Ne dis pas aux copains

“Do not tell our friends I love you more than anything else.” Such are the opening words to France Gall’s 60’s pop song “Ne dis pas aux copains.” And despite the crooning, melancholic melody that seems to permeate me – that seems to make me thing of endings, be it of movies or of lives – endings in the most gentle, bittersweet way – “well, this is it, it is so lovely to be with you in these moments…” – despite these tender sadnesses that this tune brings out in me overwhelmingly – I seemed to be drawn to this song for the lyrics, too.

“Do not say anything to our friends.” It is a song of intimacy, but firstly, of secrecy. Say not that I love you; say not what we have done in private. This is not a song of this age – it is a song where there is still something to hide, and despite that clouds have melted away and left us naked in a field – I too cling to my own shrouds.

For there is an element of shame – of modesty, almost, or shamefastness – that is tacitly portrayed, here – and it is done without feeling bad. For the closing lines are a wish: to go far, far away – an there, there speak with friends. But it is a new set of friends – a set of friends that are completely new to this relationship – who have not witnesses or undergone the transformation of innocents to lovers – of nothing to something. If there was something to be expressed fearlessly, there would be no song of nocturnal sweetness.

On the Dissolution of My Sister’s Marriage and my Estrangement from UChicago

The marriage and the breakup –
“a fixer-upper,” no problem;
The union of poor and wealthy
a good idea, forever in theory
And the brittleness of this bond.
Nearly solvent: unsustainable,
a bad financial circumstance.
Everything is liquid except for the
rock you cannot crawl out from under.
///
Oh, you had your moment next to the
limelight, the brush with well-being
And for a time, even lived in it:
surrounded by expensive things,
rich mentalities, luxuriated, even
when you were still on guard.
Your head was always in the
clouds, but this time it was for real.
///
We all had our ivory towers at some point
To play prince or princess in a room just for
show before the stones fall out from under
you and you’re back in the rubble you sprang from.

People say that children are happiness, but friends are a close second. Michaela was in town this weekend despite her constant hatred of the city. A friend of hers lives here and was soon to depart for New England for the Christmas season: she and said friend are intimate and sought to see each other, being so long separated by Michaela’s travels abroad. So I decided to meet with here in the late afternoon in Washington Square Park, where a crowd of young people were gathered around a man playing a piano. Luck had it he was playing Philip Glass: a favorite of Michaela’s and a wink at our Alma Mater. I watched for Michaela as the notes resounded against a winter’s backdrop of cloud-spangled blue sky: the sun was golden and it was one of those rare moments of beauty not mediated through a screen. I looked around me and found the faces of the crowd fixed on the piano player: I felt as if I were in school again, surrounded by people filled with hope and emotion while I too existed in anticipation.

Michaela’s face appeared among the others at last, and I circled around to reach her. She cried out in happiness when she turned to see me and we embraced to both attend the music. The pianist was talking about how the next moments were to be only of joy, only of positivity: some members of the crowd closed their eyes – and it was gone. Michaela took out her wallet and we reached back to mundane, she noting this donation and the rarity of it. We walked away quickly, both cold.

After circling the park we started to criss-cross the neighborhood through its restaurant-lined streets and decided to settle in a cafe for some time. Michaela bought me a coffee, stepping in when I was to pay, which was unexpected and quite kind of her. We sat in the corner of the small shop and spoke at length in the same conversations I will always want to record. “We have beautiful conversations,” she would say towards the end of it, and I suspected that was the case.

Michaela lives in India: she tells me about her work as a content producer of sorts. She has worked for Groupon, which is a good gig, she notes; Marriott Travel, and currently is working to write book summaries. Her work is entirely freelance; when I asked about how she files her tax returns, she laughed. She dreams of writing a novel and being a journalist. I say her current work is not entirely divorced from that dream, though she seemed not convinced. We don’t really have an agenda, per se, when we talk: conversation is quite abundant, and there is sparse any lack of words between us. We talk about our relationships with our family, our relationships with peers, our relationship with the past. We all love to dream about the past, but she puts her foot down and says it foolhardy to have our hearts stuck there. We are only shorting ourselves by doing so. Why should we not, she says, in moment of earnestness somewhat striking for the sardonic Michaela, use these moments for personal empowerment? Why must we retell our entire past – good and bad – to strangers when it can sound like a sob story? She says new people are like new apartments: you can leave behind certain things each time you move. You can choose what to bring to each novelty.

