Notes on Love
Outside the dining shed, rain hits the ground and lies flat. A sticky night. Inside the shed, a girl, cheeks glowing, looks at a boy who’d conjured up their future, a study, a garden, a swing set, and in his glassy eyes finds nothing, he’s gone evil doll, so she reaches out to touch his hand like a child might at Madame Tussaud’s, but he jerks away, and she prods air. The space between them ebbs, warm summertime stalls and floats away. They sit like this and look at each other for two minutes and say nothing. She guts her napkin with a salad fork and breathes through her teeth like a vacuum cleaner. Easy way to get a cavity. His father was a good dentist. A married couple next to them, young and right here childless, fill the silence with date night chatter about the babysitter, preschools, bitcoin, bikram. The girl chews a straw. Remember the avocados? she asks. A fruit tunnel: the only customers south of the dairy section, they turn avocados over and deliberate on their tenderness, squeezing them like stress balls. An icy chill off the fridges makes the girl’s nipples pop. The Muzak, the fridges humming. He takes a berry from the pile and hands it to her. Their cortisol levels rise. The unspoken understanding between them, these avocados matter, these avocados count, prevents altogether the purchase of the missing salad ingredient, any fruit. Dead time hangs sideways. They walk back to the girl’s apartment, a studio on 14th and 2nd, and the girl “cooks” chicken and rice (microwaves two precooked meals from Trader Joe’s, Mom’s favorite, nothing special insofar as he says so) and they run to the theater on Union Square, to see The Green Knight— she buys Milk Duds and Coke, he buys popcorn, the tickets—and they laugh and hold hands and tongue kiss until, now occupying one seat, they are asked to leave by a man with a badge, so they do. They go to McFadden’s where it’s happy hour, two for the price of one, nothing beats it or the crowd, Mexicans and Guatemalans watching fútbol on small televisions, goths playing pool and seniors throwing darts in the back, they try all the beers on tap, the girl left to right, the boy right to left, they make friends with the endless bar’s genial bartenders and the regulars and come by the local patina, beer by beer they become the regulars, and even still he is a ball of light, his crimson laugh a song. At hers they put on face masks from Urban and their matching flannel pajamas and take the pajamas off but leave their socks on and 69 until they explode at the same time like a freight train. They go out for breakfast against the curdling sky, lilac dawn, and soon find themselves embroiled in a bagel imbroglio at Murray’s, a place you expect to wait hours to hear your number, not to find yourself engulfed in such affairs. The girl trips and falls into a man and wraps her pool noodle arms around him, as if meaning to greet him after a long separation, and his poppy seed bagel flies above their heads, and suspended there, destined to its parabolic fate, the floor, and (if the bowlegged man of pure lead wearing a green Hawaiian is a practitioner of the five-second rule and he is) consumption, digestion, and defecation, the bagel takes in its last moments, doos of all lengths and textures hiding scalps dandruffy to oily, her warm comrades in wire baskets, the line dance in and out the door, etc., etc., then drops and lands between two hooligans who, for reasons still unclear, start wailing on each other, with their fists. Do not get involved, the girl says, please. Does he? He does. She waits in the hospital waiting room. An unlucky bounce, a minor concussion, so they go to the street-level two-bedroom in Chinatown he lives at with a first-gen Venezuelan who talks in a fake Venezuelan accent and lay next to each other on the couch in the dark, until it’s dark out. He turns a lamp on, and she rolls a joint and lights it and watches a flame erupt from the extra paper rolled up at the end of it, and they smoke hundreds of spliffs and cigarettes and blunts and argue over whose turn it is to roll and get very angry at each other and shout. The neighbor, a prematurely stooped individual, knocks and asks if everything is OK. She swallows. He chases her to the end of the block. He runs back. She waits—his shoes. At Tompkins Square a fire hydrant with its top off dumps water about their feet. They dance and dance. A toothless woman smiles at them. It’s wet, hot. Now they run between cars and avoid a delivery man on a bicycle and a skateboarder flying, then emerge laughing and unscathed from the metal chaos to a brunette gazelle, an acquaintance the girl recognizes but does not want to acknowledge, so she takes the boy’s wrist and in two steps hops across the sidewalk into Miss Lily’s, a Jamaican diner with colored bulbs above the bar and sparkly people laughing and waiters gliding around the checkerboard floor like dancers, and a hostess with green hair asks name, do you have a reservation, yes they say, a name, and the tall black woman leads them to a little booth, by a window sending colors all directions, where they, the girl with her hair pulled into a knot, the boy with his last hairs arranged over forehead, do what all to avoid looking at each other, to avoid confronting what she, throbbing, knows in her hearts of hearts to be true, they are strangers, in love. She takes up the salt shaker, the boy (though he looked online, in the cab) the menu, a butter knife. The hubbub bubbles. A waiter saves them. He gets the oxtail stew, she gets the curry shrimp. Marbles fall out of the sky. Twelfth minute, he tells her he wants to marry her. I love you, he says. She says it first. Te quiero. Too soon, but she means it. Things are lost in translation. Third minute, he kisses her. She knows it in her loins and her spine and her lizard brain. Maybe it’s the way he smells or anyway it is not rational, cannot be. But in the first minute she knows it. She feels it.
