Part Six: Why Did You Decide to Move to Argentina?
Worry, sick nervous stomach. My heart beats, frenetic. I wake up. Before I even get out of bed, my mind has surveyed my life and found it lacking, pointless. I can try to stay asleep, but it’s not going to happen. Gray morning light coloring everything like piss and my eyes bleary, I go for the cigarettes before I even pee.
Sometimes the feeling’s gone in five minutes, sometimes it sticks around until the sun is high and if I’m really unlucky, it’s with me all day, oozing acid into my stomach, a leaking, tender pain spreading even to my fingertips that makes just thinking of doing anything a huge chore. I get up, doddering around the apartment misplacing things. It’s like this every morning.
Mom is back and I’m back in my apartment. After the fiasco with the neighbor, everything valuable is at Mom’s. The saxophone, the cancelled checks, not a lot to hide away.
I don’t know her real name. I know she goes by Zookia. She’s six feet of muscle, biceps bigger than my calves. She wears sweatpants and tank tops, speaks in a rhythmic, lilting cadence and uses the word “real” to descibe everything, especially herself. She straightens her hair and wears sparkly, platform flip flops.
Resentment had built until Zookia broke into my house and stole my bike, leaving a long, threatening message on my machine. Jackie downstairs had a talk with her. Zookia called Jackie after I can only guess she heard me yelling through her floor from Jackie’s below after discovering the bike missing, but before I loaded anything of value into Amber’s Bronco and took off. I called the police from Amber’s and they told me they couldn’t take a report if I knew who had done it and wasn’t at home and I wasn’t going back there that night. The next day when I went to clean myself up before filing at the courthouse, my bike was back. Knowing she could get in anytime she wanted to had made me stay away.
Now back on Ormsby St., late into the night, my doorbell rings. I’m pretty sure she’s selling drugs, pretty sure the people buying them learned it was okay to ring indiscriminately while I was gone, mashing both upstairs buttons. Sometimes when they ring, I scream at them without opening my door. They come up the stairs. I hear them through the door that may as well be made of cardboard across the yard-wide landing that separates our apartments, hear them leave seconds later. I think about calling the police, but I don’t.
I hate her.
I need my sleep. For the sake of my sanity, I need peace. I have an idea that she could still get into the house anytime she wanted to. And she’s not the only hostile force in the neighborhood. There’s a crack house across the street and sometimes when I’m waiting in front of the house for a ride, a hooker will glare at me for encroaching on her territory. I say, “I’m just waiting for a ride” to one once and she smiles and says she doesn’t know what I’m talking about, but stops her aggressive pacing in front of me and wanders away.
When I walk to the store for cigarettes, men cruise me in their cars waiting for me to ask them for a date. Generally, I won’t turn my head. Once, feeling insulted, I scream, “Your wife loves you!” He peels out and I laugh and laugh. In this neighborhood, there are blocks that are better than others. This just happens to be a bad one, close to a dead end where tricks take johns, the crack house across the street one stop shopping on a working day.
I’m drinking again. I go with the guys from work to the bar across the street. I’ve implemented rules. Only beer, no more than two, no more than twice a week, never alone. The rules are flexible after a couple of beers.
I go into the convenience store for a pack of smokes. “You’re a fucking slut,” says the clerk.
“What did you say to me?”
“I said, ‘Thank you very much.'” I don’t know if I believe him, vacillating between humiliation and relief over it for long minutes afterwards.
I’m misplacing things, using the wrong pockets. It seems like I’m frantically searching for my keys, my lighter, my wallet, a ten dollar bill, in a barely contained tantrum of self loathing at least three times a day, lifting the same laundry, the same papers walking in circles in the apartment. I will always find what I’m looking for, sometimes in a pocket I’ve already searched, sometimes in the refrigerator, on the floor, or in plain view. I’m having trouble sleeping again. I have no appetite. I should know what this means. I should get it under control.
I rip my ATM card to pieces and drop it down a sewer grate. I do this to keep myself from spending money I can’t afford to spend.
My mind is a weight on the end of a string on a spool being swung in a circle that gets larger and larger, swinging faster and faster, ripping up objects in its path, tangling them, sweeping them along.
With regularity exact words and phrases that I think to myself are repeated by people on the radio, and each time it crushes me under the weight of the wholesale scrutiny the world is applying to me. Nothing is secret. Everybody knows everything and they use it against me. I can’t have any peace.
My brain is being broadcast and strangers take words I remember having said and fling them back at me with malice, humiliating me. They know what they’re doing, but I can win if I keep my mouth shut, if I don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing my psyche is a poisoned cockroach in its death throes, throbbing in agony. I smile or use my blank, war face at them. The most important thing is not to react and to pretend I don’t know, because if they don’t think they can get my goat, they will stop this.
My body moves disjointedly, efficiently, painfully. I vacuum the floors at the Comedy Club with enthusiasm. I feel loose and superior in those moments when the paranoia leaves me. I am working around the pain in my shoulder. I am valiant.
I laugh too loudly at the comedians’ jokes, even the unfunny ones, drawing attention to myself in my uniform shirt with my bleating siren of a hoarse goat laugh. Once when I hear two coworkers speaking Italian to one another, I start telling them how beautiful I think it is and burst into tears.
Standing completely still by the side of the stage, I watch the clock while a comedian does her set. The clock becomes larger than the room, engulfs my vision and when the light flashes the close of her time, I feel my brain turning over inside my skull, and I almost die. I’m paralyzed for long moments before I realize I’m still alive, can still move.
Dr. Ward has told me that aspirin is easier on the stomach than ibuprofin. I am taking three and four at a time to get the pain under control. My stomach is a gunshot wound, taking one for the shoulder team. One night I throw up blood in the sink at a bar. I get on my bike and go home.
I don’t remember how I got to the hospital. I’m manacled to a bed behind a wall of glass in the ER. The manacles are rubber and band-aid colored and say “Posey” on them. I’ve screamed that I know my rights and that I want to go to the state hospital. I will not go to to the fucking ward upstairs. This is why I am not in intake, in the dark, irregularly shaped room with the magazines surrounded by drooling wrecks and ignored by a nurse behind a safety glass window.
I scream until I can feel blood turning my face red. My ears pulse with it. My face feels like a balloon with a heart beating inside it. I can’t reach my face and so I rub the snot and tears on my shirt like a cat grooming itself. I scream and scream that I have to piss and a nurse comes, pulls my pants down and puts a bedpan underneath me. I sob. I can’t pee like this, under a blanket, my pants around my knees with my ankles manacled, lying on my back behind a wall of glass. I have to pee so bad it hurts, but even in this state I can’t bring myself to deliberately piss the bed. It takes a long, long time to let it go.
I see the people in the ER through the wall of glass. Doctors lean against a nurse station counter, chatting with their asses jutting out into the passageway, ignore my screaming pleas for drugs. “Give me something, you god damn motherfuckers! I can’t stand this! Fuck you! Fuck you! You fucking pieces of shit. Fuck you. I’m right here, you fucking motherfuckers!” I sob and scream and writhe and try to unfasten the manacles.
A doctor comes into the room. His eyes are light blue. He sniffs me, bends and sniffs my thigh. He says he smells blood and he puts his finger into a hole in my jeans. He moves the fabric to see that I’ve cut myself. He pulls out a scalpel and cuts my pants open and reads the word I’ve cut into my flesh and burned with cigarettes and then leaves.
I am there all night long.