That is what faith is, she says; the belief that things are going to get better. She says it takes courage to have faith, to believe in this risk that is the present and the future. I ask her whence one achieves this future, which I have thrown from the window of a speeding vehicle. She pauses, but I pick it up: taking heart perhaps is finding it in someone or something you love. I ask whom she admires. She cites the friend she just found: their dream to be a historian snatched away from them, they did not cow down, move to the haven of home and spend years lamenting; they “sucked it up,” made a decision and went with it. The life they are living now, she says, could be turned into an unhappy story of unfulfillment: but the friend believes they are working towards something, and they did not throw away their faith.

Into this conversation is lobbed the thought that this mindset seems to Michaela almost aristocratic, and I concur. Wealth plays a big part in shaping one’s mindset: what one can and cannot do. Michaela reassures me, and partially herself, when reiterating that our school has connections and she has wealthy friends. This is, she supposes, if in case she needs to be bailed out or have money lent to her. But that this would figure into her equation was odd.

A Time without You

“Well, this is New York and if you’re not to the point you gotta move it or lose it.”

I am in my room, cleaning my windows as I overhear the girl I live with speak to her partner over the phone. Scrub, scrub, scrub, wiping dirt that has not been lifted from ages past, perhaps never touched by a tenants hands, I think. I am standing by my window while the radiator heats my groin and the breeze from the night air cools my midriff. I did not exactly choose to move here for any appeal to the eluding notion of New York City (even its bald name offends me, in all its tawdriness). I did not want to spend my time here because of any hustle or name-building. This was simply the city nearest to my family’s residence accessible through public transit and offering the prospect of a job.

I think about this and the interminable pressure while here to snatch up opportunities as quickly as humanly possible. In a way, it makes sense: a metropolis of millions of people where you’re bound not to see the same person twice. Most people my age move here because they want something: I am precisely the opposite, desiring little or nothing.

I didn’t want to make a giant name for myself. I did not want to play at hugeness. I wanted simply to be small, very small, and lost within someone. That is the nature I know so dear to me: lost, utterly lost in the matrix of my beloved.


The morning starts with hope, and I run around my block listening to 1970s French pop. It is a cool morning at 49 degrees and in my shorts I am a scarecrow in the car window reflections. I return home in enough time to prepare for an ESL lesson I have – through pretension – claimed I have the ability to teach.  On the train, I highlight phrases I think my client should know. I have lowballed my price, out of attractiveness and something like storgē: at $25 an hour, I am clearly not following this city’s culture. The client, a man I met a year and a half ago on the train, after we both made unusually long eye contact on one another, is from Colombia, is a merchandise designer and interested in having physical relations with men. He mistakes me for the latter at the end of the session, squeezing the back of my neck as we leave the cafe, and I have to break it to him dearly that I would so very much like to teach him English. My fee and a free breakfast pleases me, though I do not feel comfortable about the situation as whole.

I spend the rest of the day putting up flyers for learning Russian in Park Slope, a neighborhood that screams privilege, often through the children of the residents. Surely this neighborhood would liberally throw $40 an hour for a cad like myself to talk about Cyrillic; until I realize people in this neighborhood are too efficient to be taking fanciful classes in Slavic languages from advertisements in Thai restaurants. I return home to eat lunch and head out again, this time with the intention of sitting in a cafe to finally do what I have been intending to do for four months: deactivate my Facebook account. But I am pulled in three different directions: seriously look at jobs, pay a renewal fee for a set of yoga classes that are in suspension, or go to a language learning session where I can perhaps hawk my services in fake ESL. I decide on the yoga classes, though, not exactly one would say decide: I walk up to the building, and, seeing I am already there, wander in.

“Are you hear for the 4PM class?”

“Yes.”

