.