It was winter when I first wandered into this coffee shop on Avenue B, cuticles splintering under my tattered gloves. My nice pair were abandoned on the coffee table of his apartment and I was either too proud or pussy or whatever to pull myself together and get them back. I didn’t want coffee but I bought it anyway – see: aforementioned spinelessness. I waited for the coffee, alarmingly aware of everything around me, a sharp on boarding to reality as respite from the perpetual gray, cold haze hanging outside. I didn’t even think to start anxiously pick at my bleeding nailbeds, cursing my far-too-expensive hand cream. I forgot about my phone. Social media channels. Obligations. I wasn’t even me.
It was simple in theory, simpler in practice. My time spent in this refuge was time removed from my everyday. This place offered a soothing neutrality, one that never talked back and all at once let me transcend the city’s metaphysical limits, if only briefly. I returned again and again to chase down that initial contentment, achieve the freedom and possibility characteristic to, say, a budding relationship. We laughed we cried we felt content. But even places personify, and in time my haunt would be haunted by reality. So I made a clean break. Onto the next, simple as that.
Soon I fell upon a new hideaway in an apartment hovering floors and floors and floors above the surface of the city. Its lack of sirens was most immediately appealing, ethereal even, in stark contrast to the blaring hiss of ambulances pulsating day and night through my own first-floor walk-up. The place was immaculate and sociopathically minimalist, in ironic dissidence with its owner.
I never got used to how time would be gorged on so gluttonously in that apartment, helped along by an excessive yet steady flow of scotch and smoke. Reality, suspended. The record player would buzz warmly into the morning. My face masked behind drawn shades, silhouette unrecognizable as the tension in my shoulders gave with a dull sigh. I was someone else entirely. An alter-ego – carefree. This was my refuge, after all, mine, mine, mine. Problems were checked down at city level.
Him and I, both supremely discontent in our own ways, both penning worlds that superseded our realities. Worlds that involved anything we could strike our edge against, the finer things, a laissez-faire lifestyle. My invention, my protégé, her interests orbited culture and film and decorum. Pillow talk deliberated stock options. Morning coffee punctuated by politics.
I knew that this friend, occasional lover, was very, very bad for me. He pulled the strings perpetuating my social bulimia, binging and purging on people and places. And yet I became addicted to the person whose costume I wore when with him. She was beautiful, she was elegant, she was unhampered, uninhibited, daring. She radiated. He said so. I clung to her so because she offered more than my own reality ever could.
My lack of trust in him was my asylum. This I truly believed.
The hurricane drove him out of that downtown apartment, and his refuge became, incidentally, my own. At the time he was far from my mind but suddenly akimbo to my front steps. A cigarette dangled carelessly from his lips, the way I once was, sometimes. I was fresh off a week of bad news too much red wine. My nerves were raw. His cigarette mocked me. I, too, once had a fire under my ass. And yet here we are.
Lost days and hazy memories ensued. Routine developed in the darkness.
As we played house, my character cracked. The glitter and grace dissolved, I was no longer some muse, a pretty face with a strong vocabulary. Poised with good posture and a subtle smirk at any suggestion. I became real. Real with real emotions and real baggage expecting real support and real things out of an imaginary relationship.
Apathy hung heavy.
We were cold, hiding under covers as the opposite street illuminated outside my bedroom window. Our bodies remained still as they eased, lungs relieving, in harmony with the wheezing pipes. As the buzz of renewed electricity consumed the building, we lay, unmoved.
Our clothes spun together in the washing machine, becoming clean. We remained tangled in sheets still unwashed, staying warm. I felt breath on the back of my neck. I knew that when the dryer sounded, the clothes would be folded into neat, distinctly separate piles belonging to distinctly separate lives. The cracks that had begun would give way to unpassable chasms; you would pack your clothes up and they would go away with you.
And I would go onto the next. Simple as that.