I really wasn’t.

We set up the account. $28 for a late activation fee to access the ten classes that were suspended (I should have charged $30). I think, though: this was still a good investment. Upstairs, I change, and head downstairs in my skimpy gym clothing.

“You got a haircut!”

It is the young man behind the desk who remembered me from nearly half a year ago, the last time I was there. He is a cute guy of sorts; he is either very friendly or must have taken a liking to me. I am somewhat blind to either prospect.

Downstairs, a tall man in good shape emerges from the yoga room and retrieves water from the fountain; seeing I am waiting behind him he looks at me and smiles, and apologizes in a barely audible voice. He is a good-looking man in the face, and could range anywhere between 30-45, depending on his level of fitness. The natural impulse of chitchat long ago had be let from me: I think not even to look back at him warmly before entering the room to start the session.

It is a good session; it has been well over three months since a yoga class, and I fare well. In crow pose, the tall man falls twice but catches himself both times; he is behind me so that he can see me from the side. We end class lying on our backs in the dark, and I am wondering meaningful thoughts I now don’t remember. Returning our equipment, we are in the zen zone where surrounding people are of no importance for regard; that we could all be like this in public spaces is a blessing and a curse.

As head for the locker room, a rival yogi, a lithe young man with an unsavory bun of dreads atop his crown, appears from the locker area in front of me and catches the tall man’s gaze. I walk upstairs and contemplate my white fallowness.

I leave quietly, get on the train in the direction of Grand Central for the language event, and, upon reaching 42nd, sharply U-turn to the downtown bound platform. I am in no mood to speak any language, let alone English. The train ride home I think about visiting a cafe to finally work on that job prospect: then coming home to eat dinner: then about nothing, tired. I am spoiling as I sit; I wonder if I have ADD. I am noticeably calm, at the same time. Home I make myself a sandwich, my roommate helps me remove my air conditioner, and I am set to cleaning the window, contemplating my path.

I am lost, it seems, but not in the world of my beloved. They had let their breath go at some point, and the wind has no warmth as I wipe the panes left, right, and back again.

 

Recalling An Alumni Event

I have taken refuge in a Starbucks temporarily. It’s the only Starbucks in the area that does not close soon. I am in Lower Manhattan, a bastion of sorts for old-school New York grunge, waiting time to pass so that I may go to the Alumni Event not entirely alone.

The week has zoomed by and so has the year. I find it hard to accept that a year has passed since the last PhoenixPhest event that my school hosted. The last was not frequented by any close friends, but by some who I would eventually become acquaintances with. I had met a certain young man named A— W—, who disappeared from New York as quickly as I befriended him. One year older than I, he seemed a perfectionist, restless, and extremely attentive to standards of politeness. Meditating now on this, I see myself reflected in him; yet I wonder if his dissatisfaction with life and his career somehow linked to the same impulse that constricted him to utmost grace in any social interaction.

I had met a woman that I had known from a Russian class I took – a Bulgarian woman that charmed me yet put me on guard. And yet meeting her boyfriend – a rather strapping Latino who worked for Google – was even more bewildering. I could not put my finger on what it was: a certain intrigue played in both their eyes when they looked at me, the reason for which I could not discern either from my being a lively stranger or my being myself.

There was someone older than I – maybe by two or three years – who worked teaching English in Lebanon or some Middle Eastern country – who seemed resolved at some loss, presumably time. He was not excited; there seemed to be an internal bracing against his surroundings, and that fight against disappointment I could sense.

And then there was a host of other characters: a girl we had derided for simpleness who turned out to work an extremely cushy, well-paying job; an acquaintance (I had mistakenly referred to her as a friend, only for her to move away without any notice) that had at the very end of it decided to apply to med school. She seemed visibly troubled at that last event: obvious insecurity playing about her face as she told me her decision, having tried a number of different jobs throughout her years in New York. And what? Where was my giant realization that would catapult me to a new life, to success and stability? Am I doomed to attend these events as I slowly become the odd-one-out: the older and older alumnus that seems more and more out of place?