Remember our first date? she asks. Right here. The server takes the check, two cards in the slot, a split bill. In the corners of her lips, a smile? These are the last customers. The doormat is loose, so she kicks it. Nothing happens, and she doesn’t try again. Rain, in sheets. The restaurant—not too warm, not too cool—exhales, emptying out after a long, muggy day, many curious diners. The server runs the cards at the tin register, behind the bar, and in the window’s labyrinthine reflections finds the poet (steel cheeks, freckles on the nose, gruffy baritone) whose metal credit card she now holds, his name in small letters. Life in a prism, watching people watch him watch them and so on, is torture. But I really am a looker. In the dining shed, the boy and the girl, the young man and the young woman, anticipate each other’s silences, each other’s mannered pauses and gesticulations, so what unfolds is more theater than improvisation, scripted rather than not, she plays the madwoman and he the madman, or vice-versa, a struggle for order underneath the silences and equivocations. They sign the receipts. In the last minutes, rarefied and thin, lit by streetlamps and the odd headlights slinking on by like a boat’s lights in a dark harbor, they encounter lovely apparitions, the hot dog man, the restaurant never not buzzing, the Irish pub with the endless bar. The red fire hydrant where she braced herself while he tied her shoe. All day in bed, they dreamed of wide open spaces, a bungalow on the coast of Washington, infinite mornings, and talked about their families, the girl about her step-brother (his age) and divorced parents, the boy about his older brother and younger sister and married parents, and how one day they—with their particularities, her affinity for plants, his crooked ears—would make their own, a family. He picks her up from her mom’s apartment in Alphabet City with peonies and lilies. Her mom loves him. It’s summer always. Block Drug Stores, Lemon’s Coffee with the latte art, Ed’s Books with the cats, the Post Office, the flower shop. They hold hands and stumble to Washington Square and the High Line and Hudson Yards. At the New Museum, phones dead, they lose each other in a landscape painting, then reunite in the gift shop, where he buys her a pendant, a silver amulet. What are we? she asks, by the statue of a man on a horse in Abingdon Square and there finds herself in a situation, a thing. That night, the temperature drops, and it hails. In her cute submarine, she makes oven fried chicken, with Corn Flakes, and they drink Sauza and dance to Maya Andrade in their underwear and smoke smokables, her stories become his, his jokes become hers, and the hailstorm lulls them, they drift to the same dreams, he appears in hers and she in his, so come dawn—much like the Daoist Zhuangzi who dreams he is a butterfly and, upon waking, does not know if he is a man with butterfly dreams or a butterfly dreaming in human—it is unclear if they are in New York or Manzanita or somewhere in between. Morning, the girl and the boy sit on the fire escape and read poems, listen to (Sandy) Alex G and construction and melt into their underwear and each other and make sweaty sweaty love, the boy (supine) tells her how much he likes her and cries like a child, the girl (on top) tells him how much she likes him and wipes away tears, and they freeze yogurt into popsicles and drape wet towels on their necks and sit in front of the air conditioner and talk New York and lemonade. August hangs, chickadee-song in a balsam poplar, morning mist over cracked asphalt, a rollerblader’s clammy heart, the bees. They watch ‘television,’ all 48 episodes of season 8 of My Kitchen Rules, an Australian cooking show on Amazon Prime, then seasons 4, 7, 2… A heatwave. They never cook. Day after day of soupy death the sun does not let up or let go, plants curl over, seniors in nursing homes wilt, rats huddle in the street as if convening emergency councils. Even the birds sweat. They ride the train and hurtle underground through schist and arguments and steamy reconciliations. She locks eyes with a girl suited and jowled like corn in its husk, a lawyer or a banker flying the same direction on a parallel track, and the momentary twins float, in tandem. Here, fantasies of a wedding: her man tied up in a bow tie and a cummerbund, his lady beaming in a white dress at the end of the aisle. For all his flaws, he is a jelly doughnut, he does not lie, he is not jealous. He does not hit you. He takes her bifocals and sets them on the wooden table they stooped together, helps her scrape off her eyeliner, in the shower, with his fingers, asks about her family and remembers their names, remembers everything. Trust wells in her gut. He deletes Bumble. They have sex on the rug, the desk, the counter. Today the heat breaks. Grey sky, puddles on puddles, but the rain is no matter, Tompkins Square teems with exercisers (runners, yogis, gymnasts) and musicians (drummers, guitarists, a harpist), dog-watchers and dog-walkers, an impromptu rave, and the girl and the boy dance among like-minded creatures, in circles. Don’t say it, he whispers. He says it. In the seventh minute, faces in hands, she slides her tongue under his. Say it again, she says. Say it! He does he does he does. He yells it. They spy the yellow-striped diner on the corner, and the girl, as if wading a river, takes the boy’s waist, pulls him by the arm into electronic reggaetón. A disco ball glitters and waitstaff hum and the bartender twirls, a squirt of pipette-juice into a jigger here, ice cubes into a glass there, a taste. The girl and the boy follow a server to a booth table, and she sits street-side against the neon studded wall. Her eyelid twitches. What do you do? he asks. Tell me about you.