 

Summer in Ending

…But with the disintegration that is “the community” after long-standing time spent together, people seemed to be over the idea of mystery. This too perhaps was encouraged by the milieu that made “oversharing” not over-anything, and pushed the notion of keeping some things private into the category of unusual and perhaps backward.

It turns out that Maggie was quite open with me in her description of her friendship with Lane, addressing the very real fact that her correspondence could be considered flirting. This connection was confirmed by Anson about a year earlier, when he recounted his inklings to their closeness when visiting the city. Since then Maggie had left leaving Lane the last man standing in Chicagoland, at least from our original band of misfits. With this blanket fraying and the years pummeling our youth and excitement out of us, there was little reason to not discuss something by now in her mind was mundane. The discrepancy between her perspective in sharing this and mine was not jarring, but nevertheless stuck out at me. May it be, in truth, that there was engendered a hidden romance between these two friends? Lane, over this past summer, alluded to it as well. He would have to back off out of respect for his friendship with her; Maggie, for her own best friend, his ex-lover. My youthful self sprang back into action through the revival of emotions: curiosity, perhaps a weird jealousy. I was not the third wheel by any means – a role I played with excellence and not any sparing number of times – but I always seemed to be around other friends who at one point or another coupled and shared the same mind that I was, simpering, oblivious to.

They had kept a correspondence with Maggie’s departure, though I was unaware as to how frequently they saw each other even before she left. I had wholly removed myself from the picture, both with intention (in the moment of leaving) and without (in the long run, my loneliness getting the better of me). The idea of “community” played a inordinately large part in my life in comparison with my friends, though I had never realized this until obliterating it nearly in its entirety. Fall out of touch for a year or so, and then see what happens. A friend of mine, Michaela, polarizing though who I seemed to regard quite favorably, warned me as if an omen to say I would never have the same relationship with my friends if I ever were to move back. Michaela is a smart lass but I admit her pronouncement smacked more of her own relationships than my own. Nevertheless, still paralyzed by fear for my financial wellbeing I could not see myself jumping across the country again to take a minimum-wage job with no apartment in tow. And my bed? Where would I sleep? Poor sleep hygiene kept me exhausted from thinking properly and kept my mind on loop, replaying meaningful encounters with friends and strangers alike, searching for moments that fulfilled my happiness and moments I had missed a crucial point of connection.

Despite all this, forgetting to contact Lance to once and for all ask when Maggie’s birthday was (she wrote me every year for my birthday), I was happy to still be in the loop in some regard. I had expressed regret for my shortcomings with her best friend, on whom I had made an egregious first impression in the depth of my intellectual experimentation on what it meant to be “polite.” Maggie countered with confidence that some people just clique with others, and, though this is quite true, it resonated that Tara, her friend, had quite poor judgments about me for one reason or another. Anson at one point described her characterization of me as somewhat of a “mush;” that I lacked confidence and drive. Acting in accordance with our gendered relations – a lens slowly turning into anathema in the current generation – this proved reasonable; Tara sought womanliness in her self and manliness in the opposite sex. It was no small surprise, then, when Maggie had relayed an underlying cynicism in Tara’s perspective on love and relationships in the past years, namely, an abatement in her desire to have children – a course unquestioned of someone who in the past so revered the role of wife and mother. Yes, people were changing, and though I was clinging to my role as a charming youth as if life depended on it, people were slowly shedding their personas that so brightly identified them as the vibrant characters that they were in the past. In the course of knowing Anson, he had shifted from troubled self-tormented youth, to an athletic, hopeful young man with faith in some sort of God; to a disillusioned lover and rejected philosopher, now to something even more stark. Anson spoke with emotion when I met him: emotion albeit stifled, but eking out of his eyes and pauses in conversation. It was a brief encounter that was not yet tinged by the turbid hollowness that I seemed to exude when too long with him: memories of my own emptiness in the apartment we shared still needed to die, and it was only a matter of time in an encounter this soon with him for them to creep into my behavior.  We waited outside a French eatery on a narrow tree-lined street in Williamsburg, shaded from the blistering wealth of spoiled girls that tramped around a few blocks closer to the L train. He had disappeared for about four and half months: no small amount in my calendar and rarer than gatherings with a certain friend of mine who didn’t even live in the city. He rose to embrace me and subsequently lifted his arm in the same act of vulnerability that was so characteristic of him, though I noticed immediately on his forearm was a tattoo of a sperm whale.

He had relayed to me over text that he had engaged in a brief romantic relationship and soon fell out of it and into a depression. He then in the same message sprang on me that he was moving to Colorado next month. I suppose this must have been the same effect that I had given to my friends four year earlier; I was remorseful for the pang I felt now. I was careful to note the timing he laid out in his story, repeated at least twice, which did not share the same dates. First he had mentioned he had started dating a woman in late June or early July: this was unsatisfactory (I had reached out to him mid-May with no response). He then later over the course of dinner with others said he met her in May; this was considerably different in my mind and I wondered if he amended the timeline from his first retelling (Anson is no fool, quite lucid in his ability to detect suspicions from insecure fellows like myself).  He had everything, he said: a girlfriend, an apartment on his own, a dog, a job, etc. Yet he was unhappy and realized his need to move away in the middle of brushing his teeth with his lover one morning. He had bought a car, as well, a purchase which to me was unfathomable. He was able not only to do this, but save enough money to both live on his own in Greenpoint and move away without a job. I do not know where the idea of six-figures came in at some point during the last year or so: but it was little secret that he was doing well. I abided by my friend to not let my want of funds taint this relationship, as it had started to do so while we lived under the same roof last year. The discrepancy, particularly the idea that he was able to buy a car, was unnerving.

These were details that were relayed over the course of dinner. Thomas, the friend of ours who visited New York for work a considerable amount over the year, had brought his girlfriend, an artist and woman of the age of thirty-one. Anson’s girlfriend was thirty-seven, he said, ten years older than him. He said that now was the time to move; he stated with a frankness that soon he was to be thirty, and at that I noticed the girlfriend’s face drop. It was a weird predicament to be in: we were no longer “young,” as it was, because we were already adults and fast leaving our twenties. Maggie, too, had rebuked herself for not following her own fanciful timelines: widowed from a wealthy man by thirty. I was one year older than Anson and two years older than Thomas, though I was considerably poorer than both of them and with no clear direction to what the next five years of my life was going to hold. I had been obsessed with fleeting beauty and possibility and it left me gravely depressed while I was still young. Anson’s eye, shifting to the left of my own, saw the fine line that ran to my cheekbone like the trace of teardrop and I felt I was doomed. He, too, mentioned wrinkles; he was still quite youthful-looking, it was no doubt, but something about his age started to weigh on his mind, and he began to almost reluctantly confide in me an unhappiness with his circumstance in needlessly philosophical terms. After this somewhat disquieting confession he left me abruptly and I was immediately disheartened. We had been waiting for our trains in the station and stopped short where we were to part ways, still talking. The courteous thing to do was to wait until the rumble of a train met our ears, but he hurried off before that with the excuse to walk his dog. The abruptness – really, quite a shoddy escape from my presence – offended me, and I signaled to him from across the platform (from which we were to inevitably gaze at each other, dumbly) an imaginary watch and the mime of chatter with my hand. “We still had time to talk” I mouthed, with a shrug to punctuate my message with confusion. I looked away from him and stood watching the the end of my own platform, erect from indignation and false pride as I leaned against a bearing. If he wanted to be impersonal, I thought, if was too annoying for him, then I won’t be groveling to meet his eyes; no. I turned at the last moment when the train wiped his form out of view in a gesture I perhaps thought had some meaning; though who knows what it meant as I glanced what seemed like him looking at me. I could not text him with anything plaintive: he had, in effect, paid for my whole meal save the eleven dollars I had in cash to contribute.

 

 

Rabbit Run Years

Time passes. Tick, tick, tick.

I don’t recognize myself in the mirror very much. I see someone older who looks tired.

The answer to my existence is love, but I don’t know how to work out the problem to get there.

Maybe we will all have respite in heaven, where everyone will be as beautiful as they can be forever.