I didn’t know what to do next. At the restaurant there’d been a sliver of hope, like walking through a patch of sunlight on a cold day or doing a key bump at the club, a tease, a prayer, and yet here I stood empty-handed in a plastic trench coat and the moccasins he said make me look like a Greenwich soccer-mom, fiending the way you do fifteen or twenty minutes after the rush, a sort of clawing, so great were these withdrawals I contemplated death, I watched passing cars and trucks and imagined my bones crunching and my hair tangled in the grill of a Pontiac, gizzards stretched across the windshield, but I did not jump, I was devastated though not death-by-Pontiac devastated, brokenhearted, not crazy, so instead I wept. Mi feo. I cried morning and night, in Ubers and the shower, on trains and e-bikes and the toilet, I cried tears I did not have in the bath and turned into a prune, until my eyes, burning, threatened to fall out if I did not stop. The breakup was messy. We haven’t talked. The morning of, I cried in the supermarket, and he looked at his shoes or the floor, it’s gonna be OK he said and talked sandwich bullshit, cold cuts, probably while in his big head planning how to end things, picking the words he’d use, like the salamis. One time, he planned a picnic adventure, to a field, a park in the suburbs. We cleared a space in the tall grass, with our feet, then stretched out a quilt and lay beneath the weeping willow at least two hundred years old, played cards and Bananagrams and told each other secrets and used a twig to scratch obscenities into each other’s foreheads like kids writing into the sand or the snow or a foggy car window. It got dark, he pointed at the sky turning, it’s getting dark, so we made our way back, traversed a neighborhood with manicured lawns and sports cars in front of pretty homes, Tudors and Cape Cods and Colonials, in one (through a bay window) I saw a gossamer family around a table, in another (through the garage) a girl playing with a saw, in yet another (through a propped door) a dog crash into a man, and we could still hear his shrieks when we found the station, lonely like an Edward Hopper, illuminated by halogen lights. I couldn’t sit up in bed, a couple feet below the ceiling, but in the dark, grazing linen meadows, we imagined we were in Manzanita or Madrid, better than his house, with take-out containers piled into obelisks, and I told him about Spanish summers at my family’s hunting lodge, my grandfather’s taxidermy, Ibex, boar and wolf noggins, then he told me about Connecticut, where summer is a verb. He’d never made love in another language, let alone his mother tongue, so I showed him how. What is the difference between a sheep and a goat? These were the kinds of questions he loved. Se comía el coco. I never got sick of his teorías, his ticks, his honestamentes. Me derrites la cabeza y el corazón, he said. He wrote me poetry. ¿Me quieres o me amas? he asked. Las dos cosas. I loved him. I remember that month like a dream, always raining, moonlit, summer. I taught him buhardilla and chándal, he taught me chango. My first baseball game, at Citi Field, in the nosebleeds, I caught a ball. Cómo mola. I still have it. We made reservations we didn’t plan to keep and ate at hole-in-the walls and carts on the street and remembered things before they happened. Tompkins Square was full of swarms, breakdancers, junkies, singers, painters, like honeybees, and he kissed me by the skatepark, on the cheek, then the lips, in the first minutes. So I, sweating, told the boy I loved him and yanked him into the Jamaican diner–vinyl sleeves, concert posters, a picture of Grace Jones. A waiter in Heelys came by. We drank El Dorado. Is the rain blue? It’s clear, he told me.